Race Report: Polar Dash Half Marathon

Official Results:
Time: 2:27:30
Pace: 11:16
Placing:
Overall: 307/354
Gender: 153/182
AG (F30-39): 46/55

Watch Results:
Time: 2:27:39
Pace: 11:27
Distance: 12.9 mi (???)
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals: (just trust me on this, I know I didn’t publish them ahead of time like I usually do)
A: 2:30
B: 2:32:01 (PR)

Food:
What I ate the night before: Jersey Mikes #13 sub
What I ate on race morning: bagel with cream cheese
What I carried with me: 3 gel packets (I ate 2, at miles 5 and 9) and a disposable water bottle

Gear:
What I wore: t-shirt, tights, hoodie, buff, gloves
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker

Discussion:
What a great way to start the year! I signed up for this race several weeks ago and started to regret it because I realized it could be cold. Apparently last year it was like 0F. NO THANK YOU. I’d have stayed in bed and eaten the entry fee. I asked one of my friends if she wanted to join me and she said she liked to wait til closer to the start for winter races because of ice. Oh yeah, I hadn’t even thought about that, whoops. But it didn’t matter! Because the weather was amazing and the race course was almost completely clear!

I didn’t sleep well the night before the race, although I didn’t have my usual pre-race panic-as-soon-as-the-lights-turn-off nonsense. I have been having trouble sleeping the past week or so in general. I still think I got 3 or 4 hours of sleep which isn’t bad, although I still woke up BEFORE MY ALARM WHAT IS THAT and considered rolling over and going to sleep for several hours more. Honestly, the only thing that kept me going was reminding myself that I would have to get it done, one way or the other, since I’m back in ultra training again.

I wasn’t sure how this race was going to go since I’ve had a really terrible December, running-wise, and I haven’t run double digit mileage since November (my last half marathon, actually). It was good in the sense that my legs were well rested, but bad in the sense that I have had a lot of fairly sluggish runs lately. Many of them have been on the treadmill, so it’s likely a lot of that slowness is mental. I did almost nothing to prepare – I had a vague idea of the course as I run in that area all the time, and I checked the night before what kind of pace I needed to run to hit a PR. I didn’t set out any clothes or (obviously) write up my goals or do anything beyond purchasing a bagel bundle with cream cheese yesterday so that I could have my favorite morning snack.

I knew I had plenty of time to get to the race, since it’s so close to my house, and that I could park for free instead of paying the $10 to park near the pavilion. When I did the Night Nation Run, I walked all the way there and back, but that was an untimed 5K in summer. This was a half marathon in winter – even though it wasn’t frigid, I didn’t want to risk getting cold post-race while walking home. I parked and then did my warmup by running down the hill and to the pavilion. I got there with about 15 minutes until race time, and the pavilion was open for runners. At signup, I had misunderstood the website and thought I’d have to pay $5 extra to have access to the heated pavilion, but that turned out to be for spectators only. That was a really great idea, actually! It made sure that there was plenty of room for runners, instead of getting swarmed with people’s family and friends. I didn’t want to pay the extra fee for having my packet mailed or picking it up on race day, so I picked it up on my way home from work the night before. I love races in my neighborhood! So convenient! It takes so much of the worry away for me – I fret a lot over dumb stuff like parking and getting lost, and I didn’t have to worry about that at all!

The race started along the riverfront outside the pavilion. It was a lovely view in the dim morning light – the sun hadn’t fully reached us down there below the bluffs at race start. I lined up right behind the 2:30 pacers, figuring if I stuck with them I’d finish in like 2:29:55 or something. They were a couple of nice, friendly guys who knew each other, and they chatted the whole way, which — we all know by now how I feel about chatting during the race, but I actually found it helpful at times because they were making pace-related comments. We looped around under the Wabasha Street Bridge, then came out and crossed Wabasha Street and headed back in the opposite direction. We passed the pavilion area in the first mile, and I realized my watch was already behind – I was only at 0.95 miles, when it’s usually ahead. The pacer guys’ watches were slightly ahead so I realized it was probably a glitch on my end, and it turned out it was.

stravapolardash

What is this???

The next section was a loop down Water St. to the 35E bridge, a route that I have run several times. There were a couple of water stops along this section, but I ran through them since I was carrying a bottle of water. I found it much easier to keep a rhythm going if I didn’t have to stop to get a cup.

I played leap frog a bit with the pacers: I’d get in front of them, they’d catch up, and so on and so on. I only got behind them once or twice, and that was only a step or two. I wondered if my pace would fall off, or if I would start to get mentally weak, but it never seemed to happen. I thought it was happening, every time the pacers caught up to me I thought I was slowing, but I finally asked them and it turned out they were sometimes speeding up rather than me slowing down! I also learned they were ahead of the 2:30 pace, so I knew if I stuck with them or slightly ahead of them, I’d come in ahead of my hoped-for A goal.

The course turns around just before 35E (about 4 miles in, I think) and then loops back around to the start. Somewhere just before we turned off the road and onto the Mississippi River Trail (maybe mile 5 or 6?), I got passed by the lead runner in the half. That was a little demoralizing – getting lapped on a 2 loop course! But the first loop is longer than the second, and this guy was flying (I believe he ran 1:13), so I can’t even be mad! At the course turnoff, I got a little confused – there was no one ahead of me and I couldn’t tell where to go. The 10K runners/second loop half marathoners were streaming at us from the road so I figured turning off the road was probably correct, but I asked the pacers and they weren’t sure, and only at the last minute did a volunteer turn around (they were focusing on crowd control from the 10kers and faster half runners) and confirm we were going the right way. And then we didn’t really see anyone ahead of us – there was a GIANT gap between us and the next set of runners for awhile. Just before the second turnoff, the second place half marathoner ran by us. So, hooray, only lapped by 2 people!

We passed through the start area again, and it was totally deserted. We still couldn’t see any other runners! I was almost certain we were in the right area, but it was so odd to have no one in front of us. Finally we spotted some people as we got closer to Wabasha St. I have to say, I really liked that the first loop was a mile longer than the second! I knew when I started the second loop that I had done over half the race, and I was still going strong. I remembered from the Moustache Run that I wished I hadn’t waited so long to eat my first gel, and that I should have eaten a second one, and I made sure that I didn’t let that happen again. It definitely helped!

I started to pass more people starting around mile 8 or 9. I overheard one guy saying he was never going to run a Team Ortho event again because the mile markers were too confusing. Look, it’s a two-loop course, sir. It’s not that hard. If you’ve been running for 2 hours and see a sign for Mile 2, use some common sense, please. And if you see a sign for mile 3 and one for mile 5, then try to think – which one comes sequentially after the last one you saw? THINK MCFLY, THINK. Now, I am a person who made lap-counting signs for my friend to hold up when I was running an indoor 2-mile race, and I definitely forgot what lap I was on during FANS many, many times, so I can relate to getting confused during a race, but it seemed like an extreme reaction. There are lots of other reasons not to run their events – like, they are very expensive, for example!

The second loop really seemed to fly by. Honestly, the whole race did! It hardly ever felt labored or unpleasant. The conditions were perfect – not too warm, almost no wind, mostly ice- and snow-free terrain. There were a few tiny hills, rarely was it ever truly flat, but it felt flat. I feel like I ran a fairly evenly-paced race, but it’s really hard to tell because my watch was so off. I had a rhythm going, at least. I should have hit a couple split buttons along the way just to see how I did as the race went on – there weren’t any intermediate timing mat results. I’ve had some trouble with running too hard at the start and then tapering off at the end (it happened in TCM and the Moustache Run), but the course conditions changed a bit in those races. TCM has a couple hills in the second half, and the Moustache Run has a few as well (though it has the same hills, the other way, in the first half) and I also had some changing weather there, with the temp dropping as the day went on, and running into the wind in the second half. So of course it’s easier to pace a race without much variation. I’m not going to give the course all the credit though, I think I did a good job pacing and holding back at the beginning, too.

In the last mile, I did try to speed up a bit as soon as I saw the flag, since I knew the course well and I felt like my legs had more to give. I finished the last few sips of water in my bottle and planned to toss it away at the final water stop, which was about half a mile from the end. I passed a guy who decided to try to pass me back, and I don’t think it went well for him as he ended up dropping back just as we reached the water stop/turnoff. I tossed my water bottle (yes, it was single-use, but I have used it more than once!) and cruised away from him onto the pavement. I was mentally chastising myself for wanting to stay in bed this morning – I’ve got to remember that it’s almost always better to get up and run the race! (Surf the Murph is an exception.) I saw the mile 13 flag at the top of a small hill, and ran it on in.

I felt really great! Probably like I left something in the tank, but maybe not, since I’m still pretty tired this afternoon. But I felt happy and a little bit out of it, so I feel like that’s the hallmark of a solid effort race. I got my medal, wandered around a bit to clear my head and calm my body, and then picked up my post-race snacks (granola bar, Cheetos, gorp mix) and this cute penguin hat they give to all race-day participants. I watched the start of the timed and untimed 5Ks (they start late because there are multi-race challenges – e.g. run the half and the 5k, or the half, 5k, and 2.019k), thought about taking a couple of pictures, and then decided to just walk back to my car.

