September 13, 2016

Superior Volunteering & Pacing

Superior Fall Trail Races

Superior Fall Trail Races
Photo Credit: John Storkamp

Friday, September 9 - Saturday, September 10, 2016

  Where: Lutsen, MN on the Superior Hiking Trail

  What: 100 mile/50 mile/26.2 mile

  Why: volunteering at Beaver Bay Aid Station on Friday, 10:30 - 3 pm/ Pacing Janet from Finland Aid Station to ?? (hoping to stick with her until the finish in Lutsen). This is the plan.

I am excited to once again be traveling to Lutsen, MN to participate in the Superior Fall Trail Races. In past years I have volunteered at Check in on Friday night and the next year Silver Bay Aid Station Friday morning/afternoon prior to running Moose Mountain Marathon. I have completed that race twice now and it is one of my favorite races of the season.

This year I am trying something different. I will be volunteering at Beaver Bay Aid Station Friday then trying to get a few hours sleep before pacing Janet in the 100 mile race overnight. My plan is to run with her from Finland Aid Station (at mile 51.9), running through the night and hopefully into the next day, running with her into Lutsen.

If this is my favorite race of the season, why would I voluntarily miss it? Well I have my very first 24 hour race just 2 weeks later on September 23, 2016 at the Goosebumps 6/24 hour Walk/Run in LaCrosse, WI.  Plus I really enjoy pacing Janet in her races and she did not have anyone else lined up for pacing so I thought why not?  Training run for Goosebumps.

Friday, Volunteering, Beaver Bay Aid Station, Mile 20.1

I woke up at 4:50 am to get ready to hit the road by 5:30 for a 10:30 arrival at the Beaver Bay Aid Station for my volunteering shift. I  arrived on time and there were already lots of crew members there waiting for their runners to come in. This is the first aid station that crew is allowed to help their runners. The runners coming in still look good and fresh. The aid station was completely set up by the time I arrived so I visited with crew members while waiting for the runners to start to arrive. At this aid station the biggest job, being early in the race, is filling bottles with water or heed. The aid station soon became chaos as crew members and runners were everywhere. I do enjoy the energy and being able to help the runners. I don't volunteer enough at races and really  need to change that but life is so crazy busy it is hard to fit it all in. I was ready to leave the aid station around 1:30 or so. I believe it was around 2 when I got in my car to head north to Lutsen to try to get some sleep before my pacing started. I got into the room at about 3 pm and managed to get a few hours sleep. I was staying at the Caribou Lodge Townhome and wow was it nice! I normally would not stay here but asa pacer it was a perk I was able to enjoy. I was expecting to be picked up between 6 and 7 depending on when Janet left County Rd 6 aid station to run into Finland aid station where I would start running with her.

Friday night Pacing, Finland Aid Station to Sugarloaf Aid Station

I got the text message at 6:35 from Mike saying he would be at the hotel in 30 minutes. I made myself some oatmeal and coffee and made sure I had all my gear in my bag. We arrived back at Finland Aid Station around 7:30ish and I waited for Janet to arrive. Robyn was at the aid station so I was able to chat with her for awhile when she was not busy helping runners at the aid station.

Janet ran into the aid station shortly before 9 pm. It was dark outside. She took care of what she needed to and we headed out of the aid station ready to tackle the next 11 miles before seeing Mike again. We had one aid station before that but crew is not allowed at the Sonju aid station. Janet likes to get in and out of the aid stations very quickly so it is best to know what is needed at the aid station before getting there. Janet was moving very well at this point and it was quite the effort to keep up with her even though she was mostly power hiking. I believe I did a poor job of making sure I was taking in enough calories and fluids. I have noticed running at night I tend to be less diligent in this area. Maybe it is the weird schedule but eating at night is difficult for me.

Before the Crosby aid station, where Mike was waiting for us, there is some gravel road running and Janet took off in front of me. I was amazed that she was able to get so far ahead of me when she had been running all day and had 60 miles on her legs. She was running strong and I realized that she had improved greatly in her running since I paced her at Zumbro in 2015. Of course it did not help that at about 5 miles into the run my right toes started hurting yet again. This has me worried for my future races. I was able to manage the discomfort and keep it under control but I am hoping that it goes away and does not turn into an injury that stops me from running. I do not know what is causing it which makes it hard to figure out what I need to do to fix it. When I made it into the aid station I had to ask Janet if she still needed me to run with her as I felt I was not doing a good job as her pacer if I could not keep up to her. But she said yes she definitely wanted me to keep running with her.

