Amazing! Manitoba’s Sue Lucas, 51, won the overall 150-mile run on the Tuscobia Trail in the unique 2014/2015 edition when she entered the Tuscobia tent in Park Falls at 6:26 Saturday morning. Her time pulling the pulk of 48 hours, 26 minutes, a women’s course record, clipped six hours off her December 2013 Tuscobia class win where she nailed a second overall performance.
Accommodating the Christmas/New Year’s holidays dictated this year’s unusual race date for event directors Helen and Chris Scotch. The 150-mile run, one of nine competition variations over three days, launched early on Thursday, January 1, 2015. Following a tame New Year’s Eve in Park Falls, Wisconsin, a strong group of 18 brave competitors tackled the out-and-back layout on the reclaimed Tuscobia Railroad track.
Lucas is one tough racer. Winning her age class at 2014’s Superior 100 tallies just one sign of her innate ability. But following-up on this win at Tuscobia, she crushes the women’s record at “The Granddaddy,” Arrowhead 135, raced three weeks afterward, by 5.5 hours, capturing eighth overall.
Lucas explained her strategy at Tuscobia to me. “The experience of last year helped so much as I didn’t train more for this year, and even possibly less. I did run this (past) year at both races and a lot of their distance then so I think that was a factor in faster times. Plus, I was on a mission to finish the Arrowhead 135 this time.” Tuscobia helped with that. For 2014, Arrowhead’s demons knocked her out of the race at the MelGeorge aid station, their second one, found at 70 miles.
Her experience at Actif Epica comes from a 17:42 finish in 2013, a second overall-tie with Helen and Chris Scotch. With a successful 2015 at Actif Epica that races over Valentines weekend in Manitoba, Lucas will earn the prestigious Order of the Hrimthurs Award. Read about it here and here.
2013’s winner, Duluth’s Jason Buffington attempted this year’s 150 on skis where he surprisingly dropped at the Birchwood-out aid station at a few minutes past midnight January 2 after just 63 miles. The only other skier for the distance, Charlie Farrow (Duluth), later dropped at the same place. Racers clear Birchwood-out on the way to the turnaround at 75 miles (Rice Lake), then return to Birchwood-in after an approximate marathon distance before trudging on to Park Falls for their finish.
Second overall in the run found Randy Kottke of St. Michael, Minnesota, a first-timer for this distance, crossing in 52:28 at 10:28 a.m. on Saturday. That gave him the men’s victory. Springfield, Ohio’s entrant, Kirk Ridenour, trailed by four hours and 14 minutes later for third overall, but second, male.
Ridenour led Kottke into the Winter and Birchwood, the first and second aid stations, taking close to two hours to recover. Kottke left in under an hour, leading now by 13 minutes but at the Birchwood-in, Ridenour had retaken second by 45 minutes. They left Birchwood for the Winter aid station at 11:57 a.m, Friday, with Kottke one slim minute in front. They entered Winter together, four minutes before midnight, leaving together 34 minutes later at 12:30 Saturday morning. In those 30 remaining miles, Kottke pulled away as Ridenour obviously slowed in those long, quiet, tree-lined compressing miles. Ridenour is a veteran of several 100 mile distances. Kottke races trail on the Zumbro 17-mile challenge while volunteering for their longer 50- and 100-mile events that get underway prior to his start
Kottke kept emphasizing to me, “I’m no special athlete or special person.” Well, an ordinary athlete doesn’t go out and complete 150 miles while towing their survival gear just because they wanted to. He quipped, “I do know that Sue Lucas from Winnipeg smoked the field, was not only easy on the eyes, but a true athlete and competitor. She made the rest of us look like Boy Scouts.”
His experience at Tuscobia included a failed 2014 attempt at the 75 miles on foot. “I had to bow out after I got the trots fueled by my choices of bars. I had made it 45 miles when the never-ending liquid Coco Puffs Train chugged out of the tunnel looking for daylight. So, in essence, this race had been working against my shriveled manhood for a year. As I look back, I believe I was one of the least experienced participants. For the most part, most seemed to have extensive 100 milers under their belts with extensive winter endurance race experience.”
Kottke, in the home construction business, explained, “I learned an awful lot, but I feel like I only scratched the surface on what I really could learn. The first night it reached minus 18. That made the snow fast for the sled but a bit tough on the extremities because everything is wet. Or, at least it was on me. I had switched my fuel to four dozen monster cookies. And, because I was putting fires out at work, I didn’t have a chance to make them myself. I went to the local grocery store, picked up the four packs of cookies, and the kid who was eyeing all the cookies, ringing me up, asked me, ‘So, are you heading to a New Years Eve party?’ I have to admit I felt like a true ultra novice when I attempted to explained to him my new ‘half-baked’ ultra-cookie fueling theory. I eventually modified it by adding mixed nuts and some chocolate.”
