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.