Not sure if it’s efficient, or foolish to write a race report the night after a big race, but here goes.
This weekend I participated in the Zumbro Endurance Runs down near Wabasha, MN. This was my first big trail race, and I was using this race to gauge how I feel about trail running in general. More thoughts on that in another post, perhaps. For this race, I decided to keep it simple and run the 17 mile loop. The 50 mile racers ran 3 loops, and the 100 milers did 6. On Friday I went down a day early to help out at aid station 2/3 while the 100 milers completed their first half of the regimen. That first day of volunteering was a great deal of fun, and I got to meet a lot of great people.
This morning was race day however, so I work up early, as I always do, and headed to the starting area. I managed to spend a little time with my friend from out of town. He attempted the 50 mile race, but stopped after one loop. He was sitting by the fire this morning and I joined him and his other friend while discussing the day’s adventure. One aspect that would not be a big factor today was the weather. It was perfect running weather, with temps in the 50s most of the morning and perfectly clear skies. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day, considering that Friday morning was a big mud and rain fest. Thankfully much of the mud had already dried out nicely.
At 9am sharp we launched from the start gate. Zumbro is a very hilly course, and it starts off with a bang. After a couple tenths of a mile the climb begins, and before you know it, you’re 300 feet in the air overlooking the staging grounds. All of that energy that comes at the start of a race gets put into that first huge climb, not going out fast.
The way that I measured the course was by how many 300 foot climbs there are. I knew from my study of the elevation map, that if I can make it up the fourth hill, it’s home free from there. I started using the hills as my guide for progress, more so than the mileage on my watch. Each hill is divided by aid stations, and after the first hill we descended onto aid station 1 (which doubles as aid station 4 as well). By this point I had to pee, so I wasted some time waiting for a porta-john instead of finding a tree. In retrospect I probably should have just found a tree.
My first few miles to AS1 were consistent, and I was happy with my progress so far. I headed off to AS2 and the next climb. I knew that the hill came towards the later stage of the jaunt from 1 to 2, so I settled in for some easy running the first couple miles. Eventually the hill struck and everything slowed again. In particular this hill had a brutal backside, because of all the mud and rain. Despite having to take it slow at the top of the downhill (to avoid sliding on my butt), I found the second half of the approach to AS2 to be completely runnable. I opened up, hitting some 8:00/mile times as I barreled down the hill.
When I had been working Aid Station 2/3 on Friday, everyone complained about how bad the segment from AS2 to AS3 was. I was prepared for something truly awful as I left the station with a few swigs of ginger ale. I have to say though, that despite some sand (and the 3rd 300ft climb), the trek in a loop from 2, to the backside of the station which doubled as 3 was not that bad at all. I tucked in behind a couple of ladies and let them pull me, until I felt like I was ready to make a move. Once we hit the backside of the segment I was feeling pretty good and so I took off again for some nice pacework.
At AS3 I grabbed more ginger ale and a quarter of a PB&J sandwich. I topped off my water with some Heed to keep my electrolytes going, and set off for aid station 4. This is where the course truly got brutal. The 4 miles between AS3 and AS4 are perhaps the most brutal miles of the entire course. As you leave AS3 you’re faced immediately with a monster hill, that doesn’t seem to stop going up. At one point another runner and I thought we had reached the top, so we took out our cameras to snap a pic. As we turned to continue the trail, we discovered that we still had even more left to climb.
By the time I crested Ant Hill I was feeling tremendously spent. Mile 10-11 was my slowest of the day, averaging over 23:00/mile. Even when I reached the mostly flat ridge that runs along some farm land, I just couldn’t get up the gumption to run. My only consolation was that I knew this was the final major hill of the course. Everything else from this point on would be much shallower and easier to traverse. The trek down the hill was just as miserable, as it was filled with tons of rocks that made running a dangerous prospect. I know some of the other runners let loose, but I just didn’t feel confident in my legs to let myself truly run the downhill.
Eventually I arrived on what most runners considered the most boring part of the course, a gravel road, 1.5 miles long, that led to AS4. I ran a large portion of it, but at this point I was working on miles 13 and 14, and just couldn’t muster up the motivation to really take advantage of the easy flat terrain. In addition my right calf was acting up, and felt like it could seize up at any moment. The uphills had really done a number on my right leg and hip.
I arrived at AS4 around 3 hours and 37 minutes into my trek. At this point I knew I wouldn’t make my 4 hour goal, but I could certainly still beat 4:30. I set out from AS4 (after a delicious pancake) with the intention of just walking the last 2.7 miles to the finish, but trying to keep up a good hiking pace. I tested out some light jogs from time to time, but it wasn’t until my watch clicked over to mile 16 that I decided to just let whatever happen and started putting in a good clip to the finish.
It felt great to come out of the woods and see the open field with the finish banner at the far end. The crowd was large and there were tons of people cheering us on. I crossed at 4 hours and 20 minutes, and was happy with my performance. This was the first race of this nature I’d ever attempted and to finish in a respectable time was more than enough satisfaction for me. I know that my time probably put me in the bottom third of the pack, especially since this year’s weather was so amazing and beautiful, but I’m OK with that. For my first outing I can’t complain.
Zumbro is not for the weak.
It’s a rough, rough race and a huge challenge, and I’m glad to have been able to participate this year.