Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run Mud Slog

First off, I need to issue a public apology to my husband for this post, where I made a point of how in shape I was and how he wasn't so much anymore.  I talked about a past trip to the Smoky Mountains and how I had really struggled up the Chimney Tops trail...but now I'm in such better shape.  Ahem.  I am the queen of wishful thinking.

Today was the Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run, a 7.8 mile trail race through the trail of Marquette Park in Grafton, Illinois.  Billed as "the toughest and most grueling race in the Midwest" (by the event organizers), it certainly lived up to that reputation today.  Oh. My. Gosh.

Now, I'm no hardcore trail runner.  I'm no hardcore runner at all.  But I have, in the past, maintained a decent pace over a half marathon.  The following week, I struggled to a less decent pace (but still respectable) in a trail 20K.  And I know the park where the event was being held.  One would think that all of these facts would allow me to make a pretty realistic prediction for how I'd do.  Indeed, all of these facts led me to decide that I'd be pretty happy with a time of 1:30....and perhaps this would have been a reasonable expectation except for two things:

1) I "know" the park's trails the way women remember childbirth when planning another child.  That is, you have a general sense of what it's like but tend to kind of gloss over the more grueling parts and concentrate on the beauty of it. 

2) The weather

Ah, the weather.  I woke up this morning to temperatures in the 30's and the sound of a steady rain.  Lovely.  I never once thought about not going, though I was definitely unsure about the right clothes to wear.  I made my best guess, Body Glide-ed my feet in anticipation of wet shoes, and headed out the door before my ride ("I'm leaving at 7 sharp!") decided to leave without me.
Photo by Chuck Vohsen

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run

Race check-in was in the great room of  Marquette Lodge, which was originally a CCC project and underwent significant renovation/improvments several years ago.  The lodge is gorgeous.  My couple of pictures don't do it justice at all.  The picture to the right shows some of the early crowd for check-in.  You can also see the large chessboard behind some of the people.  I have many memories of playing chess with my brother and dad when we all came up to the Lodge.  My kids (even the 18 and 16 year old) still like to play chess there.  Something about a giant chess set...

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
We picked up our race numbers and then got our t-shirts.  Here's what the back of it looked like.  I have to say, I love my t-shirt.  It's just the right size.  Since I'm tall, it's sometimes hard to find t-shirts that are long enough.  Even when I do, one trip through the dryer seems to shrink everything up, so this one (like most of my clothes) with be a hang-dry item.

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run

Speaking of wasn't outside, so we settled in to wait in the Lodge until the race start.  There was a great band playing.  I could have listened to them all day.  That room, all warm and dry with a big fire roaring on one end, was awfully tempting!

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
I think Doug was feeling pretty good about his decision not to run today!

My friends Doug (whose post marathon injury is the reason I got to run today...more on that later) and Patrick showed up to spectate and cheer.  Patrick was also nice enough to lend me a rain jacket since I don't have one. I met both of these guys through Daily Mile...yea for the internet!

I introduced Doug and Patrick to my friend Wade (my bike mechanic/advisor), who I rode with to the race.  Patrick, who drove me to the race we volunteered at last week, asked, "Do you ever drive yourself anywhere?"  (Answer: Not if I don't have to!)

Awfully cool of these guys to come up and watch/help out when they didn't have to be out of bed on a cold, rainy Saturday.

Soon enough, it was time to head down to the start line.
Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
Trying to stay dry as long as possible
 Now, the race started at 9:30, but all runners were assigned waves.  Since I was in wave 13, my actual start time was 9:36.  Somehow, though, I spent a little too much time visiting at the visitor's center and missed my start time, so I started with wave 18.  Oops.  Foreshadowing: This caused a little confusion later when Wade, who started (on time) with wave 15 finished, having never passed me, and assumed that I must already be done. 

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
Soggy start line
Basically, as soon as you stepped off the parking lot you were running in mud.  Now, if you know me at all, you know I'm not afraid of getting a little dirty, but I tried a little to skirt the beginning mud because I am afraid of falling.  The route starts off on a nice, flat section of trail, but it quickly gets hilly.  And then hillier.

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
When I had to walk not a quarter mile into the run, that was a pretty good warning that this race might not go too quickly for me.  I decided that, since I wasn't going to be fast, I'd make sure to get some pictures.

