Race Report: Bigger Than The Trail Block Party (50K)

Virtual Insanity

Watch Results:
Time: 7:53:16
Pace: 15:12
Distance: 31.12 mi
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals:
A: 7:00
B: 7:30

Food:
What I ate the night before: beef curry with rice, Oreo cookies
What I ate on race morning: cereal, nitro vanilla latte
What I carried with me: water with electrolytes, gels

Gear:
What I wore: t-shirt, shorts, trucker hat
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker

Discussion: That was certainly a new experience. I heard about the Bigger Than The Trail Block Party from my friends Jeff and Amy, and I spent a few weeks hemming and hawwing about which distance to sign up for (they had options from 1 mile to 100 miles), before finally settling on the 50K. I considered doing a marathon and then just continuing if I felt like it, but I decided I would sign up for the ultra distance for accountability. I haven’t run an ultra since last year’s FANS, so it’s been almost a year! Hard to believe.

I didn’t do very much to prepare for this race, which ended up being to my detriment, though all it really affected was the overall time it took to complete the race, and my general attitude during the race. I planned to get going right around 8:00, the “official” start, just so I could get the race over with. I got up at 7:30 or so, and planned to prep two handheld water bottles with electrolyte tabs so I’d easily be able to swap them out. One of them smelled not great, so I filled it with soapy water and left it. I forgot to apply sunscreen before leaving. I also discovered my watch, which I thought I’d charged to 100% the night before, was only at 71% (and then showed up as 95%… and then back to 71% — thank you, Suunto, I think my next watch will be another brand), and had trouble getting a satellite lock when I did try to start. I actually went back inside, plugged it back in, and then re-started. I got going for real at 8:30. The weather was cool-ish, mid-50s F, and a bit humid. I was just hoping the rain would hold off until I was almost done.

I didn’t have a route planned or any planned stops, and while I had time goals, I didn’t do any math as far as what pace I needed to hit to make those goals. I figured I’d just wing it and do whatever it took to finish, even if that meant walking or resting or what. I took my first break after two hours and 8.5 miles, and stopped to use the bathroom (SO much better than peeing in the woods or using a Biffy), rinse off my face (to prevent sweat/sunscreen from getting in my eyes), refill my water bottle, eat half a Clif bar, take off my long-sleeved shirt, re-apply Body Glide, apply sunscreen, and head back out again. I felt pretty strong, and the miles really fell away at first. While my first mile was mostly downhill, I didn’t have an easy course – who knew you could get 2358 feet of vert in the city? I knew, because all my runs seem to be uphill both ways. I chose to walk almost any incline, and it was a nice way to break up the day and give my hips a rest.

I ate half the Clif bar while walking, and then took off again for a longer segment. It took almost 5 minutes for me to get through my rest stop at home, so I wanted to try to limit my stops to when I really needed them. The sun came out a little bit during this section, and I ran through some busier sections where I was dodging people a bit. I felt a little crappy during this section – not quite nauseated, but definitely “off,” and ended up walking a little bit on a flat section just to calm my body down. I started running low on water and started heading for home (this included a long uphill section) – this segment was 11.4 miles, and I did the same bathroom/face wash/water refill/etc. routine, maybe a little bit faster, and then I headed out again for what I thought was going to be my final segment.

I ended up having to return again after 7.5 miles to use the bathroom and get more water one more time. I didn’t have enough water to make it the final 3.7 miles, and I otherwise needed to stop. I did a lot of walking during the third segment, and my running turned into shuffling, which sucked. I probably should have eaten more – I don’t always get typical hunger cues when I’m running, and I don’t always recognize my cranky attitude as a sign of hunger. I should have pre-made a sandwich or grabbed a few cookies or something.

The final 3.7 miles were pretty brutal. My feet were hurting, there was a lot of uphill (my area of St. Paul is VERY hilly, especially near my house), and I checked my watch a few times to see my instantaneous pace and realized I was running so slowly I might as well be walking (so I walked). I got passed by a couple of chatty women out power-walking (can’t avoid gals chatting about domestic stuff even in a solo race!) and then I realized as I was heading into the final stretch that I needed to tack on a little extra in order to be sure that I was going to get 31 miles (Strava sometimes lops off distance, and I noticed that there were some GPS errors during my breaks – I took off my watch during the first two breaks because I was worried going inside my house would mess up my signal, but taking it off caused errors too, for some reason. Why isn’t there a function where you can pause distance but not time?) That was a morale killer, but I was determined to be running when my watch beeped 31 miles, and I was! And I kept running after that for the final tenth of a mile it took to get home.

