Race Report: Twin Cities Marathon (Solo)

That was an experience I don’t care to repeat.

Watch Results:
Time: 7:02:58
Pace: 15:12
Distance: 27.81 mi
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals:
A: 6:00
B: 6:30

Food:
What I ate the night before: solo deep dish pizza, slice of cheesy garlic bread
What I ate on race morning: cereal, energy bar
What I carried with me: water (2L), gels

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

Discussion: Well. Nothing went as anticipated, which is to be expected when I do almost no planning.

I thought I could be footloose and fancy-free about this race since the stakes were low, but when I turned the lights off to go to sleep on Friday night, anxiety descended upon me just like it does during a regular race. I don’t know how much sleep I got, but it wasn’t much and it wasn’t restful. Since I was making my own schedule, I figured I could set my alarm for an hour or so later and eke out a little more sleep. Nope. I woke up before that alarm, despite being exhausted. Disappointing.

I hadn’t done much prepping the night before, and while there wasn’t much to do, I wish I’d spent that little extra time putting gels and supplies in my pack and writing out the race route, just to shave off a bit of time. I ate part of a bowl of cereal, until I couldn’t shovel any more food into my mouth, and during the drive to the race start, I ate an energy bar. This was definitely not enough food! I generally underfuel for races (not on purpose, I just haven’t figured out what works), but this was exceptionally bad. I wanted to have my usual bagels but I dawdled on Friday and the bagel place was already closed. Since I started running much later in the day than I would for a regular race, I wasn’t able to rely on residual fuel from my dinner the night before. I didn’t consider that either.

I was able to conveniently park directly at the corner of Portland and 6th, the start of the race. It’s funny because to me, the race “starts” in front of US Bank Stadium, because I’m all the way back in the third corral. Here I was in the first corral, all by myself! (Side note: because the run took so long and then I relaxed at home for awhile, I had to pay $16 to park. Not my worst parking mistake ever, but woof!)

I made it all of a block on 6th before I hit a traffic light. I did not anticipate the impact that all these traffic lights would have on my run. When I was doing my solo 50k, I made up my own route, so I could skip the busy streets and the traffic lights. The TCM route goes down major streets, and without the street closures I was often stuck waiting at lights or stop signs. There were a few times I had to veer off course a bit to find the actual crosswalk or traffic light to safely cross the street. I probably could have crossed against the light a few times, but I am a rule follower by nature and as the race wore on, I didn’t trust my legs to be able to quickly get out of the way of an unexpected car.

While the first few miles of the race were fairly faithful to the race course, things started to get complicated when I got the Lake of the Isles. I couldn’t always count on a sidewalk or trail to be close to the road, and often times the trail that was closer to the road was the bike path. I ended up running on the curb or on the grass for most of the sections around the lakes as well as along Minnehaha Parkway. I hate running in grass, and while the curbs were wide enough to run along, I felt too close to traffic and worried all it took was one wrong step and I’d fall right in front of a car. Once I got past Minnehaha Falls and onto West River Rd, I was able to use the running path (for the most part), which was fine in some ways but also annoying because I was constantly stepping onto the grass or into the bikeway to try to maintain social distance. I am curious how much of the extra mileage I added as a result of adapting to the course without the closed roads, and how much was a result of normal GPS errors (like the giant error at the beginning when going under the Government Center). When I ran the marathon in 2018, my watch read 26.76 miles, which would imply that I added an extra mile of running with the little detours and deviations. That does seem a bit extreme – although I did also add an extra little bit by not remembering where the race ended.

This was my first time using the navigation feature on my watch – I created the route on the MovesCount site, uploaded it to my watch, and then used navigation mode for the race. I ended up not needing it, as the only time I got “off course” was the turn off Lake Harriet onto Minnehaha Parkway, when I took the right side of the creek instead of the left side of the creek, and yet I was still within the tolerances of the program. It did once tell me that I was going off course, but that was when I was finding a safer way to cross Lyndale. It also told me when I was at the end of my course so I knew when to stop running. (Silly me, it was past the actual finish line, but oh well.) It did also drain the battery quite a bit so I don’t really intend to use it that much. My watch went from nearly fully charged (maybe? It does fluctuate quite rapidly, it’ll say 85% charged and then when I attach it to the charge, will change to 71% or something – not thrilled with Suunto lately and probably won’t buy another watch from them, more on that at another time) down to 20%, and for a watch that’s supposed to be for ultrarunners, I feel like it should last a bit longer.

