Dennis made me do this.
I say that with a smile, and tongue-in-cheek.
In anticipation of doing the Kettle Moraine 100 Miler next year, running partner Dennis suggested we do a fall 50 miler or two. We did the North Face marathon last year and enjoyed it. Its well organized event, nice course, only 15 minutes from home and Dean Karnazes shows up to give out the awards.
Dennis and I have both read Dean's book 'Ultramarathon Man'. We like to have fun with our admiration for the accomplished runner donning classic good looks and say that every time he smiles, light-beam spokes emit from his teeth and you hear a 'ding'... and I am pretty sure an angel gets his wings, too.
So back in July, Dennis suggested we sign up for the North Face 50 Miler. I looked at the date, saw my calendar was open, said okay, and then with one eyebrow up and one eyebrow down realized: "Um, that's 6 days after my Ironman."
"It will be fine." Dennis said after giving it roughly a millisecond of thought. "It's a 13 hour cut-off, we'll just take our time, the important thing, in preparing for KM100, is simply time-on-feet."
I thought for a few milliseconds, shrugged, and agreed to sign up. I knew there was significant potential for this to be a giant mistake, but I was willing to take that chance. Besides, a spectacular failure can make a great story. Win-win.
Ironman went well, and I was definitely glad to be done with the intense pressure I had put on myself for that event.
I was so much more relaxed for North Face. So relaxed, that I had to remind myself that 50 miles IS a big deal. Dennis and I have done 2 trail 50 milers, and I have done 1 road 50 miler. We've only run farther than 50 miles twice: Kettle Moraine 100 miler in June of 2010, and Kettle Moraine 100K (62 miles) this past June.
We arrived at the start about 4:20 am. In my relaxedness, I had forgotten my water bottle/belt. Duh! What a dork! For a trail run, your water bottle is just about as important as CLOTHES. We didn't have enough time to rush back to my house and still make the 5:00 start. Dennis dug up an old water bottle/belt from under the seat of his car, next to an escaped gas receipt from 2003.
We started at 5am in the dark. The sun was up by the time we got to the first drop bag and we were able to leave our flashlights there. The porta-potties prominently displayed their company name "Number One", which forced us to make childish jokes and one of us to tattle to aid station volunteers that the other did not heed that restriction.
We chatted with several other runners. We always have to find out where people are from, how many 50s they have done, and why they chose this one. Being local, we take this area for granted a bit. The fact that people travel from Iowa, Florida and New York reminds us how lucky we are to have this extensive trail system in the Kettle Moraine.
We spent some time with Robin from New York. She completed Ironman Louisville just a few weeks ago, and was training for her first 100 miler. We also talked a bit with Benny, who now lives in Iowa, but moved from South Africa about 5 years ago. He was doing is first ultra.
The first 21 miles went by quickly. We arrived at the McMiller aid station (photo above) nearly 2 hours before the intermediate cut off. Up to this point, I didn't even know what mile we were on. I was only using my watch to show time-of-day. I wasn't keeping track of splits, or times, or pace. I only wanted to know that we weren't in jeopardy of being pulled from the course.
The next 14 miles (a 7 mile out and back loop), were on the McMiller ski trails. This was the only section of the course that we have never run on before. It was the toughest section of the course. The McMiller trail system includes a shooting range, and is used for biathlons in the winter. Our route circled the shooting range, which we never saw, but heard gunshots darn near continuously. I have nothing against guns and shooting ranges, but after 3 hours, the noise got a bit old.
We came upon a group of 5 or 6 runners, and I spotted an Ironman Wisconsin hat. I said to Dennis "Hey, there is someone else as crazy as me!" It turns out she was pacing someone, and was only running about 8 miles total. Their entire group thought I was nuts. I had to agree.
For the last 18 miles, we rarely saw another runner. The weather was picture perfect. I was understandably fatigued and sore, but the amount of discomfort plateaued somewhere around 28 miles. We got to the 35 mile spot, and remarked "We only have a 'Thursday' left" ie - we generally run about 15 to 18 miles on Thursdays.
We journeyed along, comfortably ahead of the cut-off times for each aid station, a comfortable mix of jogging and walking. Filling our bottles, and having a small snack at every aid station. A relaxing no-pressure run.
We finished in 11 hours and 35 minutes, well ahead of the 13 hour limit.
In hind sight, I am glad Dennis coaxed me into doing this. If he hadn't been there to keep me company, I could have easily been done after about 25 miles, and then would have regretted not finishing.
This is what friends can get you to do.