Rick Albanese (MM11181) –
There is just something about the Kettle 100. A 100 mile ultramarathon race that many accomplished veteran ultarunners I respect and admire have not been able to complete for a variety of reasons over the years. The heat and mud years, relentless hills that force you to strategically insert running hard to stay ahead of the cutoff clock at the back like me. Go out too fast and you will crash and come up short. Go out too slow or not push hard when you need to later in the race and you won’t make it. A course featuring a mix of beautiful and challenging terrain from start to finish.
My story here started 6 years ago when I was purely a road runner. I began exploring trails as the local road pounding was just getting boring and painful. The first real trails I ran were the Nordic ski trails featuring rolling grass sections and a few really odd steep hills carved out by nature centuries ago. I met a more experienced trail runner Shawn Sanford in the parking lot one day and he guided me from the blue loop to my first steps on the Ice Age Trail and told me about the Kettle 100 races. I ran the trails a lot that summer exploring new sections as I went. I also fell down every single time I hit the trails. I had no stabilizer muscles yet to balance out the terrain. Despite the cuts, bruises and falls I kept coming back for more and eventually mustered the courage to run the Kettle 100k in 2017.
I had completed my first 50 miler in February of 2017 at the Rocky Raccoon 50 miler in Texas in very hot conditions and felt I was ready to take my shot at the Kettle 100k. I trained alot on the course and joined the MUDD running club at Veteran Acres park meeting Kettle Moraine 100 veterans Patrick Morris, Jeffrey Lenard, Jeff Goodmanson, Brandi Henry and Brad Gorskiand Kelli Ellison Gorski. I also ran with Mike Wilkerson, Arturo Rodriguezand Ken Hannah many times in those early trail days. I learned a lot out there and felt so very ready for the race. I even regretted not signing up for the full Kettle 100 as I thought I could complete it! Boy I had a lot to learn that there is just something about Kettle! I made the first half turnaround point with no crew or pacer planned at any point refusing to ask for help to a fault. I was cooked!!! It was just halfway in and I had no idea how I’d finish. It was blistering hot and sunny setting off heat alarms on my iPhone. I jealousy watched crewed runners getting sunscreen applied to them in their chairs and just dug into my drop bag to take care of myself alone on that picnic table. I had time just needed to focus and reset for a big push ahead. I chased the cutoffs flying through the dreaded hot grassy meadows section of the course pushing through the sprawling rolling terrain and long stretches of shoe sucking mud and muck making it to Emma Carlin aid station where I did a sock change and quickly grabbed my headlamp and asked the then race director Tim Yanacheck if there was a hard 18 hour cutoff at the finish. He said “You can make it but you really better get moving now!” It was all I needed to hear and I took off like a shot racing back into the last 7 miles which turned to a crawl! I kept looking up in the dark at the climbs of the Nordic Blue loop and could see the top of the hills with my cheap, trashy miner rookie headlamp, lol. I crossed the finish line with less than 10 minutes to spare just after crossing paths with my friend Andrea Odrzywolski who was also completing the 100k. Cheers erupted as I crossed the line and I thought they were all for me but I heard cowbells and Timo yelling “100 miler going out!!” As someone was making a run at going back out on the course to complete the 100. I took my bronze buckle convinced this was the hardest thing I could ever do in my life and it was…..at the time.
I turned my attention away from the Kettle 100 races in 2018 while focusing on all consuming preparation for the Barkley Fall Classic 50k that year but continued to train and run on the Kettle and Ice Age Trails. By the end of the year my body was broken and my feet were riddled with Plantar Faciitis preventing any meaningful training or racing for a long time.
