Kettle 100 Race Report
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My first 100-mile ultramarathon, the Burning River 100 in July 2012, went so well. Was it a fluke? Could I do it again? Would I be faster? Would I be overconfident? So many questions, so much uncertainty, and lot of self doubt swirl around in your heart when you attempt hard things.
So I decided to attempt the Midwest Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in the summer of 2013. That's four 100-mile trail ultramarathons in 14 weeks. I remember when it used to take me 16 weeks to build up for just one marathon, but I've learned a lot over the years and realized that fear, not ability, is my biggest limiting factor. Is that true of you too?
The first of these four races, the Kettle 100, was a week ago in southern Wisconsin. I had never run the entire 100-mile course at once, but from previous 50-km and 50-mile races I knew my way through the entire course and it's still one of my favorite places to run. It's all on trails and offers lots of variety including runnable flat sections, rolling hills that remind me of a boardwalk roller coaster, open prairies (watch out for the heat), soft pine "hallways," and twisting technical single-track. It's a reasonably hilly course that includes 8,800 feet of elevation gain and a matching 8,800 feet of descent.
Not only was it a great place to run, but I had friends and family to help me through the day. My sister Laura and I drove up on Friday, got dinner, hit packet pickup, and I was asleep my 8:30pm. We woke early, packed up our gear (five pairs of shoes, five pairs of socks, four pairs of shorts, two long-sleeve shirts, two short-sleeve shirts, one visor, one hat, three gallons of water, 6 bottles of Gatorade, various sports gels, one bottle of Hammer Endurolytes, one roll of toilet paper, one box of baby wipes, two sticks of BodyGlide, one tube of Balmex, one blister kit, one rain poncho, one vest, four towels, one pair of warm warmers, two Garmin GPS watches, two CamelBack hydration waist packs, two Salomon hydration backpacks, two water bottles, and one role of duct tape - you never know!), and got to the race around 5:30am. At the end of the race only a small fraction of this stuff was used (two shorts, four pairs of socks, four pairs of shoes, and some gels) but I always say I'd rather have it and not need it than need it and have it at home!
The race started right on time at 6am with an uneventful 5-4-3-2-1 and we were off. Hundreds of runners with so much excitement and so little rush start running down the trail. Within two minutes everybody is out of sight and we're on our way.
My sister makes an amazing crew and had everything I needed for the next 24 hours. I saw Laura at aid stations through the first 15 miles or so and then our friend Lisa joined her and I had two friendly faces to see through the first 31 miles or so.
On the way back from the first turnaround I enjoyed giving other runners a friendly update (thanks to my GPS watch) on how far they had to go until the next aid station. I kept this up for 2-3 miles and it really gave my mind some entertainment while I was trying to be helpful and encourage other runners.
After a few more miles we emerged from tree coverage and had about 9 miles out in open prairies. The temps were rising (maybe in the low 80s?) and I was getting warm, but a steady breeze help keep things under control.
I made it to the Emma Carlin aid station (mile 47.4) and enjoyed a break in the shade of the aid station tent while I fueled up on fluids, electrolytes and one of my favorite race snacks: potato chips and M+Ms. Salty and sweet always hit the spot on the trails!
From there I had about 15 miles to the next major aid station and when I could meet my first pacer, Rebekah. I was getting tired and looking forward to the cooler evening temps as I chugged through the miles. At about mile 57 the skies turned dark and we had a nice downpour for 10-15 minutes. I was soaked to the bone but it was a refreshing break amidst the monotony.
I was holding together pretty well until mile 60, but then I started to lose it. I think I wasn't consuming enough calories and suspect my blood sugar got low because I walked miles 60-62 with a blank stare and a blurry mind. I jogged into the aid station at mile 62 and I think I scared my crew and pacers.
I got a shower (me, a gallon of water, and a towel behind a tree), changed clothes and shoes and scarfed down a bit of everything (bananas, blueberries, pickle, soup, Peach VFuel gel, etc.). I spent a few minutes clearing my head and focusing on the task ahead (38 more miles) and Rebekah and I hit the trail. I spent about 25 minutes at this aid station, which is a record (in a bad way), but it was what I needed to regroup and get going again.
As an extrovert I was thrilled to be running with somebody because the first 60+ miles were almost completely solo. Rebekah and I enjoyed great conversation, lots of laughs, and about 8 miles as the sun set and the world turned dark. This is one of the last conversations of the night that I actually remember!
Rebekah handed me over to my good buddy John and we tore up good miles on some of the most runnable trails of the course. It was completely dark at this point but the night was still noisy with birds, frogs, and insects. John paced me well, reminded me to eat and drink at regular intervals, and got me to my next pacer.
John handed me off to Myia around mile 78 and we embarked on the most technical section of the course at 11:30pm. I love this 9-mile section out to Rice Lake and back and Myia was a great companion. For somebody who claimed to be afraid of night trail running she was a great help and I think she's overcome that fear! Non-runners might not believe it, but the smiles in these photos are as big and genuine as they come! Running all day and night sounds like torture to many, but to some of us it's a total blast.
After 9 miles of roots, hills, rocks, and stairs, Myia brought me back to John who got a short nap while waiting for us. At this point we only had 13 miles to go! Just a half marathon left at 2 in the morning! I refueled and swapped headlamp batteries and we climbed the hill out of the aid station.
John and I ran another great stretch of tight single track as night settled in deep. This is my favorite part of the night because it's really quiet. Everything goes to sleep, even the frogs and insects. The world gets very quiet and peaceful. The only disturbance around 3am was the wind that was picking up and blowing a light misty rain. I started to get a chill running all night with no shirt, but it helped keep me alert until the next aid station where we met up with Myia again at mile 93 for one last stretch.
At this point my sister Laura drove ahead to the finish line, ready to run us in the last couple of miles. John and Myia were quiet, patient, and persistent as they kept me going toward the finish line. All day I was hoping for a sub-24 hour finish, but at the same time holding that goal loosely. I knew that if I ran too hard I might not have enough time to recover for my next 100-mile, the Mohican 100, which was only two weeks away.
I was resigned to finishing closer to 25 hours until I got to the 95 mile mark and realized 24 hours was within my grasp. I tried to keep a respectable running race and even ran through many uphills that I would have preferred to walk.
With about 1.5 miles to go I saw out of the corner of my eye the #1 woman catching up to me. Some male pride kicked in at the point and so did I. I hustled a 10-minute mile to the finish line and clocked in at 23:42:13 which positioned me 21st place overall out of 113 runners. It's amazing to watch the sun rise and the world wake up as I run through the night and come back to the place I started...100 miles later.
I was exhausted, but thrilled to finished under 24 hours again! I'm confident I could finish a 100 on my own, but I wouldn't want to. My sister is the best crew chief you could ask for and running with people is just so much more fun. I'm better with them and blessed by their friendship!
I should also note that my recovery has been fantastic! I had no chafing, blisters, or other embarrassing issues on race day which helps a lot. I also got a wonderful massage on Tuesday which was a big boost. My biggest hurdle to recovery was feeling like I had jet lag for a week which I attribute to staying up all night compounded with physical exhaustion. I've been running 3-5 slow miles a day and feeling excited to race again this weekend.
From last weekend I learned a new confidence in pacing, hill running technique, and endurance. But I also was reminded of the need to fuel evenly throughout the day so I stay out of those "dark moments" where the brain and vision get blurry at the same time.
I'll have one more blog post before this weekend's race that I'm really excited to share. Stay tuned...