Weekend trip to Chicago

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Greetings and apologies for not having updated the blog in some time - things have been quite busy, between work, training, and weekend activities (which have not included fish frys - sorry again).

I just got back from a quick run down to Chicago, and boy are my feet tired. (insert rim-shot and cymbal crash)

But seriously, I really did run (by foot) to Chicago this weekend! I was invited to participate in the Madison-to-Chicago-200 or "MC200" race by one of my coworkers, Karl. Karl is the Director of our Enterprise Architecture and Security group and an avid runner. He's also a details-oriented-and-loves-an-extreme-challenge type of guy, so he decided to form a relay team to participate in the MC200. AND he's also one of the best people I've ever met - super helpful, very thoughtful, intelligent, funny, and just plain "nice." (He's also leaving our company to start his own venture - I wish him the very best, and I know he'll do great with his new opportunity!)

The MC200 race is a team-based relay event that covers 200+ miles of continuous running over a single 30-hour block of time. Teams are categorized by a variety of methods - there are "ultra groups" that consist of teams with six (6) or fewer total runners, there are "masters groups" that consist of teams that have an minimum age of 50 or older, there are "corporate teams" that consist of teams where all members work for the same company, and finally, there are "mixed groups," which is where our group landed - we had nine (9) men and women of all ages, and we didn't all work for the same company. The maximum number of runners that any team can have is limited to twelve (12).

Our race venture began about 3 months ago when Karl reached out to us on an individual basis to determine if we would be interested in running with him in the MC200. I jumped at the chance and within a week or two, Karl had assembled a small group of runners. We had our first conference call as a group, introduced ourselves, talked about the event, and contemplated some initial strategy and support options.

On paper, the event seems daunting - begin the race at the Sheraton Hotel on John Nolen Drive in Madison, WI and finish the race some 205-miles and 30-hours later at the Monterey Beach Park in Chicago, IL. Things get even more complex and challenging from there... with 36-hand-off points (relay or transition areas), we had to make sure that the appropriate runner was at the correct transition area by a certain time so that the incoming runner could hand-off the "baton" to the outgoing runner; we had to make sure that runners had time to recover, eat, rest, use the bathroom, shower, and so on.

Our vans had to know where to go, when to be there, how long to wait, who to pick-up, who to drop-off, and a whole lot more. We had a crew of nine (9) runners and zero (0) dedicated drivers/crew members/support staff, so that introduced another challenge - as runners, we not only had to worry about the actual running, racing, recovery, eating, resting, and other stuff; we also had to take turns driving and navigating our way to the various transition areas.

Thankfully, Karl is quite literally a genius and master organizer, so he made quick work of the logistics. Within no time, we had spreadsheets with our race segment assignments, van transition schedules, and so on. Karl was able to calculate how long it would take each runner to complete each of their race segments (segments varied in length from 3.10 miles to 8.77 miles); he then assembled a van rotation plan so that runners were in the right place at the right time, and then figured out how long each van could remain "inactive" so that we could grab some rest. It was an impressive effort to say the least, and our race went off without (well nearly) a hitch!!

We were thrown a curve at the last minute when two of our original team members dropped out of the race with less than a week before the start. Talk about a frustrating and scary situation - we were faced with the threat of having to race with only 8 people (our team originally had 10 runners); our miles were going to increase dramatically, as we "lost" about 40-miles worth of "segments" by losing those two runners.

We were fortunate enough to secure a new team member for our team, which took our total to 9 runners; each of us would average approximately 23 miles of running. Our "new" team met via a final conference call on Wednesday night (1.5 days before the race was due to start).

So now that you have some background information, let's dig-in and find out how the race went!

Thursday, June 10, 2010 - 10:00pm - Middleton, WI

Preparation for the event is critical. Training was just one thing to worry about; there were logistical things to consider: changes of clothing, managing dirty clothing, nutrition, sleeping gear, safety equipment, recovery gear, and so on.

