Race Report: Superior 25K 2018

Official Results:
Time: 3:49:45 (16 minute improvement over last year, 62 minute improvement over 2016)
Pace: 14:48
Placing:
Overall: 217/297
Gender: 98/164
AG (F 1-39): 54/83

Watch Results:
Time: 3:49:53
Pace: 15:48
Distance: 14.54 mi (somehow the exact same GPS distance as last year!)
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals:
A: 3:59:59

Food:
What I ate the night before: salmon BLT with fries, bagel and cream cheese
What I ate on race morning: bagel with cream cheese
What I carried with me: 2 gel packets (I ate 2 and grabbed 2 at the AS), water. I ate 2 cookies, 2 cups of Coke, and a cup of ginger ale at the AS.

Gear:
What I wore: t-shirt, shorts, ball cap, buff,
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker, hydration pack

Discussion: Oh man, I really love this race! Of course I’m glowing because I finally got under 4 hours, but I always find myself more fulfilled and happy after a Rocksteady Running event.

This year has been a lot different as I no longer live in Duluth. The drive is now 4 hours instead of 1.5, which sucks. I feel so far away from home right now (and my cats!) There’s a lot of construction between St. Paul and Duluth, too, but we left early enough to avoid traffic since I was signed up to volunteer. I thought I had to be there at 3:00, so I was ridiculously early for the actual check-in (it began at 4), but there was plenty to do. I was tasked with selling merchandise again this year, which is fun. I like talking to other runners and I always like the other people who I’m working alongside. It is so great to see those people out on the trail, or volunteering the next day, when I need a pick-me-up during a race. Every friend I’ve made as a runner has been from volunteering, and every time I volunteer, I make new friends.

After my shift was over, I was pretty drained from all the talking and from being on my feet, and also very hungry. We had dinner at the lodge restaurant and then watched a movie (Munich, which is boring and long) before lights out. I actually slept, sort of! I woke up early, though, so I probably only got about 4 hours of sleep. That’s way better than normal. I still don’t understand why I woke up at 5:45 but whatever. I laid in bed til 7 regardless.

Usually I do a lot of prep work the night before a race: lay out all my stuff, stock my hydration pack, etc. This time, I did basically nothing. That was kind of dumb as I did waste some time finding stuff and prepping. I also didn’t make a checklist of race day to-dos, which resulted in me nearly forgetting to put on my bib. Whoops. I “made” my bagel and cream cheese, walked over to the race headquarters for the mandatory race day check-in, and decided it was warm enough to skip my arm warmers. It wasn’t even raining! Miraculous. It was fairly humid, though, and without a breeze, the air was very… present. I went back to the hotel room to finish getting ready, and finally made it out the door just after 7:45. Not bad for an 8 AM start! This is literally the greatest race for that reason specifically.

I didn’t bother to warm up, because I obviously didn’t have the time, but I hadn’t planned on it. I don’t think it’s as necessary for me in long runs like this, although the beginning of this race is fast since it’s on the road.

I’ve run this race two other times, plus I’ve done a few training runs on the same trails, and I’ve run the marathon which includes the same trail (in only one direction).  I really reaped the benefits of that this year. I knew when to take it easy (the switchbacks on Mystery), I ran quickly but in control down the back of Mystery Mountain, I ate a gel between Mystery and Moose Mountain, and I knew after I got down the back of Moose Mountain that I wasn’t that far from the turnaround, and there were plenty of runnable sections. I also knew when I was finally at the last downhill into the aid station and turned on the jets to ensure I got there under 2 hours. I made it to the one and only aid station at the Oberg trailhead in 1:57:56, which includes the time in the aid station, so I was on track for under 4 hours if I didn’t lose too much time on the way back.

I ate 2 cookies while walking uphill out of the aid station, and then started running once I hit the downhills. Once I got in the vicinity of Moose Mountain again, I started walking to conserve energy. I knew it would be painful on my legs and my lungs, so I walked some easier sections to save myself some of that pain. It paid off, because while Moose Mountain sucked, I was still able to go up in one sustained push – no stopping to catch my breath or try to put out the fire in my legs. It’s better to just get it over with. I remind myself that 100 milers have to do this with like 98 miles on their legs. I surely can do it with 10 or 11. It helps.

The top of Moose Mountain seemed longer this year than it has in years past, but I also was able to run most of it. I only needed a little bit of recovery after the climb before I was able to run again. Maybe not that fast, but I was still running! And it was kind of cold up there, with a lot more wind than I’ve ever experienced up there. I started wishing for my arm warmers, as the only things cold were my hands (which were also puffy, ugh) and forearms. I walked the few uphills I came across, but it seemed like that descent was never going to come. I had no idea how many miles were left in the race at this point, and I was worried I was getting farther and farther away from my sub-4 goal. I hate going down that side of Moose Mountain a lot more, because it’s steeper with more big drops down that are hard on my knees. Maybe it’s not a big step down for a normal sized person, but I’m short, and my legs are short.

I got to the bottom and ran for a bit, until I got to the last footbridge before Mystery Mountain. Once again, I wanted to save myself some pain and started walking before I ran out of runnable terrain. I ate a gel and starting singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” to pass the time. To give readers a sense of time, I made it to 49 bottles before I got to the top. But it worked! It kept me going. My hope was that if I got to the top of Mystery Mountain with half an hour or more remaining, I’d make it under 4 hours, because I think it’s around 2 miles from there to the finish, and it’s almost entirely downhill. I took off once I reached the top, and was running technical downhills better and faster than I ever have before. Somehow, I was flying, as if I hadn’t run 13.5 miles already. I just wanted to get to the river, because then I knew that I’d be on the road imminently, and could speed up more. I heard the Poplar River and knew it was close, and I plowed through the remaining mud as best I could. I crossed the bridge grinning, and then I walked the one final evil uphill that I swear was not there when we started.

I’m not really sure how fast I ended up going since my GPS was so off, but my watch says I ran the last full mile (mile 14) in 12:16 and the last 0.54 miles in 9:03. Uh, that is faster than my 5K PR. Granted, it is all downhill, but still, wut. Whatever my actual pace was, it felt very fast and yet I didn’t worry for even a second that I had dropped the hammer too soon. I actually caught one of my friends on the final descent toward Caribou Highlands, after we’d left the ski hill – so within the last 0.25 miles of the race! What a jerk move on my part, haha. There was a huge crowd of people at the finish line cheering for me, both friends and strangers, and the race announcer called me “our good friend Donna” which always makes me feel like I belong. I was so thrilled so have made it under 4 hours, by a LOT, and really pleased with pretty much everything about my race prep and execution.