I finished feeling pretty good! Especially considering there was no finish line energy whatsoever. My heels and toes have blisters, my shoes are toast after my big toes poked through mesh tops (Mizuno — go back to your old fabric), and I have some chafing around the band of my sports bra, but that’s minor. Of course my legs and hips are stiff, but that’ll sort itself out in due time.

I joined a couple of the Zoom events that were part of the BTTT Block Party. They were really fun, there were a lot of really cool people involved in the event. I even got to see someone finishing their 50 mile event live! It seems like a really great organization, and this virtual race raised over $15k! Not bad for a race that only had a $20 entry fee.

I said right after the event that I probably wouldn’t do another virtual race, but that’s not true. I’d do another one if it was inexpensive or if it was a charitable event. This hit both criteria, but I’d do FANS if it ends up being virtual. I just don’t think I’d do a virtual event that cost like $70 (unless I’d already been signed up for the real event).

What didn’t I like about it? Well, it was lonely out there. It was really weird to do an event without any support or any other runners. I missed the energy at the aid stations and the finish lines. I didn’t like not knowing if I really did 50K (thanks to a few bonus tenths from my watch while I was taking breaks), and I hated waiting for traffic and dealing with pedestrians, dogs, skateboarders, cyclists, other runners, etc. I missed aid station food – there’s much more of a variety and it’s so much easier to get in and out. It sucked not to be able to just duck off the trail to pee and get right back on – since I was in a residential area it wasn’t really an option.

What did I like about it? I liked some aspects of choosing my own route – like if I didn’t want to go up a hill right then, I just turned left or right. If I wanted to go back home and refill stuff, I did it when I wanted to, instead of having to wait for the next aid station or having to stop more frequently than I really wanted to. I liked starting from my house, instead of figuring out the logistics of getting to the race start, possibly traveling overnight, or having to drive home after 8 hours of running. I could have done this on a remote trail somewhere, but that would have involved carrying a lot more stuff – it was nice to just have one handheld and not need drop bags or anything.

Overall, I’m glad I did it – who knew when I set my spring race goals two months ago that we’d be in this place, with races canceled left and right, and no expectation for when they might start up again. It was nice to get in a really long run – I can use this formula in the future when I’m doing long training runs – loops around the neighborhood with stops at home, instead of driving somewhere and hauling a pack full of water. It was a reminder that I need to stop fooling around with 10 mile “long runs” and 40 mile weeks if I want to have a successful FANS in August (if it happens, sigh) — I’m not ready.

I’m going to take a week off now. I haven’t taken much time off other than when I was sick in late February. Normally I let races determine my time off, but with nothing on the calendar, there was no “reason” to rest, even though it’s healthy to take time off running even when there are no races on the horizon. I’m really going to enjoy the break!

Running Goals in the Time of Cholera (Spring 2020 Running Goals)

It’s kind of ironic that just as I started to come out of a prolonged running funk (my usual late-winter malaise, plus a sinus/cold situation) just in time for a pandemic and the drastic changes to our everyday lives that have resulted. I’m not complaining about social distancing, I’m very fortunate that it will have a minimal impact on my life, but I do recognize the irony.

I’m also lucky that my reluctance to commit to any races has put me in a position where I haven’t laid out any cash for a race that has been canceled or has the potential to be canceled. I was very close to signing up for Chippewa 50K and/or the Med City Marathon when the new social distancing recommendations started coming out. Even the Boston Marathon has been postponed, I’m not assuming anything about the status of any other races.

So, what is there to work for this season? I’m not sure. Here are my original goals:

  1. Run two races.
  2. Run a mile in two new counties.
  3. Visit two new state parks.

Those goals are pretty weak, but they reflect my mindset the past month or so. I haven’t been able to get any interest in signing up for races. I’m feeling so slow right now, and my workouts feel like a grind. Even racing a 5K seems like a pointless endeavor. Warmer weather, an adjustment for daylight saving time, and better terrain (snow melted, ground dry) should make things feel a bit easier (and if not, I guess I need to seek answers elsewhere), but in the meantime, those are the goals I feel comfortable setting. And even running two races seems like a tough goal considering I don’t know if races I’m interested in will still go on.

So, that’s not an exciting way to start the 2020 racing season, but it could be! There’s plenty of adventure to be had, even with such mundane-seeming goals. And there’s no better way to practice social distancing than by spending time in the woods!

2020 Running Goals

I wrote these goals down on New Year’s Eve, and after ignoring them for three weeks, I haven’t thought of any new ones or decided not to pursue any of them. I still have nothing on my race calendar as of now, and while it’s kind of nice to just plod along running the mileage I feel like running, maybe I’m going to need some structure soon.

