Wednesday, April 18, 2018

I am the Storm: Zumbro 100 2018


The Zumbro Endurance run is a 6x16.7 mile loop ultramarathon in the rugged bluff country of  the Zumbro River Bottoms Management Unit in SE Minnesota. It is a Low key, old school trail race, managed by trail runners, for trail runners.  With no cell service and accessible only through dirt roads, it's a great place to get away from it all.

The course features 4 steep but "short" climbs per loop.  The hills, which amount to 24 major climbs over the course of the run were serious gut punches.  You can weather each one individually, but collectively they take a toll and greatly contribute to the 18,588 feet of elevation gain in the 100 mile.  I’ll be referring to the climbs as GP-1, GP-2. GP-3, GP-4. GP-1 greets you immediately as you start the course and is a long, steady climb. GP-2 and GP-3 are short, steep rocky climbs that slow you down and challenge your technical climbing skills.  GP-4, at about the 10 mile mark is a brutal climb that seems to go on forever.

The climb up GP-4 rewards you with the knowledge that you’re just about 10k to the end of the loop  an amazing run along a ridge, with stunning views of the river valley below.Between AS2 and AS3, there is a sandy section (Sand Coulee)  that some people hate. For me it was an excuse to not run as I hiked along. Zumbro also features plenty of runnable single track trail and some pretty gnarly but fun, technical descents.

Going into Zumbro, I knew that I was physically ready to go for 100 miles.  My coach, Jake Hegge of Trail Transformation had created a training plan that got me to race day healthy and in the best condition I've ever been in. I knew that I had 34 hours to complete the race. I didn't want to have to take the whole time, but I was prepared to.

Getting into gear

I had been stalking the Weather Channel all week and knew that I was in for a wet, muddy race.  The mud of Wild Duluth was still vivid in my mind.  Not a pleasant thought.  I woke up race day to cool temps and rain. There was also a chance of thunderstorms, and Snow on Saturday. Great... Just what I had feared. It wasn't the temperature that bothered me, or the rain.  It was the trail conditions the rain would cause. Zumbro was shaping up to be a heck of a challenge.

For me, Zumbro became a real family affair,  We stayed the night at my sister and brother-in-law'shouse and my wife would and Little Man would be staying there for th weekend.  My mom came down from west central Wisconsin to drive me to the start and then help out with my little man while I ran.  Even little man chipped in, helping me carry my drop bag to where I left it before the race.

I got to the starting line early, got checked in and waited for the race to start.  I still don't know a lot of people in the trail community, so I did some standing around, waiting to see anyone I knew.  It turned out that I was in good company. Waiting along with me were two fellow Iron rangers, Andy and Jim, I knew that they would both be there, and was glad we met up.  Both had been to Zumbro before and knew the troubles the course could bring. It was good talking with them.

Getting going: Start and Lap 1

Hobbit Woods
The race director gave a short pre-race briefing, under the shelters due to the pouring rain.  Then we all went to the starting line and were off. Heading into the first climb, I wanted to get around some people.  It’s not that I’m fast or anything, I just don’t like crowds. The climb up GP-1 told me a lot about how the race was going to be.  It was a muddy, greasy mess. Getting to the top was a relief, but it was short lived. Instead of the nice, runnable trail I knew it could be, it was a muddy mess, spotted with puddles in some places and ice in others.  Even the entire trail through Hobbit Woods was a sheet of ice. I ran it the best I could, but it was definitely more than a struggle than I would have liked.

Lap one wasn’t all bad news though.  I was able to hook up with my buddy Jim and we ran, on and off for most of the lap.  He pulled ahead of me after GP-2, but that was fine with me, we each had our own race to run and he was aiming for a 4 hour lap 1, and I was hoping for 5 hours.

I felt really slow the first lap and was surprised when I came in at just over 4 hour on the clock.  The end of lap 1 also gave me one of the highlights of the race. They treat you like a ROCKSTAR at the aid stations.  I didn't notice it much at the first few, because I was in and out fast, but at the start/finish, man did I feel it. Someone got my dropbag for me, another person helped fill my bottles.  I was constantly asked if I needed anything else. Total VIP treatment, and everyone was treated that way. I was in awe as I reloaded with Tailwind packets and headed out again.

