Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kettle Moraine 100K 2012 Report

Saturday, June 2, 2012
La Grange, WI

In case you ever doubted it, 100 kilometers is a long way to run.

I finished my 50 miler in April thinking, "Yeah, I could have kept running," which ultimately led me to signing up for this race.  Finishing this race, I was not thinking about more running.  I was thinking about sitting down and not moving again for a very, very long time.

The Kettle Moraine 100M and 100K is held in (wait for it...) the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest.  We would run 31.6 miles North from the Nordic parking lot, then turn around and run back.  So this 100K was actually 63.2 miles.  And yes, that extra 1.2 miles makes a difference. 

I am lucky that I have spectacular friends, and the wonderful Deana volunteered to come down with her 12 year old daughter, Leigh, to crew for me.  I've never had a crew before and I can't even describe how amazing it felt to see them waiting for me at an aid station after spending hours alone on the trail.  Deana was exactly how I wanted a crew to be: encouraging, but not overly sugar coating things.  Being an ultra runner herself, she understood the nature of running long.  Having a knowledgeable crew is truly invaluable and I am forever grateful to her.

I didn't really train for this race, nor did I expect myself to actually run it.  It was a dream from long ago.  When I first started trail running, I read about this race and saw the copper kettles that finishers got as awards.  I wanted one, but I didn't know quite how to get one.  100K?  No way in hell am I ever going to run 63 miles.  That's just crazy.  Heck, I'm never even going to run a marathon.  And so my dream got shelved.  Fast forward a few years and I had gotten into the ultra scene.  This race was back on my radar big time.  I registered for my first 50 miler in April, intending to run the KM100K if my 50 went well.  I ran a lot of miles earlier this year, then got injured.  I shelved the 100K dream.  I almost shelved the 50 mile dream, but decided to run the race off a 6 week taper.  You know the story.  I finished and I finished feeling great.  But I had missed a lot of training and was hesitant to sign up for this race.  Thankfully I have crazy friends and a certain friend, let's call him...Bob...convinced me that yes, I could indeed do this.  Ultras are more of a mental game than anything and if you know me, you know I'm a stubborn and tenacious mule.  So I signed up.  I lost $100 and whatever little sanity I had left.

The Start:
Who knew that the sun started to rise sometime around 4:30am during June?  Not me.  We arrived at the starting line sometime shortly after 5am, where I picked up my packet and fretted about nothing in particular because who doesn't fret about these sort of things?  We eventually found Thom and Katie before the start and hugs were exchanged.  I also got to see Todd, another forum friend, for the first time since October and grabbed another hug.  He's a damn fine runner and I expected great things out of him for this race.  I told him I'd see him again as we ran in opposite directions on the out and back.  Katie and I stood off to the side of the pack and joked that we would start after everyone else began running.  And soon we did.  Start running that is.  63.2 miles left go.  Intimidating?  Not in the least...

Mile 7.5 (Bluff Road aid station)  7:24am:
This first bit was just easy, zoned out running on the ski trails of the Nordic loop.  Slow down, walk the hills, relax, don't freak out, chit-chat, enjoy, don't freak out, oh, there's a pretty tree.  I knew these first 7.5 miles too well.  I knew every rock, every turn, every hill.  I couldn't decide if that was a good or bad thing.  I ran with a chatty man for a while and that would be the only time where I spent any significant time running with anyone during the entire race.  Smile for the camera, run easy, love this section through the pine needle covered trail.  We crossed a road and pulled into the aid station.  Deana, Leigh, and Thom were waiting for me.  "How are you doing?" they asked.  Fine!  Fine.  It was only 7.5 miles.  I'd better be feeling fine.  I took a quick Port-o-potty stop, exchanged my handheld for my pack and went on my way.

On the Nordic loop early in the race.

