Kettle Moraine Race Report by Rex Vlcek

There I was wrestling the ferocious Dogbear to the ground; “save yourself” I told Bob, if I don’t catch up with you, tell them that I would have finished this time.  Ok it wasn’t quite like that.  But, as we were working our way toward the Rice Lake 81.5mile turn around, before the lip incident, three runners moving swiftly toward us through the blackened, evil sumac ridden single track forest, cautioned us to “beware of the Dogbear back there.”  Now those of you who know Murphy know that the only thing worse than a bear on the trail would be a dog.  The fact that a Dogbear might be just ahead lurking in that hideous forest was the first real threat to a 100 mile finish.

“You think I should pick up a stick” panted my fearless leader desperately trying to disguise the terror in his voice that now has risen several octaves.

“No” I barked in my best macho I’d protect you voice.

“You think there’s such a thing as a Dogbear” he asked?

“I don’t know but I don’t think a stick will help” I replied.  “Lets just keep moving”  I sure wish Judy was here I thought to myself.

Our pace quickened and after the Strawberry Moon of June peeked out for the first time that evening from behind the clouds that had covered the skies all day, we shook it off and both of us acted like we knew those guys were just funning with us hayseeds from Nebraska.

The 14th Annual Kettle Moraine 100 Endurance Run on June 6th and 7th, 2009 was, finally, my first 100m finish 27:51 and change.  No pressure right?  I mean, I’ve only been trying to finish one of these since 2002 always coming up short but with good excuses of course.  I don’t know what it is about 100m races other than maybe that it’s 100 friggin miles.  I’ve trained with my friends, they finished…I haven’t.  “You’ll get em next time” is always the refrain.  They’ve gone on to finish the toughest races on the mainland while I was still trying to finish my first HURT.  Years have passed and no finish.  I‘ve paced newbees to finish their first 100 yet I kept coming up short.  I’ve paced, I’ve volunteered, I can tell you what to do and get you to finish but when the rubber met the road, I kept coming up flat.  Friends have said, “pick a race I’ll run with you” but my response was always that I wanted HURT to be my first 100.

Bob Murphy moved to Omaha, where I grew up.  We went on a run through the Fontanel Forrest Nature Preserve last summer while I was visiting my parents in Nebraska.  He suggested that I pick a Midwest 100m run and he would do it with me…a babysitter so to speak.  My Dad was sick at the time so I decide to come back next summer to visit and Bob and I would drive to a race and get this monkey off of my back.  I have to admit that we have some tough terrain to cover in Hawaii. 

We picked Kettle just because of the timing and the fact that Bob had ran the race two years earlier and he knew the course.  Judy Carluccio, another former resident and HURT finisher, decided to come and join the fun also and we three were off on a road trip that had all the workings of a National Lampoon vacation.  Now Judy is just like one of the guys but tougher and better looking.  The road trip was fun and upbeat and we let “the lady” Bobs aptly named Garmin lead us to Janesville, WI…the feminist response to Jamestown.  We checked in and went to have a pre-race meal before crashing early.  Fortunately for us we had a choice of two fine dinning establishments next to each other: Hooters and the Olive Garden.  Judy of course wanted to go to Hooters but Bob and I decided that the cuisine at Olive Garden was more apropo and had a better wine selection.

The race went off without a hitch with weather conditions cloudy with light rain all day.  Temperatures were between 50 and 70 the whole race.  We were fortunate.  Zack Gingerich set a course record of  15:17:41.  He lapped us about mile from the 100k mark.  The Kettle is a well organized race by experienced volunteers with frequent aid stations.  Race Directors Jason Dorgon and Tim Yanacheck  put on a low key, top drawer event.  You can find out more about the race from their website . 

Judy stayed with us for about 200 yards then she kicked sand in my face, grabbed my gels and took off.  I was going to drop Bob and run with her but since he made the commitment to run with me, I slowed down.  It really was perfect conditions for me since I’m a “mudder” and cool, wet weather works in my favor.  We had a workman-like attitude and stayed in control for the entire race.   I won’t give you a blow by blow because the course is rather uneventful and after all it’s not Hawaii.  We saw Judy at the 31mi turn and she was moving well in good spirits.  Judy was running her first race without a pacer and was awesome! She finished with her fastest time 26:18:49 and could have gone a lot faster had she been running with someone.

