"And herein lies the appeal of the 100-mile distance: none of us really know what we’re doing when it comes to 100 miles, and the aspiring 100 mile runner who has yet to race her first step, has a better chance of figuring out what works best for her than anyone else does."That's ridiculously encouraging.
I follow a lot of running blogs. I mean a LOT of running blogs. I find my self constantly poking and prodding reading as much as I can about what other people, friends and pros, are doing to train for the kind of races that I want to run. I think that, initially, I was reading so much because I wanted to make sure that I was doing enough to succeed at this type of event, but eventually that evolved into my talking with people and keeping track of them because they became part of my community. I care about these people. Some I've met. Others I haven't (yet). But the fact remains: these people are part of my life.
A few weeks back, one of my fellow local community members, Matt Lutz, pointed out in his post, (Semi-) Thought Experiment: how much could you run?, that Tony Krupicka put in 1000 miles in the 5 weeks leading up to the 2007 Leadville 100. That's insane. Apparently, Tony was coming off an injury, finally got healthy, and had nothing else to do that summer but make a run at Matt Carpenter's seemingly untouchable Leadville CR (15:42 in 2005). Tony's since come out and said that kind of mileage is unsustainable, and I believe him. Nonetheless, that relatively short training period helped him put up a 16:14 finish, the second fastest Leadville finish all-time. (I'm not going to rub salt in Tony's 2009 and 2010 Leadville DNFs chasing Matt's ghost.)
On the other end of the spectrum, there's me. And herein lies the story of my 2012 Zumbro 100.
You may be thinking, "Yeah, so you had a big taper. I'm sure you ran a lot before that." Nope. Didn't do that either.
In the 5 weeks prior, I ran a combined 240 miles. It only gets worse people. After the JFK 50 last November, I did very little running through the Goofy Challenge at Disney the first week in January, and I left there with an injury, so then I ran even less. After the 40-mile weekend at Disney, my weeks went 0, 6, and 17 miles to close out January. In February, I finally got healthy enough to run again, and went 65, 29, 68, 39, 39, 49, 45, 44, 35, and 11 miles respectively in the 10 weeks leading into Zumbro. Needless to say, I was a little worried about my base going into the race.
I did have a few things going for me: I raced a lot last year, and I think I'm starting to dial in my in-race nutrition, hydration, and gear. I got one great 40 mile run in on the trails at Afton 8 weeks before the race. Most of my miles were on trails, and I got a lot of running in on the Zumbro course itself. Perhaps most importantly, though, the low mileage and huge taper prior to the race let me go into it feeling 100% perfectly healthy, with no aches or pains, and just dying to run.
Last year I showed up the morning of the race, just in time to grab my number, lace up my shoes, and go. That was a huge mistake I remedied this year. This go round, we made a party of the whole thing. I had family and friends from Denver to New Jersey in for the event, not to mention that my Dad, Brother, and Cousin all decided to make Zumbro 2012 their first 100-mile attempts! We had a campus there, and it was awesome! The pre-race bbq was great, and we relaxed, hung out, and slowly got ready for the upcoming day.
"This is God. You have a 100-mile race to start in one hour. Wake up." bellowed RD extraordinaire John Storkamp over the loudspeakers shortly before 7am on race morning. The campground was abuzz with runners and crew, taking pictures, catching up, and gathering for the start of lap 1 of the 6 lap course.
|From L to R: my cousin Jim Sandor, Jeremy Lindquist, my dad Ed Sandor, me, my |
brother Andrew Sandor, and Jason LaPlant, with my cousin TJ, Jim's son, in the front
The race starts with a couple hundred yards of gravel to a first, short single-track section leading into the courses first gnarly climb. If you've ever seen the start of a smaller hundo, it's pretty comical. Everyone typically groups up pre-start for the final instructions from the RD, then, at "Go!" everyone slowly moseys away from the start and up the trail.
|Heading out of camp at the start|
|Lead group with Jason LaPlant behind me, Matt Aro in white, Matt Lutz in green behind |
Aro, Joe Boler in black, and Bob Gerenz behind Joe
|Still feeling good, early on lap 1|
We all came in relatively together into Aid #3, where Jason and I stopped for a second at the aid station while everyone else again blew right through.