I was assigned to run four segments of the race for a total of 24.35 miles. This meant I'd need to plan for changing clothes, re-fueling, and resting at four different opportunities. Here's what I packed for nutritional goodies:


I've got 4 packets of Recoverite (for use after each run), some Clif bars for meals, some Justin's Nut Butter (all natural, no extra ingredients peanut butter), some vitamin supplements, Nuun electrolyte mix, Ibuprofen, and a little "pick-me-up" of GU Chomps, just in case I need a little extra energy. This is what would fuel me for the event - I didn't want to risk eating at a restaurant and being tempted to overeat or eat the wrong things or get sick from eating too much "prepared" food while running.

It turns out that I "over-packed" with food - I brought home 2 packets of Recoverite, 2 packets of peanut butter, all of the Ibuprofin (didn't need it), the GU Chomps, and 3 of the Clif bars. I probably could've ate more while on the trip, but I really didn't feel hungry and I didn't want to overeat.

I also packed 3 sets of running clothes (shorts, wool t-shirt, wool socks), an extra pair of shoes, rain gear, visor, hat, number belt, SPI belt (for holding the team cell phone while running), two water bottles, a gallon of filtered water, a 64-ounce Gatorade G2, sleeping stuff, 2 towels (one for sitting on, one for showering), sunscreen, bug spray, lip balm, sunglasses, iPod, GPS, my watch, my LED headlamp and taillamp, reflective vest, flashlight, and a mesh bag for dirty clothes.

Everything was organized and packed into separate zip-bags; each set of running clothes (shorts, socks, shirt) went into their own bag. Night-time running equipment (headlamp, taillamp, reflective vest, flashlight, extra batteries) went into its own bag. Accessories (number belt, iPod, watch, SPI belt) went into its own bag, and so on. This made it very easy to manage everything - I could dig through my small transition bag and find exactly what I needed without messing up everything else.

I did pack a separate suitcase for my sleeping gear - the pillow, foam bedroll, and blanket were bulky, so I used a carry-on bag to hold those. I also threw-in a set of "post race celebration" clothes, just for safe measure.

After a triple-check of everything, I went to bed at around midnight - I had to be awake and on the road by 8:00am the next morning at the very latest. Oh, did I mention that I carb-loaded on Thursday as well? And not the good carbs - pizza, beer, etc... we had a going away party for the manager of our department, so I joined the festivities and ate waaaay too much pizza. (insert uneasy stomach gurgling reference here)

Friday, June 11, 2010 - 8:30am - Sheraton Hotel, Madison, WI. Total Race Miles: 0.00

Our team, Sole2Soul, assembled at the Sheraton Hotel, signed-in for the event, filed our waivers, showed our safety equipment (for night running purposes), and posed for a quick team photo. Here we are in the lobby of the hotel:


We look so happy and excited - from left to right we are: Karl, Anja, Cindy, Kimberly, Teresa, Becky (in blue), Steve, Heidi, and Katie. Immediately after we took this photo, we made our way to the starting line of the event, where they held a 10-minute informative safety meeting.


The organizers of the event reviewed with us the importance of wearing your reflective vest, headlamp, and LED taillamp when running at night, talked about the transition areas and safety rules, and a few other important details. Common sense stuff, for sure, but it was worth mentioning and making people aware.

There were 200+ teams that entered the event this year, and the start of the race is staggered by your projected finish time - the goal is to get all of the teams to Chicago at around 6:00pm on Saturday night so that the event doesn't drag-on indefinitely, so that transition areas can open/close with some predictability, and most importantly - everyone can celebrate the completion of the event at around the same time.

We projected that we would complete the event in 31 hours and 38 minutes, so that meant our start time was going to be 10:30am. Our team would have to depart Madison in the 10:30am "wave"; the faster your team ran, the later you would start... the Ultra groups (smallest teams with the fastest runners) started as late as 5:30pm on Friday.

With the safety meeting complete, our gear packed-in to the vans, and anxious energy abound, we moseyed our way to the starting line where we posed for one last group photo:


Teresa was our first runner - she was responsible for completing the first 5.24 miles of the race, which would take her from The Sheraton to Olbrich Park, where she would hand-off the baton to Anja. Here's Teresa (in the pink top, closer to camera) getting ready to take off:


With the race officially underway, we got into the van and promptly... drove to Lake Mills - the first of six van transition areas. There are 36 transitions in the race, but at six points along the way, both vans end-up in the same spot at the same time. So, our van ("van #2") of runners (Cindy, Karl, Katie, and me) started the race by "resting" for a good 5 hours.

