Monday, June 19, 2017

Kettle Moraine 100-mile Run

After a failed effort at completing a 2018 Western States qualifier in February (DNF at mile 80 of Rocky Raccoon), I thought I wanted more time for recovery and training before making the next attempt. Recovery went better than expected, however, and within a month, the idea of trying to run Kettle 100-mile in June was actively bouncing around in my brain. In another month, I had successfully strung together some 3-4 hour trail runs and convinced myself to give Kettle a try. The course is slightly more technical than Rocky, but not so arduous to require special training, so as long as I could run, I could adequately prepare, in theory. Although I still started the focus on this race closer to the event than ideal, I got a good confidence boost from getting in some 75 mile weeks, including a couple back to back 30-mile, 20-mile weekends. More importantly, I put in some ‘mental’ training with reminding myself I had to start easier, not be competitive, WALK HILLS! and do everything I could to keep myself moving toward the finish.

The day before the race was clear and cool where we were camped along the Menominee River on the northern border of Wisconsin with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We were up and out relatively early to meet one of Rudy’s former work colleagues in Milwaukee for lunch. It was super sunny and hot in Milwaukee and I was more than a little worried about the heat after spending the previous two weeks in northern Michigan, seeing more 40F days than 60F! After lunch, we made our way to Whitewater Lake Campground, ten miles from the race start and secured ourselves a spot. As soon as 4 pm came around, we made a quick trip to packet pickup. I glanced around for familiar faces, but not too many people had arrived yet, so we went back to camp, expecting my dad to show up soon. The rest of the afternoon was spent reviewing some logistics with Rudy and finishing drop bag assembly. Just did basic pasta for dinner. Dad and his girlfriend got in as we finished eating – they were held up by a truck fire north of Madison! Only a little bit of chatting before turning in for the night by 10pm.

Race Day was Saturday, June 3. I woke at 4:00 for the 6:00 start and had my standard pre-race breakfast of coffee, banana, and oats with chia, peanut butter, and honey – just cold soaked this morning, already 60F and I didn’t need to add heat to my body. The forecast I looked at called for a clear morning, then heating up to the mid-80s with a greater chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. I took care of sunscreen, body glide, and double checks before the easy drive to the Nordic Trailhead in Kettle Moraine State Forest that served for the start/finish area. Parking was also easy, as was delivering drop bags, and getting my ankle chip. I spotted Mary from Duluth – finally in person! Then not much waiting for go time.

Duluthians ready to go - Mary in pink, Leslie in green
The start was pretty pleasant with the route beginning on rolling hills on wide ski trail. I got to stick with Mary and get to know her a little better. I kept going through Tamarack aid station, just a few miles in. Mary stopped for water, but quickly caught back up, and we joined up with ultra legend and Gnarly Bandit contender Angela Barbera too. We hit Bluff Aid Station just over an hour in – mileage of 5.6, I was expecting 7.6 miles! Rudy missed out, he was planning to bike to the first leg aid stations, but I did get to see my dad, let him know we were two miles short, then carry on. I had lost Mary and Angela – I get a little overwhelmed and distracted at aid stations, especially the early ones. Shortly after the aid station, and an excessively marked intersection dubbed ‘Confusion Point’, we were finally on the Ice Age Trail. A little hillier and rootier, still quite runnable though. I fell in with other groups of runners, mostly hanging back and eavesdropping on their conversations, and enjoying the scenery. Eventually, I struck up some chatting with Gary from Canada, going for his first 100, after only a few years of running and one year since his first ultra!

The 'red barn' with tons of phlox along the trail

When we hit Emma Carlin aid station, my watch was two miles off still, but I got to see Rudy this time. Then on to more rolling singletrack. In general, the course had more slightly steep and slightly long hills than expected, which I appreciated for being obvious walkers. Definitely a pretty area and the bugs were not bad at all! Gary and I continued pulling each other along, commenting on the train we were approaching just as we noticed we would be crossing the tracks, but the train was through by the time we reached it – though I don’t think stopping a few minutes in the midst of 100-miles really hurts anything.

About five miles of this section included wide open prairie, on mostly good trail with nice boardwalks over the wet sections. Happily we didn’t have the sun out through here, but there was lightning not too far off, and we pushed the pace a little to get out. The thunderstorms started up mid-morning, depositing an inch of rain over the next few hours. The trail started getting muddy, but much of it seemed to have a good sand base, and I just ran through puddles without issue.

