Kettle Moraine 100

Kettle Moraine 100 was my second 100-mile race and I had a few specific goals:

  • run sub 22 hours
  • finish the dang thing (last 25 miles) a lot stronger than my last 100-mile race

I also had a “would be nice goal” to podium but I didn’t want that to influence my running at all until the second half and if it made sense (i.e. I wasn’t dying).

I turned 30 this year and my boyfriend got me a super awesome gift: he paid for six months of coaching leading up to KM100. I’ve been interested in hiring a coach, but they are a bit expensive and I kept thinking “does someone like me REALLY need a coach?” With Ross saying he’d pay for it and me realizing that I can hire a coach if I want to, I made the decision to hire Matt Flaherty.

If you’re interested in how I made this decision, here’s quick back story: I met a guy named Jeff at a race a few years ago. Jeff and I met around mile 15 of the Ice Age 50-miler and ran the rest together. Since then we’ve kept in touch. He hired Matt a few years ago and saw some seriously impressive improvements. He had nothing but good things to say about Matt so after an initial conversation about what his coaching entails, I hired him.

This six months of training was entirely different than how I normally train but like Jeff, saw many improvements. I focused more on quality miles rather than just “run all the miles” and cut down on back-to-back long runs. I was a little apprehensive about this at first but it proved to be a successful strategy for me. My “b” races (Clinton Lake 30-miler, Naked Prussian 50-miler, and Chippewa 50k) all went great and left me feeling confident about my training.

Anyways, fast forward through six months of training and I felt ready. It’d been two years since I ran 100 miles and I was anxious to try again and do it better this time.

Start-mile 15

I was lucky enough to have three people take time out of their lives to crew/pace me. Ross (boyfriend), Natalee (trail sister/badass), and Stephanie (dear friend who always has a smile on her face). Steph lives in Madison and was going to meet up with Ross and Natalee in the afternoon. Natalee was going to pace from 70-100 and Ross was going to pace 62-70 if I felt like I needed it. Part of me thought I might want some time to zone out solo so we decided to play Ross’ pacing by ear.

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A very beard-y Ross and I before the start.
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Natalee! Fun fact: she braided my hair.

Remember Jeff who introduced me to Matt? He was also running Kettle for the third year in a row. He decided he would run with me for the first 100k to help keep his pace in check and keep me company.

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Me and Jeff

We got there a half hour early and did pre-race things: got our ankle timing chips (not nearly as annoying as I thought it would be), took photos, exchanged pleasantries with other runners, etc. I was happy and anxious and ready to go.

The race director said a few words about course markings and weather and all that good stuff and then it was go time! The 100-milers and 100k-ers started at the same time so there were about 500 folks on the trails. Luckily, we weren’t dealing with single track at this point, so it didn’t feel like 500 folks.

The first seven miles of the course is a section that you do four times total so you get to know it pretty well. It’s filled with a bunch of short, steep pitches. I walked every hill and if I wasn’t sure if I should walk it or not, I just did to be safe. I knew these would feel like mountains the last time (93-100). I made a mental note of the flat sections, too, which made up more of the section that I thought it would.

Jeff and I caught up and talked about training, races, and life. It was good to properly catch up since most of our communication the past few years has been via Strava and e-mail. He was super helpful since he knew the course so well.

I remember checking my mile splits and was a little surprised at how slow they were but then mentally slapped myself across the face. You’re running a 100 miles, you idiot, just run comfortable. So I did.

The weather was perfect. Overcast and still a little cool. The forecast had been mostly predicting rain but the morning of, it was right around 30% chance. I was fairly confident it wouldn’t rain (I would be very wrong).

Miles 15-36.6 (Emma Carlin – County ZZ)

I first saw my crew at mile 15. I was mindful about getting in and out pretty quickly. I switched my bottles, got some gels, and got out of there pretty fast. I lost Jeff at this point. This happened pretty much all day at aid stations and poor Jeff had to hunt me down every time. But hopefully he enjoyed getting to open up a bit more for a mile or so (he’s a lot faster than me).

I knew the next section would include the dreaded meadows. At some point before the meadows, we also went one through of my favorite sections of the race where pine trees envelope you on both side and the pine needle covered trail makes you feel like you’re bouncing through the woods. I remember both Jeff and I commenting on how much we liked this type of trail.

The “meadows” is stretch of open prairie with hardly any shade and a naturally humid area. We’d do this section twice. Luckily, it was still overcast the first time though and this is when it started to rain. It felt pretty good but I just kept thinking “pleaaaaaaase, sun, do not come out after this rain” (the sun didn’t listen). Then it started thunderstorming.

We got through the meadows and went back into the trails. The trails started to get pretty muddy. And then extremely muddy. Certain sections were incredibly slippery and some were like straight-up mud pits where you just hoped you didn’t lose your shoe and maybe your entire leg.

