Due to the pandemic, almost no trail races have been happening. One of the ones that I was particularly disappointed about was the Badger Trail Races in Wisconsin. Last year this race was my first time completing a 100K distance. It was also a perfect testing ground for what I needed to learn before my 100 mile race at Savage 100 later in the Fall.
When Badger went virtual I decided to step down to the 50K version for this year. With dealing with a broken toe, and a slower training ramp up from my recovery from 2019, I just wasn’t ready for anything longer. I felt I could get up to the 50K distance without too much trouble, and then rely on my overall experience to get me through any deficiencies.
I also opted not to travel to the Badger Trail itself, due to all the issues with COVID-19, and instead looked for a trail that was local to me, that mimic’d the Badger as much as possible. That led me to a trail that I have been on a couple times before, the Luce Line trail. It’s pretty much a mirror image of the Badger Trail, in that it’s a long, straight, former railroad line that goes for dozens of miles in one direction. It’s a crushed limestone surface, and passes through a lot of scenic wetlands, farmlands, and small towns.
I decided to do a point-to-point 50K which started me at Medicine Lake in Plymouth and took me straight west on the Luce Line all the way to Winsted, MN. The first couple of miles from Medicine Lake are paved asphalt, and are actually a part of the Three Rivers regional trail system. However, once you get to Vicksburg Lane it’s unpaved all the way to Winsted.
I was lucky to have my buddy Mike B. join me for some of the miles, and as I would soon discover, I’d actually have a lot of company for this run. My wife dropped me off at the lake where I met up with Mike. We headed out with a beautiful sunrise behind us. Before we even hit the unpaved section we met up with my fried Bob M. who was out doing a long 20 mile run on the trail. Bob decided to join us for a while and the three of us soon reached the crushed limestone.
We knew that soon we’d be running into our friend Angela who was doing a point-to-point 50 mile run overnight, starting all the way out in Hutchinson. Within a couple miles we saw a couple people in the distance, and sure enough it was Angela on the final stretch of her adventure. We stopped and chatted for a bit, got a trail report about a downed tree, and then went on our way. We foolishly forgot to grab a picture, but oh well, we all know what each other looks like anyway.
By this point I was moving well, and felt really good. I was targeting a run-all-day pace of around 11:30-12:00/mile, and thanks to some help from my friends, I was able to stop myself from burning out too quickly. That pace did briefly drop to zero when we encountered a huge tree that had come down in the storms of the previous night. This wasn’t one of those trees that you could just step over, as the crown was laying completely across the trail. We ended up needing to slowly find a path through the branches, much like trying to navigate an overgrown path. Slowly, one at a time, we made it through and we were able to get back on our way.
Shortly after the tree encounter, we came across our friends Yogesh and Emily. He was out doing a 74km run in honor of India independence day, and Emily was along for a bit of the run as well. Suddenly this little adventure of mine turned into an awesome group run with a bunch of great people. The miles started clicking off quickly, and conversations were insightful and fun.
Around mile 16 it was time for Mike to leave and get back to deal with a broken tree in his back yard, and shortly before this Bob hit his turnaround point. My wife was waiting as my aid station at this point, and it was good to take a few minutes to refuel eat some real food. The day was starting to get warm and my pace was starting to slow slightly, but my body felt great. After a short break, Yogesh, Emily, and I headed back out.
The next section saw more walking and my pace creeped up towards 12:30/mile. I was totally fine with this, and I knew that as the heat and humidity continued to grow, it was going to become more and more of a slog. Eventually Emily had to turn back and so Yogesh and I kept moving into the afternoon.
Soon we arrived at mile 22, which is Watertown, MN. Lisa was waiting for me once again, and I took advantage of a stop to easily change my socks and scarf down a bunch more real food. This was a place that would have been easy to dawdle, but I knew that the next 9 miles wouldn’t run itself. We gathered our gear back up and started back on the trail.
This is where my experience with ultra distance events really came in to play. As we left the aid station I felt like crap. I ate too much food and my gut wasn’t terribly happy. My body was feeling run down, and I just didn’t want to move very quickly. Yogesh was incredibly kind and walked with me without complaint. In my mind I wanted to quit. I thought, maybe I should just turn around and go back to the parking lot and call it a day. After all, 22 miles isn’t a bad day.
I thought this for about 10 seconds. Then the experience kicked in. There was absolutely nothing wrong with me that wouldn’t change in the next 20 minutes. I’d hit this wall before, and hit it enough times, that I knew that it would pass. Sure the quick 11 minute miles were behind me, but after I let this stomach issue work itself out, I’d be fine to keep moving quick again, and get this done.
I surprised myself with how quickly my mind turned on itself and shut down any thoughts of quitting. It’s become such second nature for me to look at suffering as not an impediment to moving forward, but just another stage in the journey. Sure enough, we walked the better part of two miles. And then things got better, and we started running little bits again. My wife had headed in to Winsted and hopped on her bike to come back and meet us, and when she came upon us we were doing a solid run/hike pace.
We kept moving really well until mile 27 where it was time for Yogesh to turn around. We said our goodbyes, and thanked each other for the great conversations, and I kept moving forward. My wife was still biking and she rode next to me for a while. Soon she headed back to the car to get me a Subway sandwich for the finish line and for the first time all day, I was alone.
The day was continuing to be a humid mess, but I had fully recovered and was feeling good. I decided to walk the first 0.4 miles, and then run the final 0.6 of each mile. This 40/60 split worked REALLY well and the final miles clipped along with little suffering. During one of these splits I looked down at my watch and saw that I was just about to pass the 50K mark. I took a picture to commemorate it, since I was pretty sure this was a new PR. My ultra brain wasn’t working 100% so I still went back and confirmed it later, and sure enough this was a huge lowering of my 50K PR.
My wife had informed me that the final 1.6 miles in to town was paved, and so as soon as I hit asphalt I knew I was home free. However, after 30+ miles of crushed limestone, hitting asphalt again was painful. It was incredibly unforgiving and my feet were not happy for that final stretch. I kept up my 40/60 method and soon I saw the end in the distance. I came around the corner and there was my wife waiting for me to greet me at the finish.
She commented that I looked like I was suffering more than when she left me, which was probably true. Because I was so close to the end I had stopped bothering to eat, and so my energy levels were much lower than they could have been. If I had been going on for a longer race I would have certainly kept the eating going, and I think that would have helped a lot.
Needless to say, I was happy that I was done. We sat down on some bleachers and I ate my sandwich and slammed a beer. Then it was time for the 45 minute drive home to get cleaned up and rest. The downside of doing a point-to-point that starts near home is that you then have a longer drive home. Thankfully, I didn’t need to do any of the driving and soon enough I was cleaned up and napping peacefully on the couch.
I’m incredibly happy with how this virtual race went. I planned and executed the way that I wanted, and I finished with a smile on my face. I probably could have shaved a couple minutes off my overall time, but given my training this year, I was really happy with where this ended up. In particular my ability to push through suffering, and draw on my experience, made me really excited.
This year has been really different for everyone. I’m sad that so many races aren’t happening this year, but I’m grateful for the motivation of a virtual race to go out and do something cool on my own. In the end, I got some cool swag, a new PR, and a lot of great memories on a beautiful trail.