To get from Madison to Milwaukee, runners followed the Glacial Drumlin bike trail. This trail is closed to motorized traffic, runs nearly parallel with I-94 East, is semi-flat, and stops in numerous little towns along the way, including Lake Mills. Here's the Lake Mills bike depot building, which would serve as the host for the transition area:


The transition areas are pretty interesting - people just hang out, which includes everything from laying around to sleeping to playing card games to eating to stretching to - well, whatever! Here's the group of folks that we spent most of our race hanging around with, since we all started at about the same time:


As you can see, it was fairly sunny, and that meant shade was a valuable commodity. The temperatures hovered into the high 80s, humidity followed suit. As such, a bunch of people had to be treated for heat exhaustion... not a good thing to have happen so early in the race. Thankfully, our team stayed healthy and safe - a tribute to the preparation that we all put into proper training, hydration, and support.

Since I had time to kill, I walked over to my friend's business (Topel's) and hung out with Dan and Tara. Dan and Tara are superheroes - they lent us the use of their conversion van so that we wouldn't have to rent two vans (Karl rented a van for us, but more on that in a bit). THANK YOU, Dan & Tara - you rock the block!

Here I am, leaving Topel's - my segment was due to start in about 30 minutes, so I had to stretch and warm-up.


Just after taking that photo, we received a panicked call from our team - they couldn't find us, and they were already at the transition area, ready and waiting for us! We looked everywhere, but couldn't find them, and that's when we discovered our one and only "glitch" in the plan - we were at the wrong transition area!

We had somehow misinterpreted the transition plan and had jumped too far ahead - our van should've been at the 5th transition area in London, WI - not at the 6th area in Lake Mills. So we hopped in the van and raced over to London, where I met Becky and picked-up the baton. We lost about 20 minutes due to this mistake; I figured I'd have to really "hoof it" to try and make-up some time!

Here I am, leaving London - I'd be in Lake Mills some 5.44 miles and 40-ish minutes later!


My first segment went well - despite the heat, full sun, no-shade, and humidity, I managed an 8:00-mile pace and arrived in Lake Mills, where I handed-off the baton to Cindy. Here I am meeting Cindy and exchanging the baton:


Cindy rocked-it 3.10 miles to Highway Q, where she handed-off the baton to our other vanmate, Katie. Katie ran back-to-back segments; she flew through the Jefferson transition area (3.84 miles from Highway Q), and met Karl at the Helenville Bike Depot. Katie ran her 12.24 miles at a blistering pace; equally blistering was the sun and heat, but she managed a great average speed.

Karl took the baton and set-off at a sprint; we would pass him as we drove the van to the next transition area - he was looking really strong, so we gave him a cheer and then sped over to Sullivan's transition area (5.76 miles away).

Karl was also running back-to-back segments under brutal conditions - high heat and killer humidity; here he is coming in to the Sullivan transition area.


We freshened-up his water supply, wished him well, and jumped back into the van so that we could make it to Dousman, some 5.74 miles away.

Dousman served as the second major transition area - Van #1 with its runners would be waiting for us there and would assume running duties at that point. I realize all of this sounds confusing, but there isn't a better way to explain it - this is a complex and challenging event!

Here's Karl handing off the baton to Teresa, who would start her second segment and run 6.35 miles from Dousman to Wales. As you can see, it was getting dark, and rules dictated that we would have to wear reflective vests, headlamps and taillamps during the period between dusk and dawn. Teresa was all decked-out in her gear and ready to rock:


With our van's segments complete, we took a few minutes to cool down before heading to Carroll College (transition area #14). Our van had just run a total of 32.8 miles; our team had completed 59.28 miles. And, we were quickly recovering our lost time, so things were looking good.

