Kettle Moraine 100
Kettle 100 was my A Race for 2015. I learned from my DNF at Brazos Bend 100 (Dec 2014), specifically applying those lessons learned at this race. Ultimately, my preparation awarded me the right to say, “I am The 100 Mile Mark!”
The race was held Saturday, June 6 near La Grange, WI along the Ice Age Trail within Kettle Moraine StateForest. What attracted me to the race was that its timing coincided with school letting out and an already planned visit to Wisconsin to see my family. Lesson 1 learned last December was my need for a Crew and Pacers. The race location was perfectly situated between where my mom, my sister and my cousin all lived. They each agreed to help me when I asked back in February.
Thursday, 9:00 am
My wife, kids and I left the Houston area the Thursday before the race. I was ready. I had done my training and created a three ring binder race manual with everything from pace charts, aid station checklists, maps, race director manual and printed articles related to pacing and crewing. Now all I had to do was drive 17 hours to the race spot. I used the time to visualize and otherwise mentally prepare. Driving on cruise control was also a great way of resting my legs.
Friday, 5:00 pm
We arrived in Elkhorn, WI just before supper time. My mom and step-dad, Joan and Kevin, arrived about the same time. We checked into the Hampton Inn which was a great host hotel. They offered a runner’s discount and tailored their morning breakfast time and items to the runners on Saturday morning.
After checking into the hotel, we drove to the packet pickup. It was not far away and I could feel my stomach fluttering as we approached. It finally got really real when I stepped out of the car, headed towards the check in table and saw the Start/Finish line banner. I had seen it several times on YouTube videos posted by previous runners, but to finally see it in real life was exciting! I got my tech shirt and bid number. Number 88. Things were aligning perfectly, what a better number than 88 for a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan! Pearson, Irvin, Bryant… there is greatness in that number.
Arriving back at the hotel, my sister and her family was there. We decided to visit the neighboring Pizza Ranch for supper. It was torcher! I’m a sucker for buffets, but that night was not the night to do what I would typically do and kill that thing! I watched what I ate, and then watched others eat more. It was fine. I certainly did not want to be cursing Pizza Ranch the next morning.
Friday, 8:00 pm
Back at the hotel, we had a Crew briefing poolside. The kids were enjoying themselves at high volume. The echoing and poor lighting was not ideal to foster an easy explanation of a plan I had formulated and ruminated over for 5 months. I explained the best I could, and then passed out the Crew hats I created. The trucker hat had a custom made “Real Deal” stamp on the front panel. The logo combined my ultrarunning nickname with the Real Milk logo. We were in Wisconsin after all.
Back at the room, I continued to sort and check my gear. I finally had to cut myself off and just get to bed. It was a restless sleep, but I expected as much so it did not bother me.
Saturday (Race Day), 4:15 am
The alarm clock went off; I took a deep breath and eased out of bed. I was so ready to get this thing started. I got dressed with my HATR (Houston Area Trail Runners) race singlet and my Altra Olympus shoes. I liberally applied the miracle anti-friction cream, Trail Toes. Added sunscreen as a precaution, but kept from applying mosquito spray. I was not ready to smell that.
Mom and I drove to the 6 AM start. On the way I got a text from my cousin, the second pacer. I asked him what he was doing up so early. After all he had to pace me starting at some time in the wee hours of the night. He was driving to his kids’ swim meet. Just then I caught a glimpse of the most wonderful sunrise I’ve seen in weeks. The rolling topography kept hiding it and prevented me from capturing a photo, but believe me, it was sign that He was there and today good things were about to happen.
We gathered with the 400+ runners of the 100 miler and 100K race. We listened to the prerace instruction, and then 3-2-1 we were off. I don’t remember a gun, but only a slow cattle procession towards the start. The trail was wide at the beginning. The grass was green as can be and the cabbage looking weeds made a shuffle/crunch sound. I didn’t get this in Texas. The air was crisp, clean and smelled like the new growth of spring. After drifting on about these ideal conditions, I snapped back to reality to check my pace and heart rate. Lesson 2 from BB100, don’t go out too fast and resist letting the adrenaline carry me away too fast. I had read that many runners would hike the hills and run the flat and downhills. That was my strategy going in. At the first hill, the conga line slowed to a hike. Apparently either everyone read my handbook or that is just the right way to run these moraines.
