December 20, 2009

Races That Intrigue Me

So, I'm still trying to decide what races to run in 2010. There are lots of interesting runs out there, and which ones I do will more likely come down to cash flow (or lack thereof after swallowing a $1200 per month pay cut in October that isn't likely to turn around any time soon). But, I can still dream and put a few things on a "to do" list for when things finally do turn around.

In no particular order:

Bandera 100K - they have a 50K too, but if I'm going to go all the way to the hill country of west Texas, I may as well go for the longer distance. They bill this race as "A Trail Run of Rugged and Brutal Beauty where everything Cuts, Stings, or Bites." It's held in early January when most of the critters (particularly scorpions and rattlesnakes) are less active. Still plenty of cacti and wild boars to cut you up ;)

Rocky Raccoon 50 Mile - another Texas race (this one on the east side of the state), sounds like a relatively flat course with generous cut offs, but it won't be happening this year. Carl finished his first 100 miler here last year and gave it good marks.

Kettle Moraine 100K - so far, this is the one that's been tuggin' at me the most. Seriously considering doing this one in 2010.

McNaughton 50 Mile - another one that I am seriously considering this year. Generous cut offs, within driving distance, and a trail that I've never run before. Word is: MUD! I'm not a huge fan of loops, and this one would be 5 x 10 miles. It will probably be this one or Ice Age depending on finances. We'll see.

Ice Age 50 Mile - I did the 50K last year, and it was.....OK. The 50 mile spends more time on the Ice Age single track rather than the Nordic Loop, and it would be a good last long training run for Kettle. Strong possibility for 2010.

Marquette 50K / 50 Mile - would require a moderately long drive to the U.P. but would be doable. And it's near Lake Superior :)

North Country Trail 50 Mile - might be fun to take the car ferry across Lake Michigan rather than drive down through Chicago and back up to Manistee, run the 50 on what sounds like fairly non-technical hilly single track (2 x 25 mile loop), and I could combine it with a family visit. The race has a 14 hour cut off, free beer at the end, nice swag, and is at the end of August a week after Marquette. Seriously considering this one for 2010, which would mean no Marquette and most likely no Superior fall races.

Bighorn 50K / 50 Mile - sounds like a beautiful course, and I love the Rocky Mountains!

Oil Creek 50 Mile - sounds like gnarly single track trail through a very unique area of PA, and I could combine it with a family visit if I drive. I love gnarly single track :)

Superior 50 Mile - Speaking of gnarly single track, the Superior Hiking Trail is one of my favorite places on Earth. I'm more likely to do this one in 2011.

Wild Duluth - I had originally planned on doing the 50K this year, but ended up running the 50 mile at Surf the Murph instead. I think this will always be a tug of war since Surf the Murph is a 15 minute drive from home with no gas, food, or lodging expenses, and the two races are most likely going to be only a week apart if Les moves the Murph up a week earlier for 2010 like he mentioned. However, Wild Duluth takes place on a great part of the Superior Hiking Trail, and it's not that far.... Oh, the decisions!

Voyageur - another North Woods classic that's close to home, but in need of a new RD. Perhaps the half this year or next?

Dances With Dirt Bloodied, Boned, Bruised, and Burned Series - actually 4 different races that take place in 4 different locations, 3 of them in the Midwest (Hell, MI, Devil's Lake, WI, and Gnaw Bone, IN). Spring, summer, fall, and winter are all represented! And a trip to Florida in winter to run an ultra would be cool to round out the series.

Mohican 50 Mile - another one that I could combine with a family visit.

Shadow of the Giants 50K - running through a forest filled with giant redwood trees near Yosemite National Park. Wow.

Pacific Coast Trail Runs - pretty much any or all of them! I've never been to the west coast, and that's got to change ;)

Those are just a hand full of the trail races out there that sound like fun! Time to get over to the club and log a few miles on the treadmill or do a few miles in the Vibram Five Fingers on the indoor track. If I show up at least 12 times a month, I get 20 bucks back ;)

December 2, 2009

Snowshoeing at Afton

Got the Afton State Park newsletter from Assistant Park Manager Rachel today, and it's got info about a new snowshoeing class that will meet at the park's visitor center. Classes will run from 2-3 pm on the following dates:

Dec 13
Jan 10
Jan 24
Feb 7
Feb 14

Classes will be taught by UMTR member Jim McDonell (who is also in charge of the brand spankin' new Braveheart Snowshoe Race Series) and is open to all abilities. Afton has some snowshoes available to rent if you need them :)

For more info or to register (no mention if the class is free, but snowshoe rentals are $6), call 651-436-5391.

November 29, 2009

New Trail Race Schedule Blog

This seems a little silly since I haven't really been keeping up with this blog, but I've started another one just to keep track of the plethora of trail races that are coming and going in the great North Woods.

The Upper Midwest Trail Runners have a wiki that members can update as they see fit, including an activity calendar. Very cool idea! But, after spending a considerable amount of time adding info about different races from various locations that the club supposedly encompasses (I don't think we've had a single event in Michigan, Iowa, or North Dakota, but they do add a nice touch to the logo), the links end up getting deleted shortly after each race occurs. This means that rather than just updating next year's race date, one must relocate and reload all of the race info all over again each and every year.

Thus, the Upper Midwest Trail Races blog has been born! It is in it's very earliest stages at this point, but I hope you find it useful :)

November 21, 2009

Minnesota River Bottoms

Got an email from the MDRA Polar Bears that they would be running the MN River Bottoms trail starting at the Sorensen Landing parking area this morning. After a sleep deprived week, I decided against setting my alarm clock so I missed the group run, but it did give me the idea to run the trail there for the first time ever. I don't know why I keep forgetting about this gem of a trail, especially since it's so close, but I have never laced up the sneakers to run here. Perhaps it goes back to my short lived mountain biking days and remembering how crowded and mosquito infested the trail could be.

Got to the trail head and a fairly crowded parking lot a little before 9 am. Decided to head west (to avoid the blinding morning sun shining directly into my eyes) and just go for 3-4 miles before turning around and heading back to my car. Beautiful morning: temps in the mid-30's, sunshine, no wind, and no bugs!

Going west, the trail starts out as a restricted access gravel road that keeps narrowing until it eventually becomes a single track. The tight, twisty turns reminded me of the Runnin' in the Ruff 10K course near Milaca. Passed a few runners that I didn't know heading back to the parking lot, but not many people out running at all! The trail was in excellent condition - hard packed dirt with just an occasional sticky spot. Running parallel to the Minnesota River, it was fairly flat in this section (I remember the section where I used to ride being much hillier). Just an occasional tree root - otherwise non-technical running.

After almost 2 miles, I got to the Nine Mile Creek crossing (see photo at top of post). The raft has been pulled out of the water for the season, but there is a solid bridge next to a fallen tree that makes it easy to get across without getting wet. About this time, I saw the first of what would turn out to be many mountain bikers heading the same direction that I was on the narrow trail. Since I only had a handheld with plain water and it seemed to be getting crowded, I decided to turn around after about 4 miles and head back to the start area. More and more mountain bikers - they just kept coming and I had to keep hopping off to the side of the trail. Now I was wishing I had gotten an earlier start since the bikers seem to like sleeping in too ;)

Time to cross the creek again (had to wait for 3 more bikers carrying their bikes across the bridge), then more nice twisty single track. Before I knew it, I was back at the parking area just as 4 more bikers were heading out.

This was a fun little run and I'll be back another time - I'd like to try going east next time to see if it's a little hillier and hopefully less crowded. Nice to have found another trail close to home!

November 18, 2009

Review of 2009 Trail Races

Hard to believe that the 2009 trail racing season is over - at least, it is for me! This was my first year of doing ultras, and I pretty much hit the deck running! It also turned out to be a year of pulling some volunteer time and doing more travelling to races, so I got to see some new trails :)

Got to see the Zumbro River Bottoms for the first time in mid April - swept the course as a volunteer. Since the kid's race was a 100K that started at midnight, I simply wasn't qualified to toe the line. First year for the official 100K and 100 Mile event - I think this one will be another Minnesota classic!

