July 3, 2011

Afton 25K - 2011

This year's Afton Trail Run was epic. Because of the MN gov't shutdown which started on July 1, there was a very last minute venue change from the usual state park site to Afton Alps Ski Area right next door.

Having done some alpine ski racing in the distant past, I am somewhat familiar with the hills at the ski area. The Afton Trail Run at the state park has always been known as a challenging and hilly course, so when we got last minute word that the race would instead take place on the ski hills and mountain bike trails, I knew it would up the ante somewhat - at least as far as being hillier. It was. My Garmin measured the 25K course at 5662 vertical feet of total elevation gain/loss. What I wasn't expecting was how technical the single track trails would be! Close to Superior Hiking Trail type of terrain (it would be an awesome training run for SHT races if only runners were allowed on the bike trails). In some ways it was even more challenging than SHT since the wear patterns on the trail were made by bikes, not feet. Kinda like running in the bottom of a bowl at times, so there were some real ankle burners. And lots of switchbacks on the exposed ski runs, so it seemed like we were always running side hills, even when the trail was relatively level.

Anyhoo, the course started and finished in front of the main Alps chalet and was an approximately 7.6 ish mile loop. We were getting ready to start an hour after the 50K, just when the lead runners were beginning to come through the start/finish area at the end of their first of four loops. It was already feeling warm and humid (though not nearly as hot as the previous 2 days when the heat index was close to 110 degrees. Yes, this is in Minnesota). Beautiful sunshine and not a cloud in the clear blue sky.

As soon as Patrick (lead 50K runner who would go on to win that race) came through, RD John started us off on the 25K. We quickly hit a log jam since the trail almost immediately hit the single track. At times, those of us towards the back were literally standing still and would occasionally have to step aside to let some of the other faster 50K runners come through. There was a fairly short section of single track, then the trail opened up on a gravel road for a little bit and people started spreading out. Back into single track (my favorite), we entered a trail that had lots of wet wooden boards (Bridge loop, I think it was called). A little bit slippery on the damp wood since it was also on a noticable incline. Still had to step aside on a fairly regular basis to let faster 50K runners through, (which is a downside of loop courses on single track trails), but we all made it work.

By mile three, my gimpy hip was really getting jacked up. I was already starting to question whether I would be able to pull this race off - something that has never happened in a short race. In other words, it was quickly becoming apparent that this course was going to be much more difficult than I had anticipated. The trail would alternately run through rocky and rooty single track in the woods, then pop out onto the ski trails where there would be switchbacks that we'd either run up or down hill. Even the switchback paths in the grass had rocks and ruts from bikes that made running a little tricky at times. The patches in the shaded woods weren't bad, but the exposed stretches on the ski hills were becoming Africa HOT and very humid. Thank goodness for the ice sponges and well stocked aid stations (as well as awesome volunteers)!

About five miles into the loop we came to the Pirates Cove, then a trail named Manhandler. It seemed like the switchbacks were becoming fewer, and instead the trail went straight up or down the hills. Just when I thought we were almost done with our first loop and was starting to relax, the course went straight up an exposed ski run called the Plunge. Yep, I remembered the Plunge from my ski racing days, but back then we rode the chair lift up and got to ski down. It's probably the steepest ski run at Afton Alps. Today, we had to hike straight up this thing, which was kinda like a "Mini-Me" version of the power lines at Voyageur. By now, the heat was really getting to me and my stomach was on the edge. I remember stopping about half way up the Plunge, bent over with my hands on my knees. I could stick my arm straight out and touch the trail in front of me - that's how steep it was. I looked down the hill behind me and saw another runner with both hands on the ground "crawling" up the hill on his hands and feet. LOL. A few switchbacks on a downhill and lap one was in the books - one more lap to go.

I did not want to do this again. My foot hurt, my hip hurt, and I was feeling sick to my stomach. Spent a lot of time in the aid station rehydrating, cooling off with ice sponges, drinking ginger ale (never occured to me to bring ginger to this race since I rarely have stomach issues), ate some watermelon and orange slices. Tried to think up some excuses for pulling the plug, but quickly realized that I'd never forgive myself for quitting just because I was temporarily uncomfortable. A little misery is just part of this game. I kept reminding myself that things could definately be worse - the race could have been yesterday when the heat index was 100+ degrees, or I could have signed up for the 50K instead of the kids race, or the race could have been canceled with all of the hassle caused by the government shutdown.

Loaded my hat with ice and went out for the farewell loop. At least we didn't have the log jams to contend with this time around! And by now I'd seen the course once already, so I knew what to expect. I just figured I'd have to take it slow enough so that my stomach would settle, pay attention to hydration and eletrolyte balance, and enjoy the trail. Encountered several of my friends who were either running themselves or volunteering, which is always a treat. Eventually made it back to the Plunge (the toughest part of the whole course, for me anyway), though knowing about it before hand allowed me to mentally prepare for it this time. Clear sailing to the finish line after that. Finally! Slowest 25K by far - about 50 minutes slower than my previous slowest at Superior.

