In 2012, Susan Donnelly of Oak Ridge Tennessee once again came and conquered the Zumbro 100 Mile Endurance Run.  Susan won the race for an unprecedented  fourth straight time and kept her amazing streak alive – being one of only two people to complete all four editions of the race.  Susan will return for “number 5” in 2013, purely for the love of running and the joy of visiting her extended running family in Minnesota – another win would just be icing on the cake.  We asked Susan some questions about her history at the Zumbro Endurance Run, her experience as a prolific 100 mile runner and what lessons she has learned from her race experiences over the years.

The Legendary Susan Donnelly from Tennesse - Photo Credit Zach Pierce

Susan, congratulations of winning the 2012 Zumbro 100 Mile Endurance Run and keeping an incredible streak alive at this race!  You have run this race each year it has been held (2009-2012) and have placed 1st each time.  Does this add some pressure each time you toe the line?
Yes, unfortunately it does add a little pressure but I recognize that each time I’m on the way to the race and I ground myself back in my own race philosophy – I run my own race, not another runner’s, not the clock’s and not one that meets “everyone’s” expectations.  I may have goals for a race but no expectations, nor do I feel the need to have a certain outcome… bottom line, I’m simply grateful every time I stand at the starting line, for finding my passion and the ability to do it. 

Obviously you are no stranger to 100 mile races and to the training required to do these types of races.  How many100’s have you finished now?
As of today, I’ve finished 56 100-milers.  It’s my favorite distance, so I’d love to have the time to do more but I do have to spend some time at work to earn the money to support my 100-mile habit. 

Has the 100 mile novelty started to fade at all?  Is it getting easier or harder or does it stay the same?
No, it has never faded.  That part is like a long-term relationship with a spouse or partner that grows, changes, and grows richer and more beautiful over the years.  

As far as difficulty, I suppose it’s gotten easier for a variety of reasons.  I know I can do the distance and I’ve done it under a variety of hard and easy circumstances over the years, so in any race I can always think of races where I’ve finished in more dire circumstances.  I always run my own race and have learned to have goals but no expectations about the outcome.  And I’ve become very familiar with how 100 miles feels, how my body and mind typically react, and the physical and mental things I need to do to finish and have a good race.  Even after all these years, I am still learning, and that’s part of the fun and challenge of it all.

You know this area pretty well now from racing over 400 miles on this course, from a runners perspective, what are your impressions of the Zumbro 100 course, its difficulty etc., what do you tell friends about the course and the race?
Well, it’s got some decent climbs and since it’s a loop course, it’s important to recognize that those hills add up to a larger total amount of climb/decent after multiple loops.  And the sand adds it’s own twist.  Don’t underestimate it.  Oh, and those washes get darn cold at night!

I also tell friends that although loop courses are not my favorite configuration, I love the distance, traveling to races in other places I’d never have seen otherwise, the social aspect of this race where you get to see most everyone once or twice along the way, and most especially, I love having a great excuse to run with friends I don’t get to see as often as I’d like.  That’s the best part for me.

Do you have any advice or insider information for those planning to run the Zumbro 100 (or the 50 or 17 mile race for that matter) for their first time?
There is a ton of advice I’d give for runners on their first time at any distance, but I’ll try to narrow it down to the big picture essentials.

First, the “perfect day” doesn’t exist, and that’s okay.  Yes, you could have done more/better training, or the weather could be better, or you ate something you shouldn’t have the night before, or whatever, but it doesn’t matter.  Don’t worry about it.  You can’t change any of that on race day, so just do your best.

Second, take it mentally a section at a time, and don’t focus so much on the end goal.  You will get there.   

Third, keep your mental game positive.  When your mind wanders to tense, or unhappy thoughts, your body follows suit.   

Fourth, be patient with the low points.  You’ll have them, everyone does.  Eat, drink, whatever you need to do to get through them, but keep moving.  One of my mottos is “run until they pull you.”

