Traversing 100 miles on foot over rocky hilly trails is a grueling task. It will hurt. It will challenge every ounce of your body and soul. It will be rewarding in a way that cannot be explained to someone who hasn't done it.
Training partner Dennis Hanna and I tackle our goal of completing this 100 miler as a team. We've trained together, researched, planned, organized. Barring extreme circumstances, we will stick together through this journey.
Our plan is simple. 1. Keep moving forward. 2. Stay as comfortable as possible.
Simple. But not easy.
Though we've prepared a pace chart, its not so much as a plan, as merely an estimate. We need to pay close attention to how we feel, and let that dictate our pace. If we push too hard too early, we will pay for it later.
We start at 6am among a field of 216 intending to do 100 miles, and another 70 on board for 100K. We chat with other runners that we know, meet some new folks, and settle into a comfortable pace.
When we arrived at the aid station at mile 7.5, the line for the potty was too long. We decided to continue on and look for some nice underbrush. I found an adequate spot, and as quickly and discretely as I could, I answered nature's call. I returned to the trail, and right away, felt something just wasn't quite right. There was something uncomfortable going on in my personal area. I tried discretely to rectify the issue with no luck. OK, now I need to try less discrete options. I reached into the liner of my shorts, and pulled out enough foliage to make a side salad, and a stick that a small dog could fetch. Since this housekeeping task couldn't be veiled, I proudly announced "Well, this could be the problem." Fortunately, my humbling moment provided some comic relief to my fellow runners.
The weather today is an absolute gift. Low humidity, temperatures ranging from 50s to upper 70s, sunshine, and a strong breeze. We were spanked by mother nature last time, with extreme heat during the day, and pouring rain at night. Today's strong breeze tempers the warm sun yielding much appreciated environmental comfort.
We make our journey from aid station to aid station, eating a variety of small snacks each time. Our plan with nutrition is to eat what looks good, in small amounts, and try not to get sick of anything. Your body will tell you what it needs if you listen closely. Potato chips at one stop will give much needed salt and fat. PBJ at then next gives some protein, starch and sugar. All will be necessary, but small doses are important to keep your snacks moving in a one way direction.
Along the way, we chat with lots of other runners. Sometimes we never see faces, others we see as we leap-frog when our syncopated run/walk schedules intersect.
We don't always get people's names which we are not likely to remember anyway, so we dispense impromptu nicknames to our fellow runners. We say hello to 'Bright Yellow Shirt Guy', 'Crazy Shorts Guy', 'Rockford Girl', and 'Brazil Tattoo Guy', when we see them after we've shared part of our journey with them.
About mile 57 we got a surprise visit from Dennis' daughter Abby and her fiance Joey. They had checked the webcast, consulted our pace chart, started running up the course from the Nordic center (which is the start/finish and also mile 62). When we came upon them, they were recalculating, checking something on Joey's phone and saying 'They should be here any minute'. Tah Dah!
Abby and Joey are experienced marathoners, and have done a bit of trail running. Though not ultra runners (yet), they were so mindful and respectful of our endeavor. They kept just behind us, careful to make sure we set the pace. They took cues from us to determine what would help us the most. They provided a welcome diversion, and we chatted about funny family stories, and their upcoming wedding. We shared a few of our stories of our day, and just truly enjoyed their company. It was very energizing.
Unfortunately, our energy yielded a bit of insensitivity to a fellow runner. What we so appreciated Abby and Joey doing for us, we failed to do for first-timer Dave Jesse. While distracted and chatting with Abby and Joey, we all of a sudden saw Dave Jesse heading outbound for his second leg of the journey. Before we had a chance to assess his condition, we blurted out enthusiastically "Hey Dave!"
If you know Dave, you know he is always friendly, energetic, and talkative. A split second after cheering for him, we realized he was struggling acutely. He was head down, moving forward, not acknowledging anyone or anything. Fortunately, he was with a pacer, who would keep him company, and take care of him. Our cheers were understandably not the appropriate gesture. We felt terrible, and completely understood, and could feel exactly what Dave was going through. We learned the following day that he dropped not long after that.
We arrived at Nordic just before 10pm, thanked Abby and Joey, and headed out for our second leg. The next 7 hours will be the toughest. With 62 miles behind us, and 38 in front of us, the quiet darkness of the night seems to suck every last ounce of energy out of you. Combine that with the fact that we are now traveling away from the finish, the mental challenge surpasses the physical one.