A second later though, and we were gone.
Up the next climb to the scenic overlook was the last time I saw Bob, Matt Aro, and Joe until Matt and Joe lapped me on my lap 5. Bob must have come and gone while I was in an aid station or at the start finish, because he never went by me on the trail. I'm just not strong enough to climb fast without getting wrecked, and keeping from getting wrecked early in a hundred mile race is key. Jason got ahead of me up that climb to scenic overlook, and I was alone for a bit before catching up to him before Ant hill. We stayed together until Aid #4, but I took off before he did and finished lap 1 with enough time to grab a minute in the facilities at the campground before leaving for lap 2 with Jason.
Laps 2 and 3
"We're on a sub-19 hour pace! We need to slow down," I told Jason as we left for lap 2. We'd both gone out a little quick. I felt great, but was nervous about the time. My goal was to run the runnable, not get the heart rate up too high at any point, and not trash the quads on the downhills. I lost Jason on the climb out of the start of lap 2 and was alone for the next long while, from about mile 18 until mile 42, where 16 year old Logan Polfuss passed me on a steep little climb up to Coulee Trail before Aid #2 on lap 3. I'd left for lap 2 with my hiking poles, but ditched them at Aid #2 on lap 2 because they were just more of a hindrance than a help moving as fast as I was on those trails. If I were moving a little slower, I'd have kept them out. The rest of Laps 2 and 3 were pretty uneventful, aside from a new little switchback they added on Pederson's Plunge between my laps 2 and 3. My aid station plan was to keep it quick, grab some gels, and go, and that was working well, but the monotony of the loops was really starting to get to me. I got in and finished lap 3 just as the sun was going down. 50 miles down in a little less than 12 hours.
Finally, a pacer. I got into camp and both Jordan Hanlon and Ben Bruce were there ready to pace me! I didn't think Jeremy had a pacer, so asked Jordan to wait and go with Jeremy when he came around. I later found out that Jeremy had not one, but several pacers lined up. My cousin Jim, however, had none, and Jordan went out with him for lap 4.
Ben and I left camp just as a few people were coming in. I'm not sure exactly who they were, but I imagine it was one or both of Jason or Jeremy, which lit a mini-fire under my ass. I was focused to keep moving as quick as I could, and I set Ben in front of me and told him to keep running. The darkness was actually a welcome relief. I'd been on those trails so many times that day and the weeks leading up to the race, that not being able to see where I was actually helped me along. I got to stare at Ben's feet and let him pull me along, running a bit slower, but more than the previous laps. It was actually kind of neat, a little eye-opening, when the realization came that I was walking some parts of the trail during the day because they looked like a hill, when in all actuality, they weren't that bad to run. I really think that if you take it easy and shorten the stride, running up moderate hills can actually be easier than power-hiking them.
Running with Ben was great. We hadn't really seen too much of each other since our 34-hour Sawtooth adventure last fall. On the trail is really the only place I know the guy, so we got to talk about all things running and life related. It was really great having him to chat with. Also, having Ben there allowed me to change my aid station strategy. I didn't even have to go into the aids anymore! I just told Ben to grab me 2-3 gels, depending on the length of the leg, and blew right past nearly every one. It was fantastic!
Coming down Pederson's Plunge before Aid #3, the lightening was getting pretty bad. A strong storm was coming, and I was praying that it didn't hit us. Finally, about a half mile out from Aid #3, the rain started coming, and we ran hard trying to make it to the cover of the aid station before getting completely soaked. Finally under the cover of the tarp, the hail started. The rain and hail was coming down hard. While we were waiting, Joe Boler came through to Aid #2 on his lap 5! He was a machine! In from the rain, grabbed a gel, then back out. Joe and I were running different races. He was fighting for a win. I was hoping for a good finish. All-told, Ben and I probably spent 20 minutes at that aid station waiting for the rain to let up a bit, making this my slowest lap of the race.
