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2011 Sawtooth 100 – Recap September 12, 2011

Posted by whereschrisscotch in Races/Events - Recaps, Uncategorized.
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“The important thing in life is not victory but combat; it is not to have vanquished but to have fought well.
The most important thing. . . is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.” Pierre de Coubertin

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I didn’t complete the 2011 edition of the Sawtooth 100. I dropped at the Cramer Road aid station, mile 77 of the race. And while the goal was to finish, and to improve on my time from last year, I don’t have any regrets about my decision to drop. I left everything I had on the course. I have spent the last 2 days trying to learn from my failure, but I can’t point to any one thing that I did wrong. But there are lessons to be learned and I will take them forward. And knowing I gave all I had will suffice for the time being.

Helen volunteered at the Split Rock and Tettagouche while also crewing for me as her volunteer duties allowed. After I passed through Tettagouche at mile 34 we decided to have her start pacing me at County Road 6, mile 43, instead of at Finland, mile 50. I was a behind last year’s pace, and my goal for this year, by a couple hours, but neither of us were too worried about things. Going into the race my plan was to take things slow for the first half to three-quarters of the race. I slowed things down even more when it became evident even before the race started that it was going to be very hot during the day. Temperatures ended up approaching 90 degrees on Friday.

I realized that things had turned a bit sour on the 9.4 mile section between Crosby Manitou and Sugarloaf. It took over 4 hours to do this section, roughly 2 miles per hour, and this included running the the last 2 miles of this section as fast as I could. I came into Sugarloaf, mile 72, knowing that the end was near and that I wouldn’t be able to finish the race. Even if I would press on the clock would eventually hit 38 hours and I would be swept from the course. Helen has seen me at my worst moment in a race, at the Arrowhead 135 in February, and I don’t think she believed I was finished with Sawthooth just yet. She rationalized, cajoled, threatened and baited me to just go one more section to the Cramer Road aid station. Only 5.7 miles. I resisted every attempt she made, but eventually with the help of Jen Pierce, Vicky Begalle and Nancy Griffith they got me on my feet and back on the trail. I am glad we decided to do this section. While there were certainly some tough moments and some slow parts, we ran a fair amount of this section and I truly enjoyed the last couple miles of this journey with Helen. We ran into Cramer Road and I felt a strange mix of emotions. I knew I was done, but I was at peace with my decision. Of course Helen wanted to make sure and she did a thorough job of rallying me for “just one more section” but I think she could hear it in my voice that I just couldn’t do it and she allowed me to turn in my timing chip. The heat, blisters, cramps and fatigue had finally taken thier toll and gotten the best of me. For this year, Sawtooth had beaten me into submission. We’ll see what the future holds for the two of us the next time we dance.

I was happy to see so many friends, old and new, reach the finish line. Jason LaPlant, Jason Husveth, Edward Sandor, Jordan Hanlon, Ben Bruce, Aaron Buffington, Roberto Marron, Zach Pierce, Scott Mark and everyone else that finished. I reveled in seeing your faces as you crossed the finish line. Congrats to you all and to everyone that finished. And to those I didn’t see finish because you are sooo damn fast – John Horns (winner of the 100 mile), Adam Schwartz-Lowe (second place), Chris Hansen, Pat Susnik, Christopher Martin, Julie Treder, congrats to you as well. And to the unnamed runners that I spent time with – I enjoyed the moments we shared on the trail, however brief they may have been.

Thanks to the race organizers, volunteers and aid station workers. This group of people make this event not just possible, but special. For anyone even considering taking part in this event – Just Do It. In some capacity, if not a runner, as a volunteer. You won’t regret your decision. This event stacks up against any ultra event in the world, if not for the toughness of the trail, for the commradery of its participants and volunteers.

I would like to especially thank the following people:
Joi Electa for coming out to support me during the race. Joi doesn’t know this, but she has had a hand in fueling my love of the North Shore and all its beauty. Check out some of her pictures and paintings – http://joi-electa.artistwebsites.com/?tab=artwork
Jen Pierce, Vicky Begalle and Nancy Griffith – these three provided just the right combination of cookies (Nancy), medical supplies (Jen and Vicky) encouragement (all of them) and ass-kicking (all of them) to help Helen get me back on the trail for the last 5.7 miles I ran this weekend. I apologize for my disgruntled and obtuse behavior, and I thank you for getting me back out there.

And finally, I want to thank Helen. She never ceases to amaze me. As if volunteering at two aid stations weren’t enough, only weeks after she ran the Leadville 100 she spent 14 hours on the brutal Superior Hiking Trail making sure I got as far as I did. We laughed often, enjoyed the beauty of the North Shore under a full moon, gleefully watched an amazing Lake Superior sunrise and shared conversations I know we will both always look back at fondly.
Chris

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Arrowhead 135 (not 270) Recap – The Final Chapter March 15, 2011

Posted by whereschrisscotch in Races/Events - Recaps, Uncategorized.
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It has been 6 weeks since the start of my final event for the Where’s Chris Scotch campaign. It is bittersweet, which is why I wanted to write the recap the day after I finished, but also why I have procrastinated to this late date.   My goal was to finish the Arrowhead 135 Ultra on foot, rest one night, and then turn around and skijor the course backwards with our dog Cooper.  Although I finished the Arrowhead race,  I did not attempt to skijor the trail  backwards upon the finish of the official race,  and this still sits a bit sideways in my mind.  On the positive, however, I finished the official race – 135 miles, on foot.  Temps both nights on the trail reported reached -40F.  Only 18 of 54 runners finished, so I am thankful to have even completed the first half of my goal.

The race starts on a Monday, thus giving a full weekend to drive to International Falls and spend the better part of two days going through the gear and making final preparations.  I hitched a ride to I’Falls with Igor, a friend of mine who was also attempting Arrowhead for the first time.  We arrived Saturday afternoon and passed the gear check-in, which was performed by Donny Clark.  There is something about Donny that makes me smile, and I look forward to seeing him at the ultra events.  He had a few last words of advice for me as I packed up my things and left the check-in.  I bumped into Mitch Rossman, who I had met at Tuscobia 150 in December.  We decided to get a small group together and grab some dinner at the Chocolate Moose.  After dinner I grabbed a couple of Grainbelt Nord’East  and moseyed over to Igor’s room, where he and Erik Dalgaard where staying.  We talked strategy for a while and went through their various gear.  As I had done Tuscobia and this was their first foray into an event like this, they had a lot of questions for me, which I was more than happy to give my two cents on.    The discussions were fun and helped take some of the nerves down a notch.  After a couple hours of hanging out with them I returned to my room and settled in for a night of cable quality movies.  My excitement level was high and I had a tough time falling asleep at a reasonable hour, but made up for it by sleeping in on Sunday morning.  After a huge breakfast and stop at Kmart for some last minute items I returned to my motel and started the arduous task of packing, unpacking and repacking all of my items.  Trying to guess what I would need while on the trail was like throwing darts blindfolded.  And my habitual pattern of over-packing wouldn’t work this time as I would need to carry everything I wanted to bring on the sled.  Keeping the weight down was priority 1b, right after priority 1a of making sure I was prepared for anything that might happen.

The Pre-Race meeting and spaghetti feed gave us all a chance to mingle with the fellow racers.  There were about 60 bikers, 54 runners and 6 skiers.  While there were definitely some pre-race favorites and some big names hanging around, we all had similar look of cautious excitement in our eyes.  The Arrowhead 135 doesn’t care how many time you have finished before, what kind of shape you are in or what you have won in the past, to the Arrowhead we are all fair game to its whims.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My dad (Dark, see his recap here) arrived in I’Falls as we were wrapping up at the pre-race meeting.   He hadn’t had dinner yet, so Erik, Igor and I joined him for some food and a couple beers at restaurant down the street.  Back at the hotel room I finished prepping my sled, which included filing down some of the hot glue that filled drill holes in my runners.  The hot glue fill wasn’t flush with the runners, so Dark and I went to work getting them as even as we could.  Thanks to Uncle Tom for the runners and help putting them on the sled.  And thanks to Mari and Jodi for the hot glue.

Race day morning came too fast, as usual, for me.  I felt rushed even though I had been prepping for days.  I still wasn’t sure what to wear, but my plan was to under-dress as I figured the start of the race would cause me to heat up fast.  The temperature was a crisp -10 degrees at the start. It was still dark, but light was coming up fast so I didn’t bother with my head lamp. 

I was one of the last runners to leave the start line and really took my time the first couple miles as I tinkered with my sled and clothes, including putting my belt on.  Yes, I started the race with my belt in my coat pocket and only after a mile of my pants sliding down did I remember to put it on.   If I have anything to work on for races in 2011, and there is plenty to work on, I will try my best to show up to events fully clothed.  But it adds a bit of humor in hindsight and to the other racers I suppose.  Shortly after I had finished dressing, John Storkamp strolled up to me.  We chatted for a few minutes and wished each other well as he pulled ahead of me.   I needed another stop to make another adjustment to my sled.    He was the last to leave the start line and although his goal was to win the race, he wasn’t in a big hurry right now.    A race like this isn’t about who starts fast, or even gets to the half-way point first, as John would prove 44 hours later when he crossed the finish line first, winning an entry into the 2012 ITI.  I knew this was a big deal for John, and was really happy to see him achieve his goal.

The next 57 hours or so are a jumbled  mixture of vivid recollections and hazy, fleeting memories.  The first 70 miles of the race were really tough for me.  I found out very early on that I wasn’t able to run at all.  My lungs just couldn’t handle the heavy breathing and after only a few steps I was buckled over gasping for air.  The condition of my lungs, or lack thereof, was probably due to the stress put on them at Tuscobia 5 weeks earlier and the subsequent cold I picked up and still had.  While I was discouraged as the cut-off times for Arrowhead are pretty tight, at least I knew this early on and was able to plan around it.  I would have to keep my stops to a minimum and do my best to keep my walking pace as fast as I could without over doing it.

With Igor somewhere around Mile 25

Wolfman Dark with a…Hamm’s??

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I reached the first checkpoint, the Gateway Store, around 7pm.  12 hours to go 35 miles.  I wasn’t thrilled with how long this took, but also wasn’t overly concerned.  My plan was to get inside, get as much food in me as I could, restock my water, change my clothes and get back on the trail as quickly as I could.  This all sounds good and easy, but once you step into the warm air and feel the party going on inside it is easy to sit down in front of a big bowl of chili and lose track of time.  I was one of the later runners to get to the checkpoint, so the place was filled to the rafters with other racers, crews and volunteers.  Some of the racers had decided to drop here, some were unsure and others just  trying to break free of the binds of this place.  It is akin to the island of Siren, gently being lulled your demise.  I manged to spend 90 minutes here, although most of the time was well used.  I headed back out on the trail dry, well fed and hydrated , at 8:30 pm with 35 miles to go to the halfway checkpoint.

Igor and I at Gateway - Mile 35

Erik looking serious for the camera. Gateway Store

I left the Gateway store with Daryl Saari who I have mentioned before.  Daryl was the one that seemingly appeared out of nowhere at the Tuscobia event with magic power-boosting  pop tarts.  I have bumped into Daryl at a lot of events over the past months – he logged somewhere close to 1,000 race miles in 2010, which is utterly amazing.  I was excited to be heading out on the trail with him, as he is someone I really respect in the ultra community for not only his experience and durability, but also his kindness.  The first few hours went quickly as we chatted and kept pace with each other.

