Well, I did it.
I officially registered for the Lean Horse Hundred. After having a "good" DNF at Kettle Moraine 100k, I felt ready to tackle something longer, tougher, and harder. I have always wanted to try 100 miles.
Why not this year?
The Lean Hundred and Half-Hundred are run literally in my backyard. The race starts in Hot Springs and goes 11 miles to the George Mickelson Trail. From there, it goes up the trail to just south of Hill City before the runners turn around and head back to the start.
I am hoping that my best friend Haliku will be able to make it up here to pace me in the latter half of the race.
Will I be able to do it? I guess I shall find out on August 23/24th.
It's too late to back out now!
"I was standing on the highest mountain of them all , and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world.
And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. "
-Black Elk, describing his Great Vision on Okawita Paha (Harney Peak).
After not doing any long trail runs all week because of the severe afternoon and evening thunderstorms we've had every single day, I have been eager to get out on the trails again. Running on the side of the road in the morning before work is just not the same.
The weather forecast predicted only a 20% chance of afternoon thunderstorms for Saturday so I decided to go for it. I ran a 14.2 mile loop through the Black Elk Wilderness.
I started at the Willow Creek Trailhead and ran south on the Lost Cabin Trail. The trail soon became rocky and began a steady uphill climb.
As I climbed, I was rewarded with vistas of the northwest Black Hills. Named Paha Sapa or "Hills that are Black" by the Lakota, they get their name from the dark green hue from the pine trees that cover their slopes. From a distance, and especially when out on the tan-gray prairie, these hills really do appear to be black.
I entered an area where there was significant pine beetle damage. This infestation has been a problem in many Western states, causing the loss of many thousands of acres of trees. The loss of such timber has had serious financial as well as scenic implications, and also increases the risk of fire.
However, as with most things in nature, some positive comes with the negative. As I passed through, I noticed the presence of a larger than usual number of hole nesting, insect-eating birds such as woodpeckers and nuthatches.
There was also an increase in wildflowers and other plant life that normally would not flourish under the shaded canopy of a non-beetle damaged forest.
Soon, I left the beetle-decimated forest and came to the Black Elk Wilderness boundary at the top of the ridge.
I stopped for a few minutes to catch my breath and ate a CLIF bar before heading on my way. The slight downhill was a pleasant relief after the previous few miles up hill.
At mile 6 (approximately), I took the Lost Cabin Trail Spur towards the Harney Peak Trail.
As I followed Lost Cabin creek, I was greeted by meadows as well as glimpses of granite outcroppings.
I met two groups of horse riders coming the other way. I stepped aside to let them pass.
Our three horses are still back in Wisconsin with my family. I am looking forward to eventually getting them out on these trails. However, with all the ultra training I am doing, more than likely I will continue to run, with my mare behind me. She will follow without any lead rope.
Then, Jeanne and Nathan can follow riding their horses. Or they can ride on ahead if I'm too slow.
I turned onto Harney Peak Trail and headed north. This trail is one of the most popular in the wilderness and is the main trail from which tourists climb Harney Peak.
After the solitude on the single-track of Lost Cabin Trail, I admit that I was just a little bit annoyed at having so many people to pass on this thoroughfare. Of course, they had every right to be there as I did. It was good to see so many families out and enjoying themselves on such a beautiful day instead of going to the more popular tourist attractions. Too many only see the Black Hills through the window of their car.
My original plan was to run up the entire mountain, then rest at the top and eat my lunch before moving on. However, I only made it about two-thirds of the way up, when I was completely out of breath. I had no choice but to slow to a fast hike.
Harney Peak is 7242 ft- the highest point between the Rocky Mountains and the Pyrenees. Atop the peak, there is a stone structure which was formerly a forest fire lookout.
Harney Peak is the site where Lakota Holy man, Black Elk recieved his "Great Vision" when only nine years old in 1872. Later, he returned as an old man with John Neihardt, to whom he told his autobiography: Black Elk Speaks in 1932.
Just below the tower, attached to one of the few pine trees on the peak, are colorful prayer flags and other offerings. The Lakota still come here for religious ceremonies.
From the peak, you can see four states: South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana.
I spent a few minutes on the peak, then I headed down a few hundred yards to find a more secluded location in the shade. I sat down and ate my lunch.
Afterwards, I headed back down the trail at a quick jog, very happy to not have any more mountains to climb for at least a few miles.
When I turned to take the left turn to continue my loop back to Willow Creek, a hiker told me I was going the wrong way….
He pointed, "The parking lot is this way!"
I thanked him for his concern but explained, "I know where I'm going….. I'm not lost… I came in from the other side. I'm running 11 or 12 miles today and making a loop."
He looked at me with disbelief, but soon he was out of sight.
On the way down the other side of the mountain, I stopped to enjoy the views of Harney Peak where I had been only a short time ago.
The trail entered the trees and I appreciated the shade. I was relieved to have made it over the highest part of the run today without there being any thunderstorms to contend with.
I met a couple of hikers with a camera, I offered to take their photo for them. In return they took mine. That was much easier than trying to balance my camera on a rock and setting the timer as I usually do.
Elkhorn Mountain is a ridge consisting of solid granite outcroppings. I found a large natural ampitheater with great natural acoustics. I think I will bring my Native American Flute with me the next time I am here. It would be great to hear the flute music echo off these rock walls.
