Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Ornery Mule Racing

My good friend Michele Hartwig hosts ultra running events via her project Ornery Mule Racing.  


Currently there are five events with distances from 5k to 100 mile and a timed event.

All are trail races from smooth bike cinder type trails to rugged trails of single track and hills and an Illinois version of a Sky run. All are well put on, with great volunteers, awesome SWAG and finisher mementos (medals, buckles etc) plus a great time. 

Come out and join the fun at one of these events.

Frozen Gnome Jan 12th. Crystal Lake IL  10k 50k  http://www.runfrozengnome.com/
Earth Day April 20th. Crystal Lake IL 5mi 15m 50k http://www.earthdaytrailrace.com/
Galena Sky trail race May 18th. Galena IL 4 hour 8 hour https://www.galenaskytrailrace.com/
Kettle Moraine June 1st/2nd La Grange WI100mi 100km 38mi 50k  https://www.kettlemoraine100.com/
Hennipen Hundred October 5th/6th Sterling IL 100mi 50mi http://www.hennepinhundred.com/

Come out to one or all of these events and see what it is all about. Registration is open for all besides Kettle Moraine which opens January 1st. Time to get your trail on

I intend to be at most of these events. See you there. 

(Logos owned by Ornery Mule Racing and the events)

Monday, November 12, 2018

Javelina adventure

The closest forest preserve to my home with dirt, grass and limestone trails is McDowell in Naperville. It is around 3 miles from home and has a couple good loops plus links to other trail systems. Being close to home I try and run it often as I can.

One of my favourite ultras is the Javelina Jundred held at McDowell near Fountain Hills in Arizona. It is around 1700 miles from home but I have been to the race 5 times to crew and sometimes pace my friend Steve Ochoa. Unlike like McDowell in Naperville this is a desert trail with miles off wide and narrow desert trails that range from smooth to sandy to rocky. Instead of trees there are cacti. And to my knowledge there is not river through it.

The wildlife is different. One has deer, coyote, egrets, herons, red tailed hawks, frogs, rabbits, turtles, squirrels and non venomous snakes. The other apparently has rattlesnakes, horses, cows, javelinas,  tarantulas, ravens, tortoises and wild hares. First was Naperville and I see all those. In Arizona I have only seen a hare!!

This was my fifth trip to Javelina. Over the years I have seen it grow from a small race to a big party. The race had to move a few miles to a new staging area three years ago changing the loop used. When I was there first time it was five 15 miles plus a small 9 miler at the end. Now it is five 20 mile loops, actually a 22 mile loop then four 19.5 loops. The new loop actually uses the same trails as the old loop but adds some newer trails in the mix.

Steve has three 100 mile finishes and a 100km finish. Last year he had to DNF after a hot race so was back to avenge that finish by doing the 100k again. Joining the run was Matt from LA. In 2008 and 2009 Steve, Matt and I crewed for Kelvin Marshal at Badwater 135 in Death Valley. Although I have seen Steve over the years this was first time since 2009 I had seen Matt although we had chatted via email over that time. It was almost like having the Badwater crew back again less Steve Hanes.

Steve, I and Matt (one lop to go for the lads)

I flew in from Chicago on Thursday and Steve picked me up at the airport. He had an Ironman Arizona captain's meeting to attend that evening so being the event manager I am I was excited to attend. Was an interesting meeting hearing what they would all be doing at the race in mid November. The car drive from Steve's house to Javelina HQ takes us along the Ironman bike course. Sat in front of us at the meeting was another guy named Steve who was also doing Javelina. We actually ran into him at JJ on set up day.  

At Steve's house his wife Toni had made us an awesome meal, curried veggies over white rice. Unlike last year we would spend two nights at the preserve, around 3 miles from race HQ in Steve's new RV. I got a tour of the home on wheels. Perfect for ultra races.

Bright and early on the Friday we got up early. Loaded a few last things into an already packed SUV to drive to Fountain Hills to meet up with my friend Mike who was a recent transplant to the area. Over the years I have worked many races with Mike from 5ks to marathons. He was also a runner but had never been to an ultra. He was very keen to help out including with set up at race HQ. Like last year we got a great spot for the canopy right by the parade track and then put up a tent right behind it. With Mike's help we was done very quickly. Thanks Mike. 