With Daryl Saari

But as the night went on and the temps plummeted to -40 Daryl was having trouble keeping warm.  Eventually he succumbed to the cold and had to drop, picking up a ride from a snowmobile.  I think this was sometime between 2 and 4 am.  This was a tough moment for me.  I was feeling pretty unsure about my own race, even as I walked along with Daryl, and when he dropped I felt what remaining air I had left in my sales slip away.  I assessed my situation – I was tired and sore, but at least I was not freezing (a relative term).  I tried not to think about what might happen as the night wore on and just focused on the present.  I kept going and tried to make progress.  The next 6-8  hours fall into the category of hazy.  I didn’t see many people, and when I did it was like ghostly spirits passing each other without recognition.  I was starting to see snow shapes, for lack of a better term.  Snow shapes are all the things you think you see ahead of you on the trail, but when you reach them, all you really see is a clump of snow.  I don’t know if these “hallucinations” come from sleep depravity, exhaustion, an over active imagination.  Perhaps some combination of the three.  I experienced the sa

me sorts of things at Tuscobia, so this time I just accepted the shapes are part of the deal.  I also started sleep walking – just letting my eyes rest for a few seconds  as my legs continued to move forward.  Every now and then re-opening one or both eyes to make sure I was still upright and on the trail.  I trudged onward toward dawn, hoping that sunlight would awaken me and refresh my systems.  Eventually the sun rose, and slowly I made my way toward MelGeorge’s resort and a safe haven.  My plan for this race was to push through the first 70 miles without sleeping.  This would put me at MelGeorge’s resort with a place to rest out of the elements,  and b

e a place for  moral support from Dark, Helen and Cooper.  As I spilled out on to Elephant Lake Iknew I had less than a mile to go.  I saw Cooper and Dark, but they didn’t really register to me.  Between the addition of my down coat, the layer of ice I had accumulated over my body, and my zombie death march, Dark didn’t recognize it was  me until he said hello.

Arriving to Elephant Lake - Mile 70. I thought I was finished here.

We made our way across the lake and I checked in with the race officials and stumbled to our cabin.  My entire body was freezing, except my feet, which I couldn’t really feel.  My legs were throbbing with fatigue and swelling.  My nose hurt badly, and I feared it was frostbitten.  The physical pain combined with 27 hours on the trail had me in a place I didn’t think I could return from.  The past 5 hours I had only thought surviving long enough to get to the safe harbor of the checkpoint – thoughts of anything further down the course never crossed my mind.

Igor, Alicia, Erik and I decided before the race to rent a separate cabin here so we would have our own space.  Igor and Alicia had already dropped, and Erik ended up resting at the cabin used for the checkpoint.  The next  three hours was a convoluted stream of eating and fitful sleeping as I tried to elevate my legs to alleviate the swelling and pain. I told Helen I was finished,  resigning myself to dropping, eagerly accepting that I would start recovering faster knowing that I wouldn’t have to go back on the trail through 65 more miles of misery.   My feet and legs felt like they might explode.  My lungs were burning.  My brain had shut down from exhaustion and lack of sleep.  I was a mess.   Two and half hours passed, feeling more like two and half minutes.  Helen and my dad made several attempts to encourage me into dressing myself and getting back on the trail.  I told them I couldn’t, that I hurt too much.  I got out of the bed and made my way to the couch, thinking that if I showed some progress they would stop encouraging me and let me drop.  Once to the couch I lost the faint grip I had on my situation and broke down.  Not only was I not going to complete my goal of 270 miles, I wasn’t even going to finish the 135 miles of this forsaken race.  Failure  was staring me in the soul and it reduced me to a whimper.  I thought of Katelyn and I got tears in my eyes.  I was letting her down.  I thought of how I would have to come back next year and try this beast again.  All of these thoughts swirled through my mind and just when I didn’t think I could handle any more of it, I felt a tiny bit of something fighting back.  Something inside was showing some sort of faint resolve.  Helen was strong by my side with encouragement.  Katelyn was in my thoughts with inspiration.  After realizing all the self-pity I was allowing I started to get angry.  I was angry because I knew I needed to do better for St. Jude and the cause I was supporting.  I was angry for losing my grip.  I was angry at the course, knowing that didn’t want to ever try this race again, but I also knew would have to keep trying until I conquered it.  Doubts streamed through my mind – should I have trained more?  Should I have slept on the trail over night?  Should I only have done 75 miles at Tuscobia instead of 150?  Why did I think I could ever do this anyway?  What would Katelyn think, and everyone that had supported me?  Dark and Helen had rearranged their lives to be here.   Aunt Mari and Jodi were driving all the way from the Cities to the finish line in Tower, to see me off on my return trip, and I couldn’t even finish the first half of my plans. Then something snapped.    I suddenly felt the unwavering support and confidence coming from my crew, Dark and Helen.  They just assumed I would get up and finish.  They knew I was in pain, but they didn’t accept dropping as an answer.   The anger I felt welling inside turned to resolve.   Maybe it was Helen soaking up all my self deprecation, self-doubt and self misery,  and tossing it aside.  Or maybe it had something to do with her suggesting I just try going 2 more miles, where there was a road crossing, and they would pick me up there if I wanted to drop.  Whatever it was, I suited up and headed out.  The pain and misery of the situation still existed, but I was choosing to ignore it.  Instead focusing on the positives of the situation, and of my life.

I left MelGeorges with Roberto, whom I met at and ran with at Tuscobia.  Roberto is a quite but strong person.  I felt a sense of confidence as we headed out.   We left at 1:45pm on Tuesday,  where someone made the comment “No one has ever left this checkpoint this late and finished the race.”  Something that would stick in my mind for the next 27 hours.

Roberto and I leaving Melgeorges Resort - Mile 70

There are quite a few large hills out of MelGeorges but I had designed my sled with sledding in mind!  Roberto and I got separated as I made good time on the downhills.  At the top of each climb I turned around and made two short steps back to my sled and eased myself into position.  I packed my sleeping bags and bivey in a stuff sack at the back of the sled.  This acted as my seat.  With most of my weight on my bag, my legs rested on top of my plastic tote, with my gear safely out out of harms way.  I designed my harness and rope setup  to attach to the sled in a manner that allowed me to sled the downhills without having to unstrap myself.  I could steer with my poles behind me acting as rudders, or with my heels digging into the snow in front of me.

Turns out that road crossing Helen and Dark baited me with to get me back on the trail was closer to 7 or 8 miles away, not two as Helen had suggested.  But no matter, I was feeling much much better.  The afternoon sun and the downhill sledding had turned this nasty event into something else entirely.  Now I was back to my core, just a boy out enjoying winter.  My body and spirit responded and I was having fun again.  The pain in my feet and legs gave way to a smile on my face, and I was making good time.   I thanked Helen for getting my rear back on the trail and headed off into the evening.

It is roughly 40 miles from MelGeorges to the Crescent Bar and Grill, the third and final checkpoint.  This section of the course is home to the hilliest stretch of the course.  More or less 40 miles of up and down.  I made good time into the evening and night hours. Just before dark, Todd Gabrielson, one of the snowmobile volunteers, approached me from further down the trail.  He pulled up to me and stopped to check on me.     He had a demeanor about him that was greatly reassuring.  He asked how I was and assured me I looked great.  I had a few questions about distances ahead and how far behind Roberto was.   Todd said he was going to continue on past me and check to see how Roberto was doing and would come back and let me know.  This offered great comfort – I was feeling good for the most part, but as darkness was ascending for the second night I found myself wishing for someone to walk with.  If Roberto was close, I wanted to wait for him.  Todd left to check on Roberto and I continued on.  A short while later Todd returned to tell me that Roberto had decided to pull off the trail and get some rest.  I realized that I likely going to be alone the rest of the night.  Todd gave me some distances and let me know he wouldn’t be back on the trail until morning.  He was “signing off” for the night and I was going to be alone.  I told him thanks for the information and let him know how much I appreciated that he was volunteering.  While he couldn’t do anything for me while I was racing,  it was a comfort to know that he was out there somewhere should the course of events take a turn for the worst.  As Todd sped off I  added my headlight and some clothes and prepped myself for the long night ahead.

At about mile 98 I started getting very sleepy again and decided I would make a stab at sleeping on the trail for a while.   I debated myself for the past hour if stopping to sleep was wise.  The clock would continue to tick, the cutoff time getting closer and closer.  But I also knew my current pace, probably less than 2 miles per hour, was too slow.  I also longed to find other racers on the trial, hoping companionship would help keep my eyes open and my feet moving forward.  I was again fatigued and having trouble keeping my eyes open.  It was about 2 miles to the next shelter, Elbow Lake, and I  decided to push through, desperately hoping I would find other runners there to join up with.  When I got there  I found nobody.  I hesitated a bit, asking out loud, “should I push ahead and try to catch up or should I sleep?”  In the end it was a fast decision, I needed sleep and I needed it now, especially since I was now asking myself questions out loud, and more telling perhaps,  answering my own questions out loud.   I surveyed the shelter and determined that it was best to lay my sleeping bag on the ground just outside the shelter (large rocks on the floor of the lean-to).  I decided to keep all of my clothes on, including my shoes.  I had a liner on the inside of my bag, so I wasn’t worried about dirt or tears.  For whatever reason, I had my phone with me, so I set the alarm and tried to sleep.  3.5 seconds later my alarm went off, and I was agitated with myself for messing up the alarm.  But when I looked at the time, I had slept for 35 minutes.  This was good! And better yet, I had managed to wake up to my alarm (there was a concern that I would be so tired that I would sleep through my alarm and wake up sometime in the middle of the next day, having missed the cutoffs and ending my race).   I crawled out of my sack and packed up my things.  I had a good chill throughout my body so I set out immediately, already feeling better and able to stay awake.

About two miles down the trail I came to a depression where the trail flattens out and continued in a straight line for the better part of a mile.  There were no trees and when I looked up it felt like being in a planetarium.  The sky was crystal clear and abundantly littered with thousands of stars just waiting to be touched by my outstretched hand.  I looked up behind me, in the general direction of north, hoping to see the northern lights.  At the time I was a little disappointed not get a glimpse, but looking back I think I was standing right in the middle of them as they covered the entire sky, for there was a reddish hue radiating everywhere I could see.  The crystal clear stars blinked with a red tint and it was beautiful.  I stopped for a minute to admire the beauty of it all.  It was absolutely silent and still.  The natural world is so beautiful and refreshing, if we only stop to observe it from time to time.  I felt an overwhelming surge of content and happiness.  Snapped back to the reality of my situation by the stark temperatures in this low-lying area, I continued on.