Mile 15.4 (Emma Carlin aid station) 9:50am:
The trail switches from the doubletrack ski loop to the singletrack Ice Age Trail that I again knew too well.  My groin started to hurt.  Really?  My groin is going to start hurting just a few hours into an all day race?  Fuuucckkk.  I pulled off at the unmanned aid station of Horseriders (miles 12.7) for another bathroom stop.  Are you starting to sense a pattern already?  You should start to sense a pattern already.  North of Horseriders, the trail was absolutely beautiful.  Smooth sailing singletrack with gorgeous purple flowers lining the trail.  I wasn't feeling great, but I wasn't feeling bad yet either.  Unfortunately my groin was going to start protesting soon.  The day was heating up and the hot, unshaded, open meadows loomed ominously in the distance.  I rolled into Emma Carlin feeling pessimistic.  It was too early in the race to be feeling badly, but I was.  Thom and Deana tried to keep my spirits up here.  I ate banana bread, a PB&J tortilla, and some other things.  I popped my first of many S! Caps.  I was slightly cranky heading into the meadows.

Mile 24.5 (Hwy 67 aid station) 12:17pm:
The infamous meadows.  9 miles of unshaded hell.  I only made it probably a half of a mile before I pulled off behind a lone tree to go to the bathroom yet again.  :facepalm:  I guess I'd rather be peeing too often than not enough, but it was mildly annoying at this point.  It's difficult to pull up sweaty compression shorts that are already covered in vasoline.  But into the meadows I headed with a lot of negative thoughts swirling around in my brain.  This was by far my lowest point.  My groin was hurting to the point where something needed to be done.  It was starting to get warm.  I had forgotten to replace my gel supply, so I only had one gel to get me through these 9 miles.  Everything felt misaligned.  This was the only time the letters DNF passed through my head.  But I did what you do during ultras -- I promised myself that things would get better.  You have to believe that things will get better.  So I ran when I could and walked when I couldn't.  And slowly the miles ticked by.  I came to an unmanned aid station that had a bag of unmelted ice sitting in a tub.  I just about cried out of happiness and shoved as much of it into my pack as I could.  Oh, cold water where have you been all my life?  I also shoved some ice down my back.  Onward.  More meadows.  Finally, less meadows.  More woods.  Then the long awaited aid station.  I think I shouted something about, "PEOPLE!  I am so happy to see people!" as I ran in.  Hugs from Thom as Deana and Leigh tended to my needs.  I'm pretty sure this was the aid station where I was eating watermelon and said out loud, "I told Bob that watermelon doesn't count as food.  I need to eat something else."  More potatoes.  I ate a lot of potatoes.  I grabbed my ibuprofen from my tote and told Deana not to yell at me and took 600mg.  I've never taken it in a race before, but something had to be done about my groin.  I left this aid station feeling slightly better, but still down.

Mile 31.6 (Scuppernong aid station) 2:06pm:
I had grabbed my phone before I left Hwy 67 and had it out on the trail with me.  I made a Facebook status update while walking up a hill.  I also read a lot of encouraging comments from people.  That lifted my spirits.  Runners were flying by in the opposite direction as they made their way back from the turn around.  It was a lot of stepping off the trail and dancing around people.  Todd saw me before I saw him and called out my name.  We exchanged a high five.  He was kicking ass and seeing a friend in the midst of strangers lifted my spirits even further.  Much later down the trail, I ran into Katie, who was absolutely flying and told me that I had only 20 minutes or so till the turn around.  Sweet.  Pick it up.  This section coming into Scuppernong was fairly flat compared to much of the rest of the course and I tried to run some of the smaller hills.  I made it to the turn around in around 8:06 or so.  A slow 50K for sure, but I am a steady runner.  I prefer this method to the banking time crash and burn.  I had mentally prepared for a longer stop here.  I sat in the "beware of the chair" chair as Deana took care of me.  A wonderful volunteer came over and asked what she could get me.  She made me a special cheese only sandwich.  Real Wisconsin cheese and white bread?  Heck yeah, that tasted amazing.  I reapplied Hydropel to my feet and changed socks.  I lingered for a little too long before I was finally ready to head back out.  My watch said that I left with 8:22 ticking away.  Only 31.6 more miles to get back to the car.  No problem?  No problem.