I cleaned off my shoes, strode off to take a shower (I had hardly any stiffness in my legs, and NO chafing, not even from my sports bra), and then went back to have my post-run chili. I considered returning to volunteer for awhile longer, but I was feeling a bit tired at that point and didn’t have warm enough clothes for standing around. Plus my husband was back in the room, hoping we could do some exploring. One of these days I’m going to be one of those badazzes who finishes a race and hops right into volunteering.

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Race Report: Be the Match 5K 2018

Official Results:
Time: 29:00
Pace: 9:21
Placing:
Overall: 75/211 (this is a walk/run so take that with a grain of salt)
F30-39: 7/37

Watch Results:
Time: 28:30
Pace: 8:51
Distance: 3.22 mi
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals:
A: 29:20
B: 29:42
C: 29:59

Food:
What I ate the night before: pizza
What I ate on race day: bagel and cream cheese
What I carried with me: nothing

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

Discussion: Yay! A PR! After I sandbagged like crazy in my race goals post. Not really, I just had a lot of self-doubt and very little evidence to suggest any improvement in my speed. I’m an engineer. I like evidence. Anyway I’m also annoyed because they listed the final result as my gun time, rather than chip time. What is the point of having an elaborate timing setup if you’re only going to have gun times? Yesterday they had an even slower time on there, for some odd reason. The timing company has some issues!

I’m super excited, regardless. I finally ran a decent 5K! I don’t mean time-wise, I mean execution-wise. I am pretty happy about everything, from pre-race (I had enough to eat and drink) to the finish. The race started off as it usually does, with all kinds of people in my way, but I stayed within myself instead of getting frustrated and trying to weave and dodge. Once things opened up a little more, I sped up as I always to, to try to “make up” for the slow start, and then I was able to hang on. I’d check my watch every once in awhile, expecting to see a slower pace – I often think I’m running faster than I am. But this time, nope, I was still holding steady in the low 9s/high 8s. When I felt tempted to back off the pace, I didn’t. At least, not until the final mile. At that point I did let myself get a little lazy – a few times, I thought “well, you’re in good shape for a PR, even if you back off a little!” which was kind of stupid, but I didn’t let it last long. I looked at my watch results and even then, I don’t think I slowed that much for that long, so that was good. I had enough at the end to really push toward the finish, maybe too much left, but I’ve still got a lot of work to do.

I find the 5K harder than 50K. That might seem a little backward, but the margin for error is so slim in the 5K. Maybe if I pushed harder in 50K races, I’d think differently, but at the same time, how hard can I sustainably run for 8 hours? It’s a balance. In the 5K, it’s over so quickly that there’s no excuse for giving less than a hard effort – but the slower I am, the longer I have to give that hard effort. I admit that part of the reason I don’t train specifically for middle-distance races like 5Ks and 10Ks is because it feels sort of stupid and futile to train specifically for a race I’m so pathetically slow at, compared to the general public. (Yes, whatever, comparison is the thief of joy and everything, blah blah. I’m human.) Maybe someday I’ll give it a shot again, but maybe I’ll just do 5Ks for kicks and leave all my long-term goals for the longer races.

Race Report: Chippewa Moraine 50K 2018

Official Results:
Time: 8:32:22
Pace: 16:28
Placing:
Overall: 172/195
Gender: 67/81
AG (F 30-39): 26/29

Watch Results:
Time: 8:39:09 (I forgot to stop my watch!)
Pace: 15:21/mi
Distance: 33.81 mi (Massive GPS discrepancy for most of the race)
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals:
A: 7:50
B: 8:10
C: 8:25

Food:
What I ate the night before: soup and sandwich from Erbert and Gerbert’s
What I ate on race morning: bagel and cream cheese
What I carried with me: 5 Gu packets

Gear:
What I wore: t-shirt, shorts, ball cap, buff, arm warmers (I didn’t wear the buff or the arm warmers the whole time)
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker

Discussion: I’m just glad I got to the starting line! Earlier this week, I had some mild cold symptoms, and while they were improving on Thursday, on Friday they started to get a bit worse. I had until midnight on Thursday to cancel my hotel room, and since I felt pretty good on Thursday, I went ahead with my plans.

Friday, I left work a bit early, and went home to finish packing. I’m trying to work on my obsessive tendencies to overpack, and I think I did… okay. I guess. I didn’t bring any food besides bagels, cream cheese, and vanilla Coke. I really like bagels and cream cheese. I probably should have also brought some peanut butter or something with a little bit of nutritional variation. I’m pretty limited in what I like to eat in the early morning. I like a lot of breakfast foods (bacon, pancakes, waffles, sausage patties, etc), but I can’t always tolerate them on very little sleep. Also I need something easy to assemble so that I don’t have to get up too early.

I brought a set of clothes for the drive home along with my race stuff. I didn’t look at the forecast closely enough, otherwise I’d have possibly brought some slightly warmer gear just in case. It still felt like a lot of stuff, although the only things I brought that I didn’t use were my pants (I drove home in my race shorts), a towel, and a book on the history of grunge.

I didn’t buy much for this race, just the bagels, vanilla Coke (I only drink that when racing or after long runs, otherwise it’s vanilla Coke Zero or mineral water for carbonated beverages), sunscreen (large size and mini size, new for the season), and various lubricants (Trail Toes and Body Glide). A lot of previous races, I’ve bought a ton of junk food or new gear or other stuff that I worried I might need.

I also didn’t pack much in my hydration pack, relative to what I used to do. I filled the bladder with water and I was going to bring a small bottle of water to mix with electrolyte tabs, but I opened my electrolyte tab tube and discovered moisture had gotten in there and the tabs looked funky. I brought the bottle anyway and ended up getting it filled with Coke at the aid stations. I also brought 5 gels (I think 5? I should count what I have left), some leftover wintergreen Life Savers and Jolly Ranchers that have been in my pack since Fall Back Blast (there were also some COOKIES in my pack that I forgot to take out, so I am disgusting), my cell phone (in a plastic bag), a mini spray sunscreen, lip balm, a mini tube of Vaniply, and my pace chart for my various goals. That seems like a lot, but in the past I have brought all kinds of other stuff with me and had my pack stuffed to the gills. I’m learning what is essential and what’s just there to keep me from worrying.

