Race Report: Ice Age 50K

The first rule of trying to beat your PR is to know what your PR actually is.

Official Results:
Time: 8:23:33
Pace: 16:13
Placing:
Overall: 224/242
Gender: 108/121
AG (F30-39): 36/39

Watch Results:
Time: 8:22:49 (Since there was a timing mat at the beginning, I didn’t start the watch til I crossed the mat, but it appears they used gun time for the official time)
Pace: 16:12
Distance: 31.02 mi (this is crazy because during the race it seemed very off)
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals:
A: 7:45
B: 8:00
C: 8:20

Food:
What I ate the night before: half of a peanut chicken noodle dish from Noodles that wasn’t very good
What I ate on race morning: bagel with cream cheese
What I carried with me: 8 gel packets, water, water with electrolytes in a disposable water bottle, mints

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

Discussion:
I am so happy with how the race went, even though I didn’t make any of my goals and didn’t PR. I didn’t even make my fake PR, which I thought was 8:23. I don’t know what I was thinking, since my PR is 8:14, but I didn’t think of that until like 20 miles into the race. I even linked to the race report from the Fall Back Blast, where I set that PR, but I didn’t even verify it. I was mixing it up with my trail marathon PR, which is 7:22, I guess. This ended up being a good thing because it gave me something to fight for when I realized all of my goals were out of reach.

I drove down to packet pickup the night before, then made a quick drive-by of the race start to check it out, then drove to my hotel about a half an hour away. I ate a depressing dinner; I guess I should have stuck with the spaghetti or something but I was worried about getting heartburn from the red sauce. I sort of put myself in the hole, nutrition-wise, but oh well. I went to bed fairly early (for me) and I actually slept! I think I got about 5 hours. I woke up before my 6:45 alarm, but overall I was very happy with the amount of sleep I got, considering I’d have an almost 5 hour drive ahead of me after the race.

I got to the race start with about 20 minutes to spare, which is a lot less time than I’d like, but I had enough time to do everything I needed to. Parking was very easy, and it was a very short walk to the start/finish area. The 50 milers had been off for hours, and the half marathoners would start after us 50Kers. The start was a bit of a surprise for most people, but that’s because so many people were talking while the race director was giving his speech.

Section 1: Start to AS 3 (1.5 mi section, 1.5 mi overall, 13:32 section pace, 13:32 overall pace): I guess I really cruised through this section! It’s fairly easy, a few little rolling hills and then a nice section through some pines. The trail is really wide here, so there wasn’t the normal bunching that you see at the start of a race with single track early on. I breezed through the aid station as I didn’t need anything. This section is actually run 4 times during the course, but this was the only time I did it in that “clockwise” direction. I can’t tell if it’s much easier that way, or if it was easier because it was the first segment in the race. Possibly both?

Section 2: AS 3 to AS 8 (0.9 mi section, 2.4 mi overall, 14:47 section pace, 14:00 overall pace): I’m not 100% certain why there are two aid stations so close together, but with three vastly different courses for the three distances, there is probably some logic to it I don’t understand. I didn’t need anything at this aid station since it was also so close to the start, so I cruised through. Honestly, I don’t remember much about this section, other than the “Confusion Corner” point, where there are so many different directions to go. The 50 milers have to go through that section quite a few times and go different ways, so they have volunteers out there helping to get people through. I slowed down a bit here so there must have been some climbing involved, but since it was less than a mile, it’s easy to forget.

Section 3: AS 8 to AS 9 (4.2 mi section, 6.6 mi overall, 15:29 section pace, 14:57 overall pace): This section is really hard! It has probably the most challenging climbs of the day, including a huge one right after the aid station. It does have some sections to run, so it’s probably my favorite type of trail running. I don’t mind a few decent climbs, as long as they aren’t as steep as Moose Mountain. I think the course description undersold how much of this section can be run, but maybe for a faster runner it wouldn’t seem that way. For the amount of climbing/uphills in this section, I think that’s a pretty freaking great section pace! The aid station/turnaround was near a horse camp, and I could hear some horses whinnying when I passed. I don’t really like horses, but that was kind of fun! I drank some pop at the aid station and grabbed a couple cookies. At some point during this section, I ate a gel. Since it was an out and back, I got to encounter all the runners ahead of me on the way back, which is okay but also gets old.