As I mentioned, I ran down the hill for my warmup. That meant I had to go up the hill for my “cooldown.” It didn’t kill me, as I wasn’t completely noodle-legged and my lungs were fine, but it wasn’t super fun either. I stopped and took a selfie about halfway up, just for fun. I got kind of cold while I was walking back, since I was all sweaty and my sweat was getting chilled, and that reinforced my decision to drive to the top of the hill, instead of coming from home. I picked up a latte before heading home to eat two more bagels and watch Star Wars while vegging out on the couch. Oh, and doing my daily pushups! I’m at 40! Eventually I’ll take a shower.

I am very excited to have gotten such a big PR – almost 4:30 dropped in just a month & change. Obviously the better weather and easier course helped a lot, but so did experience, improved pacing, and the motivation of trying to stay ahead of the pacers. Half marathons are so fun! I don’t know if I’ll make one a goal race in the near future, but I am definitely going to use them as training runs and as I get closer to an interesting milestone (2:20?), I might zero in on one as a goal race. In the way, way, way back of my mind, I’m hoping to run a 5 hour marathon this year, so this is an important step forward toward that. I’m not there yet, but I’m on my way.

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Race Report: Moustache Run Half Marathon

Official Results:
Time: 2:32:02
Pace: 11:37
Placing:
Overall: 356/384
Gender: 157/177
AG (F35-39): 24/25

Watch Results:
Time: 2:32:04
Pace: 11:20
Distance: 13.41 mi (not sure what the culprit was here)
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals:
A: 2:30
B: 2:35
C: 2:45

Food:
What I ate the night before: Jersey Mikes #13 sub, homemade chopped salad with homemade peanut dressing, homemade apple pie
What I ate on race morning: bagel with cream cheese, part of another bagel with nothing on it
What I carried with me: 3 gel packets (I ate 1)

Gear:
What I wore: t-shirt, tights, hoodie, buff, gloves
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker

Discussion:
I finally ran a road half marathon! Hooray!

I got a great night’s sleep the night before (okay 5 hours, but for the night before a race, that’s amazing).  I find this ironic considering this is the least prepared I’ve been for a race in a long time, with the exception of Surf the Murph. I didn’t do any specific training, most of my runs lately have been half-assed treadmill efforts, and I’ve been sick. I guess my brain was like “okay, it’s ‘just’ a half marathon, you have training runs longer than this.” Yeah I do, brain, but I also don’t try to run fast in training runs. I would like to know what was different about this race. Logistics were very easy, but I have had many races with easy race day logistics (like Superior – literally roll out of bed, walk to bus, get on bus), plus I did worry about finding parking and stuff so it’s not like I was super chill. I’m very happy I slept well, but I wish I could recreate that for future races.

The weather was really terrible on Friday. I had a great run in the early afternoon; I ran across the High Bridge in St. Paul for the first time. It has been closed since before I moved. I didn’t consider that there was a Wild game that afternoon, so I ended up dodging earlycomers (WordPress spell check says that is not a word!) while running along 7th Street.

It was really warm! Like in the mid 40s F, and there wasn’t much wind so it felt really mild. I wasn’t sure what to wear to the race as a result – I was overheated in a hoodie and t-shirt, but the forecast was for a colder day on Saturday.

An hour or so after I finished running, it started to rain, and it rained all afternoon, all evening, and well into the night.  Concerning! I thought it might get below freezing and then I might need to bring my skates to the race instead of my shoes. I went shopping (for records and for a new laptop, which I am using to type this!), then went home and did laundry. Most of my running gear was dirty and I wanted to be able to wear my favorite stuff to the race. The tights that don’t feel like they’re falling down, the hoodie with pockets, etc. Also I needed to wash my gloves since they were covered in snot from my run on Wednesday when my sinuses were emptying.

Back to race day, now. I set my alarm for 6:30, hit snooze, and then got up at 6:50. Clothes were all laid out (in a heap on the living room floor, not in a nice pretty flat lay), so I got dressed quickly and then ate a bagel and cream cheese, much to the chagrin of my friend Alan who (rightfully and kindly) points out my race day nutritional miscues. But I love bagels so much and I almost never eat them anymore. I stuffed a couple gels in my pocket, grabbed another bagel and some water to sip on in the car, and headed out the door. I left my race bib in my car after I did early packet pickup on Wednesday at Mill City Running, which is a great “life hack” (I hate that term – a tip to make things easier or repurpose a thing is not a hack!) for people who are very forgetful.

Getting to the race was very easy – they provided a suggested address for people to use  in their navigation apps, since the start didn’t have an address. I parked in the parking ramp at St. Anthony Main, although there were likely other parking options that did not cost $7. On a Sunday! $7! Madness. Whatever, I wanted the convenience. I sat in my car for about 15 minutes dinking around on the internet (checking the paces I needed to hit for each of the goal times – that didn’t take 15 minutes but it was one of the things I did to pass the time) and then walked down to the start/finish area. I did a very short warmup, about 0.6 miles, but it was enough.

The 10K and the half marathon start at the same time, which I find a little odd as it must be a little crowded at the front for the fast people. I’m sure they’re very glad I’m considering their feelings. I got completely confused as there appeared to still be half marathoners on the sidelines when I crossed the start, and I thought I was in the wrong spot. Nope, there just weren’t nearly as many half marathoners, and there were probably fewer back-of-the-packers in the half than in the 10K. It was nice to have more people running my pace in the first 4 miles.

This course is very similar to the course for the Hot Dash 10 Mile, although it starts at St. Anthony Main instead of Boom Island Park, and of course continues a little farther south on West River Parkway before turning around. It has the same hills, though! This is actually a pretty challenging half marathon, because although it’s nice to bomb down a few big hills, it sucks to go up them.

For the first few miles, I was ahead of the 2:30 pacer, and I felt pretty good about that. I thought if I could just keep her behind me, I’d be set for my main goal. I was running a bit too fast out of the gate, although I don’t really know how fast I was going because my watch was likely off already. It felt good so I went with it. Same as TCM. I figured I’d be slowing down a bit later because of this, but having never run a half marathon before, I didn’t know what to shoot for as far as intensity. I mean, I had a general idea of pace, based on my TCM half split (which I came within seconds of hitting!), but pace is only one part of the equation. Pace means nothing if, on race day, it’s harder/easier to hit it. I still don’t have a good idea of what kind of intensity I can sustain for 13.1 miles, since my pace fell off at the end (spoiler alert!)

The first few miles went by pretty smoothly. We crossed the Mississippi River right away, on 8th Ave NE, so there was a nice little incline to start off with, but I ran it even though my legs aren’t very accustomed to running hills right now. So many lazy 0% incline treadmill runs. I had a few issues with my glasses fogging up, thanks to the humid, just above freezing conditions. After a few miles of running, a car came up behind us and told us to look out for the 5K leader. Well, that was a bit demoralizing, since the 5K started 15 minutes after the half. The leader came through a bit after the warning. I was amused because I saw him at the start and thought “Hmm, that guy must be fast.” Even though he looked like a cross between Steve Prefontaine and a young David Crosby (I mean this in a good way), I just had this sense about him, and I was correct. He and his thick, long, luscious hair (unrestrained by any elastic or headband) blew by the rest of us schlubs.

We hit the first water stop at just under 4 miles – one thing I like about this race is they give out bottles of water instead of cups. They do this to avoid spillage, as the race has the potential to be run in sub-zero temps. If it’s really cold, it could get slippery out there. I loved it because I didn’t have to gulp down cups, I could sip as I went along. It was a little bit annoying to hold the bottle while also holding my gloves, but it was still way better than overhydrating at cup stations.

Once the 10K runners peeled off, I was pretty much on my own. There weren’t many people around me, although I kept leapfrogging with this couple who was running with a stroller, because they kept stopping to do god knows what. The guy was actually banditing the race and was doing the stroller pushing. I didn’t understand the point of what they were doing, but perhaps it was their first time doing a race with a stroller and they wanted to see how it went. It was kind of annoying, but mostly because I find leapfrogging with people in a short period of time very annoying. Pick a pace, please. I think the banditing guy eventually peeled off.

About 5 miles in, the 2:30 pacer got ahead of me. I was kind of bummed about it, but I figured I’d keep her in my sights and then hunt her down if I could. According to my watch, mile 5 was my second slowest mile. Yikes! I was feeling a little warm at this point, even after pushing back the buff (I was wearing it as a headband), removing my gloves, and unzipping my hoodie all the way to the top of the bib. But I had read the weather report and seen that it was going to continue to cool off throughout the day, and I was right. After the second water station (which I skipped, I still had a little bit left in the mini bottle I’d grabbed at the first station), I put my gloves back on.

I managed to get myself back up to pace again by the halfway point so I could keep trailing the pacer. My legs felt a little tired and what I should have done is gotten a fresh water bottle at the 6.5 mi water station and then eaten a gel. I didn’t feel hungry, but I should have taken one proactively. I didn’t do that, and once I reached the turnaround, I started to slow a lot. The turnaround is nice because it’s at mile 7.3 or so (not quite sure), which means there’s less than half the race to go at that point. Somehow that’s mentally comforting. I kept thinking the turnaround was coming, only to go around another bend and see it was nowhere in sight. There was a timing mat there, and I was hoping to see what my split was at that point, but the timing mat is marked as 6.55 mi, even though it was nowhere near there. So it shows a 13:22 pace to that point. Nope.