We hung around HQ for a little while chatting to other ultra runners until Matt and his wife Francine got in from LA then took the long drive to the race packet pick up. It was packed with runners, crew and friends but both runners got their stuff quickly giving us time to explore the vendors and sales. Time for a late breakfast. Mike had some errands to do but would be back the next day to watch the race for a few hours.

A trip to the grocery store for supplies then time to pack up my bag for the next two days and we all headed to the preserve. RV, SUV and rental car. The RV grounds had some great views of Four Peaks mountains that over looked the race trails. There was cacti everywhere. After dinner we sat around chatting about race then tales about Steve's old home in Clifton AZ. As the sun went down coyotes started to sing and then the stars came out. Having taken an astronomy class for a degree last year the skies now fascinate me. I laid back on a camp bench as Mars came into view, other stars started to shine and parts of the Milky Way came into view. The Moon then rose over Four Peaks before popping up high. I also caught a meteor screaming through the sky. What a sight.

Four Peaks as the sun set (behind camera)

After a surprising great nights sleep Toni drove us the 3 miles to race HQ. The 100 miler had already started and we saw them on the first trail section that paralleled the road. We lugged some bags and a cooler to the canopy where Matt and Francine were already waiting for us. Not long till the 100k start so we all headed up to the start ready for race time. Announcer and RD Jubilee was in fine form using the top of her van as an announcing stage.

Count down began and 275 runners headed around the parade track before turning onto the red trail single track. I'd see them in 4 to 5 hours.

Francine and I went back to the canopy to chat for a while and of course post photos to Facebook then she left for her nearby hotel while I got ready to hit the trails. Last year I did an out n back on the same trail but this time after heading out on the same trail I went through the Pemberton trailhead to where JJ used to be staged then took the red trail back in which is the first 2 miles of the race. This new to me section was really scenic and a great section to be on. The last 2/3 of a mile was more rugged and cut along a hill side. That last part I did last year in the dark when I ran out to meet Steve. Although I saw no animals on my 4.5 mile trek I did see a lot of birds and plenty of people either running, hiking and a few bikers. Definitely a great adventure playground. I could get used to these trails.          

Back at race HQ I hung out at the canopy, went for a coffee at the Gypsy Cafe and looked over the different vendors. It was amazing watching all the runners heading up the parade track to the start/finish and then head back out. At some point my Chicago friend Jeni came through. I ran/hiked with her back to her camp area where her parents were waiting. It was good to see them all again. Jeni's mother would be pacing her for a night loop. Once Jeni was ready I walked with her to the race aid station so she could refuel; water and food. Then Jeni started to feel woozy and dizzy. I got her to sit in the shade and ran to get her mother. We stayed with her for a little while, got her to drink a bottle of water. That really helped and she was ready to head out for loop two. I sadly did not see her again during the race but happy to report Jeni finished her second JJ and second 100 mile this year and in a PR. So proud of her. 

Not long after Mike came to the race site. Gave him a tour of race HQ which he was amazed at. So different than a 5k set up. Toni came down from the RV camp and Francine returned so we could all wait for Steve and Matt. Matt was first back followed by Steve. Both made sure they refueled fully and took a little rest time before heading back out.

Then it was beer time for Mike and I. Local Huss Brewing creates a special Javelina IPA each year for the race. It is not cheap at $5 a can but tasted really good. That brewery is one of Mike's local favourites. Mike stayed for a little longer before heading home. I think he enjoyed his first ultra. As he lives near by he hikes the trails in the area a lot and also does trail work with a local group.

Time for me to just rest and catch a nap or two. Francine was following Matt on his Garmin tracker so knew where he was and when to return. Before heading back she texted me "need anything from BK" "Vanilla shake and if they have it a veggie burger" Well both hit the spot, thanks Francine. 

Matt came in moving very well after 40+ miles, did the turn around and came to the canopy. He was dropping. His feet were killing him and he had blisters. Hmmmm, no you are not. Got him to sit and got some fluids in but he didn't want food. Some cooling was helping and then checking his feet he had one small side blister but they looked fine.  Toni, who is a nurse, popped the blister and patched it up. Deep down we all knew if Matt and Steve went out together on the last loop both would finish. Steve despite the normal ultra wear and tear was having a good smart and steady race. When he arrived he had a crowd of friends awaiting him. Like Matt we got him fueled up, feet cared for and ready for the next night loop and yes they headed out together leaving the friends to canopy party. Then I was on my own again to rest and nap and cheer runners on.

