Monday, June 8, 2009

DNF at the Kettle Moraine 100 Mile - 6/6/09

I had been feeling uncomfortable about the KM100 all week. I had read past race reports about how difficult the course is with all of the hills. They weren't long, just numerous. And last year the race experienced horrible weather with thunderstorms and flooding along the course. I kept a watch on for the area, and the prediction for the weekend never changed - rain and temperatures in the 50s.

I felt undertrained and tired and thought about just not going. I was driving and sleeping in the car, so I would only lose the race entry fee if I decided to stay home. But my mind would not finalize the thought. I was headed to La Grange, WI, and I was going to do my best and have fun in the process.

The drive would take about 9-10 hours, depending on how bad the traffic was going through Chicago. I got a late start, trying to get several things done that probably could have waited, and unexpectantly helping out a friend in need that took an additional couple of hours. At 2:00 p.m. and with a worsening headache, I was finally on the road heading north. When I hit the highway, I realized that I had forgotten my pillow and blanket. It would be a cool night in the car, but I was not turning back.

Leaving this late, I thought the drive through Chicago would be better at 10:00 p.m. than 5:00 p.m. on a Friday. How wrong I was! I love the city, but I hate driving through it. It's a nightmare. Creeping along, it was an hour and a half to get from one side of Chicago to the next. This had slowly turned into an 11 hour drive. My headache was now about as bad as it could get.

I arrived at the Kettle Moraine State Forest, parked in the parking lot of the start/finish area, used the porta potty, put some more clothes on to stay warm through the night, and climbed into the back seat of the rental car. I was asleep in no time.

Around 2:00 a.m., a bright light flashed inside the car. Not really knowing how long I had been asleep, I just assumed that the volunteers had started setting up for the race. My mind began to wander. If the volunteers were setting up for the race, then I had overslept. I suddenly sat up and was startled to see, not a race volunteer, but a park ranger standing beside the car, shining that bright light into my face. Darn it! I really didn't want to have this conversation.

Yes, I know that the park is closed. I'm running the 100 miler that starts here in the morning. I just drove up from TN and with it being so late, I didn't want to get a hotel. I just wanted to get a few hours of sleep before the start, since I will be up all night for the race. No, I don't have a parking sticker. I was told we would get one at race check-in at 5:00 a.m. Yes, I have identification. No, I'm the only person in the car.

He went back to his car with my driver's license, while I sat there, head back with eyes closed and huddled under a jacket. I haven't murdered anyone in a few years now, so what was taking him so long, lol?

Yes, this is a rental car. Do you need to see the rental agreement? Yes, I understand that I can't stay here. Yes, I know where the General Store is on Highway 12.

I had just been nicely kicked out of the park and told to go sleep at the General Store 2 miles down the road, lol. But, of course, I was now wide awake. At least the headache was gone. I tossed and turned the remaining 2 hours, finally getting up to prepare for the race. For a small town, the traffic along Highway 12 was busy the whole time, and just as I would doze off, a car or truck would come barrelling down the road. Tired, tired, tired.

I never fuss over drop bags, packing them lightly, and using as few drop bag locations as possible. This time I overpacked two drop bags, completely out of character for me. The course is two out-n-back sections. The first one is 62 miles, and therefore, there's also a 100K race going on at the same time as the 100 miler. The second out-n-back is 38 miles, and you guessed it; there is a night "fun run" on that portion of the course as well. I would have a drop bag at the Emma Carlin Aid Station (miles 15.5 and 47.3) on the first portion of the course and the Hwy 12 Aid Station (miles 77.1 and 85.9) on the second portion of the course.

I arrived back at the park a few minutes after 5:00 a.m., used the porta potty, and picked up my race packet (including my parking sicker, lol) and my chip. I was bitten twice by mosquitoes in that short period of time, so I covered my legs in bug spray, before placing my drop bags in the respective areas to be taken to the aid stations by the volunteers.

I talked to Norm (IL) for a little while on my way back to the car to stay warm. It was cold and starting out in shorts was probably not the best decision, but I wasn't changing clothes at this point. Norm and his wife, Joyce, were crewing for their fast-as-lightning daughter, Kathleen. I asked Norm if he would also be doing some pacing for her. He laughed and said he couldn't keep up with her even at her slowest pace. I checked the results, and Kathleen ran a sub-24 hour 100 miler. I told you she was fast!

At 5:40 a.m., the race director gave a very short race briefing. If he said anything critical, I missed it, lol. I was totally zoned out, looking around at all of the runners. Something did not feel right. It was more than being tired. I've stood at the start line of many races half asleep and didn't feel the dread that I was feeling this morning. The vibe was definitely off for some reason.

After the race briefing, I got back into the car and turned on the heat. I had about 10 minutes to warm up before we started. As I walked back to the start line, Lynnor (TX) and Sherry (AL) came up to me and gave me much needed hugs. They had been looking for me and wondering how hard could it be to find the only black woman at the race. I laughed, releasing some of the nervous tension that was building. Relax . . . this is going to be fun.

As we were taking off at 6:00 a.m., I got another hug from Rich (IL) and waved to David (IN). I watched all four of them running strong and leaving me behind. I was in last place by the end of mile 1. By the end of mile 2, I could not see any runners ahead of me. It was lonely and quiet in the forest, and I was surrounded by nothing but beauty.

