April 18, 2012: The 29 Seconds of Zumbro
The Occupy Zumbro encampment was already well established by the time I rolled into the river bottoms on Friday. Despite my leaving work early to drive down in late-afternoon, it appeared my humble abode would be relegated to the tent suburbs. As I popped my shock-corded poles into place, I looked up at the hills. Somewhere out there, diligent runners were making their way along the ridges and coulees like a parade of ants on a sugar trail. They had been going since 8 AM that morning, seeking the 100 Miler belt buckle.
I had come down to southeast MN for the Zumbro Midnight 50 Miler, so had a few hours to kill before I'd get to set off. The plan was to take a nap and wake up an hour or so before the start to gear up. Given that I suffer a bit from “broken alarm clock anxiety” before any race, the sleep was fit-full at best. So, I had to be content with applying the Chuck Norris philosophy of “the body sleeps, but not the mind”. Hey, it worked for him in the movie the Octagon when those night-stalking Ninjas attacked. (Don't you dare question the wisdom of the baddest man alive. He'll beat your...) But, I digress.
It had been nearly 6 months since Wild Duluth, and I was jonesin' for some mileage - which perhaps explained the facial tics. So, by the time the start rolled around I was pining to go. Race Director John Storkamp kept the formalities brief and on his command we all took off. As Friday turned into Saturday, we disappeared into the darkness.
Running at night on trails is a double edged sword. Even with decent lights one can only see so far down the trail. On the plus side, because you can't see the scope of what you are doing, you are undaunted by the mini-Everest the trail is currently ascending. You just put your head down and keep motoring, figuring it will end at some point - hopefully before you get a nose bleed. On the other hand, you know there is some fine scenery out there as you run the ridgeline. But there you are, running in a little Gerbil Ball of light saying, “Wow. Another head-sized chunk of limestone on the trail. Haven't seen many of those tonight.” But, there are treats to be had - like when a critter came swooping from over my shoulder and down onto the trail in front of me, skittering away into the woods. Flying squirrel. Good evening, Rocky.
Things moved along well. I began to pass the 100 milers, getting the opportunity to check in on some friends' progress. Wayne, Rick, Arika, many others - all doing well. First lap done, on to the second – during which the sun finally started coming up. And the views were indeed spectacular. Pace still felt decent. Too many gels had my stomach in a loop for a bit, so I looked to more solids. Fortunately, there were plenty of aid stations, allowing one to run from buffet to buffet. Second lap done, on to the third.
Somewhere over on the other side of the hills drama was unfolding as the 100 Miler race leaders approached the finish line. After leading a good portion of the race, Bob Gerenz suddenly found himself shoulder-to-shoulder with Matt Aro as they neared the end of the race. Still side-by-side, they entered the open field 1000 feet from the finish line. After 100 miles of racing, it would come down to a flat out sprint. In the end, Bob held off Matt... by 2 seconds.
Back on calmer parts of the trail, I had been cruising along for quite a while. After pushing what felt like a pretty solid pace, somewhere between the 40-45 mile mark I finally started feeling the miles. I muscled the last 5 or so miles in, arriving at the finish in 11 hours, 33 minutes - for 12th place overall. Can't complain. I was tired for certain, but it felt pretty reasonable overall, especially considering it was an early season race.
After my race was done I took a little nap, then went back to the finish line to watch the rest of the 100 milers come in. One by one they emerged from the woods, making their way across the field to the finish line. The clock ticked - the 34 hour hard cut-off fast drawing near. As the numbers clicked past 33 and a half hours, I and my colleagues waited. 20 minutes left. 10 minutes left. Single digits... With just a few minutes left, a runner emerged from the woods – followed shortly by a second. The crowd started yelling, spurring them on. Time was short! They could make it, but they would have to sprint! And so they did.
With just over a minute left, my good friend Rick Bothwell crossed the finish line. He bent over, hands on knees to catch his breath, relieved he'd get to sign the finisher's banner today. Meanwhile, the other runner dug deep, pushing hard. And after the seemingly endless miles of hills, rain, lightning, sun, mud, sand – using up whatever energy was left - Anjanette Arnold finished her first 100 miler, with only 27 seconds to spare.
I've had my ups and downs in these long races. At some point in every one it seems, there comes a moment when I wonder, “Why the Hell do I do this to myself?” Then, I remember... It's about running alone silently at 2 AM. It's about the comedy of sliding down a muddy hillside on your... It's about seeing a friend get hugs from her kids at the finish line. It's about the Beastie Boys cranking on the radio at an aid station. It's about flying squirrels. It's about cheering for friends and racing against others. It's about seeing tears dripping over a smile. It's about PB & J on a tortilla shell. It's about falling down, and getting back up.
And it's about the fact that 27 seconds at the back is just as important as 2 seconds at the front.