Warning - This is a long one, and meandering at times.
It's been said many times before, but now I get it.
Ultra running IS A TEAM SPORT. And the team is much bigger than you think. It is as obvious as your crew (I had the best out there), and not so obvious as your friends who have spent the hours training with you. And even less obvious are the spouses and family of the friends who train with you.
What I was able to do in the race this weekend was only possible with my awesome crew, Bill Pomerenke, and the family and friends who kept me on course (literally and metaphorically).
The tone of this report might be a little different as my family will might be reading it (G rated). Sorry gang.
To understand what this race meant to me, you can read the report from last year. But here is what I remember.
Kettle Moraine 2008 100 Mile
Somewhere between mile 20 and 25:
It's over 80 degrees. The dew point is in the 70's (tropical), there is not a cloud in the sky, and there is no breeze. I was out on the famous "prairie" section, and I was falling apart fast.
By mile 29, I could not walk in a straight line. My hands were turning purple. I was not sure I could even make it to the 31 mile turnaround. Those last 2 miles were almost a death march for me. I knew I was done.
I dropped at 31. I wondered if I was cut out for this distance. Self doubt set in. My ego was crushed. I only made it 31 miles of a 100 mile race.
It was then that my good friend Jim Wilson showed me how it was done and got through the hell of that race and pulled out a finish. I gave him the nickname "rock star".
Fast forward to this weekend.
Location - Nordic 100k turnaround
I had just rolled in with more negative thoughts than one should be carrying. My crew (Bill) was there to handle all of the things I needed. Jim "the rock star" Wilson was there helping out too.
I had spent the last 7 miles sucking wind. I had been in a real bad "funk". I was worried this would turn into a 50 mile death march to the end. But...... I was finally starting to follow my own advice "When things get bad, they will get better". I had to get out of this "funk". I kept saying "get out of this funk, get out of this funk".
I knew I needed this aid station to get out of this funk. I took some vitamin I, drank some coffee, ate some real food (no gels, bloks, etc), and drank some water.
The clock was ticking, an I wanted to get back on the course before the 12 hour mark. It was 11:50 something. I figured it was time to go. I gave Jim the knuckle fist hand shake, and I was off.
There are a lot of people hanging out at this aid station because it is the finish for the 100k, the start of the 38 mile fun run (was starting 2 hours from that time) and the finish for the 100 Mile. People cheer for you as you go back out there for the last 38 miles.
What I did not know was that when I stepped back out on that course, I was embarking on the greatest race of my life................
Race Check in
Bill drove Steve Q and I down in "the green hornet" on Friday, and we arrived at check in around 5pm. There was a long line waiting to check in. Lots of familiar faces.
I talked with Daryl Saari briefly. He said he worries about this race because it "sneaks up on you". I wasn't sure what he meant, but I figured it out at mile 56.
His wife, Lynn, was there as well. She was going to run the "fun run". Lynn was the awesome person who kicked me out of an aid station last year, making me go finish my first 100 mile.
I told Timo, one of the race directors, that I was here to exchange my 2008 bib for a 2009. He understood what I meant.
Jim was there too, as he was going to crew for Veronica Black (from Australia).
The rest of the evening was uneventful. Thankfully.
After a quick breakfast and coffee session, we were off to the starting area.
One the road there, we were passed by the guy who has the license plate "I run slo". Kind of ironic that he was speeding.
When we arrived, the weather was perfect. 50 something, low humidity, the rain had held off, no wind.
I saw Wynn Davis, who was gearing up for the 100k race. He was going to use this as a training run. He ended up setting the course record at 9:00:13 (come on man... can't you find 13 seconds over 62 miles?)
I ran into Steve and Kevin Grabowski (brothers). They are a fun duo. Little did I know that Kevin was going to help me get to the end of this race. (yes, you did man!).
Pierre Ostor, the guy who can handle anything, was his usual quite self. And Kevin Martin "the Big K" was going for his first 100M. This was going to be a perfect day.
After a quick pre race meeting, Timo did the stand ultra start. "ready, set, go".
