An Interview with 2018 Zumbro 100 Mile Men’s Winner Scott Coles (SC) – Interview conducted by Kevin Langton (KL)
KL: Congrats on the win. Congrats on the finish in such an epic year. Congrats on your first hundred. Now can we please talk about the buffalo and get that out of the way? Tell us what you saw out there. Any other interesting stuff that no one else may have noticed?
SC: Thank you. Having won my first 100, and Zumbro at that, is surreal. I’m still processing through it all. Yeah, I hear there was a lot of mysterious things out there in the woods this year. A guy with a clipboard, possibly a purple unicorn if my mind serves me correctly. I was lucky enough to see a buffalo on my last loop. I was on the logging/access road just before the last climb and descent into AS 2, kind of doing my run for a bit-walk for a bit shuffle, mostly watching the trail in front of me. At some point along there I looked up and there was a buffalo standing off in the woods a little bit. That surprised the hell out of me and I stopped dead in my tracks and said something like “What are you doing out here?” In my mind I was thinking maybe it got loose from a farm in the area. I remember looking up and down the trail to see if someone was out looking for it. I kind of slowly walked on the far side of the road a few steps then realized it was big tree that had fallen over. I had a good chuckle over that as I continued on. A few days later I was in the shower thinking about the buffalo as there was something not right about what I saw when it hit me that it had long horns, kind of like a highland cow. So, it wasn’t just any buffalo, but a Longhorn Buffalo. At some other point, also in the last loop, I looked up to see three yard gnomes sitting on a stump looking at me. They disappeared quickly and became a jagged stump though. That’s about all I saw out there.
KL: What was going through your mind at the start and through that first loop?
SC: It’s hard to remember exactly what was going through my mind at the start. It’s such a blur. I was excited and a bit nervous. Maybe a little worried about the weather and trail conditions. I had set a goal to run sub-24 and I was wondering if that would be possible anymore. I just kept telling myself to go out and run my own race as I had planned and just let things fall in place. Also, I had no doubts in my ability to run 100 miles but was nervous about all the unknowns that can take you out of the race. Then there was mentally preparing myself for wet, cold feet for the next 23+ hours.
Once we were off I let myself fall into a comfortable pace, hoping it wasn’t too fast. All I had on my watch was average pace, lap time and overall time, so I had to wait a while to see where I was at. Ends up it was a little faster than I wanted but nothing like my first loop of the 50 miler the year before (I got excited and ran it in 2:57). The trail conditions at that point were not real good and I imagined that they would be much worse on the second loop once everyone had thoroughly churned up the mud. Up until AS 3 I had kept pace with a group of 100-mile veterans but decided that I needed to slow down a little and get myself back onto my plan. I finished that first loop in 3:21. My plan was to try and keep my loops at 3:40s, so I was pretty happy with that and still felt really good.
KL: How did the rest of the race play out?
SC: Loops 2 and 3 were business as usual. The conditions on loop 2 were horrendous. The mud was unbelievable at that point and I battled to get through it as quickly as I could. Due to the rain the sand coulee had filled up and instead of a wide creek that had been jumpable, it was now 15-20 feet across. Luckily, before I took the plunge, I noticed a detour around it. After that, the coulee was under about 4-5 inches of water with no way around. I finished loop 2 right about where I wanted to be, changed socks, grabbed my ipod and headed back out. Early on in the 3rd loop I tried something different. I decided I wasn’t going to fight the mud and my mantra became, “Don’t fight the mud, just go with the flow.” On the downhills, that’s literally what I did, went with the flow. I started staying in the middle of the trail where leaves had been pushed from the sides of the trail by other runners trying to avoid the mud. This helped me from sinking too far and from picking to much up on my shoes. On the uphills I used other people’s tracks to mitigate how much I sank. On the downs, I went with the flow. That got me through the third loop, and with half the race done I was well under under 12 hrs. I realized at that point that sub-24 was out. I was feeling the added work of plowing the mud and knew I needed to slow down to make sure I had enough energy to get me to the finish. Plus, the temps were dropping, and the freezing rain was starting.
Loop 4 is when the weather started to get interesting. After AS 1 the freezing rain turned to snow. Then just before the last climb and descent into AS 2 the thundersnow started. I spent a good hour struggling with the idea that if the weather got much worse, they might stop the race. I finally came to grips with that idea and decided I was going to keep pushing until I finished, or someone stopped me. I was starting to get sleepy too. Coffee and Coke helped get me from AS to AS. I came in to the start/finish just before the 50-milers took off and went right into the warming hut for a wardrobe change and to pick up my pacer. I spent a little more time there than planned but I wanted to get myself warmed up a little before heading back out.