First race of the year for me was the Chippewa 50K in late April, my first ultra run ever! The first race of the year is always fun, if for no other reason than I get to see many of my running buddies after a long winter :) I'd never run any part of the Ice Age Trail before, and this is a gorgeous trail even when there aren't any leaves on the trees. Goal was to finish, avoid attracting buzzards, and have fun. Goal accomplished!

The next weekend was a fun little 10K that I'd run last year: Runnin' in the Ruff near Milaca. Always fun. Always get to see bald eagles since there is a nest right on the course. Always muddy. Tight and twisty single track. Good stuff!

The weekend after that was my second ultra ever, just 2 weeks after my first: the Ice Age 50K. This race is held near the eastern end of the Ice Age Trail, not too far from Milwaukee. Just missed breaking 7 hours by a little over a minute - dang! Easier than Chippewa, this race was only partly on the Ice Age Trail and then had us doing 2 loops of a wide, roller coaster nordic ski trail. If I ever go back, it will most likely be to take a crack at the 50 mile rather than a repeat of the 50K.

After a few weeks of rest, it was time for the Chester Woods 10 Mile near Rochester. This was also a race that I had done last year, and it's another fun event. I mean - dill pickles at the finish! Burma shave mile markers! And a Big Dam Hill near the end! There is a strong chance that I will miss this one next year since it is the same weekend as the Kettle Moraine races. We shall see.

The Afton 25K was on the Fourth of July this year, and the humidity took a toll on me even though the temps were actually quite nice. This is a sentimental race for me since it's where my trail running started just a few years ago - and another social event that brings out the less frequent runners as well as the regulars.

Grand Island Marathon was another road trip - almost like going back home. I lived in the U.P. for 4 years during college and drove right past Grand Island more times than I can remember, so it was nice to actually spend some time there. Beautiful course! Rather unique event that includes getting picked up at your hotel by buses and then a boat ferry ride to and from the island. Oh! And running right on the sand beach - not once but twice! Who knew Lake Superior had 12 mile long white sand beaches?

Days of Old Track and Trail 10K was another race in the MN Trail Run Series that I included mainly to try to get 6 shorter runs in, and it was a nice sharpening run before my first crack at 50 miles a week later. Half of it is run on a nice single track trail, but the other half is gravel road and running along the shoulder of a highway - probably won't do that one again.

Next up was my "big" vacation trip and my first crack at 50 miles, the Lean Horse Half Hundred. Unfortunately, this was the race where I learned a valuable lesson about the difference between oil based and water based sunscreen. I also got my sooner-or-later DNF out of the way. Had a nice trip anyway :) And my legs were fresh as a daisy after imploding at 24 miles, so I was able to climb to the top of Harney Peak and do other Black Hills and Badlands hikes.

Did some volunteer time at the Superior Trail Races, then did another old familiar favorite, the In Yan Teopa 10 Mile near Frontenac. Such a pretty park, and I always forget to bring my camera.

I was finally able to get the monkey off my back by completing my first 50 miler at Surf the Murph on Halloween!! My greatest running accomplishment to date, by far! And I had a blast doing it! What an awesome park only a few minutes from home :)

Capped off the official racing season with the Upper Midwest Trail Runners awards banquet this past Saturday. Wish I'd had more time to get around to socialize with all of my running friends - hopefully I'll still get to see them out on the trails before the 2010 season rolls around. There were awards for each age group for the MN Trail Run Series as well as the Fab Five Fifties Ultra Series, and Darryl was the first ever "Gnarly Bandit"! Awesome stuff! Wayne and Helen in particular both received much deserved awards - I'll let them tell their stories ;)

I'm still ponderin' what's next for me: possibly the Fat Ass 50 near Hell, MI which is tentatively the day after Christmas and I may be in the area. If you're new to trail/ultra running and are wondering what the heck a fat ass run is - here is a brief history. Not sure if this one is the same course as Dances With Dirt, but it sounds like a blast!

Thanks to everyone who shared the trail with me this past year - let's do it again soon!

November 3, 2009

Surf the Murph 50 Mile

Short Version:

I did it!

Long Version:

Got up at 4 am to head out to Murphy Hanrehan park with hopes of finishing my first 50 miler and getting rid of the pet monkey that I picked up in the Black Hills back in August. It had been a stressful couple of weeks with work stuff and my head really wasn't in the game all week. Even driving down to the park, I still wasn't all that excited to start the race.

Arrived in time to pick up my pre race packet, get my number pinned on, get my drop bags to where they needed to be, one last pit stop, a chance to say a few "hellos" and it was time to toe the line. Kinda like sleep walking. We were to run three 15.7 mile loops after completing a short 3+ mile loop, and RD Les was telling us that there would be a volunteer out on the course to make sure we all made the turn for the short loop. Alrighty then! I was lined up near Wayne, Karen, and Rick who all had Halloween costumes on, and off we went into the dark.

My strategy for this race was just to finish, and I'd planned a pace that would take most of the 14 hours allowed. Still, it's tough to figure out how much time you'll need for AS breaks, bio breaks, unanticipated issues like foot care, etc. I ended up just settling in to a slow and easy pace at the back of the pack with Mike and Wayne. We got to the wooden bridge that spans a marsh at about the 1 mile mark, and it was so slippery with frost that everyone was having a difficult time getting up the little incline. Those who made it up the little ramp would turn around and offer a hand to help the person behind get up onto the bridge. Yep, ultra runners help each other - at least near the back of the pack ;)

Soon we came upon some course markers near a trail junction and wondered if this was the spot where we were supposed to make the turn for the short loop. Nobody was there to direct us as we'd been told, and there were other race distances being held on the course that day too - perhaps this was the turn around for the marathon? We decided to keep moving forward along with the other runners in front of us. After a little while, we were starting to have doubts about the turn... finally got to the first aid station and asked if we'd missed it. He said no. We went a little further and realized that we were indeed on the big loop and had missed the turn for the short loop. We also encountered another 6-8 runners who had stopped on the course and were realizing the same thing. Oh well - too late now, especially since it was a loop course and we'd just ask Les if we could make it up later (the answer was yes).

Made it to Londell's aid station at the horse camp just before sunrise. I dropped my headlamp, wool hat, and gloves and picked up a baseball cap and handheld with Perpetuem. My plan was to use the handheld with Perpetuem on each of the 6 mile south loops and just drink Heed from my Nathan for the rest of the course. That would help fend off flavor fatigue as well as allow me to get more protein and a little fat for energy intake. By now the runners were starting to spread out and I was running alone but could see Wayne just ahead of me. We were treated to a very pretty sunrise, lots of mud, and a stiff breeze as we started out on the south loop. While the northern part of the park is hilly and wooded, the south end is flatter and open prairie, making the wind very noticeable. Finally caught up to Wayne just about the time we made it to Helen's aid station. Helen had gone the extra mile and even asked for food requests from the runners a few days prior to the race - I would end up spending way too much time here munching on banana bread during my 3 trips through :)

Finished up the south loop, but had to make a short side trip to get back to the horse camp AS 2 to drop my handheld and take another bio break. From here on, I would end up running the rest of the race by myself. The next section is a fun little mile of single track until you get to a road crossing, then it's back into the wooded hills and the north section of the park. The actual race course had been changed a bit from when we did our training runs with Les - gone was the nasty little hill past the patio furniture near AS 1, but a new section of single track was added. This section had a nasty little hill too, and we would come out of the woods at the top of a hill where you could see the Minneapolis skyline. Then it was just a short jaunt to the start/finish area where Molly and Bonnie were helping out. My Garmin measured the big loop at 16 miles and it took a little under 4 hours. Time to reload the Nathan with Heed, restock a few gels, and off I went for lap #2.

