Wednesday, September 11, 2013


This weekend I took a major step toward my goal of participating in the Hardrock 100 by completing the Superior Trail 100.  It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life physically and mentally.  It tested every fiber in my being and almost broke me.

The weekend started with a long 9 hour drive from Chicago to Gooseberry Falls, MN.  I listened to my standard podcast (4 Keys to race Execution - from Trail Runner Nation).  It contains some of the best advice on how to approach a race ever.  My wife (and crew chief) Kylia Kummer knows the podcast by heart and she feeds me lines from it throughout the race.  "Run with the mayor" (a/k/a don't get wrapped up in the speed in the beginning); "In the first half don't be an idiot, in the second half don't be a wimp"; "Stay in your box"; "Get to the Line"; and remember "that one thing."  It reminds me of the importance of mental preparation and having a race strategy.

When we arrived in town Thursday we had some good pre-race food with all of my friends that were doing the race.  Our group had about 15 or so people in total.  Then we hit the mandatory pre-race meeting where we received some great final instructions and got a chance to see the shwag.  The meeting was exceptional and informative.  We learned of the history of the race, details concerning the course and course markings.  I did not do any drop bags (pre-made bags of gear that are placed at points on the course) because I had a crew.  This took a lot of stress out of that day.

Pre-race briefing
Kick ass trophies

After the meeting we took the LONG drive from the start to the finish, where our resort was.  We were welcomed by a sign that indicated Bears had been accessing the garbage.  That was a nice thing to think about.  As usual I placed my number on my shorts, laid out all my clothes and got a very sound night's sleep.

Alfredo Pedro Perro and I woke up at 5 and were out the door by 5:30.  We then took a very long bus ride in the dark to the race start.  On these types of rides you hear people talk about their plans, their fears, their strategies and other random rumors they have heard.  It seems like the people that have been there before sleep.  I think Alfredo and I just wanted to get running.

Alfredo, Paul, Paul and I a the start.

We received some last minute instructions at the start:

And then we were off.

I was prepared for two things in this and difficulty.  It delivered on both, more than I ever imagined.  The first 20 or so miles Alfredo and I stuck together and took it easy, trying to run at about a 12 minute pace.  The trail had single track dirt, some gravel fire roads and complete BS gnarliness.  Often times we were basically climbing up boulders to an overlook.  Other times we were hopping rock to rock on top of rocks the size of a head.  There were roots everywhere.  And at one point the entire ground consisted of loose flat rocks that slid around under your feet.  When I was asked in the aid station what the trail was like I said "unimaginable."  For those first 20 miles I felt like I was sure to fail, that this must have been an evil trick and I was really angry.  I should say that during these miles I passed over and next to magnificent waterfalls that blew my mind.  I also ran to the top of mountains that had amazing overlooks that we ran across.  The views were spectacular.

Running on the edge

Surprisingly, we made OK time and did those 20 miles in under 6 hours.  When we went out again something happened.  I think I just got used to it.  I started going a little faster, not worrying as much and I felt a lot of the pressure release.

Let me back up a second.  My last 100 mile race was a DNF (did not finish).  I gave up on myself and my crew and withdrew for no good reason.  It was very hard to live with.  I had never quit anything like that before.  So I had made a plan with my wife.  I will not stop this race unless it is out of my hands, i.e. a medical professional or aid station person will not let me continue due to injury or  a time cutoff.  So quitting was never an option in this race.

So from miles 20-40 I motored by myself, leaving Alfredo behind (because it felt good to go the speed I was going and when it feels good you should go with it).  Even though it got really, really hot.  The trail was the same...masochistic and worsened by running in the sun.  Also, the aid stations were sometimes 10 miles apart - something I am not used to.  I ran the entire time with my huge camelback backpack.  Nonetheless, more than once I ran out of water. I could not wait for night to come.

When the sun set it seemed like it didn't get any cooler, although having no sun shining on you was nice.  I tool an extra long break so I could re-group with Alfredo for the dark portions.  We ran 40-50 together and then ran through the rest of the night with his pacer Siamak who is a very accomplished an talented runner.  He kept us safe and on the course through the night.

For the first time ever I tried trekking poles.  I used them to help me climb, and to give me added security that I would not fall in the dark.  I did a nice gentle jog while always keeping one pole on the ground.  I was shocked at how much they helped, even though I probably wasn't even using them "correctly."  I will use them again on any 100 mile race where they are allowed.

When the sun came down Alfredo and Siamak took off, and I never saw them again until the end.  I did not have my own pacer, and I told them that if I was slowing them down they should leave me when the sun comes up.  In retrospect, I should have had a pacer.  I always moved faster when I had one.  Moreover, I started to hallucinate and I was very concerned about getting off course.  Having someone in a better state of mind would have helped.  My hallucinations involved bears, moose, snakes and phantom aid stations.  At some point I just accepted them and moved on regardless of what they were.

