Zion 100k – 2019 Race Report

The Zion 100K ultramarathon was held April 12th, just outside of Zion National Park in Southern Utah. The start and finish is in Virgin, UT. The 100k course was changed this year and I’m assuming it will stay in this current form next year as it worked well I think. I ran this race over a month ago (partially due to 3 hours of work on this report being erased somehow) so my memory might be a bit fuzzy but I think I can give some good details. Lots of pictures with this report at least.

Since I didn’t get into Superior 100 this year I needed to quick find a race that would qualify for Western States as I still haven’t won the lottery for that race. The 100k version of this race (also available are 100 mile, 50k and half marathon options) qualifies for Western States and wasn’t full yet. Also I’ve never been to Southern Utah and wanted to check out some of the national parks with my wife to see if we’d want to come back when the kids are older. I hadn’t run a 100k distance race yet either, so that was of some interest to me as well.

We left Minnesota a couple days early so we’d be able to explore the area. This ended up being perfect timing as the blizzard hit a few hours after the plane took off. We landed in St. George and went straight to Paria Valley in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I’ve wanted to go there for years after seeing a photo of the place. I kept this part a surprise for my wife since I didn’t want her to know what it looked like before we got there. It was cloudy but soon after we got there the clouds parted enough for me to get some great photos. People keep using my photos without giving credit so I’m not going to put any of those on here since they’re good enough to be worth something. It was worth the drive I think. Along the way there were some towns we drove through. It was interesting to us to see lots of homes with no siding whatsoever. Basically people just painted the OSB sheeting and called it good. I guess in the desert that’s okay?

We stayed in Hurricane, UT at an AirBnB. Turns out everyone staying at the place was in the race or a crew for a runner. It certainly made us not feel so bad getting up super early on race day. We ate some awesome Mexican food and went to bed.

The next day we went to Zion National Park. I wanted to go up Angels Landing and even if I didn’t want to, there was basically no other choice. Essentially every other trail in the main valley was closed due to flooding or landslides. It’s about 2000 feet of elevation gain total and close to 5 miles round trip but I wasn’t too worried since the race was only supposed to have 5500 feet of gain which is pretty flat. The trail is a steady climb for pretty much the whole way to Scout Lookout which is where the trail gets “scarier”. I wasn’t too surprised when my wife decided not to continue since the going down part would be scarier than going up. It’s not anywhere close to as scary as half-dome in Yosemite but if you’re not used to hiking along cliffs, you’ll be concerned.

About half-way from Scout Landing to the top.

There are chains along portions of the trail to hang on to but I just used my hands to hold rocks instead. It was much faster that way and the chains moved around a lot. If it wasn’t for crowds, you could run most of the flat parts really. Same with going down, if no one was around you could get down pretty quick. I hung out at the top for a little while to enjoy the views and take some pictures.

1500 feet straight down. My mom loves these! That’s the Virgin river and the park road way down there.

On the way down I saw at least one Condor. We couldn’t quite read the number on his wing to look it up later but it was pretty cool it flew so close over our heads and beside us that we could even see that at all. It was 2 digits but I think they’re all just 2 digits and then color coded. This one seemed orange or yellow. The sun kept blinding us. There’s still less that 300 of them in the wild! My wife I think saw it from the landing as well. Of course since I spent so much time watching the bird she was concerned about me by the time I got back to her. Oops. The rest of the day was pretty much spent relaxing, getting my bib, and getting everything finalized for the race the next day.

The race started Friday at 6AM. The 100 mile and 100k started at the same time so there were hundreds of runners. Since it was still dark, I needed my headlamp. We ran on the shoulder of the highway for a bit and then dirt roads headed toward the first and only big climb of the race. About 3 miles into the race is where it starts to get steep and just gets steeper. I wasn’t really in the front group but was towards the front. Somehow a group of people after the front runners took a wrong turn and we all followed up the wrong trail. After going up a couple hundred feet we saw people running back down saying it was the wrong way. So back down I went and now it was of course super crowded since we were just running into the people behind us. Surprisingly, people hiked up the correct direction at a decent pace so I didn’t have to stop and start all the time like I did at Bighorn waiting for people to move. Finally after about 1200 feet you get to the top.

View from the top at Goosebump Aid Station. You can see the trail going down if you look close bottom center of picture.
The dirt road in the center of the photo going kiddie-corner is the road we ran on to get to the mesa from Virgin. Looking North just left of the picture above.

Here is the first aid station called Goosebump. We’d go through this station 2 more times later on and there is no crew access here so it’s the only place I left a drop bag. I got here in just over an hour so not too bad.

From here to the next aid station which was Grafton Mesa was pretty much flat. It was all on dirt road with a downhill at the end. I talked to a few people along this section and realized I wouldn’t need my poles for the rest of the race. There was a chance of rain forecast initially but it looked like that probably wasn’t going to happen. I was fairly hot already since I was still used to winter weather at home. It wasn’t all that hot, probably only got up to 70 degrees and sunny but I was feeling it pretty much the rest of the day. I also was feeling like the hike yesterday was definitely going to slow down my time. My legs just felt kind of dead all day.

Road from Goosebump to Grafton.

I found my wife at Grafton fairly easy around 8:10AM. I got some ice water from her, changed into a t-shirt from a long sleeve shirt, got food, left my poles and told her I’d see her later. We went through this aid station twice more so she just stayed there and read. The race continued on down the road until Wire Mesa where we went onto a mountain bike trail. There was an aid station at the start of the trail and we’d loop back to it before going back up to the Grafton Mesa.

Wire Mesa is the closest mesa to Zion National Park. Basically it’s just Southwest of the entrance to the canyon so you can see some of the peaks in the park. The mesas themselves are gorgeous though as well. The trail led all over the mesa and the edges of it. The views from every edge were great. I heard several people overwhelmed with the views. They were full on swearing in disbelief for minutes at a time. I was starting to wonder if they’d ever been outside in their entire life.

View from Wire Mesa looking NE at the Virgin River Valley entrance to Zion National Park.

The trail itself was overall flat but you were going up a rock here and down a rock there almost every 2 steps. It got annoying and it was starting to dawn on me why the previous finishing times of this race were longer than I expected them to be based on the distance and elevation gain advertised. It took about 90 minutes to complete the loop.

During this mesa section I realized I’d need to use the bathroom at some point. I saw there were 2 compost toilet tents at the aid station the first time I went through. I also saw there were about 7 people in front of me on the trail when we were nearing the station. I didn’t want to risk having to wait for all of them to use it first so I sprinted downhill past them all and went straight into the toilet.

Okay, this is going to get gross. I’ve stopped talking about pooping in my reports due to comments but this I can’t skip over.

So to start with, here’s how the race advertises these compost toilets in the race booklet;

We also use Great Outdoors Composting Portable
Toilets which conserve water, eliminates the use of
harmful chemicals, and create a nutrient rich soil
amenity. It is the best pooping experience you will
ever have. To learn more about Great Outdoors
Toilets or to have them at your event visit www.
greatoutdoorstoilets.com or ask the race officials
for more information.

The best pooping experience you will ever have you say? No! You’ll be talking about it for sure, but not because it’s great. I don’t have a picture of these since I never wanted to get close to them again, so I’ll do my best to paint a picture with words. You could go to their website, but they smartly don’t show you pictures of the inside of the tent version they had at the race.

The compost toilet consists of a wide plastic bucket with a 3/4 inch thick piece of plywood placed on top of it with a hole cut out. They did add a toilet seat to this board so there’s that I guess. This board was about 2 feet wide and the depth of a toilet seat. This was all surrounded by a shower tent like structure. Look it up if you don’t know what I mean. This tent however was much smaller than a shower tent which is tiny to begin with. Basically if you were over 6 feet tall, your knees would be touching the tent wall when you sat down and your head hitting the ceiling. The zipper was also under a lot of tension so it was basically impossible to close all the way from the inside due to the tight space. I suppose you could’ve walked in, put your face down in the seat area bending over and put your hands through your legs to close it? I wasn’t going to try that.

But I’m getting ahead of myself a little. There is sawdust already pre-moisturized that you’re supposed to scoop from a barrel outside this tent and spread on top of your deposit to the plastic bucket. One scoop for pee and two for poop I think the signs said.

Anyway, when I got to the aid station a guy just came out of the tent and I went right in…. Remember when I said it was sunny and kind of hot? Imagine a greenhouse filled with poop, wet sawdust, urine and zero air flow. That should paint the air temperature and smell for you. Then the sights, oh the sights. Toilet paper, sawdust, and what I can only assume was poop all over the seat and plywood. If you put a dog in similar conditions, you’d go to jail. It wasn’t quite as bad as the scene from Rambo where he’s being hung in the waste water from the outhouses, but my mind immediately went there.

There was no way I could do all I needed doing while holding a single breath, especially after sprinting downhill to get there. My breath number was definitely in the double digits. I went as quick as I could and did a horrible job of applying more butt lube since there wasn’t any room in there and I didn’t dare let my pack touch any horizontal surface. That would certainly haunt me later. I was seriously considering just opening up the “door” and doing everything in full view of all the runners coming down the trail and the people eating at the aid station. Why should they be punished though, they were probably smart and just pooped on the course somewhere.

The first breath of fresh, cool air after you exit is about the best thing you can imagine. That is until you realize you have to go back in not only once, but twice, to sprinkle sawdust on top of your carefully crafted cupcake. Why can’t you just make a bigger scoop?! Even though I kept my hands clean, there was no way I could say they were clean after touching the tent itself, anything in it, or the scoop. I had a worker push the plunger on the water spigot so I didn’t contaminate it and didn’t get any food. I still had some of my own left anyway.

How is it even legal to compost human waste? That means it’s sitting out in the open for weeks. Truly one of the worst pooping experiences I’ve ever had.

After this I continued on back up the road to Grafton aid station. I found my wife in the same place and briefly described my experience. She said she heard some of the toilets at that aid station had poop up to the toilet seat already. She smartly never went into one. I got ice water and soaked my head with water.

The next part of the race was to run a 5.5 mile loop on the Grafton Mesa. There was a short section in the beginning that both directions ran on so I saw there were a few people already finishing the loop. It was a little nicer trail that the last one but the views weren’t quite as nice. Basically you ran a gentle slope towards the end of the mesa and then back up to the aid station. It was getting much more thinned out now. While I could see someone all the time up to this point, now it was only about half the time.

View from Grafton Mesa. Pretty sure looking West.

I was now starting to slow down as I was hitting the marathon distance in this section and the heat was getting to me since it was almost noon. I lost some time in this section but I just had to remind myself this is pretty normal at this point in a race. I got to the Grafton aid station for the last time and reloaded a fair amount since I wouldn’t see my wife for over 5 hours. She went back to the Airbnb and I think even took a nap.

I tried to make up some time on the road back to Goosebump with some fast walking uphills. It seemed to take much longer this second time running on this section. The views were nice though and soon enough I got to the aid station at 12:52PM having made back the time I lost on Grafton. There was now less than 29 miles left.

The next section was an 11 mile loop on Gooseberry Mesa. We started out on the North edge of the mesa going West. The trail was right on the edge of the cliff for the first mile or so and was gorgeous. The best views of the race!

Looking North from Gooseberry Mesa. You can see the road from the race beginning again. The Mesa on the top left is Hurricane Mesa. The cool thing about that one is that the Supersonic Research Site is on the top of it. It has rocket sleds for testing ejection seats, etc. Privately owned now but still used.
Looking Northeast. You can see the trail down in the bottom right of the photo.

After about 20 minutes I got to the “slick-rock” area. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. At home, slick-rock is flattish smooth rock. What they called slick-rock here was petrified sand dunes. They weren’t slippery at all due to being sandstone and they certainly weren’t flat. Best to just show a picture.

Slick-rock?

I’ve never gone mountain biking so I’m not sure if they like to curve all over the place when they ride or they’re just drunk because these trails never went straight. Up to this point the biking trails we were on were classified as Easy or More Difficult similar to ski slope ratings. We were now getting into Difficult and at several points I noticed a rating of Extreme. I’m assuming that’s like a double black diamond in skiing. Regardless, in the photo above I’ll try to explain how the trail went. You go up and over the left part of the dune in the middle of the photo. Then up the left part of the dune behind it. Turn around and go back down to the back side of the middle dune but only go part way up it and then down and then up the right side of the dune behind it. Then turn around to go down and then up and over the right side of the middle dune that you can’t see. Then back up the backside of the dune on the right. All of that instead of just turning right at the middle dune! Now it’s been a month so I might be off slightly in my description of that small area but it was pretty shocking so I think I remember it pretty well.

So how did I know where to go? Well the race course is marked with those little pink ribbons you can see on the tree on the right, but since there aren’t that many trees around and you can’t stick a flag in rock, they are somewhat far apart in this section. The bike trail is marked with white dots of paint. This is what the race book stated about them:

The trail will be marked with pink ribbons.
Note that sections of this trail may also have
markings of white dots painted on the slickrock.
These white dots are markings for mountain
bikers. Even though some of our course coincides
with the mountain biking trails DO NOT FOLLOW
THE WHITE DOTS. Our course will veer on and
off the mountain biking trails- just make sure
to follow the pink ribbons.

The big joke was that if you didn’t follow the white dots, you’d have no clue where to go as you couldn’t see the next flag from the one you were at without following the white dots. There were maybe 2 places on this entire mesa where the trail turned off the bike trail and there were lots of flags in those areas to make sure you made the turn. Otherwise if you didn’t follow the dots, you’d get lost. Plus they’re on the ground and much easier to follow than the flags 4 feet up in the air.

Occasionally I could see the next flag across an area of these hills but even then I followed the trail instead of going straight to it. I don’t know if it was cheating to cut straight across or not but I saw people doing it. Really I don’t think you saved hardly any time doing that unless you knew the course really well. Sometimes the hills had steep dropoffs and some were sloped. The white dots never went off a cliff and stayed on the sloped area.

Clearly this section was going to take a lot longer than I was planning. The elevation profile advertised for this area was a gradual elevation gain towards the turnaround and then gradual decent. Of course going up and down 5-8 foot hills constantly adds a lot of unmeasured elevation gain and technical difficulty. Here’s another picture of the sucky-suck that was the slickrock.

Near the turnaround spot.

After an hour of these hills, I made it to the turn around spot at the end of the mesa. The views here made it worth the effort if you’re ever in the area. You could see pretty much everything from here.

Looking West.
Panorama from Northwest to Northeast. Hurricane mesa in the top middle. Town of La Verkin in the top left. Zion National Park in far top right.

I kind of caught up to a few people in this area. We laughed while telling each other not to follow the white dots since we clearly had no other choice. We were now skirting the South rim of the mesa. The views weren’t quite as nice but still beautiful.

Looking South from the turnaround area.

There was an aid station called Gosseberry on this section but I didn’t know how long it would take to get there. We were again in sand dune land. At least I had some company to laugh with about the insanity of going up and down hills. These hills seemed bigger and steeper. We quite often saw scratches in the rocks from bike frames being scraped along them due to the steepness of drop offs. It ended up taking about an hour to get there. It was mid-afternoon and sunny. Not great for me, but since it was such slow going anyway I wasn’t too overheated. The best thing about the aid station was that I realized the only way they could’ve gotten all that stuff there was if there was a double track a truck could go down to deliver it. Sure enough the trail got much better!

At least we went around this rock formation.

After a bit, I could see the windmill that was visible from the road going to Goosebump from Grafton. I knew we had to be getting close to the Goosebump aid station. I arrived there at 3:40PM, almost 3 hours for a loop I thought would only take about 2.5.

I spent a little extra time here to tighten my shoes for the steep decent off the mesa. I reloaded and got some food loaded up since it was over 8 miles to the next aid station where I could finally see my wife again. I placed my drop bag in the “return” pile and started off down the hill.

The trail was right at the edge of being too steep to run down and since it had lots of round rocks that liked to roll, I just hiked down it to play it safe. My feet were almost always slipping down the hill but I maintained my balance and made it down fairly quickly.

I hadn’t really thought about what to expect in this section once I got down the big hill. I was thinking it would be fairly flat since it was off the mesa. Well not really. The trail was a double track that went along the North foothills of the Gooseberry Mesa I was just on a short time ago. This meant constantly going up and over hills to get to the next drainage off the mesa. Sometimes we’d follow the muddy creek beds up a ways, crossing the water multiple times before finally leaving that drainage just to go down another one. This played out for quite a while. It wasn’t really all that bad but just wasn’t that fun with tired legs.

Well, it was pretty bad in one way at least. Remember when I was in that hot box from hell earlier in the race and didn’t apply lube appropriately? Now things were getting chaffed fairly good. Since it was so dry, all my sweat just dried in place. It never soaked to the outside of my clothes like usual. This meant all the salt was still on my skin. I always have Vaniply with and I just had to apply that every hour or so to keep it at bay.

The Gooseberry Mesa turnaround area is the high area in the top center of the picture.

I saw a few pacers running the other direction. I’m assuming they were going to meet their runners somewhere up on Gooseberry since crew weren’t allowed there. They made the trail look easy. I was running out of water when finally the trail left the foothill area and got on a more flat area. I knew the aid station couldn’t be too far away. I got there at 5:34PM still about 20 minutes off pace. This aid station is where the 100 milers split to a different course from the 100k runners. I think there were a fair amount of 100 mile runners that called it quits here. I told my wife I was expecting to get to the finish line later than expected as I didn’t think I would make up any time.

Soon after I left the aid station I saw a race worker sprinting down the trail yelling at the guy behind me that he was going the wrong way. He must’ve been a 100 miler but he told the worker that he knew it was the 100k course and that he switched races. I didn’t know that was a possibility but it’s not that unusual to be allowed.

There was about 10 miles left in the race and it was generally flat to downhill. The course was on bike trails once again. The trail itself was nice and easy. There were a few small hills here and there while going over small drainage areas. The next aid station was only 2 miles away called Virgin Dam. I didn’t see a dam anywhere. It was a fairly well stocked station and had helpful volunteers but I didn’t need anything this late in the race and had plenty of water.

I’d pass a few people here and there and get passed by an equal number of people as well. I saw quite a few people with pacers which seemed a little odd since it’s such a short race and we’d be done before dark. In fact, that’s one of the perks my wife and I were looking forward to in this race. We’ve never been done with enough time to go back to the room, take a shower, and go out to eat in the same day I started a race. We were planning on going to a BBQ place in Hurricane that closed at 9PM. Yes, you read that correctly; They close at 9PM on a Saturday, come on Utah!

Since I was behind pace, I was expecting to finish around 7:50 so we’d be cutting it close unless we left right away from the finish line. While this race is called 100k, it was advertised longer at 63.5 miles which isn’t unusual for a trail race.

All the signs at the aid stations, including the Virgin Dam station agreed with my watch for distance. The trail got close to the Virgin River but never really got to it until the end of the trail and a water only aid station called Sheep Bridge. It was supposed to still be 4.1 miles to the finish line from there so I filled up with some water and again wet my head to keep cool. The course was now on a somewhat busy dirt road that went toward the highway into town. It crossed the river and I was mostly walking up the road. Since I still had almost another hour left, I was saving some energy for the last push.

Turns out I should’ve been running the whole time. Once I got on the highway, I could see the town just ahead. Even now, I kept telling myself the turnoff for the finish line must be at the other of town or something since this is nowhere near 4 miles. Nope, I was letting people pass me for nothing as just a mile or so down the highway was the turnoff for the finish line. I was happy but also kind of pissed I hadn’t tried harder the last couple miles. There was no way to cut this part of the course so I know I was on the right path, plus there were lots of runners around me. I finished at 7:15PM, ahead of my original goal time and a good half hour sooner than I was expecting at Virgin Desert.

My placing in the race kind of depends I guess. On the official site I’m listed as 51st, even though I was the 50th person to cross the finish line. They have the official results listed by chip time which I’ve never seen in an ultramarathon before. DUV has me listed as 50th since I was the 50th to cross. Whatever, out of 331 starters it was about where I expected to finish.

I got my medal and was just turning to head to the parking lot area since I was so early. I saw my wife just walking into the park. She was just as surprised as I was to see me so early. I laid down for a bit and then used my food ticket to get some nachos since we had so much extra time now.

We did indeed have plenty of time to eat nachos while talking to a couple other finishers, take a shower, and go to the restaurant. We were in bed by 10PM! Weird.

The next day I got up somewhat early since I can never sleep that well after a race. I went to get my drop bag that we of course forgot to get the night before. Then I picked up my wife and we went to the other valley in the Northwest part of Zion National Park and did a shorter hike to some overlook that wasn’t worth the effort. The valley itself would be cool but not in the morning. The sun was in our eyes trying to see the mountains. Afternoon would be much better. Our plane left that afternoon and soon we were home.

Elevation profile and distance based on my gpx file in GPSvisualizer.

Runners only section: Not much else to say here other than the 5500 feet of elevation gain is way off. It was based on a watch measurement, and my watch actually agreed pretty close with that. Mine came in at 5700 I think but I did also do that extra hill in the beginning. My watch only records a elevation change if it’s over 5 meters and I’m assuming the race watch did as well. If you change the threshold to 1 meter to include all those little hills (mostly on Gooseberry Mesa) in the race, you end up with 7992 feet. I’m guessing it’s somewhat less than that but much more accurate to how the course “runs”. It’s fairly technical with plenty of rocks to trip you or slip under your feet.

I know a fair amount of people quit the 100 mile race in the night so I’m guessing those extra Mesas they run are fairly difficult.

If they continue with this course, expect that last section from the bridge to be shorter than advertised, otherwise everything was pretty spot on.

Follow the white dots or get lost.

Hurricane is quite close to Virgin, we stayed on the very Eastern edge of Hurricane and it only took 10 minutes to get to the start line.

It’s about as easy as a race can get for a crew. Very little driving and lots of time for naps.

Pretty much full sun exposure the entire race so if it’s sunny, use some protection of some kind.

I would definitely recommend this race just because of the beauty of the place. If you’ve had your fill of Southern Utah for some reason, then maybe not. I could see myself someday going back for the full 100 miler, not for a while though.

Race results here.

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Lost in the Woods – 2019 Race Report

The 3rd rendition of the Lost in the Woods race took place April 27th in and around 7 mile creek park near St. Peter, MN.  Last years event was cancelled due to poor trail conditions.  I was worried this years’ might be cancelled as well since we had an April blizzard this year as well and the river was again flooded.  The forecast called for rain and snow, but whether it was cancelled or not I was going because I needed to get in some miles and hills for training if nothing else.  I received a confirmation email that the race was indeed still on a full 6 hours before the race was to begin. 🙂

This is the second time I ran the race although the course is changed every year.  This year was a 2 loop course with an extra aid station thrown in.  Basically you run up and down a bunch of hills off trail, tearing out pages of books similar to the Barkley Marathons, but much tamer.

Looks like a 3 year old just scribbled on a piece of paper and called it a map!

I got to the start line only about 30 minutes early this year which was basically enough time to get ready although I didn’t really read the whole directions sheet very closely since I was too busy talking and trying to figure out what I wanted to wear and bring with in my pack. It was already raining and about 38 degrees. It was going to get colder, windier and start to snow by 10AM as far as the forecast was concerned. I brought my poles with since I knew it would get muddy and these hills are steep!

Pre-Race Photo

We started off at 7AM on our clockwise loop if it could be called that. Pretty much a goofy figure 8ish type loop with an out and back in one part. Just look at the picture above and try to figure it out I guess. Since it just started to rain not long ago things weren’t very muddy in the beginning. I didn’t use my poles at all the first loop although there were areas they may have helped. In less than a mile I was sweating since I had too much clothing on. I stopped at a pavilion and changed out my thermal shirt for a regular long sleeve shirt.

Now I was way behind everyone which isn’t a big deal but it makes it easier to follow people so that they are the ones who have to figure out where to go. Eventually I caught up to a few of them at book 1 and was with them all the way to the first aid station. The downside of following people is of course following them the wrong way. We went right past book 6 and had to go back up and over a hill to get it. Ugh, there are enough hills already.

Aid station 1 was in the same place as last year. The short loop from there, which is basically just going down and up a hill for no reason other than to add a hill, was much more enjoyable this year. I’m not sure why but I think it was because there is landscaping which makes it more like steps up and down which made it much easier than the mud we were going on/sliding down everywhere else.

Now I was getting in front of the pack since I could actually bomb down that area and I didn’t stop long at the aid station either. It seemed like I had gone a long ways already but there was still around 9 miles left just on loop 1. I enjoyed the flattish trail running until it was time to go off trail once again for basically the remainder of the loop.

There were 15 books to find and 1 punch location where you punched the pages you had so far. These are the book titles I have from my pages: These Thousand Hills, Vertical Run, Impossible, Terminal Event, Personal Injuries, The Blooding, Breaking Point, Dead Run, Definitely Dead, Dead as a Doornail, Cause of Death, Death Qualified, Come to Grief. A couple didn’t have the titles on every page so I don’t know what the remaining ones are.

There was a point before the second aid station that was a new area for me. I’ve been to the park many times and always wondered what was at the bottom of the overlook area. It always looked way too steep to go down plus I figured it was private property. Well the map said to go down it so away I went. It is very steep! At the bottom was a creek. In fact with the rain, the bottom of every hill was basically a creek. The water was ice cold! The other water crossings weren’t near as cold as this one. On top of this the course, which was laid out with flags, crossed the creek multiple times. I think by the fourth time I was fully expecting there to be a sign that said “now lay down in the water for 10 seconds so you can freeze the rest of your body too”. Finally we went up the other side and a slightly less steep incline as going down. There was a beautiful path with lights strung up above it. I’m sure it’s beautiful in the winter.

The aid station was in a tent in a yard. I was the first one there! I haven’t really ever been in the front during a race. I ate some more candy bars and potato chips were just blowing my mind so I ate a bunch of those too. I had lost a water bottle somewhere after the first aid station but since it was so cold, just having 1 was enough for now. I left and then we went along some roads and through a plowed field. It was colder now and snowing mixed with the rain. The wind picked up as well. I finally stopped sweating. If you’ve never ran through a muddy field in the mid-west, just imagine tying bricks to the bottom of your shoes and that’s the kind of weight you experience with the mud stuck to them. I was definitely feeling tired now. Still 5 more books to go. After the next 3 books we went down to the main park area again.

Since the main creek in the park had flooded earlier, there was about 6 inches of new dirt laid down all over the grass and bridge in the East area. We had to cross this area which was interesting. If you ran fast you wouldn’t sink all the way into the new mud. I wish I had a picture of that area. It was kind of comical really. Tough Mudder would be jealous they don’t have an area of that size with mud.

There was an out and back which was new as well. With the constant rain, it was really getting muddy now and I knew I’d need the poles for the second loop. With the out and back I could see there was just 1 person close to me. This area as well as a few others had tons of wildflowers growing which made it enjoyable. I finally got back to the start/finish with the first loop in I think 4:12. I turned in my pages and got my new number to know which pages to tear out on the second loop.

The second loop was in reverse order which is good and bad. It makes it slightly harder since you could miss a book easier. It also allows you the opportunity to see where everyone else is. While I wasn’t planning on trying hard during this race because I just did the Zion 100k 2 weeks ago, I kind of had to try to win since I’ve never been in the lead before. I passed almost everyone by the first book so they weren’t far behind as far as distance goes. It would all depend on how much time they stayed at the aid station and whether they continued on the 2nd loop at all.

I don’t really have any pictures of the course since it was raining the whole time and I was pretty full of mud so I didn’t want to take my phone out. Unlike the race 2 years ago, the park was pretty much devoid of people not in the race so no one else took photos of us either. The plus side of no people is that no one messed with the books this year.

