Friday, July 1, 2011

2011 Keyes Peak 50km

June 25, 2011
Florence, WI

This summer I was fortunate enough to escape the heat of Alabama and spend a month with my parents in my home town of Kingsford, Michigan and work remotely.  The real reason for the pilgramage was to spend some time with my Mom and Dad during a period in which they would both celebrate birthdays (57th for my Mom, 60th for my Dad), Father's Day, and their 39th Wedding Anniversary.  The trip also lined up with the 2nd running of the Keyes Peak Trail Runs in Florence, Wisconsin.  In the inaugural year I was fortunate enough to have lead the marathon from the start and took the overall victory.  This year race director Jeff Crumbaugh of Great Lakes Endurance, added a 50km distance and immediately sparked my interest.  The events also earned national recognition by Runner's World as on of the top 32 trail races in North America.  This distinction was sure to help draw a good level of competition to this small community in northeastern Wisconsin.  Trail racing is relatively new to this area and ultrarunning is brand new so you can imagine my surprise when I saw this marquee welcoming them to town.

Read more here...

Two days before the race I took the mountain bike out to the southern portion of the course specifically to check out the infamous river crossing at mile 23 on the 50km race. Last year the crossing, which is the confluence of the Pine River and its main tributary, the Popple, was moderately high and surprisingly swift. I was washed downstream to the more shallow rope crossing before sloshing up the bank and onto the final 8 miles. The few days since I had arrived in Michigan had been cold and damp, highlighted by 5" of rain on Tuesday. I needed to mentally prepare for crossing by seeing the river in advance. What I saw on the way to the crossing was gravel roads engulfed in standing water, nasty mud on logging roads and a fresh berm to prevent vehicular traffic at the half-marathon mark. Here are some snap shots of the course.

Climbing the berm

The swampy roads

The XC Ski trail stream
When I finally made it to the river crossing, it was clear that there was no way we would be crossing it on race day. The current was faster and the level was higher than last year making it impossible even to add a rope downstream for a safe crossing. The course markings lead up to the river crossing, but it was my guess that Jeff and gang marked from the start up to the river and didn't see how bad it was until they got there. I suspected that they would change the course and this was confirmed at packet pick up on Friday night. The course would now be an out-and-back.

There was a smaller turn out than I thought with only about 50 starters in the marathon and 50km.  That didn't matter much though as I was focused on the fast looking guys who stood at the starting line.  The temperatures were good to start at 55 degrees but by noon it would rise by 20 degrees and with the wide open sections, it was certain to be warm.  I had it in my mind that I would not run the first mile up the back side of the ski hill at a blistering pace like Pete Witucki and I did last year, for which we both payed for late in the race.  Before I knew it, I was sprinting up the hill in my roclite 285's alongside Jason Schatz from Madison, with Pete and Josh Wopata from Indiana close behind.  Ironically, none of the four of us were from Wisconsin!  Jason and I chatted through the first few miles but while he was running with ease, I was working too hard to be running under 7 minute pace for the first 5km of a 50km race.  So I wished him well (he was wearing x-talon 212's) and I backed off to a more comfortable pace.  It was not long after that Josh caught up to me and not long for him to blaze past.  He too was nice and we exchanged a few words about the race and I tried to give him some pointers on the course before he was out of sight.

The race start with Pete Witucki to my left
Mentally I had split the course up into four sections.

  1. Start to the Pine River crossing at the oxbow at mile 8
  2. The oxbow to the turn around
  3. The turn back to the oxbow at mile 23 where my parents would be waiting
  4. The oxbow back to the end
The first section included the climb up the ski hill but them was steadily downhill to the river on very runnable gravel or jeep roads and very little mud so I hope to make good time.  The depth of the standing water on the roads surprised me several times, but otherwise I managed the section very well and according to plan.  I stayed true to my hydration and fueling plan and fought through the sandy sections, splitting the first 8 miles in 55:32 for just under 7 minute pace.

The second section involved much more climbing, grassy jeep roads with ankle deep water, muddy logging roads, climbing over the berm at 13, followed by a nasty single track section with waist high ferns covering up the uneven footing.  To top it of, after turning off of a cross country ski trail and back onto the gravel road near LaSalle Falls, there was a mile and a half climb to the turn around.  The effort was about the same as the first part, but the pace was slower due to the poor footing.  What was important was the fact that my mind was strong and I was feeling strong.  I had not seen Pete in some time, but figured that I was at least 10 minutes behind the leaders approaching the turn, but was caught off guard when I saw Jason more then a mile away from the turn; he was eating up the course!  As the turn was closer and closer, there was no sight of Josh.  I came to the turn and very quickly I saw that Pete was right behind me and Josh followed; he said that he had taken a wrong turn somewhere and gotten off track.  Let's just say that he was now running on adrenaline and passed me before LaSalle falls on the way back.  I hit the turn around in about 1:54, which with a different finishing mile than the start, was a little less than half way.