The next section we had to run was 9.4 miles into the Sugarloaf aid station. I asked what to expect in the next section and was told it was a rough one. One big climb and a lot of up and down. Not to mention that it is long. It was also very technical! We hit that hard climb within the first 5 miles and wow was it hard! Janet cruised her way up, making it look effortless and I chugged my way up with my heart beat pounding in my ears and my lungs near to bursting! All I could think was that this climb rivaled Moose mountain. That got me to thinking that I most likely would not be able to run all 50 miles with her. I pretty much decided at that point that I would, at most, be able to run till light but probably not much further than the 25 miles that would entail. If Janet was moving this strong overnight I could not help but think that come light I really would not be able to keep up. I knew that there were backup pacers that had volunteered to help pace and it would be better for Janet to run with them.Well, after those 9 miles from Crosby to Sugarloaf things took a turn for the worse. Janet was experiencing some nausea but it must have gotten much worse as she got sick. I won't get into all the details as it is not my story to tell but my pacing duties were finished at the Sugarloaf aid station at about 6:30 am Saturday morning. While I was sad that Janet's run was over I was not necessarily sorry to be done running myself. Those 21 miles overnight on the Superior Hiking Trail were really difficult! The tagline for this race is Rugged, Relentless, Remote and all I could think about during my run was that the roots and rocks (and mud this year) was definitely Relentless! Running in these conditions can really take a toll on the ankles and mine were starting to hurt. I did not want to take ibuprofen because I did not want to mask the foot pain to make sure I was not hurting myself worse. I did take some finally when I realized that I would not be running the full 50 miles with her. At that point I needed some ankle relief.

Mike gave me a ride back to the hotel in Lutsen and after taking a bath and falling asleep in the tub I got out and crawled into bed and slept for about 3 hours. I had considered going home early but decided to head over to the finish line about 12:30 and see what was happening. I started seeing people I knew, including some friends that were unable to finish the 50 mile race due to missing cutoffs. After running with Janet overnight I realized that with as slow as I run my chances of making the 50 mile cutoffs would be near impossible. My chances at the Moose Mountain Marathon were definitely better considering I have run and finished it twice now.  Sheila was heading out to an aid station to crew her husband, Terry, running the 50 miler so I asked her if she wanted some company and we headed out together to the last two aid stations to meet up with her husband at the aid stations. I enjoyed this a lot as I was able to see many of my runner friends coming into the aid stations on their quest to complete their 50 mile race. I had fun encouraging other 50 mile racers as they ran into the aid stations and offering help when needed.

This is the third year I have been to the Fall Superior Races and it is one race that I thoroughly enjoy and plan on going back to next year. We shall see what distance I will be running then.

August 21, 2016

Afton Sunset/Full Moon Group Run

Saturday, August 20, 2016

What: Group trail run at Afton State Park. Sun sets at 8:10 pm so we can catch the sunset and get some night running in. Remember to bring your headlamp! This is a self supported run. One loop is 25k but opportunities to cut that short if you prefer. We will meet at the visitors center parking lot. Invite your friends! Great training opportunity for Superior or other fall running races.

I enjoy putting together group runs and have come to enjoy the Full Moon Group Run's out at Afton State Park. So with Voyageur race completed and summer coming to an end I thought I better get a Full Moon run on the calendar in August before a busy season of fall running races. The full moon was middle of the week so I chose August 20th as a good weekend to hold the run. I guess I should have named it the Sunset/Waning Moon run.

We had a lot of rain in the week proceeding the run and it was predicted to rain most of the day on Saturday as well. There were several downpours near my home and I knew the trails would be wet and muddy.  This does not stop us trail runners though. I mentioned to a few runners in passing that they would not cancel Superior Fall races for rain right so why should we?

I arrived at the Afton visitor around 6:35. I wanted to get there a little early for when others started to show up. I drove through a downpour but when looking to the west I saw blue sky and big fluffy clouds. I knew it would not be raining for long. Within minutes of pulling into the parking lot the skies let loose. I grabbed my umbrella and ran to the visitor center to use the facilities. By the time I walked out of the visitor center the rain had already stopped.

There were discussions on the event page of some groups of folks meeting early to get some miles in before we met up at 7 pm. They got stuck in that downpour!

The cars started pulling in. And it was looking like the crowd would be large for this run. A little bit of rain and mud won't stop this crew from putting in some miles at Afton in the dark.
The group + Robyn Reed taking the photo. Group was too big to take as a selfie!
 I asked everyone if they had brought their headlamps and told everyone the plan was to run the Afton Trail Race loop. Then pretty much told everyone they were on their own. If you don't know Afton find someone around you that does. There were plenty of runners very familiar with the loop. Pick your pace. I would be running in the back with the back of the pack. Turns out I really was the back of the pack with little to no effort on my part. Someone shouted "Go" and we were off. The front runners showed themselves immediately and I hung out at the back of the pack.

The trails were greasy and muddy so the going was slow but the temps were perfect for a night run. Maybe this should become the 1st Annual Afton Sunset/Full Moon run held every August? Perfect timing for some training for Superior and always a good time.

Here are a few pictures taken by others to enjoy.

