My First 100 Miler: Kettle Moraine 100

I cannot tell you how nervous I was for this race. It was a mix of excitement and nerves, but mostly, I was terrified. Having DNF’d my one other 100 mile attempt at the 75 mile mark, I was having a bit of anxiety that maybe I wasn’t tough enough to cover 100 miles. But, I was determined to give it my all.

For this race, my good friend Leigh Ann was coming to run with me and attempt her third 100 mile finish. My sisters, Tanna and Rondi, were coming to crew me, and Rondi was also planning to run the last 30 miles with me so that we could check Wisconsin (state number 12!) off of our list for our goal of “26.2 and a Brew” in all 50 states.

We arrived in Wisconsin on Friday afternoon and headed straight to a brewery to check that off of our “to-do” list. We ended up at a place called Second Salem and the brews and grub were delicious.

Tanna’s meal…and the best sweet potato fries ever!

Next up, we headed to packet pick up, which was at the race start/finish area.

Leigh Ann and I getting ready to pick up our packets!
(Left to right) Tanna, me, and Rondi in our 50 states capes!

After that, we headed back to the hotel to organize our drop  bags and meticulously plan out where we wanted dry shoes and socks, because we had heard there was a muddy/wet section on the course that we would hit twice, and we wanted to be as prepared as possible.  Tanna and Rondi also looked at the aid station maps and tried to prepare for where they could be along the course. Nerves were high as we said good night and turned out the lights at 8:30pm, with our alarms set for 3:45am the next morning.

From the second the alarm went off, the eating contest that would last for the next 30 hours, began. My stomach is never very cooperative when it comes to pre-race nerves and having an appetite. Basically, I lost my appetite about 4 days before the race, and didn’t get it back until a few days after the race. But, if I don’t eat, it’s a disaster, and I knew that the only way to a successful finish was to keep getting calories in my body.

So, I heated up an instant Quaker Oatmeal breakfast, worth 241 calories,  and managed to choke it all down. Meanwhile, Leigh Ann was eating everything in sight and I couldn’t help but be jealous of the fact that she didn’t feel like she was going to vomit at any moment. For me, pre-race anxiety leads to nausea and lots of trips to the bathroom. So, before we headed to the start line, I took two imodiums to help solve that issue, and I also managed to eat a Nutrigrain bar. Boom. I felt like so far, I was winning this eating contest.

The vibe at the start line was pretty great. People were busy with last minute preparations. Drop bags were being left in their appropriate places. Pictures were being taken. Timing anklets were being picked up and put on. Announcements were being called over the loud speaker. Port-a-potties were being used. And LOTS of bug spray and sunscreen was being applied. I was definitely feeling less anxiety and more excitement at this point! We. Were. Ready.

Leigh Ann, Me, and Rondi (wearing an amazing unicorn fanny pack!) just chilling pre-race.
Leigh Ann wrote, “That’s just how it is now” on her arm. It became our saying throughout the entire weekend.
So fresh and so clean! Here we go!

The Race

Miles 0 – 7.6 (6am – 7:36am):  There were about 400 people that crossed the start line at 6:00am on Saturday. For a few miles it was a bit crowded, but we weren’t in any hurry and were happy to just go with the flow. The weather was nearly perfect. Overcast and around 60 degrees, with thunder rolling pretty steadily. These miles flew by and it was hard to believe that we were already almost 8 miles into the race when we saw Rondi and Tanna for the first time at the Bluff Road Aid Station. I decided not to wear a watch for this event because I really didn’t want to focus on how far I had run or how far I had left to run. The only thing I wanted to know was how far it was to the next aid station. This proved to work really well for me mentally. There were so many aid stations that every time I asked how far to the next one, the number of miles was small and felt completely attainable.

I had eaten two “Take 2” minis and drank 16 oz of water and 16 oz of Tailwind in the first 7.6 miles.  Tanna and Rondi refilled my water and Tailwind, and stuffed my pockets with more food. And then, we were on our way, just 3 mins later.

