The 18th running of the Kettle Moraine 100 Endurance Runs, near LaGrange, Wisconsin, staged on June 1-2, was the second race in the 2013 Gnarly Bandit Ultra Series, sponsored by Wilderness Athlete Performance Products, offered by Upper Midwest Trail Runners. All athletes who complete all five races (four 100-mile races and one 100k race) receive an equal portion of the $600 bounty put up by Wilderness Athlete, as well as Wilderness Athlete performance products and a coveted work of art by Rock Steady Racing’s own John Storkamp.
How often do you see money prizes for just completing something? OK, I’m not talking about that 3 lb. hamburger they offer for $50 at that joint down the street – and if you finish it in 30 minutes, you get your $50 back. Even with eating the 3 lb. burger (and bun), you don’t win any extra prize money and you have an aggressive time limit just to get your money back. With the races in the Gnarly Bandit Series, lack of time is not usually the reason a competitor has to withdraw from a race.
So how hard can it be just to finish all of these races? VERY. Just last year, 24 athletes began the series and only three finished it, and that was the highest percentage to date! The Kettle Moraine runs offer the 100 mile, 100K, and a 38 mile fun run (most humans would not call something as long as 38 miles fun!), with only the 100 mile qualifying as part of the Gnarly Bandit Series.
The course consists of two out-and-back sections. Complete the first (long) section and you’ve finished the 100K. If you leave that 100K finish line and complete the other (almost as long) out-and-back section, you have finished the 100-mile, and that is a feat. The course is actually relatively mild compared to several other technical courses in the Midwest, but running 100 miles on any course is remarkable. This course has a variety of terrain with prairies, forest, single track and ski trails, but don’t expect easy pavement running because there isn’t any.
Surprisingly, many will say that the relatively flat, open meadows on this course were the most challenging part due to the direct sun during the daytime. Jessica Pendleton, a Gnarly Bandit runner, remarked, “Crossing the meadows was hot. I was glad to have my salt tablets and used a trick an aid station volunteer had shown me – put ice in your bandana and wrap it around your neck. Man, it felt good having that in the meadows.”
So, what tricks did the Gnarly Bandit have in mind to hinder the racers this time around? The ever-changing weather was a good start. Humidity was prevailing at the start, then the sun rose to the top of the obstacles during the day, a solid hard rain later conquered all in the early evening and the coolness dominated the nighttime hours. All racers had no choice but deal with the weather, but some runners also faced other impediments, such as in John Taylor’s case.
As John was meandering along the trail during the night, he literally ran into a surprise. As John relates, “At one point I thought I heard squirrels fighting in the trees overhead. I slowed down, and was looking up. It got louder and louder. I then realized it was a baby raccoon screaming right in front of me on the trail.” Luckily, he didn’t get so close that he tripped or got a surprise “love” bite.
Overall, the finishing rate for the 100 mile was 48% (113 finishers out of 233 starters), but the Gnarly Bandit racers faired much, much higher at 82% which shows the toughness of these athletes. By the finish line, the Bandit was not able to stop nine of the 11 Gnarly Bandit series athletes who started – not a very high percentage. That Bandit must be kicking himself because he let such a good opportunity go to waste. My guess is that he got so distracted trying to figure out what a “kettle moraine” was that he had no energy left to spoil the racers strategies.
Without further ado, the nine remaining contestants in the Gnarly Bandit series are: Matthew Menacher (Chicago, Ill.) 23:19:41; Jason Davis (Sioux City, Iowa) 25:11:55; Tina Johnson (Wauwatosa, Wis.) 25:17.12; Joseph Hegman (Edina, Minn.) 26:53:09; Ron Hendrickson (Esko, Minn.) 27:05:55; Jessica Pendleton (Johnston, Iowa) 27:56:46; Angela Barbera (Mauston, Wis.) 28:36:33; John Taylor (Minneapolis, Minn.) 28:55:08; and Daryl Saari (Rochester, Minn.) 29:21:00.
Four different states are represented from these nine athletes who have thwarted the Bandit thus far. However, no racers hail from South Dakota, the location of the next race in the series: the Black Hills 100 mile (June 29). Just maybe the Bandit will be spending his time looking for the “black hills” rather than conjuring up tricks to impose discomfort and ailments, but just maybe….
After the Black Hills 100, the last two remaining races in the series are the Superior Sawtooth 100 mile (Sept. 6) and Wild Duluth 100k (Oct. 19). Only 262 miles left to the series. How hard can it be?!?!?
Well, if you’re a Gnarly Bandit contender, your chances may be much higher than the remainder of the field.
Note: All photos courtesy of Lisa Messerer.