Photo Credit: Robyn Reed
Photo Credit: Robyn Reed
Photo Credit: Robyn Reed
Photo Credit: Rose Ryan
Photo Credit: Rose Ryan
Not sure who took this photo! lol
Photo Credit: Robyn Reed

August 2, 2016

Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Race

Minnesota Voyageur Trail Ultra July 30, 2016

Carlton, MN

I really thought I signed up for this race NOT under the influence of a runners high. I mean shouldn't two weeks be plenty of time after another race to be completely back to normal and sane once again? Apparently not for me. At least not after finishing the Zumbro 50 mile trail race I guess. As this race got closer I started doubting my sanity. 50 miles in the middle of summer? 50 miles including running the infamous POWER LINES not once but TWICE? Once I had signed the dotted line (and paid the money), however, there was nothing to do but train and run.

With vacation scheduled the first week of July my training dropped slightly late June and early July and I went into this race hoping that all the running (and races) I had done in spring would be sufficient. I ran Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon two weeks prior as a training run for this race as well.

The trails had dried out considerably since running Curnow. The huge mud puddles were gone and the stream or creek crossings were smaller.

I drove up to Carlton after work on Friday night with plans to stay in the Royal Pines Motel with friends. I was able to leave work early as I had worked extra the beginning of the week which had turned out to be a very busy and hectic week. I suppose this was a blessing in disguise as I was not able to obsess over my readiness for the race (too busy) and I was able to leave early on Friday. The traffic driving north, however, was terrible and the drive took longer than it should have. I arrived up north about 8 pm. I chatted with some other runners staying at the motel and finally went into the room to start putting together my stuff for an early morning wake up.

The race started at 6 am and I needed to get my drop bag to the start line by 5:45. I found out the gas station next to the hotel was open 24 hours so I was up at 4:30 am and out the door of the hotel by 5 am to be sure I got some coffee before the race.  I arrived at the Carlton High School shortly after 5 am (very short drive) dropped my drop bag off and went inside to check in and try to stay warm before the race started. My Garmin says it was 49 degrees at the start of the race. It was surprisingly chilly at the start but this was a very good thing. Temps were predicted to be mild for the end of July. No rain predicted and in the mid 70's. We could have not asked for better weather for this middle of summer race! I was quite pleased with the predicted weather.

I saw many friends at the start line as we mingled waiting for the start of what would be a very long day on the trails for me. This race allows 14 hours to finish but also includes intermediate cutoff times at each aid station past the turnaround. Cutoff for the halfway point was 7 hours at the Zoo AS which is 25 miles in. I had my pace chart and race plan which basically had me running an overall average of 16:30 minute miles. My goal was to get into the turnaround with plenty of time to spare so I would not be chasing the cutoff's for the last half of the race.

After the race director's instructions we were off at about 6:03 am (these three minutes can be vital to a back of the pack runner!). The start is where I made my first mistake in this race. I did not pay attention to where I was starting out in the pack. I started out too far in the front. I was not thinking where I started would be that important in this race because we had some road and the Munger Bike trail to start on for those faster runners to get in front of me. I guess a half a mile was not enough time for that to happen. We started funneling onto the trail headed to our first AS which was about 3.4 miles in, through Jay Cooke State Park.

Swinging Bridge in Jay Cooke State Park
I was running and feeling good when I hit the swinging bridge. It was enjoyable to run in the cool weather and also to run this section of the trail on fresh legs. This section of very technical single track is normally run on tired legs during the Eugene Curnow marathon so I enjoyed running it for the start of the race. My AS plan was to be out within 30 seconds. Down some coke and grab my food to go. Overall I did very well managing my time in the aid stations.

I left Jay Cooke AS and the next section of the trail is wide cross country ski trail that runs along the river and along the campground. This is where many of the runners behind me started to pass. For the most part I was OK with this until friends I thought would be running my pace passed me up as well. I received a lot of encouragement from these runners as they passed and I just had to keep telling myself, "start slow, finish strong". I believe this will be my new mantra for all races. Or another could be "run your own race, run your own pace". I know what works for me and I am much better off if I stick to a consistent pace throughout the race. I also do better if I position myself towards the back of the start line. I get caught up talking to my "fast" friends at the start line way too often!

Course markings are excellent. It is hard to get lost during this race.
The aid stations are fairly close together for this race. There are 8 aid stations visited once outbound and once inbound and the turnaround AS near the Zoo in Duluth. I carried my fuel and hydration but planned on eating PB&J sandwiches from the aid stations and using my cliff blocks as supplements when I could no longer eat the sandwiches. Turns out this worked well for me. The sandwiches are also something I can grab and go better than other food choices available. I felt really good physically for most of the first half of this race. Hitting roughly mile 11 you start to climb the Power Lines. Running into these backwards was great considering I had never run them this way. I tried very hard to not think about the fact that I would have to run them again at about mile 40. Live in the moment. Or as I was doing just run AS to AS and don't think about what was ahead of that. My time was good and I was on track to get into the turnaround AS in about 6 1/2 hours. This is what I had hoped for. I knew it was too much to hope for anything faster than that.

Stream crossings. A lot less water than Curnow so was able to rock hop and stay dry for most of them.

