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 :)