Zumbro 100 mile report 2015 (not quite a year late)
So, there I was, returned to the site of my previous failure and disappointment. However, interestingly it also remained a place of awe and inspiration. I was determined. I wasn’t going to let myself be defeated by Zumbro again.
For those unfamiliar, the Zumbro 100 mile endurance run takes place in early April in southern Minnesota. It is run on a 16.7 mile loop course through the Richard J Dorer State Forest. Six loops for the 100 mile race. In 2013 I made it four loops. I was confident I would finish this time, though much uncertainty remained as to the how. I had learned a good deal since then. My training miles in the months leading up may have been scanty, but I was in the best shape of my life. It was going to be a great day(s), and I wasn’t worried about speed. I would spend as much time on the course as I could, you know, get the most for my money. As long as I came in under 34 hours, that was all that mattered. I had a good plan. I wasn’t going to get shortchanged again.
The weather Thursday before the race was looking uncomfortably mild. Well, that quickly changed. By the time I arrived on Thursday the rain had begun. I was able to park and throw my tent up without getting too soaked. Overnight the rain turned to ice. “Oh Zumbro, you don’t disappoint”. It was a chilly, windy, noisy night; I always sleep well when weather and cold is about. When I awoke it was still pitch darkness. The excitement was within me. I scrambled out of my tent shivering, hopped into my car, and sat for a minute, trying to catch my breath and my warmth.
As one minute passed to two and then three, I realized that there was nowhere else I wanted to be. I packed up my tent, shattering the thin layer of ice that covered it. As darkness turned to light, the sky also showed clearing. The weather was going to subside?! It was a little cool and misty to start, but soon the air was dry and the temps eventually warmed. The first three loops flew by. I was running smart and within myself, power walking through the sand and up the hills. I was eating a lot and feeling good. I continued moving strong through loop four.
I had seen people use trekking poles during these races in the past. That seemed like such a brilliant idea. Let your upper body log some of the miles. I took poles with me for loop 5. I’ll be very hesitant to ever do it again. It started out well. I was really letting my arms work, and allowing my legs some relief. At least that’s what I thought I was doing. About mid-way through the loop, I had developed a stinging, stabbing pain in the muscle above my inner right knee. I hobbled the rest of the way back to the start/finish, but every step was a shock of pain.
I was feeling near dire straits, as I entered the aid station requesting athletic tape to wrap around my leg. Someone went and woke up this chiropractor guy who was volunteering at the race. I get up on his table, he checks out my leg and then pulls out a big old knife! I didn’t know what he planned on using it for, I mean, it couldn’t have been that bad. He must have rubbed my leg with the backside of that blade for some 10 minutes. He was digging in hard and it hurt. It didn’t feel all that much better afterwards either, but it loosened up a bit. The words of assurance he gave me might have been the kicker. He basically said something like, “you’ve only got one more loop, this will be good enough to get you through one more loop”.
I don’t know why, but hearing those words come from a professional in this context caused me to accept them as fact. I had no other choice. So I set off, no poles, leg still twanging with every step, but taking each one nevertheless. I was only a mile or two into the loop, and things were getting ridiculous. I was descending a hill facing backwards with two hands and one foot on the ground, when a woman came upon me from behind, or from my face, as it was. She was a 50 mile runner. She stopped and asked if I was okay. We talked for less than a minute. I didn’t even get her name. She offered me some ibuprofen, and I gobbled them immediately. I didn’t expect they’d help much, but I would have taken anything at that point.
Soon I was off in search of an adequate walking stick. I found a good one and took to the trail. Before I knew it, I had developed a nice little three legged hop of a gait using my newfound stick. It was a constant struggle, but I was making consistent forward progress. And then wouldn’t you know it, I found me some company! A 50 miler named Perry came upon me. Perry had traveled from Michigan for the race and incurred his own share of trials and troubles over the course of the weekend. We were moving close to the same pace and ended up covering most of the final loop together. He told me of his issues throughout the weekend and I probably shared mine too. He never so much as made mention of the goofy way that I was waddling down the trail, using my stick as something of a crutch to take weight off my right leg. I guess he was probably occupied with his own concerns.
It was daytime now. The sun was high in the sky and it was warm. With a few miles remaining Perry moved on ahead and I was alone once again. By now, the pain above my knee had gone completely numb. I knew that I was going to finish, it was only a matter of time. I moved through the final aid station and the last couple miles to camp. The walking stick went home with my dad’s dog. I got to write my name on the big poster, and then watch as the final 100 mile finishers came in. The feeling I felt was a good feeling. I would be able to ride this one for a little while, yeah. This was the greatest triumph of my life.
The moral of this story is two-fold. First, our bodies are often capable of more than we give them credit for. Give your body credit. Second, I would not have finished this race by myself. I went into it still thinking I could do it all on my own, but without a number of specific acts by volunteers and other participants, I don’t know if I could have made it. I had not yet known the purpose and importance of crews and pacers in ultra running. At Zumbro, I was provided these things within the race. I also made connections there that would help me greatly in the months to come. It truly is an amazing culture to know and be part of.
Special thanks to John for making the race what it is, Ryan for the nifty chiropractic work, Perry for the loop 6 company, 50 miler female for the ibuprofen, Ed for the endless pulled pork, Aaron for introducing himself on the trail and taking me under his wing, Mom and Dad for making the trip down to see me, and all the other volunteers, spectators and participants. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I can’t wait for Zumbro 2016. Good thing it’s tomorrow!