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
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

A: 3:59:59

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.

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.

Superior 25K Follow-Up

Now that I have some space and distance from the tragic event of the weekend, I would like to go over some of the other aspects of the race. It still feels somewhat crass to discuss trivia like pace or food. I will say I don’t have any way to separate the runner’s death from my recollections or feelings about the race; it is always in my mind, but at some point it feels overwrought and dramatic for me to attach an asterisk to every blog mention of anything about the race. The following is a discussion of my race prep and execution tactics, and “good things” and “bad things” should be taken in that context.

A note before I move on to technical stuff: the responses of the race director and the trail running community have been kind and generous. Race participants have received multiple emails from the RD that have been heartfelt and genuine, with instructions on how to support the runner’s family, praise for the responders and the staff who kept the race going while he dealt with the incident, and access to a counselor for anyone who is struggling.

Race Report
(since this was not a goal race, I don’t have a link to all the tagged posts like I usually do)

Good Things
Relaxed approach. I didn’t make an obsessive checklist for this race. I ran 15 miles on trails the weekend before with less stuff and less preparation, so why would I need to micromanage this? I didn’t make a time chart like I normally do – partially because there’s only one aid station and I don’t know the exact distances of any of the other waypoints on the trail (i.e. river crossings), and also because I knew my fitness was sufficient to achieve my B standard (4:30) without a monumental effort.

Relentless forward progress. (I love this term, thank you Bryon Powell for introducing me to it.) My non-time-related goal was zero stops on Moose or Mystery Mountains, and I was successful (with an emergency exception). I took them slowly and didn’t care if someone passed me.

Eyes on the prize. This was a training run for me, not a goal race. I didn’t overtax myself trying to get under 4 hours, or passing someone, or making some other ego-driven rash decision. I set conservative goals. I didn’t taper. I intended to run the next day, but it was pouring and cold.

Bad Things
Climbing skills. Someday, I’d like to be able to run up easier hills without paying for it later in the race. I haven’t been doing much hill work lately so my thighs were basically on fire anytime I hit anything more than a little bump. I’ve got to do more work on sustained climbs.

Hill recovery. I’d like to get to a point where, even if I can’t run up hills, I can run once I’m on them. I was about half and half on this one, but some of that was mental, too.

Post-Mortem: Wild Duluth 50K

Race Report
All WD50K Posts

Good Things
Hydration. I figured out how to reduce swelling in my fingers (Endurolyte Fizz capsules, here’s your free advertising) and I never had a sloshing or full feeling in my stomach. Drinking pop at each aid station was really refreshing. My race partner started trying it too, and she is hooked. She texted the day after, “I LOVE POP!!!”

Mental toughness. I had a tough time about a third of the way through the race. I was angry, cranky, freaked out that I was too sleepy/loopy to continue safely, and discouraged. I do credit my race partner with some great in-race therapy, but I also credit myself for refusing to give up, telling myself I could get through it, and putting one foot in front of the other even if I didn’t want to.

Pace planning. Since GPS watches are fairly unreliable for paces on trails, I made this pace sheet with known checkpoints.
I used my A, B, and C standard paces to calculate times I’d need to leave each aid station by in order to be on track for each finish time. It’s not perfect, because it doesn’t account for the difficulty of each section, but it is better than trying to do race math comparing watch distance to aid station distance. This time, I remembered to look at my watch to see the actual time of day we started. We started around 8:05 so I knew to add 5 minutes to each time. Now that I know that it’s easy to run with a charger, I may change the GPS accuracy setting from good to best.

Total rest post-race. I planned for an entire week without running. It just so happens I’m forced into it because I came down with a cold on Monday night, but now I don’t feel as guilty about it. The blisters on my feet and the chafed spots on my back have a chance to heal, my legs and hips and back are taking a break from the pounding, and I’m getting a mental break to relax and avoid the tedium of the same old trails, same old slow paces, and the waning daylight. Since I’m switching to a short 5K training cycle, I didn’t want a jarring transition to harder surfaces (I’ll be road training exclusively) and faster paces.

