"I am speechless, I am without speech." These are the words that came out of Elaine Benis's mouth when she was shocked to discover something ridiculous in the sitcom, Seinfeld. These same words came out of my mouth when I discovered the weather that I would have in Pekin, Illinois the first weekend in April. Because I am from the Midwest, I know that typically that time of year consists of rain that would make even a fish drown. However, the reason for the lack of speech was because I was going to have 70 degree weather. Unbelievable! I manage to travel to Utah and Colorado and get buckets and buckets of rain and I come to the Midwest in April and get absolute perfection (and yes, the parents use this to bribe me to come back to Ohio).
Let's just say that I wasn't going to complain. When I planned this trip I had anything but a brain. First off, I decided 2 months before the start of the race that I would go ahead and give it a go. Usually most people like to invest an adequate amount of time for something like this to ensure they are properly trained and ready to go. However, that wasn't me. The reason I decided to take on the Potawatomi 100 is because my good friend, Callie, informed me that she had connections in the town. I ultimately took her up on the offer and registered for the race. I also managed to book a red eye flight from Seattle to Chicago Thursday night, I landed Friday morning at 6 am CT, and then the race started Saturday AM CT. Basically I was running an ultra sleep deprived.
Another friend from Ohio, Kyle, did the 150 mile run out here a few years ago and warned me that it is a tough race for the middle of Illinois. He was right. The course gains 1600 feet of elevation per loop. Each loop is 10 miles for a grand total of 100 miles and 16,000 feet of climbing. Comparatively, this one is probably ranked in the middle as far as difficulty to others that I ran. It certainly was no Ouray or HURT. I'd classify it more along the lines of Mohican and Pinhoti.
Training leading up to Potawatomi was anything but vigorous, minus one specific workout up Mailbox Peak. I ran about an hour everyday after work and then did a 3-6 hour run on Saturdays. As with most 100's that I have run, I didn't feel that I was adequately ready for this. It was probably my workout two weeks before Potawatomi that saved the race for me. I went up and down the Old Trail at Mailbox Peak. Each time up and down is 4,000 feet of climbing and 4,000 feet of descent in a 5 mile distance. This times 4=a very, very sore Nick. Of course I was well rested by the time this race came around.
The night before the race we made it to the race location at 7 PM. I got to meet one of the race Directors, Rich. We got there and perhaps it was the sleep deprivation (I'm definitely blaming it on this), I asked where/who I should make the cash donation to. The lady serving the food said the guy in the orange shirt. Although he was sitting right beside me I walked over to the guy in the green shirt. I could hear muttering and when I passed the money to the guy in the green shirt I came back and David, Callie, and Rich were all wondering what I was doing. It suddenly struck me what he had said...they then started joking and said what I was on. Thankfully my Kopp out was that I had taken a redeye from Seattle. At that point the Race Director was elated. I come to find out that his son is moving out next month to a suburb of Seattle. From that point on I was known as "The Seattle Man." After eating dinner we made it to the host family's house. They welcomed us with otherworldly hospitality and kindess-thanks Seth and Angie!
Fast forward to 6 AM the Saturday of the race. I was huddled around my crew, Callie and David, and we were discussing my strategy and plan for the day. I knew that I was aiming for 20 hours on the trail. This means that I would have to complete each loop in 2 hours or less. Although I'm not a huge fan of loop courses, especially going around 10 times, I must confess that this made the drop bag incredibly easy as well as figuring out where I was at time wise. This of course comes with a double-edged sword. Because I always knew where I was at and how long it took, I easily could have gotten psyched out easily. Thankfully this rationale didn't fully apply to me this day.