The race course is pretty lonely. Beyond the scattered police and civilian volunteers who are guarding the blocked off streets, there’s not much for crowd support. I didn’t mind, it was nice and quiet. I didn’t even get stuck with a group of talkers on my tail. It was actually very peaceful, much more like a trail race. I don’t feed off crowd support the same way; I’m more energized by periodic support than a constant stream of cheering, although the nice thing about a constant stream of cheering is that no matter what, if you need a pick me up, someone is there offering it.

Once I turned around, I noticed the wind. It was really starting to get cold, and I was glad I hadn’t worn shorts or gone with a t-shirt/arm warmer combination. I never got chilled, so I think I made the right choice for clothing. Plus, my hoodie has 2 zippered pockets, so I put gels in one and my phone and car keys in the other. I finally started eating a gel somewhere between mile 8 and the water stop, because my legs were really starting to get tired (my quads were getting sore, as were my hips) and mentally I was starting to say “hey, I could just walk now,” especially on the hills. I took little bites of gel and then grabbed a water bottle to wash down the last few bites. No stomach issues at all!

I tried to use any downhill to make up time on that orange pacer balloon that was getting farther and farther away. I reeled in a few people in this time frame (including one in my age group, taking me from last to second to last in my AG), but the balloon escaped me. The wind just broke me; it started to get really bad in the last 4 miles, especially once down at river level. I planned to walk part of the last really big hill to save my strength, and I think it worked out great for me. I walked for about 2 minutes, then ran (slowly) up the rest of the hill. The rest was enough to give me energy for the end. The 12 mile mark is just at the end of that hill, and then I knew I was going to have enough legs to finish strong. Once I reached the turnaround, I’d been counting down milestones, like “Oh, only a 5K to go… now only 2 miles to go, that’s not bad.” It definitely made it easier to keep going.

With about half a mile to go, I turned onto the Stone Arch Bridge, which was full of people. Well not full, but there were plenty of people taking selfies, milling around, getting engaged, etc. as I slogged on by. I was trying to speed up, but I also wasn’t sure quite where the finish line was. Once I got across the bridge, though, I saw that I’d be running off the bridge right into the street where I’d done my warmup, and I knew I was close. I passed another woman right at this point, and she started to run too, but she ran on the sidewalk while I ran on the cobblestones (the actual course). I was a little annoyed because that was definitely “cutting” the course, but seriously, what does it matter? I just didn’t want to have someone start running right at the end thanks to me passing them, only to finish ahead of me because they cut the route. Those little competitive things that come out in those last moments in the race…

I managed to speed up once I was off the cobblestones and onto the brick, which was much more even, and finished slightly ahead of the other woman (actually several seconds ahead, because she must have started before me). I saw the clock said 2:32:XX and tried to get across the line as quickly as I could, because the “fake” PR I had in the half was 2:32:08, and I wanted to beat that/make it official. I didn’t know how many seconds behind the gun I’d started, and my gun time was 2:32:58, so I was a little worried I wasn’t going to make it.

I got my medal and my post-race water, but there didn’t seem to be any other food or snacks. I walked up the hill to 2nd St, where the post-race festivities were being held. It was crowded and loud inside and I felt a little anxious. I also didn’t see any food there! I went up to get my free drink, but they didn’t have any non-alcoholic options. So my choices were a free beer, which I didn’t want, or nothing. So I paid $85 for no food and a free drink I didn’t want (yeah, it’s my choice, but I almost never drink alcohol and certainly couldn’t stomach a beer directly after a race, sorry I’m not “cool”); that was a little disappointing. I wouldn’t mind if I knew that almost all of my race fee went to cancer research, but it’s so hard to tell where that money goes. So I left, walked back to the parking garage, walked up the stairs to the fourth floor (#cooldown), and got in my car. I made a quick stop at Starbucks for an eggnog latte, something I don’t usually drink because it has one bazillion calories. The only danger to getting it after the race was it might destroy my stomach with its richness. It didn’t, it was delicious, and I probably won’t have another one this season.

I am not sure if I would run this race again, but only because there are so many other races that go on parts of this same course (e.g. Goldy’s Run, Hot Dash, TCM). It’s easy to get sick of, especially because of the hills. So I don’t know if I’ll ever make it a goal race, but it’s nice to have it there at the end of the year as one last longer distance race option.

I’m pretty excited to get a PR, have an overall great race, finally be healthy, and put myself in good standing toward meeting one of my big goals for the year (beating last year’s mileage – it’s gonna be tight). I think I still want to run a 5K in December just to try one more time for a PR, since I feel so speedy now.

Race Report: Run4Britt 5K

I put this race on my calendar several weeks ago, once I found out about it. The race was organized in honor of the memory of a friend of one of my best friends, so I was signing up for support and solidarity regardless of when this race was. Never mind that it fell between a marathon and a 50 mile race for me, I was in.

This morning, I woke up and could see before I even got out of bed that it was snowing.

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Beautiful day for a 5K. Proud to run in memory of Brittany.

A post shared by RWD (@runninwiththedogs) on

I also had a stuffy head – I’m still trying to fight off cold-like symptoms. Still, nothing was going to keep me away. I told myself I would just treat it as an easy run. I’ve been doing short treadmill runs since Wednesday to keep my legs active for Surf the Murph, keeping them very easy and gentle, so I figured I could run a a nice gentle pace.

The race was put on by Girls on the Run, and was untimed, low-key, and inclusive while still being well-organized. I figured since the race was untimed, I wouldn’t be tempted to run faster. Hehe, silly me.

The run started at Coffman Union, on the U of M Twin Cities campus. I parked in a nearby ramp and then headed to check-in. It was so nice to have a spot indoors to wait pre-race, especially since it was still in the 30s and precipitating. The snow/rain mix did stop before the race, thank goodness. I met up with a group of friends and we hung out until the start.

Before the run started, a woman from the local Girls on the Run chapter spoke about Brittany, and then one of her best friends, who was instrumental in organizing the run, gave a very touching speech.

The course was two loops around campus: across the pedestrian bridge, a small loop around the interior of the west bank campus, back across the pedestrian bridge, and then another loop around Walter Library and back down Northrop Mall to the Coffman Union again. The course didn’t cross any roads, but wasn’t closed to pedestrians or bikes, so there were a few people to dodge around. It wasn’t that crowded so it was easy to get around people, and again, I wasn’t aiming for a PR.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t running “fast,” compared to what I should have been running. I just took off and realized that I was running a comfortably hard pace — not a PR pace, but way, way too fast for my planned leisurely training run. So I figured what the heck, just go for it, run what feels okay. I mean, it didn’t feel great, but I also didn’t feel like I was going to keel over or barf.

I finished in 29:41, unofficially of course. I find this somewhat hilarious. Here I am trying to hold back, not running full steam, one week out from a marathon, and running a sub-30 5K. Last year I was struggling to run times in the 31-minute range. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like I’m making progress, and some days I can look at little things like this and say hey, maybe I am improving.

I had a great time at the event – wonderful people, GREAT post-race food including coffee, and extremely professional volunteers and organizers. I don’t know if this will be an annual race or if it was a one time event to honor Britt, but either way, it was special.

Race Report: Twin Cities Marathon

I made every first time marathoner “mistake” possible, and it all turned out great in the end.

Official Results:
Time: 5:32:55
Pace: 12:43
Placing:
Overall: 6635/7161
Gender: 2882/3188
AG (F 35-39): 438/492

Watch Results:
Time: 5:33:02
Pace: 12:26
Distance: 26.77 mi (the start in downtown Minneapolis really messed things up)
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals:
A: 4:59:59
B: 5:15
C: 5:30

Food:
What I ate the night before: salmon, baked potato, broccoli, roll, birthday cake (BAD IDEA) for dinner, bagel and cream cheese before bed
What I ate on race morning: 1.5 bagels with cream cheese
What I carried with me: 6 gel packets (I ate 4), water bottle that I threw away

Gear:
What I wore: t-shirt, shorts, ball cap, arm warmers
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker, hydration vest without the bladder

Discussion:
The splits kind of tell the story. But they also really don’t.
5K: 35:22, section pace 11:23, overall pace 11:23
10K: 1:11:11 (!!), section pace 11:32, overall pace 11:29
Half: 2:32:08, section pace 11:46, overall pace 11:37
30K: 3:47:06, section pace 13:32, overall pace 12:13
21 mi: 4:21:09, section pace 14:26, overall pace 12:26
24 mi: 5:03:12, section pace 14:02, overall pace 12:38
Finish: 5:32:55, section pace 13:31, overall pace 12:43

This reads like a textbook rookie marathon, doesn’t it? And ultimately, it is. But I don’t really mind.

Let’s go back to the night before the race. I went up to Duluth for the day, to celebrate my Gramps’s 92nd birthday and to see the men’s hockey team raise their championship banner. I figure I never sleep before races anyway, so what’s the difference if I get home at 12:30 am or if I’m in bed by 9 pm? I was correct, btw. And at least I had some fun.

One of my “rookie mistakes” was eating something “new” the night before a race. That “new” thing was very rich birthday cake, which ended up going right through me. The problem was corrected with a couple doses of Pepto, but it made me really nervous for the next day. One of my goals was to not become a meme, and this was threatening that goal.

