"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Monday, June 8, 2009

2009 Kettle Moraine 100 Mile Race Report

"Oh! Got to have a hundred. Yeah, got to have a hundred. Oh! Got to have a hundred. Too right. Got to have a hundred now." - Wilson Pickett, et. al., "Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won't Do)"
"Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out." Acts 1:18.

I went out to the Kettle Moraine with Matt Patten and his crew, Bill Pomerenke. Matt was seeking revenge for his DNF last year and had prepared for every contingency, from laminated instructions for Bill on a station-by-station basis to a tent (apparently in case the shelter at the finish burned down). His careful planning and perfect execution resulted in the race of a lifetime.

This is not that story.

I brought drop bags and a bag with what I'd wear race day, a water bottle, a change of clothes for after the race and some toiletries. I was prepared for a weekend getaway at a hotel. When I picked up my race number, I realized that I didn't have a long-sleeved technical shirt, so I bought one that they had left over from the 2003 race; then I got this year's shirt and saw I could've used that. See? Whatever you really need is just waiting for you at the race.

The weather was perfect. I was expecting course records from Wynn Davis in the 100K (record by 40 minutes!) and Zach Gingerich (I'd forgotten Clifton and Tanaka had run this). I knew Matt would have a great race. I expected to crawl over the finish line in 28.5 hours.

I've said some nasty things about how ugly I thought the Ice Age 50 Mile course is and this race covers most of the same ground, but what a difference! In four weeks, the course went from a burned over pile of rocks to a lush verdant wonderland filled with flowers. I didn't know I was running up Bald Bluff until I was nearly at the top; it was unrecognizable (and easier to run at 10 miles than at 30).

I started the race running with Kathleen Yarger (and Michael and Jeremy, who I hadn't met before). Kat had done the race many times and said she DNFed last year and was looking for revenge (a familiar theme that day); she seemed to know what she was doing, so I followed her lead until I asked what her finish times were. "Oh, I got lucky one year and everything went right. 23:30." She said she was aiming for 24-26 and I knew I'd gone out too fast (though not as bad as usual) and my heart rate monitor agreed. Still, this was perfect weather... maybe that's the difference; I play these delusional mindgames, trying to convince myself I really can run like I'm still 20 years old.

I fell about 5 miles into the race. If having both hands out in front is the "Superman," I'm naming this one "Hailing the Taxi," as I had one arm out. The fall wasn't as bad as the sliding after it. I'd ripped skin off both knees, my right thigh and right elbow and a rock had gored me in the groin. I got up quickly, said I was okay and kept moving as the guy behind me pulled twigs out of the back of my shirt. "Well, I got THAT out of the way," I said, as I hoped the rest of the race would be incident free. Then I rolled an ankle at 6 miles. This was going to be a long, long day, as I hadn't yet made it to the second aid station.

I got to the aid station at Emma Carlin (15.5 miles) in 2:49. Bill was there, as Matt had left only a short time earlier and he filled my water bottle and asked if there was anything I wanted from my drop bag [actually, in my mind, I see both him and Jim Wilson asking; it was one or the other]. I didn't think there was, but I opened it and saw stuff that reminded me I had a plan for food and hydration; perhaps I should follow it.

The next 30 miles is all trail I'd never run before. I knew it was mostly flat open prairie with one nasty hill. This was my kind of trail! I could run this all day (come to think of it, I did). I was moving well, feeling good... and then I had to take a dump. Urgently. Without woods for privacy. I was glad that I'd packed toilet paper (along with Aleve and batteries) in the compartment on my handheld and figured I could make it to some bushes ahead. The bushes were filled with poison ivy, as were the next ones and the ones after that. I found a safe place, pulled down my shorts (seeing one of my wounds for the first time) and went. The toilet paper was saturated with blood - a problem I first had at the 100 miler in the Zumbro River Bottoms and which I've named "Zumbro Bottom." I saw Daryl Saari run by and I wanted to run with him, so I hurried up and joined him, while my butt burned away and I had Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" stuck in my head. He was having a good day, so I had to let him go quickly.

On a small muddy decline in a field, I fell again. When I saw smooth dirt, I wasn't thinking rocks and I caught one. This fall wasn't bad at all, but it was messy. Rain later washed some of it off, but I was still dirty a day later. When we finally got back into the woods, I was looking for the Scuppernong hill; before I reached it, there was some rolling tiny hills with a lot of rocks.

I fell. This time, straight forward, knees cracking on rocks, pitching forward and banging my face on another rock. My hat flew 6 feet, my bottle 15. I was seeing stars and wondered if I'd knocked myself out; I decided that there'd be another runner standing over me if I'd been there more than a few seconds. I didn't think I could stand, as both knees were shot, but I got up anyway and checked my jaw, which felt like it might be broken.