Learned that several people had dropped from their race - seems that lots of folks were having trouble with the heat, and there were some sprained ankles (no surprize for either). A few others who were registered decided not to toe the line once they learned about the venue change. Of the 329 runners who were registered for the 25K, only 235 crossed the finish line (97 finished out of 164 registered for the 50K). One. Tough. Race.

Congrats and thanks again to RD John and his crew, the awesome volunteers, and Afton Alps for pulling this race off under extreme circumstances this year! As much as I struggled, I actually kind of like this course better than the state park version. At least we didn't have to contend with the long, straight, flat, dreaded rail trail ;)

If you'd like to thank the folks at Afton Alps for allowing 500 runners to take over their mountain bike trails for the day, you can contact them here. If you'd like to thank the RD and volunteers for pulling off a last minute miracle to save this year's race, you can contact them here. If you'd like to contact your state legislators to let them know what you think about the shutdown, you can find their contact info here.

June 27, 2011

William O'Brien 10 Mile

I was really on the fence about even going to this race given the sore foot and hip thing that I've had going the last couple of weeks. Haven't been sleeping well either, which can also be a contributing factor for getting trigger points. I actually turned my alarm off, deciding that it would be foolish to run/hike 10 miles feeling miserable. Pity party of one, your table is ready.

Decided at the last possible minute that I'd go check this race out, since it's a new trail/park that I haven't run yet, and Wayne sent me a last minute message the night before that he would be there too. (By the way, we are all anxiously awaiting your race report from your first 100 mile finish at Kettle a few weeks ago. No pressure).

Got to the park and saw lots of unfamiliar faces along with a handful of very fast friends (Wynn won, Lisa took 4'th female, and Marise had a fast time too). About 70 degrees, very humid, but breezy with clouds peeking in and out. RD Jeff sent us down a gravel path that ran parallel to the beautiful St. Croix river for about a half mile before turning toward the interior of the park. There would be about an 8 mile loop before we would return to the start/finish the same way we came. Wayne and I were both taking it easy since I was feeling gimpy and he's still recovering from Kettle, so the wide and non-technical trail made it convenient to run/walk and chat. We ran through hardwood forest, past a pond full of very loud croaking frogs (reminded me of the reverb from a 1970's P.A. system), then into open fields full of yellow and purple wild flowers, back into the forest again - all with gently rolling hills. My hip and foot did pretty well most of the way, though I was feeling some twinges towards the end. Probably had just as much to do with deconditioning as anything else. We finally got to the finish as they were wrapping up the awards ceremony - and somehow, as slow as we were, we weren't dead last!

Thanks to RD Jeff and his crew for putting on a fun race! It turned out to be a great day - nice to find a new trail relatively close to home! I'll definately be heading out to this place more often to get some training runs in. Glad I didn't stay home feeling sorry for myself - got to catch up with a few friends and spend another day in the beautiful North Woods!

June 23, 2011

Sore Heel

Been having some strange heel/foot pain lately, which has indirectly gotten my hip jacked up too, so I haven't been getting as much running in as I'd like. At first I thought it was my Achilles tendon getting riled up, then thought it was more likely the retrocalcaneal bursa, but the pain was intermittent. Started wondering about a bone spur, though they typically cause bottom of the heel pain, not back of the heel pain. Finally started wondering if it was referred pain, so I dug out the Travell and Simons Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual; Vol. 2., The Lower Extremities and low and behold, soleus TrP1 refers pain to the heel and was very, very tender.

Needless to say, I've been spending lots of time doing self myofascial release on my hips and legs, and there has been some noticeable improvement! Not completely resolved, but I think I'm on the right track. Perhaps these trigger points are also major contributors to my cramping problem during runs since all the tweaking I've done with hydration and electrolytes hasn't really provided any relief.

Here is a website that offers more basic info about referred pain and trigger points, and another decent book written more for laypeople rather than medical professionals is The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief, Second Edition. It's also about 90% cheaper than the Travell and Simons manuals ;)

Hoping to feel well enough to run the William O'Brien 10 mile this weekend!

June 5, 2011

Chester Woods 10 Mile 2011

Finally got off my back side and jumped into a fun little 10 mile race down near Rochester that I've done a couple of times before: the Chester Woods 10 Mile. My training has been very haphazard for the last year and a half for a variety of reasons, and being out of shape and feeling like I'm starting at the very beginning has been frustrating. But, there's only one way to fix that - get back in the game!

