Training partner Dennis Hanna and I signed up for the Fall 50, a scenic road 50 miler in Door County, WI. The event focuses on being a relay of 10 legs, for teams with up to 5 runners, but also offers a solo event. The event is capped at 400 teams and 200 solo runners.
For those outside of Wisconsin, Door County is the little pinkie of Wisconsin that sticks into Lake Michigan, creating Green Bay (the body of water, not the city). Door County is a popular vacation place for Wisconsinites, and many Chicagolanders. It is the Cape Cod of Wisconsin, with incredible scenery, lots of nature, and zero franchises. Every store and restaurant north of Sturgeon Bay is a non-chain, locally owned establishment, yielding a very quaint charm to all of the small towns. (Thank you Dennis for helping me with that description.)
Bill and I, being transplants from Illinois and Michigan, are Door County neophytes. We've only been there a small handful of times. Dennis however, is a Door County guru. He and his family have been going to Door County 2 to 3 times a year for about 25 years. He can tell you everything about every store, restaurant, hotel, road, short cut, park, trail, landmark, etc. On our drive up, we were treated to a plethora of important trip tidbits, including where Dennis' son Andrew had his first Happy Meal... which was in Two Rivers, WI.
Bill, Dennis and I made the 3+ hour trip to Door County on Friday afternoon. Packet pickup was first on the agenda, where we got the best race shirt ever. Its not a running shirt, but a thermal long sleeve shirt. With stacks and stacks of running shirts, this everyday shirt is a nice change of pace.
After packet pickup, we made a few shopping stops. Door County Coffee, an orchard market with lots of fee samples, and a candy store.
After brief shopping we headed to our hotel. Dennis' wife Jan had found the Liberty Park Lodge, and bartered a great deal for us. A very charming place with wood floors and a fireplace, it was conveniently less than 10 miles from start. Many many thanks to Jan! After a nice dinner at the Northern Grill, we went back to the hotel. Dennis met us down in the lobby, Bill and I with our laptops intending to do a little work before bed time. However, vacation brain set in, and I decided I would much rather enjoy working on a jigsaw puzzle with Dennis, while Bill worked.
Door County is also known for its fall colors. The Fall 50 is scheduled right after the peak of the colors. This works well, because hotel rooms are at a premium up until the peak.
We headed to the start at about 6:15 am, in complete darkness. The solo runners start at 7am, relay teams are staged at 8am, 9am and 10am, depending on their projected finish time. Speediest teams last. The intent is to get people to finish in a narrower time span than if everyone started at the same time.
All runners have both front and back bibs. Number ranges indicate 'Solo' or 'Relay' and wave assignment. This way, as someone passes you, you know whether they are a solo runner, or relay runner, and what time they started.
The course runs from the tippy top of Door County in Gills Rock, and basically runs south, hugging the shore when possible, and ends in Sturgeon Bay.
Dennis and I meandered to the start corral, while Bill staked out a good picture spot. In the field of runners, we find friends Ashley Kumlien and Aaron Schneider. Team AAa has been making the rounds at the North Face endurance challenge series
. Ashley is running all of the events in the series this year - the 50 milers, which are held on Saturdays, and the half marathons that are held on the following day. The most recent of these events was... last weekend! Yes, she did a 50 miler AND a half marathon just a few days ago.
We listened to the pre-race announcements. We learn that this year they have a record number of 175 signed up for the solo run. Race director, Sean Ryan, instructs us "Just keep going south until someone hands you a beer."
Bill plans to see us at aid stations 2, 4, 6 and 8. (There are 9 aid stations total.) For planning purposes, we estimated an 8:45 min per mile pace for me, and 11:00 for Dennis. I assure Bill that I will not be faster than that. Realistically, we estimate that I will finish in about seven and a half hours, and Dennis in about nine and a half.
We started with temperatures in the 40s, overcast, and no wind. Within the first mile, I hooked up with Team AAa, and we were joined by Karen Shoenrock. I met Karen a few years ago at the Glacial Trail 50K. She led the women's field until an improperly marked course sent her and a few lead men in the wrong direction. I caught up to her after she returned to the correct course. (The markings had been corrected by the time I got there.) I ended up winning, but always knew that she would have won it if she had stayed on course.