The run itself was nothing special. I walked a lot, although I definitely forced myself to run at times when I wanted to walk, so I guess I did some work on my mental game. I wanted to quit about a thousand times, but I didn’t, so hooray! I was clearly not trained to run a marathon, especially not lugging 2 liters of water with me (and yes I needed that much, I had less than 500 mL left when I finished), though I had hoped to finish it faster. I’m not sure if all the stops for traffic were a help or a hindrance to me – did the pause to recover help me go faster later, or did the pauses just increase my fatigue by drawing out the run longer?

I guess somewhere in my mind I was hoping I’d run faster, that my untrained self would somehow still be able to keep up a decent pace. I ended up running the exact same pace (per my watch/GPS) as I did for my 50K in the spring, which is kind of interesting. I do miss having something to train for – I suppose I could have trained for this, but eh. I’m never going to be able to treat a virtual/solo run like a real race and give it that same effort, so putting in a tough training block seems like a waste.

Maybe I do miss racing. I’d like the chance to train for and run a regular old marathon, and see if I can knock down my PR, get under 5 hours, etc. It’s sometimes fun to do big challenges like this on my own, but when the world emerges from this pandemic and we can have big events again, I’m going to be shelling out the $$$ for races again.

Twin Cities Marathon (Solo) 2020 Goals

Tomorrow, provided I don’t wake up and chicken out, I’m running a solo Twin Cities Marathon. I was planning on doing it last week, the official weekend of the race, but I was feeling kinda crappy due to the colder weather and decided to wait.

I haven’t really done any marathon training and I’ll be running this effort unsupported, so I’m not expecting any miracles here. But I’m fully recovered from my FANS effort and I needed something new to focus on.

I didn’t sign up for the official virtual race, because it was $125, but I am running the race course (provided I don’t take a wrong turn). I’m going to drive myself to the start, park somewhere nearby, and then get my spouse to pick me up at the Capitol when I’ve finished. I’ll probably start around 10:00, which is great for me but also means it’ll consume my entire day. The key here is not farting around at starting at 11:30 or something.

I have to carry a bunch of stuff with me since this is an unsupported run and I’m super slow. I’ll be wearing my hydration pack, carrying gels, my cell phone, sunscreen, probably some money, and a mask, just in case I have to duck in somewhere to use a bathroom. (Are public bathrooms open? I guess I’ll find out.) I’ve done a self-supported long run before (my BTTT 50K back in May), but never a point-to-point one, so I’ll be like a pack mule comparatively speaking.

I don’t really have goals that I’ve been working toward, but I also don’t want to be out there forever, so I’d ideally like to finish in 6 hours. I ran TCM in 2018 in ~5:33, so I guess that would mean I’d be finishing at a pace about a minute slower than I did when I trained and ran the race supported (~13:43 vs 12:43). That’s probably a bit ambitious, but I did a heck of a lot of walking during that race thanks to a side stitch, and I also ran several of my FANS efforts at a faster pace than that. If I finish in less than 6:30 that will be acceptable.

The nice thing is if I fail for some reason, I can go out and try again next weekend, or I can just… not. And if I wake up a bit later than planned, I can just start slightly later. And if I go off course, it’ll just be a Twin Cities Ultramarathon. And if I totally bonk and end up walking it in, there won’t be any SAG wagon chasing me down. I like these low stakes endeavors!

Fall 2020 Running Goals

I have a lot more certainty about my fall running goals than I did about my spring and summer goals. When I started setting my spring goals, I had no idea how long this pandemic would last (and it shouldn’t still be this bad! Ugh!) In the summer, it was clear that there would be long-term impacts to racing and training, but I didn’t re-imagine my approach to running. Now that I’ve made a decision that I’m not going to sign up for any in-person races this fall, and I’m not going to travel too far for any adventures.

