2010 Zumbro 100 - A Pacer's Recollection (2 weeks later)

"You're going to do what?" was a frequent question I had regarding plans to pace for Adam Schwartz-Lowe on his journey to complete the Spring 2010 Zumbro 100 mile ultra-marathon.  Why I would want to run 20 miles in the middle of the night on some pretty technical trails, headlamp strapped to my head, seemed an unanswerable question to my friends and family.  This was eclipsed by the fact that Adam was going to run in addition, 4 times that distance!  "I need to make sure he doesn't hallucinate and try to chase a dryad off a cliff in the middle of the night."  For some reason, rather than laughs, that comment only drew disbelieving stares.

The race is held in the Zumbro State Wildlife Area Southwest of Wabasha, Minnesota.  We arrived in the West Assembly Area in the late afternoon for packet pickup and a welcome dinner.  Larry Pederson, his wife, volunteers, and racers were gathered around picnic tables and a smoky campfire enjoying the cool evening.  This certainly wasn't the type of race packet pickup I was used to.  Absent were the vendors pushing their wares, people corralled into lines delineated by subsets of letter ranges, "A-E", "F-J", "H.." to pick up a plastic bag filled with fliers in addition to their race materials.  No, this was a handshake and a smile, and exchange of stories, and a feeling that you were immediately welcome.

From 2010 Zumbro 100

After getting our fill of food, Adam and I split off to settle into camp.  The entire area was as of yet unclaimed.  At $16 for a night of camping, it was also quite cheap!  50 yards away from the Start/Finish shelter, we put up Adam's tent, threw in our sleeping bags, and went back to the shelter to chat.  Over the next few hours, I listened to John Taylor spin tales of seemingly impossible feats of endurance and willpower racing completely unsupported over 130 miles pulling a sled in the frozen North at a race called the Arrowhead.  Matt Patten, John Storkamp and other seasoned runners chimed in with their own amazing tales.

From 2010 Zumbro 100

I was honestly awed at both what I was hearing, and at how open and inviting these people were. The fact that I was standing there seemed good enough to be welcomed in to the group.  Runners are truly amazing people.

The night brought a chill and eventually some frigid temperatures neither Adam nor I were prepared for.  I think my sleeping bag is rated for 20F at best.  I was in three layers of clothing and was getting ready to put on my down vest in order to stay warm.  Adam and I both tossed and turned that night, and I worried for Adam's sake.  He had a very, very long day ahead of him and needed his REM sleep.

It was a frosty morning when we finally got out of bed.  Adam got ready and I wandered over to the Start/Finish shelter.  It took a good hour or two for my toes to feel warm again.  I couldn't complain too loudly, though, given the stories from the previous night.  If only I had invested in a bivy sack or brought another sleeping bag to double-bag!

Matt Patten brought out a very welcome sight...  A row of coffee machines!  If anything could warm us up, it would be a fire (thanks to John Storkamp!) and coffee!  These machines were destined for the other aid stations, which had more powerful generators to power the Kuerig single-cup brewers.  (I love those things!)

From 2010 Zumbro 100

Not everyone in the race camped overnight, and soon the place was starting to get a bit busier.  Granted, we're talking about a couple to few dozen runners and their families or support crews.  Runners were lining up in shorts and t-shirts, and I stamped the cold out of my feet.  Larry gathered everyone to explain the rules of the race.  They were simple and to the point, then he led them out a few yards away from the shelter, past the small cabled fence and launched the runners in a highly unremarkable start.  To a person used to seeing 5k, 10k, or even marathon starts, it would appear that these runners were simply going out for an afternoon jog!

From 2010 Zumbro 100

And that was it!  I was "free" for about four to five hours until Adam completed his first loop.  What the heck was I going to do with myself?!  I decided to pitch in and help Larry's wife, Caroline (Is that her name?!) set up the Start/Finish shelter as an aid station with her daughter, volunteer Misty and veteran runner, volunteer Donny.  We unpacked the support trailer, set up tables, and prepared a bag lunch for the volunteers at the other aid stations.