Not long after my stop in the planetarium, I thought I saw a red light ahead of me, but it was disappearing as fast as it appeared.  I dismissed the idea that it was another racer – earlier in the night, perhaps spurred on my desire to find other racers, I had seen a red light and became extremely giddy.  Only to be let down once I realized it was a radio tower I was seeing.  This time I wouldn’t let myself be disappointed.  I tried to keep my head down, not allowing myself to peer into the darkness ahead.  But the temptation was too much.  Was it possible I had caught up to John Taylor finally?  I knew he had left MelGeorges less than two hours before me.  The light would blink, and then disappear for a few moments.  Then another blink.  Then disappear.  Was I imagining this?  How delirious had I become?  This game continued on for close to 30 mins, as I picked up my pace to close in on the target.  I still didn’t know if it was a real target or imagined, but then all of sudden I was close enough to see the outline of a body.  I was ecstatic when I saw a headlight swing around and look at me.  It turns out I had caught up to Mike Stattelman.  Mike had started the race on skis, and for the better part of the first day he was able to actually ski.  But when the sun set and the temps dropped Mike had to start walking.  When the temps get so cold, skis can’t generate enough heat to melt the snow beneath them, which is what provides the glide skiers depend on for forward momentum.  Mike had his skis tied to a string that was looped behind his neck.  The tips dragging along beside him as he walked.  While Mike’s pace was slower than mine at this point, I adjusted to match him.  I didn’t mind at all, as I finally had some company.   Ultras have a particular aspect about them I find appealing.  There is so much time spent alone on the trail.  There is something peaceful about it that allows introspection in a setting that lends itself perfectly to it.  But at 4 am, and nearly 48 hours into the race, I much preferred the company to being alone.   Mike and I took turns talking about our gear and strategies.  I think he got quite a quick out of my sledding demonstration.  Probably even longing for a sled of his own at this point (skiers typically use a back pack for their gear, as a sled causes to much disruption on skis).   Mike is from Duluth, and as it turns out is friends with Kevin Kinney.  Kevin and his wife are the owner/operators of Empire Canvas Works, the creators of my Big Mitts and my self-named wool Arrowhead Coat.

"Big Mitts" and "Arrowhead Wool Coat" - Empire Canvas Works

 

Mike knew that I was able to move at a faster pace and urged me to move ahead of him.  I declined the first couple times he suggested this, enjoying his company was worth the slower pace to me.  Eventually I agreed however, and at one of the downhills I jumped in my sled.  At the bottom of the hill, instead of waiting for Mike like I had done previously, I kept moving on.  My best guess is that I had less than 10 miles yet to reach the next checkpoint.  It was close to 6 am and I looked forward to the sunrise and the warmth of a new day.

I was closing in on morning and the Crescent Bar and Grill, the mile 110 checkpoint.  I had two more memorable experiences before I would get there however.  With the impending sunrise the night had started to retreat, but it was still dark enough to need my headlamp.  The trail approached an intersection with some sort of road/open area.  Due more to my lack of coherence and the difficult lighting than to the lack of trail markings, I couldn’t seem to find where the Arrowhead left the road and continued on.  I spent about 30 minutes walking back and forth over the same 100 yards where the trail and road merged.  In retrospect, I was too concerned with taking a wrong turn.  Eventually I found the right way and continued down the trail and towards Wakemup Hill.  The sight of my last major event.

I was again having trouble keeping my eyes open and staying awake.  The sun was nearly over the horizon as I turned the corner and vaguely registered the the steepest grade of the course.  This must be it – Wakemup Hill.  It is probably only a couple hundreds yards long, but it seemed like it was straight uphill.  I trudged to the foot of the climb and took a deep breath.  After adjusting my harness I put my head down and started the climb.  Slow and steady.  So slow I had time to fall asleep as I climbed.  Then I slipped into a dream-like place.  But this dream became nightmarish quickly.  I was see-sawing between drowning  and being suffocated by something over my head.  I flashed back and forth, was I drowning or suffocating? With each fruitless breath my fear escalated.  I couldn’t breath and I couldn’t take it anymore.  I screamed out as my arms flailed about my face and head.  I screamed a second time, waking me from my dream.  As I floated back to the real world I struggled to grasp where I was.  At the top of Wakemup Hill my stocking cap was 5 feet away from me on the ground and in my hand was the gator that had been around my face to protect my frozen nose.  I was gasping for air as I struggled to unzip my coat.  I wasn’t drowning to be sure, but I was suffocating.  The exertion of climbing the steep grade has sent my lungs into asthmatic spasm.  I had slept-walked up the hill and my physical body lent the fuel for this horrible airless nightmare.  It took me a couple minutes to calm myself down enough to get adequate air and recompose myself.  As I was putting myself back together I looked down below me from the perch of Wakemup Hill.  The sun was just breaking the horizon of another bluebird day, showing pink hues across the horizon.  In the span of only a couple minutes I was submerged in a microcosm of this race, a microcosm of life.  At our worst moments, there is still beauty and joy around us.

With only 2 miles to go until Crescent, I knew I had the race in hand.  The 30+ miles from Crescent to the finish was flat and the sun would be shining.  I started to feel the excitement of knowing the finish was attainable.  I had close to 35 miles to go, but I again believed it was possible.

As I walked into Crescent just after 7:45  am Wednesday, I spotted Helen, Mari and Jodi inside.  I was again physically demolished, but I had a little more exuberance than when I reached MelGeorge’s.

Crescent Arrival at 110 - The picture isn't fuzzy, the camera is just capturing my state of mind.

And I was happy to be in the company of my crew.   John Taylor was also there, having arrived just 30 minutes ahead of me.  My plan for Crescent was to get my clothes off and let them dry, eat a pizza and try to catch a nap for an hour.  The first two objectives were met, but I found out that sleeping at this checkpoint wasn’t allowed.  Helen and I talked about things – I had until 7 pm.  If I could leave Crescent by 10 am I would have about 9 hours, to go the remaining 30+ miles.  If I could average just 3 miles and hour I would have time to sleep on the trail if I needed.  I laid down on the floor with my feet elevated on a chair and a pizza next to my head.  After eating and recouping some of my energy I got dressed and set out to finish this race.  I left at just after 9 am.  John Taylor was 30 minutes ahead of me, Barb Owen 10 minutes ahead, and John Finn was 2 minutes behind me.  I had not met John Finn or Barb Owen before, but within minutes of leaving Crescent we had formed a group and were making progress.  Barb, coming off her finish of the Brazil 135 just days earlier (amazing!!) was moving pretty slow.  John and Barb dropped back just a bit and I made a bid to catch up to John Taylor.  The rest of the day the 4 of us traveled more or less together.  John is another runner and great person I have met over the past few months and I was happy to finally be able to share the trial with him.  He is prolific in 100 miles races, doing as many as he can each year.  He has oodles of experience and is always happy to help other runners.  I saw Helen, Dark and Cooper a couple times during the day, and with each meeting we all shared in the happiness of the nearing end.

Afternoon Snack with Cooper

Finally, at 4:13 pm on Wednesday I crossed the finish line with Helen, Dark, Cooper, Mari and Jodi.  57 hours and 12 minutes to cover 135 miles from International Falls to Tower.  In the heart of winter.

Mari and Jodi walking me to the finish.

Almost There!


 

The Finish!

This was not only the end to the race, but also the end of the Arrowhead 270 attempt.  Helen and Dark were of the opinion that I not try to skijor the trail back.   It didn’t take much for me to agree with, as I was spent in every way possible.  While it was disappointing to not complete my goal, I was satisfied with finishing the actual Arrowhead 135 race, and  I can always make another go of trying to do the return trip next year!

The Finishers Trophy.

And I am spent....

There are many people to thank:

Thank you to all of the supporters of the Where’s Chris Scotch campaign.  Your moral support of my efforts are wonderful and your donations are making the difference in the lives of children.

Thanks to Dave and Mary Pramann, Race Directors of the Arrowhead Ultra.  I peppered them with emails and questions for months leading up to the race.  They graciously answered every one.  Dave and Mary put on a top notch event, even if they do like the bikers more than the runners or skiers!  🙂

Thanks to Ellen and Phil Hart, of the Gateway Store at the mile 35 checkpoint.  All of the employees/volunteers were amazing as they fed us and dried our gear.

Thanks to MelGeorge’s Resort, especially Carla.  Mile 70 checkpoint.  Helen, Dark, Cooper and I stayed for the Thursday night following the race to enjoy some down time and skiing. The Log Cabin has a perfectly relaxing northwoods feel to it, and it is puppy friendly!!

Thanks to the Crescent Bar and Grill.  Mile 110 Checkpoint.  Great pizza and laying on the floor of the restaurant sure beats laying in the snow!

Thanks to Todd Gabrielson and all of the volunteers that make this race much safer than it otherwise could be.  Thank you to the volunteers for  countless hours of prep and sleepless nights during the race supporting the racers on our way.

Thank to Aunt Mari and Jodi.  Having you guys at the finish line meant so much.  Your continued support of my campaign this past year has been amazing!

Thanks to Dark.  Having you around always makes the challenges seem a bit less daunting.  Thanks for rearranging your life to be there to help me and to keep an eye on Cooper.  Seeing the wolf hat on the trail always gives a little laugh!

And finally, thanks to Helen.  Your championship experience is a comfort, as I know I am in capable hands. Moreover, your guidance, support and understanding have helped me tremendously.  Without you I never would have known this was possible.  Without you I wouldn’t have finished.

Chris

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Tuscobia 150 – Recap December 27, 2010

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Tuscobia 150 Mile Ultra

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In July I made a comment in my recap of the Voyageur 50 mile race that 50 miles is a long way.  ” A real long way.”  Doesn’t that seem foolish now?  There is “perspective” rearing itself again.  That day in July, 50 miles was a real long way, and I vividly remember being quite battered from that race.  Turn to this past week, however, and I would like to add something to that original thought – – 150 miles is a long way.  A real long way. Just not in the way you might think….

An ultra on snow with a sled proved to be an entirely different experience from trail running for me.  The pace is much slower.  There isn’t a thrashing of the muscles and body, rather it is more a kin to decomposition of the tissue.  60 hours of exertion with minimal and restless sleep makes for a degradation of the mind as well as the body.  On trials I  get lost in the contours of the the path, avoiding rocks, jumping over roots and picking the best lines.  The mind gets occupied and the miles and hours can roll past quickly.  On a snow covered, mostly flat trail, meandering aimlessly for an eternity, my mind felt every second pass by.  The only things to think about were the miles yet to cover and when to eat or drink.  The recovery is up and down, physically and mentally.

Pre-Race:

The race started at 7am Friday morning, December 17th.  I arrived at the trailhead about 2:30 am Friday morning, forgoing sleep in a bed, and instead slept for a few hours in the car.   I was checked in on once by one of Park Falls finest, about 3:30 am I think.  He was pretty surprised to see my head pop up I think, but he was very friendly and even suggested I grab breakfast at The Frontier diner in town, which I did at 5:30.  With a big greasy breakfast in me and more cups of coffee than I can count, I thought I was ready to go.  I drove back to the trailhead about 6:15 and was a bit uneasy as I expected to see other racers there already getting ready.  I can’t recall being the first person to a race all year, so  I wasn’t sure what to do – was I in the wrong spot?  Did I have the time wrong? I sat in the car for a while unsure what to do.  I needed to change clothes and pack my sled, but I didn’t want to do all that if I was in the wrong place. I rechecked my printouts and notes and confirmed I was where I should be.  By now it was past 6:30 and I decided to start getting ready.  Shortly later everyone else showed up, fully prepped and ready to go.  I went about my business of packing the sled and drop bags, trying to figure out what to bring with me and what to put in drop bags.  This was my first experience with a winter race and my mind was quite uncertain about everything.  I stayed calm and double checked everything – feeling satisfied with things I changed my clothes and locked up the jeep.  I was just heading down the trail when one of the onlookers (Tim and his family I believe) gently reminded me my Thule was still open on the roof of my car.  I can only imagine the amusement they all shared watching me run around like a headless chicken before I finally headed down the trail, about 10 minutes later than everyone else.  Little did they or I know (or maybe they did), that my pants were on backwards!  I unstrapped the sled and disrobed quickly in the in dark morning chill to dress myself more practically.  A little drama getting going, but everything seemed in order from this point.  I had the typical pre-race jitters and as I started running down the trail after the other competitors I focused intently on keeping my body from overheating.  This would be something I remained very conscious of for the next 60 hours.  This was my number 1 priority and concern, and I manged it effectively.