Anyone who’s run in constant mud will tell you it’s really annoying. They’d be right. But I just kept any negative thoughts out of my head. Tried to have fun with it and know that nothing will last forever. Natalee had also reminded me that after mile 47 the course drains pretty well.

Jeff and I talked about how much fun the single track trails would be if they were dry. I remember us thinking the rain had finally let up and then BAM – it just starts POURING on us. I got really muddy since I had to use my hands at times to get myself up slippery hills.

I was able to see my crew three times in 15 miles in this section since two of the aid stations are at the same spot (County ZZ) and the other (Scuppernong) was just a hop, skip, and a jump away (for them anyways). I’m sure that helped keep my spirits high in not-so-great conditions.

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Coming into Scuppernong – mile 31.6
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Lookin’ sexy at Scuppernong.

We also saw a lot of other runners since it was an out and back. I enjoy seeing and cheering on other folks so I think this also kept me in a good mood.

The rain slowed down and then eventually stopped. I remember seeing little strips of sunlight bouncing off the trails and was dreading what was next – heat and humidity. It began to look straight up steamy. Gross.

36.6-47.4 (County ZZ – Emma Carlin)

I saw my crew at 36.6. I got some gels and new bottles and said I’d see them at Emma Carlin (mile 47). I knew the next 10 miles would be a little rough – we had to go back through the meadows under the full sun and a few really sloppy sections.

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County ZZ aid station and MUD

This is when I put on my first ice bandana and boy, do I love these things. If you’re ever running a hot race, I highly recommend keeping yourself cool by rolling up ice in a bandana and tying it around your neck.

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Pondering the mud.

Anyways, I left my crew, anxious to get the meadows over with as early as possible. Once Jeff and I entered the meadows, it was like a full on sauna. Jeff said, “Doesn’t this feel great?” and I’m like, “WTF?” and he says, “It feels like an oven!”

I know Jeff kinda well, but am not super familiar with his sense of humor. I still don’t know if he was joking or not but it made me laugh regardless.

We saw lots of folks walking the meadow section and I don’t blame them. That heat just sucked the energy right out of you. I kept trucking since I still felt alright. Figured the faster I can get done with this section the better.

One of the most glorious moments of the day was the first unmanned aid station I came across where I actually needed the ice water bucket with a sponge. Ooooh doggies, that felt SO GOOD. I’d squeeze the ice water on top of my head and it was an instant refresher. I also put ice in my bra and shorts. Can life get any better?

I was getting closer to Emma Carlin and my shoes were actually starting to get clean. I thought maybe I wouldn’t have to change my socks which I had been planning on doing. But then I got to a section of trail I had totally forgotten about – maybe a quarter-mile section of muck. No way around it. Just gotta trudge through it. I knew the aid station was on the other side and realized a sock and probably shoe change was in order.

47-62 (Emma Carlin to Nordic)

I arrived at Emma Carlin and was elated to see my good friend Stephanie! Steph came straight from her Girls on the Run 5k and was decked out in GOTR gear including a face tattoo (temporary, of course). This made my heart so happy. I am so thankful to call Steph one of my dearest friends and that she spent her day supporting me at Kettle.

I told my crew I was doing well but needed to change my socks and shoes. I peeled off my nasty, mud-covered socks and put some fresh ones on. My toes were happy. I put on new shoes and stood up – and my Achilles told me it didn’t like these shoes (side note: I’d been having minor issues with my Achilles and we (physical therapist and I) determined part of the issue was my shoes). I was hoping the issue would magically go away (not sure why??) but that didn’t happen. Ross went and hosed off my original shoes and I put them back on. Good as new!

 

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Mile 47 – Emma Carlin aid station. This is the face I make when I eat watermelon that’s been sprayed with sunscreen.

I also picked up my iPod shuffle at this point. I don’t train with music unless I have a speed workout and I’ve found that the right music (pretty much just Beyonce) can put me in a pretty peppy mood.

I bid farewell to my crew. By this point, Jeff and I had been yo-yoing a bit, just running our own races and what made sense for us. After Emma Carlin, we met up again. We chatted a bit and I let him know I was going to listen to some music for awhile and zone out. I felt bad but knew I needed to do what I wanted to keep me moving happy and with a pep in my step.

This section was probably my lowest mentally, but I didn’t get nearly as low as I did during my first 100. At mile 47, I had mentally put myself at the 50 mile mark and I was happy about that. But then I’d look at my watch and not be to 50 yet. And I feel like that happened like 20 times. Time was moving so slow! And I still had 50 miles left! I took a step back (figuratively) and thought about getting to the next aid station rather than the next 50 miles. That helped. I let Ross know at Emma that I did want him to join me for miles 62-70 and I thought about that, too.

