Race Report: Fall Back Blast

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

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

Goals: 
A: 8:00
B: 8:15
C: 8:45

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

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

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

FBB50K

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some overall thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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Race Report: Run Like An Animal 5K

No, not a Phish 5K. A zoo 5K!

Official Results:
Time: 31:44
Pace: 10:13
Placing:
Overall: 44/87
Gender: 19/40

Watch Results:
Time: 31:46
Pace: 10:43
Distance: 2.96
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals: 
A: 29:59

Food:
What I ate the night before: Tandoori chicken, saffron rice, roasted cauliflower, and a German chocolate cupcake (fancy dinner for my husband’s birthday)
What I ate on race morning: Clif bar
What I carried with me: nothing

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

Discussion: If you would like to PR, this is not the race.

zoo5kalt

LOL.

I saw this race pop through my Facebook feed a few days ago. My brother and sister-in-law and my nephew were in town this past weekend, and I figured this would be a fun event. We ran the 5K, my nephew ran the kids’ race, and then we got free admission to the zoo, where there was cake and a bouncy house.

I slept kind of crappy the night before the race, although still way better than I sleep before my longer races. I woke up due to a power outage (something about the absence of sound wakes me up) and it took awhile to fall back asleep, and then my cats bugged me before my alarm went off. Oh well. I was worried about getting to the race too late to get a parking spot, or there being a big line to check in. That was not an issue as there were 87 total runners. I got a spot up close and the only reason I had to wait in line to check in was the people ahead of me were asking a bunch of questions. There is an animal costume contest as well, but since we didn’t sign up til the last minute, we didn’t have costumes. There were some nice flamingos. It wasn’t required, as the race website said “Dress up as your favorite animal and participate in our costume contest or come as your beautiful self.” It’s nice to get an affirmation from a race website.

The race starts in the zoo parking lot, and wraps around the grounds of the zoo. There are actual sections that go through exhibits at the beginning. This is both good and bad. It is good because animals are awesome. It is bad because there are a lot of twists and turns. I’ll take that trade. We ran by the barnyard and had the llamas and goats out cheering for us, and then we ran by the lynx exhibit. The lynx was going nuts and running back and forth, clearly wishing to join in.

There were three big hills, as you can see from the altitude graph above, and I’m not too proud to say I walked 2/3 of them. Good for me. I ran 7.5 miles the day before, my legs were tired. Also I have no grit. We left the zoo and ran through the park where the race ended. My nephew was there with my dad and stepmother, and he was hollering encouragement at all the runners. It was very uplifting! I ran by and complained that the race was hard. We ended up on a dirt trail after than and then a short out and back on the Kingsbury Creek trail, which I’ve run several times, and then the race turned into the home stretch. All the twists and turns messed up my GPS and I actually wasn’t expecting the end so soon. We ran through a short grassy section in the park for the finish. My sister in law finished a bit ahead of me, and my brother a bit behind me, and we headed to the food tent to get some grub. The weather had heated up pretty quickly from when I left the house to when the race began – it was sunny and humid.

The food at the race was fabulous – they had glazed donuts! And goldfish crackers, which I love. My nephew was pretty pumped to get half a donut, a banana, and some of my crackers. He needed to carb up for the kids run. The kids run was fairly long – it started in the parking lot, then went around the perimeter of the park until it reached the finish line flag chute and they got to run through that. The race had various mascots on hand (UMD’s Champ, UWS’s Buzz, the Marcus Theaters popcorn box, and the tiki guy from the Edgewater resort) to lead the way, and our family spread out along the course to cheer our little dude on. He ran the whole way! And still had energy at the finish!

After the race festivities were over, we all went into the zoo. Before we could even get to the exhibits, we had to stop at the bouncy house, strategically placed right at the bottom of the stairs from the main building. Fortunately there was also cake, so we were able to eat cake while my nephew bounced around, and then we finally dragged him away to see the animals. He didn’t seem to see why it wasn’t fun for us to all stand around while he bounced in the bouncy house forever.

This race was really fun! I’ve never done a trail 5K before, and I’m not used to running fast on trails, but I enjoyed it. Obviously if I’d known what the course was going to be like, I wouldn’t have hoped to get under 30 minutes. I look forward to improving on this time next year though!

Race Report: Voyageur 50 2017 (Volunteering)

This was my second year volunteering at the Forbay Lake aid station for Voyageur. It was wildly different than last year for about a zillion reasons, including:

  1. I have actually completed marathons and ultras
  2. I ran the Curnow Marathon (the companion race to Voyageur) this year instead of DNSing
  3. I volunteered with friends, instead of strangers. It just so happens that last year’s strangers are this year’s friends

I showed up at the aid station around 12:40, which was stupid, because it meant I missed the lead runners. In a Darth Vader-Obi-Wan Kenobi moment, it turned out the winner of this year’s race was coached by the runner-up. (I am incredibly jealous – the winner has only been running for 6 years, and went from a 6 hour first marathon to BQs and a 6:56 trail 50 miler. Why can’t I be him?) I didn’t miss too many runners, but I wish I’d calculated better and had arrived at the same time as last year (around 11:45, per my report). I did get to see the first woman come through, on her way to improving the course record by 10 minutes!

We had a huge group of volunteers this year. My friends are part of the Duluth/Superior chapter of Moms Run This Town/She Runs This Town (MRTT/SRTT), and the trail running bug is rampant among those ladies. Several of them were fulfilling their obligation from Curnow ($10 entry fee for Voyageur volunteers), but others were doing it for fun or to learn more about trail/ultrarunning. We had music, vuvuzelas, a Wonder Woman/red, white, and blue theme, and lots of friendly, kind, upbeat faces ready to help with whatever came along. In other words, the perfect aid station.

One of the first people to come into the aid station after I arrived was a shirtless guy with a man bun who announced he was dropping. So that was a bad sign, although he turned out to be our only drop, and he was having serious dehydration issues. Despite the encouragement of a masters runner/total badazz, he did the smart thing and stopped. Another early arrival to our aid station was Doug, 51 year old winner of Zumbro 100 and FANS 24 hour, and Defeat the Stigma superambassador.

Once the leaders came through, most of the rest of the day was spent refilling all manner of water containers (a zillion types of bottles, those horrible prophylactic-esque soft flasks, and several configurations of hydration bladders), coaxing and cajoling boiling hot runners into eating something, pushing salt (not in tablets! just eat it with a potato or watermelon! it works faster! said our resident nutritionist), helping runners dump suspicious-looking white powder from plastic baggies into water bottles, resurrecting people from the dead, reassuring runners that “the next section is easy” and trying to force them out of the aid station while a cloud covered the sun (since the first half mile or so by the river is exposed), and praying that no one throws up 1. in the ice cooler 2. on the food table or 3. all over me.