The First 50 Miles:

I jogged along at an easy pace for about half an hour and caught up to 2 of the 3 other runners, Scott from Utah and Mitchell from Minnesota.  I settled in at their pace and enjoyed the next couple hours.  Mitchell and I were moving at a slightly quicker pace than Scott, and soon we found ourselves alone.  The 4th runner, Roberto, had started out quick and was still ahead of us somewhere.  Mitchell has done this sort of thing before, in addition to running ultras and climbing mountains, so I just started asking questions and tried my best to soak up everything he was sharing.  I learned a lot about what to expect over the next couple days, how to better prepare, how to eat, how to plan, what not to do and so on.  These first 50 miles went quickly and I thoroughly enjoyed the time on the trail getting to know Mitchell and being his pupil.  His plan was to do 50 miles, stop trail-side and sleep, so when we reach his stopping point around 1 am he found a suitable place to lay out his bag and I kept going.  My plan was to get to the second checkpoint, at mile 62, and sleep there.  We found out at the beginning of the race that the checkpoints, at miles 30, 63, 87 and 120 were going to be hotel rooms.  I decided to do my resting at the checkpoints where I could dry out and not have to unpack my sled to catch some zzz’s.  The course is an out and back, with the turn around at 75, so there were two checkpoints on each leg, and then repeated in reverse.  Just as I was leaving Mitchell I caught sight of Roberto’s blinking red light up the trail.  Within minutes I had caught up to him and passed him.

The Middle 50 Miles:

I arrived at the Birchwood Checkpoint (mile 63) about 3:30 am, roughly 20 hours after I started and about an hour ahead of Roberto.  I changed into dry clothes, set out my wet clothes to dry and ate for about an hour.  I was just trying to settle in for some sleep when Roberto came through the checkpoint.  He had decided not to rest and pushed on after refueling.  I slept for about 2 hours, got myself put back together and back on the trail by 9 am.  I figure Roberto had  left the about 3.5 hours before me and would be reaching the turnaround at mile 75 very shortly.  I was anxious to close the gap and was moving quickly this morning.  The 75 mile race started at the turnaround at 10 am, so I would be going past some familiar faces.  John Storkamp was the first one I saw, as expected. He is one fast moving guy.  He stopped to say hello and we chatted for a few minutes.  He could tell I was pretty excited about catching up to Roberto and he told me to just be patient.  This helped calm me down and get my body heat back under control.  Next I saw Alicia – she was looking great and moving well.  She ended getting sick and having to rest for a few hours later in the night, but she hunkered down and pushed through.  I am always amazed at the people who can pick themselves up when they are sick and keep on going.  Next I say Daryl Saari, who completely and utterly surprised me with pop tarts.  He so matter of factly said, “have some blueberry pop tarts   for you”.  I was floored.  How did he know pop tarts were about my favorite thing when running?  I was totally thankful and had a pretty damn optimistic view of things after this encounter.  I also saw Lynn Saari, Jason Husveth and John Taylor.  It was a great boost to my moral and energy to see them all.  As I was about an half mile from the 75 mile turnaround, I finally saw Roberto.  He had just left the turnaround after resting a spell and having some spaghetti on his stove.  He looked good and and told me someone was waiting for me at the turnaround.  Indeed, it was my mom!!  She had come up this morning to crew for the rest of the race.  I sat with her for a few minutes at the turnaround while I ate and discussed when I would be back at the Birchwood checkpoint, only 12 miles away.  There is nothing like having your parents supporting you at an event like this.  My dad had crewed for me at the Sawtooth 100 and now mom was here. I was really feeling good now, especially knowing that I was only a couple miles behind Roberto.  I had only gone 12 miles so far today, with 45 yet to go, but it seemed so attainable at this moment.  I never caught up to Roberto over the next 12 miles back to Birchwood, which were fairly uneventful, except for meeting Mitchell on his way to the turn around and the couple of decent downhills that I decided to jump in my sled and ride down.  Nothing like reminiscing about my childhood when I spent hours and hours sledding down every hill I could find growing up in northern Minnesota.  It was fun.  And it still is.  I returned to Birchwood ahead of Roberto, which didn’t make sense as I hadn’t passed him.  The volunteers, Misty, Alicia and Dan,  and I couldn’t quite figure it out, until Roberto came through the door with a pizza!  He had stopped to order some food for everyone.  What a guy!  While Roberto ate pizza, I ate everything else I could find.  We both filled up on food and fluids and heading out the door into the dark night.  We paced each other for about 10 miles, chatting about all sorts of things.  We were racing each other, but it never felt like that.  We were a team of two pushing through the cold and dark with our sleds in tow.  We had 33 miles to go when we left Birchwood and it was nice having someone to talk with for the first few hours.  I don’t know if it was sleep deprivation setting in or just the monotony of the time on the trail, but soon I found myself alone.  I looked back and couldn’t even see Roberto’s headlamp.  Somehow I had zoned out and moved ahead of him.  I passed the place Mitchell had camped the night before and planned to camp again tonight.  This meant I had travelled a total of 100 miles so far, with 50 remaining.  I contemplated pulling over and waiting for Mitchell, getting some sleep and rest.  I was pretty tired and was feeling the effects of the longs hours.  But I pushed on.

The Final 50 miles:

When Roberto and I left Birchwood we thought we had 30 miles to get to the Winter checkpoint.  This was my carrot on a stick.  I planned to sleep at Winter for a few hours and then go the last 30 miles on Sunday.  This meant that Saturday would be a 54 mile day, and Friday was a 63 mile day.  But somewhere in the snow, I had miscalculated.  The Winter checkpoint was 33 miles from Birchwood, and those 3 extra miles at 4 am on Sunday morning were the most difficult 3 miles I have experienced in my brief running career.  The mind has a way of getting your body where it needs to go – if you are out for a 2 mile run, a marathon or 100 miles.  It is one of the most amazing and perplexing abilities we have.  There were mile posts on the Tuscobia trail so I had counted down the mileage and when  I reach 30 miles and realized that I wasn’t at the checkpoint I wasn’t ready for what would happen.  I had seen a road sign a couple miles back that said Winter was 5 miles away.  I remember remarking to myself that sign couldn’t be right.  That I had gone about 30 miles and the checkpoint should be just around the corner.  But it wasn’t.   My mind had consumed all its energy getting me the 30 miles I told it to go.  Without my mind pushing it, my body  slowed to a snails pace, exhausted from the last 45 hours.  The range of emotions came – anger and frustration for not being able to figure out how far I was supposed to go.  Defeated at the inability to move forward any faster.  I stopped a few times and sat on the trail, doing nothing to get closer or to unpack and sleep.  My body ached, especially my feet which felt like they had been put through a wood chipper – every step they throbbed with pain.    It all seemed futile and for some reason I felt a sense of failure.  I had made a promise to my friend Bryan and his wife, Carissa, in memory of their son Nolan, that I would give this race my absolute best effort.  I realized sitting on my ass feeling sorry for myself wasn’t cutting it.  As painful as it was to walk, I pushed on.  I figure the last three miles of this leg took me over three hours, but finally I made it.  I had to stop and gather my bearings a few times, the last of which I knew was only about 1/3 of a mile from the checkpoint.  It was still dark and while I gathered my strength leaning on my poles a pack of coyotes started their ghoulish banter.  I don’t typically fear coyotes, and I don’t think I did at this moment either, but there howls snapped me to attention and got me moving.  Finally I arrived at the Winter checkpoint at 6:30 am.  I barely had the strength, mentally or physically, to take my shoes and clothes off.  I took a quick shower and laid in the bed with my feet up the wall while Jan (Tim’s mom) graciously brought me food and water.  My feet were swollen to the point of engorgement.  My right pinky toe had a blood blistering covering 75% of it.  My knees were on fire, and burned hotter as the fluid from me feet flowed down my legs.  Eventually I positioned myself properly in the bed and tried to sleep.  I tossed and turned with pain as my lungs tried to their best to expel the mucus that had built up deep within them over the past 48 hours.  I felt at this moment like I did after 100 miles at Sawtooth, except this time I had to wake up and run another 30 miles with a sled.  As I drifted off to sleep I questioned if my body could handle any more.

When my eyes fluttered open at 8:30am Sunday morning a familiar outline was in the room.  It took my brain a few seconds to realize it, but my mom was there, ready to help any way she could.  I was still hurting, barely able to walk to the bathroom, but a familiar pillar of support in my life was present, and my mind knew it would have to find a way to finish this race.  Mom found a cinnamon roll with oodles of frosting somewhere nearby.  I inhaled that with other assorted sugar-laced goodies and started to prep for the last 30 miles.  Roberto hadn’t some through while I was sleeping and we were starting to wonder where he might be.  But just then he came through the door.  I have to admit, he looked pretty damn good.  Turns out he had stopped and slept on the trail for a couple of hours.  His plan was to shower and rest up a bit, so I decided to head out before him as I was dressed and ready to go.  I put my shoes on and strapped the sled to my body.  Almost instantly I felt better and I jogged out of the hotel parking lot, across the road and back on the trail.  I set about gearing up my mind and crunching the numbers.  I left at 10 am, had 30 miles to go.  My initial guess was that this would take me about 12 hours.  I didn’t like the sound of this so I looked at the task a different way.  If I could just get this down to a marathon, I knew I could finish.  So I started running, quickly.  I ran the next 4 miles as fast as the sled would allow, getting this down to a distance I knew I could handle.  The trail at this point parallels some paved road for a while, and mom met me twice at some road crossings to offer encouragement.  She commented that I was moving fast and looked good.  She is my mom, after all, and is supposed to say things like this whether they have merit or are even true at all, but I felt like she really understood and meant what she was saying.  I was energized and feeling good.  I had a game plan and was nailing it down.  The sun was out and its warm rays were on my back.  The next 26 miles were a euphoric trip down the rabbit hole.  I had a brief but pointed conversation with each mile post as they counted down.  I wanted the trail to know that I had it in my sites.  When I got 15 miles left I let out a victorious scream – I was halfway for the day, and was ready for the challenge of the “middle miles” of a marathon.  That time when it gets tough.  Still to far from the finish to smell the end, and the initial burst of endorphins has wore off a bit.  When it hit me I was ready for it.  I hunkered down and made sure I was eating and drinking.  Then I got to mile post 1o – now I could smell the finish.  Another yelp and a few pointed words at the mile post indicating that I was going to beat this trail today.   The sky was clear as the sun started setting behind me, spraying the horizon with majestic pink hues.  In front of me a nearly full moon tinted with the sunset rose into the night sky.  The time and setting made for one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever been a part of.   Then the rabbit hole got very interesting.  I saw all sorts of strange objects ahead of me on the trail and in the woods.  Ranging from the pink foam sheets of insulation used in buildings, to toilets, to an artistic blue bird that you might find on an Inuit totem pole.  Of course none of these objects were ever really there as I approached them, vanishing into nothing but mounds of snow and twisted branches.  But at the time the separation between reality and fantasy had melded and my brain wasn’t making note of that anything was out of sorts. I was focused only on finishing.  I turned off my headlight to soak up the night and enjoy the last 2 miles with only the moon and snow to show me the way.  As I made my way up the turnoff to the trail head parking I found my mom waiting on the trail about 50 yards from the finish.  Fittingly, she ran with me to the finish and congratulated me with a hug and later on a most appropriate 6 pack of New Glarus Moon Man ale.