After jockeying for a good position at a comfortable pace surrounded by like paced runners, I struck up my first conversation. Runner #66 was from Iowa. He had run the race a few times and we enjoyed hearing each other’s “trail introduction speech”. You know: name, where you’re from, whether you ran this race before, how many 100’s completed, and then on into training regimen and planned hydration/refueling. 66 was a friendly guy. I eventually lost him to the conga line when I stepped behind a tree. Lesson 3 from BB100: Drink enough to keep going number 2. One hour in and I already had to go. Perfect.
Continuing in the conga line I noticed runner #6 keeping my pace with a sweet Salomon pack. We got to talking and I find out he had just finished a 50 miler in North Carolina. He continued to describe his planned future races including Hardrock. This guy looked stout. I thought this guy is either a miss placed cross-fit addict or simply a wildman. We enjoyed each other’s company and we each noticed the crowd hollering in the near distance. The first manned aid station, Bluff, was coming up.
I popped out of the woods into a sea of faces looking at me. Crew and spectators were everywhere. I quickly noticed my mom though rocking the trucker hat. She never wears hats and it was special seeing her rock a flat-bill foam-mesh just for me! It was a quick pit stop as planned. She swapped out my 2L Hydrapak holding Skratch Labs from my Ultimate Direction AK race vest and exchanged my trash with a fresh supply of Vfuel gels and Skratch Labs portables: one apple/cinnamon and one blueberry/chocolate chip sticky rice bars. She asked for my average heart rate, but my Suunto Ambit 2 was not set to display the average HR. This actually gave me some relief as I was running on feel anyway. I told her the course was beautiful and fresh. She recorded my time and wished me luck. I bounded back into the runner current thinking, “That was great! It will only get better once the rest of the family would arrive and help her. She was listening at last night’s crew briefing and was following my plan.” Again, perfect, well besides the lack of average HR tracking.
Entering the next stretch brought us into the real climbs. The previous hills were steep but short. These were longer and had more rocks and roots. Some areas had loose rocks which reminded me of my first ultras running in Texas Hill Country. I hate loose rocks, but oh well, onward and upward! Once at the top, the conga line was definitely more spaced out now. It seemed like groups of up to 6-7 would form, weaving through the forest. The single track was now truly narrow and I watched the trail side vegetation for poison ivy. I had no plans to deal with that! But fortunately, I don’t believe I saw any along the entire route!
On the downhill is where the race became truly enjoyable. I was bombing those downhills and it was fun! I’ve learned to sit low in the hips and land on the mid-foot directly under my body and let gravity take me down with quick feet. Somewhere along this portion I remember being caught behind a single runner on such a downhill. It was a long one and I waited for an opportunity to pass. I found it at one point, slingshoting around a tree at a hairpin turn. That was awesome. I wish I had that on film!
A bit further I found the most beautiful site of the race. The forest floor was covered in some kind of purple and white wild flowers. I was the third runner in a group of three and called out the other two, “Check out how beautiful this scene is!” The runner, a female, right in front of me responded that she thought the same but didn’t want to be “that girl” to make the statement. We all laughed and continued up the next climb right by the Elephant rock lookout sign.
Mom was there still crewing solo. As we went through the same exchange routine she mentioned that I was going a bit faster than planned pace. I responded that I knew that but it was so much fun. The course was great and the weather and scenery were perfect. I figured as long as I kept focus on my hydration/refueling and consciously hiked the hills and ran relaxed I would make great strides in the race. Mom gave me my iPod, sunglasses and announced I was headed for the meadow next. She spayed me with bug spray and I was out.
