First of all, a little recap on my year thus far (if you don’t care, head on down a few paragraphs): 2016 was supposed to be the year of PRs. My plan was to train for (and PR) the LA Marathon, use the base and speed gained to race well at Ice Age 50-miler and a 100-miler in the fall, which probably would’ve been Hallucination 100. But I ended up with a stress reaction in my femur from all the road running/speed work that my body wasn’t used to. I actually didn’t know I had a bone injury at the time of the marathon so I ended up running the marathon and held on for 20 miles, but the injury and the heat made for a disappointing finish.
Once I found out that nagging pull in my groin was actually a stress reaction, I took 7 weeks off and had to re-evaluate my goals. I decided my goal for 2016 was to run in amazeball places. And that’s exactly what I’ve done so far.
I was able to to still run most of the Chattanooga Stage Race with my friends in June, which I thought I wouldn’t be able to do after I found out about the injury. Then in July, Ross and I headed up to northern Minnesota to run the Eugene Curnow Marathon in Duluth and then spent the rest of the week in a cute cabin nestled in the Tettegouche State Park. I spent the week “running” the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT). This vacation came to fruition after I decided that my “A” race for the fall would be the Wild Duluth 100k – and realized I better get some solid training on what the SHT has to offer (which is lots of climb, rocks, roots – and gorgeous views).
A week later, I went to Oregon to attend the Mazamas Ultrarunning Camp, which was by far the highlight of my summer. During the 3-day camp, we learned from ultrarunning greats Krissy Moehl and Jeff Browning, I met amazing folks, stayed in a lodge nestled between Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson and on Saturday, we circumnavigated Mt. Hood. I can’t describe how incredible the experience was, especially for a Midwesterner.
I chose Wild Duluth 100k for a few reasons. Mainly, it covered the “amazeball” description. Two other reasons: I’d never run the 100k distance before and the course terrified me. The course is about 10,000 feet of climb (my watch had over 11,000 but it tends to be optimistic) on the very gnarly SHT. Coming from fairly flat Iowa (although it’s hillier where I live than most people think), 10,000 ft is quite a bit, especially on terrain that is way more technical than I can find on the trails I run.
Ok, so for the actual race! My parents met me and Ross in Duluth on Friday. We headed to packet pick-up and ran into the a large group of QC-TUR(d)s (Quad City Trail and Ultra Runners). They had a big group running all three distances – 100k, 50k, and half-marathon. Said hello and well wishes, got my packet, and then we went to dinner.
I was able to fall asleep easily and got a full night’s sleep. Woohoo! Woke up at 4:15am, had some breakfast (bagel + avocado) and coffee, did pre-race things, and left around 5:15am. The race started at 6:00am and we were about a 15 minute drive away. Soon it was 6:00 and we were off!
I decided to get out in the front-ish because I knew we’d hit single track after less than a mile of pavement. I didn’t feel like getting caught in a conga line. We soon hit the single track and I think I was the 2nd or 3rd female in, which wasn’t intentional, just how it happened. I was in a line of about 6-7 people and we popped out of some single track and hit a road. The leader headed right to another trail and we followed. We soon realized we were not on the course. Ugh. We stood around looking for the reflective flags and soon saw a huge line of people across the street. We all headed that way and over the next mile, I tried to make my way up the conga line – exactly what I was hoping to avoid. Oh well.
The first aid station came quickly at mile 3 and like those in front of me, didn’t stop. We headed back into the trails and I found myself behind two women. I felt like I was strong on the ups and would get right behind them, but as soon as we hit a long stretch of down, they would just take off at a speed I couldn’t keep up with. I found this happening more often than I would’ve liked and I vowed to work on not being so timid on the downhills.
We were already gifted with a few incredible views of Duluth. This course is known for being beautiful and this is certainly accurate. The whole day was sprinkled with gorgeous fall colors and beautiful views.
I came into the Highland/Gretchell Rd. aid station and saw my crew and Josh and a few other TUR(d)s who were were waiting for Steve and Geoffrey. They told me the other two women didn’t really stop but were only about 10 seconds ahead of me. I dumped my head lamp, grabbed some Gus, and took off, a little nervous they’d put a lot of distance in between us that I couldn’t make up. I really didn’t like how much I was thinking about placement so early into the race, but I had it in my head I really wanted to place in the top 3.
Have I mentioned how freaking beautiful this course is? Just want to reiterate this point.
This section is a little fuzzy, but I ran with a few folks during this section including a fella named Dan. He’s run some amazing courses and we chatted about past races. We discovered we could use each other since he was stronger on the downs and I on the ups. We’d switch leading the way to drag the other along. It was a pretty good strategy, really. We soon came to the Spirit Mountain aid station which was water only. We just kept going and we saw the ski lifts, which probably meant we had some hills ahead of us. This was accurate. We climbed and passed a few folks, I think.
