Going into 2018 I had a goal of going further than I had before. I wasn’t quite ready to plunge into a 100 miler but knew that I needed to stretch my limits to what seemed just out there. In 2017, after I completed North Country 50 miler, I felt that with a little bit more focused training and preparation I could finish that distance faster. That is exactly what I did preparing for my longest race to date at the Kettle Moraine 100k in La Grange, Wisconsin.
Race: Kettle 100k
Location: La Grange, WI
Date: June 2, 2018
Finishing Time: 16:44:31
I spent a lot of time early in the year focusing on time on my feet and putting in miles no matter the pace. Through May I logged over 700 miles, which was the furthest I had run in that time frame since I started running. Having a good handful of races already this year and also having the back to back in Kansas and Oklahoma, I felt good going into the weekend that I was as prepared as I could be. Now saying that, I wasn’t over-confident that the result would be favorable, knowing that it would be a long time and a lot can happen during a race of that distance. I told everyone I knew that I was doing the race, not to brag about the distance or attempt, but rather to have a large number of people hold me accountable to my goals.
The Kettle Moraine trail races had multiple distances with the apex of those being a 100 miler, but also having the 100k and a 50k. This put the race start on Saturday, so in typical fashion we made our way out of Columbus on Thursday and headed to Milwaukee. The drive took longer than anticipated with some bad weather and a sleepy driver (me), but we made it safely to our hotel even if was super late. I treated this race just like any other and woke up Friday morning and got a short shake out run in to keep my legs loose from the travels. It was really windy and chilly, which made for a tougher–than-needed run, but also had me concerned about how the race would be. I had to remember, though, that being closer to Lake Michigan would mean more wind than we would have at Kettle Moraine State Park.
I had read a handful of race reports in preparation for the race and the weather ranged from monsoons to dry, cloud-free, sun beating down on you the entire race. So really it meant I had no idea how the weather would play out once we started but the wind that morning started to make my mind wander again. After a quick breakfast at the hotel (carbs for days), we packed up our stuff and made our way out to meet a friend that I grew up with, Drew. He had moved to Milwaukee not too long ago and when I knew I was going to be in the area, I made sure to hit him up so we could get together. On the way out to meet him we stopped by a running store to pick up some extra caffeine gels. I remember how much caffeine helped me ignore the pain I was feeling at North Country and wanted to make sure I was prepared.
We took the long way around Milwaukee to be drive-by sightseers on the way to Good City Brewing for lunch. Remember how I said it was chilly earlier during my run? Well that still had not died down, and since my cheerleader Bella was with us, we had to grab a seat outside. Luckily there was a little bit of sun to keep us somewhat toasty but when that breeze rolled in…whew!
Drew and his wife joined us and we spent most of the time catching up and bringing up some old fond memories. Food was pretty good and beer wasn’t bad also, but I obviously was playing it smart with simple options and not drinking too much. Speaking of not drinking too much, there was one more brewery we wanted to check out so after lunch we headed over to Lakefront Brewery (which was actually located on a river). On the way I texted Drew because I realized in our conversation that he was going to be done with work for the day and invited to come hang out some more. Crazy enough he had the same thought of not wanting to go home just yet and joined us. Temperatures were starting to get more comfortable as we just sat in bar stools along the river bank. It was a nice set up for the brewery and a relaxing area for a few afternoon beers. However, I realized quickly that the sun was wearing me down and the beer consumption was not helping. We said our goodbyes, then Kaela and I headed about an hour west of Milwaukee to the start/finish for packet pick up.
We headed west on I-43 before getting off on some small county highways. On the drive out the terrain seemed quite flat and runnable. I remembered that in the race reports I reviewed, people discussed the number of hills on the course that made for a challenging race, but I did not see those in any direction I looked. That was until we turned on County Road H (yes the road was just a letter) that took us to the start/finish. The road was rolling up and down all the way to the parking lot (which we passed, by the way, almost twice).
