Monday, January 13, 2014

Tuscobia 150 - 1 down 2 to go...

Tuscobia 150...what can I say great race, great volunteers and awesome Race Directors. 

Getting to the start line was somewhat of an ultra in itself taking almost 2 days but in the end well worth the trip.  I ended up carpooling from Minneapolis with John Taylor who is one amazing ultra runner and one of the 4 finishers in the 150 run category.  Thank you John for the carpool as it saved me a lot of needless stress.

We arrived in Park Falls around 5pm shortly before gear check and the post race supper.  I was feeling a bit unprepared looking at all the gear some people had thinking that I didn't have enough even thou my pulk was heavy enough at around 25 pounds.  I had to remind myself to focus on my race and my strategy and not worry about what others were doing.

The race started at 6am on Friday Dec. 27th with 17 runners.  I noticed that just about everyone had their hiking poles out.  I had purchased and packed hiking poles on the insistence of my friend Dallas but I really wasn't planning on using them as the course was pretty flat and trying them in training at home I thought they were pretty useless.  Well after about a mile on the trail I changed my tune pretty quick and got them out and never looked back.  At first I felt like a floundering fish out of water trying to use them but after about half an hour I quickly got into the swing of things.

I think I was in denial about how far actually 150 miles is on foot.  You can imagine it but you really can't appreciate it until your on the trail and the hours are endlessly passing by.  Some fast and some so very slow.  The weather on the Friday wasn't to cold or too warm but the trail really wasn't conducive to running or not for me anyway as my fast paced power walk was faster.  The first 29 miles to the Winter checkpoint seem to fly by as I arrived there just after 2pm after 8 hours on the trail.  My strategy was to get in and out as quick as possible so I changed my socks, ate some food and was out in just over 15 minutes.  The next checkpoint at Birchwood was at mile 62.5 (33.5 miles away) and would take me 10 hours and 45 minutes and mostly in the dark.

The entire way to Birchwood I saw only 1 other runner and that was about 2 hours before the Birchwood checkpoint.  The hours passed pretty quick except for the last hour as I was seeing lots of lights and some buildings but the checkpoint never seemed to come into sight.  Finally just as I was getting to that point of wanting to scream there it was.  When I arrived at the checkpoint I was surprised to see John Storkamp's pulk parked outside the hotel room as he is super fast and was ahead of me from the start.  Once inside I found out that John had dropped due to bad blisters most likely from the snow conditions on the trail as they were pretty sloppy later on in the day.  This would end up being the issue for most of the 150 runners that dropped.

I was so glad to be at the almost half way checkpoint as 18+ hours on the trail is a long way.  I had to change my socks again as my feet were sweating heavily inside my Gore-Tex Salomon's as the weather was so warm. Knowing that I had another 12 miles to the Tuscobia Trail Head and the half way point of the race at 74.5 miles I got my act together and got out of the checkpoint before I changed my mind.  The half way point at 74.5 miles didn't have an aid station so it was pretty much touch the trail head sign and turn back around and head back to Birchwood checkpoint at mile 86.5. 

On the way to the Tuscobia Trail Head I stopped and chatted briefly with Mark Scotch who was the only person doing the 150 ski.  He was doing amazing and heading back towards the finish.  Mark ended up winning the 150 ski in just over 37 hours.  It took me around 8+ hours to go another 24 miles back to Birchwood where I arrived at 10:30am.  As I was heading back from the trail head the sun was coming up the weather was drastically warming.  The forecast for the day was for above zero temps. which meant that the snow would be turning into a mash potato consistency.

When I arrived back at Birchwood inside the checkpoint there were more than a few 150 runners that had dropped and were getting a ride back to Park Falls.  I was surprised to see so many drop.  I had no intentions of dropping...ever.  I had paid way to much money and spent way to much time on race prep and training to ever let the thought enter my mind let alone actually do it.

