By Jason Dorgan
Twenty years is a long time, but also goes by in an instant. To the best of our knowledge we are the 17th 100-mile race to be started after the historic 1973 WS100 began the current ultra-running sensation. We have had over 1,300 100-mile finishers and over 3,500 runners toe the line for the five Kettle Moraine 100 Endurance Runs events we now host each year on the first weekend in June.
After saving and planning for several years, we were able to celebrate our big anniversary by awarding prize money totally over $10,000 to over 100 runners this year. And even more important, our runners and the Kettle were able to donate over $10,000 to our supporters who make the race possible and fun. The Ice Age Trail Alliance and DNR get significant donations as well as a new fund created to raise money to honor our great friends Tom and Lorraine Bunk for all that they have done for our race and the ultra-running community. The latter monies will help build a year-round shelter at the Scuppernong trail head (31-mile turnaround for the Kettle) in special memory to Tom, whom we lost last year after an epic battle with cancer. The shelter will provide cover and heat for runners, skiers and hikers.
You would think after 20 years that all logistical problems would have been solved, but as all race directors know glitches and surprises are par for the weekend. The problems got solved and runners for the most part don’t even know there was a hiccup. Making sure there is ice to cool their drink and neck during the hot day and then some hot soup to warm them up after navigating the course with flashlights at night, seem to make them happy even if the blisters and sore muscles would like to say otherwise. Simply put, we think runners are the best folks to be around.
One thing that went well was the runners’ success. With a record number of runners starting this year, we also experienced a record number of finishers. The 100 mile finish rate was at 61% this year, which is considerably higher than the 2010 finish rate of 33% when Hell and High Water visited southern Wisconsin. The weakness in any 100 is making it too easy to drop out. For a point to point race like WS100 where the aid stations are isolated from rescue, or like Rocky Raccoon where loops seem a bit more manageable, the Kettle brings tiredness, darkness and your vehicle all together at 62 miles. For some it is simply too much of a mental struggle to go back out for the final 38 miles of the race. All is not lost at the Kettle however and any 100 miler who calls it quits between this turnaround and the last returning aid station at 95 miles will receive the 100km finisher medal to commemorate their weekend on the trail. When you consider these runners we give 100km credit to we had 90% of our 100 milers finish their run. Those with courage to continue are serenaded by race directors, volunteers, other runners and crew with encouraging cheers to make the 38 mile round trip to the finish.
Twenty years has produced many stellar performances by our runners, but this year we still managed 8 new age group records and 2 overall records. We thought we might have a 3rd overall record in the 100 mile event, but the last 19 miles were tough for winner Jim Sweeney. He still achieved the 2nd fastest time ever on the course and it was fun to watch him at the 81 mile point heading back out to go for the gold. It is always impressive when runners make their finish appear so effortless all the while knowing it was never without its struggles.
The most impressive head-to-head race of the day was amongst our top 100 mile women. Amy Ewing bested Mary Flaws by just over 60 seconds. After being behind by 10-25 minutes throughout the day, Mary put on a valiant push the last 5 miles to close the gap, but Amy continued to dig deep to hold her off. Debbie Leftwich had a stellar 100 mile performance in becoming the first Grand Master woman to finish our 100 mile race, in a time of 29:45:18.
Michael Borst did what we thought would be the impossible by taking over 4 minutes off of Zach Bitter’s 100km record with a time of 8:34:57. Meghan Kennihan ran a steady race and finished with a quality time of 11:09:30. Also in the 100km, Tammy Hunter surpassed her own Senior Master women’s record from 2013 by lowering the mark by just over 1 hour to 12:35:38. This is the first time that an age group record has been broken by the same person in the Kettle’s history.
With the short two-year history with the 50km distance we had an abundance of records set by both men and women. Two records were broken by over one hour including the women’s overall time by Emily Ansick at 4:43:10 and the men’s Senior Master by Richard Erlich at 5:48:33. We also had only our second 70+ Great Grand Master finish a race at the Kettles. The first was by Bill Hollihan in 2003 in our 100km and this year it by Peter Wadsack in the 50km in a time of 7:47:46. Sickness caused Peter to slow near the end, but never to quit. To wrap out the 50km, Nic Giebler just missed the men’s overall record by coming in at 4:30:03.
The last race we start at the Kettles is our night fun run which puts fresh talkative runners onto the course starting at 6pm. The Fun Runners follow the 100 milers as they leave the 62 mile turnaround and many of them end up pacing someone to make it even more fun. These runners will tell you their amazement at the 100 milers who have to traverse some of the rockiest and technical parts of the course and all at night.
Thanks to all the wonderful volunteers who make this possible and the runners who keep coming back. We are overjoyed to be able to celebrate our 14th year being co-race directors and look forward to seeing you all in 2016.