I ran into Becks Aid station (second to last before the turnaround) which was being manned by Upper Midwest Trail Runners volunteers. I knew a lot of the runners who were all trying to encourage me but I have to admit I had a pretty good negative attitude going at this point, feeling like I was the last runner. They got me what I needed and sent me out telling me I was in good company as they pointed to all the runners just leaving the aid station.

I hit my goal of getting to the turnaround with time to spare and unfortunately was feeling pretty wiped out at this point. I had others runners pass me by that I thought I would stay ahead of and this was not helping with my morale. But I don't quit easily so I spent a few extra minutes in this aid station. I had the Ibuprofen debate with myself. Should I or shouldn't I? I really don't like to take it in the middle of the race and will only resort to taking it at the very end of a race and then only if absolutely necessary. Well I broke down and took some just to see if it would make a difference chasing those cutoffs for the rest of the race. My soreness was definitely not related to any injuries and I was not feeling any specific pain that I thought masking would become dangerous. I had very little time to spare and if I slowed down too much I would never make it.

So I headed out of the Zoo AS and already my attitude shifted to the positive. Out and back races are very hard on me mentally. Being in the back of the pack of all my races I see just about the entire field of runners coming back on me and can't help but think about how much farther they are ahead of me and how much closer they are to finishing ahead of me. I know this is negative thinking but I can't seem to help myself. Once I start running towards the finish line I start to immediately feel like I am making progress. Sounds irrational I know but when I am running these longer races I sometimes lose control of logical and sane thoughts and the illogical and insane thoughts take over. What can I say but that it is a constant mental battle.

I have run the Eugene Curnow race three years now so I know the course fairly well running back to Carlton. At this point it was about 12:30 and it was starting to get much hotter. Running Skyline is in the open and the views are great but there is a lot of sun in this section. I realized that I had forgotten to put on sunscreen that morning but it sounded like too much effort so I just hoped that I would get back into the shade. I managed to not get sunburn so my risk paid off this time.

As I continued on running aid station to aid station I started to slowly pass some runners. I played leap frog with a few but passed others along the way. This time when I ran into the Beck Aid Station I was in a much better mood. I was starting to catch up with a few friends and we ran together for awhile. I don't remember what mile I came upon my friend Gregg but it was just shy of the 30 mile mark (I think this was Beck Aid Station). He had slowed down and was considering dropping at the aid station. He was actually doing great considering he has just been running a year and he was hitting a new time and distance PR. I encouraged him to keep going if he was not feeling too bad as we were still way ahead of the cutoff times and he could just keep moving forward even if that was slowly. He kept up just behind me for quite awhile and I hear he made it 39 miles before he decided he would not make the next cutoff after the power lines. Amazing job on his part!

I finally ran into Seven Bridges aid station and was still about 30 minutes ahead of cutoff with the next section to run: the Power Lines. Wow were these hard the second time around. I was running behind another runner and tried to keep up with him but he got ahead of me in this section. I was struggling going up the Power Lines. I had to stop several times on the way up the steep climbs to catch my breath. We were lucky on this section as there were clouds in the sky and the sun was behind the clouds for most of this section. That was pure heaven considering the effort it was taking to climb those hills! This section started to eat up some of my extra time but I was still doing well and according to my Garmin my average pace was still under the 16:30 which meant I would finish in time.  Again, I concentrated on thinking about the next aid station and not thinking about the climbs I knew were coming even after the Power Lines. I was so happy to be done with this section. Of course just when you think you are done, bam! there are two more very steep climbs! Can't believe they managed to surprise me yet again!

I do remember hitting the Peterson Aid station and thinking to myself that the major elevation climbs were done! I was dismayed to overhear a gentleman telling another runner that there was one more major climb. That burst my bubble big time! Well nothing to do but just get out of the aid station and keep moving forward. I hit that climb and although I was at the cussing stage I powered through and just got it done. The only way to get to the finish line is to just keep moving, even when it hurts right? I told myself I wanted to finish this race within the cutoff time and that I could take one week, maybe even two weeks off running after getting it done! This is what kept me moving at a running pace instead of a crawl.

Finally I managed to run into the Jay Cooke AS. I had filled my hydration pack with water before the Power Lines so I did not need to stop and just kept moving. Only 3.4 miles to the finish and I was on track for finishing within the 14 hours. This section always feels longer than it is with all the roots and rocks that just kill your feet this late in the race. I continued to pass a few more runners in this section and knew I just needed to keep moving as quickly as I could. When I finally saw the gravel hill leading up to the Munger Bike Trail I was ecstatic! And I had about 20 to 25 minutes to run that last half mile. It was a great feeling to know that even if I had to walk this section I would finish. Of course there was no walking allowed in my mind so I just slowly shuffled my way forward. I turned the corner onto the road and there was the finish line. Oh, that's interesting they have a Sheriff handling the road crossing this year. Two years ago I had been at that road crossing helping to stop traffic for the runners. I laughed to myself when I recalled how many runners would come running up and tell me that no way would they be stopping. I felt the same way. How can you possibly ask a runner to stop and wait for cars when the finish line is in sight? Luckily I was able to run my way through the intersection without interruption. I heard someone call out my name from the finish line (still don't know who that was) and then saw Rick Bothwell as I was crossing the road and he gave me a high five as I sprinted (well it was my "I just ran 50 miles on these legs on super crazy hilly trails" sprint) to the finish line. Finishing clock said 13:44 and change. I had made it! And I still had 15 minutes to spare! Wow was I glad to be done running!

