My Running Year In Review 2018

by Jesse Mendoza

My 2018 year of running was a great one. It consisted of five ultra marathons, four of which I finished, and an attempt at my first 100 mile ultra. It’s the most ultras I’ve completed in one year.

I also completed my 8th full road marathon this year, along with a smattering of smaller road races from the 10 mile up to a half marathon. All of them just as fun as the one before it.

I had a great time reminiscing about these races as I put this article together. A look back at a wonderful year of training and racing with the goal of completing my first 100 mile ultra.

I hope you enjoy following me on my journey.

January 19: Superior Trail 100 Mile Lottery Selection

I had run the 50 mile option of the Superior Trail Races in Lutsen, MN. back in 2016, but failed miserably by getting cut at the mile 21 aid station due to not making it on time. It left me desperately wanting to try again.

While I was initially going to shoot for the 50 mile option during the Jan. 1 lottery date, I decided to go big or go home by signing up for the 100 mile distance. Heck, why not?

My number was picked a few weeks later and it was game on.

March 28: 100 mile training starts

I drew up a 24 week plan that had me running five days out of the week, with two days of rest. I needed a heavy focus on technical trail with as much elevation gain as I could get being from the midwest.

I needed to replicate as much of northern Minnesota’s Superior Trail conditions as I could find here in Illinois and Wisconsin, which was no easy task. On top of that, I had to fit in all of the fun summer stuff, like going to concerts, movies, and… well… anything that didn’t involve running 24 hours a day to train for a 100 mile.

I took a mostly haphazard approach to signing up for races that didn’t quite fit into plan just to get the mileage in. The plan peaked with the Voyageur 50 mile on July 28 about five weeks ahead of race day.

April 21: Earth Day 50K, Veteran Acres Park, Crystal Lake, IL. 07:59:33

The Earth Day 50k is a local favorite trail race of mine. The trail system is nestled inside of a park surrounded by homes. The trails are particularly difficult in parts here and make for great trail running. You wouldn’t have guessed this driving around the surrounding neighborhoods.

I didn’t run very much through most of 2017 due to so much company travel, so my training leading up to this 50K was slow and easy coming from near zero miles of running.

I managed to squeeze in a finish with 27 seconds left to spare before the time limit cut off. Whew!

May 19: Madeline Island Marathon, Madeline Island, WI. 05:35:48

Patty and I at the finish of the Madeline Island marathon (me) and half marathon (her)

My 8th full road marathon on beautiful Madeline Island in northern Wisconsin. The island is a favorite getaway for Patty and I. The marathon route takes runners around the entire perimeter of the island. The race was only in its second year, but the organizers did a great job putting it on.

Little to no crowd support and long, lonely stretches of road made for a really tough marathon. Spectacular views of Lake Superior and friendly aid stations made the time go by quickly.

Racing aside, we couldn’t miss out on missing views like these:

May 26: Soldier Field 10 Mile, Chicago, IL. 01:54:02

A favorite Chicago road race. What other race lets you finish on the 50 yard line of Soldier Field, home to the Chicago Bears?

I was still recovering from the Madeline Island marathon that I ran the weekend before, so lets just say it wasn’t my best day at the races.

For this race I led a pace group for Chicago Endurance Sports; always a rewarding experience.

June 2: Kettle Moraine 38 Mile Night Fun Run, La Grange, WI. 10:50:43

Running by headlamp on the Ice Age Trail at the Kettle 38 Mile Night Fun Run

This ultra was part of the Kettle Moraine 100 Mile Endurance Trail Race series held in early June. The night run option starts at 5:30 p.m. and traverses 65 miles of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin. In the dark.

I absolutely love a trail run at night. It was even better having run it with a few friends from my local trail running club. At one point during the evening, a strong storm front moved in pounding us with heavy rain and lightning. So worth it…

July 7: Cry Me A River Trail Runs 50K, Chillicothe, IL. 10:24:32

Going up, up, up at the Cry Me A River 50k on a hot and balmy summer day

The Cry Me A River 50k takes the cake as one of the more difficult trail races I had done to date. The trail winds through a series of local parks just north of the city of Peoria.

I managed to gain over 5000 feet of elevation on this really difficult trail as we looped through it a couple of times for just a little over 33 miles. A perfect training run for the Superior 100 mile.

After I was done, I swore I’d never come back to this really difficult ultra again. Ever.

That didn’t last long… I can’t wait to go back… kind of…

July 22: Chicago Rock and Roll Half Marathon, Chicago, IL. 02:29:34

Another pacing gig for Chicago Endurance Sports in the heat of summer. The drizzle started early while we were waiting in the race corals. Things were about to get interesting!

The drizzle changed to a light rain, and then, just like that, the skies opened up. It poured, and poured, and poured the entire race. We were soaking wet.

It certainly made for a memorable run and my co-pacer and I still managed to bring our group in on time. A fun one!

July 28: Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile, Carlton, MN. 13:32:33

The crazy difficult power line section of the Voyageur 50 mile

The road leading up to this 50 mile, now 18 weeks into my 100 mile training plan, has been really tough. I’ve put in a lot of work, and it was time to put all of my training to test as my last big run before the Superior 100.

The Voyageur 50 is one of the oldest trail ultras in the nation. It is known for its power line section – exposed to the sun and containing extreme, near vertical climbs through ribbon-thin single track. Fortunately for us, the clouds came in during what would have been the hottest part of the day.

On the return trip to the finish I ended up having to stay ahead of some approaching storms for fear of being caught in heavy mud on the downhill sections. This would have slowed me down enough to possibly not make it in time. I had to hustle.

This 50 mile went better than expected for me. Everything from gear to nutrition was on point. I was ready to take on the 100 mile in a few weeks.

Sept. 8: Superior Trail 100 Mile, Lutsen, MN. DNF. 90.7 miles in 33hrs, 40min.

I have a full race report here.

The nutshell version: I pushed and pushed, managing to make it 90.7 miles through one of the toughest trail ultras in the nation. I have no regrets, because I know I worked pretty hard.

I made it pretty dang far considering it was my first attempt at the 100 mile distance on a really, really difficult course. That being said, I have unfinished business. If the lottery gods are good to me again in January 2019, I’ll be back.

My 2019 race calendar is starting to shape up nicely. I know I’ll be attempting another 100 mile before 2019 is out. I’ll be back to race some old favorites, and hope to see some new trails outside of Illinois.

Year 2019 looks to be another great year of running.

I can’t wait.

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