Potawatomi 50 Mile Trail Run

Last November I managed an unsuccessful 50-mile attempt, then got mad at myself for DNF-ing and ran a solo 50-miler two weeks later. Now I can finally say that I’ve finished an “official” 50 mile race.

Finisher's belt buckle

Finisher’s belt buckle

Allison and I drove down to Pekin, Illinois after work on Friday. Thanks to a few setbacks (which may or may not have involved me taking a wrong turn), we didn’t arrive until almost midnight. We pitched a tent near the start/finish line in McNaughton Park, and managed about 4 hours of sleep.

The race started at 6 a.m., and consisted of five 10-mile loops on some fairly rugged trails. Each loop involves 3,200 feet of elevation change, two knee-deep water crossings, and three aid stations. The race website describes the course this way:

“… comparing the high altitude, long climbs of the Western mountains to McNaughton hills is like comparing being eaten by a shark vs. being eaten by a 1000 piranhas … both are unpleasant … just in different ways.”

2 minutes before the start

2 minutes before the start

The first lap went by pretty quickly. The sun came up after about 30 minutes, so I was able to ditch the headlamp. I found a group of eight or ten runners holding a pace that I liked, and stayed with them for the entire lap.

Mile 1

Mile 1

Sunrise on one of the ridgelines


One of the countless downhill stretches

One of the countless downhill stretches

The first half of the second lap (miles 10-15) was probably my roughest stretch of the entire day. I had landed awkwardly on my right knee, and could feel it getting really swollen and tender. The thought of another 35 miles on a bad knee was really depressing, so I had to work on staying focused. I popped a couple Ibuprofen at one of the aid stations, and felt a lot better 20 minutes later.

I don't remember where this was...

I don’t actually remember taking this one…

One of precious few flat stretches

One of precious few flat stretches

I don’t remember much about the third lap, except that my knee felt better and I made decent time. My goal going into the race was to “finish 30 miles without feeling terrible”. I knew that if I could start the fourth lap feeling reasonably well, then I would be able to finish the fourth lap…and that if I could finish four laps, I would be able to grit my way through the final lap regardless of how bad I felt.

We had a creek crossing every five miles, so the feet were never dry.

We had a creek crossing every five miles, so the feet were never dry.

One of the open fields

One of the open fields

It must have been something about “odd” and “even” loops, because the 2nd and 4th felt much worse than the 1st, 3rd, or 5th. Early on during the fourth loop, I felt a sharp stab of pain in my right knee while running down one of the steeper hills. I tried ignoring it for awhile, but my knee was now screaming at me once every ten steps or so. I stopped for a few minutes to eat a hamburger and some more painkillers, and a few miles later my legs felt completely fine again. NSAID’s are an amazing thing.

A really steep hill

A really steep hill

Climbing the really steep hill

Climbing the really steep hill

During the final five miles of the race, I (somehow) felt better than I had all day. I had grabbed some trekking poles for the final push, thinking I might need them for some of the more challenging hills…so I ended up just jogging with poles in hand.

Mile 48

Mile 48

Allison had actually hiked out to run the last couple miles with me, which was a nice surprise. When we were about a mile from the finish, I rounded a corner and nearly stepped on a raccoon – with foam hanging off its mouth – lying in the middle of the trail. For a second, I seriously thought I was hallucinating. Allison and I tried shouting at it and prodding it with sticks, but the raccoon just squeaked and hissed at us and rolled onto its back. By this time a couple other runners had come up behind us, and we ended up having to walk right past it, while holding it away from us with sticks.

~5 seconds after finishing

~5 seconds after finishing

My finishing time (13 hours, 34 minutes) definitely didn’t set any course records, but considering the terrain and my nagging injury, I was very happy with it. Here’s the (unofficial) breakdown:

Loop 1 – 2 hours 9 minutes
(rest) – 13 minutes
Loop 2 – 2 hours 17 minutes
(rest) – 17 minutes
Loop 3 – 2 hours 34 minutes
(rest) – 21 minutes
Loop 4 – 2 hours 41 minutes
(rest) – 13 minutes
Loop 5 – 2 hours 49 minutes

(4/11/14 Update: The official results just got posted. I finished 41st out of 95 in the 50 mile event, with an official time of 13:31:18.)