I struggled after I stopped running. I had a hard time catching my breath and felt lightheaded and sick to my stomach. Not enough to throw up but I remember wishing I could just throw up so I would feel better. This was the worst I have ever felt after a race and I can only guess it was due to the fact that I had just run my fastest 50 mile race in hot and hilly conditions. I tried to eat the awesome lasagna at the high school but I was just not able to eat much. I was really glad that I had the option of staying in the hotel room another night as I was in no condition to drive home that night. I was able to get a good nights sleep and was somewhat better on Sunday but really did not feel good until Monday morning. It was an interesting feeling and makes me wonder how other runners can run their races feeling sick. I don't think I could do it. I seem to have an iron stomach and I much prefer that to how I felt after this race.

Next race on the calendar is the Goosebumps 24 hour race in La Crosse, WI on September 23/24th. Anyone available to pace me? Some overnight company would be nice. It will be my first 24 hour race and I have yet to set my goals for time on feet or distance during this race.

First, though, I have pacing duties for my friend Janet up at Fall Superior 100 miler. Will be good training for the night running. Plus I just love running the Superior Hiking Trail up north! 

July 20, 2016

Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon

Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon


This is my third year running Eugene Curnow Marathon and it is one of the races I enjoy the most. The race is run from the Duluth Zoo to Carlton, MN ending at the Munger Trailhead.

I was not sure if I would run this year's race as we had just gotten back from vacation the weekend before and I had no idea how busy I would be. Turns out I did not have tons of work to catch up on so decided to use my free entry that I won at the Upper Midwest Trail Runners Annual Banquet last November.

Similiar to the last two years races I drove up on Friday night after work to sleep in my van near the Trailhead. This year the trucking company allowed us to use their parking lot and this is where the bus picked us up on Saturday morning at 4:45 am to drive us to the start line which is at the Duluth Zoo parking lot. I arrived Friday night at about 8:45 and chatted with some others parked and sleeping in their vehicles that night as well. The weather was great, not too humid and the bugs were minimal this year. I went into bed not too late, maybe 9:30? First I got everything ready for the race by laying out all my clothes and making sure my hydration pack was fully loaded and ready to go. I decided to run without drop bags and just carried what I needed. I mostly planned on getting my nutrition from the aid stations and/or gels. I knew they would have gels if I did not want to survive on candy from the aid stations.

I awoke at 4 am after a fairly good night of sleep. The pad I chose to use was not as comfortable as the other foam pads I have used in the past so I will probably go back to the old ones for van sleeping. I brought my backpacking stove so I could make myself some coffee and actually grabbed a disposable cup to take my coffee on the bus with me. I tried to choke down a bagel but the left over chocolate chip cookies I had with me tasted much better for breakfast.

I jumped onto the first bus leaving. This got us to the start line with lots of time to get registered and use the porta potties. This year there were 100 more runners registered than the previous year, from 250 to about 370 or so. It seemed like they added a lot of extra porta potties at the start line. Not that I was complaining.

The race started at 6:00 am with a small speech in the beginning and the usual "go" to get the race underway. I positioned myself at the back of the pack. Either way there was going to be a traffic jam as we attempted to funnel onto the trail. I did not feel the need to position myself further up as I had no time goals for this race. This race was being run without any printed plans on my part. Not even my normal sheet showing desired pace and finish time with all the aid stations neatly printed out with distances between. I was using this race to have a fun day of running the trails and use it as a training run and my last long run for Voyageur 50 mile in just two weeks. It was also my opportunity to familiarize myself with the trail again. Every other year this race includes Jarrow's Beach and that was to be this year again. I was most eagerly looking forward to that small section of the race! Oh and it was very muddy this year! They had gotten a lot of rain in the last few weeks and I was told the creeks were running higher than the last year.
How is this for mud?

I got into a comfortable pace after climbing the first hill. Much of this course is runnable and I did find myself running some quicker miles like miles 3, 7, 8 and 9 being roughly less than 12 minute miles. We actually hit Jarrow's Beach around mile 5 or so. This is where the fun really began. Even though we have to move much slower climbing the rocks I enjoy the technical aspect of it. Although, to be honest if it were at mile 23 I might not!  I managed to pass a few runners in this next section.

Entering Jarrows Beach with a warning, "be careful it is wet and slippery"

Having fun through Jarrow's Beach (photo credit: Shane Olson)

I seemed to have found my inner monkey during this race! (photo credit: Shane Olson)

I had so much fun running these first 7.5 miles that when I ran into Becks Aid station I could not stop smiling! I was having fun. I saw Bob Marsh here helping us to cross the highway! Thank you Bob for volunteering!