The first 50k
I ended up running the first couple of miles with David Ruttum. Great guy, and very strong runner. Mile one split was sub 9 minute.... Mile 2 split was sub 9, same with mile 3. I said "Dave, I think we are running different races. Have a good one." I let him forge ahead. I did tell him about my battle with Adam Harmer. (Adam and I had a challenge to see who could get to 100 miles first. Me, or him at FANS 24 hour on the same day). Dave decided to take Adam's side and heckle me when our paths crossed.
I ran a little with Brad Birkholz and Julie Treder. I have met them in races a few times before and it was good to run a few with some familiar faces.
After a little bit, I decided to run my own race. I needed some time alone to get in my zone.
The second aid station came quick. Bill swapped my empty bottle with a full one, making the aid station time about 2 seconds. After this aid station, it gets a little hilly and technical.
This section brings you to the Ice Age trail from Bald Bluff up to the Emma Carlin campground. It is really easy to needlessly spend energy on this section. I was careful to conserve. A lot of people passed me. Most of them did it by running up the hills. Not one of the people who passed me in that section finished ahead of me. (both 100k and 100mile). Run hills later in the race if you can, not earlier.
I ended up talking with a "kid" Michael Mahoney who graduated from the same high school I did... 10 years after I did. We had fun ribbing each other. He took some "old man" jabs at me, I kept saying how this old man 100 Mile runner was going to beat him to the 100k mark in his 100k race. He beat me.
I had a great time running with Alex from South Bend "Irish". He had a lot of experience with this course (100M and K) and was doing the 100k. He kept me on a solid, conservative pace for a while. Fun stories too.
I rolled into Emma Carlin, mile 15.5, right on schedule in 2:35. Bill swapped bottles with me, and did not let me stop and chat. He and Wilson said "get out of here". One of the other runners heard that and on the way out said to me "tough crowd".
The next section was the start of the dreaded prairie section. The weather was perfect. This should be easy on a day like this.
I ended up running some with Kevin Stroud "Buffalo". I guess his running club is named "the buffalos". Alex was hanging with me as well. Good company.
Antique lane (unmanned aid station) came and went quickly. The prairies were easy today. I was still concerned, though. You can't spend too much energy out here this early in the race. A few times I said "see you guys, I need to back off". I was running my own race. Sometimes I caught back up to them, sometimes not.
Wilton Rd (unmanned aid station) came. I topped off my bottle with the water from the blue barrel. Not long after that I said "damn, the water from that barrel is ripe! Taste like pool water" (turns out it had a significant amount of chlorine which did not get rinsed).
As in all ultras, funny and strange things happen. Some where around mile 22 we came upon some people carrying what looked like a horse drawn carriage across one of the board walks. It was a replica of single axle wagon pulled by humans. They had to take the wheels off to get it across the board walk. We ended up helping them roll one wheel across. I said "I am in no hurry". That was very surreal.
Hwy 67 aid station came eventually, and I was feeling relaxed and strong. I decided to take a bio break early (pora potty). Bill switched my bottles again and I told him "dump the crap out in this one, it tastes like a pool". He said I was on great pace.
The next section went quick. I caught up to Alex again, who was with Scott Meyers. They did not hear me, so I came up and scared the crap out of Alex. Scott has a ton of experience with this course, but is battling foot injury this year. It was good catching up with him.
Highway zz (mile 26.5) came quick. I was in at 4:30, not bad for a trail marathon. Bill did the usual, and it was off to the turnaround.
Somehow in the next section I found my self running with Michael (the kid), Alex (the Irish), and Karla 100k. Should I be running with 100k runners? Run my own race. We had fun. Somewhere in there, though, my knee started giving me red flags. I had a few pops going down hills and something was not working right. I realized I probably could not go bounding down hills like I usually do. I had to watch this knee. It was still early in the race.
This section of the race ends at the Scuppernong Campground. It is the 50k mark and you turn around and go all of the way back to where it started. Bill had my bottle ready to swap, and there was nothing else I needed. I spent 1 second at the aid station. Everybody else had to go do stuff. Crew is awesome!
Oh yeah. 50k 5:23 PR! Fast, but not too fast for my plan.
The next 50K
As I started the adventure for the trip back, I figured it was going to get a little lonely. I saw all of the runners coming up to the turnaround, but once they were gone, it was quiet. My knee was really starting to worry me. I had to keep it from bending too much. I was not going to tell Bill, but I figured I had to.