Getting into the Suck: Laps 2 and 3

I can't remember where exactly it was, but it was near the beginning of lap 2 that I hooked up with Bradley and we ran together for the better part of the next 2 laps.  From lap 2, I remember that the weather got better, as the rain stopped, but the trail conditions worsened, in my mind, as the trail got slick and soupy. Lap 2 brought me my first quesadilla of the run, a very happy thing, as I LOVE them. The weather definitely improved and I noticed myself feeling better.  Talking with Bradley, we both commented on how the weather forecast was wrong, as there was no rain for most of the lap and, I swear, the sun tried to peak out a couple times. Total boost for me. Lap 2 was pretty chill, a lot of walking and taking it easy, but feeling pretty good. Despite the easy pace, we still got the lap done in under 5 hours again.

Loop 3 was when, pardon the language, the shit really began to hit the fan.  The rain started again in earnest and stayed with us for the entire lap. Despite the increasing difficulty of the run, there were still high points. One major high was running into my friend Pat, who was volunteering at AS1. I had time for a quick check in and Pat got a photo uf us, and I was off running again.

C.C. Fresh Tracks Media
I remember it getting darker as we ran/hiked, but the light seemed to hang on for a while.  I recall that I didn’t actually turn my lamp on until we were on the Sand coulee. Bradley and I were both starting to feel the toll of the run as we got to AS3. The climb up GP-3 was BRUTAL. We could see the thunderstorm rolling in while we finished our climb and started across the ridge.and the freezing sleet/hail started pelting us.  That ridge is now known as the Ridge of Mordor for me.. On the climb and ridge traverse, we were joined by another runner, who’s name I have sadly, forgotten, all I remember is she was pretty awesome and passed us up somewhere in the darkness between AS3 and AS4. By this point, the rain had started to turn to snow, and even walking the road was not easy for us exhausted travelers.  At AS4, Bradley and I parted company, Bradley had been wearing shorts and was really suffering from the cold, so he stopped to warm up. At that point, I was in a drone zone and just kept moving, I had to keep going or I knew I would feel the call to drop. I’m not much of a talker, and we had both been pretty quiet for a while, but I was sad to lose the running companion I had had for 30 miles. The rest of lap 3 was a mud and snow soaked blur, as I trudged along in silence and brooding on how much things kind of

Running with Rick: Laps 4 and 5

Coming into the Start/Finish Aide station, I was greeted by Rick, who would be my motivator, superfan and guardian angel over the next 34 miles.  I was EXTREMELY happy to see him. By this time I was extremely exhausted and, despite not feeling social, I was feeling the need to have another person with me.  Most of lap 4 is a blur. It was dark, for the whole lap and I had to use a lot of concentration just staying upright and that was not always successful. At each AS, Rick made sure that I was getting in my fluids, having coffee or soup and was doling out my chocolate covered espresso beans.

Lap 5 was much like lap 4, except it got lighter out.  I was slipping a lot. The technical descents between AS1 and AS2 led to a lot of slipping due to the thick mud and slick snow.  This was the lap of the pancake. I like pancakes, but there was something about the pancake that I got at AS2, I think it was, that stands out in my mind.  It was like manna from Heaven. It tasted SO GOOD. I only had one, but it was simply AMAZING. Lap 5 was also the lap of the lowest lows. I was really feeling the miles and my sleep deprived brain was calculating cut off times and making deals with my legs about at what point I would let myself DNF if the time was right.  I was telling Rick about this in my oh so adorable sleep deprived way and he always reminded me to stop that thinking and get my mind in the game, that I had plenty of time to finish and just had to push. I knew he was right, that I was still going pretty strong and probably had the time to finish…. Still…. I told myself in secret that, if the clock said 27:15:00 or later, I would drop, thinking that I wouldn’t have the time to finish if there was only 7 hours and 45 minutes left.  We got back to the campground and the clock read 26:27:43… Son of a Bitch, Now I have to make a decision, the clock won’t do it for me.

