Potawatomi Trail Runs 100 Mile Race Report

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  1. Barefoot TJ

    Barefoot TJ
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    Potawatomi Trail Runs 100 Mile Race Report
    April 9, 2016

    By OneBiteAtATime


    100 miles. There is a mysterious allure to the number. It’s not so arbitrary like 26.2. Nor so manageable as 50. A lot of things can happen in 100 miles. Leading up to the Potawatomi Trail Runs this year, I was trying to be realistic. Trying to remind myself that I was “taking a swing” at 100. This was no sure thing.

    Last October, I had jumped into a 24 hour race (undertrained) to try to approach 100 miles. Everything went very well there until mile 75 or so when my hips, knees, and ankles seized up so much as to make walking nearly impossible. Looking back, I only had 1 marathon-length training run in the months before – so I probably shouldn’t have been there. I threw in the towel at 17 hours and at that time thought 100 miles may be beyond my reach. I knew I never wanted to feel like I felt that day ever again. Fast forward to February where I was putting up 30+ mile training runs every other weekend and my confidence started coming back. Maybe 100 was attainable after all.

    I woke up without the aid of the alarm. After all – who really sleeps the night before a big race? It seems counterintuitive, but I wanted to shower and shave before this thing – knowing I would be at least 24 hours before I had the chance to get clean again. My wife got up and helped me get my stuff together. I had left most of it in the car – ready to go. We had set up a tent at Start/Finish that we would use as home base. Potawatomi is a 10 mile loop course, so I would be able to visit “home” 9 times during the run.

    Half way to the course, I realize that I left my race number on the desk in the hotel room – great. We turn around and hustle back. I’m stressing my wife out now. Hop back into the van and head to McNaughton Park. McNaughton is a municipal park of Pekin, IL. It is a hilly son of a buck. There are no mile long climbs, but there are very few flat spots. Each loop consists of 1600’ climb/descent, 2 creek crossings, and 3 aid stations. I’ve been running it in my mind all night... We arrive at the end of the road just in time for me to hop out and hustle to the starting line. She won’t get to see the start – no parking, no room, no time. I grab my timing chip and strap it on, and make my way to the start. I check my Luna sandals, trying to get them just right. Don’t want to be adjusting for 20 hours.

    I see some familiar faces around me. Trail running in general and ultra-running specifically brings out an interesting bunch of characters. There is a sense of community, of comradery. All know that each of us is about to experience suffering – yet we look into each other’s eyes and shake hands with excitement. You can see each runners’ breath in the light of headlamps. The mood is joyful. Almost giddy! What is wrong with these people!?

    It’s a mass start gaggle of the 100 milers and 50 milers together. “Five, four, three,” the race director calls out on a megaphone, “two, one.” The crowd erupts with cries of joy and terror, splitting the crisp 6am air. I hear noises coming from my own throat, “Whoo!” Huh? Why am I howling? A sea of spandex, headlamps and Hokas pours down the first hill into the prairie below. I’m trying my best to stay at the back, maybe even walk the first mile – a lot can happen in 100 miles.

    Loop 1. The goal here is to get 10 miles done, keep my heart rate low, and don’t do anything stupid. I make my way out of the prairie and into the rolling hills that McNaughton is known for. I’m doing my best to remember to hike the ups. Jog the flats, and keep the downhills as comfortable as possible. If I feel like I’m braking too much on the downhills, I walk instead.

    The race photographer catches me looking up one of the hills (looks like I’m having fun):

    First Loop.jpg

    But something is wrong. My left foot is freezing. So cold it’s going numb. Its cold outside, but not that cold. I continue on to the first aid station, Totem Pole. I don’t need much so I just say hello to some volunteers, and thank them for serving. I continue on across “the beach” (a sandy section and down to the first creek crossing. As cold as it is, and as cold as I know the water is, I’m looking forward to it. Wondering if the shock will shake the numbness out of my foot. I crash through the flowing water. I’m soaked to mid-calf and smiling! On the far side, I ramble through some sand; which sticks to my wet feet and sandals. It’s annoying, but it will be gone in a quarter mile. The only trail shoe that drains better than Luna Sandals are bare feet! I head into more rolling hills. This is probably one the more difficult sections of the loop. Lots of ups and downs, several hills here have names. “Golf hill”, “Heartbreak Hill – the hill that never ends” and eventually, “Highway to Heaven’s Gate”. Climbing the hill to Heaven’s Gate aid station, the left foot is starting to ache. I cannot believe I’m freezing. It’s in the 30’s, not the teens! I grab a potato wedge and dip it in the salt and hit it again. Through some more single track rolling hills, and back to the rear of Heaven’s Gate aid station. I hear the generator running and decide to try to thaw my foot. I pull my sandal off and stick my foot in the exhaust of the generator. It’s hot! Maybe too hot! I spend about a minute and pull my sandal back on and head down the trail… I cannot believe that didn’t work.