Doing this distance without sleep, as Kottke did, can lead to strange thoughts; even with sleep one can experience weird visions. He explains, “So, there I was, about 12:30 in the morning, briskly moving forward on the snowmobile path. I haven’t seen anyone in at least three hours. There’s no sign of human life. There’s no house lights or sounds of traffic, just me moving forward with my headlamp on. The hallucinations come on quite slow. At first, one shakes his head to get the blood flowing for brain realignment. Or you scream to get your heart pumping. You fight it as best you can by singing every song you know the lyrics to, and then by making up your own songs that eventually all boil down to one stupid chorus line that you are now snarling like a rabid dog.
Of course, you sing it over and over in every octave possible, until it dawns on you that it now sounds like you are snarling in a chorus, and you are singing only one part. You quickly realize the song will never be a top-40 chart hit, especially with those other untrained voices who keep singing their parts even after you had given your vocal cords a much-needed rest after that last bend in the trail. But, heck, you don’t fret too long over your song writing skills because you see a really nice boat parked up ahead. It’s beautiful. Wow, what is that boat doing up here? Are there lakes big enough for that boat in these woods? That water has to drop off 30 feet deep right after the edge of the trail ahead. Boy, if that was my boat I would have parked it away from the snowmobile trail. And, then, you look down at your feet to kick the ice off your shoes, and you wonder how long the trail had been paved with plywood? Wow, that’s a lot of plywood. I must be on a dock on a marina. I can’t believe these people would let these drunk snowmobilers drive on their docks in the winter.”
And what happens when a snowmobiler happens by a little later in the dark fog with a headlight beaming through like a ghost-locomotive, but with no sound? On the plywood? Kottke asks for conversation. “Talk to me man, please! Just talk to me!” Truth begins to bleed into reality . . . or not? “I really don’t remember much of the first part of the conversation, but as I recall, both of us seemed unnecessarily loud and spastic standing in the fog that was still thickening. I remember then glancing in the his direction as I was hitting my head, telling him about how these last couple of hours strangely had just reminded me of the inside cover art of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.”
Although the form varies, invariably the upper of choice for trails doesn’t. “The biker then said, ‘Hey, do you want some caffeine gum?’ I told him I hadn’t had any caffeine in almost 20 years, but, sure, I’d thankfully take a piece. The biker then popped out a little Chiclet, and I immediately put it in my mouth. I chewed for a couple of seconds as I asked him how long would it take for the caffeine to kick in? And just as I finished up my sentence there came a distinct, laudable, not-of-this-earth, audible corruption—the likes of which I have never heard before: rrrrrrrrrwaaaaaaappppppp! Just then my whole world clicked back into focus. My fog was totally lifted. The plywood trail was gone. The snowmobile trail was back under my feet, and after a quick headlamp survey, no marina in sight. The hoodoos were all gone. Those little squares of gum continued to keep the hallucinations at bay until the sun came up. And I guess I just kept walking.”
Edward Sandor, Minneapolis, gets credit for a shared-bronze male finisher in 59:35 as Dominique LaSalle, St. Paul, finished right with him. Sandor posted, “I teamed up the first night with Dominique. We spent the last 100 miles together and finished tied.” He further praised the volunteers who helped in many ways like “Chris and Lisa for splinting my broken trekking pole and to Aaron Ehlers for lending me his poles for the last 62 miles.” Joaquin Candel, a Nevada resident, completed the race in 59:39. From Nevada?
Candel told me, “I have done just three 100-mile races. Last year, I tried the Arrowhead 135, but took a wrong turn and got lost. I got to the first check point two minutes late and couldn’t continue. So, Tuscobia was my first over-100-mile try plus a race-on-snow finish. Snow? I’m a Vegas guy. Also, I don’t do dirt trails. I just need one tiny rock on the path for me to trip and kill myself. So I do 95 percent of the running and biking on roads.”
Finishing was a win for him, Candel said, but he learned a lot of things from one pretty good source. “This last month of January has been like a fire hose of knowledge for me. I grew up right by the beach in Spain, so being at 40 below, surrounded by snow, and dragging a sled has been the time of my life. The worst thing at Tuscobia was the 4,000 pounds of ‘what ifs’ that I carried on my sled: what if it snows, what if it rains, what if I need this or that? I started the race with Roberto (Marron). Halfway to the first check point, I realized I was carrying way too much water. So we stopped, and I emptied a two liter thermos that I had on my sled. I told Roberto I think I’m going to throw away the water in the therm. Roberto said, ‘If I were you, I would throw away the water and the therm.’ He was joking about the second.”
I’ve been on trail with Marron; he probably was not kidding though he may have smiled when providing this edict. He is ruthless when it comes to weight.
Continuing, Candel said, “At the first check point (Winter-out), I emptied a few thing into my drop bag. By the second check point (Birchwood-out) my sled was down a few pounds. Kind of funny how your drop bags are supposed to get lighter as you use your food and gear, but mine were (seemingly) getting heavier even with all the stuff I was getting rid of.” Candel shows the right attitude for a successful ultra racer: “I can’t wait for next year.”
Notables not finishing include Marron, St. Paul, missing a possible fifth-in-a-row finish in the 150-Mile after The 300-Mile Man made the Winter-in aid station at 2 a.m (approximately 120 miles). He explained his conditioning suffered due to time used in developing his outdoor product business. Pal Logan Pulfuss, now of Colorado, dropped at Birchwood-out.
