Monday, December 20, 2010

Tuscobia Winter Ultra Marathon

Well, I don't know what is up with blogger photos. I put them all in order in the text and look at them, all up above in a bunch. Boo.
There is Wayne and I on the bus to the start and Wayne, Vicky and Marcus ready to begin the run. There is one of Wayne and another runner climbing up a hill, the Christmas light display with me.

A few weeks ago I was looking for an ultra to run before the end of the year and
found the Tuscobia Winter Ultra Marathon. I hadn’t heard of the race before so
as I looked it up I learned that it takes place in Wisconsin on the Tuscobia
State Trail. This trail is a 74 mile abandoned railroad grade that is used as a
snowmobile trail during the winter months. The trail runs southwest from Park
Falls to Rice Lake, WI.

This race offers a run, bike or ski/skijour option. I would be running-although
I did think about the skijour option. Topaz and I have enjoyed it very much but
the cabin I rented didn’t allow dogs.

The race offers three distances: 50K, 75 Mile and 150 Mile. The gear
requirement for all three races includes headlamp, flashing red LED lights on
front and back, water carrier, 10” reflective material. For the 75M and 150M
64 oz water container, 3000 calories of food, -20F sleeping bag, insulated
sleeping pad, bivy sack or tent, 3.5 oz fuel, firestarter, stove to melt snow.

I reserved a cabin at Northern Pines Resort on Butternut Lake. Vicky recommended
it as she stayed here last year. It really was a great choice! Steve and Troy
were coming along for a fun weekend; they would ice fish while I was running.

I had intended on snowshoeing the race. I was surprised when I stopped at the
packet pickup Friday evening and learned that the participants were not
snowshoeing, that they would be running in the loose snow. Hmmm…

I didn’t know if I should use my snowshoes. I wouldn’t have the weight of the
snowshoes and the straps wouldn’t be irritating the top of my foot as they
sometimes do after 4-5 hours of running. If there wasn’t enough snow I surely
didn’t want to use them. We didn’t arrive to Butternut Lake until 8 PM so I
wasn’t going to go check out the trail at that time. I didn’t know what to do.

We navigated our way to the cabin rental It was placed right on the lake-two
bedrooms, bathroom and a large kitchen with living room. All appliances, linens,
dishes; I was very impressed. We unpacked and heated up the dinner I had
prepared at home. A few games of Jenga and we all went to bed.

The race didn’t begin until 10 AM (!) so I had a ton of time in the morning. I
fixed breakfast for all of us, packed up my gear and went next door to introduce
myself to Marcus from Duluth and to say hi to Wayne and Vicky. Steve and I were
going to follow them to the finish where we would take a bus to the start. Steve
would then know where to pick me up after the race. I told him I would be
finished in 7.5 hours.

I decided to leave the snowshoes behind. Marcus was running in Vibrams-I figured
if he could run in those I could run in my Inov 8 Gortex trail shoes! I didn’t
have spikes or screws, although Vicky offered my some screws. I didn’t feel like
taking the time to screw my shoes and because we wouldn’t be running on ice, I
didn’t think they would offer much traction in the snow.

The start temperature was 6F, the high for the day would be 10F. There was a
wind but it would be at my back, score! I wasn’t worried about getting cold. I
have the clothing figured out for running in this type of weather. I don’t want
to be too warm, cold sweat will freeze, wet clothes are not a good thing!

A school bus was waiting for us at the finish line. We boarded and were on our
way! It was so cold on the bus! My feet were absolutely freezing and this
worried me. I was wearing a new cozy pair of smartwool socks under my shoes. I
couldn’t believe how frozen my feet felt. I took my shoes off and began to rub
my feet with my hands, trying to get warm. Marcus looked at what I was doing and
was relieved that his feet weren’t the only ones that were cold. He didn’t have
on any socks, just the Vibrams.

We arrived at the start line in Winter, WI. I stayed in the bus until start
time. As we piled out I counted 26 starters. 25 run and 1 ski. Nobody was
wearing snowshoes.