We got home from Duluth at about 12:15, and then I ate a bagel and went to bed. I’d already set out all my stuff before we headed up north, so I didn’t have to do much. I still tossed and turned and barely slept, and of course considered not starting, considered changing up my plan and driving to the start… all kinds of things. Then I reminded myself that I want to run 100 miles someday and running tired now is going to help me out then. So I got up at 5:30 and got ready.

I headed out the door at about 6:20 and realized I wasn’t 100% sure where I was going. I was planning to park at the Union Depot and take the light rail, since it was free and parking was cheap. I knew where I was going but not the best route to get there. I realized I’d forgotten my personal phone and only had my work phone with me (an iPhone), and neither of my navigation apps were working. I made it nonetheless, but the streets of St. Paul can be a bit confusing at times so I always worry I’m going to end up at a dead end or blocked from where I need to go or something. I walked up with two other women from a nearby suburb, which was good because I didn’t realize the light rail station wasn’t actually where I thought it was.

Taking the light rail was really slick! I’ll definitely do this in the future. It dropped me off basically at the start. When I got off the light rail, I was shivering for some reason. I mean, it was a bit cold, in the 40s, but I hadn’t been shivering when I was walking to the station. I guess it was excitement? I was wearing a jacket to keep me a bit warmer, and was sad to put it in my drop bag. I guess I could have worn clothes to donate, but it wasn’t cold enough for that. I put my Body Glide stick, sunscreen, gloves (2018 TCM giveaway), and jacket in the drop bag and dropped it off at about 7:40. Then I went over to my corral and ate as much of the bagel I could stand, and took sips of water from the disposable bottle I’d brought with. I looked around for my colleague, who was running this as his first marathon, but I didn’t find him. I did find a couple of trail runners I know, Anthony and Jacqueline, and talking to them helped pass the time and helped me feel less alone. They had done the race before and helped explain how things would go – how they spaced out the corrals and such.

When the race started, I ended up crossing the starting line just ahead of the 5:30 pacer. I wanted to get away from him and keep him behind me the whole time (spoiler: I did not), and in fact I was hoping to start farther ahead of him so I could have a little buffer, but things got jumbled up. Also I should have started behind him if I wanted a buffer, but I guess I didn’t think about that. I was still holding my bagel and water bottle when the race started, and there weren’t any garbage cans along the route, so I had to hang on to them (I stuffed the bagel in my vest). It ended up being nice to have a handheld throwaway water bottle, but I ditched the bagel as soon as I hit the first aid station. Er, water stop. Whatever they call them in road running.

I ran probably faster than I should have in the first half, which is obvious from the splits, but I didn’t really know how much I should have slowed down. I know that I put my A goal as sub-5, but I promise I wasn’t gunning for that from the start. I knew it wasn’t likely, but it was the goal I was looking for when I started training, so I put it down for transparency. I thought 5:15-5:20 was a nice stretch goal if everything went well and that 5:30 was probably pretty achievable. I wasn’t really sure about my splits because my GPS was off from the start. My watch had me hit 5K at about 34 minutes, so it had my pace below 11 minutes. I knew that wasn’t right, but I didn’t know how far off it was and how much to slow down.

Also, I kind of wanted to see what it feels like to push the pace. I didn’t know if I was running too hard or not. The first few miles felt maybe a little bit labored, but that was likely because I hadn’t done a warm-up. Maybe I should have? People were doing all kinds of stretches and drills and whatever to warm up. Maybe I’d have benefited from a half mile or so to get my legs warm. But then there’s so much standing around in the corrals anyway so who knows?

One of the greatest things about the course was that I had unknowingly run probably 90% of it at some point this year. The beginning portion, I hadn’t run, but had actually walked part of during a march against family separation earlier this year. We ran down Hennepin, past my former school (MCTC), and past the Basilica, where the church bells were pealing. That was so freaking cool. What was less cool was the hill that accompanied it once we were past Loring Park. I ran it because it wasn’t that bad, but it was longer than I expected. The course wraps around the west sides of Lake of the Isles and Bde Maka Ska, and then there’s another small but annoying hill to climb just after the 10K mark before heading around the east side of Lake Harriet. I’m familiar with that section due to the Be the Match 5K, although this race runs in the opposite direction.

I was able to bypass the water stops for the first several miles since I was carrying my bottle. I almost wonder if it would have been better for me to stop and refill it at a few select aid stations so that I could have balanced my water intake a little better. I can’t remember when I ditched my water bottle, probably around mile 7 or 8? I had my first gel at mile 4, and it was much easier to eat a gel with sips of water than to eat it right before the water stop and then chug down some water, or to grab some water and walk through the aid station trying to finish before I passed the final garbage can. I know that they have volunteers to rake up cups and stuff, but I just can’t bring myself to throw stuff on the ground. I did ONCE, when I tried eating a gel while walking through a water stop, and I felt so guilty. The phalanx of volunteers at each aid station was so uplifting and enthusiastic – how could I not use the garbage cans? (I know this is STANDARD for marathons, throwing cups on the ground, but it feels weird to me.)

I started to slow down once I ditched the water bottle, to try to reel myself in. I was determined to run (besides quick walk breaks at the water stops) until the half marathon mark. Miles 8-11 were new territory to me, but they went by rather quickly, and then I was at Lake Nokomis, which I vaguely understood to be the halfway point (and the last lake). There was a cold headwind along Lake Nokomis that made it sort of unpleasant, but I chugged along. I was pretty excited to reach the half in 2:32 – that makes me want to race a half marathon! That pace was faster than my “first” 5K back in 2015! So that’s something small to be proud of.

It was shortly after this point that I started to feel really full. I was drinking way too much at water stops, I realized, and not sweating enough of it out. I mean, I was sweating, but since it was cool and windy, my body was cooling itself efficiently enough without profusely sweating. I wished I had had some mints or something to stave off the feeling of thirst, because I wasn’t really thirsty. This full stomach situation led to the threat of side stitches, and that really slowed me down. It really sucked. I’m not used to running without water readily available, and obviously overdid it. (I will say it felt so good to be running without a hydration pack!) I was really frustrated, but the walking also felt soooo goooood. I probably walked too much, but I also know that preventing an actual side stitch from occurring was key.

The one thing that kept me from losing my mind during those middle miles was knowing my friend and role model Stephanie was at the mile 17 water stop. I was actually counting down the miles! “Okay, 4 miles to Steph… 3 miles…” It was a nice way to break down this long section, when half the race is gone but there’s still soooo much left… including a hill. I had run the Minnehaha Parkway path before, but not the road, so it didn’t feel quite the same. I don’t really remember much from this section. I saw Stephanie right away at the stop, and we hugged and took a pic together before I moved along.

I was trying to space out my walk breaks so that I wasn’t walking right before a hill or something. I wanted to be sure I could walk the hills and run as much of the flats as I could. My plan from about mile 15 to mile 25 was to run until my side started hurting again, and then walk. Sometimes that plan didn’t work out and I would walk before I needed to (which in the case of a hill, was okay, but in the case of just me being lazy, wasn’t okay), but it was good enough to keep me going in the final miles.

Crossing the river kind of sucked, but I ran the bridge as well as I could, even though there was a cold cold wind blowing and I was really exposed up there. The two water stops right after the bridge (Medtronic and ALARC) are two of the liveliest, I’d say — especially the ALARC section, since they’re all runners, too. I was anxious because I knew the hills were coming, and I couldn’t remember how steep they were. It’s kind of silly I worried about the hills because my pace from mi 21-24 was actually faster than my pace over the previous section! So I guess the hills weren’t that bad. And really, they weren’t. I mean, I’ve climbed Moose Mountain. This was nothing, though it sucked in the moment. The most annoying thing about the hill was the little child that stood directly in my path while I was trying to go up it. I yelled “EXCUSE ME” really loud when it was clear that he wouldn’t be moving out of the way before I got there, and his father finally moved him out of the way. I do not need to be dodging little kids when I’ve been running for 3+ hours. Then at the turn onto Summit, three people passed me – two were spectators running alongside a marathoner – and the two spectators basically cut me off after running around me. I snapped “please don’t cut me off” at them and they didn’t apologize, just made a stupid joke about how one of them had actually run the whole way in jeans. GET OUT OF MY WAY.

At mile 22 (I think), I saw my friends John, Cheri, Chrissy, and Lyric, and it totally perked me up, just like Stephanie had at mile 17, and my friends Dan and Samantha, who I saw three times, although I don’t recall when (well, once was at the finish). It was exactly what I needed for the final 4.2 miles, especially because shortly after that, I had a bit of a deflating moment when the 5:30 pacer passed me and I knew that it was out of reach. I think he passed me somewhere around mile 23, and I thought about latching on to him and following, but I knew with the looming side stitch, I couldn’t keep a steady pace. So I continued my plan of running when I could and walking when I couldn’t. There was at least one more little hill on Summit, which sucked, but I just kept going. I think at mile 23 I finally drank a cup of Gatorade. I hadn’t been sure of what it would do to my stomach, but I had decided not to have my final gel because I felt decently fueled, and I had bypassed a few water stops to try to lessen the pressure on my stomach (it worked). The Gatorade went down fine, so that was a bit of a missed opportunity for some extra fuel and some electrolytes, which would have helped prevent me from getting so full. My fingers were puffy, another indication my fluids were out of balance. Whoops.