I started running (after a fashion), finding my right knee ached on uphills, the left on downhills. I got to the next aid station, Hwy ZZ, where I told Tom Bunk I'd done a face plant. "I can see that," he said. I grabbed some stuff to eat and found that I couldn't chew. Interesting - can one run an ultra without food? I was an hour ahead of schedule and no one was pulling me off the course, so I went on.

The scuppernong hill is long and steep enough that there's switchbacks, but it's nothing to write home about. It's a little technical, so I carefully studied every foot placement. If I fell again, not only would my race be over, so would my season. I'd slowed way down and (in hindsight) was now running the pace I'd planned. At this pace, one can enjoy the scenery more and I was distracting myself with it.

I hit the turn-around (31.4 miles) in 6:17. I had planned 7:16. I remember nothing else about this section. Apparently, I switched shirts. It started to rain as I went down the scuppernong hill; it being suddenly slick just seemed par for this course and this day.

The way back to the Nordic start/100K/finish line was, thankfully, largely uneventful. My jaw was improving and I was able to eat again. I was still running, though being passed regularly and I was feeling okay for having been through hell on earth, so my mind dissociated and snippets of random songs ("I'm not going to teach your boyfriend how to dance with you.") and cartoons ("She says things like 'whole 'nother' and 'all of the sudden.'") filled my head. I was urinating every two hours - exactly - and my hands weren't swelling, so I had my hydration right.

Though the only conversation I really had on this stretch was with Steve Grabowski, it's a good place for me to thank all of the Wisconsinites for adopting me. Steve and his brother Kevin have introduced my sordid running exploits to several people and I finally got to meet a few more of the Lapham Peak runners, like Angela Barbera (who really does look that fresh and happy late in races; it's not just in pictures). Others knew me from Ice Age, where word was spread that I was doing 5 ultras in 6 weeks; Ken Plumb, on seeing me said, "So you haven't learned yet, eh?"

My main thought was that I walked the last 50 of Zumbro, but I couldn't do that here. I ran for a while with a woman named Hillary from Virginia and told her I'd be teased mercilessly if we got to the 100K together, explaining that those who knew me would comment on my finding the only redhead on the course. I wasn't forced to start walking more than steep uphills until the Nordic Loop, about 60 miles. I was now 90 minutes ahead of schedule, so I didn't need the headlamp I'd been wearing since Emma Carlin (47 miles). I saw Kathleen Rytman on her way back out from the Nordic station and she said she thought I'd catch up to her. I knew better, but the fact that she and I have run together in several races gave me hope. Knowing that people tend to drop at the 100K mark, I made sure I didn't sit (physically impossible anyway) and got back out on the trail. When they cheered for "100 miler headed out!" I pumped my fist in the air, though I'm not sure why.

On the Nordic section for the third time - it's 30% of the course - I saw a lot of 100K runners heading in, each looking worse than the one before. Many were walking in complete darkness without lights. Four of them were on their cell phones! The last one I passed at 11:54 and she was still a mile from the Tamarack stop; I hope she arrived there before they shut down for the night. I needed to do 30 miles at 25 minutes per mile to finish.

Starting here, I encountered old nemeses: foot problems, hydration problems, chafing. My headlamp's batteries died 5 minutes after I turned it on; I had been wondering why everyone else seemed to have better lights than I did. I was certain that I had put in fresh batteries, but I used my back-up (always have a back-up!) to allow me to see enough to put in replacements (always have spares!) and it was fine again.

The first runners were already coming back. Matt was, by my count, 6th; what a fantastic day he was having! I was not going to risk a fall by running over roots and rocks in the dark, but I had forgotten how many long runnable sections there actually are in this second out-and-back. I was now peeing every 30 minutes, yet was thirsty, a sign of too much salt and fluid intake, and my hands were swelling; I was also very hungry and tired - my one profound thought of the night: This must be what it's like to be diabetic (I even had sores that wouldn't heal).

I put on my famous blue raincoat at Hwy 12 and found to my surprise and delight that I now had pockets to store food. Unfortunately, nothing looked good. The way to the Rice Lake turn-around is my least favorite part of this course: endless, sneakily tough in places and uphill in both directions (actually downhill coming back, but by then I'd been doing it for hours). At Rice Lake, I was only 40 minutes ahead of schedule. The bullfrogs were not happy; they sounded like a cross between a cow lowing and a vacuum cleaner. I asked at that station for food that wasn't salty, as I had too much in me already. Here's what they had: chicken soup, miso soup, peanut butter sandwiches, pickles, olives, pretzels and maybe some dried meat. Eventually, someone found me a banana.

