Race Report: FANS 24 Hour Race 2019

Little by little, brick by brick.

Official Results:
Distance: 45.4 mi
Pace: N/A, but I tapped out at about 15:14, so 20:08
Placing:
TBD once the results are published

Watch Results:
Time: 15:14:02
Pace: 16:12
Distance: 48.1 mi (once my watch even beeped off a mile while I was sitting in a chair)
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals:
Big distance PR, short laps

Food:
What I ate the night before: Gyro pizza
What I ate on race morning: bagel with cream cheese
What I carried with me: gels, mints (I had some Oreo cookies at my tent), water bottle with electrolyte tabs

Gear:
What I wore: t-shirt, shorts, arm warmers for the first few laps, ball cap, hydration vest (without a water bottle – used for storage), buff as headband (in the afternoon)
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker

Discussion: It’s pretty amazing how much the events of the week preceding the race can affect the race itself. The cumulative effects of a rainy and chilly Twins game on Monday, another Twins game on Tuesday that wasn’t rainy or cold but got out late, a lot of deadlines and stress at work, a really poor night’s sleep on Wednesday, air quality issues late in the week that left me feeling sick, and temperatures over 90F on Friday ended up putting me in a significant sleep debt. To cap it off, despite being tired when I went to bed on Friday, at a very decent hour, after avoiding caffeine most of the day (just like I did at Ice Age), my bedroom was so hot and stuffy I couldn’t fall asleep. I had a built-in excuse right from the get-go! Lucky me!

Before this week, I was really excited for the race. I imagined that I was going to really enjoy myself out there, that the shorter loops and the even surface would mean I could really cruise and even walking would be a lot faster. I pictured myself taking selfies with all my friends at the start and having a great time. I even allowed myself to imagine, for a moment, taking a few short loops at the end, dead tired but triumphant. It’s disappointing now to look back at how excited I was the week prior, and how optimistic I was, and see that I let the days preceding the race wholly throw me off my game.

I spent most of Friday preparing for the race, after doing almost nothing earlier in the week. I was just so darn tired. I meant to sleep in as late as possible, but ended up waking up at 7 to feed the cats and had a hard time truly falling back asleep, so I got up around 9. Very annoying, I used to be a champ at sleeping in. I realize that 9 am is sleeping in to a lot of people, but it’s all relative! I felt sick most of the day; my eyes itched and my head felt stuffy. I hoped it was due to the air quality and not due to an illness. Allergy pills didn’t help at all. I felt so listless I didn’t want to run any errands before the race, but I managed to get everything done that I needed to. I bought a bunch of gels (yes, I waited til the day before the race to replenish my gel stash!), picked up some bagels and vanilla Coke, packed my gear bag (I got a free duffel bag at the Twins game on Tuesday, which was the perfect size for my gear), re-stocked my supply kit, and went to packet pick-up to get my number and my t-shirt.

I tried to be as minimalist and self-sufficient as possible for this race. It stresses me out to rely on others for this event. It’s a lot to ask people to get up early/stay up late and sit around bored while I run in loops, whine and grump, and then throw in the towel early. It’s also very embarrassing to me to pack a lot of stuff, set up a tent, etc., and then have to haul it all away in a walk of shame when I tap out before the event ends. So this time, I brought hardly any gear at all, no tent, and I drove myself to the race. I told my dad he could stop by (this was a big mistake for him, because I was cranky every time he got there, which I feel badly about), and my husband came in the evening to support me overnight (the two of them also ferried my car back to our house, so that I wouldn’t have to figure that out later on), but other than that, I didn’t make a big deal of the race or invite a bunch of friends to do loops with me. You would think that this would make it easier to quit, but it actually worked out in my favor. The first year, I quit early in part because I knew that my dad was leaving and that would mean I’d have to haul a bunch of stuff back to his house in the morning, so I chose to quit so that we could send the tent and chairs and stuff back to his place when he left. I find that the more inconvenient a race is for others, the less likely I am to run it, or in this case, complete it. It’s sort of funny because in other spheres of my life, I am pretty self-centered, but in running I can’t seem to muster any of that selfishness.

I showed up to the event at about 7:00, a little later than the year prior, but I didn’t have to stake out a tent location. Instead of bringing my own tent, I was lucky enough to mooch off my friends’ tent. Through my race volunteering adventures, I have made friends with some incredibly awesome people who are also much more serious runners than I am. My friends Jeff and Amy had a whole set-up going, with a canopy, tent, tables, chairs, etc., and right next to them, my friends Tyson and Stefanie had a similar camp. I was able to lug my chair, cooler, tackle box, and duffel bag over to their site in one trip. (One benefit of the last-minute change of venue due to flooding at Fort Snelling: the new location has a parking lot close to the “camping” area.) I took over a little corner at the front of Amy and Jeff’s tent and walked over to get weighed in at the start. (The timing tent was actually about a quarter of a mile from the tent area, which was a little strange. I technically ran like 45.6 miles before giving up, boo, I was robbed of mileage!)