After the hill leaving Aid #4, a pair of runners caught up to us. I was surprised to see Matt Lutz and his pacer, and mistakenly thought that Matt was on lap 5 and in first place, but when I asked, he told me that he was on the same lap I was. I honestly didn't think I was in front of him, as I hadn't seen him since the scenic overlook on lap 1. Ben and I let Matt and his pacer go up a small hill, but passed him again for good down the next decline, and headed in to camp, where my lovely wife Alicia was sleeping in a chair and a sleeping bag, waiting to help out if we needed anything. Yep, she's pretty wonderful. I changed socks, contemplated a change in clothes, refilled the pack, and headed back out for lap 5.
Ben and I got lapped by Matt Aro at the top of the first overlook leaving the campground. He looked fantastic. At the time, I thought he was in first place. Only later did I find out that Bob Gerenz had somehow gotten by me before that, probably while I was changing socks. Still, I thought Ben and I were only in camp for 5 minutes or so, and I don't remember anyone going by.
This loop was pretty uneventful until the downhill into Aid #2. Holy hell had the rain and the 50-mile runners made that a massive slip-n-slide. There was literally nothing to do but grab trees on your controlled fall down the hill. It was here that I was uber glad to have cycling gloves on. The mud and footing were awful, but we survived and kept on keeping on.
At Aid #3, I came across Andy, and he was not looking too hot. I was afraid to even talk to him. At least he had Allison with him, which was good. I stayed only long enough to empty my shoe and hit the trail. At the top of the scenic overlook, Joe Boler came flying by on a mission. I told him where Matt had passed me, which seemed like hours ago (probably because it was).
The most surprising part, though, was that I was still moving really well. We zipped down Ant Hill, and my gravity-aided prance down Paddy's let me reel in 16-year-old Logan Polfuss (albiet, only for a few miles). We hit the gravel road hard into Aid #4, where I skipped the aid station, again sending Ben in for gels. As I was moving up the hill, I heard my dad yell out! He was moving, and seemed in good spirits, but I told him I was sorry, that I couldn't stop or slow down and had to keep pressing. I felt bad, but I had a race to finish.
Midway through this lap, Ben's calf/achilles started acting up--probably from the combination of the gnarly footing and slow pace. Ben was in the middle of a marathon training session (which he crushed on the way to a 7-minute 2:48 PR at Lake Wobegon in May!), and I didn't want to injure him for his race. As we came into the campground from loop 5, the sun was coming up, and I told him to stay. Alicia took care of me at camp, emptying garbage and kicking me out, and I was on my way out for lap 6, alone.
I left for lap 6 with the sun coming up and my spirits high. I was still running, and that was fantastic. A few miles into the lap, though, the wheels started falling off. I was still running, but I couldn't stay awake! Any hiking brought with it near unconsciousness. I finally got to aid #1 and grabbed some coffee, doing anything I could to wake up.
After burning my mouth on some fantastic Matthew Patten coffee, I saw Krista at the aid station, and then Jeremy, who looked like death, sitting next to the TCRC RV. He was at his aid #4 of lap 5, and I immediately felt horrible for him. Just like my brother, I avoided talking to him like the plague. I think my avoidance of them was more for my gain than theirs. I just needed to keep a positive outlook heading back to the trail, and I didn't want even the thought of anyone suffering entering my mind. I had enough demons of my own to fight out there without worrying about anyone elses, especially after 22 hours on the trail. So I said goodbye to Jeremy and Krista and headed back out.
Almost immediately, I hit that sleepy stage again. The only way to stay awake was to run, so I ran. I was actually moving pretty quick until the big uphill on Walnut Coulee before aid #2. I had to take a couple hands on the knees breaks to get the heart rate to come down up that thing, when Becky George came hiking up the hill behind me in first place of the 50. She looked fantastic, and we chatted for a minute up the rest of the hill before she took off down the hill into aid #2. I was in awe of the way she pranced down the trail, wondering if I ever had that energy, even at the beginning. The good news, though, was that I was awake and heading into aid #2.