Thank you to my parents, especially my mom for crewing for me and making me as comfortable as I could be on Sunday morning and for running to the finish with me Sunday night.  To have you by my side made this event special.   Thanks to Tim Roe, the Race Director, his parents and the Birchwood checkpoint volunteers, Misty, Alicia and Dan.  You guys don’t get to sleep either, and your volunteer efforts offer a reprieve from the struggles of a tough race.   Thanks to Mitchell Rossman, you taught me a lot on the fly and I look forward to see you out on the trail again soon.  Thanks to Helen for your support from abroad.  You have taught me so much about running and myself over the past few months and without your insights and support I wouldn’t have dreamed that I could finish a race like this.   And thanks to all of you that sent along wishes of good luck and support before, during and after the race.  I feel blessed to be a part of the extended family of ultra runners.  And finally, thank you to Katelyn Atwell, my inspiration for Where’s Chris Scotch and my ongoing campaign for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, and to Bryan, Carissa and Nolan.  Your generosity in your own time of difficulty will help save the lives of children at St. Jude.   And your faith in me,  literally picked me up off the snow and willed me to finish.

Chris

150 miles on snow  with a sled.    60 hours and 25 minutes.  Dedicated to the memory of Nolan Magnus Keister.

Please consider making a donation to St. Jude

Surf the Murph Recap December 1, 2010

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While I may have been dressed as Steve Prefontaine, I sure didn’t run like him!  Surf the Murph was packed with zany fun and a perhaps a bit of a wake up call from my body to my brain.   I took some serious time off the past month since Surf the Murph, only running 3 times.  I felt like I had to decide between serious training or serious rest, and not some combination of the two.  I chose the rest – the pizza and pops have been much enjoyed over the past month!!

The course was three 16.8 mile loops.  I ran the first lap as planned, a good pace but not too fast. The second loop started fairly well but about half way through my feet started to hurt.  Really hurt.  I ignored it and kept on.  I finished the last few miles of loop two with Jim Heebink, a fine young man from New Richmond, WI – Jim had inadvertently added about 8 miles to his 25k race and was feeling a bit less than fresh towards the end.  It was nice to settle in and chat with Jim for a while and kudos to him for pulling through the unexpected.   Spending time on the trail just meeting new people  is yet another reminder that running ultras provides many venues for one to enjoy their time on the trail. Lap 3 was a struggle.  My feet were really, really sore by now.  I kept moving forward and finished the race.  Despite the pain in my feet and disappointment at my finish time, it was still a great day, after all, I got to be Steve Prefontaine and had an excuse for that hideous mustache!!

Chris

Wild Duluth 100k – Recap October 29, 2010

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Wild Duluth turned out to be fantastic time, just not in the manner I expected.  The first hour or so was in the dark and mostly technical uphill climbing, both favorite conditions of mine.  I felt great and started out at a quick pace.  For the next 17 or so miles I felt amazing and was leading the race.  Then I hit the wall, or more appropriately, the wall completely crushed me with a flying elbow off the top rope.

Instantly and simultaneously my body and mind both had catastrophic failures and I found it hard to keep a consistent  pace.  I struggled the next three miles, up and down Ely’s peak and into the Munger Trail aid station at Mile 20, where Cooper and Val were stationed.  (Side note: I couldn’t help but laugh at the quick conversation Dusty Olson and I had as we passed each other.  I was coming down Ely’s and he was going up.  He is always good for an interesting and humorous encounter.  Somehow we managed to compare recovering from Lyme’s disease with recovering from Sawtooth 100 in just a few seconds).

I rested about 15 minutes at Munger as I ate and changed my socks.  Hoping either or both would provide some comfort, physically or mentally.  It didn’t work.  The next five miles seemed to take forever as I oscillated between walking and shuffling, all the while having an internal struggle with what to do when I reached the Grand Portage aid station.   I was in pain, which I tried to rationalize away.  I have had pain in all the other ultra’s, so why couldn’t I push through it this time?  It was a perfect day for running on a beautiful trail with great friends all around.  I just couldn’t seem to muster the mental fortitude, guts or desire to push through.  My body no longer wanted to run, nor did my mind.  I was feeling defeated.    At some point I asked myself how I could best enjoy the rest of the day, and decided that I would get more satisfaction cheering on the other runners rather than be miserable the rest of the day and try to finish the race.  It didn’t seem worth it to me to forgo the chance to be happy cheering for my friends in exchange for being able to say I finished.  I wouldn’t have experienced satisfaction in finishing, as I had already failed in my mind, having reached the point where I couldn’t even run anymore.  My body hurt in ways and places I hadn’t felt before and while the prospect of dropping from the race saddened me,  I didn’t want to cause long term injury.  I knew before I entered the Grand Portage aid station at mile 25 that I would drop from the race, and that is what I did.

I am still replaying the day in my mind, sometimes with mixed emotions.  This was the only race I have ever DNF’d.  And while I failed to complete the race, the lessons learned were ones I needed to experience, if only to know what it feels like to fail,  as to try and prevent it from happening again.  Physically, I don’t know if my body was ready for this course or race.  I hadn’t run on the trail for a month, since Sawtooth 100, foregoing trails for pavement as I trained for Twin Cities Marathon.  I won’t make this mistake again.  I don’t necessarily believe I needed more rest or more training before this race, but I need to learn to learn the balance between the two  as  I plan to keep running ultra’s.  I probably wasn’t mentally prepared for Wild Duluth like I have been for my other races.  Due to a busy work week, or some sort of arrogance towards the course, or whatever it was – I hadn’t prepared myself for the inevitable – that there are going to be really tough stretches for every runner in every ultra.  It could be argued that I started too fast – leading the pack is probably not the right place for me to be in any race.  Something to remember in future races.  The flip side of that coin intrigues me a bit, however.  If I don’t know where the line between pushing myself to the  edge and pushing myself over the edge exists,  I won’t know what it really feels like to feel true success.  Failing provides better understanding where that  line resides.

So I dropped out of the race and focused my energy on cheering the other runners.  I also ran a few errands for Kim and Andy.  It was so much fun to be able to see the race from the other side as friends I have made the past few months dedicated themselves to the race and conquered the trail.  My satisfaction and fulfillment on this day came from their successes.  Thank you.

Chris

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Twin Cities Marathon – Recap October 7, 2010

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http://www.kare11.com/video/KARE_Newscasts/#/10pm+Newscast/10pm+Newscast+10%2F3%2F10/61280260001/49497128001/624294622001

Move the video to 4:24 –  you can see the “Unofficial 3:45” Pace Group finish, successfully under 3:45!

As a member of Team Fitsok, I am proud to being wearing a new singlet! Not only is Fitsok providing a chance to run for them, a great singlet and amazing socks, but they are very supportive of the Where’s Chris Scotch campaign for St. Jude and very happily agreed to allow me to put the St. Jude logo on the team singlet.

Another sponsor, Infinit Nutrition, is also represented on the singlet. They have stepped up large with their support as well. Drop me a line if you have questions about their product and you want to order.


The 2010 Twin Cities Marathon weekend was all about family, friends and fun.  Friday night the Fitsok gang got together for a team picture and some general shenanigans.  I also bumped into a few friends, exchanging words of support, while roaming around the expo soaking in the energy. TCM weekend was off to a great start.  Saturday, after playing a Piranhas game and watching a Twins game, Helen and I settled in to prepping for a dinner party of 10 with family and friends.  Nothing like a pound of steak grilled to medium rare perfection and a couple of Guinness to wash it down the night before a marathon!  The conversation and laughter of the night easily stripped away any nerves that may have been peculating and replaced them with earnestness for the big day.  Getting a chance to see my Godson, Jason, was long overdue and such a joy.

Helen and I had bantered back and forth for weeks leading up to Sunday what pace her and I would run at TCM, and if we would run together.  I don’t think we actually made a final decision until Saturday evening,  deciding to run together at a modest pace of 3:45, assuming I didn’t get antsy and try to beat her 2008   TCM time of 3:24 (the only correlation being that she ran Sawtooth 100 in 2008 (in record time) and I ran it this year (nowhere near record time)).  🙂   My friend Andy stepped to the plate and produced an “unofficial” pacer sign for us, including pictures of bacon and baileys. The two items I tasked myself with finding on the race course.   Unfortunately, or fortunately, I found neither.  But I did come across a donut with sprinkles and a wonderful danish.  Tip – eating sprinkles while running presents a coughing hazard. 🙂

The weather for race day was picture perfect.  Sunny and cool with only a slight breeze.  What I love most about TCM is the magnitude of energy provided by the tens of thousands of spectators, familiar faces and friendly strangers included,  lining the beautiful course.  When I approached the Mile 1 point on the corner of Hennepin and 9th street I started looking for my yoga instructor and friend, Myra.  I was worried I might miss her but she made sure I wouldn’t, as she was holding a “Where’s Chris Scotch” sign in her hands.  It’s the great support of friends like Myra that made running this marathon feel like a Sunday afternoon stroll instead of a joint pounding 26.2 mile beating.  There were many more familiar faces along the way, Mike from MDRA. The hootin’ and hollerin’ Twin Cities Running Co crew raising a ruckus over the loudspeaker outside their RV.  The Ultra-Family members –  Steve Quick, Zach and Jen, Tom and Nancy, and more.  Thanks to Andy, not only for his sign making, but for jumping in and running with us.  And thanks to Shira who did the same towards the end of the race.  You guys are great!  And of course, at the finish line, Mari and Jodi with mom and Dark and my Godson Jason.  Being able to share events like this with family are what truly make them worth remembering.  Your support at is priceless.

 

Chris and Jason at the Finsh Line

 

 

Chris and Jason at the Finsh Line 2

 

    The unexpected support came from the spectators and runners that created a buzz for the “Unofficial 3:45” pace group.  Throughout the day we had runners joining us who were looking for just that, a 3:45 pace group.  The spectators seemed to love the bacon and Bailey’s pictures and cheered us all on. It was all smiles all day! 

    I want to mention another gentlemen that I hope reads this post.  He was running behind Helen and me somewhere on Summit and congratulated me on my finish at the Sawtooth 100.  I assumed he was there, or that I had met him through some other runners and I asked him.  He said no, that he recognized me from reading the Where’s Chris Scotch blog.   While the blog offers a nice place to provide information about the campaign and provide a repository for the details of my races, it is really about providing another avenue to reach people and share the life saving work that St. Jude provides.  I am elated this person has been following the campaign and that he was willing to offer his support.  Thank You!