Within a half mile of leaving Nordic, we see our friend Dawn Chavez coming in, about to complete her first 100K. We stopped and congratulated her. She was relieved to know she was so close to the finish. We could feel her emotion, and we both got choked up.
I cannot imagine running the night section alone. Many people have pacers who are joining them for this stretch. Many are completely alone. I am so grateful that Dennis and I stay together from start to finish. I could not do this without him. There is something about sharing every step leading up to this point, that comforts me through this most difficult part.
We pull each other through the next 7 hours. We both had a couple minor hallucinations to entertain us. Dennis saw a monkey on the side of the trail waiting to cross, and I saw a giant poodle that Dennis nearly stepped on. I also saw a creature that I could only describe as an amphibious squirrel.
Between the darkness, fatigue, and rugged terrain, our pace slowed to a 24 minute mile. Reaching the turn-around at Rice Lake offered minor encouragement, as we now were heading towards the finish. Daylight emerging brought us a bit more energy.
We yearned to arrive at the Hwy 12 aid station. We could hear the trucks on Hwy 12 for a good 30 minutes before we got there. We knew it was near, but it was coyly eluding us. Every turn we made we looked for the familiar descent to the road crossing. But instead, every turn revealed more distance between us and our coveted oasis.
Finally, the familiar wooden timber steps leading down to the road were under our feet. Highway 12 is a major mental milestone. It is the last bag-drop location. We know that the worst terrain is behind us. With only 14 miles left, we are in the home stretch. We drop off our lights, pick up some Diet Coke, and grab a breakfast of string cheese, and an Oreo cookie, chewy from being out all night, that actually tastes good in our calorie depleted and sleep deprived condition.
After taking some time to digest our breakfast, and absorbing some much appreciated daylight, we felt re-energized. We felt amazingly good for the circumstances. We mostly jogged and walked very little. We just kept moving forward, and reveled in our relative comfort.
We took advantage of the relatively friendly terrain between Highway 12 and Highway H and jogged most of that section. After crossing H, we have one big killer hill to climb, where the trail resorts to switchbacks to make the ascent practical. We are at mile 92 of our journey. Other runners are few and far between. Its about 8am.
Out of nowhere we hear 'There you two are!' from the top of the hill. We look up, and see Jim Szyjakowski, running friend and accomplished ultra runner. 'You guys are doing great' he adds. Wow! Another surprise! We were so grateful that he had gone out of his way to come support us. He offered to take my extra shirt that I had tied around my waste a few miles ago, and gloves that were no longer needed. Small gestures like these are a big deal, and hugely add to being comfortable.
At our fourth and final visit at the Tamarack aid station, the awesome Mary Gorski treated us to some pancakes. Seeing Mary's cheerful mug each time was almost as much of a treat as the wonderful food she served. We love you, Mary!
We were grateful for every step that continued to feel comfortable, knowing things could change very quickly. Around mile 97 we both started to fade. We had gotten a bit lazy with our nutrition and liquids at the last aid station, and hadn't properly hydrated for our final 5 miles as the temperatures climbed into the upper 70s.
Though we've traveled this section of the course many many times, and 4 times in the past 28 hours, the last 3 miles seemed to have been stretched to double their length. They went on forever. We walked about 95% of the last 3 miles.
When the finish was finally in sight and within reach, we conjured up enough strength to jog the rest of the way in. Unfortunately, our 47 minute PR caught our families off guard, and we arrived at the finish before any of them. Fortunately Jim had run on ahead, and captured our picture as we crossed the finish. Our official finish time - 28 hours 19 minutes and 51 seconds.
Within minutes of crossing the finish, we did something we hadn't done for over 28 hours. We sat down. We sat on the ground, in the shade. Our families arrived within minutes. We began sharing stories of our past 28 hours.
Finally relaxing and visiting with family, we looked over and saw Cobbie Behrend, in street clothes, chatting with finishers. We had last seen Cobbie about 10pm last night early in our Rice Lake leg. He was heading into Nordic. Cobbie was also doing the 100 mile, and would soon start his Rice Lake leg. We looked for him as we returned from Rice Lake, but didn't see him. We went over and talked to him, and learned he had dropped out after completing 68 miles, his farthest run, and was there greeting finishers the following morning. What a great guy!
With our mission completed, we reflect on what things we did well, and what we can improve next time. We are grateful that we are 2 for 2 in completing 100 miles. We take nothing for granted, knowing how difficult this is physically, mentally and emotionally.
Congratulations to all who started. Thank you to all volunteers. Thank you to family and friends that came out to see us. Thank you to Dennis, for sharing this entire experience with me.