The 4 of us ran together for much of the first 10 miles, sharing running and racing stories, and really enjoying our journey together. We hooked up with the famous Roy Pirrung as we approached aid station #2. To my amazement, he remembered my name from when I met him on this course 3 years ago. We chatted a bit about our upcoming schedules, and found that we have 1 upcoming marathon in common. (No, I am not going to tell you which one... you will have to come back later to find out.. ok, early December.)
I stopped in a porta-potty at the aid station. Seconds after taking a seat, the door flew open, immediately closed, and I heard a very apologetic "Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!... the thing (lock indicator) was still green." Uh, my fault. I forgot to slide the latchie thing and lock the door. Really, no big deal for me. You do enough trail running, and you get pretty relaxed about the whole going potty thing.
After the aid station, we pretty much scattered. I saw Team AAa briefly in the next couple miles. I saw Roy on and off for the next ten miles. I saw Karen ahead of me for many miles.
About mile 15, we enter Peninsula State park, one of the most popular state parks in Wisconsin. The entire course is gorgeous, but Peninsula park is the absolute gem. We spend the next nine miles of the course among brilliant fall colors, and winding roads and trails, scenic bluffs. Absolutely stunning.
As a numbers nut, my brain likes to play little math games at mile markers. In a marathon, when I get to mile 17, its a bit of a milestone, its the point where you only have single digit number of miles remaining. Today, at mile 17, I get to say I am a third of the way done.
We arrive at aid station 4 right after we finish the section in Peninsula Park. Bill gave me a Diet Coke, and I headed to the aid station for a bite to eat. I surveyed the offerings, and decided on about a quarter of a chocolate chip cookie. At the end of the table, the Friends of Peninsula State Park
, an organization dedicated to preserving the park, is selling t-shirts and sweatshirts. I had forgotten to pack a sweatshirt to wear after the run, and had wanted to shop for one today. Tah Dah! Perfect.
I turned to Bill 'Hey, will you buy me this sweatshirt?", and as I headed back on to the course, between chugs of my Diet Coke, I added "Size Small". Now THIS is my kind of clothes shopping!
When I got to aid station 6, I was still feeling good, but knew I was slowing down. I was just a bit behind schedule. I asked Bill how Dennis was doing. Back at aid station 4, he was doing well.
That information is now about 10 miles old, and a lot can happen in 10 miles, but I was happy to know that things were still going well for him after 24 miles.
Somewhere in the upper 30s, I caught up to Karen. We ran together for a bit, and then I pulled ahead. At this point, we were doing a pace in the low 9s. I was fatigued, but still reasonably comfortable with this pace.
By the time I got to the low 40s, things were steadily deteriorating. I arrived at aid station 8, and really wished they had named it the Fall 43. I walked out of the aid station while eating my last bit of food for the run, a small Pay Day candy bar that I had stashed in my water belt pocket, and the only thing that sounded appealing at that moment.
I learned from Bill that Dennis was still doing very well and about 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Ashley, however, was hurting pretty bad, and had laid down by the aid station for a bit.
I struggled to return to running. Each mile got a little bit slower, and significantly more painful. Nothing specific, it just hurt from my toes up. The cumulative fatigue from seven marathons and one 50 miler in the preceding 6 weeks was catching up to me.
I tried to enjoy the sun and beautiful scenery, but I couldn't help but just watch the remaining miles slowly tick away. In all of my recent marathons, when I get to the point where I am about 90 to 95% done, my muscles seem to say to me "Hey, are we almost done? Cuz, uh, we'd really like to be done."
When I got to mile 45, every fiber in my entire body, with clenched teeth and the exaspiration of a mom with children that have been bickering for hours, said to me "KNOCK IT OFF."
Everything hurt so much, involuntary and audible whimpers were escaping from my mouth. Fortunately, no one was within ear shot. Then a relay runner passed me. His bib was a 3000 number, which meant his team started at 10 am. He offered compassionate encouragement and told me something like "good work, keep it up". I mustered up enough composure for a few seconds to briefly feign enjoyment in this torturous activity. He passed me like he was a teenager absconding with Dad's shiny corvette, and I was a little old lady that could barely see over the steering wheel in her rusty 1972 Ford Pinto.
