Merciless Nature

On June 11, 2008, in Uncategorized, by Meghan

Nature has no mercy at all. Nature says, ‘I’m going to snow. If you have on a bikini and no snowshoes, that’s tough. I am going to snow anyway.’ -Maya Angelou

I find distinct irony in the fact that, as I begin composing a blog entry that will surely mention Wisconsin’s humidity in excess of a half dozen times, big, fat, wet snowflakes are falling heavily to the ground here in Wyoming. It’s clear to me that Mother Nature can be quite merciless with her weather, and her choices for the Kettle Moraine races last weekend were not an exception.

I arrived to the Kettle Moraine 100k starting line with 3 goals:
1. Race long in some midwestern summer weather (This would yield good training for the Burning River 100 in August.).
2. Race long while maintaining good hydration (My faithful readers will recall dehydration as my downfall at the Rocky Raccoon 100 last winter.).
3. Race hard with an 11:00 finishing time goal (I had multiple indications from my training that this was a conservative time goal, providing me with a bit of wiggle room for unpredictable circumstance.).
Fairly stated, I met the first two of these goals, and miserably failed in meeting the third.

Saturday morning dawned sunny and clear at the starting line in La Grange, WI. The air hung humid and visible in the sun’s early morning angles as the race directors advised runners that severe afternoon storms were predicted along the race course. Between the heavy, dripping air and the race directors’ instructions to ‘take cover’ in the event of severe weather, there was more foreshadowing about the day than a poorly written mystery novel in an airport bookstore. The race began at 6 am, and we went full-steam ahead, sensing that the day would become epic in some way.

The first 3 hours of this race were pure brilliance. I felt solid, strong, and like I was exerting minimal effort to maintain my goal pace, which was 5:15 for the first 50k. The air felt thick with humidity, but it also felt deliciously rich with oxygen for this highlander. The route traversed dense deciduous forests and stands of tall pines. The woods were alive with squawking and chirping birds, and I wondered if they were so vocal because their still morning was interrupted by a bunch of fast-moving human types.

Somewhere around mile 18, the route emerged from the forest into a long series of gently rolling grassy plains. The plains were intensely beautiful with thick, tall grass, and expansive views of rural Wisconsin. It was amidst this plains area that my race devolved into a run. Under the shadeless heat and ever-present humidity, my heart rate skyrocketed. I fought for several miles to get it under control through deep breathing, drinking fluids, and trying to run relaxed. By mile 23 or 24, I realized that my pace would have to slow significantly in order to maintain forward progress. I relaxed into a running/powerhiking combination that allowed me to maintain an acceptable heart rate.

For a period of time, I was definitely dejected and even a little bit heartbroken. It occurred to me that my race was over, and that a long, slow 37 or 38 miles were ahead of me instead. Finally, I resolved to work towards at least 2 of my 3 race goals, and to just plain have fun with the day. I won’t lie, 37 or 38 miles is a really long way to go at the slow pace I was running/powerhiking. It requires more food, more fluids, more time on feet, more exposure to the elements, more of everything. However, it also gave me more time to focus on good nutrition and hydration, as well as ample time to interact with the really cool people with whom I was running.

Who knows how, but somehow time passed and it was the middle of the afternoon. I was watching dark clouds building and listening to distant thunder rumble about. I was alone in the woods when the storm hit, and was it ever a storm! Incessant rain flooded the trails into moving streams. Lightning hit trees so close that it was impossible to discern any pause before the resultant thunder. I lingered in the low, thickly forested spots and dashed quickly over the meadow-y higher points along the trail. The storm’s violence was altogether terrifying and entertaining. When the storm was over and the forest again quieted, I heard the voices of people not far ahead of me. I increased my pace to meet up with 3 guys, and we exchanged war stories of the storm all the way to the last aid station.