  1. Complete 45% of St. Paul streets.
    I got up to 31.74% completion during the summer (I’m currently at 35.38%), so this might seem a bit unambitious. I’m scaling back a bit on this for a couple reasons. It’s getting dark earlier these days, and I don’t want to waste a bunch of waning daylight driving to Como Park to complete some streets. I’m also obsessing a bit over the completion project. I’m barely running any trails (paved or otherwise) because I’m planning out how I can run some boring industrial road instead. Setting a less ambitious goal will give me an opportunity to run more trails, or just run routes I like and haven’t run in awhile.
  2. Complete 25% of West St. Paul streets.
    I’m currently at 16.67% of West St. Paul, which is a little bit harder to complete because so many of the streets are long. St. Paul has a lot of tiny streets that are only a block or two long; West. St. Paul is laid out more like a suburb so the streets are harder to complete. WSP is closer to my home (and easier to drive to) than most of St. Paul, so it’ll be more convenient and will help me maximize daylight. There are a lot of streets without sidewalks, so I’m not thrilled about that.
  3. Run a solo Twin Cities Marathon.
    This might actually turn into a Twin Cities ultramarathon, because part of the course is currently under construction and has a short detour. My current plan is to run it on the proposed marathon day, but that’s weather permitting. I might enlist my mom to meet me at Lake Nokomis to refuel (and maybe one other point along the way?), and I’ll have to figure out how to get to the start (light rail? drive?), but those are logistics for another day. I considered signing up for the official virtual race, but it costs as much as just doing the race, so no thank you. My cousin just ran a virtual Boston Marathon and I was re-inspired by his awesome effort. (Plus he raised like $13K for the Michael J Fox Foundation in memory of his father! Now that’s inspiring.)
  4. Get caught up and ahead on YTD mileage over last year.
    I want to be able to cruise in December, rather than pound out 12 miles on 12/30 in order to barely eke ahead of my previous year’s mileage (as happened in 2019). I don’t need to match 2019’s totals by November (that’s way too ambitious), but I’d like to be like a week (say 40 miles) ahead by 11/30.
  5. Run 3 new trails/parks in the Twin Cities metro area.
    I haven’t done enough exploring around here! I’ve been too focused on new counties and new state parks to check out some of the local options. Since I’m not focusing on traveling outside the Twin Cities right now, this is a great time to find some new urban/suburban trails. Now that summer is over and kids are back in school, perhaps places like Elm Creek won’t be so crowded.

Race Report: FANS Virtual 24 Hour Run

It’s somewhat ironic that when I finally sit down to recap my August adventures at Fort Snelling, it’s about 47F outside compared to the average temperature of 147F (approximately) I suffered through during my race segments. The weather changed on a dime over the weekend, and now I’m huddled in a sweatshirt in my home office, refusing to turn on the heat out of principle, trying to conjure up the misery and fatigue I fought through last month.

My “official” results for my virtual FANS stage race: 100.58 mi in 23 hours, 26 minutes, 50 seconds. I ran all of my segments on the FANS course at Fort Snelling; 100.58 mi translates to 47 2.14 mi loops around Snelling Lake, which I completed in 10 efforts on 9 different days. My friends and family helped raise $1660 for the FANS scholarship fund, part of an overall $27,094.44 raised (as of today) by the race participants. That’s pretty exciting! I’m not sure how it compares to years past, so maybe it’s actually horrible in relative terms.

This race was a HUGE wake-up call for me in terms of my capabilities in a true 24 hour race. At first, I had planned on running one big day and a couple of smaller days; I foolishly thought I could complete this in 3 or 4 days. I mean, I could have, but the results would have looked a lot different. I quickly realized that I could either have a big mileage day or I could get the maximum mileage credit (100 mi), but not both. It was rather humbling to realize just how difficult it would be for me to come close to 100 mi during the actual race. It works out to about 2 loops per hour (bearing in mind that the first FANS loop is longer than 2.14 miles in order to ensure that a runner can reach exactly 100 miles as they’re finishing a loop), and for the first three days, that was about what I was averaging (doing 5-6 loops those first three days).