The day was shaping up to be perfect for running - cool temps, no precipitation, and the sun would peek in and out of the clouds. Time seemed to be passing quickly and without my noticing - a good sign. Made it to AS 1 where Steve was working, but just passed through on this lap. Got through the next section of hills and before I knew it, I was back at the horse camp and Londell's AS. I decided to skip the handheld on this lap because I was feeling good and didn't want to take the extra time/distance getting back to horse #2 to drop it.

Coming in to horse camp #1 on lap 2 - photo courtesy of Londell

Meandered through the south loop back to Helen's AS with her awesome banana bread where Bonnie and Donny were also visiting. Duke soon showed up covered in mud - turns out that he really did surf the Murph and took a header in the mud after catching his foot on a stick. He would go on to win the 50 mile! Finished up the south loop again, then back into the woods for about 4 miles of hilly trails and single track. Lap 2 was soon in the books and I was feeling great! Another reload of the Nathan with Heed and I was on my way to start the final big loop. Since my furthest run prior to this race was 50K, anything that I did now was a personal record for distance. I knew at this point that the day would be epic!

Made it to AS 1 and visited with Steve a little bit while sipping Coke and eating a few pretzels. I still had a lot of energy and was holding a decent pace. Once again pulled in to Londell's AS at the horse camp, grabbed the handheld with Perpetuem and my headlamp, and went off for the south loop one more time. The windy conditions were helping to firm things up a little bit, but there was still plenty of mud. I could smell a campfire as I was coming in to Helen's aid station - got the last of the banana bread and continued on. I was still in good spirits, and I never did feel the mental letdown that many ultra runners experience.

Got to the trail junction where I could choose to go back to horse AS 2 or continue on the course - Londell, Mary, Lisa, and Leslie were there to cheer and take my handheld for me. Thanks! Having friends at each and every aid station on the course is just as good as having someone crew :) Everything seemed to be clicking: no cramping, my stomach felt good, no hot spots or chafing, no bonking, still peeing, no bloating... Just some hand swelling and sore knees.

By now it was getting close to sunset and I wanted to get as many miles in as I could before dark. Londell let me know that Wayne and Mike were only about 10 minutes ahead of me, and I saw Guy a little bit behind as I left the south loop. I got as far as the single track on the hilly north end before needing my lights, which was better than I expected. I don't have much experience running in the dark, and I found that I really needed to slow down because my depth perception was a little wonky. Got through the tough climb on the single track and got to see the Minneapolis skyline all lit up in the night. Guy caught up to me just as we were coming in to the start/finish area - he was able to run it in to the finish and was done. I was done with my 3 big loops, but still had to make up the short loop.

Molly let me know that we were just going to run an out and back to a set of cones that were placed about 1.5 miles out to make up the short loop. I was still feeling good except for my knees - they were incredibly sore, especially on downhills. Got to the bridge - 1 mile down. Saw 2 headlamps coming towards me - it was Mike and Wayne, with Wayne still in his costume. Finally, there are the cones and the turn around. I'm noticing now that I'm really hungry! Oh, and it's a near full moon! See 2 more headlamps - don't know either runner. Hit the bridge again - 1 mile left to go! Soon another headlamp - it's Molly sweeping the course. Finally, there are the bright lights of the finish area! Found enough energy to do a minor jog to the finish line - I DID IT!! Made it under the 14 hour cut off too :)

Headed in to the warming hut for some pizza and post run chatter, then headed home for a shower before crashing. What perfect timing to go off of daylight savings time and gain an extra hour of sleep ;) I still have a lot to process about lessons learned, but everything seemed to go right except for 1 missed right turn.

Special thanks to Les and Cindy for putting on an awesome event and to all of the volunteers who helped make the day epic! It was a blast! And the pet monkey has been set free in the forest :)

October 11, 2009

Long Run at Murphy-Hanrehan

Went out for a nice long run at Murphy-Hanrehan park yesterday morning with RD Les and a host of other people. My intention was to get to the park early enough that I could park at the horse camp, do a complete loop of the south end in the dark to test out my lights, then run the Surf the Murph course up to the main lot and meet everyone who would be starting their training run at 8 am. Goal was to do 2 complete laps of the race course for about 31 miles total without worrying about pace.

As it turned out, the roads were absolutely treacherous after the first snow of the year and it took me longer than anticipated to get there. Coming down Hwy 169, the bridges and overpasses were glare ice, especially near the Bloomington Ferry Bridge and the ramp leading off to Hwy 13. Saw more cars in the ditch than on the road in that area.

Finally got to the horse camp about 6:20 am and headed out in the dark with temps in the upper 20's and windchill in the teens. The south end of the park is flatter and more open than the hilly, wooded, north end, so the wind was very noticeable. I don't have much experience with night running, and it was a little tough to see with the snow flurries reflecting light right back into my eyes. I was using my Nathan to carry Heed and soon after starting out I realized that my drink tube had frozen solid. Took a few minutes to get that undone - then I remembered Carl telling me long ago about blowing back into the tube in cold weather to prevent that from happening.

Because of the difficulty with visibility, I ended up walking more than running, but was keeping about a 15 min/mile pace which felt very easy. There was a fair amount of mud, and the horses had really chewed up the trail making it very "lumpy" in places. Had to skip a loop at the southeast corner of the park because of my late start, and made it back to the horse camp just before dawn.

Stopped at my car to drop my lights, exchanged the wool hat for a baseball cap, and headed back out to the single track trail towards the north end of the park. Again, I had to take a short cut in order to make it to the main lot by 8 am, but it was nice to see a different trail rather than getting so caught up in running the actual course.

Arrived at the main lot at about 8:04 on my watch, just as everyone was gathering and getting ready to head down the trail. Had to make a quick pit stop, then run to catch up with everybody. Chris came back to meet me and we finally caught up with Les, Carl, and Wayne. By now the sun was up and it was looking like it would be a great day! The snow was on top of near-peak-fall-colors, kind of cool.

The trails in this part of the park are really fun to run - a few rocks and holes (which will all be hidden under leaf litter by race day), ups and downs, twists and turns - gorgeous! While the hills are not very big, they are steep and plentiful. We met Maria, Doug, and one of their sons running in the opposite direction - I don't think I've ever seen so many people out on the trails in this park as I did this day.

We soon arrived at the first of the "bonus loops" - one that I had remembered as having a very steep climb. There is a turn onto some narrow single track past a collection of patio furniture that the local teenagers have assembled in the woods, then a short jaunt through an open area, past a small pile of junk, then a short, very steep climb up a dirt hill. I'm short enough and the step up to the next foothold is long enough that I sometimes need to use my hands to keep my balance, especially since the gravelly dirt is a little slippery on the steep grade. If it's muddy, this climb will be a real adventure ;)

Les, Carl, Wayne, and Chris heading up toward AS 1

We came back out onto the main trail and got to the horse camp in no time. Since my car was there, we were able to use it as an aid station and fill up on banana bread and Coke. I refilled my Nathan, restocked my gels, and then forgot to pick up my handheld filled with Perpetuem (I'm still experimenting with nutrition strategies for all. day. long races). Carl was not going to run the south loop, so he left on his own. Les was getting cold, so he went on ahead and we planned on catching up to him but never did.

South loop

With my first lap (although shortened) done, the three of us (Wayne, Chris, me) headed out for the south loop. Although it was mostly sunny, the wind was still noticeable on the exposed parts of the trail. Les had drawn arrows in the dirt for us to follow, though I've run this loop enough to know the race course except for the "extras". We did hit a little snag on the bonus loop at the southwest end of the park, but quickly figured it out since Wayne and I had run it one other time with Les about a month ago. We made it back to my car at the horse camp for more banana bread and Coke, then headed back to the single track for the 3.5 miles back to the main lot.

