The first race of the Gnarly Bandit is the Zumbro 100. It is a race in the Zumbro Bottoms state park. The terrain is breathtakingly spectacular. It is a perfect place to stage an ultra.
I picked up Dwayne Sandall at 6:30am on Thursday morning and made it to the starting area at 4:00pm in time for the race package pickup and drop bag dropoff. Met a few other runners, then headed off to Dane Liebel's to crash for the night. We stayed up a bit later than I should have wanted to, and got a bad night's sleep as I just laid there in bed nervous about the race the next morning.
We arrived at the start line an hour before the 8:00am start time, and I took every second getting things ready before the start. John got the Gnarly Bandits together for a pre-race photo (which I am embarrassed to be a part of), then off we went. I let just about everybody go ahead so I wouldn't be sucked into a pace that I knew I couldn't keep up, and got to the first aid station almost on my 30-hour pace in 2nd-last place; exactly where I wanted to be.
I made the mistake at the start of wearing everything I had because I was cold before the race started (mistake #1). I kicked myself for that, because I know better. I have it dialed in exactly what I need to be wearing given the temperature, and how cold I should feel before the starting gun goes off. Needless to say, I was sweating pretty hard for the first hour of the race and would suffer for it for the next four hours. I dropped off my wind pants, wind jacket, and long-sleeved shirt with Dwayne and went on in just my compression shorts, t-shirt and hat.
By about the mid-point of the first lap I realized I was dehydrating pretty quickly, despite downing a bottle of perpetuem between each aid station along with a salt tablet. I could feel a massive headache coming on and I hadn't peed at all. At the 3rd aid station of the loop, I decided to change my bottle strategy around and use one bottle for perpetuem and the other for water, alternating sips from each. I also started taking two salt tablets at each aid station with a big gulp of water. I slowly started coming around as I left the 4th aid station, and lumbered in to the start/finish area in 4:32, slightly ahead of my 30-hour pace.
The second lap, I started getting hot again but had nothing else to strip off (in my mind). I did a lot of walking. After passing through the second aid station, I realized that my problem was that I was sweating in my hat but that the sweat wasn't evaporating, just dripping off. The body cools itself through evaporation, so the solution was obvious: take the freaking hat off. I removed it and slowly started feeling better. I had never run with that hat on before, and knew that I shouldn't try something new on race day (mistake #2). So just as the mid-afternoon heat left and a breeze started blowing, I had finally got my heat issues sorted out. Better late than never. Finished that lap in 5:12.
Dwayne reminded me that it was starting to get dark and that I would need a headlamp soon, but I didn't have one at the start/finish area because I figured that I was only hitting that aid station once per loop while I was hitting the other aid stations twice. Fortunately, I still had plenty of daylight left to get to the first aid station safely. As part of my rush through the start/finish area, I forgot that it cooled off when the sun goes down and didn't take my long-sleeved shirt. When I got to the first aid station I realized my mistake and hoped that Dwayne did too and would bring it to me during the loop. Unfortunately, he didn't know I had forgotten it and never came around. But on the bright side, I did remember to pick up my headlamp. By this time, the temperature was in my "happy place" and I was burning the trail up behind me. When the sun finally set and I turned my headlamp on, I had a pretty good shiver-on happening. One volunteer at aid station 3 asked me how I was doing (I hate that question, as it's so subjective and leaves open the possibility of negative thoughts), and I replied that I was freezing. He asked me if I wanted to sit down. Ummmmmm.... no. I think I'll not try and cool myself off even more, thanks. My motivation to not freeze to death kept me moving fast until I got back to the start/finish area. I surprised Dwayne because he said he wasn't expecting me for at least another half hour. I forgot to take my split time for that lap.
At this point, I was elated because not only was I halfway through the race, which meant I got to pick up a pacer, but I also finally got to put on my long-sleeved shirt. Dwayne was itching to go and dropped me a few times on the first climb. I had fun playing tour-guide and explaining to him which side of the mud puddles was best to go around, and giving him a run-down on when to expect big climbs. Slowly, the energy I had on the previous lap dissipated and I was crawling along at a glacial pace. I had some time in the bank at the start of the loop, but it rapidly disappeared when two things happened in quick succession: 1) I got sleepy, and 2) My left calf started to spasm. The sleepiness was not unexpected, especially after the less-than-quality sleep I had the previous night, but the intensity of it was off the charts into something I had never experienced before. When we pulled into the 3rd aid station, I immediately sat down in a chair and closed my eyes. I went out like a light. I have no clue how long I was gone for, but was woken up by somebody shaking my shoulder (was it Dwayne or a volunteer, I have no idea). I snapped back into the land of the living and headed off. Some time later, after climbing Ant Hill and descending down the other side to the road, I encountered my second nemesis: the muscle spasm. We were "power-hiking" along the road (I can't recall how slow we were going, but I'm sure Dwayne would be able to confidently say that it was somewhere between a slug and a snail), when all of a sudden a shooting pain shot through my left calf which caused me to scream. After a lot of stop-and-go walking, we made it into the 4th aid station. I convinced Dwayne to let me have a 10 minute power-nap, and went out like a light. When he woke me, I said 5 more minutes. When he woke me the second time, I said 5 more minutes. When Dwayne woke me the third time I was ready to rock on. I limped out of the aid station on the way to finish the lap.
The section between the last aid station and the start/finish area for me was a complete blur, and honestly passed real quickly. I was in pain from my calf, and could barely move. But somehow, I managed to cross the finish line to complete my fourth lap. It was at that time that the math became a reality and I needed to finish two more laps at a pace as fast or faster than my first three. With a fucked-up leg. Wasn't going to happen. I turned in my race bib after running 67 miles.
It was when I got to the car for a long sleep that I remembered that I had brought calf compression sleeves, and put them on. Instant relief. I didn't wear them at the start because I didn't want to try something new on race day (mistake #3?). Go figure. A few hours later, I woke up to a huge rain storm outside. So maybe my calf saved me from an even nastier DNF. There are more than a few sections of that trail that are unfriendly when wet, and the going would have been very slow even for seasoned veterans.
To sum up, I have no regrets. I gave it my all, failed, and learned. I'm signed up for Kettle Moraine 100, and am still planning on running it. I can either learn from my mistakes and improve or accept defeat and slink away. I choose to learn and strive ahead.