Rugged, Relentless and Remote (at least the 50k version).
As the 2018 edition of the Zumbro 50 mile was my first ultra, and probably less than 5th time I’ve run a race on trail, my body is certainly wondering what my mind is up to.
Bridging the gap between the time I finally got home from Zumbro to checking in at Caribou Highlands, I felt like I did some quality training with a mix of what is happening to my body. The week after Zumbro, I hit 46.7 miles of running. Overall I felt good, with the some muscle soreness hanging around from the race. The end of April brought me something I didn’t anticipate, a box of weird pain. Was it new shoes, the heat, the lack of time off from the race? Insert montage of me looking over training plans, adding rest days, ordering electrolyte pills (I have a high sweat rate) and finally replacing my road shoes (about 500 miles on them).
The taper into Superior I was feeling solid. I had a good deal of energy and while I wanted to just be running in the woods, I focused on my training plan. Having hiked roughly 70 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail, I knew that it could have some punchy elevation gains. I looked over the ascents on the Superior Spring Trail Race website. I didn’t see anything that really make me nervous. Just run my race and operate within my own means.
I took a half day of work and made my way up to Cascade River State Park. After learning of my selection of the Superior 50k lottery, I looked for options on the cheap of staying in the area. Luckily I had found a campsite at Cascade. I quickly pitched my tent and gear bombed the inside of it. With my site set, I made my way to Caribou Highlands to do the packet pickup. Getting my packet/bag was a breeze. Rocksteady Running and the volunteers really made it easy to get my bib and the uptick in nerves. As in, the shit just got real. My original plan was to hang around until the optional pre-race meeting.
I’m introverted. There isn’t any trying to hide that. I also get anxiety when in places with a lot of people. I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve stood in isles in the grocery store with no one in it for a few minutes just to calm down. The trail community seems like a bunch of friends just hanging out and often going for a run. So there I was sitting in my car trying to figure out if I had it in me to be there for an hour for the meeting. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with a few runners on the trails while out on training runs but feeling awkward is something I couldn’t shake. I made the decision to head back to camp and get fed.
Back at camp I still had some nerves and regret not trying to be more outgoing. I decided that since I had never been to this state park before, to do some exploring. I had seen mention of the cascades in the area so I went for a walk. I quickly found the cascades and it was a sight to see. I don’t know if I could ever do it justice in describing it. As I watched the slightly root beer colored water roar, I reflected that I wouldn’t have seen this if I had stayed at either a hotel/resort overnight or at the meeting. A brief walk back to camp, dinner and getting to bed early finished the night.
I had planned to get up by 4:45am. Get fed and get on the road to the race. I woke up around 3:45am. As I laid in my sleeping bag all warm, I didn’t want to get up that early. It was shortly after the sprinkling rain started. Grabbing my cell, I checked the radar for the weather. Yup, it’s going to get wet out here. For about 20 minutes it rained pretty good. I started getting my gear together for the day and setting things aside I brought for running in wet weather. By the time I had planned to get up, the rain had subsided into a sprinkle again. I quickly put some gear in the car and started breakfast. I focused on getting food, coffee and packed up.
Making my way to Caribou Highlands once again. Checked back in then went to work processing what I needed to do to get ready to run. Addressing areas of chafe was the first priority. If I’ve chafed there before, it got some squirrels nut butter. With 7 miles until the first aid station, I packed some gels and tailwind. I also made sure I had a small baggie for trash. Decided that a sleeveless shirt would be sufficient enough for the morning cool air as I expected the temps to rise up a bit during the run.
During the announcements before the start, we had a moment of silence for Jon Mathson. I had no idea that this had occurred the year before. Shortly after we were unleashed upon the course. I took advantage of the pavement to set a quick pace to get myself warmed up. I knew that once we hit the single track, we would get slowed down.
From the elevation chart, I knew the section to the first aid station was going to be filled with some good ups and downs. We hit the occasional patch of mud and water. I focused on making good choices of where I was stepping while in the line of runners. Taking advantage of where I could to pass, either ascending or descending. In retrospect I was chasing those in front of me more than I should. Mystery and Moose mountain seemed to fall pretty quickly. Running in a pack always makes the miles go by quickly though. I kept reminding myself to drink. Checking my watch for the time to eat something. I rolled into AS1 with an empty half liter bottle.