By now I was feeling tired, especially my hamstrings. This was making me nervous since I was not even at the 25 mile mark yet - how in the world will I pull off 50 miles in 3 weeks if I'm ready to be done after 20? We finally reached the main lot where Chris and Wayne were done for the day. Les was there in his car and let me know that I would have "extra hours" if needed to finish the 50 miles. In other words - don't worry about cut offs. That may or may not be a good thing ;)

Everyone left and I headed back down the trail on my own to finish the 5.75 miles back to the horse camp. This leg is probably the most difficult, especially between miles 3 and 4 (which includes the wicked little climb up to AS 1). My pace was dropping noticeably, probably because I was running alone and didn't have anyone pulling me along. I had also been out there running for several hours and was mentally fatigued and getting easily distracted. I was starting to get a headache, but didn't seem dehydrated so I tried another S cap. I was starting to negotiate with myself: "you can skip the short steep climb to AS 1, it won't subtract much as far as miles are concerned" vs "it will psych you out if you don't do that short little climb just because you're tired, and you're going to have to do it 3 times 3 weeks from now when you'll be much more tired!" I did the little AS 1 loop and practically crawled up that dirt hill. But, I did it and I'm glad I did.

Finally made it back to the horse camp with no headache - done running for the day! Garmin said 27.33 miles, Sport Tracks said 27.54. Took 7.5 hours, with 41 minutes of that being time I spent milling around in "aid stations". I felt encouraged that the pace I ran would be good enough to finish under the cut off times, even though the cut offs are soft. On the other hand, I only ran a little more than half the race distance and I know I'll be slowing down considerably later in the race, especially when it's dark and harder to see again. Since this run was more about miles than paying attention to pace, I also wasn't worrying about how much time I spent stopping to refuel, take bio breaks, etc. That wasted time was also factored into my pace since the clock doesn't stop running just because you do.

Things I learned:

*For once, I dressed appropriately for the weather.
*Drink tubes freeze. So do gels.
*My hydration and electrolytes seemed to be pretty well balanced - no hand swelling, no cramping. In 7.5 hours, I drank 3.5 liters of Heed, 1 can of Coke, and took 4 S caps.
*I need to get more calories in if I expect to keep going much longer. I did OK for 27+ miles, but was falling a little behind and would have bonked big time if that were only the half way point. In addition to the Heed and Coke, I had 2 or 3 slices of banana bread, 5 gels, 8 or 9 grams of BCAA, and 1 vitamin B complex tablet. More gels or Perpetuem would make the most sense (I had planned on 8 gels + 1 bottle of Perpetuem), but the yuck factor is no small thing. Solid food takes several hours to digest and absorb, which is great for recovery but doesn't fuel one's race. Unless I'm out there for a day and a half, which is not out of the question ;)
*I move slower in the dark, but that may not be a bad thing. Brisk walking is much easier than slow running, and I can maintain that much longer.

Today I'm a little stiff - the arthritis in my feet and knees are speaking to me. Will probably do some cross training today rather than more running. See you on the trails soon!

October 7, 2009

Running Plans This Weekend

I noticed on the Surf the Murph web site that RD Les is having another training run at Murphy-Hanrehan park this Saturday. I will probably join him with the intention of running 2 loops in weather that is currently being predicted as snow showers with temps starting in the 30's and warming to the mid-40's by afternoon. You know, a real scorcher. I'll be wearing running tights for this one, so hopefully I can avoid another prickly ash bite like I got a few days ago:

My current plan is to park at the horse camp, run the 3.5 ish miles from there to the main lot, and go with whoever shows up from there. I'd like to review the "bonus loops" that aren't on the map but ARE part of the course. There is a "fun little hill" (as Les puts it) up to the first aid station that had me using my hands the one time I did it - and that was with a dry trail. In wet weather we may need screw shoes to get up that thing!

Anyhoo, my car at the horse camp can serve as another aid station that I/we can hit twice on each loop for whoever cares to join me.

For future runs I'd like to run a few miles in the dark to get used to the trail with my headlamp and handheld flashlight to try different options. Trails have a way of looking completely different in the dark, and this one's got enough rocks and holes to make things interesting, especially when they're hidden in leaf litter. Just thought I'd put that out there for another near future training run idea ;)

October 1, 2009

Harvesting Hay

Time to put some hay in the barn!

Last weekend I ran the In Yan Teopa 10 mile trail race on Saturday (thanks Larry and crew!) and a single loop at Murphy-Hanrehan on Sunday. Not enough miles to prepare for a hilly 50 miler coming up in 4 weeks.

I'd toyed with the idea of doing a second lap at Frontenac to get 20 miles in on Saturday, but knew I'd end up socializing after the race and bag it in the end. (I was going to post a race report, but realized that it was basically sounding like a cut and paste job from last year. If you're wondering how it went, here's the 2008 version - the only differences this year were that I knew more people, skipped the electrolytes and gel (mistake), felt hotter, and ran my slowest time ever). I also figured that I would benefit more by doing a longer run at Murphy the next day on the actual race course - hoped to get at least 20 miles in but was absolutely starving to the point that it was distracting after only 1 loop. So, I pulled the plug and got home just in time to watch an awesome finish to the Vikings game!

Well, now it's time to put some big miles in over the next 2 weekends before tapering. I'm thinking a shorter run (maybe 10-ish miles, not sure where yet) this Saturday and 2 laps at Murphy-Hanrehan (about 28.5-29 miles) on Sunday. I'll probably park at the horse camp so that I have access to my car (aid station) twice each loop. If anyone wants to join me, we could leave a car at the main lot and have 3 aid stations/loop. I'm a slow runner and won't be worrying about pace this trip - just getting the miles in. Probably end up between 15 - 16 min/mile average at best. I know that it's the same day as TCM - good luck to those of you running!

So, who's in for a lap or two at Murphy-Hanrehan this Sunday?

September 23, 2009

Fall Running Season

I've been having a difficult time trying to decide which races to do the remainder of this season. The biggest obstacle was figuring out whether or not to take another crack at 50 miles this year, or put it on the back burner for awhile. I really want to bag a 50 miler, especially since I couldn't pull it off at Lean Horse last month (say "hello" to my new pet monkey).

Last Saturday I went out to Murphy-Hanrehan for a loop of the north and south ends of the park (most, but not all of the 15.6 mile loop that will be part of the race course). My pace ended up being about 14:45, which was slower (and felt harder) than I wanted it to for only doing a single loop. The 50 mile race has 3 of these loops plus some bonus miles in the hilly north end. This run didn't do a heck of a lot for my confidence as far as finishing 50 miles on this course goes.

The other thing tugging at me is that I really want to do the inaugural Wild Duluth 50K, but it's just 2 weeks before Surf the Murph. Three or four weeks would have been perfect as a last long training run, but 2 weeks is cramping my style a bit.

One potential solution would be to run just the 50K at both events, but that would mean I'd have to put up with the monkey living with me in cramped conditions all winter long.

It finally came down to a coin toss: heads would be the 2 50K's, tails would be the 50 miles. First toss was tails. I still stewed about it for another 2 days and realized that I've already got my spreadsheet set up for Surf the Murph (right down to how many gels, how many ounces of sports drink between aid stations, when to drop and pick up my lights, etc). Got out the coin again: this time heads. Crap. I was hoping for a slam dunk to make this decision easier.

Today the coin came out one last time: tails. My Surf the Murph 50 mile registration is in the mail. I still haven't decided what to do about Wild Duluth - perhaps a course sweep, aid station volunteer, or 50K hike?

What the hell am I getting myself in to?

Hope to see you in Frontenac for the In Yan Teopa 10 mile this Saturday!

September 16, 2009

Superior 2009

Bean Lake

For this year's fall Superior races, I chose to participate by spending time on the other side of the table at Oberg aid station. Volunteering gives a whole new perspective to races when you see just how much work goes on behind the scenes!