After I passed the last person I would only see someone at the aid stations. The mud made it go slow. My poles helped but when they sink in 5 inches they almost made it worse. I was hoping to get done in 9 hours total but that was getting doubtful since I had to walk down everything. Since everything was backwards, the 2nd aid station was now 1st. I wasn’t looking forward to the steepest climb of the course which was the part going up the overlook hill after the multitude of creek crossings. The water was still cold! I slowly made my way up and was glad I was the first to do it as it would only get worse with more people going over the same place.

I tried to keep the pace up but it wasn’t going to happen with the mud. I had to get my map out a few times since I kept convincing myself I missed a turn somewhere even though I never did. I think the course flags might’ve been placed while going clockwise with not as much thought about going the other way. Often a flag would be hiding behind a tree when going the counter-clockwise direction. I was going slow enough though that I wasn’t too worried about going past one without knowing it.

I found my water bottle just before getting to the last aid station. It fell out while I was ducking under a downed tree I suspect. When I finally got to the last aid station the race director was there and asked how it was going. I think I grunted and he responded “going well then!” He assured me it was all “downhill” from there. While there weren’t many hills left, the hills on the south side of the park seem to have more clay in them so they are much worse when it’s wet.

I wasn’t sure where anyone else was but knew there were 7 of us still on the course. I remembered it would be about 2 miles to the finish from the last book in this counter-clockwise direction. This was a fairly easy 2 miles. I was starting to get excited that I would finish first. With some irony, I got a text from my wife wondering if I was ever coming home. She was expecting me to be done a couple hours ago. I joked that apparently winning wasn’t fast enough. To be fair I was hoping to be done in 8 hours without knowing anything about the course.

I walked up the last big hill to the finish line and rang the bell to signify my finish. I turned in my pages and sat down. It had just stopped raining minutes earlier, so I can’t say it rained the entire race. I thanked them for a great course and ate the famous finish line chili.

The finish bell. The finishers names are engraved below it every year.
This was to make my friend Ed jealous since he didn’t show up this year.

Results

1.       Nathan Marti                     9:03

2.       Bryan Whitesel                 9:55

3.       Tyler Struss                         10:18

4.       Katie Looft                          10:19

5.       AJ Groebner                      10:19

6.       Paul Grimm                        10:19

7.       Jim Weart                            10:20

DNF

Josh Winkler

Lisa Bos

Gregg Lind

The course itself was around 14 miles a loop. I ended up doing 28.3 miles with the extra due to missing book 6 initially. The total gain only came out to about 7000 feet. It certainly seemed like more than that. I suspect it was due to the steepness of the hills this year. The last time I did it, there was more elevation but it also wasn’t muddy. That really wears on all the accessory muscles. I only biffed it twice but that was helped by the poles I’m sure. The good thing with the rain was I got to test out my rain coat in a race and it performed fine. The course always changes so we’ll see what next year brings. Maybe 3 loops of the same course. That’d be tough to finish in the time allotted.

A few hills would you say?

Arrowhead 135 Race Report – 2019

This was my third time starting and finishing the Arrowhead 135 (2017, 2018).  I had some lofty goals that needed to be changed based on the weather but I stuck it out and finished.  Really, I’ve never seen the trail in such a perfect condition.  It was smooth and hard packed the entire way except for a few snow drifts in the swamps at the end.  The wind was at our backs most of the time so that’s good.  My sled and gear only weighed 40 pounds this year at the start so that was much better than last year.

And yet, only 13/64 (20.3% finisher rate) foot division competitors finished this year.  The reason of course was the weather.  It was one of the coldest years and maybe the most consistently cold year.  Air temps have been colder at the race before and it was more than -40 both the day before and after the race (we lucked out?).  I think the main thing was that it just never warmed up.  It was relentlessly cold and it got worse as the race went on.  Colder and windier!  Even half the bikers quit and you couldn’t have had better trail conditions for them, plus it didn’t get really cold until some of them were done already.  No skiers and no kick sled guys finished.  It was a tough year all around.  I was more surprised how many people actually showed up to begin with.  It was pretty clear a week before, that it would be especially cold this year.

My goal for this year was to go for speed.  This did get changed once it got cold, but I still went ahead with that plan in the beginning to get as far as I could while the temperatures were still reasonable to limit the time I’d have to be out there in the severe cold.  I built a new sled for this year but ended up using my old one after a training run on Sunday morning (-44F) showed the new one wasn’t better in the cold on a hard trail and since it weighed more, I used the old one.  Neither sled gave much “run” due to the low temps.  Things don’t slide on snow and ice well at all once it gets so cold.  Also the surface snow consistency makes a big difference.  It pretty much felt like pulling through dry flour but not quite as bad as sand.  All I heard the entire first day was how hard the sleds were pulling so I wasn’t the only one.  Hills that during my first year at Arrowhead (20F) I could slide down with ease, I couldn’t even move an inch this year.

I’ll now go back to more specifics and a timeline format.  I drove up Saturday as usual and picked up my friend Ed at Fortune Bay where he left his car.  He’d bring me back to my car at the end like last year.  We went straight to gear check-in and got through quickly since we both have done this a few times and had everything laid out in a minute for exam.  A graduate student was doing a nutrition study so I grabbed a questionnaire for that as well as my bib and goody bag.  We then checked into our hotel, ate, etc.  I also did some final packing of my gear bag, drop bag, filled out the nutrition survey, and checked the weather forecast a lot!

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This years goodie bag. There’s a bunch of safety stuff too about how to not kill yourself, etc.

The next day I got the car started at -44F, barely, and went on a trial run with my 2 sleds as I stated earlier.  I ran near the Gateway checkpoint so I got gas there and checked out the store layout since I couldn’t go in there last year.  The lady explained where things would be tomorrow on race day which was helpful.  I then went back and turned in my drop bags for Mel George’s and the finish line.

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Everywhere was a fog cloud at -44 Sunday morning.

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Gateway store.

At 4pm was the mandatory meeting and supper.  I met a couple more people I knew there.  After supper I went back to the hotel room for serious packing, putting on my KT face tape, laid out my clothes after final weather forecast check, and Facetime with family.

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There were I think 3 film crews this year. I don’t know why.

The morning of the race I got up just before 5AM.  Probably wouldn’t need to be up that soon but that’s when I woke up.  I used the coffee maker in the room to heat up my 2L water.  I weighed my sled, gear, water, food, etc and it was 39#.

It was supposed to be -20F at the start but it ended up being only -12F.  I took off another jacket and got out colder gloves as well.  I had already planned on being cold on purpose since I overheated last year.  I wore cast stockings on my shoes but that was too much and took them off after 10 miles.  Otherwise I had on medium weight Injinji socks, Altra Olympus shoes, 2 pair of pants, 2 shirts, my breathable hooded jacket, fleece hat, and warmer fleece gloves.  I was only outside about 2 minutes before the bikers started.  Before that I just stayed in my car and took a couple pictures.

The race started on Monday Jan 28th, 2019 at 7:00 AM with the usual fireworks! https://www.facebook.com/140879779273203/videos/322266671727966/

We left on foot at 7:04AM.  https://www.facebook.com/140879779273203/videos/2176261242591187/

I had my clothes pretty much dialed in other than I didn’t need the cast socks.  I also quickly changed my fleece hat for a buff.  The groomer had been out about half an hour before the race started so everything was packed down nice and smooth.  I was kind of close to a few people for an hour and then it was more spread out where I’d only see them as we leapfrogged while stopped for water, food, or whatever.

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Sunrise the first day.

It was much easier to run this year due to the sled being so much lighter.  It still pulled harder than in training due to the cold and snow conditions but it didn’t grind me down to walking right after the turn onto the Arrowhead trail like last year.  This year I ran on and off all the way to Gateway.  Of course there are people that walk just as fast as my run/walk so it’s not like I was cruising along quickly either.

The trail was so hard and packed that it even has a camber on it similar to a road.  I had to occasionally room on the other side of the trail to keep my accessory muscles happy.  That’s the first time I’ve experienced that in a winter race!

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45 minutes into the race.

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I made it to Hwy 53 in 4 hours this year.

One thing that was kind of weird this year was that it always seemed to be snowing.  While it really only snowed for part of the first afternoon, there were always crystals the size of snowflakes falling down.  It’s normal when it’s this cold to have frost particles in the air but this time they were just so much larger than I was used to.  I’d have to brush layers of the stuff off my duffle bag every time I stopped.  The warmest it got during the first day was just below zero.  I was hoping to use my deep freezer thermometer but it kept giving me high readings.  I checked it before I left and when I came back with a calibrated digital thermometer and it read accurate.  My best guess was that since it was a spring coil type thermometer, that the constant twisting of it back and forth made enough heat to make it read wrong.  The things was shaking everywhere while I was moving.  When I’d stop for 10 minutes or more, it would show accurate to what volunteers had at check points but once I started off again it would read 5 degrees hotter.

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Somewhere near Gateway. Credit: Burgess Eberhardt

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Somewhere near Gateway. Credit: Burgess Eberhardt

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Somewhere near Gateway. Credit: Burgess Eberhardt

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Somewhere near Gateway. Credit: Burgess Eberhardt

I was eating fairly well the beginning of the race this year.  Some things from last year tasted bad this year.  Some new things were awesome this year.  I knew it would be hard to eat later on in the cold so I tried to maintain some food intake as long as I could.  Again the faster I could go now, the less miles to cover in the cold later.

Finally I got to Gateway at 3:45PM, ahead of last year since I could run so much more.  Originally I had planned on only 20 minutes here but I took more time since it was already clear that the weather forecasts were getting worse not better for the next 2 days.  Basically it meant changing socks and drying out my shoes some due to wearing the cast socks when I didn’t need to in the beginning in the race.  I wanted a cheeseburger but they only had a hamburger that ended up being red in the middle.  I heard there were chicken tenders at one point which would’ve been good too.  Really there are tons of great options there but I’m partial to cheeseburgers.  I reloaded on hot water and left at 4:15PM.

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I always like wondering about this place on the way to Gateway.

It started getting dark soon after Gateway.  There was a biker still near me that I was leapfrogging with.  It was kind of fun since his headlamp must’ve been at least 400 lumens and lit the trail up pretty good.  This makes for awesome shadows.  I pretended to be a giant monster roaming through the trees.  My shadow was at least 50 feet long.  I do this sometimes with the kids at home on the side of the house.

Speaking of lumens, I thought I’d tell what I use.  I have a black diamond sprinter headlamp.  It maxes out at 125 lumens I think.  That’s enough to see down the hill when you’re sliding. Otherwise I turn it down to probably 40-50 lumens the rest of the race.  It’s got a nice feature that you just touch the side and it goes to max power and then when you touch it again, it returns to where you had it.  Very convenient for the hills.  Last year with the full moon I didn’t even need that much light.

I put on my headphones now but had to keep the iPod in my glove so the battery wouldn’t die.  I don’t understand how some rechargeable lithium batteries like my headlamp can last in -30F for 2 nights and yet an iPod dies in 15 minutes in -10F.  It got to about -15F by 11PM and continued to slowly drop from there until 9AM the next day when it was about -26F.  I put my second jacket on at some point after Gateway and a skull cap and fleece hat over that when I got the headlamp out.

The cold valley from last year wasn’t as bad since it was windy this year and the cold air didn’t settle in there very well.   It was -31F with the windchill slightly coming from behind versus the -35F last year.  I still should’ve put my googles and face cover on though.  My hands, feet, and body felt warm and toasty but my nose was getting cold without me knowing it.  I should’ve felt it with my fingers to confirm the temp instead of just thinking it felt warm.  Anyway once I put on my face cover, my nose felt hot so I knew I was later than I should’ve been.  Veteran making a rookie mistake!  I have always done a mental check at least every hour to see how things are going.  Most of the time it’s much more often, especially in a cold year like this.  I’ll obviously be adding a physical touching of the nose to confirm temp from now on.

This is the point in the race that the mental challenge really begins.  It’s cold, you’re tired, I hadn’t seen anyone for at least 6 hours.  I had only seen snowmobiles once from the race up to this point.  The race course itself doesn’t even get hard until after the half way point and since I’ve been on it twice before, I knew well what suckyness was coming.  I was able to check my phone again and saw the forecast for Wednesday morning was even worse, now showing -38F at sunrise.  Plus a windchill of “doesn’t matter at this point anymore, keep everything covered dumbass!”  The high for Tuesday was supposed to be -18F (it never got that hot by the way) which wasn’t great either.  I really had to wonder if I wanted to go all the way to Surly checkpoint at 111 miles just to have to quit because I didn’t think I could make the last 23 miles through the swamps in the cold.  I thought about this for hours and never really came to any decision.

I really didn’t know if people were quitting the race or not.  I never saw any snowmobiles filled with dropped competitors pass by me like I did last year.  I had no clue how many people were in front of me either.  The snow was so hard, it was difficult to make footprints or for the sleds to make tracks to count how many in front of you.  I found out later, people were dropping quickly behind me and a couple in front.

Going across Elephant Lake for the mile going into the wind to Mel George’s sucked as always.  The windchill was -39F at this point if you believe the official of 9mph wind.  It certainly felt faster than that on the lake but at least it wasn’t that bad in the trees.  I showed a biker where to go once I got to land.  There weren’t as many markings at this turn as in previous years.  In fact most years there was a volunteer there to point the way.  With the temp this year, it was understandable for no one to be there.  I checked in to the second checkpoint at Mel George’s at 3:15AM which was later than I had hoped.  I just always seem to think this section will take less time than it does.  I’m also convinced it’s 73 miles and not 72 miles to the checkpoint which accounts for some of that.

I had never used the check-in cabin before so I certainly wasted some time here that I could fix in later years.  I ate about 1000 calories of food and tried to organize my clothes and such that I knew I’d change into after sleeping.  I charged my watch and headlamp up to make sure they’d make it through the cold to come.  I eventually made my way up to the loft to sleep.  All the beds were taken.  Somehow there were 8 competitors in the cabin but I only counted like 4 bikes.  Anyway it was hot enough to not need a blanket or anything.  I put in my earbuds and listened to white noise.  I was tired enough to drown out the talking and snoring with the white noise and slept for a total of about 50 minutes.  It wasn’t great sleep since I was constantly woken up but it’s all I was going to get and certainly better than trying to bivy up in the cold and wasting time with that.

I got up, checked the weather which was about the same and decided to keep going without really thinking about it very much.  I had more layers than last year with me.  It took me way too long to get out the door.  I had my stuff spread out over too many areas.  It was so hot in the cabin that I couldn’t really change into my clothes until I was in the breezeway.  I went back and forth a bunch of times getting stuff ready and packed and loaded.  I did finally leave at 5:45AM.  2.5 hours and not even an hour of sleep.  What a waste.  Plus my shoes were still by the door and I never got them in a place where they could dry out.  I had on 3 pair of pants now, including my windpants.  I had 3 shirts on and 2 or 3 jackets (I know by nightfall I had 3 on but I’m not sure when I put that one on).  Face mask, goggles, skull hat and fleece hat.  I now had on wool Injinji socks and also upgraded to mittens from gloves.

It was slowly still getting colder and windier.  The big hills after Mel George’s kept me warm and were steep enough to slide down.  I had poles with me this year for the first time.  They were a big help on the hills.  Not that I made it up them much faster, but I could keep my feet straight instead of pushing off the sides of my feet which prevented me from getting the hip pain I’ve gotten every other year.  By sunrise it was -26F and a 13mph wind.  That’s -50F windchill although I was protected from most of that wind by the trees and often going with the wind.

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Elbow Lake shelter.

This was a pretty lonely section.  No snowmobiles at all during the day except one at dusk.  I heard one bird and saw a small dead mouse.  Otherwise no wildlife at all.  The sun stayed out longer than it was supposed to which was nice.  It was rare that I wasn’t in a shadow though so it didn’t warm me up much.  I never bothered with the iPod (too cold) although it would’ve been nice to listen to some podcasts or something.  I pretty much just went into cruise mode and tried to eat and maintain speed.  The sled pulled so hard that I couldn’t run the sections I ran last year even though my sled was lighter and I had some sleep.  I had to breath in through my mouth and out my nose all the rest of the race to make sure I didn’t make my nose cold again.  It was annoying but I eventually got used to it.

I didn’t see things in the trees like last year.  I only thought there was something there twice and I knew right away I was wrong.  I made a game of guessing what it was in reality before I got there.  It guessed wrong both times.  It was always a tree that was horizontal with snow on it.  One time I thought I saw an orange streak go past.  In fact I did, it was a photographer walking behind a sign that I saw after a small bend in the trail.  I don’t know where that picture is.

Around mile 96 when I was taking a break, John Storkamp and Ray Sanchez caught up to me.  I thought Ray had left before I went to sleep at Mel George since he was packing up stuff as I went up to the loft but he hadn’t.  We were kind of together for 10 miles or so when I could no longer see John.  I absolutely hate the section after 99 miles.  Just non-stop STEEP climbs for 5 miles.  Ray and I pretty much went in together to Surly.  If not for my nose, I could’ve gone faster after those hills but there really wasn’t much point anymore.  I had given up on time long ago due to the cold.

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Going down the hill into the flats before Surly. Photo Credit: David Jess

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Going down the hill into the flats before Surly. Photo Credit: David Jess

There is a nice downhill to the flats before Surly checkpoint after you turn South East.  I couldn’t even tell there was an incline this year.  I knew were I was but I kept thinking it couldn’t be right since it didn’t seem at all like I was going down.  It’s even steep enough to slide down if it’s 20F.  I was pretty bummed when I realized we were down to the bottom land and indeed the downhill was rendered ineffective due to the cold.  The wind was behind me now for the rest of the race.  In the picture above you can see the cloud around my face.  It was hard to see since the headlamp would light it up no matter where you pointed it or how bright it was.  You couldn’t hold your breath long enough for it to dissipate either.  There was just a constant steam cloud in front of you.  It also started to fog up my goggles and they were useless by Surly.

We got in to Surly at 7:10PM which was much later than I wanted but again, time wasn’t of concern anymore, safety was.  I ended up staying an hour which didn’t seem that long.  I ate some food since I hadn’t had anything for a long time.  I dried my shoes over the stove in the teepee and changed socks one more time just in case.  The trail at Surly was like a wind tunnel.  Taking your glove off for a couple seconds made them cold.  I brought in most of my clothes to the teepee to figure out what to put on and what to put in my most accessible areas of my pack (what I call the on deck area) for easy access.  I knew there was essentially zero places out of the wind a few miles past Wakemup Hill so things had to be done now if possible.  I also put on the cast socks again in case it got down to -40F.  It wasn’t supposed to anymore but it’s just easier to put on now.  In the end I wouldn’t have needed them on.  I also put on the cold avenger mask I bought this year.  I had never used it before and wasn’t real keen on not being able to eat and drink with it on but with the cold and wind, it was a better protector than the other face mask I was using.  I put on a fourth jacket as well.  I hoped I wouldn’t get too hot since this is the jacket that likes to freeze shut and can’t be taken off easy.  I put thin running gloves on under my mittens so that I never had to have skin exposed to do more finer detail oriented things like drink or eat or pee.

They shot off some fireworks when people left which was kind of cool.  Of course I forgot something so mine went off before I actually left for good.  I felt great after the rest and ran pretty much the whole way to Wakemup Hill to get the blood flowing and since I felt good.  I couldn’t wear the goggles anymore since they just fogged up like crazy with the cold avenger.  My eyes were cold which made me somewhat cold but there wasn’t much to do about it until I figured something out later on.  The other thing the cold avenger does is put all the moisture directly at your neck.  All my zippers were frozen in ice in minutes.  Good thing I wasn’t planning on taking them off until the end of the race.

I was tired but not as bad as last year.  I was taking caffeine pills to help stay awake.  Really I mostly was just bored.  I knew it would be about 8 hours to finish this section and after the fun Wakemup Hill there is still 7 hours left of boredom going slowly uphill.  I tried to sing songs that I made up but even after a 10 minute long made up rhyming song, you still had hours left. There were no people at any of the road crossings.  The other years there was a car at almost every road crossing.  Really the entire race there were very few road crossings with people.

I’d get too hot if I ran, but slightly cold just walking.  I figured out it was because the back of my pants all breath and the strong wind behind me were going through them.  Also I didn’t have a wind proof hood or goggles anymore so my head was slightly cold.  I decided to take the time to put on my snowpants.  These are super warm and I had them basically in case I had to just stand still or bivy.  But they’re windproof as well.  I put them on and my legs were immediately hot.  My head was still cool so I took an empty zip lock bag and tore one edge to make it into a 3 sided hat.  I put it under my hood and headlamp and it worked great.  Within minutes I was overheated and had to slow way down.  Like 30 minute mile slow which was just dumb.  I decided to just take off the snowpants and deal with the wind.  It took a while to cool down but eventually I could walk fast again and had more normal breathing.

Sometimes I’d even have to take the zip lock bag off as well to keep cooler.  I’m thinking a thin wind pant and a poncho instead of the 4th jacket would’ve been better.  Plus not having to need the cold avenger mask.  With about 4 hours left to go I ended up taking the cold avenger mask somewhat off, just keeping it close enough to my face to help warm the air.  The other downfall was all the snot I was consuming.  The mask somehow made it all run or blow into my mouth.  The last hour of the race it was a struggle not to barf from the taste of the snot and having a belly full of it.

I ate some food thinking it would help, I felt this bump on my tongue start forming right after I ate it.  I think I froze part of my tongue with the -26F food.  Won’t be doing that again.

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See the white spot on my tongue?

Anyway it was still getting colder.  The wind seemed to die down for a bit but then really took off again more from the West instead of the NW.  The official wind speed at Tower was not close to what the trail condition was for wind in my opinion.  I was keeping warm enough and could always put back on the snow pants and wrap myself in the sleeping pad on top if I needed to.  Really I had to thermoregulate somewhat like last year by taking on and off my mittens (still had the thin gloves on) and hats.

I so wanted to be done.  I would look back every once and a while looking for Ray since I knew he would be right behind me.  Turns out he made a wrong turn somewhere and went 4 miles off course so he was no where near me.  I was miles from anyone in either direction.  I slowly started counting down the miles.  It was hard to see the trail through the swamps with the snow drifts blowing over it and the giant fog cloud in front of me.  I just looked down and followed the couple tire tracks I could see.  For hours!  I ran occasionally just to change things up.  I got out my poles again just to have something for my arms to do.

I thought I saw a UFO.  There was this light moving all around crazy in the sky.  Turns out I just was moving my head around in the wind and from being tired the fog messed with my perception of what was stationary and what wasn’t.

Finally I got to the last road crossing.  There was still more to go but at least my mind would be occupied with the multiple turns and twists to the finish line.  Up to now it was just miles of straight lines with an occasional 10 foot jog in the trail.  The hill to the finish line was easier with my poles.  I was surprised that I didn’t have to go into the tent at the finish line to find someone.  They somehow saw me coming or else they are really hardy to stand in a -54F wind chill waiting for hours at a time.  I finished at 3:54AM for a time of 44:50 and 5th place.  That was very similar to last year which wasn’t too bad.  It was -33F air temp.  We went in right away.  I would’ve liked a photo at the finish line but I couldn’t get my phone up from my chest very easy with the cold avenger having frozen everything.  They gave me the Minnesota nice gear check which was the first time I got that one.

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Bag works pretty good doesn’t it? Photo Credit: Paul Wilken

I went up to the deserted hospitality lounge.  Well, it was deserted other than the volunteers.  Volunteers are awesome at this race!  So few people were around since so many quit the day before and already went home.  I got some food and talked about the sucky last section.  I got to pick from a large selection of finisher trophies since not many bikers finished this year.  This is where I learned about Ray getting lost and my friend Ed dropping.  The next person to come in was almost 4 hours after me so I think they probably got a nap in after I left the room.  I was able to check in to my hotel room which is so nice.  I love the Fortune Bay Resort.  I paid them back by eating every buffet they had until I left Thursday.

I showered, slept for an hour, got up and ate and slept again.  The usual.  I posted pictures of everything I was wearing when I finished the race.  Here they are.

Here are the screen shots of the official NWS sites during the race along the trail.  Trail conditions certainly vary from this some.  I wish it would record the actual wind chills as well but you just have to calculate that yourself.  Overall a very cold year!  Maybe next year will be a huge snow year.

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Since people have been asking, and you made it all the way to the end so you probably actually care; here is the elevation profile and mileage chart I made based on the full gps track I made during the race.

Arrowhead mileage chart

FANS 12 Hour Race Report – 2018

This is a looped 2.14 mile course timed event.  It takes place in Fort Snelling State Park along the MN river and is mostly shaded.  But since it’s down by the river and in trees, there isn’t much wind and it’s quite humid.  Especially this year since it rained/sprinkled on and off most of the day.  The race website has quite a lot of information here.  I was thinking of doing the 24 hour race but decided on the 12 hour in order to not cause too much damage to myself if I was to get into a more important race for me in September.  The main goal with this race was to try out some new gear and to get used to an aid station every 2+ miles which Spartathlon has.

The other big thing with this race was it was my son’s first long race.  He’s done a few 5k races and seems to like it.  He’s also run some training runs with me.  He did the 12 hour event as well and was the youngest one there at 5 years old.

We got there and set up a tent and chairs so that Alex had a place to go when he wasn’t out on the course and for our crew to hang out.  Our crew was my wife and daughter.

The first loop here is longer than normal (3.87miles) since we run out to a point on the course and then run back before we run the complete loop.  I did this entire first loop with Alex so we took it fairly slow.  The trail is fairly wide so it wasn’t an issue with everyone in the 6, 12, 24 hour race starting at the same time.  The turn around is a big upright log placed in the middle of the trail that you run around and go back.  Everyone of course was interested in Alex and how he’d do.  I warned him ahead of time that he’d hear how cute he was a bunch of times and that he’d just have to get used to it (he doesn’t like it when people call him cute).  We also went over the amended rules as far as talking to strangers, etc compared to normal times.

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Cute little dude

We did pretty well and finished it in 41:22.  He walked the next loop with mom and I started running my planned pace.  Apparently he got tired of how slow they walked and started speed walking away from them.  He can really move when he walks fast.  I ended up catching up to him (lapping him) just as he finished his loop 2.  He then took a break in the tent and waited for our crew to meet him there.

My splits were pretty consistent and I’d eat small amounts each lap with things that would be at Spartathlon, or I planned on bringing with.  I ran with Alex on my lap 7 again.  This is when drama happened.  There is a steepish uneven part of the trail towards the end of the loop and Alex fell and got all scraped up.  There were some tears but I was able to convince him it would hurt just as much to walk than to run.  Luckily our crew was waiting at the lap counting tent so I handed him off to them and the medic.  They didn’t really do anything to him since it wasn’t that bad, I think that was the only thing the medic had to do the entire race.  I knew that would make him not want to run for awhile.

I then ran with Courtney Dewalter the next lap since we have a race we’re both running in October and I wanted to get to know her a little.  Plus she’s famous.  If you didn’t know, she has the American Women’s 24 hour record and the course record for this race and likely many other races.  She grew up in MN so that’s kind of cool.  She’s probably the best women’s long distance ultrarunner in the US.  I tried to impress on my daughter how good she is and that she can kick her dad’s butt in an ultra.  I think she was impressed.IMG_20180602_201016

I pretty much went into cruise mode for awhile.  Nothing was really hurting.  It wasn’t very hot and I wasn’t having any stomach issues.  I’m not sure if it was because it wasn’t that hot  (it only got to about 73 degrees but it was essentially 100% humidity in the valley) or if it was the omeprazole I was taking since there’s research from the Spartathlon race that it helps with GI issues.  Either way, not much to report for most of the race.