This year, the race was held on the second day of summer. Meaning, we've had a cooler than usual spring, and the day before the race was our first day of 90+ degree weather with high humidity. Woke up on race day to cooler temps, but still sticky dew points (not my forte, even when well trained). Got to the race with plenty of time to spare and met up with a few running buddies that I haven't seen since last year (another good reason to get back out on the trails).

There were some minor course changes to the 10 mile race this year - mostly backing up the start line and having a different route to the finish. There seemed to be a little more asphalt than I remembered in previous years - glad I chose to wear shoes instead of going barefoot, which I was seriously considering. The prairie sections were brutally hot even early in the day, especially considering nobody has had a chance to get acclimated to heat and humidity yet. Pretty course, I was able to catch a glimpse of Lynn and Sara out on the trail as they were running the inaugural 50K (just added a few weeks ago). Kept leap frogging with Chris, who was running her first trail race! I would pass her on the downs and she would pass me on the ups. Eventually, she pulled away at the Big Dam Hill and finished about a minute ahead of me. Always fun to meet new friends out in the woods - the people are one of the best things about trail races. I ended up finishing with my slowest ever 10 mile trail time, which is to be expected when SOME one takes an 18 month vacation from regular training ;) Still had plenty of fun none the less!

Hung out afterwards and waited to see how some of my buddies running the 50K were faring with a new course in hot and humid conditions. There were some logistical problems with volunteers giving incorrect instructions out in the field, but the first time running a new race is bound to have a few bugs that will need to be worked out in the future. Congrats to Bill P. for pulling out a 50K PR!

Thanks to RD Jim and the Rochester Track Club crew for putting on another fun event! The dirty magazines, burma shave mile marker signs, and dill pickles at the finish line are unique to this race and make it a fun atmosphere. It's also getting to be a not so little race - I recommend putting it on your calendar and coming to the party next year!

May 4, 2011

Hyland Lake Barefoot Run

Since I'd sent out invitations to dozens of people a few days ago asking them to join me for a trail run and raptor release at Hyland Lake this weekend, I decided I'd better head out there for a beta run to see what the trail conditions were like. Hyland is probably my favorite spot to run barefoot because the trails are soft, non-technical, and I still have sissy feet.

Ended up doing a leisurely 6.5 miles with my feet feeling wonderful! For the most part, the trails are dry and in excellent condition! Well, except when they're not:

Personally, I love running barefoot (or in this case, in VFF's) in the mud! Makes me feel like a kid again! I'll be out there doing it again this Saturday with some of my buddies in tow :)

Care to join us?

May 1, 2011

International Barefoot Running Day

Kel, Justin, David, Katie, Christian, Chris, Donnie, Lyle, (missing Tomkin)

Headed out to Hyland today to meet up with members of the Minnesota Chapter of the Barefoot Runners Society to celebrate International Barefoot Running Day. The original plan was to kick off the day with a potluck picnic at noon followed by a short barefoot run on the trails in the park. I'd never met anyone in this particular group, but it sounded fun and Hyland Lake is nearby.

Woke up to temps just above freezing and howling winds. Happy flippin' May Day. Got out to the park to find Christian and Lyle huddled together in the parking lot waiting for the rest of the crew (we were expecting 15). It was windy enough that flags were sticking straight out from the flag poles and there were whitecaps on the puddles in the grass. They'd decided to cancel the picnic that morning because of the crappy weather, so some folks were confused about the new start time for the run. Slowly, a few more people trickled in and 9 of us finally hit the asphalt (yes, asphalt) close to an hour later.

A few in the group were trying barefoot or minimalist running for the first time - everyone seemed to be loving it in spite of the weather! Kept the run pretty short - only about 2.3 miles, but there were plenty of smiles all around! We hung out in the warm visitor center munching on fruit (thanks Lyle) for a bit afterwards before everyone headed off to do their own thing. I had a great time and met some cool new people - now I just have to convince them to get their feet off the pavement and into the dirt ;)

April 29, 2011

Hyland Lake Run & Raptor Release

Come on out to Hyland Lake park on Saturday, May 7 and join me for a fun day of trail running, picnicking, and enjoying the company of eagles, owls, hawks, and falcons!

Meet at Jan's Place (near Edgewood Picnic area) at 10:00 am and run or hike whatever distance/pace you like. See summer trails map.

The Minnesota Raptor Center will be having their spring bird release at 1:00 pm, with education birds and exhibits open from 11:00 am - 2:00 pm. I've been to several of these releases and they never disappoint, but get there before noon if you skip the run to make sure there is parking space (earlier is even better). The event is free and kid friendly, so bring the whole family. Dogs are not allowed at this event, but cameras are highly encouraged! More info.

If anyone wants to picnic or join us after the run, bring your own lunch and we can meet near the Eagle exhibit at noon.

Hope to see you there!