The Race of My Life
The Race of My Life - Wild Duluth 100k
I'm not sure how I go from a race for my life, to a race of my life in a month and a half, but it happened. I'm still trying to fully comprehend what took place and can't thank enough all the many great friends that believed in me and supported me to make it to this point.
I have never been one to place high at a race and have never considered myself to anything more than an average middle of the pack runner. I'm great at placing 200th when there is only 100 runners racing. Most all my running friends know my race strategy to be go out hard, crash and burn, and hang on for dear life just to finish. This race that all changed. I became a contender!
I signed up for Wild Duluth during a low point after finishing my first hundred miler at Superior 100. Much of what I was battling leading up to that race was still haunting me. In my mind, the only thing to make it better was to race more After I signed up, I never gave the race another thought as it did nothing to fulfill, or help what I was facing. I finally the Thursday before decided I should probably have some sort of plan together regarding drop bags since I was going after this one alone. Even on the drive up Friday, I was emotionless and did not have the pre-race jitters and butterflies like I usually do. I was fine with this for once.
Race morning came and I made my way to the start with no other expectations than to try to get under a 15 hour time. Rain was in the forecast throughout the day so I knew this might have a negative impact on my goal time. We started off and I hung out towards the front of the pack, knowing it was foolish, but settled into line heading up the first climb. I figured at this point I was probably in the top 15 or so and knew that it wouldn't take long for runners to start picking me off. First aid station I blew through as I didn't need anything that early on. Second aid station I grabbed a few things, topped off my bottles and got back on the trail as quick as I could.
I ran with a few guys for some miles but I got irritated how slow the pace would get on the climbs, and started to pick off other runners pushing up the hills. I told myself over and over how stupid this was and I would pay for it later in the race. The climb up Ely's peak was fun, but coming back down got sketchy as the rocks were already pretty wet. I was still amazed at how well I was doing as I came into the Munger aid station. I was rather surprised that I still had not seen many of of my friends that I knew were far stronger runners than myself. As I was about to leave the aid station, I was told I was in 7th place! I said I should just sit and let a few dozen people pass me because this is not right. I bolted out of the aid station faster than I probably should have, with the biggest smile on the inside. I thought to myself, this is not right! I am not this strong of a runner. I will be falling apart soon enough. Just about 5 miles later, I thought this was coming true. On a climb, my right quad started cramping. Normally I would just try to walk it off and resign to the fact that this is how my races go. Not on this day. I forced myself to run, and man was that painful, but I did not care. All I could think about was 7th place. 7th place at my first 100k, and a tough 100k at that.
Trail conditions were progressively getting worse as the rain came down harder and harder. Staying upright was as much of a goal as maintaining forward progress. Getting through the powerline section was awful. One step up, slide back two. Grabbing for whatever I could to pull myself up only to find myself with a handful of thorns. Once I got to the top, my quad started cramping again, only worse this time. I didn't care, 7th place, I'm in 7th place! Run! No matter the pain, just run! I didn't even think that I had over half this race to go, just run! on this last section before the turn around, I crossed paths with the race leader. I counted as the runners came by.... 1, 2, 3, 4.... and soon I was at the aid station. Man, I thought to myself, I suck at counting! That was only 4 people! I was asked at the aid station if I knew where I was, and all I could respond was I'm at the turnaround, duh! No! What place! O, well 7th is what I was told at a previous aid station. Nope! 5th place! I was in even more shock by this. I AM NOT THIS STRONG OF A RUNNER! The next guy came rolling in as I left and he looked very strong!
My stomach was not liking me at this point and all I wanted was to throw up.Two and half miles on the way back, I got passed. Ok, 6th place is still awesome, if I can hang on, but I was not feeling well and the trails were getting to be so nasty muddy. I was dreading going back through the power-lines section again. I saw many of my friends on the return that I had no business being in front of. The wheels had to fall off soon. There is no way I can maintain this! I felt good though other than the occasional upset stomach. The legs were sore but I felt good. As I got back to the Munger aid station, I was told that 5th place was only a couple minutes in front of me, and 4th was looking like he was really hurting. I looked up at Ely's peak soaring above me and was told to get out of there, but be patient with the climb. Patient I was not. While not blazing fast, I climbed it hard and at about a 17 minute mile which is very respectable.
As I made my way to the Magney aid station, I finally saw another runner. I hammered down to pass him putting myself back in 5th place. Then another runner! 4th place! Then I caught 3rd place, the guy who passed me coming out of the turnaround. I did not expect to see him again! We hung together for several miles. Matt was looking strong and he offered several times to let me pass. As much as I wanted to pass, I knew I could not hang on to third place with how strong he was. About a mile from the Highland aid station, Jeff Miller came down the trail looking for me and was ready to share the last of the journey with me. I got in and out of the aid station as fast as possible and caught back up to Matt again. I couldn't hang on anymore and slowed down.
The rest of the handful of miles was spent staying upright as much as possible, which did not always happen, and running when I could, walking when I had to. I wanted off this slip and slide so bad, and for once was excited to hit the pavement. Once down off the hill and to the pavement, I ran all out. I couldn't believe I had anything left in the tank. I'm actually doing this! Tears were already flowing and I ran as hard as I could. I crossed the line in 14:00:10, enough for a 4th place finish on the nastiest trail I have ever seen! I fell to the ground and just cried tears of joy!
I have always doubted myself and my running abilities. I am a doubter no more. I am a contender! I never thought I would say this, but I just had the race of my life. No one can take this away from me. While completely unexpected, I needed this. I have been in such a fog over the last several months. I have not been able to let go of the hurt. I pushed through all that and and made this race mine! This race chewed up and spit out most of those who toed the line. Only 27 out of the 78 starters were able to grind through and beat down everything this race and trail threw at them! Congratulations to all of you, regardless to place or even if you did not make the entire distance. This was a race unlike any other that most of us have seen.
What next? I'm going to take some time to figure out process this race and what I can do to maintain this momentum. I have grand thoughts in my head of what is too come, so sit down, hang on, and enjoy the ride!