Wednesday, June 29, 2016

2016 Black Hills 100

I would like to say the Black Hills 100 and me get along.  That would be a lie.  This was my second time trying the race, and was the second time I DNF'ed.

The first time was two years ago, when we were graced with a deluge of rain the previous night and race morning.  The soul-sucking mud absolutely destroyed my capability of lifting my legs.  And I made the mistake of not including a jacket in my overnight drop bag.

This year, the course was bone dry.  But in lieu of the mud, we were blessed with 38C (100F) temperatures.  In the shade.  We were seldom running in shade.  There was a fair contingent of Manitobans running the 100 this year: Sue, Brad, Stacy, and Shaunda.

It started off easily enough.  It was already hot at the start (which was inexplicably moved to 10am), but my heat management plan was working pretty well.  At Alkali Creek, the first aid station, I figured I wouldn't need 4 water bottles and gave my spare to Brad's awesome crew, Jen.  That was mistake #1.

After Alkali Creek, the trail starts to go uphill.  This means it takes a lot more time to cover the same distance.  I got to Bulldog aid station just as my water ran out.  Oops.  The next section to Elk Creek was even longer, hotter, and with very little shade at the top of the hills.  I ran out of water an hour before the aid station.

When I arrived in Elk Creek, I was severely dehydrated.  I got to work immediately to fix that.  I downed two water bottles worth of water immediately, and took two salt pills.  After packing ice in anything that could find, I headed out.  Slowly.  The headache I had told me the run was no longer going to be fun.  I made it to Crooked Tree alright, and started passing other people who were suffering from the heat.  I gave away the last of my salt tabs and hoped good karma would come my way.

When I got to Dalton Creek, it looked like a graveyard.  There were bodies everywhere.  I didn't want to get sucked into the negative vibes, so I quickly changed my shirt and refilled my gels and salt.  I got out of the aid station so quick, I forgot to fill my hat up with ice.  Again, oops.  It was going to get dark, so I figured it would cool down.  It didn't.  At least, not yet.

I met up with Jen again at Nemo aid station.  She was surprised to see me, as she didn't see me at Dalton Lake.  She also said I was looking good considering it was Africa Hot out.  I know that was a lie.  After a quick sit-down to organize my vest for the next section of overnight running, I was off on my least-favourite section of trail.  Just as I got to the trailhead, I realized I forgot my handheld and had to go back to Nemo.  So I ran an extra 1 mile for the hell of it.  Again, oops.

I detest the section from Nemo to Pilot Knob.  It's not the longest section of trail, and it doesn't have the worst footing.  In fact, it's fairly runnable.  What I don't like is how repetitive it is.  It's as if whoever designed the trail made it out of lego bricks of the same repeating pattern:  Long slow uphill for 60 feet, followed by short downhill for 2.  Again and again.  Forever.  Never ends.  And then when it finally does end, the footing is too technical for night running, and you have to walk the downhill part.  But as with all things in ultrarunning, the end does eventually come.

The section from Pilot Knob to the Silver City turnaround is probably my favourite section of the trail.  It starts off with a section of incredibly runnable single-track for about a mile.  Then after it crosses the highway you start going up.  Way up.  And then you hit what I like to call "Ridiculous Hill" which has a steeper grade than all the other previous hills, and is where I lost my ability to climb hills the last time I ran BH100.  This time though, my legs were still feeling good.  I mean, my joints hurt, but my muscles were responding well.  After Ridiculous Hill, it's the long drop to Silver City.

I was still hot getting into the Silver City aid station around 1am, and opted to leave my jacket behind as I didn't want to carry any extra weight.  Similar to Dalton Lake, there was carnage strewn about.  I dropped last time here, and wasn't prepared to do it again.  I got out of there as quickly as I could.  About halfway back up Ridiculous Hill, the wind shifted and it got cold.  Very cold.  I was wishing I had brought my jacket with me.  I started to shiver.  Running couldn't warm me up.  When I got to Pilot Knob, I was hurting.  The light was starting to come up, and it was starting to warm up a bit.  But I was still shivering.  The wonderful volunteers there wrapped me in a thick blanket, and threw me in the trailer to try and warm me up, but I just couldn't stop shivering.  Eventually, I timed out trying to get warm.  My race was over.

Would I go back to Black Hills 100?  I don't know.  The race is a pretty old-school laid-back affair, which is a huge plus in my books.  But the random weather and huge hills just don't work for me.  At least, not yet.  I would need to get to a completely different fitness level before I head back.

Sue, Brad, and Stacy finished in style.  Sue came in 2nd place.  But even more impressive was Stacy's 3rd place finish in her first 100 mile race!  The Manitoba women really represented!

I'm resetting the clock now.  I'm putting the last two races behind me.  I have Superior to contend with now.  This race is in a way easier than Black Hills, as it has a 38 hour cutoff, has hills similar to what I can train on (albeit larger), and it's more recent in my memory as to what to do in it.  Not to mention, I've finished it once so I can finish it again.  And if I can shave a few hours off last year's time, I would be one happy man.