Just as I was able to see the gap to the leaders at the turn, so where the people behind me, and me them.  I don't think that I saw the 5th place runner until the top of the climb at LaSalle Falls but then there was a steady stream of runners, including the first female at the mile 14 aid station.  It made me a little nervous to see how close they were!  There would be little margin for error in the second half of the race.  The temperature was climbing mile after mile on the way back as I passed 50km runners still on their way out and marathoners on their way back.  It was a nice mental boost to see other runners instead of the loneliness of the first two hours.  Slower runners were very nice on the crowded single track with two-way traffic, stepping aside for me.  I tried to return the favor with words of encouragement or letting them know what was just ahead on the course.  Everyone seemed to be in such great spirits!  It felt like I was slowing too much but my splits were still in the low 8's through the hardest part of the course.  I walked for the first time at the 20 mile mark (2:32:01) to take an S! Cap and two Alleve.  I had been taking S! Caps regularly but was starting to cramp slightly so took an extra.  This probably wasn't the best idea as it upset my stomach a little and made me want to throw up.  For some reason my left instep was bothering me impact which was the reason for the NSAIDs.  Pete passed me while I walked and after that I tried to stay with him but it wasn't long before he was out of sight too.  I was still running pretty well and was on track for a sub 4:10, which was my secondary goal, knowing that it would take a sub 4 to win.

I met my parents at mile 23 and took a second bottle from my mom.  I grabbed a handful of MM's and some bug spray before taking off again.  The fast downhill from miles 2-8 at the start would now be a steady 10km of climb to the top of the ski hill.  I did walk some of the first climb and made small talk with some of the marathoners and encourage them, but for the most part I kept a smooth running motion, albeit slow.  I had it in my mind that if I could keep it under 9 minute miles through the final few miles I could still slip in under 4:10, but other than the tough mile 24 where I struggled a little, I was able to stay in the low to mid 8's and plod along.  I was worried about tired legs on the soft sand before coming back through the final aid station but it wasn't too bad and before I knew it, I was turning back onto the pavement at Country Road D and heading toward Emily Lake.  To my surprise, I could see Pete ahead just by maybe a quarter mile.  Maybe it was the thought of a top 3 finish or maybe I could smell the barn, but I picked up the pace and tried to close the gap.  The closer I got the more I thought that maybe we could push each other in the final 5km and come in together at the end.  So when I finally caught up, we ran a couple of miles together and talked about the day and the race as we passed a few more people.  I laughed when he said that just because we were going to run it in together that it didn't mean that we had to hold hands!  Together we hit the crest at mile 30 but I could tell that he wanted so slow down.  We talked about it several times and I felt bad leaving him and we had decided to finish up together but finally he started to walk and told me to go and so I went.  I felt good and wanted to push hard through to the finish so I knocked it down to 7:30 pace as the road wound around the top of the ski hill.  I narrowly missed a turn coming down the slopes but there were some great course marshals volunteering that guided me back on track and I cruised down the hill, pushing to keep it under 4:07 and crossed at 4:06:49.

Coming down the ski slopes to the finish at the lodge
Having run the majority of this race in solitude I was really able to take in the beauty of my surroundings and reflect inward on what I was really doing out there.  Not everyone can run and even fewer can perform at such at a high level.  Most of the time I focus on how I performed and how I was able to overcome the tough stretches and it is just a focus on me.  The more I think about it, the more I realize that I have been blessed with the ability to run and given the gifts to compete and from there it is up to each person to realize there own potential and search for their limits.  Without getting too deep or too spiritual, I just want to say that I do feel fortunate and am thankful for every step that I am able to take and I am finally feeling like my running has a purpose.

Final Results

Full results from Sam and Kara Graci with can be found here.

PlaceNameCityAgeTimeTime Back
1Jason SchatzMadison WI293:42.420:00:00
2Joshua WopataWestfield IN313:46.5704:14.8
3Eric CharetteHuntsville AL354:06.4924:07.4
4Pete WituckiChicago IL304:08.1625:33.2
5James WebberOtsego MI284:40.4157:58.9

Handmade Finisher Awards from local hardwoods

Post swim in the icy cold Keyes Lake

Elevation Profile

MilePaceTotal TimeAve Pace