Saturday, June 9, 2012

Kettle 100 Mile - 2012: How is it that bumble-bees can fly?

Kevin Grabowski's Kettle 100-mile Race Report...

Prologue:  Kettle 100-mile, 2012:  Some things are hard to explain.  For example, it’s only recently that engineers and scientist were able to explain why a bumble-bee can fly despite puzzling aerodynamics.  Another natural phenomena is equally troubling:  Matt Patten’s 100 mile PR at Kettle is a good 20 minutes faster than mine!?!?   Huh?!!? J

This would be my 5th 100-mile finish in eight attempts if all went well.  In the previous 4 years, I have managed to complete Kettle 100 twice, Superior Sawtooth 100 once, and Pinhoti 100 once.   My last two 100 attempts ended in DNF (Kettle 2010 & Sawtooth 2011), and I was definitely anxious to avoid three-in-a-row in the DNF department.   Somehow it becomes easier and easier to indulge that voice that invites you to sit down or to go home… So, any time goals aside, my first goal was to finish. 

That being said, I am always hoping for a personal best for time.  This is a tricky goal with 100’s because the many variables that contribute to success or failure in any ultra are magnified in a century run.  Handling and managing the weather, hydration, electrolyte balance, fuel, pace and fitness are all tougher and more complicated as the distance gets longer.   Focusing too much on a time goal instead of paying attention to the details that will ultimately get you across the line with a finish can cause problems.  This was largely my undoing in my two previous 100 attempts.  Once my time goals seemed out of reach, I got the “ I-don’t-wannas”.   Once this happens, my dedication to manage other problems as they arise diminishes quickly.

My limited experience at 100 milers has also shown me that it is not how fast you go, but how slow you don’t go.  Any gains made early by a slightly faster pace are hugely un-done by extended “death-marching” later in the race.  Sounds like sage advice from a semi-experienced ultra-runner, right?  Somehow, these are things I forget when the race begins…

At least for 2012, I had a distinct advantage over years past in that my wife, Allison, had agreed to crew for me!  It was sooooo much easier not to have to obsess about drop bags and how much of what I might need when.  All I had to do is put it all in one portable pile and it would be available at each crew accessible point.  Awesome!!  Thank you Allison!!!!!

I had a new fuel source I would be trying out during the race (I know, you are supposed to test stuff out before a race, but it’s a 100 – what could go wrong!?!).  I would be relying on Naked: Blue Machine.  This is a fruit based smoothie like drink that contains only fruit purees.  Each 16 oz. bottle contained 27 blue-berries, 3 black-berries, 3 ½ apples and 1 banana.  I was hopeful that the fiber in the drink would help slow the release of the carbs, giving me more steady energy throughout.  I had tried it in on some long-ish runs with success, so I figured it would work great.

Another good sign was that the weather was really excellent; sunny skies and temps below 80 with a slightly cool breeze across the prairies. 

Only one variable could trip me up now: the space between my ears… Off we go!

The Report:  Of course, I ran too fast at the beginning.  Easy to do when the 100k and 100-mile relay runners take off and we are left to our plodding 100-mile pace.  The weather was just so nice.  The pace seemed soooo easy…

The Blue-Machine was tasting excellent, but trouble was building right away.  Just after Horseman’s aid-station (12 miles?) I had to duck into the woods for a few minutes.  By the time I got to Emma Carlin where Allison was waiting, all I wanted was some Desitin and an actual bathroom.  The Blue-Machine was making me “shoot” smurfs (you can thank Paul Heil for this visual).  Somehow, I convinced myself this was a temporary set-back and took off  in 20th place with a new supply of Blue-Machine.

I adjusted my pace and pulled back a little.  Not enough, but a little anyway.   At the 50k mark I was in 12th place and definitely ahead of where I expected to be time-wise, so I pulled back a little more.  Two more smurf-shooting adventures later and I was running low on TP.  Apparently eating bushels of fruit during an ultra is a bad idea.  Who would’a thunk?! 

By the time I made it back to Emma again (50 miles), I no longer had to worry about slowing down.  I was beginning to lag and my colon was no help.  At this point I abandoned the Blue-Machine and switched to another un-tried fuel source – Kefir.  This is a thick drinkable yogurt with active cultures that almost instantly settled my stomach.

