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June 12, 2010 Winona Lake 50 Miler (dnf)

June 13, 2010

Mary Elizabeth drawed a picture of the road, it looked like a whole bunch of Zs and Ws all strung together. – C. W. McCall, Black Bear Road

The Winona Lakes ultra would be only my second ultra started after 8:00 a.m. in the morning; the only other ultra I had done that started after noon was my first, a twelve hour charity walk that stretched spanned a glorious Ozarks night, with perfect weather, lots of aid, a ton of people and great lighting.

This event would differ from that first ultra in many ways.

I make the drive with no real issues, slowly navigating the slow, stoplight-riddled highway that is US 30 in Indiana, amazed at how much regular life can change within just miles of the Chicago city limits.  This was rammed home when I stopped for lunch in Warsaw, Indiana, at an open Bennigans, and was shocked to see my lunch came to six dollars and change… that doesn’t even buy you water in Chicago! 

My friend Jerret and his dad catch up to me at Bennigans, and we head down to the race, just south of Warsaw at Winona Lake, Indiana.

The race, sponsored by Planet Running, was on some single track bike trails east of the lake itself.  Just getting to the start proved to be an adventure, as one needed to drive on a (paved) double bike trail to an open field where the start finish line was – a bit nerve wracking to be barreling down on bicyclists! I get registered a few minutes before registration closed, and bask in the warm, humid air for a second.

Then the rain hit.

This was actually a very typical midwestern storm, one I hadn’t really been caught in in forever, where the wind just howls up out of nowhere and the temperature drops precipitously.  A small group of us huddle underneath the tarpaulin at the start, and get a bit unnerved when a sudden shift of wind flips up part of the tarp, water streaming onto a flatscreen tv that was counting down to the start. 

Fellow CHUGs Tony and Jerret are huddled with me when they announce it’s time for the fifty milers to line up and get their final briefing!  So all twelve of us (yes, twelve) step out from the shelter, into a driving, soaking rain, and get our last minute directions.  We get the part about needing to do one quick loop around the field, then something about a 5k loop, and five 15k loops – and we’re off!

I’m actually shivering from being completely soaking wet, so I break into an early lead on the pack – to  get some warmth and so I can say I did it – and fall back with Jerret and another guy for the first couple of miles. But to give you an idea on what those first couple of miles were like, I should mention a few things about single track.

Single track is just that – a path, usually two to six inches of a trough in the dirt that serves to get you from point A to point B.  Since it is a trough, single track trails also double as streambeds in the rain, and especially in downpours.  Thus, the whole course can fairly be described as a mud run, with the occasional deep puddle sufficing to break up the tedium.

So, we’re running in mud, giving a fair amount of distance between each others as we’re splashing up mud and water with every step.  We almost run over a poor deer as we go, but it steps off into the riverbed we’re running alongside, so it’s all good.

After about a mile, we hit one of two bridges in the race, and there is a race official asking if were’ 5k or 50 mile runners. We reply we’re 50 milers, and he sends us across the bridge on the big loop.  Now, looking back, he should have sent us on the 5k loop, but that ultimately didn’t change anything for me.  We cross the bridge, and then we hit the heart of the trail system.

I already mentioned that it was wet, and muddy.  To this, we’re now adding another element to make running tedious:  winding, winding trails.  I don’t mean simply undulating, or serpentine.  I mean random, wacky, no-more-than-fifty-yards-before-turning trail segments.  If you got any momentum, well, odds are you’d have to turn sharply, or climb something, or hit a sudden turn with deeper water than normal.  In short, it was just a mess to try to run with any speed. 

Don’t get me wrong – it’s actually fun to run!  However, it’s also very slow to run, and I was barely able to manage 5 mph for the first lap. 

We soon hit the first aid station, though it’s unmanned.  There’s the basics of what we need (potatos, gu, water, heed), so spartan but adequate.  We all refill and head out, and by this time the first storm had stopped, allowing the sun to come up and rewarm us.

Around mile five, my stomach decides it really doesn’t want to run any more, so I start taking it a little easier, and am rewarded as the section from aid station 1 to 2 has a few longer, flat stretches where you can make up some time.  However, after hitting the second aid station and hiking into a weird grove on the far side of the course (and also the warmest section), I’m positively kecklish.  The rest of the loops is slow, hot and muggy, but I make it back in under two hours, as I had hoped, and head out for loop two.

Unfortunately, my stomach never recovers, and I spend almost the entire loop walking.  I’m about two miles from the start/finish when it gets dark.  REALLY dark.  Tornado dark.  The wind starts whipping up, and I have to take off my amber shades just to see the trail (and this is four hours before sundown).  The rain starts up again, once again in microburst fashion, and lightning starts striking fairly close.  A lot of deadfall starts coming down around me (including one small branch that hit me in the head).  Fortunately, the barometric drop and cooler temperatures settled my stomach (or the adrenaline rendered it moot), and I’m able to start running – sprinting, really – to get to the start/finish, and promptly drop. 

I hope in the jeep and don’t even bother changing clothes, as the rain is coming down too hard to change outside, so I just throw some towels on the seat and get moving.  I also get a text from Jerret that he and Tony had also dropped, and feel a bit better.  Some days being risk averse may be disappointing, but, to quote Hobbes, “There’s no use [impressing girls] and then getting killed, as my dad used to say.”

Only one pic, just to show the nifty layers and layers of mud on my feet. Oh, and the sock is normally bright white. 

One Comment leave one →
  1. Connie permalink
    June 13, 2010 10:42 pm

    Your dad’s quote is funny! Oh, and smart! 😉

    Smart to drop in lightning. In 2006 an ultrarunner friend was almost struck by it at the summit of Whitney; I’ve never looked at lightning the same and at the first sight of it, even in the distance, I seek cover.

    Sounds like a McNaughty/Nutty experience to treasure. Besides, I guess there’s more in the IN stix than corn – we got ourselves a real live ultramarathon at Winona Lake! Who knew.


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