I took the better part of the winter off of running. After finishing only two out of five races in 2014, getting my ass squarely handed to me in both of the hundred-milers I tried, and having a minor mental breakdown in my last race of the season, I needed some time away. I took it and I am glad that I did. I got to rest and get healthy. I got to go through a winter without forcing myself to run when it wasn’t fun. I got to take up CrossFit and become stronger in places that running wouldn’t touch, but that have made me a better runner. I came into Voyageur hungry for distance and missing the community. I’m so glad to be back.
The early forecasts were for rain, which makes The Powerlines that much worse, so I was somewhat relieved to see that it was just going to be hot. I ran a 13:32 in 2014, including a couple of extra miles due to getting lost. With my miles and my CrossFit and my knowledge of the course, I figured I could finish near 12 hours. I fully intend to go sub-12 next year.
Things got very complicated in the last month. We sold a house. We were unable to find a house to buy. We rented a house. My taper involved moving into said rented house the week leading up to the race. Friday morning before Voyageur, we finally saw the house we wanted to buy. We offered. Friday night, after another tremendous pre-race meal at the Duluth Grill, we had our offer accepted. Very exciting. As if it’s not hard enough to go to sleep eight hours early and get up at what is my normal bedtime. Whatever. I got three hours of sleep, which is enough.
The race started. I got in line. A couple of guys passed me. I resented them for thinking that they were going to get anywhere in that conga line. If you’re that fast, start up front. I made mental notes of who they were, so that I could remember to beat them to the finish line. Then I passed a guy. I am such a hypocrite. I’m pretty sure that guy beat me to the finish line. We’re even, Universe.
I drank a Vitargo and dropped my shirt at the Jay Cooke. For a guy who works out and eats well, I sure do have a belly. Maybe I should try doing more sit-ups. Maybe.
I cut it loose on the next from Jay Cooke to Forbay, which is short and very runnable. Also, it was going to get hot later and I wanted to knock out some miles before it did. I came very close to pushing too hard. My Achilles tendons were both a little sore, but I didn’t let them get to me. There would be plenty of time to get loose. They never became an issue.
I cruised through the trail, trying to take note of the layout, better learning the course. I knew I would carry poles through The Powerlines on the way back, but I wanted to see if I should drop them at Peterson’s or Forbay. I decided on Forbay.
I went. I ate and drank and all that, Nutter Butters and GU and ShotBlox and Vitargo. I took my salt. I didn’t eat much of anything from the aid stations.
The Powerlines were wet. I grabbed a tree to keep from sliding down one of them. I had to walk the ridge between Purgatory and the rest because I was a little bloaty. I did not recognize this warning from my body.
I was in really rough shape by the time I got to Seven Bridges. 15 miles into a 50 is too soon to be in rough shape. I took a knee and put my head down and I kind of felt like crying, but 15 miles into a 50 is way too soon to be taking a knee and crying. So I ate and marched.
Some friendly guys came up behind me, but they did not have stomach problems so they passed me. Along I went to Fon du Lac, paying attention to the signs, since this is where I got lost last year. I slowed down my food intake, thinking that my bloating was a result of overeating. My wife is my coach, and she thinks I should eat and drink more than I ever want to eat and drink. I suspect that is how most runner/coach relationships work in the ultra community. I ate some potatoes and watermelon at Fon du Lac and hit the ropes course.
I passed Anjanette for the first time. We would travel near each other for the next 15 miles or so. Everyone likes Anjanette, and Anjanette seems to like everyone. I failed to introduce myself, because sometimes I am an awkward shell of a human being. I still took notes, though. Be nice to people. Tell them they’re doing well. I can’t learn those lessons enough.
The stretch into Beck’s Road was tough for me. I think the bloating was adding up. It was getting tough to each anything between aid stations. I ran the downhills and some flats. The day was getting warm. I passed through the UMTR aid station. I thought I might see familiar faces or say hello to someone or something, but mostly I just looked at dogs. A big thank you from this guy to everyone who brings dogs to ultras. I love looking at your dogs at the aid stations.