Maybe if I ever learn how to play my didgeridoo, I can bring it up here too? I can make plenty of noise with my didge. However, the single word that bests describes the sounds I make right now is "disturbing."
I had miscalculated the amount fluids to carry in my Camelback. Usually the 100 oz bladder will get me anywhere from 18 to 24 miles, depending on how hot the conditions are. I had only filled it 3/4 full because I was not going for that long of a run.
Now at mile 9, I was almost out and very thirsty.
I came upon a tiny 12 inch wide trickling stream that I did not remember crossing over the trail a half mile further up. The water looked cool and inviting.
However, the streams of the Black Hills are full of Giardia, an intestinal protozoal parasite that gives grief to many a thirsty hiker who is not cautious about where he or she takes a gulp of water.
I followed the stream up to its source, a small spring that came out of a crack in a large boulder. The water was clear with a slight milky color from the dissolved minerals.
I washed my face, the salt from the dried perspiration was beginning to burn my eyes. Then, I took a taste and drank heartily.
Gosh, there is simply nothing like the sweet, cold-crisp taste of mountain spring water enjoyed right at the source!
During our 6 month honeymoon trip riding our horses and pack mules on the Continental Divide Trail from Mexico to Wyoming about ten years ago, Jeanne and I drank often from mountain springs and spring fed creeks and we never got sick. But we were always very very careful to know the source.
Giardia can be transmitted to a water source by humans, livestock and wildlife. It can also survive in the water on its own for a long time. The risk is real but also somewhat overblown. You just have to be aware. If there is a lot of human or animal sign and you cannot go directly to the spring, then you should not drink.
The incubation period is about 10 to 14 days- so for any of you skeptics out there, I'll certainly let you know if I develop any symptoms.
After three more miles of downhill, I was finally back at my car.
I had been thinking of doing another hilly 10 or 12 mile run Sunday but I had more soreness than I expected. So instead I only did a 5 mile run on more flat terrain.
There is a race that I am considering for next weekend: 24 hours of Laramie…The Run I am not at all considering doing the entire 24 hours. I think that it might be a nice training run to go at least 40 or 50 miles. I find that training runs over 30 miles are difficult to do self-supported. Although I have hidden food and Camelback bladders of fluids in the bushes many times before, it is much easier to make use of aid stations that are part of an organized event.
Unlike the tradtional out and back courses of most ultra events, this race is run on a 5.8 mile loop in the Medicine Bow National Forest. We are free to run as many loops as we would like over a 24 hour period.
If I choose to do this, the hardest part will probably be avoiding the temptation of dropping every time I pass my car.
I think I will wait to see how I am feeling later this week before I decide.
This week I have been feeling great. The soreness from Kettle Moraine went away quickly, within only a couple of days. Then again all I did was only a 41 mile training run instead of a complete 100 kilometer race.
I decided to do some trail running last weekend on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. My legs felt good. The only sign that I had done something out of the ordinary the previous week was a little sluggishness going up the hills but that is it.
Otherwise, I feel surprisingly well.
Friday June 13th Samelius Trailhead South
I started at the Samelius Trailhead of the Centennial Trail and headed south to the Big Pine trailhead before turning around and running back.
We have been in an 8 year drought. But then this May has been the wettest since 1905.
The ponds and streams are full. Our drought is almost over…as long as we continue to get rain and don't have a summer that is too dry.
The spring wildflowers are in full bloom. It is absolutely beautiful here; I wish that I could bottle up the fresh scent of the flowers, green grass and pine trees and post that here for y'all to enjoy as well.
Many of these ponds were dry only a few weeks ago.
Saturday June 14th Samelius Trailhead North
I parked at the Samelius Trailhead again. Today I went in the opposite direction from yesterday, I went north up the Centennial Trail.
The weather was hot- in the 80s – but at least it was dry unlike last week in Wisconsin.
This section of the trail was rocky.
I wanted to look at the view but had to pay attention to where I placed my feet to keep from biting it. I've learned the hard way to not gawk at the scenery when trail running over rough ground.
These peaks are located in the Black Elk Wilderness. I decided to run them Sunday so I could see them up close.
The Black Elk Wilderness area was named after Lakota spiritual leader, Black Elk (c.1863-1950). He fought in the Battle of Little Big Horn at the age of 12 and was injured at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. In 1932 wrote the book: Black Elk Speaks, with John Neihardt, an account of his experiences and sacred Lakota rituals.
This curious lil' guy let me mess around with my camera and snap a few photos before he had enough and ran up the tree out of sight.
Sunday June 15th Big Pine Trailhead South
I parked at the Big Pine Trailhead where I had turned around on my run Friday.
It was cooler than yesterday, a pleasant change. I headed south into the Black Elk Wilderness and towards the granite peaks I had glimpsed yesterday.
Most of the first half of the run was uphill.
Someone must've spent a lot of time making these trail blazes. The Centennial Trail is known as Trail #89 because it was completed during the year of South Dakota's centennial in 1989.
I ran up the Centennial Trail until it connected with the Horsethief Trail. Then I turned right and ran towards the top of the ridge.
Along the way, I met some horse and mule riders who asked me for directions. This was my first time in this area and I told them so. Still, they were completely mixed up and all turned around. They had no idea where they were. They showed me their map and I pointed out the way for them.