The excitement of a 100 miler when you’re less than 10 miles in! PC: Mile 90 Photography

Miles 7.6-15.5 (7:39am – 9:31am): This was our first section of real single track on the Ice Age Trail. It was beautiful, and the true feeling of “trail running” began. It was a slower go with more rocks, roots, and just things to look out for. By the time we reached the Emma Carlin aid station, I was ready for some real food. I had eaten four peanut butter crackers and one granola bar on this stretch and had a bit of stomach cramping…so I took another imodium.  Rondi and Tanna had lawn chairs set up for us to sit down and change our shoes. We were about to be entering our first 5ish mile stretch of muddy trails and we wanted to put on some older shoes that we didn’t mind getting trashed. After a quick bathroom break, shoe change, watermelon eating, and bottle refilling, I was sent off with half of a turkey sub, which I ate one bite at a time over the next several miles.

Still feeling good 15.5 miles in.

Miles 15.5-23.9 (9:41am – 11:36am): We were told there would be mud, and there was mud indeed. Miles and miles of mud through a grassy area called “The Meadows.” The weather continued to be decent, with temperatures warming up, plenty of humidity, and a bit of a drizzle. There was still some thunder and lightning, but nothing bad. My old tennis shoes were bothering me during these miles and I regretted switching to shoes that basically had no cushioning left. I couldn’t wait to get to the next aid station to get my comfy trail shoes on, and these mud soaked shoes off. Once we arrived, Tanna and Rondi again had the lawn chairs set up and Tanna even wiped/rubbed down my disgusting feet for me before I put clean shoes and socks back on. It felt AH-MAZING. Again, we ate some food, used the port-a-potties, refilled bottles, and headed out for the next stretch.

Starting to get hot outside…loving this watermelon and wanting these shoes off my feet!

Mile 23.9-31.6 (11:50am – 1:40pm): This stretch was long and hard, and felt like it would never end. The course had some technical spots and very steep climbs and descents. It was hot by this point, nearing close to 78 degrees, with ample humidity. I was struggling to take in enough calories (I only ate the half a turkey sub and drank my tailwind and water) and by the time we reached the Scuppernong aid station, I was ready for some food, not because I was hungry (I was never actually hungry during this race), but because my energy was zapped. My groin/hip flexor on my right leg was also starting to bother me, and I took some Tylenol at this aid station. The food here was amazing. I ate two turkey roll-ups, one rice crispie, and an orange slice, refilled water and Tailwind, and wiped my face down with a wet, cold washcloth. Thank you, Tanna Sue! It was just what I needed for a reset.

Cooling off with a wet washcloth at Scuppernong.

Mile 31.6-36.5 (1:58pm – 3:13pm): This stretch felt so good! The calories, plus the cool wipe down, made all the difference in the world. We cruised right through this tougher section with no issues. When we reached the aid station I grabbed my hat back from Rondi, because it looked like it was going to rain again, and we headed right out.

Mile 36.5-39 (3:18pm – 3:48pm): We were right, and the sky let loose on this section. It was pouring rain when we came into the Hwy 67 aid station, so we tried to make it a quick stop. Refilled fluids, peed, ate a peanut butter tortilla, threw on our rain jackets, and headed out into MUD.

Mile 39-47.3 (3:56pm-6:30pm-ish): So. Much. Mud. This was the 5 mile stretch of mud from earlier in the race, but it had stretched longer, deeper, wider, and wetter with all of the rain that was coming down. Parts of the trail that weren’t muddy before had turned into unavoidable mud pits.

One of many unavoidable mud pits.

My stomach started going south, and I was feeling pretty low when we hit the Emma Carlin aid station for the second time. When Rondi asked me how I was doing, she got a negative head nod, with no words. To which Leigh Ann responded, “She says she’s not doing well, but she’s doing great out there. She’s fine. I promise.” And really, she was wasn’t completely wrong. I was moving along fine, and I wasn’t complaining while I was out there, but once I hit that aid station, the realization hit hard that the SUCKFEST was well underway. The temperature was starting to drop, so we put on some warmer clothes, changed our shoes and socks again, ate some food, grabbed our head lamps, and I also took my trekking poles with me because my groin/hip flexor was hurting and I thought they might be helpful on all of the steep descents. I also mustered enough enthusiasm to request a picture with Scott Kummer, the host of the podcast, “Ten Junk Miles“, who managed the Emma Carlin aid station.

