An Interview with 2018 Zumbro 100 Mile Women’s Winner Angela Freedman (AF) – Interview conducted by Kevin Langton (KL)
KL: Angela congrats on not just the win but even a finish in such an incredible year. What was going through your mind and in that first loop?
AF: Hey, thanks Kevin! That first loop was such a trip, right? What am I saying–the whole weekend was a trip! In that first loop we encountered so many mud and water hazards. I’m shaking my head remembering it. I couldn’t believe most of what I was seeing–I said, “What is this?” out loud more than once. After the first aid station I joined up with Scott O’Leary and chatting with him made the miles fly. His attitude was incredible. After finishing a climb he’d make an encouraging remark about our effort. I remember seeing his crew and especially his wife at aid station 2/3—she radiated such joy! These are the memories I keep coming back to–the people who kept spirits high that weekend.
KL: Please tell us how the rest of your race played out.
AF: I was quiet most of the race and spent much of the first three loops solo. Normally I tend to fall in with people and chat; this year I was in my head. After watching the weather forecast Thursday night, my goal for Friday was to put as many miles behind me before the winter storm hit.
The conditions changed so much each loop; those first three loops ticked away pretty quick, at least it seems that way now. Hitting the sand coulee on loop two almost wrecked me – I was operating in the fatal funnel of going forward. Where once there was a puddle (and I ran through it on loop one) there was now a stream and that puddle was huge. There was an alternate trail but I didn’t see it – I went right into the water and I wondered (too late) if the puddle was larger. The guy behind me, Nate Ziemski, hollered some words, but I was too stubborn to back out so I took another step. The water hit my waist. I didn’t mind going through the water, but with that last step I had zero confidence in the depth of the water level beyond and that scared me. I backed out and joked about it, but internally I was concerned that my critical thinking was deteriorating early. The water was cold but loop two had the mildest air temps of that weekend, so it turned out to be a funny story rather than a disaster.
By loop four the conditions were terrible, but I was excited show the trail to my pacer Jason Harris. I felt the energy of friends Kate Leis and Laurel Sipe at aid station 1/4 which made it feel like a party again. By the end of loop four I was shivering and Jason noticed. I was shivering every time I stopped so I was annoyed when Jason told me to get into the warm tent (hypothermia tent). I thought I’d layer on some new clothes, but volunteer Sara Stanley told me to take off anything damp, including my favorite wool hat (which I wanted to keep on). Sara checked my bare feet and remarked at how cold they were. She pressed them against her mid-section and covered them with her jacket. This is the level of selflessness and care exhibited by the volunteers that weekend. Just incredible.
KL: What kind of help did you have from crew and pacers and what did that do for your race?
AF: I received the best and most unexpected help! My co-worker Bob loaned me his Ford truck so in case the weather got bad (ahem) I’d have a winter-ready ride (compared to my Prius).
There were some scheduling and logistical snafus with potential pacers so I anticipated running loops four and five solo. Just before race week I received a text from Jason Harris, a trail runner I’d met only a couple of times. We shared some miles in February during the John Dick 50K and he told me then he’d be pacing a buddy for 50 miles at Zumbro. Turns out his buddy wasn’t running Zumbro so he offered to pace or crew. I jumped at his offer! Jason was amazing–he arrived before the start (which meant he was driving in the middle of the night) and stayed at camp the whole time, acting as crew! I can’t say enough about how much he gave that weekend; we didn’t really know each other, but during the race he read me really well and never chided (Jason: “Did you eat?” Me: “No… next aid station.” Jason: “Ok, make sure you do.”).
My good friend Ali Schanhofer was there Friday (she was to run the 50 mile) and provided unexpected but welcomed crew support during the day. She gave me a laugh by complimenting me on my double knotted shoe laces. Caked with mud, they were extra terrible to untie. My husband was on last loop duty–he’s got experience seeing me at my worst for the past 15 years so this job suits him. After he assured me our son was fine and confirmed they arrived without trouble, I promptly checked out. I now know that he had lengthy conversations with me that I don’t recall. He was so sweet. At one point he ran ahead and tried to get a photo of me and it pissed me off. I told him if he got in my way, I wasn’t going to stop for him. He was a good sport.