As fast as the energy comes, it goes. I made it up to Picnic Rock, down Pederson's Plunge, and was dying in the sand before aid #3 when, again, I heard someone behind me. I looked back to see Kevin Martin running up the trail in sweat pants and a jacket, which was a bit odd until he told me that Logan Polfuss was right behind him. Sure enough, Logan came running around the corner. The kid that looked like death a mere few miles back down Paddy's had got his second wind and was moving very, very well. I wish I could have hung on with him, but I had no shot. It was challenging enough to stay awake, let alone hitch on and go with him. I stepped to the side, told him he looked great, and watched him run off around the bend.
Alone again and hiking, I was drifting off and just trying to make it to aid #3 when all of a sudden Jordan comes running up the trail at a sub-6 clip! My cousin had dropped after his 4th lap, and Alicia asked Jordan to come find me. What a lifesaver! Jordan finally let me know what time it was, and I finally became aware of how well I was actually doing! Just having him with me snapped me back into consciousness. Calculating splits, I made the decision to hike most of the closing 7 miles in, with Joseph Altendahl and Pam Nielsen in 2nd and 3rd in the 50, respectively, passing by at some point that lap. I think I gave up on running because it didn't really matter, especially after I let Logan go. If I had any time goal coming into the race, it was 30 hours, so an 11 minute average or a 17 minute average wasn't going to make any difference at that point. Either way it was 26 hours and change, so Jordan and I chatted and hiked all the way in.
|26:49:06, 7th place!|
|The feeling of accomplishment and finally being able |
to stop after finishing a hundo is like nothing else
There's no secret formula for these races, folks. I trained less than I had for any prior race, yet ran my best race because I came in healthy, with a score to settle, and confident that I could do the distance. The most important thing is knowing in your head that you can do it and managing the little things that can derail your race like nutrition and gear. The long and short of it is that you should do whatever makes you confident that you can finish, because you can.
Karl Meltzer has a saying that "100 miles is not that far." I don't think he means the distance so much as he's focusing on the attitude that he can do that distance. With the right mental outlook, and enough base (that's a shout out to Wes), anyone who can finish a marathon can finish a hundred mile race, you just have to believe in yourself, because you are better than you think you are.
Overall, the race was fantastic. At the finish, I heard tales of the sprint finish between Bob and Matt. Over 100 miles, they were separated by only 2 seconds, which is amazing! And the legend of Joe Boler thundering towards the finish in 3rd place a mere 12 minutes later is really inspiring. What a way to finish your first hundred mile race! All three of those guys came in under the previous course record, and the course was tougher than last year! Jason LaPlant finished his second hundred in as many tries, and Jeremy Lindquist made it into the hundred mile club on his first attempt, finishing right after Jason. The most inspiring thing, though, was seeing Anjanette Arnold sprinting across the campground and finishing within 10 seconds of cutoff before breaking down in tears of joy. That was ridiculously inspiring.
My trail running community is a great group of folks. I stayed up at the finish as long as I could before having to grab a few hours of sleep before cracking the kegs and celebrating my 30th birthday at camp that night. There's too many people to thank and mention, but you all know who you are. Zumbro is a great race put on by a great RD with fantastic volunteers and a great group of runners. Everyone is so laid back and care free, it's almost like the group motto is "don't sweat the small stuff." Maybe that's what these races really teach you. They really put the rest of life into perspective. So much of what we do and the things we worry about during our normal day-to-day ultimately don't matter, and nothing teaches you that better than reflecting on your priorities at mile 80 of a hundred mile race. Looking around, at that campground out in the middle of nowhere, everything that is truly important to me in life was there: my beautiful wife, my dogs, my family, and my good friends.
I really do love these things.