I thought maybe I could run from mile 24 to the finish, but I did have to mix in a few walking breaks, especially because of that little hill, but I did manage to run at least… I don’t know, the last half mile or so, maybe more. My watch seems to indicate my last walking break was about 0.78 miles from the finish, and I think most of the GPS errors had been worked out by that point. When I came around the corner by the cathedral, I was grinning. I’d been smiling for most of the race, because I find it helps my mental attitude, and also because smiling supposedly suppresses the gag reflex (according to Sara on CSI), but I was beaming as I ran down to the finish. My legs felt pretty darn good, and I felt super strong. And also high on endorphins, I’m sure. At that point, I knew I was going to finish under the goal I’d set for myself in the last couple miles – I’d decided 5:30 was out of reach but I knew 5:35 was possible. And I was right, as I came in 2 minutes ahead of it!

I got my medal, foil blanket, drinks, potato chips, and finishers’ shirt, then wound my way through the maze at the finish to get my drop bag. I wanted to take off my arm warmers, wet with sweat and snot, and put on my jacket. I attempted to sit on the curb and realized that my legs weren’t interested in doing that, so I stayed standing while I swapped out my gear. I also put on the gloves I’d gotten from the expo, glad I’d thrown them in there at the last minute. Then I realized I didn’t have a plan to get back to my car. I called my husband and asked him to pick me up, but said I’d call him back once I found a good spot. I started walking toward the Depot, and realized I would rather walk all the way back to my car than think about where to go to get picked up. My brain was a little foggy. I also didn’t really know where I could go and sit down, and I wasn’t sure how cold I’d get if I did sit down to wait. So I walked the mile and a half to my car. I think that ended up being a good idea, because I feel great today. My back hurts more than anything else, and of course my knees and hips are a bit creaky, but I can navigate the stairs fine and I have a normal stride. Probably because I’m used to marathons taking 2-3 hours longer and being hillier.

I thought this race was fun, but I don’t know if I like road marathons that much. It did feel neat to be done in 5.5 hours instead of 8.5, but there were so many people! And so many of them were annoying! Okay not that many, but one guy was riding around blowing a plastic whistle, and that was obnoxious. And other people were having conversations I wasn’t interested in. And two other women were doing a run/walk strategy, which is FINE, except that one of them kept announcing out loud when they would walk and when they would run, and that got old. And of course there was That One Person who was cajoling a couple of other participants who were walking — “Come on, let’s finish this! Let’s do this! Let’s run!” — why do people do this? Ugh. And just a lot of other little things. I didn’t want to give high fives (and I don’t know why anyone would want one, I’d blown my nose on my hand like 5000000000000 times). Sometimes I just wanted to be alone, and I wanted it to be quiet (although I did enjoy the live music along the way! and the speakers blasting fun songs, too). It did get much, much quieter toward the end. Fewer people were out along the streets to watch the stragglers, and runners had withdrawn into themselves, trying to find the mental and physical strength to finish. Those were almost my favorite miles – hushed and determined.

I’m still probably going to sign up for this race next year, although I don’t think I’ll make it a goal race with a specific training plan. Or maybe I will, just to see what I can do with a real marathon training cycle, since this one went off the rails. Now I’ve got a baseline result and something to beat, instead of stabbing in the dark at a goal based on “pace predictors” online and just winging it. It is a joy to run through so many familiar places – the chain of lakes, Summit Ave, downtown Minneapolis, the Basilica and the Cathedral. When I crossed the border from Minneapolis to St. Paul, I felt a little thrill inside.

Time to stop daydreaming about crushing next year’s TCM, and worry about finishing Surf the Murph. Gulp.

Race Report: Moose Mountain Marathon 2018

Am I headed for the same brick wall
Is there anything I can do about anything at all?
Except go back to that corner in Manhattan
And dig deeper, dig deeper this time
Down beneath the impossible pain of our history
Beneath unknown bones
Beneath the bedrock of the mystery
Beneath the sewage systems and the path train
Beneath the cobblestones and the water mains
Beneath the traffic of friendships and street deals
Beneath the screeching of kamikaze cab wheels
Beneath everything I can think of to think about
Beneath it all, beneath all get out
Beneath the good and the kind and the stupid and the cruel
There’s a fire just waiting for fuel.

Ani Difranco

Official Results:
Time: 8:42:12 (18:43 slower than I ran this race in 2016)
Pace: 19:56
Placing:
Overall: 259/306
Gender: 113/152
AG (F 1-39): 51/56

Watch Results:
Time: 6:23:45
Pace: 20:14
Distance: 18.97 mi (clearly it died — at 6 hours? that’s BS)
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals:
A: 7:00
B: 7:20
C: 7:59:59

Food:
What I ate the night before: hummus and veggie sandwich, bagel and cream cheese, some cookies and goldfish crackers at volunteering
What I ate on race morning: bagel with cream cheese, also about half of another bagel
What I carried with me: 7 gel packets, water, water with electrolye tablet, spare electrolyte tablet. I ate a bunch of crap at the aid stations.

Gear:
What I wore: t-shirt, shorts, ball cap, buff (I took it off pretty early on)
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker, hydration pack

Discussion: This was obviously not the race I wanted to run.

Starting on Wednesday of this last week, I started feeling stuffy, like I generally do when the weather changes. That was frustrating, but I also knew I had similar feelings the night before Chippewa Moraine this year and I managed to avoid getting full-on bronchitis or whatever garbage I was getting several times a year for awhile. I didn’t worry, and while Thursday I felt fairly crummy, I woke up Friday feeling better enough that I figured I’d feel even better on Saturday. I was sneezing a lot so I took an allergy pill, and a couple generic non-meth-strength Sudafed on Friday evening.

I didn’t make a packing checklist this year! I am really surprised. Usually I am so nervous I put everything on it. I literally write things like “fill water pack” and “take off rings” on there and check them off! I even put write blogpost on my checklists, which is kind of sad. I didn’t make one for this race, though, and I didn’t forget anything! Not one single thing, except I thought I forgot to bring a zip close bag for my cell phone and it turned out I had one in my car and two in the bag I used for toting around running stuff when I drive to a training location. (Note: using this bag to store a lot of my running supplies might be one of the reasons why I didn’t forget anything.) I packed everything on Friday when I got up, too. Usually I’m such a freak about getting everything set the night before, so it was nice to see I’m starting to calm down and get in a routine.

The drive up was really frustrating. It took a really long time, thanks to some bad traffic to start with at Spaghetti Junction, then more traffic in Duluth, then a quick stop to buy bagels in Duluth, then finally an extremely long wait north of Two Harbors thanks to a very small section of road that was down to one lane and thus using a flag crew. I was actually 45 minutes late to volunteering! Fortunately it wasn’t that busy, probably because everyone else was stuck in traffic. I was supposed to function as a greeter but I decided my services were needed at the merch tables instead. I did greet a few people but they just asked where the bathroom was and I told them there were porta-potties out back and they were dissatisfied with that answer. Then it turned out they were hotel guests anyway so idk what the problem was. I was a much better merch seller than greeter, especially since I was decked out in several items for sale, from my own personal collection. I really enjoy volunteering at check-in/packet pick-up, because I like the people who are assigned to volunteer with me, and because I like talking to the other runners. Many of them are starting to become familiar faces and remember that I have tried to upsell them on gloves and headwraps in the past, and seem to not mind. It’s fun to chat with these folks, even though most of them don’t know my name, and I don’t know theirs, or I do but pretend that I don’t while secretly sort of fangirling because they are accomplished or otherwise in the “cool runners” crowd.

I felt really fatigued at packet pick-up, and even at the time I had an idea that it was not a good sign. I was hoping it would translate into actually being tired when I got back to my hotel room (narrator: it did not), but it was concerning. Constant interaction with people helped keep my mind off how I felt kind of warm and that I had that weird spacey feeling I get when my sinuses are a bit stuffed up but my nose is clear. I was staying at the lodge next door instead of at the event location, so I had to go check in. Unfortunately since Ski Hill Road is very dark, I got confused and drove around trying to find the check in. I had to call and ask where it was — and it turned out it was really easy to find. So that was embarrassing, but the woman at the front desk was so nice about it and we laughed together. Then I couldn’t find my room, and it turned out that it was around the back of the lodge. It had a nice view.

I got back to the room, laid out all my stuff, and lazed around until I decided it was time to try to go to sleep. I was checking race results constantly, looking for updates on how Neal Collick was faring in his attempt to break the men’s course record (success), on how my personal hero Mallory Richard was doing (she managed to overtake the previous women’s leader, finish 5th overall, and break the women’s course record, also set by her), and on how my friends were doing. (They were all doing well at the time.) I turned off the lights, turned on my white noise app, turned on a TV show I could easily ignore, and tried to quiet my mind by thinking about mundane things like multiplication tables. All the usual tricks. NONE of them worked. My heart rate was high, my brain was wired, and I could not get to sleep. OF COURSE. I wonder sometimes if volunteering gets me too amped up and if I should just spend a mellow evening relaxing, but I enjoy volunteering too much.

