The Hennepin Hundred Race Report

The Hennepin Hundred

50 Mile – 1st Place overall (6 Hours 57 Minutes, 11 Seconds) *Course Record

Date: 9/12/15

Data/Splits: Garmin Data


Location: Sterling, IL to Wyanet, IL (50 Milers) and Sterling, IL to Colona, IL (100 Milers). *Point to Point

Except for a few blocks at the start in Sterling, Illinois, the course is on the Hennepin Canal State Trail. The trail makes a giant, 100+ mile upside-down T shape. (You can see it on the Aid Station map.) All racers run east a little at the bottom of the T; the 50 milers finish at Lock 17 near Wyanet, Illinois, while 100 milers run this section as a short out-and-back to continue west towards the finish in Colona, Illinois.

The Start—All races start at 7 a.m. along the Rock River in Sinissippi Park, Sterling, Illinois.

The Finish—100 mile racers, both solo and relay, finish near the Mississippi River at Timbrook Field, Colona, Illinois. Fifty mile racers finish at picturesque Lock 17 near Wyanet, Illinois.

Hennepin Hundred Tom Rauen

For a lot of people, the Hennepin Hundred is the best PR course in the Midwest. The surface is 70% chip seal, 30% crushed gravel or dirt.  The trail is flat, straight, and fast.  The trail runs along the Hennepin Canal which makes for a nice peaceful view along the route with nice shade/tree cover for much of the course.  For me, this was exactly the goal going into the race.  Sub 7 hour – 50 mile trail race.

I had ran my first 50 miler earlier in 2015 at the Ice Age Trail 50 in 9:03:29.  Now, I know what most of you are probably thinking, shaving two hours off is a pretty ambitious goal.  Yes, I set my goals high, and I trained with the specific goal in site for a sub 7 hour 50 miler.  Being the inaugural year of this race, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I figured that around the 7 hour mark would be towards the top of the pack.  Top goal was sub 7, a next level goal was sub 8, and the ultimate goal with the sub 7 would be winning.  I like competition and I like to race, so I was fully prepared to push my body to reach these goals.  I had great training leading up to the race, setting a marathon PR at Grandma’s Marathon with 3:03:12.  I was also fortunate to have some great trails in the Dubuque area, not only with hills such as the trails at the Mines of Spain and Swiss Valley, but also the Heritage Trail.  From studying the course map, the Heritage Trail in Dubuque mimics the Hennepin trail perfectly.  Surface the same, tree lined, and flat.  Now, for the sake of not looking like a gloating idiot or having nay-sayers shoot down my goals, I didn’t share my goal with really anyone except my wife.  Other training partners would ask what I was shooting for, and modestly I said a PR would be good breaking 9 hours, but ultimately sub 8 is what I was shooting for.  Again, I am usually not one to be shy about my goals or ambitions, but this was a big one, and I didn’t want any negativity to get in the way of my focus for the goal of winning it and running a sub 7 hour 50 miler.  The other part of it was I didn’t want anything less than reaching my goal be viewed at as a failure.

Packet pickup and pre-race meeting was Friday afternoon at the race finish in Colona, IL.  It was great seeing all the Ultra, 50, 100, etc. license plates and car flair.  We got all checked in and I was impressed with the Raglan 3/4 Length baseball style tshirt for the race shirt, being a t-shirt guy, this is always the first thing I look at.  Then what caught my eye next completely blew me away, the FIELD GUIDE.  This wasn’t just a course map, this was a beautifully constructed guide book with a course map, notes, bingo for the crew, and other valuable information.  It had it all, and it was amazing.

Hennepin Hundred Ultra Marathon Field Guide  Hennepin Hundred Race Map

The pre-race meeting was great, there was a nice energy in the room as race director Michele Hartwig went over the course, we heard some words from Steve Buchtel, and a few others.  Off we went to explore the trail.  Since the aid stations were in spots off back country roads from this point to point race, we decided to back track the course to make sure Amanda was familiar with where to go during the race.  This proved to be very valuable as we saved the GPS Coordinates in our phone while doing this and using a Garmin GPS in our car, she was able to put road signs and other visual markings with each aid station.  *On race day reception was pretty spotty or non-existent, so if we hadn’t done this ahead of time, Amanda said she definitely would of been lost or missed some of the aid stations.