Unfortunately, things weren't smelling good - we'd all run during the heat of the day and a such were sweaty and stinky... Carroll College was the first transition area that offered showers, so we decided to make a quick stop to freshen-up before heading to the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, which is where we would meet van #1 and begin our second segment of the race. Here we are, about to head off for Carroll College.


While on the way to Carroll College, we decided to stop for a quick bite of food from Perkins. Katie and Cindy had a bowl of chicken noodle soup, Karl ate some breakfast, and I sipped on a Diet Pepsi. Here we are at the table, enjoying a bit of a break and eavesdropping on an unusual conversation between a drunken plumber and his motorcycle-gang-member wife (I love Cindy's cheesy "I'm about to gobble down some soup" pose):


All I can say about the Perkins stop is "interesting." Not because of any of my team members, but because of the folks around us... I could probably write a book with all of the stories we overheard.

As entertaining as Perkins was, we continued on to Carroll College where I chose not to shower, much to the chagrin of my vanmates, I'm sure. The time was nearing 9:30pm, and my next segment of running started at 11:51pm, so I didn't see much value in showering, racing to my starting point, and then getting sweaty all over again. So, I stuck (or is that "stunk") it out while Katie, Cindy, and Karl enjoyed a refreshing shower and change of clothes.

The runners from our team in Van #1 (Teresa, Anja, Kimberly, Heidi, and Becky) FLEW through their segments and actually arrived into transition area #17 ahead of our original schedule. Rather than having lost 20+ minutes, we were now ahead of our projected finish time - another indicator of how dedicated our team was and how great everyone did.

At about 11:40pm, I met Becky, got the baton, and began my second segment - a short 3.43 mile sprint through the streets of Milwaukee, from State Fair Park to Nathan Hill High School. I ran it in about 25 minutes; handed off the baton to Cindy, who would run two segments back-to-back for a total of 13.75 miles (or about two hours).

While Cindy was out running, we back-tracked to Martin Luther High School, where they had hot and cold food, showers, and a rest area. I hadn't showered yet, so Karl happily drove us back to MLHS where I was greeted by some of the best race signage I ever saw:


I'm not one who enjoys a public restroom or a public shower facility, but wow - was this a great stop. I cleaned-up, changed clothes, put my stinky gear into the mesh bag, and then went about finding a place to lay down for a bit. Unfortunately the sleeping area was full, so I had to grab a few minutes worth of rest in the first available spot:


I wasn't the only one who tried to sleep outside - Katie grabbed 15 minutes worth of sleep outside, as did about 200 other folks - the school grounds were literally covered with people plopped about, trying to catch a few winks of sleep between their running segments.

After our brief rest, we headed to Franklin High School, where Katie would take over running duties. She ran her 7.55 mile segment, then handed-off to Karl who would complete our van's second segment with a 6.46 mile stint. If all went according to plan, we would meet Van #1 at transition area #22 in Oak Creek, WI at around 4:15am.

Day One summary:
Hours run - 18:53
Miles covered - 116.46
Segments / Transitions - 21

Saturday, June 12, 2010 - 4:15am - Oak Creek Community Center, Milwaukee, WI

As mentioned, our teams met at transition area #22 at the Oak Creek Community Center in Milwaukee, and things were quite different now. We were tired - none of us had managed to get much (if any) sleep. We were cold - the temperature dropped from 84F at midnight to 61F by 4:00am. The wind had picked-up, a fog was setting in, and it was misting rain. Not a great environment to be dealing with to say the least.

Adding insult to injury, the bathroom situation for an event like this is never good, as it's mostly porta-potties and public restrooms. Factor in a lack of sleep, bare-bones nutrition, lots of hydration, 100+ miles of running, and being awake at 4:30 in the morning, and this is what you get when it's time to use the restroom:


That's Cindy as she prepares to venture out to one of the porta-potties at the Oakbrook stop. Both Katie and Cindy were hilarious - they kept Karl and me in stitches for most of the race. That's probably what made the event extra special - our team was really fun to hang around with, and we all seemed to get along great.