I probably did sleep for an hour or two, but it didn’t really feel like it. I was up at 6 am, getting dressed (it was already 51F so I opted not to take my rain shell and just went with my arm warmers, which I took off at the start), trying to stuff my face with as much food as possible even though I wasn’t very hungry, and doing all the normal race prep stuff. I was out the door by about 6:40, with a short walk to the race HQ to catch the bus. I took a steeper shortcut through the parking lot of my lodge to reach the road more directly, and I started sweating. Not a good sign, especially when it’s a sweat that comes from my head and my back instantaneously, and I can feel it. It’s the kind of sweat I get when I exert myself too much when I’ve got a head cold (or similar). I shrugged it off, thinking hey, it’s early, I’m barely awake, it’ll be fine. I was still sweating on the bus though (it was warm, but not that warm) so it worried me even more, but once I got to talking to my seatmate I started to feel better and took my mind off my possibly real, possibly imagined illness.

I caught up with some friends at the race start and then finally it was underway!

Start to Cramer Rd (0.8 mi, 12:39 elapsed, 15:48 pace): The race start attempts to spread folks out by running them along Cramer Road and then jumping on the Superior Hiking Trail before the trailhead. It doesn’t work that well but it could be worse! I am fairly surprised at this pace because at one point we were at a dead stop while we tried to funnel onto the trail. I felt fine at this point, the running was easy, there were tons of people cheering, and I rolled through the aid station and onto the main trail feeling confident.

Cramer Rd to Temperance (7.1 mi section/7.9 mi overall, 2:09:47 section/2:22:26 elapsed, 18:17 section/18:02 overall pace): At first I was trotting right along, probably farther toward the front of the pack than I should have been due to the funneling, but still keeping pace with folks. At first it felt easy, although for the first mile or so I was running behind a couple who were getting their quarter mile splits from some kind of app. I could not fathom why, especially since pretty much every app is inaccurate on the SHT. Every time they got a split, the man would say “we’re losing time” and try to hurry the woman along. I was very glad to let them get ahead of me; I’m pretty obsessive about my races, but I’ve never seen anyone micromanaging a trail race like that. It stressed me out.

Then running started to become labored. I felt like my chest was congested (and maybe it is, but only mildly), my nose was running nonstop, and my head felt fuzzy again. Plus, I was still sweating, and it still was “I don’t feel well” sweat, not running sweat. The first little climb was so hard. Even walking up it was hard. I started to let people pass by me by the bunches so that I could go my own pace, and after awhile I let myself slow to a walk. Even on the runnable sections, like along the Cross River. I was extremely frustrated. I was also concerned about my health. At Wild Duluth 50K, I dropped at the second aid station when I was experiencing more extreme versions of the same symptoms (the difference then, I was getting over a longer illness and still had a deep cough). I didn’t have momentary blackouts, but these climbs were relatively minor and I knew that I had big climbs to come in the next segment, and again at Moose/Mystery.

Here I was only a couple miles in and looking for reasons to quit. I thought oh, I can just stop at Temperance and volunteer. Or just sit in a chair for awhile until someone I know comes along crewing and I can hitch a ride. Or something. Then I started questioning what I was doing running. Who did I think I was, trying to run an ultra? Or a marathon? Or anything at all? I was a big wimp who wanted to quit when things went slightly wrong. I was someone who couldn’t even get through a fairly low-mileage training block without getting sick/worn out/whatever – how could I ever run something longer than a 50K?

Then I thought about my friend Jeff, who had been running the 100 mile race. He was kicking butt (based on Facebook updates and runner tracking) when I went to bed, but when I woke up I found out he’d dropped due to terrible stomach issues. I thought about how I was running 1/4 of the distance he was running, and that if he felt like I did, he’d still be running. I could pretty much guarantee that any 100 mile runner still on the course felt worse than I did, and they were continuing. It was time for me to figure out how to face adversity without giving up. So I decided to keep going. If I had to hike it in, I had to hike it in. There was plenty of time. (I guess I didn’t have a headlamp so I couldn’t have taken like 12 hours to finish.)

So I hiked. I let everyone pass me who needed to pass me. I gave up on my A and B goals, although I did manage to get into Temperance with my 8 hour pace intact.

Temperance to Sawbill (5.7 mi section/13.6 mi overall, 1:58:09 section/4:20:35 elapsed, 20:44 section/19:10 overall pace): I left Temperance with hands full of food. I thought since I’d been feeling hungry during the past section, I had better eat something substantial, so I grabbed a couple cookies, a handful of potato chips, and a pancake. I should have grabbed two pancakes, because within minutes of eating it, I felt way better. Like, I realized I felt like running again. Except I had slammed two cups of Coke and one cup of ginger ale and stuffed my face because I thought I was going to be hiking. So then I couldn’t run because I felt like a whale. I also forgot that right outside Temperance is a prime spot for photographers, so I ended up getting photographed stuffing my face while carrying my bite guard (it keeps me from clenching so hard when I’m running). So classy. I did end up actually running after I burped about 100 times. I ran over the bridge spanning the Temperance River and then continued running until I reached the start of the uphill section. For some reason I thought the big climbs started sooner, so I was hesitant to run past the first set of stairs set into the hillside. I kept waiting and waiting for Carlton Peak to come, and it didn’t. I did get passed by the 50 mile winner somewhere in here, and I was definitely passed by WAY more 50 mile runners than last time, but whatever. I didn’t count.

And then came Carlton Peak. It was fairly warm at this point, and the sun was out, and that section was exposed. So I started to cook. I didn’t know until I got back to the lodge, but I was sunburned, and it likely started there. Once I started the really steep section, I knew it was going to be bad. I let a lot of people go by me and tried to go at my own pace, but my own pace included stopping. A lot. Which isn’t like me, I usually want to push through and get up and over as quickly as I can. I don’t usually find stopping particularly helpful. But this time, I found stopping necessary. I felt really stupid, partially because I usually feel so smug about my ability to get up these tough, steep sections. It was definitely humbling. I did manage to fake it for a photographer (I didn’t forget about this prime hiding spot) but just past that spot, I didn’t just stop. I sat down. I FREAKING SAT DOWN ON THE TRAIL. I have never sat down during a race. I realize this is overly dramatic but I felt very dramatic in the moment. But I was so fatigued, and on top of that, I felt totally nauseated. And I knew there was more to come. So I sat, until someone else came along, and sat, seemed like she was also nauseated. I didn’t want to stick around and see if she was going to barf, so I kept going. And stopped a bunch more, and then when I finally reached the top, I walked it down. Slowly.  So slowly, even though it was runnable. I kept alternating between being at peace with my decision and becoming frustrated anew. I wasted a lot of energy being mad at myself.

I also forgot that after the descent from Carlton Peak, it’s uphill to the aid station. And the road crossing is not anywhere near the actual aid station. I mean, it is, but it feels interminably long, because once reaching the road crossing, I anticipated the aid station would be imminent. I took one year off from this race and apparently forgot everything about it. I drank some pop, ate some chips, took some cookies, and walked out.

Sawbill to Oberg (5.5 mi section/19.1 mi overall, 1:54:43 section/6:15:18 elapsed, 20:51 section/19:39 overall pace): This section is probably the “easiest” section in that it doesn’t have any brutal uphills like Carlton Peak or Moose Mountain, although Temperance might actually be easier due to the long descent. I knew there were a couple of climbs in this section (thanks to re-reading my race report the night before), and couldn’t tell where they were, so I conserved energy and hiked quite a bit of this section. I’m surprised, doing the math now (I’m not relying on GPS data, but on my lap button on my watch, to get the time between sections), that this section was actually slower than the previous section, considering the time I spent sitting on Carlton Peak. I am a very slow hiker.

I like this section and I was looking forward to running it. Even though there are serious uphills, they are pretty short and there aren’t as many roots and rocks in this section. It’s mostly shaded, and it’s just… nice. Plus it’s the shortest segment of the race! Now I feel like I have to run this race next year just to prove that this section is fun to run, even though I’ve been thinking of sticking to volunteering for the 2019 race.

Nothing notable happened during this section. I was just looking ahead to Oberg, knowing that if I could get past the last aid station, I’d have to finish. I was doing lots of dangerous Race Math and trying to figure out if I could finish under 9 hours and was worrying I could not get it done. I felt my E goal slipping through my fingers but I knew it was still possible. The big unknown would be the Moose.

I ran a bit once I was past the switchback climb. I forget that the sign that says “Oberg Parking Lot” is not anywhere near the parking lot, and there’s still like a mile or so to go. I ran into a group of people with a 100 mile runner – it turned out one was a pacer and the other 3 were volunteers sent to fetch him, as he had been feeling dizzy and lightheaded, but was fine and joking about it. We were met at some point by EMTs coming to check on him as well, but all was well, and he finished – I checked! I trotted in chatting with one of the volunteers, who has been coming up to the race for 12 years! Just before the Oberg aid station, we were greeted by Kurt of TCRC fame, and then the excitement of reaching the final aid station swept me up.

I forgot that I stopped at Oberg a little longer than I did at any of the other aid stations. I was chatting with Mike Borst a little, as he paced the winner for 20 or 30 miles through the night before coming back to help at the aid station. So maybe that contributed to my slightly slower pace during this section. Maybe not, I don’t know. Does it really matter? No.

Oberg to finish (7.1 mi section/26.2 mi overall, 2:26:54 section/8:42:12 elapsed, 20:41 section/19:56 overall pace): The Race Math continued. I had 2 hours and 45 minutes to finish the race in under 9 hours. I also had 2 hours and 8 minutes to finish the race under my previous time. So the dream of a course PR wasn’t dead yet, although I was realistic about its improbability. My watch died only 8 minutes after I left the aid station, so I had to rely on the time of day as my only gauge of progress.

