Sunday, August 27, 2017

Squamish 50/50 - 2017 Race Report

The Squamish 50/50

This is it. The "A" race of the year. The one that I've been looking forward to. The one I've been training hard for. The one that in all my... enough with introductory dramatics.

I arrived at the Vancouver airport on Thursday night. It was too late to really do anything other than crawl into bed and try and sleep. That worked kinda ok, but not really. I had gotten sick just a few days earlier and was still feeling it. I was coughing a lot and tossing and turning all night.

Friday morning I had continental breakfast and bummed around the little park behind the hotel. At noon I picked up the rental car and drove to the airport to pickup Adam Gears, the man who put the bug in my ear for this race. Now, I'll admit, the race was already on my bucket list, ever since I saw Ginger Runner's 50/50 video. But I didn't expect to do it anytime soon. As it would turn out, participating in Superior this year is totally out of the question, as it's the same weekend as my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. Being in late August, the kids don't have too many activities going on and are not back in school yet. The timing for Squamish was good, so I decided to go for it. 

I got a good amount of training in for this race, though not as much in terms in specificity as I would have liked. After recovering from Kettle 100, I really only had about 8 weeks to ramp up the vertical and get ready for this monster. I used the Sage Running mountain ultra plan to help me get ready for the climbs. The Sage Running plans are awesome. I've been using them exclusively for over 2 years now. Since it's a 16-week plan, I jumped in at week 9 and went from there. I did whatever I could to hit the key workouts. The main issue was finding hills with long, sustained climbs. I drove out to Afton several times to do repeats on the utility road hill as part of a long run. I also found a couple roads nearby that have sustained climbs, though they're over in under 3 minutes if you run them at a good pace. When I couldn't find anything good enough for the workout, I hit the treadmill. I was disciplined and diligent, and it was now time to see if the hard work would pay off.

With Adam riding shotgun, we hit the road and made the drive up through the middle of Vancouver and on to Squamish. It's a beautiful drive, up HWY 99. It feels like a far different world than from what I'm used to. With relatively narrow waterways and mountains rising up on all sides, I imagine that this is what the fjords of Scandinavia look like. Soon enough, we arrived at packet-pick up, enjoyed a complimentary lager from Sound Howe brewing, and got out of there. We jad some prime rib dip sandwiches from a local pub and grub, along with a couple local beers. I was fueled and ready to go.

Rainbow outside - just after packet pick-up

50-mile race: Saturday

At 3:30 AM the alarm goes off. I promptly warmed up my bagel that I had purchased the night before at the Tim Horton’s down the block, then fired up the coffee. After 3 mediocre PRPs, I geared up, and Adam brought me down to the start line on the Oceanfront. 

During his pre-race speech, Gary Robbins called out each country that had participants in the race, and had something witty to say about each one. “Ireland!” (no one makes any noise) “Ok, still in bed hungover probably.” When he announced the USA, after many cheers from the crowd he said “No politics please. For one day, please.” I vaguely remember that at some point during the race I made a bad joke about feeling safe here in Canada, until Kim Jong’s missiles fall short of their targets. Flat-earthers won’t get that one, but that’s ok. Let’s get on with it!

The moon peeks out from behind the mountain before race start

At 5:45 we take off through the big inflatable Salomon starting gate, through the parking lot, and onto a path that sits along the water’s edge. The race starts of flat on gentle dirt or crushed rock trails, with a little bit of road as you make your way to the first aid station at mile 6. Things were pretty uneventful here. I just focused on easing into it and not pushing at all, closely monitoring my breathing. No headlamp needed. I got to run with Mike Farrington a bit here. I had met him the night before at packet pick up. This was his third trip to Squamish and 2nd attempt at the 50/50. He’s also a flatlander from NE Illinois, near Chicago, which makes him a REAL flatlander. Super nice guy and full of positive energy. Exactly the kind of person you want to be around in those difficult moments during a grueling ultra. We leap-frogged each other a lot in the first half of the race. Mike has better flat out speed than I do, but he also has lots of friends, and thus spends more time at aid stations. :)

PC: Mike Farrington

About a mile after the first aid station, we enter the Coho trail, and things start to get real here, as we go from flat road to a steep, technical mile long climb that gains 1,000 feet, followed by a steep and even more technical descent. Several people said that this is the steepest and toughest climb. I was glad to hear that. I definitely felt winded most of the way up. Many people blew by me on the way up, but I caught them on the way down. This is typical. I am a much better downhill than uphill runner. My quads just don’t quit, for whatever reason. I don’t lift weights or do anything special to toughen them up. In fact, I was worried about not doing enough downhill running in the build up for this. I guess I’m just lucky. I’m also pretty good at negotiating the technical stuff on descents. Now that, I do practice, whenever and wherever I can. I try not to be too timid on those downhills. I’m a bigger guy and I gotta let gravity do its thing.

After that big first climb and descent, things got, well… easy. The elevation change was mostly gradual and gentle, and the surface very runnable. No hazards anywhere. The area around Alice Lake is so peaceful. It reminded me of a gentle run through the trails at Lebanon Hills. Every once in a while there’d be a steep, but relatively short climb up switchbacks. There’s even a long gradual descent down what feels like a twisty motocross track. Most of the trails on this course are mountain bike trails, after all. I was having tons of fun and just enjoying it. Enjoying the magnificent scenery and lush forests with giant mossy trees. I felt at home here. I lived in Oregon for almost 3 years. My wife and I essentially started our lives together out there, after I returned from Bosnia.  I got my first real software engineering job there. We bought our first home there. My kids were born there.  We even got another pug there (Sidney) to keep our Minnesota pug, Leia, company. And with all those major life experiences, one of the things I remember most is the natural beauty of this entire region. The forests are big and beautiful, the mountains are mighty and may even look ominous, but it’s all so tranquil at the same time. The waters of the ocean remind you of the incredible vastness beyond the ground your feet are upon. In short, it’s epic.

I remember looking at my watch around mile 20 and thinking, Shit. I’m gonna hit the marathon mark around 6 hours. Am I going too fast? Or is it really this easy? This is supposed to be technical? I heard it was going to be like Superior on steroids. This isn’t anything like the SHT! This is a breeze! So basically, I fell for all the traps, mentally. Physically, I was doing fine as I had kept things dialed back the entire time. A wise decision.

The second time through the 3rd aid station, yes there is one small portion where you do a loop on the 50-mile course, I asked a volunteer if there’d be much climbing before the next aid station. “Just a bit,” he said, with a little grin on his face. “Oh crap, is this the aid station before Galactic, right here?” 
“This is it,” he confirmed.

I had met another runner from Minnesota at packet pick-up, Ann Starr, who was running the 50K. She had come out to do one of the orientation runs, and knew all about a large portion of the course. “Load up on calories before Galactic.” I remember she told me. So that’s what I did. I ate a little bit of everything and downed two servings of Coke from my reusable cup. It was time to see what the mountain would bring.

Coming out of the aid station, there’s a gradual climb up a utility road and then a little descent, then it’s back up the road again and a quick turn into the woods, where another sign simply reads, “Galactic.” This is it. This is the big one. In this climb you gain about 2,500 feet in 3 miles. The middle third has some steep sections, but overall it’s not as steep or technical as the first climb of the day, back at mile 8. It just takes a long time. It’s a grind. It was slow. I’m slow. But it’s fine. I trained for it. At one point I caught up to two shorter female runners who were struggling a little on some of the steeper parts, as they had to use their hands to get up and over some rocks. As I approached, I stated, “This is where long-legged folks have an unfair advantage.” 
“Haha, well we’ll let you go first, Long Legs,” one of the runners replied. I heard them both groan as they watched me step up from one rock to another, without needing to do anything other than lifting my knees higher. 

About a third of the way up, I stopped and took pictures of the mountains on the other side of Howe Sound. Breathtaking views from a breath-sucking climb. Part of my plan for the 50-mile was to stop and take pictures, and really enjoy the trail and the views. This would help me conserve energy for Sunday. 