    TCM offered another opportunity for me to spread the word about the great work of St. Jude.  All in all, it was a great weekend full of laughter and fun.  As co-leaders of the “Unofficial” 3:45 pace group, Helen and I added a unique and humorous twist to our marathons, and while I can’t speak for her, I had a blast.  And being able to share it with our families makes it all the better.

    My final thoughts on TCM itself, if you have any inkling that you want to run a marathon, you HAVE to go for it and you HAVE to run Twin Cities Marathon. It is so much more than a race, and I guarantee, if you approach the start of the run with a smile, you will look back with satisfaction and an even bigger smile when you are finished!

    Chris

     

Sawtooth 100 Mile Trail Ultra – Recap September 23, 2010

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Now that I am ten days out from the completion of the Sawtooth 100, things have settled and started to sink in a bit.  Less than a year and a half ago I couldn’t finish a 2.8 mile loop around Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis, and yet last weekend I completed 103 miles of arguably one of the hardest 100 mile ultra races in the country.  This is not a testament to anything unique or special about me – rather an example that all of us are capable of more than we think.   As I have mentioned previously, the  Where’s Chris Scotch campaign is two-fold in purpose.  The first is to raise money and awareness for St. Jude Children’s Hospital on behalf of Katelyn Atwell.  The second was to challenge myself to live outside of my comfort zone and use running as the primary vehicle for the campaign.  Grab a seemingly outlandish idea, add few drop of pure, genuine inspiration and a framework of support and you can achieve beyond your current perception.  It might be a physical achievement but certainly does not have to be.  My outlandish idea was to run for charity; the pure and genuine motivation was supplied by Katelyn, whose story, laugh and energy for life moves me every time I think of her.  The framework of support was started by my family, strengthened by my current friends and broadened by new ones.

100 miles!  Well, 102.6 officially.  Then again, unofficially, rumors swirl that course is actually 103.4 miles. Whatever the number – BOOOOYAAAAAHH!!

First, I want to say thanks to  a lot of people:  to  Larry and Colleen for directing an amazing race that was impeccably organized and for creating an event with an atmosphere that can’t be beat.  Thanks to the loads of volunteers that prepped the race, marked the course, manned the aid stations and all the other aspects of the race that the runners probably don’t ever see or remember.  I can’t imagine how different this race would be without the wonderful people that enthusiastically and endlessly encourage the racers through the miles.  Doug and Maria’s bacon cheeseburgers and hot ham and cheese wraps get the credit for nutritionally sustaining me through the 20 miles of pouring rain in the middle of a dark foggy night.  I can’t tell you how great it feels to come into and aid station and having such wonderful people there thinking of everyone but themselves.  And all the other aid stations and volunteers were just as fantastic (but didn’t have bacon cheeseburgers! 🙂  )

Also, a big “Thank You” to Dark and Helen who supported me all weekend and also helped keep tabs on Cooper.

Resting in the comfort of my crew.

Dark came to the race to cheer and crew for me and it was really great have my dad there with me as I progressed through the miles.  To be able to share this experience with him means a lot to me.  His experience with his own races coupled with his paternal instincts (and knowing how to deal with me 🙂  ) were spot on at the aid stations during the night hours of the race.  While  my head teetered between thoughts racing a million miles an hour through my head and my mind being completely brain dead, he was calm and steady.  He seemed to know exactly what gear and words I needed at the right times and I looked forward to seeing him at each aid station.  The second half of my crew team was Helen.  How in the world I ended up having such an accomplished ultra runner in my corner of the ring I will never know, but I sure as heck will take it!   Helen crewed for me up to mile 50 at Finland, and her experience as the women’s course record holder for Sawtooth was invaluable.  She had bits of information about the next sections as I left each aid station, knew when, what and how much I needed to be eating and drinking,  as well as keeping an eye on my pace and effectively communicating to me to slow down or push it a little harder.   She worked with me on my pre-race plan and goal of 30 hours which turned out to be just about perfect.  Helen was also part of the volunteer crew that marked the course for the race and she also volunteered at the temperance aid station (mile 85) throughout the night, helping the lead runners as they came through.  Helen is a very accomplished ultra runner, but this pales in comparison to the wonderfully selfless  person she is to everyone she encounters, even people she doesn’t know.  When I arrived at Temperance river around 8:30 am on Saturday she paced me to the finish from mile 85.  When I got to that aid station I was struggling mentally and physically but she was having none of that from me.  She perfectly balanced the right amount of butt-kicking and comforting to get me through the last 18 miles as fast as possible.     I was lucky to have both Helen and Dark at the race, as was Cooper.

I can’t find the words for all the feelings I have about this race.  The week leading up to the race I had an unusual confidence – almost looking forward to the relentless struggle that would ensue.  I questioned myself repeatedly for this arguably insane confidence, knowing that there was no guarantee that I would finish the 100 miles – this distance, especially on this course, is never a given, no matter the training or preparation or condition of your body.  The night before the race I was borderline cranky due to the nerves.   The morning of the race I was feeling ecstatic and couldn’t wait to get started.  I could barely get dressed I was so excited – truly a kid on Christmas morning.  Periods of the next 30 hours found me experiencing everything from pure joy to self pity; Extreme confidence to dejection and loathing in the lack of my physical and mental abilities;  Satisfaction that the miles of training and racing I have done this year were paying off to second guessing my efforts at preparation.  You name it, I probably felt it, as I suspect so many of the racers do.  But while it may sound like all the emotions were a roller coaster with equal ups and downs, that was not the case at all.  99% of this race was nothing but pure awesomeness.  And the entire experience was 100% ultra-positive on the whole.  I knew my purpose in running this race for Katelyn would help carry me through the tough times.  I always believed I would find a way to finish (although the math in my head sometimes added up to me actually crossing the finish line sometime in the middle of the next week).    I knew my crew, the race volunteers and other racers on the trail would do all they could to ensure I would completed the course.   The ultra community that has taken me in over the past 2 months is just wired that way, to constantly support each other.   Short of my legs being removed from my body, I was going to cross the finish line on them.

In a strange contradiction, while this race was the most difficult event I have ever competed in, is was also, at times, seeming effortless.  I don’t mean to say running 100 miles is easy for me – not at all.   It was hard as hell.  Especially for someone who doesn’t consider themselves a runner.  I only mean that with the right preparation, mental approach and framework of support, we can accomplish things we never imagined.  When we are able to align these three prongs, preparation, mindset and the support of others, and combine them with the something we believe to be a worthy cause, in this case for me – Katelyn Atwell and St. Jude Children’s Hospital, the possibilities are only limited by what we can’t conceive.

The actual start of the race quite literally snuck up on me.  I was standing around stretching and nervously chatting with people when all of a sudden the crowd of runners started moving away from the Gooseberry Falls visitor center.  All of a sudden we were off to the races!

I was so pumped up and I ran most of the first 20 miles with the likes of Andy Holak, Adam Casseday and Nolan Ming.   Running with these three was furiously fast and fascinating while I tried to soak up everything  Andy was offering in the way of tips and advice while I kept pace.  As I posted  in my VoyagerQuest recap, Andy and his wife Kim organized and directed VoyageurQuest last month in its annual year.  I got the chance to get to know Andy a little bit and find out how willing he is to share a laugh and his vast running experience with anyone.  Getting to know him over the last month has been great, and his support to my running as well as the campaign for St. Jude is much appreciated.
These first 20 miles were pure running joy.  Floating over the endless rocks and piles of roots.  Running up the hills and screaming down the descents all the while soaking up nature and the companionship of great people on the trail.

Running Joy

Running Joy 2

If I were to keep the pace of these three experienced (and faster) runners, it would eventually burn me out.  I knew sooner or later I would need to drop back and slow down.  And I had a pretty good idea when I would be doing that.   It was when I, with a big sheepish grin on my face, bounded into the the mile 20 aid station at Beaver Bay and was quite directly asked by Helen,  “What are you doing”  and told I better slow down. 😀

"What are you doing? You better slow down!"

I knew this exchange was coming  miles before the aid station, but I felt good and was letting it rip.  But I also knew that Helen was right – I could not sustain that pace for another 80 miles and come out the other side to tell about it – no matter how big my smile was at mile 2o.

Beaver Bay Aid Station

I settled in to a more efficient pace and the next 30 miles were beautiful as I climbed and descended through Silver Bay, Tettegouche, County Road 6 and on to Finland.

I think my favorite viewpoint  is from the Twin Lakes (Bean and Bear lakes) as you climb up a spiral to the top of the trail and suddenly Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center glides into view.  I had to stop and admire the beauty for a few seconds.  Another memorable moment was food related, which for those of you that know me won’t surprise you.  I tried to set the record for the number of grilled cheese sandwiches, 6,  eaten at the County Road 6 aid station (mile 42.8) but an official judgement was unable to be provided.  (Which means Jason and I will have to have a grilled cheese-off sometime this winter).

My pre-race plan had me getting to Finland (mile 50.5) in 12 hours and before dark.  I arrived ahead of schedule at 7:30 and changed my socks, shoes, shorts and shirt. Grabbed my headlamp and headed off ready for nightfall and the infamous Crosby Manitou section, which was now only 12 miles away.  Val picked up her pacer, Igor at Finland and they caught up to me very soon out of the aid station there.  I followed them through the setting sun and into dark all the way to the Sonju Lake aid station (mile 58).

Leaving Sonju Lake

I spent less time than Val here and started out on my own, figuring that Val was running  faster pace at this point and they would catch me soon.  But before I left Dark grabbed my gore-tex shell for me and I donned that just as the rain was starting to pour from the sky, which it would do for the next 12 hours.  This decision turned out to be hugely important, as it must have rained 3 inches or more over night as sections of the trail become small rivers and lakes while other were washed out completely.   My upper half stayed dry, warm and comfortable through out the night and I trudged onward with a smile on my face.

Patrick made sure I got what I needed at the aid station and then found me after the race to congratulate me. What an awesome thing for someone I have never met to do. Thanks Patrick! (and nice hat!! Go Sox!)

I came into the Crosby Manitou aid station to Doug excitedly cheering for me, ushering me to a seat and proceeding to rattle items off the menu.  His enthusiasm, and dinner selections, were fantastic.  He and Maria totally rock!  I stayed at this aid station for far too long while I ate most everything they offered.  But the rain was coming down hard and I was physically and mentally prepping myself for one of the longest and arguably toughest sections of the course.

Crosby Manitou Aid Station - courtesy of Susan Donnelly

Val and Igor passed me while I sat and ate – the last time I would see Val until the finish line (great work Val!!).  Another reason for my longish stay at this aid station were my failed attempts to get Andy to get out of bed and come run with me.  He had started having stomach issues as he was trying to close in on Brian Peterson who was crushing the course and the field on his way to 1rst place.  Incidentally, I had the privilege of meeting Brian on a training run over a weekend  this summer and in addition to obviously being an awesome runner, he has been very supportive of my own running and the Where’s Chris Scotch campaign.  Thanks Brian!  I headed off into the rain and fog and the next hours are mostly just that – a foggy memory.  I hunkered down in my gore-tex shell and made steady progress.  The only runner  I saw  for many hours was the eventual women’s winner, Sheryl Wheeler, as she passed me around mile 70.  My nutrition was perfect, my body was warm and I was relishing the hellacious weather (there is something short circuited in my brain that prefers harsh weather over pleasant when I am competing).  I kept my focus on the trail and moving one leg in front of the other and making my way to the Temperance river aid station at mile 85 and Helen.