We started on the nordic ski trails - double track and rolling hills. We topped out in open meadows before going through pine needle soft trails, and then single track with very few rocks and roots. This was wonderful running. I was right on a 4 miles per hour pace, exactly where I wanted to be. The next four miles were just as even-paced. And then out of no where, I felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck. I started walking more than running, and my energy level took a quick dive. I couldn't even move well on the flat sections. My breathing was really labored on some of the climbs, and my hot flashes were coming like clockwork, every half-hour. Focus, girl. You can do this!

It wasn't until later, after the damage had been done, that I realized that my biggest problem was probably not eating enough. I had been drinking only water. The alternative was HEED, and the thought of drinking it made me want to heave, lol. And I wanted to wait until later in the evening to start drinking caffeine. The issue was that I didn't feel like eating. I forced a couple of gels, a few olives, and a few cheese cubes, but I didn't really want that either.

In the past few weeks, I had been trying to eat less in an effort to lose some weight, and I think my body was just confused. First I tell it not to eat, and then I tell it to eat. Granted, since I started this "diet", I've only lost a pound, but I think the habit of eating like I had in the past was fading away, so I just didn't feel hungry.

By the 23 mile aid station, I was dragging. It had started raining and because I wasn't moving very fast, I got really cold. I had dropped off my long-sleeve dry release shirt at the 15.5 mile aid station, and being in shorts, everything seemed to be exposed. My hands were cold and wet and were starting to feel numb. The first cut-off was at the turn-around point, the 31 mile aid station, at 3:15 p.m. I could make it, but I had to get moving fairly fast.

As I stood under the aid station tent, contemplating whether I should drop out, I asked the volunteers if they had an extra garbage bag. They did. So a race volunteer helped me to create a make-shift jacket with it. I drank a cup of Mountain Dew. It was delicious going down, so I had another cup. They had cheese sandwiches cut into fours, so I had three of those, more olives, and a cookie. I was finally hungry, and everything was going down well. Forget dropping out; they would have to pull me at the 31 mile turn-around point.

The next 3 miles were wonderful. I was even running up some of the hills and offering encouragement ("good job", "nice work", and "stay strong") to the runners coming back towards me. My legs felt strong again, my hands were warming up, and the rain was slacking off. I could make the cut-off if I just kept this up.

Or not. I came into the aid station at 26.5 miles, and as I grabbed another cup of Mountain Dew, I was told that I was over cut-off. I thought the cut-off was at the 31 mile aid station. No, all of the aid stations have cut-offs. I didn't know. What time is the cut-off here? 12:45 p.m. It was now 2:10 p.m. Oh, no . . . .

A race volunteer told me that I would have to officially drop out at the 31 mile aid station. I had two choices. I could run the next 5 miles to that aid station, or take a back trail for 200 yards to get to that same aid station. I looked at my watch. Could I run 5 miles in an hour, and actually make the cut-off at the turn-around? I had not run that pace even on the easy sections at the start of the race. No, the cut-off at the turn-around was 2:45 p.m., not 3:15 p.m. as I had thought. What?! Five miles in 30 minutes was definitely impossible.

Dennis, who was crewing for his wife, walked with me via the back trail to the turn-around point. A race volunteer took my chip. Lynnor and David were preparing to leave the aid station, still looking strong, and 5 miles ahead of me. I thanked the volunteers and told them that I loved the course and would definitely be back. When, I wondered, was the question.

Since Dennis had another 2 hours to wait before he would meet his wife along the course, he offered to drive me to the Emma Carlin Aid Station to pick up one of my drop bags, and then he dropped me off at the start/finish area and told me how to get to my second drop bag along Hwy 12. I thanked him for his help and then changed into dry clothes in the porta potty, before heading out to retrieve my other drop bag. It would be a long drive home.

There. I've successfully learned how to DNF with some darn dignity. My third expensive a$$ training run for the year was now complete. I would have been just fine, if only I could have stopped crying, screaming, and trembling from the sheer madness of it all while driving down Hwy 12 to get my drop bag.


  1. Hi Angela,

    I am so sorry to read about your Fat@ss run in WI. The Kettle Morraine course sounds so hard which has kept me from attempting it.

    You have such a tremendous amount of courage, determination and guts to sign up for it!

    I know that you gave it your best and am sorry you did not feel you were in 100 miler shape going into this race.

    I also am so sorry to hear about the ranger then highway story. Going into a 100 with limited sleep definitely adds to the challenge.

    But you are such a trooper for you willingness and ability to keep plugging away and for having a positive attitude about it.


  2. Thank you, Tammy, for your kind words. I really did enjoy the portions of the course that I did see. Absolutely beautiful area! The varied terrain is what I liked most about it. You're such a fantastic runner that I think you would do well on this course.

    Take care and happy running!

  3. Dignity, my eye!

    Angela, you have more dignity, grace and courage in your little finger than most people can muster in their whole put-together. You live a life few can imagine, and now you take treatments most will never need. Your story is more than unique - it is uniquely special.

    Until I see you again,

    Take care,