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