At the next aid station, ZZ, I told Bill my knee was acting up. I didn't tell him that I thought it was going to be a major problem in a few hours. I think I even said I was going to back off. He told me Adam had just racked up 26 miles in 4 hours. Damn, he was going to smoke me.
I quickly made it back to Highway 67 (mile 39). Bill said "You are on sub 20 hours pace by a large margin". Okay. Maybe I should back off. It was easier to take car of me knee from here on out for a while as the terrain was nice.
I went back out onto the plains and decided to just maintain and easy pace. Don't try and push. One that section on the way back, it felt like running on the moon. I did not see anybody ahead or behind me (1/2 mile each direction). I enjoyed the solitude, but man was the eerie. It started raining. No problem.
I was getting a little cold, but I wanted to stay "comfortably cold" for a while.
Emma Carlin came, and I was happy to be done with that section. Even though it was easy this year, it was a monkey on my back which I feared all year long. Bill was there with Barb Meyers to get me situated. I remember telling him I did not need any warm clothes yet. I should have at that point. Oh well.
Right as I was heading out, 2 other 100 Milers were heading out as well. I guess they had taken a decent amount of time there. After talking to them later, they said they had killed the first 50k in 5:05 and were now paying for it.
It was quiet going back to the horseriders and Bluff sections. I made it to mile 50.5 in 8:58.. my second fastest 50 mile time!
I was in decent spirits, but was starting to tire. I was also getting cold (i was wearing a tank top and it was raining). I was also tired of carrying a bottle. My hand were cold and had lost their dexterity. Well, at least I had told Bill at the last aid station to have a long sleeve shirt and my belt ready at Bluff (I never told him this, I just thought I had). He had witnesses to the fact.
Eventually I made it to Bluff Aid station (mile 55.5). I was disappointed to find my belt was not there, or a warmer shirt, just the jacket I asked for. Bill could tell I was starting to fade. The jacket and gloves helped, but I was having a hard time carrying the bottle. All I remember was trying to get that jacket on and getting back out on the course.
Just as I left, the lead 100 Miler, Zach Gingerich was coming out to mile 70. Damn, he was on course record pace!
After that, I crashed. I was still in earshot of the aid station and I couldn't run. I started walking, and figured I should just walk for a little bit.
I should have had some caffeine at the last aid station. I was tired. I did not want to run any more. Crap! I was in a funk. Don't let this happen.
The next 2 miles was an absolute battle - Me vs. my shadow. My shadow was winning. My shadow was making plans to drop at the 100k mark and call it a day.
Get out of the funk, get out of the funk. It is hard to explain what happens when you get this point in a race, but I will say this. No amount of rational thinking can overtake what your dark side is thinking. This is where people do real stupid things, and make race ending mistakes.
I decided to get to the next aid station and focus on getting out of the funk. Michael Mahoney passed me in that funk and I said "you win, kid".
When I made it to the aid station, I focused on food and caffeine. I sat for probably 5-10 minutes, drinking and eating. GET OUT OF THE FUNK. GET OUT OF THE FUNK.
I don't remember leaving the aid station, I just remember thinking I was going to have to face Bill with my pace falling.
At this point, I was more worried about people looking at my splits and saying "you ran a real stupid race". Like I said, the dark side comes through.
One more brutal part about this section are the "easy" rolling hills. They were sucking the life out of me. Plus, there were mile markers of 4, 3, 2, 1 coming into the finish (meaning 4 miles left, 3, etc). I was watching my watch, and I was clocking 15 minute miles. OUCH.
I saw some of the 100 milers coming back out. Kevin Grabowski gave me a grunt (yes, you did Kevin). Rob Bero looked happy. Dave Ruttum looked like he had not run any miles yet (jerk). And, he yells "Adam's kicking your ass!". I laughed, but he was spot on. My butt was being kicked. I had this vision of Daryl Saari saying "this course sneaks up on you". Oh man was he right.
Well, you already read the 100k turnaround story.
The last 38
As I left the 100k turnaround, I felt better because I had the right clothes on, I had a belt carrying my water, I had real food in my stomach, I had caffeine in my brain, and some vitamin I for the legs. I felt better. A lot better.
