The 2016 Kettle Moraine 100 miler marks my 30th marathon/ultra since the fall of 2009 when I began racing again after about a 16ish year hiatus.
My second marathon sucked, and I swore to the heavens that it would be my last.
“And once you are awake, you shall remain awake eternally. ” ~ Friedrich NietzscheThe nice thing about running is that there are always new challenges to pursue: Last year I ran my first 100 miler. Perhaps I rushed into this having only run one 50k and one 50 miler prior, but I'm no spring chicken. The sand is quickly flowing through my hourglass, so I went for it. It was hard. Harder than I could have imagined, but I got it done. My goals were modest. My eyes were wide with wonder as I embarked on a new adventure, and the post-race euphoria (pre-post-race-depression) lasted a little longer than normal.
I can say without a doubt that my second 100 was harder, and continues to be harder, on all counts than the first. At this point in my 'ultralife' there is little comfort in the knowledge that you have done 'it' before. In fact, ignorance is a bit of a blessing at times. Being able to actually see, in my minds eye, what I would be facing during the race in the days leading up to the race was not particularly comforting even though I had survived. Last year I had my imagination. Last year I had the excitement of a new, unknown adventure about to reveal itself. Last year I had the encouragement of others: An overwhelming, energizing outpouring of encouragement and support one gets when you try something for the first time and the people who you care about actually care, and wonder if you can do it - and with that unknown hanging in the air, the support is tremendous. The second time is so, so, Ho-Hum...anti-climatic...same-old-same-old. I mean, you did it once. You'll do it again. Let's all move on to something interesting. But for the person doing the doing, it can be a strangely quiet, very personal, and sometimes lonely path. As you are freaking out, all those around you are waving off the anxiety as silliness.
And so the day arrives. I drive off, waving to my daughter and husband. I have a rib out of place, which happens one day ago, and a knee problem that has plagued me since November thanks to a non-running 'accident'. Continual treatment has helped, but whether my knee can hold up for 100 miles is still an very big unknown weighing heavily on my mind and heart.
I actually sleep some the night before and the morning dawns warmer than I'd like, but everything goes smoothly.
|Contemplating the chip :)|
And so I stand at the start line with so many unknowns and too many knowns - feeling like the Sword Of Damocles menacingly hangs over my head. But once the gun goes off, it's down to the task at hand and all the lingering worries dissipate into the thick morning dew...
I am careful to go out much easier this year than last and to avoid thundering down the very steep downhills. Somewhere along the first stretch to Bluff I start talking with a woman from California. She's slightly behind me, so I don't even get a good look at her. All I really see is a flash of pink. The course is slightly different this year due to trail changes that would have made the 100 a 102 miles instead of it's usual 100.6 miles, so we get to Bluff much sooner then I expect but then turn off in the direction that the second 38 miles goes, up toward Confusion Point. Now, I'm pretty dang sure that we went straight out of Bluff last year so for about a mile or so I'm wondering if everyone took a wrong turn and I'm a damn fool for following - but just in the nick of time a sign points us down a different trail. The stretch between Bluff and Emma Carlin is narrow and moderately technical and trying to get around conga-line bottle necks without being a jerk takes patience. Again the California runner, whose name I learn is Keather, and I strike up a conversation as we weave through the forest. At about 12 miles, I'm already feeling some fatigue in my left quad, the leg with the compromised knee. The leg I've probably been favoring (and weakening) since November. My right leg feel great.
We hear the hoots and hollers from Emma Carlin waft though the trees and I feel a spring in my step and a smile on my face. This is somewhere around mile 14 and the first chance I get to see Sandra.
|Keather and me coming into Emma Carlin (outbound)|
The skies at this point are staying pretty cloudy, moist, and thick, but as we head off into the open, rolling meadow for 9+ miles that is a Godsend.
I'm ticking along, running, eating, running, eating, etc, and a couple young dudes come up next to me. One strikes up a chirpy conversation immediately. We're all feeling pretty good at this point and ticking through the miles at a reasonable clip.
As we talk and run, the young man just behind me says, "I've met you before. I've run with you before."
I hear his voice and say "At Des Plaines. You and your friend"
"Yes. You wrote a race review. I read that"
"I did. And you were in it. You were getting ready for your first Hundred"
We talk about that race, about his hundred, about our goals today, and then he says, "Thank you so much for the advice about the 100. I just want to thank you."
At this point an unmanned aid station (Antique Lane) appears like an oasis, and they stop to refill bottles. I still have one full bottle so I keep going, wishing them well and assuring them that they will see me shortly. At about mile 23 the chirpy chap catches up with me. "I like the pace you're going." we settle in and chat a bit longer. We hit Hwy 67, and the skies are getting ominously dark. I head for Hwy ZZ, only a few miles away, but the trail is empty. I pass one young, healthy looking dude puking by the side of the trail about a 1/4 mile from the aid station and then I do not see another person for a couple miles. This makes me nervous since I have a habit of getting effing lost, and I really do not know where I am. And now it's chucking down rain. Thunder rumbles through the dark forest. But then civilization reappears, with signs and arrows and...an aid station. Hwy ZZ. Where I find Sandra, and now Jennifer with her amazingly resilient kids, in the rain.
I stop quickly, meet Ann who's volunteering and running the 38 mile 'Fun Run" that night, AND who has promised to pass along a baggie full of peanut-butter/chocolate espresso bean balls, and then I head off to Scuppernong.
