At some point last year, it became apparent that “it was time.” I had put this off long enough. 50 miles no longer felt “far.” I needed to challenge myself, and maybe feel the bite of failure again. It was time to sign up for my first 100 mile trail race. Enough of the short-course shenanigans, it was time to step up with the big boys.
When it came time to selecting that race, there was no real decision to make; it would be the Kettle 100 in the Southern Wisconsin portion of the Kettle Moraine. This race is held mainly on some of the greatest singletrack in the Midwest, on the 1000-mile long Ice Age Trail (IAT). This race includes about 8,000 ft of elevation change, which makes it a relatively flat 100 miler, so I thought this might help me to ease into the distance. The only downside seemed to be its spring scheduling; I've never had to train through winter. Training went fine though, as I learned to tromp through snow and ice. In fact, I thought spring would never come.
But come it did, and soon enough it was time to lace up my shoes and try something that would again push my limits. Several friends and family members requested to follow my progress through text updates by my wife and crew, Beth. I found this very touching; I was really humbled by the interest. Thanks. I hope you found the drama interesting.
The Kettle 100 is a double out-and-back course. Starting at the Nordic Station in La Grange, WI, the first section starts on 7 miles of ski trails, and then travels 25 miles north on the IAT to Scuppernong, for an out-and-back total of 63 miles (or almost 100k). The second section starts on the same 7 miles of ski trail, but then turns south for 12 miles to the Rice Lake turnaround, providing a total course length of about 101 miles.
There are four races held on the course. The first three start simultaneously: 100 mile solo, 100 mile relay, and 100k. The final 38 mile “fun run” starts some time after 6:00 pm, and helps to keep the 100 milers company on some lonely stretches of trail. My goal was an average 12 min/mi pace for a 20 hour finish time.
We picked up our race packets the night before, so all we had Saturday morning were the usual victuals and expendables. This was a very low-key start line, rife with nervous energy. I met a few great people here, but none seemed able to focus on much of a conversation. We had all prepared hard to get to this point. Let’s get this thing going!
And, soon enough, it was “ready, set, go.”
I started out at 10.5 min/mi, a pace a bit faster than I had planned, but his was the pace of the crowd and I went with it. The first 7 miles of ski trails were not fun. They were wide and boring and very hilly. Not much elevation, but full of Pointless Ups and Downs (PUDs). Our first aid station, Tamarack, came in about 5 miles. I don’t really remember much other than filling my water bottle, grabbing a gel, and hugging my sister who was volunteering here. Have some stinky sweat Sis!
The first crew-access aid station was only 2.5 miles further at “Bluff”. Here Beth handed me my first bottle of UCAN, and a gel. We’ve gotten good at the pit row aid station method: Beth and I swap bottles, she hands me what else I might need, I tell her what I might need ready at the next station, and I’m off.
The next 8 miles were fairly hilly singletrack. Very pretty and just a little technical. I kept my 10.5 min/mi pace going comfortably, and the miles ticked off. After an unmanned water stop at Horse Riders, I was at the first out-and-back half way point; Emma Carlin. This was one fantastic aid station. Tons of people! I loved it. But soon enough, I was out of there with another bottle of UCAN and some gels.
This section of the course was my favorite. Everything was fresh in the spring morning, including my legs. A decent-sized group of us formed a Zen-like conga line though the forested singletrack, effortlessly zooming through the stony ups and downs, feet knowing, without thought, just where to plant. A grove of flowers unexpectedly appeared at this point, wrapping the moist air in a blanket of sweet fragrance. I wish I could bottle up this emotion and uncork it whenever someone questions running such distances. I could not image being anywhere else.
Then, of course, I fell flat on my face. No blood though, and I quickly caught back up with my friends.
The next section had a fair bit of open prairie and was relatively flat. As the heat of the day had yet to set in, the 10.5 min/mi pace continued easily. I knew this section had a reputation for being hot, so I was prepared to slow it down some on the return leg; but not yet. I did get a chance to meet a guy with an Aussie accent. He was searching for his wife’s iPod, which he had dropped on the trail. A few of us searched in vain, but then it was time to skedaddle; Hwy 67 came soon enough. Through this part there were many sections of unavoidable mud and muck. These can suck, and I tried to ignore them, plowing right through and trying to maintain my balance.
After Hwy 67 we got another good dose of hills, but at least this area was fairly wooded, so there were really no heat issues. I had other, more pressing issues to contend with at this point though.
Having run this section of the IAT a kajillion times, I thought I knew exactly where the Hwy ZZ aid station was located; at the same location as the North Face Hwy ZZ aid station of course. So, instead of following the well-marked course, I made a bee-line to (what turned out to be) my imaginary aid station. After coming down a hill, and not seeing an aid station where I thought one should be, I continued until I saw one across the street. Whew! I thought I had gone off course.