Scott Kummer, me, Leigh Ann, Holly Lindroth (co-host of Ten Junk Miles)
Look at me faking enthusiasm like a true champ!
On our way out of the Emma Carlin aid station. Turns out the mud wasn’t over…

Mile 47.3 – 56.6 (6:40pm-ish-8:55pm): The mud didn’t end. It was supposed to, but it didn’t. Also, my trekking poles were driving me crazy. My mantra for this race had become “when it’s runnable, you run.” This just wasn’t as easy with trekking poles, so I ditched them after this section because I felt like they slowed me down and were taking more energy than they were worth. We also realized that we were dressed a little too warm, and I ditched the jacket and just stuck with a buff on my head and arms sleeves with my short sleeved shirt (which I had changed because the other one was sweaty). That’s honestly about all I remember from this section. The night time fatigue was definitely setting in.

Mile 55.6 and feeling it.
Heading out for the next section which would get us back to the start/finish area where the 100k runners would be done.

Mile 55.6-63.1 (9:20pm-10:59pm): I felt surprisingly good through these miles. It was the first time in the race where I wanted to lead. Leigh Ann had led nearly the entire race and I had loved it. But, her headlamp wasn’t quite as bright as mine and she wanted me to lead. So I did. We eventually stopped so that she could change her battery, and that did the trick, but I still kept the lead. Slowly, she started to drop back. I slowed a few times to make sure she was still with me, and eventually she said she just wanted me to keep going, because I was feeling strong and able to run really well. So I kept going, thinking she was just a short ways back.

During this section there were a lot of 100 milers coming towards me as they headed back out for the second out and back. Although it was nice to see people and give/receive encouragement, it was also a bit daunting how far ahead of me they were, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to miss a cut off. It began to consume my thoughts. So I continued telling myself, “If it’s runnable, you run.” And that’s what I did. I made it to the 100k mark ahead of the cut off by one hour and 1 minute. I told Rondi and Tanna that I wasn’t sure how far back Leigh Ann was, but that I was sure she’d be there soon. They tended to my needs before finally telling me that Leigh Ann had called to say she was dropping at the 100k mark. She just didn’t feel as strong as she knew I was (her words, not mine) and she didn’t want to hold me back. As this started to sink in, I could feel myself holding back tears when Rondi jumped in for a picture…

Rondi piecing me back together as I came close to falling completely apart.

Rondi said she would be there to run with me at the 70.7 mile aid station and that I needed to get my a$$ moving. And THAT is what your crew is for! I grabbed some food and went on my way, having every intention to get this thing done.

Mile 63.1-70.7 (11:13 pm-1:00 am): Shortly into this section, I crossed paths with Leigh Ann and told her she still had time to keep going! But, she didn’t bite. I pressed on and ran my only solo miles of the race. It’s weird that I’m terrified to run in the dark at home, but I was never scared out there. I even turned off my headlamp a couple of times to pee (which was now happening VERY often). My groin/hip flexor remained an ongoing discomfort from this point forward and I regularly reminded myself that “that’s just how it is now”. Because well, that wasn’t going to go away.

Heading out with Rondi at mile 70.7. So glad to have her joining me! *Note the bowl of macaroni salad in my hand. Thanks, Mom!

Mile 70.7-77.4 (1:07 am – 3:12 am): As soon as Rondi started running with me, I told her my “If it’s runnable, we run” mantra. This definitely became harder and harder as tiredness set in and the terrain grew more and more challenging, with a heavy fog setting in. And again, the wet mud was relentless. I found myself tripping more often and getting quite frustrated and increasingly worried about reaching the cut off points on time. As we neared the end of this section, I had extreme blister pain in my right foot and running seemed impossible. I couldn’t wait to get my shoe off at the next aid station and pop some blisters. That was something I’d never done before, but I had heard it could save your race, and right then, my feet needed saving. Tanna had the lawn chair ready for me and was armed with a lighter and a needle. An amazing volunteer came over to help.

Tanna and a volunteer working on my foot. Note the way I’m sitting with my right leg up…

He recommended that I pop my own blister and then he would tape me up and I could be back on my way. So, that’s what I did. It was pretty gross, and the alcohol that Tanna used to clean it up afterwards was torture. But, “that’s just how it is now”! Once it was all disinfected, the volunteer taped up my disgusting foot as I ate three slices of bacon and fretted internally (and maybe a little out loud) about the fact that I just didn’t have time for this and I needed to get going to beat the next cut off. (**Side note: trail running volunteers are the best humans on this Earth!!!)

