Monday, October 31, 2011

100 Mile Double Door County Fall 50...

Race Report from LPTRunner Aaron Schneider...

I grew up in Sturgeon Bay, the county seat of Door County.  Living in Milwaukee now I still consider the roads and trails in Door County has my home course… all of it!  I love it up there.  To me there is not a bad season to enjoy a trip up there, but obviously Fall is one of the best times to visit the Peninsula.  Naturally I fell in love with Door County’s Fall 50; a relay event that offer a solo 50 miler that starts before the waves of relay teams.

All runners start at the far northern end of the Peninsula in Gills Rock and follow the Green Bay shoreline all the way to the end of the fifty mile course in Sturgeon Bay.  From an ultra run perspective this event is filled with more energy than any other 50 miler I’ve seen.  Just a few miles into the race and your already greeted by honking cars of relay runners heading for the start of the their event… all of which are probably trying to figure out why someone would voluntary run the whole course by themselves.  Once your out into the think of the course you find the same conversations you’ll find at any other ultra: about what have you run lately, what injuries are you recovering from, etc.  But you’ll also hear everyone talking about the amazing scenery, and how often it changes along the course.  From majestic views of the water to cliffs covered with fall color, and the interesting character of each of the small towns we pass through.  Most of the runners have been up to Door County before and lots of them are attempting their first Fall 50.  It’s always great for me to hear what the folks from out of town are saying about the place I grew up.  Its fun for me to share some of the stories I know from over the years of living in Door County.

Unless you’re in the top 5% of the 50 mile race you’ll likely be caught by relay runners during the journey down the Peninsula.  The energy they bring with as they are blowing by you is actually not as distracting as you might think.  Many are very encouraging (and sometimes amazed) of the 50 mile solo runners.  Plus most of the relay teams are themed and add a little entertainment to the day.  The race director is focused on getting all of the runners off the course before dark, because the course uses county road the entire way; the vehicle traffic can make for dangerous condition after dark for large groups of runners.  Thankfully the course is fast.  The hills are all in the first half of the race and in general are fairly forgiving.  The one thing the trail runners need to be ready for is that the entire course is on paved surfaces.  It’s a different challenge that I personal like to keep doing from time to time.

Aid for the event is good.  Each of the exchange zones for the relay serves as an aid station.  All are quicker, in and out types of stations with the essentials and friendly volunteers.  Because runners are allowed to have a support vehicle anytime, anywhere on the course many of the runners that have access to a crew for the day will load up a cooler of there personal goodies and just use as needed.  This is a great course for family and friends to follow you; since your not darting in and out of a forest.

Coming into the 2011 event I had competed two Fall 50’s already.

I love this event so much that I decided to do it twice in the same weekend.  Well, there is a little background to that idea.  One, it was something that came up a year earlier as I was sitting in the post race tent joking with friends about ultra-distance running.  “You know some day someone is going to double up this event and run 100 miles” I said.  My friends didn’t think it was an idea that was out the realm of possibilities, but I also don’t think they thought I’d be the one to do it first.  Second, in 2011 I had two DNF’s at the 100 mile distance.  Knowing that I had put in the needed training and was, as I feel, only hindered by illness and high temps; I was still looking for a 100 mile race for 2011.  Finishing a 100 miles had become a bit of a monkey on my back.  I had learned so much for each of my DNFs and I was anxious to get back out there and try again, but I didn’t need to fly half way around the country to do my next event.  Really, I had wanted to double up the Fall 50 for about a year, but my original plan of finishing the Superior Sawtooth 100 and taking it easy at the Fall 50 was already out the window.  Thus, it was time to kick the planning for the “Fall 100” into high gear.  I have family up in the area and they already know what I need for the Fall 50 course.  What I really needed was someone to crew for me during the night.  I wanted to run the extra 50 miles prior to the start of the Fall 50.  One thing I’ve learned from my pervious attempts and from what I’ve learned from follow runners that have finished the 100 mile distance is that it’s okay to set your self up for success.  Each of my pervious attempts at the 100 distance had been unaided.  Something I took pride in, but ultimately I was jealous of those that had crew with them when the going got tough.  So, this time I was going to need a crew, I was going to use my home course and I was going to use the energy of all the other runners out there that day.  I really felt I had a good plan.  The only thing was that I had to talk someone into staying up all night.  This past summer I was lucky to have connected with a new running buddy, Ashley Kumlien.  She had become a well accomplished ultra distance runner over the past two and half years (including a run across the US).  After crewing for her at the North Face 50 miler I told her of my idea, and without any convincing she was in.  I don’t know if she had more confidence in me than I did, or if she secretly just wanted to see what it was like to be out there all night long, as she is already planning her first 100 run for early 2012.  Regardless, we make a great team!  And to sweeten the deal Ashley also signed up for the Fall 50.  Thus we’d be able to run the second leg of my 100 miles together.  Who gets a pacer for 50 miles!?!?!?!?!?!?!  Yeah! I know! Lucky guy!!

