Ultramarathoning is a constant learning experience. In April I learned a lesson about poor hydration and nutrition, as well as how to be patient, recover, and finish a 10-mile race. Kettle 100 would provide me with a few more lessons - most of them good.
Before I get to the lessons, let me give you a quick summary of how the race went. Race day temps were nearly ideal, at about 55 degrees with overcast skies. I started out very conservatively as planned, truly enjoying running for the first time in nearly a month.
As the course wound its way through the rolling hills of the inagural 5 miles, the runners spread out and settled into their paces. We continued on in the cool morning air along winding trails and up and down small hills. Along the way to the Emma Carlin aid station I met a couple of runners - Barb Klinner from Wausau, WI and Judy Carluccio from Issaquah, WA. Barb told me about how her daughter recently graduated college and got a nice gig at Target Corporate HQ in Minneapolis. In sharing info about our families, we discovered that both of us had adopted a son from South Korea. I was able to meet Barb's son, Zach at one of the aid stations. We exchanged stories about our trips to Seoul and our experiences in the adoption process. Barb and I ended up running and chatting off and on through 50 some miles. Judy and I talked it up a bit and mostly exchanged running stories. We ended up running buddies off and on early in the race, and then from miles 64 through 70.
Arriving at Emma Carlin, things were going well early. I was way ahead of schedule and my foot wasn't bothering me much. A frantic runner had lost his stash of S-caps and asked if anyone had some to spare. Remembering how my friend Molly had saved my last race by giving me a couple when I was in trouble, I returned the karma and gave the guy a couple of mine with a smile. He was extremely appreciative and thanked me a few times later during the race. I never caught his name, but I hope he finished. After Emma Carlin is the long stretches of flat prairie, which are fast and runnable. Along this section I had to make a conscious effort to hold back a bit. No point in burning yourself out early. Better to save some energy for the little hills.
I reached the Scuppernong 50K turnaround in 6:26, nearly an hour ahead of 24-hour pace. NICE! However, I didn't want to think about breaking 24 hours right now. Way too early to push hard. The second time through the marsh is typically a tough mental section for most runners. It's not overly interesting and you can see quite a distance, so many runners' paces slow until they hit the woods again. For me, it was the opposite. I was feeling strong and set out on a steady but easy pace. One by one I started to pick off runners. Along the way, I caught up to Steve Quick, who was muddied and bloodied, as usual. I pushed on, maintaining my 1 hour cushion on 24-hour pace. At this point, my foot didn't bother me anymore. What a relief!
I continued on at a steady and strong pace, making sure to hold back and not run too hard. Arriving at Margaritaville aid station, we were greeted with music. One of the workers asked if anyone could name the group playing, to which I quickly and correctly blurted out "Genesis!" Surprised, the worker asked if I could name the album, which I miserably guessed "Trick of the Tail", which I knew was too early of an album for this song. The correct answer was "Seconds Out" (1977), which actually was released the year after "Trick of the Tail" (1976). Not too shabby of a guess... Anyway, I was still feeling great. My hydration was spot on and my appetite was excellent. This was turning out into a great day!
On I set off again with a strong pace towards the 100K turnaround. Things were going well until about 5 miles from Nordic. At that time I noticed a burning and ache at the ankle joint to the left of my shin on my left foot. Hmmm....nothing to worry about, right? Just some soreness from running 50+ miles. As I continued on the burning and pain increased. It was then I recalled tweaking that very same spot during a primal workout 3 weeks ago. Still, I wasn't too concerned since it had never bothered me before and I could tolerate the pain and continue running.
I reached the 100K mark at 14:09. Obviously I had slowed a bit on the way back from Scuppernong. But that was to be expected. Nontheless, I was still almost an hour ahead of 24-hour pace. Woot! Grabbing a bite to eat, some gear from my van, and dislodging a small pebble from my shoe, I was off to tackle the next out-and-back loop. Only 38 miles to go and all was well...........sort of.