Months ago, when I discovered the meadow section I knew that would play to my strengths. Training in Houston heat and humidity for months while others were still running in snow gave me the advantage I would use. Sure enough, when the meadow came, I dialed in the iPod and went to work eating up the next runner in front of me. Runners were pretty well spaced out by now unless they were specifically running together. The meadow was warm and the ground was soft, but not muddy. Narrow boardwalks were placed in really wet areas, among the high grasses, which were enjoyable to find. I had overheard a runner ahead of me tell another that once we hit the long boardwalk the next aid station was soon thereafter. Remembering this, I would get excited when I would find a boardwalk, but turns out there were multiple boardwalks. This led to the first short moments of discouragement in the race. It did not affect me too much, but it was the first time I was not enjoying every step.
I came in on such a good pace, I surprised Mom relaxing in the chair conversing with another crew chief. She said I was now certainly ahead of pace, but I was eating and drinking according to plan. (After the race I discovered I was over an hour ahead of my planned pace!) I mentioned to her that I was feeling my first ailment, a left hip soreness that was uncommon for me. She noted it. Mom told me that since the next crewed aid station is only 1.8 miles away she would not be there but meet me at Scuppernong, the turn around. “No problem,” I thought. I had been avoiding the aid station buffet and was curious to find out what they were serving.
11:14 – County ZZ Aid Station – Mile 26.6
The course was still rolling moraines and I eventually saw a flagged chute guiding runners to the next aid station. I was still well supplied and zeroed in to the blue timing mat. I planned to just cross it and turn around and to head back out. But as I approached, I heard a bunch of yelling and a familiar horn blow. I looked at the crowd faces and noticed Real Deal hats! I had an entourage! My wife, Kristin, kids, Anthony and Audrey, sister, Melissa, and her family and Kevin had surprised me. I walked to them and everyone started handing me things and showing me signs and offering encouragement. It was overwhelming. My son handed me Vfuel with encouraging notes taped to them. Notes by-the-way I’ll keep forever. As I ran away I could again hear the horn blowing by Audrey. I specifically gave her the horn to blow and she did it well. As I ran away, my eyes became misty and emotion took over me. “What a great family I have. This day was gonna happen with support like that!”
A ways down the trail, I spotted what I assume was the leader of the race, 100 miler or 100K, I was not sure. Those guys always impress me. They run so easy and relaxed, yet fast! This guy even said hello at me.
The single track eventually popped out into what appeared to be an old logging road. It was wide and I noticed more day hikers. “I must be getting close to Scuppernong,” I thought. The hills became shorter but rolling again. It was here that I started to feel a bit physically tired. I kept hoping with each turn that I would see the aid station and my awaiting crew. When I began to recognize the runners who had already made the turn I knew I was really close.
Finally, I saw the mat and my crew with chair waiting. This is a prescribed chair moment. I intended to change my socks at this point. It was a good time to check the feet condition and sure enough, a bright red blister had formed on the outside of my right big toe, right under a callous. It was gnarly. I figured downhills were causing my foot to slide forward and rub the sides. I generously reapplied the trail toes, put on brand new Wright Socks and briskly consumed the food being handed to me. I ate what I thought was a lot of random items. The enjoyment came with a glass of Coke. My Tamarind flavored soda was still in the car which would have been better, but the Coke was perfect.
Back on the trail, my stomach reminded me that I just filled up on “stuff”. It took a good 30 minutes to get back to feeling good. I walked a bit more than I had been just to let it digest. Once recovered, I was back to bombing downhills and even began to sing along with the iPod. Toby Keith never sounded so good!
1:39 pm – County ZZ Aid Station – Mile 36.5
Mom again took inventory and I got more goodies with notes attached. I was told they would not be at the next crewed aid station. It was here that I grabbed a hand held bottle filled with water. I love Skratch Labs, but something was telling me to drink more plain water. Considering I had 11 miles until seeing the crew again, the added bottle would help crossing the meadow.
Somewhere along the next stretch before Hwy 67 Aid Station, I ran up on a couple runners talking. I heard one guy say something about liquid gold and I began to crave mac-n-cheese! Looking up I realized the runner was Wildman #6 and he was drinking a beer! He offered me a drink, but I politely declined. I sipped beer in marathons and remember how good it tasted but how bloated it made me. A while longer down the trail, Wildman #6 asked if I wanted to meet up with him at the aid station as his wife had a trunk load of food. Again I declined and kinda chucked to myself. He was a character. Instead, I hit the aid station buffet and feasted on fruit and a couple cookies. I refilled the hand held with ice water and headed off into the meadow section.
