Helen Walker

KM is for … Kill Me! KM is for … Kill’M-All!

The Kettle Moraine 100 (KM 100 for short) is a trail race located near Whitewater, Wisconsin, that consists of either 100 miles or 100 km (62.2 mi). The 100 milers run the 62.9 miles loop first, and then they keep on going south on a 38-miles loop. The 100 km runners run the first loop only.

There were a few reasons why I wanted to run this race. For one thing, I’d had my eyes on KM 100 since the end of 2004, the year I ran my first 50 miles in Grasslands. Unfortunately a very bad case of ITBS having first occurred during the Death Valley marathon in 2004 prevented me from running for a few months. ITBS, aka iliotibial band syndrome, is usually due to incorrect gait at knee level and can be corrected under the supervision of a biomechanist with specific exercises that are time-consuming and sometimes difficult, but it is worth any time, effort and money invested. At the beginning of this year, my right knee was finally free of the ITBS, and I felt confident enough to tackle the KM 100 trail race. My next step was to persuade Alan to join me in the adventure, which as one can imagine, was not such a difficult task after all.

Another reason for running the KM 100 was that, as a tea-aholic, I had been salivating over their Finisher’s award, a cute little kettle made of copper. I must say that I want to own one even more since Alan has one that is nicely displayed on a bookcase facing the door of his home office, and I can see it shine and blink at me every time I go by his office. I sometimes wonder whether Alan put it there just to tease me?

Another thought was that it would be really neat to run my very first 100 km while I was still 50 years old. After all, it is in our human nature to immortalize such life events with rites of passage, and what is a better way for us runners but to connect personal milestones to running events?

The RACE Although the race is a low-key event with maybe 200 runners, it is pretty well organized. The two race directors, Tim Yanachek and Jason Dorgan, are runners, and they can appreciate runners needs. For example, the trail is neatly marked with white paint on the ground. Also, we had the choice between three different shirts, short-sleeve or long-sleeve dry-fit shirt, or vest. I chose the vest because one never has too many vests for wintertime.

