Tina Johnson Wins the 2017 Zumbro 100 Mile Trail Race – Photo Credit Kevin Langton

The Dakota name for the river was Wasi Oju, meaning “Pines Planted” or “Pine River.” The current name, Zumbro, comes from the French, originally Riviere des Embarras, meaning River of Difficulties. If you say “des Embarras” enough, maybe you’ll start to hear the word “Zumbro.” Difficulties. Embarrass. Zumbro. Welcome to Zumbro’s 10th birthday party. Although it’s the tenth running as a race, the gathering’s been around longer—Larry Pederson had been inviting his friends into his backyard playground at the river bottoms to torture them with fatass runs long before he let them pay to do it as a real race. If we count those early years the race is already a teenager, and that’s how I prefer to think of it. Like a teen, the race can change moods hour to hour, grow disrespectful, sullen, stormy, awkward and impulsive. It will never do what we expect or ask it to, unless we surrender and expect it to do the unexpected. It’s full of surprises. And as much as we might worry about it, we can’t help but love it unconditionally too. See, Zumbro’s really the teenager in your basement. So let’s check the weather reports a few more times, put on the party hats, grab the noisemakers and see who’s on the guest list for this party.

Zumbro 100
128 entrants
Starts 8 am Friday April 13
Six loops
34 hour time limit
Elevation gain 18,588 ft/Elevation loss 18,588 ft/Net elevation change 37,176 ft

Men: Doug Kleemeier won last year and has the third fastest time (the only two faster times are from race sponsor Trail Transformation’s Michael Borst and Jake Hegge—both guys ran these when they were less than half Doug’s age). Doug already started his year with a win on another loop course, the Zoom Yah Yah Indoor Marathon, 150 laps to complete the marathon. The guy really likes running in circles and has a thing for loop courses. Kevin Leiferman has a couple speedy hundreds under his belt including a second place at last year’s Hitchcock 100. Jeff Miller placed third here last year and we hear he’s in great shape. Timothy Adamski looks relatively new to the ultra scene but he had some good performances last year.

Women: Emily Larson took second place (fifth overall) in 2017 and should run well after having a great year last year that included a solid finish at Bigfoot 200. Stephanie Hoff brings lots of experience and karma, although she may choose to do her last loop with her daughter, Ava, who’s running the 17 miler again. Ausra Butkeviciute has done well in midwest races, but this is her first Zumbro. Angela Freedman is a good runner and knows the course well with previous performances in the 100 and 50.

Experience: Susan Donnelly, who has run it every year, is chasing finish 10. That’s 60 loops! Nate Ziemski is going for finish 5. Kathy Erthum, Erik Raivo, and Kevin Langton (yours truly woo hoo!) will be trying for our fourth finishes. As usual, lots of first time hundred milers.

Pink ribbons: The hundred milers are given pink ribbons (as a mark of idiocy perhaps). Here’s what those ribbons should mean to the rest of you: We’re out of our minds and we’re not sure if you’re a hallucination or real. If it’s 4 am and you’re behind us on a trenched out trail and you’re wanting to speed by, feel free to come around, but please don’t expect us to climb out of that trench to get out of your way. Our legs might not allow it. Our brains are lacking sugar, our muscles lacking salt. Or you might notice that we’re just staring at the sky with our headlamps off, listening to the coyotes and owls chatter at each other. Consider taking a moment with us to appreciate these gifts the course offers. Milk the night or morning and course for what you can, and forgive those of us wearing pink ribbons if we don’t get out of your way, if we stumble, if our jokes aren’t funny to anyone but ourselves. Things might not be connecting for us the way they are for the rest of you.

Mad props to all runners for simply having the guts to start this thing, for stepping beyond the ordinary, for cultivating the imagination it takes to start 100 miles. May you hundred milers find what you need on the inside when the masks come off.

Zumbro 50
253 entrants
Starts Saturday April 14, 12:01 am
Three loops
18 hour time limit
Elevation gain 9,294 ft/Elevation loss 9,294 ft/Net elevation change 18,588 FT

Men: Brian Wandzilak leads a crew of fast runners from Lincoln, Nebraska. He won the Hitchcock 50 last year, and that race has similarities to Zumbro—similar terrain and loops. Ty Fluth has a second place finish at Hitchcock, so he should do well. That Hitchcock 50 podium from December is fully represented with David Hansen running too. David also took second in the 100 at Zumbro last year, and he’s finished the 50 here a few times, so he knows the course and has good speed. Eric Nordgren always has potential to pull out something speedy. Keep an eye on Travis Harvieux, who won his last race, the Black River Trail Classic 50k.

