Birkie Trail Ultra Training: Week 3

Off to the races!

Monday: 6.1 mi, road
Tuesday: 5 mi, road
Wednesday: rest
Thursday: 7.2 mi, road (Park Point 5 Miler + warm up & cool down)
Friday: rest
Saturday: 26.2 mi, trail (Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon)
Sunday: rest
Total: 44.5 mi

Two races in one week: officially a Good Idea. Or at least, An Idea That Worked Out This Time.

Monday’s run was just the worst. It was so slow, my legs had no speed, and I had no desire to push them to move faster. I ran a 14:48 pace on flat ground (Minnesota Point), for crying out loud. That is not supposed to be my easy pace anymore. Well, it is what it is. I grinded it out. Tuesday’s run went better but still wasn’t easy by any means. I was starting to think I’d made a dumb choice in running the PP5M, as I had lead legs.

I rested Wednesday and that appeared to be enough. I ran a 10:01 pace for the race on Thursday and then a slow 1.5 mile cooldown. I had planned to run a longer warmup but was too late to the race to do so, and only managed about half a mile. Oh well. It wasn’t a goal race.

I rested again on Friday, running a few errands and then lounging around at home. Saturday of course was the race. There’s not much to tell that isn’t in the race report. I spent Sunday at home relaxing, doing a few chores and overall feeling zero guilt about sleeping in, doing nothing productive, and staying off my feet. I was a little bit stiff, with some pain in my hips and in my shoulders (from the hydration pack), but overall felt all right.

Now that I’ve done the marathon, I’ve got nothing on my race calendar until the Birkie. That is kind of nice! I decided not to make any major changes in my approach to training until after I finished Curnow, since I had such a light training cycle. I didn’t want to end up getting injured due to some crazy strength training, or burned out due to a ton of trail work. So I guess this means the real training starts now, since all the excuses are gone. Not that I can’t think of a few more as I go along.

Birkie Trail Ultra Training: Week 2

A lot of heat training!

Monday: 6 mi, road
Tuesday: 5.1 mi, road
Wednesday: 7.7 mi, road
Thursday: rest
Friday: 6.2 mi, trail (Western Waterfront Trail)
Saturday: 10.1 mi, road
Sunday: 10.1 mi, paved trail (Munger and Alex Laveau trails)
Total: 45.2 mi

We had a bit of a heat wave last week, and I ended up doing Wednesday’s and Saturday’s runs in the mid to high 80s F. It really stunk, but at the same time, it will probably end up helpful. This weekend’s forecast is also looking hot (although now it is looking like it might storm during the race), so it was good practice to be toughing it out in the heat.

I’ve been struggling with my confidence a lot, as I’m running a lot of slower than normal times. I need to calm down about that, because of course when it is hot and I am increasing mileage, I’m going to see some fatigue. Nothing hurts, I’m just lacking energy, which is compounded by a lot of low quality sleep, thanks to the early sunrises. Blackout curtains might be tempting if I wasn’t worried they would further restrict the already pitiful airflow in the house.

I wanted to keep my mileage up this week, but I didn’t want to do a true long run, with the Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon coming up on the 15th. I did back to back medium-long runs instead, which I liked! I don’t plan on doing any super duper long runs (other than this weekend’s marathon) during this training cycle, due to time constraints, and instead plan to run a lot of back to backs. Is that a good strategy? I guess I’ll find out in 12 weeks. (Now I’m screaming internally in my cubicle because 12 weeks is not enough time.)

I gave West Skyline Drive another try on Saturday, since I’d run it as part of last week’s 16 miler. It was still pretty slow, thanks to the heat. Oh, and I had to ration water again, which was stupid. I wore a full backpack of water on Sunday (I guess I should do this on any medium-long run anyway, just for the extra practice, and because it’s kind of like running with a weighted vest) just to be absolutely certain I didn’t run out of water. It was cooler Sunday, as it rained in the morning and early afternoon (I didn’t start running til like 4:00 PM), but it was still humid. I started at Jay Cooke and took the Munger Trail into Carlton, then zagged over to the Alex Laveau trail instead of crossing the road to continue on the Munger Trail. It was a good choice: the Laveau trail is a lot more scenic than the section of Munger I’d have covered.

