Zumbro 100 is a new 100-mile run (and 100K) in southeastern Minnesota. The course is five repeats of a small 5.7-mile lollipop that returns to the start/finish, then a larger 14.3-mile loop with two aid stations. 20 miles total per repeat. It starts at a humane 8:00 a.m. and has a 34-hour cutoff, which encourages newcomers to give it a shot. There’s plenty of time to finish this do-able course.
Day before: We flew in to Minneapolis and took the leisurely drive down to Wabasha to check into the AmericInn hotel with a few hours to spare before the race picnic. The excellent staff pointed us to a hunting store where we could buy handwarmers (more on that later) and told us about the National Eagle Center in Wabasha. Eagles? We couldn’t resist. We arrived in time to do the fun exhibits (my hand strength doesn’t even get on the eagle-talon radar) and catch the outstanding show. All told, we say one golden and two bald eagle up close and personal and learned more than we ever expected. More than worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Next stop – the pre-race picnic, complete with veggie burgers! That upper midwest crowd of runners is enough to make you willing to bear the winters. The company was fun, and Larry and Colleen Pederson, race directors (also directing the Superior Sawtooth 100 in the fall), always have that uncanny way of making you feel like you’re visiting them for a fun barbeque instead of a 100-mile race. Daughters Erin and Heidi would be manning the two aid stations…and with mom Colleen, cooking (this factor cannot be underestimated). We hung out with the group until we absolutely had to get back to Wabasha to sleep.
Back at the hotel, I cut the overly-puffy tongue of my Montrail Streaks down to try to prevent them from jabbing my shins like they had the past two races. It was enough to almost take me out of Umstead last weekend. Drastic times demand drastic measures.
Race Day – First Loop
With the late start, we didn’t need headlamps. Larry sounded the “Go!” and we were off. It felt great to be running after almost a week off since last weekend’s Umstead. The small, first loop ran along the beautiful Zumbro River. The footing was not what I expected – not many roots or rocks, but tons of deep, loose sand and loose sticks. Thank goodness I’d found my gaiters, or I’d quickly be running on the equivalent of sandpaper in my shoes.
The day was looking clear and sunny. Every bird within miles was singing and red-winged blackbirds were even stretching out their wings to warm in the morning sun. We’re going to be very lucky on weather this weekend.
Rob and I quickly fell in with Lynn Saari, and excellent Minnesota runner and Superior Sawtooth runner.
There’s a section on that first lollipop, gently downhill through thick pines on springy needles. Heaven…
The second, longer part of the 20-mile loop, essentially a separate 15-ish mile loop on the other side of the start/finish, varied more past the river, through sandy woods, into little draws, up a few noticeable hills, and along scenic bluffs. The course was dirt road, ATV road, single track, and believe it or not, deer track. Try and follow that without flags!
We rolled into the start/finish for the second loop in about 5 hours. With that time, the headlamps could wait until the third loop. 20 miles done.
I changed orthotics in the car because for the second race in a row, my trail orthos were bruising my arch. That can only go on so long. I picked up some of Colleen’s homemade banana bread (best ever) and we headed out for number 2.
I was still tripping over and breaking and leg-whipping the loose sticks on the course, especially in this short lollipop. Out of self-preservation, Rob finally dropped back a safe distance, calling me a “human chipper/shredder.”
We ran with some Canadian runners who will also be running Mont Blanc with us this August and knew a few ultrarunners in common. Small world.
We also yo-yo-ed with Lynn Saari all loop. How wonderful to find interesting and comfortable trail company.
All day we heard thrumming Larry told us later was Ruffed Grouse beating their wings, sounding like lawnmowers trying in vain to start. We even had a bat fly out to greet us before retreating back to its tree.
40 miles done.
Light was fading but we had enough time to run the short 5.7-mile lollipop without headlamps. Another slice of banana bread and we were outta the start/finish aid station.
On the way back, we heard an eagle cry and watched a bald eagle fly into to perch near what looked like a small condo in a nearby tree. We hadn’t even noticed the nest on earlier loops. That was worth a few minutes to watch.
Back at the start/finish, we grabbed night gear – fleece, jacket, hat, headlamp, gloves and…yes, the handwarmers we bought the day before. One more slice of banana bread and we were out.
We had to turn on our headlamps about halfway to the first aid station, around 46 miles. The ducks and geese and cranes (?) were settling in for the night, which clearly required a full cacophony on their part.
With so little sleep during the week, I was dreading the night. Thankfully, we had a full moon. Not much help on the trail but it was a gorgeous, orangey- silver, all misty in the cold night air. As it rose, the coyotes started their serenade.