I drove 2 hours to packet pickup, which is in the Obey Interpretive Center, so there’s taxidermied animals and other weird stuff around. I like it! I picked up my bib and timing chip, a reusable one attached to a strap that secures around the ankle. It was like a monitoring bracelet for someone under house arrest. I talked to a few friends I know from previous volunteering assignments. Let me reiterate that volunteering is the best possible way to meet people and make friends in the running community! After taking a panoramic photo of the view from the race start, I drove the half hour to my hotel.

I was tired and feeling kind of crappy, with a bit of a cough and a stuffy head. I was getting worried I was going to wake up feeling even worse. I picked up dinner and then lounged in my hotel room for awhile before going to bed EARLY. Well, early for me, I went to bed at about 10 PM. I was tired, but the second I turned the light off and curled up for sleep, my brain went into PANIC MODE. I spent several hours trying to relax, but I think I only got maybe 2 hours of real sleep. Sometimes I wonder if I am actually sleeping off and on while freaking out, but it doesn’t really matter. I got enough sleep – as long as my brain shuts off for a couple hours, that’s what I need to re-set.

I got up, got dressed, packed up all my stuff, and drove to the race start. I meant to arrive at 7, but ended up setting my alarm for later and I arrived at 7:30. That was plenty of time. I sat in my car for a little bit, finishing my breakfast, applying sunscreen, putting the last few things in my pack, etc. It was about 32F so I didn’t want to stand out there too long, although it wasn’t windy so I felt pretty comfortable for the 10 or 15 minutes I had to wait outside. I met up with some friends at the start, and then we lined up and the race started.

Start to AS 1: 3.3 mi, 0:47:37, 14:26 section pace
The start of the race went fine for me. I lined up near my friend Lynette, and when the race started, I went at my own pace and let people go ahead of me as they chose. We all tramped down the giant hill of death, then across a grassy section with some snow/frosted ground. The course crosses over the driveway to the interpretive center, so I got to pass my car and think about how I could just jump back in it and go home. I didn’t. At this point I was still trying to evaluate how I felt. I thought I felt fine, but I also thought I felt fine to start Wild Duluth last fall, and then nearly blacked out on the course. There were a couple early hills and I felt fine on them, so I decided that I was probably not overdoing it, and was instead looking for excuses.

During the second mile, the course goes behind the interpretive center, so there’s always a small group of folks cheering. It’s also another chance to turn back, haha. I had a pretty crappy attitude for a lot of the first half of the race. I spent a lot of the time wondering about why I was doing it, and hating every step of the way. For no reason! The race was going fine. I guess it just felt like it was going to take forever, and I was wondering what the point of it was. I went right through the first aid station as I didn’t really need anything.

AS 1 – 2: 6.15 mi, 1:36:42, 15:43 section pace

This section is probably the best section of the race, although for some reason both out and back, I ran it much more slowly than I thought I did. The elevation is not that bad. One day I will be able to run the hills, I hope, because a lot of them are gradual enough to be runable for stronger runners. I need to work on my leg strength and conditioning, I guess, because for now it’s more efficient for me to hike them than to run them. There are a lot of glacial lakes in this section, and many of them were still frozen or partially frozen. The cool air wafting off the lakes kept my hands a little colder than I’d have liked, but I knew it would feel great coming back in the afternoon. It already felt like I’d been running all day and it was like 9:30 am. From time to time I was running with other people, but it was mostly quiet. I had a gel around the 5 mile mark, and remembered to drink some water. Since I wasn’t warm, I wasn’t doing a fantastic job of hydrating early on.

I stopped at this aid station to get some Coke and cookies, and then headed out. I checked my pace chart and realized I’d lost a little time – I was ahead of the pace I wanted to be on (3:55 to the turnaround) at the first aid station, and now I had lost a minute or so. It was hard to tell because the race started at 8:02 and my pace chart had planned for an 8:00 start. I need to adjust my planning – I just now updated the display on my watch to show elapsed time instead of just time of day.

It also turned out that the confusing/vague “cutoff” at this section was just a suggestion: if people knew they weren’t on pace to make the cutoff, they could turn around here. No one was enforcing it. I should have known, but of course I worry about these things. Maybe I should just get faster.

AS 2 – turnaround: 6.1 mi, 1:36:1615:47 section pace

This section really sucks a lot. I walked to start off with, so I could finish shoving the cookies in my mouth. I ate two of them and then put the other two in my pack. I have a problem with clenching my teeth, so I wear a mouthguard at night and another more discreet one during the day. I can’t eat with it in, so I had to take it out and hold it while I ate my cookies. That was kind of annoying, but since I don’t have terrible jaw aches anymore, the mouthguard stays and I work around it.

Right after the aid station, there’s a big section of mud. I walked through most of it, because there’s absolutely no point in trashing my legs to run through energy-sapping mud. I made a mental note that the mud was right after the aid station, so I’d know I was close when I hit the mud on the way back. Around this time, I started seeing the frontrunners, and knew for the next 5 or so miles, I’d be seeing folks fly by in the opposite direction. Lucky people!

There are a lot of hills in this section. Something happened with the GPS signal on my watch and a lot of the altitude data is lost during this section, but it’s got almost all the bigger climbs. The middle section is all rollers, this one is much more steep. I took my time and told myself that I’d make it, I still had time, my goal allowed for a 5 minute buffer, they wouldn’t cut me off if I was one minute over or something. I thought I was closer to the aid station than I actually was, so I picked up the pace probably a mile or 3/4 mile away, only to realize I still had a whole section to go before I even got to the lake we had to go halfway around.

I ended up getting to the aid station before the cutoff, spent a few minutes there getting cookies and pop, reapplied sunscreen and Vaniply, and then left right at the 4 hour mark.

Turnaround – AS 2: 6.1 mi, 1:37:36, 16:00 section pace

I was ecstatic during this section. I walked for a bit while eating my cookies, and then ran when I could. I got passed a little bit out of the aid station by one guy, and that was the last person who passed me the whole race. Hooray! I guess. I was so happy to have made the cutoff, and I felt great, so I thought hey, maybe I can be on pace for a PR! I don’t remember much from this section, other than I passed a couple of dudes. I made it to the aid station and left somehow still on pace for an 8:10 finish. I had a couple of cookies and some pop there before heading out.

