Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Winter Ultras - Trying Something New

Winter Ultras

Part I - Tuscobia 150

     I decided to kick off 2015 with something new and interesting - Winter Ultras.  I signed up for the Tuscobia 150 Mile race and the Frozen Otter 64 mile trek.  These are two very different races that both had a common element of racing through colder temps in a relatively self-supported manner.  the result was many lessons learned, some success and some failure.

     Tuscobia 150 is part of the Tuscobia Winter Ultras which start in Park Falls, WI.  They are directed by Chris and Helen Scotch.  The races involves foot, ski and bike divisions along the Tuscobia Snowmobile Trail which runs from Park Falls to Rice Lake, WI.  There are three distances, 150 miles, 75 miles and 35 miles.  I chose the 150 because I thought "75 wasn't far enough."

     Tuscobia requires that you carry mandatory gear, including, but not limited to a sleeping bag, bivy sack, stove and fuel, pot, fire starters and a host of other safety items.  Most people carry these items on their sled.  As such, I needed to get a sled for the race.  I chose the Arrowhead Racing Toboggan by Black River Sleds:

     I'll list the specific items I bought on the required gear list before just for reference.  I went cheap on the sleeping bag, spending less than $100.00 for an item that could have cost up to $1,0000.00.  I also decided against taking the plunge and buying a similarly priced jacket for 'when things go wrong.'  Next time I'll probably take the plunge and add these two items to my gear.

     Sadly, we did not get any snow for me to practice with my sled.  As such, I went into the race having never pulled a sled.  I would have really liked to have had more practice.

     The pre-race meeting took place outside, on bales of hay in the cold.  The RD's checked my sled to make sure I had all of the required gear, gave us a short speech and sent us off to bed.  The race started at 6:00 a.m. in Park Falls.  It was about 10 degrees and snowing pretty heavily.  The scene was beautiful.  Imagine a wide path with pine trees thickly coated in snow.  I immediately felt extremely sharp pains in my calfs from running with a sled for the first time.  I thought I was in serious trouble.  I pushed on for an hour and then made my first stop for food and water.  I accidentally spilled water in my sled, which required me to take several items out and shake off.  I was frustrated and a little worried about the fact that this much was going wrong so early.

     Well, the great thing about a 150 mile race with only two (2) aid stations (basically to be used every 50k or so on the out and back course) is that you have a lot of time to work things out and settle in.  That's exactly what happened.  My calf stopped hurting.  My gear got organized.  And I got in the zone.  this is not to say that I didn't have more aches, pains and complications.  My back began to hurt quite a bit from pulling a 50+ pound sled for the first time.  I also had some really sharp foot and knee pains that mysteriously came and went.  I was able to ignore all of this and continue moving forward.  The lesson I learned was that these things were all temporary, and that if I continued on they would fade away.  With the exception of the back pain, they all did.  My goal was to get to each 50K checkpoint in under 12 hours.  I reached the first checkpoint in around 9.5 hours, which made me happy.  I put some hot foot in my body and got back on the trail.

     The second leg is where shit got real.  Very real.  within the first ten miles after the checkpoint I ran into another runner, Mitchell Rossman, who lured me to the town of Raddison with the promise of red hot cheeseburgers (you aren't allowed crew or pacers but if you happen upon an open local establishment you are free to enter and do whatever you want).  I was easily convinced.  The only problem was, it was closed.  Not so with the bar next door, which was having $1 cheeseburger night.  Inside I found my closest friend in the race, Aaron Ehlers eating a pizza and calling it a day (he was beat up from the North Face 50 a week earlier).  I ate a few cheeseburgers and talked Aaron back into the race.  He is an experienced winter camper, a great runner and a fun guy.  Something told me I would need him.  And I did.

     The temperature dropped at night into the negative double digits.  so i found myself on the trail, wearing everything I could and unable to get warm.  It was -10.  I had 22 miles to go to the next checkpoint.  at 3 miles an hour that another 7ish hours in negative temps (which got into the -16's at a few points).  I got scared.  Really scared.  Aaron was talking about just saying screw it and jumping in the sleeping bag.  I was facing the prospect of either joining him (which scared the shit out of me) or running on alone in those conditions.  Neither sounded good.  So I did something I'm not very proud of....I begged him to keep running with me.

     Thankfully it worked.  We froze our asses off and made it to the next checkpoint (Birchwood) at 3:30 a,.m.  I was still 2.5 hours ahead of schedule, so I decided to take a two and a half hour nap before heading back out.  I woke up at 6:00 a.m. and it was still -15.  The idea of moving slowly at that temp after sleeping (i.e. slowly) was not in the slightest bit attractive.  My back hurt.  My feet hurt.  I wimped out.  After snoozing a few more times and waking up to the same kind of temperatures I pulled the plug.  I was glad for the experience of making it to 100K+ in those conditions.  I learned a lot.  I decided that I needed a little more experience before I could tackle what I was facing that morning.  Another failure.  Another lesson learned.

     Sue Lucas ended up winning in around 48 hours.  So impressive.  of the 18 starters 6 finished.  Next year I plan to be among them.


Arrowhead Racing Tobbagan - Black River Sleds
Sierra Designs P.A.W. Bivy
Thermarest Z Lite Sleeping Pad
Slumberjack Lattitude -20 Sleeping Bag
Esbit CS585HA 3-Piece Lightweight Camping Cook Set for Use with Solid Fuel Tablets
GSI Outdoors Halulite 1.1-Liter Boiler
Arc'Teryx Atom LT Hoody
Arc'Teryx Gamma Hybrid Men's Hoody SL
Arc'Teryx Phase Liner Gloves
Arc'Teryx Venta LT Gloves
Arc'Teryx Stryka Men's Hoody
Arc'Teryx RHO AR Balaclava
Arc'Teryx Thorium AR Jacket

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