Truly a lot of the day is a blur. I encourage all ultrarunners (and marathon runners, or really any runners) to volunteer at aid stations, for multiple reasons.

  1. It provides a greater understanding for all the work that goes into the 30 seconds – 2 minutes you’re there (for those folks whose races always go well, ha). Volunteers are always, always, always doing the very best that they can do serve runners as efficiently as possible. It might not seem that way if your water bottle isn’t filled the very instant you walk in, but it’s really not taking as long as it seems. I know when you’re hot and thirsty, it might feel like forever, though. There’s just so. much. going. on.
  2. It gives an opportunity to see what other runners and crew do, or to see how other people use their gear. I learned that tying a knot in one end of a buff is a great way to make a little ice beanie.
  3. It’s a chance to pay forward the amazing treatment you’ve gotten from an aid station volunteer in the past. If anyone’s ever talked you out of dropping, cooled you down, calmed you down, anticipated needs you didn’t even know you had, taken your food garbage in their hands without question, or had to put up with the stench of your sweat while you sat in their personal lawn chair, aid station volunteering is the chance to give a fellow runner that same experience. And even if you’ve never had any of the above happen (liar!), trust me, the first time someone who has been practically catatonic for 20 minutes at your aid station gets up, heads out again, and finishes the race thanks to your ministrations, you’ll feel a sense of almost parental pride.

Lots of little things stuck out from the blur. One of the top female runners rolled into the aid station and announced to her crew, “I had an epic throw-up back there.” I backed away slowly, though she ended up being fine and seemed pretty proud of it. Why can’t I be one of those people, who just takes barfing in stride? I’d probably be a better runner.

Last year’s winner (and perpetual podium populator), Mike, came into the aid station looking fresh. I chatted him up like we were friends (we are not, but that is the price you pay for being a very talented runner, buddy), thinking he had finished the race, but in fact he dropped out 18 miles in. Oops. But he was back to crew – for his dad! What a gene pool that family has!

The son of our aid station captain was running the race again. Last year he had a rough go of it but still rallied to a finish. This year he had a rough go of it (once again, his entire family was standing around at the entrance to the aid station, pacing, wondering where he was as runner after runner who they’d seen him hang with earlier came and went), but only spent a few minutes at the aid station before his sister-in-law gave him some tough love, got him out of the chair, and spurred him on to squeak in under 10 hours for a massive time improvement.

We had two (well, at least two) major success stories of the day. One guy came in, not sweating, and sat in a chair for a long rest while we force-fed him (not really) and talked to him, until we were satisfied that he had replenished his fluids/calories and was with it enough to continue. (He was “with it” all along, I guess, so it wasn’t a major concern.) He told us “I made the mistake of telling my wife what was going on, and she texted back ‘please stop.'” Whoops, we’re enablers. Another guy came in just miserably hot and nauseated, and I managed to cool him down and revive him with water, paper towels on the back of his neck (a great trick if you don’t have cooling towels!), and a cup of ice to chew on. He finally told me to get him out of the chair in two minutes, and I timed him, then helped him get his hydration pack back on (I even offered to buckle it) and he got out there and finished. I was so proud! *Sniff* So proud I forgot his bib number, name, and general appearance.

Kevin, author of Superior, a book I’ll eventually review on here, came through the aid station hot but otherwise in good shape, and sat down with us for a bit. I told him I read his book and liked it (does that count as a review), which I imagine is a nice pick-me-up and certainly a nice change from “You look great!” or “You got this!”

One member of the MRTT/SRTT crew was running the race, and the whole day, we were communicating with her husband, getting updates on where she was, and recalculating in our minds whether or not that meant she would make the cutoffs. Several women in our group headed back up the trail to find her once they learned she’d left the previous aid station, so they could run it in with her. Once she came charging in, with authority, she received a hero’s welcome. (“I just ran a less than 10 minute mile in my flip-flops,” my friend Rita told me as she came into the aid station with the pack. Yeesh.)

One of the final runners through was a friend of mine, who I also met volunteering! She cruised through the aid station but turned the wrong way, so I ran after her to 1. give her a hug and 2. guide her in the right direction (over the dam, which has a DANGER: KEEP AWAY sign on it, ironically).

25 minutes or so past the cutoff, the race official came charging out of the woods with two water bottles in his hands, telling us we’ve got to get them filled. The last runner was coming and he was going to let her continue, but she’s not allowed to stop. We filled the bottles with the pitchers we’ve got on the table as the runner comes out of the woods. She looked good and was charging hard. As she passed by, she asked if we had any gels. Which we did, but they were packed up in the car. (Hardly anyone had wanted gels all day!) I yelled at her to keep going and we frantically pawed through the box for the gels. I grabbed three kinds and took off after her (so glad I decided against flip flops!), catching her on the dam. She grabbed two of them and took off. That was my run for the day!

I am now extremely jealous of all these runners and can’t believe I don’t have a race until the big one at the end of September – somehow Curnow seems light years ago, rather than just 2 weeks ago. Maybe someday, if I ever get significantly faster, I’ll run Voyageur. If it’s a cool day, or at least cloudy. Right now once through the power lines at Curnow is enough for me.

Race Report: Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon

Official Results: (added 7/16)
Time: 7:22:17
Pace: 16:53
Placing:
Overall: 358/440
Gender: 117/157

Watch Results:
Time: 7:22:22
Pace: 16:49
Distance: 26.28
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals: (I didn’t make the time to do a goals post on Friday, but I swear these were my goals! I have the time chart to prove it.)
A: 7:15
B: 7:30
C: 8:00

Food:
What I ate the night before: Thai steak salad
What I ate on race morning: bagel and peanut butter
What I carried with me: 5 gels (ate one), water, some candy I didn’t eat

Gear:
What I wore: t-shirt, shorts, trucker hat, prescription sunglasses
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker, hydration vest

Discussion: I love a good revenge race!

Last year, after training hard for Curnow after I added to my calendar out of fear I wasn’t even close to ready for the Moose Mountain Marathon, I did not start the race. It was a low moment, one I didn’t crawl out of until 2 weeks later when I volunteered at Voyageur. I was afraid to start my first ever marathon without any sleep, so I didn’t run it.

I improved on that sleep total by about 30 minutes this year. Despite feeling calm about the race this week or just ignoring its looming presence, running the PP5M on Thursday to get out pre-race jitters, minimizing my caffeine intake on Friday, and taking a relaxed approach to race prep, I went to bed around 10:45 and immediately felt anxiety about the race hit me. I actually considered not running, again, once I realized my chances for sleep were dwindling.