From 2010 Zumbro 100

Donny Clark and I fell into a long conversation about running, family, and life in general.  His forays into Alaska were highlighted by his fatherly pride for his sons.  His camp stove wouldn't start after losing its flame, so I offered up Adam's camp stove to finish off his potatoes and sausage breakfast.  (Thanks, Adam!)  A simple recipe, but wow was that delicious.

I had managed to eat up a couple hours of time, but had some more waiting to do. It hadn't warmed up appreciably yet, but it was getting there.  I wanted to wait until Adam finished his first loop before trying to catch a nap in the sun-heated tent that afternoon.  I grabbed my journal and headed back to the shelter.  There I found Misty, trying to catch a cell phone signal.

From 2010 Zumbro 100
It was a futile attempt.  The high-ridged hills weren't letting any wayward signal reach my T-Mobile phone.  She managed to get SMS messages to send and receive, but couldn't establish a signal to make a phone call.  I did say I wanted to be un-plugged for the weekend, and I got my wish.

John Storkamp surprised everyone by blasting in through the chute at 3:10!  Kyle Gulseth came in some 15 or 20 minutes later, followed by Brent Bjerkness, and Bob Triplett about 10 minutes apart.  These guys were haulin!  I have to say I was a bit surprised when Adam came trucking in at about 4 hours!  I knew he said he would be running 15 minute miles or slower for the night run I would join him in, so 12 minutes per mile seemed a bit fast.  I would later learn that this indeed was faster than he planned on going.

From 2010 Zumbro 100

I had Adam's bottles prepped and clothes laid out for him as we had discussed.  The stop went smoothly, and he was back out for loop two!  I stuck around and took photos of the next few runners to enter and leave the station, including a chatty runner from St. Cloud named Brian Woods.  Little did I know we would have much more time to talk later that night.

From 2010 Zumbro 100

I did manage to catch a few winks that afternoon in a much, much warmer tent.  So warm in fact that I couldn't actually sleep in my sleeping bag.  I didn't, however, get a very long nap.  I had too much to think about, apparently.  I had a bit of lunch, and headed back over to the shelter.  I prepped Adam's fuel bottles again, and waited for him to arrive.

He wasn't running 12 minute miles any more, and was much closer to his predicted 15 minute miles, though still running faster.  I don't recall the exact time, but I think it was closer to 4:40 split his second time around.  He looked worn out and told me as much.  "You're going to have to push me out of the shelter the next lap," he said with a grin.

At around 20:00, I changed in to my running gear in preparation for joining Adam in his third loop around the wildlife area.  It would be his 61st mile, my first for the night.  I was getting excited and was having trouble containing myself.

At 21:15 or so that night, a car pulled up next to the shelter, and I watched a cold, tired, and haggard Adam slowly get out of the passenger door.  He looked awful!  As we shuffled him off to his equipment crate to get warmer clothes, he relayed a tale of GI distress.  He had gotten dizzy at around mile 45 and tried to push it a bit further, but it just wasn't going to happen.  For 45 minutes he battled with it, and finally decided to throw in the towel at one of the aid stations.  We bundled him up in warmer clothes and fed him soup.  He suggested that if I really wanted to run, that maybe I could offer to pace for Brian Woods.  Why not?!

One or two more runners filtered in to the shelter after Adam arrived.  Finally, somewhere around twenty after ten, Brian trotted in with a smile on his face, eager to get fuel and get on his way.  Immediately, I posed the question to him, "Want a pacer?"  He was concerned over Adam, but was happy to have company for his fourth loop.  By 22:30 we were on our way on a comfortable pace, not overly fast, a quick jog.