I didn’t want this thing to be a simple show up and mutter my way through 100 road miles.  I still wanted to challenge myself and my crew.  We had a good plan and I not only knew we’d finish the journey together, I wanted us to have a finishing time that we could be proud of.  So I did the math. Since I was putting together my own race for the first 50 miles, I got to pick the starting time.  I decided to go with 8:00pm the night before the start of the Fall 50.  And the goal time would be 22 hours for the full 100 miles.  We would set out from right at the finish line of the Fall 50 and run to the start line in Gills Rock.

The run started out in Sunset Park with just Ashley and my parents and there were a few guys hanging around the finish area setting up stuff for tomorrow’s post race events.  After a few quick pictures, it was 8:00pm on the dot and I was off.  Into the dark night.  My parents headed home and rested, as they would have to meet Ashley and me in Gills Rock at 6:30am the next morning.  The roads were fairly quiet that night.  For the most part it was just me, Ashley in the SAG vehicle, and a clear starry sky.  No moon light though, still the stars made up for the darkness and not being able to see the fall colors we were running past.
Ashley kept track of my progress and made sure I was still hitting my scheduled times.  She would go out between four and six miles ahead of me.  As I’d arrive she’d already have the mini-aid station on wheels ready.  The pace was quick and I wanted to keep going, but since I was ahead of my times Ashley was smart to advise me to eat more and get of my feet for a minute or two.  A plan that would prove very beneficial later in the run.

Later in the night after the bars had closed it become completely quiet on the streets.  All we saw were the local sheriff portal cars checking on us.  By this time the local radio station had also heard of my run up the Peninsula during the middle of the night.  Ashley was updating me on the awesome music the radio station was playing and how they thought we were totally insane for running out there all night long.

I reached Gills Rock and the start of the Fall 50 in 9hrs, 45mins (5:45am).  Not quite was fast as I thought I might go, but perfect for what I still had head of me.  There was about an hour before Ashley and I would have to make our way to the starting line.  So after finding some dry clothes, I did what any good ultra distance runner would do at this point… I napped.  A good 30 minutes actually.  When my eyes opened there was just the hint of sunrise.  Was I ready?  Only one way to find out; put on a pair of running shoes and stand on my legs.  Honestly I was surprised how good they felt.  Perhaps it was the adrenaline or something, but I couldn’t wait to get going.  I think I was actually too excited to get to the starting line.  Ashley was still in the process of putting together her stuff to start her 50 mile run on no sleep.  Some of this was a blur as my parents had arrived and we were updating them on what we would need first.  I’m pretty sure Ashley and I were the last to make the group of about 100 runners that were doing the Fall 50.  We exchanged a couple quick hellos with two of my running friends, Christine Crawford and Amanda Musacchio, and than we were off.  I was almost surprised how fresh I felt.  Perhaps it was the nap, or the dry clean clothes or just the excitement that this was all just happening but I was in really good spirits.