Well I guess I forgot one interesting thing.  There was what I believe was a snapping turtle laying her eggs right off the edge of the paved part of the path.  She had just started at the beginning of the race and someone had put cones around her so that people wouldn’t run her over.  It was fun to see her every 22 minutes having moved a little bit to lay more eggs.  She finally finished up around 1pm if I remember correctly.  I’m amazed she kept going like we weren’t a threat.turtle

About 5 people asked about Alex and I told him his fans were expecting to see him on the course again.  Jessie finally kicked him out of the tent in the afternoon and he speed walked 2 more laps.  I mean he can really move when he walks fast.  That got him to 12.4 miles.  I was hoping he’d do 1 more or a couple of the short loops you can do the last hour of the race to get over the half marathon distance.  Then he could brag he’s gone further than mom but that didn’t interest him so he just left it at 5 laps for the day.  Still not bad and it was what I was expecting him to do.  I think they just played outside by the lake for most of the rest of the day.

I changed socks and shoes at 42 miles.  It had mostly quit sprinkling and I wanted to get into dry socks.  The other issue was the trail part of this course isn’t dirt, it’s packed crushed rock.  My wife couldn’t understand why everyone was complaining about the course, but hitting those rocks without a rock plate in your shoes hurt after awhile.  I was running in Altra Escalante thinking that’s what I would use at Spartathlon.  Nope, just not enough shoe.  I switched to my Altra Olympus at that point.

I was hoping to get 50 miles in 8:45 but with the couple slower laps with Alex and the shoe change it ended up being 8:53.  Still not too bad.  I was mostly trying to go slow in the beginning and keep things under control.  Finally around mile 55 I started a run/walk strategy since I was getting low on energy and needed a change in stride once and a while.  It didn’t slow me down all that much, just 2 minutes a lap.  Still under 12 minute miles.

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After one of the rains.

I finished 29 full loops and I would’ve had time for 1 more full loop but decided to play it safe and start the short loops with 25 minutes left.  Some people started the short loops as soon as possible and I could see why.  It’s paved and fairly flat so even though you have to turn around every eighth mile, it seems faster.  I went back and forth 9 times for 2.25 additional miles.  Someone had a cone on his head at one end and you had to run around him.  It seemed like a joke but I think it was done out of necessity.  I suspect people kept kicking over the cone.  Either way it was fun.  I left about 9 seconds on the clock so not much wasted time at all.  The total distance was 65.9 miles which was good for second place male!conehead

I was sorer than I thought I’d be just doing a 12 hour race but then again I ran over 100k in that time so it makes sense.  My coach had me running again a couple days later but I think that may have been too early.

Alex got to pick where to eat, so of course he picked a Chinese buffet.  I found one on the phone and it wasn’t too bad.  The awards ceremony was the next morning at the finish line and included a breakfast.  I got my award plate and should get a special shirt for reaching 100k in 12 hours as well.  Everyone got a race shirt and finishing medal.  Even though it’s way too big for him, Alex wears that shirt all the time.  He doesn’t really talk about it, but I think he’s pretty proud of himself and his accomplishment.  That’s all I wanted for him by doing this race.  To see the fruits of hard work and to be satisfied with a job well done.

I would do this race again if it ever works out.  The timing of it interferes with a fair amount of races I’m interested in which is why I haven’t run it until this year.  It also has a fairly high entry fee since its purpose is to raise money for scholarships for kids.  Most timed races are half the cost but for me this race is so close that it’s really a wash cost wise.  You can get pledges to pay for your entry which is a nice option too.

Arrowhead 135 Race Report – 2018

“I’m never doing that unsupported again!” I said as I crossed the finish line just a few days ago.  Do I still think that?  Probably, but I’m still tired.  Let’s go back a bit first.  Here is last year’s race report for more details on the race itself, etc.  Ken the race director came up with the new category of this race called unsupported last year.  You have to do the race once before you’re allowed to try it unsupported and with good reason.  While it doesn’t seem like it would add that much more difficulty to an already difficult race, it does.  Since I finished last year, I wanted to try unsupported this year.

There aren’t really any unsupported rules written down in one place so I’ll summarize them as they currently are.  Basically all the rules are the same as the supported race except you can’t get ANY support from the race, the race volunteers, businesses at the checkpoints, in addition to outsiders that no one in the race can get aid from.  That means you don’t get to warm up at the 3 checkpoints, you don’t get any water or food at them either.  You are allowed to use garbage cans to throw away trash.  You can use a porta-potty if it’s outside.  You can use a fire if you find one along the way or make your own with wood you collect yourself.  You can receive aid from other racers as long as it doesn’t involve food or water.  That last one I’m not sure I totally agree with.  Any aid seems like it shouldn’t be allowed but that is also so against everything that ultrarunners believe in so I’m fine with it.

So what does all this mean for how I prepared for this year’s race?  Well to start with I got a white gas stove since I’d have to melt snow at some point during the race and it would take forever with the Esbit tab stove I had.  I heard from the unsupported runners last year that melting snow took forever for them.  Also white gas works at extreme cold.  On a side note (rant) I’m so sick of people claiming those butane/propane tank stoves work in the winter.  You can’t change the laws of physics people.  Just because you went winter camping once and your canister stove worked (because the tank was kept warm and it was 0 degrees out) doesn’t mean crap when it’s -35 and your tank got cold because your “foolproof” idea to keep it warm didn’t work.  Having a canister stove will pass inspection for the race but if you plan on going unsupported get a white gas stove.

I grew out a 5 week beard which I’ve never done.  Last year was only like 10 days and not enough.  I also got a better bivy.  I got a new -20 sleeping bag because the one I had was old and likely not as warm as it should be.  Based on my testing, I was right, the old one didn’t keep me as warm as the new one.  I wish I could afford a -40 bag, I’ll keep looking for a cheaper one.  I got down booties to wear in the sleeping bag.  I also got lightweight racing snowshoes that I saw someone with last year.

I changed my water carrying plan since my old method of a gallon jug in a cooler wouldn’t cut it this year.  I purchased a bunch of different thermoses and tested them outside.  I decided on a half gallon thermos from Walmart that worked better than most expensive ones.  I already had a 54 oz thermos that tested great as well.  I then took a 2L pop bottle and insulated it with bubble wrap.  I planned on using that last one to get me to Gateway (the first checkpoint) and then toss it in the garbage.  The other ones kept water warm for over a day in my tests.  The reason for carrying so much water from the beginning was to limit the amount of snow I would have to melt.  I expected I would make it close to Surly (3rd checkpoint) before I’d have to melt snow and I could use the fire there.  Maybe I’d even make it further if I could cut the hot water with snow along the way.

All together this added 10 pounds of gear to my sled I didn’t have last year.  10 pounds!  Ugh.  My sled, gear, and required calories weighed 37# race morning.  Plus 12# water and 5# food.  That adds up to 54# I was dragging behind me at the start and it would slowly get less as I went on.  I’ll add that my wife made the statement “It’s your own stupid fault for going unsupported.”  I was hoping for more of a response like “wow, you’re so strong, you can do it!”

The other thing I expected going unsupported would do was improve my finish time.  Yes improve.  Since you can’t stop at a checkpoint, you can’t stay there nice and warm longer than you should either.  I was hoping for 43 hours instead of 46 hours.  That was of course assuming conditions were similar to last year.

I guess I’ll add one more thing about this race in general whether unsupported or not.  The words Hope, Should, Usually, Worked Before are not helpful.  Thinking with those words will end your race.  Use words like Worst Case, Over-pack, and most importantly Contingency!

So if you’re not bored by now, I’ll get on with the race itself.

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Check In

I stayed at the Voyager Motel this year right next to the start line.  A friend left his car at the finish line and I drove him back to the start line.  That way he’d drive me back after the race to get my car and the gear he left there.  I ended up going to Canada this year since it’s so close and I wanted Poutine.  There was a restaurant that served it there that google said was open.  After paying the $7 to go across the bridge to Canada I found out it closed in December.  So back I went to the USA.

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View of Minnesota from the closed restaurant parking lot.

The race starts at 7am Monday morning for the bikers, here’s how it started.

 

 

We started at 7:06 with “release the hounds!”  I still love that.

It was -11 at the start and only forecast to get to about zero in the afternoon.  I wore my wind shorts, tights, and wind pants.  I had on my wool Injinji socks, Altra Olympus shoes and cast stockings on my feet.  I wore 2 compression shirts, my hooded jacket and wind jacket.  A fleece hat as well as fleece thinsulate gloves.  The sled pulled OK but it was obviously heavier than last year.  Also since it was colder the snow wasn’t as quick either.  I still ran to the turn onto the Arrowhead trail and a little further but didn’t run all the way to Hwy 53 like last year.

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I wore kt tape this year to help prevent frost bite. It made my face much warmer.

I talked to Pam Reed for a bit in the beginning but then didn’t really talk to anyone for more than a minute or so the rest of the race.  I just didn’t match up with anyone’s speed and since I was closer to the front of the pack this year it was just thinner in general anyway.  John Storkamp passed me a little later in the race than last year, still walking way faster than I can.

It never really seemed to warm up at all.  It was cloudy as well.  The main issue I was having was that I wore too much in the beginning and didn’t take things off soon enough so I got my second shirt layer and jacket somewhat damp.  I took off my hat and put on a buff.  I took off both jackets to start to dry out my shirts.  It was working and I was keeping warm for the most part.  I was mostly walking already by this point but that was fine, I was still keeping overall pace well since I was walking faster than last year.  I had trained a fair amount trying to get my walking speed up.

 

 

I got to Hwy 53 around the same time as last year.  There is phone service here so I texted my wife this good looking photo to let her know what she was missing.P_20180129_110843At this point I was starting to get a little colder and the shirt was mostly dried out now.  I put on my hooded jacket which was partly frozen from the sweat earlier.  It thawed out quickly but didn’t make me much warmer.  The whole reason I did all of this was to make sure it would be dry by the night.  It was supposed to get to at least -15 at night.  The problem was they kept changing the forecast to be colder and colder.  The clouds started to leave about 3pm so I was expecting at least -20 below in spots.  Therefore I knew I’d need all my jackets dry for this first night.  I did have an extra dry shirt but I might need that too later on.

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About mile 26 I think. Photo Credit Burgess Eberhardt

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Photo Credit Burgess Eberhardt

My hands started to get cold as a result of all of this unfortunately.  At one point after the turn south after shelter #2 I got real cold.  In fact my hands were colder than at any other point of the race.  It took forever to get my bag opened to get another jacket and warmer, dry gloves on.  I was so mad at myself for letting my hands get that cold.  I seriously just about had to call it quits.  It took me 2 minutes just to snap my running vest back on.  So many people seemed to pass me through all this.  This is all at about zero degrees remember and I had to go through much colder later.  It seemed so stupid at the time to risk my whole race just to dry out some shirts and jackets.  Of course later I would thank myself over and over again for doing just that.

A trail groomer went by I think around this time.  He only went on one side of the trail but the path he took went back and forth so I kept having to move around to stay out of the soft snow he made.  I was bummed to see one so soon as they make the trail much harder to traverse .  This year was different though.  Because it was so cold, the path he made starting firming up in just an hour.  By 2 hours it was nice and hard and smooth.  It ended up being better running on the path he made than anywhere else.

I still hadn’t bothered to try to play my iPod.  The battery would die quickly in this kind of cold and honestly for the next 20 hours or so I had much on my mind.  You’d think you’d get bored hiking through the woods for 2 days with nothing to listen to or people to talk to.  I can tell you there was no chance for that this race.  All I could think about was how to stay warm and survive the night to come.  What could I do now so that I didn’t have to do it later when it was colder?  Should I eat now or later?  When will I sleep?  And back to how will I keep warm?  The only thing I didn’t have to worry about was water.  My pop bottle was more than enough to get to Gateway and it stayed warmer than I though it would.  The thermoses still had water over 160 degrees so I knew I wouldn’t have to melt snow until it warmed up the second day.  The first place unsupported runner wouldn’t be so lucky and got frostbite on all his fingers melting snow when it was -30.

Now I make it seem like you could die out there and of course you could, but really we do have emergency gear to get into and keep warm while waiting for a rescue if it came to that.  Most of us have been in this kind of cold before as well.  There are also snowmobiles going by every once and a while to check on you.  I would never count on them to be there when you need them though and planned accordingly.

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Starting to clear up

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Warm enough for the ice beard to go away but still cold enough to freeze your hands if you’re not careful

I got to Gateway at 4 pm; the same as last year.  I had to open the door to the store to yell in, “#83 unsupported”.  Last year they were outside to get our numbers, but it was also in the 20’s last year.  On the way out the moon started to rise as the sun was setting.Jpeg

I threw away the 2L pop bottle and my cast stockings as they were getting full of snow.  I had been almost over-hydrated to this point since I didn’t plan on wasting any of the water I had in that 2L bottle before it froze so I drank more than I needed to.  Now I would go into my normal water use mode.  Since it was cold I only filled my water bottle part way most of the time and just had to stop to fill it more often.  In fact I stopped much more often this year than last due to all the water, food, and clothing stops.

The temperatures started dropping fast once the sun went down.  I texted my wife and shut my phone off.  I told her I’d try to message at MelGeorges but that never happened since it was so cold by the time I got there.  I didn’t have a thermometer but it is somewhat easy to tell the temp based on past experiences.  I was nice and warm at this point though.  I had got another jacket on when I got my headlamp out and put a fleece hat on again instead of the buff.

The ice beard was back big time now.  I was always breathing through my nose to conserve moisture and heat.  At times I would have snotcicles almost  2 inches long.  Gross and awesome at the same time.  I’d run to get my hands nice and hot and then break/melt them off with my fingers so I could open my mouth fully and open my nostrils again.  Then I’d warm my fingers back up in a minute or two.  At one point in the cold night my tongue froze to a snotcicle!  It melted off in a couple seconds but seriously it was stuck on it.  This was probably around -20 at the time.  I made sure to not let them get that big after that point.

I also put on my goggles as I was tired of my eyes freezing shut.  They make such a big difference in keeping my face warm.  I think I was the only person who wore goggles on foot and I’m not really sure why.  As long as you don’t mouth breath all the time they won’t fog up if you wait until you’re cold to put them on.  It’s weird how much heat you lose from your eyes and upper face.

I was expecting to get to MelGeorges around 3am if I didn’t stop before I got there.  This section is still mostly flat with areas of small hills.  I wasn’t as tired and run down as I was last year.  The full moon was awesome.  I never saw the northern lights and never heard any wolves either.

It was around -20 below by 9pm but at least there wasn’t any wind.  That’s both a blessing and a curse really.  Not having wind makes it not seem as bad as long as you can keep your gloves on and never touch anything.  But still air like that also allows the coldest air to settle in spots making it much much colder than the official temps.  I’ve tested things to -20 but it just doesn’t get much colder than that in southern MN so beyond that it was unknown other than what others have said.

I wasn’t tired at shelter #4 which was easier to see this year with the full moon.  I was kind of tired at #5 but there were already people sleeping there and I was starting to think I should try to stay awake until it warmed up the next day so I could sleep better.

It was at least -25 by now and still getting colder.  There is about a 2 mile section along lakes/swamps before the turnoff for MelGeorges that was absolutely brutal!  It was at least -35 in that area (it was officially -27 in Tower)!  I’ve never been in cold like that in my life.  The closest we got growing up was I think -34 the year that Tower got to -60.  I was at this time in the race playing leap frog with I think Ladislaus.  I didn’t take the time to talk really.  We would stop to put something warmer on and the other would pass.  I now had 3 jackets on and put on a second and third hat.  I had on my warmest gloves.  All there was left to put on was another pair of pants that would require taking off my shoes and outer layer of pants to put on.  That wasn’t going to happen in this cold.  I also had another shirt to put on but again that would require taking things off first.  I had more hats but really how many can you put on at once?  I was keeping everything warm including feet, hands, nose but just barely.  The next step for me would be to start stuffing everything else I had left in my bag into my jackets and pants to add insulation.  I also knew I could’ve put a couple pairs of thin gloves on under the thick ones as well.

There were still 4 more hours that it could get colder before it got warmer.  I really started to wonder if my race as unsupported would end at MelGeorges.  I was confident I could make it there without freezing to death as it would warm up once I got out of the swamps, or at least it wouldn’t be colder up there.  But I was worried what would happen if it got to -40 or -45 soon after I left MelGeorges.  This is where being supported in this race makes it so much easier.  I’d have a nice warm place to sleep while I waited out the cold weather or at the very least a safe space to remove my outer layers so I could add more inner layers.   I decided I’d look for a place to bivy after the turnoff to MelGeorges.  The plan was after I woke up, I’d have an hour or more to warm up before I got to the checkpoint.  If I wasn’t warm yet, then I’d go supported and go inside.  This would prevent me having to turn back if it got too cold after the checkpoint.

It did get warmer as we left the swamps and made the turn.  In fact I was going to have to start taking things off.  I don’t know if it really got that much warmer or if the climbing up just got the blood flowing better.  Maybe there was a slight wind I didn’t appreciate until it went away with the turn, I don’t know.  Regardless, I felt pretty good about bivying up now.  It was about 1:30am.  I packed some snow down in an area and even took my gloves off to finish putting it up with no issues (again if it was windy that wouldn’t have worked).  I needed them off to put the poles on the bivy.  Looking back I won’t use the poles again.  Not worth the weight, effort, and risk with taking gloves off.  I had everything (sleeping pad, sleeping bag, booties, bag for shoes) already in my bivy so all I had to do was roll it out and get in.  While I was warm putting it up and getting in, the second I lay down I started shivering.  The snow was cradling in against the bivy and essentially touching the sides of the sleeping bag.  While snow may be an insulator when you’re not touching it, it conducts a ton of heat away from you when you touch it.  I will never make the mistake of bivying in snow again.

I tried to sleep for about 20 minutes and maybe did for 5 between shivering spells.  I said forget it and got up and immediately felt warmer.  Warm enough to change my socks even.  I put some zinc oxide powder on knowing that with the warmer temps and snow that would start within 12 hours I’d get trench foot if I didn’t do it now.  I also usually put Vaseline on but that was much more challenging in the super cold.  It was almost as hard as a rock and I don’t know if I ever did get it to melt enough to cover everything.  I put a new pair of wool Injinji socks on again as it’d still be cold for some time.  Then I packed everything back up.  I spent about an hour of down time doing all this for maybe 5 minutes of sleep I think.

I got back to moving and it took no time at all to warm up.  Just standing up made me warmer it seemed.  It was about 4.5 miles to get to MelGeorges but it seemed to take even longer.  There were some hills which I almost welcomed just to make more heat.  I got there at 4:12am which was about on schedule due to the bivying time.  I again had to yell in the door, “#83 unsupported”.  I think everyone was a little groggy and it could be I wasn’t saying things right either but I had to say it like 3 times to get a response.  Someone then did come outside just to confirm who I was.

The next section is the longest and most difficult section.  The only good thing is I’d get to do a large part of it in daylight.  I still had a few hours till sunrise though.  The wind would be picking up as well soon from the South which was the direction I’d be heading.  I got to do those big fun hills in the dark this year!  I forgot to mention one sled change I did this year was to add runners to the bottom of my sled.  They made a huge difference in control on the downhills.  I think I might have gotten them just slightly off center as I always wanted to pull slightly left.  Either way it was worth the extra weight to not go crashing into the banks or go backwards down the hill.

So throughout all this bitter cold the sled seemed to pull about the same as it had earlier in the day.  It never acted like the Paris sled at Tuscobia 2 years ago where it pulled like it was in gravel when it got around -20.  The UHMW-PE just works a lot better in the cold than the linear-PE of the Paris sled.  Another reason to use it besides all the longevity and durability issues.  Once it finally got up to above 10 degrees the second day, it really started to move well and I could get a long run at the bottom of hills for once.  Then of course the new snow ruined all that but that’s getting ahead of myself.

The sun came up in glorious fashion (too cold to get my phone out to take a picture) as there were still no clouds and the wind came with it.  Just 5mph at first, then 10, 15, and close to 20 by Tuesday evening.  I kept the goggles on and put a fleece band over my nose when I needed it.  I could run some on the flat sections and was making decent time. Food was starting to no longer taste good or interest me. I so wanted real food but all I had was junk and that’s all that won’t turn to a brick in this kind of cold.  My mouth was getting damaged from eating all the frozen food and scratching the sides of it.

I tried to take off my outside puffy jacket that I just got this year and realized the zipper had froze from my breath.  I took out a chemical hand warmer (the only one I used) and got it going inside my mitten.  I then took it out and placed it on the zipper to melt a 2 inch section and zip it down.  Then back in the mitten to warm up again, melt 2 more inches, rinse and repeat.  Finally I had it down enough to get it the rest of the way.

This is also when I started listening to my iPod.  I just kept it in my glove to keep it warm.  It helped some with motivation.

I was constantly seeing things that weren’t there during the second day.  Rocks that I was convinced was a shelter from a distance.  I saw my dog once.  I saw people walking through the trees.  The snow and moving trees played tricks on me constantly.  I didn’t see things at night which seemed weird since I usually see things like that at night.  I know other people saw these things too so it couldn’t have just been the exhaustion.

One thing I know was real was the wolf poop.  I saw some twice the second day but they were already frozen so not that fresh.  I almost wanted to take some to examine later.  My kids would love it more than be grossed out by it.  Plus there was the extra excitement factor someone might have at gear check at the finish line.  Would they think it was mine?  Regardless I wasn’t going to dig through my gear to find an empty bag and haul around even a couple ounces more weight than I needed to.

I figured I would need more water and decided to melt snow before the 3rd checkpoint.  I decided to go to shelter #8 which is around 98 miles into the race and a few hours away from where I was at the time.  The snow then started around noon.  It came hard and fast.  With the wind it was hard to see at the tops of hills sometimes.  I finally made the shelter and it was facing the wind.  It still was nice though and the wind didn’t go through it.  It had a bench in it as well.  I got the stove going with a match since a lighter didn’t work in the cold.  It took forever to collect the snow to make 2L of water.  The 2 inches of new snow was fresh and pure but almost all air.  I didn’t dare take any snow below it since this was a shelter and we all know what guys do around shelters.

Once I got my water melted and it was heating up, I changed my socks again.  It was slightly easier to put the Vaseline on this time.  I put thinner socks on this time as it was warmer now.  I think it took around 45 minutes for all of this.  The water was boiling pretty fast and I didn’t have to wait around for it since I had a list of things to do on this stop.

Right after this shelter is the dangerous hills I went down in the dark last year.  I handled them much better this year.  I started seeing bikers at this point.  They must have slept at MelGeorges for a while and were out again.  Snow really makes it hard for them so they weren’t much faster than me.  The hills are steep and annoying for the next 8 miles or so.  Never ending really.  Plus with the new snow I couldn’t even go down all but the steepest hills with no run at the end.  I had already thrown away all the extra food I wouldn’t eat at shelter #7 to help drop weight but it was still heavy.

A couple women on bikes went with me for most of this section.  I must’ve looked pretty tired by this point.  I think they felt bad for me.  I had to decline all their offers of help of food since I was unsupported and really nothing sounded good other than hot pizza which was of course not going to happen.

Finally as it was just starting to get dark we got to the turn towards Surly.  It’s all downhill or flat from there.  The wind was really strong now when exposed.  It actually felt good.  It dried my feet out some and cooled me off.  I finally got to Surly at 6:30pm slightly ahead of schedule actually since I had already got my water done.  I walked past and called out, “#83 unsupported”.  I soon heard a response from a woman, “we support you!”  I laughed pretty hard at that one.  For some reason they don’t have me leaving until 7:40 but I never even stopped.

I should have though.  I was so tired.  It would’ve been much better to just sleep on my sled for 30-60 minutes right away to rejuvenate.  Instead I kept going.  Up and down Wakemup hill which was fun going down but harder going up.  In fact I ended up getting a huge cramp in my whole right hip/butt area after that climb.  It lasted for 2 hours and I could barely walk.  It hurt so bad!  Stretching did nothing.  Shoving my hand against it between my harness and butt seemed to help.  Finally I could walk somewhat pain free but I couldn’t push it for speed or run because it would cramp right back up.

I had done this section in 7 hours last year but that clearly wouldn’t happen unless I could run to make up the lost time.  About 5 hours into this section I started losing time.  I was falling asleep standing up.  I was confident I was still going in the right direction based on foot prints but no clue how fast or how far I’d gone.  My watch had died and the spare battery pack was basically froze.  My iPod had also died so I had nothing to help keep me awake.  I started just repeating the mantra, “walk fast, walk fast”, so I’d remember what I was doing.

Again I seemed to lose time and suddenly the 2 women on bikes who had gone the last section with me were there.  They had slept at Surly and were moving again.  They said the closest person to me was a ways back which was nice to hear as I was moving so slow.  I decided I had to try to sleep so I laid on my pack and set my phone alarm for 15 minutes.  I woke up shivering in 10 minutes.  I could actually run now!  I did for probably a mile and then had to walk again but I was definitely more awake now.

I crossed a road so I finally knew where I was.  I had 8.5 miles to go.  More than I wanted but at least I knew now.  I still had no clue how fast I was moving.  I tried hard and I felt like I was going 16 minute miles.  Turns out they were more like 20.  The wind had died down and I was getting hot.  I drank the last of my water but didn’t take anything off.  I just would take my hat and gloves off for periods of time.

Finally the turn to the casino!  I tried hard to run but I couldn’t.  The constant uphill for the last 20 miles wore me out and now it was even steeper to the finish.  I saw the snow fences and looked behind, still no one.  I enjoyed the last quarter mile to the finish.  I finished at 3:09am for a time of 44:03.  I had hoped for 42:30 but it was still better than last year!  I took pictures at the finish and then saw the next runner coming up the hill.  I had barely got there before him.

Jpeg
Yes!!!!

Jpeg
Exhausted

I had a gear check since I had finished pretty high up.  I didn’t know exactly where I finished.  I think they told me 6th at the finish line.  I was so stinking tired though so who knows.  It was a quick check which I appreciated since I just wanted to sit down.  I don’t mind the gear check, I just wish I could sit down somewhere.  They brought me up to the hospitality room and I found out I was 2nd place unsupported!  I was surprised.  I knew a couple of the guys who did it last year were doing it again and they were ahead of me the whole time.  I passed one somewhere around Surly or after.  The guy right behind me was unsupported as well.

P_20180131_073054
I think the coolest trophy I’ve ever gotten.

IMG_0796I got food and luckily they let me in my room early so I could shower, etc right away.  This was the first time in my life I had ever stayed awake for 48 hours.  I’ve done 38-40 hours many times but many of those weren’t while pulling a frickin’ sled in the woods.  I guess it was good training for a possible future race.

I slept 3 hours and found out my friend had dropped the day before.  So I was able to get my car that morning yet and my suitcase, etc.  The rest of the day was spent swapping stories with everyone who finished or didn’t, eating, and limping slowly around.  I was in love with elevators that day.

I left for home Thursday and was so happy to see my family again.

I’m glad I did this unsupported and finished it in decent health.  It was easily the hardest non-stop challenge I’ve ever done.  It’s hard to call it a multi-day since I never slept.  Certainly Volstate is longer but this is so much more isolating.  There is no where to hide from the weather when unsupported.  Having a warm place to go to change clothes, get food, sleep, etc is such a luxury really.