Along the rolling 5 miles out of Nordic I cuaght up with Judy Carluccio again and we paced each other. However, both of us started to notice some foot problems. For me, my left foot and ankle was getting worse. I was hoping that it would eventually go numb or loosen itself up, but to no avail. Judy was battling a developing blister. We both slowed our pace but plugged on. As we forged on, we progressively slowed as our pains became increasingly debilitating. For me, my left ankle was not only hurting badly, but it was becoming increasingly stiff and immobile. I could no longer bend my foot up or down nor rotate it. Ugh...
Pierre Ostor caught up with me at 68 miles and asked how it was going. "Bad" I replied. After explaining my problem, he suggested taking it easy for a while to see how it goes. Unfortunately, I had been taking it easy and it wasn't getting any better. At this point, I was getting a bit disheartened. Such a great day was being thwarted by an unexpected injury. I decided to continue on nonetheless. At mile 70, Judy decided it was time to tend to the nagging blister. I fueled up and went ahead, knowing that she'd easily catch up to my declining pace. At this point I was really struggling to even walk fast. Over the next two miles my pace would be reduced to a hobble.
At mile 73 at an unmanned aid station I came across a runner in serious distress. He was lying on the road shoulder and moaning. I asked if he was okay or needed help. He groaned that he was extremely nauseous. I offered him an S-cap which he gratefully took. After reassuring me he'd be alright, I continued on into the dark woods. Soon I was limping and stumbling over rocks and roots. My left foot was useless now and my right leg was quickly fatiguing from carrying all of my weight. It was at this point that I contemplated DNF'ing. Still, I kept moving and trying to convince myself to try and finish. In the end, I decided to take my buddy Mitch's advice and Do Nothing Fatal at Highway 12. This pain and burning was intensifying each hour and I feared a long-term injury. Not only that, I knew the 4.4 miles to the turnaround from Highway 12 were steep, rocky, and technical - a certain recipe for disaster for a wounded soldier. So, my promising race ended at 77 miles. Bummer.........
All was not a loss, not by any means. In fact, I had learned a great deal from this experience and most of it was very positive.
First, I got my hydration nailed down. This time I swiched from only electrolyte drink to 1 S-cap per hour, supplemented with electrolyte drink. I was also conscious to take in some salt at most of the aid stations. In addition, I changed up my nutrition from mostly gel-based to primarily food-based. This race I purposely packed only enough gel to give me 100 calories an hour. The rest of my calories would have to be gotten from eating. It worked like a champ. Between my hydration and nutrition, I felt good almost the entire day and had an excellent appetite, in contrast to my experience at Zumbro. Second, I learned how to be better organized at my drops. I had a good plan and knew exactly what to grab each time, minimizing my stops. Third, I learned how to maintain a steady pace on my own and not push too hard too early. I caught myself running too fast a couple of times and quickly corrected my pace. Lastly, I learned that DNF'ing due to injury is a smart, yet painful decision. I absolutely hate the fact that I DNF'd for the first time ever at any distance in my career. Yet, I know that I'm still feeling the pain from the injury today that I made the right choice and will live to fight another day. I know I can finish 100 and had nothing to prove that day.
So, what will I change going forward? First off, I might opt for a 2-bottle hip pack setup in lieu of the hydration pack. However, at a race like Sawtooth where the aid stations can be as far as 10 miles apart, I may have to stick with my Nathan for now and get a 2-bottle pack later. Secondly, I definitely need to be more consistent with my training and put in a lot more hills. I think my lack of training and hillwork the past month really weakened me and probably was my undoing. Gotta strengthen up those muscles and tendons!!
Overall, Kettle was a great experience. I learned a lot about myself and ultras, as well as met some very cool runners. In addition, it was the first time I really got to know Matt Patten, who turns out to be a helluva guy!! Not only that, but Matt knocked out a race of a lifetime, running a 19:35 and redeeming his DNF from last year. Awesome!! Congrats go out to Steve Quick who once again crossed the finish line, battle scars and all, and Pierre Ostor, who finally got his copper kettle. Well done, lads! Lastly, congrats to brother Kevin, who beat his goal time of 20 hours by posting a 19:49, good enough for 2nd place in the Masters division. Also, a final congrats to FANS runners Carl Gammon and Julie Berg who weathered the......umm...the weather and put in solid 24-hour efforts.
See ya on the trails! (Hopefully in a week or so)
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