Aside from the Dogbear there was a minor mishap.  Those of you who know me know that I have an allergic reaction to anything in the sumac family.  That means poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak, mango, pine tar etc.  Kat has seen it in all its glory.  The gang has seen it.  And if Bob hadn’t seen it before, he would have freaked.   The allergy reacts when I get a scrape or cut on my lips and then exposed to the sumac.  The result is a lip that blows up like a balloon to 5x it’s normal size.  Looks bizarre and really funny.  NOT FUNNY! 

This racecourse is loaded with sumac.  From the start the hair on the back of my neck stood up every time it would brush my legs and arms sometimes so high that it would brush my face.  I knew that I would break out in a rash but the race would be over by then and I would have to deal with it.  What happened is that after the Dogbear I needed to fix my shoe.  My shoes have been scuffling through that stuff all day but it needed to be fixed.  This is one thing that I learned this trip.  Fix the problem before it becomes a problem.  Sage advise.  We came into the aid station in good shape.  I forgot about fixing my shoe and grabbed a gel, ripped it with my teeth, sucked it down with my hands all over my mouth and set out to the 81.5 mi turn around about 4 mi away. 

Immediately my right side of my lip started swelling.  I knew what it was.  I had Benadryl in my drop bag at the start finish that I was going to split up in my other drop bags but didn’t.  It’s not like I didn’t know about the sumac but I wasn’t expecting this.

 “Bob is my lip swelling?”   I already knew the answer.  He shined his flashlight and said, “Yes.”  That’s it.  Yes.  I know that he was thinking how could this be?  We have come so far and now this.   I just stayed calm and we moved through the hideous forest to the turn.  Somewhere along there we saw Judy happy and ready to give some encouragement but I wasn’t going to freak her out so I kept moving with a few grunts.  Little did I know that she thought that I was in trouble just by my response.  This was the longest 4 mi of my life.  Not that my lip was now big as Bozo the Clown’s, but because the course seemed to be marked wrong.  It had to be longer than 4 mi. I swear.  We saw a woman coming back and I asked her how far?  She said “about 20 mins.”  20 mins. passes and we finally see another runner coming back.  I ask “is the aid station just ahead?”  He replies “about 30 min out.”  What the? 

“Bob is my lip getting bigger?”  He shines his light “yep” turns around and keeps moving.  He figured if he couldn’t see it, it wasn’t there.  I swear we passed two major thoroughfares, a toll bridge and an underground tunnel before we got to the turn.   At the turn I got some Claritin (no help) from a volunteer and we got it together for the 15 mi trip home.  I didn’t tell Bob at this point that my tongue felt swollen and it was becoming an effort to swallow water.  Stay calm, stay in control was the mantra now.  We kicked butt all the way home.

This is what else I learned.  Stretch your legs, lengthen your stride.  “No baby steps” Bob would tell me.  “The more you run, the more you’ll want to run.”  “The more you walk, the more you’ll want to walk.”   Stay ahead of hydration, electrolytes, gels, food, and boo boos.  Don’t wait till you get to the aid station do it now.  The 95mi. aid station had some Benadryl.  I took two and Bob says, while trying not to look me in the eye because by now my whole face is swollen and I can see my lip in my peripheral vision as it bounces up and down with each step, “ok lets do the math.”  What the hell is he talking about I’m thinking. 

“If we keep up this pace with some running we can break 28 hrs.” 

“You can go Bob if you want to break 28 hrs.” 

< p>“I’m not talking about me dumb ass I’m talking about you for your first 100” he kindly replied.  We trudged on.  The sooner you finish , the sooner you can sit down I told myself.

Judy was standing at the finish with the biggest smile jumping up and down until I got close enough for her to see my lip and then she just had the oddest look on her face.  A picture of that would have been classic. 

“What the hell happened to your lip?”  Bob immediately informed them that, “he had to rough me up a little bit to get me in but that he didn’t hurt me.”

Here’s the deal.  On the flight over, in casual conversation, I told the person next to me that I was going to run my first 100m.  I’ve been humbled.  On the flight home in casual conversation, I told the person sitting next to me that I was just visiting friends and family back in Nebraska.  I’ve been humbled by the friends that spent many hours training and waiting for me on the trails.  I’ve humbled by the many who wanted me to finish over the years more than I wanted to finish.  I’ve humbled by the humility of those who are around me that have gone through this process.  I’ve been humbled by those who were out there with me who didn’t finish.  I‘ve been humbled by the fact that what ever we do the best we’ll ever be is human. 

What a deal!