  1. Run a distance personal best.
    I’ve been hoping to run 50 miles for the past few years, and I’m inching toward it, but I need to surpass that this year, hopefully by a lot! If I can get it together at FANS, that should be very possible.
  2. Complete more long runs than I did in 2019.
    I only ran 28 runs of 10 miles or more! It’s no wonder I didn’t have a lot of success last year; I wasn’t putting in the work. I’ve decided to set this as a goal instead of trying to beat 2019 mileage (although I’ll strive for that, I’ve found this particular goal has put a lot of stress on me at the end of the year). This will include split runs (say, 5 miles on the treadmill and 5 on the trails), even though those aren’t technically long runs; sometimes in the winter that’s all I can handle.
  3. Do 100 push-ups a day.
    Yes, I have that on here again. I did such a poor job of sticking to that goal last year that I need another crack at it. I need to prioritize strength training, and this is a measurable way to do it that doesn’t eat up a lot of my time.
  4. Start cross-country skiing again.
    I’ve decided in order to facilitate this, I will count x-c skiing mileage in my overall mileage. I set aside my skiing plans because I found I had to choose between running and skiing. Now I can do both and still work toward my goals.
  5. Run a new marathon.
    I’m setting a new multi-year goal for myself, to run every marathon (road and trail) in Minnesota. I’ve done three so far (Moose Mountain Marathon, Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon, and Twin Cities Marathon), but there are so many more! Maybe someday I’ll even enter the canoe division for the Ely Marathon!
  6. Buy a bike.
    This goal will have to wait awhile, as yesterday my vehicle was sideswiped by a truck that drove across the center line of the road, clobbered my poor car, and then drove off without even slowing down, so I will be paying my insurance deductible instead of buying a bike any time soon. I planned to buy one for myself and for my husband last year, but it didn’t make financial sense at the time. I think it will be great for both of us – we can take our bikes for small errands in the neighborhood (coffee runs, short grocery store trips) and we can go on some adventures together. I won’t count cycling miles in my running log or replace running workouts with cycling, though.

In addition to these goals, I’ll still pursue my other multi-year goals of running a mile in every county in Minnesota and visiting every state park in Minnesota. I’ll also continue to set more specific goals for each season, and to build on some of the good habits I set last year (I’m still taking that multi-vitamin, and I’ve only done a handful of treadmill runs so far this year).

2019 Goals Revisited

2019 was a tough year for me. There’s not really any other way to look at it. I barely raced, and the best race I had all year was completed in the first week of the year. I didn’t meet many of the seasonal goals that I set for myself, and I found running to be a chore at times, or anxiety-inducing. I had some external stressors in my life – nothing major, just career-related stuff – that seeped into my training and drained me of the energy and the drive to train and improve.

  1. 2019 mileage > 2018 mileage
    On December 30th, I surpassed my 2018 mileage. It was a weight off my shoulders and a gratifying way to finish a tough year. As late as September 8th, I was 92 miles behind my 2018 pace, and as late as November 12th, I was 78 miles down. I rallied, thanks to a strong push in the last two months of the year (as well some relatively low mileage in December 2018 thanks to illness), and managed to run 1695 miles last year, which was just over 5 miles farther than I ran in 2018. In 2018, thanks to my various illnesses in December, I missed out on my goal of beating 2017 mileage, so it was a relief to avoid a repeat of that disappointment.
    I will admit the stress of trying to run 6 miles a day, 6 days a week, without any extra rest days or short run days, wore on me at times (especially when it was extremely cold out). Once I knew the goal was not only in reach, but could be attained a day early, the stress started to melt away.
  2. Do 100 pushups/day
    I gave up on this goal for no reason. I started off okay the first week or so, and then I quit doing it for weeks. In April-July, I did a pretty decent job of trying to get back on track, but the last quarter of the year, I didn’t do any push-ups. It says a lot about my mental state that I couldn’t be bothered to do push-ups for three whole months.
  3. Run more new races/courses than old ones.
    I only raced five times! It’s surprising to see that. I had two races canceled (Zumbro, which I wasn’t going to run anyway, and the Cosmic 5K in July at the Bell Museum, which was canceled due to a thunderstorm), I DNF the Twin Cities Marathon, and I DNS 3 races (Hot Dash, 811 Run, and Mustache Run). Of the 6 races I ran, they were all new courses! My only repeat race, FANS, was run on a different course. I forgot I’d even set this goal for myself, but hooray for me!
  4. My highest category of training mileage will not be treadmill mileage.
    I track my workouts by category in two different ways: number of workouts, and number of miles. In 2018, 42% of the days I spent working out were spent on the treadmill. (Only 34% of my miles were spent on the treadmill.) I needed to spend more time running outside in 2019.
    This started out poorly, as cold weather, icy conditions, and a lack of motivation meant that I had a lot of treadmill runs in the first 3 months of the year. I dug myself a big hole that took me almost to the end of the year to get out of. The end of the year got a bit stressful because it was cold, and I faced the possibility of two goals conflicting. Should I run on the treadmill, and make it harder to reach one goal? Or should I take a rest day, and make it harder to reach another? It all worked out in the end, thanks to some perseverance on my part (running in 10F weather sometimes) and some warm weather in December. At year end, 31% of my workouts were on paved trails, with treadmill runs coming in second at 28%.
  5. Start taking a multivitamin.
    I totally rocked this! I have only forgotten to take my vitamins a couple days. I even take the bottle on vacation! I just take a regular old generic Target gummy vitamin, nothing special or woo-woo. I don’t know if it has helped much or not, but it hasn’t hurt any. I plan to continue.
  6. Volunteer at a race that isn’t put on by Rocksteady Running.
    I volunteered at The Willow and In Yan Teopa, both put on by St. Croix Running Company. The races are much more low-key than the Rocksteady Events (and I still volunteered at all the ESTRS runs, Afton, and Superior Fall), which makes volunteering a breeze. In Yan Teopa was cupless and that made post-race clean-up SO easy. I had a great time, met some new fun people, and found some new cool places to run.
  7. Go for a run in every county in MN.
    I ran a mile or more in 10 new counties! I found some really cool new parks and trails, and I even checked off Kittson County, one of the most remote counties in the state.