AS 2 – finish: 9.45 mi, 2:54:11, 18:26 section pace

I forgot to hit my watch after leaving the final aid station, which is unfortunate because I can’t tell at what point the race fell apart. I mean, it never really “fell apart,” but somewhere in the 4.45 miles between the aid station and the 5 mile marker, I slowed considerably, even though I thought I was moving well. This section has lots of flats or gentle slopes to cruise along, but I guess I was either running way more slowly than I thought, or slowing down significantly on the hills. I ate a gel at some point during this section, probably with about 6 miles to go, not quite sure. That 5 mile marker took forever to appear. I remember this happening last year as well. I’d think it must be getting close, and it wasn’t. I would think more time had passed and more miles had passed than what was actually going on. And once I did get to the 5 mile mark, I realized that even a PR was slipping away from my grasp, as was my C goal of 8:25. I did keep pushing, and decided I was going to skip the aid station entirely, forget about reapplying sunscreen or Vaniply, and just push on to the end. I zipped through the aid station, passing a couple people who were stopped there.

Two women fell in behind me, and they were listening to music. It was not great. I’d been running for the whole day and enjoying the quiet for the most part, and they were listening to external music, which is explicitly against the rules. They were talking to each other about how someone had said they were “having a party in the woods,” which was nice since someone else hadn’t been so nice about it. I replied (even though I was not in the conversation) that it was against the rules, and that was why someone had said something. They both seemed surprised. This is something that really bugs me – not reading the rules of the race. It was on the event page as well as in the email sent out by the race director. I tried to just ignore the Paul Simon and push on, but one of the women started whistling and singing and I stepped to the side and told them I’d prefer if they passed. I think I said something like “I run trails because it’s quiet!” Which I do. I wasn’t super nice about it but I certainly could have been meaner. They offered to turn it off and I said “no, just use that as motivation to push to the finish, then we all win!” but they didn’t seem to appreciate that. Whatever. I am a Rule Follower and I’m unable to suppress those tendencies after 28 miles of running. They seemed surprised that none of the volunteers had said anything, but volunteers are not race officials, they don’t have a lot of authority.

The last section of the race really sucked for me. I just kept slowing and slowing. Probably because I was bonking. I finally sucked it up and had a gel with a little under two miles to go, because I realized that it was still going to take me half an hour to finish at the rate I was going, and I was hungry. I needed some gas in the tank for that final hill. It was a lot muddier than it had been earlier in the day, and the big hill that goes behind the interpretive center was very muddy. The climb was exhausting, but I just kept plodding away. I tried to run whenever I could and just focused on getting to the finish. I knew I would finish, I just needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It just sucked so much. Once I finally got onto the grassy section, I started to perk up, and then when I crossed the driveway, I started to think about how I was going to attack the huge hill. The section around the base of the hill was way longer than I remembered (everything was at this point), and it was muddier than it had been earlier, but I just pressed on as best as I could. I reached the base of the hill and dug in.

I could see the music women ahead of me as well as the guy who had passed me out of the aid station. Since I hadn’t had sight of him in hours, I was surprised to see him on the hill. It wasn’t going well for him, and he got passed by the other two. I thought I might also pass him and felt like a huge jerk about it. The hill… wasn’t as bad as it was the first time around. It is extremely difficult to climb a steep hill, even a short one, that late in the race, but hey – if we wanted easy, we’d run road races, right? I powered up as best I could, without stopping, and then somehow had the legs to run through the finishers’ chute just after the 8:32 mark (apparently 22 seconds after – I thought the clock had just turned over right before I went through the chute, oh well).

Post race, I talked to a few friends for a little bit, then went down to my car (that’s where I realized my watch was still running), moved it up to a closer parking spot, and changed out of my t-shirt, socks, and shoes into a tank top, sweatshirt, and flip-flops. I went back to talk with my friends and watch a few more finishers before they decided to go back to Chippewa Falls and I decided to drive home. I made a bagel and cream cheese for the drive, since none of the food at the end seemed more appetizing than that (there was soup but I didn’t feel like soup). I thought I’d be cold but I wasn’t, so I just left my shorts on instead of changing into pants.

Overall, even though I didn’t have the time I wanted, I still had a great race. I didn’t have any super low points, I had a huge improvement over last year, I had no nausea or other physical issues, and I had a good time! That’s really all that matters. I’ll chase that PR another day!

Race Report: Jingle Bell Run 5K 2017

Official Results:
Time: 31:41 (2:20 slower than my 2016 race)
Pace: 10:12
Placing:
Overall: 62/148

Watch Results:
Time: 31:47
Pace: 9:53
Distance: 3.21 mi
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals:
A: 29:59

Food:
What I ate the night before: Qdoba burrito bowl
What I ate on race day: nothing (I had the burrito bowl at like 10 PM so I wasn’t hungry)
What I carried with me: Nothing

Gear:
What I wore: hoodie, t-shirt, arm warmers, tights, buff (as headband)
Gadgets: GPS watch

Discussion: This race is confirmation that I need a break. It was even slower than last week! I do have some suspicions that the course was a bit long. Well, either the course was long, or the course last year was short. Either way, the turnaround was at the top of the first hill into Leif Erickson park, rather than at the base of the hill as it was last year. I really hope this course was long because otherwise my PR is invalid. Who cares, it’s not a world record. I’ll stick with it.

I didn’t run the day before the race (well, except for like 0.3 mi on a treadmill at my local running store – I bought a new pair of road shoes yesterday and tested them out with a quick run on the treadmill), but I had gone through a streak of running 10 days in a row. It wasn’t hard running, but I normally do not go that long without a rest day. I doubt it made a huge difference, although my hips were a bit sore by Wednesday or Thursday.

This morning I woke up and really didn’t want to get out of bed. I did manage to arrive in Canal Park in time to run just over a mile to warm up. The warm-up felt slow and my stride didn’t feel effortless. So, bad sign.

After I finished my warm-up, I met up with friends inside the Sports Garden. This is one of the nice perks of the event – an indoor place to gather beforehand. It was already like 32 F so I had decided to forgo gloves (last week my hands got really warm about 2 miles in), and I actually felt a little TOO warm even with only lighter layers on, after just a warm-up.

