A couple years ago I heard about the Ten Junk Miles podcast. This is a fun show out of Chicago that bills itself as a “runners” podcast, not a “running” podcast. They talk about running all the time, but the focus isn’t on elites, or trying to make you a better runner. It’s about hanging out with all your running friends and talking about the things you’d chat about on a ten mile run. They have two show formats; a gang show that’s more akin to a morning show, and a long run for the one-on-one long format interviews.
I had gotten to know Scott Kummer through promoting my race, the St Croix 40. Scotty is a big winter ultra guy and when he heard about what we were doing he was excited to jump on board. I got to meet many of the other hosts, including Adam and Holly, when I sat in on a gang show a few months ago. The TJM crew were huge supporters of my race, and so when they announced that they were going to put on a race, I knew I had to be a part of it.
I wasn’t quite ready for my first 100 mile race, but I wanted to do something that would challenge me. When I heard that the 100K race would have a very generous cutoff of 33 hours, I knew I found what I wanted to try. This would be my first 100K attempt, and my longest distance race ever. I signed up, and then realized that I also have Marquette 50K two weeks later. This was going to be a crazy training block, but throughout the year I was feeling good and running strong, so I tried to put any doubts out of my head.
A few weeks before the race we were informed that we could camp at the park where the race HQ was. This was an awesome perk as my wife had decided to run the 50K which started a day later than my race. We wouldn’t have to worry about shuffling any vehicles around, and could just make ourselves at home for the weekend. My good friend Mike B. agreed to come and pace me for the second half of the race, and so around lunch time on Friday we headed out of town for southern Wisconsin.
It’s about a 5 hour drive to Belleville, WI so we arrived just before dinner. After getting settled, picking up our packets and chatting with folks, we headed in to this quaint small town for a nice dinner. My race wasn’t starting until 9am, so I wasn’t worried about how soon I got to bed. I decided to hang out at the Race HQ for a little bit in the evening, and hit the sack around 10pm.
I actually slept really well that first night, which is odd considering I don’t sleep well the first night in a new place. However, I was feeling really calm and confident about this entire weekend. Perhaps ‘confident’ isn’t the right word, but I wasn’t having any anxious feelings or sense of dread about what was to come. I got up and had some breakfast and fiddled with last minute things to get ready. Having such a late start means that you’re ready to go a lot earlier than you need to be.
Eventually it was time to start. Scotty gave us very simple instructions… “When in doubt, what would a train do?” This is because the Badger State Trail is an old railroad trail that has been converted to a dirt and gravel path. It also means that it’s straight and flat. Hence, if you ever think you should turn left or right, ask yourself if a train would make a 90 degree turn, and you’ll figure out the answer. Because of the flat nature of this course, I set my sights on beating my Zumbro 50 mile time of 15 hours and 45 minutes. I had nothing to gauge my goal on, but I figured I should put something out there to shoot for.
At 9am we launched. After a quick bit of pavement to get out of the park and under a bridge, we were on the path that we’d be on for the rest of the day, and into the night. I decided to go out slow and easy, setting my sights on a 12:00 to 12:30 pace. Adrenaline took over and my first mile was a bit quicker, but I was able to recover nicely and ease into what I wanted to be my all-day pace. I ran into a couple folks in the first miles, Suzanne and Tyson. We chatted away the time until the first aid station. This was after the biggest feature of the course, the Stewart Hill Tunnel.
This quarter mile long tunnel was built in the late 1800s and has a slight curve in the middle. This means that when you’re at the center of it you can’t see light from either end. It’s a huge tunnel, and I loved getting to run through it. I smartly packed my headlamp, and so seeing my way through wasn’t an issue. The tunnel had an added bonus of being 10-20 degrees cooler than the surrounding air temperature, which was quickly rising. It was going to be a hot one, but the respite of the tunnel provided welcome relief.
After the first aid station I ran some more with folks on and off, but eventually people spread out a bit. The Monticello aid station was run by Holly and it was tempting to stay and chat for a while with her and Dusty, but I knew my plan required only aid station stops of 2 minutes or less. I grabbed some food and headed back out into what was becoming a hotter and hotter day.
It was in this section that I encountered a couple issues that would start to define my first set of obstacles to overcome. First, although being mostly flat, there is a 1% uphill grade heading south. It goes on for 9 miles, and despite being very shallow, your legs feel it. I know that when I hit mile 18 and the path leveled out again, the relief was noticeable. A 1% grade isn’t much, but over 9 miles you certainly feel it. It also didn’t help that this was some of the hottest running of the day, and some of the most exposed portions of the trail.
The second issue I faced was the need to poop. I almost NEVER have to poop in a race. Yet, today, my body decided that I would poop 4-5 times through the first third of the day. I have no idea what caused it, but it certainly made life difficult for quite a while till it settled down. Thankfully, there we’re porta-potties at all the aid stations. This need to poop, along with the slight uphill, made miles 9-18 really, really hard.