Stepping back a bit, just after sunset Patrick Reagan of Hoka won the 100 mile race for the second year. This time he ran much of the race alone winning by over 2 hours. Photo is after 3 loops I recall.

Matt and Steve's last loop was their slowest but given the heat of the day, the distance gone so far and Matt who had only ever done 50k plus was hurting after two loops this was to be expected. Francine and I were both following Matt via Garmin and therefore now Steve so we was ready when they hit the parade loop 61.75 miles done one .25 mile parade track to go. We joined them heading to the finish but cut out to try and catch photos of the glorious finish. Both finished in fine style and received their finishers buckles.  Congratulations Steve and Matt. Many photos ensured including climbing up on the finisher's podium.

Now it was time to head out for some sleep. Matt and Francine headed to their hotel while Toni, Steve and I headed back to the RV. In the morning after a great breakfast and coffee we went back to race HQ to pack up the canopy and tent catching the last few finishers get to their goals. So inspiring. Our camp was broken down in record time; guess we are pros at this after so many years.

All that was left was the drive back to Steve's house, unpack the RV and SUV, showers, food and a good cat nap.

Steve and Toni's cat Kuda

Just like last year and all the other years I had a great time at Javelina. I have watched this race grow to one of the largest USA ultras both in runner numbers and crew helping their runners. While it has a party atmosphere it is also laid back in parts and a great get together of ultra runner and fans. Some might think it would be boring to hang out at HQ but there are plenty of things to do if you make plans. I spent time with a trail run/hike of my own, walked around people watching and chatting to folks, cheered on the other runners, checked out the vendors and partook in some of the food and beverage vendors. HOKA even have a fun area set up. There was time to nap and listen to music plus Facebooking to prove I was there :-) Then of course looking after the runners. Ever year I hate leaving the race and also leaving Arizona. I really miss the desert, warmth and mountains. 

Big thanks to Steve and Toni for hosting me. Congrats to Steve and Matt for their 100k finishes. And also to my Chicago friend Jeni who PR'd the 100 miler 3 months after her last 100 mile race. It was great meeting Francine. Thanks to Mike for helping Friday and crewing on Saturday with me.        

I will be back.

Photos by Ian (me), Francine, Mike and Jeni's family. Javelina logo "owned by the race".

Websites of interest
https://aravaiparunning.com/network/javelinajundred/  race site
https://jenirunshappy.blogspot.com/ Jeni's site


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Terra Loopy San Avec Pave

Welcome to another Runrace production put on by the great RD team of Michelle and Bill Thom.

This team who are both ultra runners just love to put on races for the runners. They hold 50k ultra in two of the Palos Forest Preserve. Then there is their Chicago Full Moon 5k road race in Norwood Park to benefit MS. There is also the odd other races such as cross country events and even a winter ultra this past season.

September 8th was the 5th year for Terra San Pave I believe. Bill has designed this awesome 4k or 2.5mile loop that includes grass trails, dirt single track with roots, non-groomed limestone and more muddy dirt trails. Race distances to pick from are 1 loop (4k), 2 loops (8k), 4 loops (10 mile) and an 8 hour ultra where ultra fans run as many 4k loops in 8 hours. Race always as a unique T shirt and finishers get a nice year numbered pin.

I would be running the race for the second time although my third time there. In 2016 I volunteered at packet pick up then ran the 8k with my friend Penny. 2017 I had another event in the afternoon so volunteered again at packet pick up plus set up. This year I stepped up to 10 mile but also volunteered to hand out packets.

This race is really low key. Not many runners do it which is a suprise as it has so much potential to get a crowd (although the permit limits the race numbers). It is a cheap entry fee and the SWAG T is neat (as they are at all Runrace events). Everyone is so friendly. The race does clash with a few other local ultras so maybe moving it 2 weeks either side might work. Bill also does little PR besides his email list but I know many folks will post the race on their social media and blog sites. Spread the word people. Saying that the numbers signed up for the 8 hour ultra was a record.