The night before we had dinner at the Basil Tree Ristorante in Dixon, IL.  Great Italian restaurant, with a nice relaxing atmosphere and a short drive from our hotel in Sterling.  Then the usual pre-race process.  I laid out my ghost runner and got all my nutrition ready for the morning.

Then usually I lay in bed and go over my race plan in my head.  I’ve always been a big believer in visualization as part of my training.  In ultra marathons this plays a very important role in preparing yourself mentally.  I reviewed the course in the field guide, then went over it again in my head, visualizing myself at the start, what it felt like, the emotions, how my legs felt, the temperature, the other runners around me, everything.  I visualized starting the race and finding a rhythm or groove and settling into it, then went through each aid station, what I would need, and how I would feel at that point in the race.  I went through the entire race, playing out the best scenario in my head visualizing crossing the finish line.  Even visualizing the pain I knew I would be in toward the tail end of the race and pushing through that pain, it was all part of the plan.

I made a google doc with all the aid stations, my split time at each aid station and what was available for good as well as what aid stations Amanda would be at.  At the bottom of the spreadsheet in bold text I put SUB 7 – 2:00PM or BUST.  Mentally a reminder of the ultimate goal.

Another thing I took note of in the pre-race meeting was the bib colors.

Hennepin Hundred Bib

Blue Bibs = 50 Milers
Green Bibs = 100 Milers
Yellow Bibs = Relay

I wanted an idea of where I at in the race for placing and Amanda could keep track of any 50 mile runners ahead or behind me.

The race started off very smooth, as we made our way through town, we quickly made our way onto the Hennepin trail and a small group settled into a groove and we were off and rolling.  Among the group was eventual 100 Mile winner Christian Wagner (14:47:59) and Peter Witucki.  I had ran with Peter at a couple of other races and we ran together for a while.  Slowly, the pace had split up after the first couple of aid stations and I found myself solo on the trail.  Steve Buchtel caught up with my on his bike, he started off the race leading the pack through town.  I chatted with Steve for several miles while he road his bike next to me, I told him about my goal of hitting a sub 7, he wished me luck and told me he would see me at the finish.

Nearing the halfway point, I was feeling pretty good, the legs were fresh, everything was going according to plan.  Part of the game plan to stay on target of the sub 7 was being efficient at the aid stations.  At the Ice Age Trail 50, I didn’t know what to expect being my first ultra, so I spent more time than was needed and didn’t have a plan going into each aid station.  This accounted for a lot of added time.  My plan for this race, banana, orange slice, PB&J squares and water bottle trade with Amanda.  And instead of standing around the aid station eating, it was a grab and go eating while walking/jogging out of the aid station.

As we got closer to noon, the clouds began to clear and the sun was getting pretty hot.  Some areas of the trails had tree cover, while other areas were wide open without any cover.  I knew it would get warmer as the day progressed, so I made sure to stay ahead of my hydration from the beginning of the race.


This is where it gets real and I go through some of the “dark” areas in my head and other challenges I faced on the trail.  For trail runners, who have been there, you get it, and know what I mean.  For others reading this, understand that follows is my own doings to push myself physically and mentally past any limitations and farther than I’ve pushed myself before.  With that said, the Hennepin Hundred is a magnificently organized race, the trails are absolutely beautiful, and I have nothing but love for this race and the trails.  Here comes the fire…..

I hit the wall somewhere around mile 28.  Yes, mile 28.  My legs started to get a little tired, I was getting hot, and mentally the course was playing a toll on me.  (See my mile splits below for the drop).  I think the wall mentally was tougher than physically.  I had passed the first place guy I believe around mile 20, so I knew I was in 1st place and by all accounts from Amanda, I had at least a 20 minute lead.  I knew that with 20 miles left in the race, if I fell off the pace a minute per mile and the second place guy held his pace, I could still maintain the lead.  However I wanted to keep my game plan in place and keep pushing for the sub 7.  While the course is built to be flat and fast, this can be a double edged sword.  The flatness of the course leads to the repetitious pounding of the same muscles, without any variation of hills, the same leg muscles were getting used the entire race.

