(TLDR version: I ran 100 miles, it went better than expected, my crew was awesome.)
I had the great opportunity of running my third hundred mile race recently at Kettle Moraine 100 miler in Wisconsin. I’ll start off by saying that I have been really lucky so far in running ultras. I have yet to DNF and have not had anything go spectacularly wrong in a race (my first hundo was really tough, but I was able to finish). This recap is all about planning, crew and having fun.
I went into this race with a goal of a sub-24 hour finish. Kettle is a relatively easy course as far as 100 milers go. It is very runnable with well-maintained trails and it has total elevation gain of less than 10,000 feet. I don’t think that any 100 miler is easy, but this was a good race to shoot for a PR. My first 100 (Superior) was done in 33:30 and my second (Pinhoti) was 27:00. I figured I had a sub-24 hour race in me if everything came together. I trained harder than for my last hundo (but still only 860 miles in the 23 proceeding weeks) and was diligent about doing speedwork this time around. The race specific training seemed to make a big impact on results.
I had the best crew and pacers anyone could hope for in this race. Paul Schlagel is a local runner I met about 8 months prior when he lent me a garmin for my last race. We had met only a few times, but had some conversations about running. Paul nailed his first hundred this spring at Zumbro and was signed up for Kettle, but injured his knee a few weeks before it began. Paul graciously agreed to come along to crew and was invaluable. Joe Lang and Matt McCarty are running friends who agreed to come along and crew and pace. Both are strong runners and all around funny guys which made the trip down and the entire experience a blast. Additionally, we had Matt Lutz meeting us down at the race and he was running the hundred as well. We planned the trip together, camped together and cheered each other on. I paced Matt in his Superior finish last year and was looking forward to seeing how his race would go as he had little training due to a heavy work schedule and family responsibilities.
We left Minneapolis on Friday afternoon for the long drive down to Southern Wisconsin. The hours flew by as tales of debauchery and running filled the truck. Packet pickup was uneventful other than a good talk with John Taylor who was running Kettle for his 83rd hundred mile or further finish. John told tales of an easy course, but to beware the section he nicknamed “The Serengeti”. After a nice meal I settled in for a quick night’s sleep in the tent.
Race morning went by quickly with some pictures with friends, pictures of the Gnarly Bandits and an uneventful start at 6:00 a.m. Kettle has quite a few different races going on all at once. I started with the other hundred milers, the hundred mile relay teams and the 100k runners. This made it interesting to try to decipher who was going out how fast, and why. The course starts with an approximate 50k out and 50k back on the same trail, then the course takes a slightly different 38 mile out and back that shares the same 7.5 miles with the prior out and back. I wanted to push the pace early in the race to get further out front and stretch the legs a little. I visited with a handful of other runners and enjoyed company until I met my crew at mile 6. I had prepped my crew with my diva-like tendencies (they were given a 22 page crew packet with explicit directions for how the race should go). I came into the first aid station and most subsequent aid stations and gave them an empty bottle, grabbed a handful of food and a couple quick drinks of Heed and Coke, grabbed a new bottle from the crew and hit the trail again (they also had bacon for me at the first aid station). I hit mile 6 in 28th place and 8 minutes ahead of my plan.
The crew was fantastic. They had everything ready for me, encouraged me, pushed me out of aid stations, tended to my every desire, updated social media and took pictures. They had Nascar-like efficiency and were always ready with a quick joke or degrading comment.
Miles 6-14 were uneventful other than falling in with a group of fast runners that I really had no business hanging with. This included Jason Rezac from Minneapolis (who eventually ended up in 13th place) and a runner I nicknamed LA Jesus because that is what he looked like. This group kept a solid pace and had good conversations to keep the miles moving by quickly. Besides one nasty toe stubbing and one pit-stop these miles were wonderful. I hit mile 14 in 31st place and 12 minutes ahead of my plan.
Miles 14-23 is some of the toughest on the course, not due to difficult trails (this is perhaps the most runnable section), but due to a lot of open exposure to the sun through prairies and meadows that hold humidity and bugs. This is the Serengeti section John discussed and another runner nicknamed “Helter Swelter”. We were extremely lucky that despite fairly warm temps and high humidity we caught a break with some cloud cover on the first trip through this section. The miles rolled by fairly effortlessly and I found myself coming into the aid station at mile 23 in approximately four hours which was ahead of my plan. Banking some extra time versus my plan seemed the wise move given that I felt good and I wanted to get through some tough sections before it got too hot. I hit mile 23 in 34th place and 25 minutes ahead of plan.