With a little help from Beyonce, my mood lifted and I eventually got past that dang 50-mile mark and to the mile-55 aid station. It was still really hot and my crew had ice water and a sponge waiting for me.

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Mile 55 – Bluff Aid Station. HOT.

Off I went to complete the seven miles of trail back to the start/finish. I felt good during this section and was excited to get back to Nordic. I knew there’d be a lot of people and I was ready to tackle the next out and back section.

62-70 (Nordic – Bluff)

Jeff and I arrived at Nordic (the start/finish area) and this would be the last time we would run together. He said he needed to change clothes and he went to go find his crew. I found my crew quickly and said I was feeling great. There were tons of people and the energy was infectious!

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Ready to run with Ross and his beard! He looks a little crazy here.

I didn’t waste too much time and soon after arriving, Ross and I took off. Another woman left right before us. I would find out her name was Tina. I passed Tina soon after we left the aid station but then she passed me right back and took off. She looked strong.

I asked Ross what place I was in – I had an idea, but didn’t really want to know early on in the race. He told me I was in fourth. I felt a little competitiveness bubble up but knew I needed to continue to run my own race. We still had nearly 40 miles to cover.

Ross told me stories of the day and what the crew had been up to the past 14 hours or so. It was really nice to run with him. We got to the Tamarack aid station, which was probably one of my favorites. It was about five miles from start/finish, so you end up going through four times. They were super nice, cheerful, and helpful.

As we rolled in, I saw Tina. I think I took a swig of Coke and went through pretty fast. I passed her right after the aid station and I told her I’m sure I’d see her again and that she was looking great.

Side story time: Of the three women I “met” on the trails at Kettle, I’ve connected with all of them since the race, whether they reached out to me or I reached out to them. This is one of my most favorite things about the ultra community. #trailsisters

Ross and I kept moving and I told him I was going to put my headphones in for a little bit. Time to zone out again. I am not very shy and I am especially not shy during a 100-mile race. I started belting out songs and Ross kept me entertained by dancing in front of me. I had him try to guess songs based on my renditions. Turns out my renditions suck which is a surprise to me because I thought I sounded pretty good. (that was a joke).

We saw a lot of folks heading toward the start/finish and I want to apologize to every single person who was put through my singing and hand-dancing (that’s totally a thing, right?).

I saw another gal in front of me – Steph Whitmore, another Iowa trail runner who I’d met at other races. I’d chatted with Steph at the start of the race and she told me she was having issues with her calf. We eventually caught up to her and gave each other kudos.

Soon after, Ross got me to the Bluff aid station and Natalee was ready to take over pacing duties.

70-77 (Bluff -Hwy 12)

I thanked Ross and said good-bye to Steph who had to get back to Madison. She told me how gross ultras are and I agreed.

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Steph!!

Then it was time to cruise with my good friend and hella good runner, Natalee. I train often with Natalee and knew she’d do a great job of pushing me to the end. Natalee caught me up on life. She had been holding back some news from me so she could tell me during Kettle and have a fun topic to talk about during pacing. Ultrarunners, amirite?

It was finally starting to cool down as night fell. I’ve never been so happy to see the sun go down. There were stretches of open prairie and my oh my, did the breeze feel gooooood.

It was hard to know who we were passing once it got dark. There were “fun run” runners out, who were running the last 38 miles of the course. I put in my headphones for a little bit. I liked listening to music during the flatter sections because I felt like it made me move faster. Not sure if this is true but feeling like you’re moving well is almost just as good as actually moving well.

We rolled into the mile 77 aid station and the volunteers asked me if I was first female. I said nope – second. Natalee corrected me and said I was first. I had no clue we had passed the first female. That gave me a boost. I ate some fruit and headed off. I knew the next section was technical and I would probably be moving pretty slow.

77-86 (Hwy 12-Hwy 12)

We left Hwy 12 aid station, crossed a road, and pretty much immediately hit single track, technical trail. I knew we’d have four miles until the Rice Lake aid station (turnaround point) and then four miles back to Hwy 12. Eight miles of probably the toughest trail of the day. Breaking it into two sections helped. I asked Natalee about her job and she told me stories of what a day is like being the assistant principal of a large high school. That passed the time considerably. If running 100 miles in a bonkers time doesn’t make you a badass (she ran and won Arkansas Traveler in 19:51ish) being an assistant principal certainly does.

This is also when I began to trip a lot. And then fall a lot. I never hurt myself and bounced up pretty fast. It was just annoying. Natalee said she wishes she would’ve kept count because I fell so much.

