Birkie Trail Ultra Training: Week 1

Last week was tough! High volume training week + unconventional “cross training.”

Monday: 6.5 mi, road
Tuesday: 5.1 mi, trail (Bagley/Hartley)
Wednesday: rest
Thursday: 8.1 mi, road
Friday: 5.3 mi, road
Saturday: 8.1 mi, trail (SHT at Twin Ponds)
Sunday: 16.1 mi, road/trail (West Skyline Drive + Magney to Spirit Mtn SHT)
Total: 49.2 mi

This week of training started off strong, but ended with my confidence in the gutter. I’m trying to separate last week from the first few days of this week, as I keep thinking it’s Monday, but my training reached a fairly low point yesterday. I’ll have to save that for next week’s recap!

I like the format I’ve cooked up (I realize it’s pretty standard), with a mid-week mid-length run, and then a long run on Sunday. I used to do my long runs on Saturdays to ensure I got them in (with Sunday as a back-up day), but now that my spouse works Sundays, it works better for me to use that day to myself to get in my long run. I intended to have a longer run on Saturday (maybe 10 miles), but didn’t get up early enough in the day, didn’t run fast enough (I was really dragging), and had a hard stop due to an appointment to get my cat his summer haircut.

The Bagley/Hartley combo run is a really great way to break up the monotony of Bagley (repeated loops of a 1.7 mile trail get old) while avoiding the construction at Hartley. Since the two trails are linked by the Superior Hiking Trail, it only takes a short jog across Arrowhead road to run both trails in the same run.

I didn’t know this til recently, but Bagley used to be a downhill ski area! My dad and I were out on the pontoon boat listening to music, and he was trying to remember the year “American Pie” came out, based on a memory of skiing on Rock Hill with his friends in the early ’70s. I had no idea. UMD has a brief history of the area on their website, including a photo of the rope tow. It wasn’t Mont Blanc, but it was the only local option until Spirit Mountain opened.

Both Saturday and Sunday, I was hoping to complete my trail runs under the 17:17 minimum pace for the Birkie. Not because I was trying to race my training, but because I was hoping that wouldn’t be a tough pace to hit for shorter runs. It was disheartening to be slower than that for both runs.

Saturday I ran the SHT starting at Twin Ponds and going southwest (roughly). I run this section because Twin Ponds is the closest spot for me to jump on the trail, but I also hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate parts of this section. There’s a climb that seems endless on the way out, and it just wears me down. I think that alone will keep me from ever doing the Wild Duluth 100K, since it comes fairly early on in the race.

SHT altitude

Part of me is like, stop running this section if it’s so frustrating. But that’s the quitter in me. Really what I have to do is conquer this beast. Also I have to stop running it in full sun.

I saw lots of local runners I know out there – I guess that’s what happens when I do my trail runs in the morning instead of in the late afternoon. It was a nice treat to see friends!

Later that afternoon I did a couple rounds of knee-boarding, which I will call my strength training for the day.

Sunday I was absolutely determined to do 16 miles. This is my sole “long run” before Curnow – FANS doesn’t count. Once again, I got up early, but not as early as planned. I was stressed out/feeling guilty because running was going to cut into time spent with my nephews, but I knew I needed to get it done. I kept trying to come up with excuses to shorten it, but I managed to shut up all those voices. I did make a concession and chose to run the majority of it on the road/snowmobile trails instead of entirely on the SHT, in order to save time. It still took nearly 5 hours.

I started at the SHT trailhead near Ely’s Peak (the alternate trail head), but ran down Beck’s Rd to Skyline Drive. That was almost exactly a mile, and mostly uphill (actually the first 2 miles were mostly uphill, but it didn’t feel like mostly downhill on the way back! Very annoying.) It was a bit scary to be running along the side of a road that, while not very busy, has a fairly high speed limit.

I was making great time on the roads, but it was hot, and that started to take its toll on me, especially once I got onto the trails. This section of the SHT contains some fairly technical trail, although there are a few sections near Spirit Mountain that flatten out and are runnable. I ended up choosing to follow the access road at Spirit Mountain rather than getting back on the SHT, and then took a snowmobile trail down to where it meets up again with the SHT at Knowlton Creek. That took a big chunk of climbing off my run.

The short sections on the SHT really dragged. I hated every downhill, because it meant another uphill I’d have to maneuver. I was so sick of the steep, rocky climbs. It was hotter than I had anticipated – 80F or possibly warmer, with little cloud cover. The trail is mostly shaded, but the pockets of sun were tough. Once I got back onto the road, I had about 5 miles left, but I was pretty low on water. I hadn’t filled my pack up entirely, as I’ve never gone through a whole pack of water. That was stupid. I had to ration it the rest of the way, and that slowed me down. I walked long stretches of the road that I had expected to run. Another blow to my confidence. I know the Birkie course will not be that punishing – a cross-country ski race isn’t going to be held on a course full of rocks – but the distance itself is going to be punishing. The important part is I stuck it out, didn’t turn around early, and didn’t stop moving.

I still managed to water-ski and knee-board that afternoon, so again, I got my strength workout in!

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