Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Kettle Moraine 100K, revisiting one of my first ultramarathons

I first ran this 100K way back in 2003.  I had come off a marathon PR and Boston qualifier just two weekes earlier and wasn't sure how I would feel.  At this point, I had run exactly one 50-miler ten years earlier, one 100-miler a year earlier, and a 50K.  I was still new to this ultrarunning stuff.  so anyway, I toed the line, took off at 6am and managed to finish in a respectable 11:45, good enough for a 6th place finish and 2nd in my age group (40-49, my first ever age group hardware!). 
I attempted to replicate the feat the next year (2004) and bonked really hard between miles 35-50.  I still managed a 12:10 finish and I think it was good enough for 9th overall.
Well, I've always wanted to go back and run Kettle again.  This year we went back to Illinois to visit our daughter and her family and I managed to time it so that we were there on race weekend.  Pretty sneaky if I do say so.  See family, have a good time, get a race in.
The Kettle Moraine is an area of south central Wisconsin.  The terrain is rolling remanents of the glacial moraines from the last ice age.  So there's lots of small rollers over the moraines and lots of dips into the "kettles".  The race takes place on sections of the Ice Age Trail and goes through the Kettle Moraine State Forest Southern Unit.  Some of the trail crosses private land.  The trail itself ranges from really wide cross country ski trail that is mowed to narrow single track winding through the thick forests, to trail that crosses several miles of northern prairie grasslands.  A little bit of everything.
At this time of year everything is lush and green (read humid).  Lots of flowers, birds, and biting insects abound.  At least the trail was dry.
I figured that since I don't live back here anymore, I wouldn't know anyone, but I did manage to meet up with fellow Wasatch Speedgoat Racing team members Larry and Beth Hall. 

Meeting up with fellow Speedgoats Larry and Beth Hall
 I've known them since I lived in Illinois, so catching up with them was fun.  They were both running the 100-mile.
So, about 75 of use started the 100K.  Those numbers are about the same as they were 10 years ago.  there were a lot more 100-mile runners than there used to be though.
The first few miles are rolling cross country ski trails.  About 30' wide and the state keeps them mowed during the summer.  The first thing I noticed is that everyone was walking the ups.  Now these ups are anywhere from 10' to 30' of gain and some were a bit steep, but I thought I'm from Utah, I run stuff like this all the time, so I did.  The first aid station is about 4.7 miles in and at the time you're running along a wide straight flat trail through a section of pine forest. 
Running through some pine forest
Pretty cool.  Once we got to the second aid station, we left the wide ski trails and began running on some nice single track.  Kind of rocky, ups and downs, traverses along hillsides, and a gradual climb to an overlook that gives a nice view of southern Wisconsin farmland. 
Southern Wisconsin farmland
This race is kind of interesting in that you can be running along and think that you're way out in the middle of the forest, and you'll hear a car going down a road just outside your view.  You realize that you're not so isolated after all, yet those in the cars probably don't realize that just a couple hundred feet away, there are crazy people running through the woods.
Meanwhile, at about mile 15, we began running through some southern Wisconsin prairie.  I never have been a fan of this section of the course.  Usually the grass is a bit taller, so harder to push through.  Also, it's a lot more exposed, and by now the sun is usually getting warm and the moisture given off by the grass can make the humidity pretty stifling.  Heat and humidity doesn't usually bother me unless I have the prevailing breeze at my back, making it feel like running through absolutely still air.  Thank goodness there was a breeze most of the time.  The prairie section is about seven miles of exposure that I tried to run all of just to get through.  I was glad to get back into the cool shade of the forest.
Prairie time
It was at about this point that I took my first fall.  Now I usually don't trip and fall at races, or during any runs, but it seems as though lately I've been tripping and falling a lot.  One fall a week earlier left me with some bruised ribs that made sneezing or coughing pretty painful.  At least I didn't land on those sore ribs.  I was also starting to go into a funk as well at about 25 miles.  I was doing ok, but not where I wanted to be time wise.  I was fueling and hydrating just fine, but just was having a down time.  So as I'm feeling sorry for myself and how badly I think I'm doing, I go down again.  This one really kind of pissed me off.  Why do I keep tripping? I rolled into the turnaround a couple of miles later feeling kind of down.  I figured that I would just keep going, but any thoughts of really pushing were out the window.  I was hoping to hit the 50k turn at between 5:00 and 5:30.  I came in right at 6 hours.  I took my time at the turnaround and left about 15 minutes later.  Since this was an out and back course, I got to see all of the runners in front of and behind me.  I always like that.  It gives you a chance to kind of see where you are in the pack and you can pick up some energy from the other runners. 