Miles 23 through the 50k turnaround were similarly uneventful. This race has some nice views, but due to the flat nature of the course there are no jaw dropping vistas. Through this section I put in headphones and began to chew through miles. I consciously decided to dial back the pace a bit since I pushed hard before and my sweat rate was really high for this early. My crew continued to be awesome and got me through aid stations quickly and kept the race interesting. I entered the 50k turnaround in about 5:35 which is my fastest 50k. I was now about 24 minutes ahead of plan, but had dialed back the last 13 or so miles right into my planned pace. On Facebook my crew posted my splits and my wife wanted them to remind me that this was a 100 miler and not a 50. I took about 4 minutes at the aid station and then headed out for the return trip feeling good, but hot. I hit the 50k turnaround in 45th place and 24 minutes ahead of plan.
Miles 31-38 were likewise fairly uneventful, but the hottest section was coming up. I tried to take it easy through this section and bank some energy so I could push through the hot sections. I also spent a few more minutes than usual at aid stations making sure I was fueling sufficiently. At mile 38 I was in 42 place and 19 minutes ahead of plan.
Miles 47-62. After getting through the Serengeti unharmed I gained some confidence and was able to get back to business in hitting my splits and enjoying the miles. These miles went quickly even with some confusion at the intersection where the trail splits in three separate directions. I was looking forward to picking up my pacer and going into the night. I knew I was running fairly well at this point and I felt better than many of the runners I passed looked which gave me a boost. The end of this section is hilly, but I was still able to run the hills pretty aggressively. I hit the start/finish turnaround in 33rd place and 33 minutes ahead of my plan.
Mile 90 through 100. I was in a fairly low spot at this point in the race. This was the first time that I’ve gotten fairly foggy cognitively and it was strange to navigate. I was still moving ok, but my pace slowed significantly and I just wanted to be done. My feet hurt and that was my only physical issue, but mentally I was fairly spent. I kept doing math wrong in my head about my pace needed to hit my goal and I didn’t trust Joe’s math (math late in an ultra is a bad idea). Joe kept me entertained even when I had the conversation skills of a dial tone. Somehow I mentally missed one of the aid stations so I thought that I had more than 2.5 miles further to go than I really did. Hitting the aid station at mile 93 I started asking about how far to the next aid station and when Matt could join us and I would have two pacers. I was shocked to hear that I was at the last crewed aid station and that Matt was ready to go. Cheetos and 2.5 miles disappearing can make any ultra-runner happy. We said goodbye to Paul and Joe, Matt and I headed off down the trail. This section was really runnable when I had fresh legs, but now the miles had caught up with me and I was hurting and whiny. I don’t imagine it was much fun for Joe and Matt but they kept me moving. Lots of joking kept the miles ticking. I knew that I was well ahead of my plan and that my goal was in hand. This may have been a bad thing as I didn’t push too much in the last 10 miles, I hiked it in. At one point Joe gave me the needed splits to break 23 hours and I should have pushed to make it, but I decided I was happy enough with what I had. We tried to enjoy some time and I even “ran” some of the final few miles despite some hills that were really a pain the fourth time around. I was nervous about my place, but we were able to maintain 23rd place through the last 25 or so miles of the race.
I finished in 23:13:10. This took a little less than 4 hours off of my previous best and was 14 minutes ahead of my plan. I was very happy with how the race came out. I felt like my plan was pretty accurate and I’ve learned how to listen to my body in 100 mile races. It is great to get the sub-24 monkey off my back and another finish in the books. I have my main goal race coming up this fall, The Bear, and it will be much different from Kettle. Below is the chart of my planned splits between aid stations and my actual results. I was pretty consistently on pace and ahead of pace throughout the race until the last 10 miles.
I truly can’t thank Paul, Joe and Matt enough for the crew support and pacing. These guys were incredible. They were strict, patient, funny and weird the entire time. They dragged my crap through a hundred mile race and never complained and they slogged through the final miles without complaint. My favorite part was after the race looking at the group chat we were all a part of. My pacers stayed in fairly constant communication with the crew since there was cell service and kept them abreast of my pace and what I wanted when we came into the aid station. This conversation somehow morphed from race details to trash talk, Rancid lyrics, ball gags/nipple clamps and things that shouldn’t be passed on. I couldn’t have gotten the results I did without them. Matt Lutz ran a great race as well as other friends out there. I was able to hang out at the finish line and intermittently nap in a chair while cheering on other runners finishes. A total of 225 people started the 100 miler and 133 people finished for a finish rate of 59% which is not bad for a 100 miler, but lower than I thought it would be. Overall it was an amazing experience from start to finish.