View from Galactic, Day 1

The last third of the climb was a little easier. The grade eased up and I transitioned from methodical hike into a fast power walk. After about an hour total, I had reached the top of Galactic and was on my way down. On the descent, I think I caught nearly everyone who had passed me. What I said earlier to those two female runners was true. In fact, this entire course favors taller people. Having longer legs makes it easier to step up and over things on the climbs, and step down steep drops on the descents without having to slow down too much. Shorter runners will definitely have a tougher time with the descents on this course. Throw in the fact that the descents are often steeper than the climbs and that’s what’s gonna beat people up more than anything else. As I said earlier, my quads just don’t fail me. I don’t know why, but they don’t. So I use them. Especially on steep, technical stuff, if my feet have the agility to do so, I will go after the descents pretty hard. And I admit, I was a bit reckless down Galactic. People probably thought I was nuts. I did take one drop-off a little too aggressively and it kinda hurt when I landed, so I backed off a little bit for a few minutes, but then picked it up again after I realized there was no damage. I passed Mike here at some point. He appeared to be struggling a little with the downs, or maybe he was just taking it extra easy so that he could conquer the 50K on Sunday as well. I kept the pace up until I reached the next aid station. Total time elapsed since the last aid station was about 2 hours and 20 minutes, which covered about 7.5 miles.

After the post-Galactic aid station, I don’t remember too much, other than some little ups and downs, mostly down on pretty technical MTB trail, with a lot of planks and boardwalks. Some of these things would really bounce as you ran across them. I admit, I’m not a big fan of running on man-made structures created for mountain bikes. This course does have a lot of them, and some of them are a little dicey. It didn’t take too long before reaching the next major aid station at Quest University.

PC: Adam Gears

Quest is a fun aid station with fabulous views, featuring some additional treats. I took advantage and loaded up on calories. More Coke, more Heed, more brownies, more everything. A volunteer asked me if I wanted ice for my hat, I happily took it off and she filled it with small ice cubes. Another runner asked, “Does that help?” “Oh, hell yes!” I replied, as I pulled my hat down onto my head and felt the chilling rush go from the top of my head and down through my spine.

View from Quest University

After Quest, there’s a short jog down a road and then a fairly steep climb (for a road) back up to the trail. Now begins the second long climb of the day. This one isn’t as steep as galactic, nor is it technical or gain as much in elevation, but it takes forever. It’s an endless series of switchbacks, and I do mean endless. There’s no summit or views to look forward to either. Those who have the stamina could certainly run the entire thing, so physically, it’s pretty easy. But mentally, it’s very deflating. You gain about 1,500 feet from Quest, but it takes 5 miles to get there. Switchbacks. Nuthin’ but switchbacks.

The way down is much faster, but very steep, and pretty technical in spots. You lose almost 1,000 feet in less than a mile. Here again I was able to make up ground and catch runners that had passed me earlier, though I dialed it back more than I did on the descent down Galactic. There were some tricky mountain bike bridges that had to be traversed here, marked with “Slow — Danger” signs. Speaking of mountain bikes, I don’t know how you guys do it. This is some seriously scary stuff. If you make a mistake and end up falling to the side, you could easily die. I saw one guy on the way up who hit some rocks and did an endo. Twice. After the second one, he got off his bike and walked. Wise choice.

This section finishes with a less intense descent down a gravel road to the second to last aid station, which means approximately 11 miles left. This aid station was a very welcome site, as it had taken me well over 2 hours to get there.

The next section featured a climb and then another descent down into some more technical mountain bike playgrounds. At some point, I dropped down this “chute” and as I started slipping, I reached to the side to grab a hold of whatever vegetation was there. “Ouch!” I had grabbed a large thistle. I don’t remember too much else from this section, other than I was moving more slowly than I would have liked. Eventually, I made it out onto another road, and descending a hill I passed a runner who had his right leg wrapped from his knee up to mid thigh. He was going down backwards. I’ve heard of other people doing this before, but this is the first time I’ve seen it. No, they’re not showing off. Their quads are just shot and running downhill is extremely painful or even impossible. The road flattened out and then turned upward again. I went back into a power walk. A sign read 11 KM left. Ugh, come on! It should surely be less than 10 by now.

At this aid station, I took some time to enjoy the company of 2 pugs, one black and one fawn. I had seen them that morning at the start line as well. I dropped a potato chip and the black pug sniffed it out and scarfed it down. So cute! Some more watermelon, bananas, salt, Coke, and it was time to go and get this thing done! For today, at least. On the way out of the aid station I approached the runner with the wrapped up leg again. He was power walking at a very fast pace, probably around 13 min/mile. As I passed, I told him that he was moving really well especially for not being able to run, and to just keep grinding. I also asked if this was his first time at Squamish. “It’s my first… anything!” Wow! First ultra, the Squamish 50-mile??? That takes some serious guts! I knew he’d finish, so I congratulated him early.

Now I do tend to get emotional sometimes when I run, but most of the day had been pretty tranquil in that sense. However now that today’s run was drawing to a close, with another brutal day looming, and seeing those pugs at the last aid station, I thought of Leia and lost it. It was mile 45 and I was running downhill, moving quickly, but my tears were obscuring my vision and it was rocky, so I had to slow up. 

Leia was our first pug. We got her the week after we got married in August 2002. She had been with us through all of our major life experiences. She moved across the country and back with us. She kept my wife company while I was overseas for the first 9 months of our marriage. She was there for me when I hit my lowest lows of bipolar depression, and I do believe that she helped keep me on this earth. She never had a history of significant health problems, but did have degenerative arthritis for the last few years, and was also deaf. Still, I always thought she would live forever. On July 14th, I smashed my PR at the Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon in Duluth. When I came home, I put out her food, and went to go get a haircut. When I got back, I noticed she hadn’t eaten anything. She deteriorated rapidly from there. That night, she was crying out in pain like I’ve never heard before, still unable to eat or drink. The next day, at the local pet hospital, after getting some lab work done that indicated a very poor prognosis, we made the decision to let her go and pass on to a better place. I held her in my arms as she took her last breath. It was tremendously difficult to sign the authorization letter for euthanasia. Looking back, she had been suffering immensely for several months, especially after the loss of Cara, our other pug who had died just 2 months prior. Still, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Cara either, but she was taken from us. I didn’t have any decisions to make. To choose to take a life is just horrible. And to top it off, just a few days before Squamish, we lost our sweet dwarf hamster, Bella. The last few months have been absolutely brutal, no doubt. 

Leia at our first house, just outside the City of Roses. RIP. I love you!

After regaining my composure, I started powering through the rest of the course. Looking at my watch, I knew I had a good chance to break 14 hours. On the way up to the final climb, dubbed the “Mountain of Phlegm,” there was a poor young woman looking incredibly distraught. I asked her if she was OK. “Do you know which way to go?” She sobbed. I saw the markers ahead on the trail, where I expected them to be, and then one behind me that appeared to be off to the side a bit. The trails can play tricks on you. At first glance it looked as if we may have gone off course only to have come back on from a different direction, so I said that I would retrace and take a look. As I started back up the trail the other way, it was almost immediately apparent, like within 10 feet, that we were on course, and had not gone off, and so I turned back around and said “We’re good. Just keep going that way and follow the markers.”

We made our way up the steep, but relatively short climb to the top of the Mountain of Phlegm. It’s about equivalent to the campground hill climb at Afton State Park in Minnesota. It’s not too bad, but it’s tough to do after 47 miles! The view from the top was quite nice, and there was even a chilly breeze. But it was time to get this done. 3 miles to go!

The descent off Phlegm is pretty steep, and I took it fairly easy until we broke out from the woods and onto a non-technical surface, and I started to hammer it. Now here’s where I did go off course, and realized my mistake when I was on a trail that was parallel to another trail that had the markers on it. I could have cut over, as I know I had not saved any distance, but I couldn’t do that. I’m a by the book kinda guy when it comes to these races. I ran/hiked back up the hill to the point where I went off, and found the trail. Now I really had to put the hammer down to get under 14 hours! 

Coming down onto the road, back into town, I knew I had to run at under 9 minute pace to break 14 hours, so that’s what I did. Wow did that hurt! As I turned into the park, I saw Gary there waiting for me with outstretched arms. I crossed the line in 13:59 and got the big finisher’s hug! 

PC: Adam Gears

Gary gave me words of encouragement and told me that all I had to do was make it to the start line the next morning. As I stood there slumped over with my hands on my knees, huffing and puffing, I couldn’t muster a witty response. He laughed and said, “You’re probably thinking, ‘I fucking hate you right now, Gary!’” I assured him that I wasn’t thinking that at all. Not yet, at least. 