During my first 100-mile race, my quads got reallllly sore. Running downhill became pretty painful and I was essentially walking everything but flat, non-technical sections. I also got really down and mad at everything, like stairs and rocks – anything that got in my way. Kettle was different. My legs were still feeling surprisingly good. No soreness or pain. I was able to run everything except for the ups. This felt good and kept my spirits high. I was tired, of course, but I just kept checking in with myself if I started to get a little low –

Me: “How do you feel?”

Me: “Pretty damn good considering the circumstances.”

Me: “What hurts?”

Me: “Nothing!”

Me: “Hooray!”

Me: “I know, right? Nothing to be down about.”

I also recently got a tattoo on my left forearm of a little runner girl who is part of the Girls on the Run logo. One of the reasons I got this tattoo (and put it on my arm near my watch) is because I knew she’d be a source of inspiration during races. She is a reminder of how far I’ve come in how I view myself and my body (used to have somewhat serious body image issues), my girls I’ve coached over the past six years, the friends I’ve met (including Steph!) through volunteering, and the mission of the organization. I looked at it several times during the race and each time my train of thought shifted to a positive force.

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You can see my little running buddy on my left arm.

We got to Rice Lake and it seemed like a fun place to be. We got what we needed and headed back on the trail. We saw Jeff soon after. He was in good spirits and said he’d see us soon. We also saw another woman who I thought was a 100-miler but Natalee told me at the next aid station that she wasn’t.

The next four miles back to Hwy 12 aid station were full of more falls but it went by super quick, which was surprising. We could see the aid station lights while on top of a hill while still in the trails and we knew we were close. WOOP!

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Still movin’ and groovin’.

86-100 (Hwy 12 – FINISH!)

At mile 85 of my last 100, I was in a bad place. Fifteen miles seemed like a freaking long time to still be running. This time around, it seemed totally manageable. Seven miles to Bluff aid station and then the last seven miles of the trail I had gotten to know so well.

When I got to the Hwy 12 aid station, they had a buffet of fruit and it was awesome – watermelon, pineapple, blueberries. The volunteers were great and took care of me. Ross gave me more gels (yes, I was still eating them GROSS). My friend Ross (not to be confused with boyfriend Ross) was there, too. He had run the 100k and was now along for the crew lyfe.

Ross said I was still looking good and had some cushion between me and second female, which was now Tina.

I don’t really remember much about miles 86-93 really so will just skip right to 93. I was still feeling good but was really ready to be done running. It also started lightning and raining a bit off and on.

Off we went to do the last seven miles for a fourth and final time. As predicted, the steep little hills seemed more like mountains but I knew they were coming so they didn’t bother me too much. Once we got past Tamarack for the final time, there were mile countdown signs to the finish. We’d cheer every time we saw one. We talked about how great the day had gone. My legs were still feeling good and I wanted to pinch myself.

We passed the one mile sign and hoot and hollered about how close we were to the finish. And then a mile later we saw lights and the finish line and then I crossed it in 21 hours and 12 minutes. First female and ninth overall.

I sat down and took off my shoes and socks. Both my big toes were not feeling great and I told Ross at the last aid station to please have my sandals ready for me at the finish line. They didn’t feel great because one of them had a big ol’ blister behind the toenail (I’ll spare ya pictures).

A volunteer gave me a large kettle for first place female. Lots of photos and thank yous and smiles followed.

Jeff wasn’t far behind and we waited for him to finish and congratulated him on first masters just 15 minutes later. And then I started feeling super nauseous and we went back to our Airbnb, took showers, and went to bed.

It’s been two weeks and I am still very happy with how the day went. Talking with my coach before the race, the plan was to start out quicker (sub 20 pace) to get a little extra wiggle room for inevitably slowing down. This worked out perfectly. I keep wondering if I had better conditions (no mud) could I have run faster? Maybe sub 21? Or did the mud keep my pace in check and allow me to finish strong? Guess I’ll never know.

I realized throughout this race report that I kept comparing to my last 100. I still can’t believe how much better this went, both physically and mentally, even though my last 100 still went pretty well. I chalk this up to:

  • Experience. I’d done it before and knew what to expect to a certain extent. I had two more years of running ultras under my belt and I’ve learned a lot in that time.
  • Training. Like I said at the beginning, my training was entirely different – and worked for me. A big thank you to Matt for his guidance during this training cycle. Was by far my best training cycle to date.

A huuuuuuge thank you to Ross, Natalee, and Steph. A day like this would not be possible with a top-notch crew who kept me fed, hydrated, and smiling all day long.

Jeff also played a big part of the day. 62 miles is a long way to run with someone! He gave me invaluable insight to the course which helped me prepare mentally.

The race itself was well run and the volunteers were second to none. They had everything I needed and took care of me at every single aid station. The runners out there were also super nice. Every time I passed someone, smiles and kudos were shared.

With friends like these, I am a lucky gal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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