This is my second 100-mile race and also my second year of running ultra distances. Due to unforeseen events, my first race of the year was cancelled, so Kettle Moraine became my first race for the 2015 running season. It was much anticipated, since the last time I found myself at the start line for a race was in October of 2014.
Race: Kettle Moraine 100 Mile Endurance Run
Organizers: Jason Dorgan and Tim Yanacheck
Location: La Grange, Wisconsin / Kettle Moraine State Park on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail (IAT)
Distance: 100 miles, with the course consisting of two different out-and-back sections
Elevation: 8,801 feet ascent/decent (100 mile) as listed on the race page; my GPS came in just under 10,000 feet
Terrain: 80-percent wooded terrain, with the rest meandering through prairie or marsh areas. Part of the course is a rollercoaster of hills featuring rocks and roots scattered about to various degrees. Other sections are gently rolling, with relatively smooth running surfaces and pine sections that give you a soft bed of pine needles to run on. Though the hills are not long and/or especially steep, they can take a tremendous toll on the quads. Difficulty: Intermediate.
Time Limit: 32 hours (100 mile)
Runner: Shalini Kovach
Pacers, Crew & Support: Nicole Correnti and Pat Graves
Nutrition (Approximately 2,200 Calories):
Goals & Training
I ran the 100K at Kettle Moraine last year and loved it! So, I had a certain comfort level of those 62 miles of the course. I’d heard some stories (good and bad) about the last 38 miles and was curious to find out for myself. Aside from the above, I wanted to beat my 100K time from last year and also wanted to knock down some time from my last 100-mile race, though I didn’t have an exact finish time in my head. Lastly, I wanted a ticket into Western States, and since Kettle Moraine is a qualifier, signing up was a no-brainer.
I totally over-trained for my last 100-miler, and heading into the race I had recurring overuse issues. By all means I wanted to avoid that this time around, so leading up to Kettle Moraine my peak training mileage was 85 miles a week, and thereafter I consistently maintained a weekly average of 62 to 65 miles. My longest training run was 38 miles, one month before the race, and then I followed a three-week taper.
Two things I incorporated into my training this year were hill repeats and power hiking. Although was a little inconsistent with hill repeats, I maintained an average weekly elevation gain of 5,500 to 6,200. Now, for some of you, that elevation gain is attainable in a day’s trot of 5 to 7 miles, but for flatlander standards that elevation gain required a lot of work. As for power hiking, I wanted to be able to maintain at least a steady pace of 15 minutes/mile on the terrain I was running. Why the concentration on power hiking? Quite simply because when shit breaks down and your primary goal becomes to get your rear to the finish line before cutoff, there’s nothing that’s going to save you like power hiking.
I was noticing some tightness in my left hip after my long runs but, nothing alarming, so I continued to train and see my massage therapist on a monthly basis to keep things fluid. I’m not a gym rat, so my cross training consisted of logging cycling miles on my roadie in between my runs, as and when I could find time.
I was surprisingly calm on race morning. There was never a doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be able to finish. I was running the logistics in my head, and my race strategy really just consisted of picking up on the highs and running it out until I hit a low and then working my way through that until I hit a high again. It’s a vicious cycle, and you’re almost always guaranteed to get sucked into it. The key for me was not to let the lows tank my race and recognize those highs and use them to my advantage. Nagging at the back of my head was the question I’d been avoiding: What if your hip gave out? Doesn’t matter until it happens, so on I rolled.
I started the race with my running partner Tim L. We’d been training together for little over a year, and most training runs I’d just follow his lead with a twinge of jealousy because I wished I could run as gracefully as he does, tiptoeing and gliding over the single track. Along with a few others from STL, we trotted along and waited for the crowd to thin out; somewhere along the way, I lost Tim. I felt good; I was confident in my training and was in much better shape than I was when I last undertook a 100-mile race. After a pretty uneventful 15 miles, I hit Emma Carlin, stocked up on Hammer gels, added another Hammer bar to my pack, threw back some Coke and saw my crew. Pat gave me a wild “aaaawwwwoooo,” something we do in a group that I belong to, so we know that a Coyote Runner is on the trail or in sight.