Funny, Beth wasn't there; the first crew-access aid station she’d missed. I know my pace was still 10.5, so I must be too far ahead of schedule. I’ll see her at the next station, the Scuppernong turn-around, for sure. So I refueled and took off down the trail.
Funny, there are a lot of very fit looking people running towards me on the trail. Well, either I was moving pretty fast, or I was where I shouldn't have been. Sure enough, I had missed a turnoff and bounded confidently into the Scuppernong aid station, skipping Highway ZZ. Bummer. But I had a plan. Since the Hwy ZZ to Scuppernong was an out-and-back, the section is run twice. So after Hwy ZZ, all I needed to do was double-back to Scuppernong, plead my case, and run this section again.
Of course, Beth thought she had lost me. She was speaking with the course monitors trying to figure out where I had last checked out. I met her again on my second trip to Scuppernong. She was relieved, but worried that I would be DQ’ed. That would have sucked. Bet the RD, who felt that if I was not top-3, I could continue, as long as I travelled the same distance, albeit a bit in the wrong direction. Thank you.
It was weird to be at about 30 miles in a 100 mile race, feeling fantastic, and keeping pace. There was no “central fatigue” with which to deal, and no tired legs. I felt like a million bucks. This thing will be a snap. Ha ha.
Returning to Hwy ZZ, there are sections of switchback singletrack. Since this was an out-and-back section, I met quite a few runners. They were very courteous, yielding to the out-of-control downhill runners. These downhills were a blast.
In and out of Hwy ZZ with a fresh UCAN, I ran with relative ease to Hwy 67. The sun had finally shown its face, and as it had been raining quite a bit the week approaching the race, the humidity would become an issue. But not yet. I was still on a 10.5 min pace and feeling comfortable, with a bit of leg fatigue. At Hwy 67, I took a lot of ice with my UCAN, and wrapped an ice-filled bandanna around my neck in preparation for the open prairie section. This did the trick. It was hot and humid, but the cool bandanna and ice kept me cool.
I slowed my pace significantly through the prairie towards Emma Carlin. I knew the hills that were to come, and running at the faster pace in the heat would not have been prudent. Still, I felt pretty good coming into Emma Carlin. So with a quick refuel and kick in the butt, I was out of there and back into the cooler (so I thought) forested section back to Bluff.
Funny thing, but the humidity seemed to be trapped under the forest foliage. I sure was feeling it here, both mentally and physically. The PUD hills and humidity were wearing me down. My legs were not tired, but everything else became a burden. I found myself slouching, with very sore shoulders and back. The miles, which ticked off so easily before, now seemed to double in length. And the UCAN, which was giving me a steady drip of energy throughout, started making my stomach feel bloated, like I had just eaten 500 pretzels. Coming into Bluff, I was in a sorry state. Beth wrung sponges of ice water on my back, which helped a lot. Food looked worse than the UCAN so I continued with the same fueling schedule. I vowed to revive my negative attitude into Nordic.
To counteract those negative feelings, Beth and I planned on a sock change at Nordic. A pick me up.
And then I was out of Bluff and headed back to the Nordic start-finish to start my second out-and-back. I lost a bit of my sanity on that 7 mile stretch. What once felt totally doable now seemed unfathomable. My brain was wreaking havoc, and I was unprepared for the lengths my it was willing to go to get me to stop. My legs were fine, yet I couldn't imagine running a measly 38 more miles. After what seemed like hours, I came into Nordic in a terrible mental state.
I was miserable, my stomach felt worse, my back and shoulders were killing me, and I sat down to change my socks. Big mistake. Terrible mistake. Fatal mistake. I should have changed my stupid socks at Bluff! I wanted to quit in the worse way. I started to shiver, and nausea was wracking my body. What I needed to do was get back moving again; to get the leg-heart system back in gear. Walk to the next station if need be, and quit there if I still felt so compelled.
And then the heavens opened, sealing my mental fate.
I told Beth that “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I turned in my timing chip and left, feeling dejected.
I really had no reason to be so morose. I had just run 63 miles, by far my longest single distance to date. My legs held out fine and could have continued. But I quit, and I wished I hadn't. I learned a TON though (see previous post), whose lessons I plan on applying to next year’s race.
I ran the race using a single waist-pack water bottle, usually filled with UCAN. My shoes were my trusty Inov8 F-lite 230's. I've been using this model for the last 5 years, and they are still my favorites for hard-packed singletrack.
Thank you all to the fantastic RD, wonderful aid station volunteers, everyone who was following my progress, and of course my wife and crew, Beth. It was a fantastic experience, and even though I failed to finish, I am aware of the wonderful gifts God has provided. We’ll get ‘er done next year!