The ninth annual Kettle Moraine endurance runs were held June 5th and 6th 2004 in south central Wisconsin. 103 entered the 100 miler with an additional 38 in teams, and 46 entered the 100k. RD’s Tim Yanacheck and Jason Dorgan displayed excellent organization in a relaxed and cheerful manner. I didn’t see a long face through the 27 hours and 47 minutes it took me to finish 100 miles, but I wasn’t looking either.
Under the start/finish banner just before the 6 a.m. start, I feel a wave of anticipation, near anxiety, in the flashing enormity of what I was about to do. In an impulse I cover my face in my hands, take a deep breath, then murmur, “Congratulations, now go forth and scribble.” These were K’s words in Alexandra Fuller’s fine new book, “Scribbling The Cat.” I train for ultra’s not just physically, but also by reading what I can find to stiffen my will. With several books on war in Vietnam, I also read Joe Simpson’s “The Beckoning Silence” and Scott Tinley’s “Racing The Sunset.” Knowing people there triumphed over intense physical challenges makes my challenge seem a bit easier to contemplate. The course is 100% trail and nearly all runnable. The first 7 ½ miles lead to a 23 ½ mile easterly route to the 31 mile turnaround. You return to the start/finish, repeat the 7 ½ mile leg then turn west 11 ½ miles to a turnaround and back. The 100 mile event has a low completion history not for the difficulty of terrain but because you reach the start/finish at 100k where the temptation to call it a day looms large. There are a lot of small hills in the 7 ½ mile section which can become a gauntlet when you know you must face them a third and fourth time. I’d studied split times from the 2003 event and set a pace objective accordingly: 16 miles in 3 ½ hours, turnaround in 7, 100k in 15 ½, the final 38 miles in 12 ½, for a 28 hour goal. Joe Prusaitis told me once he can look into people’s eyes at the start of a 100 miler and tell who’s not going to finish. Because I’m convinced you have to be completely committed to finishing well before the start, and must maintain a 100% positive attitude throughout the effort I didn’t seek out doubting eyes, but I knew they were there. For those moments of struggle along the way, I held two thoughts from Massanuten reports I’d read just days before: if you’re thinking of dropping, ask yourself: “What else would you do today, anyway?” and, remember the cumulative experience of prior ultra runs will give you resources to draw from when you need them. I held another trump card: my daughter Lila and her friend Carly had agreed to greet me at the 31 mile turnaround, then accompany me through the night from mile 62 to mile 81 (the Rice Lake turnaround). We were together in this, so in the three or four times I considered dropping I remembered I could not allow myself to let them down. This was huge and certainly made it easier for me to endure through the finish. I make the 16 mile aid station on pace but find the day’s heat in open sections has put me behind when I reach the aid station at mile 26. So I put the hammer down a bit in order to reach mile 31 at 1 p.m. as planned with my pacers. Now passing many runners I wonder if my pace is too aggressive: would this haunt me later on? Confidence flows when I see Lila and Carly at Scuppernong. Quick change of shirt, socks and shoes, and out. “See you at the 100k around 9:30.” Their encouragement strengthens my resolve. Temperatures make the mid 70’s. Partial cloud cover and a slight breeze lightens the oppressiveness as I flow back through open country. Something about the combination of a turkey sandwich and tea with Spiz from my camelback brings on nausea. I try ginger and Tums but still feel like hurling. I remember the time when running the Nipmuck trail marathon, I heard one runner said to his companion: “If you feel like throwing up, throw up!” Funny then, but now should I take that advice? Fuel depletion versus discomfort and a slowing pace. I accepted the urge to regurgitate yet happily my system didn’t take the offer: it stayed down. Now reaching the final 7 ½ mile stretch to the 100k turnaround I see I need to go up tempo again to make my 9:30 p.m. estimate. While I know this risks burnout I remind myself from the turnaround we’ll be walking and I can recover then. Darkness envelops the scene and I put on the flashlight. Many 100 milers pass before me on their way back out and I have to remember it’s their race, not mine: this is right for me. And so into the start/finish where Lila and Carly look to me like two fresh horses ready to bolt. Change of shirt, socks and shoes, fanny pack with night gear, headlamp, and wow, Ramen noodle soup, a welcome change from pb&j quarters and that gnarly turkey sandwich. The team heads out, lit up and full of