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Kettle Moraine 100 Endurance Run: Photo Essay

2015 offered a creative challenge for our photographers: the Kettle Moraine 100-mile ultramarathon. Race directors Tim “Timo” Yanacheck and Jason Dorgan hired Focal Flame Photography to document the 20th year of the race, which was started in 1995 by husband and wife ultramarathoning legends Kevin Setnes and Kristine Clark-Setnes.

Yanacheck wrote, “[The Kettle 100] was founded as the first 100-mile race in Wisconsin. Both of the founders, Kristine and Kevin, are former national champions. They live near the race site and still volunteer at the race every year. After six years, the Setneses turned the race over to Jason Dorgan and me; Jason and I have served as co-race directors ever since.”

The race offers 50-km, 100-km, and 100-mi course options, and a “fun run” option that’s a mere 38 miles long. Aside from road crossings, the course is run entirely on trails and follows the Ice Age National Scenic trail for nearly 65 miles. Meandering through and over moraines, the rolling elevation results in a total altitude gain of about 8,800 feet. It’s a perennial favorite in the ultramarathon community. Yanacheck wrote, “There have been a lot of impressive performances over the years. One notable historical fact that we're rather proud of is that the Kettle Moraine 100 was the first major 100-mile race won overall by a woman, Donna Perkins, in 1998, and Donna's time (18 hours, 12 minutes, 30 seconds) still stands as our course record for females. Our course record for men was set by Zach Gingerich in 2009, 15:17:32.”

Focal Flame photographer Austin Cope (who now lives in Colorado) created this photo essay of the 20th running of the race. (Focal Flame Photography also provided race photography this year for the 21st annual Kettle Moraine 100 on June 4-5, 2016.) Austin found himself drawn into the rawness of an endeavor that was primal in its intensity, while being imbued with a sense of tranquility from the woodland setting.

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Jason and I became involved in the race in 2001 because we were both avid trail runners, ultramarathoners, and advocates for nature and the environment. We recognized that Kevin and Kris Setnes had started something very special and we wanted to do what we could to continue and build upon their efforts in a sport that we love.
— Timo Yanacheck, race director
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‘These people are insane.’ I said it as I shot the early, early race prep and start, when I saw struggle on the course, and when I saw the first finishers cross hours and hours and hours later.
— Austin Cope, photographer
I knew more or less what to expect from the many other (shorter) races I’ve shot, so I wasn’t surprised by what I saw so much as by the intensity of it. Everything seemed amplified. Runners seemed that much more excited, focused, tenacious; supporters that much more supportive; the air that much more electric. There was a sort of weight that’s hard to put into words.
— Austin Cope
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We believe the Kettle Moraine 100 is special for a number of reasons. One is that our unique course: a long and uninterrupted trail over the geological wonder called the Kettle Moraine, a unique product of the Ice Age. A major portion of our course is on the renowned Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Another special feature of our race is that it is in the Midwest, where the beautiful forest greenery and solitude of the place are often overlooked by persons seeking mountains and beaches for their recreation. And another is that we are blessed with support from hundreds of local runners who share our love for this gem of nature close - but not too close - to some major metropolitan areas.
— Timo Yanacheck
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My assignment was more flexible than usual: as long as I shot the start and first finishers, I was free to shoot pretty much anything else in between. I spent that in-between time (an entire day) hurriedly driving from checkpoint to checkpoint, chasing runners along the course. I had to plan where and when I would be at certain locations. I had to analyze light and shooting angles on the fly. I schlepped a lot of gear, had to drink a lot of water and coffee and put on a lot of sunblock. I got my car stuck in a ditch and had to be pulled/pushed out. I got a ton of bug bites. I sat in a thorn bush. All the while thinking it was all nothing compared to what these folks were up against. These athletes are truly amazing, period.
— Austin Cope
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Everyone I met and chatted with, from runners to their supporters to race staff, was warm, welcoming and supportive. Truly, it is impossible to be around such inspiring people for so long and not come away changed. Because of it, the Kettle 100 remains the event I’m proudest to have witnessed and recorded.
— Austin Cope