Decision time: Start/Finish between laps 5 and 6

Coming into the Aid station, Jamison Swift, who had been out there all weekend greeted me with the question “are you going out for 6?” I remember telling him that I didn’t know and him telling me I had to decide quickly because the weather was going to take a turn for the worse, as if the snowstorm I had been hiking in wasn’t bad enough. I “quickly” to the warming tent, where I met up with Jim again, having not seen him for hours.  I was really having some doubts. I knew that I had the time to finish, and physically I was in OK shape, but was my mind in the right place? As I switched out my somewhat wet under layers I talked with Jim and Rick and they both reminded me that I had time and that I would regret it if I didn’t at least start the lap. My gloves were frozen and hanging over the wood stove to thaw and that’s when Jim gave me a boost that helped me make my final decision.  He offered me his nice, thick leather gloves for the lap. I remember thinking that I wanted to switch into fresh shoes, but my laces were frozen solid. That’s when My mind fully clicked into gear I remember thinking “Fuck it, I’m going to go for it.” I looked at the others and said, I wasn’t going to change out my frozen shoes. Rick helped me get loaded up with more Tailwind and filled my water bottles. I exited the warm tent and headed out.

Walking the Wall, looking for White Walkers: Lap 6

Exiting the tent I was greeted with a certifiable blizzard.  This lap was marked by blowing and falling snow. Climbing GP-1 I Reminded myself that it sucked, but it was still easier than chemo.  Thanks Miranda, for being an inspiration. Much of the lap is a blur, I was hiking through high winds and trying to avoid the puddles and mud that could still grab me from under the snow.  Only two parts of the lap really stand out. The Ridge of Mordor. Traversing the ridge after GP-4 was a life changing experience. With winds that were estimated at 75 miles per hour, I was battling increasingly difficult conditions and my own uncertainties.  “Did I make the right choice to start the lap? I hadn’t been pulled at any of the first 3 Aid Stations, so my time must be ok, but I still feel really slow.” At the bottom of Ant Hill, when I reached the road, despite the conditions, I hit one of the highest highs of the run.  I pulled out my phone and checked the time. HOLY SHIT. With about 4 miles to go, the clock read 3:17, I think, my brain is fuzzy on that. I recall telling myself You are going to Fucking finish this thing. At AS4, I was greeted to clapping volunteers, the angels who stayed out in a blizzard to make sure us lost souls found welcome stops along our way.  I waved at the volunteers, yelled to them that they were awesome and kept moving. The last rolling hills were a total blur. I was in no condition to run. When I reached the edge of the campground, my mind said RUN, but I tried it and that was NOT going to happen. I walked it in as the clock read 32:30:27

I am the Storm: After the finish

As I crossed the line, I was immediately greeted by an awesome sight, a volunteer walking up to me and giving me my medal and belt buckle.  IT WAS REAL!  I had run 100 MILES!  After receving my medal and buckle, I went and signed the Zumbro 100 banner, something I had been looking forward to since I started out.  Things after that are more of a blur.  I was ushered into the warming tent and given a chair to sit on, right next to the wood stove.  As I removed my wet outer layers, I started to realize how tired I was and sank into the chair.  Rick, bless him was there too, he had stayed until I finished.  He asked if I had anyone coming and then went out to make sure my family could find me.  Soon, my family was there, and there were pictures and hugs as I greeted my mom, sister, and brother in-law.  They had braved the extreme weather conditions and hazardous roads to come retrieve me.  After a few photos, including one of me pointing at my name on the banner, we loaded into the car for the drive to Rochester, and my Zumbro experience was over.

Wow, I really did it: Thoughts on Zumbro

It's four days later and I still haven't fully processed what Zumbro means to me.  Talking with others who were out there, and getting their input on the day, I really realize how significant of a feat it was. the freak blizzard, with 75 mile per hour wind gusts and 15 inches on snow had turned my Spring ultramarathon into more of a trial by ice and snow.  The drop out rate for the race was staggering.  Only 17% finished?  I was one of them?  There's nothing special about me.  How did I manage that?  What does it mean?  These are all questions I am pondering as I try to Figure out just what Zumbro means to me.

What I do know is that I went out to complete my first 100 mile race and I did it.  It was far more difficult than I could have imagined, but I was still able to do it, and of that I'm extremely proud.  That will do for now.  I am resting and recovering and looking forward to getting running again when I'm ready.  And, next spring, I may have to, once again, answer when Zumbro is calling.


  1. I don't think I'll ever run a 100 mile trail race. I'm just not tough enough to face weather for that long, even assuming I could train up to the distance (not a sure thing by any means).

    1. You'd be surprised. Youre in the right afe range where a lot of podum finishers are from. You can run 100 on marathon distsnce training. I topped out with a max week of 56 miles.