Fifth, run your own race.  Don’t get carried away and go out too fast in the beginning just because everyone else does.  You may feel like running fast or running slow, just keep it comfortable – whatever your own version of comfortable is on that day.

Last, enjoy the journey.  Not many people in this world have the ability and chutzpah to do what you’re doing, and believe me, the race will be over before you know it. So please, be present and enjoy it.

You are planning on coming back in 2013.  I know that finishing is a priority for you and winning is icing on the cake.  If you both finish, only you and friend Daryl Saari will have finished each addition of this 100 mile race, amassing 500 total lifetime miles.  A streak like this is pretty cool… is this something that you think about?
Wow.  It’s nice to be reminded of that milestone because it’s a definite occasion to pause and be grateful for want I have and excited about the future.  Even if something unforeseen happens and I don’t finish, I’m so excited to have the chance to enjoy that experience again and to very happy share it with a good friend I’m doubly blessed to know. 

Any other thoughts or special memories you would like to share about the Zumbro 100?
I have random metal photos like spectacular spring flowers and years with patches of snow, and grouse drumming, and the picnic shelter at the top of the hill (read the plaque).  But to me, the memories of sharing the sport I love with Lynn and Darryl Saari and all the other friends I see there and have made there are the best.  

Thank you very much for your time!
Thank you.  I’m happy to have the chance to share this with others.

Zumbro Endurance Run
100MI, 50MI, 17MI Trail Race(s)
Theilman, Minnesota
April 10 & 11, 2020
• 100MI Friday 8:00AM
• 50MI 12:01AM Saturday (Friday Midnight)
• 17MI 9:00AM Saturday

Opens Fri Nov 1, 2019 – 12:01AM CST
Closes Fri April 3, 2020 – 11:59PM CST
*Or once the field limit has been met
Complete Registration Details HERE

Directions to Race Start:
Zumbro River Bottoms Management Unit
West Assembly Area
(Near Theilman, MN)
Google Maps Directions HERE
Written Directions HERE
(Approx 1:45 south of Minneapolis, MN)

The course consists of a mix of rugged single and double track trail with rubble, loose rock and sand along with minimum maintenance gravel roads.  The race is primarily concentrated in two large valleys within an expansive hardwood forest.  There are four significant, short, steep climbs (approx 300FT) per loop with small hills in-between along with some significant stretches of flat valley floor running.  Be sure to see maps, elevation charts and stats provided on this website HERE.

100 Mile:
6 x 17 mile loop = 102(ish) miles
Elevation Gain 13,500 FT
Elevation Loss 13,500 FT
NET Elevation Change 27,000 FT
17 Aid Stations
34 hour time limit
Complete 100MI Info HERE

50 Mile:
3 x 17 mile loop = 51(ish) miles
Elevation Gain 6,750 FT
Elevation Loss 6,750 FT
NET Elevation Change 13,500 FT
8 Aid Stations
18 hour time limit
Complete 50MI Info HERE

17 Mile:
17 Mile Loop
Elevation Gain 2,250 FT
Elevation Loss 2,250 FT
NET Elevation Change 4,500 FT
2 Aid Stations
9 hour cutoff
Complete 17MI Info HERE

More About the Area:
The Zumbro Endurance Run 100MI, 50MI and 17MI trail races take place within the Zumbro River Bottoms Management Unit in Southeastern Minnesota’s Bluff Country – just outside of the tiny village of Theilman, MN approximately 1:45 from Minneapolis – St.Paul, MN.  The races start and finish at the West Assembly / Horse Campground Area.  Generally speaking the Zumbro River Bottoms Management Unit lies within a portion of the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood Forest – an expansive 1.7 million acre tract of Minnesota hardwood forest on the Northern edge of the Driftless Region which is mainly characterized by its tall bluffs and deeply carved river valleys. This “bluff country” is rugged, hauntingly beautiful and provides the perfect venue for 100, 50 or 17 miles of trail running.