The Runner's Reward

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Marshall Mangler 50k Race Report

After having to cancel every race I wanted to run for a few months at the end of summer / early fall due to work I decided I wanted to test myself. I signed up for the Marshall Mangler 50 k. I had 8 weeks to train. The challenge, the goal, was to train enough in that short time to be able to run the 50 k within the course time limit of 8 hours. Normally I would train at least twice as long for a marathon. I set myself up a schedule focused on long, slow trail runs and got to it..  Now, onto the race!

What can I say? This was an amazing, wonderful , grueling, painful experience. The kind of thing that you come away from with knowledge. Knowledge about the limits of the body and heart and of things that simply can't be put into words.

Race start was at 7:00 AM. It was in the upper 30's with periods of rain and 15-25 mph winds. Less than ideal, but far from a worst case scenario like snow and ice. The rain held off for most of the day so wet, slick roots and leaves and some muddy patches were the worst that the weather brought.

The course left from the Ice Rink driveway and went half of a mile up the hill to Pigeon Shelter. This was the location of an aid station and our drop bags. Our course would take us past here 4 more times and, for me, many of those times would be ugly. The first 4-5 miles followed the Orange Trail through the forests around the golf course. Leaving Pigeon it crossed a field of high, wet grass on the edge of the green. The kind that makes your legs sting and itchy. This lasted only about 50 yards. By the time I would be back here again the grasses were sufficiently trampled to remedy this minor inconvenience.

Winding through the conifer forests over hills and rock, roots criss-crossing the path, breaking the bedrock and pushing it up at odd toe-catching angles, the trail works its way counterclockwise back to Pigeon Shelter. I was following a group and chatting with some people I met, taking it easy and warming up. By mile 3 the sun was starting to come up and at the mile 6-ish aid station I decided to forge on without a stop.

The run was easy and enjoyable and otherwise un-notable for 12 miles or so. From the Orange Loop we crossed over to the Red Trails, following the main branch up 1/2-1 mile to the Red-blue dot. This trail winds its way up the western slopes heading south towards the lake. An aid station was set about halfway on the Red-blue at the Wisconsin Shelter. I stopped to refill my soft flasks and grab a handful of pretzels.

The aid stations. The sweet, sweet aid stations that literally made this race possible for me. The stations had bananas, pb&j sandwiches cut into little 2" squares, goldfish, pretzels, salt and vinegar chips, trail mix, m&m's,cookies, water, soda, Gatorade, and a staff of the greatest volunteers under the sun, or in this case under the clouds and rain.  These guys were knowledgeable and encouraging. More on that later.

 From the Wisconsin shelter aid station here I made my way down to the southern end of the lake and the start of the Rachel Carson trail. There was an unmanned fluid station here. Following the course I went back up the Red Trail and back to Pigeon Shelter and the Orange trail. Just under 16 miles in and only 1/4-1/2 mile to the aid station I had a wicked calf cramp. This marks the true start of the race for me. Over the next 16 miles I would come to learn things about myself. I would also come to having a number of out loud conversations with myself that bordered on insanity.

As I walked toward the Pigeon aid station the volunteers jumped into action. All the volunteers were great, but a special shout out to the Pigeon crew. And I mean crew. It was like having my own ultra trail crew. One guy came out to meet me, took my soft flasks and had them filled by the time I was at the station. I started stretching and massaging out my calf at which point the guy ( why didn't I get names?) who took my water bottles came back with a massage stick and even offered to massage it out. I opted to take care of it myself. In the meantime the crew gave great advice and encouragement. I ate some pb&j, and a little of everything else. Pretzels and m&m's can not be over rated in an event like this.  I left Pigeon feeling good. 

Less than a mile later everything in my legs started cramping and went into spasm. The semitendinosus, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius ,and worst of all the vastus medialis. The entire chain of motion came to a grinding, spasming halt.
I tried massaging and light stretching trying to find the balance between relief and sending the muscles back into contractions. After a few minutes I tried walking. Painful, short steps. Then a stop again with more stretching and massage. Then a short walk. At that moment I knew without doubt I would not be finishing the race. How could I go another 15 miles like this? The clear answer was I couldn't. 