The two races start on Saturday at 6am. The 100 km have a18-hour cutoff (Sat. midnight) and the 100 milers have 36 hours (Sunday noon). The atmosphere before the start reminded me of RAW going to the races as a group. Everybody knew everybody but us, and we felt a little awkward at times until we spotted Dr. Paul Piplani. We had met Paul at the Ultracentric 48 hours in Addison (when Scott Eppelman was the race director), and then during the Death Valley marathon in 2004. Since Paul likes to run over 100 marathon-distances per year, he runs pretty much any marathon and ultra in the US, and we should have known he would be running KM as well. It was really nice to see him. We chatted a little and then the race started at 6am sharp. The temperature felt a little crisp at first, in the low 50s. But remember that low 50s in TX and low 50s in WI is not the same, because one has to factor humidity and what else in the equation. The first seven miles were going up and down long, steep evil hills (some with switchbacks) in the woods, full of tall, green and odoriferous trees, unlike our Texas shrub. The KM trail makes Bandera look flat, to give you some idea. After five miles of evil hills, I could feel my leg muscles twitch, my calves started hurting, and my quads made sure I knew they existed too. Plus, I ran the first three miles with some pain on the side of my left ankle and I remember wondering how the hell I was supposed to do 60 more like that? The two first aid stations, Tamarack and Bluff, were set at about five miles and seven miles from the start. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous. Imagine running on a trail covered with pine needles having fallen from tall, odoriferous pine trees planted on each side of the trail. It was the perfect setting for an aid station. A few hundred yards before Bluff, the volunteers had placed a few pink flamingoes on each side of the trail. Must have meant something to them? The rain started as soon as I left Bluff, and one had to be careful because the narrow trail was becoming slippery and treacherous. (And of course there is also poison ivy in Wisconsin.) Then the trail reminded me of Tyler, gently rolling up and down, nothing too evil there. I started struggling before reaching the unmanned aid station named Horseriders at about mile 12. The race directors had told us that there would be a big blue barrel of water at each unmanned station, and I remember wondering whether I had missed the blue barrel because my time seemed too slow already. Hoping that I had missed the barrel because it was hidden along the trail under a giant fern leaf or something, I kept moving towards the next aid station, Emma Carlin at about 15 miles. Unfortunately, I knew the minute I came out of the woods that I had just reached Horseriders, because once one saw the blue barrel, there was no way one could miss it! It was very big indeed, and very blue too. I started walking from there, a beautiful walk through meadows with lots of butterflies, dragonflies and birds, and small marshes with little wooden paths like in Sunmart. The sun was out and shining on us, and I was very happy to be wearing a long-sleeve shirt that prevented me from getting sunburnt. Then the trail took us back in the woods with more beautiful alleys of tall, odoriferous pines. Then back in the open for a while with more tall grass, butterflies, and birds. I had been running / walking for 5h36 minutes (my watch) when I saw the first runner coming back towards me, followed by the 2nd 6 minutes later and the 3rd 8 minutes behind the 2nd runner. Before I got to Hwy 67, the aid station located at about 25 miles, I knew I was doomed when I started wondering, “Where is the f…g aid station?” (It was my exact thought, sorry guys.) When I reached Hwy 67, a volunteer got my number, and I told her she could write DNF next to it. This nice lady looked at me in a sad way (she too is a runner) and then she showed me a wooden bench where a young guy was sitting, another DNF. I had first seen him at the Horseriders station, and he did not look too well at the time. Joe has run many 100 miles (Rocky Raccoon for example) and he ran KM last year but this year, it was not his day either. We chatted for a while, waiting for Tim Yanacheck, aka Timo, one of the race directors, to pick us up and take us back to the Finish area. Timo is one of the nicest persons I have met. He was really attentive to everybody’s needs, trying to please everybody while tending to his race director duties. I had plenty of time to watch him and other people too while I was waiting for Alan at the Finish. One could see that Tim was really into helping people as much as he could. Jason Dorgan, the other race director, was on the road, checking aid stations, volunteers and supplies, and checking on runners too. While I was waiting for Alan at the Finish area, I chatted with many people, and some were curious to learn about Texan trails. I told them about the trails I have done in Texas and who knows? We may see some of the Great North runners come our way in the next few months? While I was waiting, I also saw many 100 milers stop at the end of the 62.9 miles (the 100 km loop) and drop out of the 100 miles. Although they got the 100 km Finisher’s award -my coveted kettle they will not be eligible for any 100 km place award. Some of those people did NOT look good at all…

What Happened? From past experience, Alan and I refrained from hiking, running or doing anything strenuous during the few days before the race. When we left DFW, I was ready and wanted to race. Nutrition was not an issue because I ate my usual stuff plus sandwich bites and whatnots at each aid station. I believe that starting too fast on those hills did me in. Unfortunately, I found myself in a group of people, feeling good despite my ankle, and I just followed, although I should have known better. Although we walked the hills, the pace was too fast, and the hills too steep. We were under 10:00 / mile for the first two miles, way too fast for me in that kind of terrain (there were mile markers up to mile 5). Anyway, I learned a great deal that day. I learned how presumptuous one can be because I was so sure I could run 25 mi or so and then hike the rest. But I also learned that when one makes an important decision such as DNF, one does not feel any regret about it. This is my very first DNF in over 200 races and I always thought that I would be ashamed of myself and angry too. Well, guess what? Apart from being a little disappointed by having to quit so early in the game, I don’t really care about it because even today I know I made the right decision at the time, given the situation.

The next step is to develop my quads for my next trail race, because I will be back with a vengeance! KM 100, beware! I do want my kettle!

My mistakes in short and in no special order Never assume, as in never assume that one can hike when unable to run anymore. Racing a tough, long distance too soon after ITBS rehab. Never realized that I was going too fast at first. Too little training (2 months, not counting tapering). Not enough quality training, like running tough hills and running stairs / bleachers. Misjudging the toughness of the course (but of course I did not know in advance, again, I assumed it would be like the other trails I have run so far).

Conclusions I very much liked the race, from the organization to the people to the trail itself. Go check it out, and maybe we could have some RAW / NTTR members going that way next year.