As with most ultras, packet pickup was a gathering of people seeing each other for the first time since the last race and chatting with none of the “glamour” of a major road marathon race with booths and free samples. It is always refreshing to get back down to the basics with races without the glam. I picked up my bib, shirt and information (grabbing a couple extra maps) before heading back to the car. Since I didn’t know anyone there, and I was getting eaten alive by bugs, I decided there was no reason to linger around. My bib number was 420, which I knew was going to cause a lot of jokes, most of which I probably wouldn’t understand and would have to smirk and nod in a fake understanding motion.
Back in the car, we headed the hour back to Milwaukee to pick up dinner and check in to our new hotel. We called ahead dinner at a small authentic Italian place called Toscana Italian Ristorante that I highly recommend. There was a larger order just ahead of ours so we had to wait a little longer than anticipated but the food was outstanding. The pasta was fresh, the sauce hit the spot and just overall an amazing meal. We also had a great experience at our hotel staying our first time at a Homes2 Suites. The overall look and feel of the place was amazing and once we got into our room it was even better. Having basically a full kitchen and “separate” area for me to be able to chill in the morning and not wake Kaela was clutch. We now look for Home2 Suites anytime we are traveling for races.
After dinner, I spent a little time chatting with my good buddy Mike (you may remember from Georgia or Illinois blog), as he was making his way up to help crew and pace me to give Kaela a little bit of a break during the race. I started to get overwhelmed with the details and told him to just talk with Kaela because she knows everything he would need to know. Kaela has been crewing me for so long now that she understands the phases that I go through during a race and how to handle each of them (most of the time it’s a “suck it up and just run”). I laid out my morning clothes, packed my crew bag and Kaela helped organize all my nutrition in zip lock bags to make it easy at aid stations to get me in and out. With all this done, it was finally time to try and get some rest.
I remember laying in bed, my mind racing, thinking about so many details and the worries that could come from a race of this distance. I mean, it was the longest I had ever attempted to run. But I knew that I needed to try and calm myself, get some sleep and let tomorrow worry about itself when it arrived.
With a 6am start, I had to get my day started pretty early. Alarm at 3am, finish eating morning food by 4am and on the road by 4:45am. This schedule seemed great in theory but my body was having a hard time making it happen.
I got out of bed in time and was going through the routine of eating, listening to my pre-race playlist and going over final course details, but my stomach was just hating me. Bubble guts all morning made for an interesting handful of trips to the restroom (sorry if that’s TMI but that’s how it works). When I felt a break in the action, we packed up the car and Kaela drove us to the start quickly, but safely, with us arriving around 30 minutes prior to the start. I still needed to get body glide on, use the restroom, get my pack on, apply bug spray and use the restroom once more for good measure. I started to stress out a little bit and felt like I was in over my head as it seemed time was moving so quickly and nothing was going as planned. Restroom lines were super long, porta-potties were not a viable option as they were the same ones they had from the packet picket up and people must have destroyed them by then. I did what I could in my time allotment and just moved on to the next task.
Kaela applied some bug spray and took my “pre race” photo, as I was anxiously moving around as they were starting a countdown to the start. She gave me a hug and kiss, and with peace in her eyes told me that she believed in me and that I totally had this, before kicking me over to the start/finish. That one moment made all the difference in my nerves. Going from spastic to calm came in those simple words.
Before I had made it over through the sea of people to get to the start/finish, the race had officially started. I got a little anxious again and then had to remind myself that it was going to be a long day out on the trails and if I started one minute behind everyone else, it was going to be ok. And that is exactly what I did with my watch starting at 6:01am from the Nordic Trail Head.
The start of the race was a little tight with a large pack. The trail was wide enough to handle the crowd but the rain that had taken place the last few days caused everyone to stay near the dirt rather than the wet grass. I gathered myself from the “rushed” start and just got into a comfortable pace. I know the Possum rule of “if you don’t meet someone new, you are doing it wrong” but for the start I just wanted to enjoy my surroundings. I would eavesdrop on others’ conversations and laugh to myself at comments, which I’m sure did not look/sound creepy at all.
We hit the first aid station pretty quick and I started to rack my brain thinking back to the course map. I was certain that the aid was further out but either way I just breezed on through knowing that the first spot I would need refill of nutrition would be at Bluff aid station, which also was the first crew station. We continued down the trail for just a few miles before we could hear the large crowd cheering people into the aid station.