I spent half an hour at Birchwood changing socks, eating and regrouping before I was out the door at 11:02 am.  I now had 33.5 miles to the Winter checkpoint which would end up taking me just over 12 hours.  The majority of these 12 hours went by pretty fast as on Saturday morning the 150 bike started as well as the 75 mile bike, run, ski and the 35 mile run so I saw a lot of people out on the course as well as lots snowmobiles.   Once the darkness set in I found myself starting to hallucinate.  I had never hallucinated in a race before so I found this to somewhat freaky.  I kept telling myself to focus but no matter how much I focused the hallucinations never quit.  At one point I turned around to get something out of my pulk and there was a figure of a man standing there.  I can honestly say that scared the crap out of me.  I knew it wasn't real as it was a ghostly type figure but it was there and still there when I turned around a second time 5 minutes later.  Being as freaked out as I was I started to run and kept running for about half a mile and never looked back for about an hour.

The wind had picked up just before it got dark and the temperature dropped significantly in the evening to around at least -26 without windchill.  I actually enjoyed the colder weather better as the trail was starting to harden up a bit and the footing was better.  I finally arrived in Winter at the checkpoint just before I was about to have a mini breakdown at 11:30pm.  My lower back had been aching unbelievable for hours,I was hungry and tired and just wanted to stop for a bit.  The Winter checkpoint was an unbelievable site at this point in the race.  I was so close now to the finish but still so far away.  I stayed at Winter for about 45 minutes.  Honestly I could have just stayed and slept as I was so tired and not feeling so great but I knew I had to get out and get moving as the finish line wouldn't come to me.  Once I finally got organized and out the door into the cold air I instantly felt better.  It was going to be a long haul back to Park Falls with 26 miles to go and mostly in the dark.  I spent the rest of the evening having crazy hallucinations and trying to talk myself out of stopping for a sleep on the side of the trail.  I just needed to focus and make it until the sun came up and I knew that things would get better.

A couple of 150 bikers passed me in the middle of the night.  Thank you Dan for taking the time to stop and chat with me for a couple of minutes even thou the 3rd place biker was trying to chase you down. One of the 75 mile runners caught up to me just as the sun was coming up.  It was Shane from NY and boy was I glad to see him as everyone else I had been seeing weren't real.  We chatted briefly and off he went.  I had to keep to my own pace so I just watched while he disappeared into the distance. 

The last 10 miles to Park Falls felt like 25.  It was never ending.  It was like a long tunnel that just kept going and going.  You would think finally you've hit the end and then the tunnel would continue. I think I had another mini breakdown 2 miles outside of Park Falls as it seemed like the town was never coming into view...then finally it did and I could see the signs along the road that lead to the back of the Chequamegon Canoe Club (CCC) and to the finish line.  I was never so glad to see the finish.  Funny how at the end of a race all the negative thoughts you had along the way and the pain disappear.
When it was all said and done I finished the race in 54:30 as the 1st woman to ever finish the 150 and 2nd overall.  Only 4 finished the 150 run out of 17 starters.  A huge thank you to Helen and Chris Scotch for putting on such a great race.  To all the volunteers and to all the amazing people I met.

Next up Arrowhead 135 on January 27th.


  1. Huge congrats, Sue!! What a winter line-up you are taking cool!

  2. That was a great report Sue. I had no doubt that you would finish it but that you were the first women ever to do so makes it that much more impressive.

    What did you eat out there to keep you going? Did you have crampons or screws on your shoes?

  3. EJ I ate bags of mixed trail mix, butter tarts, Lara bars, crackers, pb&j sandwiches at aid stations, cashews, honey stinger gels and way too many of those Christmas treats that one really shouldn't eat unless one is going 150 miles on foot. I wore the Salomon XA Pro Ultra 2 GTX shoes without any crampons or screws. I don't know if those would have really helped in the snow conditions. I did use hiking poles from the start and couldn't have done what I did without them. I'll pretty much be doing the same for Arrowhead.