It was nice having a pacer with me for loop 5. I had spent the last 2½ loops on my own and was in need of some one else to share the trail with. At this point the temps had dropped enough that the mud was starting to firm up and the course was becoming more runnable. Of course, I was still feeling the battle with the mud earlier so couldn’t take too much advantage of the improving trail. The steep downhills were becoming treacherous, so it was hard to take advantage of them. I figured it wasn’t worth taking the risk of a fall and cautiously descended where needed. Ant Hill Ridge wasn’t bad at this point. The winds were stiff and there was some blowing and drifting but nothing terrible. We got loop 5 done and popped right into the warming hut. Lisa did a great job at this point with making sure I was good to go out on my last loop. I was going out alone as my other pacer had chosen to be smart and not risk the drive. Between Lisa and Sarah, they got me into dry clothes and all bundled up. John had come into the tent at that point and asked if I was going out for my last loop. I said something along the lines of “You bet I am.” He looked at Lisa, she gave a nod, and he wished me luck.
At his point I had no idea where I was in the pack. I figured there had to be at least a few people ahead of me and no idea how many behind. I spent a good part of this loop power hiking with the assistance of my poles and running for short bits on the flats and downs. It was light again, and everything was coated in snow and beautiful. The mud was pretty much all frozen and covered in snow. That made it a little easier going. After AS 1 was when I started feeling the sleep deprivation, that’s when the buffalo and yard gnomes made their appearances. I would stop now and then to take in the scenery. I dilly-dallied a lot. I knew I was going to finish my 1st 100 hundred at that point and was enjoying the ride. I wasn’t worried about my time and had no idea I was in the lead. If I had, I would have probably kept pushing.
Ant Hill was ridiculous that last loop. The trail was drifted over in most places and the wind was insane. I remember looking up at all the dead limbs in the trees and quickening my pace when passing under them. I was happy when I had descended Ant Hill and knew didn’t have to deal with that any more. Once on the road I kept going with my short bouts of running and power hiking in between. I was ready to be done and get into warm dry clothes, socks and shoes, so made sure I kept moving good. Before I knew it, was through the gate at the campground and started to run it in. The wind was crazy in the open so couldn’t hear much at the finish, I was just exhausted and happy to be done. I wanted to sit, so went over to the nearest picnic table and sat down, totally oblivious to the fact that I had won. I’m not sure who came over at that point and asked if I could come over to the finish line real quick for pictures. I might have asked, “Why?” but can’t remember. Then someone said that I had won, and I said, “No I didn’t.” And they said, “Yes you did.” Then I broke down at that point and the rest is a blur until I was back in the warming hut changing into my warm, dry clothes and dry socks and shoes.
KL: What kind of help did you have from crew or pacers and what did that do for your race?
SC: I had a great crew consisting of my girlfriend Sarah Heinzerling, Brian Beckman, Sarah’s mom, Susan, who came along to see what we do, cheer me on and help with Sarah’s two boys, Flynn and Reed.
All their support was great. Flynn oversaw getting me wrapped up in a blanket after each loop so I stayed warm. Reed had fun wearing out dogs and forcing an adventure hike up to the phone booth while I was out on a loop. Sarah and Brian made sure my pack was refilled, getting all the gear I needed in the pack, took care of my feet, made sure I was fueling properly and feeling good, and making sure I was staying warm. They did a great job getting me taken care of back out on course quickly after the first three loops and chased me out before I got too comfortable after the 4th and 5th. I couldn’t have done this without all of them. They also packed up camp while I was out on the 5th loop so we could hit the road once I finished.
Brian was my only pacer and did a great job keeping me awake and moving. It sounds like he was not thrilled with having to do a loop in those conditions but he stepped up and helped me through. I owe him big for that one. I had Nikk Adams lined up to pace me on loop 6 but he made the smart decision not to risk the drive down.
I have to give a shout out to Flynn. When the weather started getting bad, Sarah’s mom was going to take the boys into Lake City, get a warm meal and safely to the hotel. Flynn refused to go, even after being told that it was going to be long cold wait for me to finish. He really wanted to see me finish. I loved his reaction to me winning, too. He was so proud.
Fortunately, my son chose not to come along on this adventure. I was a little bummed at first but realized that he had made the right choice with how the weather turned out.
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?
The main thing was keeping warm, which also meant trying not to overheat and sweat too much. After the first loop I put my waterproof jacket in my pack and put on a light windbreaker. I took that off during the third loop and just went with a long sleeve shirt. The windbreaker went on for the start of the 4th loop, and I switched back to my waterproof at AS 3 when I started to fell like I was getting wet from the snow. After loop 4 I put on my winter tights and dry base layers. New shoes too as I blew a pair out somewhere on the 4th loop. After the 5th Loop I put on a dry base layer up top. Well, Lisa in the warming hut actually made me as I was still shivering when starting to get ready to go out for Loop 6. She also made me put on an insulated jacket under my rain jacket and put my rain pants on over my tights. I’m thankful for that as it made my final loop more comfortable.
Foot care was another big thing. Every two loops I had my feet wiped clean, copious amounts of Vaseline reapplied, and new socks.
