The preamble and what did I just do?
My first ultra was Zumbro 50 in 2018, the year of the blizzard. 2019 was supposed to be a run at the 100 mile distance at Zumbro. 2019 was the year that my body imploded after 90.7 miles on Superior 100.
Coming into Sawbill, I could barely keep propelling myself forward to get to the aid station. My heart rate spiked climbing up Carton Peak or at least as high as the course took us. On the way down, something was seriously different. I couldn’t step down the rocks without my legs giving out and bumping my ass as I made it down. By the time I hit the boardwalks there wasn’t anything I could do to keep running. Having run 2018’s Superior 50k in the spring, I knew what the course was like from here on out. I believed I could get into the aid station, get some food and get on my way. That’s not what happened. I sat down because my legs were so heavy and I felt very weak. After some coffee and food I was going to try to keep moving. At that point, my crew had swapped bottles and stuffed my pack with food. I tried to stand, I couldn’t. I asked my crew to help get me up. I couldn’t stand up and take a step. I felt like I couldn’t hold myself up to just stand.
Back in the chair I went again. More coffee and nibbled on more food. I was 33 hours in. I was so close. I don’t know how much time I spent in that chair. I asked for help to get myself up to stand again. I couldn’t take a step, not without dragging my foot on the ground. It was so foreign to me to feel like this. Back in the chair I went again. I started shivering. More than I had ever had in my memory. More than the below zero nights for winter training in the Marines. The odd thing was my upper body was shaking but my legs, nothing. I pulled the plug on Superior. My race was over. There would be no buckle or sweatshirt.
Being helped into our crew vehicle and the seemingly horrible trip from the curb to the townhouse at Caribou Highlands. I couldn’t move much by myself. I crawled on all 4s up the stairs of the townhouse, stopping to rest every few stairs.
While on vacation in Hawaii at the end of 2019, I decided I was going to sign up for the lottery again for Superior. 2020 was going to be the year I got to the end. Well, that didn’t happen. Races were cancelled and the realm of COVID descended upon the Earth. 1 race I had signed up with my daughter went virtual. Submit your strava or similar for verification and you would get your medal and shirt. That race kept me training for only so long. Shortly after, I broke. Pouring in hours of training for races that might not happen or trying to put in miles with groups of people on the trails while trying to navigate the world of this coronavirus was mentally difficult. I stopped running and threw all my gear in the trash. I was absolutely depressed and running/training was my mental release.
Regardless of my breakdown, I still had the itch to prove to myself. That Superior failure kept with me. To this day I still let myself believe I might have gave up too early. Then again I recall I couldn’t walk down the grass to the entrance of the townhouse because I couldn’t hold myself up. So this is a short sprint through the various stages of 2019’s Superior effort to shortly before March 2021.
For months, I hadn’t put in big miles. Sure I would turn out a half marathon or some other odd distance run on a whim. I had received an email about Zumbro before going on vacation in March 2021. I didn’t think much of it. I hadn’t been training so I didn’t seriously consider doing it. I had asked for a new running pack for Christmas and it was hanging in our closet unused. While on vacation, I was sipping coffee just up the road from the fire station in Jerome, AZ. I was thinking that when we got to the small former ghost town how few people there seemed to be. Then as we wondered around and looked at various places, the crowds began to build. We had moved away from the crowds and I was checking my email. The very next day the races would be open to the masses. For that time, I could use my invite since I was part of the cancelled race for 2019. Fuck it, I signed up for the 34 miler. 17 miles would be too short I rationalized. If I want to do epic shit, do something beyond. I also realized I have 4 weeks from that day to be on the course.
Once back from vacation, I was running. I had 2 weeks to the day to get my shit together. One thing I know about myself, I probably believe in my abilities a little too much. Here’s how the progression went:
Saturday: 5.27 miles
Sunday: 10.65 miles
Monday: 5 miles
Tuesday: 4.23 miles
Wednesday: 5.01 miles
Thursday: 6.5 miles
Friday: 3.15 miles
Saturday: 15.66 miles
Sunday: 3.09 miles
Monday: 5.28 miles
Tuesday: 3.11 miles
Wednesday: 4 miles
Thursday: 2 miles
Friday: 3.1 miles
I ran everyday and put some bigger miles in. Overall I was mainly focused on miles while keeping my heart rate in check. I knew I didn’t have any cardio base to rely on so it was all about keeping myself moving but recovering as well as possible.
The return to Zumbro:
A lot of the early times were booked when signed up. On the drive to Zumbro, I can say I was slightly concerned if I would run into the cut off time of 7pm. Upon check-in I saw 34 miler folks needed to start the 2nd lap by 2pm. That left 5 hours for the second 17 miles.
I had my drop bag/bin. Stocked with a bottle of tailwind and some snacks as this adventure would be without food/aid at the aid stations and only water available. I tried to spy any folks coming in off the course while trying to keep myself in the moment of “do I have everything I need to make it to the end”. If I had seen any muddy shoes, I would have taken or at least put my trekking poles in my bin.