We were busy taking a picture when the race started – we thought we had more time, but as we were trying to move up in the starting line, we realized the race had already begun. I ended up being walkers again for the first 0.08 (by my watch) miles. Oh well.

I thought I was doing a pretty good job of running hard, but not too hard. This was my first time on this section of the Lakewalk since it was heavily damaged during a storm in October. It’s sad to see there’s still so much work to be done to restore parts of it. The path did have some rocks (and broken glass!) on it in spots, although I can’t say it affected my race trying to avoid the detritus. I just sucked.

I really thought I gave a more even, more sustained effort, but I guess I didn’t. I am tired, but last year I set my PR even though I had a cold (a cold that ended up knocking me for a loop the next couple of days, causing me to have to go home sick from an all-week work training in Edina). I’m frustrated that I’ve backslid so much on my speed, but it’s a learning experience. If I want to race middle distance races, I either have to do some occasional speedwork, or adopt a different attitude toward races.

I’m taking 2 weeks off from running now, starting tomorrow. Hooray!

Race Report: Gobble Gallop 2017

Official Results:
Time: 31:29 (1:02 faster than my 2015 race)
Pace: 10:08
Placing:
Overall: 962/1937
Sex: 509/1214
Age Group (F35-39): 54/146

Watch Results:
Time: 31:33
Pace: 10:04
Distance: 3.13 mi
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals:
A: 28:59
B: 29:20

Food:
What I ate the night before: Qdoba burrito bowl
What I ate on race day: Triscuits (I didn’t plan ahead for food)
What I carried with me: Nothing

Gear:
What I wore: hoodie, long sleeved tech shirt, tights, buff (as headband), gloves
Gadgets: GPS watch

Discussion: LOLOLOL. I stink at 5Ks.

I arrived early enough to warm up for about a mile. I didn’t get a good sense of how my legs felt because I had to be cautious in my warm-up. It snowed just a little bit overnight and some spots on the sidewalk and roads seemed slippery. When I finished my warm-up (just over a mile, so a real one!), I ran into my friend, her daughter, and her parents, which was the highlight of the race, I have to say.

A lot of what happened in this race can be attributed to where I lined up. It is really a challenge to gauge where I should line up for 5Ks when there aren’t pace groups. It usually involves a lot of sizing people up. I want to stay out of the way of faster runners, but not get into the groups. When I ran the race in 2015, everyone had to go through the blow-up archway in order to go over the timing mat. They did not do that this year, and I have to say, the other way was better. While it took forever to get through the arch, it was significantly less congested once we got through. This year, they moved the arch out of the way and extended the timing mats. This meant that people got through the start faster, but it was so congested.

I respect that people have different ideas about the purpose of a Thanksgiving 5K. Some people want to win, some people want to wear crazy costumes (one person ran the entire Tough Turkey mile wearing an Angry Birds head), some people want to run with family and friends, some people are running their first race. However, people need to have some situational awareness regardless of their goals. I lined up too far to the back and ended up behind people who were walking from the start, people who brought their dogs (not allowed), people who started with strollers (there was a designated stroller wave, but I guess this person was too good to follow the rules), people who were walking with young children, people who were in a group and running 5 abreast, people who were texting/otherwise on their phones, people having conversations, etc. And it didn’t let up until I was probably halfway through the race. I wasted a lot of mental energy getting frustrated by that, and decided I’d rather act like a big baby and “quit” (I was still running, but not pushing it hard) than try to make up time in the second half once the congestion let up.

This was one of the most crowded 5Ks I’ve ever run, and I think if I run it in the future, I’m going to have to line up a lot closer to the start than I am comfortable with. Of course, if I’m not going to run hard and put in an effort the whole race, there’s probably no point to lining up closer to the start, but that’s not supposed to happen every race.

I’m doing the Jingle Bell Run next weekend and I’m hoping that will be a better experience. I will certainly try to prepare better for the race. After that, I plan to take a full two weeks off from running before beginning training for a big spring ultra, so it’ll be my last “hurrah” for the season.

Race Report: Fall Back Blast

Official Results:
Time: 8:14:42
Pace: 15:55
Placing:
Overall: 21/21
Gender: 8/8

Watch Results:
My watch died at 6:12:19.

Goals: 
A: 8:00
B: 8:15
C: 8:45

Food:
What I ate the night before: hummus and vegetable sandwich, two bagels w/cream cheese
What I ate on race morning: bagel w/cream cheese (I like bagels, come at me)
What I carried with me: gels

Gear:
What I wore: t-shirt + arm warmers (instead of a long-sleeved shirt), semi-waterproof jacket, lightweight running tights, trucker hat, buff (as headband under hat), gloves
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker, hydration vest

Discussion: I started and finished a race! It’s a freaking miracle.

FBB50K

I drove down to Eau Claire on Friday night, which was a harrowing experience. For about 45 minutes, I was driving in snow that was obscuring the road AND the reflective signs on the side of the road were not catching my headlight beams for some reason. Fortunately it was not slippery, but it was still terrifying. I kept thinking I was going to drive off into the ditch. I considered turning around and going home, but I white-knuckled it. Partially because I was closer to Eau Claire than to Duluth, and also because I did want to run the race.

I made it to my hotel room, listened to the men’s hockey game (they lost), and then got my stuff together for the next day. I realized that I had forgotten an entire bag of gear — and that there was nothing in there that I needed. (It was extra clothes for a potential drop bag, as well as a spare pair of shoes). Close call. I set out my clothes and packed up everything I could in a more organized fashion, as I knew I’d be schlepping everything to the car in the morning and I didn’t want to have to spend extra time packing. I went to bed and of course couldn’t sleep. And that made me anxious, not just about the race, but about driving home after the race. The idea of running a 50K on no sleep isn’t that terrible anymore, but the driving part has been worrying for me. It’s what kept me from running the Birkie.