This might sound off the wall, but even half an hour (estimated) of sleep is better than none. Giving my conscious mind even a small amount of time to shut off is preferable to staying awake all night. I would have liked a few hours of sleep, but at least I got a little bit. It turned out, I could have gotten about an hour more, thanks to some dumb mistakes.

I hadn’t done much race prep on Friday night, because I thought I didn’t have much to do. I didn’t, but it took enough time that by the time I left my house, I realized I wouldn’t make it to Carlton in time to take the bus. This was all really stupid stuff, like getting dressed, putting condiments on a bagel (I spent probably 5 minutes looking for cream cheese, only to realize in a moment of absent-mindedness, I had thrown it in the trash Friday morning instead of putting it back in the fridge), and filling my pack. I realized once on the road that I would have to drive to the start after all, which meant I needed to tell my husband (fortunately, he was still up) that I would need a ride after the race. It also meant I was ridiculously early to the start – I could have slept another 45 minutes! But at that point there was no reason to go home and sit for half an hour. I ended up lounging in my car listening to music until about 5:30, when I joined the line for the bathroom. At least I got a great parking spot at the race!

The start was very low-key. Everyone lined up near the parking lot, the RD gave a short speech acknowledging the members of Gene Curnow’s family who were running the race (I ran near 3 of them for awhile and they were a blast) and acknowledging a runner going for his 25th finish (Dick Hogan, who I ran with for a short time at Moose Mountain Marathon last year), and then we started.

Start to Skyline Parkway (3.5 mi, 53:28, 15:17 section pace)
After leaving the zoo, there are a few bottlenecks as the trail contracts and widens, and I found myself walking quite a bit. Then I found myself running uphill, which was stupid but I had early-race eagerness to get out. The first 2 miles are uphill, first gradually, then steeply as the course climbs toward Spirit Mountain. One of the interesting things about this race was finding out “oh, that’s where that goes” for several trails I’d seen from my usual routes. This section went past the “Stairway to Heaven” climb out of Spirit Mountain on the SHT, so I figured out where I’d end up if I went straight down instead of turning off to the stairs on the Spirit Mountain – Kingsbury Creek section of the SHT. We turned onto an access road about halfway up the ski hills, and followed that through the ski area. The ski hills give a sweeping view of the St. Louis River and the Duluth-Superior harbor, so several people stopped to take pictures. I’m super uptight when racing so I don’t take time for pictures, but sometimes I wish I could run a trail race (or even a training run) for enjoyment and take time to enjoy the views and take some photos.

The course comes out onto Skyline Parkway, which I’ve conveniently scouted a couple times over this short training cycle. This whole section is fairly runnable, but I walked the hills of Skyline in order to preserve my legs, even though they are relatively gentle hills. I went right through the first aid station set up near the Magney-Snively trailhead, and turned onto the Magney X-C ski trails (though a driver was for some reason stopped in the road and obstructing me from taking a clear route onto the trail). While I didn’t stop at the aid station, I did have a gel during this section (s’mores flavor! Actually tasty!), the only one I’d eat during the whole race. Real food (and by real, I mean store-bought, mass-produced cookies) seemed much more appealing than artificially flavored slime.

Skyline Parkway to Becks Rd (2.7 miles, 43:12, 16:00 section pace)
This section was ok. I don’t like the cross-country ski trail section, since I don’t like running in grass (especially not in my shoes, the traction nubbers on the bottom get caught in long grass), but it wasn’t a hard section. I trotted along at a decent clip, walking when needed. The trail jumped back onto Skyline Parkway, and then just before Beck’s Rd, took a quick turn, with a short but steep uphill. A volunteer was standing at the top of that hill offering continuous, enthusiastic encouragement, and there were funny signs like “This is a lot of work for a free banana.” The aid station was just across the road. I stopped there quickly to chug some pop and eat a cookie.

Since this was an odd year, this section included neither Jarrow’s Beach nor the ropes course. These are infamous sections of the course that I have yet to have the pleasure of experiencing. The 1.2 miles of the course removed here were added to the Peterson’s to Forbay Lake section later on.

Becks Rd to Fond du Lac (3.3 mi, 52:41, 15:58 section pace)
This section is awesome, thanks to its extremely runnable trail. I cruised along, splashing through a few creek crossings, which reminded me that I need to find some serious socks before my 100K attempt. I’ve been running in cheap socks without consequence for awhile, but I was really tempting fate by squishing along in crappy socks and wet shoes. During this section, I was leap-frogging with this guy who was listening to either a podcast or a book on tape, and I was not thrilled. I run trails so I can enjoy the scenery, not so I can listen to someone else’s music/podcast/gossipy conversation. I encountered him several times during the race, leapfrogging with him a lot due to his run/walk strategy (it was very odd, because he was often running the harder sections and walking the easier sections, but whatever works, I guess?), so I’m going to say with about 95% confidence it was a book on tape. My attention span is pretty short as it is, but during a race sometimes my mind goes completely blank for several minutes at a time, so I’m not sure what value a book on tape would have during a trail race. How much of the content could possibly register? Maybe other people have better concentration than I do. There was one final creek crossing before the aid station, at which I had pop and cookies, threw away my garbage, and continued.

Fond du Lac to Seven Bridges (2 mi, 35:26, 17:43 section pace)
I ran most of this section without seeing that many people. It consisted of a big climb and then a runnable section. I think. Now I can’t remember. I remember a lot of climbing, but my GPS data says that it flattened out a bit. This was another new section of trail for me that intersected with some familiar trails (including some of my least favorite parts of the SHT in this area, but at least they were short). I need to start being more adventurous and try out some new trails. I rolled into the aid station on the Munger Trail, grabbed some cookies and pop, and re-applied sunscreen.

Seven Bridges to Grand Portage (2.8 mi, 1:00:32, 21:37 section pace)
I joined up with my friend Rita (with whom I ran Wild Duluth) and her friend for the first part of this section. It was a bit technical, and we were all very apprehensive about the powerlines section ahead. Last year, Rita ran Curnow for the first time, and the powerlines section about killed her (that and not eating anything during the race – she had a massive bonk!), so we were all pretty anxious. And then we came out on the powerlines, and I saw why.

The powerlines portion of the race starts with a steep downhill. The other 2 ladies stopped to take a quick photo, and I started the descent (resulting in a photobomb, shown below), ready to get it over with. This photo of course does not do it justice.