One runner passed me in that time. One of two still behind me. He very kindly stopped to see if I was okay and when I indicated I would be he carried on with his race. At this point I made a decision, one that would prove to be the right one.  I set my intentions on walking the 4+ miles remaining on the Orange trail back to Pigeon and seeing from there. After 2 miles around a 20:00 pace with light, slow , and careful running on flat ground I  was able to bring my pacing down to a 19 and then 18 on the last few miles. During this time I doubled up in the salt stick plus caps and had an extra Hammer perpetuem solid. By the way both of these items are amaaaazing!

The first thing I learned about myself was that I could run after full muscle spasms. Run might be a strong word for what I did, but I was still moving albeit very slowly. I needed to carefully hobble and walk all uphill and downhill and could slowly shuffle my feet on the flat ground.  I finally made it around to Pigeon at mile 20 and talked to the guys there. They all felt it was still possible and within the time limit. I thought possible, maybe. Within the time limit no. At this point I made another decision. The decision to go as far as I could regardless of time. Just to see how much further I could  push this body. 

With this decision I crossed back to the Red trails. Here I started walking a little less and running on the very slight inclines. Still though, I had to walk the hills. With almost 4000 feet of elevation gain on the course this wasn't going to be easy.  I started checking my pacing and crunching the numbers. If I could keep around a 15:00 pace per mile I could do this still!! The running became easier as I went. Easier does not mean easy by any sense of the word . I was still shuffling my feet close to the ground and felt every muscle threatening to spasm. After making the big climb up to the Wisconsin aid station I stopped to refuel and eat. The volunteers here were great. I left feeling encouraged and with too much food in my belly. 

As I wound down the remainder of the Red-blue towards the southern lake edge my legs again went into spasm. This time, however , I knew it wasn't the end. I knew that this made finishing in 8 hours an even more daunting task, but I only had 6-7 more miles to go. At mile 23 my garmin battery finally gave out. 5 1/2 hours in GPS mode for a forerunner 10! I was amazed, but I knew this would happen eventually and was ready. I used mapmyrun on iPhone to complete tracking and monitor my pacing. Along this trail I became my own drill seargent. If anyone was around to hear the obscenities streaming out of my mouth! "You are not stopping , keep moving your  f$&@ing feet" "You didn't come this far to quit and you didn't come this far to finish after the time limit! F$*#ing move it"  

Another thing I learned about myself is that even when the body entirely quits the heart and soul can propel you through pain and torment. 

Coming down to the unmanned fluid station I pressed on knowing I had enough fuel and water and was now on the return path! Two major hill climbs stood in my way. The first was directly ahead.  At this point I could "run" uphill a little bit and I took advantage of this by doing so intermittently in the climb. At the top I was across from the Wisconsin aid station which was cleared out . 

I pressed on and crossed over to the second hill climb left. The beast that worked its way back towards Pigeon. This climb went straight up the mountain. No switchbacks, no turns , just straight up. I stopped halfway up and stretched lightly, then attempting to walk up it backwards to see if that would be easier on my damaged muscles. It wasn't. After conquering the climb I checked my watch.  I was around 7:10 in. Rounding up to Pigeon for the last time I heard the guys screaming and cheering. Just the boost I needed. While passing I asked how far? About 1/2 a mile!! I'm actually going to do this AND within the time limit!! I was ecstatic. Coming down towards the finish chute I felt a surge of energy that took me to the line at a chip time of 7:31:16! 

First 50 k In the books!

I had mentioned there were two people behind me at the start of the second loop  and one passed me soon after the cramping began. The second person finished sometime after I had left. 

I was the last place finisher within the 8 hour time limit. And last place feels incredible!

Course and Placement:
Elevation Gain: Approx 3940'
Distance: 50km   31.1 miles - I tracked 32.7 miles using Garmin and map my run



  1. Congratulations, again. The physical stuff you can muddle through. It is pushing onward when you body is saying, "Ok, I had enough. It's time to stop." what really shows what you are made of. Great job toughing it out. It's a big accomplishment.

    1. Thank you. It was an incredible experience. Running is such a strange thing in that even through something grueling like this I still found it very enjoyable one one level.

  2. Congratulations! Way to push through!

  3. Thanks Kristy! Great job in Detroit!