PC: Brian McCurdy Photography

My stomach wasn’t feeling the best after pushing at the end. I could barely get down the complimentary burger at the finish. Adam and I went back to the hotel, as it was already pretty late, after 8 PM. I walked into the room and just threw all my crap on the floor, popped two blisters, took a shower and laid down on the bed with my feet elevated. I slowly ate two pieces of leftover pizza over the next hour and drank a liter of water. I tried to drink a beer, but it just wasn’t happening. I closed my eyes around 10 PM, and got a good 6 hours of sleep, though interrupted by coughing fits here and there. Whenever the coughing woke me up, I forced myself to drink more water, so I had probably another liter overnight.

50K race: Sunday

At 4 AM, the alarm went off. Adam was still sleeping. He was running the 23K today and so he graciously volunteered to drop me off at the start, and then he’d go back and get ready for his race which started 2 hours later. This was awesome, because it meant I didn’t have to drive to the race finish and take the shuttle bus, which would have resulted in much less sleep. I warmed up and ate the final piece of leftover pizza for breakfast, and had some more coffee. To my surprise, I was moving around quite well. Very stiff, but able to get around without limping or anything. 

After a familiar pre-race briefing from Gary at Alice Lake, it was time to start the day. I was happy to see that Mike Farrington was back to toe the line and get that 50/50 finish. We started at the way back of the pack today, with the other 50/50’ers. I was able to shuffle my way through the big inflatable gate at about a 12:00 min/mile pace. Not too bad, I thought. But this was the easiest, most non-technical, flattest part of the course.

The first climb up and out from Alice Lake had me a little worried. It’s relatively small and short, again like one of the tougher climbs at Afton, but on switchbacks. I had my hands on my hips right away, breathing hard. At the top was an exercise bike. I thought about pedaling on it, but knew I just had to keep moving forward. Today would just be a non-stop, slow grind. I power walked/death shuffled my way on the flatter parts, and was able to jog the downs without pain. We got to do the little fun twisty motocross track again, and I picked up some speed there, and by speed, I mean 11:00 min/miles. The aid station was in the same spot as it was the day before (AS 3/4 for the 50-mile), but this time, we wouldn’t be doing a loop. It was straight onto Galactic from here.

Mike and I power-walked and jogged together from the aid station all the way to the Galactic trail sign. Again, it was great to have someone with such positive energy there to keep me company. Once we started the climb, he was out of sight quickly. I went to hands on hips immediately, and struggled, along with many others doing the 50/50. It was a much slower grind today, even though it was nice to do this first thing in the morning, rather than at noon with the sun out. A third of the way up, I stopped to enjoy the view again, and it was actually a little better than the day before, with a few less clouds. So hey, for that alone it’s worth it!

Galactic - Day 2

I continued on with mile-2 of climb, the hardest part. Slow death march up steeper and at times more technical trail. It was brutal and tremendously arduous, yet somehow, I was passing people. Most of them were 50/50 runners. At the beginning of the third and final mile of the climb, something was happening. My legs and lungs were coming back to life. I switched to a fast power-hike and passed many more runners. As it flattened out towards the top I broke into a jog when I could. Soon enough, it was time to go back down. It was mostly a slow jog down today. Even though my legs and quads felt pretty good, I just didn’t have the agility to quickly dash and dance my way through the technical parts. So it was a lot of jogging, slowing to a walk to side step or step down some obstacles, and then resume jogging. Even though I was more careful, I did wipe out on some loose dirt and rocks and landed flat on my ass. Nothing major, just a few rocks up the shorts. I passed Mike towards the bottom and then jogged my way to the aid station. All in all it wasn’t too bad, but it took me an extra 20 minutes to complete this segment of the course today.

One thing I didn’t prepare for. Calories! Once again, in MN we are spoiled. John Storkamp directs the two big hundred-mile trail ultras here, Zumbro and Superior. And at his races, there always seems to be a full-on feast at every aid station. A lot of it is tradition, with the same folks running the same aid stations year after year, and becoming known for something, like Kurt Decker’s chocolate chip pancakes at AS 1/4 of Zumbro. Or Maria and Doug Barton’s quesadillas at Crosby-Manitou in Superior. The list goes on and on. At the Voyageur 50-mile ultra, which is run by Jamie and Kris Glesener, there are so many aid stations that you don’t need to carry anything at all! Though I still recommend a hand-held so you can douse yourself with water on the powerlines. Anyways, I’m not complaining at all about the aid stations at Squamish, because they’re all fantastic and the volunteers are awesome! But since I had burned through my entire supply of Clif Shot Bloks the day before, I was now swiping and hoarding gels from each aid station (just one per aid station). Since I was going so slow, that would be just enough to keep the machine powered and moving.

With a pocket full of gels (hee-hee), I began the 2.5 mile trek to the next aid station, Quest University, from whence the 23K’ers departed 2 hours prior. I don’t remember much from this section, just lots of power walking. Quest was a welcome site, at mile 15.5, it meant the journey was almost half done. The volunteers said 23K left, but I knew it was not the truth. The 23K racers have 23K left from Quest, the the 50K’ers have about 27. I saw Ann Starr here, the one who gave me all the great advice at packet pick-up. She was doing the 50K and had been training for this race for 10 months. We left the aid station together.

Ann hadn't done this part of the course in her orientation run. I knew that we had a long grind ahead of us, with the endless switchbacks, so I warned her in advance that it wasn’t going to be difficult, but it would just take a very long time and that it’s mentally draining. My turn to give some advice, I guess. Ann is one of those people beaming with positive energy, so it was wonderful to have her company, for this section especially. After we made our way up the steep road toward the trail, sure enough there was a fork in the road with signs that had the 50K’ers going left and the 23’kers going right. More distance for us. More switchbacks. Ann set the pace with a quick power-walk/jog and pulled me along as we began the switchbacks. Nuthin’ but switchbacks. 

We had some nice conversations along the way, including some great discussions about mental health. I love hearing about other peoples’ journeys and how they discovered trail and ultra running as a form of therapy. There’s no shortage of that in this sport. It’s a common thread from the back of the pack all the way up to the elites who are smashing course records. It makes me feel like we all share a deeper connection and reminds me that we’re all in this together. We all want the same thing, to just make it through the day and overcome the challenges that lay before us, both during the race, and in everyday life. It makes me smile, at least on the inside.

It was getting warm out now and it felt hot in the exposed parts, but again, this is not a difficult climb. It…just…takes…forever. I think the worst part is when it starts to flatten out and you come out of the trail onto this utility road, thinking it’s over, but no. You go up the road for just a short ways then turn back onto the trail, where more switchbacks await. It truly is endless. Finally, we came upon a volunteer who checks runner’s bib numbers before the descent. I told her it was nice to see her again and asked how far it was to the aid station. She smiled, “You’ve done this before. You know how far it is.” I told her I forgot already. “It’s about 1KM down and then a short ways to the aid station.” Again this is much steeper on the way down than it is on the way up. Being on the heavier end of the distance runner demographic, it hurts me more to fight gravity than to just roll with it. So I picked up the pace and passed several runners on the way down. Once on the gravel road, I knew there was less than 12 miles to go. It was time to to get it done. I was heads down, getting in the zone. Still, the zone had a speed limit of 5 MPH.

Upon reaching the aid station, I had some more Coke, several cookies, chips, and a banana. I began the 4.5 mile segment down into the mountain bike playground. When I came to the chute again, I started to slide right away, and again reached out aimlessly for some vegetation, and once again, grabbed a hold of a thistle!!! (Flowing tears emoji)

Again I don’t remember too much here, just lots of power walking and slow jogging during the flats and downs. I walked all the boardwalks and mountain bike bridges today. Running them with all the bouncing didn’t feel too good. Soon enough I descended down the gravel road and made it to the “11KM Left” sign. I wanted to give it the double deuce, but there were kids nearby. At the final aid station, I fueled up on more snacks and had some watermelon with salt, though I dumped half the bowl of salt on the ground. Before departing, I got an icy cold sponge wrung out over my head and neck. It was like the ALS ice bucket challenge. Shocking, but good. Time to wrap this up.

