I didn’t start my competitive running career until August of 2009. I had always been a runner of sorts but was never really committed to stringing together two or three days of real running. I ran when I felt inclined to and that didn’t happen much. I don’t remember what or why, but something urged me to sign up for the Watertown Riverfest 5k road race. It was not a pretty race or finish, but it got me hooked.
Throughout the next few months and into the winter I signed up for and raced a 5k each month. Having that goal on my calendar kept me motivated and excuse free. It was during this time that I met Todd Egnarski. I had frequently seen Todd at my church, but never knew he was a runner. I don’t remember how we came to talking about trail running, but that was my first invitation from Todd to join him at Lapham Peak.
I have to admit that I was very hesitant to join the Wednesday night group. I had just started running and didn’t feel that I was ready to run on the trails. Besides it was winter and there was snow out there and it was dark. Running at night in the snow on a trail with a headlight in the dark woods? Are you crazy? People really do that? I continued to race each month and continued to think about Lapham peak. I thought about it until I was just too curious and almost exactly one year after my running career started; Todd introduced me to the black loop and to the LPTR family.
I think that once I started running at Lapham, I didn’t miss a Wednesday night run until High School XC started in August of 2011. I enjoyed it that much. Throughout this time I continued to race; mostly 5k and 10k road races. I did run three trail half marathons, but nothing longer. I could feel that the LPTR group was secretly planning on ex-communicating me from LPTR. After all it is an ultra-marathon running group, not just a trail running group. Right, Kevin?
It was going to happen sooner or later. The nagging feeling of not knowing what it was like to run an ultra-marathon. I sat and listened to the many stories of past ultras and upcoming ultras nearly each and every Wednesday. Stories of races that ended well and stories of races that ended in the dreaded three letters, DNF. I hadn’t yet experienced or participated in either of those races and it was eating away at me. But which ultra do I choose?
I saw an e-mail, from Marty, which stated that if you sign up for Chippewa 50k on “Black Friday”, the entry fee is discounted. I quickly closed the e-mail and put it out of my mind. I fortunately didn’t delete the e-mail because I re-visited it very often the next few days. I had officially made up my mind that Chippewa would be my first 50k. Black Friday came and I signed up. Done. Oh my, what have I done were the first words out of my mouth. Oh my, what have you done were the first words out of my wife’s mouth. It was a done deal. All I could do now was to think about it for the next five months.
Fast forward to Friday April 27, 2012. I sit at home waiting for Steve and Cobbie to pick me up. I continuously check my gear with a fear of not bringing the correct shoes or clothes. Will it be as cold and raining as Weather.com says? Do I have all my fuel and hydration needs taken care of? What do you put in a drop bag? Do I need a drop bag? Did I bring too much? Is that the tell-tale of a newbie? Was this really a good idea?
Steve and Cobbie arrive at my house; we load up my stuff and head out to pick up Deb. Once Deb is on board we head out for the drive to New Auburn, WI. What a treat to be traveling with these three. Steve is driving (Thank you Steve!), Cobbie is entertaining (Thank you Cobbie!), and Deb is feeding us (Thank you Deb!).
The drive goes by fairly quick due to several great stories from Cobbie and we are finally at the packet pickup at the race site. We pick up our packets, take a quick peak at the start/finish area and we are off to meet Marty and the gang at a restaurant called Gilligan’s. We chit-chat, we talk of ticks, we talk of parenting, we eat, we drink, and we head to the hotel to settle in. Lights are out at approximately 10:30pm.
Can someone really run 31 miles on only a few hours of restless sleep? We will soon find out. Steve, Cobbie and Deb are up early to fuel up on coffee. I am sitting alone trying to get a grasp on what I am about to do. Am I prepared enough? Should I have trained longer? More miles? Longer runs? Different race closer to home? Too much anxiety and too much time to think. Let’s saddle up and let’s get this over with.
We arrive at the race site and have no problem finding a good parking spot. We are there early enough to beat the bathroom lines and…wait this isn’t a 5k or 10k road race. There isn’t going to be hundreds or thousands of racers/walkers. This is so laid back and casual. This is nice. I can get used to this. As the rest of the LPTR group starts showing up I start to get more anxious and nervous. Everyone is so supportive and understanding of my nerves and reservations. Thank you LPTR friends. After milling around for a while talking and looking for an escape route; we are called outside for the pre-race announcements. Now this is really feeling real. A few announcements and laughs and we are off and running.
