Have you ever set out to do something that completely intimidated you, but you did it anyway? How did you feel as you crossed the finish line and finally accomplished that Big Hairy Audacious Goal? When I ran the 2021 Badger Trail 100, it was definitely an amazing feeling to cross that finish line. But more importantly, it was the entire race that was the culmination of years of training and sweat that got me to that point.
Heads up: This post is a long one, but my first 100-mile race deserves a few more words.
Badger Trail 100 Preparation and Check-in
As I previously wrote, preparation for my first 100-mile race was definitely short of the ideal. My initial plans to run in 2020 were canceled and my training was derailed by work demands and calving season. But I still made it to that start line.
For this race, I knew I needed some support from a race crew and in preparation for that, I’d had a few test runs with a crew. Dairy Carrie joined me to crew for a 100k race in Idaho in 2020. She and the family showed up at the Chicago Marathon to cheer me on but this was the first time for her to crew – and the first race for me to have a crew.
My fiance, Aaron, joined me to crew for a 50-mile race in South Dakota in June of this year. This round, I knew a bit more of what to ask of a crew and it was a good opportunity to help refine that.
For the Badger Trail 100, Aaron and I drove to Wisconsin from Virginia and arrived the afternoon before the race. Carrie lives just over an hour away, so she’d join us as well. Check-in takes place at Dot’s Tavern just outside of Belleville. The place very much feels like a dive bar set up in the basement and back yard of someone’s house with affordable beer and good friends.
We picked up my race packet and waited for Carrie to join us for a quick beer. The town of New Glarus was celebrating 175 years, so we stopped there for a steak dinner and enjoyed some live music and yodeling from Carrie’s favorite cheesemaker.
For the night before the race, we stayed in Monroe, Wisconsin, which was just a 15-minute drive up the road from the race start.
Badger Trail 100 Course
The Badger Trail 100 made a good course for my first 100-mile race. The course is a relatively flat rail-trail that is mostly shaded and provides access for regular crew support and aid stations roughly every 7 miles along the route. The course begins at an old rail bridge near Orangeville, Illinois, and continues north for 35 +/- miles past Belleville.
The 100-mile distance covers this course south-to-north, then turns around to cover it again headed south, with the final leg headed back north. The finish line is at a community park in Belleville. Other distances also run the course on the same weekend, including a 100k, 50-mile, 50k, Marathon, and Half Marathon. However, since the races are spread out over 2 days, I only saw 100k runners on the course.
Aid stations are well-stocked with all the ultrarunning essentials. Every other aid station is available for crew, which makes for easy planning. The crew is able to park very close to the course and set up right next to the route, which saves from any wandering or detours (except for race HQ in Belleville).
The Badger Trail 100 racecourse makes it pretty difficult to get lost. The race follows a straight route for the entire distance. This year there were a couple of exceptions for construction in Monroe and at the Tunnel. But these detours were well marked.
There is also a quick detour at the north end of the course, but this one is welcomed. The north-end aid station is at Dot’s Tavern. Runners are encouraged to go into the bar to collect a coaster and, of course, bring some cash along for a quick beer at mile 35.
100-mile Race Day
The Badger Trail 100 began at 6:00 a.m., which was kind of a relief. I’ve had several other races start much earlier in the morning. By the time we got started in Orangeville, the sun was just coming up. I was nervous with anticipation of what the day would bring. I had very little clue of what to expect because my longest distance to this point had been 62 miles with 17 hours being the longest amount of time on a course.
My A-goal for the day was to complete the 100 miles in 24 hours. Based on my previous race performances, 25 hours was an expected finish time, so I knew a sub-24 would be a good reach goal. 25 hours was my next goal with 30-hours being another goal to reach if I ran into trouble. Again, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the miles ahead.
The start of a 100-mile race is no sprint. Runner started off on a quick jog as everyone is focused on not going out too fast despite race-day energy. We have a long ways to go and we better not be in a rush to get there.
I expected to be running a 12-minute per mile pace at the start, so that’s the time frame I gave Aaron to meet me at the first aid station. I settled into a comfortable, all-day pace around 11:15 per mile and found a fellow runner to chat with. As we discussed previous trail experiences and the anticipations for the day, the first 10 miles literally flew by.
The first crewed aid station in Monroe was a quick stop and I was on my way. The plan for the race was to make aid stations easy exchanges. I had two race vests so that Aaron and Carrie could have one restocked with food and essentials and I would just swap that out with the vest I was wearing as I came in for each stop. This worked out fantastic because it relieved any of my worries about the exchanges.
The next several hours clicked off smoothly. I’d stop at aid stations with no crew access for a quick drink of Coke and something to eat. Bananas, peanut butter, and cookies were sitting well with me for the day. In fact, I ended up eating A LOT of peanut butter throughout the race.
By mile 30, we made it to Belleville, which was race HQ and a larger aid station area. At this point, Carrie joined us, and Patrick and their 2 boys drove down to cheer me on for this stop. I was a bit worried because I wasn’t slowing down. I had expected to begin with a 12:00 pace and slowly decrease from there to a pace of 14-minutes per mile. But I was still comfortably running just over 11 minutes per mile. Not a bad thing, but I also didn’t want to burn out.