On the last loop I took my poles with me to help on the uphills but I think they helped on the icy downhills more than anything. I had my little electric screw driver and screws in my bag but totally forgot to screw my shoes before heading out. That would have been a great help on some of the downhills.
KL: How are your feet feeling now?
SC: 10 days out, my feet are feeling great. A week ago, not so great. No blisters to speak of just swelling afterwards. It was the following Thursday after the race before they deflated and looked normal again. I did lots of icing and elevating. Wednesday, I slipped a pair of shoes on, loosely tied them and went for a short walk. That seemed to help and by the next day they didn’t look like goofy shaped balloons anymore and I could tie my shoes normally again.
KL: What is something besides running that helped your race? How did it help?
SC: I learned a big lesson last fall from my son. We went to my parents’ for Thanksgiving and my mom took us to the new YMCA to use the pool. They had this big blow up obstacle course set up in the lap pool and the kids were all excited. It turns out that to play on it, they would have to pass a swim test by treading water for a minute then swimming one length of the pool. After playing in the kids’ pool Flynn stepped up first and passed the swim test. His brother followed and passed. My brother’s stepson went next and passed. Then my son, Kiegan, said he wanted to take the test. He had never had a swim lesson and just that summer started to get swimming without a life jacket figured out. I didn’t think he could do it and tried to dissuade him from trying. He kept insisting so I had him try treading water. He’d manage for a bit then tire and say it was hard. But he kept insisting he wanted to try. Finally, I gave in and told him no matter what I would be proud of him for at least trying and that it was okay if he couldn’t do it. He jumped in and without a problem, treaded water for a minute, then he doggy paddled the whole length of the pool with the biggest grin on his face. When he got out I gave him a hug and told him how proud I was. Then he said, “And you doubted me, Dad.” That was kind of a punch in the gut. He didn’t mean it in a bad way, or say it to make me feel bad, he was just speaking the truth. I told him I would never doubt him again. After processing that I realized I was preparing him to fail instead of helping him succeed. I also realized that if you want something bad enough you just have to go get it.
After passing the swim test they give the kids a green bracelet to wear that shows they passed the swim test. I have carried that bracelet with me my last two races and when the going gets tough I get the bracelet out and think about that smile he had on his face while swimming that lap. Sometimes I just pull it out as an extra boost and a reminder than I can do anything I put my mind to. I like to say, “One lap, that’s all you have to do.” That helps me focus and to keep pushing myself. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but the two races I have carried that bracelet, I have won.
KL: What was the lowest point of your race? How did you get through it?
SC: Amazingly, I didn’t really have any real low point in my race. I’ve read a lot and listened to many podcasts about running 100’s and was waiting for the low spots. Having only one pacer, I wanted him with me on the 5th loop as I figured that was where I’d hit a low. Nothing though. I had the best time out there. As bad as the weather and trail were, I enjoyed every minute I was out there. About the lowest I got was thinking about the race possibly being stopped but I reasoned with myself and came to terms with it.
KL: What’s something we should know about you that doesn’t have to do with running?
SC: I’ll go a bit out of my comfort zone here. A little over 25 years ago, as a junior in high school, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I had been training all the previous summer for cross-country skiing. Junior Nationals was just getting into the season when I started getting really fatigued for no reason, then started having a pain in my lower abdomen and my leg started to go numb. Next thing I knew, I found myself in a battle for my life. Luckily, a year later, after chemo, surgery to remove the rogue lymph node and radiation, I was back out skiing again, clear of cancer. That time in my life is pretty much a blur in which I sort of ducked my head back into my turtle shell and let the danger pass. That whole experience taught me that you only live once so enjoy every moment of life that you can.
I had been thinking about doing some fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in association with running my first 100 but training kind of took over and that fell to the wayside. I did so 5 years ago with Team in Training for my first marathon. LLS has done so much to advance the treatment of blood cancers since my battle. I’m thinking that next year I’ll have to do something big to celebrate 25 years cancer free. Fundraising for LLS is at the top of my list, but I’m also thinking something really big. Something like… maybe shaving around 10 hrs. and 5 min. off my time this year… if the trail allows of course.
KL: Bonus question: Please make up a question that you think we’d like to know the answer to:
SC: How awesome is your girlfriend? I’d have to say that she is pretty damn awesome. This win was in large part due to her. On our way home from Superior last fall, where I had found another level while running the 50-miler, I mentioned how I would love to see what I was really capable of if I had a coach. A few weeks later she gave me an early Christmas gift. It was a gift certificate for coaching by Jake Hegge at Trail Transformation (shameless plug, Trail Transformation is top notch). On top of that, she dealt with me disappearing at ridiculous hours of the morning just about every Saturday and Sunday and kept an eye on my son until I came back home. I definitely could not have done this without her and she has opened my eyes to the potential that I have within me. She’s an awesome girlfriend and my love for her is huge.