Arrowhead is hard.  Doing it unsupported is harder on so many levels.  I suppose there is always the option of doing the double arrowhead if I really want to make things hard on myself.

38 runners finished out of 64 that started (59%) which is pretty good considering the conditions.  Official results are here.

Tunnel Hill 100 Mile – 2017

“Always remember our goal is Greece.  Don’t mess up and I’ll try my best to get us there.”  That was the final remark in the crew notes to my wife for this race.

So let’s get the main details out of the way.  This is a 100 mile race in extreme southern Illinois (Land of Lincoln!) on an old railroad bed.  It isn’t paved so it is still technically a trail but because it’s so flat and smooth, it is also a certified course for distance.  The course is an out and back from a central location; You end up doing a Southern and Northern out and back twice for the 100 mile.  It’s in November so the temperatures are near ideal and little chance for rain in November.  Basically it was designed for fast times and breaking records.  Despite being flat, it is quite pretty.  There’s a 543 foot long tunnel you go through 4 times, and lots of trestles.  Also, with 566 total starters there are plenty of chances to talk to other people.  I’ll detail the race results later.

This race required a 10+ hour drive from MN to get there.  That’s a long way for a race but the entire purpose was to get under 21 hours to qualify for a future race.  I further wanted to get under 20 hours so that was my goal.  It wasn’t just because under 20 hours seems cooler than under 21, but the race I was qualifying for has reduced their time cutoff in the past and I wanted to be under what I thought they might change it to.  While this race would be easy to do without a crew since it’s an out and back past the same drop bags multiple times, I brought my awesome wife to crew once again.  I had all of about 15 minutes of down time changing clothes, peeing, getting food and drink because of her.  The majority of aid stations I wouldn’t even stop as she’d just hand me water and gels on the move.  Not having her would’ve added 30 minutes to my time.

The drive was long and filled with “Land of Lincoln” signs all through Illinois which induced many inside jokes and  voices.  We got to the race bib pickup and supper before they closed. It is a good spaghetti supper with awesome desserts!  They also had sweet tea so you now you were in way Southern Illinois.  We stayed in a town to the North since Vienna doesn’t have much for hotel rooms.  It seemed like we had to drive uphill for a long ways which made me wonder what the climb to tunnel hill would be like on the course.

I got up at 4am for a 7am start.  The temperature was 28 degrees and zero wind so I had to start with a thermal long sleeve shirt, gloves and buff knowing I’d have to change after a couple hours when it warmed up.  Shorts were still in order though.  I saw runners wearing full jackets and long pants the entire race, I suspect they lived somewhere warmer.

There is a small warm building there at the start line you could go in and a good amount of porta-potties.  Even though the course is certified for distance they had us do this loop around the parking lot at the start.  I don’t know if this was required for the distance or just extra we ran.  With there also being a 50 mile race, it seemed odd since we never ran this loop a second time for the 100 mile distance.

I started somewhat up front, trying to leave room for fast 50 milers.  The race is chip timed but not from the starting line so your start time is gun time.  I wasn’t going to start 5  minutes in the hole lining up in the back, plus I thought a sub 20 hour time should be somewhat in the front.  Again, I really needed under 21 hours which is why I was so concerned with a few minutes here and a few seconds there, it really could make the difference.

I planned a slow degradation in my speed for the race with some adjustments for the incline and decline of tunnel hill.  Basically I started at a 9:10 pace and would finish with a 13:20 going downhill to the finish line.  I had been using Sword drink all year in preparation for this race since it would be served here and also I wanted to try something with fructose in it.  I’ve liked it so far this year.  BUT… I really don’t like the Orange flavor.  So sure enough, that’s all they had at the race.  Ugh!  I could only stomach it for the first 30 miles or so and then I was going to drink my limited supply of berry flavor I brought.  In the end though I only drank water the remainder of the race.

I’ll quickly state that while I’m confident the race course is indeed 100 miles (plus whatever fudge factor they always add for certified courses) I don’t agree with the distances between different aid stations.  Not a huge deal if you have a GPS watch but if you’re going with just a watch, you’ll be wondering why some sections are going faster/slower than you thought.  Also it’s hard to know what part of the aid station they are measuring from.  Often the timing mat isn’t at all near the aid station tent and Karnak and Tunnel Hill are very long areas.

My wife made it to the first aid station Heron Pond and I just did a Sword swap.  Next up was Karnak and here I changed into a T-shirt as it was above 40 now and still zero wind on the trail at least.  I had been talking to people here and there up to this point.  I had listened to a loud conversation about relationships by a group of women behind me for about 20 minutes.  Finally I ran with a woman named Abby going for sub 20 as well.  We stuck together for an hour or so but she ended up dropping to the 50 mile distance I found out later.

From Karnak to the Southern turn-around is almost 2.6 miles according to my watch and Google Earth and not the 2.4 miles listed.  To compensate for this Karnak to Heron Pond and Heron Pond to Vienna are both shorter than listed but mostly the Karnak to Heron Pond is shorter.  I’m going from tent to tent for measurements.

Abby and I got to the turnaround which has a timing mat but isn’t updated to the live results website as far as I can tell.  I assume it is there to make sure you didn’t cheat.  Soon after the turn I saw a friend of mine that I knew was also going for a qualifying time.  I had previously told her I’d slap her butt if she wasn’t keeping up so I started motioning as to get her back side as she passed me.  Of course I wasn’t really going to slap her, but in the process I scared the crap out of the woman running in front of her.  I yelled “sorry” over my back and hope she heard me.

So 14 miles down and a bunch more to go.  The trail is tree lined the entire way and very pretty, especially on the North section.  I went into cruise mode.  Eating gels and some ham and cheese sandwiches they had at aid stations, and Sword.  Still doing under 10 minute miles and banking some time.  I was up 10 minutes by the time I finished the first Southern loop and got to Vienna.

The photos are from somewhere around mile 20 I think.

I got my music out now as people were just kind of following their own game plan.  There is an aid station called Shelby Road just under 3 miles from Vienna going North.  I just got some more gels and Sword from my wife.  This is were I typically slow down in an ultra.  My stomach gets acidy, it usually is hot (not this race though), and I’m just out of glycogen after 30 miles.  I only drank water the rest of the race and didn’t eat much until I got back to Vienna at 50 miles.

I planned on 11 minute miles for this Northern loop but I was slower than that and I could feel it.  I had even done some math 20 miles into the race on what it would take to do sub-19.  Now I was hoping I could somehow hang onto sub-20.  I of course knew there are ups and downs and yet I’m always seemingly surprised when the first down shows up.  I had to start a running/walking pattern at Shelby Road that I maintained the remainder of the race.  Run 5 / walk 1.  The same I had done at my first 100 miler at Heartland 100.  My muscles were just tired of the same flat surface and the walking made a huge difference on things getting loose and normal feeling again.

The trail on paper starts to climb right away from Vienna to Tunnel Hill but to me it seemed like it didn’t really start until after Shelby Rd.  You go up almost 300 feet from Vienna to Tunnel Hill in 9  miles.  That certainly isn’t much but like I said it seemed to be more concentrated towards Tunnel Hill.  You can definitely see you’re going up during the daytime watching the trail cut into the bedrock in spots and seeing the people in front of you are uphill.  It’s harder to notice going downhill.  There is a  long trestle  before the tunnel that had gallon water jugs for an aid station.  I think it is about 400 feet long and 90 feet high.  You’re surrounded by hills though so there isn’t much of  a view other than looking down.

The tunnel itself is 543 feet long and after about 100 feet it’s completely dark.  You can see light at the end of the tunnel but that just makes it worse since the contrast is so high.  I just had to trust there weren’t any holes for me to fall into or twist an ankle on.  Even moving at a pretty good speed, it still takes a full minute to get through it.

tunnel
543 Feet Long Tunnel

I got to tunnel hill aid station which is a small town and a long parking lot along the trail.  I had lost 4 minutes of time already.  The Northern turn around is 2.1 miles away (not 2) and all downhill.  It’s pretty and curves a lot so you really never know when you’re going to get there.  Again you go over a timing mat and around a cone.  Then the uphill back to tunnel hill.  I saw Abby again about a half mile after the turn around so she was about 10 minutes back now and I knew behind her pace she wanted.  I still didn’t try to count how many people were in front of me at this turnaround since there were still 50 mile runners and way too many people to count accurately.  I didn’t see my friend Kimberly so I knew something must’ve happened to her.  She did end up going over 50 miles so I should’ve past her somewhere but it was likely at an aid station.  I saw some other VolState friends as well.

tunnel hill 5
I think along the Northern turn-around 40ish miles.

Back at tunnel hill it was all downhill to Vienna and I was looking forward to it.  I was still only 5 minutes in front of my pace.  I didn’t eat anything and only drank water.  Antacids helped some.  I saw people puking a lot.  I heard many runners telling their crew they had puked or saw other people puking.  I won’t go as far as to say it was like the Lardass scene from Stand By Me, but a case could be made that at least 10% of runners puked during the race.  In fact, that’s what my friend ended up getting pulled from the race for.  It wasn’t hot so that couldn’t be the reason.  I suspect there are a  LOT of runners trying for their first 100 mile distance at this race and inexperience was the cause for a lot of them.  It’s also probably part of why so many drop to the 50 mile distance.

I got to Vienna just 2 minutes under my goal pace now.  9 hours into the race and 4pm on the clock.  I was getting concerned but I was also happy that I stopped the bleeding now.  I was feeling better.  I had a breakfast shake, got my headlamp on and brushed aside the long sleeve t-shirt for now as it was still warm.  My wife seemed kind of grumpy with my loosing time.  I still technically had an hour buffer.  She was still doing a great job keeping things running smoothly though.

I now had a 12 minute pace planned.  I gained time again.  It was dark now and I kept going back and forth with this group of 4 guys.  Our run/walk patterns were different so I think we leap frogged a dozen times.  I had to charge my watch from Heron Pond to Karnak so I didn’t really know how fast I was going but ended up staying pretty much where I wanted.  My back started to hurt now and I could tell there was likely a blister on at least my left big toe but it only hurt if I purposely rubbed my toes in my shoes so I didn’t stop.  This time from Vienna I started counting people in front of me.  The leaders passed me still during the light.  The first place woman was gaining on the male leader from the last 2 times I saw them.  Then there was a long time before I started seeing more people in the dark.  I just counted everyone, not knowing if they were just a pacer or not.  I counted close to 50 by the time I got to the turn-around.  I wasn’t concerned about place, just time but I felt happy with the number.  In fact I was higher than 50th since there were a fair amount of pacers.

At Heron Pond the 4th time through, I stopped for the first time of the race and sat down.  My lower back was all tight and I was hurting.  I took an NSAID and had my wife massage me some.  She got the knots out in like 4 minutes,  awesome.  I put on a light long sleeve shirt.  With all this I also lost all my banked time.  29 miles left and no room for error.

I took some caffeine and got to Vienna.  My wife had a double cheeseburger waiting for me.  I knew the climb up tunnel hill would be slower so I planned on a 13:30 pace but even that was proving to be difficult.  The winners had already finished so I didn’t bother to keep track of how many were in front of me.  I started to get used to the idea of not getting under 20 hours as I just couldn’t get going.  I finally got to the tunnel and it was much less creepy now that I had a light in the tunnel.  I couldn’t believe there was no graffiti in it.  I got to Tunnel Hill aid station 7 minutes behind my schedule.  I drank some beet juice here and looked forward to the short downhill to the turn-around.

I cruised downhill but sucked going back up.  I was 10 minutes behind schedule and basically had 2 hours to get back to the finish in under 20 hours.  9.7 miles in 2 hours.  I had planned on a 13:20 pace back to the finish but would now essentially need under 12 to make up for stops and the lost time.  I soon decided after leaving Tunnel Hill for the last time that I’d go for it.  I took some more caffeine, ate a gel, and took off.

With the walking breaks I had to run under a 11 minute mile pace.  With the slight downhill, it wasn’t all that difficult to keep the pace.  I had to start mouth breathing again to get enough air and just concentrated on the 5 run / 1 walk timing and keeping the pace under 11 while running.  It was clear after an hour that I was making up time very well.  I would get to Shelby Rd back on pace meaning I had made up the 10 minutes already and just had under 3 more miles to go.  I got to Shelby and told my wife I was going for it.

It was nice those last few miles.  I knew I would make it but still kept up the pace.  There were a few hundred mile people still coming from the other direction with encouraging words.  I haven’t mentioned this before but there are mile markers along the tunnel hill trail and the finish line is just .15 miles after the nearest mile marker so I was constantly doing math on the way back in.  I finished at 2:54am, 19:54:05 after I started!  I think I made a whoo but there was basically no one there at the finish line to hear it.  The crowd to watch Camille Herron break the women’s world record 100 miles on trail with a time of 12:42 were long gone.  The aid station that had food before looked empty.  Really the only people there were pacers waiting for their runners to do the Northern loop with them.

I finished in 28th place overall, 22nd male, and 10th in my age division.

tunnel hill finish

I got a nice looking sub 24 hour buckle and running jacket.  I thought there was supposed to be finish line food but I didn’t see it and maybe it didn’t start until later.  Either way I wasn’t that hungry.  For the first time I realized how horrible I smelled.  There were supposed to be showers at the high school where we checked in the night before the race so we heading straight over there.

There were supposed to be signs where to go but we couldn’t find any.  The doors to the school were open so we just searched around and found a gym and then looked downstairs for locker rooms.  We could hear water running so we went in that direction.  This is the point where I was glad I wasn’t alone.  It’s 3am, we’re creeping around dimly lit halls in a school; Basically the beginning of every horror movie.  I walk into a locker room that is fairly well lit but the lights are blinking in that annoying fluorescent strobe effect.  No one answers my calls to “Hello”.  I get back to the shower area and can see almost half of them are dripping water at a steady pace with only 1 incandescent bulb working in there.  Luckily no one else was in there as I had no idea if this was a girls or boys locker room.  There were still a couple small rooms going off this locker room that I didn’t investigate for a murderer but really I wasn’t going to be able to fight one off anyway.  I had a hard enough time walking by this point.

I took off my shoes and socks and discovered a huge blister on my left big toe with the toe nail already lifted up.  I also realized that while I had brought a towel and soap, I had forgot clothes to change into.  So I went to the door naked trying to find my wife, and yelled at her outside.  Luckily she heard me and got my clothes and a safety pin to pop the huge blister.  We should’ve got a picture but whatever.  The left side of the nail had moved a couple millimeters towards the end of my toe as well.  I had always wondered why the left side of this nail wasn’t growing as fast as the right side of the nail from when I had lost it last year.  I think the tip of the nail was getting caught under the skin towards the end of my toe and now that the blister had lifted the nail up, it just went up and over it like it should’ve been.  That’s also the possible reason for the blister to begin with.  That or these shoes were doing something I wasn’t aware of in training.  Regardless, I’m starting over with this nail yet again.  I had zero blisters at Superior 100 just 2 months ago and now I’ll likely loose 3 nails from this easy flat race.

The shower was nice and quick.  It took some effort to get my compression tights on but I got them on with my wife’s help.  She wasn’t super tired so we started the drive home right away.  I tried to sleep in the passenger seat but it’s so hard to get comfortable with my feet and legs being so painful and not being able to put them up decently.  I wasn’t that tired mentally either.  I couldn’t keep my eyes open but I talked to my wife to keep her up and company until we stopped at a rest stop around 5am.  She got the air mattress out for me and we both slept for about 80 minutes.

I then drove for a few hours until we were both kind of hungry a few hours later.  There was a Jack in the Box and we always love those so she got gas while I went in to order.  Afroman’s “Because I Got High” was playing loudly from the kitchen.  I started laughing since most of the workers were in the single digits old when it came out.  Also a totally inappropriate song to be playing since this was the unedited version.  Anyway, I asked if they had burgers and the response was a glorious “we have a full menu all day”!  I got the big double bacon burger combo and another sandwich for my wife.  Only $5 for the same thing Hardee’s charges $8 for.  Man I wish we had Jack in the Box in MN.

The rest of the trip was fairly benign.  A good night’s sleep was had by all and we both had the day off work the next day as well.

The stats for this years race: 314 started the 100 mile race.  15 DNF’d, 119 dropped down to the  50 mile distance, which leaves only 180 to finish the 100 mile distance.  That’s only a 57% completion rate.  You’d think by the statistics that this is a super difficult race, it’s not.  I really wouldn’t recommend this for someone’s first 100 mile race unless you are the type of person who would never quit or you really don’t care if you actually finish the 100miles.  You need to know yourself that well, not just hope.  Otherwise you’re very likely to quit by dropping down to the 50 mile distance since you still get a buckle and go right past the quitting point halfway through the race.  37% did just that this year with absolute perfect weather and conditions.  They were no where near the time cutoff either.

I’d suggest a point to point race or long distance out and back where the only way back to the start line is to finish for your first.  The only way you’ll see if you can do it is to force yourself by not giving yourself an out.  You will hurt no matter how “easy” of a course a 100 mile race is on.  I don’t recommend going for Superior as your first either as that one is quite difficult but there are lots of races in between the two.

The race itself is well run.  I didn’t really make use of the aid stations since I had my wife to help.  While there was plenty of food at the beginning of the race, it was basically all gone by dark.  Even water was in short supply my wife said at times.  I’m not sure if people ate way more than they expected or if crews were eating aid station food or what.  Maybe a bunch more food showed up at 5am when I was already done, I guess just be prepared like you always should that there might not be food at an aid station.  I would probably only run this again if I needed another fast time in November since it’s a pretty long drive for me.  I don’t think you could find a better race as far as setting a personal best at the 100 mile distance.

Lost In The Woods 2017 Race Report

This is a small local baby Barkley type race that took place April 29th at 7 mile creek park near St. Peter, MN.  It’s around 30 miles long with an advertised elevation of 8000 ft of gain.  There are 11 books we had to collect pages from on each of 3 laps.  We were given a different page number to get each lap.  The first lap was counter-clockwise, 2nd was clockwise, and 3rd alternating.

The race started at 7am but registration started at 5am so you’d have time to look over the map and written directions of the course.  The course was about 2/3rds on trail, a short bit on a road, with the rest on deer trail or no trail.  I’ve been to the park before so I knew about what to expect as I love to go off trail in this park.  There are many unofficial trails that we routinely run on.  This is about the only place in southern MN to get over 200 ft steep hills.  Along the Mississippi river is steep too but that’s hours from where I live.

Lost in the woods 2
One of the steeper hills.  Photo credit: Kevin Langton

At 7am 20 of us started off with only 14 finishing.  I wasn’t at the first running of this race 2 years ago but I was told it was easier and the race director was “disappointed” that everyone finished.  This year he wasn’t disappointed.  It was 38 degrees so I started with a long sleeve shirt knowing I’d be hot by the end of the lap.

I stayed back a little from the front group to let them figure out where to go off trail to find the books.  Everything was well marked but that doesn’t mean you can’t run right past where you’re supposed to turn.  Plus, since we were so close in the beginning you ended up waiting for the person in front of you to tear out the page in the book anyway.  Why run fast just to wait at the next book.  The first book I ended up tearing the page horribly, so I ended up with 3 pieces to get it out and make sure I had the page number on it, all the while people waiting behind me.  I guess the lesson is to learn how to tear really brittle yellow paper out of books in the woods with gloves on.

The books aren’t really hidden which is good and bad.  Good since it’s easy to find them, and bad because the park was pretty popular that day with mushroom hunters and other people doing some sort of naturalist type things (I never asked what they were doing) off trail where we were.

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Can you see me?  Somewhere on lap 2. Photo Credit: Kevin Langton

The first 2 books felt great climbing up the hills.  Basically go up find a book and come back down, just to do it again.  The only out and back uphill was book 3 which I think everyone dreaded by the 3rd lap.  I’m not sure if it was just the steepness or the fact that it was an out and back, but no one liked it.  It seemed like it took forever to go up and only 20 seconds to get down.  That’s probably not reality though.  The books all had great titles to them which I have mostly forgotten.  But I remember book 3’s title: Dead End

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Still early on so it’s easy to smile.  Photo credit: Kevin Langton

So continued the seemingly endless task of climbing up a hill just to go back down again.  Like you constantly keep forgetting something downstairs at home and have to keep going back down to get it, except the stairs are 200 ft hills.  There are a couple longish flatter sections to break it up a little bit but for the most part you’re either ascending or descending in this race.

There is a aid station out of the park between book 5 and 6 that you have to climb up to get to.  They had awesome candy bars, pop, water, etc there.  The race director said there is a short loop to do at the aid station.  Well yes it’s short, but also straight down and then straight back up just to go back down to get on the course again.  The section back to the course did have my favorite tree on the entire course though.

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Favorite tree.  Photo credit: Kevin Langton

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First time through so I wasn’t quite sure where to go.  Photo credit: Kevin Langton

Then on to book 6 where some barbed wire sticking out of the ground almost got me.  Speaking of thorny things, I got somewhat scratched and cut up from this race.  There are plenty of thorny bushes, berry patches, and shrubs to get you on this course.  I wish I would’ve taken a picture of my legs.  I had cuts everywhere but really only remember 2 of them happening.

There was a punch after this book to punch the pages you had so far.  This was to determine which direction you had traveled the course.  Next was a longer flat section before turning uphill to book 7.  Then between 7 and 8 gets sucky again.  Scott the RD was sitting along the course making sure we all made the turn straight down a steep rutted out path.  I enjoyed it the first lap, not so much the 3rd.  Basically you go down this hill just to come back up it in a different spot and end up about 20 feet from where you started down the hill.  All of this to get book 8.

Book 9 was fairly straightforward.lost in the woods 5

Book 10 I almost ran past or was that 11.  It’s already becoming a blur after only a week.  After 11 you go back to the start at the RD house.  This is the only other aid station.  I changed into cooler clothes as it was warming up some.  First lap time was 2:25.

The next section was clockwise.  I had got to talking with Ed who I hadn’t met before but we both did Arrowhead this year.  I always love meeting new people during the race.  We were talking pretty much non-stop the second lap and before we knew it, we were at the aid station.  Oops.  We missed book 6.  Back we went to get it and then finally noticed the 3 foot long pink ribbon showing the turn off for it.  Guess we got talking too much.  He had to do the aid station loop twice since he missed it the first time and so I didn’t see him until the end of the race.

I missed the turn to book 1 as well but I think a lot of people did.  Finally I got back to the start.  5:14 total time so far so that lap was about 2:45 without the stop time.  I was happy with this as I had to leave by 4pm to pick up the kids so I was on track to get done by then.  I definitely wasn’t in condition for this much elevation so I was starting to feel it.

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This was there at the end of lap 2.  Photo Credit: Kevin Langton

Since the leader picked clockwise (thanks TJ, NOT) and I was in 5th place, I had to go clockwise.  Off I went.  I had been eating the entire race and drinking what seemed like a lot but my stomach just didn’t feel quite right and I wasn’t really peeing any so I suspect I was somehow dehydrated.  It slowed me down.

Right away I saw one of the leaders coming back up the hill to the start due to injury.  Now I was 4th I guess, but still had to go clockwise.  I didn’t miss the turn to book 6 this time since I was by myself.  Ed had started the mid-way aid station loop just before I got there so I never ended up seeing him.  I never saw the other counter-clockwise leader  either and found out later he dropped at the aid station.

Finally it dawned on me to take some antacids as this wasn’t my first time down full stomach lane.  In fact it happens almost every race, just not in the first 20 miles.  They kicked in around book 4 (counting down book numbers now since clockwise lap).  The last 3 books I felt great (still hated book 3 but felt better at least).  Too bad I didn’t think of taking them sooner.  I saw some people looking kind of sad while looking for mushrooms.  I told them some people were already in that spot 3 hours ago with bags full of them.  They seemed somewhat relieved.

I even made the turn for book 1 this time but when I got to where the book should’ve been, it wasn’t there.  3 people coming from the other direction on the start of their lap 3 also couldn’t find it.  Remember all those people in the park?  Turns out someone must’ve taken it as no one ever found it.  I took a picture with them to prove we all looked together and hoped for the best.

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I’m still smiling so it couldn’t have been that hard of a race.

I got to the finish line and rang the bell at 8:12 for 4th place.  Ed had beaten me in which I wasn’t surprised by.  So that lap took about 2:50 with the down time and looking for book 1 taken out.  Scott allowed my finish without book 1 since it was gone and someone had texted him.

I had some time to eat the great finish line food they had for us before leaving to get the kids.  They even offered the shower which was awesome.  Thanks!

This race would be much harder/scarier/more fun if it was raining the whole time.  There are some steep slopes on it.  The conditions on race day were pretty good.  The mud was firm enough to get a grip on and not slip.  I usually use gps visualizer to make an elevation profile of races.  I find it to be much more accurate than google earth.  It came up with the race having more elevation than advertised.  Almost 10,000.  Who knows?  I can assure you it wasn’t under 8000 total.

Into the woods Elevation Profile
Clockwise lap 3

This is a great race!  I hope Scott continues to put it on.  I wish I could’ve stayed to watch everyone else come in.  I’m sure there were great stories.  We all got an email of the official results and there were some pretty good comments on why people dropped out.  My favorite was someone wanted a burrito.  I’m sure there’s more to that story.  I wished I would’ve taken a picture of the bell we rang when we finished.  Guess you’ll just have to run the race to see it.

Last Annual Vol State 500K Race Report – 2016

I am tired, I am drained
But the fight in me remains
I am weary, I am worn
Like I’ve never been before

 

This is harder than I thought
Harder than I thought it’d be
Harder than I thought
Takin’ every part of me
Harder than I thought
So much harder than I thought it’d be
But empty’s never felt so…full

Toby McKeehan (TobyMac)

Those lyrics pretty much sum up the LAVS race.  I’ll still add pages to this race report but I don’t know if I could say it much better than that.  This race is HARD!  It seems like it would be somewhat easy.  Just an easy 50k a day and you beat the time cut off.  I’ve run hundreds before, I’ve walked long distances, but everything takes longer than you expect it should in this race.  I wanted to see if I could finish a race I knew I would hate.  I hate roads, I hate heat, I hate irresponsible dog owners.  This race supplied all of those in a great big heap.

This report is long!  There is a video at the end.  Probably not the best to read this on your phone.  Also more details for runners at the end.  My college roommate says he likes to get popcorn ready to read my reports so pop away. Enjoy!

I loved the people I met, both the competitors and the vast majority of the local population along the course.  Everyone that finishes this race has a shared experience that can’t be matched by other races.  While not at war or anything compared to that, we were up against the same horrible things: heat, cars, road camber, dogs, dehydration, hunger, pain, lightning, our minds, and finally time.  I really enjoyed the conversations I had with everyone I met before, during and after the race (well not the police officer during the race).  I hope to meet many of my new friends again in the future.

I will tell my Vol State story mostly in chronological order but with my usual tangents and physiology and science lessons.  I’ll be specific as possible at times so that future competitors can hopefully learn a few things.  I learned a lot from other race reports for this race.  Read them ALL!  It’s no joke running this race without a crew (screwed).  You need to arm yourself with as much information as possible.  If you have a crew, the only advice I have is to use it.  This race would be sooo much easier if I had one.  It’s my opinion that if someone doesn’t think a crew would help in this race, then they don’t know how to use one appropriately.

I suppose a little background on the race is in order.  You can look at my pre-race report here.  You can also read about my practice run for this event here.  It’s called the Last Annual Vol State Race as a joke of all the races that were called 1st Annual in the 1980’s.  The current course starts in Dorena Landing, MO with a ferry ride to Kentucky, then through Tennessee, part of Alabama, and finally finishing on private property in Georgia called Castle Rock.  314 miles, or 100π or even 500k (least accurate) is the distance of this race.  Of course with having to go off course to stores, hotels, graveyards, going on the shoulder from the road a million times, etc it is further.

