Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Zumbro 100 Mile = SUCCESS!!!

Yes indeedy, I finished my first attempt at 100 miles at the Zumbro 100. And what a day an a half it was. As I type this, my feet are still sore and bit swollen. However, they are a reminder to me of how planning, patience, and persistence all lead to success in ultramarathons, as well as in life. Here is my story.........


Getting ready for an ultramarathon is a lot of planning, as those of you who've run one know. I spent many hours calculating how much gel, electrolyte, and what gear I'd need to bring. I even researched optimal nutrition for ultra events and devised a race day strategy for achieving that as well. Ah, the course of the obsessively compulsive! On top of that, I made a laminated timetable, the size of a luggage tag, that I could carry with me during the race so that I could easily check to see how close I was to the 34-hour cutoff, as well as several other finishing times.

Serious preparation began a couple of weeks earlier, when a group of us did a recon of the Zumbro Bottoms trails, and got a sample of the course, courtesy of RD Larry Pedersen. At this time, I thought it a good idea to try out a new gel mix I thought would help in ultra events. It consisted of diluted coconut milk and Hammer Gel. The idea was that we need fat as an energy source during long endurance events and the fat in coconut milk is one of the very few our bodies can use immediately as an energy source, unlike the majority of fat sources that must get stored in our body tissue first. The mix was tasty (coconut and espresso) and seemed to work very well. All I needed to do was add some protein and we were good to go.

Now for a raceday strategy I opted for my first 50-miler tactic, which was to go out easy, walk the hills, and run the rest. Basically, a typical and conservative ultra strategy. It had worked for me before and my goal was just to finish. With my planning complete, it was time to race my plan.

A Journey Begins

I woke up early at 4:30 am to get in a good breakfast before the race, consisting of 3 scrambled eggs, a banana, and some water. This would give my body 3 hours to fully digest the food and be ready for race fueling. I set off in the early morning darkness headed right into the sunrise. On the way I rapped and jammed along with one of my favorite Beastie Boys CD's all of the way to Red Wing. From there, I switched to the relaxing acoustic stylings of Nick Drake. Nothing like a little "Pink Moon" to soothe the soul.

At Zumbro Bottoms I was quickly greeted by my buddy, Mitch. He had camped out the night before and was getting a big breakfast ready. I picked up my race number and goodies bag from Larry and started gearing up for the race. It was a rather cold morning, but still very beautiful. An acquaintance of mine, Zach Pierce, was getting ready as well, so I went up and reintroduced myself to him. This was also Zach's first attempt at 100 miles as well. As it would turn out, Mitch, Zach, and I would team up and form an ultramarathon train throughout much of the race. After a brief introduction of the course and rules by Larry, we casually gathered near the start. Without much fanfare, the race was started and we were off on our journey.

The Early Race

Miles 1 - 20 went without much ado. Mitch, Zach and I all agreed to run a conservative pace and walk the hills, and we stuck to that strategy. The only thing we did not do quite right was miss one of the first turns on the 14.3 mile loop. OOPS!! Fortunately, we didn't get far before we realized there were no markers nor any footprints. No worries though. It was very early in the day and this wasn't going to make or break the day. Steadily we pushed through the first 20 miles, everyone in high spirits and feeling strong. We came through the first leg at about 24-hour pace, which isn't too bad for a couple of rookies. After a quick change of clothes for the pending afternoon warm-up, we were off for loop #2.

Loop 2 was pretty much a repeat of loop 1, minus the wrong turn. Mitch had grabbed his trekking poles and pulled Zach and I along with his powerful strides. We were an ultramarathon train, moving steadily and strongly. We were really enjoying the perfect weather and stunning sights that could be found along the trails atop the ridges. It was a blissful experience, running with friends on such a beautiful course in near-perfect weather. All of us were still strong on the steep and rocky climbs and descents. We finished loop 2 around 5:45 pm, putting us at just over 24-hour pace still. Wow! There I saw my brother, Kevin, who was going to pace me. We headed out on the 5.7 mile loop through the marshy grassland along the river and returned just a few minutes before 7:00 pm. That would be perfect timing as the pacers were not allowed to join us until that time. Things couldn't have been going any smoother.........(insert ominous music here)

Loop 3 was the end of the Zach-Mitch-Steve train as Zach took off on his own and Mitch hung back at the aid station to eat a big dinner before he set off solo. My brother, Kevin, who was my pacer set off with me to conquer the rest of the course. At this point, I was still feeling very strong, but my stomach was not liking my gel mix too much anymore. In fact, it also made me lose my taste for my electrolyte drink. As a result, I switched to regular gel and water for a while. This change would have an impact later in the day. Nonetheless, we continued to make excellent progress, as noted by the leaders not really increasing their lead over us, and others starting to fall back to us. By the end of the third circuit, darkness was setting in, so we donned headlamps and prepared for lap #4, which Mitch stated "is where the real work starts."