I start this race knowing that I have to start a lot slower than I normally would. I admit that it is hard for me to not run at a 7 min/mile pace. I know I have a long way to run and it will not end well if I don’t slow down. I settle into the middle of the pack and decide to just let the pack lead me into the trails. I glance at my Garmin at each mile beep and see that I am maintaining a 10 min/mile pace. At this pace I might just finish with a respectable 5ish hour time. Not bad for my first ultra.
I am feeling quite good going into the IA trail and decide to gradually pass runners who have gone out a bit fast and are slowing down. I pass several runners who wish me luck and set my pace to maintain a 9:30 min/mile pace. At this point I have not seen any of the LPTR that I started with. I am hoping that soon I would see them coming back towards me on their return trip. Sure enough, a few miles from the turn-around I see the lead pack of LPTR runners. Christine, Joel, Kevin, Logan, Ron, Marcel, Marty. Not necessarily in that order. I am still feeling good and knowing that I am almost half done gives me a boost of confidence.
I spend very little time at the turn-around AS and head back the other direction to finish this adventure. I am still moving at the same pace and still feeling quite good. I have been taking in gels and electrolytes regularly and have been hydrating per the prescription I set for myself. Everything is feeling really good. I am really enjoying this and am still optimistic that I can finish near 5 hours.
I think at about mile 18 or so I came up on Jodie and we start a game of leap-frog. I pass Jodie, then she passes me, and then we run together. We play this game for a few miles before we settle in with Jodie in the lead. I was really happy to see Jodie and have someone nearby that I knew. After running alone or with strangers it was nice to be with a familiar face. Around mile 22 I started to fade a little bit due to an increasing feeling of nausea. With each footfall it seemed to get worse. How unfair was this. The legs are still feeling strong and the lungs are feeling strong. I am breathing well. I feel that I have fueled and hydrated effectively. A few miles later I start to fall back and Jodie is urging me on. I am doing my best to stay with her and hide the fact that I am completely nauseated. I put my head down and watched Jodie’s shoes. When she runs, I run. When see walks, I walk. Thank you Jodie!
I started to divide the remaining miles into pieces. One more black loop Jodie. One more 5k Jodie. At this point I was reduced to running the runnable sections and walking all the hills; big or small. I really just want to walk until the nausea subsides, but Jodie is still urging me to continue to run and not walk. The nausea is still building and the last three miles are feeling like a million miles. I let Jodie go to finish her race and continue to place one foot in front of the other. A couple of runners pass me and that just adds a little fuel to the finishing strong fire. I resolve to run one mile as best I can and then mostly walk the next mile and finish strong running the last mile.
I finally come out of the woods and into the clearing. I can see the finish and I know that the end is near. I know that my final, last obstacle will be the hill at the end and am sure that Joel will be watching. Will I be able to run it or will I be reduced to a crawl to get up it. Unfortunately I was unable to maintain a run up the hill and had to walk. I even walked up backwards a bit to relieve a little bit of the soreness in my quads. I come around the final right turn and bring it home in a good paced run. I DID IT!
I was greeted at the finish by first Jodie and then Marcel. Thank you so much for being there at the end! I sincerely appreciate it. Thank you so much to Jodie for guiding me through the last 7ish miles of the race. I really believe it would have been a much harder finish without her.
I, unfortunately, did not partake in any of the post-race noshing. I attempted to eat a banana that did not end well and decided I would let my stomach settle by sipping on some cola. In any event I was happy and enjoyed talking to all the other LPTR members; hearing their stories and experiences of the race.
When all was said and done and everyone started to disperse; Steve, Cobbie, Deb and I decided we should head home too. The drive home was mostly uneventful. Cobbie had a well-deserved nap, Deb quietly evaluated her effort for the day and Steve was at the helm again guiding us back home. I was feeling rather satisfied with the day even though I was internally battling a bit with some of the minor setbacks. I find encouragement knowing that I will live to see anther 50k in the not too distant future.
A final thanks to all of you that encouraged me and supported me through this monumental day.