Since I was running in the screwed division that meant I would have to drive to the finish line in Georgia, a 14 hour drive, and leave my car there.  We would take a bus on Wednesday from the finish to a town near the starting line following the course the whole way.  After exchanging rental cars due to the first car having completely bald front tires, I left home in MN Monday night and slept in my car to save some money.  I finished my drive Tuesday to the Super 8 in Kimball, TN where most of us would stay the night before the bus ride to the start line.  I went to Walmart to kill some time and to buy some pop (soda) for the morning of the bus ride.  2L Sun Drop was on sale for $1 so that’s what I got.  Little did I know how much Sun Drop I would drink the next week.

I went back to the hotel as it was 3PM and people should be checking in.  I met Wayne McCombs who I had met on the bus at Tuscobia and learned a lot from.  He would be driving the “meat wagon” this year which is the van that brings the quitters back to their cars at the finish line.  He reminded me of a few pointers he had given before.  Mainly to go slow in the beginning and to stretch.  Those are VERY important things for this race if not all multi-days.  I’ve only done one multi-day so I don’t have much experience but it certainly helped me in this race.

I also met John Price who has run this race more than anyone and wrote the guide book for the race.  It was a helpful book.  I brought the whole book with but if I were to do it again I wouldn’t take the whole thing.  I would laminate the turn by turn written directions and have them in a very accessible place (some hung them from the front of their vest).  The rest of the book I would just take pictures of the pages with my phone.  I ended up taking pictures of the pages on the second day since it was much easier to get to my phone than take my pack off to get to the book.  I also saved the .gpx file of the race route into my phone and could always tell if I was on the course with the GPS on my phone.  I had added the changes to the book since the last printing and also added the road angel aid stations that people on Facebook said they would have in their yard, fire station, etc.  I think a lot of people didn’t know that locals would put details on the race Facebook page of where they would set out water, etc.

 

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John Price and me before the race.  I’m so clean shaven.

I met a few other people at the hotel that I can’t remember now.  The one person you’d have a hard time forgetting was JT Hardy.  I’m an introvert for the most part but at an event like this where I have something in common with everyone it isn’t hard for me to talk to strangers.  I think JT would never have a hard time talking to strangers.  We discussed strategy a little, not even pretending that we really knew anything.  His longest race was a 50 mile so I guess I had a little on him there but this race is way beyond even the 100 mile races I’ve done.  I basically told him my plan on holding back the first day and what I had been doing to try to get heat acclimated.

So we all ate together at a Chinese buffet which we call the next to last supper.  It was awesome as it had sushi and the shrimp I like.  I sat next to JT and filled him in about the .gpx file and how to view it on his phone.  I ordered my finisher jacket since that’s when you order them (if you don’t finish they’ll give you your money back).  We got our race shirts as well.  This is important as if you didn’t want to carry it during the race, you wanted to get it now and leave it with your suitcase in your car.  Once you get on the bus ride the next day, you should only have what you want for the race or what you plan on throwing away.  There are no drop bags with this race!

I got back to the hotel and taped my feet.  I figured I’d have more time tonight to do it right than tomorrow night.  I skyped with the kids.  I checked over my pack list one more time, not like it mattered anymore.  I did end up taking out my long sleeve shirt and a stretch band.  What I wish I had brought was another tech t-shirt that I could keep dry, more on that later.

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Packing list. Crossed out items I didn’t bring.

I drove to the finish line and parked my car in the field.  I left my keys in the rental car as I didn’t want to lose them along the way.  I got on the bus and sat next to JT.  We started off and I met a bunch more awesome people.  John Price was on our bus so he would tell us things about the course.  It took nearly 8 hours to drive to the start with 2 bathrooms breaks and a lunch break.  8 hours to drive the course!  I got a lot of Facebook friends so we could keep in touch during the race and after.  The lunch was at the Glendale Market which is where the Bench of Despair is located.

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Before the race.

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I look so bad with my hair chopped before the race.  Photo Credit Ray Krolewicz

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Screwed group photo. Photo credit John Price

I found out a few people on the bus didn’t know there was a google group for the race so they made sure to get on that.  They kept asking how some of us know so much more about the race.  Again knowledge is power if you run this screwed.  Get on the Last Annual Vol State Race google group if you plan on running this.  That’s where you can ask a lot of questions to people who’ve run it before.  Really you want to meet someone who’s run it and talk to them for an hour to get a better idea of what it will be like.

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JT and me with my 2L. Photo credit Laura Carver

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Kim, Susan, Barbie, Cupcake, and about 4 more names I can’t remember (inside joke). I’m sure this was more comfortable than a lot of places she slept during the race, it was air conditioned.  Her shirt saying I’m hurt and I’m dying would be quite prophetic as she was mistaken for a dead body in a ditch by 3 people calling the police.

We got to Union City which is where we stayed in a hotel with an assigned roommate and ate the Last Supper.  This meal was at a buffet as well and the final directions of the race were given to us.  We got our American flags that we had to have displayed at all times during the race.  I found one on the road in McKenzie and wondered if that person got disqualified.  I talked to Andrei Nana from Florida who has run the Spartathlon race in Greece.  It’s a race I’m interested in running if I can get my speed up a little and if this race went well since it is also a road race.  My wife is even more interested in this race.  Not so much to crew me but because it’s in Greece!  I also ate with a few other people that weren’t on my bus that I ended up seeing for much of the race, Jesse Koketek and Novle Rogers.  My assigned roommate for the night was Paul Wilkerson from Illinois.  He told me right away he snored.  Great.  Luckily I had planned for this by putting the white noise CD I made for my children on my ipod.  I put in my earbuds and dozed off just fine.

 

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Last supper.  Photo credit John Price

The next morning we loaded on the buses to the ferry.  Most of us were taking pictures of each other and talking to the famous people no one outside of ultrarunning have heard of.  There were definitely 2 guys going for the course record.  Greg Armstrong who did end up beating the record by about an hour and John Cash who ran this race for the first time.  Greg won it the last 2 years.  We paid the $2 for the round trip ferry ride and walked on board headed to Missouri.

I thought briefly about how far I had to go.  I remember my first marathon 4 years ago which was from Two Harbors, MN to Duluth, MN.  You could see the lift bridge of Duluth for much of the race and get an idea of how much you had left.  I couldn’t see the finish line from here though.  In fact I’d have to be 34,570 feet above the ground to see the finish line.  You would have to be ever higher if it wasn’t for the fact that the finish line is 1200 feet higher than where we started on the bank of the river in MO.

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Joe Fejes – Multi-day superstar and course record holder until this year

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Laz the race director.

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Wendy, David, Laura, JT, Kim, and me.

82 of us started Thursday July 14th around 7:45AM with the lighting of the cigarette.  The ferry was late so I’m not sure of the real time, it was supposed to start at 7:30.  I finished (spoiler alert) just after the sun came up on Wednesday July 20th, for a total time of 5day, 22hours, 12minutes, 6seconds.  18th overall and 8th in the screwed division.  I was also the first person from MN to ever run this race.  I am super pumped that I got a 5 as the first number.  Being so close to 6 days, I now have an idea of what I would get at a 6 day race.  This time is actually in the range that the computer said I would finish in.  I wanted to be done by 8 days so I’d have time to sleep and drive home for my son’s birthday party.  I made it in plenty of time!  I didn’t think I’d make under 6 days until about 2am that morning of the finish.  I took caffeine pills for the first time during the race the night before I finished and it helped me to not have to sleep much at all that last 36 hours.  Only 62 would finish.

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Start line.  82 starters. Photo Credit Carl Laniak

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The Ferry Photo Credit John Price

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The race begins!

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Leading the race at the front of the ferry.

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Coming off the ferry.  I’m way on the right with the white and blue visor looking down.  The shirtless man is Greg Armstrong who would break the course record.

 

 

 

You’ll see in the video how most runners just look like everyday people.  There is no body type for ultrarunners.  We come in all shapes and sizes.  That old guy you see in church, could be a Vol State finisher.  The truck driver you see on the interstate, same thing.  The woman pouring your coffee at your local restaurant, same thing.  I just want to drive home that anyone can do this if they really want to.  Sure it takes training and determination, but you don’t need to be a super athlete.

The first part of the race is going mostly uphill through Hickman, KY.  It was the slowest I’ve ever started a race.  I planned on holding back the first 2 days.  I had never done a multi-day race before and I was told by several veterans of the race not to overdue it in the beginning.

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2 miles in with my roommate from the night before Paul Wilkerson. I wouldn’t see him again until the Natchez Trace Campground. Photo Credit Carl Laniak

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Already to my 2nd state in the race!

So the first 10 miles or so were pretty awesome.  Cars were moving way over.  It was cloudy and was obviously going to rain at some point in the near future.  We even had a stray dog start following us.  You can see a video of her in action at the end of the report.  She would constantly run in your way and jump and try to bite your shorts.  Kim Wheeler and Liz Norred named him Underfoot.  Finally at the Tennessee border, Wayne McCombs was taking pictures of us so he took Underfoot to keep her from bugging us.  I jokingly thought to myself Underfoot knew she couldn’t cross state lines without a health paper so she stopped.  He ended up taking her to a vet to get her shots, dewormed, etc and became the owner of Maxine, his 6th dog.  I saw a picture of her a week later and it looked like she had gained about 5 pounds already.

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Underfoot

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State #3. This one took awhile to cross.

It was a few miles from Union City that it started raining.  I don’t mind rain but I hate wet shoes, especially at the beginning of a multi-day.  I finally got to Union City 16 miles into the race, ran with JT to downtown, and ate at a Wendy’s.  They always have free wifi at Wendy’s and I waited out the rest of the storm there.  I spent at least 30 minutes longer than I wanted to there but I wasn’t going out in the rain if it would quite soon.  The sun came out and I was on my way.  Now, I know the race director called that first day easy because it was cloudy and rained but it was full sun all afternoon where I was running.  It got hot!  My shoes kind of dried but I ended up changing my socks 6 miles out of town at Outdoor Outfitters.  Check out the bathroom stall photo.

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Don’t want that sidearm falling in.

I already had a small blister from having wet feet the last 3 hours so I took care of that as well.

So before the Outdoor Outfitters store (at mile 22.2) is the 20 mile bridge check-in.  There is a rendering plant near there.  Most people complain a lot in their race reports about the smell, calling it stinky bridge and the worst mile in the race.  The smell wasn’t bad at all!  I was amazed how little it smelled since I’ve cut open lots of rotten dead animals in the summer for work and it wasn’t anything like that.  Basically if you were to cut open a dead animal when it was below zero and nothing has really gotten rotten because of the cold, that’s what it smelled like.  The D-lab at vet school smells way worse to my veterinarian friends reading this.

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20 mile bridge check in.

Anyway soon after this bridge I came upon JT who had left Union City before me.  He was laying on the side of an intersection in pain.  His calves were cramping up bad.  I wish I would’ve taken a video of it, his calf muscles were all quivering and contorting like mad.  Looked pretty cool but I’m sure it hurt  like crazy (sorry JT, it really did look cool).  So Liz and Kim caught up to me just then as well.  We got him in the ditch on the other side of the road in the shade.  There isn’t much you can do with a cramp other than wait for it to quit.  Stretching just causes damage.  I think he took some salt tabs but those haven’t been proven to work by any real research.  All the well done unbiased research I’ve read shows salt does nothing.  Muscle spindles misfiring is the most likely cause of muscle cramps based on the newest research I’ve read. These are the cells that tell your spinal cord how much stretch the muscle has and more importantly how fast it is being stretched.  The body is basically over-reacting to the misfiring of the muscle spindles.  Or I guess it’s more accurate to say, the body is appropriately responding to malfunctioning muscle spindles that are sending way too many action potentials to the spine.  It thinks the muscle is being overstretched way too fast and causes the muscle to contract to prevent damage to the tendons and muscle itself.  Many things can cause them to fire inappropriately but some proven things are caffeine and physical damage to them.  If you’re prone to cramps, don’t take caffeine, it lowers the amount of input (stretch)  needed to fire an action potential.  Prevention research is still ongoing.  Just make sure when you read something you look at who sponsored the research and who’s telling you about it, almost everyone is trying to sell you something if they talk about cramps.  I hoped the placebo effect of salt tabs would work for him and left.

Sergio Bianchini came along then and I ran with him for a few miles.  He is a character.  He’s 75 years old and running this for the second time I think.  His running style wasn’t what you would call great but he’s 75 freaking years old so he must be doing something right.  I saw him at the end of the race and he was running the exact same as in the beginning.  JT I’m sure has hundreds of Sergio stories as he ran with him for I think 3 full days.  JT posted videos during the race and in one of them Sergio bought him lunch which consisted of a completely brown banana (it was cheaper than the yellow ones) and a can of Ravioli for a buck.  He would later get his arm hit by a car mirror and sliced it open.  He never stopped to have it looked at.  Just wrapped something around it and kept going.  I think he said “no problem”.

It was also with Sergio that I met my first road angel which is what we call the people that give us aid during the race, mostly just cold water.  As a screwed runner we can only get help from strangers not affiliated with the race or from other screwed runners still competing in the race (I couldn’t help anyone once I finished the race).  Crewed runners or their crews couldn’t help us at all.  I got ice cold water from this road angel.  It felt amazing.  I could run again!  At this point I had been reduced to basically just walking so that I didn’t overheat.

HEAT!

The heat was never ending and really got about the worst at 5pm after we had left Martin.  The sun was full on our backs.  Oh and there was NEVER any wind this entire race.  I’m used to MN where there is almost always a little wind.  Nope nothing in TN.  If you weren’t making your own wind by running you didn’t get any.  Semi trucks started to be something to look forward to instead of being afraid of because you would have 2 full seconds of air movement after it passed.  Sometimes I’d almost get cold if there were 3 of them in a row.

To acclimatize before the race I had been getting my core body temp up over 101 by taking nice hot baths after a run for about an hour.  I did this for 4 days plus just the regular working outside for my job that I’ve done all summer.  I also made sure to always run on the hottest days and hottest time of day as possible for all runs this summer.  I think what I did helped me some as the first 2 days weren’t super horrible, just horrible.  By day 2 I was definitely showing the signs of acclimation.  My sweat was very dilute which I had never experienced before.  Usually there are salt deposits on my clothes, face, pack, etc.  None of that this race though.  When sweat fell in my mouth I could barely taste any salt.  That’s a normal heat acclimation response.  The others are increased plasma volume which I had no way to measure and that you sweat a larger volume, that was easy to tell!  Sweat will drip off your shorts, gross.

The air temps the whole race ranged from 92-100 I think.  It’s hard to really know, but that’s what the vehicle temps said according to drivers we talked to.  The dew point was basically 70-74 the entire race with very little change.  It was foggy at night and so you could never dry out.  The humidity in MN is worse in July than TN.  The dew point gets in the 80’s with some regularity in July here.  The corn plants just pump moisture in the air like crazy on a sunny day, plus all the lakes and sloughs.  I was kind of surprised that it wasn’t more humid during the race.

BUT!  The sun is much hotter in TN.  Even though the race ended a month after the summer solstice; at the finish line the sun was still 5.6 degrees higher in the sky the day I finished than it was at home on the summer solstice.  95 humid and shady = not too bad.  95 humid and sunny = slow zombie walk of death.  The sun adds in my estimation 15 degrees to what it feels like.  Add to that the fact that full sun makes the road 150 degrees.  Your feet sweat a lot and I switched socks at least once a day to keep my feet dry.  I’d hang the wet pair on my pack to dry in the sun as I ran.

It was clear to me though that I would want to run as much as possible at night.  The heat just drained me that first day.  It was hard not to get mad at myself.  We had only made it 40 miles by the 7:30 pm check-in.  It wasn’t so much that we were only at 40 miles since I was planning on going slow anyways.  It was more-so that I felt so drained, like I had actually tried hard and still only made it 40 miles.

OK, back to the story.

Martin was the next town and I stopped at burger king at mile 27.7 to cool off and eat.  7.5 hours to get there, freaking ridiculous.  Some people got hotel rooms to beat the heat.  I didn’t want to get a room unless I could sleep so I kept going.  Martin is a long big college town so it took awhile to get out of town.

The next section to Dresden is where I met up with JT Bolestridge, Novle Rogers, Patrick Sweatt, and Jesse Koketek.  We were walking into the town of Dresden (which has some big Iris festival every year by the way) walking 5 wide down the road feeling kind of bad ass for some reason.  We ignored the guy dressed as a pizza.  We stopped at the aid station that the city had set up at a park pavilion.  We all charged our phones, had some snacks and water and tried to sleep/relax after the 7:30 check-in.  Oh we had to check-in at 7:30 AM and PM everyday so they knew if they needed to look for us if I hadn’t made that clear already.

I couldn’t sleep but it felt good to get off my feet.  I think I called home then as well.  Mostly I’d just leave Skype messages when I had decent WiFi and receive the videos the kids would send.  By about day 4 though the kids didn’t care anymore.  Plus the microphone in my phone was all messed up due to the sweat and humidity.

I moved on towards Gleason in the dark.  I chose to not have my headlamp on unless a car was coming.  I had yellow triangle reflectors on both sides of me.  With the almost full moon it was easier to see in the trees without a headlamp.  I carried my mace all the time at night and towards the end even carried it during the day since the last half of the race is much worse for dogs.  It was kind of creepy going through the deserted old highway with trees lining both sides of the road but there was always another runner within ear shot even if you couldn’t see them.  It went through what seemed like a  wetland in the dark.  Lots of weird frog sounds in addition to the Katydids.  I’d see a shooting star now and then most nights including this night.  Many nights you would see a faint flash in the sky now and then from lightning miles and miles away.

I met up with Novle and JT (Jason) again and I think we met up with Ed just outside of town.  When we came into Gleason before midnight we saw a big group of kids.  They were wondering if we were looking for Pokemon.  We said no.  We could hear them commenting to each other, “why wouldn’t they be out looking for Pokemon?”  Gleason had an aid station at the fire station.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches of which I had 2, water, other food, and showers!  I took a shower and tried to sleep while charging my phone.  Again no luck so I left around 12:30AM I think and headed to McKenzie

On the outskirts of McKenzie there are a bunch of semi trailers parked.  I went over to them to see if there was anywhere to sleep under or in them.  There were also some large dumpsters (the long kind you put construction garbage in usually). While snooping around I heard what sounded like 3 kids walking on the road and talking loudly.  They were coming from the wrong direction to be a runner so I ducked down.  I walked around the dumpster as they went past so that they could never see me.  I later found out they were from the aid station looking to see if more runners were coming.  I just figured the less interaction with people at 3AM the better.  I kept on moving into town after that.

I made it to McKenzie by myself and they also had an aid station set up at some building.  There was some food, drinks, and a bathroom.  I had a PB&J sandwich again.  The building had mats on the floor.  They weren’t super comfortable but they were better than concrete or dirt under a trailer and looking back now, actually they were comfortable compared to other places I would sleep later in the race.  At least I could lay on my side on them.  I slept for almost 2 hours I think.  I was thinking of staying in the hotel in town that night but I likely would’ve slept too long so it was a good choice to sleep in the building I think.  Other people had caught up and were already leaving as the sun came up on day 2.  I thought I better get going as well.  Plus there was some morning workout group outside the door doing their cross-fit type looking thing.  I suspect we had taken up residence in their normal work-out area.

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McKenzie

 

There was a 24 hour gas station on the outside of town so I got some pop and chips.  The run that morning was nice.  I put my headphones on for the first time and enjoyed the foggy views of kudzu growing up trees.

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Morning of day 2

 

I checked in at mile 64 just before Huntingdon.  Nothing was really open in town and no gas stations were along the course.  I got some water at the police station and aired out my feet.

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Every County Seat has a town square with a courthouse in the center and stores all around. Most had a movie theater as well.  This one is in Huntingdon.

Here is a video of what the typical town square looks like.  We didn’t go through this town but they are all eerily similar.  All have one way roads going around the courthouse in the center with parking around it.  This one doesn’t have a movie theater but one building looks like it used to be.  I didn’t make the video so don’t hate me for how long it is.  Start at 0:45 into it.

 

 

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Vol State Humor

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A rarity in this race – wide shoulders.

My goal was to make it to Parkers’ Crossroads at mile 81 where there was food and hotels.  I wanted to get there by 1PM to beat the heat and sleep.  It took me until 2:30PM to get there and it was super freaking hot and sunny again.  I went into Dairy Queen and started getting all dizzy and my ears were ringing.  So I decided to sit for a little bit before I ordered.  I was still hydrated since I was sweating like crazy but I obviously was overheated.  It took me that long to get there because I had to walk the last 10  miles or so since it was so hot and I hadn’t rested much yet.  I got my food which was awesome and stayed at the Knights Inn which was the most reasonably priced hotel the entire race.  I showered and washed my clothes in the sink.  I slept for about 3.5 hours.

It was also at this stop that I realized I was getting heat rash all around my ankle under my gaitor on my left leg.  I had worn gaitors to keep the road dirt and sand out of my shoes.  They did that job great but looking back they definitely were the cause of the heat rash I think.  While I had heard of heat rash and correctly made that diagnosis, I didn’t really know what it was so I googled it.  The Mayo Clinic website information on it made me laugh.  So it’s plugged up sweat glands which made sense.  The funny part is the treatment.  Spend as much time as possible in air-conditioned buildings, don’t exercise, etc.  None of those things were going to happen.

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The beginnings of heat rash

I got up and re-taped my feet as the tape was coming loose from being wet the first day and I wanted to get a good look at the blister.  I put a blister band-aid on it under the taping.  I tape with cover-roll stretch for those new to my blog.  I also put new kinesio tape on my left leg as that gets old after a few days as well.  I had wanted to sleep longer but I happened to wake up before my alarm and checked the weather.  Rain was coming.  I had hoped it would be over before I woke up.  So I figured I’d get going and try to make it to Lexington 10 miles away and wait out the storm there in a restaurant.

I started out in the sucky suck heat that doesn’t stop until the sun goes down at 8pm.  I got a few miles out of town to check in at 84 miles at the 36 hour check-in.  Wow, I was behind where I’d hoped to be but not unexpected either.  I had no real clue how to do a multi-day.  I was about to learn a few lessons over the next 24 hours.

There were super dark clouds behind me and to the side of me.  On radar both cells were moving towards me somehow.  The food in Lexington wasn’t until mile 90.5 so I had just over 6 miles to get there.  The road was wide so I listened to my ipod and started booking it.  I really wanted to use the glycogen I had stored up during my slumber sparingly to last through the night.  But lightning coming down tends to make you move faster than you might otherwise go.  There was a gas station about 4 miles out of town but I didn’t want to sit on a curb and eat junk so I kept going.  I looked down at my watch.  8 minute miles.  I felt amazing!  Running was so easy now that it had cooled some and I was being chased by a storm.  I was even running up hills.  Only a superstar trying to win the race or an idiot runs up hills in an ultramarathon this long.  I ran the 6.5 miles in 1 hour when I finally got to the turn in Lexington that is supposed to have everything.  I ran around the area and did not find a single sit down restaurant.  Only gas stations and a couple pizza places with nowhere to sit as far as I could tell.  I was kind of pissed as I was looking forward to some pasta or something like that since I knew I’d have at least a half hour to kill while the storm passed.  Nope, you don’t get pasta (normally I hate pasta but I really wanted it now), you get more gas station food.  So I went in to the Little General and got some chicken fingers and potato wedge things.  I had a bunch of chocolate milk as well.  I talked to the workers there who thought I was crazy.  There was an outlet so at least I could charge stuff up while I sat.  The rain didn’t start for 30 minutes.  It seemed imminent just before I got there with the wind picking up for the first and last time the entire race.  Oh well, it barely rained for 20 minutes but I was still glad not to be in it.  Juli Aistars and Jan Silverman came in to the store and stayed about 1 minute and went out before the rain started.  I posted to Facebook I was happy to be catching up to some of the people that had run the race before.  They were all going into night mode like I was planning so that seemed to confirm that my plan was a smart one.

I started out again and now got to go mostly downhill out of town.  I saw a live armadillo and got a video of him.  I knew there was supposed to be some water left out at a fire station in Chesterfield since they posted to the race Facebook page.  It was more than I had hoped for.  They had some snacks too!  Snickers if I remember correctly.  I remember I was very happy and wished I had some paper to write a thank you note.

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Chesterfield

 

Soon after and without any fanfare at all I crossed the 100 mile mark.  If anyone had ever marked it on the road, I never saw it.  I took a video of myself making a new personal distance record.  Every step after would further that record.  I don’t remember much about Darden other than there was a closed gas station with a pop machine out front.  I got a couple of them.  If I remember correctly there was also a park or campground with a super kick ass playground with lots of soft areas to sleep, but I didn’t feel tired yet.  This was 100.9 miles into the race.

Parsons was almost 6 miles away.  It seemed to go pretty slow.  I was feeling pretty drained at this point since I had wasted so much energy with my race into Lexington.  What I did in an hour then, took almost 2 hours now.  I didn’t know what I’d find in Parsons to sleep on.  There was a hotel in town but I didn’t feel like spending money for a couple hours in a hotel plus I really didn’t feel like waking up the owner at 2:30 in the morning.  So I found a tractor trailer that had large wood beams (looked like untreated railroad ties) stack on it.  I climbed up there and got out my sleeping bad liner for the first time.  It’s silk and weighs 4 oz.  I treated it with permethrin to keep the chiggers, ticks, and mosquitos away from me.  It worked well keeping insects away but it wasn’t as warm as I had hoped.  If I would’ve been able to change into dry clothes or at least a dry shirt before I laid down to sleep, I don’t think I would’ve gotten cold.  I was ALWAYS soaking wet anytime I was outside, day or night didn’t matter.  Either I’d be sweating like crazy or it was too humid for anything to evaporate.  I set my alarm for 4AM (not like I ever slept until my alarm went off when sleeping outdoors).

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My bed in Parsons.

Around 3:30AM, 2 or 3 kids were out with their dog chatting up a storm and I assume looking for stupid Pokemon as it seems that’s all I saw people doing on sidewalks the entire race.  This set off EVERY dog in Parsons.  Dogs were barking everywhere and never stopped.  So I got up super tired and cranky.  Not good as I knew the next section was supposed to be one of the worst road stretches of the race.  I started moving at 3:50AM.  The gas station in town was open so I got some food.  I saw a few places that would’ve been much better for sleeping which made me more grumpy.

It was Saturday so I thought at least I’m getting the worst part of the road done without traffic since it’s not a work day.  People may want to call Southerners lazy but the roads are super busy at 5am on a workday so somebody’s working.  Well, I didn’t get the memo that said you will surely die or have horrible things happen to you if you don’t get to the TN River with your boat by sunrise.  It was a constant barrage of trucks hauling boat trailers.  No one was even close to the speed limit and no one moved over.  There is literally no shoulder for 4 miles out of Parsons.  It’s also very hilly and the last foot of the road has a severe camber.  I got a blister on my pinky toe due to my foot constantly having to fight the camber and from my foot slipping off the asphalt into the ditch a bunch of times.  The road gets a little better after that to the TN river bridge but not by much.  There is a hotel along the way and that’s about it as far as services go.  There are a few closed down gas stations.