I knew coming into the final aid station that there was no way I could get under 10 hours, but under 11 would be doable. The cutoff for the 50K is 11:30, and I’ve usually been comfortably ahead of cutoffs at races. Even though I was closer to the cutoff than I ever have been, I decided to not push as much as I had the previous day and just enjoy it a little more. Enjoy the magnificent trail and let the experience of the weekend soak in a little. Still, it feels like I reached the base of the Mountain of Phlegm in no time. And although the ascent was waaay tougher and slower this time, I made it to the top and just sat down for a few moments to enjoy the view and let it all sink in just a little more. 

I made my way down the mountain a little slower this time around, and opened up once I exited the main trail onto the gravel path. This time I did NOT go off course and noticed there was an extra pink ribbon there where I had missed the turn the day before. After I finished the 50-mile, I told Gary I had missed that turn and he said he’d go back and put some additional markings there, and he did!  

I continued to run from the gravel path down onto the road and “booked it” all the way to the finish, topping out at 10:30 min/mile pace. When I crossed the line at 10 hours and 35 minutes, I was given the coveted Squamish 50/50 finisher’s hat. Mission accomplished. 82+ miles of brutal, mountain trail. Moments later I found Gary and got my finisher’s hug and we had a nice conversation for a few minutes, and talked about Defeat the Stigma for a bit. In addition to being an ultra legend and amazing race director, he is genuinely one of the coolest people in the world. I know that he will get his Barkley finish too. 

An ultra legend, amazing RD, and one hell of a human being

Adam showed up at the finish after seeing me cross the line on the live video feed. He’d finished his 23K many, many hours ago. He bought me a beer since I didn’t have any money with me, and we hung out at the finish area until after the 11.5 hour cutoff. We saw Mike and congratulated him on his 50/50 finish, this time with hugs instead of high fives. And Ann Starr came across the line and got her 50K finish that she had trained so hard for. It was awesome and uplifting to witness that and all the other finishes. Also inspiring to see Gary at the finish welcoming runners in who did not make the cutoff time. They may not have got an official finish time or a medal, but they still got the official finisher’s hug.

We went back to the hotel where I showered quickly, because now I WAS HUNGRY. After declining to wait for a table at Howe Sound brewing, Adam and I went to the same restaurant we’d gone to after packet pick up. I would have ordered $200 worth of food, but the server didn’t seem to care about us. That was really the only disappointment of the whole weekend. Actually it’s a good thing, because my eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach. I could barely finish my second beer.

The next morning we had breakfast in town and then took our time making our way back down towards the airport, stopping at Brittania Beach along the way for a short hike and some spectacular scenery. Upon reaching Vancouver, eclipse gazers were on every corner. One person had told us the sun would be 90% covered. The daylight never faded, so I don’t think that was the case. Not a big deal. The eclipse was eclipsed by the events that took place over the weekend. 

Brittania Beach

At the Vancouver airport, after clearing US customs (yes, you clear customs before departing the country), I finally had some poutine! At Burger King, no less. I didn’t care, it was delicious. Why don’t all restaurants serve poutine?!! I’ll never understand.

No bacon? Guess I won't "have it my way." Still amazing though!

A week later now, I feel pretty good, far better than I’ve fared after any hundred miler. I’ve heard people say that it’s worse to have to run 50 brutal miles and then stop and get up and do another 31 the next day, but I disagree. Getting off your feet, having a chance to refuel, and getting some good quality rest makes a huge difference. If it were a hundred mile race, like an out-and-back or 2 loops of the 50-mile course, that would be exponentially more difficult. I even did the Glo Run 6 days later, with the entire fam. Our first 5K together! It was awesome.

So the other question that comes up. How does it compare to Superior? Is it harder? Well, it’s difficult for me to compare the two. I’ve done Superior 50 mile and Superior 100. Squamish 50/50 is a different beast altogether, spread out over 2 days. So the best I can do is compare the 50 mile races. Step for step, the trail itself of Superior, which is the SHT, is way harder. There are some very tough, technical descents at Squamish, no doubt, that are especially difficult for shorter folks. But there’s also a ton of runnable trail and parts that are just gravel road, crushed rock, and a bit of paved road. The tough sections of the trails at Squamish are on mountain bike trail, but that also means they are plenty wide with little to no overhead obstacles. Superior 50-mile is 99.5% SHT. Which means foot travel only, single-track and 18-inches wide, with non-stop hazards at your feet, and almost guaranteed to be very muddy. There are hazards buried in the mud that you can’t see. You literally cannot take your eyes off the trail for even a second, or you’ll end up on your face. At the same time, if you happen to be tall, you can have fun ducking under large and small tree branches that hang over the trail. Last fall at the 100, I spent half of the Crosby-Manintou section hunched over. That sucked just as much as the time I stepped off the plank into a knee deep mud hole. By contrast, the Pacific NW and Vancouver region in the summer is usually very dry, so dry this year that Canada had record numbers of wildfires. In fact, we all got an email a couple weeks before the race stating that the air quality due to smoke was poor, around 7 to 8 on the air quality index. If it reached 9, they would have to cancel the race. Fortunately things changed and some cooler weather came in. By race day, the index was down to a 0. But the trail was very dry and dusty. This presents its own challenges, especially down those steep technical descents. The loose dirt can be very slippery. My shoes for the 50-mile had awesome grip. I could seriously turn on a dime, even on the loose surfaces. On Sunday, the shoes I wore had good grip for rocks, average grip for the dusty trail, and I struggled more, and fell once. You definitely want good trail shoes for Squamish. Road shoes would be a nightmare, but they’d be a nightmare for Superior as well. I like to wear shoes that have enough of an outsole and midsole that you can just step right on top of any rock or root and not really feel it, rather than trying to dodge every single one. You can probably do a good amount of dodging at Squamish, but there’s no way you can do that at Superior. All those mangly messes of roots, often intertwined with rocks. It’s just not possible. So, I guess what I’m saying is that the trail itself at Superior is harder and will slow you down a lot. But the long arduous sustained climbs followed by steep, technical descents at Squamish will also slow you down and beat you up. Superior 50 mile is actually 52 miles and has a tighter cutoff. My finish time for Superior 50-mile was a little faster than my finish time for Squamish 50-mile, but I wasn’t going nearly as hard at Squamish as I was at Superior, since I had to get up the next morning and do another 31 miles. So, who knows really? It’s hard to say. I think peeps from the Pac NW US or Vancouver area that have done Squamish should come to Superior and experience the different challenges for themselves. Superior 50-mile and Squamish 50-mile have close to the same elevation gain and loss on paper. It’s just accumulated differently. Superior is non-stop little ups and downs that pile up. Squamish has a bit of that, but it mostly comes in very large doses, as is the case with many mountain races. Although, the first 6-7 miles and last mile are totally flat. So you’re getting all of the elevation change condensed into about 42 miles, and that does make a big difference. I do think that in reality, Squamish has more elevation gain and loss than Superior. In the end it’s impossible to say which is harder, really. In terms of how technical the trail is though, despite Squamish’s super challenging sections, Superior wins, hands down. One thing is for certain, both races are EPIC. You should do them both.

Dweeb Stats
50-mile elevation gain: 11,000 ft
50-mile elevation loss: 11,000 ft
50K elevation gain: 8,500 ft
50K elevation loss: 9,000 ft

Official Time: 24:34:53 (13:59 for the 50-mile, 10:35 for the 50K)

PRP: 3 / 1
MRP: 0 / 0
MRP Attempts: 0 / 0
MRU: 3 / 3

Shoe Changes: 0 / 0
Sock Changes: 0 / 0 


Dweeb Gear
Shoes: Hoka One One Speedgoat 2 (awesome shoes with great grip) / Altra Olympus 2.0 (the “just get it done” shoe)
Socks: Wright / DryMax Speedgoat
Shirts: DSP safety green running tee / DSP gray tank with custom ventilation
Shorts: The North Face Better than Naked / Underarmour
Hats: 361 cap / Las Vegas $6 tourist shop trucker hat
Hydration vest: Salomon Advanced Skin 5L with 2 Salomon “speed” soft flasks / added Nathan hand-held the second day (should have had it the first day too)
Watch: Suunto Ambit3 Peak
Headlamp: Petzl Tikka+ (not used, but required to start the 50-mile)
Sunglasses: Cheap “Ironman” sunglasses that look really stupid when resting on my hat

Training Plan
SageRunning Mountain-Ultra 16-week plan (condensed into the last 8 weeks). I love these training plans. The workouts are hard, but they are worth it! Sage, Sandi, and Ray are an amazing team and do great work.