Make sure you look at the trail.  We ran through about four different kinds of mud today.  This muddy section wasn't too bad.  For one, it let you keep your shoes.

The leaves, which are usually my enemy because of the way they hide the rocks and roots that are lying in wait for me, were my friends today.  The leafy mud was much easier to move in, and the leaves were so smashed down by the rain and the other runners that it was actually pretty easy to see where rocks and sticks were. 

And, frankly, rocks and sticks were the least of my problems today.  Between the mud and the hills, it was some tough going for me.

Along with missing my start time while waiting at the visitor's center, I had also left behind the water bottle I had planned to carry.  The course had three water stops, but I'm used to carrying water and having more to drink as I go.  On the other hand, I can't imagine how muddy the bottle would have been.

I ran as much as I could, but if I ran half of the course I'd be surprised.  I ran on the flats, up gentle hills, and down where I could.  Some of those hills were crazy muddy.  People were falling and losing shoes.  All I could do was laugh.  If the mud was right for it, I managed a pretty good step...slide...step...slide system for a while...kind of like figure skating or skiing, if you were going to cross them with mud wrestling.

At the top of a difficult, muddy uphill, I saw (and heard!) Patrick and Doug playing Drill Instructor encouraging the racers.  There were quite a few long, steep hills we had to climb.  I'm not going to lie...I'd have been doing my fair share of walking on dry trails, but it was a real challenge in the mud.  On one stretch, I was actually pretty proud of the way I got up the hill without sliding all over or falling...if you stepped in a clump of mud, it was hard to pull your foot out, but if you stepped against it, it helped support you for the next step.

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
Mucky trail're only that far away from me because I stopped to take a picture.

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
Trail of the living dead...

An older man who was walking near me on one of the hills said, "We look like something out of a zombie movie," and we did.  For the most part, it got pretty quiet on the hills as people were digging deep, leaning into the hill, staring at the ground to find the best footing, and trying to keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

I had wardrobe issues for the first half of the run.  Patrick's jacket kept the rain off, but even with it unzipped and hanging open I felt too hot.  So then I'd take it off and tie it around my waist.  But then the rain would start again.  Now, I wasn't too worried about me getting wet, but I had my phone tucked in my shirt (where I had calculated it had the least chance of being damaged if when I fell.  It probably wasn't too smart to take it, but since it functions as my camera, I really wanted to have it along for the run.  After repeating this wear--remove cycle for a few times, I decided to tie the jacket around my neck instead.  That way, my phone stayed dry and my arms stayed cool.  That worked pretty well.  Plus, toward the end a lady said I looked like Supergirl with my cape.  :)

(Photo by Chuck Vohsen)
Looking both stylish and quite lovely
 Despite my documented issues with falling, I suprisingly didn't fall too much today (which probably means I wasn't trying hard enough).  I stumbled once as I crossed a little culvert or something.  That was probably about halfway into the race.  After that, I stayed on my feet for quite a while.  I was sooo happy to cross the park road and see the 6 mile sign...just under two miles to go!  It wasn't long before I was heading uphill again. 

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run

The trail moved from the fairly steep incline to some gigantic stone stairs.  My legs were whining something fierce about taking those big steps.  At the top of the stairs, though, I got to see Doug and Patrick again.  "I hate you Doug!" I yelled as I went by.  He laughed.  He told me later, "I told Patrick that the longer it was before we saw you back at the top of that hill, the more you were going to hate me!"

As I passed their spot, I got to head back down that gigantic mudslide I had struggled up earlier in the race.  I took one step and landed right on my butt.  Fall #2.  The thing about falling into mud is that it's not hard...but it is cold, so I struggled to my feet as best I could and slid/walked to where I could run/walk again.  I kept seeing this same guy on the trail, I guess he was waiting for his wife, and he took that hill like a madman.  Just plunged on down.  Stayed on his feet the whole time.  He did it again later.  Amazing.

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
Super crappy picture of my feet buried in mud.  This is what much of the trail looked like.

Once we got through that last super muddy section, I was able to run for a while.  My final fall came near the end of the run.  Just a little past the big rocks we had to climb between on the way up, I was running (if you want to call it that) and tripped on a rock in the trail.  I went over onto my right side into a pile of leaves.  It was like falling into a pillow.  I didn't get hurt or muddy at all.