Getting soggy

Hwy 67 was the next aid station, followed by two miles of more nice rollers to the Hwy ZZ aid station. I think I just restocked gels and fig bars, and took in some salty snacks before starting on the five mile loop to Scuppernong aid station, just across the parking lot from ZZ. The portion near ZZ was pretty hilly and pretty muddy, Gary and I were encouraging each other on how ‘fun’ some of the steeper descents would be on the return trip. Over half the loop was nice gentle ski trail, though. I hit ~30 miles at Scuppernong just under six hours, feeling fine, and the rain seemed to be done for now. I think this is where I lost Gary (he ended up finishing about an hour behind me – successful first try!), as I believe I was alone, trying to enjoy the relatively dry and flat ski trail while it lasted. As expected, the singletrack near ZZ was even more muddy with some sketchy descents and challenging climbs, but not nearly as death-defying as anticipated!

More mud in the section to Hwy 67 too, and the sun started coming out. As feared, the sunshine was out in force for the prairie. Mercifully, there was a breeze, but also more mud, much more mud, I was grateful I had escaped much of it the first time through. Luckily it was not sticky or super-deep, there was sliminess in spots though, and maybe a little sucking, my gaiters do a good job of keeping my shoes on! I worked on relaxing through the mud and keeping my effort easier with the heat. I started getting ice at every aid station, but still started to feel the effects of the hot sun setting in. The sno-cone machine at Bluff aid station was a miraculous sight! I got a blue one.

The Prairie

More solo time in second half may have contributed to the slowing pace, but mostly it was the temperature. I was feeling hot and nothing sounded appetizing, I tried to get a gel down every hour or so and fruit at aid stations, looking forward to sundown and a cooldown. During the final section back to Nordic, I noticed a sign that said ‘5’, I assumed it meant 5k left, since I was already a couple miles in to the section that was less than six miles in the morning. My GPS was done by this point so couldn’t really check. Then, the sign at Tamarack said ‘4.8 miles to Nordic’, and I figured it was from prior years when the section was really 7.6 miles. Then, I hit some very steep ski hills between signs 4 and 2 – I didn’t remember these, and didn’t think I was that distracted with chatting with people! It was fun that a couple were named, the toughest one for Tom Bunk, a local legend who succumbed to cancer a couple years back. Just before sign 1, a spectator running out to meet another runner told me ‘One mile to go!’ I don’t remember the times between the signs now, but at the time, it did make sense they were more like mile splits than kilometer splits. I then figured the section must have been altered a little to get the mileage closer to 100k and 100 miles. I discussed this with some one later and they thought the same thing was done last year, race documents didn’t seem to be updated for the change though. I did like the idea of running more like 95 miles (being out for an hour or more less), but I easily made peace with the mind shift back to getting 100 miles in.

Headed back out, pretty much at max muddiness

I was back to Nordic Trailhead and the 100k mark at about 13.5 hours. Luckily I was not at all tempted to call it at 100k. I think I just grabbed some fruit from the aid station, got a headlamp into my pack, and headed back out. One of the race directors was yelling ‘100-miler out!’ whenever one of us departed, eliciting cheers from everyone hanging out and providing a nice little boost to the runners. Back through the steep ski hills as the day’s light faded. I managed to reached Tamarack just as it was about as dark as I could stand, and was able to abuse a volunteer’s hospitality with getting my headlamp out of the pack.

The sun was down, but I was not cooling off. The forecast called for a low of 60F, but I don’t think it even got below 70F. There were some nice distractions of whippoorwills and fireflies. As I approached Bluff aid station, I had the idea to try ice in soup, that ended up being pretty satisfying! Back at Confusion Point, the course went left for a new out and back leg on the Ice Age Trail. The singletrack was somewhat hilly, but nothing crazy steep and the mud was not bad at all. I could see the trail skirted lots of little ponds and the frogs were singing fantastically! I was getting increasingly thirsty, but my stomach also felt pretty bloated, so water consumption was tricky. My frequent sipping and occasional forced gel didn’t seem to worsen anything.

At the Hwy 12 aid station I tried ice in mashed potatoes – not as good as the iced soup, but still more non-sugar, cool calories. Preparing to head back out, I overheard that the next section was arguably the toughest of the course, and it was. At least at that point in the race, it seemed pretty hilly – with a few of the steeper slopes having some slimy mud. There were some runnable stretches in the middle though, and lots of frogs! I started noticing hot spots on my inner heels and my left arch was a little tender, nothing bad, but I kept thinking about how quickly I deteriorated at about this point in the last race – still a long way to go! I continued to feel hot and bloaty too, but kept putting down hard candy and gels. Toward the end of the section were seemingly endless steep ups and downs with railroad tie steps that were slow for me to navigate, but at least there were quite a few people coming back to cheer on.