Section 4: AS 9 to AS 8 (4.2 mi section, 10.9 mi overall, 16:20 section pace, 15:29 overall pace): Dang, I slowed down a lot here! I am surprised. I did have some minor stomach trouble here, as I drank too much pop at the aid station and it made me feel kind of gross. I ate one of the cookies but had to force it down, and then ate a mint (Lifesavers wintergreen). I need to break those mints in half because I was sick of the darn thing but didn’t have anywhere to put it and was not about to litter. I didn’t have a gel during this section because of the stupid mint! That was probably dumb. I started running into 50 milers during this section, which was neat! They were spaced out farther than the 50Kers on the previous section, so it didn’t interrupt my rhythm as much.

Section 5: AS 8 to AS 3 (0.9 mi section, 11.8 mi overall, 17:12 section pace, 15:37 overall pace): I have no clue why I slowed so much during this section. I didn’t stop at the aid station, so I guess I was just dawdling.

Section 6: AS 3 to AS 2 (start/finish) (1.5 mi section, 13.3 mi overall, 15:30 section pace, 15:36 overall pace): Here, I started to encounter half marathoners finishing up as well as 50Kers finishing their first loop. Both were a little demoralizing, especially since the half marathoners were finishing the same distance as me, but had started 45 minutes later. Of course, they had a bit easier terrain to run and they didn’t have to conserve energy for another 18 miles, but still!

Section 7: AS 2 to AS 1 (5 mi section, 18.3 mi overall, 15:48 section pace, 15:40 overall pace): This section starts out with about 2 miles to just cruise. I vowed to myself that I would run all the runnable sections, because I think at this point I had realized that my A and B goals were out the window but that my C goal was within reach, if I kept on it. I also thought that meant a PR, so I was really holding on to that. Once the two miles of mostly flat terrain ends, it’s 3 miles of rolling hills, some of them rather large. I think this section’s hilliness is undersold, which is the opposite of the description of the first portion of the course. I thought the aid station was 4.5 miles away, not 5, so I was getting extremely frustrated until I checked my pace chart and realized it was farther away than I thought. At the aid station, I reapplied sunscreen and some Vaniply to a few spots that were chafing.

Section 8: AS 1 to AS 2 (3.9 mi section, 22.2 mi overall, 17:29 section pace, 15:59 overall pace): Woof! This section was hard! The funny thing is, I don’t remember it being hard physically. I do remember it being hard mentally, because I was running with a lot of 50kers who were finishing while I had one more lap to go. It had a few hills, but still.

Section 9: AS 2 to AS 1 (5 mi section, 27.2 mi overall, 15:32 section pace, 15:54 overall pace): I left the finish line determined to give it my all on this last loop. I knew that AS 1 was closing at 3, so I planned to run right through it. I was starting to hurt a bit at this point, and I know my gait was starting to get wobbly, but I continued to run even if I wanted to walk and/or lie down in the grass and quit. And sure enough, I ran this section 4 minutes faster than the first time, although most of that was because I didn’t stop at the aid station. At this point, I still had hope of finishing in 8:20, and I was jazzed leaving the aid station.

Section 10: AS 1 to the finish line (3.9 mi section, 31 mi overall, 18:03 section pace, 16:12 overall pace): Well, any hope of finishing in under 8:20 died in this section. I am still a bit confused about what was so hard about this particular section, because it isn’t that bad, but I was also sort of crushed by it. I had the physical energy to continue but my joints were starting to hurt, especially my hips. The bottoms of my feet weren’t feeling great either, and I had blisters on both heels. At one point, the blister on my right heel burst and it started to feel like absolute fire every time I took a step, without the nice cushion of fluid to prevent my sock from rubbing on raw skin. I was demoralized and knew that I didn’t have the 8:20 finish in me, but I kept going. I ran when I didn’t want to run, even some uphills. I was getting passed by 50 milers who looked like they were in much better shape than me for the most part. I thought even the 8:23 was beyond hope, but I kept on pushing. I didn’t want to give up, and I started to look at the race as mental test for what I’ll be facing at FANS. I saw the red Saucony signs which marked the approach of the finish line, and realized I could still squeak under 8:23 if I pushed. So I pushed, and even though the stupid finish is UPHILL for some terrible reason, I ran through the finish with a smile on my face and finished under 8:23 per my watch. (If only I’d known to start my watch at the gun instead of when I crossed the timing mat…)

After the finish, I got my finisher’s token and walked around elated. I know why this race is so popular, and it’s not because the course is challenging but fun, or because the scenery is beautiful. It’s because everyone involved is so nice. Like, I want to cry when I think about how nice everyone was. The finish was crowded with people who were shouting encouragement at me, and I couldn’t stop grinning and thanking them. I sat down and had a ginger ale and talked with a volunteer, then headed off to find a bathroom. I decided I wasn’t quite ready to go inside anywhere, so I sat down and had a nice conversation with a 50 miler name Pat, and then another guy who I know by face but not name (and was too spaced out to ask for his name) who recognized my Rocksteady Running gear. I talked with Pat’s cute daughter who was telling me all about her dolphin she had gotten at an arcade or something (I wasn’t quite following), and then I had to get up and go because some woman in the medical tent was throwing up her entire soul and I couldn’t deal with seeing that or even trying to ignore it but knowing it was happening.