I spotted Kaela pretty quickly while she was taking photos and made my way to hand off my pack to fill up nutrition while I used the porta-potty. Because of the rushed start, I didn’t have the chance for the extra trip to porta-potty so I had spent the last 90 minutes or so trying to do a funky dance not to need a new pair of shorts when arriving at the aid station. Kaela packed up my bag and once I was a little bit lighter, I gave her a kiss and was on my way. Coming out of the aid we headed down a service road before turning on some rolling hills and the trail got a little bit tighter. I watched my step during the short climbs and kept my pace in check. I knew with such a long race I needed to take my time and just enjoy the day.
Before too long, I caught up to a large group of people and it was a slow moving train. We were running on single track and there was no opportunity to try and make a pass. If the person in front wanted to power hike a little incline, the entire caravan was doing the same. I had picked off a few spots when the trail would widen but there was no getting around it all. I just kept my cool and just used it as a time to work on my patience. Luckily enough, right about when my patience was starting to wear off we were at the Horseriders aid which was unmanned. They had some nutrition in boxes and a handful of water coolers set up for us. Since I had plenty of nutrition on me I blew right on through it, passing all those that dragging along the trail (Now to be fair, most of them were doing the 100 miler as I overheard their conversation, but man was it annoying being stuck behind them).
Back on the trail I heard footsteps behind me that seemed to be coming up faster. I moved to the side of the trail to allow to pass but he let me know he was comfortable with my pace. His name was Phil and he was from Georgia. He was in the same boat as me trying to get by the “train” that was blocking the trail, and was glad to be on the other side of it. We chatted about races we have done and what we are expecting for the race today. It always surprises me how easy runs can feel when having a good conversation. The trail was going up and down and winding through the woods but we just held a good conversational pace to pass the time. Before we knew it we were making our way out of tree coverage wrapping over to Emma Carlin aid station.
I handed off a water bottle to Kaela to replace my Tailwind while I filled the other up with water. Tailwind has been good for my stomach in longer runs and decided to split it with water to have options while on the trail. I grabbed a few turkey wraps (so delicious) and walked away from the aid station to put everything together back in the bag. Kaela was asking all the right questions to keep me from having to think. She passed off my next bag of nutrition and called me out for not eating all that I had. I had told her before the race to make sure I’m handing off empty wrappers at every exchange to prove that I am eating. I misjudged the amount of food I needed by that point and let her know to make some adjustments in the next bags so I wouldn’t get yelled at (haha).
The next stretch before I would see her again would be the longest in the course, so we made sure I was well prepared, she sprayed me down with bug spray and sun screen and I was on my way. This next portion has been known to be one of the tougher spots as it’s relatively flat but it is completely exposed. Luckily this year the weather was great and the sun was only partially peeking out its head, but I didn’t want to take any chances with bugs or getting burnt.
I crossed the street and ran down the ditch before cutting back into open fields. Now again, it was very runnable terrain but the wet grass was just tall enough that it was quite annoying. The extra effort needed to push through the grass with each stride was adding up and I knew it was going to be a problem heading back through this area on the way home. I had a little pep in my step at this point and decided to ride it out passing people one by one. There were a handful of people just hiking the trail and they were cheering us on as we ran by. We ducked into tree cover a handful of times before making it to a county road. I used this non grassy area to walk and eat, when a lady came up on me quick. Her name was Betty and she had done this race a few times prior. She had asked me if everything was ok, and I let her know that I was just using this as an opportunity to get some food in. She walked with me for a moment and then we both picked up the pace and started back.
We chatted just as I did with Phil, about the day, races we have done or want to do, and probably a little bit of everything. We cruised down the county road and had caught up to some guys and they joined in on the conversation. As usual when you are in a larger pack, the pace started to pick up and at about this time we entered the prairie portion of the course. It was similar to the open fields we ran in just a few miles earlier, but the grass was just a little bit taller where we were running and a lot taller on each side of us. I hung with the group as long as I could but before I knew it they were gone and out of sight.