Powerlines

The first ascent is by far the worst – it was so muddy I nearly lost my shoes as I put my feet in the footholes of other runners, grabbed at bushes and branches to pull myself up, and slipped a few times, covering my hands and legs in mud. And there’s not a lot of shade. It was fortunate that this came slightly earlier in the course than in other years – that meant I was a little less tired and the sun wasn’t quite as high yet.

I struggled to the top of the first hill, thinking there was no way I’d be able to complete several more climbs like that. It was steep and slippery and frustrating. Fortunately, it was the worst of them, and while I can’t say it was pleasant to duck-foot my way down the steep descents and then haul myself slowly up the next ascent, while the sun beat down on me (no tank top this time though, so my shoulders were covered!), I had imagined it being way worse.  One of the powerline hills had a skeleton wearing a hydration pack, shoes, and a 2013 race bib – it was a nice touch!

I ran most of this first section with a woman I recognized from the Harder ‘n Hell Half. I remembered her cheering me along at several sections along the course, and I told her that she had really made my day with her unexpected support. I saw her a few times during the race (though the powerlines was the last), and each time, she was offering helpful advice in a kind tone to any runner nearby.

There was a short shaded section of non-powerlines, then a couple more, and then one last little one before I rolled into the aid station feeling more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, etc. A few piece of this section are part of the Wild Duluth course, although it includes only that last one little powerline hill.

A woman in the aid station was dealing with nausea (certainly not the only person out there), the first signs the heat was starting to take its toll on runners. I drank some pop, had some cookies and potato chips, and left.

Grand Portage to Peterson’s (2 mi, 39:09, 19:35 section pace)
So while “the worst” was over, according to the volunteer at Grand Portage, that wasn’t entirely true. This section was pretty hard. It was basically all uphill, and I wasn’t interested in doing more climbing. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other. I had run parts of this section during a training run, so it was somewhat familiar, but it was still kind of frustrating. Peterson’s aid station is in the middle of the woods, which I thought was really cool. I got a high five from a young girl as I trotted in. The aid station was littered with tired looking runners, but I was in and out, despite the frustration of the climb, after grabbing – guess what – pop and cookies. I stuck with what worked.

Peterson’s to Forbay Lake (4.2 mi, 1:08:02, 16:12 section pace)
This section seemed to go on forever, although at first I was loving it, because there was a nice descent and I was cruising. But what goes down must come up, so up I went. Forever. At one point I swear I went up a trail that wound all the way around a hill twice. So that sucked. I knew at some point the trail would come out at the Munger Trail and I could pick up speed for a little while, although I was worried about getting hit with full sun. It was really getting warm (I reapplied sunscreen again during this section), and while it seemed pretty warm in the woods as there wasn’t much breeze, I knew direct exposure to sunlight would be worse. I’m not really sure what part was added to compensate for removing the Jarrow’s Beach section, as there were a couple trail intersections that could have led to the alternate routes. I suppose I’ll have to run it again to find out.

During this section I encountered a guy I dubbed “flypaper guy.” He was wearing a sticky piece of flypaper on his hat, to attract deer flies. It looked like it had been previously used, as the flypaper was blue but there were smears of yellowish-brown on it. So that was really, really disgusting, even if it was actually just some kind of bug repellent. I followed flypaper guy for awhile before I was able to get ahead of him for good. I also encountered two larger groups of people (one group of 4 and one group of 5) who seemed to be totally half-assing the race. I mean, one group actually admitted it as I passed them. I commented that didn’t make me feel that great, because I was working my butt off and it took me 18 (19? I don’t know) miles to catch them. Hooray for me, I beat both groups, but still, it’s somewhat demoralizing to know that people can saunter their way through a race at a pace that I’m working my butt off to achieve.

At this point I was trying to get back on track for a sub-7:30 finish. Before I hit the powerlines, I was ahead of 7:15 pace, but I gave that back and more over the powerlines, and during the Grand Portage-Peterson’s section, I gave back the rest. They aren’t fast sections, so I wasn’t mad about it, I was just hoping there was enough easy terrain remaining to make up time, or avoid losing time. I knew if I got to the aid station before… um… 11:56, maybe? I can’t remember. I think it must be, I know it was :56. Anyway, I knew if I made it there before that, I’d be on 7:30 pace again. I tried to run as best I could on the Munger Trail, and then turned onto the easy, flat section leading into Forbay, the aid station I’d volunteered at for Voyager last year. From that experience, I knew there was “less than 10K to the finish,” since I’d said it probably 100 times last year, and I was really excited to get in to the aid station. I made it at 11:55 and was out of there pretty quickly after slamming some Coke and ginger ale. No cookies though. I knew I wanted to run, and didn’t want to upset my stomach.

Forbay Lake to Jay Cooke (2.4 mi, 33:34, 13:59 section pace)
I cruised through this section. I couldn’t even believe it, I was so surprised I had the legs to run it. I even ran some of the gradual inclines. After leaving the aid station at Forbay, I crossed the dam and ran along the river for a short bit. The section along the river after the dam is kind of annoying, because it’s on smooth stone gravel, so I wasn’t getting a lot of spring out of my legs. It’s also exposed to the sun, but there was a breeze off the river. I turned onto a grassy section after maybe half a mile, and that took me the rest of the way to the aid station. I picked off a lot of people during this section; there were probably 4 or 5 people walking that I zipped past (“zipped” being a relative term). At the aid station, I drank one warm cup of ginger ale and left.

Jay Cooke to finish (3.3 mi, 56:14, 17:02 section pace)
I knew this section got technical but… it was not great. I read a race report from last year awhile ago and forgot about his description of this last section. Maybe I’d have managed my expectations better if I’d read it more recently. The previous section of the course had given me a false sense that the worst was over and it was all gravy to the finish. Nope.

I crossed the swinging bridge at Jay Cooke just grinning, knowing I was a little over 5K from the finish. I soon learned the rockiest, rootiest section of the course was saved for last, and it was so frustrating. At one point I was on my butt going down a section of rock.  (I inadvertently hit the lap button on my watch about 4 times during this part – why don’t watch designers factor in that we trail runners find ourselves crawling, scooting, or otherwise bending our wrists during our adventures, and put the buttons somewhere the backs of our hands can’t squish them?) There was a lot of mud as well, which stuck to my shoes and made me worry about slipping. Oh, and there were plenty of little climbs in there, too. I ran when I could, but for the first 2 miles, those options were few and far between.

