I’ve spent the last year learning about, chatting about, and finally doing, Fastest Known Times. At this point, the concept has gone from a relatively underground sort of pursuit to nearly mainstream in the ultrarunning world. This has been helped along significantly by the novel coronavirus’s impact on the 2020 race landscape. With no races, many more people are looking for other ways to test themselves, and attempts at FKTs have multiplied quickly.
Our mission was simple: an out-and-back on the Tunnel Hill State Trail, which runs from Harrisburg, Illinois to the Cache River State Natural Area Wetlands center. The trail is a 47.5 miles long rail-to-trail, converted from the old Cairo and Vincennes Railroads. When we lived near the trail a decade ago, we’d run the stretches around Vienna, Illinois frequently, and a couple years ago we both ran the eponymous 100 mile race held on the trail. We figured it was time to say we’d seen the whole trail (the race only uses about 25 miles of it), and we needed to test a few of our fastpacking systems. When the last day of winter/first day of spring weekend also coincided with favorable (ish) weather, we headed south.
I knew within a few miles that Scout Mountain was going to be one of those races that conjures a demon, though I didn’t know then what it was. Because of the snowier than normal winter, the course was long (54 miles in fact), and we were treated to an earlier than normal start at 5am for extra time to deal with the snow. I am still not sure if it was something I ate the night before, altitude, or just nerves contemplating my first real mountain ultra, but my stomach was not right even before we started. I tried to ignore it as I pounded my standard pre-race breakfast of banana bread and peanut butter.
If there ever was a race that could distract you with sheer beauty, though, Scout Mt is it. The 50 mile version traverses 30ish miles of foothills before doing a 20 mile loop up and over the top of Scout Mountain itself. The race unseats the Superior as the most scenic race I’ve ever run, a spot Superior has had since 2005.
20 isn’t really even that cold. That’s what I kept telling myself in the days leading up to the Tunnel Hill 100. The start temp was predicted to be around 20, with a high barely cracking freezing on Saturday, then back down to 20 Sunday morning. The reason I kept telling myself that 20 isn’t cold is that I was genuinely scared. By mid-winter, running in 20s weather would be pretty much the norm. But even the cold 50ks I’d run were just a few hours long. I had no idea how we’d deal with 24+ hours of frigid temps.
Race reports about races in which everything goes smoothly are hard to read. Who wants to spend 15 minutes having someone expand on “it went great”? That said, I have to tell you about this run because it didn’t just go “great,” it really is beginning to stand out as one of my favorite ultras ever.
It’s going to be tough writing a good race report about the Cry Me A River 50k. I tend to overuse superlatives anyway, and this was a race that encourages one to indulge in a wide variety of superlatives. So let’s get em all out there right now: hardest, steepest, most unrelenting, most barf inducing, bizarrely located in Illinois of all places, longest 50k ever. I have run a decent array of 50k races over the years and I cannot remember another which inspired actual tears from participants. I saw two people weeping on this race, both doing the 50k flavor. Cry me a river, indeed!
I ran the Kal-Haven trail run this weekend, my first “official” ultra in almost exactly 10 years. The run is a point-to-point from Kalamazoo to South Haven Michigan on the Kal-Haven trail, a converted railroad bed.There are conflicting reports on the exact length, but my Garmin said it was 34 miles. The easy grades and crushed limestone made for a kind reentry into the world of ultrarunning. I never entirely stopped running over those years, but when I started structured training in December, I’d only run more than five miles once in the previous several years.