Alone in the prairie, I started to get in my head. The grass was annoying. The little bit of heat was annoying. The bugs were definitely annoying. With every turn I wondered if I would ever get out of this area. I was maintaining a comfortable pace but my body was just not having it. We would go from grass to dirt to boardwalk raised platforms and repeat the process. I could feel the humidity coming from underneath and it was wearing me out. We would have some long climbs that would over look a large portion of the area and there was not a person in sight. I had to keep reminding myself that this was going to be the longest, most desolate part of the course and I needed to dig deep in my mental space to get through it.
And I did.
I could hear that I was approaching the Hwy 67 aid station at around mile 25. I could see Kaela taking pictures and then I heard Mike’s voice cheering me in. He had arrived to meet Kaela while I was wandering in the prairie and now my crew just doubled! Mike joined in with Kaela in keeping me focused on the positive while I’m sure I was just rambling about how much I hated that prairie. I put some more turkey and avocado wraps down and refilled everything, then I was ready to head out again. I would see them in a few short miles so I wasn’t too worried about what I had on me as I could grab whatever I was missing the next time.
The next section has some longer gradual climbs but the surface was so runnable I didn’t mind mixing up power hiking and running. I mean, at least it wasn’t that stupid grass! My body was feeling better and I just kept a consistent pace and train of thought all the way to County ZZ aid station. They were at the end of the road and I just walked myself in. I forgot to hand off some trash the last stop and it was starting to irritate me. We took care of my diva problems and I trucked off into the woods. This aid station was just a few hundred yards from the next one; at least, that was the case for the crew. It would take me about 5 miles to get to Scuppernong, and let me tell you up front, this 5 miles is what broke me.
Leaving the aid station, it was flat and smooth snaking through the tree line. Very soon after the terrain changed and we started to climb. These climbs did not have an end in sight, with switch back after switch back. People were making their way back from the turn around, so every so often those of us going up would have to quickly get off the trail to allow those flying down the hill to pass by since they had gravity pulling them down. With each switchback my body was just getting beat up. Eventually we stopped climbing and hit some long tree line straightaways that at the time felt went on for miles.
The trail would not end.
When I thought I got to the end, we would make another turn and there was more trail. We hit some rolling hills and I could tell we were getting close to a parking lot as we started to run into a lot of hikers just out enjoying their day. I’m sure I looked like absolute death to them as I crawled by. I remember wanting to just stop and cry and get all the emotions out. Remember how I said I thought I had everything I need from last aid station? Somehow I managed to run out of water and Tailwind. I wasn’t getting calories down as the gels and waffles weren’t cooperating without having fluid to wash them down. Yeah, it was rough.
When I finally came into the aid at the turnaround, I could tell from the look on their faces that I looked as bad as I felt. I sat down at a picnic table and tried to gather myself. The crew grabbed me some real food and I took some salt tabs and caffeine to help with the physical and mental breakdown. I was there for about 10 minutes, I think. I remember Mike setting a timer and I also remember completely ignoring it.
The thoughts that were running through my mind were that I was only half way completed, there was a lot of race left and I already felt like I had nothing left. Kaela and Mike wouldn’t let me get any more in my head, filled up my vest and bottles and sent me on my way. Why waste time at an aid station when I could at least be walking forward making some progress?
Back on the trail I kept up with my one man pity party. I worked on trying to break up the trail by running intervals to give me some momentum. The trail didn’t seem as long this time around and it didn’t hurt to see people that were moving slower than me and looking just as rough heading in to the turnaround. Before I knew it I was back to the hills and I remember thinking at least this time they were more downhill heading this way. As I started down the hills, something came over me (or maybe the caffeine finally kicked in) because I started running. It wasn’t the interval running that I had been doing, but a consistent run down the trail, tackling the downhills and keeping up the pace on the flats and short climbs.
It felt like I was flying but I couldn’t really tell. During my one man pity party, my watch died because I forgot to ask for my charger to keep it going over the 5 miles until the next aid where I could hand it off. It pissed me off a little but I just kept trucking, trying to get this miserable part of the course behind me. I passed a few people and they commented how good I looked but I let them know that they would more than likely be seeing me in a little bit once this faded off. I started to hear the crowds again and I knew I was close.