Apparently, my map reading skills were much better than theirs. They should be: in 1998 my wife and I spent 6 months riding our two horses along with our two pack mules up the Continental Divide Trail from the Mexican border through New Mexico and Colorado towards Wyoming. It was just the two of us, along with our two dogs. That was an amazing journey- I consider it my greatest "ultramarathon" adventure to date.
Perhaps the seeds of my love of ultrarunning were sown on that trip without me even realizing it?
I rested for a few minutes at the top of the ridge before turning around and heading back.
The next 30 minutes were all downhill… a pleasant change after the slow going up hill to get here. But I couldn't go as fast as I would've liked because of all the loose round rocks.
You can see a few of the rock outcroppings I had seen yesterday. I was not able to get as clear a picture as I would have liked because of the trees and vegetation.
Instead of taking Trail #89, I decided to take the Horsethief trail on the return trip. My plan was to run to the Horsethief trailhead from which I could loop back to my car parked at the Big Pine trailhead.
On the way down, I was surprised to catch up with the horseriders again. It was good that I did… they had missed the turn off that I had told them to take. They were lost yet again.
I got them turned around and finally on the right trail.
I wonder what would have happened to them had I not been here?
Here is a sturdy foot bridge. I have never seen one constructed like this.
Was it built this way or is it made out of an old flume or water chute?
After getting to the Horsethief trailhead, I ran less than half a mile on the side of the road before I returned to the Big Pine trailhead and my car.
This week, I have felt good. Of course, these were only short pleasant recovery runs- nothing long or arduous. In a few weeks I should be ready again to try some longer training runs or even another race. I need to be careful now and allow my body some more time to recover, otherwise I could end up with an injury.
There are endless miles of trails here, I am looking forward to exploring more of them in the future.
Perseverance in the face of adversity. That is the mantra of ultrarunning.
Little did I know how challenging it would be for me to even get to the starting line.
Of course, I also had no idea how tough it would be on race day either.
On Friday June 6th, the day before the Kettle Moraine 100-kilometer ultramarathon, I was set to fly out of Rapid City, South Dakota and get to Milwaukee, Wisconsin by 2PM in the afternoon. The plan was to have my family meet me at the airport. We would stay with my wife's sister in Oconomowoc which is only about 40 minutes from the race. Then on race day they would crew for me.
However, after I had boarded and we were all in our seats we were informed that the plane was not going anywhere until they had seven "volunteers" get off the plane and take later flights. No one "volunteered" so we all just sat there. My family and I had been bumped off another flight about two weeks before so I felt under no obligation to "volunteer" again.
After forty-five minutes I realized that I was going to miss my connection in Minneapolis anyway. I "volunteered" to get off.
Stupid decision, I would later realize.
It turns out that the reason they had to bump seven people is because of weight restrictions….not overbooking. They couldn't or wouldn't explain why they could not fly with a full load of passengers and had to have a few empty seats. My suspicion is that it is some kind of cost savings plan on the part of the airline to save money by not using as much fuel.
Most of the other "volunteers" were relatively slender. If it was because of weight that they had to pull us off, I observed to the others maybe they could have picked a handful of the most morbidly obese passengers. There were quite a few of them. In that case, they would have needed only 3 or 4 to get off the plane instead of seven. But the airlines can't do that, of course. That would have been considered discrimination against obese people.
For our trouble they did give us a $300 voucher and put us on a United flight through Chicago. I had a bad feeling about that. Almost none of my trips which have gone through Chicago O'hare airport have gone according to plan. Lost luggage, delays due to "weather" (even with a sunny blue clear sky), mechanical problems, missed connections, cancelled flights, no pilot available to fly the plane because of hour limitations- the list goes on and on. It seems to be the rule rather than the exception with United at Chicago O'hare.
As thanks to us for doing a good deed, our new boarding passes were marked with a bright red "S" for "special." When we went back through security the second time, we got the "special" treatment by the TSA. That included a manual pat down as well as them going through our carry ons by hand.
Oh well, what could we do?
That is how it goes, no use getting irritated about something minor like that. We all laughed about our "special treatment."
The flight to Chicago was to leave at 10AM but soon it was delayed to 1PM. As I said, I had a bad feeling. I have learned from experience not to believe what you are told. The airline employees will lie to you with a straight face. I don't think it is intentional. The airlines probably tell them as little or even less than they tell the passengers.
I got on to the United website and saw that the flight out of Rapid City was actually going to be delayed until 5PM. When I told the airline employees that we were going to be delayed much later, they honestly didn't have any idea about that.
Interestingly, the monitors were later updated to a 3PM departure and then finally to 5PM but not until about 2 hours later.
I was very concerned that my luggage, which contained my running shoes and other gear, would be lost or delayed. The race was scheduled to begin at 6AM and I could not afford to not have my gear. Because the flight was delayed for so long, I was able to go back to the condo where I am staying and put on my road shoes as well as stuff some running clothes in my carry-on. Road shoes would not be ideal on the trails but they would be better than nothing.
I tried to remain as calm as possible. During periods of physical or physiologic stress, the adrenal glands release hormones including glucocorticoids (cortisol) and catecholamines such as epinephrine (called adrenaline in the past). These hormones allow the body to adapt and overcome stress. They enable the "flight or fight" response to occur. I knew that I would need every single molecule of these during my race. I did not want to expend my supply on the annoyance of a flight delay.
I tried to remain calm but that was difficult.