Bad Things
Simultaneously Overtraining and Undertraining. It doesn’t seem possible, does it? Let’s look at my resting heart rate for the past 3 months (this is a screenshot from my FitBit app, so the graph is missing its title and axes labels, this would not fly in a lab report!).
It’s all over the place. If I wasn’t sick, I would hope it would be coming down again, but it’s been on an overall upward trend since July. Now, this may also be related to me abandoning MAF training, but I think I need to take some more planned breaks.

As far as undertraining, I don’t know for sure, because I got such horrid sleep the night before the race, but I averaged only 36 miles/week during training (averages include weeks where I didn’t hit my mileage goal due to illness or other reasons). I don’t think that’s enough. Most people don’t run road marathons on such low mileage.

What’s the secret? I think better planning, including deliberate breaks to recover, will help me avoid wearing myself down while allowing me to build up my mileage.

Strength training. Again. I know. After the marathon, I started out ok, but once I started to get sick/tired, I abandoned it. I’m going to have to figure out some kind of gold star/reward system.

Pre-race sleep. I don’t know how to fix this, but I’ve got to. I know experience will help, but I also slept fairly well before the Moose Mountain Marathon, so I know it can be done. I do know that I won’t be traveling any exceptionally far distances for races until I have a better handle on my sleep.

2016 Summer Running Goals Revisited

Summer is over, the autumnal equinox has occurred. My deadline for completion of my summer running goals has passed.

Here’s the original post on running goals, and here’s the original post on running gear. How did I do this year?

Running goals
Run a <30 5K
I ran 30:02 at the Midnight Sun Midnight Run in June. I’m disappointed to have come in 3 seconds too slow, but I’ve still made some good improvements in my 5K times over the past year+. I’ll have to put this on the next goals list.

Run across the Bong Bridge
I did this in late August. It was just ok, will probably not make a point of running it again.

Become a marathoner
I finished the Moose Mountain Marathon on September 10th! It was an unusual choice for a first marathon, I’ll admit, but I truly enjoyed the experience. I guess that means I didn’t try hard enough.

Recon every section of the Moose Mountain Marathon
I did this over three weekends, and it was invaluable to my marathon experience.

Volunteer at an aid station
Done! I volunteered at the Forbay Lake aid station at Voyageur. It was really fun and I plan to do it again many times.

Traverse the entire Lakewalk in one run
I did this on Labor Day weekend. Not the best weekend to do it, but I persevered.

Run from Gooseberry Falls to Split Rock
By the time I remembered this was a goal, I was sick of driving up north to do runs, so I will have to do it this fall.

I didn’t complete every goal on my list, but I don’t mind. That just means I already have two goals for the next list!

Gear wish list
Bug repellent
I was thinking of buying some kind of fancy organic kind. I bought one lemon-eucalyptus spray (that probably has some other chemicals in it, I didn’t really look) and then one heavy duty poisonous one.

New sports bra
I got two new ones from REI during a sale online. In the future I’ll be keeping an eye out for the ugly patterned ones. They end up getting marked down, whereas the basic black one does not.

Super lightweight jacket
I bought a lovely purple one from Patagonia that I think I have worn once on a run. It can be stuffed into its own pocket for easy transport so I jam it in my hydration pack when the weather is iffy.

Hydration belt or lightweight vest
I bought a new vest with lots of pockets and features. It was expensive but I like it.

Racing briefs
I didn’t buy bunhuggers, and I’m glad I didn’t. I didn’t run on the treadmill much at all this summer. I’ll consider buying a pair for winter treadmill torture, but this might have been a silly whim.

Body Glide alternative
I tried Vaniply and will someday do a review/comparison.

Trail shoes
I bought trail shoes and they’re not amazing. I’ll someday do a review/whine about them. Gotta try a new brand.

Prescription sunglasses
Nope. I haven’t even bought new regular glasses. I just wear a ball cap when running.

I bought 2 more pairs from Old Navy, using the rewards I accumulated buying all this other crap.

In conclusion, I spent a lot of money. I think next year I’m going to keep track of all the money I spend on running.

Grand Traverse Duluth Goals

I mentioned on Monday that I signed up for another race on Saturday, a race which is two days from now. A race whose website has crashed for the moment.

I had an epiphany while running last Saturday. I had been thinking about running a 5K just to see if I could squeak under 30 minutes finally, but then I realized I could run the Grand Traverse instead. I wasn’t even sure of the date of the race while I was running, or what the distance options where, so I plotted as I ran, unsure of whether or not I could actually put those thoughts into fruition.