After a short uphill, there’s a nice downhill all the way to Rollins Creek, and I ran it as best as I could. I actually felt pretty decent at this point, but knew I needed to save a lot for Moose and Mystery. I told myself once I was at the top of Mystery, I could run.

Even though I’ve run this section a quadrillion times, I forgot how long it takes for Moose Mountain to actually start. There’s a lot of preamble, relatively easy uphill that belies the undefined slope (aka vertical line) to come. I was ready to just get it over with so of course it took forever to come. Then it also took forever to go up. And again, I stopped. A lot. Last time I ran this race, I kept telling myself to keep moving whenever I felt like stopping. This year, stopping was a survival technique. Maybe I should try trekking poles next time. I hauled my way up, bent over at the knees to catch my breath, sometimes leaning on trees, possibly even sitting once more (my memory is sort of fuzzy but yeah, I think I sat). I thought my legs would be jelly at the top, but they were okay. I was so happy to get to the top and walked my way across. It feels like the top gets longer every time I run this stinking mountain. I knew the saddle was coming at some point and that seemed to have more short ascents than I thought. Of course I was probably moving 5 or 6 minutes/mile faster when I last ran this section… I finally reached the descent (and the sign that told me it was only 3.5 miles to Ski Hill Road!!!) and was temporarily relieved… until I realized how shot my knees were. I’d been stubbing toes, rolling ankles, and otherwise destroying my joints, even with mostly walking. So this steep downhill was pretty painful, as was the climb over a downed tree. For a person of average height, it might have been okay, but I could barely get one leg over it, and it was a feat of strength to get my second leg over. I had NO flexibility at that point. I practically rolled over the darn thing.

Once it flattened out a bit, I was able to run, until I reached what I thought was the start of Mystery Mountain. I even started my “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” mantra – only to realize I wasn’t there yet! I crossed the footbridge and started the song anew once I started the real ascent. My brain was so addled that I kept losing track of where I was in the song. It was strange – I didn’t find Mystery Mountain that hard. It felt mostly the same, maybe a bit slower, but I never felt like I needed to stop or barf or black out for a second or two. Miraculous!

For some reason, I remembered the rest of the trail very differently. Like… there were more uphills than I remembered. I thought it was all downhill. Why? It’s clearly not. But I always forget. And am always rudely reminded. I ran as much as I could, even though this section is full of rocks and my ankles were killing me. I can feel every one of those ankle rolls now. Ouch. My feet hurt a bit too – I had a couple minor blisters on each heel and on my big toes. So I felt that, too. But as I crashed down the hill, I just kept thinking about hearing the river. The Poplar River – the sweetest sound in the world to a Superior runner. Of course I thought I heard it like 5 or 6 times and it turned out to be the wind. Sigh.

I hit Ski Hill Road and couldn’t believe it. I was almost there. I was going to finish in under 9 hours. I was going to run right by my nice cozy lodge room. And I was going to run the last 1000m or so with my eyes stinging with sweat. Ugh. I had to dig my sweaty buff out of the back pocket of my shorts (ew ew ew ew ew) and wipe my eyes in order to keep them open. One final insult.

Ahead of me as I turned the corner to leave the road, I saw a familiar figure making her way to the finish line, with the unmistakable triumphant shuffle of a 100 mile finisher: my friend Stephanie. I met Stephanie for the first time at the finish line of the 2015 Superior race, when I handed her a buckle and finisher’s medal and gave her a hug because… I don’t know why. Because she seemed cool and happy and inspiring. So I started calling her my role model, and then we became friends. Like Facebook official and everything. I could hear the emcee calling her name and the loud cheers for her, and then heard my own name as I came “flying” through the chute. Ha. And we hugged, and I practically started crying. This awful race had a happy ending. The race director handed me the buckle to present to her, and handed her a race medal to present to me, and we hugged about 10 more times.

I made the rounds at the finish line, checking in with friends and with others who I recognized from the trail, ate my chili, and then decided to pack it in and walk back to the hotel. I didn’t feel great, but beyond an overwhelming sense of fatigue and likely dehydration and low blood sugar, I wasn’t in that bad of shape. Which makes sense since I hiked like 80% of the race, I guess. I peeled off my sweaty clothes, took a shower, drank some vanilla Coke, and bummed around the room. I considered going back to the finish line but… it seemed so hard and so far.

I dug deep for this race. I swallowed my pride, fought my instinct to quit, re-set my goals repeatedly, and vacillated between embracing the suffering and questioning whether I even belong in this race or deserve to call myself a trail runner. But maybe I was really showing a glimmer of what it’s going to take for me to finish a hundred miler someday soon. Maybe not this one… yet. I didn’t get the race I wanted, not by a longshot. I wanted to run a big PR, make a decision about running Surf the Murph, and finish triumphantly with plenty of energy to hang out at the finish line after and help out. Instead I might have gotten the race I needed. I had to forget about what I “could have” or “should have” been able to accomplish — it doesn’t matter how fast I ran the 25K in the spring, or how much I’ve improved since the last time I ran this race, or what I conjured up in my head that I could achieve. The only thing that mattered was what I could do that day. So I put one foot in front of the other as best I could, showed as much gratitude as I could muster for a beautiful day in the woods with friends and congenial strangers, and I’ll treasure the finisher’s medal probably even more than I would have if I’d made my A goal.

Letting Go

A few months ago, one of my colleagues invited me to join her for a 5K race, the Night Nation run. I said yes immediately without much looking into it; all I needed to know was it was within walking distance of my house, and I was sold on it.

I looked at the race information a bit more closely after signing up, and discovered that the race was not timed, they had various fun stations set up along the course, and they seemed to be actively encouraging people to take their time. This is kind of my nightmare set-up.

I’m not fast, so I recognize that some people will look at my times out of context and think I must be goofing around on the course anyway, but of course I’m not. I’m showing up to races to do my best. Of course I want to enjoy myself and show sportwomanship at all times, but beyond that, I’m there to suffer a little. I mean yeah, maybe if I was faster, or once I’ve reached my peak and I’ve started to level off on my performance, then I can show up in jorts or goof off at aid stations or take pictures on the way, but I’m not there yet. It already takes me a longer-than-average amount of time to finish races – I’m not interested in adding to that time with distractions.

With its accommodating and welcoming philosophy, this race forced me out of my comfort zone. I did my best to go with the flow and enjoy the race for what it was.

My friend Samantha decided to do this race with me (actually, when she refused to let me pay her for shoveling the sidewalk at my house when a big snowstorm hit in the interim between closing on our house and moving, I offered to pay for a race entry so we could spend time together and I could ease my guilty conscience over not compensating her for the burdensome task of shoveling the sidewalks of our corner lot), and met me at my house so we could walk down and avoid the parking fiasco. It’s a bit over a mile walk, and it was still sunny and hot, and I was still a bit tired from my afternoon run. I figured since I wasn’t going for a PR at this race, a 10 mile trail run (easy trails) wouldn’t be a problem. It wasn’t, although I finished running at 6 and we started walking to the race at 7:40.

We realized it was going to be a bit of a letdown because it wouldn’t be that dark, so we didn’t even bother to wear the light-up glasses we got with our “premium” registration. We got bags to put our stuff in, as well, and it turned out we had to carry them during the race, so that was irritating. Sam chose to wear hers and just endure the bouncing, and I chose to carry it in one hand.

Since the race is untimed, they release people in waves about 2 minutes apart. Since the race had a lot of participants and was partially run on the bike paths of the Mississippi River Trail, it made sense to do limit the number of people pouring onto the trail, although it turned out not to matter.

Because it seemed like every single participant was walking. Or stopping. Or wandering aimlessly. Seemingly unaware of their surroundings. This happens to some extent at all races, but it was much more prevalent here. Sam and I spent most of the race weaving and dodging through the crowds; the race never opened up and gave us a chance to set our own pace. In a way, this was good, because we stayed together the whole race, but it was so frustrating. At the first station along the way (a DJ), we ended up at a standstill as people bunched up to take selfies, or dance, or whatever. At other times, we were stuck running through grass on the side of the trail to try to get around people.

There were parts I enjoyed. People were dressed up in amazing outfits – tutus, butterfly wings, light-up shoes, glow paint in intricate patterns on faces and bodies. I liked the DJ music along the way. And I liked spending time with my good friend. But this confirmed to me these races are not for me. Maybe I’m too uptight about running, or maybe if I want to go to a dance party, I’ll go to a club, and leave the races for when I want to run.

I finished in approximately 44:20 (of course I wore my watch! I am getting credit for these miles!), which is about 15 minutes slower than my last 5K. I knew going in that this race would be slower, but I didn’t think it would be such a drastic difference. It doesn’t matter that much – the time is what it is and I’m not ashamed of it. This race was a learning experience for me, and I can say that I went in with an open mind, enjoyed the atmosphere (though I didn’t truly take in all that the race had to offer, as I didn’t stay to dance at one of the DJ stages and I didn’t wait in line for a selfie at one of the selfie stations), and made the best of it.

And now I don’t have to run one of these ever again!

Race Report: Fans 24 Hour Race 2018

Official Results:
Distance: 42.3 mi
Placing:
Overall (24 Hrs): 67/78
Gender: 21/25

Watch Results:
Time: 13:41:27
Pace: 18:25
Distance: 44.58
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals:
A: 100 mi
B: 90 mi
C: 75 mi

Food:
What I ate the night before: pizza
What I ate on race morning: bagel with cream cheese, bagel with hazelnut spread
What I carried with me: n/a

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

Discussion: Two disappointing results in two years! Not a good sign.

