April 22, 2018

4/14/18 Zumbro Trail Races - 50 Mile DNF

All roads lead to Zumbro River Bottoms or do they? This year's Zumbro race will be remembered for a very long time by those that were able to run either part of the race or those that were fortunate enough to finish their races.

I had signed up for the 50 mile race late fall when I felt like I would not have a problem getting back into some serious training. My right foot with the neuroma seems to be holding up well with the neuroma pads and I felt like I could pick up the mileage again without any problem. My injury did not keep me from training but life's stresses and the busyness of life definitely got in the way. If you want to know how NOT to train for a 50 mile trail race just ask me as I seem to have that all figured out.

As the race kept getting closer and I was, at best, averaging 20 mile weeks the thoughts of finishing this race were diminishing. I went into this race thinking if I did get it done it would be by stubborness alone because it would definitely not be as a result of my training. This winter brought lots of snow and ice on the trails and the addition of a Grandson that we found ourselves watching a lot. We love spending time with Ezra but with all my children being adults now I guess I forgot how much work it takes to watch a baby.

Love spending time with my Grandson Ezra! (but it does cut into the training)
I had fun training with with my friend Tina who would be making Zumbro her first 50 mile race. Of course she was another reason I had my doubts about finishing this race as she was killing it with her training runs.

The week before Zumbro weather checking was being done by everybody headed to the race, be it runner or volunteer. The reports were not looking good. With snow still on the ground and some colder than normal temperatures in March and now into April it was promising to be some interesting trail conditions. Somehow the snow on the course managed to melt for the most part by Friday morning but it was predicted to rain, sleet and then snow Friday through Sunday morning with predictions of epic levels of snow accumulation Friday night and Saturday.

Big Red, my bed on wheels!
I pulled out Big Red, the minivan or campervan as I like to call it. Race season has started and this is my vehicle of choice to use for far away races that involve sleeping before or after the race.  I left work at 4 pm after meeting with Tina who would be driving down with me. I ordered my traditional Domino's pizza for the road for dinner on the go.
Pizza for the road!
The plan was to arrive at Zumbro around 5, talk with fellow runners and volunteers for a bit and then try to catch some sleep in the van from at least 7 until 11 pm before the 12:01 am race start. When we arrived the campground where the Start/Finish Aid Station is there was no snow to be seen. There was excitement in the air and I chatted with fellow runners, Bob Marsh, Robyn Reed and a few others. We headed into the van around 6 and I put together as much stuff as I could for the race start. It started raining shortly after laying down to try to sleep. Not a very wanted sound at this point. I managed to fall asleep and when I woke up intermittently I could not hear the patter of rain or sleet on the van roof. Good, it stopped raining. That's a good sign right?

My alarm went off at 11 pm and it was time to start getting ready for the race. Remember when I thought it was good when I no longer heard the rain? Well upon opening the van door I discovered that while it had stopped raining that rain turned into snow! What was once brown was now covered in inches of snow! Not at all what I wanted to see.
Flat Janet
Despite the snow I would give it my all. As promised at 11:55 John started his race announcements which were unlike any pre-race announcements I have ever heard. The trail conditions were really bad and there was already a 50% drop rate for the 100 milers. The mud and water were intense and with the added snow the trail conditions were deteriorating quickly. He had actually debated allowing us to start the race at all. The first 3 miles of the course were suppose to be the worse. Rescue off the trail would be near impossible. So if by the first Aid Station, after just 3 miles, we were not confident that we could complete the entire 17 mile loop we should drop and take the shortcut back to the start/finish.

With those dire warnings we went to the official start line and counted down the start of the race. It was snowing and the snow was very wet. I was actually wearing my Frog Togg rain jacket (hiking rain jacket) over my winter running jacket as my running rain jacket would not fit over that. I knew we would be moving slow and if I got too hot I would just tie it around my waist. I just did not want to get wet and then get cold at any point out on the trail. Being wet in near freezing temperatures is something I am not willing to risk.


After the countdown we were off. I enjoy running at night in the dark and enjoy this midnight race start. One of the things I do like about running in the dark is that you can't see the climbs coming and often have no idea how long they will last. I also enjoy just seeing the ground in front of me and concentrating on those few feet of space. I like the quiet of the night and the forest.

Destination: Aid Station 1


As promised the first 3 miles were in rough shape. With the 100 milers on the trail during the day and the amount of rain that fell even the snow could not make the mud go away. The trail was cut fairly wide with all the runners trying to go around the deepest mud. At one point I thought I would quit trying to skirt the mud and stepped into it and proceeded to go up to my ankles in mud and water. Wow that was cold and my feet were now completely soaked. What was once warm feet quickly became wet and very cold.  My feet became uncomfortable for several miles and I started to get concerned they would get too cold. We finally took that last turn and came out onto the wide trail and popped out into Aid Station 1/4. We made it through what we were told was the worst section of trail conditions and neither of us had any thoughts of quitting that loop at all. I will admit though that I was definitely having thoughts of getting only one loop done for this year and being okay with that. I knew with the conditions and the pace we were moving that unless things improved greatly we would not meet the time cutoff for a full 50 miles.

The snow and trail at night

Hobbit Forest. This section is especially magical.

There is something peaceful about the quiet woods at night.