I had considered running the Grand Traverse before, but I thought that it would be too soon after the marathon. I thought I’d be totally wrecked by the MMM, and it would take weeks of recovery. I wasn’t even certain I could run Wild Duluth, which is why I didn’t sign up until I had completed the MMM. But I recovered well, so I’m in good shape to run it.

I realized I would be running the trails anyway, so I might as well take advantage of a fun event, a chance to do a point to point run rather than a dreaded out & back, and a couple of aid stations along the way. It will also ensure I get up and get going early enough to complete my long run in time to attend the UMD-Whitecaps hockey game in the afternoon.

I chose the ~16 mile option, though I’d have preferred more like an 18 mile option. 20 seemed too long. I hope I can complete it in maybe 4:30, but I haven’t put much effort into looking at what that would take. If their website stays down, I’ll just have to wing it. From what I gather, this race is very low key. The time starts when you get off the bus. That’s it. It’s certainly a good opportunity to run a race without being a slave to my watch.

I’m going to use this as a long, challenging training run for Wild Duluth. I’m going to run hard, but not race-level effort. I can compare the pace to my pace from this spring’s Zumbro and last year’s Harder n Hell half and see how I’ve improved. I am also going to practice consuming more food and drink while racing, to try to improve my on-the-go nutrition. Wild Duluth is twice as long, so I’m not sure I’ll get anything else out of this race that will be applicable to WD. Just time on my feet on the course, and that’s pretty darn good.

So, finish around 4.5 hours without giving max race effort, eat and drink more, avoid barfing/incontinence/injury/death, and have fun. There are my race goals!

And Now For Something Completely Different

I have gotten really sick of slogging up and down the ski hill at Chester Bowl, and decided my speed work for this week would be… actual speed work. The last time I did something like that was 2 months ago, on the treadmill.

Naturally a good way to start doing speed work again is to do something really hard. Like 8 x 0.5 mile with 0.1 mi recovery. I probably need a coach or I’m going to hurt myself at some point. It was a bit reckless to do something very different from the slow trail runs I’ve been doing.

I drove to the Munger Trail in west Duluth for this workout, which is my new favorite spot for flat (well, flat-ish) running. There are of course slight uphills and downhills, and some gravel spots, but it’s no Superior Hiking Trail.

My warm-up was about 1.2 miles (it was going to be 1 mile, but I’d have had to start my first interval right before a street crossing), and I could tell that my legs weren’t interested in running fast. I warmed up slowly, in fact I walked the first tenth of a mile or so, but I couldn’t ramp up. My legs were heavy and slow, like stumps. I dove in anyway.

Rep 1: 9:38 pace, 170 bpm
Uhhh. No. The first 4 reps were at a slight incline, but I felt like I was wearing weights on my legs. They would not turn over.

Rep 2: 9:20 pace, 150 bpm
I had a HRM issue, not a miraculous improvement in aerobic function.

Rep 3: 9:06 pace, 110 bpm
Obviously another HRM problem.

Rep 4: 9:16 pace, 177 bpm
Rep 5: 8:50 pace, 169 bpm
I turned around after rep 4, so this one was slightly downhill

Rep 6: 9:01 pace, 174 bpm
Rep 7: 8:53 pace, 172 bpm
Rep 8: 8:59 pace, 174 bpm

This was tough. My recovery between each interval was about 2 minutes, which was about how long it took to get my heart rate under my aerobic threshold of 142 bpm. My legs didn’t feel recovered in that time, but my cardiovascular system kind of did. Not entirely, but enough that I didn’t extend a single rest period. I did find that I needed to really slow down, since I was basing my recovery on distance rather than time (just to make it easy to start/stop intervals based on my watch display).

I looked at my watch A LOT during this workout. I tried not to look at the distance, only the pace, to make sure I was really keeping up the speed I wanted to (low 9:00s or high 8:00s) and wasn’t going TOO fast. During my 6th interval, for a few seconds, I was in the 11:00s! And during my 7th interval, at the beginning, I hit 6:53 for an instant. All over the map.