With a mile to go, the trail evened out and I was able to run, and then with half a mile to go, we spilled onto the Munger Trail and headed for Carlton. A guy fell in behind me during the beginning of this section after I passed him, and ran most of if with me, silently. I wasn’t sure what his deal was – was he annoyed that I had passed him? was he using me to stay motivated? was he hard of hearing and that’s why he was quiet? – but when the trail smoothed out and we finally stopped dodging mud, he encouraged me to pass a group of 3 guys, and I somehow found the legs to do so. We ran together until the Munger Trail when he pulled ahead (he had anticipated me pulling ahead, but I didn’t have the guts). It was hot on the pavement, as it was in full sun and the trail was radiating heat, but I wasn’t on it for too long. I’ve run this short section of the Munger Trail a few times recently (it is only a few miles from the trailhead near Jay Cooke, where Dalles Rd meets Hwy 210), so I was familiar with where we were, and knew the DNR park was just ahead, which was most likely the finish. I was grinning as the finish line came into sight, and SO HAPPY to see the clock was in the 7:20s. Some friends were at the finish line cheering, and I was handed my ceramic medal and race shirt after I crossed. Even though I was hot, tired, and a little out of it, I was so happy.

I drank some more pop and ate half a cookie while I waited for my husband to come to pick me up, and also for my friends to finish. It was probably stupid to sit in the sun for another 45 minutes, but I didn’t really mind that much. We stuck around until Rita finished, and then left to go pick up my car from the start. I turned on the air in the car so I could start recovering and bring my heart rate down.

I picked up my car at the start, then drove myself home. I took a shower and then a nap when I got home. I don’t normally nap at all because I usually feel terrible afterward, but I was really zoning out and I knew the alternative was to sit on the couch miserable, tired, and half-dead. I was worried about getting dehydrated further during my nap, but I didn’t wake up feeling terrible or with a monster headache. I don’t think I got super dehydrated during the race either, thanks to my hydration strategy (pop at almost all aid stations, and then sipping water from my pack whenever I needed it) and my cooling strategy (which was basically sunscreen reapplication – I didn’t take any ice or douse my clothes/head with water).

This race is awesome, but I am not 100% sure it’s going to become a staple for me. I don’t love the super hard sections like the powerlines or the end, but at the same time, now that I know what to expect, maybe I won’t mind as much. I also don’t love the heat, but the race offers same day registration, so there’s always the possibility of waiting til race day to see the forecast, and then signing up. The course marking, volunteers, and race organization are excellent. There was never a chance to go off trail unless someone really tried to. I do anticipate doing this race again in the future, but I am not sure if that means annually, or intermittently.

I do feel a sense of redemption completing the race after my DNS last year. I do think that it was a good choice, considering my lack of experience and the difficulty of the course, but I know it’s not a decision most runners would feel justified making. There is something special in going back to a race that went poorly and dominating it – I look forward to doing the same at FANS next year!

Race Report: Park Point 5 Miler 2017

Official Results:
Time: 50:01 (harrumph) (11:08 PR!)
Pace: 10:01
Placing:
Overall: 370/572
Gender: 185/352
Division (F 19-34): 82/159 (yikes, moving up an AG next year!)

Watch Results:
Time: 50:08
Pace: 9:51
Distance: 5.09 mi
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals:
A: 49:59
B: 55:00

Food:
What I ate for lunch: I had a late breakfast so I didn’t each “lunch” til like 5 – bagel with peanut butter, bagel with cream cheese
What I carried with me: Handheld water bottle, which I didn’t need and made me feel dumb

Gear:
What I wore: T-shirt, shorts, ball cap
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker

Discussion: This race went really well! Of course, it was like 58 F, so about 30 degrees cooler than the first time I ran it, which sums up my entire race experience. In 2015, I was training for this race specifically. This year, I’m training to run 12 times as long. In 2015, I was absurdly early to the race. This year, I got there moments before they were putting up the blockade (thanks to some ridiculous traffic). I placed 370th this year; in 2015, only 365 people participated. In both years, I finished as the 82nd woman in my division – but instead of finishing ahead of 16 people in my AG, like I did in 2015, I finished ahead of 77 people in my AG.

I don’t really have a whole lot to say about this race. I did about half a mile warm-up, thanks to being late, which wasn’t exactly my plan, but my legs didn’t feel as sluggish as they had before my rest day yesterday. I felt a bit sluggish during the race, but I’ve been taxing myself quite a bit lately with the increase in mileage, and I haven’t been trying to run fast basically at all. Maybe someday I’ll actually focus on trying to get faster at these short distances, instead of just hoping my general fitness has improved enough that I can see some improvement without specific effort.

I pushed myself, kind of, but I wouldn’t say I went all out. Not that I ever really give an all-out effort in middle-distance races. Again, maybe someday. But I am running a trail marathon on Saturday, so I couldn’t empty the tank. That would be stupid. Not that I am above doing stupid things. It was a fun race – I think I like this distance a bit better than a 5K. A 5K is nice because it’s over quickly, but I don’t like the challenge as much. I like the 5-10 mile range because it’s still under 2 hours (for me), but there’s more of a battle – and also more chance to course-correct if there’s a rough patch in the race. With a 5K, one bad half mile tanks the whole race.

After the race, I ran a 1.5 mile cool-down because I had nothing else to do. There’s only one road off the point, and it’s also the race course, so everyone needs to finish before folks can start leaving. My calves were a bit tight and my hip was a little sore, so I ran slowly and enjoyed the cool, misty weather. It was so quiet on the point once I got down by the airport – all I could hear was the lake. No cars, no other people, just waves. It was very pleasant. I sat in my car for a little while until I noticed cars starting to move (many people were lined up and waiting, cars running, for half an hour or more! Think of the environment, people!), then joined the queue.

I’m glad I did the race, but I guess that attitude could change if I have a disastrous marathon on Saturday. I’m taking tomorrow as a rest day, so I hope that’ll be enough. It’s a totally different event, with completely different strategy, pacing, and mechanics, so I don’t think it’ll be too much of a problem. Famous last words!

Race Report: FANS 24 Hour Race

Official Results:
Distance: 29.5 mi
Placing:
Overall: 116/147
24 Hrs: 77/84
Gender: 18/19

Watch Results:
Time: 10:24:37 (This includes about 25 minutes of time between when I finished my last lap and when I finally stopped my watch)
Pace: 19:57
Distance: 31.3
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals:
A: 100 mi
B: 90 mi
C: 75 mi

Food:
What I ate the night before: sesame chicken with brown rice, chicken satay skewers
What I ate on race morning: bagel, Clif bar
What I carried with me: n/a

Gear:
What I wore: to start – tank top, shorts, trucker hat; later changed to t-shirt, shorts, trucker hat
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker

Discussion: There’s nothing like “failure” to make me want to try again.

Also it’s really funny that 9 months ago, I’d never even run a marathon, and now I’m looking at 29.5 miles as failure. Once that thought popped into my head yesterday, I started to feel ok with the results.