The road and trail into Skyline were uneventful. I almost bit it on the trail part, but I didn’t. The Skyline aid station was fine. I think I forgot to get ice for my neck. The road part of the Skyline to Zoo section was long. It’s always long. I wish it was less long. Pavement is so hard. The woman and son with the hose and frozen goodies were the best. I took neither, but the act of offering counted as much as anything. Thank you, strangers.
I dreamed of climbing into the creek, thinking that overheating was the cause of my indigestion. I had considered it since I saw Darryl do it last year. I first remember reading about laying in creeks on Jason’s blog. I realize that it’s an old trick, that Gordy did it the first year of Western States, but those two guys are where I learned it. I couldn’t bring myself to lay down in the creek, but I got in enough to be cooled a little. One guy told me that the aid station was very close. He didn’t know that I’d been thinking about this move for a year. I had dry shoes and socks waiting. Wading was worth the time.
I took a dump at the turn. The day I learn how to do that in the morning before the race is the day I will go from a back-third guy to a solid mid-pack runner. We all have goals. I appreciate the facilities at the turn. I left the station good spirits.
I knew the climb out would be long, and it was. I found myself near another runner who everyone liked, and who liked everyone. Jim. I’d introduce myself 10 miles later.
By the time I got back to Skyline, I was hurting a little. I am happy with myself for recognizing the signs that I was going low on sugar. When I am getting low on calories, I get crabby and negative, and my legs start to feel like I have the flu. My groins, quads, and glutes start aching. I’ve learned the lesson the hard way, but when those things start happening I must eat. Arriving at Beck’s road, I was in trouble. I was hot, hungry, bloated, tired, and still had 20 miles to go. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. I sat. There was a hammock and a cute dog. I marched out. Running was next to impossible.
I got passed by a ton of runners. My mental state was not good. I was done eating and drinking. I thought about making myself throw up, just to start over with the tummy. Bad News City.
Right before Fon du Lac, I found it. I ran like hell. I ran through the aid station. I charged up the hill. When I got to the top, I realized that I couldn’t run flats. I just climbed and my legs felt hella strong, but my tummy said no running. So I marched hard. My hands began to swell considerably. I marched with my hands up. I suspected hyponatremia. I was only slightly worried.
I talked to a man named Bill at Seven Bridges. He was incredible. He gave me solid advice to eat starches and keep on with salt every 30 minutes. I followed his advice, burping and farting my way through The Powerlines. It was very similar to the part in Willy Wonka where they sneak soda and have to get down by releasing gas. Having not run in some time, and having picked up trekking poles, I took the hills with surprisingly little effort. I took some ice and starches, and kept marching.
Into Peterson’s. Out of Peterson’s. Tighten shoes. March flats and downs. Charge hills. Repeat. By the time I got to the pavement, I tried running. Just a little, pathetic shuffle was all I had. I ran a little harder on the dirt, and felt good. I was amping up for the final charge. It was time to go.
“You smell that?” I asked Coach.
“What?” she replied.
I don’t think she knows the phrase. When you’re close enough to the finish line that you can sense it, you can “smell the barn”.
I started running like I meant it. My tummy came along for the ride. We passed everyone we could see. That is so much fun.
The final section. The victory lap. The chase. Be a rabbit. Be a hunter. Leave it all out there. I passed so many other runners. It’s certainly not a race between people, back where we are. The difference between finishing 134th and 148th and 159th is nothing. The act of seeing someone ahead of you and knowing that you have enough to catch them before the finish, and pushing yourself to give it everything you have is everything. So I chase, and I finish strong. I almost chased down Jordan. If I hadn’t gotten dizzy and done some hiking in the middle of the section, I could have had a race to the finish with him. That’s all I really want, I think, is a race to the tape. 50 miles, and then see what two people have to give over 100 meters or so. Someday I’ll get that race from someone. It’ll be the best. I finished 45 minutes faster that 2014. It felt awesome. I went sub-13. Without the stomach issues, I go sub-12. I can’t wait for next year.
Final tally: +10
12 hours, 44 minutes, 50 seconds