I met up with Bo Millwood and Karen Jackson just before the bridge.  They were doing this for the second time together.  I think Karen had done it a few times before.  If I remember it right, Karen’s Christmas present to Bo was to pay the registration fee for the race.  I saw a photo of them from last years race that still busts me up laughing.  They used it as their Christmas card photo!  There are super nice people.  They must have something special to still like each other after running this two years together.  Yes she runs this in thin sandals.  They also took a dog home from the race.  It ran along with them over 30 miles so how could they not keep it!

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Pit Stop Market outside Shelbyville.  I ate there later in the race.  The only real food I had during the race.  I think I put on facebook I wanted to write a song about my love for the Pit Stop Market.  Photo Credit Jan Walker

We crossed the TN river and they stopped at a gas station just on the other side of the bridge.  I think this is around mile 112 of the race.  I don’t think I saw them again until the finish line.  I know they were always ahead of me at the check-ins anyway.  Karen was first place screwed woman which I think was her goal.  Awesome!

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TN River. You can see the boaters whose lives were saved since they got on the river before sunrise.

So it was 12 miles until the Commodore Hotel in Linden.  I had heard the story of Bo and Karen last year trying to stay there and not getting in since they didn’t have a reservation.  They had to grind it out in the hot afternoon to the next hotel 20 miles away.  I heard this story at about 1 AM so I made a reservation at 2AM while I was getting ready to sleep on the wood pile in Parsons.  It was just after 6AM now so I thought I’d get there around 9:15 and was a little worried the room wouldn’t be ready yet.  Oh silly me, you didn’t know your race would come to a grinding halt before you got to Linden did you?

Looking at my GPS watch data it looks like I made it almost 4 miles at a decent pace.  The last 8 miles took 3 hours which looking back at it now doesn’t seem that slow.  But it felt horrible.  Really the only reason it didn’t take 3.5 hours was that I ran downhill very painfully into Linden just so I could get there faster.  So what happened?  My ankles and feet were visibly swollen.  My heat rash was even worse and now on both ankles.  It was a solid red rash now instead of spots here and there.  It hurt to move the skin in any direction so of course walking and running both hurt.  By the time I got to the hotel at 10AM I had been on my feet for 6 hours without stopping.  I later determined that was the key issue, not getting off my feet and raising them up.

I somehow caught up to Clark Annis, Jeff Deaton, and Brian Trinkle about 4 miles from Linden if memory serves me right.  They all seemed to be fighting some sort of injury as well but seemed in much better spirits than me.  Looking back I should’ve laid down somewhere and tried to cool off but I didn’t.  A road angel came by with some water.  I didn’t really need any at this point anymore.  Parsons to Linden is indeed a long haul (about 18 miles) with no where to get water at night and barely anywhere during the day.  So I left Parsons with 3.5L of water and drank a 20 oz before leaving town as well.  I still had enough to get to Linden so I didn’t need water.  I did have a string cheese though,  which was AMAZING!  I wish it was like WI where every gas station has bags of fresh cheese curds siting out.

If I  remember correctly there were some super steep driveways leading off the road and going up the side hills in this section.  Someone said they would buy a beer for whomever made it to the top first.  No one tried.  At that point I would’ve been happy to be able to somewhat run on a flat road, let alone sprint uphill!

I got to the Commodore Hotel and got to the front desk looking the most pathetic I would look the entire race.  It seemed like I could barely talk.  I took out my money wallet thingy and just handed her everything since I couldn’t get anything out.  I asked if any restaurants were open yet and they said they could make me something.  I don’t think they were open yet but I must’ve looked pathetic enough to make me something.  They brought out a menu and I picked the spinach and artichoke dip appetizer and the special hamburger they made there.  I just said charge it to the same card.  I was hunched over hanging onto the desk this whole time mind you.

The room was in another building so we went there.  She was clearly worried about me falling down in the street.  We had to go up stairs and then downstairs to get to the room.  Whatever.  The bed looked super comfortable and I later found out it was.  She showed me everything in the room, something about the air conditioner, she could bring me a black out curtain if I wanted, etc.  She was going to bring me 2 bags of ice since there wasn’t an ice machine in that building I think.  I was kind of out of it.  So tired and painful.  I just took off my pack and laid on the bed, I never even locked the door.  I at least remembered to get stuff plugged in to charge.  At this point I was getting concerned with continuing the race or at least with how long it would take.  I wasn’t panicking or anything but it didn’t look good and there was a lot of race left, 190 miles to be exact. I took NSAIDs to help with the pain and swelling.  I hoped to not take anything this race since there was always a risk of dehydration which is a bad combo with NSAIDs.

I watched Top Gear on BBC for the first time while waiting for the food.  I always see ads for it when we watch Orphan Black but never saw it before.  It was the #1 show in the world for a while I guess.  Anyway, finally a knock on the door.  “Come in” I say.  I had to yell it like 3 times that the door was open.  Perhaps I couldn’t really yell, I was so tired.  She finally came in with the food and the ice.  I put the ice on my ankles and the food on my lap.  The artichoke dip was almost half cheese!  So freaking good.  The hamburger honestly kind of sucked but who cares I was starving.  I put the tray out and locked the door this time.  Got naked and put my feet on pillows and passed out for 5 hours straight.

When I got up it looked dark out.  Turns out the window was just shaded from the sun now and it was raining.  Hey at least I’m not in the rain.  I could actually walk to the bathroom OK.  I drank a bunch and went back in bed, this time with the ice under my ankles.  I fell asleep for a little bit and then checked email and such.  I thought about showering but figured it wasn’t worth it at this point anymore.  I emailed the group to see if anyone wanted my room.  JT and Sergio would end up taking it.  I never asked if they cuddled in the king size bed or not.

Footcare

On a tangent this is where I switched to my large pair of socks.  I brought 4 pairs of socks.  2 Medium and 2 Large Injinji.  I only wear Injinji socks as I get a lot less blisters with them.  I switched to the large pairs as my feet had swelled enough by this point to make them the better choice.  If you didn’t know already, you’re feet will swell during this race.  Both from the heat and from being on them all the time.  My pair of Altra Olympus 2.0 shoes I wore I got a half size bigger than my normal Olympus size.  I may still keep this larger size on the next pair as well though and haven’t decided.  I never had to cut my shoes open like some others did to relieve pressure and help with blister pain. In fact I never had blister pain.  My early blisters healed by the time I finished the race.  Make sure to take care of things early before they hurt.  I don’t care if you’ve never gotten a blister before, you better know what to do because you will get them in this race.  Go soak your feet and run 30 miles on the hottest day you can find to make yourself get blisters if you’ve never gotten them so that you learn before the race what to do.  Seriously.  I was surprised there were people who didn’t bring anything to take care of blisters in this race but there were and they paid for it dearly.  The chances of you being by a store the moment you need something is very very small.  Take your shoes off every time you stop to let things dry off.

You’ll notice a fair amount of the leaders in this race wear sandals.  If you can handle running in them they are a great choice.  Your feet won’t be as hot or wet and so you should have few to no blisters.  Don’t wear vibrams though.  You need more than an eighth of an inch of protection from the nails, glass, etc on the road.  Also the road gets to 150 degrees in the afternoon and you need some insulation between the road and your feet.  Only 1 guy ever ran this is vibrams and I’ve never read a race report that talked about his feet hurting so much more than that one.

Of all the items I brought, I didn’t use: my wet weather foot paste which I tossed on day 4 (4oz gone), my emergency light, a super small pocket knife, rain poncho, buff, and duct tape which I brought to fix things if need be.  I would still take all of those things if I did this race again.  Everything else I brought I used some of. I did not completely use up anything.  Learn how to tape your feet by yourself if you’re used to someone else doing it.  I don’t think there was any luck involved with me not having blister pain.  I planned and tested things as much as possible for this race beforehand.  I knew things would still go wrong but I tried to have versatile things along that I could McGyver something with.

OK so back to the race.  I left my key at the front desk and asked for ice water.  I saw the woman who checked me in and she didn’t recognize me at first since I could walk and was upright.  The amazing powers of sleep and ice!  I left at 6:30PM and went to the grocery store to buy some food and pop.  I got a 8 pack of fun size snickers and ate them all.  I met Juli and Jan again there.  The next town was Hohenwald which was a long town.  The food and motel part of town was 20 miles away.  A few miles out of town is a gas station that was supposed to be open until 7:30PM or so.  It was closed when I got there just before 7.  Jesse was sitting outside the store feeling very sorry for himself.  He had gotten there at 6 and it was closed then already.  I had planned on getting water here like he did so that sucked.  But then I found a spigot on the side of the building and filled up.  Jesse said he was going to pout a little longer so I left him.  This is an area that is easy to miss the turn.  There is a Y and since you are going against traffic and you need to go right at the Y, it is easy to just keep on going straight and not cross the road.  The gas station is right on top of the Y if you will.

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Go Right!

I checked in at mile 128 for the 60hour check-in.  Only 10 miles in the last 12 hours.  People at home were worried I think.  I mostly just told them I was tired so I slept a long time and didn’t tell about the zombie death march that morning.

I didn’t realize it at the time but I was starting what is known as 18 mile hill.  I could tell the road was gradually going up since we were clearly in a small river valley.  I never saw the river though.  It was still daylight for a portion of this section.  There is really no where to get water and not many houses along the road either.  Since the road elevation gain was so gradual I settled into a 5 minute run 2 minute walk pattern.  A few miles before you get to the outskirts of Hohenwald the climb gets much steeper as you leave the river valley.  I had just passed Juli and Jan by this point.  Finally getting to the top you realized you still had a ways to go to the town (like 6 miles I think the sign said).  I found what looked like a church with a parking lot and handicap parking sign but I kind of think it was a residence now.  There was stuff all around the outside.  Most of it looked like the junk I saw on a lot of porches along the race.  Stuff we’d put in the garage or basement here in MN they just put out on the porch in TN it seems.  The parking lot looked kind of run down as well.  I never saw a church sign but there could’ve been one somewhere else on the property.

There was a cat kennel outside that I put my feet up on and laid on the asphalt parking lot.  There were lights on in the building so I was quiet.  Jan and Juli came up and started knocking on the door to see if they could get water.  It was 10PM.  The lights in the building went out.  Great, can’t wait to see the cops I thought.  Luckily none came but I can’t imagine what the 2 people inside thought was going on outside.  Do people live in churches in the south?

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Google street view of the church? Now imagine junk all around the porch, concrete, and around that front door.

I laid there 30 minutes, not trying to sleep but just keeping my feet up since it had been 3.5 hours since I last had them up.  I had decided at least every 4 hours I would have to stop for 30 minutes or more and put my feet up since that’s about when they started to hurt.  I found out later this is something a fair amount of multi-day people do.  So there you go, lesson learned after almost 3 days.

I got going and reached the outskirts of Hohenwald.  I was hungry but there was nothing open on this end of town.  I found a playground after the airport and laid down around 11:20PM  I slept for almost an hour and a half but got cold again so I had to get going.

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I laid down and put my feet up on the little picnic table. It wasn’t super comfortable but the wood chips weren’t too bad.

So now it’s almost 1AM and I’m starving and thirsty.  I pass a bar and think if nothing else I’ll get bar food at the other end of town if nothing is open.  I didn’t know the bars close at 1AM in TN.  So when I finally got to the other end of town every fast food place seemed closed.  The hotel had ice but the pop machine was broken.  The next stop was a campground but all they were supposed to have was chips and water.  I saw some workers outside McDonalds smoking.  I had planned on dumpster diving there but couldn’t do that since they were outside by the dumpsters.  I convinced them to give me water to go along with the ice from the hotel.  I kept going and then saw Taco Bell down the road.  It was 1:40 so I just about full on sprinted to get there before they closed at 2.

I had to knock on the window since only the drive thru was open.  I scared the crap out of the dude but he broke the rules and allowed me to order.  I got some triple decker box meal thing for $5.  It was a ton of food for real cheap and tasted awesome as things tend to do when you are starving.  He even refilled my pop which again they aren’t supposed to.  I talked to him about the race through the window a little.  The workers wanted to know where I went pee.  I told them pooping was much more of a concern.  Then a truck pulled up so I had to move out of the way to not get run over.  The driver seemed to know about the race and asked what I got when I finished.  I told him “a sticker”.  He asked what the winner got and I told him “a sticker”.  Laz later told me I should’ve told him the winner got the sticker first.

Now a quick tangent; this sticker I speak of is the 314 sticker.  I’ve never put a mileage sticker on a vehicle before.  Even a hundred mile sticker seems kind of braggy/needy to me.  I don’t know why I feel that way but I just do, so I’ve never done it.  But I tell you what.  I’m putting that 314 sticker on my vehicle, no matter how braggy or douchie it is.  Most people will think it was a bike race or be thrown off by such an odd number anyway (yes it’s an even number but you know what I mean).  Pretty much only people who have done the race (and now you as well) will know what it means.  I told Laz he should make 100π stickers to really throw people off.  In fact if I were to ever get a tattoo it would be 100π.

So I ate the food on the employee picnic table out back and the guy came out since it was pretty much closing time and I think he was going to smoke.  He had cigarettes but never lit one up.  I told him I had just slept in a playground and he said he was homeless for 10 months in Chicago.  He confirmed that the playground plastic tubes were the best for sleeping if you could find them.  I had suspected that but never found any.  Hohenwald meant high forest in German he told me which explained the 18 mile hill into it.  He made it sound like Hohenwald wasn’t a very safe town.  It seemed by far the nicest town I went through at night but others did confirm it is a big drug town so looks aren’t everything.  He told me about the giant elephant sanctuary there.  He made it sound like there was an old story about gold along the Natchez Trace that the early explorers lost.  Who knows but good stories anyways.

I continued on the next 7 miles to the Natchez Trace Campground.  It was mostly downhill on a 4 lane highway.  I heard dogs everywhere and saw maybe 10 cars the whole time.  Weird for such a big road.  I got to the campground to find out the bathrooms were locked and so there was no running water.  There were picnic tables under a pavilion we could use.  I saw Jan and Juli there along with 3 other bodies.  I got out my battery pack to charge up everything and my sleeping bad liner.  It was 4AM.  I wanted to sleep a couple hours but that wasn’t going to happen.  I quickly realized that the body on the ground in the bivy sac was my roommate Paul by his snoring.  Someone had an extremely loud space blanket.  Juli was shaking with chattering teeth from being cold.  I maybe slept 30 minutes total being woken up every 5 minutes.  I’m sure I had woke them all up when I showed up and got situated as well.  The joys of sleeping outside with strangers.  This was about the only place on the whole course where the katydids noise wasn’t deafening.  It was dead quiet there so they didn’t help to drown anything out.  I should’ve slept on the bench on the porch under the lights and I didn’t remember my white noise on my ipod either.  It finally started getting light and I just got up realizing sleep would never come.  I was starting to get cold by then anyway.  I got some chips and filled my water bottles from a water cooler they had for us.  I should’ve looked how far it was to the next water stop but didn’t.  Jan and Juli left shortly after I did.

The next section was pretty good.  It was road construction but the road was pretty much done.  I went on the part over the barricade from the traffic and finally got to listen to music again.  Music really helps me move and I barely got to listen to it during this race due to the danger of not hearing things.  I was moving pretty good.  I went past the half-way point of 157 miles.  At the 72 hour check-in I was at mile 159 which was 31 miles further than 12 hours ago so I felt pretty good about that.  Much better than what I felt the day before anyway.  The main issue now was the large open sore that seemed to develop overnight on my lower back where the bottom of the pack was.  I think the wood chips made a cut there and that’s all it took to get infected and irritated by the pack.  Butt Lube didn’t help so I took a alcohol wipe to clean it off so I could apply a panty liner (yes I brought those in case of something like this).  The alcohol didn’t hurt as much as you’d think.  The panty liner held on good enough (it tended to slide around a little and started taking on sweat) but it was clear I’d have to take a shower to get things real clean and apply a blister band-aid to get it to heal and not hurt like mad.

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One of my cousins in NY would send me daily emails with pictures of my “fan club”. I got this one today. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a sign before.

Just before I got to Hampshire the TobyMac song I mentioned at the beginning of this blog came on.  The song is really about a father’s love for his children.  How you give to the point of having nothing left but still give more because that’s what love is.  I started crying.  I missed my kids so much.  It was weird how it just snuck up on me.  That lasted for the whole song.  I was told by many veterans that there would be high and low points and that you’d cry at some point.  I consider myself lucky that I cried from this kind of sadness and not extreme pain and feeling of hopelessness.

I got to Hampshire at 8AM.  There is basically nothing in this town if you could call it that.  Maybe 5 houses total.  There is a store but it doesn’t open until 1PM on Sunday which was today.  There was no water hose outside the building but there was a pop machine.  $1 per can.  I got 2 Yoo-Hoo and 2 SunDrop.  I was starting to not like SunDrop anymore but that’s what every pop machine had.  I was so thirsty I downed all 4 in 5 minutes and continued on.  I found a church just down the road that had a hose on the outside so I filled up my bottles there.  Since it was daylight and Sunday I was confident I would see a road angel before I got to Columbia.

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On the way to Columbia

I hadn’t had my feet up for over 3 hours so I found a nice cemetery at mile 163 and rested for 30 minutes.  I called my wife and made a reservation for the Richland Inn in Columbia.  This was probably the most peaceful time the whole race.  No cars.  Still kind of cool and I was in the shade on soft DRY grass.  I always wanted to sleep on grass but it was always soaking wet with dew at night and I didn’t have any waterproof tarp or anything to lay on.  I would bring that if I did this again.

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My view while laying in a cemetery outside Hampshire.

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Another cool looking cemetery.

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Lots of ranches like this.

I did meet a road angel and got some water.  I also saw Carl Laniak one of the race directors stop and pull over.  At first I got excited since I thought it was another road angel.  Once I realized it was him I yelled at him since he couldn’t give me anything since I was screwed.  It was getting HOT again.  Those few small clouds you see in the picture above somehow always went around me.  Columbia is another one of those 6 mile long towns.  I got a shake at the first gas station I saw.  Another runner was sleeping against the building in full sunlight with people and cars all around him.  No idea who he was or if he was actually sleeping but I saw him again that night sleeping on a gas station bench in Culleoka.

I got stopped by the guy who sits on his porch and takes down your information as he’s done for the last few years.  Clark was there as well.  I planned to eat at Hardees but only the drive thru was open so I couldn’t.  I just kept going to the hotel and ordered a pizza.  Took a shower and washed my clothes and put on my underwear I brought just for this occasion (to not answer the door naked ).  I got my pizza and slept from about 2:30 to 7PM.  This was the only time I got woken up by my alarm.

I ate the rest of my pizza and finally got out the door at 8.  I can’t remember if I had to re-tape my feet or why it took so long to get going.  Maybe I was just trying to memorize the guide book.  My 84 hour check-in was 179 miles so another 20 miles in that 12 hour period.  51 in the last 24 hours so I felt pretty good with that. 5 miles to the bench of despair in Glendale.  I got there at 9:25PM Sunday and signed the bench as is tradition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I didn’t stick around long.  Just took some water and left.  Outside of Culleoka there was a nice surprise of an aid station in someone’s yard.  It was before you get to Culleoka.  There were quite a few people there.  No other racers at the time.  I sat down on an awesome lawn chair.  They had everything you could think of.  Tons of food, batteries, place to charge stuff.  I really just wanted some grapes and a pop.  I think I sang the Grape song by Andrew and Polly a little.  I had just charged everything a few hours ago so I didn’t need to do that.  I stayed there 20 minutes. Annette Dykes must have been one of them there but not sure if she lived there or was just visiting as I know not everyone lived there.  Anyway she remembered I wanted to get done in time to get to my son’s birthday party and congratulated me on the Facebook photo of me finishing.  Awesome how people keep tabs on us runners.

The road past Culleoka towards Lewisburg was creepy.  This is where the trees were pretty much up to the road and sometimes met above the road to make it like a tunnel.  The other parts were just as creepy as it was in another small river valley so it just seemed so closed in.  There were essentially no yard lights anywhere.  I was on full alert for dogs.  I heard plenty but I don’t remember if any came out on the road here.  I’m used to running in the dark but there was just something not right about this area to me.  At mile 193 there is a gas station that had a covered area with a light and fan going.  There was a nice wooden bench there and I laid on it for 20 minutes.  A cat came by but never really looked at me.  I’m pretty sure it was black.  I didn’t want to sleep here so I kept going.  At the aid station they had said I could sleep at the dentist office porch in Lewisburg.  That was still a long ways off and I was tired now so I would need to find someplace to sleep before there.

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Pretty sure that cat is black. Nice soft bench though.

I made it to to top of the hill before you go down into Lewisburg and saw a Waste Management building.  The fence around it wasn’t completed yet and I saw a truck parked up there.  I thought sleeping in the bed of the truck would be nice and hidden.  I had to climb an embankment to get there.  I didn’t even try to open the truck door to see if it was open.  It had a bed liner so I thought it would be a little warmer that way.  I got my battery pack out again to charge stuff and my sleeping bag liner.  I set the alarm for 3:30AM, it was now 2AM.  I knew garbage workers got to work early but figured 3:30 should be fine.  I woke up at 2:45AM cold again.  I tried to get back to sleep.  Then I heard a vehicle drive up the road to the gate.  Crap!  I could hear the chain on the gate being undone and the gate being slid open.  The vehicle drove up to I’m guessing 40 feet from me.  Super Crap!  All scenarios start popping in my head.  What if he has a gun and I scare him so much he shoots me.  What if he detains me and calls the cops.  Nothing seemed like a good outcome.  I heard what sounded like bags being unloaded and stacked.  I was hoping this was some sort of delivery truck.  The truck engine started back up and I thought he might be driving closer to me.  The truck I was in was only 15 feet from the office door.  But it wasn’t getting closer, I’m not sure what was happening.  I didn’t dare lift my head up and be seen.  The engine stopped and I heard footsteps again.  I had been trying to get my stuff packed up but any movement was super loud due to the bed liner.  I lay still and waited, trying to come up with something to say.  Trying to figure out if it would be better to pretend to sleep as I was found.  Finally I heard a garbage truck start up.  I sprang into action and grabbed everything and ran down the embankment hoping not to twist my ankle on the large rocks I was running down.  I got to the bottom just to see another truck pull onto the road.  They didn’t see me or didn’t care.  That was close!  So now I know when waste management starts their day, it 2:45AM.

 

 

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So this is the street view from 2013. The fence looks exactly the same now.  I think that’s even the same truck I slept in. I know it was red and was a little closer to the building.  There are a lot more other vehicles around the site now. I swear the embankment was twice that high the night I ran down it.

So I started down the hill into Lewisburg.  There were a lot of strip malls it seems to me.  A guy walking on the sidewalk actually looked afraid of me running towards him.  First time that’s ever happened.  I did end up seeing the dentist office porch which was concrete so probably not that comfortable.  The 200 mile mark is just before you get to the courthouse in the town square.

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That’s supposed to be me making the number 2 with my eyes being zeros. Kind of lame but I couldn’t come up with anything better at the time which was 3:45AM.

About a mile later there are some gas stations that were open.  So I go into one after having already purchased yet another SunDrop from a pop machine not knowing if anything would be open further ahead.  They have food there and a bunch of things on menu boards up by the ceiling.  I ask the lady if I can order anything or just get what’s already in the warming display case thing that all gas stations have with old pre-made food.

She said “I can make you anything you want hun!”  Awesome!!!

“I’d like the chicken salad sub then.”

“I can’t make that.”

“OK” so much for anything I want “I’ll have the tuna salad sub then.”

“No I can’t make that either.”

Dejected, I say “Fine I’ll have the Salmon dinner.”

“I can’t make that either.”

This is where the other customers start chuckling.  I finally give up and let people pay for their stuff since this is holding everyone up who is trying to get to work.  I ended up just getting the pre-made crap that I didn’t want since I didn’t feel like spending 30 minutes going through every menu board item to find out what “ANYTHING YOU WANT HUN” means in TN.  At least the packaged cake I got was good.

I started out of town towards Shelbyville just over 20 miles away.  There would be a few small towns I’d go through before there though.  I had been warned by previous race reports of the dogs on this 20 mile stretch.  They weren’t wrong.  The rest of the way to Shelbyville I not only had my mace in my hand but also my dowel rod in the other.  Someone had emailed the list about 2 pit bulls near some county line outside Shelbyville but I had no idea where the county line was so I was prepared now.  Leaving Lewisburg you go past a motel on the race route.  It looked pretty sketchy to me.  In fact the half mile to get to it from the gas station was awful sketchy as well.  Clark told me later that while walking this part a guy was following him and would stop when he stopped and move when he moved.  Clark finally turned around and started walking towards the guy and he turned and left him alone.

I met a few dogs in the dark but none came on the road and I was ready if they did.  Stray dogs I actually didn’t mind on this trip.  They ran away from you.  It was the dogs guarding their territory that were aggressive. The sun came up and lots of cars were flying down the road with little shoulder to move over on.  That was getting old. At 6AM I found a church off the road a bit with a wooden bench that looked nice to take a nap on.  It was short but I’d have to make due since I was tired and I hadn’t seen anything better for miles (of course a little further was a horse barn with bags of sawdust stacked up that looked like heaven).  A cop car was parked across the street but I didn’t care.  I did actually sleep for close to an hour.  My legs didn’t feel great due to being scrunched up and on a metal bar but I felt kind of awake at least.  I continued on my way after getting some water from a park hydrant nearby.  I never got a photo of this sleeping spot.

I went a couple miles when all of a sudden from the left come 2 pit bulls charging down a hill.  I start using my deep commanding voice and look to the right to make sure I don’t get smucked by a car while I cross the road to get some distance.  Luckily no cars so I run to the other side while still yelling at the dogs.  The tan one was the worst and the larger female who has had at least 2 litters of puppies based on her mammary development stayed back with the yelling.  I walked on the right shoulder while looking at the tan one and yelling at him to go home.  He followed on the other side of the road for about 100 feet.  Finally a group of about 6-7 cars came and I ran as they came along me so I could get some distance.  The dog kept walking and then started to cross the road.  Luckily another big group of cars came.  The dog looked at them and then at me and finally turned around and ran off the road.  I didn’t need to use my mace or anything but I warned everyone on email again with the exact mileage 209.  I had just checked in for the 96 hour check-in so I knew where I was.  I then came to the county line which was after the dogs.  I later found out that one of them got hit by a truck.  I don’t know all the details.  I’ll let the runner who saw what happened tell his story if he wants too.  I assume it was the tan one that got hit.  While I’m glad the dog was no longer around to hurt someone else, it pisses me off that the owner was so irresponsible to let it run around on the road.  The dog was doing it’s job and the owner wasn’t.  There’s no way this was the first time those dogs were in the road and needed to be in a fenced in area.

A few miles I see Clark in a graveyard gazebo in Wheel that has narrow but long benches.  I laid down and put my arm through the railing so I could fit on the bench.  He had only been there a few minutes and didn’t have much of an issue with the dogs.  I rested just a bit and continued on since there were supposed to be gas stations up ahead and they should be open now.  I found out later lots of people slept in this gazebo.  I was a pretty nice spot I must say.

I got to the Pit Stop Market I referenced above in a photo and asked what I could have as there was a kitchen there.  She told me to tell her what I wanted and she’d tell me if she could make it.  This was worded much better than “I can make anything you want, hun” so I said scrambled eggs and lots of hash browns.  She said sure.  I grabbed some chocholate milk and pop and sat down at a booth.  Took the shoes off and charged everything up in the wall outlets conveniently located at every booth.  Clark came in but didn’t order anything.  I got my food but it wasn’t hash browns like I’m use to.  It was sliced potatoes.  Maybe she heard hash rounds?  Whatever, they tasted good.

