The Zumbro Endurance Runs are three races that are run on the same weekend in mid-April. There is a 100 mile race, a 50 mile race and a 17 mile race all run on a loop course that is slightly less than 17 miles. The loop is on a trail that is a combination of deer path, horse trail and a small amount of gravel roads. During the course of each loop runners will experience a net elevation change of 6000 feet.
I ran the 50 mile distance. That race starts at midnight Friday night.
Zumbro 2018 will live in people’s memories for a long time. The week leading up to the race brought numerous forecasts for a winter storm that was brewing and headed our way. Forecasted snowfall predictions were all over the charts. That, plus the possibility of rain/freezing rain, lightning, thunder, high winds and sleet would make for an interesting race weekend.
I kept telling myself – “I ran in this crap all winter long, why change now?” – even though I really was hoping for weather more like 2017.
I started this race in 2016 and rolled my ankle so badly in the first couple miles that I cracked the base of my left fibula. I never viewed this as a redemptive effort, but more as another chance at tackling the 50 mile distance. The Zumbro 50 mile race has a very generous 18 hour time cutoff.
Last November, I started working with a coaching team that specializes in helping trail runners with their training plans, diet and race strategies. Leading up to race week, I had started to formulate goals for the race. Those were out the window once the race started.
I arrived at the Zumbro Bottoms Horse Camp (aka race hq) at about 3:30pm Friday afternoon as I wanted to get there early ahead of the weather. I took some time to prep my drop bags and get myself organized for the race. You always want to bring extra clothing for these events in case you need to change into dry clothes. I literally brought every running shirt I own, several pairs of shorts, a couple pairs of running pants, 5 pairs of socks, two running jackets, several winter jackets, hats, gloves, sorel boots and a shovel.
The rest of our crew arrived and we had some time to catch up before I decided I should try to nap. I headed for my truck at about 8pm. Right after I got warmed up, rain started to pour from the skies. I wanted to see it change to snow so badly. Finally at about 8:30pm it started to change. And it was snowing hard. I napped a little bit and then a little before 10pm walked over to check-in for the race. After I was done checking in, I grabbed my gear and went over to a wall tent (with a gas heater in it) that a friend of mine had setup. He was running the 100 mile race and generously offered to let me keep warm in his tent. At about 11:50, I went over to the start area and waited for instructions from the race director.
Loop 1 – “Why are we out here running in this weather?”
A little after midnight, John Storkamp gathered us 50 mile runners together for some words of wisdom before setting us loose. I’ve witnessed several of John’s pre-race speeches. This was the most serious I’ve heard him. Due to the weather and the fact that the roads into race headquarters were becoming impassable, John asked any 50 mile runner that did not feel confident that they could make it a full loop to drop at Aid Station 1 and walk back to the start. The race officials would not be able to extract anyone that dropped along the course.
Shortly after that, we got started. As I recall, it was snowing with a mix of rain and sleet. Right away the winds were not too bad. But we soon discovered that the mud was pretty crazy. In places, it was calf deep and would try to suck your shoes off.
There are 4 aid stations plus the start/finish area on each loop. Aid Station one doubles as Aid Station 4. Aid Station 2 doubles as Aid Station 3. I made it to Aid Station 1 feeling pretty good. It was great seeing friends there volunteering (thanks Stu, Travis, Lindsey and Bob!). I left and headed out toward AS 2. There’s a pretty good climb and descent along the way. I got in and out of the aid station after grabbing more water and a grilled cheese sandwich. Between 2 and 3 there’s another good climb and a pretty challenging descent that was getting kind of slick with the rain and snow and a couple hundred runners having run on it. I got to Aid Station 3, grabbed another grilled cheese and took off. Between 3 and 4 there is a long climb up to a ridge leading to Ant Hill. Some of the most scenic views along the course can be seen in this area. It was during this section that I began to doubt myself. The winds blowing across this ridge were crazy (someone said winds of 75 mph were recorded and I believe it) and large snow drifts were forming. I kept plodding along worrying about getting killed by a falling tree or branch. During this stretch leading to the next aid station, I spent too much time hiking. Eventually I made it to Aid Station 4 and made it clear to the guys that I was having my doubts. I ate some food, grabbed some coffee and took off by myself on my way to finishing the loop. Somewhere along here I thought to myself that with all the training I put in this past winter, it would be a shame to drop after one loop. I needed to get my mind right. I can’t say I had convinced myself by the end of that first loop, but I wasn’t ready to give up. I finished the first loop in about 5 hours and 50 minutes.
Below is a video someone took to show conditions along the ridge leading to Ant Hill (about halfway between aid stations 3 and 4). My first encounter with this beast occurred in the dark at about 3AM Saturday morning. Turn on the sound for the full effect. Not sure if this video will display for everyone since its on Facebook.
Loop 2 – “As long as I’m here I might as well run another loop.”
After completing the first loop, I sat in the warming tent and changed out of my wet clothes and socks. My backup jacket had gotten wet from rain and sleet during the time I was on the first loop. So I went to find Steve Sorenson who’s always saying, “let me know what you need”. I told him I needed a jacket. He brought me a sweet Woolrich jacket (vintage Denny Sorenson, I’m told) and a camo goretex shell. They felt amazing. I ate some more food including the most delicious bacon ever and took off.
At the beginning of loop two, I was thinking that finishing two loops might be good.
When I came into Aid Station 1, I was glad to see my friends again. They remarked that after seeing me near the end of loop 1, they were not sure they would see me again. That’s how negative I must have sounded.
