2010 Zumbro 100 Mile Endurance Run – Race Report
My race report from the Zumbro 100 Mile Endurance Run.
This was hands down the most difficult thing I have ever done in my entire life. Everything I had heard before about 100 miles was true, but I had no idea exactly how it would feel. It hurt, and I was exhausted. I finished though, in 30 hours and 49 minutes, and feel an amazing sense of achievement. The Zumbro Bottoms trails were much tougher than I thought, maybe easier than Superior but not tremendously. My crew was indispensable to my finish. What an epic experience. Finished the day saying “well, I got that out of my system,” but amnesia might be setting in. Shared trail with some awesome people during the day, notably Susan Donnelly, Rob Apple, and Ryan Carter.
Note: the long version is ridiculously long. Give me a break – it was my first 100! I’m going to put together a video report, too, so wait for that if you fall asleep reading.
Pre Race Picnic
As usual, I had undertrained. I spent a lot of late February and early March trying to decide if I really wanted to commit to this race. So I hit the trails and bagged a few big runs that gave me no excuse and I put in. I put the word out for crew and pacers and got some running buddies to sign on, so all that was left was planning the details.
I arrived at the West Assembly campground Thursday night for the pre-race picnic, which is something to love about ultras. I said hello to Race Director (RD) Larry Pederson, and then immediately met Susan Donnelly and Rob Apple, who I “knew” from Susan’s well-known blog. I had no idea then how much they would help me finish this beast. I freely shared with everyone that it was my first 100, and soaked up any advice people offered.
I had great chats with Matt, Adam and his pacer Chad, Don Clark, John Taylor, John Gustafson, Tim Roe, and John Storkamp. Its a great and welcoming community of runners, easy to get used to. It seemed like almost everyone was camping, but a few of us retreated back to hotel rooms in Wabasha.
I slept well but got up way too early, probably due to nerves. I had a quick breakfast at the hotel and then headed to the Start. I met Ryan Carter randomly in the parking lot – great to put a face to a name I have known from the mn-drs list, and someone I would unknowingly be spending a lot of time with today.
Mid-route to the start, I got a text from my crew saying “we think we’re here!”. I immediately knew they were not – it would be obvious! I texted back (yes I was stopped) and then kept going, arriving to a heating up starting area.
I chatted with some newly arrived runners, had a bit of coffee and milled around until the start was feeling imminent. I suddenly was feeling ill prepared – I hadn’t totally decided what to wear, what to carry, so headed to my car and bumped into my crew, thankfully! Suddenly we seemed short on time – I started changing frantically and asked Diego to fish stuff out of my car and Tim to go fill my Nathan vest with HEED. Diego tells me 4 minutes to start and I’m still finishing dressing. We head towards the start, Tim puts my Nathan on me. I take a big pull off of it – lemonade from the picnic! I didn’t tell him where to go, we quickly dump it, throw some of my powdered HEED in, and Tim sets off to find water.
I get my Nathan back on just as Larry is finishing his pre-race briefing and we all march to the start. Zach pats me on the pack and wishes me luck. Shortly after 8am we are heading out of the chute, and I have no idea what I am in for.
For those that are not familiar with this course – its a 20.3 mile loop that you run 5 times, passing through the Start/Finish area at the end of each loop. It’s in the Zumbro Bottoms wildlife area on horse trails, and Larry and Don are legendary for challenging courses that include wicked ascents and descents.
I started off with Adam and we chatted about race goals. He made it into Western States and I was thinking he needed to finish this 100 to qualify. (note for non-runners: Western States 100 is the Boston Marathon of 100 mile races. There is a lottery drawing to get entered and you must run a qualifying race.) He mentioned that he already qualified with an 8:30ish 50 mile! Yikes! “What am I doing next to you??!!!” I half-joked, knowing I was already heading out too fast. This was the first thing Susan and Rob cautioned me on – and I have read this repeatedly in Susan’s race reports. I quickly dropped back and hung with Ryan for awhile, who was even a bit fast for me but great company.