After I returned to the airport, I had to go through security for a third time. I got the "special treatment" yet again. The TSA security guards apologized to me that they had to do this again, they were aware that I had been through before. But it was not their decision, they had to follow protocol.
I laughed and told them not to worry about it. I understood. Indeed, I was starting to get used to, even enjoy, these manual pat-downs, they were like a massage.
Come to think of it, I think you missed a tight knot muscles up in my neck.
Do you think I could come back through again and you could get that for me?
My connection in Chicago to Milwaukee was changed to the 10PM flight. However, I saw on the United website that that particular flight was already delayed to 12:45AM.
When the airline employees gave me my updated ticket for the 10PM connecting flight, I said "Oh, so I'll be on the one that's delayed until 12:45AM?"
They responded: "No, it's not delayed that we know of."
Like I said, they will lie with a straight face to you but it is more than likely out of ignorance.
I decided to take no chances and reserved a rental car at Chicago just in case. Delayed planes don't fly out of Chicago that late, they just get cancelled.
After spending an hour sitting in the plane on the runway, waiting for permission to take off, we finally flew out of Rapid City at 7PM.
When I got off the plane in Chicago I checked the monitors and saw that my connection to Milwaukee was cancelled. I wasn't surprised. This is pretty typical for this airport. I got my rental car and headed north to Wisconsin about 2 hours away.
Of all airports, I hate Chicago O'hare.
My luggage had not been taken off my original flight that morning. I was worried that it might have been lost or delayed. Maybe it was still in Minneapolis?
But no one with the airline would tell us over the phone whether my luggage had arrived or not. I would have preferred to be in bed by midnight the day before an important race but I had no choice. I took a detour and stopped at the Milwaukee airport before I drove to Oconomowoc.
There in a corner sat my luggage. What a relief!
At least one thing had gone right. I'll bet that the luggage arrived that afternoon at 2PM, just as I would have had I not "volunteered" to take another flight.
As I drove, I thought to myself, "The race has not even begun yet, and already I have learned much."
I learned to never ever be a "volunteer" to be bumped from a plane. I re-learned to never trust anything that the airline employees tell you. I learned that in the future I should fly two days before an important race not the day before. There is no guarantee that the airlines will be able to get you there, even with a 24 hour lead time and good weather.
Finally, I also learned to wear my running shoes on my feet and pack running clothes in my carry-on. You can always buy toothpaste and a new toothbrush at your destination, but broken-in running shoes would be impossible to replace.
After arriving to my wife's sister's house, I was fed a huge delicious pasta meal. My wife fell asleep as I taped my feet in preparation for the following day. At 2AM, I finally got to bed. This was not the way I had planned to spend the day before my race but at least I was there and my gear was too.
Morning came quickly.
Soon after I laid my head on the pillow, I opened my eyes and looked at the clock. It said 3:45 AM. My alarm was set for 4AM so I just got up. I actually was not that hungry and only had a banana. I usually eat a larger pre-race breakfast but my stomach felt full of my meal consumed only 2 hours earlier.
My wife drove me down to the starting line. The Kettle-Moraine Ultramarathon begins at the Nordic Trails parking lot, just north of La Grange, Wisconsin. Despite getting only two hours of sleep, I felt well. But the humidity was already high. They predicted severe thunderstorms in the afternoon.
I expected a tough day no matter how it turned out.
Just before the race, Tim Yanacheck, one of the race directors, gave us our prerace briefing. He let us know about the weather forecast and advised us to watch out for each other. Of course we would watch out for each other. That is the essence of being an ultramarathoner. We run "with" instead of "against" one another.
He also reminded us that "this is not one of those races where people just throw their cups on the ground." Because it is a privilege to be allowed to run such a race in a state park, most of us were very careful to pick up after ourselves.
Later that day, we did notice a small minority who did not heed that request. They did not seem to care.They boldly threw their cups and empty gel packs down for the volunteers to pick up. I don't care who you are, it takes no more time to dump your trash into the nearby garbage sack. The volunteers already have enough to do without having to pick up after us.
Who were those inconsiderate people and who in the hell did they think they were?
Were they road runners who simply didn't know any better?
If so, what in the heck are they doing here at an ultra trail race anyway?!?
We crowded around the starting line with nervous anticipation. There was a 100 mile as well as 100 kilometer ultramarathon. The cut off times were the same to make is simpler for the aid station volunteers.
At 6AM sharp Tim told us "Go!"
We were off!
You won't see me in the picture above because I always put myself in the back of the pack to stay out of the way of the more speedy runners.
I am slow…..even for an ultrarunner… but I still get there…. eventually.
The Kettle Moraine Ultramarathons are run on the hiking trails of the southern Kettle Moraine State Forest in southern Wisconsin. Except for road crossings, the entire race is on single track hiking trails.
These trails are very familiar to me. It was where I had run the Ice Age Trail 50k and the 38 mile All-night "Fun" Run last year. I also trained on many of these trails in the past when I lived nearby in Madison, Wisconsin.
To me, this race was a homecoming of sorts. Although I love now living in the Black Hills of South Dakota, it was great to be back.
The humidity was high, the temperatures increased with the rising sun.
My glasses steamed up. So much for anti-fog spray.
I started with a few other runners, including Andy from Illinois, pictured above. He was attempting the hundred mile race. As I've noted in previous posts, one of the best things about running ultramarathons is the opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals.
