Amidst a record number of runners and ominous weather reports (rain all weekend), the 12th Annual Kettle Moraine Endurance Run began at 6am on Saturday morning June 2nd, 2007. Race directors Tim Yanacheck and Jason Dorgan along with all their incredible volunteers promised another great run along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail through the beautiful Kettle Moraine State Park, one hour west of Milwaukee in southeastern Wisconsin. Returning for the second year, I was excited to be back and build upon my experiences from last year- my first 100 miler 24hours 47 minutes.
I arrived Friday afternoon into Milwaukee; direct flight from Phoenix on Midwest Airlines makes for very easy travel. Grabbed a rental car and set off for a beautiful drive east to La Grange which takes you through some great little Midwestern towns- nothing like grass and trees after leaving dry and dusty Phoenix. Race registration is located just outside of La Grange at the General Store and a couple miles from the Nordic Center where the race begins and ends. The General Store offers a great backdrop for this event- and a place to load up on last minute supplies- pretty cool little place.
After registration and some dinner, I headed off to my hotel for what I hoped was a restful night. Upon arriving at my hotel in nearby Whitewater, it starts to rain… and rain… and then really rain. For the next couple of hours, it rained like I have never seen before. The weather forecast for tomorrow, rain! I recalculated my race plan for 22:54 (goal is to break 23 hours this year); packed (and repacked) my drop bags and laid out my gear for the big day. Finally stopped raining about 9pm, and hit the hay.
At 4:00am (2:00am Phoenix time), my 4 alarms go off (1. hotel phone, 2. clock radio, 3. wrist watch and 4. my faithful alarm clock I brought from home). Didn’t sleep that well, because I just knew that simultaneously, the night clerk would fall asleep and forget to call, the battery in my watch would die, the alarm clock would malfunction, and of course the electricity would go out and the hotel alarm would not work. But, by chance, they don’t and I am jolted by a small symphony of alarms. Breakfast consisted of 2 scoops of protein powder and three scoops of Perpetuem mixed with water- ah, the breakfast of champion.
Arrived at the race start around 5:15am. The race starts at what is called the Nordic Center. It’s a beautiful (and steamy) morning and with no clouds to be seen; it looks like a good day. At 5:45 there is a short briefing and everybody is getting ready to roll. This is the time I usually look around and wonder “what the heck did I get myself into”! Weighing in at strong 187lbs, I realize that there aren’t a whole lot of clydesdale doing the 100miler, but this doesn’t spook me; I have trained hard, prepared and felt mentally focused. Couple of last minute adjustments, leak and I’m set ready to go.
6:00pm sharp the race begins as the trail leads off through the woods and then into an open prairie. The trail is tight as it meanders through some tall grass for the first mile or two, then we enter into the forest. I quickly hook up with a couple of local runners and begin to swap stories and BS for next several hours. I had a calculated where I wanted to be at all the aid/water stops and by the time I hit the second stop at mile 7.4, I realize that I am moving at a much faster pace that I calculated. I feel great and push on.
At about 7:30am a front of clouds move in and it starts to rain. At this time, we are moving through a tight single track area tucked in a very dense forested area. For the next 30 minutes it rains pretty hard but it feels refreshing since it’s already climbed to about 70 degrees with maximum humidity. The rain quickly moves through and I fall into a nice groove taking me into Emma Carlin aid station #4 (15.5 miles) feeling great. Sunny skies open up-it’s officially HOT!
The next 11 miles moves in and out of a huge prairie which is notoriously very hot, humid and exposed to the sun. I pick up my drop bag, refill my E-Caps, fill a bottle of Heed and I am back out on the trail. Thanks to some great advice from one of my mentors Kirk McCarville, I am out of the aid station in less than one minute- this is one of my strategies for the day.
The prairie section lives up to it’s reputation and by the time I reach County ZZ aid station #7 (26.5) miles, I am pretty parched. The next 5 miles is a welcomed reprieve as we enter the forested area again but it’s a pretty good climb up to Scuppernong aid station #8 (31.4 miles). This is the turn around point for the first 62.9 mile loop and checking my plan, I realize I am well over one hour ahead of my race plan. I feel great as a get in and out of the aid station but wonder if I should maintain the strong pace? Got my tunes on, jam a Redbull, gobble a few Tums- I decide to push on.
The next 31.5 miles back to Nordic are pretty uneventful- I maintained a good pace, focusing on my caloric intake and not overdoing the water. Along the way back, it’s pretty hot and humid but I know that having trained in the heat, I would be okay as long as I stayed hydrated and kept feeding the furnace. Almost puked at 50 miles as I took my last swig of Perpetuem for the day, alternating to turkey sandwiches and chicken soup. And of course, Tums!