The day was looking absolutely beautiful as we headed up the first ridge for an overlook of the starting area. The pack was already spreading out and I was very deliberately trying to keep it slow and mix in walking. I started eating Clif bloks just a couple miles in, determined to stay ahead on my calories and roughly targeting the 300 or so calories per hour that got me through Superior last Fall. Loop 1 was uneventful and went well. I was feeling great – well hydrated and well fed. Tim and Diego met me at aid stations (AS) 2 and 3, which was great encouragement.
I was rather surprised by many aspects of the course – very steep, aggressive climbs; very long ascents and descents; lots of loose, large rocks; lots of leaf litter covering these trail “features”. These all made the course much more challenging than I had anticipated – A very Larry/Don course!
Loop 1 complete at 1:00pm in 5 hours. Total – 20.3 miles in 5 hours.
When I came into the Start/Finish area, it was great to see an additional crew member, Neil, was there. Two more showed up during this loop – Brian and Hugh. The guys had all of my gear right there and helped me through my checklist, suggested extras (like sunscreen – thanks!), and refilled my Nathan. I packed my camera and headed out for the next loop. The afternoon started off great, but quickly started to seem hotter than I thought it would be, and I think the direct sunlight in some sections amplified the effect.
I ran with Rob and Susan quite a bit on this loop – more with Rob, as Susan liked to pick it up on the downhills.
Rob and I overlooking the Start/Finish area.
They were fantastic mentors, very helpful and considerate. They had a lot of suggestions, and quizzed me to make sure I was walking plenty, drinking and peeing plenty, etc. Very thoughtful. Susan also gave me a heads up about the 2-3am “low”. She said this would be the worst point, I would be begging my pacer for a nap and I wouldn’t feel like I could finish. But she and Rob said to just hang on until 5-6am when the sun would start coming up – the Circadian Rhythm kicks in and you get a second wind.
Even the most basic ultra AS is stocked with food. But a couple ASs went over the top and even gourmet with some of the offerings. I discovered Jen’s avocado wraps early on, and great soups. I continued eating and drinking at the same pace, but as the day wore on my stomach started sending signals. I wasn’t nauseous, but food wasn’t tasting good and I felt full and a bit uneasy. I remembered that this happened towards the end of the Superior 50, so I reviewed everything I was doing and thought maybe that plan wasn’t sustainable for a 100. My biggest worry was getting behind on eating – but maybe I was too far ahead? I decided to back way off.
The pictures never do it justice – these were tough climbs!
Loop 2 complete at 6:10pm in 5 hours 10 minutes. Total – 40.6 miles in 10 hours 10 minutes.
I was joined by 2 of my crew as pacers for this loop – Brian and Neil. Strictly speaking, there was a 1 pacer rule but they told Larry they would not be using aid and I think my status as a newbie at the back of the pack got me some leniency – or maybe it was my 16 hour shift volunteering at Superior! ;-) It was great to have sustained company that was fresh and could move at my slow pace. At AS 1 on this loop, Rob even mockingly shook his finger at them both and admonished them to keep the pace slow for me! So cool that he was looking out for me.
We had a great time chatting it up and goofing around while we walked and ran. These guys are a couple roadies that I have been trying to talk into trails. We’ll see if they admit it, but I heard more than once on that loop comments like “man, I can really see why you get into this!”, “The trail is so beautiful!”, and “The people here are so cool!”. I tried to sell them on the fun of the weekend, but its still hard to ask people to give up so much time and hassle just to help you. So I was glad to hear them enjoying themselves on the trail.
We fired up headlamps probably an hour into the run, and heard wild turkeys and coyotes as the sun went down. It was fun to “introduce” these guys to a trail that I was starting to get to know after twice around. I was describing upcoming features and remembering what footing I had used previously in some of the technical sections. Neil’s headlamp went out for awhile, so he had the additional challenge of trying to run off of Brian’s light behind him and mine in front of him – not fun. Sometime later he randomly tried it and it worked again!
My throttled-back eating strategy worked perfectly. During this loop my stomach really settled down and my hydration was getting back in line (meaning I was peeing again). There was a fantastic pumpkin soup at AS 1/4 that I looked forward to on my moderate diet – that really hit the spot. I was feeling good and ready for the overnight.
At AS4, just finishing up this loop, I bumped into Matt by the fire. We had an amusing, incoherent conversation in our weakened states where he was convinced I was Scott Meyers. You wouldn’t see him this far back in a race, I said! But I was bummed to hear he had to drop.