I must have fallen asleep somewhere between 4:15 and 6:15 a.m., so I got maybe an hour and a half of sleep. It wasn’t great, but it was still better than no sleep. I need that reset. I woke up, hit snooze for about 20 minutes, then got up and got dressed, hauled my gear down to the car, and drove about 10 minutes to the race start. There was plenty of parking and it was easy to find, even in the dark. I checked in, got my shirt, bib, and timing chips, which they told me I needed to pin to my hips. Then I went back to my car and sat there until maybe 7:40, eating my bagel and farting around on my phone. I put all my gear on, went back to get more pins, and confirmed that yes, I was pinning these dangly chips to my sides. I thought maybe I had misheard, it was early and I was tired. Apparently they are normally put on shoes, but in a trail race that’s just a bad idea.

Everyone huddled around the fire at the aid station while we listened to the pre-race briefing and the national anthem (why?), and then everyone lined up. It’s a loop course with four races: 12.5K, 25K, 37.5K (new this year, but why the heck not?), and 50K. Each loop is 12.5K, so you can do the math there. I’ve never done a looped distance race, and I wasn’t sure if I’d like it. It was nice to have a mass start, though – I’d definitely recommend this race for groups of runners – drive over with your friends, and choose your distance. Everyone can run the first loop together, and then the longer distance runners just keep going.

I’m not really sure how to write a race report for a looped race. It all sort of blended together. I’ll try to describe it both chronologically and spatially, and it will probably make no sense at all.

Loop 1 (1:57:24, loop pace 15:06)
Loop 2 (1:58:54, loop pace 15:18)
Loop 3 (2:07:12, loop pace 16:22)
Loop 4 (2:11:11, loop pace 16:53)

I settled in to the back of the pack fairly quickly. It was in the mid 30s F at race start, and the air was damp, with some off and on drizzle/sleet. I was glad to have my trucker hat as it kept my glasses from getting too wet. The course started out on a gravel road leaving the fairgrounds, and then snaked its way through a grassy field. After the race, when I was looking at my data, I panicked. I realized that I had only gone through the grassy field once, instead of four times. I’d cut the course! This PR was illegitimate! I was a cheater! But I was only following other people, and the course seemed really well-marked other than that piece, so how did I let that happen? By accident, I clicked on the race map today and saw it showed that section only for the first loop. So I didn’t cheat, or cheat myself! Hooray. On the final loop, I actually ended up briefly overtaking someone who I hadn’t seen at all during the first three loops. He slowed significantly during the third loop, so I caught up with him and actually went ahead of him for a little while. I wasn’t a huge fan of this guy because I saw him throw a carton of milk on the trail after he finished it. This isn’t a road marathon, dude. Pack it out.

After the grassy section, we headed into some single track in the woods, and then came out and wound our way around a mound of sandy dirt (called Ant Hill, appropriately). It wasn’t too steep so I ran it on three of the four loops (I walked it for the second loop). One the first loop, I could hear people behind me groaning over the incline. This is where living in Duluth is an advantage – there are very few flat places to run. A gentle incline isn’t going to fell me. After we went through Ant Hill, the trail continued out in the open. This section was kind of muddy – not watery mud like I encountered on the Superior Hiking Trail, but it was slippery, and the trail was sloped to the side a bit, so I had to be careful where I stepped. The trail went into pine trees after that, for one of my favorite sections. It was flat, covered in pine needles, and very easy to run. I ran this whole section all four loops. In the first loop, a line of people had settled in behind me, and the woman right behind me kept saying “root” or “mud” or calling out whatever other slight obstacle might appear. It was driving me crazy so I kept pushing a little harder to try to distance myself from her. It’s a trail run. There are roots and rocks and mud and other things. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. On the final loop, this section is where I was overtaken by the littering guy for good.

After that section in the pines, the course went through a straight section that had several tiny (but muddy) hills, and then into the woods again. I ran the hills the first two times but walked them the third and fourth loops, because I was getting tired and the mud was wearing down my legs. This section was a bit more hilly, but still very runnable. There was a very muddy, steep incline in this section of the trail, and I ended up just planting my feet and skiing down. It worked ok.  On the third and fourth laps, it was sticky enough that I felt under control, instead of just pointing my toes down the hill and hoping. This section also had a short boardwalk which I walked across, since it was wet and potentially slippery. I headed back up a switchback (more mud), which I slipped on the second time through. There were a few more hills in this section (each with funny signs!), a two-way traffic bridge, and then a winding section that cruelly went past the first aid station, which was still slightly less than a mile away!

There were two larger (for this race) hills right before the aid station, and I was thrilled to get there. The first two times through, I was right on time for an 8 hour finish (I forgot my pace chart in the pocket of my jeans, but it was pretty easy to pace out an 8 hour finish – 1:09 to the first aid station, 0:51 to the second, repeat), but on the third loop, I really started to slow down. I was in and out of the aid station each time – everyone was so friendly and helpful, and they kept offering me hot cider and quesadillas, but all I wanted were cookies and sports drink (they had pop on the 3rd and 4th loops, thankfully). The section leaving the aid station was also nice and smooth, and I learned after the first loop that I didn’t want to waste that smooth section walking and eating, so I spaced my food out a bit more. On the final loop, I overtook another runner who had slowed significantly. He fell in behind me and I reeled him along to the finish.

After the flat section, we went through a more technical section, with a few more boardwalks, one of which I slipped and fell on, and one of which I refused to cross because it was too steep (I hopped down and crossed the small stream, then climbed up the little bank), and then had some more ups and downs and switchbacks, and then hit a sign that said “this is the last hill.” What a lovely sign (although there was what I would consider a hill after that one, it was the last biggish hill), even if it had little meaning the first three times through.

After that last hill, the trail heads back toward the fairgrounds, but while the finish line/aid station is visible through the chain link fence, there’s still almost a mile to go. It’s kind of disheartening, but it’s not a difficult section, just one larger incline. It does feel like the section gets farther and farther from the finish line, and goes on forever, but then after a last little hill, the fairgrounds come into view, and there’s just a short grassy section to the DJ and the timing mat. Toward the end of this section during the last loop, the guy who had fallen in behind me thanked me for helping him get through the end of the race, and then went on ahead of me! I’m not sure if this is a faux pas or not, but I was happy to let him pass me by and earn my DFL (after having my dreams dashed back in April).

One of the volunteers at the end remarked that I was still smiling, and that she’d seen me smiling and looking really happy on the second loop. I like to smile during races because the alternative is whining or crying, and that’s not as fun. I was also grinning during the end of my second loop because the DJ was playing Judas Priest when I came through the timing mat, and it was highly motivating.