The other fun portion of the course that I look forward to are the ropes. This is a fun section that first runs along a very narrow ridge and then drops down where the race director puts up ropes so that we can make it down without falling.  I found myself running with a group of about 5 runners and I ran with them out of Jarrow's Beach all the way to the Powerlines.

Going Down!

Looking back up after coming down.

After all this fun we soon hit the powerlines. Just before getting to them we have an aid station stop at Seven Bridges. I refilled my water bladder at this point as I did not want to run out of water on the next section.
Running into Seven Bridges Aid Station just prior to the "Powerlines"
This section includes some major climbing and running out in the open. It can get very hot! The first hill is always the hardest one to climb and it is most often the muddiest. This year it was quite muddy and I fell within the first few steps trying to climb up. My hands were covered in very wet clay like mud. This was probably a good thing because now I could climb using my hands and not worry about trying to keep them clean! :)
Beauty on the Power Lines!
After the Powerline section I found myself running alone for quite awhile. I passed a few runners but was no longer running with a group of runners. Things were still feeling good, although that last climb into Peterson's aid station is an eye opener. With this trail being mostly runnable I found myself slowing down on this final major ascent.

Finally I found myself at the final Aid Station (I did not stop as I had gels and plenty of water) and crossing the swinging bridge. It was quite populated while I was crossing so patiently waited my turn and slowed down as a result.
Coming over the Swinging bridge in Jay Cooke State Park
This next section is very technical but not very hilly. It does tend to be more populated being in Jay Cooke State Park. Many people out hiking with little children. It was slow and steady to the finish having fun dodging the roots and rocks (and people) on this section.

I was not looking at my watch for what time it was. I was going to finish this race without knowing my finish time. It was going to be what it was going to be. There is a final hill getting onto the Munger Bike trail and when I saw it I knew the end was close. I steadily ran the paved trail and picked up my pace slightly when the saw the finish line.

I finished in about 7:24 and was very happy with how well this race went. I do have to admit that I was looking for a sub 7 hour finish but with Jarrow's Beach I am happy with my finish time. Now I just have to go back in two weeks and run 50 miles in less than 14 hours! I am hoping that I can go into Voyageur 50 mile race and run it happy as well.

One odd thing I did have to deal with on this run was with my shoes. My shoe liners in my Hoka Challengers kept moving around in my shoe and folding under the arch and heel of my foot. I had to stop several times to figure out what was going on. They would bunch up on the down hills and then on the flats or going uphill they would eventually work themselves out. At first I was worried about creating some blisters on my feet but eventually had to just let them be or I would have been stopping too often to fix them. It was an odd feeling and I think that the water and wet feet must have been what caused the situation. Has anyone else ever had that happen with their Hoka's? I was wearing two pair of socks, my injinji's and a thin wool sock. I have run this way before though so don't think it was my socks causing the problems. I do know I need to get this figured out before running voyageur. I don't want to deal with it for 50 miles for sure.

Thank you to all the volunteers who help make this race possible and to the Race Director. If you are ever looking for a fun and challenging trail marathon this is an excellent choice!

May 22, 2016

May 21, 2016 Spring Superior 50k Trail Race

The short report:

This race was hot, hilly, technical and hard!!

The long report:

If you are still reading after the quick short version above here is the full story. I have been spending so much time getting ready for my hiking trip to the Border Route Trail in the boundary waters in a few days that I spent very little time thinking about spring superior. I have run the 25k and Moose Mountain marathon twice and am familiar with the course and what to expect. Training I had covered just did not put much thought into how the race would go. I suppose some may consider this a good thing as it means there is no time to get nervous about the race. And this is possibly true.

I drove up north on Friday afternoon after a morning at work. I was excited to be starting my weekend early. I picked up my friend Dawn in Hammond and we drove up the Wisconsin side to Superior and then into Duluth. Note to self: this is the slow road to China, I mean Duluth. It may be fewer miles but you have to drive through all the small towns slowing down as you go through each one. Frustrating when you just want to get up north. We arrived at about 6:15, dropped our bags off at the room we were sharing with Robyn at The Mountain Inn and headed over to packet picket and eventually dinner at Mogul's at Caribou Highlands. We had a nice dinner with a drink to relax and headed back to the room to get our stuff ready for the morning. I must be getting old as we were all in bed by 8:45 pm. Alarm was set for 5:15 for a race start of 7 am.

Me, Dawn and Robyn with Moose Mountain in the Background

I was awake much earlier than my alarm but stayed in bed. Last fall the motel ran out of coffee in the lobby so the first order of business was coffee to help wake up. It was a good choice as they ran out of coffee again but not before I was able to get at least one cup. I needed to get my drop bag to the packet pickup by 6:30 so I got dressed and headed over after using the sunscreen out of the drop bag first. I was able to get another cup of coffee at packet pickup as well. I saw some friends hanging around packet pickup but needed to finish getting ready so went back to my room.

The morning was warm at around 50 degrees. Good temps for starting a race but it was also a good indicator of how warm the day was going to get.