At mile 18 we got to a detour in the trail due to some bridge construction. We had been told about this going into the race, and it didn’t change the overall distance in any meaningful way that I could tell, but after a beautiful soft trail, a mile of road was not a welcome relief. It was hot, busy with traffic, and completely exposed to the elements. After this short detour I was elated to be back on gravel.
The Monroe aid station was hopping, and this was the last spot I would get to see my crew until the turnaround. I made sure to fuel up, and despite being in good spirits, I was feeling pretty crappy physcially. I knew my time goal was almost gone at this point, and I even probably said something about it to my crew, but, I hadn’t really dealt with it yet emotionally.
It was 5.75 miles to the next aid, and it was at a slight (maybe .5% grade) downhill. Walking came easy, but my stomach wasn’t done being a problem. I came into the Town Centre Road aid station and saw Dan Slater and Rachel and all I wanted to do was collapse in a chair for a while. I knew I was only supposed to take 2 minutes at each station, but I needed a reset. I spent some time in the toilet and then let Dan cool me down with some wet towels. While in the porta-pottie I felt a little like puking, and contemplated if I could turn myself around quick enough to get it into the proper receptacle. I really wanted to avoid puking into the urinal, as I had no idea if there’d be chunks. Thankfully, everything was a false alarm and I made it out of there with no upchucking occurring.
After spending a bit of time getting cooled down I had to come to grips with the fact that my original time goal was way too optimistic. As I headed back out onto the trail I spent a bit of time hiking it out and letting my mind be at peace. I hit an incredible low just before the last aid station, and came as close to dropping as I would the entire race. I was mentally beat up and emotionally drained from the day in the heat. As I moved closer and closer to the turnaround I took a mental inventory of everything going on. My stomach was coming around and starting to feel better. The heat was decreasing and I had the evening to look forward to. My legs felt good, and despite some hotspots, my physical inventory seemed positive.
After about 5 minutes of taking stock of the situation I started to feel better both mentally and physically and got my first “second wind” of the day. Soon enough I was crossing into Illinois for the final 2.5 mile stretch to the turnaround and as I looked to my right, there was a herd of cows. I took note of them, as these would be the cows that would welcome me back to Wisconsin (the dairy state) in just a little while longer. With my spirits lifted, I started some running. Just a half a mile at a time, but it was enough to manage some solid miles.
Soon I saw the turnaround and ran myself in to the picnic shelter a good 15-20 minutes earlier than I had told my crew to expect me. Despite all my problems, I was doing really well. In my plan, I had scheduled to be at this station for 20 minutes so that I could do a full sock change, as well as assess any lingering issues. By this point my mood was flying and I was excited to spend the night traveling back to the start with Mike. I also got to see a couple of our friends, Travis and Steph, arrive at the turnaround just before I left. They were having a rough day, but I knew they’d pull through eventually.
Soon enough Mike told me my 20 minutes we up and it was time to go. I strapped my vest back on and we began the journey back. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to run a lot at this point, but hiking felt good. We passed the cows quicker than I recalled, and moved back over to the Wisconsin side of the race. We kept up a solid 16:30 hiking pace (roughly) and ran occasionally when I felt good. One of the places I was feeling the best was back at Town Center Road. As I got closer I saw Dan Slater and let out a howl. I had been running for the past half mile and the adrenaline was flowing strong. I’m pretty sure I talked briefly with Rachel again too, but at this point I was starting down the path of ultra-brain.
We got in and out of that aid station efficiently and kept up our solid hiking pace, with occasional running, all the way back to Monroe. This was the last time I would have my wife there to crew me, as she had to get back and go to bed for her race. It was here that I tried to address a problem that had been nagging me for far too long. I had developed blisters in a spot on my foot that I don’t normally blister. For a long time I wasn’t even sure it was a hotspot. Eventually I knew I had to do something, despite the fact that I had probably waited too long. We sat down and begged folks for some duct tape to put over the area of my feet where the toes connect with the rest of the foot. We managed a couple strips, but it was unclear if they were going to hold long.
I started mentally kicking myself for not planning ahead for this better, packing better tape and supplies, and for not dealing with it sooner. As we left the mile 40 station I knew that I was probably going to be in a lot bigger world of hurt than I needed to be because of this. Despite my worries, I wanted to make the next few miles count. We backtracked along the road detour and met up with the trail once more. After a few minutes I felt another “second wind” and told Mike that we were going to run for a while.
And run we did. I didn’t stop at a half a mile, but cruised along for 1.5 miles, at a pace faster than I had done all day. I was feeling great, and the fact that I could do this at mile 44 was amazing. Soon though I knew I had to ease down or I’d completely blow up. We reverted to walking, but I could tell that the wheels were starting to come off the bus. The blisters on my feet were getting worse, and I had to stop to take the tape off, as it was starting to wrinkle.