I kept going. I didn't walk, for fear that I would not be able to resume running. By mile 48, I had slowed to a 10 minute pace, which is mathematically advantageous. Each tenth of a mile is one minute, so I was able to count down every single tenth of a mile in my head. 1.9 left... 1.8 left... 1.7 left... ok, this approach sucks. OK. Pick out a tree up ahead, and look at your watch when you get to it.... wait wait wait. OK, 1.5 miles left.... 1.1 mile left... 0.7 miles left... OK - now the turn into the park! I can hear the finish line! I can see the finish line! Ah hah! I can CROSS the finish line!
I finished, and I swear, I could not have run another step if you set me on fire, which probably would not have significantly affected the extent of my discomfort.
Bill collected me, and with the speed of a sleepy turtle, we headed to the van so that I could change out of sweat soaked clothes, put on my brand new Peninsula Park sweatshirt,
and then go out to cheer for Dennis on the course. A bit of quick math, and I figured we could get to the last aid station, and get out and cheer. My legs were not going to allow anything more than that. Early in the day, I had delusions of being able to run him in for his last 5 miles. That notion was LONG gone... and laughing at me... maniacally.
As we headed down the course, we spotted Dennis, still ahead of schedule, at about mile 47. He looked strong. I knew he was hurting, but he was holding it together way better than I had. We asked if he needed anything, and he requested a Pay Day candy bar. We handed it to him. At the same time, he was trying to ask me "What was your time?" Keep in mind this exchange is happening between a moving runner and a moving car, on a road that is open to traffic. We were trying to ask him what he needed, get it to him, and not kill anyone, as he was trying to find out how I did. He ended up asking 3 times, each time getting more firm, due to fatigue, and the fact that repeating yourself after running 47 miles is exponentially less fun than doing it before you run 47 miles. We finally told him "7:47".
Bill and I headed back to the finish area. Because the parking is relatively far from the finish area, we didn't have much time to dawdle. After running 50 miles, the few hundred yards might as well be 3 miles. I gathered a Diet Coke and a sweatshirt for Dennis, and we walked to the finish line.
We didn't have to wait long, and along came Dennis. He crossed the finish line in 8:57. A sub 9! Significantly under his A goal of 9:10, and B goal of 9:30. Words cannot express how excited I am about this. I am so jazzed... every fiber in my body is now shouting "Yay!" And likely simultaneously muttering "Thank God she stopped."
We were both hurting, and very glad to be done. End-of-race nausea quickly turns to hunger, so Dennis and I went into the post race tent for pizza and beer. Poor Bill had to patiently wait outside, since they charged $20 for non-participants. The pizza was good, but it wasn't THAT good. Dennis and I exchanged the stories of our day, while we refueled our depleted bodies.
After filling our tummies, we walked 3 miles to the van, or so it felt, and headed home. We stopped at the nearest McDonald's to feed Bill, and get our beloved McBuckets of Diet Coke.
I guess you could call the last eight miles a crash-and-burn. It was significantly more painful than the hundred miler Dennis and I did in June. I am not one bit embarrassed, or bothered or upset by it at all. Any time you sign up for a race, there is a possibility of the C-A-B. It could happen because you did something wrong, it could happen when you do everything right. Its just part of the deal. In my case, I believe it was the cumulative affect of a busy September, and I simply look at it as the price of admission. And to me, it was totally worth it. I like doing marathons and ultras, and I like to do lots of them.
The last eight miles today were physically very unpleasant, but it is an experience that I am glad to have had. Everything else was damn near perfect. It was a wonderful road trip with Bill and Dennis. I enjoyed running with Ashley, Aaron, Karen and Roy. I was absolutely thrilled to be able to see Dennis finish shattering his 50 mile PR by 2 hours, finishing in the top half of the men's field and top 40% of his age group.
I have absolutely no regrets, and would not change a single thing.... Well, maybe, looking back, maybe I could have locked the porta-potty door. Maybe.