I ran a little with Joel and Mark Dziedzic (the guys who I saw a little ways back). They were having a few issues. I enjoyed running with them, but somehow felt like I could pick up the pace. Was I feeling that much better?
The next aid station came quickly. Wow, what a change. I made sure I grabbed real food to keep the streak going. I was actually running again.
From 67 to 70, I saw Steve Q. He said he was struggling, but he was in much better shape than I have seen him in other races.
I kept getting better and better, and by the Bluff aid station, I was ready to rock.
Bill and Jim saw me coming in and immediately could tell I had recovered. Bill yelled "Matt's back!". All I could think of was the end of the movie "What about Bob" when Richard Dreyfus comes out of a catatonic state to object to his sister marrying Bob, and the son says "Dad's back!".
I think I said "okay, I am ready to race" What was I thinking? I had just run 70 miles. He gave me a run down of who was ahead of me, but I was thinking more "break 20 hours". It was possible.
I was now on fire. In the next 10 minutes, I picked off 3 runners. I was not running blazing fast, its just that people tend to slow from 70 on. I knew the rest of the course real well. I knew I could maintain a good pace until mile 77. Somewhere in there I found Jenny Chow (the eventual female 100m winner). She made it look effortless. Great race Jenny.
I knew almost every turn down to Highway 12, mile 77. My spirits held the whole way, and I was pumped to have passed some runners. Was I top 10?
At Hwy 12 Bill realized he needed to up the ante. He was telling me I could catch Kevin and Ron. Man, that would be a tough order. Those guys are experienced and strong. But today was my day. I felt great. Time to put it all on the table. Let's see if I can get those guys. At that point, Bill also informed me that Adam pulled the plug at FANS. They had bad weather, and it took its toll on a lot of people. Hey, I won "the ego challenge".
It got dark, and this section is very rocky. I almost fell 3-4 times. I did not want to slow, but I really did not want to face plant. It got dark and real windy. It was beautiful. All sorts of weird creatures making sounds I could not identify.
When I saw Dave Ruttum, he said "Adam is kicking your ass". I said "Not today man!". The rest of the way down to the turnaround was great, mainly because I could tell how far behind (or not) I was from everybody ahead. If I had enough juice, I could possibly catch Kevin and Ron.
In the last 3 miles before the turnaround their are stairs, up and down. There are three road crossings. I can see people being so out of it that they just run out into the middle of the street. I managed to look both was. I did see a car on one of them.
I made it to the Rice Lake turnaround 3.5 hours after leaving the Nordic Center 100k point. I still had a sub 20 hour in the sights, but I had to do a lot of running on the return. I might be able to catch 2 runners, but the 3rd (Kyle Amos) was pretty far ahead. I really don't remember much at this aid station other than Bill turning me around and telling me to get back out there.
The hardest part at this point was not falling. I was kicking more and more rocks, and I was catching roots. The stairs were really hard, and it seemed like there were more of them. I could also see all of the runners who were on my tail. I could not tell what kind of shape they were in, and if they were going to take a run a catching me. Keep the pace.
I ended up finding Kevin, and in true ultra fashion, gave me encouragement and told me to finish strong. I told him it helped having him ahead to keep me moving.
All of the funky lights of the runners going to the turnaround were coming at me. Some had reflector tape on them, some had different colored lights (red, green). I started wondering how a red light would help somebody out here. Never saw anybody with a black light, but I know Steve Q had one packed to inspect the hotel.
After kicking a few more rocks, I made it back to Highway 12 (mile 77). There was a party here this time. I am not sure what everybody was doing, but I didn't look like a lot of running. Bill made me an extra strong cup of instant coffee. Funny, after 60 miles, ANY coffee tastes good. He told me Ron was there too, but I never saw him. Bill said, "you need to get going, quick". He was justifying his role as crew, and making sure I shaved time off by not camping out at those aid stations. I don't think I was there long, and I still felt good, so I was off. I felt really good.
I knew the next section, hwy 12 to Bluff rd, could be a killer. It is not really hard, but it seems to go on forever. It has those hills that Wynn Davis calls "the silent killers". If you try and run all of them, you could be done. And, they keep coming. I first had to get through the open prairie before those hills. The night was beautiful, with sounds of bullfrogs, coyotes, and a bunch of other animals I could not identify.