My week of taper after a furry of miles seemed like I started out the day in pretty good shape. While I knew it had rained the previous days, I really underestimated how the trail would be.
Shortly after my start time, I made my way to the start area. 129 I called as I started running toward the chip timing mats. Just as easy as that, I was on the course and my watch was tracking my mileage. The course has had some changes since those 3 laps in 2018. Less aid stations and some shifting around of how we go about getting to the bridge to cross the river.
At the start I felt pretty good. Walking the uphills while trying to reign in any attempt to run too much. Perhaps I did a bit still. Up to the first aid station, all seemed to be going well. The first aid station is now 5 miles into the loop. Water only as advertised with some volunteers tracking runners. I started with a full bladder of water which would be about 2 liters so I just cruised on by. Up until aid station 1, there had been some mud but nothing I recall as insane. Just shorter patches of slippery, gloppy mud. Between aid station 1 and 2 there are 8 miles. I knew this section had the ascent from a removed aid station on to a ridge. That was the most memorable from my previous visit here. The mud in this section got a lot worse. Some spots it would have been easier to have a sled and slide down. It also made for trying to run through those sections which could have been runable dry, completely frustrating. The sliding and trying to stay upright was causing my ankles, knees and hips to start aching.
From before, I had it in my mind that once I made it to the descent of Ant Hill, the worse of the lap was over. Oh noes, there is another climb. Worse than the rest of the course. Seems to just sap all the energy you believe you were saving for the service road. By the time I got to the forest service road, I was pretty angry. Mainly because I felt like I got beat up. The forest service road descends for a bit into the 2nd aid station. Once I got there, I heard a volunteer say my number and relay that water was ahead and rest rooms near by. I thanked them and continued on the service road toward the bridge. I keep running most of the way, only to stop for a bit after I had crossed the river bridge. I used that time to prepare for my visit to my drop bin. I had started before 9 and would be getting done with the first lap in about 4 hours. Not ideal but I wasn’t running for time. I estimated I would have about 6 hours to get the 2nd lap done which from walking a lot of the 3rd lap in 2018, knew it could be done.
I hit the assembly area running and made my way from the timing mat to my bin. Tailwind downed. Wrappers dropped into my bin while grabbing more food for the second lap. I had been sweating more than I liked on the first lap. I didn’t have any salt pills but grabbed some from the bin. Tailwind has salt in it so I didn’t feel I needed any right away but wanted to have some on hand in case I started to feel any cramping. After loading up, I filled my water. Nifty little foot devices to pump water from the blue water containers used at races. I got it mostly full and started walking on the course.
That first lap took a lot out of my legs. I really felt the lack of mileage leading up to the race. I was on the 2nd loop with plenty of time to spare. I knew as long as I kept moving I would finish. The 2nd loop, the first section to aid station 1 seemed more beat up in terms of mud. I kept upright and for the most part the achyness of the first lap in my joints had gone away. Pretty uneventful getting to aid station 1, with the exception that since miles were ticking off slower it seemed a lot longer. Once again I made it to aid station 1 and kept on going. I had plenty of water to get me through the next 8 miles.
I was deceived as I thought some of the early parts between aid station 1 and 2 seemed like they weren’t as muddy as before. While I kept running mostly to a minimum, I was stepping it out as I was power hiking along. There were still some frustratingly muddy spots. 1 in particular which was a deeply rutted out trail going down. So darn slippery that I was holding on to the grass with my hands while sliding my feet down in a slightly croutched position. It was awkward. Getting to the last big uphill was fine. Getting tired at this point I had to stop a few times going up. It just didn’t seem to end. I was really regretting not bringing poles. I could have used them in the mud and some other spots but this last climb was a bear.
Once I was back on the service road, I knew I had done it. No other big obstacles in my way. Just 4 miles to the end. Consuming the rest of the food I had, I needed to assess the water situation. I had some and I could have just gone to the end but I didn’t have any water in the truck. So I needed to make a call. I could get water at aid station 2 or get water at the end after finishing the lap. I still needed to get my drop bin. It’s nice when its decided for you, which is what happened. Before aid station 2, I consumed the rest of my water. I would still be miles from the end and decided I should stop, get water and have some for the rest of the lap and would have enough to drink on the drive home.
The last 3 miles worked out like this: walk a half mile, run a half mile. I had put myself into a game of trying to finish before 6 pm. If I did, I would have roughly done a 4 hour loop and a 5 hour loop on 3 weeks of training. As I saw the flag on the flag pole through the trees and the rise up from the trail to the assembly area, I couldn’t believe it came together as it did. I grabbed my mask from my pack and ran across the area to the finish line. A handful of folks at the end and as I crossed the timing mat, put on my mask. I had done it. About 9 hours and 12 minutes for a trail ultra on a whim and less than 100 miles of training.
Afterwards, I can say I ache more than I usually did before. Is that lack of training or just having more years on me? I don’t know right now if FANS 24 will be in my future or if Superior opens up, if I’ll be there. I know I’m happy to have completed the race and focusing on putting in the daily effort to be active again.