"It never gets easier, you just go faster." - Greg Lemond

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dances with Dirt Gnawbone

3rd time is a charm

"You gotta be able to smile through all this bullshit"  - Tupac

Last year I elected to run the Ice Age 50 mile instead of signing up for Dances with Dirt Gnawbone so that I could get some time in on the Kettle Moraine course.  This year, I decided to sign up for Gnawbone so I could destroy myself, trash my legs, and (hopefully) rise from the ashes.

Gnawbone and I have some history.  As a virgin ultrarunner, inexperienced trail runner, and new marathon runner, in 2009, I signed up for the 50k at Gnawbone without really understanding what it was.  I knew it was 6 miles further than a marathon, but beyond that I was totally unprepared.  The 50k beat me to a pulp.  I ran way too fast in the beginning, didn't drink or eat enough and was crushed by mile 20 (I wore Gore-tex shoes?).  A paramedic sat me down, took my blood pressure and made me drink and eat before letting me continue.  Somewhere on a long long staircase I remember sitting down, and wanting to cry.  I was beat and I knew it.  Somehow by some miraculous circumstance I continued plodding forward, barely walking, mostly staggering.  I finished, and was rewarded with the most incredible feeling.  I was ready to give up, I was beat, and still I managed to keep pushing (walking/stumbling) towards the finish line.  I was elated; still to this day, I am 100% positive that overcoming these types of challenges is what continues to draw me to endurance sports and what has made me fall in love with ultrarunning.

I returned to Gnaw in 2010 for another 50k attempt, and with a little more knowledge and a few more trail runs under my belt, I succeeded in running a race without being beat to a pulp.  I also met Jason a little more than half way through the run and gained a great new friend.

Now I am an experienced trail runner.  I know this in my heart, even if my head sometimes has its doubts.  I was ready for a challenge.  The 50 mile.  From years past I remember the expressions of pain on the 50 milers faces as they stumbled across the finish line, and I wanted that to be me.

Having expressed my interest in the race back in early February I made plans to stay at Scott Breeden's place in Bloomington, which is super close the Brown County.  After a crazy long, exhausting week of experiments in the lab, I jumped into my car, drove to Bloomington and picked up Scott so that we could meet other friends of ours at packet pickup.  We hung out for a little while, where Beau (buddy from Louisville) and Pius met us. I stuck around long enough to run into Chris Beck who I hadn't seen in forever and Aaron as well.  

Then we were back in Bloomington, at a nice Italian place having dinner with - you guessed it - more awesome runners.  I had a good pasta dish with a Basil Pesto sauce.  The sauce was a touch richer than I would have liked, but it was delicious.  They also had fannnntastic bread.  Sooo good, dipped in olive oil.  Our table of 8 runners put down at least 8 baskets of bread.  

Fast forward to race morning.  I had a bagel with some nutella for breakfast - about half of what I usually eat, but I opted for more sleep versus waking up earlier for a bigger breakfast.  After saying hello to everyone, we took our places for the 6:15 am start (seriously too early).  The course moves along a road for the first mile or so until you hit a big muddy climb with downed trees.  This year I made sure to get out in the front group of runners so that I could move without obstruction up the hill.  

Honestly, I crested the hill way too fast, and found myself racing along some two track trail with Ryan Case, a friend from Michigan.  We carried on a conversation while taking a look at the other runners who were near us.  As far as I could tell we were in 1st and 2nd.  Soon we ran past Ogle Lake just as the fog was starting to burn off, which was about the only moment of beauty I enjoyed all day.  
Ogle Lake - photo credit Aaron Schneider
We moved in a small pack, breaking up a little bit when one person stopped at an aid station or what not.  I knew I was running too fast, but I wanted to get some money in the bank for when we had to bushwack.  I was feeling a touch of pain and tiredness in my quads.  Oh great, we hadn't even reached the 10.8 mile drop bag stop.  I also noticed my nipple was chafing quite painfully, I must not have covered it properly with duct tape.  

At the drop bag, I took off my shirt as quickly as I could and jumped right back onto the trail.  It was here that Josh Wopata caught up to me, and explained he had started late.  I ran and chatted with him for a little while, but man that guy is fast (he ended up winning in 7:30).  I soon had to beg off, and was running by myself, at my own pace for a while.

I/we bushwhacked, we ran, we hiked, we complained, and we got to the 20 mile drop bag.  Not needing anything Ryan and I cruised right through, ran a brief stint on the roads, and then started a nice long descent down some beautiful two track.  On this descent my legs started feeling better and I remarked to Ryan that this run was tough, but fair.  Then we came to the bottom of the hill where three other trails met up.  AND NO PINK FLAGS.  I knew what that meant.  We missed a turn, and probably just ran all the way down this long slope for no reason.  Even worse, we had to go back up.  And we did.  And my legs groaned and grunted but we ran the whole dang thing, as punishment for our mistake.  And sure enough, there was a marked turn into the bush.