I walked over to the lot where I thought my car was, realized it was in a different grassy lot, and hobbled over to that lot to change my clothes (I changed everything except my sports bra and underwear, I didn’t even care that I took my pants off in the middle of a field) and then drove home.

I had a lot of thoughts and feelings during this race, mostly about my future as an ultrarunner. I don’t know what was going on in my head, but I was thinking “Why am I doing this?” quite a bit. That tends to happen a lot when I’m doing a race that’s far from home and requires a lot of money and effort to attend; I feel like I would rather just go back home and go to bed. Unfortunately this race gives a couple primo opportunities to just quit, since you come through the finish area at 13 and 22 miles. And I thought about quitting a couple times, and I’m not sure why. I really do enjoy the sport and by the end I was reminded why I do it: because of the strong connection with other runners and volunteers, because of the beauty of the outdoors, because I do love the challenge and the struggle, and because a runner’s high is an unbeatable feeling.

I was surprised by how much self-doubt I felt during the race despite overall performing pretty well. I suppose that’s partially because I have not been training that hard, which was evident from the pain in my legs and feet. I know I made a lot of nutrition mistakes during the race (and leading up to it), but I never really felt like my energy was lagging, I just felt like it hurt so much I didn’t want to run. But I still did. I ran almost all of the runnable sections of the race, with a few exceptions: one downhill that was pretty steep and a little bit of time after my blister exploded (but it actually hurt more to walk than to run). I feel like I pushed harder than I have in the past, and I’m pretty proud of that. This is still faster than both of my other runs on the Ice Age Trail (as part of Chippewa Moraine – obviously a different section of the trail), so I’ll call it an Ice Age Trail PR.

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Ice Age 50K Goals

I’m racing in 12 hours! Surprise surprise. I am of course going from excitement to anxiety and back from minute to minute. The farther away from home I go for a race, the more that seems to happen.

I really want to get a 50K PR, so my goals are as follows:

A Standard: 7:45
B Standard: 8:00
C Standard: 8:20

Ambitious? Maybe. Probably. Yes.

The single most important thing I can do right now is get enough sleep. I mean, 4 hours would be great. I don’t have to get up super early (maybe 6:45?) so maybe that is going to work in my favor, but maybe not. I was on a work trip last week and I had a terrible time sleeping, so I am not anticipating a nice long snooze. Of course worrying about it now doesn’t help, does it?

I don’t know much about this course. It sounds like the first 13 miles are hilly and the two 9 mile loops after are more runnable. I don’t know what to expect beyond that. The area looks gorgeous, and I hope I am able to enjoy it.

That sounds very fatalistic, I guess. I realized I haven’t run an ultra in almost a year. That is crazy! I didn’t realize it had been that long, but I DNS both Zumbro (canceled) and Surf the Murph (ugh), and my other two big fall races were marathons. So it’s hard to know what to expect, plus my mileage has been a lot lower lately since I’ve been not super enthusiastic about running. I think I’m in good shape and I’m going to have a much better race than I did at, say, Moose Mountain Marathon, but I also don’t know what kind of mental shape I’m in. We shall see.

Chippewa Moraine 50K Training: Weeks 11-12

Wait, I’m running an ultra next month?

Monday (3/5):
 7.2 mi, treadmill
Tuesday: 6.1 mi, treadmill
Wednesday: 6.8 mi, treadmill
Thursday: rest
Friday: rest (sick)
Saturday: 5.7 mi, treadmill walk
Sunday: 5.8 mi, treadmill walk
Total: 31.6 mi

Monday (3/12): rest
Tuesday: rest
Wednesday: rest
Thursday: rest
Friday: 3.2 mi, treadmill
Saturday: 2.5 mi, treadmill
Sunday: rest
Total: 5.7 mi

A lot happened. I ended up getting a cold, which wasn’t great, but it wasn’t so bad that I was bedridden. I consider this a massive improvement over the colds I used to get. I walked on Saturday and Sunday of week 11 just to keep my legs going, since I knew that I wasn’t going to do much the next week.