2:15 pm – Entering Meadow – Mile 38.4
It was now early afternoon and the sun was high. A lot of runners had slowed and were walking even the flat portions. I kept a good pace again through here, passing some along the way. I had my mojo back and was feeling great! 40 miles in and I had not had any issues to speak of. No significant pains and foot blisters were under control.
Coming out of the meadow at the unmanned Antique Lane Aid Station (Mile 44.3) allowed me to fill up the handheld yet again. The water was working for me. I was still consuming one S-Cap at the top of each hour as I had been the entire day. I began to wonder if the carbs I was missing from not drinking as much Skratch Lab would begin to affect me. However, I was still eating a Skratch Lab portable or Vfuel at the top and bottom of each hour. The rice bars were really beginning to get tiresome. In fact, just before popping out of the woods into station Emma Carlin, I put half of a bar back into my vest.
4:12 pm – Emma Carlin Aid Station – Mile 47.4
At Emma Carlin I saw the crew and who I thought was my brother-in-law, Kris, filming a video of me. I was feeling great and began exchanging trash for new supplies. I looked again at Kris and realized it was instead my cousin, Don! I guess my mind was beginning to lose focus. 47 miles in, running well and ahead of pace I exclaimed to him, “We are gonna do this! You gonna get me under 24 hours!” We did the bro-hug and I was off again. Seeing him really amped me up. He was like a brother to me. I was so excited to run the last leg with him. I hit the iPod again and this time chose to play just the house-dance mixes. Life was good. Perfect even.
I again was back into the forest bombing down hills, hiking with purpose up the hills, signing along with Katy Perry. I mentally compared my current status with how I felt this far into BB100. I was a billion times better. In fact my 50 mile split was 10.5 hours. My PR for a 50 mile race as 10:15 and that was at the flat Brazos Bend 50 course. This added more confidence to my running and gave me satisfaction with my months of preparation.
6:11 pm – Bluff Aid Station – Mile 55.6
At Bluff I refused to take any new Skratch Lab portables. This was my first real mistake of the race. I was drinking less Skratch Labs and eating less real food. I was hitting the Vfuels more frequently because the taste varied so much more, but the carb/calorie deficit was substantial and would eventually catch up to me. It was here also that I first saw my aunt and uncle. They arrived without any prompting which meant a lot to me. They have one son who has competed in Ironmans and another about to qualify for Boston, so the fact they drove up from Illinois to see me made me think I was somehow on the same level my two cousins. Pretty cool.
I left Bluff and ran well through the last segment back towards the 100K turnaround at the Start/Finish line. I looked forward to picking up my first pacer, Melissa. I started to recognize sites from first thing in the morning. “Wow, I have traveled a long way, but the day didn’t seem that long.” It was in this section I really started to feel the effects of the 14 hours out on the course. I realized I had surpassed my previous PR distance in lesser time. Much better than my previous attempt that resulted in a DNF. I knew I would finish this race because of what Iowa #66 told me. While I thought about this a familiar voice called out behind me, “Hey Houston!” It was Iowa #66! I had not seen him since about the same location on the way out. Strange. Had he been hiding in the woods at this location? He passed me and looked very strong. I was feeling tired, but knew adding a pacer and change of socks would get me back out here.
8:00 pm – Nordic Aid Station – Mile 63.1 (100K)
Leading up to the 100K turnaround, I saw small white signs counting down the miles: 5, 4, 2, 1. I had missed the three, so I figured someone had taken it for a souvenir. I crossed the mat and landed in the chair. It was a frenzy with all the 100K finishers and the walking wounded and their crew. My crew was again on top of it. I was handed food, drink, socks and Trail Toes. I changed my socks and my Buff, the special red Altra buff I was saving for the last stretch. The blisters on the sides of my big toes had grown a bit, but I still largely did not feel them while running. I noticed the beginning of one forming between the big and second toe. Ugly toes… Badge of honor.