My 2 loops per hour pace started to break down during the middle of the month, when the weather really started to boil. (Don’t tell me to run in the morning before it gets hot – that’s not going to happen. I’d rather suffer in the heat than get up at 6 AM on a day off.) During my fourth run, everything was going okay until the fourth loop (of six), when it started to get warm. I made it through the fifth loop okay and should have stopped there, because I ended up walking/shuffling my way through most of the sixth loop, and felt pretty yucky when I went home. If that had happened during a race, I’d have been shuffling for hours afterward (just like I did in 2017, although I was also struggling with chaffing and blisters). This happened during a couple other segments – once I quit after four loops, went home to rest, and then returned to do two more; then the next day I did 6 loops and ended up 11 minutes over 3 hours – by far my slowest effort, although at that point I had discovered that I had a small cushion of time, so I wasn’t pushing as hard. Even my final day, I was over that desired pace for the three final loops I needed to reach 100 miles, and I decided not to attempt a fourth loop to get in a bit of extra mileage (for my own purposes only, as I couldn’t get any additional cumulative mileage credit).

Of course there were things that worked against me that wouldn’t be present in a race. I was wearing a 2L hydration pack for most of my efforts, in order to avoid stopping. During a race, I’d be able to refill a water bottle at an aid station and also drink stuff other than water. I’d also have access to more food (beyond the gels I was muling) and I’d have eaten more pre-race (vs. eating a normal amount because I’m trying to shed a few pounds here). There would be a better atmosphere, with other runners to chat with and a big pick-me-up from the lap counters each time I came through. And there would be nice clean biffies to use, instead of… well, just going home. (TMI but the restrooms are closed due to the pandemic, and the existing biffies seemed… shady, and there’s not really a great place to jump off the trail for a minute, especially since there were a lot of other folks on the trail.) And of course in a race, I would be starting in the cooler morning hours, and would be several hours into the race before the heat of the day hit me. I’d have been rested, and I certainly would have put in more training hours.

While that’s all true, so much more would be working against me. The compounding fatigue of hours on the trail. The likely sleepless night beforehand. Mental lows that slow me down. Distractions like crew and aid stations and chairs. Chaffing and blisters and sunburns and upset stomachs. Fear and self-doubt. You know, all the fun stuff. I am telling you, it really sucks to be slow. Everyone deals with all the baggage I just rattled off, but man, it would be like 100000x easier to deal with that if I wasn’t also starting off like 3-4 minutes slower than the average runner.

My friend Jamie posted on her coaching and physical therapy page asking people to consider how their negative thoughts might be impacting them, especially negative thoughts about their own speed. But that’s in relative terms. We all have days when we don’t feel our best, but I wonder what it must feel like to not do your very best and still fall within the middle of the pack. It probably sucks but also it can’t suck as much as not doing your very best and therefore falling off a cliff into the abyss of cutoffs and sag wagons and results that are so many standard deviations from the mean that you’d rather they just didn’t exist.

Trying out a 100 mi/24 hour pace on the actual FANS race course really drove it home how hard it would be for me to actually keep that up during a real live FANS event. And yes, this is ultrarunning, it’s supposed to be hard, and obviously my past results should be evidence that I’m going to struggle mightily to maintain that pace consistently for longer than 3 hours – it still ate away at me. I’m at this point in running where I either need to get serious, like really really serious, or just accept my limitations. It’s probably going to be the latter, because honestly I can’t see myself agonizing over my diet, paying for coaching, and spending even more time running and doing strength workouts, when it’s still likely going to result in marginal gains.

Not training or racing has triggered a descent into nihilism, it appears. I’m at peace with this.

I don’t have anything else on the calendar in 2020, so this plus the Bigger Than The Trail 50K will conclude my racing season, unless another virtual event comes along that promotes a worthy cause and/or is priced appropriately for a virtual event. I know in-person races are starting to crop up again, but I’ll leave those spots for folks who are really hungry to race. I’m not, and I also don’t really feel like it’s worth the risk. These are strange times, and I’ll just let them be strange.

Summer 2020 Running Goals Revisited

Somehow August has ended? There hasn’t been much to say. Without racing, my training has been haphazard and purposeless, so there’s not much to discuss. I did finish FANS over the course of the month, and spent a lot of time circling Snelling Lake pondering my life and my running and why I was doing anything.

My last post was outlining these goals, so reproducing them here seems silly, but I like following this format.

