Division (open): 107/112
Distance: 17.87 mi (LOL, no)
Heart Rate: 162 bpm
What I ate the night before: Bagel with cream cheese, banana, pretzels
What I ate on race day: Banana, bagel
What I carried with me: 2 handheld water bottles (1 for water, 1 for strawberry lemonade Powerade), 2 protein bars
What I wore: Long sleeved tech tee, tech hoodie, running tights, buff (as headband), baseball cap, gloves, short socks
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker
This is a tale of risk and reward. I have whined and complained and looked for any reason not to run this race over the past week. The weather annoyed me, but then I thought of the people tougher than me running the 100 and 50 races, and the volunteers willing to brave the elements. Then my cold returned, but I drove down anyway, because the room was paid for and I needed to fulfill my promise to volunteer. Then I slept horribly and decided in the middle of the night that I couldn’t race. I would sleep in some, and then go volunteer.
Nevertheless, I completed the race, felt mostly great during it, and even came in under my goal. A freaking miracle. Or something that was always possible, I just didn’t have the information to confirm it.
The last hour or so of the drive from Duluth to Wabasha (where I stayed) was gorgeous. I’ve never been past Red Wing in Southeastern MN. The bluffs were stunning, as was Lake Pepin, which is enormous. The drive took a little over four hours, including a quick detour to pick up bagels, which turned out to be my dinner and lunch.
I checked into the hotel and then drove out to the race start/finish area to volunteer. I was assigned to work in the timing tent with some friendly people, including last year’s winner. Trail people are the best: even the elite runners in the community contribute. We had a good time gathering data as runners came through for their laps. Most were finishing their 3rd laps as they came through, though the leaders completed their fourth laps while I was on duty. We had sufficient staff that I was able to leave a little early, which I didn’t want to do, but I wasn’t feeling well.
I went back to the hotel and did all the prep work I could. I set out my clothes, charged my watches, and ate some food. I thought I was being super prepared by opening up my protein bars and tearing them into small pieces, since their wrappers are hard to open and the bars can sometimes be hard to tear with teeth when it’s cold. And it was cold. It got down to 18 F overnight, which is I believe the coldest it’s ever been for a Zumbro event. The 17 mile race start was in the mid-20s F, I believe. I also put some mints in a snack-sized bag in case I was a little nauseated, and I had a pharmaceutical bag with a Pepto tablet, antacids, and ibuprofen. (I know ibuprofen is not recommended for distance running, I also didn’t want to end up with menstrual cramps ruining my race.) I turned out not to need anything other than the protein bars (of course), but my bite-sized pieces mushed into larger lumps, so it wasn’t a total success. It was easier than eating one out of the wrapper, I will say.
I went to bed at a decent time, after soaking in the bathtub in my hotel “suite” (a fancier single room), hoping to fall asleep quickly. I was so nervous about the race that I tossed and turned the night away and slept in fits and starts.
I got ready fairly quickly, since there wasn’t much to do, and drove to the race start, arriving at maybe 8:10 or so. I checked in and then looked around for my friend, who was also running the race. There is truly no cell service in the race area, so it was amazing I found him so quickly. We sat in my car while I filled one of my water bottles with sports drink and I pinned on my bib and took off my winter coat. It’s not great that a winter coat was necessary in April. I slathered some Vaseline on my nose and we decided to mill around at the start. There wasn’t much else to do. Probably should have warmed up, but didn’t. I never learn.
The race started around 9 after a short, funny briefing from the race director. The 17 mile race has a slightly different start than the other races, due to the large number of entrants. We followed the RD, who was on an ATV, up a road instead of hopping right onto the single track. That supposedly spread out the runners a bit. I’m not sure if that’s the case because I was in nearly last place at the time. There was plenty of room for me to run! I spent most of the race alone, which was fine with me.
I have to go with my GPS data when discussing the race, because I have no other splits, but it was off by over a mile. I thought by planning my average pace, I’d be in good shape, but that doesn’t help when the distance is off. I needed instead to calculate what time I’d need to be at each aid station in order to make my overall time goal. I had WAY less of a cushion than I thought. According to my GPS, I hit 16.7 miles in 4:33. Now that would have been incredible. I suppose it doesn’t really matter because I don’t have a very good recollection of this race, mile for mile.
I didn’t run this race at an aerobic pace. I barely paid attention to my heart rate at all. It maxed out at 188 bpm when I was climbing the second of the four big climbs. I noted when the climbs were coming (race start, 6.5 mi, 7.5 mi, and 10 mi, or so) as well as the approximate distances between aid stations (they were really close! The farthest distance between stations was 4.33 miles.) It was nice to have that information socked away, it made the race more manageable. It was also great not to have a big climb during the last 7 miles of the race.
I was passed by multitudes in the beginning of the race, as I expected/planned. After the first mile (maybe less), no one else passed me permanently. I was on the chase for the remaining 16 miles. One woman passed me heading into the first aid station, but I didn’t stop at the aid station, and she never caught back up. I caught up to a couple of 50 mile runners on their final lap after I left the aid station, and stayed with them off and on until they stopped at the picnic pavilion at the top of the 3rd climb. They didn’t finish too long after I did, so they must have rallied.