Mile 77.4-81.9 (3:25 am – 4:45 am): As Rondi and I headed out of this aid station, there was a major problem. I couldn’t run. My groin/hip flexor was excruciating and I felt like I couldn’t lift my leg to move it forward. Running was out of the question. I began to have a mini meltdown because I just couldn’t believe that I had come this far to ONLY come this far. I decided then and there that I would be finishing these 100 miles, even if it wasn’t within the time cutoffs. I took some more Tylenol and moved as quickly as I could through the rugged, muddy trails. I figured that sitting in the lawn chair with my leg up (picture above) while my blisters were being worked on, had aggravated my already tender groin.

Eventually, my leg warmed up and I was able to run. Yasssss! I still had a chance to make the next time cut off and I was feeling more optimistic. Back to the mantra, “If it’s runnable, we run.”

But again, the water and mud was indescribable. Just before reaching the mile 81.9 aid station we had to cross a bridge that was partially sunk under the water of a murky, spooky lake.

This is a picture of the bridge long before I got there in the pitch black. PC: Scott Laudick Photography

I’m pretty sure I would have been too scared to cross by myself. It. Was. Creepy. But, we made it across and beat the next time cut off by an hour and 9 minutes. Game. On.

I scarfed down half of a grilled cheese sandwich, refilled bottles, and we were on our way…back across the creepy sunken bridge.

Mile 81.9-86.3 (4:55 am – 6:18 am): During this section we got behind some really fast ladies. Their speed was deceptive because they were mostly hiking, but it was fast. Mall walker fast. We had to focus to keep up with them. But, they had said this wasn’t their first time doing this race and they were confident we would finish with time to spare. So, I held onto that bit of hope and we kept pace with them as the sun came up. It was a glorious thing once we could turn off our headlamps. The fog was still present… and fog and headlamps don’t mix very well.

Lots of fog.
Lots of climbing.

Coming into this next aid station and finding out that they had pancakes and syrup was amazing. It was my favorite thing that I ate during the race…although the bacon was a close second. I forgot to mention, but since Rondi joined me at mile 70.7, she never stopped making sure I was continually eating and drinking. Thanks, Rondi!

Mile 86.3, post pancakes and ready to get this thing done.

Mile 86.3-93.1 (6:25 am – 8:35 am): I was hurting. The mud never ended. And it seemed like this race wouldn’t either. My hip flexor was hurting and I was having to pee every 30-45 mins. And at that point, there wasn’t even much stepping off the trail to get the job done. We just checked for runners, and if it was clear, it was happening. “That’s just how it is now,” continued to make us laugh as things got more and more ridiculous. Because of the frequent “bathroom” usage, there was major chaffing developing, which led to Aquaphor needing to be applied with every bathroom use. It all was getting to be tooooo much! I really felt like it would never end. BUT, the trails really were beautiful. That was the saving grace.

How beautiful is this?! And runnable, even 90+ miles in.
Did I mention the mud?
And the hills??

When we made it to the aid station at mile 93.1, it felt like the home stretch. I took advantage of using a real port-a-potty, and we didn’t linger too long before heading out, breakfast burrito in hand.

Mile 93.1 – 100!! (8:44 am – 10:46 am): We walked for a bit while I ate, and then, it was time to run again. The only problem was that when I went to run again my hip flexor starting screaming at me and it wasn’t happening. I seriously couldn’t believe it! Had sitting on the port-a-potty for two minutes just ended my race?!?! Ahhhh! We kept walking and I decided that I needed to take some ibuprofen, because I couldn’t take anymore Tylenol yet and I had to have something to get me through this pain and to that finish line. So, Rondi ran back to the aid station to grab some ibuprofen. I kept walking.

As I was walking, another runner stopped and asked if I was okay (my walk was more of a step, followed by a dragging forward of the right leg). I told him I was having some hip issues and he offered me some ibuprofen. Ultra runners are so nice! I took his offer and kept hobbling on. Rondi caught back up with me, and didn’t mind that I already took the medicine I needed. Eventually, my leg warmed up and I was able to run again.

Those last 7 miles were a long 7 miles. The hills didn’t seem to end. I honestly was never actually confident that I was going to make the cut off until it was 10:32 am and I was only about a mile from the finish line. I finally felt relief and excitement. I was actually going to do it.

Rondi decided to run up ahead so that she could be at the finish line when I got there, instead of crossing with me. As I came up that last little hill and heard the cheering, I was completely overcome with happiness. I had actually done this really, super hard thing.