I have a long history of quitting when it comes to running. I walked the mile runs in gym class because I didn’t want to put in the effort. I ended up in the duty van in college during ROTC physical training runs far too often, because I would rather quit than be so much slower than everyone else. I DNSd 2 races last year because I didn’t get enough sleep the night before. So in some ways it’s not surprising that I quit this race so early on.

My husband and I drove down to the Twin Cities on Friday afternoon, picked up my packet, and then went to my dad’s to transfer all my supplies to his truck. The plan was: I stay at my dad’s Friday night, he takes me to the race, we set up, he crews me til late afternoon; my husband stays at our hotel Friday night so he can sleep as late as possible, he arrives at the race in the late afternoon to crew me til the next morning. That part worked out pretty well, although I slept really poorly. I must have gotten an hour or two of sleep at some point, but nothing really restorative.

It was 75F at 6:30 a.m., so that was not the best omen. It took about half an hour to drive to the race start, which was really easy to find and had plenty of parking. We unloaded some of the gear, set up the tent, and then I ate a bit before heading over to the start. I should have made sure we unloaded the chairs, so that I could have sat down for a bit before the race started. Not that it really mattered in the end, but still, I was standing and moving around for an hour before the race started. I didn’t warm up, but I wasn’t planning on it.

The race started right on time, and we did a shorter out and back on the path before turning around and starting our first full loop. The trail loops around Snelling Lake and has significant sections of shade, though it also had stretches of full sun. The shaded sections were actually bearable, but when the sun blazed down on me, it sapped away my energy. By noon, the temperature had reached 90F. I know that’s nothing compared to the heat from, say, Western States or Badwater or Marathon des Sables, but I have had zero heat training.

I ran almost all of the first “long” loop (the out & back + the full loop), stopping to walk for 5 minutes so I could finish my Clif bar. I did a few intervals of Run 30/Walk 5, then went to Run 10/Walk 5, and then deteriorated into Walk Slowly/Run Occasionally. The loops all kind of blend together to me, so a traditional recap isn’t going to make a lot of sense.

During (I think?) my 9th loop, I was walking along and heard some cracking noises. I thought it was squirrels or just trees moving in the breeze. Nope. A tree came crashing down about 20 feet behind me, and maybe 15 feet behind a runner coming up to pass me. We looked at each other in shock, then I high-fived him, because what else do you do to celebrate a near miss like that?

The heat was really frustrating to me. I’m so envious of the folks who were still able to run in the heat, and who didn’t seem to have even a touch of sunburn. I was reapplying sunscreen every 1.5-2 hours, and I STILL got sunburned (though not too badly). All I could think about was making it until the sun went down. If I could just hang on, and keep moving forward at whatever slow pace I could comfortably manage, I could rally in the evening.

My friends showed up around the 6 hour mark, and one of them did loops 10-12 with me. My feet were starting to hurt, so I’d changed into my trail shoes to relieve some of the pain from the gravel. The extra support and the rock plate helped a bit, but the bases of both my heels were really hurting. After loop 10, I took my socks off to see what was up. On my left foot was a blister stretching across most of the circumference of my heel. On my right foot was a blister that had formed on top of the remnants of an old blister (from Chippewa Moraine, I think!), about the size of a walnut, puffing out about half an inch. So, no wonder. I lanced them as best as I could, bandaged them up, and started moving again. It didn’t feel amazing but it felt a little better.

I managed 2 more slow laps, talking with my friend, gimping along, and then sat down to rest again and talk with them. They decided to leave, and just as I was gearing up to leave again, my dad told me my stepbrother and sister in law and my 2 nephews were at the park getting their permit. I didn’t think they were coming since it was so hot and my younger nephew had been sick. I decided to stay until they arrived, and then talked to them for a little while, ate some of the snacks they brought me, and then headed out for what I didn’t know would be my final lap, lucky #13. The blister on the right hurt a lot, and I ended up changing my gait to try to accommodate it, which was bad news. I planned to try to tape it up better with some moleskin, and I did, but when I got up to test it out, the chafing on my inner thighs/near my shorts liner really started to sting and burn, despite changing my shorts, cleaning the salt away with wet wipes, and slathering the area with Vaniply and Vaseline.

So I quit. I chose to take the easy way out. Neither the chafing nor the blisters were the worst anyone has seen in the history of chafing and blisters, but I didn’t see any reason to continue and to make them worse. (It’s 2 days later and I’m wearing flip-flops at work, so I’m glad I didn’t in that regard.) I had sort of stopped caring about the race, and there wasn’t much to look forward to, just endless loops. I didn’t want to trudge around in a circle with a stinging crotch for 14 more hours. That was really not going to give me any guidance as to my readiness for a longer race.

It’s funny that in the end, it didn’t even matter that I was undertrained. I was plenty well trained for 29.5 miles! And while the heat really concerned me, I think I managed my hydration well (I only lost a pound at the first weigh-in, and had the same weight at the second weigh-in, probably because I wasn’t running hard), I didn’t have much nausea, and I still had the sense that I could pick it up once the sun went down.

I’m chalking this race up to a learning experience, even if it wasn’t the learning experience I was looking for. There were still a LOT of lessons for me.

  1. Having a crew makes me uncomfortable.
    My dad was so kind and gracious to sit out there in the heat for 10 hours, fill my water bottles, monitor my food, and support me. He kept offering to do other things, like spray me with sunscreen, but it just made me feel more guilty and uncomfortable. I am so used to doing everything for myself, since I usually go to races alone. I spent extra time at my tent because I felt bad that he was by himself. He did enjoy the people-watching; I think he was getting too many ideas from one of the other crews nearby – there were like 7 people crewing one guy and they were like a NASCAR pit crew! No thank you. I think if I do a long race, I won’t enlist a crew until the later stages, when I need extra gear or to get resupplied or something.
  2. Visitors are too much of a distraction.
    It was awesome to have my friends and family visit. But it kept me at the campsite longer than I should have. It was also sort of demoralizing that when I was running with my friend, he was walking. So I walked, too, when maybe I could have run here and there. And I talked, which slowed me down, too. It would have been better if we were both entrants in the race and could meet up, part ways, meet up, and so on.
  3. I brought too much stuff.
    I should have just relied on aid stations. I didn’t need like 75% of the stuff I brought, and again, it kept me in the campsite longer than I needed to be.
  4. Running a marathon doesn’t destroy me physically anymore.
    I’m not walking around much, but that’s mostly due to the blisters, since even without shoes on, they hurt. I have some general soreness in my back and my hips, but that’s it. Granted, I took several long breaks, but I still traveled 29.5 miles.
  5. I’m the slowest walker ever.
    I’m short, and I’m long-waisted. So my legs are not really built for fast walking. But it was hard to be out there, seeing people putting in a similar effort but passing me with ease, or even seeing people struggling and being unable to catch up with them.
  6. Summer is not the time to try new distances.
    I don’t do well in the heat, so I think it’s best left to the spring and fall when I’m trying something new, at least as long as I’m living in Duluth.
  7. I don’t really like timed race formats.
    I like point to point races. I like running a set distance, rather than a set amount of time. I just couldn’t shift my paradigms enough. I really should do more “run for x number of hours” training runs, to try to get into that mindset better.
  8. I will totally do this race again.
    Maybe just one more time, for “revenge.” It was such a cool atmosphere, though! I mean, I got an email from the race director yesterday with the subject line “Well, THAT Happened!” These are my people. The race rules packet was littered with funny, snarky comments. The whole attitude is so relaxed – it’s not full of aggressive, hyper-competitive runners, it’s full of people doing their own thing, whether that’s winning, taking it easy, or doing all their laps in the opposite direction. And the volunteers were so great! Especially the lap counters. My lap counter (a guy for the first 6 hours and a woman for the last 4) were SO cheerful every time I came through, calling out my name and telling me great job. This is a real benefit of a looped course: getting to know the volunteers and making a connection. So many more times to thank them, too.