The crew gave me a light as night fall was coming soon. However, they gave me my old Petzle I intended to be my backup, not my new super awesome Petzle NAO. Turns out they didn’t know what a NAO was when reading the checklist! Worse it was inside a purple bag at the bottom of my dark duffel bag, and the bag was still in the car trunk. The old Petzle would have to do. As we left, Kristin caught the attention of the race director who promptly announce a 100 miler was departing for the course. I thought that was pretty cool. Pointing towards Heaven I took a deep breath as we trotted back down the trail.
The race seemed different all of a sudden with a pacer. I had someone to speak to. It had been hours since the congested conga line discussions. I gave Melissa pointers of how this would go down: “Walk the ups, run the downs and flats.” I showed her how to run the downs and did so fast. I was worried she would be scared as she was not a seasoned trail runner, much less a trail runner at night. The sky was darkening and in the forest the shadows required the lights to come on. It was then I realized I had forgotten to change the batteries in my back up Petzle, so the light was dim at best. Luckily, Melissa’s was bright enough for the both of us and the trail was wide enough to run side-by-side.
9:45 pm – Tamarack Aid Station – Mile 67.9
We pulled into the Tamarack manned only by a couple volunteers. I asked for a cup of coffee and a cup of noodle soup. I was beginning to drag now. As I reported earlier, my fuel consumption had gotten off track and I was definitely feeling fatigue now. Soreness what not necessarily an issue yet, just tired. I hoped that the coffee and soup would get me back.
10:25 pm – Bluff Aid Station – Mile 70.7
We arrived at Bluff and I got excited to see my NAO being handed to me. I was also handed my Suunto watch charger cable and a portable battery pack. I had set GPS tracking to last 25 hours, but it certainly looked like I would cut that short. I didn’t want to have a Strava post of something less than 100 miles after all this! Charging worked well as I just held the small battery in the same hand as the watch.
Melissa and took off down the trail and made the correct turn at Confusion Point. Melissa had pre-scouted the course a couple months back and was able to give me pointers on what was coming up. It was near the middle of this stretch that walking began happening more than running. The day’s effort was really catching up to me. The next aid station seemed like it would never come. Melissa told me the view was great through here, but at night all I took in was the frogs and the various rocks I kept kicking. Around midnight, at Mile 76, we found a bench and chose to sit awhile. We didn’t sit long and I realized sitting would not help me finish.
We finally made it to Highway 12 and the last stretch to the Rice Lake turn around was next. I was much unfocused at this point. I didn’t have any mental awareness of what to eat or drink. I just wanted to get finished with the race. I don’t recall anything I ate at the aid station, I don’t recall much about the station at all.
After a short visit at the aid station we crossed Highway 12 and climbed a hill that never seemed to end. In the dark, not knowing the route, the trail seemed to be going in circles. I eventually noticed tents near the trail which indicated we were very close to the campground. I wondered if the campers where annoyed by the constant headlights and occasional groaning going by. We finally heard the generators and people talking at the aid station.
I was happy to see Don. I took off my race vest and added a light fleece sweatshirt. I said I only wanted to carry a water bottle. The wheels were definitely falling off now if they hadn’t already. As we left the aid station and started into the dark wilderness I told Don I was so disappointed I could not run with him. He was set to run Grandma’s Marathon in a couple weeks with sights of qualifying to Boston! (He did BTW!) I wanted to run with a runner of that level. I just could not do it! Even when Don started playing music over portable speakers, Eminem’s Lose Yourself, my walking pace quickened but I could not move into a trot. At that point I accepted the fact that I would walk the rest of the way and doing the math I figured I would get 27 hours and still reach my “B Goal”. Goal “A” of a 24 hour finish had faded hours ago.
As we progressed it was interesting watching runners pass us headed towards Rice Lake. The runner was always looking down, searching for the best rock to kick and the pacer was head up and would always remark, “Good job!” or “Way to go!” I never considered not finishing and walking and talking with Don was fine. I was okay with that. We got to catch up on things and laugh.