Mile 38.4 (Hwy 67 aid station) 4:04pm:
My mood was steadily improving after I Ieft the halfway point.  There's something about heading in the direction of the finish line that's encouraging.  I was gaining steam.  Soon I was running.  And running.  And holy shit, I felt great!  The ibufropen had quelled my groin pain to a dull ache and I was jamming to my iPod.  This was the best I had felt all race.  I had already run 35 miles and this was the best that I had felt all day?  That's ultra running for you.  I was flying high for these miles.  I passed someone.  Then I passed another person.  And another.  Oh hi, how are you feeling, keep it up, don't mind me, can I squeeze by you, I'm just running right now.  I came into this aid station on top of the world.  Deana told me that I was making up time and was back on schedule.  Awesome.  I'm just going to keep on kicking ass as long as I can.  But I have this blister forming on my left heel?  Sock change again, maybe?  Eh, let's just throw some more Hydropel on it.  I chugged my first Starbucks double shot and thought, "Get me out of here, I'm high on caffeine and ready to take on the meadows again." 

Mile 47.4 (Emma Carlin aid station) 6:15pm:
I went into the meadows in a much better mood the second time around.  I was still running well and listening to my iPod.  The late afternoon sun wasn't as hot and I was having a good time enjoying the beauty of the prairie.  I remembered Jason's mantra of, "I am the luckiest man alive."  And during that time, I felt like I was.  I had to duck into the woods for another bathroom break.  My shorts were so thoroughly coated in vasoline at this point that it was starting to ooze out.  Yum.  As the miles were clicking by, I started to pay attention to my Garmin.  I knew it was going to die soon.  I made a note that I passed through 45 miles in 11:46.  I was going to set a huge 50 mile PR in the middle of this race, but my Garmin would die before I would see it happen.  (It did end up dying at mile 48.66 in 12:39.  That means I could run a sub-13 hour 50.  I was ecstatic with this news.)  I ran into Emma Carlin at a 10 minute mile pace and thought that Deana would be so proud of me that I was ahead of schedule!  I sat in the chair again here and got my feet tended to by a very nice woman named Vicky.  She shared her beeswax blister paste with me and we slathered it over my left heel.  It was at this point during the race that I was allowed to have a pacer.  Deana's daughter Leigh was going to run the next 8.3 miles with me.  A distance PR for her and she was excited about the prospect of night running.  I headed back out into the woods, but this time I had company.

Mile 55.7 (Bluff Road aid station) 9:20pm (?):
I was still running relatively well during my initial time with Leigh.  She talked, I listened, we ran. We cruised through the purple flowers again and I was starting to feel the initial inklings of my unraveling.  I knew I couldn't keep this up for the next 12 miles, but I had to run while I was still able to.  We made it to the unmanned Horseriders aid station.  From here on out, we were back on familiar trail to me.  I knew every damn inch of that trail again. It changed into the hilly, rocky course from the Ice Age Trail 50K.  I could tell that I was coming undone.  My walk breaks were becoming more frequent and my power hiking up the hills was fading into a slow, hands on my knees struggle.  My groin was starting to ache again and a general fatigue was starting to set in. But I had Leigh to distract me and I learned that middle school hasn't changed much since I was there.  She was an excellent pacer.  Upbeat and always willing to tell me a story.  I'm afraid I rambled away to her for a while as well, telling her that most people grow up to be nice people, but sometimes people are still going to be assholes and you shouldn't be friends with the assholes.  We made it to the top of Bald Bluff just before dusk.  It was gorgeous looking out over the farmlands of my home state with hues of pink and orange in the sky.  I had come over 54 miles and here I was, standing at the highest point on the course watching the sunset.  It was magical.  Shortly after this, we literally ran into Thom, who was just starting his 38 mile fun run.  He shoved me and called me a "fucker" (and in front of a 12 year old, sheesh, Thom), which is his form of a term of endearment.  Leigh and I left his potty mouth and rolled into the last crewed aid station during those first few minutes of darkness.  There wasn't much to be done anymore.  I just needed whatever it took to get me to the finish line, only 7.5 hilly miles away now.  Deana earned crew of the year by touching my feet and putting duct tape over my now popped heal blister.  She took off my Garmin for me and switched my watch over to my left wrist.  She put a long sleeve shirt and gloves into my pack.  I felt like a little kid.  I hugged Deana and I hugged Leigh, thanking her for being an awesome pacer.  I felt very, well, for lack of a better word, blessed, as I left that aid station and headed off into the pure darkness of the night.