Loop 3 complete at 12:46am in 6 hours 36 minutes. Total – 60.6 miles in 16 hours 46 minutes.
We pulled into the Start/Finish area and Tim was all set to pace me overnight. I grabbed a bit of food and packed some additional top and bottom layers in my pack. It had gotten down into the low 30s the night before and felt very chilly. I knew it was going to be warmer tonight, but I wanted to be prepared for what I knew would be a lot of walking. I am glad I prepared, but as it turned out I never did add layers. I had also heard earlier from Ryan that he didn’t bring gloves, so I made sure my crew got my extra gloves to him.
Tim and I set off into the woods and the big overnight loop. We chatted about how the race was going and I told him about some of the mid-stream adjustments I was making. I shared the thoughts from Susan and Rob about the overnight low and had him prepped to keep me awake and moving!
The loop started off just fine, and until 2:00am or so didn’t seem much tougher than the previous loop. I enjoy running by headlamp, was feeling the miles but still nothing major.
But as time wore on towards 3:00am I definitely felt the drop. It became harder and harder to run, and I was feeling very spacey and a bit unstable. It gets very hypnotic to just continually follow a splash of light on the trail , so I kept trying to look around and shine my headlamp around the woods just to vary the scenery. I remember looking behind me various times, seeing the illuminated trailblazing, and being convinced that it was from runners behind me. I kept checking and got frustrated that they never passed – finally realizing later that I was the one illuminating the blazing.
I had heard Susan tell someone at an aid station that she and Rob saw a pair of eyes in the woods earlier. At one point, I stopped Tim and asked what animal he thought the two eyes belonged to, and he pointed out that it was just a fallen post with reflectors on it! The night wore on and on and I felt depths of fatigue that I have never felt in my life. I recalled reading how you have to dig incredibly deep to finish a 100, and knew that this was one of the times I was digging. I ended up walking most miles between 2:30am and 5:30am, and spent all of my energy just trying to stay awake, upright, and moving forward. I learned later on that on one of my bio breaks, my pacer leaned against a tree and fell asleep standing up!
But true enough, as the sun started coming up I felt a second wind. By about 5:30am I was back running and Tim and I brought in the last of the loop at a respectable pace.
Finishing loop 4 Saturday morning with Tim.
Loop 4 complete at 7:46am in 7 hours. Total – 80.9 miles in 23 hours 46 minutes.
By this time I was feeling refreshed after a very challenging pre-dawn march, and was ready to get back on the trail. John Storkamp dropped by to check on me and wish me luck. I congratulated him on his win, and laughed at the thought that he was done and I was heading out for 6 more hours of fun!
Diego was ready to head out, so I dumped my extra clothes, stuffed some food down, refilled my pack and headed out. Somewhere in there, I remember hearing someone say Brian might be heading out, too. But my brain wasn’t totally coherent or considerate and Diego and I just took off. As I was tweeting the start of my final loop on one of the two course points I knew I had coverage, Brian popped up next to us for a second pacing loop. All things considered, I felt like I started this loop pretty strong. We were power hiking the uphills and getting some nice moderate runs in on the flats. But I got slapped about 2 miles in when we went down the first extended downhill. The trail was Class 5 all the way, plenty wide and flat but was steep enough that I still had to walk it with my tender knees. I got to the bottom, and as soon as the trail leveled out I felt my upper calves tighten up, along with the area behind my knee. I was dejected – I thought I was really going to finesse this last loop! Suddenly, walking was reasonably comfortable, but running was painful, and would remain so for the rest of the loop.
My nutrition strategy was out the window by this point. I had some more great soup at AS1 and some cookies. The road stretch out of AS1 was ironically one of the most mentally challenging parts for me, just because it was long and flat. It should have been so runnable, but I felt like all it did was emphasize how much I couldn’t run. By the time I got to AS2 by brain was balled up in this struggle to keep running, and I didn’t want to think much about eating and drinking. I started drinking Coke at the aid stations just to get whatever energy push I could. I remember Ryan pulling into this aid station like the Pied Piper – how is that guy so cheery at 90 miles, when I feel like this??!! My crew caught video of Ryan not only coherently, but graciously thanking the AS volunteers, while I stumble like a zombie towards the trash!