Dweeb Nutrition
Cliff shot bloks: strawberry, mountain berry, black cherry, and orange
Honey Stinger cherry cola chews
Gatorade chews: red and blue
Saltstick caps (1 to 2 every hour)
Potato chips

Thanks to Madeline Harms and Adam Gears for representing Defeat the Stigma over the weekend and congrats on your races!

Special thanks to my entire family for supporting me and letting me do this crazy shit.

This race is dedicated to my beloved pug of 15 years, Leia. RIP.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Kettle Moraine 100 - 2017 Race Report

This is gonna be different from my other race reports, mainly because I never mentally prepared or "built up" to it. As such, there's no real backstory to tell. The past few months have just been a total blur, with about 100,000 things going on at once. I hardly thought about this race until the night before I left. I thought it would probably be a good idea to pack. Well it only took me about 2 hours to get 4 drop bags ready and a couple sets of clothing to wear the night before the race and afterward. There was no checklist, no dreadful cycles of packing, unpacking, and repacking. I was just ready after a couple hours. Nothing like my preparation for Superior 100 last fall.

On Friday, just before noon, I picked up my crew and pacer, Julio Salazar at his house, and we made the 5-hour drive down to the Nordic trail head for packet pickup, stopping at Perkins along the way. That double patty melt hit the spot! I often worry that I don't eat enough the day before a race.

We saw a few folks at packet pickup and got some great words of advice from Mark Martinsen. I committed his words to my memory for later use, and I definitely used them. I also sold him my pair of barely test-driven Altra Escalante shoes. I guess I'm not really a knit-upper kinda guy. He paid me too much. I would have taken less. Actually I tried to take less, but he gave me more anyway. It was all spent on fast food during the drive home.

After packet pickup, we drove to our accommodations in nearby Janesville, WI. Josh Stebbins was there waiting for us at his parents' house, who graciously donated their home to us that evening. You have my unending gratitude! It was awesome to see Josh again too. He was one of the runners who spent 8 days grinding across Wisconsin with us last year for mental health awareness. He was in town - his home town - to do his first ever 100KM. Josh's parents decided to camp at the state park where the race takes place. They would be there all day and night on Saturday. The three of us yahoos went out to eat at some fine dining Italian restaurant, and I've never seen so much garlic bread for a side. It was at least one loaf, per person! Julio had a sandwich that was 18" long, and I think it cost under $7. I also had a Spotted Cow with dinner, because well, Wisconsin.

With a full stomach it was time for last minute preparations and to go to bed. I did start to get a little nervous here as the weather forecast was constantly changing. We knew it was supposed to rain, but how much and when was the question. I agonized over what to wear at race start and what I might decide to keep in my drop bags.

T-shirt with vest and rain shell in the back? Tank with vest and no shell, just emergency poncho? No vest and shirtless, just a hand-held? Trucker hat or boonie hat? No hat?

Confidence in my race day kit

I didn't feel like a rain shell was necessary, since it was going to be hot. That was the one thing that was certain. Of course, we didn't know quite how hot and humid it would get. I ended up going with the Defeat the Stigma "safety green" T and the vest, with just an emergency poncho in the back. I thought if I went with no vest that I'd miss the extra water bottle at some point, and that was definitely the right call.

With the wardrobe selection complete, it was time for bed. I really was not nervous at all, but somewhat excited to try something that’s not a home-town 100, on a different type of course with unknown challenges. I should say that I'm also doing this race because it's the "easy" Western States qualifier of the two that are closest to me. (the other one being Superior) I went to sleep around 11 PM with ease.

At 4 AM the alarm goes off. I'm a little groggy, but it's not too bad. I put on my gear, and the three of us load up and head over to the Nordic trail head for the start. We arrived around 5:15 AM and barely got a spot in the parking area, on the grass. I placed my drop bags at the respective labeled drop points. Pretty simple. The only thing left was to get the ankle timing strap. I secured it around my, um ankle, and didn't even notice it was there. I was wearing full-length compression socks.

After that it was time to just chill out and hang around with the masses before the start. There were many friendly faces here that I was glad to see, including several folks who took part in the run across Illinois for mental health, which took place just two weeks prior. Peeps like Long Nguyen, Scott Kummer, Erica Wagner, and later Kyle Gilman. It felt like just yesterday when I was with them at Scotty's house in Chicago, where we celebrated the completion of the run across Illinois and recorded a Ten Junk Miles podcast about it, just a mere 2 hours after it was finished. We also had many folks representing Defeat the Stigma at Kettle and other races this weekend. I'm grateful to you all for your support!

Strong DSP representation at Kettle - L to R: Kari, Mark, Me, Long, Josh, Michelle
PC: Julio

At some point the race director started talking, I walked over at the tail end of it, but didn't hear much. Then there was an announcement that we'd be starting a few minutes late so that folks could use the porta-johns. These were, BTW, some of the nicest, cleanest, well designed porta-johns ever. I cherish their existence. All of the sudden, someone yelled "Go!" and people started moving.

The race started out pleasantly enough. We had a start time temp of 61 degrees and the air was calm. Right away I had to step to the side to move my phone from my shorts pocket to my vest. It was bouncing and just... no, gotta fix that immediately. I then caught up to Long, who told me that his race strategy was to stick with me, so that he wouldn't go out too fast. Ha, nice one. Great plan actually for him. Wouldn't be so good for me if it were the other way around. We ran at a relaxed pace, hiking all the uphills and more or less bombing the downs, though in a controlled manner. It was my kind of running. Jog the flats, hike the ups, and hammer the downs. Long is a very good downhill runner, and just as a runner in general, he is way faster than me.

We enjoyed the morning scenery, in particular some beautiful purple wildflowers. Long told me that he liked doing this, as opposed to Chippewa 50k, which we both did in late April, because Chippewa was too fast. Meaning that, it's 50k and you're basically pushing hard the whole time, not taking the time to enjoy the beauty of the trail. I felt the exact same way, even though he crushed me at Chippewa by well over 30 minutes. Still, I was giving it my all at that race, setting a new 50k trail PR in the process. I didn't spend any time soaking in the sights and beauty of that trail, the Ice Age Trail. And I knew at the time that I was missing out. In a hundred mile race, you don't have much of an excuse to not take in the beauty, unless you're on the SHT or something else ridiculously technical where your eyes need to be down at all times. Still, you can afford to take the time to just stop once in a while and soak it in.

We took turns taking pee breaks and then catching back up to each other. None of us ever waited for the other. It was sort of like we were reciprocal pacers. Even though we were keeping it easy, we were making very good time, and under 24-hour pace, easily. That would change soon enough. I think right at the Emma Carlin aid station, mile 14, is when it started raining. We had heard the thunder for a while, but it was finally here and it didn't waste any time, just broke out in a full-on downpour. After making use of the exquisite porta-john, I decided I might as well throw on the emergency poncho. Long was a couple minutes ahead of me now, since I had to pit. Julio was here, as he would be at every crewable aid station until it was time to pace. I didn't need anything, just a couple bananas and a glass of water and I was gone.

I had to crank it up a little bit more than I wanted to catch Long. After Emma Carlin you get out into more open exposed areas where you can see everyone. I could see him way up ahead, so I did what a dumb person does and ran right by everyone, including on the uphills, sometimes even hitting 7 min/mile pace.

Once I caught up to him, I believe we were at "The Meadows", which is just a very exposed wide open prairie area, double-tracked. The rain had filled the tracks up with water, so we were running on the grass beside it. It can be tricky sometimes to stay up on the edge and out of the tracks, which are basically ruts. Well, Long slipped on the edge of one and wiped out, making a splash as the side of his body hit the water-filled rut. He was fine, but probably a little embarrassed. That's what happens though. You don't fall on the technical shit. It's the little "nothings" that get you.

The rain let up a bit and I took off my poncho and stuffed it in the back of my pack, as I was starting to get a little too warm with it on. Of course, within the next 30 seconds it started raining harder than ever, and I was immediately drenched. No real point in putting it back on, just enjoy the cooling effect.