Even if we are considered a bit eccentric by most other people, at least we know that we are not alone in our insanity.
My heart rate increased and I began sweating profusely. I told the others that I had to slow down. There would be no way to finish if I did not pace myself correctly for the weather.
I had lived in Wisconsin for a few years and had plenty of previous experience with heat and humidity. However, now that I live in the arid west, I am no longer acclimated to high humidity.
Above is a photo of a glacial kettle.
Ten thousand years ago during the Ice Age, much of Wisconsin was covered by glacial ice sheets. As they receded, they left deposits and hills of gravel called "moraines" and ponds called "kettles." Hence the name "Kettle-Moraine."
Although it is very scenic, these moraines have resulted in a race with hundreds and hundreds of hills. The overall elevation gain/loss for the 100k is 7,210 ft and for the 100m it is 12,005 ft. That is hard to believe in the flat Midwest but not once you run the trails.
One unique thing about the Kettle Moraine Ultramarathon is that instead of a finisher's buckle or medal we are given a cute little handmade copper kettle instead.
I really wanted one of those; I was not about to stop or DNF because of poor pacing, hydration or nutrition.
At Emma Carlin aid station, I switch over from HEED sports drink to plain water. I put some ice into my water bottle. I also put a handful of ice also under my hat. That felt good, maybe even a little too cold. It soon melted away.
I also began taking two instead of one SUCCEED! electrolyte replacement caps per hour. I did not want to become dehydrated but did not want to overhydrate and become hyponatremic either. Deaths during ultramarathons are rare. Most of them are related to dilutional hyponatremia when a runner drinks too much fluids but does not replace their sodium lost from perspiration. During extreme endurance sports we lose from 1 to 3 grams of sodium per hour, depending of course on the weather conditions and how well acclimated we are to the humidity.
After a few boiled potatoes rolled in salt, I headed on my way.
At mile 18 and the Antique Lane aid station, I caught up with another runner, Mike, from California. He is 67 and a seasoned ultramarathoner. He had even successfully completed the Badwater Ultramarathon in the past. Badwater is 135 miles run in the heat of summer across Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states.
Yet today Mike was not doing too well. He felt dizzy and was close to dropping. The humidity was getting him as it was to all of us. I gave him one of my salt tabs, wished him well and headed on my way.
Soon I had to run through the meadows of the Scuppernong River. This three miles of meadow is fully exposed and without shade. It is the largest wet prairie east of the Mississippi River. It was difficult going through this area but was beautiful to see the wetland flowers and wildlife.
I spotted a painted turtle sunning himself on a log in a pond. I fumbled with my camera but he slipped into the water before I could get a photo.
I guess a painted turtle is even quicker than me the slow ultra-turtle.
Around mile 21, I saw another runner coming my way. He moved effortlessly, like a gazelle. It was Joel Eckburg, the eventual winner of the 100 mile race. I did not see the next nearest runner behind him for almost an hour. Joel ended up finishing in 18:10:07 with an average pace of 10:54 mil/min. The second finisher, Mark Tanaka, came in over two hours later at 20:30:37 with a 12:24 min/mile pace.
Wow! Simply amazing.
I stepped out of the way to let him pass. He was not even breathing hard. He politely thanked me and encouraged me with an optimistic, "Lookin' good!" as he floated on by.
One of the things I love about ultrarunning is how egalitarian it is. Even the elite are polite and supportive of all the rest of us mere mortals in the back of the pack. They are not aloof but are down to earth and approachable. Though some may be blessed with genetic ability or be at a different level of skill or fitess, we really are all in this together. I have never gotten that feeling in any of the few shorter races I have run.
Attitude and arrogance have no place in an ultramarathon. Even the front runners realize that on another day, they could bonk and be at the back of the pack or DNF just as easily as anyone else.
Some days, like today, it can be a fine line indeed.
When I got to the Highway 67 aid station, I needed to take care of my feet. Because of the moisture and the humidity, I was beginning to feel some hot spots. I knew that I had better take care of them now before I got a blister.
I was glad to see my wife, my son and my wife's sister waiting for me. They cheered me in, had a chair waiting for me and my foot care kit with them. I removed my socks and my wife put Zeasorb foot powder liberally all over my feet.
What a totally awesome crew I have!
The night before I had preventitively taped my feet in hopes of avoiding blisters. Thus far, it seemed to be working. I used the techniques outlined in the very informative book: Fixing Your Feet by John Vonhof.
The technique is such: after first cleansing my feet with alcohol wipes, I applied tincture of benzoin for tape adhesion. I then applied Kinesio-tex Waterproof tape over the soles and sides of my feet, being careful to avoid wrinkles. I put some more benzoin on the edges before covering them with Micropore tape to prevent rolling. Then I liberally applied Zeasorb anti-moisture powder to take away any stickiness from exposed benzoin.
Some runners also tape their toes but since switching to Injinji socks as a liner, I have not had any toe problems.
I wore Running Funky gaiters over my INOV-8 Roclite 315's. This is my fist pair of INOV-8 running shoes and I don't think I will ever try another manufacturer. They are very light allowing for quick footwork on the trails, like moccasins, yet they have cushioning and traction. Unlike the other trail shoes, which seemed to only be beefed-up road shoes, these were designed exclusively for trail running. INOV-8 is a small independent and innovative company from the UK, yet another reason to support them over the the larger better-known manufacturers who are more interested in sales over quality or innovation.