Over the next five and a half hours, we talked almost constantly.  I learned that Brian had not really taken up running until six or so years prior, and that he had been a two-a-pack-a-day smoker.  I find it terribly interesting that there is quite a few runners in their 30's and 40's that never ran in high school or college, and that many of them were either overweight or heavy smokers.  What is it about running that is so therapeutic, so healing that these stories are not uncommon?  What draws people to the road and trails, to lace on a pair of shoes and run?  Brian excelled at his newfound sport, and in short order was entering marathon and greater length races.

By aid station four, Brian no longer had a sweet tooth.  Nothing sounded good to eat, but he managed to have some soup and coffee.  Believe me, coffee at that time of night is definitely welcome!  Up and down the trails we ran, over rolling rocks, hidden roots, and leaf covered sticks.  I don't recall at which point exactly it happened, but I do recall the environment.

Brian had me running lead to keep the pace up.  We were running through an old hardwood grove, thick with leaf litter, when I took my one and only header for the night.  My left foot landed on what I thought was a root, and my right foot was instantly caught by the business end of a hidden branch.  I was launched in to the air and landed flat upon my left shoulder and side.  It was so fast, that I almost rolled completely out of it into a run again.  Instead, I opted to slowly rise from the ground rather than risk another more serious tumble.  Had that happened on one of the steep, rocky descents, I would have been one hurt boy.  As it stood, I was simply shaken up a bit.  Technical trails, indeed.  I later joked that I bounced off the ground so hard that I probably sounded like a handsome male grouse thumping on a log for the ladies.

The rest of the loop was eventless, which is how you want it, especially after a tumble like that.  We arrived five and a half hours after we started.  Brian thanked me for pacing him and said to look for him in seven hours.  He wasn't going to push his last lap too hard.  The guys at the shelter teased me for leaving my runner, then handed me one of Matt's homebrews.  Did I mention that the volunteers at this race were amazing?  No?  Well, they were.  I managed to stay awake for another half hour, then retreated to the tent for some sleep.  It took me no time at all to fall fast asleep.

From 2010 Zumbro 100

Adam and I woke up about the same time, too late to see John Storkamp finish in first, but early enough to watch Brad finish in second.  Bob came in third and Brian, the first time'er from St. Cloud came in fourth!

From 2010 Zumbro 100

His family was there to congratulate him and give him some well deserved pampering after his long journey.

From 2010 Zumbro 100

I have to say that this whole experience was exciting, painful, fun, and wonderful.  Matt had read the fun I was having on my face and predicted that I would probably be running longer distances soon enough.  I have a feeling that he is absolutely right.  I've already got plans to run a 50k or 50 mile race this Fall in the same fashion that I had planned to run Ragnar Relay shortly after, or was it well before, I had completed my first Half Marathon.  Perhaps I'll tackle Zumbro on my own next year...  Who knows.

I do know that I've been uploading photos and typing for the last couple of hours, and I have a long, slow 18 miles to run tomorrow.  Time for bed!

-- Chad


Lunch in the Lobby

Just taking a quick break for lunch before heading in to a two hour meeting; mandatory training. Work has been very busy lately, and we could really use a couple good Support Engineers to balance the load. I'll be sliding over to Systems Engineer when te positions get filled! (I'll post the job link later.)

Stepping out of the office I find refreshing, time to focus on other things and decompress for a while. The weather held out long enough for me to sit on a park bench and have lunch, but not long enough for me to type this. The pigeons were entertaining, with their Spring colors and haughty attitudes. It seemed that the ladies weren't too impressed, though perhaps that's the way of a city bird.

There wasn't enough time to get a lap swim in this afternoon, but maybe this evening. The difficult part about swimming isn't the exercise, rather being on-call. Most pool areas are surrounded by thick concrete walls, making receiving a signal a little iffy. Tomorrow's my last Tri-Swimming class for this session, and I have yet to sign up again. I need to; such a great class!

Tonight is Meghan's Night Out, so the boys and I will need to find something to do. Should be interesting. ;)


A Week in Review...