As soon as we began my feet warmed up. I never noticed any cold during the race.
I was very comfortable, temperature wise.

The trail was very wide-maybe 6 feet across, well covered with snow, some rocks
strewn about. I began too fast and warmed up very quickly and saw that my first
mile was less than 10 minutes. I knew that was too fast and didn’t like that I
had allowed myself to do this. I knew this race would be difficult, mentally,
for me and I was already experiencing that. My finish goal was 7:00-7:30. I
told Steve to be at the finish in 7:30 so I checked myself and slowed down.

The miles were going by pretty quickly; I was very comfortable, drinking hammer
heed and taking gels. I was having a good time.

I knew there was a checkpoint at the halfway mark with water and gels. I
conserved my now slushy hammer heed so that I wouldn’t be dry.

When we came to a road crossing I saw Jim Wilson. He asked if I needed water,
my own Trail Angel! Jim topped off my bottles and off I went, smiling down the

I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders once I had full
bottles. I drank greedily, knowing I could refill in a few miles. Whew!

The trail began to get quite a bit softer. It seemed that the snow was deeper
and that it was churned up by snowmobiles. I kept trying to find a hard packed
area where I could run without slipping. It seemed that the outer edge of the
trail was best. I would stay there until it became soft and then hunt along the
trail for a better piece.

I noticed that Marcus’ Vibram footprint crossed back and forth over the trail as
I did. He must have been looking for firm snow as well. His print didn’t seem to
‘dig in’ to the snow as the tread of the trail shoes did. I wondered if that
made it easier. I pictured him floating across the snow. He did finish a half
hour earlier than I did.

The half way point came a bit early. My Garmin told me we were at 13 miles. I
was happy to know that the aid station was early otherwise I could have broken
down mentally, that 2.5 miles does made a difference. I asked the woman at the
station and she told me we were at 16 miles. I didn’t argue. I filled up my
bottles, grabbed a handful of gels (so thankful!), and carried on.

Each time I took a step my foot would slide a bit, only ¼” or so to the side.
Eventually this caused knee pain and pretty soon my pectinus /hip flexors weres
killing me. I don’t know that I have ever had such pain during a race before,
other than a 100 mile race.

When I caught up to Wayne I asked him if the course was short or if the aid
station was just early. He confirmed that the aid station was just early. OK,
now I knew that I wouldn’t expect the finish at 26 miles, it would be 50K. It
looked like I would be finishing within my goal time.

I came to an area where the snow was very deep, soft and churned up. I was
barely running, my form was so inefficient that I tried walking but that was
just too slow and depressing. I looked ahead and saw that Wayne was
walking…walking faster than I could run. Ugh. My knees and adductors were pain
filled. I looked at my watch and saw that the last mile took me 17 minutes.
Good grief.

I trudged along, trying to find a firm area on the trail where I could run
easily. It wasn’t happening. A bunch of snowmobiles flew past me.

Lisa and Lynette were at many of the road crossings. Lisa took many great photos
and I was able to get water from her as well. I told them how nice it was to
have them out there, checking in on us. Really they were there to check on
Wayne, I believe, but I wasn’t far behind Wayne so I was able to enjoy their
company too!

The surroundings were very pretty. Lots of pine covered with heavy snow, many
bridges over rivers. There was a section along the road but it wasn’t too long.
I really enjoyed the scenery. I didn’t see any deer but did see two timberwolf
on the lake earlier.

I ran solo most of the time, catching up with Wayne one in a while, then with a
skier for a bit, but mostly solo. At around mile 20 I turned on my iPod and
listened to music. I noticed that not only was this one of the few runs that I
felt pain, but it was also one that I wasn’t high on endorphins. Normally I’m
swinging my arms, laughing, smiling, yelling out Megadeth and cranking up the
trail. I think the slow pace put a limit on the endorphin rush!