On I rolled, ready to embrace the dreaded meadows towards Hwy 67. As I started to walk to across the road, I heard a familiar voice call out to me, “You doggin’ it?” That was all the boost I needed. It was Tim, and we paced the entire meadows all the way out to our next big drop bag, crew access aid station, Scuppernong, at 31.6 miles into the race. I refilled my bladder with some Heed and Perpetuem, threw down some Coke, ate some oranges and banana, and we were off again. I was booking it, yeah, hitting a sub-10 minute/mile. I’d lost Tim again as I continued to lope along, keeping a group of four runners ahead of me in sight. I heard some yelling behind me, but I was on a high and didn’t bother to stop. Then, a few minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see a young guy no more than 23 years old standing there.
The Guy: “Are you in the race?”
Me: “Umm, yeah.”
The Guy: “You’re going the wrong way. You had to make a left about half a mile back. Some guys called for you, but you kept running. Since you were still in sight, I figured I’d come after you.”
Me: “F**K! I was just following those runners ahead.”
We both turned to look — no runners were in sight. I cussed a few more times and then thanked the guy for coming out to get me.
I was about ¾-mile off course by the time we made it back to the turnaround. I paced with the guy for the next 2 miles or so, to the next aid station, and thanked him a million times for coming after me. As I continued to run, I picked up Tim somewhere along the way just in time to hit the freakin’ meadows again.
It was starting to get hot, and the sun was bearing down on us. We approached an aid station, threw ice into our packs and bottles, and I wrapped some in my bandana around my neck and wrapped a cool-off towel on my head with more ice in there. All I remember at that point was telling Tim I had to sit my ass down, so I did. Then I recall some conversation that went along like this:
Tim: “You look like Aunt Jemima with that wrap on your head.”
Me: “So?” As I stuffed my face with food.
Pat: “She probably doesn’t even know who Aunt Jemima is.”
Me: “I do too know who she is. It’s the syrup lady.”
We laughed so hard at that. Then it was off my rear and onto the trails with an affirming “aawwwooo” from Pat. Tim and I paced through the meadows once more on our way back to Bluff aid station. Somewhere along the way, Tim hit a high and took off. As I ran the next 2 miles to Bluff aid station, I felt a bit like I was going to bonk, 55.6 miles into the race. I pulled into the aid station and once again was greeted with an “aawwwooo!” Boy, was I glad to see Pat there. I sat down and needed to eat. I saw Tim refuel, and he turned to me and said he had to keep moving, so onwards he went. I called out that I’d catch up or see him at Nordic.
In reality, I didn’t think I was going to catch up to Tim, seeing as I was sitting down to gather myself and he was already on his way to Nordic. I ate quite a bit of food as I sat down at Bluff aid station, threw back some Coke, and as Pat helped me with my pack and pulled out my headlamp, all I remember saying to her was, “I’m not using this lamp. I have to run to Nordic while it’s still light out, I just do.” Pat’s reply was, “You need to slow down. You’re pushing your pace hard.”
Just like that, I was off again. I’m not sure what came over me, but I ran the entire 7 miles to Nordic. Much to my surprise, I caught up to Tim about 3 miles out of Nordic and as I ran past him I said, “Let’s go!” Tim just mumbled something as I continued to run.
At 63.2 miles — boom! — I was at Nordic in 14 hours and 41 minutes (without having to use my headlamp). I’d beaten my 100K time of 15 hours and 54 minutes. As I came across the finish line, I was greeted with lots of “aawwooos” from my crew and my pacer Nicole, who patiently waited for me as I swapped my shoes and socks, refilled my pack and ate some more food. Then, we headed out for the last out-and-back to the finish.
“Last stretch” was what my brain was telling me. I started to do the math in my head, thinking even at my worst I could wrap up this race in 25 to 26 hours. I felt I needed to push for it, as my left hip was feeling a bit wonky. I couldn’t let it tank my pace. Onward we went as I paced with Nicole, slow but steady. The night set in, and I remember stopping to look up at the sky through a clearing in the trees. It was blazing with stars. It was a gorgeous night to be out running, with a cool breeze and perfect temperature. I felt good despite 70 miles on my legs. Then, just like that, I hit a high and ran with it all the way out to Rice Lake. I remember looking over to see the moon reflected in the water as it shimmered; it truly was a breathtaking sight, and I was coherent enough to enjoy the view before my eyes.
