2015 Racing Season: Zumbro 17M, April 11, Theilman, MN

My family and I once again travelled up to Minnesota to take a short vacation and enjoy the area around Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River as I prepared to race the Zumbro 17 Miler on April 11, 2015.  The day after we arrived, one of my sons and I drove out to the course and ran about 5 miles of it, including a good chunk of the first 3-4 miles to aid station 1, and then a large portion of the last couple of miles to the finish line.  Afterwards as we were walking back to the car, the RD drove by and we chatted for a few minutes.  Everything seemed to be good, the race course was in fair shape, the only concern being that some stretches seemed as if they could easily turn into the slimy mud we dealt with in 2014 if too much rain came later in the week as forecast.  However, I had brought better shoes this year than last year in preparation for that possibility.  Lesson learned.

The next day, we went to the Mall of America, a favorite of the family to shop around, especially the Lego Store.  This was where in the prior year, I made some bad meal and snack choices and almost ruined being able to race at all in 2014.  (Cf. Zumbro 17M 2014 )  I was much more careful this year, though I didn't restrict myself from enjoying a few things.  Lesson learned.

Both shoe choice and being more careful of what I ate at the Mall of America would be important to racing better in 2015 and I was determined to do just that as Saturday drew nearer.  

These Salomon XA 3D Ultra 2's worked great at Zumbro.
Then the weather hit on Thursday.  Wow!  Driving rain, high wind, and some places even had snow! Crazy! Fortunately there were some breaks in it to let the ground absorb what it could.  Last year, after sliding through much of the mud on the course at Zumbro, I ordered a pair of Salomon XA 3D Ultra 2's discounted significantly with some coupons we had for L.L. Bean.  It's not the usual place many of us go to buy trail and ultra running shoes for racing, but it was a great deal and they work well on more technical and muddy courses.  I used them sparingly during the year, mostly breaking them out on wet, muddy races/runs like the Grime Farm Run or when I went to train on the Hardin Hill Run course. That way, though they'd be a year old come race day at Zumbro, they would still have some life in them.  

During the week, as I got ready for Zumbro, I was in constant contact through social media with Kimberly Haines who I interviewed back in November after her huge PR in the 50 Mile Surf the Murph race she did in Minnesota.  Both she and her husband Jeff were coming to race the Zumbro 17 and we hoped to meet up and spend some time running together during the race.

Race day was cool, starting out in the high 30's and expected to get maybe into the 60's.  Much different than last year when rain and hail preceded the start and it stayed cool, damp, and in the 40's for the race.  I looked all over for Kim and Jeff, but had a hard time finding them.  She told me she'd have a pony tail and they'd both be wearing black. Do you know how many women runners have ponytails and/or wear black?!?  We found each other just before the start and as John the RD gave out final instructions, we commented how the field had grown over the last year.  (280 finishers in 2015 vs. 165 in 2014.)  Since the field had grown so much, and there is quite a bit of single track shortly after the first 1/4 mile or so, they tweaked the course in the first half mile to include more doubletrack so that we didn't all bottleneck on top of one another.  This led us right to the bottom of the first of the four biggest hills and Jeff, Kim, and I ran/hiked up this first bluff and paused quickly to take in the view which overlooks the whole parking lot of the horse campground that the race is directed out of just outside of Theilman, MN.

The next couple of miles as we made our way to aid station 1, Kim, Jeff and I went back and forth leading each other as we dealt with what would be the muddiest section of the course overall.  We arrived at the aid station, got ourselves squared away and then headed on, crossing the old metal bridge we wouldn't see again until around mile 14.
Here, Brad is in red, and Jeff is furthest to the left, (without the cap), with Kim next to him in the black cap as they make their way to aid station 1.
As we continued on our way, I was impressed with Kim's food strategy. She brought no pack or handheld, but depended only upon the aid stations for that, simply bringing a bag of peanut butter M&M's with her which she gladly shared.  I had talked about doing something similiar but wasn't sure if that would be smart since I hadn't originally trained that way for the race.

Aid station 2 & 3 at the Zumbro 100, 50, & 17 Mile Races.
As we made our way up the second major hill in mile 6, I let the pack of runners we were with go when we got to the top, so I could stop and take off my outer layer before descending the hill.  I caught up with Jeff and Kim who arrived at aid station 2 just a few moments before me, and after grabbing a few things, we were off again for the next section of the course which included the 3rd major hill of 4 along with some stretches of sand on either side of it.  As we left the aid station, I realized that I had taken the first 6-7 miles out a little too fast and started yo-yoing off the back of Kim and Jeff.  I could keep them in sight, and every so often put in a little catch up run to get back to them, but I was starting to walk more than I probably should have been that early in the race.  Having crested the hill, I was a bit back from Kim and Jeff, but I descended that hill much better than last year, the mud wasn't as bad, and the Salomon's were a much better choice of shoe, so that, by the bottom of the hill I had caught back up to my new friends. Then after a few turns, we were back on sand and I had enough energy to follow another runner and lead us back to aid station 3, (which is also aid station 2 coming the other direction).  