In this section you just kinda run through leaves, there is no trail, over and under downed trees and hope you don't twist an ankle or run straight into a tree.  I did the latter.  My hat caught a low hanging branch, and with the panicked feeling of having my head twisted I thought of nothing but my head.  And then I ran into a tree.  The most painful part was that I made first contact with my kneecap.  Well, I grunted, told Ryan I was fine and got through the rest of this section.  Soon we were back on the trails near ogle lake, and in my opinion, came to the most terribly marked section.  Somehow, someway, we found the correct trail (after trying several other trails), and ran past the nature center, into the raccoon ridge campground, and past the decision point.  50 mile this way!  DONT EVEN THINK, just go towards the 50 mile sign.  

It was along this section that Ryan and I both admitted hurting and realizing we were about half way done.  The concept of "racing" was more or less gone, it was now a battle between the trails and my will power.  Luckily, mile 26-30 were some of the nicest trails all day.  At mile 30 I swapped out my Crosslites for a pair of Asics Gel Fuji's and my legs instantly felt revitalized.  This reminded me of something Jason had said about going from heavy to light shoes as opposed to the opposite.  

I was climbing strong again, descending stupid and generally feeling good.  But I did notice I hadnt peed for a long time.  A couple hours maybe.  If you know me, you know that is a long time.  I kept drinking as much as I could, but even with 2 20oz bottles I was coming into aid stations with empty bottles. Sometime along here, Ryan told me he was going to back off a little bit and would meet me at the finish line.  I wished him luck and continued on.  I continued to eat gels, but then the nausea started to set in.  I had flash backs to Winona Lake, where I was forced to a jog due to stomach issues and decided to be very careful.  I decided that it was dehydration and my body couldn't/wouldn't absorb the gels in my stomach until I got enough water in.  At the next aid station I downed 3 cups of water and a cup of Gatorade and had them fill my bottles with water.  

I was starting to fade as I came to the long stair section.  Both my bottles were empty and I knew I had at least 10-15 minutes before I came to another aid.  There was a long stair section.  I love stairs.  I started running up them.  I  hit my shin and fell flat on my face and just laid there, cramps rifling through my hamstrings.  OK, get up, keep moving.  I came into the mile 44.5 aid station and realized I was going to miss my goal of coming in under 8 hours.  But I also stopped and drank a ton of fluids (mostly water) and started to feel rejuvenated.  Then, at the mile 47.5 aid, I glanced at my watch and thought 7:43, I have 27 minutes to run the last 2.5 miles, I can do that!!!    

Ultra-math - during an ultra ones ability to do complicated math in their head is completely lost.  Even the simplest addition or subtraction becomes a task.  Yeah, I had 17 minutes, not 27 minutes to run that last 2.5 miles.  But I still laid it all out there and pushed with whatever my legs allowed.  By the time I realized my error I was so close to the finish I continued pushing - running up and through the river section towards the finish line in 8:07.  Despite not coming in under 8 hours, I couldn't help but smile.  I was bloodied and bruised, but once I was rehydrated I had a nice surge of energy at the end of the race, giving me confidence for future races.
Post race chillin

We sat around and drank beer, ate food, made jokes, cheered and jeered and laughed.  Solid trail runner socializing.  

I am so proud of all my friends who ran what has to be one of the more gnarly races in the midwest.  Beau who took a nasty nasty fall but didn't stop.  Aaron on his first 50 mile.  Suzi running an impressive 6 hour 50k.  Don never seems to give up.  Rebecca for running her first marathon.  Chris for getting back in the game with style.  Arden for continuing to improve.  Jason who is "out of shape" but still running top 10.  Ryan who is starting to scare me.  Bryan Fairchild who carried/dragged/ran over 5 kids on his way to the finish line. 
Scott's guests

Recovery has gone very well, better then I had dared hope.  I am finding myself unbelievably excited for TNF Mohican 100 mile during my evening trail runs this week.


  1. Ultra math- during my first 50 I was at mile 24 and thought I only had 16 miles left. Ecstatic, I pushed on only to realize I actually had 26 miles left.

  2. Great read! I laughed at the crying at the stairs part. I felt that way during my 50k last year!

  3. I remember having the same thoughts around the decision point. I still feel bad for knocking my little guy down, he seemed a lot heavier to carry after running that far.