piss and vinegar, me with a ramen rush. I set the pace for a mile or two, then give way to their lead, as simply following them allows me to go mechanical without having to think much. We discuss pace and I assure them that just walking this way we’ll stay on plan. We use green lights which I much prefer as they soften contrast and cast a gentler presentation underfoot. For 6 ½ hours we go along, Carly and Lila chatting occasionally ahead of me while I draft in their energy. When we make the Highway 12 (mile 77) aid station a 3 a.m. someone says Smarty Jones lost the Belmont and Ronald Reagan died. So wonderfully out of place, this news. We run long distances to disengage from things of this world, so when we return to them our perspective is less needy. From Highway 12 to Rice Lake there’s a fair amount of rocky, hilly terrain with several sets of stairs set apart in such a way to make your quads bark. Good stuff. Knowing Lila and Carly had the car waiting at the turnaround, the bad angels begin to ask me how I could tell my pacers I was going to pack it in after 81 miles. Negative thoughts will tempt. Then Lila asks me, “Dad, how long do you think it will take you to get to the finish from here?” Inspiring question, this. And, “How do you feel?” So, “I’m tired but I think I’ll finish around 11:20 a.m.” I’d left a big cushion versus plan for the remaining 19 miles because I truly was tired. You never know how much the new day will help restore energy reserves. It was 4:20 a.m. We say goodbye to each other as they head for some shut-eye and I go back to the rocks, hills and stairs. I feel so proud of them for being there to help me along then, it sends a new wave of confidence and resolve through me as I figure, just another 6 hours or so and I’ll be done. Creeping dawn comes slowly as there’s overcast and drizzle, but just after 5, I put my lights away. Making the mile 85 aid station a few minutes before 6, I go with more Ramen noodles, orange quarters in the pocket and the interesting thought I’d be able to view the terrain we covered in the night on my return. I feel physically disengaged, mind holding body like a puppet on strings. It’s going well. In his report of the Kettle, John Dodds tells about knocking his head on a tree branch. I swear I hit the same branch not once, but twice, both going and coming, not so hard to hurt, but more just enough to amuse at the recollection. Knock on wood, it reaches over the trail around mile 87. Now through regimentally man planted pine pines, perfectly spaced, almost unnatural. I stop to clear a shoe, struggling to sit, “Calling all mosquitoes!” In fact while the pesky creatures have recently hatched, they’re not voracious yet in their short life cycle. Buzz on, buddies, I’ve got work to do. Then ahead I see another 100 miler, walking stiffly, arms nearly rigid, not a pretty sight. I pass, offering words of encouragement. Just before 8, I approach the mile 92.5 aid station. A volunteer approaches to ask, “How many are behind you?” “Three or four,” I reply. “They dropped, so you’re probably the last one,” he says. This doesn’t sit well with me, as finishing is one thing, but finishing last is quite another. I take some delicious cut fruit in a cup and coffee in another, seeing that I’ve got just under 2 hours to make 28. Good ‘ol adrenaline starts to flow as I know I can run two hours anytime, anywhere. Ahead I see competitors walking. I can take them. Zombies. Night of the living dead. Open the throttle and throw yourself at the hills . And so I do. I love this part, when you can smell the barn and you run holding nothing back. There is nowhere else I’d rather be than right here, right now, blowing doors off and blowing gaskets. My heart jumps at me in protest and I have to throttle back in the knowledge that while I want to finish strong, I also want to finish to run another day. Wheedling the red line, great, great, great. After surmounting more hills than I can remember or count, I see the trail flatten out and hear cars on the road near the finish. It seemed interminably long, that last mile or so, but I’m running, dammit, and I will break 28 hours. Oh, deliverance. Up a little rise and I come to an undefined finish point where Timo emerges saying, “Just stop anywhere, this is it.” In a chair there I see a fellow who’s obviously also just finished. He looks me straight and deep in the eyes wanting to see again for himself what it’s like. I recognize him, my brother, and myself in him, as our eyes lock and broad smiles wash over us both. I did not do this alone. Thanks Timo, thanks Jason, and thanks to all the volunteers who worked tirelessly to help us fulfill our dreams. Most of all, thanks to you, Lila and Carly, for your wonderful support and inspiration. The Kettle’s filled now.