In 2019 I set my sights on the Kettle 100 for the first time in earnest. I was coached by Tyler Fox and Ellie Fox and we had a training plan that was on point. I strategically trained and ran every mile of the Kettle 100 course in preparation for the event. I shared photos and descriptions of the course on Facebook in an effort to help runners who had never been here before. I had a memorable final 30+ mile overnight training run with Brad and Kelli Gorski covering the back half of the course and felt ready. Sadly, despite my confidence and consistent training I don’t think I had enough Ultra IQ or maturity to get the job done that day. My race was falling apart slowly from the starting fun as I went out too fast talking Joy Division music with Kent Karlowski who was doing the 100k that year. I had no crew, pacers or real plan at all beyond staying ahead of the cutoffs. I didn’t plan to fail just failed to plan enough. You don’t go out and play defense at Kettle, no that just won’t get the job done, you must dissect what the course will give you and strategically attack, making your power moves over and over again at the right times! Despite my mistakes a true friend, Brad Gorski, who was crewing his wife Kelli, stepped up at the aid stations and began unexpectedly crewing and supporting me! It was a tremendous edge that kept me in the game longer than I would have been on my own through the rain, heat and mud. After going out too fast then getting way behind on calories I continued to fight to the 100k turnaround point with 8 minutes to spare to go back out. I could not put weight on my feet as the Plantar had come back full blown. It was over. My friend and the new race director Michele Hartwig handed me a drop down, consolation 100k buckle in the Kettle 100 tradition and I stumbled to my car, broken, trashed, exhausted and disappointed. The 100k distance that meant everything to me in 2017 was now reframed as a worthless cruel joke and a meaningless accomplishment in the moment. I took stock though later of the mistakes and vowed to get healthy and not repeat the mistakes again.
2020 was the Covid year that cancelled the Kettle 100 races once but twice in the same year as it was rescheduled for a fall running. I took the Covid time and got stronger and more determined completing the 1200+ mile Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee and culminated with my first 100 mile ultra finish at the Burning River 100, finally accepting help in the form of my friend Andrea from the 2017 Kettle race who crewed and paved me to a finish battling 90+ temps all day!
2021 I had the desire to run the Kettle 100 again but the race was full from the Covid rollover entries. Perhaps I was spared a crushing blow that year watching from home as only 30% of the field finished with ridiculously hot temperatures.
2022, the Golden Year! I got in the race the second it went online on my 49th birthday, New Years Day, 2022! I immediately recruited Andrea to be my pacer and was so happy she accepted as she knew me and the course and the entire 1200 mile Ice Age Trail she completed!! I volunteered at the Frozen Gnome 50k and promised the Kettle 100 race director Michele Hartwig a finish!! I had a gradual training plan building up mileage for the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler in February which ended horribly with a vicious soul sucking DNF at mile 60 due to my stubborn starting of the race with a nasty sinus infection. I learned again the hard way that the 100 mile distance is so unforgiving! It will find and expose ANY weakness you may have going into it. I regrouped and continued to build steadily towards Kettle completing big training races in April and May. I went for and also notably secured a Half Marathon PR around 1:54 in early April at the Milwaukee South Shore Half buoying my confidence that my fitness was trending upward in the right direction. I then completed the hot and hilly Mohican Forget the PR 50k in Ohio in April and my “make or break capstone effort” the brutal Cruel Jewel 50 in Georgia which featured over 14,000 ft of climb across 57 miles just a month before Kettle.