Monday of week 12, the movers arrived to start packing up my house. I got in 10,000 steps just dealing with packing stuff and cleaning and preparing to move. I slept really poorly Sunday night, so my plan to work out after the movers left on Monday didn’t come to fruition.

Tuesday, the movers loaded all the stuff onto their truck, my husband and I cleaned up the house we were renting in Duluth, and then we loaded the last few things, plus our cats, into our cars and drove down to St. Paul. Another exhausting day.

Wednesday, the movers showed up with all of our stuff, and then we started unpacking. Thursday, my husband worked and I tried to do some unpacking, but it’s sort of a puzzle, or like untangling a thread. In order to unpack this box, I need to unpack that one, and in order to unpack that one, I need to figure out where the bookshelf is going to go, and so on. Or I can’t unpack this box because I don’t have a bar in my closet to hang stuff.

Friday I finally worked out for awhile! It felt strange. I ran on the treadmill, which is now in my living room (we couldn’t get it downstairs) and on a wood floor, so it’s a bit noisier. (Well, it’s on a mat on a wood floor.) Then I went to two hockey games and walked all over downtown St. Paul. Saturday I did an even shorter workout, chilled with my nephew for a bit, and then went to two more hockey games and walked all over downtown St. Paul. Sunday I went to a baby shower and didn’t get up in time to buy a gift and drive across town to the shower, so I didn’t run.

So now I’m in a new city with a new role, a longer commute, and no tried-and-true running routes (but plenty to discover!). I’m trying to get back to normal, but it might take awhile to get back into a groove. Warmer weather should help, if that ever comes. Today is the vernal equinox, so of course it snowed. Ha!

Fall Running Goals: 2017 Revisited

Fall ends very early in Duluth, so even though we’ve not reached the winter solstice, I’m ready to close the book on the season.

I won’t be setting any goals for “winter” (December-February), because I don’t really race then. I’ll set my year-long goals in January, and then do seasonal goals for spring, summer, and fall. I know some people need that next race on the calendar to get themselves psyched up, but I feel great about not having any running obligations, and I’m glad to have a break from race fees!

My fall running goals were as follows:

  1. Course personal best at WD50K.
    I didn’t finish, so I’m starting off well here.
  2. Set another marathon PR.
    I didn’t start the Birkie, so I didn’t set a marathon PR. I finished the Fall Back Blast in 15:55, a pace nearly a minute faster than my marathon PR pace from July.
  3. Run all the remaining segments of the Superior Hiking Trail between Duluth and Two Harbors.
    I completed all the segments except the long one from Lake County Demonstration Forest to Reeves Road. Bummer, but I didn’t have the time nor the energy for a 22 mile run, and couldn’t make it work to run with a friend and coordinate parking.
  4. Take 2 weeks off deliberately.
    In progress. I’m four days in and have a cold already. Huzzah.

That was a pretty poor showing (25%!), but at the same time, I still set an overall 50K PR, I ran a lot of fun new segments of the Superior Hiking Trail, and I am enjoying my time off during a really annoying cold snap. I had plenty to enjoy about my fall season, even if I didn’t achieve many of my goals. It’s about the journey, not the destination.

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.

Fall Back Blast 50K Goals

I signed up for another race! Huzzah!

I wanted to do this 12 hour race in North Dakota on Oct 29 in order to try to meet my summer goal of a distance personal best, but I was worried I would still be sick, and the logistics were kind of terrible, and it snowed a lot here anyway, so I didn’t sign up. Hooray, money saved.

Still annoyed about my DNF at WD50K, I checked Northland Runner to see if I could find another marathon or ultra to do this fall. Glory hallelujah, I found the Fall Back Blast in Eau Claire. 2.5 hour drive, 4 loop course, 9 hour cutoff – works well for me.

The weather doesn’t look like it’s going to be spectacular – it looks like it’s going to rain in the morning – although earlier this week it looked like it was going to rain all day, so things are improving.

Goals:
A Standard: 8:00
B Standard: 8:15
C Standard: 8:45

Why not go for a 50K PR? It won’t be the course PR I was looking for 2 weeks ago, but I kind of have to get over that. Additional goals: avoid severe hypothermia, drive home after the race safely (I’m only staying over Friday night), and avoid soiling myself and/or vomiting everywhere. And then enjoy the extra hour of sleep on Sunday!

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!