I was starting to pick up new blisters. I’d taped blister pads onto the Umstead ones from last week before this start, but two new ones were forming. It doesn’t take long. We stopped at the first aid station to address the problem and as my shoe slid off, it revealed a small sand dune in my shoe and tons of black silt in my sock. Good for farming, bad for feet. I cleaned the area with alcohol swipes, let it dry, and applied the blister pads, making sure they stuck.
It was also starting to get cold. Really cold. The low was supposed to be 31F. The hill-tops felt like this but the low areas and isolated draws were noticeable frigid. Late in the loop, my foot crunched on something. Frost. The ground was frozen and sparkly in the headlamp beam. It must be colder than predicted and it was still early. Bad…
My ankle was also starting to bother me, the good one. Cutting the tongue may not have completely solved that problem. I’d just have to work around it. No changing shoes or doctoring the tongue at this point.
On the bright side, this was the start of the gourmet loops. Bean quesadillas made on the griddle at the first aid station – food and handwarmers in one. Perfect! I tried in vain to ignore the homemade cheezy hashbrowns. It took Rob a suspicious two cups full before he swore to me that I wasn’t missing anything. Somehow, I doubted him.
We rolled into the start/finish exactly as the 100kers were starting on the road next to us, at midnight. 60 miles done.
It was now so cold that stopping out of fire range was out of the question. checked my newly-applied blister pad. Totally filled with black silt against my skin. I was working like sandpaper. I reapplied a new blister pad and grabbed another slice of banana bread. I scored some excellent homemade asparagus-broccoli soup from Matt Long’s wife (?) that he didn’t want – his loss, my gain. Another piece of banana bread to boot, and we were off.
I stumbled my way through this loop. 100-milers simply require adequate sleep, at least more than one night’s worth. But thank goodness for that one good night, or I’d never have finished.
The cold was intense. Stopping out of fire range wasn’t an option. The handwarmers were life-savers and even though they were never out of my death grip, my fingers still went numb in heavy gloves. Part of the way through this loop, my bottle mouthpiece began to freeze and the insides turn to slush. My eyes were tearing in the cold so my eyelashes were freezing together. It was clearly much colder than predicted. This is what happened at Hellgate in the low teens. We caught up with Darryl Saari but we were all too cold and tired to chat much.
Homemade French toast – kill me now! How often do you get served French toast out in the middle of nowhere. They were even starting pancakes on the griddle. This family knows how to make aid stations!
The ankle really started to bother me, as well as the blister I’d just re-taped. Nothing to be done about either. I wasn’t going to waste time on them. Just change my stride to adapt to them and muddle through another loop. I was going to finish.
On the last high ridge, we had the full moon to the west and red sunrise to the east at the same time. What a beautiful moment.
Dropped our headlamps at the car, but kept the clothes on for the fifth short lollipop. Lynn Saari was at the aid station – she took the 100K option. Sad to miss her but we’re still cold and need to keep moving.
Larry informed us that someone’s car thermometer read 21F in a warm pocket. 80 miles done.
The goodbye loop. It’s been a nice course. The sun is rising and I’m waking up as usual (thank goodness).
Back along the river, the sun was rising and the birds of all varieties were letting loose in song. Every one of them seemed to have something to say, all at the same time.
We came back from the short loop, shed all extra layers, and set out for the last long one. I even gave up the handwarmers.
More French toast on this loop. Incredible.
Leg muscles were fine after Umstead, but the feet were still torn up. I really wanted to run faster but the one blister was excrutiating and I wanted to avoid breaking the skin since it takes so much longer to heal. I babied it. If the last blister pads didn’t work, why waste time on another? Just finish.
Blisters or not, we reached the bottom of the last hill and ran the whole quarter mile to the finish. First woman finisher. And to top off the epicure tour, there was homemade vegetarian chili at the end.
The other runners were great. Loved running with Darryl and Lynn, and Dallas Sigurder handily won the men’s 100-mile with sense of humor fully intact.
We were lucky on the weather – rain would have been colder and much slower footing.
Physical toll, not much. All the blister pads, even the pre-applied ones, contained black silt. Rob drained my new crop of blisters, bless him. The ankle is swollen but overall damage is minimal. I was even able to lug all my gear the half mile to the economy lot at the airport Sunday afternoon.
I can’t recommend this race enough. Let’s try it again next year without the Umstead appetizer. I’ll diet ahead and lobby for cheese-less hash browns…