John started out with the usual starting line speech and thanks to Robyn for reminding me to check in that morning my name was not called. I started out near the front with Jamison. I was not too worried about holding any one up when we hit the single track as there was plenty of road for the faster runners to pass me by. One big problem was I was trying to keep up with Jamison and noticed we were doing 10:30 minute mile pace on an uphill road. Finally decided the peer pressure was not going to take me (well it may have helped that I could not breathe after about 1/2 mile) and backed off my pace. I may have even ended up walking a bit on the road section but I will neither confirm nor deny that if asked. My jockeying for position in the eventual conga line worked well as I don't believe I held anyone up and was able to keep up on that first climb. Once it leveled out I ran for a bit and at some point discovered Robyn was behind me. I did not realize she started behind me so was pleasantly surprised. She got out in front of me and I made the decision I would stick with her for as long as I was able. She set a good pace and kept me moving just a tad bit faster than I would have if left to myself. I affectionately refer to the first half of my race as my RRR race. That would stand for Run Robyn's Race, instead of Run your own race which is almost always a better strategy.

There is me trying to keep up with Jamison
The temps started heating up quickly. We arrived into Oberg, aid station 1 about 20 minutes ahead of my "just finish the race in 9 hours plan". I was able to stay ahead of my plan by that 20 minutes all the way to the turnaround at Carlton Peak.

That climb to Carlton Peak was hard! I huffed and puffed my way to the top all the while my thighs were screaming for mercy, not to mention my lungs. That climb felt like it went on forever. Up to this point I met many runners on their return trip but as we got close to the top they started telling me you are almost there. Now I love the positiveness and encouragement offered by my fellow ultra runners but I also know that lying to an ultra runner is an acceptable practice so I may have been a bit sceptical. But I finally made it to the top! Robyn was there just ahead of me and was enjoying the view and getting the required picture of Kevin Langton who was the official Carlton Peak crew this year. I took my time to take in the view and yes it is possible that the real reason was because I had to catch my breath before heading back out.
Getting to the top of Carlton Peak. Photo Credit: Kevin Langton

View of Lake Superior From Carlton Peak
View to the East on top of Carlton Peak
Robyn and I on Carlton Peak. Photo credit: Kevin Langton
Time to head back to the finish line! Photo Credit: Kevin Langton
I finally realized that the race was not going to finish itself and it was time to head back. Robyn was still ahead of me and while i kept her in my sights she was not within shouting distance for most of the next section. The heat was starting to zap my energy and I was starting to wane. It is only 2.25 miles from Carlton peak to Sawbill AS but that was long enough for me. My cutoff for Sawbill was noon and I made it in by 11:30 so my time was looking good. I had started putting ice in my water bladder and wetting down my buff and my visor to try to stay cool. My drop bag was at Sawbill AS so each time I went through I applied more sunscreen. I could not afford to get sun burnt with my hiking trip so close. It seems I managed the sunscreen well as I came out unscathed.

The next section out of Sawbill is about 5.5 miles and I have until 1:30 to beat the cutoff. In my head this should have been easy but I am pretty sure this section is when my body decided it was ready to be done. My garmin was not tracking mileage correctly so I was losing track of how far away the aid station was. I slowed down considerably on a section that is suppose to be very runnable and I hit my low point in the race for sure. Robyn had mentioned that she may drop at Oberg AS due to her injured calf and I quit trying to keep up with her on this leg. Well even if I had wanted to I don't think I could have but I was OK with that. I figured I would make the cutoff but also figured I would lose the 25 minute gain I had for the first half of the race. I was pleasantly surprised when I ran into Oberg at 1:10 or so. Lost some time but at least it was still ahead of the cutoff. Everyone was asking how I felt and all I could say was I was hot and how hard this race was. I spent at least 10 minutes in the aid station mostly trying to cool down. At this point I no longer had an appetite and just planned to eat cliff bloks or gels just for energy. I had added heed to my bladder back at Sawbill AS and even that was starting to taste bad. I could feel my feet with hot spots and someone asked if I wanted to tape them but I did not even want to take my shoes off this late in the race to see what was happening. I saw Robyn and asked her what she was going to do and she said she was going to run it in with me.

We left Oberg with about 10 minutes to spare with the desire to be done running. I was desperately trying not to think about the course that stood between me and the finish line. One step at a time and I would deal with it as it came. We moved slowly and while I watched the mileage slowly tick by on my garmin I refused to pay attention to what our finishing time would be. Those roots that I so admired on the first half of the race were no longer admired but dreaded. My feet hurt, my quads hurt and oh did I mention it was hot? We learned to appreciate when the sun was hidden by clouds and we could feel a small breeze in the air. The breeze helped to keep the bugs out of our faces. I don't think I mentioned the bugs. The gnats and flies were out in abundance. They were loving the perfect weather conditions.
This was the view I saw all day as I chased the elusive runner through the woods.
Beaver dam
These flowers loved the wet muddy spaces on the trail.
Soon we were running the switchbacks of the last major climb (well walking would be more accurate) and anticipating the top as we knew as soon as we hit the campground it was all downhill from there except for the little blip after the poplar river and before  the road. We finally hit the campground and had to celebrate with a selfie.

