Friday, January 13, 2017

My Tuscobia 160 Mile Race

Finish Photo - Credit Mary Ehlers

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. From the first time I heard about the Tuscobia Winter Ultras  I knew I had to do it.  I tried and failed, twice.  This year I got it done.

Tuscobia offers a 80 and 160 mile run/bike/ski event in Rice Lake/Park Falls Wisconsin.  The 80 mile runs from Park Falls to Rice Lake.  The 160 is an out and back from Rice Lake to Park Falls, and back.  There are certain gear requirements that result in a "pulk" (sled) being the most effective means to carry your gear.  There is a shelter/aid station at mile 45.  There is another at the turnaround at mile 80 - 35 miles later.  The final shelter is back in the middle 35 miles later, after which it is 45 miles to the end.  You are allowed two drop bags.  One you see twice.  You have 65 hours to complete the race.  In 2016 4 people finished the 160.  This year 14 (out of 30).

Me and my pulk from Arrowhead 135 2016
Both times that I quit I quit for no good reason.  I took very long breaks at the halfway point with a plan of evaluating where I was at when I woke up.  This year I planned to finish.  I also trained to finish, averaging 80 mile running weeks in the forth months leading up to the race.  I also got serious about my diet by eliminating refined sugar and grains in September which resulted in 40 pound weight loss.  I was physically and mentally in the best possible place.  I strongly believed I could finish.

I drove up and stayed the night before the race with a close running friend, Tim Kruse.  Tim is a Frozen Otter finisher, Gnarly Bandit finisher and really, a tough and smart guy.  We had been talking about gear and logistics since fall.  He was ready too.  It was a great ride and really fun to discuss the race.  We planed to start together and hoped to stay together on the course, though we realized that sweat, speed, injury, sleep, etc. could effect things.

Tim at the Ojibwa checkpoint
This race requires you to bring your sled inside the start and the RD's make sure you have each item of required gear, which includes: A zero degree or better sleeping bag; bivy sack, sleeping pad, stove, pot, firestarter, headlamp, 3 flashing red LED lights, a headlamp and 3,000 calories of food.  All of these items must be on your sled the entire race.  If you don't still have them at the finish you aren't going to count.  At the end of the blog I will list the specific items I took with pics.

I expected the race to start in the low negative single digits, get into the double negative digits on Friday night, and generally warm up over the weekend.  So of course at the start is was between -15 and -20 degrees.   We had no idea.  I instantly had a major ice beard.  And we were off. 

Tim and I at Birchwood, mile 20ish

The first half of the race really couldn't have gone smoother.  We locked into a nice 3 mph pace, stayed warm, minimized breaks and really had a nice time.  At mile 45 my friend Chalayne applied some frost strips to protect my cheeks.  It was a cold, double digit negative night.  Tim and I passed a bar right around bar time and decided to capitalize on some red bull and coke. The bartender was surprised we were out in -19.  we were surprised it was -19 ourselves.

What?  It's -19?

When things got rough Tim and I decided to just put our emergency jackets on and walk 2 mph.  That worked really well.  It was much better than stopping.  It really warmed us up and gave us confidence.  We knew that no matter what happened, we had that option.  It was a comfort.

We reached the turnaround at Park Falls at about 11:45. (so 29:45 for 80 miles).  We decided we were leaving at 2:00 p.m.  Tim and I took about an hour nap, then screwed around with gear, changed socks and clothes, applied necessary lubricants, and the like.

Sleeping at mile 80

One observation.  My body hurt exactly the same way it did the last two years.  My feet were hurting and blistered.  I was cold a tired.  This year dropping wasn't a consideration.  We left at 2:15.

The third section is really where shit got real.  The cold, plus sleepy, plus fatigue compounded and slowed us down a bit.  (We later learned that it was the coldest Tuscobia on record with temps mostly in the area of -teens.  At one point Tim decided to just sleep on his sled in the middle of the trail.  As I stood beside him sleeping on his sled snoring in -15 temps I wondered what I was supposed to do.  Leave?  Listen?  I decided it wasn't safe or a good idea, so I woke him up after 15 minutes and told him if he got to the next shelter which was 4 miles away by doing 3 mph again, we could take a 2 hour nap.  I was wrong.  The shelter was 12 miles away (so I was off by 3.5 hours?  Shoot me!).  Tim didn't seem to mind.  We got there at 4:00 am and had a plan to leave again at 6 am.

In the morning I told Tim my plan.  I was going to move at 3 mph and start running the downhills.  If he couldn't keep up I would meet him at the finish.  I didn't want to cut it close and after two failed attempts and a finish in my sight I wasn't taking any chances.