  1. Run a mile in three new counties.
    I ran in Chisago County, so I get 1/3 here. I got wrapped up in FANS during August, and I also didn’t really feel like traveling too far outside of the metro area while facilities are closed. With more people outside these days, it’s so hard to find a place to pee in peace!
  2. Visit three new state parks.
    I ran at Wild River State Park (which was okay, but there was a long section of sandy trail, some overgrown grassy areas, and bugs, so I was miserable – it might be better in spring or fall?) while hitting up Chisago County, and I ran at Minnesota River State Recreation Area, which was also buggy, also overgrown in areas, and also very frustrating. Why don’t I ever remember that I hate trail running in summer? I hate flies so much. Score: 2/3.
  3. Reach 25% completion of the streets of St. Paul
    As of 8/31, I’m at 31.74% completion! I started at 10% and really cruised! I also got my husband hooked on CityStrides and we compare notes when we’re both finished with our workouts (we work out separately).
  4. Fundraise at least $500 for FANS.
    My friends and family helped me raise $1660! And as of this post, the entire event raised over $20k! This is truly exciting. I’m looking forward to fundraising next year for an in-person race! Maybe that’ll be the accountability that I need to get through the night.

Overall, not a bad performance. If grading on a strict completed or not scale, I’m at 50%. If partial credit is allowed, then 62.5%! Either way, not impressive but these are strange times.

Summer 2020 Running Goals

I’m not sure what to put here. There aren’t likely to be any real races this summer, and even if there are, I don’t think I’ll be comfortable participating. So, what to do?

  1. Run a mile in three new counties.
  2. Visit three new state parks.
  3. Reach 25% completion of the streets of St. Paul
    I discovered CityStrides a few weeks ago and since then, I’ve been obsessed with trying to run every street in St. Paul. I was at 10% at the start of June, so I’ll have to complete another 15% during June-August.
  4. Fundraise at least $500 for FANS.
    FANS has been canceled, but the students who depend on the program’s scholarships still need our help. I’m waiting on the options that the race director sends out (a virtual race? some other type of fundraising event?) and then I’ll figure it out. I’m at $175 because I paid my entry fee before the race was canceled; I wanted them to be sure they got my money no matter what.

These might not be super exciting goals, but they are enough to keep me busy without races to run or support.

Spring 2020 Running Goals Revisited

We’re almost a month into June and I have hardly thought about running at all. I mean, I am still running, but without a lot of thought. I just go out and do it, since there’s nothing to train for.

There’s not much to discuss with my spring running goals (they weren’t that exciting to begin with), but I still feel the need to be consistent with my posts. Spring running goal evaluation:

  1. Run two races.
    I ran one race, a virtual 50K. That was the only option; all in-person races were canceled. I didn’t find any other virtual races that were reasonably priced.
  2. Run a mile in two new counties.
    I did my best to stay near home the last few months, so this was tough to do. I think I got in one new county, Anoka County, but I can’t verify that because my counties list is on my desk at work.
  3. Visit two new state parks.
    Again, tough to do without driving quite a bit. I did visit William O’Brien State Park back in March, which was okay. It was still pretty snowy there, so the run wasn’t very entertaining. I will have to go back again and try out the full park now that the snow is gone.

Not a great performance, only 50%, but when I wrote those goals I had no idea what this pandemic would look like. So many race I love have been canceled. So many conveniences I took for granted, like bathrooms at state parks, have changed the way I approach my runs.

As far as my overall 2020 running goals, I am doing okay. I’m right on track with my number of long runs and I am averaging 100 pushups a day (I’ve missed a few days, but made up for them with >100 pushups on other days). I didn’t get any cross-country skiing done – I never took the time to wax and prep my skis. I’ll have to wait til November or December to hit this goal. I’m planning to buy a bike and have a model picked out, thanks to my friend Waylon, but the bike shop in my neighborhood is closed due to the pandemic. They are accepting online orders, but I don’t know anything about what size bike I need, and would like to test ride a few, so I’ll have to call them and see if there’s a test ride option. FANS has been canceled, but if there’s a virtual option, I will go for a distance personal best and fundraise. I don’t think I’ll have the choice to run a new marathon, unless the Mankato Marathon goes through, or some other late fall marathon. (The Fargo Marathon is occurring in August, but I don’t think North Dakota is handling the pandemic very well, and I also don’t want to run a marathon in North Dakota in August.)

It’s kind of nice, saving money on races, spending less time traveling for races and long runs, and doing my own thing, but I do miss the structure of a training plan and the support and atmosphere of a race. Still, it’s a small price to pay to keep hundreds of thousands more people from getting seriously ill or dying.