Happy happy happy

At the next full aid station, Julio came over and told me that “Ariel” fainted. At first I thought he was talking about Arielle our friend and local trail runner, whom is also known as “Mermaid.” I thought she had maybe fainted on a run or something. I was like, “Oh man, is she ok?” Then he said, “She's fine. I talked to Erin and she said they took her to the doctor and everything is fine.” Wait, you talked to Erin, as in my wife? Oh shit!!! You mean R-E-L, my daughter???!!! We spell it "Aryel" in hopes that people would remember how to pronounce it. I started freaking out a bit. Julio assured me again that he talked to my wife verbally and that everything was ok and she was doing fine and there was nothing to worry about. After we left the aid station, Long asked, "Was he talking about the Mermaid?" He had only heard the first bit of the conversation.

After about an hour, the rain really started to take its toll on the course. Somewhere around mile 25, we were descending a short, but reasonably steep muddy slope. There was no grip here, and about 7 of us were just skiing our way down it. Then here comes Long, bombing it, weaving his way around everyone like it's a slalom event. I said something like, "Oh, there goes Long, showing off. Bastard!" I was still having a lot of fun, but I could tell that some of the other folks on that hill were not. After another quarter mile, Long was out of sight and I would literally not see him again until after the race.

After a few very wet and muddy hills came the 50k turnaround at Scuppernong. I was starting to feel it a little bit. I still had a lot left in the tank, but now I'm here at the aid station and the 50k runners are getting ready to start. So I'm thinking, great, well I'm half-way to being less than 2/3rds of the way done. This course really messes with your head. And so now it's time for a little digression.

The course is basically two separate out and backs on two different trails (much of which is on the Ice Age Trail), the first section is 50k out and 50k back. Then from the start you go 19 miles out and 19 back, bringing you to 100 miles. BUT, it's not as simple as going out of the start/finish one way in the morning for the 100k segment, and then going out of it a different way for the 38-mile segment, no no. You need to run about 7 miles out from the start/finish to get to the point where the two different out and backs start, called "Confusion Corner." You will cover this 7-mile section 4 times, twice out, and twice back. It does get old and it does feel like it takes forever to get from the Bluff aid station back to the start/finish, or even from Tamarack, the very last aid station, to the start/finish. This section is wide open XC ski trails, which means plenty of room for two-way traffic, and that is nice. However, much of it is exposed, unlike the sections on the Ice Age Trail, which are mainly heavily wooded single track.

The T-like junction represents Confusion Corner

OK, back to it. I changed out of my soaking wet yellow T-shirt for a brand new, "Defeat the Stigma" tank top by Rabbit. I reapplied glide to every nook and cranny, and got back out on the trail, before the 50k-ers were unleashed. After a couple minutes of easing back into my stride, the first 50k runner whooshes by. There's plenty of width on the trail here so there were no issues at all with getting passed.

A few back of the packers from the 50k caught up to me and asked me which race distance I was doing. "The extra stupid one." I said. They gave me all sorts of cheers and support. Many of them were running their first 50k. I thought that was awesome. I always love meeting ultra newbies on the trail and wishing them well. It's an extra special day for them, one that they won't forget. Someone asked me in a concerned tone, "Is that from the low lands?" pointing at my compression socks that had gone from black to brown, all the way up to my knees. I didn't know what or where the "low lands" were, so I just said, "Yeah, it's gonna be a little sloppy up ahead."
"That's what I thought." She replied.

I ran with or near a lot of the 50k back-of-the-packers for quite a while. We came to our first muddy patch and I laughed to myself as they tried to dance around it. They would find out the truth soon enough.

Uphill and into the mud, both ways
PC: unknown

The "low lands" must be the area that's between just a little ways from Scuppernong and The Meadows. It had obviously gotten worse since I passed through on the way out, as it had still been raining then. Now it was the dirty, rotten, foul-smelling, shoe-sucking, soul-crushing, ankle-twisting, stop you in your tracks type of mud. And endless. Seriously it went on like this for several miles with no reprieve. And this is all stuff that's normally flat and runnable, which crushes your spirits, because it's still relatively early in the race and you've got the legs to run!

I never felt like my muscles were ever about to give out. They felt strong the entire way. I attribute that to the SAGE Running plans that I have been using. In the build up to this race, I used the Boston Marathon Qualifier plan, so there was a lot of speed work. I did most of my mileage on the road, since Kettle doesn't have a ton of climbing. With about 8 weeks to go, I transitioned my long runs to the trails so that I'd have at least some climbing strength and to also sharpen my "trail legs." I don't have the slightest hope in hell of ever qualifying for Boston, so my goal with the plan was just to make that cruising gear a little faster, that pace at a lower heart rate faster. And it has absolutely been a success. I wasn't super winded later in the race like I was at Zumbro or Superior. Being able to move faster at a lower heart rate was great, and I wanted so badly to use that, but with the course conditions I couldn't. It frustrated the hell out of me.

So on and on the trudge went through the mud, until The Meadows. The rain had stopped, the clouds were gone, and the sun was out, not what you want when you reach this section, which is several miles of exposed prairie. I don't know how many exactly, but you don't get much tree cover until you reach Emma Carlin again, at mile 47.

At an aid station just before the start of the meadows, I saw Mark Smith. He'd been having some issues and had slowed down. He gave me some advice. Go through the exposed areas as fast as you can and then rest in the shade. There are shady bits here and there, usually lasting no more than a tenth of a mile. That actually made sense, I thought. I was ready to try it.

As I worked my way out of the trees towards the first exposed area of The Meadows, I saw Mark up ahead, and he was walking. "C'mon man, practice what you preach." I thought to myself. Surely he didn't give me bad advice. I had made up my mind that I was going to run and so that's what I was going to do. I took a few confident strides as soon as I got into the sun and hit the grassy trail ... *squish, squish, squish, squish*. With every step, I'd sink down several inches. There wasn't much mud here, but all the grass had turned to bog. This is when I had my first real low point. I was already sort of fighting the negativity with all the mud, but remained positive through most of it, energized by some of the 50k runners. Now I was dealing with blistering heat and humidity, and the scorching sun. The temp topped out at 89 and the dew point was well into the 70's, creating a "feels like" temp of over 100. I wanted to move through this section quickly and I had the legs and energy to do it, but I just couldn't with that shitty surface. I ran when the ground firmed up, but that usually only lasted 50 yards or so. It was immensely frustrating, and I really hated being there. "Oh fuck it, I'm walking, I guess." It's hard to power walk on that shit too, so it turned into more of a forced leisurely stroll through "the meadows." Mark was doing the exact same thing, his own plan of attack clearly foiled by the conditions.

The heat was brutal, but I had found a decent way to deal with it. There was ice at both the staffed aid stations and unstaffed water spots. I'd fill a medium sized ziplock bag with ice and wedge it in between the top of my pack and my neck. That alone worked wonders. Then I'd take off my boonie hat, which I got a lot of compliments for BTW. This particular hat has an inner map pocket right above where the top of your head is. It's perfect! I filled the map pocket with ice and put it back on my head. The pocket provided just enough of a barrier to cool me down while avoiding brain freeze. (Yes, that is a thing. It happened to me at Voyageur 50 last year when I stuffed ice on top of my head underneath a smallish trucker hat)

I doubled down on salt and calories. It was necessary, even when moving slow. The sun just sucks it right out of you.

As Emma Carlin neared, the surface became more runnable, and having not expended much energy through the meadows, I was able to pick it up here and I felt good. I passed Mark and later Josh in this section. They both reached Emma Carlin shortly after I did.

At Emma Carlin, I took some time to restock, re-lube, and evaluate my gear. While on the way to the aid station, I had been thinking about taking off my shoes, to at least clean all the crud out of them. I wasn't wearing gaiters, not that that would have made any difference in these conditions. I sat down on a picnic bench and looked down. My shoes looked like they'd just been held under a chocolate fondue fountain. "Yeah, that's not happening." So I got up and walked back over to where Julio and the rest of the gang were. Josh's parents were there, and his dad pointed out to me that they had a place setup where you could hose yourself off. "Nah, not at this point. These shoes and socks dry out quickly." I shook my head. "Oooooookay." he said, in a it's your funeral sort of way. I finished the rest of the chips that Matt McCarty had given to me and then Julio helped me get my pack back on and I was out of there. As you might have guessed, not taking the time to take care of my feet was a huge mistake.

Pound those chips and look cool while doing it

I continued to pick it up out of Emma Carlin, matching and sometimes bettering my splits from early that morning. I was hammering the downhills hard. I passed many people here, mostly 50k and 100k runners, both nearing the end of their races. I offered words of encouragement to everyone that I passed.