 Mile 63.2 (Start/Finish) 11:35pm
How hard can it be to run 7.5 miles?  Turns out that it can be pretty damn hard.  I made my way through the first few miles with one thing on my mind that kept me going -- I get to see Ian.  Ian was a friend who was volunteering at the Tamarack aid station and who I hadn't met in person yet.  So as I ran through the night, I thought about just getting to Ian.  Getting to Ian meant that I would visit my last aid station and have a mere 5 miles left to go.  I was still able to run at this point, but it wasn't pretty at times.  Slightly after 10pm, I heard a power generator in the middle of the woods.  Then I saw lights.  IAN!  AID STATION!  I met Ian and he gave me the greatest 58.3 mile hug even though I was sweaty, covered in salt and vasoline and thoroughly disgusting.  He talked with me the whole time at this aid station and I grabbed some cheese quesadilla for the road home. 

It's hard to put into words those last 5 miles on the trail.  There was a huge flood of people in the opposite direction for a while as fun runners and 100 milers went back out on the trail from the start/finish area.  Some of them were zombies, barely grunting in acknowledgment as I told them to keep it up.  Headlamps were constantly bobbing in the darkness coming toward me.  My iPod died with 3 miles left to go and soon I was alone in the woods as the flow of people had eased up.  3 miles between me and the finish line.  With no people, no pacer, and no music, I was down to mostly walking.  I would run for a minute and go back to walking.  Walk, walk, run, walk, walk.  Breathe.  I stopped every now and again with my hands on my knees and stood there, not moving.  But not moving is not relentless forward motion, so I would force myself to start walking again.  I started counting down by the half mile.  Half miles dragged on for decades.  I wish I could say that I thought about all sorts of inspirational things at this time, but I didn't.  I thought about moving forward.  Just keep moving forward.  It was a slow process.  Finally I came up to the 1 mile sign.  I was probably the most emotional here, seeing that sign.  But after that sign, I ran again.  I could hear traffic as the trail snaked alongside the highway.  It's emotionally draining in that last mile.  Physically, your body has nothing left to give.  Your legs will stop working if you stop, so you just keep going.  There was a lone headlamp coming toward me in the dark.  A voice said, "You're moving well, runner, keep it up."  Mandy?  Brenda?  I stopped to give my friend Brenda a hug and I yelled back at her as I took off toward to finish line, "I'm going to fucking finish!"  And so I ran with nothing left to give.  I knew I had to take a left turn before I would see the finish line and kept waiting, waiting, waiting for it.  It was agony mixed with excitement waiting for that turn.  Then there were red numbers of the clock glowing in the distance of the moon illuminated night.  I let out a yell as loud as I could and turned on my ultra sprint.  The finish line was quiet as I approached.  "What's your number!" someone called as I was coming, wanting to distinguish if I was a 100 mile runner heading for the aid station or a 100K finisher.  "348!" I called back as clearly as I could.  "100Ker coming in!" and the finish line cheered.  I don't remember quite what I did when I finished, but I'm pretty sure that I one of the first words out of my mouth was chair.  I sunk into one of our crew chairs and Katie accosted me with her phone camera in all of my salty glory.  Timo, one of the RDs, handed me my long awaited kettle and asked me if I drank beer.  I was coherent enough to say, yes, yes I definitely drank beer, and was rewarded with my new favorite bottle opener.

I officially finished 63.2 miles in 17:35:24.  I made it before midnight.

In Conclusion:
I am, indeed, the luckiest woman alive in many ways.  This race was a total dream and I can't believe that I made it.  To my friends and the people that got me here, thank you, thank you, thank you.  I have spectacular people in my life.  I don't know how I got so lucky.  Thank you most of all to Deana and Leigh, my amazingly wonderful crew and pacers.

So I know many of you are going to ask when the 100 miler is.  And I can safely say not for a while yet.  Could I have gone another 37 miles on Saturday?  No.  But could I have gone farther than I did?  Yes.  And that yes means that I will run 100 miles someday, but not this year.  Maybe not even next year, but someday.  I need the pain to fade a little more.  And I'm ready to be on the other side of vasoline again.  Who needs a crew or a pacer?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Mandy, these "regular runner" race reports are way more inspiring for me than the elite and top-of-the-pack reports. You did a great job of putting me in the moment. Hope you recover well from your recent surgery. I'm sure you'll do physical therapy but if you have access to ART therapy, I've found that helpful in the past.