I was 81.5 miles in when, you know, shit broke down. Yep, I remember it precisely because I knew then and there it would be a hard push to the finish — and that time goal I was hoping to nail was not going to happen. I stopped my GPS and just focused on keeping a steady pace. My left hip flexor was starting to lock up on me, and my quads were pretty much shot from all the up and down hills, which at first don’t appear too bad but later in the race come back to bite you in the rear. This was my “bad news never has good timing” moment. I told myself I couldn’t shut down mentally, I just couldn’t.
As we made our way back to the Hwy 12 aid station, I was 86.3 miles into the race. We stopped to eat and fuel. I dropped my pack and swapped it for a handheld, threw in some gels and a couple of Hammer Endurolyte Fizz tabs in my pocket. Nicole taped my left quad, as I was starting to feel a sharp pain in my hip down to my quad. “What time is it,” I asked. Not quite 5 a.m. someone replied. Doing the math again in my head, I still had a chance to beat my time for the last 100-mile race. Let’s go!
We power hiked between short bursts of runs, and repeat. I remember hitting every root and rock on the trail as we made our way back to the finish — my feet where on stupid mode. We came around the corner to the lake once again, and it was light out, the early hours of the morning. It was cloudy, and the sky threatened rain any minute. Nicole and I both looked over to the lake. She pointed out the two cranes that sat in the middle of the water on a small piece of land. While we ran by, they both took flight into the dawn, the fog and the trickling rain. It was raining. Gah!
We ran the next two hours in the rain, soaking wet, and we hit a few muddy spots as we made our way to Tamarack aid station. This was the last aid station before finish. “Five more miles to go,” I heard Nicole say to me. I dreaded those 5 miles, 5 miles of constant up and down and then up again, seemingly never-ending hills that I’d already run three times before. “I don’t want to do this,” I said. “Umm, yes you do,” said Nicole. I wanted so badly for her to feel sorry for me because I felt sorry for myself, but there was no time for mercy as Nicole kept edging me forward.
I can honestly tell you that I’ve never hit so many highs and lows as I did in the last 5 miles to the finish. I questioned everything from why I chose to run a 100-miler, to maybe ultra running just isn’t for me, to maybe my body is shot seeing as how something always breaks down (on my last 100-mile race it was my IT band and now my hip flexor. WTH!?!) I found myself standing at the bottom of a hill that I had no desire to climb. I was 3 miles out to the finish. Nicole was already at the top of the hill. I just stood there at the bottom and said, “I can’t climb up this shit anymore.” I was beginning to complain, getting really edgy and not enjoying it. I wished I had trekking poles to give me that little uphill push. Still no mercy from Nicole. All I heard as she continued forward was, “Don’t look at how far up you have to climb. Just look at one step ahead of you and get your ass up here.”
OK, simple enough. I made it up to the top of the hill. Now how the hell was I going to go down with a blow up hip flexor and completely shot quads? This was when things got interesting. We started to invent ways to go downhill: sideways shuffle failed, as it hurts my hips; zigzag the downhill, not a smooth move. Ah, let’s go downhill backwards! This helped, but I couldn’t see jack, and wiping out on your ass when you have 98 miles on your legs isn’t a good idea. So, back to forward progress. At this point, Pat met up with us, and I now had two pacers heckling me to the finish. I was annoyed with myself, and all I did was grumble and power hike to the finish. Done! 28:11:51 was my finish time.
My second hundy in the books! I did the best I could with what the day dealt me, and despite all the issues in the last 14 miles I managed to shave off 2 hours and 14 minutes from my last 100-mile finish time. I’m still grumbling over “could have” and “should have” as I write this. I’m not going to lie: I’m a little disappointed with my finish time, but I know what I need to change with my training to better tackle the hills. What’s done is done, and now it’s on to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon Stagecoach Line 100-Mile Ultra on September 26, 2015.
Author: Shalini Kovach is the founder and lead organizer of Terrain Trail Runners.