Tomorrow I’m running the Park Point 5 Miler. It seems stupid to run 2 races in one week, but eh. It’s not like I’m vying for the win in either and sabotaging my chances at greatness. I sort of regret signing up for the PP5M because I have no leg speed right now, but I think a rest day and a longer pre-race warm-up will take care of that. Or not. Since the PP5M is for fun rather than a goal race, I’m just going to throw my goals out here, rather than make a separate post.

A Standard: 49:59
B Standard: 55:00

I ran a 10 mile race faster than that B standard time, but I’m also accounting for these sluggish legs of mine. It’ll be fun and over with quickly, that’s all that matters.

Birkie Trail Ultra Training: Week 1

Last week was tough! High volume training week + unconventional “cross training.”

Monday: 6.5 mi, road
Tuesday: 5.1 mi, trail (Bagley/Hartley)
Wednesday: rest
Thursday: 8.1 mi, road
Friday: 5.3 mi, road
Saturday: 8.1 mi, trail (SHT at Twin Ponds)
Sunday: 16.1 mi, road/trail (West Skyline Drive + Magney to Spirit Mtn SHT)
Total: 49.2 mi

This week of training started off strong, but ended with my confidence in the gutter. I’m trying to separate last week from the first few days of this week, as I keep thinking it’s Monday, but my training reached a fairly low point yesterday. I’ll have to save that for next week’s recap!

I like the format I’ve cooked up (I realize it’s pretty standard), with a mid-week mid-length run, and then a long run on Sunday. I used to do my long runs on Saturdays to ensure I got them in (with Sunday as a back-up day), but now that my spouse works Sundays, it works better for me to use that day to myself to get in my long run. I intended to have a longer run on Saturday (maybe 10 miles), but didn’t get up early enough in the day, didn’t run fast enough (I was really dragging), and had a hard stop due to an appointment to get my cat his summer haircut.

The Bagley/Hartley combo run is a really great way to break up the monotony of Bagley (repeated loops of a 1.7 mile trail get old) while avoiding the construction at Hartley. Since the two trails are linked by the Superior Hiking Trail, it only takes a short jog across Arrowhead road to run both trails in the same run.

I didn’t know this til recently, but Bagley used to be a downhill ski area! My dad and I were out on the pontoon boat listening to music, and he was trying to remember the year “American Pie” came out, based on a memory of skiing on Rock Hill with his friends in the early ’70s. I had no idea. UMD has a brief history of the area on their website, including a photo of the rope tow. It wasn’t Mont Blanc, but it was the only local option until Spirit Mountain opened.

Both Saturday and Sunday, I was hoping to complete my trail runs under the 17:17 minimum pace for the Birkie. Not because I was trying to race my training, but because I was hoping that wouldn’t be a tough pace to hit for shorter runs. It was disheartening to be slower than that for both runs.

Saturday I ran the SHT starting at Twin Ponds and going southwest (roughly). I run this section because Twin Ponds is the closest spot for me to jump on the trail, but I also hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate parts of this section. There’s a climb that seems endless on the way out, and it just wears me down. I think that alone will keep me from ever doing the Wild Duluth 100K, since it comes fairly early on in the race.

SHT altitude

Part of me is like, stop running this section if it’s so frustrating. But that’s the quitter in me. Really what I have to do is conquer this beast. Also I have to stop running it in full sun.

I saw lots of local runners I know out there – I guess that’s what happens when I do my trail runs in the morning instead of in the late afternoon. It was a nice treat to see friends!

Later that afternoon I did a couple rounds of knee-boarding, which I will call my strength training for the day.

Sunday I was absolutely determined to do 16 miles. This is my sole “long run” before Curnow – FANS doesn’t count. Once again, I got up early, but not as early as planned. I was stressed out/feeling guilty because running was going to cut into time spent with my nephews, but I knew I needed to get it done. I kept trying to come up with excuses to shorten it, but I managed to shut up all those voices. I did make a concession and chose to run the majority of it on the road/snowmobile trails instead of entirely on the SHT, in order to save time. It still took nearly 5 hours.