I decided to change shoes, socks, and shirts at 30 and 70 miles during the race. This was a very good decision. Fresh feet and a clean shirt were refreshing each time and I’d wished I had done this in previous races. At mile 35, I made it to Dot’s Tavern and stopped long enough for a cold Coors Banquet. 100% refreshing!
Badger Trail Afternoon Miles
After the stop at Dot’s, we headed back south on the same route. I was still feeling good for having already run 35 miles, but the afternoon heat would soon change that. As the temperatures wore on, my mood went south. I was hot and sticky in the still air. The trees along the rail trail provided shade, but they also blocked any breeze from moving the air around.
By the time I made it back to Monroe, I was in a sour mood and ready for the sun to go down. But I kept on trucking. My pace had slowed very little to 11:30 miles by mile 62 and I entered new territory in terms of mileage run. This stretch to the mile 70 turnaround was a mental battle. I was tiring and just wanted to cool off. I began walking more frequently and tried hard to get my mind elsewhere.
But the thing about an out-and-back (and back again) course is that you’re able to see who’s in front of you in the race. At some point in the journey back south, I saw the race leader heading back north and begin counting the runners who were ahead of me. But there were not many of them. It was to the point that I was certain I had missed several of them. There was no way there were only ten runners ahead of me by the time I reached the mile 70 aid station and turnaround.
But sure enough, when I asked the race volunteers about the count at the aid station, she only had 10 runners checked off. Wow. I literally couldn’t believe it. I was in tenth place at mile 70 of my first 100-mile run. Not going to lie, this gave me a renewed breath of motivation.
Into the Dark to Reach 100 miles
As I left the 70-mile aid station, this coincided with daylight disappearing. My muscles were getting sore and I was tired, so the going was much slower in the dark. Knowing that there were a few runners just ahead of me on the course was motivation to keep pushing and so I settled into a fast hike, running slowly when I could muster up the effort.
A few miles after the turnaround, I found my first runner to pass. That was a good feeling and provided reassurance that I wasn’t going too slow. When you’re running this far and this long, slowing down is expected. You just have to slow down less than everyone else.
By my calculations (runner math is always dangerous), I was in 9th place by the time I made it back to the Monroe stop. I was having some difficulty estimating how close I was to each aid station, so when I messaged Aaron and Carrie my ETA, my time estimates were getting further off. At this point, math was out the window.
Carrie was worried about storms pushing through, so I put on a jacket to ward off nighttime chills and potential moisture. It was a little sticky and didn’t end up raining, but it was probably good to have another layer on. I pushed through in the dark, slowing down, but still pushing forward without stopping.
The Final 10 Miles
At mile 90, I was hurting. My muscles were tired from moving all day. My brain was tired from working to see through the dark miles. Aaron would join me as a pacer (and mental support) for the final stretch of the course. After being pushed out of the chair at the aid station, we headed off into the dark again.
Thank goodness I had someone with me on this stretch. My mind started focusing on the pain and it was more difficult to keep moving forward. Aaron stayed just a few steps ahead of my and this kept me pushing.
Somewhere around mile 94, we ended up catching and passing another runner. That would put me in 8th place and served as another motivator to keep pushing. I wouldn’t be passed this late in the race when I had worked so hard to be in this unexpected position. My stomach was growling and with 7 miles to go at the final aid station, I downed an entire PB&J. It was DELICIOUS.
Somewhere in this last stretch, it donned on me to check my watch battery. It was supposed to last for 24-hours of activity and being so far ahead of pace, I hadn’t even thought to check it. And I realized it was about to die. And at mile 99.88, it went dark.
If you aren’t a runner who tracks all of your miles, I’m not sure you’ll fully understand that loss that I felt at that moment. 99.88 miles into the race, my watch died on me. There would be no GPS tracking of my first time to reach 100 miles. The official course is 101 miles, so I was fully anticipating being able to see 100 miles on my watch for the first time. That never happened. To be honest, there was some heartbreak at that moment.
Aaron had to push me forward from that moment. We saw a light behind us and he had convinced me it was another runner threatening to pass us. I wasn’t going to let that happen. As the final few miles brought us back into Belleville, winding around to the park, I realized I was going to actually do this. I was literally hours ahead of my A-goal time and 38 miles farther than I had ever run before.
I crossed the finish line at Belleville in the dark at 21:31:30. It was quiet with very few people around. I wanted to collapse from exhaustion and my mind was going everywhere but nowhere at the same time. I finished in 8th place out of 94 finishers in my first 100-mile race. Wow.
The race director met me at the finish with my finisher buckle in hand. Before handing me the buckle, he asked if I had fun. “No.” was my response but he later replied on Twitter that my eyes told a different story. Despite the exhaustion and uncertainty of what to do now that I had stopped moving after 21 hours of running, I didn’t know what to do with the accomplishment. I was tired. I was sore. And I just wanted to lay down.
Aaron and Carrie loaded me up and we drove a little over an hour back to Carrie’s house as the sun began to rise. The day was a blur of restless attempts to nap and constantly repositioning in an effort to accommodate twitching and sore muscles. I had a liquid diet of Gatorade, milk, and beer in between naps.
It was a good feeling and I can’t wait to do it again.
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