Ryan and I sealing a blood pact to finish, at the mile 97 AS. The faces say it all. I think at this moment Ryan was actually telling me about his plans for a new ultra event – seriously! Photo courtesy of Jen Pierce.
Some of the aggressive ascents were still exhausting and challenging, but I began to look forward to all of the ascents because they meant sustained walking. Getting up past AS3 was challenging, but easier than what was to come for the last 6 miles – nice long, single-track descents that hurt to even look at.
Diego and Brian were fantastic pacers for this loop. I think the slow pace drove Brian nuts, so he was always about 25 yards ahead of me – always the rabbit I had to chase. Diego hung back and kept me company, always launching into a story as soon as I started running. Even with my mushy brain, I knewhe was doing it to distract me so I would keep running – and I really appreciated that.
I kept having to stop and just lean over on my knees to give my legs breaks and catch up with my exhaustion. Just stopping and standing felt as restful as taking a nap – it was addictive. At one point, I was leaning on my knees, as was Brian, and he looked at me and asked “Why are we doing this?” “Because it helps me rest my legs,” I explained. “No, I mean running 100 miles!!” he laughed! And we all did. My wife wasn’t able to make it due to a family emergency, but my kids were at the finish waiting for me. I pushed myself with two thoughts: it will be so nice to see the boys and have them finish with me, and then when I finish I can lay down in that cool grass!
Diego finally helped me break through the wall with the most simple advice. “Your problem,” he counseled, “is that you are listening to you legs. Don’t.” Too true. That kept me going through those last few miles – every time I slowed down or walked, I realized that was the legs. As soon as I brought that to the surface, I would ignore them and my pace would pickup. Every little run was a minor victory for me, and I tried to make every one a bit longer and faster.
When we finally popped out on the last road, I couldn’t believe it was almost done. I was feeling euphoria. We trotted down the trail, and soon I saw two familiar faces heading towards me – my two boys. It was so awesome to see them! I love when they join me on the trail. Ian held out his hand to offer me a trail souvenir – a really nice skipping rock. I thanked him, but groaned at the sight and told him I couldn’t carry any extra weight, but he held on to it for me.
The sight of the chute from across the campground was awesome. I walked my last paces up to the grass, and then picked up a run for the last ¼ mile to the chute. I heard my Mom holler first and get the whole crowd cheering. There is no race finish so personal as at these ultras. Its just an amazing feeling to hear a crowd of people all cheering for you. I could see Zach and Ryan hanging out in the shelter. My crew was there. I saw Susan and Rob come out from back by their car to cheer me. So many new and good friends were there hauling me in across that line. And this epic adventure had finally come to an end – with a finish.
The perfect skipping rock (that will never be skipped).
Larry gave me my cherished belt buckle. I crashed in a lawn chair and took off the only pair of socks and shoes I had worn for the past 31 hours. Not a single blister, chafe, or lost toenail. I walked over to thank Susan and Rob for all of their generous help, but cut it short because I think I almost cried in my weakened / excited / exhausted / euphoric state!
I hung out with my family and friends for a short while. We relived parts of the race, and remember parts we had already forgotten, but I was already starting to fall asleep in my chair. I said a final couple goodbyes, thanked Larry and Colleen for everything they did, and we hit the road.
An awesome crew.
Loop 5 done in 7 hours 3 minutes.
Finish at 2:49pm, Total – 101.2 miles in 30 hours 49 minutes.
Thanks a million to my awesome crew for getting me through this amazing experience. Thanks Larry and Colleen for putting all of this together. Thanks to all of the volunteers who go above and beyond the basics (even the guy who didn’t hesitate to tell me how much he hated filling my Nathan). And thanks to all of the local ultrarunners who, in one way or another, have helped me learn the ropes – you guys are awesome:
Matt Patten, Adam Harmer, Zach Pierce, Ryan Carter, Steve Quick, Londell Pease, Helen Lavin, Kelly Doyle, Susan Donnelly, Rob Apple, Larry Pedersen, Julie Berg, John Storkamp, and certainly others I’m forgetting.