Well this year the race got an entry from Mother Nature. The past week, has had been the case most this summer, we got a lot of rain. Many areas especially river basins areas got flooded and that was the case with the original Terra course. It crosses the Chicago River North Branch twice and use trails within the basin overflow areas. Although the water was a little down race day parts of the west part of the course were still flooded. Bill had to invent a new 4k loop all contained in 1/3 of the normal real estate. It meant that although we would get some dirt and gravel trails he would have to include a paved section (it had a gravel side to it) and a over extended parade grass loop.

This new course due to the pave and grass looping lanes section was challenging but Bill did an awesome job of getting exactly 4k course for us to use. Sure it was not the original fun course but at least we could race, run and hike.

My intention with this race was always to run it slow and include a lot of hiking. Currently training to pace my friend Steve at the Javelina 100 when I will do the last 20 miles with him, after he has ran 40 miles. I know Steve will be hiking some it and that uses different leg muscles than running. Saying that I need to train both.

After handing out the ultra packets for the 7.30am start ultra, next up was the 4k, 8k and 10 mile division that would start together. I got my packet and put my timing tag on my shoe to demo to others (ultra runners had an ankle strap timer) then close to race time got everything out of my car I would need. Waist pack with nutrition (and ID), water bottle in handheld carry, Clif Bar cap and running shoes.

New to me was the drink in my water bottle. They say never to use or do something new in a race. I broke that rule by using Tailwind for the first time. I had purchased some stick single packets at Peak Running in Downers Grove and wanted to test it. As this was more a training run with friends and an aid station plus I was back at race HQ each 2.5 loop if I decided to go with the different drink. I am lucky as I can "stomach" almost any race drinks. Not saying I like them all but rarely do I get issues except once when using the race supplied Cytomax at Powerman Duathlon. Tailwind was great. I used the lemon one and loved the taste. I do think one full stick was a little heavy for me so I diluted it after first loop and if I buy the pouch will use less mix which tends to be the case with most drink mixes I use.

So back to Terra. RD Bill said a few words when we took off over the grass heading north to the pave trail. Think that was a little over half a mile then we hooked into a gravel horse trail for a bit before returning to the pave. Nearing the backside of HQ we turned sharp right onto the old course (although we did this trail in opposite direction) and right away we could see the flooding on the part of the old course we would not be using.It looked bad. Apparently some horses went through and it is was around 2 feet deep. This part of dirt trail with rocks and erosion took us to Dempster St and onto the grass parade loop. And the tedious it came with. This was a mile of running in lanes Bill had created with coloured flagging basically going up and down to a certain turn point. At first it was a little confusing but we all figured it out and after a few loops a nicely trodden path was easy to follow. I guess this makes us all tougher runners by race end. Back to the start/finish, fuel up thanks to Paul at the water station then head out for another loop.

I did this 4 times. An ultra distance was 11 loops. Many did more.  Surprising the loop per my Garmin was exactly 2.5 miles although I think the parade loop made the Garmin a little crazy with all the ups and downs and by race end it read 10.2 miles.

I was happy to finish my longest run in a few years and although need to go longer at Javelina feel I am in a good place to get that loop with Steve.

Photo by Bill Thom 

Also doing Terra was my friend Jeni. She is returning to Javelina 100 again this year after her great run in the desert last year. Jeni recently finished Ohio's Burning River 100. Crewing and pacing Jeni will be her mother Kim who ran the Terra 10 miler. Kim and I along with runner Eileen ended up on a impromptu team and took 2nd place each winning a pint glass. My last Spotted Cow beer purchased after Ice Age Trail race tasted really good from it.

Jeni finishes another loop on her way to 8 hours success. Team Loopy (Kim, me, Eileen) with our pint glass trophies (Photo by Bill Thom)     

The race awarded finisher pins to all runners with the number of Terra's completed on them, I earned my 2nd year. There was pint glasses to all ultra runners, and medals went to overall winners going three deep in each division. RD Michelle provided some awesome deli sandwiches including veggie ones for those like me that partake in the veggie world. 