Women: Leslie Semler is an obvious favorite. She has an impressive list of wins at everywhere she’s run, including the 17 and 50 at Zumbro. Another stand out favorite is Gretchen Metsa, whose last three races are an impressive list: a win at Eugene Curnow Marathon, a third place at Voyageur, and a win at Superior 100. It will be interesting to see what these two (Leslie and Gretchen) do with each other on course. Lisa Dunnigan has some nice finishes at Zumbro 17 and Afton 50k.

Experience: Running buddies Scott Rassbach and Tom Weigt, as well as Tim Sieh and Greg Allen, are going for finish 5.

Long time friend of the race and sponsor via Peet’s Coffee, Matt Patten will be running the 50 this year with his son Travis, who is running his first 50-miler.

Midnight start: One of the most beautiful things I’ve seen: from the river road looking up to the east on a night when I can’t tell the stars from the snowflakes drifting through my light, I see a movement of stars, a string of headlamps bobbing along the ridge, some great and ancient and icy serpentine creature sliding along that narrow space where earth meets heaven. It’s the 50 milers on their first loop, new company on a lonely trail, a parade of friends approaching to boost the night spirits. May you all enjoy the night and embace its offerings and may you find a renewed energy in the sunrise. May your quads sing only happy songs of love for what you and the course are doing to them.

Zumbro 17
506 entrants
Starts Saturday April 14, 9 am
One loop
9 hour time limit
Elevation gain 3,098 ft/Elevation loss 3,098 ft/Net elevation change 6,196 ft

Men: Where to begin with all this speed? Kurt Keiser who has the 50-mile course record and third fastest 17-mile time? Wynn Davis who has the fourth fastest time on course and many years of wins all over impressive races in the Midwest? Chase Nowak who’s won Superior 50, Ice Age 50, and Chippewa 50k? Luke Nelson who’s stood on the podium at this race three times? These guys are going to run each other silly.

Women: Molly Pennings has a sweet resumé of races, including a win at Zumbro 50. She knows the course and what it takes to win here. Cassie Pratt got 3rd at Afton 25k last season. Heidi Skildum has placed here and won at Superior 25k. Holly Reiland has a couple nice races under her belt. Jenny Wilcox could do well.

Experience: Randy Kottke, Steve Smillie, John Eiden, Lonna Simanovski, Rose Biancini and Dan Valentine are all going for finish 6.

Just: I propose we outlaw this word for the weekend, with one exception. Please avoid using it in the case of, “I’m just doing the 17” or any other efforts to self-deprecate and minimize your efforts. If you’re running the 17, you’re running 17 more miles more than most people in America that morning, and you’re running it over one of the more challenging courses you can find in the Midwest. I propose we make the only acceptable use of the word to say, “I’m just about to finish,” or “I just finished so can I please have a piece or two of bacon?”

May your toes feel the squish of mud beneath them and not blister (too much). May your joy and laughter echo along the course.

Volunteers: Like all Rocksteady races, you’ll find the best group of volunteers here. Some are racing too. Some will sleep less than most runners. Some have run more loops of this course than they care to count. Some have never run at all. Your success is their success, and your safety is their safety. Zumbro is a community, a family, a gathering of the tribe after the long winter. Each runner’s success belongs to all of us. No one does this alone. Volunteers, you are incredible people with amazing energy. Many thanks. May you have a blast out there.

The snow is melting. Trails are turning to muddy soup. The robins are here. Geese are moving overhead. The sandhill cranes are back (and they can sometimes be heard near the river on the climb after leaving aid station 1). Maybe winter is over again, although it’s been known to give us one last belch of winter weather for Zumbro weekend. It’s time for the annual Zumbro family reunion. Strangers will soon be kin. Zumbro’s upon us if we’re Zumbready or not. Trust your training. Trust what’s inside you. Trust something. Let’s enjoy the party.

Kevin Langton wrote Superior, about the Superior Endurance Run (https://www.amazon.com/Superior-Endurance-Americas-Gnarliest-Ultramarathons/dp/153022862X). He’s run 26 complete (and two incomplete) Zumbro loops.