Some overall thoughts:

  • The weather was a little bit colder than I would have liked. I had my jacket unzipped halfway during the second and third loops, but I would get chilled when I stopped. I think I was wearing the appropriate amount of clothing, but I didn’t like that I had to wear that much clothing.
  • I am not used to running that much during a race. That sounds insane, of course, but most of the long races that I run have had natural walking breaks (usually due to large hill) or have had forced walking breaks (like when I got sunscreen and salt in my eyes at Chippewa Moraine, or when the heat got to me at FANS). There were very few natural places for a walking break in this race. I liked it, but it was also much harder on my body than I expected. I was moving very slowly and painfully on Sunday.
  • Both the cold weather and the runnable nature of the course combined to give me some nutrition issues. I didn’t want to eat during runnable sections, but that meant I wasn’t eating enough. I also didn’t eat any of my gels. They seemed too messy for all the gear I had on, and I didn’t want to have to take my gloves off. That is really stupid but it’s what happened.
  • I pushed myself through the first two loops and told myself on the third loop, I could be gentle. I still tried to push myself through the course, and I’m pretty pleased with how many times I made myself run when I’d prefer to walk. Somehow the mud on the fourth loop took more out of me than I thought. I was hoping to speed back up on the fourth loop, but my legs didn’t want to. Also…
  • …when my watch died, that killed basically all of my will to speed up on that final loop. I had no idea what pace I was running, how far I had left to go, or what my overall race time was. The watch was fully charged when I started, and it’s lasted through longer races without charging, so I am guessing it’s a battery issue. It was really frustrating.
  • I wanted to quit a lot, and I didn’t. It’s very easy to quit in a looped course. I’ve done it before (FANS), so I know how simple it is. Some of the race staff seemed a little surprised I was going out for that final lap – maybe they were hoping I wouldn’t? I was a little worried that I was, like, an hour behind everyone else and was inconveniencing people, but then I got out on the course and ran into those other two runners and felt better about it. And even if I was an hour behind everyone else, it was my right to run the darned race.
  • The loop distance and aid station placement was perfect. 7.75 miles/12.5K is really not that bad. The first aid station is 4.5 miles in, which means the second part of the loop is just over a 5K. That seemed very doable. The second loop was the most frustrating for me. I wasn’t loving life at that point, and I still had such a long way to go. I kept questioning what the point of running ultras was, and thought maybe I should just give them up, and what business do I have thinking I could step up to a longer distance, etc. But after that loop was done, I was halfway done (you don’t say!), and then I hit the aid station on the 3rd loop and had hit 20 miles, and then I was in single digits, and then I was on my last loop, and then there was only 5K to go, and then I hit the “last hill” sign for real, and then I really was done.
  • The weirdest thing about ultra runners isn’t the actual running. It’s that when we’re done, we’re handed a bowl of sketchy chilly and we totally eat the whole thing and it’s delicious.
  • The course was really well marked, with orange plastic “tape” blocking off any wrong turn. There were also lots of funny signs, which served as unofficial landmarks for me (“ok, I’ve hit the ‘and another hill’ sign, that means I’m almost to the aid station”). Unfortunately, a volunteer got a little overzealous and took down a few of the sections of tape before I had run through on my last lap. I ran into a few other volunteers after I luckily went the correct direction, and asked them to please not take down any more sections of tape until I was through. Yes, it’s a looped course and I’ve been through three times already, but I’ve never had to make a decision on where to go!
  • I’m definitely running this race again. I want to run it when it’s not muddy, because it’s got the potential to be a really fast course. The mud sucks up a lot of kinetic energy from my stride, plus it’s slippery. If the trail had been dry and the boardwalks hadn’t been slick, I’m guessing I could have run about 10 minutes faster. Plus everyone was so friendly. At the finish, because I was last and by myself, I had a lot of people fussing over me, I got hugs, they offered me all kinds of food and drink (including whiskey), and I felt very welcome. I asked someone to take my picture and practically started crying because of how helpful everyone was.

After the race was finished, I knew I needed to get somewhere warm quickly, so I took my bowl of chili and hobbled back to my car so I could get the heater on blast. I had an entire change of clothes (besides undergarments) so I didn’t have to drive home in sweat-soaked gear. I changed into a t-shirt, sweatshirt, track pants, and a pair of slip-on shoes and felt a lot better. I wolfed down the chili, drank one of the ginger ales I had in the car, and left to drive home.

I still don’t think it was a great idea to drive home. I was pretty amped on adrenaline, so I didn’t ever feel like I was going to doze off, and I didn’t go straight to bed when I got home like I have after other races, but still, it would have been better to have 1. slept the night before 2. carpooled or 3. stayed overnight. Ideally I’d like to get to a place where I can count on actually sleeping a decent amount the night before a race, but I just don’t seem to be able to. I need to figure out how to discharge my adrenaline capacitor.

This is my last long race for the year, and I’m happy about it. I feel better about Wild Duluth and the Birkie now; before I felt like I had unfinished business that I’d be stewing about all winter. I also am glad to ramp down my mileage, finish a couple of 5Ks in the next month, and then take a little time off before I look at training for something big and scary in the spring.

Race Report: Wild Duluth 50K 2017

I’m leaning against a tree, probably only 400m from the Grand Portage Aid Station, feeling my heart thudding against my chest. This isn’t normal. Last year, I spent a minute at this aid station. This year, I spent probably 5 minutes there, drinking pop, trying to slow my racing pulse and calm my breathing. And here I am, minutes after leaving, the aid station still in sight through the trees, wondering if I should turn back. Take more time there. Pack in the race. I’m sweating, not an exhilarating sweat from a hard race effort, but a panicky, sick sweat. The kind of spontaneous, uneasy sweat that usually means I need to sit down, immediately. But I’m standing.

I stand there for probably 10 minutes. I don’t really know how long I stand there because later I realize I hit pause instead of lap when I left the aid station. I’m only passed by 3 people, since I was already in the back of the pack (though I didn’t think that far back), which means I don’t have to keep explaining myself. Keep saying I’m fine, I’m fine, even though I’m not sure I’m fine. I ran 6 power line hills in July at Curnow in heat with a half marathon in the books already and I cruised. I did two of them, slowly, only five miles into the race, and I’m destroyed. They were slick and muddy from the rain that’s fallen since the race start, and I slipped and fell 4 or 5 times while trying to scramble up and over, but that shouldn’t take this much out of me. What am I doing?