By the time the second sunset came I was struggling to stay in front of the cutoff.  I was only about 30 minutes from being pulled from the course.  At this point I again started to believe I would fail, but as promised I did not give up.

I started to become very emotional in this race.  My wife Kylia told me many of my friends were following on Facebook and texting her.  It made me feel like I had to try not to let them down.  I also thought of a fellow ultra runner Flynn Schultz that died a couple of weeks ago and was scheduled to run this race.  I know he didn't know Leadville would be his last race.  I decided that when I got down I would remember him and run as if this might be my last race.

Flynn Schultz
 I thought about my friends Chuck and Shan who ran across Illinois (410 miles in 7 days) and that their motto was "till the wheels fall off."  I used the pain they endured as inspiration.

Chuck and Shan after running across Illinois

I thought about the obstacles I have had in my life that  overcame.  I also thought about my friends that, in spite of their best efforts, came up short in this race and what they would give to be in the position I was in.  I cried from time to time.  After 30 hours of running I was falling apart.

At 18 miles to go Kylia arranged for Karen, a friend and co-member of my running group to help me.  Another runner, Geoff that dropped due to sickness joined my crew.  They told me I could do it and I started to believe.  I decided that I could endure anything for 18 miles and that I was going to finish.

Geoff and Karen 

Then the trail got even more ridiculous.  We had to run up a hill that seemed to last for a half hour.  After that we had to do more bouldering up and down Moose Mountain.  We started meeting people that thought we were in trouble time-wise.  I started to panic more and more.  That panic made me run faster.

Alfredo running on Moose Mountain.  Yes....that's on the course.

We got into the final aid station 4 minutes before the cutoff.  Everyone was yelling at me to get in and out quick.  My best friend Aaron who had run the marathon was there ready to help pace the last 7 miles along with Karen.  I had 3 hours to run 7.1 miles.  THREE HOURS.  How could I fail to do that?

Then the course got harder!  The most ridiculous hill of the day in about mile 99 took what was left out of me.  My body knew I was coming to the end and the pain started to set in.  My emotions started to flow.  I recall asking "how many miles" and "what time is it" over and over.  Along with "are we on course?"  Those last seven miles were tough.  It was also tough knowing that I had run more than 100 miles and I still have 3.3 to go.  My worst fear was running all 103.3 and still being cutoff.

When we finally came out of the forest onto the road I started crying and running as fast as I could (10:00 mile according to Aaron) and emptied the entire tank to get to the finish with 12 minutes to spare: 37:48.  The finish line was a blur.  I saw Dusty Olson.  I was handed food and a sweatshirt and a buckle and a medal.  I was just glad to be done.  I was glad to no longer be moving.  I had qualified for Western States and Hardrock and finished a race that many people fear.  I was THRILLED.

I have a few takeaways from this race.  Trekking poles can really help.  I can ignore stage 5 chaffage for a long time.  (this was the worst chaffage ever).  Don't let anyone tell you a race is too hard or you aren't ready.  Don't give up on yourself.  And remember that other people have your back.  There is no way in hell I could have done this without my wife Kylia, crew person extraordinaire who spent 38 hours waiting in the road to see the world's smelliest guy for two minutes.  My pacers Karen, Aaron and Siamak kept me safe, on course and motivated.  My friends at New Leaf gave me hundreds of additional reasons to finish and the memory of Flynn Schultz gave me to inspiration to run like there was no tomorrow.

My borther Alfredo.  There are no words.  Had you dropped I would have failed.  Just knowing you were out there too kept me moving.  Thanks Moose.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Gooseberry Falls (Picture by Alfredo Pedro Perro) 

This weekend I will take the next step towards my goal of participating in the Hardrock 100.  Qualifying.  I hope to do so at the Superior Trail 100 on Friday morning. I have wanted to run his race since the first time I heard about it because it has equal parts of badass and beauty.

Sawtooth is actualy a 103.3 mile race held in northern Minnesota.  It starts at Gooseberry Falls and runs to Lusten MN.  

There is 21,000 feet of elevation gain in the race.  For those of you that don't run's a Lot!  (Hint: the Sears Tower is around 1,000 feet high).  The trail is full or rocks, roots, boulders and (hopefully not) moose, bears and wolves.

(photo by Alfredo Pedro Perro)

(Photo by Alfredo Pedro Perro)
I am not going to is intimidating.  Many great runners have been chewed up and spit out by Sawtooth.  I am glad so many of my friends will be there towing the line with me.  I hope to get to run with a few of them.  My wife will also be there crewing the entire 38 hours, so I will have plenty of support.  I will take plenty of pictures and prepare a full race report after (regardless of the results).  For now, keep me in your thoughts on Friday and Saturday as I attempt this extremely difficult task.