The sun had come up shortly before I arrived at the Temperance aid station – which made navigating the huge puddles of standing water and small rivers of gushing water down the trail only slightly easier to navigate.  At this point, though, dodging puddles wasn’t really doing any good, as it had rained for the past 10 hours.  I had spent the better part of the past 7 miles having a conversation in my head between Helen and myself.  I was sure I would be able to convince her I didn’t need her to pace me, thus save her the agony of running me with at what I was envisioning as a snail’s pace.  I figured I couldn’t get any slower, but that I could keep the pace through the finish line and there wasn’t any need for her to be out running in the rain and horrible trail conditions with someone so slow.  It was all perfect in my head – I had answers to every objection she would pose to my newly devised plan.  In reality, the conversation lasted about 2 seconds – Helen told me she was running with me,  and that was that.  I had spent the past 2 hours perfecting my argument and she dismissed it faster than I could slump to a chair for some food and hot soup.  Also in reality, I needed her to be running with me at that point.  I had started convincing myself that I wasn’t running a good enough race and was experiencing moments of frustration with myself and my body.  Helen understood what I was experiencing, and also knew me well enough to know how to snap me out of it.  We scrambled up Carleton Peak at a faster  pace than I had run in hours and bolted down the decent with smiles on our faces and into the Sawbill Aid Station (Mile 90).

Sawbill Aid Station

While Helen’s  memory of the next few hours might be a bit  different than mine as she had to listen to me struggle and urge me along the trail a number of times, I sit here now and look back on that section of the race and with fondness and will cherish the time we spent on the trail.

And at the end of the day, Helen can chalk one up in the category of a “Successful Pacing”. I think that moves her up to 2 for 5 in her pacing attempts! 🙂

Courtesy of Bryan Cochran

Courtesy of Bryan Cochran via Phillip Gary Smith and www snowshemag com

In addition to spreading Katelyn’s story and raising money for St. Jude, I have been lucky to have learned more about myself and my running with each race this year.  Sawtooth 100 was no different.  This was an amazing experience that I feel fortunate to have been a part of and share with Dark and everyone that was at the race.  Thanks again to everyone that helps make this a successful event.  I will take all the experience and learning into my next events as I continue on my campaign for St. Jude and Katelyn.

Chris

The Finish Line!

Finish Line Belt Buckle

The proud new owner of a "Red Jacket!"

All smiles in the end!

VoyageurQuest Recap September 7, 2010

Posted by whereschrisscotch in Races/Events - Recaps.
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VoyageurQuest – A 4 day (plus prologue) stage race covering 100 miles from the northern terminus of the Superior Hiking Trail to Tofte.

VoyageurQuest

Prologue – 1 mile 700 foot Hill Climb

Stage  1 – 29 miles (with Cooper)

Stage 2 – 24 miles

Stage 3 – 30 miles

Stage 4 – 17 miles

This was the inaugural year for VoyageurQuest and I suspect it will be the first of many years to come.  Adventure Running Co, owned by Andy and Kim Holak, created this event and provided and first rate experience.  Leading up to the race I was intrigued by the concept of a stage race, as well being able to participate in the very first edition of this event which was taking place in my own back yard.  While I knew coming off Where’s Waldo and the Portland Century just a few days before VoyageurQuest would mean I wouldn’t be at full strength, I wanted to give it a go anyway.  The first two days my legs were quite sore and I walked most of the uphills as well as the downhills.  My legs started to feel better the third day and by the fourth I felt fairly strong, even winning Stage 4 which included some good climbs and a few lengthy downhill sections.

I experienced a pretty full gamut of emotions throughout the 5 days.  The prologue was a short but steep mile to the top of Mt. Josephine and amazing views of the lake superior, the coast and even Isle Royal in the distance.

View from the top of Mt. Josephine - Chris

View from the top of Mt. Josephine

Prologue Finish - Mt. Josephine

Stage 1 was 29 miles and Coop ran with me. Typically running with Cooper means that I move at an overall slower pace, but this was just fine as I was experiencing significant soreness. Thanks to Andy and all the other racers for letting me run with Cooper. When he gets to run trails with me his eyes light up and his tail wags a million miles an hour – both signs I will take that he is having a blast. Cooper and I ran with the eventual 1rst (Mark) and 2nd (Bill) place finishers the first few miles but I knew I couldn’t keep pace with them so Cooper and I just settled in at a nice easy pace. Coop was feeling strong that day and spent most of it running ahead about 20 yards, turning around and waiting for me with a priceless “what’s taking you so long” look on his face. 29 miles took a bit over 7 hours, but it went by pretty quickly. The views of Lake Superior from the section were really great and overall was a very pleasant and enjoyable day on the trail.

Stage 2 was 24 miles, from Judge Magney park to Grand Marais. I had run this section in the reverse direction about a month previous, so I felt comfortable that I knew the stage well enough to add a bit of strategy to the day. This was an interesting change in my approach to my events this year, as I have been more focused on competing only with myself and just completing the events as they have grown in distance. I think one of the unique features of a stage race is that you can approach each day with a plan to compete with the other runners and it added a great twist to the event for me. I knew if I had any chance of competing with Mark and Bill, Stage 2 would be the day I needed to make my move. I shadowed them the first 7 miles or so through the singletrack, noticing that on the more technical sections I seemed to close the gap on them, but in the smooth flat sections they pulled a way a bit. When we approached the “lake walk”
section of the trail I ran with Mark and Bill to the aid station and then planned to try and take the lead though the next section which ducked back into the woods and was fairly technical. I jumped ahead, Bill was happy to let me go, but Mark wasn’t about to let me go alone. I found myself playing the part of the rabbit next 6 or 7 miles as Mark stayed right on my heels. I eventually had to slow down as I started tripping over roots and rocks as I was going to fast and tiring quickly. Mark and Bill ended up finishing before me, while I took third for the stage.  I realized I wouldn’t be able to reel them in for the overall time, but I wasn’t far out of third place at the end of Stage 2.

Morning of Stage 3 - Grand Marias

Stage 3 was 30 miles and the temperature was heating up a bit. We would be leaving from Grand Marias and finishing at Lutsen Ski Resort. It was going to be a long day for sure. I especially realized this when I woke up in the morning, took a drink of water, and immediately threw up. My stomach was in revolt, and even drinking water was upsetting it. The strategy of the day included running with Mike and Connie, who were both ahead of me in the standings, but within striking distance if I could have a good day. I ran with them for a good portion of the morning and really enjoyed the conversations and company they provided. Mike is a machine – 60 years old and steady as a rock when he runs. Connie is quite a hill climber and it was a challenge to stick with her and Mike as they reeled off the miles. Eventually I had to drop back at Cascade River State park (about a third of the way through the day) as I wasn’t able to eat any food and was tiring quickly. I found myself running mostly alone the next 10 miles, only seeing people as they passed me. I went through some tough times during this stretch. I was frustrated with my body. I was angry I couldn’t mentally overcome the physical condition I was in. I started to ponder the possibility that I wouldn’t ever be competitive in ultra running because I wasn’t able to push myself to run faster. While I don’t think I would have done actually done it, I considered dropping out of the race at the next aid station. I also thought about why I was running this race in the first place – undoubtedly, Katelyn and the campaign I am on, brought me to ultra running in the first place. In addition to Katelyn’s inspiration, I found that I enjoyed ultras and the community that I had found. The beauty of trail running. The triumphs of running further than I ever thought I could. The feeling of sheer joy when tearing down a technical section of trail. I brought myself back the real reasons for running – it wasn’t to be the best runner on the trail, it was to enjoy the time on the trail and all that comes with running ultras. I decided to slow my pace, stop fighting the pain and frustration, and enjoy the run. There was an aid station around mile 20 and I planned to get there and wait for Alicia, who I met at the Voyageur 50 mile race in July and who I hadn’t been able to chat with much at this event. I looked forward to running the last section of 8-9 miles with her and catching up with her. I reached the aid station, where I had a drop bag with pop tarts and fig newtons. I tried eating a fig newton, and to my surprise my stomach seemed to appreciate the nourishment.   I sat down for a few minutes and ate a few more. I noticed on the check in sheet that Mike, who was ahead of me in the standings and who should have been ahead of me today, hadn’t checked in. I asked Doug Barton, who was volunteering and helping with the event what had happened. Apparently Mike, and then Alicia, had wandered off course a bit and were quite a ways behind me. I let this sink in, as well as a few more fig newtons. If I was ahead of Mike, and could finish the stage strong I could close the gap he had on me. The only other issue I getting to third place was Connie. She had pulled ahead of me 10 miles ago, and she also was leading me in the overall standings. I wondered how much she was adding to her lead and if it would be too big to close on Stage 4 the next day. I don’t know exactly what it was that perked me up, but probably a combination of resting for 15 minutes, eating some food and then realizing that maybe I wasn’t quite done competing for 3rd place all energized me. I set off down the trail with the goal of running as fast as I could for the next 8 miles, and getting back some of the lead Connie was building. I was able to finish strong, only 8 minutes behind Connie for the stage, and 30 minutes behind in the overall standings for 3rd place. The stage was set for Stage 4 – I had 17 miles to make up 30 minutes.

VoyagerQuest Stage 3 from Shelly Thompson

Stage 4 left Lutsen and would finish at the Tofte Town Park on Lake Superior. The strategy for the day was simple – do whatever I could to keep pace with Mark and Bill, who were far ahead of the rest of us for 1rst and 2nd place, but were still close enough to each other that they would be running hard. I guesstimated that their pace would get me to the finish line just over 30 minutes ahead of Connie and I could sneak into 3rd overall. I sandwiched my self behind Bill and in front of Mark. Bill was setting a fast pace to try and close time on Mark for the overall lead. Running with both of them, as well as with all the other runners in this event, was a learning experience. Their experience and willingness to offer advice and suggestions is invaluable. We enjoyed each others’ company for about the first 14 miles, and then with only a couple climbs left on Carlton Peak I jumped ahead – I correctly guessed that the climbing was about to be over and that I could push through the final climbs and settle in to the long down hill stretch that led to the shores of Superior. I was able to run the downhill section fast and I managed to build a slight lead over Bill and Mark, winning Stage 4.

Stage 4 Finish at Tofte

I felt strong and very happy that i executed the plan I had set out with for the day. Now I just had to wait and see when Connie would come in. But a funny thing happened while I was at the finish line – I was hanging out with Bill and Mark, Andy and Helen, and the other volunteers just talking, laughing and enjoying the day and the company. We cheered the other racers as they finished and somewhere in all the fun, I forgot about time, in all senses of it. I didn’t realize that 30 minutes had passed since I finished and that meant I had taken third place. I hadn’t started running or enjoying ultras to win them. Why should VoyageurQuest be different? The focus has always been on Katelyn and St. Jude and pushing myself into an area of discomfort and overcoming my own perceptions of what is possible. And in venturing into ultras, I had discovered rewards beyond competition and winning. There is something spiritual about running, and especially for me – running on trails. And there is something amazing about feeling a part of the community that discovered me as I have stumbled through the 4 ultra events I have completed the past two months. VoyageurQuest offered a unique venue to develop these rewards further. I continue to experience the euphemism for life that ultra running is for me, while getting to better know a pretty awesome group of people.