While 2019 was disappointing from a performance perspective, that’s the whole reason that I set goals that aren’t based on time or distance. I achieved 5 of my 6 year-long goals and made significant progress on my multi-year goal. That’s exciting and helps me reframe 2019 as something other than a complete disaster.

Apart from these goals, my race performances, and my seasonal goals, I had an amazing year from a social perspective. I made some new running friendships this year that are incredibly meaningful, I strengthened existing friendships, and my husband came along to volunteer with me for three days at Superior, which allowed him to spend quality time with my running friends and also to experience for the first time the seminal ultrarunning event in my life, the one that five years earlier lit that endurance running fire in my soul. I had the best running year of my life when looked at from a relationship-building experience, and that’s what is sustaining me as I look to 2020.

Fall 2019 Running Goals Revisited

I haven’t had much of a desire to revisit my fall running goals, because I totally sucked at running this fall. I also remember now that I did try to log in to write a post once and I had trouble accessing WordPress and forgot about it. Then I had trouble accessing it again today and freaked out because I thought my account had been corrupted or something.

  1. Marathon PR
    I DNF the Twin Cities Marathon. I’m pretty much over it but it was a big disappointment!
  2. Half marathon PR (official or unofficial)
    This is reaching so so so so so much, but I ran 14 miles at Icebox 480 in 3:46:13, which is faster than I ran the Harder ‘n’ Hell Half Marathon in 2015. So I guess that’s sort of a half marathon PR, even though I don’t know exactly what my half marathon time was. I DNS the Mustache Run due to bad weather – it turned out it rained, snowed, sleeted, and hailed during the race, and I felt pretty confident in my race-morning decision not to run.
  3. 50K PR
    I only ran 14 miles at Icebox 480, which was a serious disappointment in a season chock full of disappointments. I didn’t even write a race report (which was a serious disservice to the race – it’s great fun!) It wasn’t my day, and I gave up on myself, although I also went home and slept for several hours after I got home from the race, which was probably a sign that I wasn’t ready to run that day.
  4. Visit a state park with my friend Laura.
    I didn’t even do that! I am a terrible friend.
  5. Catch up to last year’s mileage.
    I didn’t, but stay tuned for the end of year recap.

I don’t want to dwell too much on how disappointing my fall “racing” season was, because I have moved on and moved forward since then. I’m looking forward to a quiet winter season, setting some new goals for 2020, and then starting fresh in the spring with some big and small successes.

Cooler Heads Prevailed

In case it wasn’t obvious, I didn’t run the Mankato Marathon last weekend. It was a good decision, for many reasons, which I will enumerate here.