The very end of the race is the same flat path we started on, so I tried to pick it up to an actual run for that.  I ran the whole way in, though that last section it was hard to keep going.  Never been so happy to see a finish line.

My official time: 2:21:35 (18:09 pace)
26/29 in my age group
470/506 overall

If you're interested in seeing the elevation profile, you can check out this linkClearly this is not my data, but it's from another runner from today.

I was so ready to be out of my muddy clothes that I forgot to take an "after" picture.  Major fail.  Here's what the clothes looked like when I got home, though.

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
Yeah, I'm super excited to do the laundry.

Remember Wade?  Well, he finished the race never having seen me, and since he knew I had started ahead of him he assumed I was waiting, freezing, at the car.  Lucky for him (I guess), he had enough time to go to the car, change into warm, clean clothes, and get back to the finishing area by the time I was done washing off my shoes in the fish pond.  I was glad that I didn't have to hunt him down, AND that I had someone with clean enough hands to grab me a couple of cookies.

I had a nice conversation at the car with a guy who had also run the race and is also interested in adventure racing.  I took off as many clothes as I could manage without putting on a show, and then I walked back to the lodge in my running tights and compression top (and without shoes, which was maybe not the brightest choice ever).  I had another nice conversation as I changed in the ladies room.  I love runners.  At least, I love the ones I got to talk to and meet today.  I love being able to run, even on days when I spend so much of my running time at a walking pace.

I hope this race report doesn't come off as negative.  It was hard.  It was the hardest race I've ever done.  To compare, it took me almost exactly 23 minutes longer to run this 7.8 miles than it did for me to run a half marathon (on the road).  It took me almost a minute longer to run this 7.8 miles than it did for me to run the 20K trail race I did.  Like I said on Daily Mile, for me, this race was the epitome of endurance.  Just finishing was a real victory for me.  (On the other hand, the winner finished in 57:24, so clearly a strong runner was capable of logging a MUCH better time than what I did.)

All that said, though, it was a blast.  My face hurt from laughing so much.  How could you not laugh about being that muddy, about sliding all over the trail?  I felt like a little kid.  (OK, at times I felt like a little kid on the Bataan Death March, but still...)  It was a great experience.  I challenged myself, and the race handed me my ass.  But I'm doing this again next year, and hopefully I can give it back.


  1. Even though the race handed you your ass today, you BEAT it! I was really happy to see you come over that hill today and even happier that you didn't punch me in the face as you came by. Again, fantastic job today, Kate!

  2. Excellent report, and it didn't seem too negative to me.

  3. Wow, you are a super star for doing this race! It looks like it was a pretty course even with the soggy and muddy conditions. Way to tackle those hills! It must have been so very challenging for sure:) Great pictures! I love the one that shows your muddy shows that you are hard core:) Congrats!

  4. Congrats and great race report (as always)! That looks like a hardcore race. Doing that should give you plenty of confidence to do an adventure race.

  5. Great Report Kate I laughed when I sen your lined-through title! So true

  6. I was kind of hyperventilating about the amount of mud. HOW do your shoes get clean after something like that? I'm not sure my OCD would allow we me to do that?? Congrats Girl!

  7. Hi Kate, I couldn't find your email, so I hope you get this. Your description of Pere Marquette was spot on! I also ran the race and am writing a report for my running club's newsletter. I would love to use a picture or two from your site--worth 1000 words! They really capture what it was like. I didn't take any, and words can hardly describe the mudfest. So I'm seeking your permission to use them, with credit given. You can contact me at Thanks.

  8. Looking at the pictures it looks like a punishment! You finished such kind of race, you are a super-star!
    Great report, great pictures.

  9. Wow , that is some trail run. but just what I love.How much fun is it to push through all that mud. Here in Australia it is summer now so we have run out of mud and are having to contend with dust and snakes on the trails.

  10. Thank you for a great race recap. I LOVE this race and was trying to find pictures to show a buddy who is running it with me this year. Your post was the perfect description, because you capture why we love the race - even if other people won't necessarily understand. I hope you got in this year.

  11. 2011 update: I set my alarm for 12:30 a.m. on September 1, when registration opened, and despite asking myself if I REALLY want to put myself through this again, I got up and registered. The race sold out in less than 7 hours this year...I guess bc you have to be a masochist to be a runner anyway. :)

  12. I'm waiting for your recap. The conditiona were ideal this year.



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