Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Zumbro 50 Mile Midnight Trail Run: Euphoria


Yes. Total Euphoria and Bliss.

I don’t know where to begin. I guess I’ll begin  a few weeks out from Zumbro. I had been healing well, running mostly pavement because my beloved trail was under 4’ of snow and ice. Trail made my almost healed ankle feel loose and painful.  I hoped for the best.

A few of my worries:  The midnight start was a bit of a concern as I knew this meant I’d be up for hours.  I am not a napper. I would awake at 5 AM on Friday, run a few errands, arrive to Zumbro and hang out until the midnight start. I ended up  awake for 41 hours. I wasn’t tired! On the other hand, the midnight start was perfect for my next goal: Savage 100Mile Trail Run.

I knew I’d have a slow first 6 hours in the dark. I have horrible night vision so I had a headlamp and handheld flashlight to light my way. I haven’t worn a headlamp since I herniated my discs. The last time I tried my spine became very fatigued and pained. Some time has passed so I was again hoping for the best.  I step gingerly during the dark hours, dodging rocks, roots and mud, trying to navigate foot placement.

I figured with a slow first 6 hours I would be stiff by the time daylight approached, and possibly fatigued. Maybe I worried too much about that which I can’t control.

My goal was to finish, without a time goal. I figured 15 hours was a reasonable amount of time. 5 hours a loop. 5 for loop 1, during the dark, 5 for loop 2 half dark and then tired and 5 for the final exhausting loop. This was going to be a good long run for the Savage 100.

While packing up on Friday I couldn’t find my ugly grey Nathan vest anywhere. I don’t like bladders-I over drink. I like using handhelds so I can track what I drink per hour -and a light vest with pockets to stash my gels. I probably tossed it after the grossness that permeated it while running at Superior Sawtooth 100 in September.

On the way to Zumbro I swung into TCRunning Company in Maple Grove. I knew that there was a nice colorful Ultimate Direction vest with my name on it! I made my purchase and ventured on to Zumbro.

It was pretty quiet when I arrived to the Zumbro River Bottoms. It was warm, in the 60s and the snow – blizzard – that we had the previous week was all gone!  Woohoo!

The 100 milers began at 8 AM Friday, there were 60 of them out on the course. The course is a 17 mile loop full of steep climbs, lots of mud and  rock. It’s challenging.

I milled about the check in, connecting with awesome friends. It was a party atmosphere and I was ready to get my party on.

At 1130 PM I took inventory of what I needed to bring with me and began to pack up. I attached my iPod to my nifty new Ultimate Direction vest, I placed 4 gels into each pocket-my plan was to eat a gel every 30 minutes, drink water and do Scaps for electrolytes. Lucky for me HammerNutrition was a sponsor so I would find gels at each aid station. I placed 7 AA batteries in a pocket for my lights-they would dim in the cold night and need replacement battery-I had some wipes for cleanup in another pocket.  I lubed my feet, my armpits, my waist, my bra line. Affixed my gaitors and went back and forth wondering if I should wear shorts or pants. I decided on a light weight pair of pants, long sleeve shirt and windbreaker. Rain was forecast in a few hours. I had shorts, socks and a sleeveless top unpacked and ready to reach for upon my next loop. I’d be back in 17 miles.

1150 PM I heard John on the loudspeaker rounding up the 50 milers. I sucked down a gel and removed myself from my car.

I lined up in the back of the pack. This was going to be a long training run for the Savage 100 Mile Trail Run. Woot! I was back in my element which I have missed so much. Oh my gosh, let’s do this!

I was so excited!  As I was running with almost 200 others at the start I realized how much fun I was going to have, how much I’ve missed ULTRA and how far I have come…again. I was laughing out loud as I passed John on his ladder telling us to get this party started.

Loop 1: The loop began with a steep climb up the ridge. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t killing me. There are many many steep up and downs, with beautiful views on top, even in the dead of night. My calves didn’t blow up. They stayed strong. I looked out over the ridge and could see headlamps climbing up the hill, I could see the start/finish lights way down below. What an awesome adventure I was going to embark on.

There was quite a bit of mud on the trail from the quick snow melt during the week. I could feel it go up and over the top of my shoes. I was grateful that I was wearing my gators! 