All of these supplies are available at my favorite place to shop on-line for ultra and trail running supplies: ZombieRunner!.
Obviously, I practiced and tested all the above techniques during all of my long training runs over the previous months. "Try nothing new during a race," is intelligent advice to follow.
I had felt a bit nauseated out in the meadow. I tried some gel. Yuck! That made me gag. No more gel for me!
After eating a couple of turkey sandwiches, bananas and boiled potatoes rolled in salt, my stomach felt much better. I even felt pleasantly full.
In hindsight, I now wonder if my bonking at the Greenland Trail 50k in Colorado several weeks ago was related to not eating as much as it was due to altitude and heat?
Before I got sick to my stomach at Greenland, I was craving a turkey sandwich but all they had to eat was potato chips, pretzels and M&Ms- not the usual ultramarathon food we expect.
As I prepared to head on my way, Mike, whom I had met earlier at Antique Lane shuffled in. He said that soon after we parted ways, he passed out. Although Antique Lane is usually an unmanned aid station, fortunately one of the volunteers happened to be there and helped him out.
Thinking back, I did recall hearing some branches crack soon after I headed out of Antique Lane. I thought that it was only him following along behind me. I felt really bad that I wasn't there to help him. However, I was already running down the trail. I had no idea what was going on behind me.
Needless to say, Mike decided to drop at the Highway 67 aid station. An experienced ultrarunner who has already done Badwater dropping because of the weather conditions speaks volumes on how tough a day this was turning out to be.
We gave him my email and contact info. It turns out he is planning on running the Lean Horse Hundred in the Black Hills this August as I am. I really hope that I get to see him again and under better running conditions.
After spending almost 15 minutes at Highway 67 aid station, I had to head on my way. I got hugs from all but my son was preoccupied with a little caterpillar he had found. Like his Dad, sometimes he can be pretty focused and even have a one-track mind.
Fortunately for both of us, my wife is very understanding of this personality trait of ours.
With the rest at Highway 67 aid station and my more conservative pace, my pulse rate decreased. My legs felt strong but I could not go any faster, though I wanted to. Even a slight increase in pace resulted in dizziness going up the hills and a rapid increase in heart rate.
By mile 25 and on into the halfway turnaround at 50k, I started passing others who earlier had ran on way ahead of me.
They commented on how great I looked. But in reality I felt like crap just as they did.
Gosh this heat and humidity really sucked. It was almost 90 degrees with 100% humidity. Although road races may shut down because of inclement weather, ultramarathons almost never shut down because of weather.
I recall last fall when I was running the Glacial Trail 50 mile. It was only a couple of weeks after the 2007 Chicago marathon fiasco due to heat. A woman from Florida told me she wondered what all the fuss was about. Earlier that summer she had run a 100 mile ultra in Florida. The high temp was a humid 104 degrees. The race went on, no one whined about the heat and humidity.
Nope, ultramarathons don't stop because of bad weather.
I began to worry about my state of hydration. Even though I gulped an extra 20oz of water at every aid station, plus the water I consumed between aid stations, my urine became darker and darker and less frequent.
I thought to myself: "If I don't get this dehydration problem fixed and soon, it's gonna get to me."
I finally got to the Scuppernong aid station and the 31 mile turnaround. I was surprised by how many runners were still there. They were dropping out in groups.I spotted Andy and sat down next to him as I drank and ate. It was 2:20 PM. We still had plenty of time before the 3PM cut off.
Andy told me that he had decided to drop; as did many of the others who were there. A defeatest attitude was in the air and it was contagious.
Not really intending to lecture the others, I did vocally express my thoughts about the situation. I did it more in hopes of convincing myself to keep going and not let the negative mindset rest on me, than I did to inspire anyone.
"Sure," I said, "you feel like shit. So do I. We all do, but isn't this part of the experience of ultrarunning?" Certainly it is to be expected on a day like today.
"But why drop now? None of us is throwing up, no one has a broken bone, sprain or other injury and no one is confused with mental status changes.:
"How are you going to feel about your DNF in a half hour when you are in your car on your way back to the hotel?"
Someone observed that the 9 hour cut off to make it back to the finish line by midnight in this weather was pretty much impossible.
"Maybe…. maybe not. There is no way to know unless we try. Just because you are in a bad spot does not mean that all hope is lost," I replied.
"Won' t you feel better if you make it the whole way, even if you get a "no time" because of a missed cut off than if you take the easy route and drop now? Even if none of us make it the all the way; still, wouldn't it be better to drop or be pulled at mile 50 than to just give up at mile 31?"
Time was a-wasting. I could not afford to let negative thoughts begin entering my head. I ate, drank water, filled my bottles, waved good bye to my family and headed on my way.
On the way out of Scuppernong, I caught up with another runner, Ryan from up nort'. We walked, ran and talked for a while. As we hit the hills again, just before we go to ZZ aid station, I had to fall back because of my pulse rate.
Thunder clouds rolled in; it started lightning. At ZZ, I asked them if there was any open country for us to go through, before the next aid station, I could not remember. They reasured us that we would be protected and in the trees until after the next aid station at mile 39.
Rain began to fall which cooled down the temperature. That felt really good. I even started speeding up.