I did see Steve Emmert from the blogosphere. He was hanging in there, looking strong. Eventually I saw Daryl and Lynn Saari. Wife pacing husband? Now that's a strong marriage! Lynn was doing the Fun Run, but it looked like Daryl was the Fun in that Run. They gave me another charge, and it felt good to see familiar faces.
I was in those rolling hills now. I was getting sick to my stomach. I had to slow to prevent the hills from killing me. Somewhere in there I saw Pierre, and gave him the "grrrrr". I don't remember much else, but making it to the unmanned station at Duffin rd. was a huge mark. Push on.
I was only a couple of miles from the Bluff Aid station and the final leg. Somewhere in there I saw Steve Q. I don't recall saying much to him. I was trying not to puke at that point. It's all pretty much a blur anyway.
Right before the Bluff aid station, I heard someone behind me. I thought I saw a light, and could not figure how close they were. I don't think I could hold someone off at this point. I pushed hard into Bluff (mile 92.8). Bill was ready for me. He and a woman dumped the rocks out of my shoes, and gave me a much needed re-tie. I slammed some Coke, and think I ate some food, but the whole time I was looking up that dark path to see who was behind me. I guess I was imagining things.
As I left that station for the final run of the Nordic loop, Bill yells "Run Matt, Run". He may have been saying "Ron, Matt, Ron", because it was Ron Bero who I had seen behind me. I did not know it at that point.
I did not have enough charge in me for the full 7 miles, but I figured I could push to the last aid station at mile 95. I was loosing it, though.
I saw some lights coming at me. I just moved over for the runners on their way out. One of them yelled my name. It was Wilson. Wilson. He was pacing Veronica Black. He gave me a kick in the butt. It wasn't enough, as it was hard to get to that last aid station.
I made it to the aid station, but I was a bumbling idiot. I saw two runners there recharging. I thought, "I can't try and hold off these guys too!". Turns out they were on the outbound, not inbound. I should have figured that out, but cognitive thinking was totally gone. All I took there was Coke (Cola). I figured nothing else mattered at this point.
I could not run. I tried.
Mile 95-96 - 15 minutes. aarrrggg. I heard coyotes yipping. Probably devouring a runner. Mile 97 marker.... 15 minutes. Where is my power? I am almost done.
Mile 97-98 has some bad hills. Ouch. 15.5 minutes. I could walk it in. Nobody would know, just run the last 1/8 mile.
MILE 99. I picked up a little time in that last mile, but I am toast. What's that noise. THERE IS A RUNNER BEHIND ME! NOOOOOOOOOOO! I have to run for this, or get passed in the last mile.
9 months of training, all the early mornings, the tune up races, the sacrifice, all came down to this. I had to pull out a run on the last mile. I kept looking back and seeing that light. I CAN'T SHAKE HIM!
I finally saw the finish lights, and gave a huge yell. Bill filmed me coming in. Less than a minute behind me was Ron Bero. I pulled out a 9:30 final mile because of him.
19:35 - 6th place overall. My first top ten finish with more than 10 starters.
I cursed Ron at the end, and we laughed.
Kevin G came in soon after. It was great to be out there with those guys bringing this one home.
Daryl Saari showed the Gnarly Bandits how its done and pulled off a 24:34. Pierre finished in 25:47. Kevin Martin got his first 100 finish in 27:22, and Steve Q came in at 29:05. He crossed the line singing "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" by U2.
There are too many people to thank, and so many people who joined me on this journey. This post is already long winded and rambling, so I will dedicate a later post to those who helped make it happen. I do know this, Bill helped me shave off at least 45 minutes. Crew rules!
I believe DNF's (did not finish) like last year are good for the soul. They give you resolve, and something to really work for. I did not want to come back to finish, I told people I wanted to come back and "crush it". I think Julie Berg said "go crush the Kettle". I feel I did it and I achieved the following
* 50K PR
* 2nd fastest 50 Mile
* 100K PR
* 2nd slowest 50 Mile (yes, I ran the second 50 here faster than Superior 50 Mile)
* 100 Mile PR (by 14 hours!)
Oh yeah. I am running a 10k this weekend in Napoleon, ND (family reunion/town celebration). No PR in that one.
Thanks for reading.
Pictures and possible video to come soon