My hamstrings felt pretty taut after I completed the intervals, and I made sure to walk my 0.1 mi recovery before doing my slow cooldown run. I ended up walking again even after starting my cooldown, because I felt like I was on the verge of a muscle cramp. I was glad for the long cooldown, because by the end I felt almost normal. Today I have some soreness on the backs of my legs, but nothing major.

Now I want to race a 5K and see how that goes. Next week I may do some mile repeats (4×1 maybe) with one really going all out to see if I can set a Strava PR. Overall, the paces were faster than I expected and maybe faster than I should have run them, given that my current PB in a 5K is a 9:37 pace. However, my HR in that race was 183 bpm, whereas my average HR (for the intervals that didn’t have a glaring error) was around 10 bpm lower. I was exceeding 5K pace, but staying below 5K heart rate. Since my PRs are all still “soft” I think going off HR is going to be more informative.

I’ll see how Superior goes and then snoop around for a 5K in the area a few weeks later, to see if I can get that sub-30.

The Not-So-Great Grandma’s Challenge

The invasion has begun, and will continue in full force tomorrow. This is my third summer living in Duluth, but I turned into a blasé townie rather quickly and look at Grandma’s Marathon as more of an inconvenience than an iconic event. I mean, it’s pretty cool that a relatively big-deal marathon happens in little ol’ Duluth, but I can’t haul myself out of bed early enough to truly spectate. Last year I did some spectating with a friend, but this year I’m going to be off on a long run on the trails, away from the crowds. I hope everyone clears out well before I roll up to Dunkin’ for my iced latte.

Last year, Grandma’s Marathon introduced a new feature: the Great Grandma’s Challenge. Participants in the challenge run the William A. Irvin 5K the night before the main event, and then run either the Garry Bjorklund half or the full Grandma’s. The major incentive to the challenge is guaranteed entry into the half (which has a lottery) or full (which sold out this year in October). The challenge is capped at 500 people, which I didn’t realize meant 500 people per race, until I asked the Twitter account and they clarified. The final total reported in the paper was 1079 challenge participants (including sponsor entries, I guess).

The Irvin 5K is capped at 2000 people. Anyone see a problem with this?

You know, not everyone wants to run a marathon, or even a half. Or maybe they do, but they just don’t want to run this one, or they can’t right now, or they want to someday and are working their way up. The Irvin 5K is a great way to get more people involved in the biggest weekend of the year in Duluth (sorry Tall Ships). So why cram the 5K with half and full runners? Why not let 1079 additional people join in the fun?

I would maybe understand it if the race wasn’t popular, or if the challenge was limited to, say, 250 people (12.5% of participants, rather than 54%). 1600+ people ran this race before the challenge started, so it’s not like this boosts numbers significantly.

Many of the runners of the 5K are there to support a marathoner/half-marathoner. Those 5K runners might be taking care of children, or meeting the runner at set points along the course for support, or volunteering during the main races. Now it’s full of marathoners/half-marathoners who could potentially be just walking the race in order to get around the lottery. Since the guaranteed entry appears to be for this year, it seems like they don’t even have to show up.

That’s not to say all the runners in the challenge are treating it as a joke. My friend Joe took up the gauntlet last year and ran the 5K in a fairly fast time, and then ran the marathon the next day. Of course, he also told me that he wasn’t happy with his marathon performance and had gone out too hard in the 5K…

The goal of the challenge seems odd to me. Keeping potentially another 1079 people from running the 5K and participating in the weekend doesn’t appear to be a good strategy. I haven’t heard of anyone planning to sign up for the 5K only to find it’s sold out, but that’s got to be a disappointment to anyone who makes that one of their target races. Allowing marathoners and half marathoners to crowd out people who prefer the 5K distance, who aren’t ready to run a marathon, who are new to running, or are supporting runners of the other two races is exclusionary to me. Elitist, too; I mean, this is probably partly me projecting my own issues, but the snobby attitude that 5K runners aren’t “real” runners or that the marathon/half marathon distances are more “serious” so it doesn’t matter if they’re crowded out (they’re probably all fat hobbyjoggers walking 6 abreast and taking selfies, AMIRITE??? I’ve gotta stop reading Let’s Run…) really bugs me, and this challenge gives credence to that mindset, even if it was unintentional.

I hope they can tweak the challenge to make the weekend more inclusive, while still providing a new level of difficulty and intrigue to runners who are looking for something more.