Sweet 50K

by Thaddeus Michael Sweet
In true idiot form, this trip got off on the right foot.  Thursday morning, I got everything packed up, got my 28-year-old pop-up, hitched up to the family mini van and picked up fellow idiot, Scott Olthoff. We were off on our adventure.  This was not my first voyage into ultra territory.  I’ve mainly stuck to 50K’s over the years, with one 56-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa finish to my name as well.  This would be my sixth ultra, along with four marathons.  I love 50K’s because if you can run a marathon, then these are really no different.  It’s easily wing-able.  and that’s what happened this time around.  For Scott, this was his first ultra experience.  Even before he ran his first official ultra event (he’s done 30 miles on a training run before) he caught the bug, signing up for Comrades Marathon in 2013 with Team World Vision.
About a month out, I contacted Scott and told him I couldn’t do it.  He said, “Shut up, Idiot.  You’re going.” I said, “um………..ok.”  And that was that.  I did a few 15-mile trail runs, a 20-miler, and decided that was good enough.  I’ve had plans all year of trying to drop 25-30 pounds.  I thought it might be a good idea for this race, but was never really motivated enough.  
Once you do an ultra or two, or really any distance, you learn what it takes mentally, and the distance doesn’t remain quite as daunting.  Maybe that would change if I ever challenged myself with, say a 50-miler, or <gasp> a 100-miler.  I knew I would finish, the only question would be how slow.
Back to the story.  I pick up Scott, we point the van sort of north-like, and take off.  The trip was going well, we stopped for lunch, continued on.  We came to a construction zone, and things got interesting.  As a four-lane highway merged into two lanes, I happened to glance in my rearview mirror only to see a tire bouncing down the road, cars swerving out of the way.  I was sort of chuckling to myself until the realization set in that it was the spare tire on the back of my pop up!  Apparently, it was scared of the distance and wanted nothing to do with the trails of Wisconsin.  So it headed home.  Thankfully, no other vehicles tried to stop it.  Unfortunately, being in a construction zone we could not stop to get it, so we ended up going to Walmart to purchase another.  Good times.
At some point we encountered rain, which is always fun to set up camp in.  We finally pulled into the campground, decided we wanted nothing to do with the rain, so we unhitched the camper and drove into town to pick up our race packets.  If you’ve never participated in a North Face Endurance Challenge event, do yourself a favor and hit up the one nearest you.  Or furthest away if you’re a traveler.  I’ve yet to see an event more organized than these.  This year was my second one. They get the job done.
Friday was spent relaxing and resting up for the big day ahead.  We had perfect weather all weekend long, so it wasn’t difficult to relax at all.  However, by dinner time i was getting anxious.  We headed back into town for the pre-race panel, which this year included Ian Aharman, who boasts the fastest 100-mile-trail time on U.S. soil at 12:44 and change.  This occurred at the 2011 Rocky Raccoon when our fearless leader David Murphy was there.  I think that’s why Ian ran so well.
We packed up most of camp Friday night, and finished Saturday morning before heading to the starting line.  I heard coyotes howling throughout the night Friday, and had some dreams that brought back scenes from the movie “The Grey.”  Those were awesome dreams.

As we drove to the starting area, we were welcomed by a thick blanket of fog.  It’s amazing how something so simple as fog can be so beautiful.  It was friggin freezing out so we sought out heaters near the starting line.  Unfortunately shortly after hovering around ours, it shut off.  We had met up with another friend of mine so we chatted for a little while.  Eventually they called us to the start line, and we  were off.  it was relatively easy to settle into a nice easy pace early on, and we held that for the first six miles or so.  This took us through a nice white pine forest (my absolute favorite tree).

The race would have this section at the start and finish, so it was comforting knowing I would see it again.  We soon met a near 60-year-old woman named Christine with some amazing stories.  She was here from California on a business trip.  She actually lives on the Western States Course.  She has four Arabian horses and races the same race that got Western States it’s start.  We saw her much of the day before she actually pulled away from us towards the end.

I felt pretty good coming into that first aid station at about mile 6.6.  We stayed long enough to grab a handful of M&M’s, some orange slices, salted potatoes and Mountain Dew before bounding off.  This next stretch was literally the only time I felt good the entire day.  Miles 7-12 were amazing.  We just moved right along having a good time, enjoying Kettle Moraine State Forest in all it’s splendor.  However, I knew what lay ahead – multiple miles of open prairie.  No shade.  The temps were still cool, but I’m a pansy.  I hate running in the sun.  I’ll do it because Im an Idiot, but I refuse to enjoy it.  

Apparently I hated it so much that I decided to take a tumble just a mile before the dreaded meadow section.  I fell good enough that dirt was rubbed all over scratches and my IRC shirt.  Perfect.  Now I could relax.  I uttered some unmentionables under my breath, looked back and saw people had indeed seen me fall, and did the only thing I could – hopped right back up and started running.

The only thing I really remember from much of the rest of the race is people continually commenting on how cute they thought my shirt was.  “Idiots Running Club, aw how cute.”  I literally wanted to punch them – young, old, male, female, child – I didn’t care.  I was under the false impression that we were anything but cute, until some other IRC members corrected me on Facebook a few days later 🙂

Oh, one other thing i remember.  We crossed paths many times with two ladies who were friends, one was from Florida, and the other from South Carolina, I think.  One was clearly struggling, the other not so much.  It was interesting to watch as the one not struggling kept dealing with the dilemma of whether to continue on or stay with her friend.  She’d take off for a mile or so, and then turn back or just stop and wait.  This is what I love about ultras.  The people are world class.  Everyone cheers each other on and supports one another.  We want everyone to do well.  Most are just as concerned with others’ efforts as they are their own.  Class acts all around.

Well, I finally stepped over that finish line in 6:57 and something or other, reaching my goal this year of a 7-hour finish.  Last year I finished in just under 6 hours.  I felt good about this, knowing where my fitness level was.  But, the fun was far from over.

Approximately a half hour after finishing, I began to get sick.  This has happened to me once before, after my first race, a half-marathon.  I weighed 270 pounds at the time, and the temps that day went over 100. I ended up in the medical tent with heat exhaustion and an IV.  That was eight years ago, but is something I will NEVER forget.  That feeling began to come back, but I hate needles, and made an executive decision with myself not to go anywhere near that medical tent.  I crawled off into some shade three times to puke up what little I had ingested over the previous six hours.  (After that first aid station I could only stand to stomach orange slices, Pepsi, Mountain Dew and water.  I knew I would suffer for it, but it was what it was.)

We finally made it to the van, and I puked two more times while trying to change clothes and leave.  This was getting fun.  I began driving, got maybe 20 minutes down the road and had to pull over.  puked again and got rid of some waste from other areas.  At this point I decided to ask Scott to drive, and he was feeling good enough that he agreed.  We had to stop one more time at a gas station for my final puke, magic number 7.  Finally, I was done.  I began to feel much better after a shower, some Ensure and time.  We finally stopped about an hour from home for dinner……………at Pizza Hut.  It was awesome!

I love running.  I love running ultras.  I love pushing my body to it’s limits because it reveals to myself how tough I am mentally.  I wear this as a badge of honor that I usually only allow myself to know.  How can you not feel proud to get through something like that, to push your body to the brink, and walk away with a smile.

Does this make me an Idiot?  Who cares.  I loved representing this little club during this run.  I’ve never been a part of such an encouraging group of people.  Believe this, there are many more Idiotic races to come.

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