Immediately after aid station 3, you go about 50 yards or so and start climbing around 250-350ft in less than a mile.  Then from miles 11 to 12 you go up and down a bit as you run along the ridge of this fourth and final major bluff.  The views were wonderful.  However, these two miles really took a toll on me mentally and in terms of my overall time this year.  I had been doing well, though walking quite a bit, and was on course to get a solid PR.  But I started questioning my ability to do run these
Another view from one of the major bluffs on the Zumbro race course.
types of races.  If I was struggling so much here in the 11th and 12th mile of Zumbro, with 5-6 miles to go, what was I going to do later this Summer when I had an even longer trail race in the mountains of Montana.  I was really conceding some of the time I had banked earlier in the race and pondering had I thrown away my chance at a PR over last year by going out too hard early and then feeling my heartrate fly off the handle on every major climb?  I prayed, kept on moving, and eventually started descending.  My descending, though not perfect, was again, much better than last year.  As I finally got off the bluff and onto the flat gravel stretch that runs from about 12.5 miles in to mile 14, I could still see Jeff and Kim way up ahead, but it would be the last time I saw them until they cheered me to the finish line.  The flat stretch to the bridge is open to the sun and while very runnable, I found, as many of us did, that I was walking quite a bit, the bluffs having taken a toll on me in the first 12.5 miles or so.  (Here's the map and elevation chart showing that most of the major climbs are in the first 12 miles: Maps & Elevation Charts---Zumbro )  I ran/walked back and forth, and eventually made it to the aid station 4, (aka aid station 1), got some food, topped off my bottle one final time and headed up the hill immediately afterwards with the hopes of still attaining a PR.

After making it up the hill, I knew I still had the ability of making a PR over last year's time of 4:08:39, but even then, as I raced towards the finish line, I was still having to alternate walking and running.   Mentally, while I wanted the PR and to hopefully break 4 hours, I was struggling a bit with pushing enough to feel like I could accomplish this goal.  Instead, I felt like I was likely going to PR, but miss the 4 hour mark.  I tried to push when I could and then knowing I was getting closer, I walked to where I knew was the last turn on the course before the final short stretch in the woods that would pop me out onto the campground to the finish line.  I was able to run all of the rest of this and even noticed Kim and Jeff cheering me in as well as my wife and kids.
Kim and Jeff cheer me in at the end of the Zumbro 17M.

I got across the finish line and broke 4 hours with a 3:56:56, an 11 minute 43 second PR over 2014.  It took me a few minutes to fully get my breath. But then I was able to see my family and also catch up with Kim and Jeff who had finished 4 minutes and 46 seconds ahead of me, running it in together as husband and wife!  I asked them a few questions recently over social media and want to include them here as part of my race review.  


Brad Zinnecker/Trail Running Faith:  Kim & Jeff, what were your thoughts overall about the race, racing together, and getting to meet someone you had "met" over social media?

Kimberly & Jeff Haines:  We loved racing Zumbro together this year.  We both think the beauty of the course is worth all the hard work.  It was nice for me (Kim) not to be alone this year!!  We both thought it was great to meet you in person and to run with you.  We loved meeting your family too!
From left to right: Brad Zinnecker, Kim Haines, & Jeff Haines, after their finishes at the Zumbro 17 Miler in Theilman, MN, April 11, 2015.
Brad:  Thanks!  It was pretty cool meeting both of you too and running together for as much as we did.  We were actually pretty close in the end overall.  Next time I just have to run those last couple of bluffs a little stronger!

Kim, you ran this year with your husband Jeff who hadn't run Zumbro before and I know as we talked in the days beforehand that you had a few concerns for him because this course is not easy with it's approximate total of 3100 feet of elevation gain and 3100 feet of elevation loss.  How do you think he fared?

Kim:  I think Jeff fared better than I thought he would.  I know it was a struggle at times but I think he didn't want to hold me up too much.  Jeff loved the race and was very proud he could do such a hard course.  I think he did better than he thought possible.

Brad:  Kim, you knocked off over 25 minutes compared to last year and over 7 1/2 minutes compared to your time in 2013.  How'd that feel?

Kim:  Compared to the last two years, the course was in great shape!!!  That's why I think I got a PR.

Brad:  Thanks Kim and Jeff for answering a few questions and thanks for letting me part of your raceday at Zumbro.  It was great to meet both of you.

For myself, I am glad at hitting many of my goals overall at Zumbro, including knocking off over 11 minutes compared to last year.,,but, I have to admit, I feel that there's more time out there for me to drop.  I feel I could do better.  But, the Zumbro course is very deceptive.  If the ascents of the four major bluffs don't get to you, then the descents might, or there's the sand, or all the other slightly shorter, but just as steep shorter hills and rollers out there, and often, MUD.  I can be content for now, but I am planning on going back again to see what I can do.  Thanks to John and all his many volunteers and kudos to all the finishers, especially the 50 mile and 100 mile finishers, you are all an inspiration.

Thanks also to my wife and kids for being there for me and coming out to cheer me in at the race. Praise also to God for the many answered prayers that day, including the ones during that hard stretch from miles 10-12.  :)

Taking a seat after the Zumbro 17M.  Medals are handmade!