Drove up to Gooseberry where I would camp for the weekend on Friday afternoon. Got to the Silver Bay trail head about 4:30 and decided to hike up to Bean and Bear Lakes with the hope of getting some nice photos of the 100 milers coming through on their way to Tettagouche. As it turned out, I was a little too late and only encountered 3 runners on the trail before meeting the sweeps near Bear Lake. Temps were unseasonably warm and the humidity was ridiculous for this time of year. It was hazy enough that I could hear the fog horn in Silver Bay going off the entire time I was on the trail.

Bear Lake

Just barely made it out of the woods before dark, though I did at least have the good sense to bring my headlamp along just in case. It was pitch black by 7:30 and still very warm and humid. I didn't sleep very well that night in the tent because it was too warm for the sleeping bag, but too cool to remain uncovered for very long. I think the temps only got down to the mid-upper 50's overnight (that's what you hope for highs, not lows when running long distances).

Woke up shortly after 6 am and drove to the Crosby Manitou aid station on my way up to Oberg to watch the 50 milers go through. It was the first opportunity to meet crews or drop bags for this group, so I figured I could snag lights or extra clothes from runners who didn't have crews and relocate that stuff to Oberg where they might be needed again later. Doug and Maria had the place decked out with glow lights, lanterns, tiki lamps, leis, etc. Must have been very festive for the runners coming through, especially the 100 milers who passed through overnight!

Crosby Manitou aid station

Unfortunately by daybreak a third of the 100 milers had already dropped, most likely because of problems caused by the heat and humidity.

Got to my assigned aid station at Oberg by 10 am where I would remain until 9 pm with Kate, Jim, and Curt. Oberg is the "Last Chance Saloon" for all 3 races (marathon, 50 mile, 100 mile), and this year many of the runners wouldn't make it that far. Those who did should be proud even if it took longer than anticipated - it was a tough day on an already tough trail!

By far, the most common question runners had when they rolled in to Oberg was "What's this next section like?"

Kel: Do you want me to tell you the truth, or should I fluff it up a little?
Runner (ponderin'): ummm, tell me the truth.
K: You've got 3 hills and 7.1 miles left.
R (gulp): Are the hills bad?
K: The middle one is noteworthy.
R: How long is it?
K: I don't remember exactly, but it's called "Moose Mountain."
R: What's the trail like?
K: Some rocks and roots. It's well marked - just follow the orange flags.
R: Can you give me more details?
K: Yes, but they probably won't help.
R (staring across the Oberg parking area towards the trail head): Tell me anyway.
K: It's at least 0.1 miles across the parking lot to the Oberg trail head. When you get to the top of the hill, you'll come to a trail junction - make sure you stay to the left. It will be well marked with orange flags - keep the flags on your left. You should see a little inland lake on your left as you follow the trail. If you see a great big lake on your right, you're most likely doing some bonus miles on the Oberg Loop. It's a delightful little loop and I highly recommend doing it some time, but not today. This first hill really isn't that noticeable, and you'll descend to Rollins Creek which means that you've got 5 miles left to go. Then you'll start climbing a steep hill. And climbing. And climbing.
Curt: It's the stairway to heaven.
K: Once you're at the top, it's fairly flat and runnable for a bit - just make sure you don't take the spur trail up to the gondola. Stay to the left. Then you have a steep descent. Once you're done with Moose, you've only got 1 hill left. It isn't nearly as steep or technical, but it keeps going for awhile. Eventually, you'll hear the sound of water running - that's the Poplar river and you're almost home. You'll pop out of the woods where you've got a long, gentle downhill on a gravel road into the finish area that's more than half a mile long. So, you've basically got just 10K of running in the woods and a little bit of flat, easy gravel.
R (still staring across the Oberg parking area towards the trail head).
K: They have beer at the finish.
R (perking up): Well, I guess it's time to go for it. I'll just follow the orange markers.
K: Good idea.
R: Thanks!
K: Have a great run!

Next runner in to Oberg: What's this next section like?
Kel: Do you want me to tell you the truth, or should I fluff it up a little?

Thanks to all of the runners who toed the line at Superior this year! It was a pleasure and a privilege to serve you!

September 8, 2009

Some Runs in the Park

Murphy-Hanrehan Park

I've been getting some fun runs in ever since returning from South Dakota a couple weeks ago!

Last Saturday a bunch of local runners showed up at Afton to help Karen celebrate a big birthday. I did a 7 mile hill loop which included zipping up to the top of the Africa Loop, but skipped running around Africa and the Back 40 and just came back down to the river, then did Nigel's Hill and Campground Hill before heading to the visitor center for our vegetarian picnic. Lots of fun hanging out with the gang! Felt good to get some hills in after running flatter stuff in preparation for Lean Horse and Grand Island.

Sunday I headed out to Murphy-Hanrehan to check out the south end of the park. I'd only ever run the hillier north end in the past, and thought it would be fun to see other parts of this gorgeous park that sits only 20 minutes from my house. Got about 6.5 miles in on the sandy trails that are a little more rolling hills on open prairie compared to the steep, hilly, wooded north end. Saw more horses than people on the trails. The 2009 Surf the Murph course includes all of last year's trail plus these southern trails, so this run really got me thinking about doing this race again.

This past Saturday, I headed back out to Murphy-Hanrehan to meet up with Les (Surf the Murph RD) and Wayne for a tour of this year's Surf the Murph course. Wendy and Steve were also doing the training run, but they were running well ahead of the three of us most of the time. We had originally planned on doing the full 15.6 mile loop, but ended up cutting it a little short and just did 13+ miles since some folks have a rather longish race looming large this weekend ;)
I didn't remember so many steep hills on the course last year - I think some new ones have been planted! There are a few extra loops that are not on the trail map that provide some little surprises too! The prairie grasses are really pretty this time of year, and some trees are already starting to show fall colors. Running with the RD has got me seriously considering taking another crack at 50 miles this October!

So Sunday, back out to Murphy-Hanrehan I went. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite running spots and I can get there in half the time that it takes to get to Afton. I still get a little turned around on some of the trails and need to take a map with me. Ended up doing just 6.5 miles in the northern hilly section and only met one other person on the trail. I'd say that in general, the hills at M-H are shorter, steeper, and more plentiful compared to the longer hills at Afton.

This weekend I'll be working the aid station at Oberg on Saturday, giving all of the runners at the Superior races one last gentle shove towards the finish line. Hope to get some hikes/runs in on the Superior Hiking Trail Sunday - perhaps the Bean and Bear Lake loop near Silver Bay.

Great stuff!

August 28, 2009

Harney Peak

View from top of Harney Peak

One of the nice things about imploding at only 24 miles into my race at Lean Horse was the fact that I felt fresh as a daisy within a very short period of time. Took advantage and spent the next couple of days hiking and sight seeing in the Black Hills. Saw lots of wildlife and awesome scenery - you can see some pictures here.

One of the highlights was doing the moderate 6 mile round trip hike from the Little Devil's Tower trailhead along the Needles Hwy to the top of Harney Peak, the highest point in South Dakota at 7242 feet. Beautiful trail through Custer State Park and the Black Elk Wilderness, which is part of the Black Hills Nat'l Forest. Man, they have some really nice trails through fragrant pine forest with plenty of rocks (mostly granite) and roots - I wish the Lean Horse course used some of these types of trails rather than dusty gravel roads!

Now THIS is more like it!

The trail meanders past many different rock formations in the Needles district and eventually hooks up with the #9 trail from Sylvan Lake.

It then begins to climb more steeply and ends with a few sets of stairs to the top of an old fire tower at the top of the peak. The tower is no longer used for fire spotting, but is still open to allow the plethora of tourists who make the hike a birds eye view of the surrounding area. On a clear day you can see 5 different states, but it was a little hazy during the time I was there as you can see.

View from the other side of Harney Peak

One of the coolest things was watching a hawk soar.....below me! Bizarre!

