Four members of the VHTRC successfully conquered the seventh running of the Kettle Moraine 100 Miler, overcoming a 93-degree, cloud-free day to pick up our commemorative copper kettle finisher awards.
Ed Schultze, John Dodds, Kerry Owens and I (Jaret Seiberg) traveled out to Wisconsin for this 100 Miler, which also has a 100 K option. John and Ed had both done MMT three weeks earlier so I thought they were nuts. Then Ed does a 50 mile training run the week before just because some friends wanted to run the entire Greenway trail out-and-back. That just reinforced my notion that he was crazy. Yet Ed appeared sane compared to Dodds, who still had a massive blister on his foot from MMT and who is signed up to do Laurel Highlands this weekend.
That meant Kerry and I were the only sane ones. This probably should be the time to mention that the prior weekend while cutting through a series of fields to cheer my wife on during her first 5K run that I got poison ivy all over both legs, both feet, both arms, both hands, my hips, and lower back. It was severe enough that the doctor put me on steroids. (No, not the kind that bulk up muscles.) Also, Kerry re-injured her ankle just a few days before the race, which resulted in much swelling and made it painful to walk
So as I was saying, Kerry and I were the only sane ones.
Ed and I meet up with John at noon Friday at the Milwaukee airport. Ed had a big duffel bag, I have medium duffel and a small backpack. John had three suitcases. Ed and I were quietly applauding ourselves for agreeing to the car upgrade when we saw all the luggage. Unfortunately we only had upgraded to a Dodge Neon, which has a trunk that barely fits one suit case let alone all the crap we brought with us. I can’t fathom what the other car would have been.
Whitewater, Wisc., is a very small place. Located about 45 minutes southwest of Milwaukee, the town is just big enough to have a college and very little else. The three of us met up with Kerry at the AmeriHost motel, which is where most of the runners stayed.
We wanted pasta and the motel clerk told us we were out of luck if we wanted to eat in Whitewater. Instead we needed to drive 15 miles to the next city, which we did so we could consume mass quantities of carbs.
On race morning, we leave the motel at 5:10 and are at the start by 5:30. The instructions from co-race directors Jason Dorgan and Tim Yanacheck were pretty simple. Follow the painted white arrows on the ground. Do not worry about marks on the trees. They also told us it would be very hot so the extra water stations would be added to the course.
With that, the crowd of 112 were off.
This course consists of two out-and-back loops, both of which share the first 7.5 miles. Those 7.5 miles are in the Nordic center and I will be happy if I never have to run another step there. VHTRC member Amy Bloom introduced me to the term PUDS – pointless ups and downs. Well the Nordic center has WUDS, wasted ups and downs. The loop consisted of roller coaster like ups and downs, many of which were too steep to run down.
Still it was gorgeous. We ran through groves of Pine trees and past all types of wild flowers. Question to our flora experts: Any idea of the name of a red and white flower that looks like a bell, with the red pedals the outside of the bell and the white the chine inside the bell? At night the flower closes up.
There was never a massive climb along the course. Rather you had many smaller climbs that gradually sapped the life out of your legs. Dodds took off early in the race, with Kerry close behind. I started a bit slower and Ed was anchoring our group.
After the mile 7.5 aid station, we left the Nordic center and entered the ice age trail en route to the Pine Woods camp ground and the turn around at mile 31. The ice age trail has great footing – very few rocks. And we enjoyed the shade as the temperature even at 8 a.m. had to be about 80 degrees.
All seemed great and Kerry and I were wondering why the finishing percentage for this race is so low. (For this year, only 45% of those registered for the 100 miler finished.) A mile or two after the Emma Carlin park aid station at mile 16.5, we figured out what makes this race so tough. For about 10 miles in each direction you run through giant fields created by glaciers. There is no shade or shelter. That means on years when it is wet and windy, you are fully exposed for 20 miles. Or more pertinent to our endeavor, when it is 93 degrees without a cloud in the sky, you roast for 20 of the first 46 miles.
I was draining a full 70 ounce CamelBack between aid stations. Ed was experimenting with new 27 ounce bottles and he was entering aid stations with nothing left in them. Adding to the misery was the fact that parts of the fields were swampy, which jacked up the humidity levels.