In the 150 fat tire bike event, Jay Petervary, Idaho, nailed a sub-15 hour record finish in 14:54 for the overall win as Dan Lockery, Winnipeg, tracked across the finish about 2.5 hours later for his second consecutive silver. Sioux Falls’ Joe Stiller of the popular Tina-Joe Stiller Team captured bronze 45 minutes later.
Petervary describes his go-for-it style in Salsa Cycles Culture Blog ~ Adventure by Bike: “At the start, in typical style and form, I stood up and put down power to the pedals like we were going to race for an hour, even though it would be 150 miles. It’s just how I like to start and if all is going well, I never let up. This has taken me years of experience, and the older, more trained I get, the less I ever let up. (Later) after I realized I was on my own, I continued to stand up on the pedals, pushing harder, trying to go as fast as possible. I realized I was on record pace. The trail was not a ‘gimmee’; it took power to pedal with just enough mushy snow on top that you had to apply the power to get the results. I like that type of riding as it’s what I do in Idaho quite a bit.”
The women’s 150 bike championship fell to Jill Martindale, Michigan, in 25:08, a course record, representing the Grand Rapids Bicycle Company. I asked about her experience in long distance events. “Tuscobia was my first winter ultra, and I was more concerned with finishing than with winning it. I knew not many women had finished the 150, and I was really excited to just hunker down and roll to the finish line. The longest race I had been in previously was 12 hours, and I was going to treat this one as a 24-hour. I don’t get phone service north of Gaylord City, Michigan, and didn’t find out that I had been awarded the winner until a few days after the race. My minivan flipped on black ice on the way home through the Upper Peninsula, and my boyfriend and I got stranded in Norway dealing with cleaning out the van and scrapping it (to the hunk heap) before finding a ride back to Grand Rapids.
Luckily everything in the van was safe, our friends were just an hour away, and some locals drove us to where we could meet them. When we hit Gaylord I started getting notifications from Facebook, and I got a text from my sister. I shot a message to the race directors (Helen and Chris Scotch) and didn’t want to post anything about the win because I thought maybe they’d change their decision. I was really paranoid about not having the right lights or the right reflective gear, so after the racers meeting I went crazy with reflective tape, and I literally brought all the red blinker lights I owned with me on my bike.”
Not surprisingly, since the bike shop acts as a Salsa dealer, “I race the Salsa Beargrease, which I absolutely love. I train all summer on it, and I can rip it around like a normal 29-inch mountain bike. It’s so good for endurance workouts! It’s really comfortable and tons of fun. Tuscobia was mentally really tough because it was so straight, flat, and bumpy from the snowmobilers and the runners. I’m so glad I signed up for it and raced it as my first winter ultra; I’m really looking forward to doing more next winter.”
The 75-mile run found a fast 13:52 record for Peter Witucki, Madison, for the overall win. About 5.5 hours afterward, Minneapolis’ Jared Vanderhook captured silver. Robert Henderson also of Minneapolis rounded out the overall finishers in 21:27, edging a 21:39 finish by Kevin Mackie of Brule.
St Paul’s Faye Norby-Lopez took the 75 run for the women’s class in a record 22:37. Bonnie Busch, Iowa, captured silver in 26:47 finishing with Michael Gibson as they raced the distance together.
The 35 run enjoyed a near perfect finish rate (87 percent) as Mike Ward, Duluth, grabbed a win under six hours, 5:59. Summit Lake’s Chad Boers tracked in at 6:13 for silver, just seconds ahead of James Reed, Duluth.
Alison Fraser, Minneapolis took the class gold in 7:25, a course record, and a top 10 (seventh) overall finish. She commented, “I am in awe of Sue and the other 150-milers. It was like running on the beach, killer on the calves. I struggle to think what it would be like being out there for over two days. It was fun, though, as Andrew, my husband, and I ran together until the final checkpoint. Then he let me go off on my own!”
Carrie Patz, Iowa, grabbed second in 8:14 with Becka Linder, Minneapolis, completing the podium in 9:10.
In the ski division, Steve Hagedorn, Two Harbors, won overall in 5:47 while Kristin Palecek, Butternut, took second overall and first female. AJ Van Beest, third overall, from Ashland in 10:03 edged Paul Klassen and David Flynn, both from Winnipeg, who tied at 10:12.
The course record for bikes in the 35-mile distance, 3:30, found Neil Statz, Wisconsin Rapids, tying it this year, adding to the list started by Justin Pointek in 2013. His overall win was followed by Manitowoc’s George Kapitz in 3:46 who won (as the race results called it) “by a snowflake” over Andy Wegner racing out of Green Bay.
Melissa Hunter, Lakeville, Minnesota, won the female class in a record 4:18 as Tina Stiller, Sioux Falls, biked to a silver three minutes later. Lynnee Schmidt, De Pere, finished out the podium in 4:54.
Then, all 163 entrants who lined up to challenge the Tuscobia trails in three distances (150, 75, 35), three different methods of movement (foot, bike, skis) and two classes (his and her) completed their attempts. No matter the outcome, all will never forget this, or any other, Tuscobia Winter Ultra event. That’s why one chooses to give it a try.