In spite of not accomplishing my goal of finishing the Lean Horse Half Hundred, I had a great trip and am already ponderin' which 50 mile trail race to do next. Giving some serious thought to Surf the Murph this fall and/or McNaughton next April. I may have to sacrifice doing Wild Duluth and Chippewa in the process though. Decisions, decisions!

August 24, 2009

Lean Horse 2009

I had every intention of coming to Lean Horse and accomplishing something I'd never done before.

Be careful what you wish for.

I suppose that ultra runners who participate in the sport for any length of time fall into one of two categories: 1) those who have DNF'd a race and 2) those who are going to. I took care of business and got that obligation out of the way this past weekend.

Here's how it went down:

Broke the 11 hour drive up into 2 separate days and got to play a little bit at Badlands National Park on the way out to Hot Springs. You can view the pictures here. Got settled in to my motel, did the packet pick up thing, met up with several other Minnesota runners (I'd mention names, but I'm afraid I'll forget someone), had the pre-race dinner, yadayadayada.

Got to the start line just before sunrise. The temps were nice and cool but were expected to reach the low 90's that day (it actually got even hotter than predicted - high temps ranged from 96 to 100 degrees depending on who you ask). I had what I thought was a solid strategy: walk the ups, jog the downs, everything else was negotiable depending on how I was feeling. Primary goal was to finish, deep down goal was to finish in under 12 hours which was the official (albeit soft) cutoff for the 50 milers.

We toed the line, counted down from 10 and off we went, right on time at 6:00 am. I was feeling pretty relaxed and enjoying the cool temps. We had about a 3 mile run through town on an asphalt path before hitting a gravel/dirt road to the first aid station 4 miles later.

Heading out of Hot Springs on the asphalt.

I was using my Nathan, so I cruised right through the first aid station. We crossed through a grassy field and landed on Argyle Road, a twisty, hilly gravel road with no shade what-so-ever. We would be on this road until 16+ miles into the race (and again after the turn around on this out and back course) before finally getting on the Mickelson trail. The second aid station was at mile 10 and I cruised through this one too. At this point I was slightly ahead of my planned pace and was feeling great! Eating a gel every 30 minutes, a BCAA cap every 30 minutes, an S cap every hour, slurping Heed. Everything was clicking.

I was expecting another aid station just a couple miles later since it had been listed on the web site when I was planning my race, but it had since been eliminated without my noticing. This was where I was planning on refilling my Nathan the first time. Big lesson learned - double check race logistics right before the event to catch last minute changes. The miles came and went - no aid station appearing on the horizon. I started to ration my Heed to make it last, and at about 15.5 miles I was starting to feel like I was getting slightly behind with my fluid intake. I was also getting to the point that my stomach was tired of Heed and I'd rather stick pins in my eyes than eat another gel - waaaaaay to early to be feeling like that! I had a hand held with Perpetuem planted in my drop bag at the 16 mile aid station, along with another flavor of Heed, so I didn't panic.

The Road to Hell - aka Argyle Road

Got in to the Argyle aid station at mile 16 about 10 minutes ahead of schedule, but lost that standing in line for the 1 water jug with about a dozen runners wanting to refill at the same time. Took a bio break and headed down the Mickelson towards the next aid station at 20 miles. By now, I was starting to notice the heat, and had to power walk even the flats. How quickly things can change!

Ulli the Walker cruising down the Mickelson Trail

The Mickelson trail was much prettier than Argyle and had a few small spots of shade. The down side was the rock walls on either side were radiating heat, and it was probably hotter on some portions of the trail than the air temps. Now I know what it feels like to be a slice of bread in a toaster! The Perpetuem was not sitting well in my stomach, and neither was the Heed. I was trying to force myself to drink, but seemed to be feeling worse. I didn't even attempt a gel through this stretch.

Reached the Lime Kiln aid station at mile 20 and knew I was getting in to trouble. Now my stomach was really feeling pretty queasy and I had a brief moment of feeling light headed. I knew I was dehydrated. Tried drinking some Coke, which usually works like a charm when I can't handle gels any more. Not this time. Found a tiny spot of shade to sit down and tried eating some grapes. Rested in the shade for at least 5 minutes and was starting to feel a little better. Drank more Coke which went down better this time. Topped off my water bottle with just plain water and was keeping up with the S caps. Got a ziplock bag full of ice which I tied up in a bandana around my neck, put more ice in my hat, and began walking the 4 miles towards the Pringle aid station which was just a mile before the turn around.

I started out of Lime Kiln at a slow walk. Making the 12 hour cut-off was no longer a realistic option with the way I was slowing down, but I still wanted to try to salvage a finish. I was feeling bloated, hot, and my stomach was on the edge. Tried eating some ginger, but it didn't help. About a mile or so down the trail, I felt like I was going to do the good ol' "yawn in technicolor" every time I tasted Heed or water-laced-with-Perpetuem. I tried slowing my pace even more to try to let my body absorb fluids - a pace so slow that turtles could have rear ended me. No joy. This was when the official death march began.

Warning: this next bit's a little ugly and full of graphic details.

By about mile 22 I started vomiting. Every time I tried to drink either water or Heed I would start heaving, even though there was nothing left in my stomach to eliminate. Had a few brief spells of feeling light headed again too. Just couldn't get any fluids to stay down. I don't know how long it took to go the 4 miles from Lime Kiln to Pringle, but anyone who saw me stagger in to Pringle was probably convinced that Hell is full and the dead are walking the Earth.

The aid station volunteers filled my bottle with ice water and I sat down on a bench in the shade. Tried drinking the ice water and was feeling like I was going to start heaving again. The light headed feeling returned and I put my head down between my knees - then everything went black and I passed out. I remember hearing the sound of water - only to realize that water was running out of my nose and on to the ground. The little bit of water I was able to swallow was still coming up even though I was completely out of it. I had no idea where I was. Thought I was dreaming. Finally came around enough to recognize that I was at an aid station in a race in South Dakota. In reality, that entire sequence probably lasted less than a minute, though I'm just guessing. Other runners were trying to offer electrolytes, ginger, encouragement, etc. That's one of the best things about ultra running - we take care of each other even if it means losing time in our own race. I would like to publicly thank those of you who offered aid during my time of trouble, especially since I can't really remember who you were under the circumstances.

OK, graphic details over - you can look now.

I ended up staying at the Pringle aid station for about an hour before officially dropping, even though I knew immediately after arriving at that AS that I would be stone cold insane to keep pushing myself in those conditions. Took another 3.5 hours to get a ride back to Hot Springs since there was no cell phone reception and nobody could call the cavalry. During that time I was able to recover well enough to drink 4 liters of water and was feeling reasonably well by evening.

Things I learned:

*I already mentioned the bit about checking last minute details.
*Another runner mentioned to me after the race that sunscreen can inhibit one's ability to sweat by blocking pores in the skin. I used a gel sunscreen for the first time for this event since it was so exposed and I was going to be out there All. Day. Long. Don't know if this is legit, but it kinda makes sense.
*Though we often rely on aid station volunteers or crew to take care of us, it is ultimately up to us to take care of ourselves by not making stupid decisions. Like continuing to run when you know you're in trouble. Actually, I didn't just learn this - I already knew it - but I was "gently reminded" of it during this race.

Thanks to RD Jerry and all of the volunteers who put countless hours into making this event happen! In spite of not being able to finish my first 50 miler, I learned some things and still had a very positive experience :)

August 15, 2009

Days of Old Track & Trail 10K

Today was the 2009 version of the Days of Old Track and Trail 10K in Maple Lake.... aka "last dance before Lean Horse."

Woke up about 2:30 am with a horrendous cramp in my left calf. Never really did get back to sleep - until about 15 minutes before the alarm went off. Hauled myself out of bed and halfheartedly decided to go ahead and run the race so that I'd get another run in towards the 2009 MN Trail Run Series. My calf was still a little sore from the middle-of-the-night cramp and I was feeling a little cranky. More stress related than anything I think, since I've really been feeling like I've bitten off too much too soon by signing up for a 50 miler next week on my ridiculously low mileage.