At about 35 miles I finally came out of my funk and noticed that I had plenty of energy and my mood was much better, so I picked up the pace a bit.  I knew I still wasn't going to hit my time goals, but at least I felt better.  From 35 to 50 miles I felt really good and managed to pick off some of the runners that had passed me earlier.  I had no idea if they were 100K, 100 mile, or relay runners, but it was nice to just have the energy to pass them.  Back through the prairie section I went, and it seemed to go by faster than I remembered from 10 years ago.  Back into the woods for the final 15 miles, just cruising along by myself, just how I like it.  No other runners to worry about, no conversations to have, just run through the forest.  My happy time.
When I hit the second to last aid station and got back on the ski trails, I started smelling the barn and tried to pick up the pace a bit more.  I blew through the last aid station and by now I was starting to see the lead 100 mile runners heading out again as well as the 38 mile fun run runners (yeah, they start at about 6pm and get to run through the night).  The one thing about running on the ski trails is that they are so convoluted that you can hear the cheering at the finish line and know that it's still four miles away.  The weather by now had gone overcast and windy and was threatening to rain.  It always rains on this race.  Every year, but it usually holds off until the evening.  Well, I was coming in later than I have in the past, so I did start getting rained on for about the last half mile.  I was good with that.  The air was still warm and the rain cooled things off a bit.
I finally crossed the finish line or a time of 13:55.  So way slower than ten years ago, but I think at my age I'm supposed to be slowing down a bit.  Anyway, it was good enough for 17th place overall out of 61 finishers, and, once again, 2nd in my age group.  I'm good with that.  Yeah, it was fun to go back and run this race again after so many years away.  100K is my favorite ultradistance to run.  Long enough to be epic, but usually you don't end up running through the night.  Jason and Timo have directed this race since its inception 19 years ago and it shows.  Everything runs well, the course is well marked, the aid stations are well manned and stocked.  If you're ever in southern Wisconsin the first weekend in June and looking for a great trail race, do this one.  Hopefully I can go back and run it again.

Senior Masters, just a nicer way of saying old fart

Added bonus - Beer review
While I was back east, my wife and I hit a local liqour store and went back to the beer section.  Holy cow!  We were like kids in a candy store.  All sorts of nifty beers and reasonable prices.  I could have spent a ton of money here, but leaving for home the next day meant that I couldn't.  Sigh!
One of the beers I did by was a vanilla stout called Buffalo Sweat brewed by the Tallgrass Brewery in Kansas.  Since I run with buffalo here in Utah, how could I pass that one up.
Good stuff indeed
For a stout, it was suprisingly lighter than I thought it would be.  Very malty as a stout should be with very little hop bitterness. Yet it wasn't too sweet.  My lovely wife said it had some wheat flavors but I couldn't pick them out because my nose was plugged from allergies.  It's brewed with vanilla beans and you would think that the vanilla might be overpowering, but it wasn't.  I've had some vanilla flavored beers that were overwhelmed with the vanilla flaor.  You could taste the vanilla, but it was just the right amount I thought.  5.0% ABV, so not heavy at all.  Not exactly a summer beer, but drinking one last night while sitting on my patio was very enjoyable.
And of course a picture of my completely awesome grandkids

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