I often though of Jason and Lynn who were competing the 75 mile race. This was
their first race of this type and I was very intrigued as to how it was going
for them.

I must say, this 50K has certainly sparked my interest in the 75 mile race next

As I was running down a hill I caught a branch. Boom! I slid outstretched a
good 10 feet and ended up sprawled upon the ground. Thankfully it was deep here
so I didn’t skin my face up on any rocks. My foot was sore, I really banged it
up . I began to walk, checking my limbs, making sure everything was OK. I was
fine, just shook up.

Eventually the sun became weak. I ran up to two men in front of me and asked one
of them if he would take my headlamp out of my pack. He obliged and handed it to
me. I turned on my lights and was ready to grind out the last few miles to the

Ah, the water tower! I remembered at the start someone mentioned that when we
saw the water tower we would be nearing the end. He warned us to look out for a
sharp right turn to the finish. I saw the sign and was really happy to finish
this up.

Looking at my watch I was at 6:45, a few more minutes to go. I came up to two
people standing around, Tim the RD and Wayne. Gee, I was at the finish! Ah,
Amen! I was told I was third woman. I was so happy to be finished.

Wayne and I stumbled into the warming tent. I removed my pack and took off my
lights. Oh man, it felt so good to stretch out. Hot coffee was offered, a warm
heater, it really was nice. I removed my wet mittens, hat and neck gaitor and
just sat.

It was fun to talk with others about the race. RD Tim did an excellent job on
the 50K race and I’m sure the 75 and 150 were just as awesome. Putting these
three races together has to be a huge endeavor and it came off without a hitch.

Steve came along and after introductions we were off to the cabin. We made a quick stop at a beautiful Christmas light display so I could get a photo. I hobbled out of the truck for the shot. He and Troy had a fun day ice fishing, we were all exhausted and into bed by 8 PM!

Even though this race was only a 50K and I didn't have to pull anything it certainly served it's purpose for me. I wanted to really embrace winter this year. I have slowly changed mymind about winter and surprise myself by my reaction. I didn't hate my time spent running this race, didn't hate the cold, didn't wonder what
the hell I was doing. I knew exactly what I was doing. I was embracing winter, trying something new and learning so much about myself in
the process. I can run a race even if it isn't all about having fun, even when it is a lot of work and I am in pain. It's ok.

The next morning after we packed up and headed out we drove along the course, looking for John, Jason, Lynn, Daryl or John. We weren't able to locate them
along the route. It had been close to 24 hours so as it turns out some had already finished and some were out on the course, we just missed them.

I was so happy to hear that John S won the 75, Jason and Lynn finished their
firsts, John T and Daryl finished their 75. Get this: Chris Scotch ran and won
the 150 mile. 150 miles in 60 hours. Can you even fathom such a thing. It is an
amazing thing, what a body can do.

I must say, I am more intrigued than ever with the 75 mile option. I am really
thinking about it for next year. I think I could give it a try and maybe even finish it.

Thank you so much to RD Tim, to the volunteers and to the runners. You inspire me.


SteveQ said...

Isn't it amazing that Chris just took up the sport and already has a win?

judi ~ said...

Julie, you inspire me!

Matthew Patten said...

Great to see that you are back.

Maybe I will be too one of these days.

Marcus said...

Hey Julie. It was great meeting you. I really think the Vibrams work to my advantage in the snow. When I've tried wearing stiff shoes it feels more like throwing a rock into a bucket of water, very unstable. Also being able to bend my toes allows me to push off without punching through the snow.
I felt really good after 50k. Now I've got this bug in my brain that 75 might not be so bad!?

Julie B said...

Hey Matt-the time is now. Get out there and start doing it!

Marcus-me too. I want to try the Tuscobia 75. Why not, hu? We can take it slow and steady, we have plenty of time. Let's do it!

Anonymous said...

nice job on figuring out the 50k and running strong. you will make the 75 mile look easy next year!!! good to see you after such a long time. Jason Husveth