I slept really poorly the day of the race, which was frustrating. I hadn’t slept well in the days leading up to the event, so I was starting with a sleep deficit. That ended up not being a factor, but it could have been. I felt grumpy and wished I could just go back to sleep and not run.

My dad picked me up and we loaded up the car quickly. I only had one tub of stuff, plus a cooler with some pop, and a chair to sit in. He had the tent (a different tent than last year, he has an abundance of tents) and his own chair already in the truck. We got their early enough that we had a spot on the path itself, which was a huge benefit over last year. He had a great people-watching spot, and I had easy access to my stuff.

The weather was cool enough that I put on a sweatshirt while I relaxed before the start. I liked setting up camp early and having time to finish my food and chill out – even if that meant I had to get up earlier. It didn’t really matter since I barely slept – half an hour wasn’t going to make or break me.

The race started at 8, and I ended up running and chatting alongside someone I’d recently met. It was a little faster than I would have liked, and after a little bit he did break off and run at his own pace, while I settled into mine. My plan was to run 10 minutes, walk 2 minutes, for as long as that was sustainable. I think it worked really well for me while I was able to run, but of course I can’t say what might have happened once I really started to get fatigued.

After my first lap, my dad left to go to work, and I was on my own for awhile. This worked really well for me. I got food and water at the aid stations and only stopped at my tent if I needed something (electrolyte tablets, gels, bug spray, sunscreen). Since it was threatening rain, I had to keep everything in my tent, which was annoying. I ended up tossing my sunscreen and Body Glide into my chair and not caring if it got wet.

It started to rain somewhere around 10 or 11. I knew it was coming, and I didn’t really mind. I didn’t want it to rain before the start, because I didn’t want to sit around getting wet or have to set up the tent on wet ground. I didn’t want thunderstorms to force the race directors to suspend the race. Neither of those things happened so it didn’t really matter. I didn’t have any chafing issues and it was warm enough that I didn’t get chilled. It was WAY better than heat and sun. I felt like everything was going well for the first few hours.

At around 4 hours elapsed (right after my first weigh-in), I stopped to fix my feet. One ankle was chafing where my shoe met my ankle. My sock was too low, and my ankle was dirty, so I had to stop and slap some moleskin on it. That fixed the problem, and at the same time, I worked on my other foot. I have a callus on that foot from some really old blister (possibly stemming from last year’s FANS race), and a blister was developing under that callus. I slapped some moleskin on it as well, but what I should have done is popped the blister. That was stupid. I thought the moleskin would be enough to protect it, but it was protruding too much. It seemed like a good enough fix at the time, so I continued, and was still able to run.

Since things were going really well, and I was finding my run 10/walk 2 strategy wasn’t working very well (I was always hitting the aid stations/my tent right in the middle of the run cycle), so I thought I’d try running to each aid station, then walking 2 or 3 minutes or so after the aid station/my tent. I did one lap of that and found it more fatiguing than I’d like, so I went back to the run 10/walk 2, and that was much more comfortable. I was having a decent time of running my own race, staying out of my head, and just letting the day happen however it would. I was pretty excited that I was still running many laps into the race, which hadn’t happened in 2017. I came through the 6 hour runners on their short laps and cheered them on.

My dad came back at around 2:00, and I was still running at that point, which was awesome. I was slowing down and my feet were starting to hurt, but I wanted to hit the 27.4 mark (12 laps) and get the unofficial marathon PR before I stopped to do anything. I came through 27.4 mi (12 laps) in 7:17:42, which is faster than my marathon PR; interpolating, that makes my unofficial marathon PR 6:58:32. So at least I made my first goal for the summer! I kept moving after that, wanted to hit the 50K mark (lap 14, 31.6 mi) before I stopped for a break. I wanted to get an unofficial 50K PR too, but since I was really slowing down, that wasn’t going to happen, and I also forgot to hit the lap button at that point. I think I came through somewhere under 8:40, which means that I finished 50K at around the same pace I did Chippewa Moraine. I was in good shape, time-wise, but I was slowing a lot, and both feet were really starting to hurt.

I took a longer break to deal with my feet – I lanced my blister several times but could not seem to fully pop it, no matter what I did. I finally decided to just cover it up with moleskin to protect it, and let the natural pressure from walking push the rest of the fluid out. I finally got up and started walking. The blister hurt, but so did my other foot. I had not realized how much I’d been compensating for the pain in my right foot. I thought if I walked it off, it would feel better, but it didn’t really.

I weighed in again and continued to walk. The blister pain actually did start to subside, and I was right – the pressure from my foot did make the swelling go down for awhile. The pain on the outer edge of my left foot was what kept me from running. It was especially bad during the gravel sections – it was impossible to keep from stepping on rocks and that seemed to exacerbate the pain, even though it was on the side of my foot, not the bottom. I just kept going, figuring that it would either go away or I’d just get used to it, and I kind of did.

I asked my dad about the weather, and he told me after about 4:30, it should be clear, so I got out my portable charger to charge my GPS watch, which was down to 10% battery. I clipped that on and wore it for the next 3 laps. Since I wasn’t running, it wasn’t a big deal to charge it while on the move. I tucked the charger itself into the pocket of my vest so my hands were free (other than my water bottle), and checked periodically to make sure the charging clamp didn’t dislodge. I got it charged up to about 60% and then put it back. My feet were still killing me and I was trying to decide what to do. I was thinking I should get to 100K and then stop for awhile, then I started re-assessing and decided I’d get to 50 miles and then stop. I walked through while the 12 hour runners were doing their final short loops and was able to cheer everyone on. The trails were a lot more empty at that point, except for a couple other people hustling through one final loop. One guy was running with his pacer and ended up dropping her as he took off to try to get that last loop in before the 12 hour mark – he had a little over a mile to go and plenty of time, but he wanted to make sure he made it.

I came through after the 12 hour race had ended, and decided to do one more loop before changing my clothes and shoes for the night. Mostly I wanted to use the porta-potty with my shorts on rather than with running tights – I didn’t want to wrestle with my tights in that confined space! I was still walking, and pretty much everyone was passing me, but I was still moving at least! It was getting toward dusk during that lap, and I carried my headlamp with me just in case, but it turned out to be fine. There were lanterns out on the course which looked really cool.

I sat down in my chair after lap #19 (42.3 mi) and took off my shoes. My blister had bubbled back up again, so I lanced it a couple more times. I went into the tent and changed into tights, a new t-shirt, and a hoodie, since it was getting kinda chilly. I brought out some fresh socks and then worked on my feet for a little while. It was getting dark out and I wanted to finish dealing with my feet before the light was gone. I finally put my shoes on, which was a difficult task because I was trying to avoid dislodging my moleskin. I lounged in the chair with my feet up for awhile, contemplating what I was going to do. I didn’t have a lot of hope left that I’d be able to start running. The pain in my left foot was not getting any better, and in fact was worsening. So I had 11 hours of hobbling ahead of me — or I could strike my tent and go home to my cats. I thought about it for awhile, and realized I wasn’t enjoying the effort. This was twice that I’d done this race and had it not work out. I also realized that I had been changed and sitting around for probably half an hour (I don’t really know), so I would be behind on my nutrition at a time when I really needed to be sure I was on top of it. Maybe quitting wasn’t a bad idea.

I said to my husband “I don’t want to do this anymore, let’s go.” He said ok, without any judgment, and I got up to take down the tent. My left foot hurt to the point where I couldn’t really stand on it, and that sealed it – but I made the decision to quit before I knew that. It turns out it was a good decision, because a day later, I’m still gimping around. I don’t know what the deal is – it doesn’t hurt at all when I’m not moving, there’s no bruising or swelling, but it hurts to walk. I am in big trouble if it doesn’t get better by Wednesday, because I am making a site visit in North Dakota and I have to be able to walk then. I’m hoping some stretching and massage, plus some rest, will be enough to make it feel better.

I don’t think the 24 hour event is for me, although I really enjoy the race! I guess maybe the 12 hour race would be a better option and would require much less from a logistical standpoint. I was questioning whether or not I actually ever want to do a long race, like a 50 miler or longer. I’m not sure if I’m cut out for that distance – I don’t seem to do that well with adversity, although I’m getting better. I lasted a lot longer this time and worked through a lot of issues before I ultimately gave in to the foot pain. I didn’t have any stomach problems, and today I feel pretty good. I was on my feet for 13 hours and traversed 42 miles, and I don’t feel much soreness in my hips or legs. If I’d dealt with that callus from the start (covered it up, or gotten a pedicure and just gotten rid of it), I probably would have been able to keep moving a lot longer.

I don’t feel the same level of regret I did last year, since I at least got in a mileage PR. I think the level of foot pain I’m still dealing with also makes me feel more justified – continuing could have done more lasting damage, or made it more likely I wouldn’t be able to do my job. I also had a great time – the atmosphere is so welcoming, and the other runners, volunteers, and spectators are so supportive. After a bit of time to think about it, I’m now really looking forward to doing the 12 hour event next year and creating some new challenges for myself. And… provided my foot gets better soon, I’m probably going to sign up for a fall 50 mile race, just to see what that’s like.