Destination: Aid Station 2

I ate a few items off the table and downed a quick cup of coffee and we headed back out and over the bridge aiming for AS 2/3. This next section was muddy as well. At one point when we were headed up the long double wide trail Tina lost her shoe in the mud. I have done that here at this race in the past and it is not fun putting your foot back into your shoe covered in mud. At one point I stepped into deep mud trying to get to the other side of the trail as it looked 'drier'. The conditions did not seem to be improving and we were still moving much too slowly. Despite the trail conditions I was yet to regret starting this race. This would definitely be a Zumbro to remember. We made it into AS 2 and refueled. I had not used any drop bags so just grabbed food off the table. The volunteers offered warm soup and I drank and ate that down. Here I saw John Taylor and Dawn Klaes volunteering. If we thought the conditions out on the trail were bad the volunteers at the aid stations probably had it worse than we did. The wind was howling through the aid station and the snow was blowing. There was ice all over the food on the tables and the challenge was keeping the items ice/snow free and dry. They were definitely being challenged. Then you add in the cold weather to deal with standing for hours on end and it made me glad I was running this race rather than volunteering. I really do believe the volunteers have a harder time keeping warm than us runners do.

Destination: Aid Station 3

This next section was a dream compared to the first two sections. If the entire race had been like these miles in the sand coulee I easily would have seen myself finishing all 50 miles. Just shortly out of the aid station with Tina running in front of me my headlamp went dark. Wow was I glad that I was still near Tina so I could use her light to change the batteries in mine. I was using the rechargeable batteries in my headlamp but had some regular batteries to swap out. After fumbling with the lamp to get the dead batteries out and new ones in we were ready to get moving again. I realized here that in the future when I run through the night I will be bringing a small hand held flashlight in my pack. Had I left my headlamp on in the aid station I am sure the volunteers would have noticed my headlamp was dying but I had the habit of turning it off in aid stations so I would not blind the volunteers.  So the next roughly 3 miles were very runnable with the snow covering all the sand. I was enjoying the solitude of the woods and found myself running ahead. At one point I stopped and turned off my headlamp just to see the darkness around me. Tina was behind me and I decided I would just wait in the aid station for her as I was enjoying running my own pace in the solitude. She did catch up with me just before the aid station though after I stopped on the side of the trail to pee. Advantage of night running is that you don't have to go very far off trail to not be seen. Before we knew it we were running back into AS 3 and found the volunteers still hard at work trying to keep things dry. The wind was whipping through and at one point tried to take two of the awnings with it! It almost succeeded as I was standing next to two of the legs and caught one of them as it lifted off the ground! Who knows where the stakes went as I think they went flying as well.

Destination: Aid Station 4


Out of Aid Station 3 we now headed up to the Ridge. This climb always feels so long and just when you think you are at the top you have to keep climbing. The ridge running is normally a nice section after you get through with the climb. This time? The wind was fierce and blowing so much that the trail got lost in the drifting snow. I was somewhat ahead of Tina but when I hit the section where the trail disappeared I waited for Tina to catch up. I found myself looking around just to make sure we had not lost the trail. There were no footprints to follow. This section was also cold with the wind blowing on us. I was anxious to get back into the woods and also Ant Hill to start the descent. Having run this course in past training runs in the snow I knew getting down Ant Hill is actually easier when those rocks are snow covered. I still had to be careful to make sure I did not turn an ankle or slip but it was an easier descent than normal.  After the descent you then pop out onto the road section. This is about a mile of flat gravel road running. In no snow conditions this is normally easy running. Well as easy as it gets when your mileage keeps adding up during each subsequent loop. I like to just get a steady slog going mixed in with some walk breaks to get through this section. I am always grateful when I finally see the bridge and AS 4 knowing there is just one more short section and the loop is complete.

This AS has a porta potty which I was grateful for at this point in my loop. I got in ahead of Tina hoping she did not think I left without her. Luckily she was still at the aid station when I got out.

Destination: Aid Station Start/Finish


I had been telling Tina that I thought this would be my only loop and she was trying her best to convince me that I needed to run at least one more loop with her. While I was thinking I might possibly do that I did not want to let on it was a possibility because I did not want to disappoint her if I changed my mind. She was quite determined during these last 2ish miles that I should continue on with her. 

It was starting to get light out and even though I was unable to see the sunrise there is definitely a feeling of energy when it starts to get light out. It was 2 years ago that I ran Zumbro 50 mile and this one was definitely going slower as I was well into the second loop before the sun rose during that race. As I checked my watch we were over 6 hours into the loop. I imagine this section was fairly muddy for the 100 milers on Friday.

Daylight trail. That is pure mud under the snow although it was starting to firm up with the overnight cold.
There is a magical feeling in the woods in the snow.
Getting to the finish line aid station was a quiet affair this year over previous years. The campground looked empty in the light. I crossed the line just shy of 6 1/2 hours at around 6:30 am. The volunteers were all bundled up in the cold with tarps hanging from the shelter trying to keep the wind out. I had heard rumor that the 17 mile race had been cancelled but that was confirmed at the aid station. I mentioned that Tina and I would probably be going out for at least one more loop and was informed that we were being pulled from the race instead due to the blizzard happening all around us. I wasn't too disappointed with the decision as it would ultimately be a DNF for me anyway but I was prepared to go out for that second loop with Tina to say we at least completed 34 miles at Zumbro. Hmmm...Zumbro 50k has a nice ring to it? Wouldn't that distance be just perfect for an early spring race?

We did not stay to hang around after we were pulled as we thought it would be wise to start the drive home after changing into dry and warm clothes. We made it into Red Wing and Tina arranged for her husband to pick her up. I got home mid morning and decided to just crawl into bed. After several hours sleep I woke up with a cold! Thanks to my Grandson for sharing that cold with me. So instead of recovering from a 50 mile race I spent the week trying to recover from a severe cold.

Next up is Chippewa 50K on the Ice Age Trail. It will be my 5th 50k and the 6th year running  Chippewa.

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