Got out to Maple Lake, picked up my shirt and race number, and decided that I'd try running with a hand held containing Succeed Amino sports drink to test out for next weeks ultra. After 4 swigs of the most vile tasting sports drink ever created, I dumped it out in the grass and went sans fluids. Even with the high humidity, it was the right choice.

Same course as last year... a 1.5 mile run on asphalt/gravel roads to the park, then a 3 mile loop on a nice, relatively flat trail through the woods that had just about every root and rock spray painted to alert the runners that there was (gasp!) an obstacle on the trail. Return trip on the 1.5 miles of asphalt/gravel roads back to the school. Beautiful morning to be out running, even with the high humidity :) Finished a minute slower than last year, but didn't really care. It was fun to catch up with Brook, John, and Marise afterward, but I think the best part of the day was watching the kids take on the 800 meter track run with the promise of ice cream cones for their reward. There are some "up and comers".... wonder how many of them will become trail runners a few years (or more) from now?

Thanks to RD Ben and all of the volunteers who did the work so that the rest of us could have some fun on the trail! Hopefully they raised a lot of money for the Maple Lake high school cross country teams :)

As I mentioned, I've been experimenting with lots of different sports drinks lately in preparation for Lean Horse. Some work, some don't - at least for me. I've got extras of the following up for grabs - if anyone wants them just let me know and I'll bring them to my next race/training run:

Succeed Amino - 4 single serving packets
Succeed Clip 2 - 4 single serving packets
Nuun - partial tube of Lemon Lime

The current weather forecast for Lean Horse is sunny with high temps in the 90's.

This one's gonna hurt.

August 9, 2009

Planning for Lean Horse

Lean Horse is looming large, and I don't feel ready.

I'd hoped to get at least another 20+ mile run in since Grand Island Marathon, but each of the last 2 weekends all I could muster was about 12.5 miles at Hyland. Last weekend, my hamstrings were starting to tighten up, so I pulled the plug early. Yesterday the humidity took it's toll and I got dehydrated to the point of feeling light headed and nauseous. Part of the problem may have been that I've also been trying some different gels and sports drinks - I guess that's why you do it in training rather than race day ;)

I'm still undecided about my nutrition strategy for the race and probably won't decide until race day. Kind of like what to wear - it always seems to go down to the last minute. Between Steve's ultra calculator and my own sports nutrition spreadsheet, I at least know my caloric and fluid needs and can plan my aid station stops accordingly. Right now I'm thinking that I'll carry Heed in my Nathan and perhaps leave a hand held in 2 different drop bags so that I can supplement with Perpetuem or Clip2 or Amino. I'd really like to forget about the hand helds and just blow through the aid stations, but the whole flavor fatigue thing and the need for protein over longer distances might make it worth while. Plain ol' gels and Heed won't cut it! I may just carry some branched chain amino acids in capsule form too (some gels have them, but in such small amounts that they don't even really count). Solid food takes too long to digest and basically just sits in your stomach during the race - nutrients aren't absorbed until long past the finish line. Decisions, decisions.

Well, the hay is in the barn as they say. I have a small barn and not much hay....will it be enough? I guess we'll know in 2 weeks!

July 27, 2009

Grand Island Marathon

One of the things that I enjoy about trail running is that each course is so different, even when they are on opposite sides of the same lake! Moose Mountain Marathon on the North Shore of Lake Superior comes to mind ;)

Back to Grand Island Marathon...

Made the 8+ hour drive to Munising on Friday - it was my first pilgrimage back to the U.P. since graduating from Michigan Tech 26 years ago. Yeah, I'm old. Where did the time go? I've driven the stretch of M-28 right past Grand Island I don't know how many times when I was in college, but never took the time to explore it or the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I'm so glad I went back to run this beautiful race!

Grand Island is part of the Hiawatha National Forest and is located about a half mile off shore from the mainland. Because of the remote nature of the course, just getting to the start line is part of the charm. I'd been warned by someone who'd run this race a few years ago to make sure to get to the boat dock early - some runners were late to the start that year because they didn't catch the ferry early enough. Because there wasn't room for all of the runners to park at the dock, shuttle buses started making the rounds to all of the local hotels at 5 am Eastern time to pick us up and drop us off at the boat landing (the bus shuttle and ferry ride were included in the race fee). Considering the hour time change, I had to get up at 3:30 am Central time to eat, get dressed, and catch the bus.

Got to the boat dock while it was still dark, but the pre-dawn light was showing rather ominous looking clouds (the forecast was for rain and scattered T-storms all weekend long). The winds were calm and Lake Superior was like glass. Fish were jumping out of the water. While we were waiting at the ferry landing, I started chatting with one of the dock workers only to find out that we graduated the same year from MTU. Small world.

View of mainland from Grand Island boat landing
(couldn't get AutoStitch to work).

Finally got over to the island where we picked up our timing chips and found the spot to leave our drop bags. Everything was well organized and was running smoothly. The rain was holding off, but the mosquitos were fierce. Glad I put some DEET on beforehand! It was getting light out and the smell of the pines after the night rain was refreshing. I love the smell of the north woods after a light rain :)

Finally, it was time to toe the line and get this party started. The course basically circumnavigates the island on a 23 mile long trail with one short little out and back section to make the run a full marathon distance. With Lean Horse looming just 4 weeks away, my goal for this race was to treat it like a 50 miler by brisk walking all of the uphills (even the gentle ones) and trying to maintain a steady 13 min/mile pace. I was hoping to feel fresh as a daisy at the finish, and I figured that this would be a good test to see if I had the mental discipline to do what I needed to do (power walk) when everyone else would be doing something different (running). Having a strategy is useless if you can't execute it!

We started out on a flat sandy road that eventually turned into a two-track. A little bit of mud would be present all day long, but nothing too bad. The first 4 miles were pretty flat and I was taking it at a slow and easy jogging pace. Felt very comfortable. Temps were nice - probably close to 60 degrees, but very humid. Shortly past the 4 mile aid station, we started what was probably the longest and most noteworthy climb of the course. We were in a tunnel of mostly maple trees - it must be stunning in the fall with the autumn colors. This was the short out and back leg, and the only time I saw Tom the entire weekend (never did see Nancy). I was near the back of the pack, which is exactly where I expected to be. Power walking this section was going well. Got to the turn around and had a fun downhill run back to the aid station - right about the 7 mile mark.

Shortly after the 7 mile aid station, we came out of the woods and onto a long white sand beach. Everyone was trying to run on the wet sand right at the water's edge - it was like playing cat and mouse with the waves of Lake Superior lapping at your feet. The beach run is about a mile long with sandstone cliffs at either end and you can see the Pictured Rocks across the water. Awesome. The skies were actually showing some clearing and the weather would turn out to be beautiful!

Trout Bay Beach

At the end of the beach, we began mile 8 by heading back into the woods for a short uphill climb on single track to the top of the 200 foot tall cliffs. We ran for several miles in the woods along the cliff tops on wide, flat, roads that provided occasional views of the Pictured Rocks off to the east.

Hidden Beach

This was where it got tough to execute my power walking plan, because it was pretty flat for several miles and was very runnable. I just stuck to walking even the smallest of inclines, and by now I was pretty much alone on the trail. Had a Clif Shot just before the 11 mile aid station and continued on along the cliff tops for more spectacular scenery. Peering down from the top, the water of Lake Superior is so clear that you can see all the way to the bottom. Very interesting patterns in the sand, and strange looking perfectly straight lines under water as a result of the local geology.

At about mile 14, I started passing people even at my slow pace. We had another short beach run, then another single track climb back up to the cliff tops once more.