The trail came to a road which we had to take for a short period of time. I had passed one of the gals in front of me at this point and so I thought there was one gal in front. All of the sudden, said gal came up behind me. What? Where did she come from? She said she’d stepped of the trail to use the bathroom. We soon came to the Magney-Snively aid station and she just zipped right through. I stopped to see my crew and get a few gels. I got out of there pretty quick.
This section was tough. After the aid station, I went back into the trails and soon found myself climbing a bunch. I crossed a road and continue climbing. I was pretty far away from the road, but Ross and my parents must have seen me as they drove by because I heard a honk and Ross cheering for me. As I was climbing, I heard a women’s voice behind me talking to another guy. We eventually began running together and I found out her name was Mollie. She had run the 50k a few years back. She was in good spirits and the company was nice. I wasn’t feeling super strong and the hills were getting pretty tough. Lots of boulders and technical trail. This was definitely the most technical section of the race, which I found out later was Ely’s Peak. I took a wrong turn and Mollie guided me back the right way (thanks!). She took the lead for awhile and she got a bit ahead of me. I took a pretty hard fall and kinda laid there shocked for a second. I kept going but she was moving a lot quicker than I was and was outta site. I was seeing a bunch of 50k folks at this point, too (the 50k starts at the 100k turnaround and they run to the the start/finish). At some point, I must’ve started going down Ely’s Peak and was soon on some flat trail close to the Munger Trail aid station. A female 50k runner passed me and said, “Hey! I recognize you! You’re doing great, third female.” I racked my brain trying to figure out who this was and I’m almost positive I ran with her at the Eugene Curnow Marathon back in June. Anyways, I rolled in to the aid station and was greeted by Ross, my parents, and a few TUR(d)s.
I had Ross re-fill my bladder, grabbed some nutrition and headed on, knowing it would be awhile before I saw them at the 50k turnaround.
I had been looking forward to this section because I heard the 10 miles leading to the turnaround were a bit more runnable than the previous 20 miles. I would say this is true to an extent. The next five miles were pretty uneventful, I think. There was an aid station at 25.6 that wasn’t accessible to crew. I grabbed a cup of Coke and kept going. I passed a few fellas here.
I soon came to the dreaded power lines section. If you aren’t familiar with this, it’s a few incredibly steep hills that are under – yep, you guessed it – power lines! I’d already had the pleasure of running this section in the Eugene Curnow Marathon. It seemed we went up way more than we went down and I made a mental note that the way back should hopefully be easier (it was).
After this section, I was soon running some lovely MTB trails. THIS was what I was waiting for. Smooth and runnable. I was able to open up a bit and really enjoy running for an extended period of time. There were still some hills but they didn’t seem long or steep enough to walk. There was a guy who was behind me for awhile and we eventually started chatting. His name was Joe and I really enjoyed his company. We chit-chatted and the time flew by. We eventually saw Mollie ahead and she took a very graceful tumble. She let us go by (after we made sure she was ok, of course). We were seeing some of the faster 100k folks head back towards the start. The first place female went by us and a few minutes later we were at the 50k turnaround.
I was in good spirits. It was good to see my crew and I think I took some time to get some annoying rocks out of my shoe. I saw Joe leave and I took off shortly after, hoping to catch up and enjoy his company for a bit more.
Well, my plan to keep up with Joe did not work. He was moving pretty quick and he soon left me in the dust. I enjoyed the MTB trails again, soaking up the smooth and runnable trails knowing I would soon be back on the technical SHT. I remember trying to really appreciate the fact that I was running such a beautiful course and that I was able to do what I loved. The next 10 miles are pretty uneventful, really. I’ve never done an out and back course, so it was nice knowing what I had ahead of me. After about 5 or so miles after the turnaround, I stopped seeing 100k runners. I think I saw one 100k runner around mile 38 and that would be the second to last runner I would see (and no, the last runner I would see would NOT be the first female).
I got to the mile 42 aid station and my spirits were a little low. I was getting pretty lonely and was regretting not bringing along any music. I also knew I had Ely’s Peak ahead of me. You can legit see Ely’s Peak from the aid station so I had a tough time pulling myself from my crew. They said first female was about 10 minutes ahead – but looking really strong. I knew I was slowing down and if she didn’t end up doing the same thing in a big way, I wouldn’t catch up to her. Oh well, I wasn’t really bummed about this. I was just focused on getting the last 20 miles done.