Oh - I should also mention that I spied this little gem while at the Oak Creek Community Center... guess we'll have to add this location to the fish finder list:


With Karl back in the van, we headed to the St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Racine; Van #1's runners would be on the road for a while, and the church offered food and another rest area. We arrived to the church at about 5:00am, cleaned-up a bit, and tried to grab a little bit of sleep.

Sleep wasn't on the menu; I couldn't find any spots to lie down - all of the rooms were packed, and I definitely couldn't sleep outside as it was cold, windy, and misting. So, after searching high and low for a sleeping spot, I worked my way into the corner of a little hallway and did my best to relax for a bit.

I was startled by a phone call at 7:00am - Becky was about 20 minutes from being ready to hand off the baton to me; our runners in Van #1 absolutely cooked through their third segment - they managed to make-up nearly an hour's worth of time! So, now we were almost a full-hour ahead of schedule - holy cats!!

We raced over to transition area #26, the Dr. Beatrice O. Jones School in Kenosha, where I managed to throw on my running shoes, grab my iPod, and stretch for about 2 minutes before Becky came racing in to hand me the baton. At around 7:25am, I hit the road for segment #3, which consisted of 6.71 miles of running on trails and sidewalks. I averaged a flat pace of 8:15 per mile, and handed the baton to Cindy at the Pennoyer Park.

After handing the baton to Cindy, we drove to Southport Beach Park, where we had a little time to relax. Here we are in the van, driving over to the park - you can see I'm a little sweaty...


The girls commented that the van had begun to smell like "a lumberjack and rotten cheese," which I presume isn't a pleasant odor... but it stands to reason that the van would stink; we sat in it for hours on end after having ran for lengthy periods of time, and we also stored all of our stinky clothes in the van - not a good combination. The girls weren't complaining by any means; in fact, I think they were proud to having contributed to the quickly growing state of "van funk."

Without the assistance of Febreze, I did my best to "clear the air," so here I am, stretched-out in the van, using everything imaginable to help air out my stinky gear:


Cindy made quick work of her 4.01-mile segment, so there wasn't much time to relax (or air out the stinky stuff); here's Cindy coming in to the park and handing off the baton to Katie:


Katie ran a brief 3.04-mile segment over to Anderson Park - true to her previous segments, she flew right through it, and in no time was racing down the street to hand-off her baton to Karl. Here she is coming in to the park:


Karl took the baton from Katie and set-off on the final leg of our third running segment. He was scheduled to complete a 7.76-mile run, and according to our projections would arrive into the next major transition area (#31) by around 11:15am. Here's Karl heading out on his run - by this point, he had run a total of 18 miles on zero sleep.


We took the van to the Christ Community Church in Zion, IL, and waited for Karl to arrive. I also took some time to air out the van - here's our rental vehicle doubling as a clothesline:


While we were waiting, challenge #2 presented itself to us: bad weather. There had been threats of rain for most of the morning, but when reports of 45+ mph winds and golf-ball-sized hail came in, the race officials stopped the race.

So, we waited. And waited some more. And kept waiting - waiting for the rain, the wind, the hail, or whatever was supposed to come through and wreck our race. Karl arrived into the transition area where he would've normally handed the baton to Teresa, but we had to "hold" our runners (as did everyone else) until the race was re-opened.

After waiting for nearly an hour, the rain came - here we are in the van, watching it rain...


With the race delayed due to weather, Karl and I went to the Northern Lake YMCA for another round of showers. This shower was even better than the first - I literally felt like a million bucks after leaving the YMCA.

We received word that the race had re-started, and Teresa was underway after having been held-up by the race delay for more than 1.5 hours. This meant that Karl and I had to make our way down to the Northwestern University football stadium (transition area #35), where I would eventually take the baton from Becky and finish the race for our team.

