It's impossible to describe this year's race without thinking back to last year's, when I went out way too hard (sub 8 minutes/mile for first 13 miles) and paid for it with dead quads and a long death march to the end. [2008 report] This year, recovering not from winning a 50K, but from finishing two 50K's and my first 100 Mile in less than a month, I planned to go out much slower and, though fully expecting to trudge to the finish line, to start the trudge as late as possible.
I didn't sleep well the night before driving down to the race and got maybe an hour's sleep the night before the race. [Note to self: for Kettle Moraine, drive down in the morning, nap in the afternoon.] It was cool, rainy and very windy and decisions had to be made about what to wear; Bill Pomerenke quipped "The orange shirt or the green one?" as I brought almost nothing to the race and the others in the cabin (Matt Patten, Jim Wilson and Bryan Erickson) were taking extraordinary - to me - precautions against chafing. No compression shorts, lubricant or taping for me; just put on the clothes (the yellow shirt over the grey, Bill) and go.
I skipped breakfast, except for a cup of coffee. Even that required comment, as Matt pointed out how much coffee I drank the year before. As it happens, I got a caffeine withdrawal headache during the race which was cured by drinking Coke. I also got hungry about 2 hours into the race, which was a bad sign; I like to eat 4 hours before a race and thus hate 6 AM races like this (perhaps this is why I do better in shorter races in April and October).
I stood at the start between Deb Vomhof and Kathleen Rytman, both veterans of the race and favorites among the locals; I'd run part of last year's race with Kathy, but she didn't remember me. I'd decided to wear my jacket for the first 9 mile loop, as the rain felt cold and I thought it'd help keep me from going too fast.
The race can be divided into 5 ten-mile sections. There's a loop, then an out-and-back 10 miles each way, then a second out-and-back 10 miles each way. In last year's report, I mentioned that I had no idea what the names of any of it were; I now blame Matt for that, as he calls Highway Z "Emma Carlin," Horseman's Park "Palmyra," (Someone-or-other's) Mountain "Ball Bluff," Young Road "Maragaritaville" - actually, that one's pretty common - the first out-and-back to Rice Lake "Whitewater" and I don't know what others.
I ran with Matt for the first loop on the Nordic Trail, a non-descript, wide and rolling ski trail. I was wearing my Garmin, partly because I currently have no other working watch, but mostly to check to keep my heart rate low. I was aiming for 135-138 and we were running at a pace that for me was 140-141; fast, but not too bad. We ran a bit with Kevin Grabowski, which was alarming, as I expected a top-ten finish for him, but there were at least 50 people ahead of us, so I felt okay with my start. Matt was looking for sub-9; I was hoping, if two weeks recovery were sufficient, for sub 10 [full disclosure: goal 1 was last year's 10:09, goal 2 was Julie Berg's best here of 9:59]. I always start too fast, so being even with Matt made sense here. We discussed how we thought Wynn Davis would do; we both had some inside info and we agreed that he'd do well if he let someone else lead and not push the pace early.
I was heating up rapidly, so I dropped off my jacket in my (one and only, empty) drop bag at the second aid station. I'd discover about 7 minutes later that I'd accidentally turned off the Garmin in so doing, messing up all the data for the rest of the race. The next few sections were unremarkable; my heart rate was slowly climbing; 142 became 148 by the next aid station, where I intentionally backed off a bit. I fell in with Ken and Steve Plumb. Ken's easy to pick out at races (look for a huge red beard) and we chatted as we approached the one steep hill just before Highway 12.
I had a bit of a sandwich and some Coke here (drank Gatorade most of the day) and headed out to my least favorite part of the course. From aid station 5 to 6, it's just technical enough that, if I don't watch every single step, I'll crash; it's not hard, I just dislike it intensely. From there to the first turnaround at Rice Lake, I was counting the runners on the way back. Zach was in the lead (he'd win in about 6:20), looking like it was easy. Wynn was next, so I felt he was following the plan I'd created in my head for him, and he looked good. The next two - Stuart Kolb was one of them - were close, but there was no one for miles behind them. Kevin was 13th, Matt was 36th, I had myself 56-58, as I lost track. I had slowed badly in this section.
On the way back, I ran with Rytman and Aaron Benike. We leap-frogged the whole way. A guy caught up to me and I recognized him as Jeff Mallach, from his place at Chippewa and race photos, not from having met; I introduced myself as his competition in the masters division of the Fab 5 Fifties race series. I also mentioned that I wanted to take off more clothes, but didn't have a drop bag; he let me use his - how can you get enthused about racing a guy who's making it easy for you?! I had a fall at 27 miles, banging my right funny bone; the whole arm went numb, so I didn't know if I was really hurt or not for about a mile.
I spent forever trying to catch a guy in a green shirt, just so I could say I passed someone in the last half of an ultra. My record's intact - I have never passed anyone in the second half. Nothing remarkable for a long time after this. Slowed from 12 to 14 minute miles through the end of the out-and-back.
The second out-and-back starts up the most memorable hill on the course, where there had been some controlled burns last year, but this year looked like a "scorched earth" policy of a despot. The race needs to be either two weeks earlier or two later, as running for hours through someone's old campfire is not what I call scenic. I had little memory of the course after this from last year, but everything came back as I saw it, from the trees cut nearly through next to the course (and it was windy, so you thought about them) to the giant ant hill (about 5 feet across) to the mud hole just past where the 50K runners turn around in their race (none of them got muddy).
At Horseman's, I died. 7 hours. From there to the end was a continuous slowing (mile 47 took 19 minutes) and I just looked for familiar faces, like Casey Lopez, Jerry Heaps, Doug Thomas. Deb Vomhof, when she saw me called, "That's three changes of clothes!" Yep, I'm all about the fashion. She looked like she was having a good time. There were times when I had to check to see if my survival shuffle was faster or slower than walking. Sometimes I did something halfway in between. I thought hard about this, as in three weeks I'd be doing 100 miles on this course and wanted to know just how slow I'd go. My heart rate continued to drop, reaching 115 by mile 45 and averaging 132 for the race - if I'd started at 135 and maintained, maybe I'd've been alright.
Finished in 10:41:25, 119th of 203 finishers.
Stuck around at the finish line, wearing Matt's extra clothes - I really brought NOTHING - waiting to see if the others trying to run all the Fab 5 races would finish; all were doing their first 50 miler (and their third ultra ever, all in one month)! I'd seen Bill before I got back to Horseman's and thought he'd have a shot at finishing if he didn't end up walking. He made it! As the clock got very close to the 12 hour cut-off, in congratulating Bill, I missed Dan Mattimiro coming in. Today, in looking through results, Jesse Price made it... in 11:59:59!
These guys are something special. That's why we end up loving these races we hate.