    About 5 minutes after leaving the generator, I’m pulling the sandal off again trying to warm this foot when my mind finally notices… You idiot. I put the timing chip on too tight. I pull it off and put it on the right ankle. Hopefully that will solve it. So much for not doing anything stupid on the first 10 miles. A lot can go wrong in 100 miles.

    I make my way through the next creek crossing and through some more hills to start/finish. It’s still early enough that none of my family is here. I jump into my tent and change into some socks and Vivobarefoot Trail Freak shoes to try to warm my foot. Grab some provisions and head through the start/finish line. Loop 1: 2:30

    Loop 2. The foot comes back to life. I start grinding miles. At Totem Pole I had some chicken quesadillas. I’m starting to feel pretty good. At Heaven’s Gate I realize that I like green olives when I’m running. Nice! Some pickles and a shot of mountain dew. I get a text from my buddy Derek, “I’m in the park.” Which is nice, because he’s going to be my support for the rest of this thing. I get into S/F, kick off the shoes, slip back into my sandals, and head down the trail – Loop 2: 2:28

    Loop 3. Let’s be honest. Miles 20 through about 70 are the grinding miles. If ultra-running were a Nascar race, this would be the place where you would fast forward to the end or look for the crash. Because you know there will be a finish or a wreck soon… Loop 3: 2:24

    Loop 4. Derek is keeping me supplied, dressed, etc. I’m feeling good and putting miles under my butt. My butt. Speaking of which, if you’re squeamish, you may want to tune out. I’m experiencing some real discomfort between the butt cheeks. This story gets worse… but for now, the race photographer catches me frolicking:

    Loop 4.jpg

    Loop 4: 2:29 Grinding.

    Loop 5: On loop 5, I send a text to my buddy, Derek, to pack up my race vest with a phone charger, jacket, stocking cap, flashlight, headlamp, etc. I don’t want to get caught on the course without my nighttime gear. Another friend, Kenny (an experienced 100 mile finisher), told me to make sure to not get cold. Grinding the miles down. Loop 5: 2:38.

    50 miles down. About 12 ½ hours. Probably not going to be breaking 24 hours today. This is still an hour faster than my first 50 miler on this course 2 years ago. I’m happy with where I am. I feel like I have set myself up to be successful in the second half. I post on Facebook “50 miles down. 50 miles to go. Technical hard ups and downs are hurting. But I can run the flats, and a gradual downs. I suspect my pace will fall off as night falls. Still in good spirits. I think I'm gonna do it.” My Facebook feed lights up with encouragement.

    (You’ve been given fair warning, squeamish ones.) All day, I’ve had gas. I haven’t hurt or felt ill or really had distress, but I’ve had gas. And it hasn’t always been the driest. I’m hitting the portable toilets for cleanup and to try to get ahead of the situation. And now I’m starting to experience chaffing between the cheeks. (Something new for me. A lot can happen in 100 miles.)

    Loop 6: 2:54. The sun has set, its getting cold, and my speed is not so hot.

    Loop 7: 3:21. Grinding.

    Loop 8. I think this is where the skies started raining, blowing, sleeting. Not enough to soak you. But enough to turn the trail into mud. I fall once and decide it is time to change into some trail shoes. This is also the loop where I apologetically ask Derek to have some toilet paper in the tent. (FAIR WARNING!) It takes a good friend to deal with a guy who is wiping liquid icky and blood and trying to apply body glide between his butt cheeks, all with his running tights around his knees. It takes a pretty good friend. The tent is my own personal hospital and outhouse. And Derek is my nurse. I leave behind a pile of brown, yellow and red nastiness – and leave Derek to deal with the mess. Good friend. Loop 8: 3:08.