Now I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m getting a massage tomorrow, and then I’m not running for awhile. At first I said two weeks, but now that I didn’t really go above and beyond in distance, I might amend that. HOWEVER, no running until my feet heal completely. Curnow is in 6 weeks, so I do need to be mindful of that and at least put in a bit of training. Maybe I’ll have a really great performance there, since I didn’t beat myself into the ground this past weekend!

Race Report: Superior 25K 2017

Official Results:
Time: 4:06:15 (45 minute improvement)
Pace: 15:52
Placing:
Overall: 215/301
Gender: 111/185
AG (F 30-39): 59/95

Watch Results:
Time: 4:06:20
Pace: 16:56
Distance: 14.54 mi
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals:
A: 4:15
B: 4:30

Food:
What I ate the night before: chimichurri burger and fries
What I ate on race morning: bagel with cream cheese and hazelnut spread
What I carried with me: 4 gel packets (I ate 1), candy (had one Jolly Rancher), mints, water.

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

Discussion: Writing a race report feels wrong. Initially I considered not writing one, because celebrating a PR or even dissecting the successes and failures of the race seems trivial and disrespectful. A runner passed away on the trail during the race. It’s a terrible loss for his family, friends, and students, and a traumatic event for the race staff and runners, especially those who were involved in trying to save him. We take risks we don’t even realize when we run these remote races, with miles between aid stations. A couple of miles seems endless in an emergency. All we have out there on the trails is each other, and dozens rose to the occasion.

I don’t want to dwell on this story; it isn’t really my business, nor is it about me. I’ll share that I asked myself what I would have done, had I been the first person to come upon the runner. I can’t say for certain, but I know that I was in no way as prepared as the runners and hikers who were assisting, and I need to update my first aid and lifesaving skills. I am not a medical professional, but I need to do the best I can to be prepared to help on the trail.

The rest of the weekend is worth talking about, even though in perspective, it seems small.

My husband and I drove up on Friday afternoon, arriving just in time for me to start my volunteer duties. I helped sell merchandise this year, which I haven’t done before. It’s a little different than checking people in, which I really enjoy doing – I like chatting with each runner as they pick up their bib or race shirt. However, selling merchandise is a bit less stressful – packet and shirt pick-up can have a tinge of drama, and it can be rushed. Since people choose whether or not they want to look at all the swag for sale (and it’s great, the race director creates it all and he has an incredible eye for design), they’re not in a hurry and have time to chat. I made some new friends, which is basically the reason I volunteer (besides giving back to the trail running community), and reconnected with some others, including one guy I knew from high school, who I hadn’t seen in probably 20 years.

After I finished volunteering, my husband and I went to dinner at the Poplar River Pub at the Lutsen lodge. I ate an actual meal the night before a destination race – I think this might be a first. It wasn’t the world’s healthiest meal, but it was more substantial than the junk food I ate before Chippewa. We went back to our resort for the evening and watched a movie and went to bed around midnight. I tossed and turned a bit, especially since I realized while laying out my gear for the morning that I had forgotten my bib in the packet pickup room. Or at least, I hoped it was there. Overall I got a decent night’s sleep, and got up around 6:45, walked down to check in and find my packet (it was there, of course), and then back to my room to get ready.

The weather was cool and it was overcast, but the forecast had improved and it appeared the rain would hold off until the evening. I packed my ultralight rain jacket and a pair of gloves in my pack, just in case. I decided for a shorter run, I wouldn’t bring along anything other than water and a couple of gels. I think I might have put a Clif bar in there just in case I needed something substantial, but I can’t remember. I got dressed, ate, putzed around worrying, and then left for the start at about 7:40. Staying at the race start/finish takes away a lot of my race day anxiety. I didn’t even make a checklist this time, and still felt like I had everything I needed before, during, and after the race. I’m starting to get the hang of this.

I ran a little less than half a mile to warm up, just enough time to worry that my legs felt like lead weights. I met up with some friends from the Twin Ports I met at Voyageur who had driven up that morning (crazy!), and then fell into place with a new friend I’d met during my volunteer stint. She was helping to sell surplus tech tees (2 for $5!) and pint glasses ($1 off your first pint at the bar! One of the mainstay volunteers negotiated that deal) while I was next to her selling surplus race shirts from previous years (I bought one for myself). Her husband was also volunteering, but I recognized them both from my first volunteer experience, working the finish line at the Superior Fall Trail Races in 2015, when he finished the 100 miler. They’re both really cool people, and she and I discovered we had similar race goals, so we ran together at the beginning. We separated when we reached the single track – she took off and I hung back. She ended up finished about 20 minutes ahead of me, so we both outperformed our goals significantly.

It was slow going once getting onto the single track, as there was a muddy section to start off, plus some small hills. I walked all the hills, even the little ones, because I knew I had to save energy for Moose Mountain, my bff. I like the way this race starts – the half mile or so stretch of road helps everyone separate before reaching the single track, but the single track slows everything down again – it’s so tempting to go out too fast on the road, so the trail helps check that impulse. The first section is kind of funny at the back of the pack, because of the people who appear unprepared for the terrain or elevation, trying to pick their way through the mud unscathed, or trying to recover from taking the hill too quickly. I tried to hang back, avoided passing anyone, and let others pass me without concern. I had my own race plan, and I wasn’t going to abandon it a mile in just to feed my ego.