We split up during the final 5 miles of the race, and I was again alone. The post-deluge air was cool and it felt soothing after a long day of heat. Red-winged blackbirds flitted about in the sporadic meadows. Rain bursts exploded overhead here and there, pooling into puddles above the super-saturated ground. Earthworms writhed about in seeming joy atop the wet soil. With a loud series of cracks, a huge branch fell off of a tree and landed on the path behind me, a violent finale to the day’s show.

In those last few miles of running, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. I was surely disappointed with the way things turned out, but much of the day’s progression was in the hands of Mother Nature. My mistake was to arrive to the starting line from a cool climate with no heat/humidity training.

The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain. -Dolly Parton

Ending gear notes:
-I drank nuun, water, and Sustained Energy.
-I ate Powergel, peanut butter and jelly squares, and a few pretzels and potato chips.
-I supplemented electrolytes with a couple Endurolytes here and there as I felt I needed them.
-I wore Montrail Odysseys, which were total overkill on this trail but allowed me to protect my mostly healed metatarsals.


19 Responses to “Merciless Nature”

  1. A says:

    Congratulations Meghan! What a wild race, thanks for letting us tag along vicariously through the storm! Great writing, as always. Of course, adverse conditions always make for the best storytelling afterwards, so in that regard, I’d say this event was a grand success! πŸ™‚

    Enjoy the snowstorm today… @#$&#%@#

  2. The Salty One says:

    Oh Meghan! You have to find some heat and humidity somewhere because it can be downright soupy here in August. But what a great dress rehearsal. You learned so much and had fun doing it. Other than a fast time, what more can you ask for? And doesn’t Dolly always make you feel better?

  3. Danni says:

    Excellent work!!! I think your third place woman placement speaks to the fact that you still did a phenomenal job given the conditions — finish time aside. Congrats!

    P.S. Do you always race with your HRM?

  4. Thomas says:

    You shouldn’t be disappointed. You pushed through where the temptation to pull out was surely there.

    Just out of curiosity, what’s the acceptable heart rate you’re going on about?

  5. mtnrunR says:

    i think you ran a great race meghan. with all that rain and the temps and humidity, you did great. (i saw a youtube thingy of the rain, geesh)

  6. Juneau Eco Mommie says:

    Thanks for visiting my site and the bear proofing ideas. This bear is running amuck all over our neighborhood and broke through garages, bear proof trash cans, you name it. Wish us luck on changing his route πŸ™‚

  7. JeffO says:

    Okay, same as with Bob, you gotta show us a pic of your kettle!
    Oh, and FEET PICS!!! I wanna see big, gory blisters and black toenails!
    Okay, just the kettle.

  8. Backofpack says:

    Wow, what a story! It’s too bad you didn’t make your time goal, but it sounds as though you made the best of it anyway. I kind of laughed at your description of what happens when you move slower – that’s my races in a nutshell! Eric and I have wondered many a-time over who works harder – he who runs fast and finishes in 3:29 or me who moves slower and finishes in 5:47 (last weekend’s times). All I can tell you is I always seem to be more worn out than he is.

    I also wonder about the oxygen-rich air thing – I guess I’ll never know what that feels like. I do know what moving from sea level to the high points above Tahoe feels like to this sea-level dweller. Sucking for air, heavy chest, worn out…

  9. Danni says:

    Hey Backofpack — I thought the same thing when I read that! HEY THAT’S ME IN EVERY RACE! Lol.

  10. chelle says:

    Whew, that’s some serious distance you’re covering there…and in the heat. Hard for me to gripe about my 78 degree 10K this last weekend, even if I did have salmonella for it!

    Hey, I still owe you an answer about August. I’m still planning on making it happen, but I’ll let you know for sure soon.

  11. Journey to a Centum says:

    That euphoric feeling after the storm was probably all the positive ions in the air from the lightning.

    Will you be searching for another race that can throw more of this at you? I can see you out on the trail, stopped, screaming “Is that all you got? BRING IT!”

