Running partner Dennis and I opted for the 100K this year. Though we did the 100M last year (2010 KM100M Recap
) and had planned to do it again this year, due to Dennis' triple hernia surgery in March, and me having the flu for much of April, we decided to drop to the 100K for 2011.
Our ultra experience includes last year's 100 miler, a couple 50 milers, some 50Ks, and the KM 38 mile fun run in 2009. We also have the confidence of surviving the brutal weather of last year - when mild consistent temperatures were predicted, and no precipitation, and instead we had upper 80s, then a nice drizzle, several hours of torrential rains, then 50s. When Dennis talked me into doing the 100 miler again, on the Tuesday following last year's event, he said "at least the weather can't be worse." I think mother nature heard him say that, and took it as a challenge.
Though we didn't have the mileage that we did for last March and April, our May training was pretty good, with a 30+ mile training run every weekend. We felt pretty confident at the start.
The weather forecast was for highs in the 80s, and little chance for rain. We figured, that's what we had last year, and it wasn't predicted, so, we weren't terribly worried. We packed clothing for rain, heat, and cold.
The race starts at 6am, and the cutoff for the 100K is at midnight - 18 hours. That seems quite doable, working out to about a 17 minute mile, which doesn't seem that intimidating. Keep in mind that includes stops at aid stations, which can end up being 15 to 20 minutes, and walking the uphills, walking while digesting food, etc.
The start temperature was 78 degrees. The first 5 miles went well. We both felt good, we were in the shade, chatting with other runners, joking around, having fun. We got to the first aid station, run by Mary and Dave Gorski, refilled our bottles, and continued on our way.
Then things went downhill. Dennis started having 'tummy issues'. And all runners know exactly what that means. That lead to an all over feeling of general 'yuckiness' (technical runner jargon). I know this feeling well. It can strike for no apparent reason. You just feel like crap from head to toe. But you just keep running, and hope you feel better.
We continued on our journey. The 100K course is an out and back. We travel 31.6 miles to the turn around at Scuppernong. The first 16 miles are mostly in the shade. The next 8 miles are mostly exposed - I'd say 90% out in the open. The remaining 7 miles out are about 70% shade.
For those doing the math 31.6 times 2 is 63.2, which is a tad more than 100K, which is 62 miles. Yep, trail ultras are generally longer than their name. Start/finish areas and turn-arounds need to be at locations that are accessible for spectators, crew, aid stations and supplies. Remote trails don't offer many spots for that, so courses wind along the trails between accessible points.
As we made our way to Scuppernong, I was feeling strong, and Dennis was feeling like crap. A few times, Dennis hinted that he might DNF, or if he didn't, I should go ahead without him. I knew it was unlikely Dennis would actually drop. He is tough as hell, and ALWAYS does the mileage that he plans to do. Our only issue would be if he wasn't able to make the cutoff times. We do this as a team, and I was not going to go ahead without him.
We entered the exposed section of the course, called 'The Meadows' at about 9:45am. This is right after the Emma Carlin aid station. The next 8 miles were fairly brutal as the sun pounded down on us. There were a couple of unmanned aid stations providing ice and water. Normally, the 20+ oz water bottles we carry are good for about 7 to 9 miles on a warm day. We were going through them in just over 2 miles.
We arrived at the Highway ZZ crossing and aid station around 12:30pm. I still felt strong, and Dennis still felt lousy, but was hanging in there. We had 5 more miles until the turn-around, which mentally, will be a big milestone.
Once we hit the turn around at Scuppernong we started heading back. We had about 7 more miles with significant shade.
After the Highway 67 aid station, we knew we'd face the toughest part. The Meadows in the afternoon sun. The next 4 miles would have pretty much 0 shade. We heard a rumor that the temperature, in the shade, was in the low 90s. In the sun, I think it was some where around 'Simmer'. We started our meadow death march around 3:45 pm. We decided the next 8 miles would simply be about survival. It was simply too hot to run. We could see others off in the distance, like ants going up a hill, everyone was walking under the baking sun.
We kept anticipating our arrival at Emma Carlin. Arriving there would mean we were half way back, and we'd return to the shady course that we were fairly familiar with. The meadows went on forever. We talked about what we needed to do at Emma Carlin. Its a bag drop location, so we have a bag of our stuff there. We'd need to go potty, pick up our flashlights, possibly change shirts, pick up some more ginger for potentially upset tummies, pick up hats, drop off sunglasses, eat something substantial, and drink something with caffeine.
Side note - 'substantial' when referring to eating during an ultra means about 1/4 of a turkey or pbj sandwich, a small cube of cheese, and a slice of watermelon, and wash it down with about 4 oz of Coke or Mountain Dew - about 120 to 150 calories. Yep, that's dinner. Consuming more than that at one time, especially in the heat, is not likely to stay in the tummy. We ate like this about 4 times during the event.
We finally arrived at Emma Carlin around 6pm, and took care of all of our tasks, and headed out about 15 minutes later. The heat and long day finally took a toll on me, and I started to feel pretty tired. We simply survived from aid station to aid station. Next stop was the unmanned Horseman's camp, 3.1 miles.
I kept my eye on the time. We had to finish by midnight. When we saw Bill at ZZ I had guessed that we'd finish around 11pm. We slowed quite a bit between Emma Carlin and Horseman's. Even though we were finally protected from the sun, the course gets much hillier for our final 15.8 miles.
Though we felt like we were moving fairly well, it took nearly an hour to travel the 3.1 miles. I got a little worried. If we slowed much more, we'd start getting too close to that cutoff.
The next 5.2 miles to the Bluff Road aid station went a bit faster. We wanted to get there before dark, and we succeeded. We got there before 9pm.
Our remaining 7.5 miles are on the wide Nordic ski trail loop. This section is repeated for the 100 milers who start their second leg which takes them to Rice Lake and back. Footing here is pretty good, and there's plenty of room to pass the oncoming 38 mile fun runners who started at 8pm, and the outbound 100 milers.
During this stretch, it became completely dark, and I became completed fatigued. I was SOOOO ready to be done. My legs, feet, ankles, hips, and toes were all sore from fatigue.
With just under 5 miles to go, we reach Mary Gorski's Tamarack aid station, where we both savored a 1/4 of a grilled cheese sandwich, and a child's portion of candy.
The last few miles grew more uncomfortable with every step. As we would see 100 milers heading outbound, I could not imagine heading out on this trail a second time. If you offered me a million dollars, and put a gun to my head, I don't think I could have started that journey to Rice Lake. I know we did it last year, but the mere thought of having to travel this section again made me cringe.
We watched the final mile markers count down (only 5 miles are marked) . 4, then 3, then 2, then finally the last mile marker. Just 1 mile to go. That mile took forever! We were mostly walking, but this year, we were able to jog in for our final approach.
We finished in 16 hours and 51 minutes. Last year, we got to this point about 30 minutes quicker, and headed out for 38 more miles.
I was completely humbled by the 100K this year. I was much more sore and tired at this point than at the same point last year. Its hard to say if this year's weather was tougher than last year's. Though we had relentless heat, we did not have the torrential downpours. Last year, we had comfortable conditions for the return trip through the meadows before being battered by hours of pounding rain. This year: stifling heat for all but the last few miles. One thing is for sure, the weather for the first 47 miles was definitely worse this year than last.
This year's event was a brutal reminder of 2 things. 1. Ultras are always tough. 2. Weather can always get worse.