The start of loop 4 was a repeat of loops 1 through 3. Kev and I took off on the 5.7 mile loop feeling strong and fresh. We made great time through the darkness and even caught up to Steve Quick, who was in a bit of trouble in the woods, accompanied by pacer Londell Pease. But ah, how the tables would later turn......... We continued on making great pace. Back at the start/finish we joined up with Zach and pacer/mutual friend, Molly Cochran. We all headed out together into the darkness, maintaining the same race strategy. It was on this leg that I noticed my focus starting to fade and feeling a bit clumsy. Not good.

As we pulled into aid station #2, I noticed that I was really starting to feel a bit nauseous, as well as dizzy. I needed to regroup here and figure out what was wrong before I dug myself a hole I couldn't climb out of. I assessed the situation and determined that it was my electrolytes that were low, since I had only been drinking water for the past 5 or 6 hours. Molly was a savior and handed me 2 S-caps, which I quickly downed. I thanked her as she and Zach continued on. "We've got plenty of time, Steve." my brother reminded me. "You could sit here for 3 or 4 hours and we'd still have a lot of time to make the cutoff." Good advice, which I followed. For the next hour plus I sat in front of a fire, shivering beneath 2 blankets while wearing a jacket one of the aid station crew members lent me. It was during this time that Steve Quick had caught back up to me and continued on. Despite looking like hell himself, he was pushing on, determined to get that first 100 done himself. He told me after the race that when he saw me there, he didn't think I was going to finish and that he didn't want to say anything to me, because he knows how annoying and disheartening even acknowledging that you are in trouble can be. Thanks, Steve! Alright, the stomach was feeling better at that point, so I took in some water and boiled potatoes. Those really hit the spot and signaled that I was ready to continue on. I slammed down a quick cup of coffee to wake me up (It was 3 am or so at this point) and we headed off for aid station #3 at a brisk walk.

As we power walked the first half of the leg between aid stations 2 and 3, I noticed all of my strength and focus had returned as though I had just started the race. I was back for good! As the sun started to rise, I broke out into a run and managed to catch up to and pass Mr. Quick before aid station #3. After a very brief stop there, we forged on to finish loop #4 in strong fashion. It was at this point I knew I was going to make it. We pushed on through the 5.7 mile loop before reloading and making gear changes for one last time. As we pulled into the start/finish area, Zach and Molly greeted us and took off to conquer the final loop. Zach was the man and looking strong! We headed out shortly after them. I was hoping to catch up and finish with them, but at this point, my feet suddenly blew up. It was as though they had been run over by a steam roller. I couldn't even bend my toes. I plugged away, running most of the way to aid station #2. There I did some foot maintenance to no avail. We continued on, walking fast. At this point I noticed walking wasn't making my feet feel any better, so I opted to run/shuffle as much as I could bear it. Irregardless, I was smiling from ear to ear because I knew I had this 100 in the bag. After reaching aid station #3, my brother and I enjoyed the last 3 miles of the race. He would run ahead with his camera and take some action shots of me climbing up hills and descending the now infamous Ant Hill. As I ran across the short field and into the finishing chute, I couldn't help but think how rewarding all of the training and planning had been. I was now part of the 100-miler club!!

So, that's my 100-mile story and I'm sticking to it!


Helen said...

Congrats Steve - awesome job! You ran a smart race. And wrote a great report! Recover well.

Get Primal said...

Awesome job...Grok would be proud!! Looking forward to hearing more in person.

Matthew Patten said...

Great job Steve.

Great to see you out there. You and Kevin looked sharp at the final aid station.

Great report

Londell said...

Glad you made it as well. Steve and I talked about how you had looked so strong but were sure you were done at AS 2. It was nice to see you caught us and were strong. Hats to you for pulling it out!

Wayne said...

Congratulations, Steve! I only saw you at aid station 2, and 'Patience' is right. I was impressed how you took the time to get back on track and both you and your brother were cool about it, no whining or stressing out. Way to focus and accomplish your goal!!

brothergrub said...

Awsome Race - Awsome Report! I was really proud of how you busted out the "shovel" and dug out of that hole! Must be the GRABOWSKI in you!! And I had a great time running with you - Like we said: "TWO GRUBS ARE BETTER THAN ONE!!!". Looking forward to Ice Age and Kettle!

SteveQ said...

The two Steves had the best drop bags, but completely opposite races - yet we both made it! Congrats! I wondered how long it would take before "flavor fatigue" would hit you. Thanks for the "looking like hell" comment; I felt good, I just couldn't run. Now, care to join me at Trail Mix, Chippewa, etc.?

What camera did your brother use? Those are great photos!

Kel said...

I think you have the best photo that illustrates how steep some of the climbs were. Nice job on a tough course!

Zach said...

Awesome report Steve, it was great spending the day with you! After spending all day with you, I was confident you'd finish, you were rock solid! The whole time you spent working on your stomach I spent at various aid stations working on my feet, also to no avail, I had a few major blisters hit me out of the blue at 71 and nothing I tried relieved the pain, ultimately I took Larry's advice to just run on them until I beat them into submission.