Callie and David were planning to crew me throughout the day and provide me with the support that I likely needed after going around the loop 10 times. Once the race was about to start I went to the bathroom one final time and then we were off. My one qualm I suppose was that the 100 mile runners were starting with the 50 mile racers. We didn't have separate bibs so it was difficult to tell who I would be racing against. Unlike most races that I've run I found myself at the front of the start. Most of all races that I've done most people are so eager to get out to the front and take the lead. This wasn't the case here. It was like everyone was afraid to do that. I started about 15 feet from the start of the line but by default I was at the front. It was like I was a lion and everyone was cowarding behind me! Although a bit unorthodox for most races I've done and a bit out of character for how I usually race, I decided to go ahead and take the lead. One reason I didn't really want to do this is I wanted to get an idea of how a loop felt and not find myself getting carried away trying to race the 50 milers.
Once we were off I started talking to two guys named Dean and David. They both had run this before. They were registered for the 50 miler. They told me that their best times were around 9 hours for a 50. In full disclosure, they seemed like good people to follow. I knew that they had to get to a concert by 6 pm in a town 1.5 hours away so following them for a while seemed like an intelligent move. As we started to move along the first mile I found was very flat. I heard that miles 2-4 are when the climbing begin. This was most definitely true. By mile 4 David was sweating rather profusely. The thing with this trail is that it is either all flat or you're going to be going straight up.
We came to the first river crossing. I knew that I would have to cross a couple of streams for this race, I just thought that I'd be able to get through without getting wet. The first one, there was no way that was possible. I kind of looked at it. I felt like a rich person who left their high maintenance lifestyle and had to stay in a shack. Very quickly someone from behind just ran through it. Hopefully Laz doesn't find out that I don't want to get wet (he's the Director of the infamous Barkley Marathons). I suppose that I had to follow suit as well. I ran through and my entire lower body was saturated below my knees. Right away I knew that this was going to be potentially a long day. As we continued onward, I found myself leaving both Dean and David. I got to the next aid station and took the wrong route. At this aid station you're supposed to make a right hand turn, run a 1.5 mile loop and get back to the aid station and then go left at the fork. I went left right away.
I continued onward and got to the second stream. This one too was unavoidable. Right when my feet were getting somewhat dry, I had to emerge them in the water again. Thankfully this one wasn't as bad as the first one. I continued onward and got to the start line. Rich was shocked to see me there, and so was I. I got there in 1:24. I knew that something was wrong. Although running 10 miles in that timeframe is doable for me, I was nervous that I messed something up. I was moving WAY too fast that early on. I knew that I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. Rich clarified that I was running the 100 and not the 50. I gave him the validation and started lap 2.
Then came lap two. I was still feeling pretty good. Prior to this race I was battling some painful sciatica about 3 weeks before. I was noticing that my my hamstring was twitching a bit. Probably not a good thing for only being 15ish miles into the race. I did the river crossing again and did the mandatory baptizing. Onward I went. I could definitely tell that after this second river is when most of the climbing was. I kept on and Callie and David surprised me with a visit at a random parking lot. They both were smiling emphatically which put me in a better mood right away. I continued past them and got to the aid station. To my fear, I was right. I had missed the loop. I went back and reported to the aid station workers what had happened. I asked if I could do two loops on this. They said that that should be fine. I quickly did the two loops and got back to the start. I quickly confessed my mistake to the Rich and he said that I was about the 5th person to do that. He said that as long as I made it up, I should be good to go. Cheating in running is the last thing that I will tolerate.
Lap 3 I continued onward. It was at this point that I was getting a bit familiar with the trail. This would be my first "real loop"with all of the proper turns. Although the course was well marked, I just didn't pay attention as I should have. However, this loop everything was done right. Usually by mile 30 I have a low, this didn't really happen. I got back to the start and Rich was super elated to see me again. "What are you doing here? Get outta here!" I followed the general's orders. I continued onward. Laps 4 and 5 were basically the same-nothing too major happened. It was towards the end of 5 that gave me a good chuckle. There was one 50 miler ahead of me who kept looking back. He then took off and when I got to the end of lap 5 he was on the ground, collapsed. He had won the 50 in 8:12. I came in the loop around 8:16, a very solid first 50 miles. I grabbed my water and took off. It was at mile 55 that I picked David up.