I was just a little over 12 hours in when my watch beeped and flashed "50" miles. Even though I'd picked up the pace to sub 24 splits again, there is no way in hell I'll ever negative split a 100. So I figured maybe 26 hours was a reasonable time. I kept moving well through Tamarack, the last aid station. A couple miles out from there it was dark enough that I finally caved in and put on my headlamp. Most of the other runners had theirs on at this point. After a couple more miles, I came into the start finish area, excited to pick up my pacer Julio, with the first 100k complete in a little more than 15:20.

I decided that now I would finally take off my shoes and clean out the muck. I sat down next to Mark Martinsen. He won his age group for the 100k. Outstanding! I took my shoes off and scraped everything I could out of there. I swiped the bottoms of my feet to get any loose debris off. I still didn't change socks. I had my first cup of soup here and a few other goodies, but I wanted to get back out there. They announced over the PA "Hundred miler going back out!" and the crowd roared as Julio and I made our way back onto the course, at 9:45 PM.

The first few miles back out there went pretty well, all the way to Tamarack. It was dark so the pace was a little slower, but I was feeling pretty good still. However, there were two things that I was starting to notice:

1. My ankles were really beginning to hurt
2. Even though I had just cleaned out my shoes, it still felt like they were full of debris

I ignored the second one, figuring that there must be stuff in my shoes that'll just never come out. We made our way to the Bluff aid station in a decent amount of time, and then it was on to Confusion Corner. This time, we took the hard left onto the Ice Age Trail going in the opposite direction from earlier that morning.

On the Ice Age Trail, it was a welcome change from the wide XC ski trails of the Nordic loop. But now, with 70-ish miles on the legs and not so nimble ankles, it was a little tougher to deal with the rocks and roots that are on this trail. It's never anything technical like the SHT, just enough to force you to stay sharp.

This is where the pace seemed to slow way down. It took forever to go one mile or even one tenth of a mile. I had my watch clipped to a loop on my vest, as it was charging on the go, which was nice because I couldn't see how slow we were going. I'd still hear the beeps for every mile. Though we were going so slow that I didn't hear too many beeps before it was fully charged and I put it back on my wrist.

The stretch between Bluff AS and the next staffed one, at HWY 12, is a little over 7 miles. It felt like double that. However, there were some really pretty areas here, especially through the pine trees and some very runnable trail too. We took advantage of that and ran whenever we could. I think in the middle of this section is where I saw Steve Sorenson, the "Moose" on his return trip. He was looking strong as ever. We've been neighbors now for several months, yet this is the first time we've run together. I live on one side of the park and he lives on the other. We've tried several times to connect, but the schedules just have never worked out. He owes me a beer now. Not that he promised me one, but he implied it when at one point during the race he asked, 'Do you drink beer, Steve?" As soon as I said, "Yes" that means he just offered me a beer, right? He ended up finishing sub-24. Pure awesomeness in those conditions. What a beast... er ...Moose.

Anyways, what else can I say about this section? It was definitely slow going and I was struggling. Julio laughed every time I swore at a rock or root. It was still warm and very humid, and I felt like I was running out of fuel and needed some real food or I was gonna have a night bonk. Luckily, the aid station at HWY 12 was great, and I had some soup and delicious mashed potatoes from some very friendly and chipper volunteers working the overnight shift. That was a real pick me up. I took off my shoes again and dumped the "stuff" out that was bothering me. There was barely anything there. I put my shoes back on and still felt with every step that I was stepping on pebbles or sand. WTF. Whatever. I'm not changing my socks. I couldn't get them off anyway if my life depended on it. 23 miles left. Fuck it.

Fully fueled, we made our way to the turnaround, a little over 4 miles away. This seemed to go better, now that I was no longer running on empty. My ankles were getting worse though and it was getting harder and harder to actually run. We saw a lot of people making their return trip during this section. First it was Erik Raivo, with Kari, his pacer, both amazing peeps and supporters of Defeat The Stigma. He was looking great. He always does. Then, not too far behind him, was Jordan Schmidt. He was absolutely killing it. There was an awkward moment here as I was climbing a steep muddy hill as he was descending it. It was slippery enough to ruin your race if you weren't careful. I guess Jordan reached out to give me a high five, but I didn't see it and kept climbing. Julio's said, "Hey, you left him hanging!" I was like, "Whaaat? Oh man, I didn't see." I actually turned around and took a step towards Jordan, but he was like 10 feet down from me and it was very steep, rocky and slippery. He might as well have been 500 feet away. I told him I'd have to get him back later. He understood completely. We continued on to the turnaround aid station of this second out-and-back, at mile 81.5. We only spent a few minutes here refueling and now I had to be extra sure to thank the volunteers, because from here on out, we wouldn't be passing through any of these aid stations ever again!

We slowly made our way back to HWY 12. It was a little after 5 AM, so we both ditched our headlamps and anything else we didn't need in my drop bag. I heard one of the volunteers say that he estimated about a 55% drop rate this year, because of the course conditions. That gave me a mini-boost. I wasn't going to be one of the 55%. I am the 45%! (and still the 99% in real life) There was just over a half-marathon left. Time to get it done. Another round of thank-yous to the awesome volunteers and we were off.

Shortly after leaving, Julio asked if I moved my drop bag to the other side. I'm like, WTF are you talking about? He said you have to move it to another tarp or they won't know that you've been through and might not bring it back. I was too ultra brained out to understand the reasoning for any of it. He then said, "You just keep going, I'll go back and take care of it." Good man. Good pacer.

We maintained a decent pace here, and it was nice to be on this part of the Ice Age Trail in the daylight. I recognized many parts that we'd passed through, even though it had been dark and we were going the opposite way. This section was pretty enjoyable. And although the pace was slow, we managed a couple decent splits. Things were going well, but I had to "drop the big guy." Fortunately at mile 90.5, at an unstaffed water stop, they had two of those luxurious purple porta-johns. I took one of my all-time best dumps in that plastic safe haven. Definitely top 3 lifetime. And I believe Julio did the same in the adjacent one. TMI? It's a race report about a hundred mile ultra-marathon. Deal with it. (sunglasses emoji)

With a lightened load, we continued on, now with under 10 miles to go. I was feeling pretty good, other than my burning feet and wrecked ankles. But the enemy was rising in the sky, that great big mean ball of fire called the sun.

After the Bluff aid station, I realized that now, in the daytime, this whole Nordic loop is really exposed much of the time. I wished I had my boonie hat. I had removed it at the start/finish and replaced it with a comfortable soft cap. I started hating everything again. I was bored. The course looked so much like the trails I train on all the time, except it also featured parts of those trails that I never go on, like the horse trails at Murphy-Hanrehan. I hate those, and now I hated this trail. I hated the race. I hated Wisconsin. It was all stupid. But wait, it's a qualifier for Western States. Who cares? Hundreds are stupid. Western is stupid too. I wanted to just go home and never run again. Julio did everything he could to try to keep me positive. He said, "C'mon man, we're doing this for Cara." He pronounced it care-ah, which is wrong. Cara is our 8-year old pug that recently passed, not even a month ago. I took her death pretty hard. To be honest, I've been in a shitty rut ever since.  She was daddy's pug. She was my mini-monster. My mini-face. My mini-pug. We named her "Cara", which is the Spanish word for "Face." So when Julio mispronounced it, I said, "C'mon man, it's a word in your native language and you're saying it wrong." I explained to him how she died, and I cried a little while doing it. Not sure if he realized that or not. I love that little dog to death. Which reminds me, I still have a project that I need to do, in her honor.

Aaaaah, so many different projects, so many different clients, so many activities, so many obligations, all swirling in a tornado of chaos, and not enough time to deal with any of it! Everything is spiraling out of control! I cannot possibly meet all these demands or live up to anyone's expectations! Those are the thoughts that I had been dealing with over the last month and they had escaped me for a good 26+ hours on the trails of the Kettle Moraine 100. But now, as I neared the finish, it meant that I'd have to go back to reality, where the stress of the real world far outweighs the stress of a hundred mile foot race.

My mind was drowning in negativity now. I had nothing but bad thoughts. The heat was wearing on me again. I needed ice and didn't have it. I felt like I was about to pass out or drop dead at any given moment. I thought of Jon Mathson, of Eagan, who recently passed away at the Spring Superior 25K. A very heartbreaking story. I wish his family and friends all the strength in the world. It must be so difficult for them to handle. He was only 41. 38 isn't far from that. It could happen at any moment to any one of us out here. Am I about to meet his same fate?