I felt really tired and out of it at the start, and basically wanted to quit right away. I have a serious running attitude problem that I need to fix if I ever want to improve. This self-defeating nonsense that gets inside my head on race day is seriously hampering my fun. Since there was no actual reason for quitting, I soldiered on. My legs felt kind of heavy, which was to be expected because I felt sleepy and because I hadn’t run since the previous Sunday (due to feeling sick/overwhelmed/tired). Overall, things just sucked for the first few miles, but I figured I’d get into a groove and go from there.

The new course is a bit different; it’s much hillier than the Fort Snelling course, and it’s all pavement. It’s also much busier; while I wouldn’t say it was crowded, there were a lot more non-racers on the course at any given time. There’s still a bit of plane traffic overhead since it’s close to the airport, and there was a lot more street traffic noise, since it’s much more urban. While I was glad not to have the painful gravel from Fort Snelling, I didn’t realize how much the asphalt would affect me.

For the first few loops, I used the hills as a natural point to switch from running to walking. I was drinking and eating gels fairly regularly; I didn’t want to get behind on my nutrition since that has been an issue for me in past races. There were Rice Krispie bars at the smaller aid station, and I probably ate three or four of those (or more) throughout the day – they were a bit sticky but they were a nice change from the usual cookies/chips, and they were surprisingly easy to eat, I thought they might be a little dry. The sun came out fairly early on, and while it was much cooler than it had been the day before, I started to heat up quickly. I decided to change my strategy to manage the heat; I told myself I’m here to stay, I’m not going to let myself get overheated, and I started walking entire laps. My friend Amy, who was entered in the 6 hour race but not really racing, joined me for a lap and perked me up. After running along in relative silence for close to 4 hours, I was glad to have her to talk to, and it changed my mental outlook. Talking to her also helped me release some of my expectations and anxieties about the race. I didn’t have to do anything, there was nothing I was supposed to do. I could do whatever I wanted.

I ended up resting a lot between laps, something I hadn’t done in the two previous races. I sat down and put my feet up a few times during the day, just to take the weight off my feet. I was having blister issues, which was unsurprising – I got them in the exact same spots I did at Ice Age, so my feet likely didn’t have a chance to recover entirely. I stopped and dealt with the first batch of blisters, drank some pop, and then got back out there. If this race has taught me anything, it’s that I need to get a much better handle on blister prevention. Time to start experimenting with the tips from Fixing Your Feet.

I thought things were going better for me after I taped up my feet, but then I got either sweat or sunscreen in my eyes. It doesn’t matter which, it just matters that it hurt like crazy and the sun and wind didn’t help. One eye was burning so badly that I had to run about half a mile with it mostly closed, tears running down my cheeks. I had to stop for probably 20 minutes to rinse out my eyes and let the stinging subside. I put a buff on my head under my hat after that and didn’t have any more problems, so maybe it was sweat (or sweat and sunscreen mixed together). Just as I was ready to head out after dealing with my eyes, my colleague (who was running the 6 hour) came by and said he’d walk the last lap of his race with me. We talked about strategy, and he told me screw it, just walk until it cools off or you feel better. He’s done the 24 hour race before, so I trusted his judgement. Once again, just spending a lap talking to someone changed my mindset for the better, and I was able to pick up the pace to match his.

After my colleague peeled off to do some short laps, I continued right into another lap. I knew I was getting close to a marathon, and I dialed in on that milestone. I told myself no more breaks til I was beyond the marathon. I hit the 26.2 mi mark at 7:13:24 (they had signs marking a marathon, 50K, 50 mi, etc.), and then focused on hitting 50K. I was feeling more motivated, so I switched to running the shady sections and walking the sunny sections, and was really motoring (for me). I could tell I was getting more blisters, and I had switched to straight water because I didn’t stop for more electrolyte tabs, but I wanted to get to 50K before I took another break. The 50K mark was between the timing tent and the camping area, but I wanted to do the entire loop to get “credit” for reaching 50K before I took a break.