I was more focused on running during this loop. I ran as much of the flatter areas and downhills as a I could and power hiked the long climbs.
As I made my way along the course on this loop, I realized how much more slick things were getting. Some of the descents were crazy! I wore mittens and grabbed trees along the way to keep myself from falling. Knowing what to expect, I made pretty good time and finished the loop in about 5 hours and 30 minutes.
Video of me finishing loop 2 (video courtesy Eric Hadtrath):
Loop 3 – “Holy crap, I’m going to finish!”
An alternative label for this loop could be Bad Medicine – as in the song by Bon Jovi. I’m not a huge Bon Jovi fan, so of course that song somehow got stuck in my head for the entire last loop. Headphones are not a great idea for runs like this. It helps to be aware of your surroundings and as a courtesy to others. So, Jon and his boys provided me with some rhythm.
I got into the start finish area after finishing lap 2 at about 11:30am. Steve and Wenday found me and my only question centered around will they let me continue? Conditions had gotten bad enough where I had been hearing rumors about the 17 mile race being cancelled and that they might shut down the slower 50 milers. I asked Steve and he told me I could go. So another quick change of clothes (thanks again to Steve bringing everything including the kitchen sink), some more amazing bacon, a banana, a refill of my hydration pack and I took off at 11:42. I had 6 hours and 18 minutes to finish loop 3 and the race! A couple miles into the loop, I wondered if Steve had made it up and I wasn’t supposed to continue. Whatever the case was, I was out here to do it.
At this point, I took it aid station by aid station. I was still able to run the flatter sections and some of the downhills and I was also able to climb at a decent clip. All along the way, I was trying to do trail math and things seemed to add up. I got to aid station 1, ate some food and grabbed some coffee for the road. I made my way to aid station 2 where I grabbed another grilled cheese and took off. I have to say the crew at this aid station (and all the others) was awesome. There were not a lot of people left on the course for various reasons and these folks started to recognize me. It was sleeting pretty hard during most of the third loop and I noted that odd as it sounds, the sleet helped give me better traction especially on those crazy downhills. It’s a shorter section between aid station 2 and 3 and before I knew it, I was back at aid station 3. It hit me that I now had 3 hours to go 6.7 miles.
I grabbed yet another grilled cheese, a refill of my pack and hit the trail towards aid station 4. One last climb up to the windy ridge and Ant Hill. 4 miles total to aid station 4. As I started the climb up to Ant Hill, I wondered if my calves would cramp during this third climb of this hill. Eventually, I made it to the top and felt good. At some point, I grabbed a fallen tree branch and made a hiking pole out of it. Not sure why I didn’t do this sooner or why I didn’t grab the poles Stu brought for me! One last time through the snow drifts along the ridge (Some of the drifts were in excess of 6 feet deep by this point). The wind was still blowing and sleet was being carried horizontally with it. I made it through this section and felt like I was home free. This was one of the points during the race where my emotions came through. Whew, it felt good knowing that (barring injury or unforeseen illness) I would finish the race! I got to aid station 4 which was nearly shut down (that’s normal this late in the day). But they still had coke and coffee for me! I grabbed a couple roadies and headed for the home stretch. 2.7 miles to go! At this point, I was mostly power hiking. I was able to move at a pretty good clip. I figured I would do the same for the rest of the way until I reached the campground and then run it in. I kept moving, even running a bit and then finally saw the gate leading into the campground. Once I was in the campground, I took off at a slow trot. I could not believe it was happening. As I got closer I could hear Steve, Wenday, Bob and Lindsey cheering me in. It felt great to cross that finish line. I was given my Zumbro finishers medallion, shook hands and got a few hugs. Some emotions might have leaked out. I finished in 17 hours and 16 minutes with 44 minutes to spare.
This was such a crazy race in so many ways. All the winter training runs in the dark, the snow and the cold. And then race day unexpectedly bringing much of the same.
I am so thankful to have a wife and friends that enjoy these adventures and support me. My heartfelt thanks goes out to Heather, Steve, Wenday, Lindsey, Bob, Stu and Travis. A truly remarkable group of people who will give you the shirt off their backs (I know that because Steve LITERALLY gave me the shirt off his back prior to me heading out to run the last loop). Huge thanks to my wife Heather that supports me in whatever I do. Whether it was granting me the time for my long runs or suggesting I hire a coach, she’s always there for me.
I big shoutout to my coaches Jake and Rachel at Trail Transformation. Getting a real training plan together combined with better eating habits contributed immensely to how my body held up during the race.
Thanks also to John Storkamp and Rock Steady Running for putting on these events. It’s a well-run organization and the volunteers are amazing giving up their time (in some cases working 36 hour shifts due to the weather this weekend) to stand in the woods and make grilled cheese sandwiches, refill water packs, offer positive reinforcement plus a TON of other duties.
100 mile race
- 131 signed up
- 120 started
- 20 finished
- 17% finishing rate
- In 2017, the finishing rate was 65%
50 mile race
- 254 signed up
- 175 started
- 49 finished
- Finishing rate of 28%
- In 2017, the finishing rate was 79%
For the safety of the runners, race volunteers and local officials, the 17 mile race was cancelled.
Here are a few additional photos from the race weekend.
If you have ever considered running an ultra distance race or any distance race, do it. It is truly amazing what you are capable of if you are willing to just give it a go. You never know, you might surprise yourself.