Distance: 32.25 mi (more accurate than Superior, at least!)
Heart Rate: N/A (still haven’t fixed this)
What I ate the night before: half a spicy chicken frozen pizza, bagel and cream cheese
What I ate on race morning: bagel and cream cheese, part of a vanilla Coke
What I carried with me: 2 Clif bars, 9 Gu packets, Hammer Endurolytes Fizz (one pre-mixed, one extra tablet)
What I wore: t-shirt, shorts, ball cap, buff (which I took off right away)
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker
Discussion: This was really, really hard for me. I struggled with low energy/fatigue for most of the race, which was very frustrating, but is a rite of passage in distance running, I suppose. I wanted to quit a little more than a third of the way into the race, but I never let myself say it (other than in a joking way) or truly consider it. I became afraid at one point that I physically couldn’t continue because I was sleepy and worried I’d get sleepier, but I guess I was able to fight it off.
Friday night I hosted my friend David, who was running the Harder’n Hell Half Marathon. We don’t have any tasty bagel shops in Duluth (only one in Superior which I don’t go to anymore because TWICE I have been served while a baby was in the kitchen area) so I asked him to bring me up a half dozen bagels and cream cheese. So tasty, such a good decision. We went to the Bulldogs men’s hockey game, which was a nice distraction. I avoided caffeine for most of the day, with the exception of one latte mid-morning. I wanted to do everything I could to avoid a sleepless night.
Alas, adrenaline got the best of me and I spent most of the night tossing and turning, unable to relax. I am certain I got at least one hour of sleep, but unfortunately that hour was spent dreaming that I was late for the race. So restful. I really think I need a minimum of 3-4 hours of sleep before a long race. I know everyone says it’s not the night before the race that matters, it’s the night before the night before the race, but I am not sure that adage applies to me. Either that or my sleep was insufficient on Thursday night.
I got most of my stuff ready the night before the race, so I was able to munch on a bagel and dink around on the internet for a little bit before I left for the race. It was balmy and around 60 F, even at 6:30 AM, probably 30 degrees warmer than it was last year at the race start. (I think it was around 37 F when I started the half marathon last year, but I don’t remember exactly.) I arrived around 6:45, checked in, met up with my friend Rita, who I’d be running with, and then we boarded the bus. I spent the bus ride talking with my seatmate, who was running his first 50K in order to get into the Superior 50 Mile next year.
We arrived at the race start at Chambers Grove Park, which is way out in the Fond du Lac neighborhood in west Duluth. There was still half an hour to kill, which was kind of annoying, but at least it wasn’t cold. I probably should have eaten something else, since I went over an hour between my bagel and the race start. I didn’t warm up, Rita and I did a bit of walking around, trying to figure out where the start was.
Start to Grand Portage, 5.4 mi, 1:39:55, 18:30 section pace
The race started at 8:05, and began with a short jaunt up Highway 210 before turning onto the Upper Cathedral bike trails. Rita and I were basically in last place at this point, as planned, and enjoyed the smoothness of the bike trail, the gorgeous foliage (take my word for it, I have no photographs), and even the switchbacks (much better than a steep climb). We had a couple very nice views of the St. Louis River, a lovely section through pine trees, and then… power lines. I never really understood what it meant to run power lines until now: it’s a steep climb, steep descent, steep climb, steep descent. And apparently when running the Curnow Marathon or Voyageur, they’re muddy. Woo! They weren’t muddy but they were steep. Annoying. I had one gel during this section, at mile 3 per my watch (which was measuring long). The first aid station was just after the second power line descent. I chugged some ginger ale and Coke, ate some potato chips and took a few more to go, and then we hit the Superior Hiking Trail, where we’d stay for the rest of the race. Despite the annoying power lines, I felt great and we were happy to be ahead of our goal pace leaving the aid station.
Grand Portage to Munger, 5.6 mi, 1:41:05, 18:03 section pace
Once we got a bit past the aid station we were in familiar territory for me. This section has some uphills, including a couple annoying ones with stairs, but it also has some sections to run. We shuffled through leaves for quite awhile, which gets old. The rustling is a nice sound, but kicking them out of the way was frustrating and they obscure roots and rocks from view. We were banging our toes a lot. This is one of the reasons I get running shoes that are half a size bigger than my regular shoe size. 100K runners started to appear, looking fresh somehow, and always encouraging us as much as we encouraged them. I had another gel during this stretch and maybe a mint, I can’t remember. We spent a lot of time marveling at the views and the fall colors, and reached Becks Road before I knew it. We sprinted across Becks Rd and into the aid station, where I had another Coke and some generic lemon-lime stuff, more chips, and I think a cookie. I remembered to throw my garbage away. Rita’s husband met us there and took our picture as we were leaving the aid station.