I arrive back at Nordic (62.9 miles at this point) feeling pretty strong and 1hour and 20 minutes ahead of pace. Heading into this aid station, I decide to change my socks, rest for a few minutes and call my wife (she made me promise). This is really a tough point, because this is the same spot where the 100km ends, so there is no shortage of people lounging around and drinking beer. I am in and out of this aid station a little longer than I planned (15 minutes vs. 8 minutes) but the rest was good, the call to my wife pumped me up and my daughters note in my drop bag makes me smile. Got some food in me and head out for the next 38 mile out and back loop. Later in the race I find that about 50 runners dropped at this point due to the high heat and humidity of the day.
Out of Nordic you follow the same trail out for about 7 miles, before you take a sharp left and drop into a series of climbs and falls that become very interesting in the dark. By this time, I have my head lamp fired up as I move in and out of some very densely forested single track- probably the most technical part of the course. By this time the moon is out, the bull frogs are barking full tilt, you can hear an occasional coyote pack off in the distance and the crowd has really thinned out; nothing but open trail- god, I love this sport!
Lesson learned from last year- consume caffeine at night! As I roll into Hwy 12, aid station # 20 (mile 77.1), I am getting very tired and my stomach is shot. A couple of seasoned aid station volunteers offer up some advice regarding eating some crystallized ginger. At this point, I was game for just about anything as I chew three cubes that look like brown sugar cubes and wash it down with water. A great note in my drop bag from my daughters gives me a little boost as I take out for a tough 9 mile out and back loop to Rice Lake.
This section immediately starts to climb, cutting in and out of some heavily forested area. By this time the moon is full and fog begins to fill some of the valleys as the trail rolls up and down. Heading into Rice Lake (mile 81.5) is sort of out-of-body experience. By this time, I am really tired, and find myself weaving on and off the trail as my vision begins to blur- part fatigue, part headlamp vision, but mostly sleep deprivation. As I approach the aid station (a cross between Margaritaville and Deliverance) situated on the banks of Rice Lake, I run into Tom Bunk (a 65 year old ultra running legend/stud) who is pacing another guy. The three of us quickly make it in and out of the aid station head back to Hwy 12. By this time my stomach has settled but I am concerned about my vision and staying on the trail. During the next 4 miles I chat a little with Tom and explain my problem and ask for some advice. Tom quickly fires back that “you need to get some caffeine in you”. This was a big mistake I made last year and thought that I had consumed enough but decided to take Tom’s advice and juice up at the next aid station (mile 85.9).
Two Redbulls, a handful of crystallized ginger, and a stiff cup of coffee (10 parts instant coffee- 1 part water), the three of us pull out of the aid station. About 4 minutes later I am feeling great, my vision is back to normal and I begin to turn up my pace. Tom tells me that “you got it” and to “take it on in”. It’s amazing how far some simple encouragement can push you. I pull out my I-Pod shuffle and cue up some Beastie Boys and I am off. At this point I am solo, the moon is full, fog is hovering in the low valleys and I am cranking’- “it doesn’t get any better than this” I thought. Not sure what it was, but the next 15 miles were probably my strongest of the race. By this time I smell the barn and know I am going to finish strong.
The last 5 miles from Tamarack aid station # 26 (mile 95) felt great as I clipped them off. Each mile was marked with a sign so you know you are clipping them away. I felt pretty strong the rest of way in and even sprinted the last ¼ mile trying to pass a runner and his pacer in front of me. Crossing the finish line felt great- 21:34! After I crossed the line and gathered my thoughts, one of the race directors congratulated me and joined a few other runners who were sitting around talking. Feeling pretty good, I have a little chicken soup but can get any solid food down. At this point the only thing on my mind is a hot shower and soft bed.
As I drive back to the hotel (3:45am) I almost hit a deer as it darts out of the woods in front of my car. Thanks to my caffeine induced high, I am still pretty alert and manage to just miss the deer. The only thing going through my mind is that I wish I hadn’t denied the rental car insurance coverage; luckily I miss the deer and make it back to my hotel safely around 4:15am.
Sleep was short but felt great. Woke up around 11am, just in time to wolf down 4 eggs, ham, biscuits and gravy (boy I miss the food of the midwest) and head back to Milwaukee for my 3pm flight home. Fellow runner Paul Papannie was seated next to me on the flight home but because the race took him 29 hours, he did not have time to shower before the flight so I spent much of the flight curled up in a fetal position with the air blowing on me to drown out the smell and avoid watching him pop blisters on his feet. I used think I had bad toe nails but this dude takes the prize!
As I think back on the race, I enjoy the great memories while the tough spots don’t seem that tough anymore. I feel great about the accomplishment and felt as though I prepared well. I am already beginning to think how I will train for next year’s race and how I can apply the things I have learned this year to shave off some time and have an even better time next year! Cheers!
Chris Harrison Paradise Valley, Arizona