I left and in a couple miles there was another gas station I think in Bedford.  I wanted to get more water from the bathroom but they had a sign it was for customers only.  OK whatever, I bought the one and only Gatorade I had the entire race.  Skip that I think I got one from a road angel too.  Anyway, you also couldn’t use a credit card for anything less than $5 so I had to pay cash.  I usually just left whatever change I got other than quarters in the take a penny leave a penny tray that every gas station in America but this one has.  Want to know what they have instead at this not at all friendly establishment?

A tip jar!

Not a leave and penny take a penny tray.  Not a donation box for a local kid with cancer treatment bills.  Nope, a tip jar.

I should’ve taken money out of it.  I carried that change for miles, they sure weren’t going to get it.

Next I got to see a old guy beating the crap out of this walking horse while he was training it to do the big lick.  That pissed me off to no end.  I’m as far as you can get from an animal rights activist but this wasn’t right.  It wasn’t a corrective tap here or there, it was full on wind it up 5 times in a row beat down every time there was a misstep.  And there were a lot of missteps.  Tennessee Walking Horses do have a small natural lift to their front legs but making them do that big lick walk seems senseless to me.  I’ve heard horse owners say the big lick is a natural gait.  In my professional opinion the big lick is completely UN-natural.  They’re finally cracking down on the soring that used to go on and this guy was using a different method than that to make the horse lift it’s feet at least.  I really felt like going up to him with a whip and telling him that I’d smack him every time he didn’t skip.  No walking or running, you can only skip.  Oh, it’s uncomfortable and inefficient to skip you say?  Too bad, since you can physically do it, it must be a natural human gait.  Right?  Just like a horse lifting it’s feet super high in the air for NO reason.  I know that area is the big Tennessee Walking Horse area and I’m probably pissing off some of the nice local people who helped me during the race but I don’t like it.  I’m sure not everyone beats their horse but this was right out by the hwy for everyone to see so obviously he thought there was nothing wrong with it.

Done venting.

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Finally I got to Shelbyville.  I got my first ice cream bar at the first gas station.  It was just after noon and hot as always but I was getting used to it now.  Really I couldn’t even tell you what day was officially the hottest.  The first motel is the Magnolia Inn.  It looked sketchy and there were 5 very loud men with cars in the parking lot.  I’ll remind you it’s 12:15PM,  check out is at 11AM and you can’t check in until 3, why are there so many people here.  There is no office, you just go up to a window and some guy shows up.  I ask how much for a room and he goes “ahhh $50”.  If you’re going to try to scam me dude don’t start with an “ahhh” where it’s clear to me you’re just throwing a number out there you think I’ll pay.  I left and he chases after me yelling smaller numbers.  If he had got to 20 I would’ve stopped.  This place looked like too much trouble for anything more.

Bo and Karen went there as well that day.  This is the story they told me but I’m sure they will tell it better in their race report.  Bo asked the guy if there were any other runners staying there.  The guy didn’t know what he was talking about so Bo asked him if anyone wearing a backpack like him and Karen were there.  The guy then told him “No.  Your kind sleep under the bridge by the river”.  Needless to say they didn’t stay there either.

The other hotel was a little off course but I went there.  America’s Best Value.  I think it was $50 as well but it was quiet.  I took a shower and washed my clothes again.  I slept until around 5PM.  I re-taped my feet even though it wasn’t too bad.  I knew this would probably be my last time staying in a hotel so I thought it best to redo it now when it’s easiest.  I had a small heel blister that I took care of and then put Engo patches on the heels of my shoes to prevent any new ones.  I’ve never gotten heel blisters before but I wasn’t surprised since I had my shoes tied so loose the heels would slip.  If I tightened them any more though I would have much bigger issues with my tendons getting irritated like I’ve had in the past and the heel blister didn’t hurt so I’d take that trade any day.

I then saw a reddish looking bug on the edge of the pillow crawling up it.  I squished it to kill it and bright red blood came out.  The exoskeleton was clear so I’m guessing it was some sort of biting lice.  I know they let dogs stay in the rooms here so I was hoping it was from a dog, but very likely the person who stayed there before me had head lice.  Gross.  I know it didn’t come from me, but now I was paranoid I’d bring something home with me.  It wasn’t on the pillow I slept on but still it was in the room with me and I didn’t want to look to see if he had any friends.  I washed everything on sanitize when I got home and had my wife check me over.  No lice!  Huzzah!

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America’s Best Value wasn’t America’s most hygienic.

Starting out of Shelbyville sucked.  My ankles were a little swollen still even after sleep and icing them.  My heat rash was feeling better with hydrocortisone cream but still hurt some.  The main issue was my calves were super tight from sleeping on that church bench that morning and I also had some tight tendon I could feel flick over something with every step behind my left knee.  It didn’t hurt to walk but that tendon would flare up something fierce if I didn’t figure out which one it was or what was causing it.  Here are the views I had leaving town.  Let’s just say they weren’t helping to give me a positive attitude.

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Decaying church.

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Fenced off old hospital

I saw Wayne just before check-in and told him it might be a very slow night if I couldn’t figure it out.  He did a great job telling me I was doing a great job.  Even if you feel bad, knowing someone thinks your doing just fine helps a lot with morale. After about 40 minutes of stopping, trying to feel which tendon was flicking around, stretching, etc I figured out it was my lateral hamstring tendon flicking but that one of the muscles right behind the knee was super tight as well.  There are at least 2 small muscles just behind the knee that I have no idea how to stretch but I know if I crank down hard on them, they eventually loosen up.  Very painful but the only way I knew to loosen them.  I got my dowel rod out and worked on my hamstrings on both legs and also my calves for awhile.  Finally the flicking sensation went away and I could run with a very short stride and probably 190 cadence.  I’d stop every 5 minutes or so to stretch the calves and hamstrings some more.  I checked in at 226 miles at the 4.5 day check-in.  Only 17 miles the last 12 hours, not very good.

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Deer I saw that snorted at me a bunch.

Wartrace was 6 miles away.  I kept hearing gun shots in this section.  I got to Wartrace and put my feet up at the gas station on a bench and talked to my wife a little bit.  I had my mace and dowel rod out again.  I told people I needed some well wishes this night since last night had been so “bad”.  Hard to put it into words but the eerie road, dogs, Lewisburg, just added up to being a not at all fun, bad, depressing night.  They had to be emails, not texts or phone calls.  I planned on being in silent mode to keep dogs and people from knowing I was there. I left Wartrace at 10PM.

I was hyper vigilant this night.  I started the small back road section from Wartrace to Manchester.  This section is probably real nice in the day.  The trees cover the road almost 80% of the time it seemed like.  You could do this section easy with all the shade as long as you brought enough water.  It was like a 15 mile never ending tunnel with the katydids making a deafening roar.  I took control this night and charged ahead with no fear.  No headlamp needed even with the shade as it was a full moon tonight.  It basically felt like I was in The Walking Dead running down the middle of the road checking the tree lines constantly for walkers, I mean dogs.  Instead of a katana or a crossbow, I had my trusty mace and a foot long dowel rod.  Oh yeah, I was badass!  I had everything on my pack tied down so nothing would make a sound.  My collapsible water bottles had no air in them so there was no sloshing.  I quickened my cadence to quiet my steps.  I actually was past the first few dogs before they saw my reflector in the moonlight and barked.  But after a few miles the dogs seemed to know I was coming a half mile before I got there.  I thought that was weird.  The pair of loud Pyrenees in the large fenced in pasture came charging down the hill to the fence line but I’ve read about them many times so I wasn’t worried.  They followed me the whole way along the fence and barked for awhile after I was gone.  But still all the dogs ahead were barking.  Finally I found out why, Clark was just ahead of me the last few miles so they were reacting to him and then continued to react to me when I got there.  So much for stealth mode.  I walked with him for a bit and then ran again.

I found a church at mile 240 on the right with a 30 foot long picnic table and laid down on it.  There were no water spigots that I could find but there was an outlet I didn’t use as it was far from the picnic table and I didn’t want to risk forgetting I had something plugged in.  I used my battery pack instead.  It was 12:15AM and had only been a couple hours since my last stop but I needed to get my feet up and work on my calves some more.  Clark came and rested as well.  I don’t think I ever fell asleep, I just worked on my muscles while laying down.  I did feel quite rested though after 40 minutes and left.

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This is the picnic table at the church. Photo Credit Laura Carver

Soon after I left Clark a car seemed to be following behind me.  It would just stop for a while and then drive up to me and stop again.  I finally figured out it was someone’s crew.  I kept hearing this hollering and thought the crew was cheering on their runner every time he went past.  It was late so I was wondering why they were doing this.  Whispering Oaks Campground was only 3 miles away and I got there around 1:40AM.

I saw Andrei sleeping on a picnic table.  There were real bathrooms here.  Apparently there were showers as well somewhere but I didn’t see them.  I found some cushions and put them on a picnic table thinking this would be the best outdoor sleep of the race.  I set my alarm for 4AM.  I woke up when Clark came and found a spot to sleep.  I fell back asleep but kept having bad dreams.  I can’t remember details but I know they were about someone not letting me get to where I wanted to go or not letting me leave.  Stupid race was in my dreams already!  I woke up just before the alarm.  Everyone was gone.  I left some money in the money slot since it was nice of them to let us stay there.  Of course later runners said they had cots, food, drinks, air mattresses, and who knows what else set up for the runners.  Lucky bastards.  This is another place I slept that I don’t have a picture of.

Next stop was Manchester.  There was a gas station open 2 miles from the campground.  I got some food and pop there.  Soon after I left I realized I left my dowel rod there so I went back to get it.  That was the only extra distance for stupidity that I did this race.  Really it was maybe a tenth of a mile both ways so not a big deal.  It was daytime when I got to Manchester and I caught up to Clark.  He was going to get some supplies for his feet and I suspected spend some time in a hotel recovering.  I ate at Hardee’s and had lots of refills of pop, I was sweating like crazy already.  This morning seemed the hottest to me but it was mostly because I was in the full sun with zero wind most of the day.  I got out of town before the 5 day check-in, 253 miles.

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Sunrise before Manchester

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The county saved a lot of money on this sign.

Hillsboro was only 4 miles away but I stopped at a gas station to get some ice and refuel a little.  I put my feet up as well since it had been 2.5 hours since Hardee’s.  I put straight ice in my bladder and ice water in my bottles.  I don’t think putting ice on my back was the best idea.  My back skin felt all pins and needles under the pack the next 2 days after doing that.  It kept me cool though.  I left the rest of the bag of ice for the next runner.

Along the way I saw a buck laying in the shade with some cattle.  It was that hot that he just plopped down with them.  You can see it on the video at the end although I didn’t zoom in at all.  I think it was also around here that screwed winner Andrew Snope stopped.  He kind of hobbled out of the car and cheered me on.  I agreed with his finishing quote that being crewed would be much easier.  At least I’m pretty sure it was this day I saw him.  I think he was driving home or something.

Pelham was around 9 miles away.  I ran/walked most of this even though it was hot.  I found a new convenience store in Pelham that was hiding behind a row of trees.  I got a milkshake there and more ice water.  I wasn’t very hungry for much else.  I got back on the road to Monteagle.  4 large white dogs came out from a hole in a fence and followed me for a bit but they didn’t seem aggressive and always stayed in the ditch.  There were some clouds in the sky now but the shadows never seemed to get to me.  I could never catch up to one either.  I could hear thunder in the distance so maybe it would rain.

At mile 270 starts the 3 mile 1000 foot climb to Monteagle.  I just kept plugging away at it.  Stopping didn’t help so I didn’t do that more than once.  Plus when I did stop I sat on the guardrail.  I wasn’t on it for even half a second and thought my shorts had melted to it.  It was probably only 120 degrees but the metal conducted the heat extremely well.  I didn’t get burned at least.  I could see the road was wet in spots but I never got rained on and made it up to the top in an hour.

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View from about half way up.

It was almost 3PM now.  There was an Italian restaurant right there so I went in.  I got Bang Bang Shrimp and Blackened Chicken Alfredo.  They had awesome bread and butter there as well.  I was going over my rule of 1100 calories solid food but I didn’t care.  Plus I planned on sleeping somewhere.  My feet were hurting pretty bad so I took NSAIDs again for the second time in the race.  I charged stuff up while I waited and ate.  I left there at 3:30PM since the food came out quickly and I wanted to sleep.

I had the choice of going off course a quarter mile to a hotel or going to a state park right on the road that was free.  I didn’t want to spend more money and I wasn’t that tired yet so I decided to go the 3 miles to the park.  Of course I was tired almost immediately after I left.  It was super hot.  No shoulder on the road and apparently everyone works shifts in Monteagle since the road was very busy at 3:30.  I did finally make it to the park.  The bathrooms were pretty nice but that’s about all.  It seemed much nicer of a park on the bus ride a week ago.  The picnic tables were too exposed and too many people around that area so I found some trees and laid on my sleeping bag liner with my feet uphill.  I was there for 90 minutes but I’m not sure how much I slept.  My feet were pounding.  The person shooting hoops must have sucked since every shot seemed to make the loudest sound possible.  It seemed like he threw the ball at the rim every shot.  Mothers with their children kept their distance from me.  I finally got up super groggy and changed socks one last time.  I filled up my water and moved on out very slowly at first.

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Google street view

Tracy city was very close from the park.  Coming into town there was a old school building that was now called the art building or something to that effect.  Anyway it was up on a hill and it looked like every girl in the county from age 5-10 was there learning to cheer.  My sister-in-law is from NC and was big into cheering so maybe it’s just a southern thing where every girl must learn to cheer.  Regardless, they were all together shouting

“We got spirrit, S-P-I-RRRR-I-T, we got spirrit”

I wish you could hear it.  I don’t know how to write out the sound.  Just think of the most southern drawl you’ve ever heard with a lot of up and down changes of pitch and you’ll be close.  I swear no one had that much of a drawl when I talked to them in stores and on the street but apparently when it comes to cheering, the more the better.

So while I’m listening to this cheering on the left side of the road, I look over to the right side of the road which is a graveyard.  A quick glance shows no where to sleep and also with the cheering going on, I wouldn’t sleep anyway.  On second glance I see 5 people in the graveyard crying with one of them carrying a shovel.  Look left, cheering.  Look right, sobbing.  Something like that sticks in your head.  The pile of dirt didn’t look very big so I don’t know if you could bury pets in this cemetery in addition to humans or if it was a child that died which would make this even more tragic to have children cheering on the other side of the road.

I moved along down the hill to the gas station.  I knew it would be a long haul to Jasper.  There was an aid station at mile 295 in Steve Smalling’s yard but that was 15 miles away so I filled up with water and had a slushy.  I knew I’d have to sleep somewhere as I was still exhausted but nothing in town looked good or safe.  A few stray dogs said hello and went on their way.  I got out of town a few miles before check-in.  281 miles down, 33 to go.  By not sleeping in the hotel I had certainly gained positions.  I knew I would lose a couple since I needed to sleep for an hour soon.

I found a wooden pew in front of a church or at least what I thought was a church and laid down on it.  There was another pew to hide me somewhat from the road and it was just starting to get dark.  I didn’t get anything out of my pack.  I was in save time mode now, as this was my final push to the rock.  I slept soundly for an hour.  I got up and started moving.  I took half a caffeine pill during the long section to Jasper.  There wasn’t much traffic anymore which was nice.  I was running well again.  I wasn’t too concerned about dogs anymore but still had my mace and dowel rod out.

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I went back to get a picture of this after I finished the race.

Just before the 3 mile decent into Jasper I saw the same crew vehicle as the night before.  I figured I’d get passed by the runner.  Sure enough he passed me on the decent.  Every minute or so he’d yell out super loud.  So it wasn’t the crew cheering like I thought the night before, it was him.  I can’t even scream as loud as he could yell.  I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be singing or what but it was short 2 second bursts so it didn’t seem like singing.  This was just before midnight on a work night.  Every dog would start barking every time he did this.  I didn’t get to ask him what he was doing so I won’t say who it was as maybe there is some reasonable explanation.  I think it was extremely rude to go yelling in the middle of the night in a residential area though.  I ran the whole way down which cut close to 30 minutes off my time I was thinking it would take to get to Jasper.

When I got to the bottom of the hill, a cop stopped me to ask what I was doing.  I’m pretty sure he thought I was the yelling guy.  So I had to spend 5 minutes showing him the race route and telling him about the race.  He acted like he had no clue.  People had already been coming through town the last 3 days and I know for a fact a resident called the police to tell them about the race beforehand.  It’s his fault he didn’t know what was going on, not mine.  I felt like telling him to go bother all the Pokemon people roaming the streets the same as me in the middle of the night but I didn’t.  I finally just started walking away and he left.

I got to Steve’s yard at mile 295 and found Andrei sleeping there.  I drank some water and found 2 chairs to sleep on.  I set my alarm for an hour and instantly fell asleep.  A dog barked once that seemed really close and I heard Andrei jerk in his bivy sac.  He didn’t recall that at all when I asked him at the finish line.  He must’ve been really tired to not get woken up by that.  I woke up just before the alarm and turned it off.  I quietly got up and left just before 1AM.  Again I hadn’t taken anything out other than the battery pack to charge stuff.

My feet were soaked at this point from all the sweating yesterday and overnight in the fog.  If it was earlier in the race I would’ve changed socks and taken care of any blisters if there were new ones.  It didn’t feel like there were any new ones yet but I knew running in wet feet the next 4-5 hours would make some.  At this point I didn’t care.  Even if they showed up they wouldn’t start hurting before I was done or at least not enough to slow me down.  I’ve done this in other races as well towards the end.  I also was worried if I changed socks I might mess up my taping job and then have to spend time redoing that over the few blisters I had from earlier in the race.

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Chairs at mile 295.  When I went back he also had lawn chairs that laid down flat.

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I went back to thank Steve after the race and he took this picture.

I took the other half of the caffeine pill then as I wasn’t planing on sleeping anymore.  In about an hour I felt awake the rest of the race and beyond.  While I was going through town there was a car with 2 guys in it yelling stuff out the window.  I’m assuming they were drunk since I could hardly understand anything they were saying.  Something about I can stop running now since no one is chasing me.  I’ve only heard that joke from people in TN so it must be really funny to them.  In fact, someone WAS chasing me dumb ass, it’s a race and I’m not last.  Even if I was last there would still be Oprah chasing me!  I ignored them and kept going.  I saw them 3 more times as they circled around town.  Good thing that cop was busy harassing us runners and not getting drunk drivers off the road, wouldn’t want him to have to get out of his car.  Come to think of it, I never saw a cop pull a vehicle over the entire race.  If he came around a 4th time I thought about macing them.  He never came.

Next stop was Kimball a few miles away.  The parking lot was full of trucks.  I got there at 2:10AM.  I reserved a room for that night since it was going to fill up again due to all the construction workers staying there.  They gave me a bag to put all the stuff in I didn’t want to carry anymore.  I pretty much just had my 2 small water bottles left and first aid kit when I was done taking stuff out.  I left at 2:17AM and knew at that point I would finish before 6 days!  I got some pop and food at the gas station next door as it didn’t look like anything else was open and certainly nothing would be open the next 14 miles.

The next 3 and a half hours were torture.  Not because I was in pain, though I was.  Not because the miles were hard, though climbing Sand Mountain wasn’t very fun.  Not because of more dogs in the road, though New Hope had a bunch.  It was torture because the first of those 3 hours seemed like forever!  Once I knew finishing was inevitable, I got impatient.  I never saw a soul the entire time.  I texted when I got to the bridge that I was on my way.  I expected a response that someone was right in front of me or some other psychological torture.  I just got the reply “gotcha”.  Does that mean someone really is close ahead or behind?  I started caring now that someone would pass me right at the end.

Soon after starting the climb up sand mountain you enter Alabama.  I had never been to Alabama before this race so that’s one more off my list.  Only  6 states left and Guam if you want to count territories.

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Horrible picture of the Alabama sign.

When I got to the CR 132 turnoff, it was getting light.  I was flying high now.  Just a few more miles to go!  I ran.  Even the hills.  I even looked over my shoulder a few times I think.  I got to the border of Georgia and the castle rock gate just on the other side.

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Most called this road the cheese grater.

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I kept running.  I got out my iPod one last time and cranked a few power songs.  There was a sign telling you to turn although I had this part of the course memorized anyway.  It said 1 mile to go.  I turned on the field road and up the hill.

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Foggy dawn at castle rock.

There was another sign to turn left which also said 1 mile to go, or at least I thought it did.  Then into the trees for the trail lover in me.  I think there were a few more signs, probably said 1 mile to go on them as well.  Finally the open space with cars and people.  They let me keep going straight to the rock since I wasn’t wobbly (probably shaved 2 seconds off my time, lol).

Done!!!!!!!

There was no scenic view from the rock at the time because of the fog so I’d have to see that later.  I wanted to finish in the day so I could remember everything more and I did.  Better yet I was still under the 6 day mark.  I got to sit in the finisher chair.  I knew they always put a quote of what you say at the finish in the email they send out so I had something kind of prepared when climbing up sand mountain.  But I never said it and just started having a great conversation with everyone.  Laz, Carl, Sandra, Bo and Karen were all there.  Bo and Karen had finished a little over 20 minutes before me.  They had sprinted to the end and Karen fell and had some road rash from it.  Funny to think of sprinting at the end of 314 miles but I think almost everyone does it if they can.  The next hour or so was awesome talking to everyone and watching Andrei come in and finish.  There were some great stories and I got to hear about a lot of the runners I never saw on the course.

And of course I got my 314 sticker!

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Gotta do a Rocky pose

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“Official” finisher photo Photo Credit Carl Laniak

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Hard earned joy.

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The view from the rock a few hours later.

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Don’t fall down!

I took off my shoes and socks to put on some sandals.  I found 2 new small blisters at the base of my toes (I found 3 more smaller ones after I slept at the hotel).  They didn’t hurt yet but it shows how important it is to take care of your feet right away. In just the last 5 hours I had more than doubled the number of blisters by not changing into dry socks when I knew I should have.  Like I said earlier I didn’t care about getting them at the end of the race.  My largest blister the whole race was 9mm.

I went back to the hotel and they had a room ready for me when I got there at 10AM!  Shower, wash clothes, charge phone, sleep.  I got up at 3PM just so I wouldn’t end up waking up at 1AM or something dumb.  I drove back to thank Steve and take some pictures of the course I had missed in my last day scramble.  I saw 4 people coming down the hill into Jasper, and the few miles before the hill into Jasper a saw 3 more people.  All of them people I had ran with during the race at some point.  I cheered them on and told them about the aid station at Steve’s house.

I went back to the rock to see Paul, Jeff, and Brian finish.  They spent about 30 seconds arguing over what order they should finish in since they got there at the same time.  Note to future runners, have a plan in place for who goes first beforehand.  There are no ties and only one can go to the rock at a time.  That’s why you’ll always see finishing times at least 20 seconds or so apart.

So I figured I took somewhere around 870,000 steps between running and walking!  I’d be curious to know if someone had a step counter that ran this race.  Guess I’ll have to try for a million someday.

I got back to bed about 11pm.  The next day I left but stopped to wish JT, JT (Jason), and Novle good luck on their way from Jasper to the finish first.  I ended up sleeping in the same spot on the way home in the car again.  I slept one more time too later on.

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I’m so clean!

I had to drive past my wife’s work so I decided to get her some flowers.  I brought those and an ice cold can of Cheerwine.  I gave her a big inappropriate work kiss.  She was more excited by the pop than the flowers.  We only get Cheerwine once like every 5 years when we make a trip down south as they don’t sell it in MN.  So it’s a big deal.  THANK YOU honey for taking care of the kids for 11 days!  Thanks mom for helping out with the kids and giving her a break.  Thanks to everyone who kept tabs on me and gave me encouragement, it really helped.

When I got home I was a pound heavier.  I wasn’t surprised since I should have a lot more plasma volume, I was eating a lot, and my muscles were swollen.  By 8 days later despite eating a ton, I’m 3 pounds lighter than before the race and the lightest I’ve been in a decade.  I lost about 14 pounds before the race since so many people had commented in their race reports they were mad they carried a bunch of fat around for 314 miles.

My legs felt hot for 5 days straight.  Basically like they feel the night after a 30 mile long run.  I was always sweating at night sleeping and since I sweat so much more now, I would be soaked.  It finally stopped after the 5th night.

I had a 3 mile run 6 days after the race and it felt good.  My bones and feet ached some that night though so I’m taking another 5 days off before I run again.  I’ve got a hilly 100 mile in 5 weeks so I plan on mostly just doing hill repeats and nothing over 5 miles or so until then.

Here are my shoes after the race.   Altra Olympus 2.0 for those who care.  I put on about 100 miles on them before the race to break them in.

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I only tied my shoes 3 times the whole race. Just when I had to loosen them up from my feet swelling. I just slipped them on like slippers.

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You wear the heels a lot faster when you walk. Normally I’d get 800 miles or so out of shoes but probably not these.

This is the link to the final results with links to other peoples race reports and lots of other stats.  tinyurl.com/volstate2016 Here is the video I made.  The sound is bad in spots because the sweat and humidity messed up my phone microphone towards the end of the race.

 

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My finisher jacket I got in August. Back side.

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Front side.

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Looks Awesome!

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So since I take my wife’s vehicle to my races I wanted a sticker for it too.  I didn’t think it would be right to make a 314 sticker so I made a 100pi sticker instead.  No one has quite figured the meaning out on their own yet at races.

Stuff mostly for runners.

I had some foot pain issues before the race due to my training adventure run.  I’m lucky we have an awesome physical therapy department in a nearby town.  My physical therapist Shannon helped pinpoint a little better what muscles I needed to keep an eye on and gave some good suggestions on things to try to prevent the pain.  I couldn’t ever find any commercial shoe inserts that had the right amount of cushion for the inside of my arch.  I ended up making my own with panty liners that I cut to shape in a kind of wedge shape with multiple layers cut smaller and smaller.  I stuck these under the insole that came with the shoe.  This is all only in the right foot which had the issue.  It helped to counteract the road camber.  If I ever felt the slightest pain in the peroneal tendons, I’d work the knots out of those muscles and it would subside.  What’s odd is now that the race is done the pain is back some again.  I’ll have to look at my everyday work shoes I think.  Or maybe it’s just residual pain from running 314 miles.

I wore the Ultimate Direction PB Adventure vest 3.0 with the soft collapsible 500ml water bottles and a Osprey Hydraulics LT 2.5L bladder.  My awesome wife sewed the magnet that goes with this bladder bite valve to the vest so it wouldn’t flop around.

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Before I washed it.  Everything taken out already.

The vest, bladder, bottles weighed in at 1.5 pounds.  Initially I had 4.5 pounds of gear but I took out almost half a pound before the race.  I took out 4 oz of stuff during the race but purchased a sewing kit, hydrocortisone, and baby powder (which I never ended up using anyway) so pretty much my pack was always at least 5.5 pounds.  I could carry 8 pounds of water but I never carried that much.  I only used my bladder about 4 times and had it empty the rest of the race.  You need it for those times though.  If you’re walking you could just carry a gallon jug of water and some screwed people do that.  They basically just have a fanny pack for a few small things and carry all the water by hand.  I would never do it that way.  I usually train with about 8-10 pounds on my long runs due to having to carry all the water I’ll need for 5-6 hours.

You can see my packing list at the beginning if you want to see what I packed.  I never did take a picture of all my gear strewn out before I packed the vest.  Oh well.  I filled the pack about as full as it would go.  At least the main compartments in back were full.  I didn’t fill all the smaller pockets full.  I planned on putting snacks in them but never did.  It would’ve been emptier if I didn’t bring a large roll of toilet paper with.  You need some toilet paper with for emergencies anyway but I just brought a whole roll of Charmin Ultra cause it’s the little luxuries in this race that count.  And my butt hates rough toilet paper.