I started at the SHT trailhead near Ely’s Peak (the alternate trail head), but ran down Beck’s Rd to Skyline Drive. That was almost exactly a mile, and mostly uphill (actually the first 2 miles were mostly uphill, but it didn’t feel like mostly downhill on the way back! Very annoying.) It was a bit scary to be running along the side of a road that, while not very busy, has a fairly high speed limit.

I was making great time on the roads, but it was hot, and that started to take its toll on me, especially once I got onto the trails. This section of the SHT contains some fairly technical trail, although there are a few sections near Spirit Mountain that flatten out and are runnable. I ended up choosing to follow the access road at Spirit Mountain rather than getting back on the SHT, and then took a snowmobile trail down to where it meets up again with the SHT at Knowlton Creek. That took a big chunk of climbing off my run.

The short sections on the SHT really dragged. I hated every downhill, because it meant another uphill I’d have to maneuver. I was so sick of the steep, rocky climbs. It was hotter than I had anticipated – 80F or possibly warmer, with little cloud cover. The trail is mostly shaded, but the pockets of sun were tough. Once I got back onto the road, I had about 5 miles left, but I was pretty low on water. I hadn’t filled my pack up entirely, as I’ve never gone through a whole pack of water. That was stupid. I had to ration it the rest of the way, and that slowed me down. I walked long stretches of the road that I had expected to run. Another blow to my confidence. I know the Birkie course will not be that punishing – a cross-country ski race isn’t going to be held on a course full of rocks – but the distance itself is going to be punishing. The important part is I stuck it out, didn’t turn around early, and didn’t stop moving.

I still managed to water-ski and knee-board that afternoon, so again, I got my strength workout in!

Perception and Reality

After taking essentially 3 weeks off from running (ok there was a 29.5 mile race mixed in there), I’m back to training. After feeling down on myself for having such a poor showing at FANS, I rashly signed up for the Birkie Trail Run 100K. I can’t say that it was a bad decision, but I don’t know that I thought it through very hard. I have 14 weeks to find a way to turn it into a good idea.

My biggest concern is the cut-off, 17.5 hours. That’s a 17:17 pace (based on the stated distance of 60.7 miles, although there are two other, shorter, listed distances for the course). My 50K pace in April? 17:17. Hmmm.

The other concern I have is that hardly anyone runs it. It might be a lonely day out there. But then again, I won’t hear anyone chattering in my ear.

In order to finish this race, I’m going to have to work hard. I mean, obviously. Haven’t I been working hard all along though? I’ve run a marathon and 3 ultra-distances in the past year so I must be working hard.


I think I work hard though. I convince myself that I am working hard, putting lots of effort into running, pushing myself. But I really don’t. There are flashes of real, honest effort – the sub-zero training runs I did over the winter, for example. I’m not going to pretend to downplay those runs – I know in those moments I was a badass.

I take the path of least resistance in most aspects of life, even when it comes to hard stuff like running an ultra (or becoming an engineer – by the way, I passed that test I was whining about). My training volume is very, very low compared to the average ultra runner, and while training is individual and what works for one person doesn’t work for another, all I know is low-volume training. So how do I know that running 60 miles/week average isn’t actually better for me than 36-37 miles/week average? I don’t. But I pretend to myself that I’m doing enough.

I can’t pretend anymore, if I want to succeed at the Birkie. I have to really work. I have to take a serious look at my nutrition and drop a bit of weight. I have to get up early on the weekends to get the miles in. I have to find the time for the miles, not find the miles for the time. I have to get serious about strength workouts beyond just some pushups and MYRTLs. I have to run uncomfortably sometimes. I have to stop giving myself permission to do less than what is required.

This is going to be interesting for me. It’s a chance to re-think what is possible for me, and to achieve something that five years ago wasn’t even on my radar, let alone within my capabilities. It’s a chance to get closer to the abstract goal of running a hundred miler someday, to turn that possibility somewhere over the horizon into a probability somewhere just down the road.