  1. It was an overreaction.
    I wanted to run the Mankato Marathon because I was upset with myself for my poor performance/DNF at the Twin Cities Marathon. I was mad at myself for not achieving my main goal for the fall, getting a marathon PR. I have signed up for races on an impulse before, and I am sure I will in the future, but any time I can restrain myself from making a reactionary and overly emotional decision to enter a race, I consider that a win.
  2. It would have expensive.
    The race itself would have been nearly $100, plus I would have needed to get a hotel room the night before the race in order to safely get to and from the race. It’s an hour and a half drive from my house to Mankato, and I’d have needed to arrive there well before race start in order to get my bib and handle the rest of the logistics. We all know I don’t sleep well before races even in the best of circumstances; it’s highly likely I wouldn’t have slept a wink before the race, knowing I had to drive and deal with packet pick-up, and then I’d have had to drive home after running for 5-6 hours. NOT SAFE.
  3. I have two other races coming up.
    I’ve already paid for Icebox 480 and Mustache Run. It’s likely my performance at Icebox would be negatively affected by running a full marathon two weeks before. I can focus on trying to get a 50K in less than 8 hours and set myself up for success now.
  4. I was less ready than I thought I was.
    I ran 9 miles on Saturday afternoon and I felt pretty fatigued after the first 5-6 miles, and that’s after sleeping in! I have had a lot of stress at work lately and I think that affected me a lot more than I realized. My resting heart rate has been up, too, which is another sign of fatigue. I might have ended up crashing and burning again, but without an easy way to bail out this time.
  5. It was really, really, really, really, really, really nice to have a weekend with no commitments.
    I slept in! I ran when I wanted to! I vegged out! It was great. I enjoy running, but with a lot of commitments lately, doing nothing was far preferable to running a marathon. Of course if I’d destroyed it with a 4:55 time or something I would probably feel different.

I’m moving forward and trying to put my disappointment behind me. I hate that I have to wait until next year to get redemption at this race, but I can’t let that get me down. Not every race is going to go well, or even go decently. Time to move on.

Road to Redemption

As you might expect, I am having a hard time coming to grips with my non-performance at Twin Cities Marathon last weekend. I’m questioning my decision to drop out of the race, still wondering what happened, not sure if I’m past whatever it was that did happen, and looking ahead to what I can do to wash the stench of failure off of my body.

I signed up for the Moustache Run the same evening as TCM, but I was planning on doing that anyway. And of course I already have the Icebox 480 coming up at the beginning of November. But I really, really, really wanted to get a marathon PR this year. Early last week, I started searching for another marathon nearby to try to capitalize on my training.

Enter the Mankato Marathon, which is October 19th. No, I haven’t actually signed up for it yet, but I’m still thinking about it. Registration is still open, and the price isn’t going to change between now and race day, so there’s no reason for me to jump the gun. What’s stopping me? Two things: money and health. Pretty important things!

This race has been on my mind so frequently that last night I dreamed about it. In the dream, I signed up and then showed up on race day completely unprepared. The race started and I wasn’t even in my gear! I rushed to get ready and tried to start, and they didn’t let me. The worst possible outcome: paying for a race I didn’t even start, thanks to nothing but my own logistical incompetence! Not ideal.

Money is the most important factor in the decision to run or not. The race is far enough away (the drive is about an hour and a half long) that I wouldn’t feel comfortable driving down there on race day and would need a hotel room. There is actually packet pick-up the day of the race, but the race itself starts at 7:30 a.m. As we all know, I can’t sleep before races even when I don’t have to do much on race day to get to the starting line. Driving for an hour and a half to get to the race start with enough time to pick up my packet, drop off my finish line bag, and get to the start would be extremely stressful for me. I’d almost certainly be driving down on an hour or less of sleep, and then driving back after a sleepless night and 5-6 hours of running. That’s not safe. So it’s either rent a room for the night or don’t run. I had a third option of staying with a family member but I didn’t feel comfortable asking any of my extended family.

The other question is health. Obviously something was up on race day, and I need to be sure that whatever the problem is, I’ve fixed it. I have run a couple times since then (once at Battle Creek, and once on the treadmill) and have felt okay both times, but I’ve felt cold-like symptoms coming on a few times thanks to the cold snap (complete with snow!) and the rain. I’m not going to sign up until I can tell if I have a cold or if it’s just some allergies.

Of course this is a completely crazy and desperate idea. And of course it’s going to be detrimental to my race at Icebox. But it’s still nagging at me, even after a week of pondering it. I’ll make the final decision Thursday, based on my health and also my financial situation. If we get some good financial news this week, and I don’t have a cold, then I’ll go for it. If we get no news or bad news (not catastrophic, don’t worry), or if I still feel sneezy, then I’ll rest up for Icebox and work through my emotions in some other constructive way.

Four more days of equivocating! I’m so excited.