He thankfully ran with me for 15 miles and we made small conversation. He had nice, white shoes on. Hopefully he wasn't too sad when we got to the river crossings and he had to get them wet...Regardless, he was a good trooper and powered through the water as well. At this point, I felt like a Nascar Driver. I think I passed more 100, 150, and 200 mile runners than I ever have. I guess there has to be some form of entertainment when you're going in circles. There were even a couple of crashes on the course too that I got to witness (myself included). One guy slipped on the rock and ate the mud shortly after the river crossing. Although I probably should have been a bit more sympathetic, I laughed and asked if he was ok. I ate it shortly thereafter.
Loops 6-8 were the worst. Although I always had food in my hands I didn't always eat it...I wasn't bonking terribly but I was certainly slowing down. My diet of Gu and ProBars was no longer going to work. I needed to supplement it with something else. I must say that the cantaloupe did the trick! Potato Chips were also a regular part of the diet all throughout the day. When I finished lap 7 or 8, I was told that I was right on pace with Karl Meltzer's course record (he currently holds the Appalachian Trail Course record from Georgia to Maine). I was flabbergasted. I had no idea that I was moving that well. Sub 20 was definitely going to happen.
Loop 9 I had a huge second wind. It was at this point that I felt like I was flying. I had some broth and this certainly picked the pace up! I think I'm learning that real food later in the race is key for me. Sugar no longer works well, especially as my stomach is not able to settle that level of artificial sugars. Broth on the other hand is high in calories and a liquid that tends to go down very easily (when it isn't burning your mouth). I then came into loop 10 and the race director was equally emphatic as before. He encouraged me to take off again. Although I was likely no longer in contention with the course record, I still had high hopes of finishing sub 18 hours. Other than Meltzers 17:40, there were only 3 other people who have gotten sub 20 at this event in the 12 years of its existence. I was determined to break 18. With a little mental push and fortitude, I powered on. The first aid station workers were so happy. "Seattle Man! You're flying out here!" I wasn't going to argue too much. I knew that I was having a good day with very little going wrong. I quickly left. I was following this lady and her pacer. I noticed that her back was super red-likely from all of the sun. "You're fried!" I yelled at her. She then responded, "yeah, I like fries." I started to laugh uncontrollably. Here we were at 11:10 at night running circles like rats in a maze testing drugs. Everything suddenly became more hilarious. I told her what I actually said and all 3 of us started dying laughing.
From here, I got to the last aid station, did the final right hand loop and then powered to the end. I just started complementing all of the other runners on random things. I passed another female couple. One of them was wearing a too too. I told her I was digging it and that I should have told her that all day. Nothing like hitting on someone at 11:45 at night in the middle of the woods. I'm pretty sure they both looked at each other like I was some schmuck. Or, they wanted to caress my sweat infested, mud dunked body.
Other than feeling like a rat in a maze and Nascar driver, I think I can sum up the course in the following format:
Loops 1-3: I became acquainted and familiar with the course
Loops 4-8: I became intimate with the course, knowing every rock, root, stream, and muddy spot
Loops 9-10: The course and I were one and the same creature
I finally came to the final hill and made my way to the finish in 17:56, just 16 minutes shy of the course record and 2nd fastest time overall. Callie and David were emphatic but I thought that Rich was going to collapse with excitement. I think he was more emphatic than all 3 of us combined. He quickly congratulated and shook my hand about 10 times in a 3 minute time frame. He motioned that we go over for a picture. He explained that he was impressed with my endeavor of trying to run a 100 in every US State. I was happy to have finished my 9th 100 and still no DNF's. The best part is it come with a very convincing victory. I believe second finished around 25 or 26 hours. Although not a competitive race, the time would have done well in most competitions, so I was very pleased with the results.
Thanks to all who have read this. Hopefully this proved to be amusing to some degree.