Friday, June 10, 2016

2016 Kettle Moraine 100

Kettle Moraine 100 was my second stop in my pursuit of Gnarly Bandit glory.  The race consists of two out & back sections:  One of them 62 miles long, and the other 38.  There is a 7.5 mile section of trail that both out & backs share in common, so you end up running the same bit for 30% of the race.

I had a long drive ahead of me to get to La Grange, Wisconsin.  According to Google Maps, it's about 11.5 hours away.  Ouch.  To get a head start, I hit the road after work on Thursday and made it to Fergus Falls, Minnesota.  Being the dirtbag I am, I slept in the back of my truck under the soothing glow of a Walmart parking lot light.  Morning came, and I got my cross-border shopping done early (Cherry Coke Zero!) before making the final push to La Grange.

I got to the race check-in just after it opened.  They unfortunately didn't have any extra-small shirts, and gave me a small instead.  I guess I'll have to wait a few extra years for it to fit Bean.  Afterwards, I drove down to the LaGrange General Store to buy my 6-pack of beer using my Ultrabucks from my race kit.  Wait a minute...  I didn't get any Ultrabucks in my race kit this year?  Doh!  I guess I'll just have to pay for the beer out-of-pocket.

I always forget something when I run ultras, and this year I forgot BodyGlide.  There was absolutely no way I was going to run without it, so my next stop was the shopping mall in Janesville, where Google Maps promised me there was a running store called Finish Line.    I got there, and it was a "running store" that sold basketball shoes and football jerseys.  Nothing resembling BodyGlide to be found.  Thankfully, there was a Dick's Sporting Goods at the other end of the mall and had an ample supply of lube.

Not wanting a repeat of last year's Feast-For-One incident(s), I elected to eat at Olive Garden instead of Famous Dave's.  After much coaxing, I managed to ingest the Tour of Italy.  It was a lot of food, but I figured I'd burn all the calories in the first few hours.  It was about my bedtime, and I spent the night in a place slightly-higher-class than last year.  But not by much.

The next morning, I lined up at the starting line.  My race strategy was to go even slower than last year.  To take my time through the meadows in both directions, as the weather was fairly humid.  I was almost DFL crossing the start timing mat, and eased into a gentle trot.  This year the course was modified slightly in two spots:  The first was approximately 1.5 miles was cut off at the start, and I would have to skip past some of the ridiculous up & down hills that the Nordic Loop is famous for.  The second modification was that the Highway ZZ aid station was moved, and there was no longer a short out & back to access it.  I suspect the latter modification was because every year runners miss the aid station and end up in Scuppernong wonderring what happened.

I was ticking off the miles at an easy clip and found myself near the back of the pack.  No worries, as I knew I had lots left in the tank to speed up overnight and catch a lot of runners.  Just before Emma Carlin (mile 14) aid station, I met up with Brian Kutz who was running his first 100 miler.  I gave him some advice and got him to slow down a bit, as he wanted to to move fast through the meadows.  We ran/walked through the humid open sections and got to the Scuppernong (mile 31) turnaround in 7:07.  This was far slower than my last year's time, and faster than my first attempt's.  The difference was that I still had a lot of oomph left in the legs this year, and it was significantly more humid than last year (albeit a cooler temperature).

On the way back, the clouds parted and the sun shone just as we got to the meadows.  Of course it would. ;)  We toughed it out and got to Emma Carlin (mile 47) in 11:53.  At this point, my back was relatively pain-free.  Everything would change as I got my night-time gear on.  When I donned my race vest, my back began to complain.  Loudly.  I suspect the weight of my chest water bottles changed the angle of my posture, and started pinching a nerve.  I hoped the pain was only temporary and kept on trucking.  I found a bit of relief by clenching my abs tight, but that was only temporary as eventually my abs tired out.

By the time I got to the Bluff aid station, I was thinking about dropping.  Then I remembered that I had a back brace in my truck at the Nordic start/finish.  There was a small chance the brace would fix all my problems.  So I grit my teeth and toughed out the 7.5 hilly miles to the 100k mark (14:20).  When I put the brace on, everything felt great.  I danced an little jig and headed out to run the last 38 miles.

Unfortunately, it wasn't long before my back began to complain again.  Faced with the prospect of possibly doing some permanent nerve damage, I decided to drop.  I had the option to turn around and go back to the start and get the 100k belt buckle.  But there was no way I was getting that bitch prize again.  I kept moving forward to the Tamarack aid station and dropped (literally).

On one hand, I'm really pissed off that I had to drop from the race.  It destroyed my Gnarly Bandit attempt.  But on the other hand, I didn't drop due to being mentally weak or a lack of fitness.  It was due to injury.  The feeling of a DNF sucks.  It sucks hard.  But if I had to DNF, I prefer it being due to something out of my control.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a lot of Netflix and ice cream to go through.