Munger to Magney-Snively, 4.3 mi, 1:28:42, 20:38 section pace
Everything kind of fell apart for me here. I knew this section would be hard, it includes a long, technical climb. Somewhere after we climbed up out of the aid station, I started to lose it. I knew there were smooth sections of easy running, but there were so many climbs and rocky sections that we reached before that portion that I began to get frustrated. I was feeling very fatigued and complaining a lot; I feel extremely fortunate that Rita was there to calm me down and I feel badly that I whined a lot during this section. I was sick of uphills and I felt like I had no energy. Mentally, I was feeling very tired, although I wasn’t having any vision problems, so I kept using that to remind myself I was ok when I worried maybe I couldn’t safely continue. It was such a contrast from Superior, where I felt confident and energetic for the majority of the race. I calmed down a little bit when we reached the downhill portion as we neared the aid station, even though I knew we’d lost a lot of ground. We climbed into the aid station and Rita refilled her pack with Heed (which she said was disgusting) while I ate some chips and drank some pop, and then took 4 cookies to go. I figured if I ate some more, I might feel better. I must have had a gel during this section, but I don’t remember. I did have a Jolly Rancher, which helped turn things around.
Magney-Snively to Spirit Mountain, 2.0 mi, 39:37, 19:49 section pace
For a mostly downhill section, this was much harder than I’d have liked. I was still feeling sluggish, plus the trail is very technical here. Both of us are prone to tripping, so we weren’t able to crush the downhills here. We also had to stop and wait for like 8 mountain bikers at a trail crossing. The aid station was unmanned and water only, so we stopped only for a little bit and I tried to douse my hat, since I was feeling a bit warm. It wasn’t extremely hot, and it was overcast, but the humidity was high so it was bugging me. I also wasn’t very diligent about applying sunscreen, and I did end up with a mild sunburn. In hindsight, that might have contributed to my fatigue. I should have done a better job of managing that, as I did have a spray with me. I ate the cookies I was carrying slowly; by the third one I was sick of them and had to force them down.
Spirit Mountain to Highland/Getchell, 4.9 mi, 1:57:50, 24:05 section pace
Yuck. This section took forever. It has two large climbs: the one out of Spirit Mountain, which culminates in my favorite staircase, and then the one out of Kingsbury Creek to the aid station. The Spirit Mountain climb isn’t that hard, it just takes a long time. There is a nice section to run between the stairs and the descent down to the Knowlton Creek crossing (which is technical and hard to really speed through), and I tried my best to speed up through that section, especially since it was lovely with lots of yellow leaves overhead. I don’t think we did very well at speeding through those sections, but it’s so hard to tell because the mileage is so off on my watch. We were both pretty excited knowing we had only a half marathon to go. We maybe spent a little too much time counting down (We’re under 20! We’re halfway! We’re in single digits!) but for the most part we only looked at the distance remaining in a positive way.
The second climb was torture, and went on forever. We were both pretty quiet on the climb, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. I must have had another gel or two during this section but honestly do not remember. At this point I was sick of gels, out of my electrolyte water, and my regular water wasn’t washing them down completely. Rita put it this way: “Is there shag carpeting installed on your tongue?” Yes. I knew there was pop ahead at the aid station to deal with it but it felt like the climb would never end. We reached the aid station finally, feeling fairly defeated because we knew we were never going to reach our goal of under 10 hours, based both on how we were feeling, and on the terrain we had left. I drank pop, as usual, had a couple cookies, and had my second Endurolyte Fizz tablet. I think these tabs worked way better than Powerade, since I did not have puffy hands and fingers like I did at Grand Traverse or Superior.
Highland/Getchell to 24th Ave W, 5.7 mi, 2:02:56, 21:34 section pace
Well, we sped up a bit, but we didn’t get back to our goal pace to try to make up some ground. I still thought it was possible to get under 10:30, so we set our sights on finishing without headlamps and hopefully under 10:30. I took a couple cookies to go from the aid station, which was dumb because there’s a short but precarious descent along Keene Creek, as well as a short section where we had to stumble over rocks. The cookies survived, but carrying them was irritating. Once we climbed up out of the creek and crossed Skyline, there were a few sections we could run a little. Well, I ran, and Rita walked, because she is an amazing speed-walker and I am a very slow runner. There are some spots between the Brewer Park loop spur trail and the descent to Haines Rd that are easy to run, but not when you’re tired and cranky and everything hurts. I discovered my back was chafing in a couple spots I hadn’t known. It always chafes right under the clasp of my sports bra, but when I stuffed my shirt under the band to try to protect that spot, the bottom of my pack rubbed against two spots on my lower back. I didn’t notice til I touched one of the spots and the salt stung it. Yikes. Both of us were having foot pain and were sick of stepping on rocks. My heels had developed blisters, and though they weren’t exceptionally painful, they were enough to annoy me.