Unfortunately, from Emma to the Tamarack aid-station continued to be a real low spot.  My stomach still didn’t feel sick, it just felt full.  I had kept drinking water and Kefir despite the fullness, but I wasn’t paying attention to how many s-caps I was taking.  By the time I got to the Gorski’s oaisis, I was in real trouble.  Fortunately this aid-station was packed with veteran help.  Christine Hinrichs, Mary and Dave Gorski, Cathy Diamond and Jim Blanchard (just name a few!) – they all accounted for a lot of years of experience.   I was craving salt and tried a few potatoes with salt on them before just dumping the salt in my hand and licking it off (Ug… we know where those hands have been in an ultra…)

Jim Blanchard claims this wasn’t his advice and won’t take credit for it, but I swear it was him that encouraged me to stop fueling with kefir & switch (temporarily) to Mountain Dew and take an s-cap every 10 minutes until my stomach felt better.   This was my new plan and I stumbled out of this 55-mile post making slow time and feeling pessimistic.  I ended up taking nearly 10 s-caps over the next 3-miles as well as 10oz of Mountain Dew.  The fullness in my stomach subsided and I started to feel great again!   I was able to run the last two miles into the 100k point at a reasonable pace.

Once there, Allison, Robert, Marty, Joel and Sandee all kept me company while I got set to head back out, locked into 10th place.  I was feeling excellent.  The next 16-17 miles were my favorite of the whole race - Not because of the terrain, just because I was feeling so good this late in the race.  I was passing people and having to tell myself to hold back. Heading into Hwy 12, I had moved into 6th place and was absolutely chomping at the bit.  Allison (who we all know to be far smarter than me) kept encouraging me to eat something other than Mountain Dew.  I refused - the water, Mountain Dew and S-caps thing was working and I wasn’t about to mess with it.

This lasted a grand total of about two more miles.  It had just started to get dark enough to turn on my headlamp halfway to Rice Lake when my energy started slipping.  The trail turns technical here as well which didn’t help my rhythm and by the time I got to Rice Lake I was feeling low again.  I still was convinced that Mountain Dew would save me (Why?!?!) and made the turn to head back to Hwy 12. 

During this section I really started struggling.  I was walking any incline.  If water could flow down it, I was walking it.  Mentally I was okay and still believed that this would pass.  I was starting to see other runners on the out and back and it hurt to be staggering along.  I made to Hwy 12 in 7th  place, but things were not good. 

Leaving Hwy 12 I tried to sustain a run for a bit.  I just felt exhausted.  My legs actually felt okay, but I had this deep-in-the-core tired that I just couldn’t shake.  It felt good to walk and I started noticing logs that were on the side of the trail here and there.  I looked at my watch while I sat on one and just shook my head.  Any time ahead I had been just a few miles ago was hemorrhaging  away quickly.  I felt pretty powerless to stop it and started walking again, hoping to catch fire again…

I didn’t run again for 15 miles.  I’m pretty sure I sat on every available log between Hwy 12 and Nordic.  I spent 10 minutes talking and snacking at both Bluff and Tamarack aid-stations.  Once the time goal was gone, I was in no hurry.  It was a beautiful night and I was going to finish. 

With about 3 miles left, Jeff and Jeff (two LPTRs’) pulled up.  They looked pretty happy to walk a bit this late in their 38 mile run and I was really happy to have the company.  We laughed and talked for another few miles before they began their run into the finish with a ½ mile to go.  By now I felt much better, but I figured if I had walked this far, there was no reason to run it in. 

That changed with a couple of hundred yards to go.  I looked back and saw a head-lamp closing fast.  I figured it was probably a relay runner but I didn’t like the idea of giving away a potential place in the 100-mile just in case I was wrong, so I started to jog.  I looked back again and he was coming even harder?!?  Huh!??! CRAP!!!  I started to run faster.  One more check back – He wasn’t letting up!  DAMN!!! I had to actually sprint it in to stay ahead of him. 

The “him” turned out to be Matthew Condron and staying ahead kept me in the top ten.  Somehow, after charging out of Nordic in 10th place hours ago, passing people and then blowing apart and walking the last 15 miles, I still ended up in 10th?   - Strange but true. 

So… I would like to say I learned something – (and under more reflection I’m sure I will find I did) - but I see most of my mistakes out there as obvious and avoidable ones that I should know enough to handle by now.  But that is part of the lure of the 100 – they are a puzzle to figure out and take some will to finish.  I look forward to running more smartly the next time, which at this writing will be the Superior Sawtooth 100 mile in September.  

In the end, I was just happy to have a story to tell… hope it was worth the read...

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