To finish by the midnight cut off we had to have an average pace of just over 17 min/mile. My average after resting at Hwy 67 and Scuppernong, as well as the numerous walk breaks going up the hills during the hot humid afternoon was around 16 min/mile. That was much slower than my original goal pace of no more than 15 min/mile.
Now that I was able to feel good at a faster pace, I knew I could make it. It was a good sign to be able to increase my pace after mile 35.
"By golly," I thought, "if the weather does not get too bad and I don't do anything stupid like roll an ankle on a tree root because I am not paying attention, I am going to finish this race!"
Simply making that realization did much for my attitude and allowed me to continue to press on.
I made it to the Highway 67 aid station at mile 39 where I caught up with Ryan and a few other runners. My lovely bride was already waiting there and said I looked good.
I tried to smile but I am sure that it came out as more of a grimace than a grin.
One problem: I still was not peeing and my hands were beginning to swell. I was very thirsty.
One of the aid station volunteers noted my hand swelling and told me to stop drinking because I must be hyponatremic and over hydrated.
I told him "I don't think so."
If I was hyponatremic, then I should be peeing crystal clear urine every ten minutes, feel bloated and not thirsty.
No, to the contrary, I explained that I was dehydrated and probably HYPER-natremic. It looks like I took in too much sodium and not enough water. That was why my hands were swelling and why I could only pee a few drops of dark brown urine.
Another aid station volunteer agreed with me. He got into a friendly discussion with the other volunteer on the differences between hyper and hyponatremia. I smiled when I heard them banter back and forth. Normally, I would have joined in the conversation but I had more important things to do- like eat and drink.
Little did they know that because of my profession, I was better-suited than any of them to understand the clinical differences and to diagnose hyper versus hyponatremia. In fact, the Monday after I got back to work, I got a call from a colleague asking my advice about what he should do about a patient in the ICU with hyponatremia. Sodium balance and electrolyte abnormalities are within the umbrella of my specialty. Endocrinologists do much more than only diabetes and thyroid.
For a lay person friendly and well written review of how to distinguish hypo from hypernatremia and all of its variations while out ultrarunning, I recommend Karl King's chapter on electolytes and fluid replacement on pages 167 - 174 in A Step Beyond: A Definitive Guide to Ultrarunning.
My wife fed me some orange slices. Those tasted good. I drank some Gatorade. I don't like Gatorade much but it was a pleasant change from HEED and water.
To my surprise I looked up to see Andy jogging in. I thought he had dropped 8 miles ago!
He was still in the race!
He told me that after listening to me at the 50k turnaround, he changed his mind and decided not to drop after all. The hundred mile runners have the option of stopping at 100 k and getting a 100 k time, if they wished. That was what he was now shooting for. He thanked me for changing his mind about dropping, even though I had no idea that I had.
The sky darkened and new clouds appeared overhead. Ryan headed out a few minutes before us. I hugged and kissed my wife. She planned on meeting us up at Emma Carlin at mile 47.3.
Immediately after we headed out of Highway 67, the clouds opened up. It downpoured more than I have seen in a long time. Within 15 minutes, we were literally ankle deep in water. Splashing around in the woods like a couple of crazy kids would have been fun, if only the lightning wasn't cracking overhead and striking nearby.
I saw a pile of old branches that someone had stacked neatly for unknown reasons and joked, "Let's make a lean-to!"
"Survivorman!" Andy replied.
One of the best ways to face adversity is through humor. It sure beats the alternative. Crying and yelling never work, though a good tantrum might give other people something entertaining to laugh at.
We came to where the trees ended and the Scuppernong meadow began. It was a moment of truth. Once we entered, there would be no going back. With the lightning, we were concerned about the risk of getting struck. Ryan, who was only a few minutes ahead of us must have been out there in the thick of it.
Even in the protection of an aspen grove, standing ankle-deep in water was not the safest place to be in a thunderstorm.
We found a wooden boardwalk built over a marshy area. We decided to wait there to see if the storm would move on. Dry wood is less of a conductor than standing water. It was the safest place we could find, even if we were all soaked and would conduct electricity if there was a nearby lightning strike.
The forest floor critters had the same idea as us. The spiders, millipedes, centipede and others made for high ground to avoid the water that deepened by the minute. Of course our bodies were even higher than the boardwalk so they started to climb up on us. I was glad that we weren't in Texas where we would have had to contend with fire ants and other stinging insects. At least here in Wisconsin all we had to deal with was the tickle of the creep-crawlies climbing on us.
I wondered what we should do if it started hailing. The boardwalk was not high enough for us to crawl under for shelter. Lucky for us, no hail came.
Andy and I sat there like two soaked rats. He wryly commented that he maybe had changed his mind. Even though he had thanked me before, now he wasn't so sure that it was good that I had convinced him to not drop at Scuppernong.
We started shivering.
All of the salt and sweat from the day was washed away in the downpour. How ironic after being exhausted by the heat all day for us to now feel chilled.
I tried to get a photo to document our experience. It would have been a great picture. Two shivering wet ultra-rats. Unfortunately even though my camera was in a zip-lock bag, it had gotten wet and was simply not working.
Then the rain started to let up and the mosquitoes started biting. We thought that perhaps the storm was over and we could press on. We even entered a few yards into the open field but I had a bad feeling.
On the horizon, more dark clouds were coming, this was not yet the end of the storm.