We began the final climb, which comes in sections and seems to go on forever, although it isn’t exceptionally difficult at any point. When we reached the top, we whooped it up a little bit, knowing we had a long descent which, while steep, was not an ascent, and then we had some flatter, easier sections. We met up with a runner from Omaha during the descent, and he ran with us for a bit. He was in good spirits and happy to run with us for a little while. We’d passed him earlier when he’d stopped to take rocks out of his shoes and eat a gel. I nearly fell when I saw him, not out of surprise, but because taking my focus off the trail for even a millisecond meant disaster. (I should note that I had only two actual falls and they weren’t bad; the first resulted in a scrape and the second didn’t make my back feel great as I caught myself with my arms and my back took a bit of that impact.) We hit a flat section and told him there was a bit of road running up ahead. “Is there an Uber waiting for us?” he asked, dismayed when he learned we do not have Uber here. When we hit the street, he remarked that he should have brought some leaves along with him to throw on top of the asphalt, it just didn’t seem right. We let him go ahead as we got back on the trail, since he was in better shape. The last section of little ups and downs before the aid station actually wasn’t too bad. Rita’s watch died somewhere in there, and my watch started to die, so I pulled out my portable charger and plugged it in. When we reached the Miller Creek crossing, I said “If there’s traffic keeping us from crossing the street [24th Ave W], I am going to break its windows.” There was a car coming but we dashed across the street before it could reach us. We were both SO excited to see the final aid station. I drank some pop of course, ate a few chips, and took some pretzels and a Fig Newton to go. I had had a gel during the segment but I was so sick of them that I wanted to make it the rest of the way without one.
24th Ave W to finish line, 3.1 mi, 55:41, 17:58 section pace
Leaving the aid station, we knew that we only had a 5K to go, and no huge climbs, and we were ecstatic. I got my second wind and felt more energetic than I had in hours. The Fig Newton was a good choice, it wasn’t chocolate or overly sweet. I was neutral on the pretzels. They weren’t gross but also weren’t tasty. We tried to speed up a little bit on the sections we could, and then took the last couple little climbs as we could. This is where my experience on the Duluth sections of the SHT comes in handy: I knew there were three uphills before Skyline, so we were mentally prepared. We tried to run everything we could, and rejoiced when we crossed Skyline again. We climbed up the last little hill into Enger and I rang the peace bell as we went by (I thought I wasn’t going to get to, because a child was ringing it, but it was free right as I passed). We met up with the guy from Omaha again, and he decided to stick with us til the end. “I got passed by a 100K runner and covered myself in leaves and gave up,” he said. In all, we were passed by 3 100K runners, so I consider that a success. The leader was the same guy leading when we first saw the 100Kers, so good for him! I’m not sure if he went on to win, but I would guess so, considering how strong he looked and the ~10 minute lead he had over the other runner. I’ll see when the results come in, I guess.
We reached the Superior Street crossing and a car was coming, of course just fast enough that we didn’t cross in front of it, but then it slowed down as it approached and finally turned. SO ANNOYING. I started to get a side stitch on the pedestrian bridge but breathed through it. We crossed the freeway and descended the ramp, and then had to wait for a car at Railroad St. (never mind that it was a CROSSWALK, sir, by all means, just drive on through) before crossing. I saw my car in the parking lot which was torturous for a moment, even though I had like 2 blocks to go. We turned the corner, turned again into Bayfront, and then started to really run. Rita and the Nebraska guy got ahead of me, because I had a lot less left in the tank than either of them did, but we all finished within a few seconds.
And now I am an ultramarathoner.
David and his parents arrived second after I finished, and Rita had friends and family to cheer us across as well. Nebraska guy even had another buddy who had already finished. So we had a nice crowd at the end. I walked a little bit with David & fam to cool down, and then walked back to chat with Rita & co. I got this picture from Rita’s friend Jo Ellyn.
I went and got soup in my finisher’s mug, the glorious wild rice soup I’d been dreaming about for hours. I talked with my friends for a bit while I ate a few bites of my soup, and then they went off to the hockey game and I wandered to my car. I was a little worried about driving since I was a little loopy, but it was a short drive. I ate my soup while stopped at a red light, which I found amusing. I hope someone was looking in my window and saw me spooning soup out of a mug like a boss. Once home, I ate a bagel and cream cheese, had a vanilla Coke, ate the other half of my pizza, and had a ginger ale. I watched the men’s hockey game on TV and then read for awhile before finally relaxing enough to fall asleep. Despite being tired, I was amped up on adrenaline and found it hard to go to sleep. It hurt (not a lot, but enough) when the sheets touched my blisters or the chafed spots on my back.
Today I feel all right. I ate a couple bagels, had a pumpkin spice latte because I am unapologetically basic, and had a ginger ale. I’m starting to rehydrate and feel human again. My back hurts a bit, my hips hurt a lot, but surprisingly, I didn’t have trouble going down the steps to my basement or outside my house. I am taking this entire week off work to recover. There’s still a lot to process about the race and how to improve for future races, but overall I feel while this was a less-than-ideal result, it was still a victory.