I used 2Tom’s Buttshield.  I used to use BodyGlide and still do but won’t for long races anymore.  I guess I noticed at 100 mile races that BodyGlide wouldn’t quite hold up and very slightly attracted dirt.  Buttshield is basically only dimethicone which is the thing you want.  It worked awesome.  I pretty much used up a entire roll during the race.  I used it on my butt but also crotch and upper legs.  Initially I didn’t get enough of my legs and started to get a rash the second day.  I started applying a bigger area and that helped it from getting worse.  I did some sewing on my short liner to roll over a seam I thought was causing a problem but I think it was more I just hadn’t put any lube in that area of my leg since I didn’t sew it until day 3 or 4 and it was already getting better.

I’d probably bring more blister band-aids with if I did it again.  There are lots of other uses for them other than blisters.  Any skin area you want covered with a soft water/sweat resistant bandage that stays on for days, these are great for.  The worked perfect for my back sore.

I’d not bring gaitors again.  The heat rash sucked and it only happened on the area under the gaitors so I totally blame them.

I never carried food.  I don’t know if this was good or bad, just a fact.

I wished I had some sort of small inflatable pillow to put me feet/legs on.  It wouldn’t take long to blow up and deflate and would’ve helped me sleep better.  It likely would’ve prevented the tight muscles behind my knee since I had them on a metal bar when I slept the morning they started to hurt.

This race will be more enjoyable with good running partners, whether planned ahead of time or just people you meet.  I never found anyone with the same running pace as me.  Most people seemed to just grind it out walking without stopping for more than a few minutes or sleeping much at all.  I suspect their feet hurt a lot more than mine did since they were always on them.  The guys who finish this race under 4 days probably don’t have much pain at all since they are only on their feet for 4 days.  That’s an advantage of being fast.

You will spend more time taking care of your feet then you have ever done before during a race.  Whether it’s blisters, taping, icing, or just putting them up above your heart, you will spend hours a day taking care of your feet.  Yes hours!  Granted you can nap while having your feet up but you need to put them up regardless of if you sleep or not.

Expect to have foot pain.  Not just blister pain but deep aching pain almost like it’s in your bones.  By the 3rd day, my feet would throb for 20 minutes while I put them up.  Or maybe I’d only notice it for 20 minutes before I fell asleep, hard to know for sure.  But when I’d wake up they weren’t throbbing.

I’ll repeat, your feet will hurt!  Most race reports talk about their feet hurting so I knew they would but most reports don’t tell you constantly throughout the report that their feet hurt.  Their feet did hurt the whole time, they just didn’t want to seem like a whiny pants.  To get an idea of what it’s like, do this tomorrow.  Wake up and think about your feet hurting.  Hobble to the bathroom.  Dread putting your shoes on.  Then all day chant my feet hurt.  All night chant my feet hurt.  Constantly think about your feet hurting.  Think about wanting to get something from down the hall and then decide it’s not worth the pain and extra distance to get it.  Then do that for 4-8 more days.  It wasn’t crippling pain for me but your feet will always let you know they aren’t happy.  I think I got off pretty easy compared to what others went through.  Especially the people who finished behind me.

Make sure you are careful running in the road.  The actual lanes are much flatter than the shoulders so it is very tempting to run on them.  Do NOT do this during rush hour or when you aren’t FULLY aware of your surrounding.  The most likely way you’re going to get hit by a car is when one is passing another one coming from behind you (so cars are in both lanes coming at you from behind).  You can’t see it coming and if there is a lot of traffic you won’t hear it coming either.  Sure at 3AM on a two lane road you’ll see a car an hour and you can run right down the middle of the road.  On the  4 lane roads the shoulders are 10 feet wide so you can even run on the right side of the road if you wanted to.

I just made my own sun hat with a Headsweats visor and attached a handkerchief with safety pins.  If you plan on walking a lot an umbrella is a great idea to keep the sun off.  Makes for a good thing to scare the crap out of dogs as well.  Just open it up at them and they freak out.  I don’t think I’d want to run holding one.

I brought another handkerchief to hold an ice bag on my head but never really planned on using it since in a trail run at home it seemed like a hassle and didn’t seem to help as much as I though it would.

Make sure you’re on the google group email list.  Also a good idea to join the ultra listserv as well if you aren’t already.  Lots of knowledge from the people who’ve done this for years.

Cost

Total spent during the race for food and supplies: $139.85 I never bought water or other “free” things.  I also didn’t try to haggle with everyone to give me free stuff so that’s probably a wash.  Grocery stores are cheaper but I was only by one once during the day when they’re open.  Some people got close to $40 worth of free stuff from road angels so there is some advantage to running in the day.  You will not see road angels at night.  You might find a cooler with something to drink in it at night but don’t count on it.  Even the places put on Facebook could run out of stuff overnight.

Total for hotels during the race: $313.27  That’s for 4 hotels.  I made use of them for at least 5 hours each.  So obviously you have to decide if hotels are worth the cost.  If you are running with someone and can share the cost they are a no brainer.  I was never offered any rooms from people ahead of me so I didn’t luck out there.  That’s mostly because I’d first check in around noon – 2PM.  I put this in here because no other race reports from years past but costs in.  I think it’s important for people to have an idea so they can budget.

Stuff before and after the race depend on where you’re coming from.  My rental was only $104 for 12 days due to a really good deal and them initially giving me a car with completely bald tires, so I got a discount for having to drive back to get a different one.  The hotel the night before the bus in Kimball I used points to get for only $30.

Tuscobia 80 Mile Run Race Report – 2016

I am home and well rested a few days after I finished this race.  It started January 9th at 10am in Park Falls, WI and ended for me at Rice Lake, WI 8:52am on the 10th.  Starting temp was around 14 degrees with a windchill in the single digits.  It ended at a temp of … well just read on.

So this was my first winter race pulling a pulk.  I did Frozen Otter in 2015 but you just carried everything on your back and since it was 34 degrees outside, it was hard to call it a winter race either.  My main purpose for doing this race was I felt it was a good training race for Arrowhead 135 next year if I get accepted to that race.  It served it’s purpose well I think.  I learned a lot of lessens and found areas of weakness that can be fixed.  The race was changed this year to around 80 miles instead of the usual 75.  They won’t change the name unless they continue this new course.  I suspect they will as it seems to have worked out just fine in my mind.  My goal for this race was 22hours 48 minutes.  I based that on previous race results for the percentile I usually finish at plus adding an hour for the extra 4-5 miles this race course had.

When I checked into my hotel Friday afternoon, the lady said there was supposed to be a film crew doing a documentary or something about the race.  I don’t know if that’s true or not but I never saw anyone filming at any point before, during, or at the finish of the race.  Regardless, I was happy because there was snow.  That was a real question just a few weeks before the race, as there was none at the time.

I realized on the drive to WI that I forgot my special brownies at home in the freezer.  I had “food” on my check list of stuff to take but didn’t specify the brownies in the freezer so they were missed.  And no these weren’t pot brownies.  They are the special brownies I make with tons of oil, butter, nuts, coconut, peanut butter, chocolate chips, etc that you can still chew easily at -20 degrees.  Most foods are solid chunks of ice at that temp.  So I was mad about that and had to go to the store to try to figure something else out.  I ended up getting the bites version of candy bars that are those unwrapped little nuggets of the candy bar.  I got snickers, twix, and peanut butter cup versions.  I tried all 3 out in my hotel freezer and all were edible at whatever temp that small fridge freezer got down to.  Snickers was the easiest to eat for what that’s worth.

I had some time and so I drove to Birchwood to see if there were any pop machines in town that I could get something from during the race.  I planned on being in town around 4am so nothing would be open then.  There was 1 pop machine but it said it wasn’t functional so that meant nothing in that town.  The next town of Brill had one but that was only about 8 miles from the finish line.  So that meant I’d have to carry water from the aid station at mile 35 to last basically the remainder of the race unless I stopped somewhere in Radisson which was only 6 miles past the aid station so not much help there.  At least I knew that going in, I know some racers didn’t think at all about when places would be open.

The check in was Friday night and we had to show our required gear.  I just brought in what was required but would have more with me than that.  I passed and got my race number.  There was an informational meeting which talked mostly about the safety of running on a trail open to snowmobiles.  If we were found to not have 3 blinking red lights on at all times, including the finish, we would be disqualified.  It was a requirement to get the race permit.  I would’ve brought 5 just to be safe if I’d known it was that big of a deal.  All 3 of mine stayed on me the whole race so I was fine.  The only thing they checked at the finish was the lights, didn’t care about the rest of the required gear.  So make sure to bring good lights that you won’t lose!

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My required gear.

So the next day I got up around 5am to get ready.  Not too much to do.  Put my vaseline/powder mix on my feet since I knew they’d be wet the whole time and I didn’t want macerated feet.  Since it would be around 14 at the start, I put on my wind briefs, tights, and shorts for the bottoms.  Just a compression shirt and breathable jackets for the top.  I wore a buff on my head.  Put on my light fleece gloves as well.  At the start line I put on my cast socks and snow gaiters.  I put screws in my shoes since the snow was getting sticky the day before since it was 34 degrees and I figured with the cold now that it would be icy in spots.  Turns out I probably didn’t need to do that but no big loss.

We had to be on the bus by 7am.  I was so paranoid my pulk wouldn’t get on the bus or it’d get damaged or something.  I ended up sitting right next to it on the bus but then people kept putting more gear on top of it since there were too many people and not enough seats.  Nothing got broke so that was good.

The bus ride was about 2 hours long so I thought I’d maybe get some sleep or whatever.  But it turns out I was sitting next to Wayne McComb who ran Volstate twice and finished it once.  Since I’m running that race this summer, I took full advantage of my seating situation and asked a bunch of questions.  My throat hurt some since I was still finishing up getting over a cold and talking for 2 hours made it worse but I couldn’t miss my chance to talk to him.  He was from Georgia and this was his first winter race.  It seemed like he had done his homework well and he had finished Volstate which means he had grit but I’ll be honest I thought his chances weren’t great just because he wasn’t able to test out any of his gear in the cold before yesterday.  In the end he did finish Sunday afternoon so that’s awesome!  I’m sure he’ll never forget the cold.

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Me at the starting line.  I got this photo from Flickr.

We got to the start, which was a school, on schedule at 9am to allow the bikers to get their bikes together and their gear strapped on as some had to send the bikes up the night before since only so many could fit on the trailer at one time.  I was ready to go but was now kind of sleepy after being up 5 hours already.  At least it was warm and had food, bathrooms, etc.  It was also the turn around spot for the people doing the 160 mile race.  We started at 10am with the bikers in the lead.  We went a few blocks on the roads before we got to the start of the Tuscobia trail.  Wish I had a picture of the start but I don’t.  There were bikes, and people attacked to pulks, and of course cow bells!

It was 19 miles before we would get to the first town and any sign of civilization.  It was pretty crowded the first few miles but I kept to my pace pretty much.  The snow seemed great, much better than what I trained in at home anyway so I was going faster than I thought.  I kept passing and being passed by the same 2 men so we’d talk for a while every time we’d meet up again.  I’ve have to walk some to keep from overheating and to always breath through my nose so as to not dry out my throat even more.  I got to the first town about 30 minutes ahead of my planned time so that was good news.  Plus everything was working as it should up to that point which was 2:45pm.  It was snowing lightly the entire time as well which made for nice scenery.

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View on way to Loretta/Draper. I got this photo from someone else.

The next town was Winter and about 10 more miles away.  I think I put my hood up occasionally since you could feel the wind in the more open spots.  I’m sure the wind wasn’t too bad but running 4-5 mph into a 5-10mph wind adds up.  I was staying well hydrated and eating some but it was annoying to have to stop and get food from my cooler.  If I had my brownies, I’d just have them in my vest and wouldn’t have to stop to get at it.  Lesson learned.  My feet were almost hot but I wasn’t going to take off the cast socks since I’d just get my shoes frozen that way.  Dave Schuneman who I ended up finishing the race with had his shoes frozen pretty early on and got some major blisters on top of his toes before we even got to the aid station.

So by the time we (Dave and I had pretty much started to run together at this point) got to Winter it was about 5:10pm and dark.  I had enough water but wanted some that was warm and wanted to buy some food at the gas station there since that was my plan so I didn’t have to bring as much with at the start.  Dave kept going and I went to the gas station.  It was probably between 0 and 5 degrees at this point.  They had pizza there!!!  I wolfed down 2 slices and got a bottle of hot water.  I put on my headlamp and ran the entire 5 miles to the aid station to keep warm and because I felt so good after my pizza and sipping my warm water.  I ate up about 15 minutes at the gas station but it was worth it for the pizza I think.  I would’ve rather not had to stop at the aid station but it was required to check in.  I passed 2 people right away outside of Winter and wondered how many other people had passed me while at the gas station.

I got to the aid station at 6:45pm still 30 minutes ahead of my planned schedule.  It was a stone building with heaters in it.  I drank my chocolate milk mix I had in my drop bag and a grilled cheese sandwich.  Since I was going to add a layer of clothes and had to take off my shoes anyway, I went ahead and changed socks and reapplied my foot paste.  My feet looked great but I think it was still the right call to put new socks on.  I just put on the same middle weight injinji socks I had on before since they were more than warm enough.  I put on my running wind pants that are windproof in the front only.  I put on another compression shirt under my jacket.  I also got out my actual hat.  I got some warm water, should’ve put hot water in my jug in the cooler instead or warm looking back now.  I loaded up my pack with the rest of my clothes and food I had in my drop bag, basically adding over 5 pounds to my pack from what I started with.  The total weight of my pulk was about 28 lbs to start with so I was now around 35 lbs.  Dave asked if I wanted to leave together with him and I agreed.  He had been there for 15 minutes before me but since he was having his feet worked on, we were pretty much ready at the same time anyway.  He copied me and put on another layer of clothes as well which he was happy about later he told me.  We left at 7:30pm.  WAY later than I had planned on.  So my cushion was gone and I was now 20 minutes behind.  I definitely could’ve gotten out faster if I had planned my time there better.

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Picture of the aid station.  I got this photo from someone else.

It finally stopped snowing around Winter but there was always this very wet feel to the air and you could feel small water droplets always hitting your face like it still wanted to snow but just couldn’t.  After we left the aid station it was more of a frost constantly coming down.  You could see it with the beam of the head lamps.  My stomach was definitely more full after all the food the last hour and I was feeling sluggish.  I knew it would be OK in 2-3 hours once the food hit my intestines but for now I had to go fairly slow and walk mostly.  We arrived at Radisson at 9:30pm and it was the last chance to get stuff.  I was doing OK.  I asked Dave if he needed water and he then realized he hadn’t drank anything for a while and his tube was froze.  He eventually thawed it out by putting it on his chest I think so we ended up not stopping in Radisson at all.  Next stop wouldn’t be until Birchwood 22.5 miles and 6.5 hours away.  We hadn’t seen a snowmobile since 6pm and wondered if we ever would again.  We never did.  In fact we didn’t really see anyone but the occasional 160 mile biker passing us to the finish line.

After Radisson the trail turns Northwest right into the wind.  Plus there was open field along the trail until Couderay.  There was nothing in that town that I could see.  Barely a town really.  I think we saw a few bars along the trail in that area and shortly after Couderay.  The trail then turned Southwest and it felt much warmer with the wind somewhat behind us.  Soon there was nothing but trees as far as I could tell.

Around 10:45pm I looked up for some reason.  I saw stars.  Crap!  I looked down and told Dave we were screwed.  The clouds weren’t supposed to be gone for hours which meant it was definitely going to get a lot colder than the -8 degrees forecast for sunrise on Sunday.  In the back of my mind I partly agreed to team up with Dave in the aid station because I knew there was safety in numbers.  I was even happier with that decision now.  In the next hour or so the temp went from around zero to -10.  I put on my wind jacket over everything else and got on my warmer and dry gloves.  My water was likely not going to stay liquid until the end of the race.  I’d have enough but it would be frozen and unusable in hours since it was getting so cold and a cooler can only keep things liquid for so long.  I knew the pop machine was in Brill so at least I could get something not frozen there but I’d have to hope my water stayed good until then.

The other thing that started around this time and went on most of the night was hearing the bark exploding off the trees or maybe some branches exploding as well.  I remember an episode of Grizzly Adams showing a whole tree exploding from a sudden drop in temperature.  I couldn’t find it anywhere on YouTube but did find this video from Russia.  Go to 44:00 to hear it.

Of course it didn’t echo like that in northern WI since there are no canyon walls to bounce off of.  Basically it was over 34 degrees for the couple days before the race and fairly wet from the new snow.  Really the whole winter up to this point had been warm.  Drop the temp fast and crack!  Kind of creepy but at least I knew what it was when I heard it.  If not for Grizzly Adams I might have been a little worried. I never heard anything crash down so it was likely just the bark on some trees and not any tree trunks.  I had never heard it before that night, but I’ve also never went for a run in the woods all night long with below zero temperatures.

It was around this time but maybe even around Radisson I think that Dave complained about his toes.  The tape job they did at the aid station was rubbing on his other toes.  He took off his shoe and sock while sitting on the snow to take care of it.  His butt got all wet so I know he later cursed that decision.  At least his toes felt better.  Every once and a while we’d see a bar along the trail in the few hours after Radisson but then it was just trees.  I couldn’t see a road anymore so I don’t know how far we were from one.  We encountered a skier in his bivy sack along the trail.  I thought it was best to see if he was OK or needed help since I think we’re only supposed to use them in emergencies.  He said he was just taking a nap so we left him.  Soon after that Dave said if I didn’t see his headlamp anymore that he was probably doing the same and to just keep going.

While we were running as a team, we weren’t stride for stride the whole time.  Sometimes I’d run to warm up and then he’d run to warm up, etc.  He walked faster than me as well so it was fairly often that we weren’t together.  We talked on and off pretty consistantly until around 3am.  Then it was really cold and I didn’t want to open my mouth to breath the cold air in to talk.  Best to keep breathing through my nose.  Not that we didn’t have anything to say but it gets to a certain point in a race where you kind of zone out as well.  Up to that point we had to pretty much yell to hear each other since Radisson.  The cold snow was really loud with both our feet and sleds going over.  His sled was somehow louder even though they were the same brand and style sled.  His was just orange and mine black, weird.  Plus with our hats muffling everything it was hard to hear.  When we’d stop to get water or food I could hear my ears ringing from the constant noise.  I put my goggles on around 1 or 2 am to keep my eyelashes from freezing and eyes from tearing up.  I still felt warm enough as long as I kept moving.

Dave never did bivy up and caught up to me about 3-4 miles before Birchwood.  I had really starting to kick it into gear around 10:30 when the food hit my intestines.  I was warm and had lots of energy.  Dave must have as well since we pretty much stayed together the whole time other than the hour or so that he was back a bit.  I could pretty much always see his headlamp though.  This trail is an old railroad bed so it’s pretty flat and mostly straight.  We had erased the time problem and would get into Birchwood on time at just before 4am.

It was really getting cold now.  Food would freeze within a minute of taking it out of the cooler.  I figured it was close to -15 and told Dave that.  He didn’t disagree.  We finally got to Birchwood.  I was happy just because I knew it was only 16 more miles to the finish line.  But I was sad because I also knew we’d be going into the wind more and there was less shelter from it on the trail through town.  We later found out it had little shelter the entire way to the finish line.

I heard a voice yelling from across the road in town.  He said he was open if we needed anything.  Uh, awesome!  We’ll be right over.  Now we probably could’ve made it to the finish but my water was starting to freeze and there was 4.5 hours to the finish line yet.  I was happy to spend 15 minutes to get hot water to guarantee myself liquid water untill the finish, plus I wouldn’t have to waste time in Brill now either.  I considered it insurance in case something happened.  I ate a snickers bar there and gave him $4.50 for it.  Random I know but it was 4am.  I hoped it would help make him be open next year as well, who knows.  We really just lucked out because he locked himself out of the bar after closing and had to go home and get his keys and soon after he heard a biker banging on the door to get in.  So he just stayed open and more people just kept coming in.  Thank you!  We asked how cold it was and he said about -15 and to look at the bank on the way out of town.  We left but what I should’ve done was put on my balaclava first.  I didn’t know we were going to be more exposed to the wind the rest of the race like it was.

The bank said -14.  After less than a mile it felt way way colder than that.  Not just the wind but you’d hit a low spot and could really feel it.  The sleds started pulling a lot harder as well.  I know there is a point where it’s too cold for skis to run well on snow and it starts to act like gravel.  I don’t know if we got to that point but like I said the sleds dragged way more than normal and the snow looked the same to us, plus it felt way colder.  I guessed it was -20 in spots the rest of the way until the sun started to come up.  We later found out that bikers with thermometers had anywhere from -19 to -21 at times so it probably was really that cold.  With the windchill it was more like -40 at times.  And yet, I never stopped to get my balaclava on since I didn’t want to get cold by not moving and I could still feel my nose and everything seemed normal.

We started counting down the miles with the mile markers.  Dave went up a bit to stay warm I think.  I couldn’t run well anymore, just not enough energy and at this point eating wouldn’t take effect before the race ended and would likely just make me more cold by eating essentially 6oz of ice.  Plus with the sled pulling hard, I could walk almost as fast as run, but with half the effort.  I finally caught up to Dave.  We had passed another runner at Brill.  There was a guy that passed us going pretty fast.  Not sure what race he was in but he was moving.  I had guessed there were around 5 people in front of me at the start of the race.  There were 4 in front of Dave and I at the aid station I found out later.  So I figured we were essentially in the same place as when we started unless some people quit.

The sun started coming up and that’s always promising.  I looked and we were still making good time.  I don’t know how since it felt so slow and we had spent 15 minutes in Birchwood.  We made it to the end of the Tuscobia trail and headed South on the Wild Rivers Trail.  Finally no wind in our face.  You could actually feel some heat from the sun.  I know it was just dawn and it’s January but we both could feel it.  I changed into my warmest gloves since my other pair was getting cold from my hand moisture building up the last 5 hours.  We walked this whole trail basically.  Maybe ran 300 yards of the 4 miles.

We had agreed to tell them we tied when we got to the finish line.  The finish line was us going into the Knights of Columbus door and telling them we finished.  Kind of funny since you have to leave your sled outside.  We got in and said we tied.  We finished at 8:52am just 4 minutes over my “goal” time.  That’s 22:52 total.  I think much to both our surprise we were tied for second place male and third overall.  The winner finished just an hour ahead of us.  I had no idea we were that close.  We had spent close to 2 hours with all the stops we had during the race, I’d like to think we could’ve easily gotten rid of 30 minutes of that had we known how to manage our gear, food, etc better.  Little more effort on our part and boom there could’ve been a contest for first.  That’s easily the closest I’ve come to winning a race.  Even when I beat the course record at Frozen Otter, there were still 5 people that beat it by more than me and I was something like 2.5 hours from the winner.  We got our finisher beanie and socks.  Since we were second place male we also got engraved wood medals and gift certificates.  I ended up with the third place medal but they sent me a 2nd place one in the mail which I appreciated.  While I wasn’t horrible in sports growing up, I never got any medals either so this is kind of a big deal for me.  In the end 20 of the 36 runners finished the race which was better than I thought it’d be.  Only 4 of the 23 runners finished the 160 mile race that started on Friday morning.

I went into the bathroom to see the damage to my face.  Didn’t look too bad.  Had a small spot on my cheek which was the side away from the wind so I couldn’t figure that out at all other than there was a zit nearby so maybe the blood flow to that area was effected?  Around my nostrils was frost-nipped though.  Not bad but it’s a little crusty and sore now.  Should’ve put the balaclava on in Birchwood and dealt with it freezing up later.  Of course I didn’t expect it to get to -20 either.  Lots of small lessons learned during the race which was the whole reason I did it.  My feet felt fine and no blisters.  Small area on the outside of my foot that the vasaline must have come off too soon that got a little macerated but it never hurt so must have happened pretty late in the race.  Dave didn’t take off his shoes at the finish so I never got to see the damage.  It couldn’t have been pretty though as 3 miles before the finish he said he thought he could feel a blister pop and start rubbing a lot.  My shoes just began to freeze while walking the Wild Rivers trail, probably because we just walked it and didn’t make much heat anymore.  My feet never got cold though.  It had warmed up to -15 by the time we finished the race.  Heat wave!

I ate and drank some and then went out to put my gear in the car.  Wow was it cold!!!  Felt like -40.  Had I really just finished a race in that cold and felt fine?  Weird really.  The car barely started but it did so at least I didn’t have to deal with a dead vehicle.  I’d have to say it was a pretty good race.  I met a lot of nice people and the race was well run.  I was kind of surprised I didn’t see anyone checking on us with a snowmobile after 6pm since it was so cold but that’s what our emergency gear is for I guess.  I may do it again someday but hopefully Arrowhead is my next winter race.

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My pulk at the end of the race.  Notice all the lovely frost!

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Not too bad for going 80 miles.

Ultrarunner vs Ultra runner

I’ve seen so many different words to describe what we do and who we are that I thought I’d start this blog out with what words are correct or at least likely correct.  You see, many dictionaries only have the word ultramarathon in them and I have yet to use a spell checker that even has that word in its list.  My book form dictionary from 1994 has ultramarathon defined as any footrace of 50 miles or more and that the word was invented between 1975-80.  It also lists ultramarathoner as the noun form.  Nowadays, most people would say any footrace longer than a marathon is an ultra, but I tend to agree with the original definition.  A 50k race is just a long marathon, 50 mile and higher is where you need to train at least a little differently in my opinion.  So it seems there is some doubt as to the definition of the word ultramarathon, but not that it is indeed the correct spelling.

So here are the lists of words I’ve seen: Ultrarunner, ultramarathoner, ultra runner, ultra marathon, ultramarathon, ultrarunning, ultras, crazy/stupid people (OK that last one is what my wife calls us)

The New York Times has published articles with ultrarunner, ultramarathoner, and ultramarathon.  So even they can’t quite decide if it’s ultrarunner or ultramarathoner.  I would assume they would use words that are at least possible of being grammatically correct so anything they don’t use is probably wrong or considered slang.

So since we are the ones who actually do this crazy thing, we get to decide what the words are, or at least we should (ask Steve Wilhite how the whole GIFF pronunciation is going for him, by the way I agree with the masses that he’s wrong even though he invented it).

The sport itself is called ultrarunning.  As in “Wow look at this ultrarunning craze taking over the country!”  You will never hear that by the way unless people start including walking/gimping to their car after a marathon as being an ultramarathon.

I have never heard an ultrarunner use the word ultramarathoner so I think it should be ultrarunner.  One word, not split up.

It’s ultramarathon, not ultra marathon, and always has been according to my old school dictionary.  One word, not split up.

But I have to say most often, I and the people I know use the term ultra to describe a race.  As in  “I ran an ultra last weekend and I’m starving now!”  If the distance is involved we usually don’t even say ultra, “I ran a 100 miler last weekend”.  Note you need to say miler to separate it from a 100k race.  I just had a flashback to the old “How to talk Minnesotan” book as I’m typing now.  Perhaps how to talk to an ultrarunner should be in the works?

So to summarize these are the correct or soon to be correct words:  Ultrarunner/s, Ultramarathon/s, Ultra/s, Ultrarunning.  I’m eagerly awaiting my spellchecker update so I don’t see so many red underlined words anymore.