During the first loop I was running near Robin and Mike-it was fun to recognize them and have enjoyable conversation while we caught up!

I had to change batteries after a few hours.  I was glad I had extras on board.  I was making sure to eat a gel every 30 minutes, I was staying on schedule, drinking 20 oz of water each hour.

I returned to the start/finish at 4:45. I felt awesome!  It was still dark-there wasn’t any light in the sky. I ran to my car, removed and washed my feet, lubed them up and changed socks and shoes. I didn’t like the feel of one of my toes in the Inov-8s I was wearing so swapped out for another pair of the same model. I changed out of pants and put on a pair of shorts, was sad that I still had to use lights, filled up my bottle, grabbed a few gels and moved along. Elapsed time: 4 minutes. Sweet!

Loop 2: I ran back into the darkness, up the bluff, thinking to myself ‘wow, only one more visit to this bluff, one more visit to this downhill, one more visit to…’ etc. It seemed like time was moving quickly.  I was feeling so good I actually found myself excited about running the 100 miler here next year instead of lamenting and wishing I would have run the 17 miler instead. Whoopie!

I could overhear people talking about the rain that was forecast to arrive soon. I felt sprinkles on and off, but nothing that I was concerned about at this time.

About half way through Loop 2 the sun began to rise. I could finally pull off my headlamp and put away my handheld light. What a relief!  That headlamp was giving me a headache and I just can’t see in the dark!  I had surgery years ago and now wear glasses in the evening when it becomes dark. I have never run with them, though.

At about mile 26 I came up to Robin again. I was feeling super!  We checked in with one another-I shared with her that I had been eating 1 gel every 30 minutes, no solids and that I felt super. I told her my theory was that it took my untrained body 4 hours to began to burn fat, whereas when I was in tip top shape it took about 1. Oh well.

Waves of euphoria were flowing through me! I was feeling so good, so strong and so shocked!  I could now SEE the trail, I could move faster, my ankle was solid. No pain!  Woohoo. I wasn’t tired. I was in new mileage territory. I hadn’t run 50K since last September so as I crossed that threshold I let out a whoop! Not long after that whoop I’d think to myself ‘ok, don’t get too excited, you know how the bonk is’ then ‘oh, just enjoy it, flow with it and ride it while it is here!’  So I did.

As I was running along I thought of my conversation with Topaz before I left. I told him to think of me, to send me good strong running thoughts. I told him that I would run for him since he could no longer run for himself. I told him I would run for me, for all of the times that I wasn’t able to run. I could feel his good karma while I was running upon the trail. Tears began to flow from my eyes.

I thought of myself in a ball of pain, on the floor,  in the kitchen. The herniated discs so painful that I didn’t know if I should scream or cry, two years ago. I thought of my broken ankle and being told that I would never run again, last September.  I thought of the beginning of this downward spiral: the  hysterectomy, the menopause that immediately followed and then began to break down my body, my mind.  Changing it into something I didn’t recognize. I almost let it take me down. I almost became tired of fighting it. I was ready to give in. Almost.

I could hear thunder in the distance. I saw the lightening. The winds began to strongly blow cold air. Mother Nature let loose!  Hail, torrential rain. So much for my easier run during Loop 2 in the daylight!  Holy Shit.

I composed myself. I wasn’t going to panic. I could do this. I have run in rain, in storms before.

I was climbing the ridge to Ant Hill. On that  ridge the wind was blowing leaves at me, branches were falling from trees. The  rain was pummeling my face. I could taste the salt from my face. I couldn’t see!  I pulled my windbreaker from my waist and put it on, pulling my hood over my head. It was soaked within minutes.  I gingerly began to climb down Ant Hill. Luckily there were rocks strewn about so it wasn’t quite as slick as some of the other mudified areas. I began to laugh, hysterically!  What else could I do? Keep on moving, one foot in front of the other.

The mud was so deep that it pulled off my shoe! My gaitors had been pushed up from the Velcro in the back from the mud but they were still attached by the hook in front, so it was dangling from my toe. I went straight down!  Ick. I had to laugh, it was a riot!  I was having a mud bath. A stinky slimy mud bath.