I told Andy that I would feel better if we turned around and waited for a bit longer in the woods. If we went a few more minutes without any nearby lightning, I would feel much more comfortable about moving on. But just then a lightning bolt struck not two or three hundred yards from us. The flash and the boom were one and the same without any time lag between them. I swear that I could see leaves falling off the tree that was hit.
After that, we decided to call it quits. I called my wife and asked her to meet us back at the Highway 67 aid station. Dropping now was not about giving up, it was about being smart. Even the toughest ultrarunner cannot withstand a lightning strike.
On the way back, I was surprised to see that my pee had finally become clear and increased in volume. The swelling in my hands was gone. Apparently, sitting in the rain getting soaked is one way to rehydrate!
At the Highway 67 aid station, the tent was still up but the volunteers had packed up and were gone. A few backpackers were using the tent as shelter. The rain had lessened and we hadn't heard any lightning for several minutes. Most of the rumbling was now to the north-east of us.
Hmmm…. we wondered. Maybe it might be safe for us to start running again?
Then a lightning bolt struck a tree up on the hill about 400 yards away.
Nope… we're done!
Let's get the hell in the car….NOW!!!
As we drove to the start to notify the race director that we were out of the race, Andy attempted to call his girlfriend. He had trouble getting ahold of her. We came to the small town of Eagle, Wisconsin. Suddenly sirens blared. It was the tornado sirens! The firemen were going around town telling everyone to get to shelter immediately. A tornado had been reported on the ground near town.
My wife was driving. What should we do? I looked up at the clouds overhead. I saw they were moving quickly in a northern direction. They were dark and swirling ominously.
Go that way!
Go NOW! I pointed down the road to the east.
The last thing you want to do when attempting to avoid a tornado is to try to outrun it. By going perpendicular to the direction of the clouds, hopefully any tornadoes we couldn't see would pass behind us. Of course if a tornado was going to overtake you in a vehicle, the best thing is to get out of the car and hide in the roadside ditch. Praying would be a good idea too.
As we headed out of town, we spotted dark clouds to the north, where we had been running earlier.
And there it was! The distinct dark silhouette of a funnel cloud!
Damn! My camera still wasn't working! How often in my life will I get a chance to photograph a tornado? I hope not often.
The funnel cloud was only there for a couple of minutes. Then it broke apart and faded way.
Andy finally got a hold of his girlfriend on her cell phone. She had been at the local liquor store buying a bottle of wine when the firefighter came in and told everyone to go to the basement immediately. We turned the car around and met her at the store. We bought a bottle of wine ourselves… after an experience like today, we deserved it.
I gave Andy my email addresses. You know, that morning when we met at the starting line we were complete strangers. By mile ten, we were familiar acquaintances. And now, after what we had been through, I count him as a friend. It is amazing how adversity brings people together. I hope to see him at other events in the future.
Even though I did not complete my goal of running 100k (62+ miles) I feel very good about my performance at this race. This was the most intense experience I have ever had while running an ultramarathon. I consider this a "good" DNF rather than a "bad" one. (To clarify for non-runners reading this… DNF stands for "Did Not Finish").
What's the difference you ask?
Perhaps not much. All DNFs result in no finish time, no finisher's award and having to come home and tell everyone that you didn't make it. A "bad" DNF is one that happens because you did something wrong. You did not train properly, you miscalculated your pace, you made a mistake in nutrition or hydration or you messed up in some other way.
A "good" DNF is one where you made a wise decision to stop so you could run again another day. You were not forced to stop, you chose to do so because it was the right thing to do. Of course, even a "bad" DNF can be converted to a "good" DNF if you learn from your error and apply it to future races.
We were not alone in dropping. Of the 77 entrants for the 100k, only 38 finished.Of the 100 milers, only 37 out of 124 entrants finished. I don't know how many of the 100 milers chose the 100k finish option, quite a few I'd imagine. This year's 50% finish rate for the 100k is the lowest ever in the history of the race. In previous years the percent finish rate ranged between 65% to 91% with an average of around 70 to 80%.
Ryan, the runner who went into the meadow right before us and whose safety during the intense thunder storm I was concerned about, did go on to finish before the 12MN cut-off. Congrats and nice work!
Based on my GPS, we went a total of 41 miles. That is nothing to be ashamed of, especially given the difficulty of the conditions. I had nothing to prove to anyone but myself. I know in my heart that I could have finished the entire 100k, was I not afraid of being hit by lightning. That knowledge is all that matters. I don't know absolutely that I could have finished, of course, I could have stepped in a gopher hole or the wet conditions could've macerated my feet and caused blisters. Obviously I would have rather not have DNF'ed if I had a choice.
But I now know in my heart and my mind that I have the physical capacity to run 100k and that is what matters. It matters even more to me than getting an official time or finisher's award.
Already I am looking ahead. I was waiting to see how I did at this race before thinking of bigger things. I have always wanted to attempt 100 miles. Knowing that it is possible for me to have completed 100k gives me the confidence to try 100m.
My soreness went away quickly, within only a couple of days. The Lean Horse Hundred is literally in my backyard and will be August 28-29th. There will be no way to know if I am ready unless I try. I think I will.
I also suspect that I will back to Kettle Moraine. I'd still like one of those copper kettle finisher's awards. The organizers run a great race and I am starting to know many of the other runners. It is where I first started ultramarathoning. I believe that the trails of Kettle Moraine are not completely done with the lessons they have yet to teach me.
Take care friends… and keep on running!