I kept slowing. At Hwy 12, there was 15 miles to go and I could do the math and found I still needed to do 24 minute miles. Perhaps I couldn't do the math. I took off the blue jacket and the headlamp (it was now day) and stowed them; the jacket wouldn't fit in the drop bag because it was full - if I hadn't bought the extra shirt, I wouldn't have the extra shirt here taking up space - so I tied the arms around it in a knot.

I forced myself to speed up. Daylight meant I could run again, though a faster shuffle would have to suffice. By 90 miles, I had built a cushion and now needed 27 minute miles. I was still stopping to urinate all the time and the mosquitos were everywhere; in swatting one, I ended up peeing all over myself. "I'll kill anyone who takes a picture of me," I thought. Urine and blood make chafing even worse.

I have a tendency to hunch my back when tired, so I kept forcing myself to straighten and throw my shoulders back, which caused loud knuckle-cracking sounds. By the end, I was doing this every half mile or less. My back (longissimus thoracis) started to spasm. It was excruciating. It wasn't until here that my feet swelling in a new untried pair of shoes caused blisters, but when they came, they came with a vengeance. And then I heard thunder. It rained again before the end, but it wasn't bad and didn't make the blisters much worse.

At the Tamarack stop, there's only 5 miles to go and I knew I'd finish. There really had never been any doubt in my mind that I would, except maybe from 75-85 miles. Knowing I'd finish caused me to slow, like the runners you see who collapse just before the finish of marathons or triathlons. There are markers for 4,3,2 and 1 mile left. Even though this was the fourth time through these roller coaster hills, I could not remember when to expect any of them. I was passed by 4-6 runners in the last 3 miles, each who were looking for someone to run with them and each of whom I told, "I would if I could."

I crossed the line in 29:06:42. Believe it or not, a personal record.


Scott said...

My gosh! I hope this story gets better... you are leaving us hanging here. I guess you at least finished, right?

wildknits said...

Know you finished as I was checking web updates - but oh boy, do you know how to make a race interesting!!!

Not sure you should take the survey results so seriously ;->

Helen said...

Keep it coming :)

Congrats on yet another 2009 ultra finish... and the season is only really starting!

Nolan said...

Steve, I actually did see you and waived as I was heading out of Scuppernong and you were heading in. Might have been after one of your falls. WOW. Sounds like you had a rough one, but congrats for making it to the finish! I love reading your blog. Very funny stuff.... Dale and I discussed your ideas for TV shows during the race. Thanks for keeping us entertained!

Adam said...

Good report. Already looking forward to the Superior report!

Jean said...

Steve, you are amazing! Congratulation on finishing what sounds like a rather brutal race. I can't even imagine.

Great report. Rest and recover well!

Londell said...

I was following you on the web... For a while there, I thought you fell into hell and were gone... But then the next station at half the first pace... That is Steve, go hard, die but finish. I envy you my friend!

Anonymous said...

Its like watching a movie, where a plane crashes,into a train,that falls off the bridge,lands on a boat,that gets swept over the waterfalls,landing on the kayak, and there swimming away from the kayak is the unstoppable Mr quick congrats Steve L

Mitch R. said...

I am happy for you on another 100 finish! Great job!

Mike W. said...

Congrats, I love your reports, you remember so much of your journey and pass it on to all of us for us to share. I also love the fact that you fall way more often than I do. Glad you avoided (I think) major issues, heal up and good luck at your next race.

Andrew said...

Thanks for the report, good job, go Polars!

Anonymous said...

Great Job steve! now you need to just stop falling down!

Wayne said...

Congratulations on finishing another 100 miler, Steve! And a PR too!!

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

First off, I stand by my original assessment of you Ultra Types: You're Friggin Certifiable.

But congrats on finishing this race. What's up next? The Guantanamo Waterboarding Invitational?

I suppose you consider being waterboarded a sport for p*ssies?

But I think I know how you felt after running 100 miles. That's how I feel after a 5k.

Seriously, though, congratulations. There really is a lot of admiration for what you've accomplished mixed in with this visceral feeling of revulsion I'm experiencing.

Karen G said...

Congratulations on your finish and good report.

brent said...

Nice job hanging in on a tough day. Fun report to read. Rest well.

Kel said...

Great report Steve - congrats on another epic (aren't ALL 100 milers epics?).

keith said...

Sounds like you left it all out there...Good job!

Matthew Patten said...

I will hold on to the video footage of you finishing for another day. Extortion can be fun.

You got it done! I thought it was iffy when I saw you and your response was not good.

Every time I kicked a rock down by Rice Lake I thought "ooohhhh, Steve is going to like that one"

Next time I will laminate a pace chart for you.

johnmaas said...

Great run and report, Steve!
You ran a 100 mile PR, running 95 miles after "Hailing the Taxi".
Glad to hear you signed up for Lean Horse. You will certainly be able to PR on that course.
And...I can almost guarantee no falls there.