I started hunting people down on the hills. I am (comparatively) good at climbing hills, thanks to my experience running in Duluth. They really suck, and there were some STEEP climbs in this race, but I think hills defeat many people mentally before they do physically. I refused to be defeated by the hills and just kept chugging away slowly, heart rate be damned.
I whined about the sand when I found out about it, but it wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t like running at Park Point, where half the beach comes home in my shoes. There are a few short stretches of sand early in the race, but the longest stretch of sand is between the 2nd and 3rd aid station (it’s the same station, visited twice). I caught my foot on a branch and tripped in the sand, which was lovely. I wasn’t hurt and only got a little bit of sand on the tip of my water bottle, so it wasn’t a disaster. It threw me off, and then the sand stretched on a bit, so I was a little low, but I hit the third aid station pumped up again.
The final big climb began when I left aid station 3. It was really tough, and followed up by a VERY challenging downhill, with all kinds of rocks. I encountered a 100 mile runner on the way down. The poor guy was injured I believe, and was inching down the hill by holding on to the shoulders of his pacer in front of him. Rescue was on the way when I got to the bottom. *Update* He finished the race! Amazing. I came across this account from the fellow who was helping the runner down the hill; it turns out he wasn’t the runner’s pacer, but a spectator and a true Trail Person willing to help someone in need.
The reward for reaching the bottom of the hill is a flat gravel road and then the bridge to aid station 4. After that, it’s fewer than 3 miles to the finish, and just a few uphill battles to wage. The actual finish did seem like it would never come, but I was so excited to come down the long stretch of grass I’d seen runners come through the night before. I was really pleased that I was able to run it in to the finish. My friend and his parents saw me coming and literally had to yell to get my attention, since I wasn’t expecting them. I got a nice welcome from the race announcer in the timing tent; volunteering has its perks! I’m not 100% sure what he said, but it was more than just “here’s Runner XXX from City, State.” Or, “can we get a bib number on that?” Which happened a lot. I learned from the night before and had my bib positioned on the left side for easy viewing and easy scanning from the timing mechanism. “It read beautifully,” I was told after I checked in to say hi after the race.
I ate eggs and bacon and cookies and fig newtons post race and it was glorious. I didn’t feel barfy at all during the race and only had mild worries about stomach cramps. For the first few miles my head was a little fuzzy due to a little bit of congestion, but it mostly cleared up. I coughed plenty during the race and had a few rather painful coughs after the race ended, but I must have just had to shake something loose. My nose, on the other hand, was RAW. I had a runny nose for most of the race, and of course was being gross and just wiping it on my sleeve, because what else could I do? I’m not good at snot rockets. I had a lip balm with me and finally became so bothered I dug out the lip balm and smeared it on my mouth and nose. Heavenly. I need to find a better way to carry stuff than the pockets of my water bottle hand-holders. It’s challenging to get stuff out (because I jam so much in them) and moreso when I’m carrying both handhelds.
I would absolutely, without a doubt, run this race again. The course is challenging but I really enjoyed it! I’m not sure I would enjoy it 3 or 6 times, but maybe. It is well-marked (I did hear of some wrong turns though), although I did have a few “OMG am I on the trail?” moments, even though there was nowhere to take a wrong turn. I’d come across a “reassurance” marker eventually, though. Everyone was so friendly, the food was delicious, the swag was amazing (I was only deterred from getting a hoodie because I didn’t have cash to pay for it), and the scenery was heavenly. I can see how the trail could get extremely muddy, so while it was cold (and terribly windy for the Friday runners), we were fortunate for mostly dry trails. There was some mud, and it was a little tricky to navigate without slipping, but not impossible.
I hung around for a little bit post-race, and then went back to my car, intending to hang out in it for awhile before driving back, to make sure I wasn’t out of it. I felt pretty good though, and actually didn’t even feel cold, which surprised me. I went back to the hotel, drew a bath, and then lounged around for the rest of the day. I didn’t hurt physically, but I was worn out. I drank a couple of vanilla Cokes, ate some bagels and other snacks, drank some water, and rested. I need to bring some more substantial food next time; I really should have left the hotel in search of a real dinner, but I didn’t.
Sunday I felt ok. A little tired and cranky, and my hips were creaky, as usual. I desperately needed coffee and stopped for a latte in Red Wing, which was the closest Caribou. (I wanted to hold out for Sbux but the closest one was inside a Target in Hastings, and I wanted no part of that.) It took forever thanks to a billion people at the drive thru plus some annoying dude in front of me taking 11 guesses at the trivia question. This is irrelevant to the race recap but it annoyed me and kept me from feeding my addiction. I stopped in the Twin Cities as well, to break up the drive and move around a bit.
I am so glad I didn’t quit before the race even started. I got a nice dose of endorphins and a confidence-boosting result. And I only have to suffer through a few more days of cold weather before we get some 50 F days in Duluth! I’m ready to take a few days off and then regroup for Superior.