The 2013 Wilderness Athlete Gnarly Bandit Series didn’t start off with a bang, but rather with the semi-quick pitter-patter of footsteps on soft, snow-covered mud. And the more footsteps that landed on the course, the softer the mud became, engulfing shoes, then ankles, then lower calves – causing excessive uneven footing and the unavoidable slipping and falling. Rumor has it that one runner lost his shoe to the muck three times in a short section.
On April 12-13, the Zumbro Endurance Runs (100 mile, 50 mile and 17 mile) were held at the Zumbro River Bottoms State Wildlife Management Area, which is closest to Theilman, Minnesota, and about six miles directly southwest of Wabasha. This is the bluff country of Minnesota, which is translated into steep ups and downs, and not weenie hills either – they require sustained climbing.
The Zumbro course is a 16.7 mile loop completed six times for the 100 mile, and each loop the course was in a different condition. The amount of cumulative footsteps changed the course, but so did the weather, causing the course to oscillate between wet muck, deep sticky muck and very slick muck. Daytime temperatures hovered in the 30s, while nighttime lows reached the lower 20s. Luckily, any moisture falling from the sky was in the form of snow rather than rain. Another good fortune was the small amount of snow on the ground, since much of the remainder of the state was buried in six to 12 inches of the white stuff.
The Zumbro 100 was the first challenge in the 2013 Gnarly Bandit Ultra Series, sponsored by Wilderness Athlete Performance Products, offered by Upper Midwest Trail Runners. All athletes who complete all five races receive an equal portion of the $600 bounty put up by Wilderness Athlete, as well as Wilderness Athlete performance products and a coveted work of art by Rock Steady Racing’s own John Storkamp.
In past years, the main challenge of the Gnarly Bandit series was completing 100-mile race after 100-mile race. In other words, the runners had very little rest between each race, allowing their bodies little time to recover. However this year, one of the main challenges may have already occurred in just completing this first race, given the conditions.
The Gnarly Bandit himself was on the prowl early this racing season, even before this race began, by convincing Mother Nature to spew rain and snow onto the already fully saturated ground. The only part of the course that wasn’t turned into muck was the sandy areas, of which there were many. It’s as easy to run on sand as it is on muck, ‘nough said.
Twenty-two runners signed up for the Gnarly Bandit series this year and they all made it to the starting line of the Zumbro 100. Given what you now know about this year’s race, you won’t be surprised that there was only a 31 percent finishing rate. The Gnarly Bandit contestants faired a little better with a 50 percent finishing rate. (The 50 mile had a 63 percent finishing rate while the 17 mile had a 95 percent finishing rate – most anyone can handle one loop of muck, right?) But if you sign up for this race, you know it’s not going to be a walk in the park. Anything can and has happened in early April in Minnesota.
Eleven of the 22 series starters eluded the Gnarly Bandit this time around (unofficial results): Tina Johnson (Wauwatosa, Wis.) 28:42.23; Joseph Hegman (Edina, Minn.) 28:44:00; Jason Davis (Sioux City, Iowa) 28:58:51; Nicholas Koenig (Otsego, Minn.) 29:58:25; Ron Hendrickson (Esko, Minn.) 30:51:49; John Taylor (Minneapolis, Minn.) 31:38:59; Jennifer Majewski (Milwaukee, Wis.) 31:54:52; Jessica Pendleton (Johnston, Iowa) 31:57:20; Matthew Menacher (Chicago, Ill.) 32:05:24; Daryl Saari (Rochester, Minn.) 33:39:49; and Angela Barbera (Mauston, Wis.) 33:42:35.
Don’t expect the Gnarly Bandit to back down his efforts any time soon. I’m sure he’ll come up with many other crazy ideas to inflict pain and discomfort to the remaining series contenders. If it was easy, everybody would be running in the muck!
Four races remain in the 2013 Wilderness Athlete Gnarly Bandit series: Kettle Moraine 100 mile (June 1), Black Hills 100 mile (June 29), Superior Sawtooth 100 mile (Sept. 6) and Wild Duluth 100k (Oct. 19). See y’all out there!