I only had a few miles before the next aid station, but I knew they’d be tough. They were, but again, the views were dynamite. I never use that word to describe things but it just seems appropriate. I paid a lot of attention to course markers and the SHT blue blazes because this is where I took a wrong turn when I was running with Mollie on the way out. And what do you know? It worked. I knew after Ely’s Peak I’d have decent downhill to the next aid station. I think this is where I passed that other runner, but it’s a little fuzzy. Might’ve been in the next section. Anyways, I got to the downhill section and crossed a road, so I knew I was close to the next aid station. I definitely was in a better mood. I saw Ross who had come down the trail a little bit to greet me. I re-filled on necessities and debated taking the headlamp. A volunteer said it would be a good idea because “their were some forested areas ahead.” I looked at him and said, “Forested areas ahead? Oh, really?” in a pretty sarcastic tone. I felt a little bad about ribbing him but it was all in good fun. And it’s nice to be in a good enough mood to joke around. I took the headlamp and off I went.
Man, my memory sucks. Nothing notable. Just trucking along. I do know the aid station came a little later than I anticipated and I was a little sad about that. I knew the aid station was on a bridge and every time a bridge came into view, I’d get excited, but it was the third or fourth bridge I saw that was actually the aid station. Once it came into view, my crew and volunteers started cheering. There was a steep climb to get up and I just powered up that sucker. My crew told me I was sitting in 9th overall and that I was pretty isolated. Which explains why I was seeing NO ONE on the trails. I headed out, knowing I wouldn’t see my crew until the end. There was one more aid station at mile 59, but I told them not to bother unless they realllllllly wanted to. I just planned on moving right through.
The sun had started setting and once I made my way back up to the ridge, the views were totally different than during the day. The clouds had broken up so I enjoyed some really lovely views of the sunset. Breathtaking, really. Although I kept trying to stay positive and embrace where I was, I definitely could’ve used some company.
I started noticing some deep aches in my quads when I took big steps down the boulders. But for the most part, I felt pretty darn good. Just fatigued. As the sun went down, I eventually turned on my headlamp. This is when the trails started to get pretty tricky. It’s one thing running leaf-covered trails in the dark with fresh legs. It felt like a different beast doing the same on legs with 50+ miles on them. I remember thinking how I still felt pretty good and to just push past the fatigue to lay down some quicker miles. I tried my best and honestly felt like I was running at a pretty quick clip, but then I’d look down at my watch and it would tell me otherwise. Ah, such is life. This is also when I realized that 14 hours probably wasn’t going to happen. I knew I wouldn’t be much longer though.
As it got darker, the moon got brighter. And it was like one of those big ol’ harvest moons or something because that shit was BONKERS. I felt like I could touch it when I was up on the peaks. We so lucked out with the weather – overcast during the day, but clear at night.
I got to the mile 59 aid station and just kinda jogged on through. There was a little hill just past the aid station and I attempted to run up it. I was halfway up it and RIGHT when I stopped to walk, the volunteers started cheering for me to keep running. I did a little signature “raise the roof” move (god, I have to stop that) and started running again. Less than a 5k to go. Woohoo!
I knew the first few miles was a good chunk of climbing so I knew I’d have a lot of down. Unfortunately, it was pretty steep down so I wasn’t moving very fast. In fact, I think I moved slower going down than I did going up at the beginning, which I guess isn’t too surprising.
I kept popping out into roads so I knew I was getting close to the finish. Finally, the last road I came to was the main road crossing. I knew I had less than a mile left. I crossed the road and headed toward the pedestrian bridge and then I spotted Ross waiting for me. He ran the last little bit with me and that was very nice. I turned into the last straightaway that led to the finish line and finished in 14:07. We didn’t stay long. It was 8:00 and both my crew and myself needed food! (and beer).
All in all, it was a good day. Ended up 2nd female (first place female finished 37 MINUTES ahead of me – YOWZA) and 9th overall. Ran amazing trails and raced a new distance on a really tough course. I slowed down more than I would’ve liked in the second half, but you live and you learn. I would definitely recommend this race to anyone looking for an ass kicker of a course.
Thank you x a million to Ross and my parents for once again, spending the day on the trails, most likely bored out of their minds.
For those who care:
- Nutrition: water in my pack and a bottle of Tailwind, Gu’s every hour, fruit at the aid stations when it sounded good
- On my feet: shoes – Nike Terra Kiger 3s. NO BLISTERS! FIRST TIME EVER! I chalk this up to going to a men’s shoe for more width; socks – Injinjis
- Clothes: Patagonia Stride Pro shorts and a Merino tank
- Pack: Ultimate Direction Jenny Vesta. This was actually my first time racing with a pack and it didn’t bother me a bit.
Also, BONUS! I only fell one time. I was expecting no less than 5, so this was a real treat. I tripped a bajillion times though.