I ended up in front of a couple of runners also from Duluth, who were running together and having a conversation. It was just like Chippewa all over again. They ended up talking to me for a little bit, then they stopped to pee, and then they caught me on Moose Mountain. We climbed up together, with one of the women keeping up her end of the conversation. I was pretty amazed she was able to keep talking as we climbed up the steep trail; I was huffing and puffing and my legs were howling at me. Once we got to the top, we ran in a line for awhile before they passed me, and I didn’t see them again until we neared the aid station. I ate a gel about 5 minutes before I started the Moose Mountain climb, which was a great idea.

I started to see the first 25K runners as we crossed the top of Moose Mountain, including the first woman (who I believe finished 5th overall!), and as I started my descent, I ran into a UMD hockey alumnus, kicking butt in a new sport (he was 8th overall!) I caught up with a self-professed “flatlander” who ran with me from the bottom of Moose Mountain through to Oberg. People seemed to be a lot more spread out this time around, so I wasn’t having as much trouble passing as I did the previous year, or at Chippewa. Or maybe I was just in a better mood. On the switchbacks heading up Oberg, I saw the 50K winner come flying down with wild abandon. He ended up setting a course record, and I’m not surprised, considering how he looked. A man on a mission. He also runs wearing glasses so I felt some solidarity.

I reached the Oberg aid station in under 2 hours, and when I hit the lap button when I left, it read 1:59:59. I was probably about 15 minutes ahead of the previous year at this point, although I’m not 100% sure since I didn’t take a lap reading last year. Right before the aid station, a guy was sitting cheering on runners and playing music, which perked me up. At the aid station, I had a couple of cups of Coke and a cup of ginger ale, which tasted so delicious. I chowed down on some potato chips, stowed a couple of Fig Newtons in a pocket in my pack, got a hug from a volunteer friend, and turned around.

The run out of the Oberg aid station is much nicer than the run in, since it’s just a short uphill section followed by some nice runnable downhill sections. I passed runners that I knew from previous races, and offered encouragement to those who were looking like they couldn’t wait for the aid station. I understood – I’d been lusting after a pop for probably an hour. I was passed by a 50K runner I recognized – last year, he was the dude who was totally fried and out of water. He looked great this year in comparison, and he remembered me, too. I knew the backside of Moose Mountain awaited me, and I wanted to get it over with. I ate one of my cookies “fruit and cake” just before the ascent began, and then slowed down to a moderate walking pace when the familiar terrain of the mountain began. It was a tough climb, and I took it as slowly as I could. I was passed by some 50K runners whose climbing skills were impressive. I was jealous – I have got to get better and faster at the steep ascents.

When I finally reached the top (well, it’s the first “top,” as it’s more of a saddle profile), I cheered out loud, because I knew I’d finished the hardest part. I tried to run as much as I could across the top, but I slowed to a walk several times if I hit even a hint of incline. I was able to scramble down the other side pretty easily, other than one big step down off a root which my legs weren’t quite ready for. I trotted across the flat section between the mountains, trying to decide if I wanted to have another gel. I’d finished the other Fig Newton while crossing Moose Mountain, so I wasn’t really hungry. I decided to eat a Jolly Rancher while I plodded up Mystery Mountain.

I slowed to a walk as I reached the start of the Mystery Mountain ascent. I knew to take it slow: it wasn’t a steep ascent, but it took a long time. I started singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” in my head, to keep busy while I was going up. I saw a group of people on the switchbacks above me, and thought it was a group of spectators cheering runners on during this last tough climb. When I reached the group and realized what was actually going on, that I had come upon a fallen runner receiving CPR, my heart sank.

Since there were at least 10 people already assisting, and I had no specific skills or tools with which to assist, after ensuring someone had called for help, I continued. I really don’t know if this was right or wrong. It felt wrong. If there had only been one or two people, I would have stopped. It felt wrong to stop, too; since I couldn’t provide any real help, it seemed like it would have just been self-serving. But maybe there was some specific way I could have helped, if I’d stayed. Everything felt wrong. It still feels wrong. Of course it does. The only way for things to have turned out “right” was for the whole thing to never have happened.

I kept walking in a daze, up the hill. I reached the top of the hill, started down, and met a woman coming to provide medical aid. I described his approximate location to her, so she could relay it back on her phone. I kept going, trying to run, lacking the motivation. Again, running seemed wrong.

I snapped myself out of the daze and pushed a bit, passing two other first responders on their way up the hill (giving them the right of way, of course), and passed a few other people on my way down. A woman went by me the other way and told me I only had a couple miles to go. “Listen for that river, girl, then you’re almost there!” I passed a couple of women picking their way along the sides of a muddy section, and just charged through like a buffalo. There was a spectator at that point, and she was cheering us on. “There are hoses at the finish! Just keep going!” she encouraged the others as I stampeded my way through the muck. I listened for the river, and when I hit the bridge I knew I needed to run it in.

Once on the road, I got passed by a couple 50K runners who looked strong. One was singing “Amazing Grace” aloud. I picked up the pace, running the last half mile at about an 11 min/mile pace (according to my grossly inaccurate watch). I turned off the road toward the finish and kicked it into high gear. I heard myself announced as “our friend Donna Carpenter from Duluth, completing her second Superior 25K,” and accepted my medal at the finish line, and then a hug from my friend, the finish line coordinator. He asked if I was ok, and I sort of waved my hands, and asked if he was ok, but I could tell he wasn’t. I got some lemonade and watched other runners finish. Each time a runner came around, the volunteers would shout “RUNNER!” and rev up the crowd, reminding everyone “we all need it today!” And we did. We cheered so we didn’t have to cry. Or we cried anyway.

I threw my shoes in the garbage and hosed off my feet, then ran into one of the women I’d met earlier (the one who had the breath to still talk when climbing Moose Mountain). We hugged and she made sure I wasn’t alone. We all did our best to take care of each other.

I went back to my hotel to shower. Physically I felt ok; a little tired, a little cold, a few tight muscles. No chafing. I changed into comfy clothes and watched TV for awhile, then once my hair was dry, I went down to get my post-race chili, met up with my friend from the start, and cheered on some more runners. My friends from Voyageur finished and we talked for a little bit, then they left to drive back (crazy, but they are used to it!) and I returned to my hotel. We drove up to Grand Marais for a little while, just to see it, and then drove back and had dinner at Caribou Highlands.

It was a difficult day for most runners, crew, and volunteers, though that pales in comparison to how hard that day and the days ahead will be for the loved ones of the runner we lost. Run gently out there, everyone, and look out for one another.