    It’s official, the Pacific NW has had the coldest spring on record since 1917. Over the last 90 days we only made it to 60 degrees F 21 times. Excuse me I need to go pull on a sweater. πŸ˜‰

  12. rick says:

    Timo actually said to take cover in severe weather? Where was I when he said that? I must have been taking pictures. Seemed to me that the people I was following were running head long into the weather, they probably were not listening either.

    I had no idea your problems started even before the turnaround. When we met you were even more cheerful than I was. Thanks for the hug by the way. I tried to pass it forward to Bob and Tom but they wouldn’t have any of it:)

    I still think you did great. I don’t think many people made their time goals that day, those that finished anyway and it’s a small group.

  13. polar barb says:

    Great job, Meghan – and what a great report! I am sorry to hear you didn’t meet your time goal, but that heat must have been brutal!

  14. Meghan says:

    Hi y’all! Thanks for the nice comments!

    Anne- I’m glad it’s as good a story to read as it was to live. Oh and about this snow, I’m going to have a little chat with the big guys and girls in the sky, okay?

    Salty- You’re right. I will formulate good heat and humidity training in July. I will not arrive to a hot/humid starting line unprepared again!

    Danni- Thanks. I don’t race with a HRM, though I do train with it some. I was going by feel.

    Thomas- Thanks, and it was briefly tempting to call it quits. I’m so glad I plodded on, though. I wasn’t wearing a HRM, so my “acceptable heart rate” was attained by feel.

    Tom- I appreciate your sentiments. Let’s be real, though, okay? I had a poor race. πŸ˜‰ By the way, I was using your splits for my first 50k goal pace, thanks!

    Juneau Eco Mommie- Thanks for visiting and commenting. Good luck with changing the behavior of your family and your neighbors so as to create more a more conducive shared environment for humans and bears.

    JeffO- I’m relieved to tell you that I have no gory feet pictures. I had a few blisters, but nothing horrendous. Pictures to follow shortly!

    Michelle- It seems to me that being out there for longer and moving more slowly induces a different sort of fatigue than the other option. It’s all fatigue-inducing, though! I hope my statement wasn’t offensive! Sorry!

    Danni (again)- As I said to Michelle above, I really hope I didn’t offend you with my statement. Sorry! Forgive me?

    Chelle- Ok, you win. Food poisoning, seriously? That totally sucks! I hope you’re on the road to recovery now.

    Eric- That’s funny! I’ll remember to shout “Bring it!” next time Mother Nature pitches another one of these days.

    Rick- All warning statements were casually ignored by me, too. I forged ahead into the abyssal weather praying, “Dear God. Don’t let this be my day. My mother will kill me.” I say this every time I get myself into something a little stupid. πŸ™‚

  15. olga says:

    What I liked the most is how you were able to adjust the goals and make youself enjoy the run at its capacity. Well done, Meghan, very proud of you!

  16. Audrey says:

    hi meghan!!! your race sounds amazing. i’m sorry if you were frustrated by not meeting your third goal, but i know you gained something by finishing. that is nothing to laugh at!! my gosh, this race was a monster!!! and now hopefully you are a bit more acclimated to the humidity that seems to lurk everywhere right now but where you live!!!!

    congratulations on completing such a great new adventure.

  17. Steve says:

    Hi Meghan. Just found your blog. Great report. Don’t let this experience rattle your confidence for your 100 miler. You still did great relative to the conditions. Still plenty of time for your body to prepare for the heat.

    The way I see it, it was nice of you to slow down a bit so I could run with you for awhile πŸ™‚ Take care and best of luck in your upcoming endeavors!

  18. Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) says:

    Hopefully you’re no longer disappointed at all, congratulations on 3rd place overall and for having so much fun with Rick and Bob.

    You definitely have more balls (or whatever women like to say they have if they don’t want to say they have balls) than I do regarding adverse weather.

    By the way, Wyoming has the most deaths per capita by lightning of any state (after doing my post-race research on this), so do be careful out there…

  19. Timeout! says:

    […] last snowed on the 11th and 12th of June, so it’s just a bit too soon for this. Or, maybe, it’s just me that’s not ready. […]

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