KL: For those who weren’t there, it’s hard to truly describe the extreme weather and conditions. On top of that, each loop probably gave you different or changing conditions. What are some specific things you did regarding weather that helped you get to the finish?
I regret not bringing my phone to document the course. I’m grateful for those who did, including you Kevin—your mud videos are priceless! Even so, Zumbro was such a beauty.
The most important thing I did was to DNF at Tuscobia 80 in December. The DNF wasn’t planned, but it provided an excellent benchmark for cold weather weak spots. My hands suffered at Tuscobia so for Zumbro I packed extra gloves, a pair of mittens and what remained of my hand warmers. I didn’t have much confidence in what I packed (this is where a list would have been helpful) so Thursday evening I stopped at the Target in Red Wing. Fortunately they had a few men’s gloves on deep discount and in size large (I have enormous hands). Those gloves saved my hands when the rain transitioned to wet snow at end of loop three. By that time my two pair of thin liners were soaked from the rain and from bracing myself on the steep, soupy trail.
I knew my feet would be wet and cold most of the time, so I brought plenty of thin wool socks and applied an absurd amount of Desitin on my feet. My socks and shoes were changed after loop two and then again after loop four. By loop five the trail was firmer and it was easier to avoid puddles.
Nutrition played a part too–all that mudding (and then the cold) took extra energy which required more calories. Insufficient calorie intake was another Tuscobia lesson so I tried a few new things. Last November I paced James Baetz for a loop at T-Bunk and he used meal replacement drinks. I bought some Boost and put a couple in my drop bags. I like to think it helped. After the 50 mile mark I don’t like a lot of chewing, so the Boost and a portable oatmeal called Munk Packs were solid choices for me. Of course, the warm quesadillas at aid station 2/3 and the chocolate chip pancakes at 1/4 were phenomenal too!
KL: What is something besides running that helped your race? How did it help?
AF: Using a mental check-in protocol. When I wasn’t cycling through worry, I’d check in: Hungry? Thirsty? Pee? Hands? Feet? (After a time, I stopped checking in with feet since they were a lost cause). My final question: Does this feel like Tuscobia? If no, keep going. I was uncomfortable at times, but it wasn’t a deal breaker.
KL: What was the lowest point of your race? How did you get through it?
AF: Loop five was tough. It was dead night and the snow storm was building. I was obsessed about my husband and son driving to Minnesota in the storm. I had no way to contact them and I cooked up a crazy idea to borrow a volunteer’s cell phone at aid station one, call my husband while on the ridge and return the phone at aid station four. I can only imagine how it sounded to Jason, but he was nice enough to not disagree with me. I never asked to borrow a phone and seriously, I can’t imagine making a phone call on the ridge during a winter storm.
Worrying about my family was one of a number of distractions. I was in my head too much, worrying about things I couldn’t control: the weather, my family, the trail, the race shutting down. The worries spun up early (during loop two) and I tried to soothe it using mantra words, but instead of helping the words pissed me off.
This sounds strange now, but it was my biological grandmother’s voice and her words that gave me focus. I was adopted out as a newborn, so I didn’t know her until I was an adult. After we met, she and I quickly developed an incredible bond. She died unexpectedly in March 2017. She was with me at last year’s Zumbro, but this year her presence was stronger than I’ve ever felt. I’d start down the path of worry and in her voice I heard “Run your own race.” Every time she said it, I’d thank her. This back and forth continued for hours, only interrupted by my check-in protocol and aid station visits.
KL: What’s something we should know about you that doesn’t have to do with running?
AF: I’m a proud native Minnesotan and although I’m not able live there now, I plan on returning. I grew up in Red Wing and some of my favorite memories are exploring the bluffs around my neighborhood. I miss Minnesota.
KL: Bonus question: Please make up a question (and answer) that you think we’d like to know about.
What’s next for you?
Family harmony and many things that aren’t running! My family was amazing and patient this winter- training for ultras is such a selfish thing. I’d work my full-time corporate gig during the week and then disappear to run for many hours each weekend. It took a toll on family time and of course, home chores suffered. My husband is training for century bike rides this summer and I’m happy to give him all the time he needs. I put a lot of projects on hold this winter and I’m thrilled to get my hands dirty again with gardens, trees and backyard chickens. The seasons will change soon enough and I know the trails will be waiting.