And that's where we hit challenge #3 - our rental van experienced a flat tire on Highway 41. Thankfully, we found a safe area to pull-off the road from. Here we are changing the tire:



And within no time, we were back on the road, heading down to transition area #35. We had to spend about 4 hours waiting at this final transition area - the runners from our team in van #1 needed to cover more than 32 miles. While at transition #35, we met a lot of interesting folks, including "Kate" who handed out some amazing chocolate chip cookies (for free). At around 4:45pm, we received a call that Becky had just left transition area #34 and was on her way to meet me. This meant I had about an hour to get ready for her arrival; here I am grabbing the last few items from my transition bag:


As more teams began to filter-in to the transition area, the mood became a bit more festive. There was music, laughing, some delirious conversation, and some interesting costumes - we spotted these three folks just before I was about to grab the baton from Becky; we snapped a quick photo of me and the group (and yes, they ran like that):


Becky arrived a little earlier than expected - again, the girls in van #1 were crazy fast runners (great job to all of them!!) - here I am grabbing the baton from Becky:


And here I am, heading out on the final segment of our race. The last segment (#36) was 8.77 miles in distance and basically ran down Sheridan Avenue (along Lake Michigan) from Northwestern University to Monterey Beach Park.


I tried to really push it on that last segment, but with all of the traffic lights, I was only able to manage an 8:00-mile pace. I crossed the finish line at about 6:15pm with the team surrounding me - it was such a great feeling. Here we are at the finish line (Katie and Cindy aren't in the photo; they had to head home early due to family obligations):


Despite the 20-minute mix-up on day one, and despite the 1.5-hour weather delay, we arrived at the finish line just a few minutes behind our originally scheduled time of 6:08pm (our finish time was actually 6:14pm, I believe) - an amazing accomplishment to say the least!!!

Together, our team of nine runners covered 205.24 miles in 31 hours 44 minutes. Wow! We literally ran from Madison to Chicago, by way of Milwaukee. It still boggles my mind.

For our accomplishments, we were given finisher medals - here I am with my medal and our well-traveled "baton" (it's actually a wrist strap):


They had free pizza, beverages, music, and entertainment at the post-race party, but with the rain, hunger, and fatigue, we decided to get out of town sooner rather than later. So with that, we cleaned-up the vans, organized our gear, wished each other well, and hit the road. Karl, Katie, and Cindy all lived in Chicago, so that meant that Anja, Becky, Heidi, Kimberly, Teresa, and me took the Topel's van back to Madison at around 7:00pm on Saturday night.

We did stop for some super yummy Gino's East deep-dish, Chicago-style pizza; oh my gosh, did that hit the spot! We arrived back into Madison at about 11:30pm on Saturday - exactly 37 hours after we began our race.

Day two summary:
Hours run - 14
Miles covered - 85.74
Segments / Transitions - 14

Race summary:
Time running: 31 hours, 44 minutes
Miles covered: 205.24
Segments / Transitions: 36
Time spent sleeping: 45 minutes
Number of runners: 9
Number of teams: 203
Our team's overall finish: 94/203

Runner totals:

Anja: 25.08
Becky: 22.15
Cindy: 19.48
Heidi: 25.77
Karl: 25.66
Katie: 22.83
Kimberly: 20.30
Steve: 24.35
Teresa: 19.56

I can't thank Karl enough for organizing this effort, and I can't thank my team members enough for running so hard and for being so fun to race with. I would do this event again in a heartbeat - it was a blast, even if I didn't sleep for more than 45 minutes during the whole weekend. Note to Karl - count me in for next year, and put me down for 30 miles.

Here's Karl and me at the finish line - thanks again, Karl!


Post-race information

So, once I got home, I unpacked my stuff, and wow - what a mess. Here are the various laundry piles:


And to give you a better idea of the amount of logistical work that had to take place, here's some of what we used to complete the race (I also included my race t-shirt, number, and finishers medal in the photo):


There are maps, spreadsheets, laminated directions organized by segment, van schedules, and so on...

And finally, I didn't do anything today - no riding, no running, no swimming. I slept from about 1:00am until 9:00am, took a shower, threw on my compression recovery knickers and socks, and went to Bluephies for breakfast (figured I could eat bad today, even though I did eat pizza last night), and it was stellar. Egg white scrambler with mushrooms, tomatoes, and broccoli, with pancakes and toast - yum.


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This page contains a single entry by Steve published on June 13, 2010 1:33 PM.

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