At the turn around, John was about 15 minutes ahead of me. While I was in the aid station, Kerry arrived. She had two crew with her – John Haywood and Jean Marie – and they had her out of the aid station before I had even finished changing my socks. When I was ready to go, I grabbed my CamelBack that the aid station worker had filled and realized the bite valve was missing. It took about four minutes to find it. I was ready to give up and take one of John Haywood’s water bottles when John found it under a bench.
Three of us were on the return trip, with Ed about an hour behind though on track for his goal of a 28 hour finish.
I catch Kerry at the next aid station and we start complaining about the heat and how we are just going to walk through those oven-like fields. We both did walk – as did almost everyone else in the race. Around this time, the heat forced the runner in second place to drop out.
We go back through all the aid stations and re-enter the Nordic trail system and its WUDS and PUDS. Dodds is at the Mile 62 turn around point when I get in. John Haywood tells me that Kerry may call it a day with the 100 K option because the heat is bothering her a lot.
Dodds leaves the aid station at around the 13 hour mark to do the 7.5 mile trek to exit the Nordic center and this time get on the ice age trail heading south. I left about 10 minutes behind him and passed Kerry who was about 30 minutes outside of the turnaround.
Kerry called it a day after 100 K, her first effort at greater than 50 miles. When I passed her on the way out of Mile 62 aid station, Kerry said that 100 Milers may not be for her. That appeared to last for less than 12 hours. On Sunday – after she did a six mile run — she was talking about entering Vermont and she already is signed up for Leadville.
The greatest thing about leaving the Nordic center was the time of day. It was getting dark and the temperature was falling to a beautiful 60 degrees. I had dreamed of lower temps all day and we finally got them.
Going south on the ice age trail was more challenging. It had more rocks and longer ups-and-downs, without any of the fields that we could have flow through at night. That meant that everyone’s pace had slowed.
I reached the turn around at Mile 81 about 30 minutes behind Dodds. I enjoyed some soup, ate a sandwich and headed back out. This is where the run got away from me a bit. My stomach pretty much went south from Mile 83 to 95, requiring frequent stops behind large trees.
I encountered Ed on the out-and-back at about mile 87 for me and 75 for him. He said he was right on target for a 28 hour finish. He was powering along and seemed in very good spirits.
At about mile 91, the stomach issue had taken its toll on my energy level and I was in trouble. I recalled advice from Michele Burr about the need to just keep moving forward during the bad times in a 100 miler. So that is what I did. I stopped briefly at the 7.5 mile to go aid station before re-entering the dreaded Nordic trail system.
I finished in 24:37, which was good enough for third in my age group. After a few saltines and some Sprite, I felt good enough to drive so John and I decide to call Kerry’s motel room to see if we could use her shower. I call, get connected and then hear a phone slam down. This happens when I try again.
We bet that Kerry was not angry with us but rather thought this was an annoying pre-7 a.m. wake-up call from the front desk. We bang on the door after arriving and our suspicion proves correct. I shower than collapse on a bed for a short nap while John Dodds showers and Kerry, John Haywood and JM go out for their run.
With a bit of sleep in me, I drive back with John to the Nordic center to see Ed finish. He was supposed to be aiming for 28 hours. Instead he finished in just over 27 hours, causing us to miss him crossing the end line. Kerry’s shower becomes group property at this point as Ed uses it while John Dodds takes a nap in the lobby and I go looking for food.
We regroup at 11:15 and head back to the Milwaukee airport, return the car, and then prepare for a six-hour wait. At least for Ed and I. John Dodds was going to stay in the airport overnight for his 5 a.m. flight the next day. I’m still hungry so I leave Ed and John sleeping in the waiting area and go to the bar for a beer and some food. When I return, John decides it would be best to find a motel to sleep at for the night. He and Ed go off to do that I head to US Airways gate to find a place to lie down.
Ed shows up shortly thereafter, followed by Kerry. We crash at a different airport bar and celebrate with some drinks.
So why is the Kettle Moraine such a tough run? I am sure many will continue to argue that it is an easy course. Under the right weather conditions, they might be right. But the finishing rate is always very low which I think is because the Nordic section kills your legs while vast stretches of the rest of the course lure you into running more than you know you should.
Still, it is a beautiful course. More ultrarunners should take up its challenge.