The Campground signaling it is all downhill to the finish. (well almost)
Not sure what we were celebrating as it turns out the downhill was painfully technical. Oh that is right we were celebrating being almost done. When I finally satisfied my urge to check my running time and noticed it was over 8 hours. Well that's OK I thought now I don't have to try to push myself for that sub 8 hour finish. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and we will get there Robyn says. Is that the Poplar River we hear? Well not sure but I can definitely hear the finish line! Yep that is also the river and by golly there it is! Now just to tackle that road finish. We will just run it slow and steady says Robyn. But my abs hurt when I run! I must have really used my core on those hills. I am not nauseous but the stomach muscles hurt. Oh well we are almost there. All of my races at superior I have always forced myself to run this last section in. No walking on the road. Finish strong. It is mind over matter even though my body is screaming it wants to walk. With the bridge in sight we finally turn right back onto dirt and bring it into the homestretch. I feel bad that I did not ask Robyn if she wanted to sprint it in before I picked up my pace as she may have thought I was trying to finish ahead of her. She kept up with me pace for pace and we crossed the line together. So what started out as me running Robyn's race may have ended up as Robyn running Janet's race. Either way it was a great day on the trail and running with Robyn definitely made it more enjoyable than listening to my own thoughts for over 8 hours.

Finished in 8:37:15. Overall 167/177, 41/45 females and 3/3 Grand Masters. Not the fastest of races but on a difficult course with the heat anything less than 9 hours was a roaring success!

April 23, 2016 Chippewa 50k Trail Race

This marks the fourth year I have ran this race and my third year in a row for the 50k race. I enjoy this race despite the out and back course which means the entire field of runners will run by you at some time out on the course. For me that means most of the front runners will run by me on my way out to the turn around aid station. I have come to appreciate that unlike my first year running the 50k. I now enjoy seeing all the runners out on the course as I would normally never see the front runners on a looped course.

I had not preregistered for this race being so close after the Zumbro 50 mile race just two weeks previous. I started thinking about running this race during the week of the race. By Friday I could not get the race out of my mind. I knew there would be race day registration so made my decision to run on Friday evening. With the decision being made so late I had no time to put together my formal pacing plan. I took the time to look up my past times so I would know what a potential PR would need to be. My tentative goal was to get at least a sub 8 hour race. Last years race was run with a cold so was over 8 hours whereas the previous year my time was about 7:54.

I arrived at the visitor center with not much time to spare. I almost took a wrong turn but realized something did not look right so figured it out without too much trouble. I parked down the hill and walked my way up to register for the race and drop my drop bag for the turn around aid station. I saw many running friends, including, Angela, Karen, Jim, Wendi, Jamison, and Dave. Dave's goal was to run a sub 8 Hour race so I decided to try to keep up with Dave for this race.

With a few announcements and little fan fare we were off. I start towards the back so after running for a few yards we come to a walk as everyone funnels down the hill. Yes, the nasty hill that we are required to tackle at the end of the race. This race circles the visitor center and runs some prairie before hitting the ice age trail which is dirt single track. We run north of the visitor center so get some spectator encouragement about 1 mile into the race.

Although this trail does not have any major elevation climb the never ending rolling hills start to add up. There were a lot of leaves covering up all the roots and rocks on the trail. This course is very technical with roots being the number one obstacle. If you take your eyes off the trail for one second while moving you will end up tripping. I was lucky enough to stay on my feet but did have a few stumbles along the way.

Dave was just ahead of me and I stuck to him like glue. He kept a good pace, just enough to challenge me, but not enough to leave me gasping for air. We hit the aid station just before the turnaround aid station and I kept it quick and got out of the aid station as soon as I could. Dave got out after me and I did not see him on this next section until we were at the turnaround aid station. We made it within 15 minutes of the cutoff time so I had time to spray on some sunscreen and eat something before heading back out. I started the race with Dave in front of me and somehow on the section back I kept in front of him.  My stops at the aid station were quick and I continued to run whenever I could. I decided that I would actually try to run faster than my normal shuffle I adapt towards the second half of the race. I figured it hurts to run slow or fast so I might as well go fast, or at least as fast as I could. I made it to the last aid station and decided to make that stop super quick. Dave needed to get more water in his pack so I told him that he could catch up with me and off I went. This last section of the race is mentally tough as it takes you just below the finish line where you can hear everyone and you continue to run away from the finish line for a couple of more miles. I was alone on this section of the trail and pushed myself to run whenever it was runnable, meaning on the downhills and the flats. I pushed myself at this point all the way to the bottom of that hill. Remember the hill? Well I power hiked up that hill and when I get to the top I ran that last bit in, which can be difficult after that big hill!

I was able to PR my race with a finish of 7:52:20 with the help of Dave's pacing. 
All ready to go!
Watching the Sunrise on the early drive