I hit 50K in 8:44:37 and finished that loop for 31.6 miles. After that loop, I was looking forward to stopping, dealing with my feet, eating some spaghetti (yes, really) and chilling out. My dad was there when I reached the tent, and for some reason that was making me super anxious. I don’t know what it was, but it made me feel like a zoo animal, like he was just watching me and waiting for what I was going to do. Which he kind of was, but mentally at that point I just couldn’t take it. He said he was going to wait to leave until I was on my next lap, and that seemed like too much expectation. I ended up eating a couple cookies instead of the spaghetti, and basically told him to leave by saying I was going to start my next lap soon. Oh look, there was some of that selfishness coming out. After he left, I dealt with my blisters and hung out for a little longer talking to Amy before I headed out.

I ate my spaghetti on the following lap, as well as part of a piece of ciabatta. This was one of the biggest benefits of walking through the afternoon – my stomach was feeling great, as was most of the rest of my body. I was eating and drinking like normal, everything was going down fine, I wasn’t losing weight (I’d lost 2.5 lbs between the morning weigh-in and the 4:00 PM weigh in, but at the 8:00 PM weigh in, I was stable), and I didn’t have any dehydration issues (total TMI but because I wasn’t worried about time, I used the real bathroom at the pavilion a couple times, so I can confirm I was staying hydrated). I also didn’t have any issues with finger swelling like I did at Ice Age.

For a little while, things started to look up. The sun was still hot (I reapplied sunscreen at 6PM, and Amy asked “Are you sure you need that? It’s after 6.” I’m just that pasty) but I was able to run a lot more than I had been able to when it was hotter. I felt like things were going well. Then my feet started to hurt a lot. Not just the blisters, but the balls of my feet, as well as the side/top of my right foot, which hurt like my left one did last year. I was getting worried. I switched to completing a loop, then putting my feet up to rest, then heading out for another.

And it got dark! I made it past nightfall! That was huge for me. Last year I was still there at night, but I didn’t actually do a loop with a headlamp on. This year I did two. And they were hard. I ran quite a bit of them, mostly because it hurt more to run, but I was starting to get frustrated with how much my feet hurt, how much I wanted to go home and sleep in my own bed, and how futile the rest of the race felt. I passed last year’s total on lap 24, and started to feel better about how things were going, but I was also annoyed with how long each lap was taking. I was past last year’s total, but it had taken me so long to get there. I didn’t know how many more laps I had in me, and I started thinking about what it would take to even get to 50 miles. I finished what ended up being my final lap at about 11:00, and realized that it would probably take over two more hours, maybe even three, to do the three more laps I needed to get to 50 miles, and I decided it wasn’t worth it. I just didn’t feel like the effort was worth the result. I could go home and go to bed, or I could shuffle through a few more laps. I don’t think I could have even made 100K if I’d stayed there til the finish, and I didn’t care.

I don’t feel too badly about it. Of course now I realize I could have shuffled on longer with some tweaks here and there. I could have stopped at the benches along the way, for example. I could have stayed in my chair and just done a lap here or there and stayed there all night. I could have just shuffled along in increasing amounts of pain. But that’s okay. These are all things I am saying in hindsight; in the moment, I didn’t think of them, or I just didn’t want to do them. But I still did a lot.

I figured out a survival strategy when things were going wrong. I fixed my blisters (kind of) and got back out there. I ran when it hurt. I got back out there when I didn’t want to, over and over again. I didn’t chafe. I didn’t get sunburned. I ate and drank like I should have. I spent time with my friends. I got a distance PR and lasted longer than I ever have at this event. I ran night loops. I did all this on really minimal training – the only truly long run I did was another race.

I’m left with a lot of the same questions in my mind as I had last year. Am I cut out for these really long races? Is this event a waste of my time? Should I just do the 12 hour or 6 hour next year? So much helpful self-doubt and self-flagellation. Yet I do keep improving. And I do love this event. And there’s something so special about the loops after 8 PM and that solidarity that the 24 hour runners have that I don’t think I want to give up. I think I really need a big success at this event before I’ll feel comfortable trying for 100K or longer (I could probably still give 50 miles a shot, though it would need to be the right race), so it’s probably going to be on the docket for next year, even though I said last night that maybe I’ve finally scratched the itch this race has given me.

I completed 45.4 miles and was still running at the end. Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t even run the entire mile in gym class because it seemed too hard. Five years ago, I couldn’t even handle marathon training. When I feel like a failure, it helps to remember where I started.

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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.

Race Report: Polar Dash Half Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stravapolardash

What is this???

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Report: Moustache Run Half Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Report: Run4Britt 5K

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Report: Twin Cities Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Report: Moose Mountain Marathon 2018

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

Ani Difranco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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