North Beach

Made my only aid station stop at mile 16 to refill my Nathan - still sticking to the power-walking-anything-remotely-uphill plan. Very easy running the rest of the way, which made the walking plan more challenging, especially since I was starting to pass more people. Several people. Heard some twigs snapping in the woods off to my right, but never did see the bear that was most likely creating the noise.

Went through the last aid station at mile 22 and was jogging the gentle downhills and flats. At about the 24 mile mark, the course comes near another beach (we didn't run in the sand at water's edge this time - just on a trail near the beach). You could see 2 smaller nearby islands off to the west and the mainland once again came in to view. I'm still passing people. Nobody's passing me.

Finally got to the dirt road that led back to the start/finish area near the boat landing. Crossed the line feeling pretty good - like I could go for another 10 miles or so - but not like I could do another lap. My pace was 12:14, so even though I was doing lots of walking, I still need to slow down a little more to conserve energy if I'm going to pull off a 50 miler in 4 weeks. I'm feeling very nervous about Lean Horse!

A huge thanks and congrats to the RD and the small army of volunteers who supported all of the runners for this spectacular event! This was one of those races where the number of volunteers may have exceeded the number of runners when you consider all of the aid station volunteers, folks patrolling the trail on mountain bikes, radio support, medical, transport, etc. I'd love to run this one again, especially since dense fog and rain rolled in the next morning and I didn't get to spend as much time as I would have liked exploring the island or other hiking trails in the area.

Grand Island Marathon is run on a relatively flat, non-technical trail that would be a perfect introduction to trail running (there is also a 10K for those not feeling up to a marathon distance). Unlike running Moose Mountain where you don't dare take your eyes off the ground if your feet are moving, this course provides plenty of opportunity to soak in spectacular scenery while still making forward progress. Highly recommended!

July 12, 2009

Trail Closures & Other Frustrations

It's been kind of a frustrating week!

Went out on Tuesday morning before work to get a good tempo run in at Bredesen Park, which is walking distance from my house. Only to find that the trail will be closed for resurfacing/maintenance/whatever. For. Three. Weeks. I had just enough time to get to Bredesen, do my thing, and get to work. Ended up having to scrub my workout that day.

Went out to Hyland Saturday morning to get some trail time in. I decided that the flatter terrain at Hyland is closer to what I'll encounter at Grand Island and Lean Horse compared to Afton, and it's a LOT closer to home. Just about every trail I encountered at Hyland was blocked off for maintenance/replanting/whatever. The only open trail was the flat wood chipped trail along Hyland Lake, which isn't much to speak of. No notice of how long this is expected to last. I was so pi$$ed that I went around some of the barriers and did 6 miles anyway.

Today I ended up with a 10 mile run around Lakes Calhoun, Harriet, and Isles. At least the path was open. Wanted to try some new sports drink for Lean Horse - Sustained Energy by Hammer. This stuff has a little bit of protein in addition to maltodextrin, which would be beneficial in longer runs. Problem tastes like crap! I even tried the unflavored variety, and believe me, it isn't "unflavored." Tastes kinda like pancake batter, but sticks to the back of your throat and makes you gag. I even added some Hammer raspberry flavored gel - no joy.

I've got a lot of things to sort out before the end of August!

July 5, 2009

Afton 25K 2009

Afton is where I ran my first trail race 2 years ago and has become one of my favorite training sites in addition to being one of my favorite races. This year it landed on the Fourth of July, which turned out to be a warm but very humid and overcast day.

Got to the park early enough to score a good parking spot and have time to visit with several runners before the race: Jim, Dan V, Marise, Keith, Wayne, (I'm sure I'm missing a few). Before long it was time to toe the line and begin our single 25K loop of the park. The first 0.85 miles are mostly downhill on a gravelly horse trail before taking a left turn up the first of several steep climbs (total elevation for the 25K loop is a little over 5000 vertical feet). This first climb leads to the open prairie of the Africa Loop, which is a relatively flat, grassy trail. I seemed to be breathing a lot harder than normal for the pace I was running, and I was already feeling overheated even though the temp was only about 70 degrees (humidity was 90%).

A short distance later the trail leads downhill to the first of 5 aid stations, which is about the 2.5 mile mark and the beginning of the Back 40. I blew through AS1 without stopping and began the mile and a half loop through the woods which leads back to the same aid station (AS2) to top off my hand held with Heed. A short mix of woods and open meadows, a few ups and downs, then another climb back up to the Africa Loop. Thankfully the sky remained overcast or this section would have been a scorcher! After more relatively flat running on the grassy Africa Loop (the blackberries are starting to show on the bushes but are still very green), the course turns into the woods for a fun, runnable downhill that leads to AS 3 at the 6.1 mile mark. Londell was there taking pictures and told me that the first place woman had just run through the aid station shortly before I got there - except that she was on the other side of the table (AS 4). Hehehe.

Refilled with Heed, popped some electrolytes, grabbed a few pretzels and some ice, and headed up towards Nigel's Hill. While this is a noteworthy climb, it is basically a gravel road and is very runnable. Usually. Not today. I did some slow jogging at the beginning of the climb, but was really feeling hot with a queasy stomach and needed to slow down to a walk. I told myself that since this was my strategy for Lean Horse (walking all of the uphills), just think of this "race" as a good training run for the Half Hundred rather than trying to better my Afton time. Just keep up a brisk walk; keep moving forward.

Finally got to the top for another short stretch of flat, exposed running and then the somewhat tricky descent of Nigel's Hill. A short easy run along the river and then the long, tough climb up to the Campground. This is probably the longest and toughest climb at Afton and this little loop is one of my favorite hill workouts! Had a Clif Shot on the way up and was actually passing several people even though I was just walking. The Clif Shot seemed to help a little and I was able to run the rest of the way to AS 4, although the downhill is a little tricky. Stopped for another refill, more pretzels and electrolytes, and probably the best tasting fresh strawberries I've ever had. That really hit the spot! Also managed to grab about 5 ice cubes and was able to get them to stay in my hat. This seemed to help immensely, and I started passing people the entire way along the long, flat rail trail that runs parallel to the river.

The end of the river trail brings runners to the Meat Grinder at about the 11 mile mark, another nasty uphill that is technically tougher than the Campground Hill but not as long a climb. A few more ups and downs through some woods and open prairies, then finally in to the last aid station where Tom, Nancy, Eve, and others were taking care of us. More strawberries and a final refill of Heed, then off to the very fun snow shoe loop. While this part of the course is probably my favorite trail at Afton, I don't run it very often because I usually emerge covered with ticks even when I use DEET. Unlike the other trails which are typically 3-6 feet wide, the snow shoe loop is single track through woods and open meadows with tall grass. Tight, twisty turns, some technical running with rocks and roots, some short steep ups and downs that were a little slippery - this is just flat out fun to run! Too bad that I'm usually cramping when I get to this point.

Eventually the trail led back out to a wide grassy path and one more hill that I had to walk before running in to where John P, Wynn, Larry, and others were working the finish line. My time wasn't very good, but I didn't expect it to be given the trouble I was having with the humidity. Met up with Wayne and Marise who both had good runs, and soon others were stopping by to chat too. Had a great post race feed of barbequed burgers, watermelon, and chocolate chip cookies, and I ended up spending several hours hanging out and socializing afterwards. There were so many people at this race! Was able to see Steve, Carl, Zach, Dan M, Les, Bryan, and several others finish the 50K. Finally got to meet Mike, Bill, and Lynn (who will also be running Lean Horse), had time to chat with Molly about her adventure racing, Maria about Bighorn and numerous other runs/races, and Helen who won the women's 50K (again).

Thanks to RD John, Alicia, Afton State Park, and the army of volunteers who continue to do an awesome job every year putting on a premier event! Great trail, great volunteers, great aid stations, great post race barbeque, and great friends - I can't think of a better way to spend the Fourth of July :)

Hope to share the trail with all of you again soon!