Here is a forecast: trail-racing popularity is now officially exploding and will continue growing from here. Ultrarunning Magazine reported race results and finishers were profoundly up in 2010 and expected to zoom in 2011.
Two popular events — the Chippewa Moraine Trail Races in Wisconsin and the Superior Spring Trail Races in Minnesota — reflect that trend. Further, they teach a lesson: Getting in a race is getting to be as difficult as finishing the race on goal. A new toughie, Zumbro 100, is sprouting, too.
“Chip” raced on a cool Saturday morning in April with 38 degrees starting the day with a modest high of 48, perfect conditions. Some light rain in the pre-gun morning “cleared after the start,” said Jeff Allen, Race Director.
He also showed smart judgment when he went about the process of buying his supplies from the nearby merchants in New London near the park, none of whom would be national chains or discount houses. “We want the event to build and grow in the area and feel the merchants should participate with us,” reasoned Allen.
This year’s course added approximately 100 yards to the 50 km distance at a new turnaround for the out-and-back course. “This was a safer location for both the aid station personnel and the runners with additional room for everything including drop bags.”
This year’s awards by teacher/artist/runner Wynn Davis are individual original works of creativity. The deserving recipients (photo) of these masterpieces:
Brian Peterson won overall breaking four hours by 21 seconds. Craig Hertz and Jonas Ryttie battled one another for the second spot — only six seconds separated their finish.
In a highly competitive women’s field full of highly experienced trail racers, Christi Nowak took victory in 4:45:53 winning a tough race against Leslie Semler and Helen Lavin. In the new companion 10 km race, Christopher Sachs and Melissa Mondo (see her award photo) captured the inaugural honors.
Julie Berg blogged about the course on her return to ultrarunning: “The course was beautiful! Nice rolling ups and downs, deep woods, so many lakes, it was incredible. The trail was soft, nice, and well . . . muddy. We ran through pine, oak, along ridges, through fields, a few road crossings, even some obstacles such as fence climbing and bridge crossings were involved.” Her extensive blog is listed below.
The Zumbro 100, the inaugural race of Wilderness Athlete’s Gnarly Bandit Ultra Series, featured a resounding finish by Adam Schwartz-Lowe, a record in 21:53:05.
Races of all distances feature loops, out-and-back, or point-to-point. Zumbro loops five times so I asked Schwartz-Lowe how he handles the challenges of that format. “Loops are hard mentally, but really nice tactically. It gets hard to go out and face another 20 miles, but on the other hand, you know exactly how to run it and economize your energy. I kind of had a love-hate thing going on with Ant Hill, which is late in each loop and difficult. It’s a steep technical uphill, followed by some cool single track, then a steep really technical downhill. It got harder and harder, but was a fun challenge to get through it.
For fueling, “I just use water, S-caps, and mainly gels. I think I ate around 50 gels, one every 25 minutes. I did do a little snacking at the aid stations, but mostly just to taste something different, not for fuel. The last 40 miles or so I did down a fair amount of ginger ale, too.”
He wore Hoka One Ones — the Mafete model — during the race. “They are crazy looking shoes with an enormous amount of cushion on them. They are fairly light and the cushion eats up a lot of the rough stuff out there, which was important on this course.”
Many trailites wrestle with attempting a 100 so early in the post-snow season. Vacationing to have extensive on-trail time in warm weather is sure to create technical problems back in your room at Hotel Shangri-La. Even the Gnarly Bandit whose series opens with Zumbro is reticent to recommend such a strategy. He sent a message via a courier on cowback that read, “Go vacation by yourself. Nobody really wants to go on a trip with you no-how.” That is extreme but that is the Gnarly.
Schwartz-Lowe provided a superior solution: “I ran all winter, usually around 40 to 50 miles a week with one day of cross-country skiing on the weekend. Running in the winter is difficult, but it does set you up for a good season. I tried to make sure that I got one long run a week in, since my mileage wasn’t huge.”
No matter the distance, a trail runner better be wrapped in the idea of running trails, otherwise it will demonstrate characteristics of work. What works for Schwartz-Lowe? “Make sure you are having fun with it. There are times during these long events where it is hard and grueling, but overall it has to be fun, or why put yourself through it?”
“I see people go out super hard at almost every event I’m at,” he said, “so one big thing is don’t go out too hard. You won’t wreck your race by going out too slow, but you will by trying to crush the first several miles. Also, keep that calorie drip going,” great advice, by the way, uniquely put. “Keep taking food at short regular intervals — that will help keep the bonk at bay.” Then one could sing the old Otis Redding tune with its lyric altered to, “Sitting at the Bonk of the Bay.”
Behind every good race are . . . a good pacer and crew? Yes, as he explains, “My wife has been at every race with me. She showed up just as I was leaving for my fourth loop and crewed me for the end of that loop then made sure I was comfortable at the finish. I also had two pacers, Zach Pierce (see his photo credits below) ran the fourth loop, and Chris Koch ran the fifth. They were invaluable in keeping me going.”
One of the country’s most popular ultra racers, Susan Donnelly, Oak Ridge, Tenn, called the event’s 8:00 a.m. start “humane” in her popular blog. Their “34-hour cutoff . . . encourages newcomers to give it a shot. There’s plenty of time to finish this doable course.” Winning first woman with a 26.13 (a record!), she identifies a new problem discovered on the trail: the Zumbro “Sleepies.” Read about them at the close of this article with the link to her story.
Finishers are (in order): Schwartz-Lowe, Matthew Aro, Shane Peltonen, Donnelly, Ruben Anderson, Jordan Hanlon, Rob Apple, Daryl Saari, Kathleen Jambor, Bob Murphy, Vince Berber, John Taylor (in photo w John Gustafson left and Aaron Schneider right), Lynn Saari (photo), Erik Dalgaard, Matthew Schafer, and Brian Van Beusekom. A “Sweet 16” of finishers for sure.
The lessons learned from the experiences thus far in 2011? One had better enter their coveted event early.
More information on the Superior Trail Spring Races will be in the next edition.
Zumbro photo credits: Zach Taylor, ultrarunner and ultra-photographer, too.
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