I can’t quit now. I had 5 great miles, slow but steady. I felt good. I walked the uphills, ran the flats and downhills. It’s the easiest part of the course. This next section isn’t bad, but it’s got a few short-but-steep uphills. You can do this. You can take it slow. Put one foot in front of the other. So you’ve stopped, so you’ve just lost all progress you made toward beating last year. You can still rally. Let’s go, start walking. So I do. I feel terrible and am blowing my nose into my hand every 30 seconds, it seems. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m quitting. I’m done. I should turn around and go back to Grand Portage. I see that my watch is paused. It makes me want to quit even more. I’m not even getting a correct pace anymore. I have no idea how slow I’m actually going, and I have no idea how far I’ve gone with the watch paused. Maybe a mile?

Eventually my heart calms down, and it doesn’t feel like my heart is playing a Slayer drum track on my thoracic wall. I even run a little on a nice downhill and some flat sections. I’m not running very fast, but I’m running. I figure I can keep this up, maybe rally a bit more at the next aid station. I can finish this race. It won’t be fast, but it’ll be badass. I remember I don’t have a headlamp, that complicates things if I slow down a lot.

I hit another hill and I can’t handle it. It’s not really that hard of a hill – a steepish grade, but it’s short. It’s one I can power through on a normal day even though it feels crappy. Just keep those legs moving. But I can’t. My heart’s racing again, I’m breathing heavily. I’m stopped. I’m leaning against a tree. I’m crouching on the trail, hoping there’s no one else who’s going to come up behind me. Hoping I won’t run into a 100K runner when I look this pathetic. I’m in last place (second to last, I later learn, as a man hiking with trekking poles overtakes me with a mile or so left to the aid station) and I’m breathing this hard only 7 or 8 miles in? It’s not who I am as a runner. It’s not what I trained to do.

I think about what’s realistic. I think about the logistics of dropping. What do I do? Am I supposed to call someone? I don’t have a crew. My husband is asleep. My dad is probably 30 minutes away. My friends are all busy. Do I have to beg someone for a ride? I need to keep going. I need to get closer to town before I drop. So I keep walking, make it up the hill, let my heart calm down. Ok, maybe I can make it to Magney. That would be good. It’s the halfway point, it’s more than a half marathon.

I start running into 100Kers going the other way. They are so kind, so sincere in their encouragement. It only makes me feel more frustrated, though I paste a smile on my face and wish them well. The trail is slippery due to the intermittent rain. I slip on a switchback and come closer than I’d like to falling down a steep hill. I try to keep sure footing, but my feet still have moments where they could slide out from underneath me at any moment. I grab onto trees and try to stay upright. The trail is going to be a disaster once all these folks come through. Twice.

I go up another hill and realize it’s all over. I am not going to finish this race. I’m not going to go any further than Munger. There’s no point. The climb up and over Ely’s Peak is going to do me in. I’ve completely underestimated the effect that this cold/crud has had on me. I walk it in, slowly, every hill taking me forever and a day. I feel dejected and embarrassed walking into the aid station. They probably thought all the 50K runners were through. The aid station folks try to convince me to keep going. They kind of stop once they hear the baritone cough that erupts from my lungs. I take off my bib and they figure out what to do with me. I have some pop and cookies, and it takes three people to get my Houdini jacket pouch open, because there’s crud in the zipper. I put it on and stand under the canopy as the rain intensifies. I wait while they tend to a 100K runner with a deep gash in his hand. They clean it out, wrap it up, and he goes out. I feel like an idiot. A real trail runner wouldn’t have quit. I feel like a fraud.

Two lovely volunteers take me back to the start, but we have to stop and pick up supplies first. Just as we pick up supplies and head to the aid station, we get a call that they need other stuff. Bread and oranges. So we head back to the store. Go to the aid station. I sit in the car in my wet clothes, semi-wrapped in a blanket, feeling chilled. Feeling like a nuisance. We have a fun conversation in the car, talking about the weather (the worst weather in the young history of this race, by far), other races, all kinds of stuff. I still feel like an inconvenience. We finally go back to the start, I thank them, I get in my car, drive home, shower, and then eventually take a nap when I realize there’s no other way I’m going to get warm.

So, there’s my first DNF. 11 miles into a 31 mile race. It took me 4 hours to cover those 11 miles (20 minutes slower than last year, and that is after running the first 5.4 miles at the same pace [technically faster, but I spent longer at the aid station this year]), and I had given up well before then. Part of me is like, I am so soft. A real runner would have gutted it out. I wasn’t missing cutoffs. There were 13 and 14 hour finishers. Those people are amazing. I am less than amazing. I was angry about a lot of things, mostly around getting sick, staying sick, not doing enough to get healthy sooner, not doing enough to avoid getting sick, traveling too much which led to me being both run down and exposed to germy people in close quarters. Angry that I had already skipped the Birkie because I hadn’t slept the night before, and had consoled myself by saying this was the real goal race.

Another part of me is like, look, you were sick. Maybe another runner would have gutted it out, yeah. But you felt like garbage all day Saturday, and felt pretty crappy on Sunday, too. And you had to get a plane on Tuesday (I’m writing this from Edmonton). What shape would you have been in if you had finished the race, if this is what you’re like after 11 miles? How do people with heroic tales of destroying themselves during ultras get up and to go work a day or two later? In reality, I shouldn’t have started the race. But I didn’t know that. I didn’t know how running would feel so different than just going through my day to day life. I thought I’d given myself enough time to heal, but I hadn’t.

I’m still not completely over it, but that’s mostly because I haven’t raced in a long time, and I’m missing that great feeling of running miles and miles in nature, as fast as I can handle. I’m missing the triumphant payoff of months of training. I have another race in mind (Fall Back Blast 50K in Eau Claire) that I’ll run, provided I’m able to get some miles in this week and next, and the cough goes away. Maybe then the sting of frustration from this race will fade, but for now, I’m still pretty annoyed about it. Now I feel like I have something to prove to myself. I have to show myself I’m not a quitter, that I made the right choice and that under different circumstances, I’d have dug in and finished.

On the bright side, I actually got a couple hours of sleep before the race! I thought at the time that would be a good sign. Silly me!