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 :)


SteveQ said...

Congrats! Beat the cut-off and no major problems. Way to go!

My monkeys are still multiplying.

Carl Gammon said...

Very nice job, Kel. That's a tough course, so you deserve a hearty congratulations!

Helen said...

Great job Kel!! Way to finish your first 50 and have fun at the same time. Recover well.

Bill S said...

Kel you did awesome. It was a pleasure meeting you out there! Rest well.

Mark said...

Congratulations on your finish. I have been a closet reader of your blog for awhile and it has been inspiring. I did my first 50k at Surf the Murph. I saw you on course (recognized you from your picture) and said hi. You were looking relaxed and comfortable.

wildknits said...

Great job Kel! It was fun to be out there with you - and see you pass through the aid station - boy did we get our timing right on that one!

Nice to hear how well it went for you!

RunWesty said...

Way to go Kel, You ran a great race. Way to stick to your plan and keep on moving. Great race report and I agree it was a fun race. See you at Chippewa :-)

Mindi said...

Woo hoo!! You rock! Very, very awesome. Congrats and recover well. You deserve it!

Rick said...

Great write up! You did it!!! Another monkey swinging in the trees! Awesome!

Anonymous said...

Yay! Good job, Kel!

Wayne said...

Way to go, Kel! Congratulations on completing your first 50 miler!! It was fun running with you and knowing you were also out there all. day. long.

You didn't waste any time jumping into the ultra game and going right to 50 miles... so what's next? :)

Karen G said...

Congrats Kel, you did great. Seems like you are a natural for the long distances.

Londell said...

Kel, Great report. You looked casual and great each time I saw you! I was impressed. You just never looked concerned or tired. Nice job. Love the details, I never seem to recall much in longer races. Had thought about taking a recorder once.

Well Kudos for sure. It was so rewarding to see you all doing well on a great day for running.


phillip said...

I learned a lot from your report, such as learning about 'flavor fatigue,' not known until you brought it up; but now thinking about it, that is exactly what happens.

I can add, though, just like you pointed out in your part of the race, where ultra runners helped other ultra runners, it occurs at the front of the pack, too. Not that I have ever been there, but I wrote of the time in the infamous Sawtooth 100 mile event where Wynn Davis caught and aided leader, Andy Holak, who turned ill, and then continued on to win. Wynn's dad trucked Andy to the finish; but, to show how this camaraderie goes further, Andy wouldn't let him miss any of the planned aid station stops on Wynn's behalf.

Frankly, I suggest the whole world would be better off if everyone ran or snowshoed trails . . . just like you do!

Phillip Gary Smith