As the sun rose I jogged down the trail to some hip hop ("My Dick" was the name of the song) and really started to make time.  I thought about the past year and all I had been through.  I thought about how some people had given up on me, or I had given up on myself.  I realized that today was the day that I could start turning all of that around.  I realized that I was going to finish.  I did a bathroom stop, re-arranged my sled, changed some layers and did the math.  All I needed to do was 34 minute miles to finish.  I hit the trail and cried tears of joy that I was going to make it.  Then cried a little extra when I realized that I was celebrating something not likely to happen for another 12 hours. :)

The balance of the day I listened to hip hop, Bob Dylan's theme time radio hour, the Packer game, and then for the last couple of hours my thoughts.  I believed that today I proved to myself that I can do anything.  I was proud of myself.  I crossed the finish line 63:21:00 and felt like I had finally realized the person that I can be.  I hope that same person shows up for the Arrowhead 135 at the end of the month.  

Tim finished an hour or so behind me.  Seriously, if it weren't for that guy I don't know if I would have finished.  


Arrowhead Racing Toboggan - Black River Sleds

Mountain Hardware Ghost -40 Bag

Sierra Designs Backcountry Bivy
Thermarest Ultralight Pad
Black diamond distance Z Poles

A shitload of Buffs

Arcteryx Rho Balaclava and Mountain Hardware Balaclava

Shitload of Hats

Special organizer for food built by Kylia Kummer

Mountain Hardware Absolute Zero Mitts

Arcteryx Fission Jacket

Lots of blinkers

Totally useless watches that froze and died.

Safety vest

Compression sack for all the extra jackets and such

injinji thigh-high socks and drymax socks.  Drymax won.

Wool Mitten (not used), Arcteryx windstopper gloves (not used), mountain hardware powerstretch gloves (wore 100% of the time

Arcteryx Phase Glove Liner (wore 100% of the time) Patagonia over-mitt (used about 20%)

The world's oldest and nastiest jar of emergency peanut butter.


Non-NSNG Food sources :)

Goggles (not used)

Esbit Stove and Fuel

Arcteryx Fortrez Hoody - Heavily used
Arcteryx Atom Pants - used 100% with North Face thermal compression underwear and tights.
Hoka One One - Tor Ultra Boot - wore 100%
Arcteryx Styka Hoodie - Used 100%.  changed mid race.

Arcteryx Thorium Jacket - Not used 
Arcteryx Atom Jacket - Not used
Arcteyx Alpha Shell - Used a ton

I also ran with my iphone 5.  I placed a hand warmer in a pices of tissue in a zip lock bag, and then placed that zip lock bag in another ziplock bag with my phone.  I am proud that my phone did not die once during the entire race :)


  1. I loved reading your report. I can't fathom going that far in that extreme cold. Huge, huge congrats!!!

  2. Great job, Scott - congratulations. BTW it looks like there is a photo on the sled - is there one, or is it my eyes playing tricks?

    1. Thanks Dylan. That's a picture of my late friend Alfredo. I named my sled Alfredo so we could have more adventures together. And so I can bitch at him when things suck. :)

  3. Great report and most awesome accomplishment! Thanks for the gear information too. It will help those of us thinking of doing this crazy race.

  4. Thanks for the great write up. I followed your spot tracker all weekend and was doing the calculations in my head! I appreciate the inside info on the cold weather gear as well. You should reach out to Arcteyx for a sponsorship deal... I'm heading to their site now to do some shopping based on your blog.

  5. Oh Scott! Thanks a lot for such a well scripted and detailed write up and the gear. Something I was fishing for. Looking forward to touch base sometime and discuss the race plan as I gear myself for AH135 for 2018!

  6. Apparently "shit load" is not an exact unit of measurement. There seem to be a different number of buffs and hats.
    Congratulations, man. Crazy.

  7. Great accomplishment Scott! Really enjoy the report too. It's something I always want to ask about.... what exactly did you pack and what did you actually need to use. Great work!

  8. Great report, Scott! And a fantastic accomplishment!

  9. Great job Scott! This is the Scott who got me into ultras and made me feel like I could do anything regardless of how stupid or out of my reach it was, as long as I applied myself. You put yourself first and got ontop of your training/nutrition... this is only the beginning! Great job buddy... soo incredibly proud of you!!!!

  10. Congratulations buddy! What an amazing accomplishment. I watched in amazement all weekend. Very happy for you. Excellent report.

  11. Nice work man! Glad you went back and got it done. I would have frozen and died like your watches. Good luck at Arrowhead.

  12. Great read Scotty! Loved hearing the updates on you during the race and huge congrats on the finish! The gear list and what you used/didn't use is really helpful for others thinking of doing something like this.

  13. Nice work, Scott! Thanks for the report! Great read!

  14. Just amazing. Congratulations!