I powered through the woods and headed down the service road to the aid station. Kaela and Mike seemed surprised by the smile on my face after the death look from our previous meeting. I quickly grabbed my watch charger and started it back up, before grabbing a quick bite to eat and moving along. I let them know that since the next aid was close I was going to push through this one and change clothes and gear at the next aid. I kept up a decent pace in the short section heading to the HWY 67 aid station.
Upon my arrival, they helped me get changed with new shirt, bandana with ice and filling up my nutrition in my bag. The sun started to come out of the clouds and knowing that I was heading back into the prairie I wanted to be covered and cool. I applied some more glide, bug spray, cleaned off with some wipes and tried leaving the aid station feeling the best I could heading back to the dreaded prairie.
The second time around it was a whole lot warmer and seemed to go on a whole lot longer. The guys that I passed on the hills caught up to me and gave me some company for a good bit. We played a game of intervals while we kept a conversation to take the pain off of our minds. They were estranged brothers that were brought back together because of running; I couldn’t make up a story this awesome. At one point I started to fall back and one brother stayed with me while the other took off. This was short lived, however, because shortly after the second was gone from the horizon. The next few miles must have escaped my mind because the next memory I have is getting back to the fields that would lead me to the aid station.
I turned the corner out of the trees and was along the side of the road coming into the aid station. I could see Kaela with Bella in tow cheering me in. I did my best to “run” in but I was exhausted. The race allowed pacers at the 12 hour mark and since we I was close enough to it at this point, Mike was going to join me out on the trail. We applied the necessary bug spray (they were getting bad), filled up my nutrition, and had another few turkey and avocado wraps before heading out.
It was nice to have someone to talk to again while I ran. I spent a good portion of the race alone and company was welcomed. Mike and I chatted about anything that came to mind. He had never paced anyone before but he knew the dos and don’ts and kept things light and the conversation going. After a little while we caught up to a couple that was doing the 100 mile. How did I know they were running it, you ask? She would not stop talking about it as though she was the greatest of all time saying things like “they should give an extra medal for not training for the race.” She went on and on about how easy it all was while the guy with her just kept his mouth shut because he look like he was in the hurt locker. We couldn’t take any more of her so Mike picked up the pace and I followed down the trail until we made sure they were completely out of sight.
At some point during the rollers, my Achilles started to tighten up a little bit, which was a feeling I had never had before. We would take interval breaks while still moving forward at what I was thinking was a decent pace. Mike quickly let me know (not jokingly) that he would have to change the activity to a hike so it didn’t mess with his Garmin stats. At this point I realized that my watch never connected to GPS prior to me starting it back up when it died, so it has been determining my pace from cadence and made me think I was going much faster than I actually was. We had some good laughs at this struggle bus moment.
This section all seemed brand new even though I had run it a handful of hours prior. I remember an overlook that I stopped at for Mike to take my picture before continuing down the trail (now I can’t find that picture so maybe it didn’t happen). There was a section of loose rocks that I did remember climbing but going down seemed to be a much tougher situation. I lost my footing a few times and almost had a face full of rocks. This did not help the Achilles and with each step I started to feel more and more pain. I asked Mike to text Kaela and let her know that I would want to sit down for a little bit when arriving at the next aid station to gather myself before the final push to the finish. Later I found out that he actually told her I was looking in real bad shape and to be prepared to bring me back to life. Oh, and for her to grab him a beer to drink while I was in my own pity party again.
With about a mile left until the aid, Mike had enough of my whining and told me to run it in to the aid station. Since most of it was downhill it seemed doable but I think this is where things went sideways with pushing through the Achilles pain. Turning the corner I could see the aid station and made a direct line to Kaela. I sat down and just felt like 100lbs rested on my shoulders. They grabbed me food and soda to get my levels in a range that would keep me upright for the remainder of the race. Mike chugged his beer (because you know pacers need carbs also). Kaela gave me words of encouragement as I sat there feeling bad about myself and how I fell apart during the race. She kept reminding me that she believed in me and knew I could get out there and finish this.