Finish line bliss! With my sister, Rondi, to the left of the finish line with her hand raised high. PC: my amazing sister, Tanna!
PC: Mile 90 Photography
My sister, my pacer, my crew, my friend. PC: Mile 90 Photography
The finish line with the BEST crew, pacer, running buddies EVER.
This pretty much sums it up. PC: Tanna Sue

After our celebrations, we stayed at the finish line for the next hour and 15 minutes to watch the final finishers cross the line. It was incredible. So much determination and grit was shown out there.

At the finish line with my feet up and a full plate of breakfast food.
My legs and feet at the finish line.

To sum up those 28 hours and 46 minutes, I can just say that it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I have completed two full Ironman triathlons, and this was MUCH, MUCH harder than those. Mentally, I was in a very good place through this race. The thought of quitting never crossed my mind. I had a goal, and I was going to get it done. Physically, I’ve never hurt so much, during or after a race. So. Much. Hurt.

This was at about 8:30 pm when we made it back to Lansing. Trekking poles were necessary for stability at this point.

The Next Few Days After the Race:

Content. That’s mainly what I felt. Everything seemed to go by very quickly as I reflected on the previous few days. The race had felt soooooo long, and yet, looking back, it seemed like it was over in the blink of an eye.

Physically, my body was angry. My feet were swollen, red, blistered, and tender to walk on.

It felt worse than it looked.
They were bright red and angry.

I had taken Monday off of work and spent much of the day in bed. When I headed back to work on Tuesday, I had to wear my husband’s tennis shoes because my feet were too swollen to fit in any of my shoes. And I still wasn’t close to walking normal.

The first full week after the race, I had to lay down and take a 20-30 minute nap after work every day. I was completely exhausted and couldn’t shake it. My appetite took quite a while to return to normal as well. I would feel starving, but nothing really sounded good to eat, and then when I’d eat, I’d feel full immediately and then my stomach would be a little upset. That lasted 3-4 days post race.

In addition, the post race “lows” hit a few days later. That feeling of emptiness and…what now? This is a normal feeling that comes after I’ve worked so hard to reach a goal, and then all of a sudden, it’s over. There’s a sense of loss, sadness. It leaves me wanting to rush right into finding a new goal to work towards….but I haven’t signed up for anything yet and that sadness is passing.

I’m now nearly two weeks out and almost all of my aches and pains are gone! My groin/hip flexor is still a little achy, and my right ankle is tender too. I haven’t done any runs yet and have decided I won’t run again until nothing hurts anymore.

Would I ever run another 100 miler? Yes. Absolutely, yes. This race was phenomenal. The volunteers, aid stations, other runners…everything was so perfect. I’ve never run another race where everyone I encountered was so positive and encouraging. It left such a good feeling in my soul and made me realize trail running and ultra marathons really are for me! It will be a long time before I do another 100 miler, but as long as my body is up for it, I’ll be back.

I can’t thank Leigh Ann, Tanna, and Rondi enough for all that they did to help me reach this goal. Their love, support, and extremely hard work made this day so much more special than it ever could have been without them. The support and love from my friends and family back home was amazing as well. I can never say thank you enough.

Tanna’s notes throughout the race.

And some more details sent to me via text. She’s amazing!!!
My organization sheet that I made the week prior to the race.
This pace chart that someone posted in the Kettle Moraine FB group was a life saver!

More Photos from the day:

PC: Mile 90 Photography
Mile 93.1…other than that, I have no idea what’s going on!

A truly beautiful, yet mud-filled, course.
Selfie after the rain storm in the meadows.
Pretty early on in the race.

The four leaf clover that Rondi found at packet pick-up the night before the race!
About to start this thing!
So much beauty.
Leaving the Bluff Road aid station at mile 93.1.
Finish line with Leigh Ann.
Tanna feeling a bit overwhelmed with the mess that is crewing a 100 mile race! My Yukon XL worked great, but it was loaded up!
Finishing my first 100 miler was about so much more than this belt buckle, but man, I’m glad it’s mine!

It should probably be noted that while I was out there, I decided that I didn’t want to fast pack the Hardrock 100 mile course, and I didn’t want to do the Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim, and I wasn’t really sure I’d ever want to do Western States if given the chance, and there was no way I’d ever do this race again. Luckily, I’ve come to my senses and almost all of those bucket list items are back on my “to-do” list!

Pushing my limits is what keeps me motivated to work hard and dream big. I’m so thankful to have finally met this 100 mile goal of mine, and I’m looking forward to many more adventures with people I love.

Dream big. Work hard.