Scuppernong is a bustle of activity as the 50k waves are just starting. I'm in a bit of a rush, first because I don't want to dilly-dally and second, because I want to get out before the 50k masses are released.
|Simultaneous sock and bottle change|
My only goal through this section is not to get lost. Last year I cost myself big time due to missing a turn which this year is well marked. Success.
It's also here that my knee begins making some noise.
Back through ZZ, then Hwy 67, then back to the meadow, which is now in full, baking, humid sun. And it's about 2-3 pm. The second trip through the meadow is ugly. I can see the moisture steaming off the ground, rising into the air. It is also here that I learn a big big lesson! At Scuppernong I slathered my quads with Aspercreme to relax my quads. Unfortunately I used the 'cayenne' version. After all, it was damp and rainy then and the forecast was for more damp and rainy. But, in the baking sun of the meadow, with zero shade and temps quickly rising through the 80s, my legs are on FIRE. I mean, they are burning up! It feels like my skin is melting off my thighs. I curse my stupidity over and over again (lesson learned). The only thing that get me through the afternoon heat is the coolers full of ice at the unmanned aid stations. I load my running bra with ice as men look on longingly - Probably the first time they wished they had breasts!
This section is also where weird stuff starts happening on my left side: The meadow, while not at all technical, is very consistently uneven. Because we run through cut grass (which is not that short) footing and judging your footing is hard. The constant adjustments can really take a toll on your pelvis (both trips add up to 18 + miles of this stuff). So, about 5 miles from Emma Carlin, my knee pain starts spreading up my leg to my hip and a weird nervy way. I try to run and within 5-10 steps my leg feels like it will give out on me. My hip joint feels like it needs to be popped, but there's not much I can do. The next few miles are torture as I realize that this run is not going to happen today if this situation continues. I need to get to Emma Carlin tape and change shoes and see if that helps. I'm feeling pretty pessimistic at this point.
|Coming into Emma Carlin (inbound) and the wheels are coming off!|
Thankfully the nerve stuff is better. My knee still hurts, especially on the downhills, but I no longer feel like my leg will give out on me. I'm still not sure what's going on with my knee, and in fact it feels like it's below my knee not 'in' my knee. It also doesn't seem to be getting worse (another deal killer), but it makes running hard and painful. I'm so frustrated now because the rest of me feels good. Mentally I'm in a way better place than last year. I just want to run without this bloody pain.
I come into Bluff and Sandra is there with a worried expression. I add some tape which just keeps pealing off thanks to sweat and humidity, grab my headlamp and head for the steep rollers into Nordic: the start/finish/100k mark. What will it be for me today?
Some things I note along the way: It's not as dark as last year. This section last year I had Abbie pacing me. Now I'm alone and I'm okay with that. I get to the 100k which is a party scene. The thought of stopping isn't even there. Jeni has now joined Sandra. My team is here, and I feel that I need to keep going - they came here to run with me! I don't want to let them down.
|100k - 38 miles to go|
As we come through the Tamarack at 68ish miles, I realize that I've just passed a woman in pink in the dark. In the light of the aid station I realize it's Keather. We all leave together and keep each other in a somewhat punchy-happy mood. Keather is having a hard time dealing with bad bad blisters on the bottom of her feet. I'm having a hard hard time with my knee pain. Sandra is upbeat as always. We start doing the math on making the cut-off (always depressing talk at this point!) and realize we have about 12 hours to do 50k. Keather and I console ourselves that we could probably do that crawling. But sh*t this is painful.
We hit Bluff again, and stuff our faces. Keather sees the last of some small powered donuts. I'm not a donuts person, but those are good right now! Sandra and I leave as Keather is talking to her crew. At some point we are all back together, though the next sections out to hwy 12 and then out to Rice Lake have some of the more technical stuff. I almost fall several times since I'm basically operating with one good side. Any misstep makes it difficult to correct. We make it to Hwy 12 where Jeni takes over pacing.
|Coming into hwy 12 (outbound)|
Last year the only hallucinations I experienced were seeing people standing along the side of the trail. People who were not actually there. This year I see things flying around my feet. They look like moths or small butterflies. I ask Jeni, "Are there moths flying around our feet?" She just says "Noooo." but I keep seeing them flitting about in my peripheral vision. It then occurs to me that this seems a lot like the faeries my daughter describes seeing. I decide that these are indeed faeries that she has sent me to help me move on.
|Hwy 12 (Inbound)|
|Bluff (inbound). Mile 93+|
|Leaving Bluff and heading home|
As I hit the opening exiting the trees and see the finish I hear the cheers and cowbells. There are many more people around this year than last. I put my head down and try to run with Sandra and Jeni by my side.
|Eye on the finish|
|Sitting. Ah, sitting|
|Best Crew in the world!|
“I won't tell you that the world matters nothing, or the world's voice, or the voice of society. They matter a good deal. They matter far too much. But there are moments when one has to choose between living one's own life, fully, entirely, completely—or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands. You have that moment now. Choose!” ~Oscar Wilde
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?'
'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat.
'I don't much care where -' said Alice.
'Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat.
'- so long as I get SOMEWHERE,' Alice added as an explanation.
'Oh, you're sure to do that,' said the Cat, 'if you only walk long enough.” ~Lewis Carroll, Alice In Wonderland