I eventually got up and Mike and I headed back into the woods for the final death march. I originally hoped to beat the sunset but with my drastically slowed pace, we decided that bringing the headlamp was the smart choice in case I couldn’t power through (yes, I did only say one headlamp). Mike had a handful of jelly beans and Sour Patch Kids that I kept in my mouth like chewing tobacco to just have a continual rush of sugar. Shortly down the trail the Achilles pain started to sting straight up my leg. It was the most painful thing I had felt coming from my leg and it made it quite difficult to run. I would move as much as I could and then start hopping down the trail. To make matters more interesting, it started to rain just enough to annoy me. Oh, and remember how I said I only had one headlamp? I also forgot to change the batteries so as I was hopping down the trail, in the rain, the darkness rolling in, we only had a fading headlamp for the two of us.
We arrived at the last aid station just under 5 miles from the finish to fill up on fluids and grab as much food as I could stuff in my face and bag as this would be the final stop. As we exited we met a runner named Josh. He had noticed our headlamp situation and said that the year before he didn’t even bring a headlamp and because of that poor decision he brought two this year. He offered for us to use it and Mike was my light for the rest of the race. Well, Mike and Josh were. The next 5 miles of a death march we all stayed together. I would get my legs turning a little bit before the pain would shoot up again and limit me to a limp down the trail. The wet grass and rolling hills caused me to slip multiple times that would lead to even more pain as I would catch myself from falling completely over.
This was no longer fun.
Josh and Mike held some good conversation, my guess is because Mike was tired of hearing me complain, but it was nice to have a little distraction. We were also seeing runners coming at us, which were the 100 milers leaving the 100k aid and heading back out to the course. Bluff aid station was the pivot point for both races. The company on the trail was fantastic because if I had not had the two of them I may still be crawling out of those woods today. Up and down the rolling hills, on wet grass, on one leg, I powered through the best I could. We could hear the crowds of the finish and I knew I was close. We made the final turn and I could see the banner. I told Josh to go on ahead as he slowed down tremendously to hang out with us and I wanted him to finish in front of me. Mike veered off to the side and cheered alongside Kaela as I pushed with anything I had left to get to that finish line.
I was two hours late…
But I finished.
I received my finishers belt buckle (super cool) and made my way to picnic table to get off my feet. Kaela brought over some food but I wasn’t really feeling anything that point. I just wanted to sit and be warm and feel sorry for myself. I was not pleased with my performance but was thankful for my team that helped get me to the finish. My crew would not let me stay down though, because they were so proud and supportive that I persevered through the struggles throughout the race to make it to the finish.
Because of the drizzling rain and the lack of ability/will to get up and walk around, I decided that we should just head back to the hotel. I put some additional layers on, took off my shoes before making it slowly to the car. On the way back, I rambled to Kaela about the race in what I can only imagine was not coherent thoughts (not much different to this). Closer to the hotel I ordered some pizza for Mike to pick up on his way also.
Mike and I ate pizza and had a celebratory beer in the hotel lobby while Kaela got some much needed rest. I had forgotten that while I was running for over 16 hours, Kaela was having to keep focused on a schedule and drive around from point to point to take care of me. Mike and I had some fun conversation (now that we weren’t taking a stroll in the woods) and I thanked him numerous times for spending the day helping Kaela and myself.
Clean up, bed, drive home.
What an amazing experience! It was not easy, actually much harder than I anticipated really, but in the end Wisconsin was able to be marked off the list. The Achilles pain luckily did not linger for long after the race. I took 10 days off of running to let it heal. Crazy enough, other than that pain, I had no other physical issues to speak of. There was no real chafing and I only ended up with a small blister on my right foot. I would say that is a win from a long day on the trails. Now as far as the race itself is concerned, I can’t recommend this race enough for anyone looking to do a 100k as it was an absolutely beautiful course. I learned a lot about myself during this race and really took a long look in mirror on things I needed to work on from a mental side of running. Sometimes it takes a moment when you feel broken to build yourself back together again.
Thanks for reading through this extremely long post, but hey, it’s my longest race to date so it only makes sense. Now I take a little over a month break before heading out to the Last Frontier to run the Juneau Marathon.