Look, a fuzzy pink elephant riding a bike and dancing bear or is that Santa?

2015-09-12-10-34-08-hdr 2015-09-12-10-34-02

My mind was fried.  The fatigue started earlier than I planned.  The nice thing about the race was mentally you didn’t have to think about missing a turn because there wasn’t any turns.  At some point there was a left turn, but other than a few aid stations that veered off the trail, it was pretty much as straight as an arrow.  Again, the double edged sword, while you didn’t have to worry about running the tangents or turning onto the wrong trail, the flat straight trail didn’t have much for keeping your mind occupied.  I am not complaining about this, since I knew going it that it was going to be straight and flat, but I had no idea the mental toll it was going to take on me.  After mile 32, it seemed as though the ground was moving beneath me, but the surroundings were the same and I was running in place.  This is all part of running and I think every runner gets to a point at this during every race.  Every step seemed like an inch, every tenth of a mile felt like a mile, and every mile felt like an eternity.  As I counted the miles down, I kept pushing along, breaking it into smaller chunks of getting to the next aid station.  Each aid station seemed farther and farther away thinking I was approached one soon and looking at my watch to realize I had only gone a half mile since the last aid station.

Ok, Tom, time to break it down more.  Leading up to this race, people always asked, how do you run 50 miles, and my reply would be 1 mile at a time…… it would be 1 step at a time.  Rather since I didn’t have landmarks to rely on, I started picking out spots on the trail that I could focus on.  I stopped relying on the milage on my watch and kept telling myself to concentrate on the trail.  Run to the next shadow on the trail, run to the tree sticking out over the trail, run to the big rock, get to the area where the trail turns muddy.  I broke the trail down into smaller sections, sometimes as little as 10 feet at a time, just to mentally keep pushing forward.  By the way, aid station 7 & 14 really is Christmas in July with a giant inflatable Santa.  You are seeing things at this point in the race, but this is really there, you are not imagining it.  It just adds to the fun!

As the race went on, I continued to test my mental capacity and with every mile split, calculated my pace and distance left to go to make sure I was still on pace for my goal.  If you are a runner, then you’ve been there, and know how those calculations go on the tail end of the race, its a mix of common core math and some other foreign calculations that you second guess adding 2+2 and go back and fourth on your splits/milage to try to make it all add up.

I got one last little adrenaline boost at mile 47/48 while passing the finish line on a short out and back to get the extra miles on and to finish at Lock 17 on the Hennepin Canal.  Crossing the finish line in 6:57:11, I was full of emotion.  I think more than anything it was a relief mentally to be finished.  I was so focused on maintaining my pace and hitting my goal that I think that added to the mental fatigue of the trail and really drained me.  A long with the 1st place finish was a cool custom made award by a local company as well as a free pair of shoes compliments of 361 degrees.

The great thing I enjoy about trail running is typically you are not racing so much against everyone else, but against you own personal goals, and most of the time that is just to finish the race and enjoy the experience.  With trail running each trail and run is so different from the next, it is hard to compare one 50 Miler to another and PR’s are usually something you could only compare on the same course year after year.  While I love that aspect of trail running, I am pretty competitive at heart, so I do enjoy the opportunity to “Race” as well.  The Hennepin Hundred 50 Miler was a Race for me.  It was a race against all the other runners, but more so a race against myself to reach my goal of a Sub 7 hour 50 Mile race and push myself physically and mentally to a new level.  I hit my 50 Miler PR and ultimate goal, now I am done racing them.  I am looking forward to my next 50 Miler where I will be a little more loose and not as focused and enjoy each and every mile at a relaxed pace, hopefully helping someone else accomplish their goal of finishing or hitting a timed goal in mind.

Hennepin Hundred 50 Mile Champion Tom Rauen

And the drive home….I’m out!

After Running 50 Miles

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