We kept up as good a pace as I could muster until we hit the 50 mile mark. I looked at my watch and saw that I had bested my 50 mile time by 1:54. I was excited about this, but couldn’t muster the emotion to show it because I was hitting a new low. As I hit the second to last aid station we encountered some rain. It was very light and refreshing, but it was over much too soon. I was still feeling warm from earlier in the day, and I regretted not packing a second singlet (I changed my shirts at mile 40 from a singlet to a t-shirt).
The food at the Monticello aid station was glorious with bacon and hash browns. I ate way too many hash browns before we set out, but I could tell that I was losing my appetite and probably wouldn’t be able to stomach any more food later on. As we plodded into the night my pace got slower and slower. My muscles were completely worn out from running on a flat surface all day long. Unlike many of my other trail races, there were no big hills or curves to change up the pace and engage other muscle groups. My two choices were run on a flat surface, or walk on a flat surface. Because of the blisters, I couldn’t run, leaving me with only one option.
It was only 3.5 miles to the final aid station, but I was entering a dark place. I was tired, my legs didn’t want to move, and my feet were in excruciating pain. We arrived at the final aid station and I decided I needed to use the bathroom. I sat down for a moment or two, but nothing was moving. I was thankful for just a couple minutes off my feet though. I remember getting a bit more frustrated at this aid station, thinking about taking a break, but Mike asked me if I still wanted to try and beat 18 hours. I told him I didn’t care anymore, so let’s just keep going. Ya… runner logic at that time of night doesn’t make sense.
We kept walking and soon we were at the tunnel. It was a cool, moist, respite from the remaining heat of the day. However, after we left the tunnel, the earlier rains had added a thick humidity to the air. I tried to move as best I could, but was barely able to keep a 21:00/mile pace. I was getting whiny and tired, and at one point I told Mike that I just needed to sit down for a moment.
I lowered myself the ground and sat cross-legged with my head in my hands. I don’t think I was there for more than a minute or a minute and a half, but it was what I needed. I got back up and still felt like crap, but in my immature state of mind I told myself, “Ha! I showed you! I sat down even though no one told me I could!” I don’t think it helped me in any way, but I don’t regret doing it.
As we approached the town of Belleville everything was still and quiet. It was 2:50am and no one was stirring outside of the park. I got passed by a couple of ladies who were going really strong. I also managed to pass one person in the last third of a mile, which gave me a little emotional boost (they were peeing… I didn’t have some sudden burst of speed). As I saw the turn to the park the adrenaline kicked in and took away my pain long enough to do a solid jog in to the finish in 17:57:25.
As I approached the finishing chute Mike ran ahead to get a picture of me crossing the line and falling into a big bear hug from Scotty. I held on to him for a moment and told him that was the hardest thing I had ever done, but that it was amazing. He offered me food and beer, and wanted to hear the war stories, but I needed a nap. I told him I’d be back, but that I needed to lie down.
I headed to the camper and crawled in to bed, sweaty and stinky. My wife had just come back to bed after a restroom visit and so she helped me get settled. I kept my promise though. After a couple hours of rest my wife got up to get ready for her race, and I was wide awake. I helped her with a couple things and then hobbled over to the finish area. There, I sat down with Vincent, who had just crossed shortly before I got there, and we enjoyed some breakfast beer out of the keg of New Glarus Spotted Cow.
As others crossed the finish we swapped stories of how the race had gone. We talked about the oppressive heat of the day, and how much we loved the tunnel. We shared funny stories from aid station visits, or silly things we had seen along the trail. We savored our victories, hard fought, and justly earned. It didn’t matter how long we took, but that we shared the bond of traveling the same 62 miles together. A shared journey, undertaken in almost 50 different ways.
Trail races that allow camping at the start finish are magical places. They embody the spirit and community that makes this sport so unique. We gather and share our tales, cheer on our friends, and comfort those who were defeated. It’s about more than just challenging ourselves and our physical abilities. It’s about challenging ourselves to be good people to one another.
I got to see my wife take off for her race, and then I went back to bed for a bit. Around lunch time we headed out to see her at the Monticello aid station, and while there we got to hang out with Holly and her team. We saw Lisa crushing her race and then headed to a brewery for a quick beer before getting ready to head home. Unfortunately, because it was a Sunday evening with a 5 hour drive ahead of us, we needed to get on the road shortly after Lisa finished. But we still got a chance to hang out just a bit more and revel in this awesome community.
The story of the Badger, for me, is a story of trying something new and difficult, and persevering. I’m so thrilled and grateful that I got to hit a new milestone, and make so many amazing memories, surrounded by so many generous people. The Badger came about because of a loyal podcast audience. It was founded on the idea of a community of people who all shared a love of running in the woods and hanging out. That sense of community and caring is at it’s core, and it shone brightly on it’s very first running. Hopefully, I’ll be able to be back in the future, but I know that for everyone who toes the line, a little part of all of us still inhabits the spirit of what it means to be trail people, on a little rail trail in southern Wisconsin.