I hit the Rice Lake turnaround about 19:20 with 19 miles remaining. 24 hours seemed unlikely unless the temperature dropped and I really bounced back. I was even feeling sleepy, first time this has been an issue for me – I think this is probably where I had some Coke. There was a little lightning in the distance, providing hope for some more rain, but I never got it. Not much to say about the return trip, nothing changed: kept thinking I needed to eat, but my stomach felt distended and I was so thirsty! I kept at the fruit and gels, and trotting flats and descents. I felt out of breath with every little climb though and I was ready to have some company with Rudy – greeting the other runners heading out was good, but less personal in the dark.

A few miles back into daylight, I finally returned to Bluff, where I ditched my headlamp and picked up my pacer. I decided to get a little more water to get to the finish. Rudy grabbed a pitcher and added ~20 ounces to my pack. A few minutes later I discovered I had ended up with Heed – BLECH! No disastrous results though, and I figured the extra calories would not hurt. We just kept moving forward, my uphill walking was slow, but I could still jog at a pace that was faster than most walkers. Despite the sips of Heed, I was starving and deciding to get in one more gel in the last few miles. We kept plugging along, no bouts of despair or magical spurts of energy, but I was happy to see we ended up completing the final 7.6 miles just under two hours for a finish of 25:24:47, 34th place, and 6th woman. 

Rudy pulls me into the finish once again

I gathered up some congratulations, my finisher kettle, some calories, then the shoes came off and to get them and my feet hosed down – way overdue! Finally, we enjoyed the breakfast provided, being careful not to overdo the food.

We stuck around a little, chatted with a few familiar faces from Minnesota, made a quick trip to a nearby campground for a real shower, then returned to Nordic for the final hour of finishers. I did attempt a nap, but my legs kept jolting just as I drifted off - Rudy slept like a champ, as usual while I hung around the finish line. For the 100-mile race, there were 242 starters and 101 finishers – an incredible drop out rate. I’m guessing it was mostly the heat, but I could see the mud creating a lot of issues too. I ended up with big blisters on my inner heels, just from mud abrasion, and my feet were super pruney with the toe nails packed with dirt. No major problems though!

Nutrition Summary:
<250 ounces water
~3000 calories
6 or 7 plain gu gels
1 cherry lime gu
1 espresso gu
4 fig bars
4 or 5 pieces hard candy
1 sno-cone
~8 oz Coke
~10 oz Heed
~1 orange
~1 cup canned potatoes
~3 cups watermelon
~1 cup mashed potatoes
~1 cup noodle soup
~1/2 cup veggie soup
~5 baby dill pickles
a couple green olives
2 chunks of hummus wrap
3 dried dates
3 dried apricots
~10 dried cherries

Some positives:
No cramping
No major muscle/tendon/ligament issues
Very little foot problems for having wet, muddy feet all day
Energy OK

Some struggles:
Too hot, couldn’t cool off – more ice and water? Also, more heat training, I knew it wasn’t wise to be in the UP right before this, but I don’t regret that
Thirsty, but waterlogged/tight stomach
Difficult to eat – but I did force calories in and was always relieved that no problems resulted, just had to force it!
Tired – never the threat of falling asleep or hallucinating, but probably felt a bit more sleepy than I have at other events
Chafing on my back where I was putting ice, maybe a little ice burn? I know you are not supposed to put ice directly on the skin, but I always have – probably better to put ice in a buff around my neck, or just more inside my pack
Little splotches of heat rash wherever I had clothes on, not a nuisance during the race and faded within a day after
I think the blisters on my inner heels were solely the result of dirt getting packed in there, and my feet were looking rugged when I finally took shoes and socks off. Although these little problems didn’t change my outcome, cleaning up my feet when the bulk of the wet conditions were over probably would have been wise – though I didn’t know what the rest of the course would be for muddiness or if more rain would come

Consistent running works! Even though I got away with less than three months of formal training, I think focusing on an event for at least a few months is important
Keep the calories coming in, even if it sounds like a terrible idea
If feeling hot, try to go overboard on sponging off and taking ice

1 comment:

  1. Congrats, Leslie! Sounds like a tough course with the mud and heat. Thanks for putting your food consumption; it's always interesting to see what endurance athletes eat!