    Loop 9: I invite Derek to come along for 10 miles. After all, it’s just a hike now anyway. I occasionally try to run a little in the flats, but I’m just hiking. Loop 9 is where I had my 100 mile epiphany! Everyone talks about what they learn on a 100 mile run. Somewhere around mile 85, I figure out that I just don’t want to do this anymore. I hate it. This sucks. I’ll never run a step beyond 50 miles ever again. Never again. “I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to finish, but I will,” I repeatedly tell Derek. He does his best to persuade me to go on. He tries to convince me that I want to be here. It’s nice, but it does no good. I don’t want to be here. Loop 9: 3:23

    Loop 10: I’ve been awake for over 25 hours. I’m going to finish, but I hurt. I hurt a lot. I grab my trekking poles to help me get around the last 10 miles. I’m just walking now, and it isn’t pretty. Uphills are a real challenge - an upper body workout. I’m dragging myself up the hills on the poles. I’m feeling IT band pain on the left leg. Which is strange. I have a history of IT band problems, but it’s always been the right. I send Derek a text that I’m “just dragging this leg around”. At Totem Pole aid station, I get some encouragement. “Oh! So you only have 7 miles to go!” 7 miles sounds like a long way right now. I hike out, knowing I will finish, but that I have at least two and a half hours of torture coming. I hike on.

    You won’t believe this. But I’m looking at the step counter on my wrist. I’m actually getting annoyed that because I’m using the poles, not all of my steps are being counted. Crazy stuff concerns you when you’re sleep deprived.

    Each time I finish a hill, I silently sigh relief that I will not have to cross that hill again today. I make my way through Heaven’s Gate the last time. Still just grinding. The miles, and hours, go by. I send Derek a note that I’m headed in. I climb the last hill and make my way around the corner toward the finish line. With less than 200 yards to go, I fold up the poles, and force myself to run it in. (If you can call it running.) I cross the finish line and inexplicitly do a summersault. “What?” I think “Why did I do that?” Loop 10: 3:58 Total time: 29:18:14.5. 8th place.

    Finisher.jpg
    I normally cry a little at the end of these things. I don’t have the energy for tears. I see my family, smile, kiss my wife. Love on the kids. Thank Derek for his help as much as an idiot with nothing left can thank someone. It’s starting to rain. I feel sorry for those still on course. I get into some dry clothes, crawl into the car, and try to find comfort. I look at some congrats rolling in on Facebook, and tumble into slumber.

    Aftermath. Everything hurts. My knees don’t bend. Hips don’t work. I have cankles. I have 2 or 3 toes on each foot that are completely numb. There’s an awful lot of swelling, so I sleep the day (and night) away on the love seat with my legs up.

    A few weeks go by. I slowly start moving again. It will be a month before I will be able to say I’m recovered, and it will be a month and a half before I really am. For several days following Potawatomi, I swear I will go back to 50’s, maybe train for some 5k’s or half marathons. I’m never doing that to myself again. No reason. Nothing to prove. A month and a half later and I have already decided on my next race. And it’s another 100 miler. You can only lie to yourself for so long. I look forward to seeing if I get that epiphany on the next one. After all, a lot can happen in 100 miles.
     
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  2. swoggis

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    Love it! Great (and graphic :eek:) race report. Congratulations on your finish!
     
    OneBiteAtATime likes this.
  3. skedaddle

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    Inspiring, entertaining, just awesome. A hearty congrats!
     
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  4. Thea Gavin

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    A "real" race report; I appreciate the honesty, as I use others' experiences to help me on my learning way . . . glad you're recovered physically and mentally and ready for another 100. Keep moving! Cheers, Thea
     
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  5. bfsailor

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    Congratulations on an epic achievement!
    Excellently written race report too! I almost felt like I was there! (Except for all the pain and blood and everything...)
    And thanks for not including pictures of the Body Glide application! :wtf:
    (I hope you at least bought Derek a beer or something!) :D
     
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  6. RV.

    RV.
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    whaou,
    my brother is a 100k runner (and more), he never shared me what happened into his mind during the trails.
    only saw the physical results on him post races...
    thanks!
    now I know!
     
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  7. Robin

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    Congratulations :)
     
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  8. Abide

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    Haha shit and chaffing, I forgot that stuff happens after 100k's. Thanks for the reminder.

    Great report and congrats again!
     

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  9. rickwhitelaw

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    Huge accomplishment. Great report One Bite. Are you registered for another?
     
  10. OneBiteAtATime

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    Not registered. But planning on Arkansas Traveller 100 in October.
     
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  11. Tristan

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    I'm a latecomer on this one, but wanted to say a big congrats to you and your support crew! Seems so impossible to me to cover this kind of distance. I have a hard enough time getting enough training in even for 26.2... and judging by my last couple I didn't have enough in. Hope you recovered well, and maybe things won't be so rough on the next one.
     
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