Race day…2022….The Final Chapter…Yes, there is most definitely something about Kettle. My local friend and running partner Sandra Wimer, who was also doing the 100 took my drop bags and secured my packet as I planned a 1 hour drive in race morning. I slept restless not feeling worried, but woke up with a stomach pain at 3:05 am. I found myself dry heaving in the bathroom not knowing what was going on or if I should even start the race if I couldn’t eat anything. I don’t know if it was internally manifested anxiety or what but as I made my way on a clear open road through Lake Geneva I ate and felt better. Off we went! Kelli, Sandra, Ashley Lammi and I with the group holding a sub 28 hour pace through about 15 miles when Ashley and Kelli shot way ahead when I stopped for ice at the aid station. I would not see Kelli again until the 100k turnaround when she went out minutes ahead of me with Brad both not knowing I was still alive in the race! I took many Spring Energy gels and Brad kept me in the game all day with avocado/hummus wraps and icy pops! The aid station volunteers were miraculous in their hands on support and enthusiasm all day as well! Sandra caught up to me around Mike 30 and continued we continued leapfrogging and moving well together until she surged ahead at around 48 miles and I was alone again with 15 miles to go to the 64 mile turnaround point. Although not perfect with really high humidity all day we had little to no rain or mud or oppressive sun or heat which doom so many runners in this race in addition to the challenging terrain. I promised Holly Lindroth and Scotty Kummer at the Ten Junk Miles aid station I would finish and not squander the opportunity afforded by these magical conditions! I also received amazing encouragement from the ever positive Marvin Akins and others at Wilton Road aid stations then later both ways seeing shifts change with encouragement from Jim Arnold, Oscar Delgado, Linda Lopez and Carleen Pruess Coulter! I wanted to keep a 28 hour finish pace getting to the turnaround at 17:05 but pressed and fought to get there at 17:33, a career best and plenty of time to fight for that 100 mile finish! I mean if I could get to 70 in 20 hours I could coast to the finish with 20 minute miles, right? WRONG!!!!
I was in and out in 7 minutes with amazing assistance from Steven R. Kuntz Greg Bruno and Paul Shimondleand some much needed Goggin’s Cookie Jar banter with my buddy Ken Hannah who was sitting at the finish. Andrea was ready to roll and off went real solid at first. Then I started fading hard, literally falling asleep moving down the trail. I had taken my measured shots all day long. Making surges on the course with surgical precision feeling the cool breeze on my face at times vowing not to waste the opportunity to finish above all else. As we pressed on in Andrea’s good company “Do you want to run a little now Rick?” In my mind the answer was often no but I trusted her and ran with those gentle prodding’s. i took two naps of no more than 2 minutes each and was refreshed both times! I got a second, third, tenth wind heading into HWY 12 aid station and had known a long downhill segment was coming from my training runs. I surged ahead of Andrea several times making up for the earlier 23 minute miles that put me in peril. I finally ran into Kelli again heading into the Mile 83 turnaround at Rice Lake she was coming back towards me! You would have thought she saw a ghost!!! She rightfully and sadly though I was out of the race as she didn’t see me when she went back out on the course. We hugged and Nicole Correnti took our picture to send to Brad who was a mile or so ahead still at the aid station! Brad posted the comeback kid photo and Facebook nation knew I was still alive! It was great seeing Brad and Tom Samuel at that Rice Lake aid station heading home the last 17 miles. We pressed hard back to HWY12 where the ever cheery Megan Veldkamp greeted us in a Flamingo costume! I put on my fourth shirt of the day, this one planned and the same one I finished the 100k in 2017. Around mile 95 I caught Sandra again and we had sent the sweepers knowing we were the last two runners on the course at that point. We joked who was going to get the famous and coveted Ornery Mule Racing Last Ass on the Trail Award but that ended up falling to a struggling gentleman we both caught in the final 2 miles who I think finished 3 minutes under cutoff. Steph Dannenberg came out and joined us for some last mile encouragement and I through in one last surge about a half mile to the finish. We approached the final uphill towards the finish line. The one I’d visualized and practiced running this section in training so many times but his time it counted!! I crossed the finish line and went straight to Michele to collect my hug and buckle, a finish line promise kept! Did I ever once think of quitting or dropping in the race? Hell no!! Did I believe in my heart I could finish no matter what? Hell yes!!! Will I be back at the Kettle 100 in the future?? Hell yes!! As a Runner?? HELL NO!! I will volunteer though to give back a tiny slice of what has been given to me on these trails by this amazing community because in the end….there is just something about Kettle….. #OMRTrailTeam #xoskin #TJM NationTrail Toes Anti-Friction Foot and Body Products
Photo and Post Credit Rick Albanese