A volunteer helped me fill up on water. I’m truly grateful for the people to volunteer their time before the race, during and after. I know it takes a lot of time to clear and mark the trail, setup the aid stations. Time to work the aid stations until the last runner clears. Those that sweep the trail after the race. Thank you. Before leaving AS1, I grabbed some M&Ms. I need to remember to do this more often.
Between AS1 and AS2, the big climbs are absent but the “rolling hills” as was described took a bigger toll than I expected. This is where I hit more mud as well. Still trying to make good decisions on foot placement, I did notice my focus wander to trying to keep up with those in front of me. Even though they started to disappear more often in the distance.
AS2 was packed with another set of great volunteers. Topping off on water with help from gentleman with a big beard. I felt more wet afterwards because the bottles seemed to enjoy leaking unless the caps were PFT (pretty fricken tight). I also grabbed a cup of pretzels to snack on while on the move up to Carlton.
Trying to keep up while eating pretzels isn’t something I could recommend but it was a memorable experience. At one point I was eating pretzels out of a cup while crossing a gravel road during an ultra race. To some it might seem pedestrian but I find it as something that makes these races memorable.
I have never been up to Carlton peak. I was looking forward to the view, as I have seen from various pictures and videos. At this stage a lot more runners were coming in the opposite direction. A lot of encouragement was being vocalized. Good job, Nice job, keep it up. I find it humorous that a lot of times both the oncoming runner and I would both yield the boardwalk. This was also when I started to notice the wind picking up. Lastly, I could tell my pace was slowing.
Up on the peak, it was certainly a sight to see. While the cheese balls and fireball were tempting. I took in a brief view of Superior and was off down the trail.
As Carlton peak represents the turn around, I was half way done. Checking the watch, I recall that I had hit the turn around before the 2.5 hour mark. I deceptively believed that maybe, just maybe, I could run a 5 hour 50k. Just 20 feet away from the turn around, I tripped. I had done a few times in the last few miles but didn’t hit the dirt. This time as well, I kept myself from falling. What the issue was this time? My ankle was really not in a good place. I didn’t roll it, or felt that I had. It was really sore when striking anything off camber. This made descending from Carlton slow.
AS2/3 filled up on water again. Once again the volunteers helped me. I had started getting passed by runners and I was foolish to rush through the AS without grabbing something to eat. I figured that I had gels I could down on the way. In between AS3 and AS4, I started to really slow on the descents. Where on the way out, I was taking full advantage of gravity, this section I was filled with caution as I wanted to trying to minimize the pain in my ankle. Time kept ticking by and I wanted to focus on getting sub 6 hours. Running slower and with the wind picking up, I started getting colder. I had really doubted my decision not to bring a shell with me. The roots were also really getting to me. Just when I though my ankle was feeling better, I’d hit one and the pain would return. Pulling into AS4, I was out of fluid.
In the aid station I got my bottles filled. A volunteer asked me if I wanted anything while fumbling with my soft flasks and my vest. I asked if there was coffee. At that point I wanted something warm and caffeine to help get a boost. He returned with some hot coffee. He warned it was really hot. At that point I didn’t care. My hands were cold and looked forward to holding that little cup for a while. Still fumbling with my bottles, I held that cup in my teeth as I walked down the AS a bit. I found out how hot that coffee was as I splashed a little on my arm. I grabbed a corner of what I thought was a PB&J sandwich. To my surprise it also contained a pretzel. I stood by the trash can at the end of the aid station eating my sandwich and sipping coffee. Soon I was off, next stop the end.
Moose and Mystery. I will say this, Mystery is worse. Moose was a significant climb up, this can’t be overlooked. Mystery just seems to gradually climb for what seems to be an eternity. My ankle was starting to feel better. I was running more although still getting passed by the occasional runner. In this area I also passed some 25k runners that were making their way back to the finish as well. I certainly appreciated the humor in one gals statement that they were walking so they could cheer us on.
Finally I made it to the gravel road. I was home free. I didn’t have much more to give but I kept running all the way to the end. Checking the watch I knew I had a sub 6 hour. I was happy with that. As I came up to the finish line I clapped for myself as I knew I put as much as I could into this race. While I had hoped that Zumbro would qualify me for the Superior 100 in 2019, my time wasn’t within 12 hours. Since the Superior 50k is a qualifier, I’m looking forward to my chances in the lottery.