Now I was getting cold. I was soaked through, in shorts. As I ran along a long dirt road section to the aid station I saw Rick and Jordan. Jordan was running his first 100. He was freezing. Rick told me they would get a garbage bag at the aid station. I ran into the aid station and asked the kind folks from TCRunning Company if they had any garbage bags. Yes!  A life saver. The kind volunteer popped a hole in the top and two holes for my hands. Matt came to tell me many had dropped. I couldn’t. I was not hurt. On I went. The rain was coming down in buckets. I grabbed a few gels and carried on, running up the trail.

I tried to navigate the mud. It seemed best to go straight up the middle. When I tried to run along the side I ended up sliding into the middle anyway. WOW!  I still felt fabulous though, I was riding the endorphin rush.  I hoped it would last.

I had heard that many were dropping. Of the almost 200 50 milers there were less than ½ of us still out there. Of the 60 100 milers there were less than 1/2 as well. There was a high rate of attrition.

Loop 3. Final. As I ran into the start/finish at 34 miles I just couldn’t believe how great I felt. Sure, I was a cold wet dog but I didn’t have any ankle pain, no pain at all, no blisters, no chafing, I was golden man, golden! I really couldn’t believe it.

I was going to change, but then decided why bother. It was still pouring, I’d still get soaked.  I went up to the aid station and everyone asked how it was going. When I replied oh fine, it’s an adventure, it’s not that bad!  I received a few eye rolls and one person began to ridicule my response, explaining to me why he and many others had dropped. It was unsafe. What would happen if I fell, etc. I wasn’t putting anyone down for dropping, I was just having an awesome time and as long as my ankle didn’t hurt I was good to go! They had asked how I was doing so I just responded.

I decided to listen to my iPod for Loop 3. I still couldn’t believe it was the final loop!  I was beginning to wonder when the low would come? Maybe it wouldn’t!  I had been eating a gel ever 30 minutes, I was still on task, I was ahead of my projected 15 hours. WOOfrickingHOO!

The rain stopped!  I was still foraging a deluge of mud and water but the rain had stopped!  I was having so much fun. SO MUCH FUN!  I was a bit over the top, coming up on people and just bubbling over with happiness while so many were suffering. I tried to hold it back, but I wear my emotions on my sleeve and it really was hard for me to do. I was bubbling over with joy.

Climbing another ridge I came upon Jim Wilson. I just love Jim!  He was moving along. I gave him a hug and moved on.

I was doing what I love to do. Doing what had been taken away from me. I was reveling in the movement of my body, the joy that it was bringing to me. I was thinking about Savage 100 and the fact that I was excited about it, excited to dig deep and to see what I still had inside of me. It’s been a long time.

I began to get choked up. I began to hold my hand to my face and sob. I was here, I was running under these horrible conditions and having the time of my life. I went from moments of sobbing with joyful emotion to holding back, trying not to get too excited. Holding back was futile.

2 more miles. I couldn’t believe it. I felt great, strong. I was doing this. I ran along, under my 5 hour loop goal, under my 15 hour total goal. I began to do the math. I’d finish in under 1450, possibly 1430. Wow.

I ate 30 gels!  THIRTY GELS!!! Nothing else. I drank water, had two SCaps.  THIRTY GELS!  I took two Advil for good measure. Just because. Wow. Stellar.

As I hit the field to the start/finish someone yelled out GO JULIE!  Another yelled, COME ON, RUN THROUGH ONE MORE MUD PUDDLE, as he pointed to the huge body of water sitting in the field. I did it!  I splashed through that last mud puddle and laughed crazily. They laughed and cheered!  I heard Cheri say IT’S JULIE! IT’S JULIE BERG! A group of people came together and cheered and yelled as I came into the finish line. I couldn’t contain myself. She’s smiling!  She’s still smiling!  I was. I was euphoric. I did it. I could still do it.

I gave John and Cheri each a hug. John and I stood there, laughing at one another. I whispered – ‘it’s been 5 years, John, 5 fucking years’- ‘I know, but you’re back now’. Yes. Yes I am.

I visited with others, drank my super recovery drink and changed into clean clothes. I learned that I was First Master Woman.  I left that party with a huge smile on my face. I am still wearing it. 


  1. I love this. Welcome back my friend! JH

  2. Awe, thanks Jason. I appreciate it. It feels good.

  3. I was smiling through this whole race report. Your enthusiasm is infectious! Bravo and well done!