To me it felt like we were off to a good pace, but I’m sure Ashley was wishing we could pick it up a bit.  This was her first Fall 50 experience and this fast course was made for her.  She had put in lots of road miles over the past two years and I know was inching to improve on her 7hr,59min fifty mile PR.  I am grateful and lucky that she choose to stay with me that day.  Miles 50 to 70 seemed to click off fairly quickly.  But once we hit a long stretch in Peninsula State Park where we got separated from our crew vehicle things got a little interesting.  I was used to seeing them every four miles at this point.  It would be a very long 7 miles from the entrance to the park to the exit.  We had planned to see them once during that stretch, but didn’t.  Thankfully Ashley had her phone with her and coordinated our crew to meet us near the exit of the State Park.  At this point I was really spent.  It would take me a good 10 minutes to recover.  One thing new during this run was the Advocare Protein shakes that Ashley was making me drink.  I had taken protein during my other ultra events, but not to this level.  They were small doses at each stop, but none more important than the one at the exit of the State Park.  With that break and the new fuel in my belly I was out on the course again.   It was to the point that I just wanted to keep moving forward.  I had started to lose time from the pace I wanted to keep.  So the more moving forward I did, even if it was walking, the better I felt in my head (although at this point, my legs were starting to ask for longer breaks).

My pace slowed but we were still making good progress toward the finish.  I just wanted to get this down to a 10 mile run.  In my mind I was breaking up the race into smaller parts.  But this was also the point in the race that the last of the relay teams had caught and passed me.  Now there were only a few solo 50 mile runners out there and Ashley and I.  No more cheering from the relay teams.  With 12 to go we did the math and figured I’d have to average 9min miles to come in at a finishing time of 22 hours.  This was also the point when my feet finally started to win the battle with my brain and heart.  As much as I wanted to suppress the pain in my feet; it was no good.  My feet were winning.  Ashley tried desperately to keep me focused on the run and not on the pain.  I was just trying to get to the 10 mile to go marker, I had lost the big picture.  I had accepting that I wasn’t going to make it to the finish by 22 hours, and I had figured that there wasn’t going to be anyone expecting me to finish (although I knew I would; I just told everyone I’d be there much sooner than I was actually going to be there).

I made it to mile 90.  Now I was just focused on running.  Forcing myself to pick a point in the distance and run to it.  I could tell it had become a very long day for Ashley at this point.  Our patience for each other had grown a little thin, but we still found time to make fun of each other.  And I gave Ashley plenty of material.  Seeing how my feet were so sore, I adopted a new running form.  Boy, was that thing pretty (and tough on my quads).  I’m not sure of all the jokes told in the last few miles but I do remember I was glad I was around good friends.  With four miles left my friend Phil who was in the relay came and found us on the course.  This lifted my spirits quiet a bit.  I guess Ashley was right, I did have more left in the tank.  I found a new, quicker pace for a few miles.  Being that I was now a good 20 minute behind the pace I wanted it had started to get dark.  I was doing everything I could to finish before it was completely dark, and I was doing everything I could to keep from having to put that darn reflective vest on (thankfully Ashley was wearing hers).  Besides now in the distance about a mile away I could see street lights, we had made it the edge of Sturgeon Bay!

The finish line area can be a bit crowded so we had my parents go ahead for the last few miles and meet us at the finish line.  We had no idea how many people would still be left from the relay, but since the post race tent is basically the best post race party I’ve ever seen; I guess I figured they’d have a hard time finding parking in that area.
We were now within ear-shot of the PA system at the finish line.  Although the official time limit had pasted (max of 6pm, or 11hrs for the Fall 50), there was still a clock running and there was still hundreds of people hanging around the finish.  Being that it’s my hometown and with all the added attention of hearing about this guy running 100 miles on the Fall 50 course; I think the excitement grew over the duration of the day and lots of folks were excited to see me finish.  A van with flashing lights from the radio station came and escorted me in from the last half mile, the race director made an announcement that we were reaching the finish line, and crowds of people came out to see this unique event come to it’s finish.  I came down the finishing shoot to cheers deserving more of someone that had set the course recorded or something.  I couldn’t believe the number of people there to see the finish.  It was a dream achieved, and a moment that inspired many. 

Grand total: 22hrs,28mins. It wouldn’t have been the same without the amazing support of Ashley and my parents. And I am grateful they were there at the finish along with two of my other closest friends.  Usually these ultra distance events are in far off remote places.  Quiet events, you know.  And that was something I enjoyed about them.  But this day a lot of people go to share in the joy of completely 100 miles.  In a way they were all part of the successful journey.

What next?  I don’t know exactly but it’s going to be hard to top this.  Right now I need another adventure and wheels are already turning in my head.  Who’s coming with me?? J

Editor's Note:  Link to Off the Couch Blog Article:

Link to Door County Pulse Article:

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