Julio knew I was in a bad place and kept talking to try and distract me, but I wasn't responding. I really couldn't. I felt beaten and lifeless inside, as if I were already dead. But somehow we kept moving, however slow. As we neared the final aid station, I finally started to snap out of it, knowing that I'd be able to get some ice and that there was nowhere else to go but home to the finish.

I ended up getting about four scoops of ice poured down my back. It felt amazing. I thanked all the volunteers one last time. It was time to get it done.

Julio guided me through the last few miles after Tamarack. We ran all of the steeper downhills and power walked the flats and gentler downhills. The power walk was faster than the death shuffle at this point. At one point, while climbing up a small hill, he let out a monster fart. BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRIP! That made me laugh. We had both been letting them rip the entire time, but this one put all others to shame. It was like an epic trombone solo. That one moment of laughter really helped to bring me out of the funk and I was getting excited to finish, and even little bit teary eyed.

As we approached the finish, Julio said I had to run. I groaned, "That's still too far away." He said to walk until we were just barely out of sight from the people at the finish and then to start running. So I did, and I ran up the tiny little hill and across the timing mats, just after 10:30 AM on Sunday morning.

PC: Matt McCarty

I got a handshake and congrats from the RD and someone handed me my finishers award, a tiny copper tea kettle. Scott Kummer was there to congratulate me as well. He led me over to a picnic table where I could sit in the shade, next to Susan Donnelly. She congratulated me and asked where John Taylor was. I told her that he was maybe 4 miles behind us at the 81.5 mile turnaround. So he still had plenty of time to make the 30 hour cutoff. Jordan came over to say congrats and I immediately reached out and gave him the high five that I owed him. He had such a great race, and even passed Erik in the last 10 miles.

After sitting for a few minutes, I decided it was finally time to get out of my shoes and socks. I grabbed my start/finish drop bag and went over to an empty picnic table and took my shoes off. I then started working on my socks. I got them down to my heel, but couldn't get them all the way off. I looked up and saw Long again for the first time since mile 25. I asked if he could help get my socks off, and he obliged. It wasn't painful to take them off, but blistering was revealed as was the cause of the blisters. The muck that I was trying to clean out wasn't in my shoes, it was in my socks and it had dried out and hardened. I'm pretty sure I have mud tattoos now. Long and Michelle walked me over to the deck and helped me hose off my feet. Now I could really see the damage!

I had passed on every opportunity to change my socks and paid the price. I had fresh, dry ones in every drop bag. I was well prepared and had everything I needed to succeed and have a great race, but I chose to ignore it. Every ultra, especially the 100-mile distance, teaches you something new. I have learned great lessons from previous races and applied them here. For example, at Superior 100, I really only had one plan for calories and when it went south, I was forced to rely almost entirely on aid station food, which required tons of lost time due to the need for filling up at aid stations. I learned from that experience, and so this time I had a couple different sources of fuel with me at all times. I didn't have any real issues with calories this time. Though I did spit out a cran-razz flavored shot blok, as I had never tried it before and it made me feel like I was going to puke. But to my credit, I was able to grab another source of calories out of my pocket that I knew would be safe. So hopefully, I will be smart enough to apply the lessons learned at Kettle in future races.

After getting hosed off, I went back over to the picnic table and Erik came over and offered me a beer. I'm a strictly no beer before lunch kinda guy, but this is a case where an exception can and should be made. I happily accepted a pilsner from Indeed Brewing, where Erik works. Mmmmmm sooooo gooooood.

Mr. Gnarly - Erik Raivo

I took advantage of the hot breakfast provided at the finish line. I loaded up on pancakes, sausage, and bacon. The sausage in particular was excellent and really hit the spot. I had been craving fatty food for so long.

Mark Smith was in the finish area too, hanging out with us. He pulled up his shorts and showed me some of the worst chafing I've ever seen. Chafing was a huge problem for so many people. I was able to keep the chafing to a minimum by applying a liberal amount of glide at every drop bag location. Plus, I had a mini-stick of glide in my shorts pocket that I would use on the go. I ended up with only a little chafing on the upper thighs, which happened in the last few miles as the ice down my back melted and the water went down my shorts and kept washing away the glide I had applied to that area. The only other spot was my right inner arm that kept rubbing against my soft flask. I drank out of that one the most, as I kept it filled with water. I kept Heed in the other bottle on the left. As I drank, the bottle would collapse into the pocket and my arm would rub against the "speed" top of the bottle. But for the conditions, I had virtually no chafing to complain about. The Rabbit tank also really helped. I've worn singlets before and would always get hot spots around the arm holes. Not this time. It was super soft and comfy too.

We watched and cheered as runners came in to beat the 30-hour cutoff. Shortly after noon, we packed up and hit the road. Julio driving, of course.

Now 5 days later, my body feels good, basically back to normal. My feet are still trashed though and I just had to pull out a toenail that was suspended in a blistered cocoon. At Superior, the foot problems I had during the race with deep blisters and maceration were definitely worse, in terms of hindering movement during the race. But the aftermath of Kettle, when it comes to total blisterage, is proving to be far greater. I even got blisters in places where I've never had them, like the very tops of my toes and around the heels and even on the ankles. 100% my fault for not changing socks.

My socks, inside out. For every clump of mud, there's a matching blister


  • I wasn't nervous about the race
  • I was well-trained, prepared, and had everything I needed to succeed
  • The storms created an endless amount of mud that wreaked havoc on my ankles
  • I neglected my feet, even though I had the means to fix them, and paid a great price
  • The heat was brutal, and the open Meadows was the worst part of the course for me
  • I was able to manage the heat with ice placed under my neck and on my head
  • I spent more time in a dark place mentally than I have in any other race
  • The course conditions and heat lead to a high number of DNFs (more than 50%, I would guess)
  • I had an awesome one man crew and pacer in Julio Salazar
  • Although I got bored with the course and its format, I enjoyed seeing friendly faces so many times
  • The conditions made this race way harder than I could ever have expected
  • Other than my feet, everything else held up very well; no stomach issues
  • I finished the damn thing

A comparison of finisher's awards. Kettle was well organized and the volunteers were awesome, but make no mistake: In Minnesota, we trail runners are spoiled by John and Cheri Storkamp and Rocksteady Running races. Even with only half the elevation gain (by my watch, 10.6K) of Superior (which is billed as over 21K) on a course that is not even on the same planet when it comes to being technical, I fought just as hard in some ways and even harder in other ways to get this little baby Kettle.

A huge thanks to Julio, Josh's parents, all the volunteers, and of course my loving family.

My 2017 Kettle Moraine 100-mile race is dedicated to my beloved dog, Cara.

Dweeb Stats
Official Time: 28:31:38 (new trail 100-mile PR)

PRP: 0
MRP: 3
MRP Attempts: 3
MRU: 15+

Shoe Changes: 0
Sock Changes: 0 (pure idiocy)

Dweeb Gear
Shoes: Hoka One One Challenger ATR (version 1 - the best one, found recently on Amazon)
Socks: SmartWool PhD full length compression
Shirts: DSP safety green running tee, DSP “welcome to the gun show” tank by Rabbit (super comfy, no chafing)
Shorts: The North Face Better than Naked (amazingly comfortable and no issues with the liner)
Outer Layer: Coleman emergency poncho (for 15 minutes)
Hats: TruSpec military contractor boonie hat, 361 cap
Hydration vest: Salomon Advanced Skin 5L with 2 Salomon “speed” soft flasks
Watch: Suunto Ambit3 Peak
Headlamp: Zebralight H600Fc III High CRI
Portable USB Charger: MyCharge charging stick
Sunglasses: None (lost forever in the parking lot before race start)

Dweeb Nutrition
Cliff shot bloks: strawberry, black cherry, and orange
Gatorade chews: red and blue, whatever the hell those flavors are
Saltstick caps (1 to 2 every hour)
Chicken noodle soup
Mashed potatoes
Corn tortilla with hummus
PBJ Quarters
Ham and cheese sandwiches (sometimes with mayo - yuck)
Potato chips
Frosted pretzels
Green olives

Dweeb Crew
Julio Salazar
Special guest crewing by Matt McCarty and Michelle Stolz

Dweeb Pacers