Gnarly Bandit: Introducing competitor Tina Johnson…

Gnarly Competitor - Tina Johnson23 runners toed the line to begin the 2013 UMTR Gnarly Bandit Series. This grueling five race series kicked off back in April at the Zumbro 100 Mile, ran through the Kettle Moraine, Black Hills and Superior 100 Milers, and will wrap up October 19 with the Wild Duluth 100K. With one race left to run, eight runners remain in contention for the $600 cash prize courtesy of Wilderness Athlete. We’ll be looking to talk with all of the finalists.

Next up, Tina Johnson:

1. When you started out at the Zumbro 100-mile back in April did you feel confident you would still be in the running for the award at this point?

My strategy was to not think about the series as a whole, but to take it one race at a time. I do not take the 100 mile distance for granted! I only had three 100 milers on my race resume going into the series, but it gave me enough experience to understand that the “non-injury lows” eventually pass – fatigue, stomach issues, what-have-you. However, I was also fully aware that there are many things that need to fall in place for a finish, and only one tiny thing that can screw it all up. It’s never a given.

2. What races in the series stand out as memorable (good and bad)?

Angela Barbera and I have talked about the post-100 mile race rainbows and unicorns, where the world is a lovely magical place. There were NO rainbows and unicorns for me after Zumbro! The tough conditions along with the added pressure of finishing the first race of the series made it stressful. I don’t remember ever hurting so much during a race. The constantly changing slush/mud/ice terrain made my knees and ankles scream. I needed a beer after the first loop – I think the fact that I held out on having that beer(s) until the finish kept me motivated to continue running.

The other races have truly stood out, too. I felt very emotional finishing Kettle: I had a stronger-than-expected finish, crossed the line with two great friends, and my mom and sister cheered me in as I brought it home (I had no idea they were going to be at the finish line). Black Hills was just all around awesome. I loved the course and the people. It was also the quintessential summer vacation road trip!

Sawtooth has, and probably will always be, my favorite race. The energy on the Superior Hiking Trail – especially at the start at Gooseberry Falls – is indescribable. It was great to see my Gnarly comrades as well as new friends I have made throughout the year.

3. Which race would you say “went according to plan” more so than the others?

The race that went according to plan was most definitely Sawtooth. I am terrible at making pace charts, but it’s one of those things that are necessary if you have a crew. (Even though I’m fairly sure MY charts are more stressful to my crew than helpful.) Well, I gave my crew the chart with an estimated finish time of 32hr 47min. I was ahead of schedule by a mere 18 minutes, which isn’t too shabby for Sawtooth! Although the rest of my estimated AS times were not that close…

4. How was your recovery between the races?

For me, this has been unchartered race mileage territory and I was skeptical about my recovery between the June races even before the series began. Zumbro really chewed me up and I had to take a lot of time off from running before Kettle. While I felt fine during Kettle, my injuries re-introduced themselves with a vengeance post-race. I hardly ran at all between Kettle and Black Hills. And while I felt ok running Black Hills, my post-race injuries were a repeat of Kettle. With a little TLC and more time off from running, I was able to get myself back on track. While I was frustrated with the amount of time it took my body to recover earlier in the summer, it forced me to get in the gym more than I would have otherwise. I think the extra strength training and cycling prepared me for the Superior Hiking Trail.

5. What’s on your calendar after Wild Duluth?

After Wild Duluth is the 200 mile tBunk Endurance Challenge. There are many reasons why I’m excited about this: new distance, home field, tons of familiar faces, but most of all, it’s named for Tom Bunk!

6. Any advice for runners looking to attempt the series next year?

Take it one race at a time, and always remember that you’re more resilient than you think.

7. Any additional thoughts?

I feel truly blessed to have this Gnarly experience. I was able to do this with one of my best friends, Angela B. I really admire her and she has been an awesome source of knowledge and support. This series has also challenged me to push myself much farther than I would have thought possible. It doesn’t get better than that.

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