And an approximate list of everything I ate & drank throughout the day:

3 oranges
5 bananas
11 Hammer gels
1 bowl of chicken noodle soup
4 cups of coffee
6 liters Hammer Heed
5 donuts
2 cinnamon rolls
3 hard boiled eggs
1 pulled pork sandwich
3 meatballs
1 hamburger
1 energy bar
3 Jolly Ranchers
1200 mg Ibuprofen
650 mg acetaminophen

Published in: on April 6, 2014 at 3:20 pm  Comments (3)  

Shawnee National Forest

Well, Matt and I always try to have as many adventures as possible, but they seem to just be trickling in so far this year.  Fortunately for May we already had a pre-planned, already delayed once, backpacking trip to Shawnee National Forest.  My dad and I (Allison) had planned this trip in March and were supposed to go in April, but due to some unforeseen complications, we delayed the trip until Memorial Day weekend.  On the bright side, Matt, who was unable to go in April, was able to go over the long weekend.

The trip was planned as a 4 day, 3 night backpacking trip along the River to River trail that runs from the Ohio to the Mississippi through southern Illinois. In the picture below you can see the original plan: Hiking from Tunnel Hill to Garden of the Gods.

Our plan to hike 57 miles on the River to River Trail.

Now as you may guess from my wording above… things did not go according to plan. We started Day 1 of hiking ordinarily enough: walking through a cool tunnel (Tunnel Hill). We continued, hiking on some trails and along some roadways.

Matt and I in front of Tunnel Hill.

Dad and I walking through Tunnel Hill.

Crossing a road on the River to River Trail.

Matt and I along the trail.

But as the sun got higher, so did the temperature.  And that was the first hitch in the plan: the weather. The weekend before and, coincidentally, the weekend after, both had highs in the 80’s. But Memorial Day weekend? Highs of 100 degrees. Every. Single. Day.  But I was determined not to let the heat phase me.  After all, I was getting to spend the weekend with my two favorite men, and there would be plenty of shade and water along the trail to cool off.

Dad and Matt cooling off under an overhang.

Well, we did find shade, but we did not find water. The creeks were bone-dry, or had stagnant, black, insect-infested water.  Appetizing, right? So much for all that water to cool off in, let alone drink or use to cook.  Well, as Day 1 progressed and I noticed this continued pattern of lack of water, I began to worry.  We were carrying water, sure, but you don’t carry 4 days worth of water while you are backpacking.  We had planned on filtering the water like we usually do.  Fortunately, during Day 1, we hiked by a campground where we were able to fill up our water bottles.  But as night continued to draw near, we were running out of time to refill water so we could cook our dinner. And that’s when luck finally came on our side. We met a group of very friendly campers who owned a small piece of land right off the trail… and the next thing we knew we were invited to pitch our tents, share the water, and stay the night. And we were the most grateful backpackers you can imagine.

Our campsite for the night: Dad in the hammock and Matt and I in the tent.

That night we planned out places we might find water (like a lake, that won’t be dried up yet surely?) and of course the towns we would hike through (conveniently one each day).

The next day my dad and I awoke and decided to hike down the stream to some petroglyphs while Matt slept in. We found them and also explored the beautiful valley they were in. The scenery was much like Garden of the Gods and my dad and I spent I fair bit of time exploring.

Dad with the petroglyph of a buffalo (though we personally thought it looked more like a beaver).

Me exploring the crevices between rocks.

Finally, we headed back to get Matt and move on. However, after dragging Matt out of bed, we discover that his throat is swollen and he’s finding it painful to swallow. He takes allergy medicine, thinking that’s the problem, and we head down the trail hoping it gets better. But as the morning goes by, it only gets worse with the strain of hiking. After consulting the map we continue to a road that would be accessible by car and break for lunch to decide what to do. Since allergy medicine is having no effect, and the usually allergy symptoms (runny nose, sneezing) are non-existent, we conclude that something must have stung or bitten him during the night.  Also, his allergies were not noticeable the night before. That being said, the throat swelling is getting worse.  So we decide to call in the backup (my mom) and get picked up.

Over the next day and half, Matt’s swelling does go down, and we decide to take a day trip to some of the memorable areas we missed due to skimping out early.  Below are some pictures of our visit to Rim Rock, Indian Point, Lusk Creek Canyon, and Cave-in Rock.

Going through a crevice at Rim Rock.

Exploring the Rim Rock area.

Man, these rocks are big.

Playing on the rocks at Indian Point.

The boys at Indian Point.

Overlook at Lusk Creek Canyon.

Overlooking the Ohio River at Cave-in Rock.

Taking the ferry across the Ohio (Cave-in Rock is in the background)

The day trip actually was very enjoyable (minus the heat), and while Lusk Creek Canyon was a bit of a let-down, the other places were awesome (as you can see by our rock climbing).  However, we have concluded that next time we hike on Memorial Day weekend, it will be in Wisconsin and not southern Illinois.

Published in: on June 5, 2012 at 11:27 pm  Comments (3)