I've cracked open the computer for leisure time for the first time since Wednesday night! What a challenge it was at first to unplug, since there is always a couple dozen things that need to be done at work, and a half-a-dozen things to do personally. Right now, I'm sitting on the bleachers at the YMCA indoor pool while my two sons have their respective swimmigng lessons. Connor in Rays, for the 4-5 year old children, and Ryan in Pike I, for the "just beginning". It's a good time for reflection over the past week while watching their progress and encouraging them to have fun and pay attention to their teachers.

The week itself started with Easter Egg Hunting at Maime and Papa's house at around 15:00 on Sunday. Ellie, Ben, Connor and Ryan all thoroughly enjoyed the thrill of finding so many eggs! Connor created a new variant of the "Freeze Tag" game called "Super Mario Brothers Freeze Tag". He was Mario and Ben was Luigi, each with a special power. Mario with freeze ball, and Luigi with fire ball. The rest of us ran around like loonies while Connor froze us, and Ben thawed us! There was more to the game, complete with sound effects, but I think you needed to be there to really enjoy it! I enjoyed visiting with my family and being able to rest on the recliner while they played with their cousins and catch a few winks. At 19:00, we packed it up and headed down to Grammy and Papa Stokes for a quick visit. It was a busy Easter, to say the least.

Monday at work seemed pretty normal. Sunday morning I had put in some extra time to stage and hopefully finish a long standing project. I fleshed out the final touches by the end of the day, but I didn't want to execute anything without having a full day to iron out wrinkles. I wouldn't get the chance. That very night, a 4:00 AM on-call page started my day in a firestorm. By 9:00 AM, I had already put in five hours of work on about 2.5 hours of sleep (My mind was racing as always, and although I had gone to bed at 23:00, I recall looking at the clock at 01:30 and thinking, "WHY CAN'T I SLEEP!?"). I finished the day by a little after 13:20 and took a long nap at 14:00, the same time as Ryan.

It was Tuesday afternoon, and my youngest son made a milestone with his third birthday! He is growing up so quickly, and I don't simply mean stature. His vocabulary and curiosity grow as well. He's a counting madman and is learning to sing songs in tune! The kid has a natural talent for pitch; his mother is quite proud. :) His birthday was low-key. We ordered McDonalds for the boys, had cake and ice cream, and opened presents. He liked gifts and couldn't wait to play with them outside in the light of day.

They had to settle for playing with their hand-held games. Both of our kids have absorbed technology as if it were second nature. We have two of the Leapster platforms, the Didj and the Leapster 2. It didn't take long for both of them to understand the basic of side-scroller games, and the Leapster platform is excellent for providing education as well as entertainment. Connor is learning to spell and read with X-Men Wolverine, and Ryan is learning his shapes, numbers, colors, and letters with Diego and Finding Nemo. If you have kids, these are definitely the toys that I, as a parent, have no qualms letting them play.

I was hoping that Wednesday day would find me finishing that long-time project, but it was a day of putting out fires again. I didn't leave until late, but when I did finally arrive home, I was able to switch gears quickly. Meghan went to Katie's for her "Mom's Night Out", and I worked on Taxes. I have used TaxACT Online for the last few years with great success. I couldn't find a couple of documents, so I had to hold off finishing until Thursday morning. To celebrate and unwind, I mixed myself a white russian and waited for Meghan to return. It was still hard to unplug from work, but I tried my best. It was, after all, the beginning of my first real day off in months, and it was a welcome event.

When she did arrive, we talked a bit about running, family, and other things that we were thinking about. I really value our evenings together, as I do our daily family dinners around the table. It would be two nights before we would have the chance again, as I would be in Wabasha with Adam Schultz-Lowe running with him in his effort to complete a 100 mile marathon in a single day (stay tuned for a blog update on that one alone).

Thursday morning found me making a few phone calls to finish up with taxes and pack for my trip. For such a short week, so much happened. I am so thankful it did. Stay tuned! (Pictures to come.)