8 hour ultra runners with RD Bill (photo by Michelle)

I will be back in 2019. Hopefully the original course will be back but even if it is not it'll be a great time. Check out https://www.runrace.net/home.php for the Thom's other races and maybe I'll see you in Palos in November 


Friday, May 18, 2018

Ice Age Trail 50 mile

Just north of Chicagoland is one great expanse of forest preserves in Wisconsin known as the Kettle Moraines. It contains a variety of trail systems including parts of the legendary Ice Age Trail, Nordic trail, Emma Carlin/John Muir mountain bike trails among others. From home the trail head at Nordic is around 2 hours drive but well worth the journey

I have only ran one race up there; the North Face Endurance trail race (half marathon) but it is home to a number of other trail races including as Ice Age Trail 50 (50 mile, 50k, half), Kettle Moraine (100 mile, 100k, 50k, 38k), prior mentioned North Face (distance 5k up to 50 mile) and a few other smaller events such TBunk, Crusty 50k.

Many years ago I started volunteering at the Kettle Moraine 100 race at the Tamarack aid station that was captained by the Gorskis, Mary and Dave. They managed that aid station for the full 36 hours of the race as it was used 4 times by the runners (miles 5, 55, 65, 95). I used to go up around lunch time and stay overnight until the station closed next day. Sometimes I got in a loop of the 9 mile Nordic trail myself. It was a blast. I had heard about the Ice Age Trail before I ever went to the Kettles but as Mary and many of the KM runners and volunteers had ran it I got to hear many a tale of the race so decided to sign up for a volunteer at Ice Age around 8 years ago.

I was assigned to aid station 5 which is at the Hwy 12 crossing that year. The runners hit it at miles 17 and 26. Captained by Mary and Craig Hopper they have been there for many many years and have volunteers that come back year after year. Despite being a newbie to their crew I was welcomed as the long lost son eight years ago and have been back to help them every year.

Setting up the aid station before the runners arrive

We arrive around 7am to set up a hydration and food station. Drinks are poured, Heed energy drink is mixed, bowls and containers are filled with MMs, cookies (biscuits for my UK friends), pickles, potato salted snacks,bananas while PBJ sandwiches are made. This year we was a well oiled machine and everything was set up in record time. We also set up signage to indicate race distances and how far to next aid stations and set up a runners cone lane into the aid station. There was also a crew that handled the road crossing at Hwy 12 which is a busy 50 mph road through the Kettles. Yes runners have to stop to cross the road, traffic is not stopped. And new was a recycle bin.

This year the weather was damp and chilly but thankfully no rain during the race. It was probably perfect for trail running. Reports were the trails given the rain the day before were in good shape with just some mud and slick spots but nothing too bad. Although I don't know the finish times compared to previous years guessing the course for most was a tad slower as the lead guys came through around 4 minutes later than expected but hey they had done 17 miles on narily trails

Down the hill into aid station at mile 17

View that greets the runners at mile 17 into aid station

As normal I was charged with checking in the runners at mile 17 as they came down the hill in the photo above. Means basically writing down their bib numbers and arrival time of the day. Fairly easy gig until a big group of 20 runners comes in together in single file down the trail. Luckily I had help from Chicago Lakefront 50 and 50/50 race director Pat Onines who acted as bib number spotter and called out the numbers so I could write them all down. Only missed a couple out the 380 that hit mile 17. We had another team logging mile 26. Once last runner came through mile 17 I helped at the aid station with food and hydration until Jose the sweep came through. Just before then we tore the aid station down and loaded the tables, canopy pop ups, trash, left over supplies into the race van.

Then it was over to the start/finish line. This races is so awesome to volunteers. They give a parking pass if you need one for the day (WI State Park), a great volunteer shirt based on the race shirt and we get the same meal as the runners. Happy to report the meal is great and with veggie option and beer. If you can't run one year volunteer. Flatlanders general captained an aid station, or join me at Hwy 12 or just email the contact on the race website. 

I saw so many inspiring runners. Saw so many friends running the 50 mile and got so many hugs and high fives. If you want to run a spring 50 miler Ice Age Trail comes highly recommended but you have to sign up fast as it sells out; and then train as it is not an easy course especially so soon after the winter. I will be back in 2019. See you soon     

Photos by Ian Stevens (me)