4:20 am – Highway 12 Aid Station – Mile 86.3
We entered aid station and did not see my mom. Turns out they missed a sign and took the long way. Other than this one instance, the driving directions provided by the race director were great for the crew.
It was there that I sat down and pulled the buff down over my eyes. I wanted to sleep, but I couldn’t strangely enough. I don’t remember eating anything, although I’m sure I did. I later found out they had mashed potatoes… mashed potatoes! And no one told me. Sigh.
Halfway to the next aid station daylight came back. The sky was clouded so there was no sunrise to inspire me. Just a moment that made me comment, “Hey, I don’t need a light anymore.” Timing was impeccable because right then my light flashed meaning the battery was nearly gone. We continued on and traded leads with a female runner also from Houston. She had determination on her face and definitely went internal so her pacer did the small chit-chat with Don and me.
Coming down the final hill into Bluff, I really felt pain and soreness in my legs. Specifically my right hip joint hurt as I landed. The more I braced myself the more it hurt. I had to slow down even walking on the downhill at this point.
6:33 am – Bluff Aid Station – Mile 93
We arrived at Bluff once again, but for the last time. I changed my fleece for a rain jacket as word was a storm was coming. A light rain began to fall, but nothing I would consider rain (being from Houston). Melissa rejoined Don and me for the last 7 miles to the finish. They walked behind me as I set the pace. The steep but short rolling hills were coming. At the first step up the hills I would feel light headed. I would pause, take a deep breath and march up the hill. On the downs I would either yell out in pain with a quick trot or I would slowly descend slower than a walk. It was here that Don brought up a game he plays with his family in the car. A subject was agreed upon, in our case birds, and we took turns naming different birds. I finally lost by stating, “snake bird.” I was seeing sticks on the ground but thinking they were snakes. Further down the trail, I later told the others I saw a big grey squire ahead and it did not appear to be moving out of our way. Melissa laughed as she indicated it was just a clump of grass.
We were now in the mile marker count down… 5 then 4. I told my pacers that 3 was missing. We moved on for an eternity looking for the 2 mile marker. We turned the corner and saw the 3! “What?!” I thought that I had been mistaken and that the 2 mile marker was the one missing. The slow trudge continued. I was exhausted. My mind was gone. Each trail turn revealed what seemed to be higher and steeper hills. I would stop, look at them and think, “Relentless forward progress.” Eventually I would finish. When we saw the 2 marker I wanted to cry! None of the signs were missing and the distance between signs was indeed each 1 mile. My watch had already crossed the century mark and we still had over 2 miles to go.
On and on we continued. Runners would pass us and I didn’t care. Good for them that they were shuffling on. I was satisfied to just walk it in.
Finally we saw the opening that would lead to the finish line. I was so ready. We entered the opening and I saw the finish. Just then I heard whooping and hollering from a crew not mine! I looked back and a gal was running up behind us. I said, “no way” and started to hobble-run with the worse form ever. I have yet to see any video footage of the finish and that is fine with me as I’m sure it looked pathetic!
9:11 am – Nordic (Finish Line) – Mile 100.8
I crossed the finish and leaned over, hands on knees. I had done it! 27 hours, 11 minutes and 44 seconds. Craziness ensued! Kids were blowing bubbles at me, a lady removed my ankle chip and handed me a small copper tea kettle still in bubble wrap. Everyone was cheering and smiling. I was in a fog. I felt nothing… and it was weird. I knew I was done and had achieved my goal, but emotionally I was spent. It was a very strange condition. I wanted to just go sit down. Someone handed me a plate of pancakes and bacon. I found a table and ate. I shut out the surroundings and eventually put my head down.
Looking back the entire race experience was greater than I expected. Later in the week I was interviewed by my hometown newspaper and a great article was published a couple weeks later. After two days, the leg swelling went away and I thought I could probably run, but chose not to. I was fortunate to not have injured myself in any way. People began asking if I will do it again, and my answer was, “Probably, but I’m not committing to anything right now.” That said, Kettle Moraine 100 is a Western States 100 qualifying race, so I have hopes on a lottery entry!