Finish of VoyageurQuest

Where’s Waldo 100km and Portland Century – Recaps August 25, 2010

Posted by whereschrisscotch in Races/Events - Recaps.
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It just felt right.  The whole trip to Oregon.  Camping on the cliffs filled with old growth behemoths as the sea lions serenading from the Pacific.  Getting an out and back training run in on Thursday morning  along what is now my favorite 8  mile stretch of trail.  Watching the pink and purple hues blanket the horizon as the pack climbed out of the dark of early morning on race day.  The spectacular views of the Mt. Bachelor, Sisters and the rest of the Oregon Cascades , time after time.  Riding 100 miles through and around Portland getting perspectives of the city and surrounding area I never would have seen otherwise.  It was one of the most satisfying “long weekends” I have ever experienced.  And the spectacular scenery, invigorating salty ocean air, rugged and diverse landscapes only get credit for a portion of the total experience.  Don’t get me wrong, Oregon is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, but the trip was so much more.

I have a longstanding love affair with Oregon, and to be able to combine my efforts for Katelyn in a place I am so fond of, with great people, was very special to me.  Again, it was Katelyn’s inspiration that I drew upon over the 62.63 miles of hard, steep, lung burning climbs  and fast, twisty, quad punishing descents.  It was only 6  few weeks ago that I first ran on a trail – the Afton Trail Run 50km in an effort to stretch my own limits while spreading the word of Katelyn’s story.  I felt something brewing at that race, “a spark” that I was curious to learn more about, so I entered   The Voyageur 50 Mile and turned that spark into a small flame.  Wanting to spread Katelyn’s story, and the life saving work of St. Jude to more people, and yearning to push myself even further into the unknown of trail running and ultra marathons,  I registered for Where’s Waldo (and the Portland Century).  Again, having no idea if I can run this far – and this time the hills of Afton didn’t scare me, but the Cascades loomed over my head.   Leading up to the race I had the now normal pre-race jitters, self-doubts and fears, but I felt armed with the lessons I have learned from previous races.  I also had the support of family and friends.  Everyone that has been supporting me – through donations, encouraging words, advice on training and running, and by helping with my pup, Cooper, gave me the confidence that I could get through the athletic endeavors of this weekend.    More than anything, this sense of community moving toward a goal is what drives me.  We are making an impact.  It just feels right.

I was fortunate in that I experienced this trip with family, old friends and new ones.   Two other runners from Minnesota were signed up for the race, Kami and Helen.  I have been lucky enough to run with them and get to know them a bit over the past few weeks, which has paid huge dividends for me.   Helen mentioned once that if I was going to continue running ultra’s on the trail, I should think about getting some trail shoes instead of battering my feet to death in my road shoes.  Who knew?  Not me for sure!   Just being on the course with these two very accomplished runners gave me confidence.

It had been too long since my last visit to Oregon and it was so great to be able to spend time with my relatives there.  My aunts, uncle and cousins seemingly drop everything when I announce I am coming to town and their generosity and hospitality are endless.    Uncle Gary’s presence , knowledge (he is a pretty accomplished athlete) and support at Where’s Waldo were calming and reassuring.  The Portland Century wouldn’t have happened without  Aunt Leann’s encouragement (or telling me to “man up”) and I am so glad we did this ride.  The three of us were joined by my friend Carrie and the 4 of us had a great time.  While not a timed event, it was a struggle for me to get through the 100 miles and 6,000 feet of climbing.  But the three of them made it fun and the miles melted away.  Doing a century ride is not something I ever wanted to do, but part of the point of this campaign is to jump out of the box and rip it to shreds – so I decided to do just that.  And I am glad I did as the experience was fantastic.  At the end of the race I was greeted by another aunt, Peggy, and her daughter Shanice.  They had been assigned the duty of sag wagon in the event I couldn’t finish the ride.  They sacrificed their day to be available should the call be made.  When we all sat down to enjoy dinner that night to tell stories and laugh about the day, it just felt right.

Thanks to everyone that believed in me in the days leading up to the events.  Thanks to Gary, Leann and Carrie (C1)  – You all made sacrifices and without each of you this trip wouldn’t have happened, much less been as wonderful as it was.  Thanks to Peggy and Shanice for being there should I have needed a helping hand.  Thanks to Kami, Carrie(C2) and Helen for always cheerfully putting up with the rookie and all my questions and blunders.  And if you ever need a quiche for breakfast, you know who to call – Gary!!

Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultra – Recap July 26, 2010

Posted by whereschrisscotch in Races/Events - Recaps.
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50 miles is a long way.  A real long way!  I thought I knew this before I started the Voyageur 50, but I don’t think I fully appreciated the sheer magnitude of this distance until I crossed the finish line on Saturday.  I would be going at this on my own, as I wouldn’t have any family or friends coming up with me.  I had been preparing myself mentally for this fact most of the week as I knew I was potentially in over my head on this one.

Somewhere near the end.

Believe it or not,  I managed to get myself to the start line on time Saturday (unlike the Afton 50k just a few weeks ago), even finding time to have a couple pancakes and get my drop bags in the right piles.  I planned to not carry any food or gels, instead using my Infinit Nutrition mix and then eating whatever looked good at the time and as necessary at the aid stations.   The most important items in my drop bags were stocked bottles of Infinit,  dry socks, dry shoes and brown sugar/cinnamon pop tarts. (my favorite)    I planned to have a bottle of Infinit at 4 drops and use the socks and shoes at the the 25 mile turn around and stashed the pop tarts at the mile 41.5 drop – all turned out to be timed perfectly.  My planning worked very well  –  my feet much appreciated the dry shoes and socks after the 4 hours of off and on rain and the Infinit bottles provided the bulk of the fuel I needed.  The only issue I really had is that I couldn’t manage to make my legs go faster!

The course was beautiful and demanding at the same time.  The first ten miles or so (and the final 1o) were mostly technical singletrack with a lot of rocks and roots.  The “Powerlines” were the next section, about 3 miles. These two sections together were probably my favorites parts of the course, in a masochistic sort of way I suppose.   The course in general contained wonderful overlooks of the St. Louis river, great sections of forests and more than a couple sections of “fern jungles” – one “jungle” in particular seemed to have 3 foot ferns as far as you could see – their scent has quickly ascended  to the top of my list of  favorite forest smells.  And on a random side note, ferns always remind of the 6th grade when I went to the movie theater to watch The Land Before Time – do you remember this Jenn  P? 🙂

I am still not sure the accomplishment of finishing a 50 mile trail race has hit me yet.  I felt like there were a lot of things that went right, but I also feel like I can do better than I did.  With more training miles and more hill repeats I am sure I can shave some time when I do this again next year.  For the most part I stayed injury free.   My left knee swelled up somewhere between miles 30-35 limiting the range of motion significantly.  I did get frustrated with this a few times, as I had to awkwardly hop over the taller rocks and roots.  Reminding myself to relax and recount the reasons why I was running – for Katelyn and St. Jude –  quickly snapped me out of the funks.   Other aches and pains can be attributed to all the tough miles.  All things considered, I think I am recovering nicely – even managed a light 3 mile run tonight with only the quads giving me any negative feedback.

I think in many ways, this event was more about the community I found myself a part of, rather than the race itself, although there was some overlap.  I spent most of the miles playing leapfrog with Tracy, who currently resides in Denmark and also happens to be pregnant – check out her blog for some good reading.  Tracy and I kept each other company as we passed each other quite a few times over many of the miles.  When we would hit a tough section of trail she often gave a quick out loud laugh/shriek that always startled me into a big smile.  I don’t think the race would have been as enjoyable had she not been there.

pic by Tracy

pic by HL

Another piece of the community puzzle fell into place the Thursday before the race.  I was perusing the blog of Helen Lavin – and noticed that she had a race on her schedule that I was interested in learning more about (I am not spilling the beans just yet as to which race that might be…)  I sent an email to Helen and over the course of the next 24 hours I had some info on my race and an offer from her to grab a campsite for me at the Voyageur (I think her intuition that I could probably use a little help kicked in:)  ).

This offer turned out to be quite significant as I got out of the cities late on friday and didn’t get up to Carlton until after 8 pm  – with the campgrounds full.   Once I had my tent set up and returned to the campground after dinner my education on how to run the race began.  Helen and two of her friends (Alicia and Alicia), all accomplished ultra runners, cheerfully answered all my rookie questions and calmed my nerves.  As I settled in my sleeping bag for the night I was starting to feel that although I had come to run a 50 mile race through the woods alone, I wasn’t at all lonely.

pic by HL

About a minute before the race started, I bumped into the wife of a friend that I play baseball with – Misty.  She hadn’t planned on coming up to the race but made the decision to run and came up last minute.  Misty and her husband Tony had been big cheerleaders for me at the Afton race so it was nice to see Misty again at Voyageur.    Helen and Alicia (a-lee-see-a) were volunteering at the race, while Alicia (a-lee-sha) was running.  As I saw each of them throughout the day they all had a smile and words of encouragement for me.  Alicia (running Alicia) tuned out to be pretty sick and she still managed to flash a huge smile and encourage me to keep up the good work, even through her own struggles.    And Misty is always ready to cheer everyone on – I was more than happy to share some of my peanut M&M’s when I

saw her at mile 30 after the turn around.  Again, I had come to the race alone, but I was far from lonely.

pic by HL

I finished the race in 10 hours and 10 minutes.  I don’t think there is a coincidence in that time, as my uneducated guess leading up to the race all week was that it might take about 10 hours.  I guess I should have guessed 8 hours instead – hah.   I settled in at the finish line with about a dozen  people  who all knew each other, among them were John Storkamp (the race director for the Afton Trail run – he remembered me as the guy that showed up late and gave me a little jeering for that) and Valeria, also someone I know from Afton and who finished 4th for the women.  Soon Alicia and Misty joined that group  – and we cheered every last runner through the finish line.   Make no mistake about it, most of these runners are “ultra” competitive – but more astounding to me is their endless desire to encourage every runner on the course – even the ones they often battle to the finish line.  Everyone I met the day of the race was genuinely friendly and for a few hours of their lives, let me live in their ultra circle.  Even before I finished running the race, I was thinking about the lessons I was gleaning from the experiences of the weekend.  I already felt the strong sense of community leading up to the race and during the race.  Experiencing the finish line area as an outsider that was taken in by the group, and participating with that group as they cheered every last runner through the finish line confirmed it for me – this race wasn’t about the race quite as much as it seemed.  And I didn’t have to go at this alone – there was a whole community ready to lend a hand or word of encouragement whenever I needed it.  And not only to me – the community was reaching out to everybody.   To experience this, witness this and participate in this outreach was a resounding reminder that whatever the challenge that lays before us, we don’t have to internalize and conquer it alone – there is always a community ready to lend a hand.

Thanks to everyone that contributed to this realization, and for encouraging me on to finishing my first 50 mile run.

chris

Running down the stairs - pic by HL