Sunday, December 27, 2009

Adding to the Portfolio...

AS 5 Jennings Creek - about an hour after hitting the dirt. I thought at the time I heard a little crunch - turns out I broke cartilage in my nose. But no real injuries from the race... I mean, who needs their nose to run?

AS 7 Bearhollow Gap - I don't know why I look this happy - I'm sure I wasn't at all!

But I was definitely happy here!!!

Hard to believe this race was just 2 weeks ago. In the time since then I've ran about 10 miles... gained at least as many pounds... drank 10 times as many glasses of wine... and eaten about 100 times as many chocolates. Recovery + Christmas = 1/Fitness.

My sister and I did get a little active on Christmas Day - it's not exactly Lake Minnetonka on New Year's Day - but Ireland's had record lows all week so it was a little more intimidating than last year...

Lough Arrow, Co. Sligo. Post dip - warming up with a hot whiskey...

Now, back to 2010 planning... as I sit here with the feet up, glass of red wine within reach, box of chocolates just out of reach (but not for long) - I am having fun checking out the long long list of potential races for 2010 and trying to come up with a reasonable plan. It's not easy!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nollaig Shona

Happy Holidays everyone! Enjoying some time back in Ireland with family and friends. Freezing conditions - not as cold as MN but roads are treacherous so we're housebound. Had to leave my car at the end of our road and walk the 3/4 mile home... beautiful night out - snow covered fields, bright stars and a half moon! Only problem is I had to leave all the Christmas presents in the car :)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Stories from Hell

Here is a link to stories from other particpants in this year's race, as well as the race director's report:

http://www.extremeultrarunning.com/2009_hellgate/2009%20stories%20from%20hell.html

I particularly love this quote from Jenny Anderson:


"There are several common threads that bind ultrarunners but the core of who we are is seeking a life full of passion, enjoying God’s playground and challenging ourselves to do more than we think to be possible."

I could not agree more.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hellgate 100K

12:01AM, December 12, 2009

No matter how you look at it, there is something fundamentally unfair about starting a race at one minute past midnight. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that the starting time was the kindest part of this race.

The Road to Hell

... is generally portrayed as pretty daunting. For me, it began with my first visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains for the 2007
Promise Land 50K. I was joined by my good friend Kami for what was our second 50K adventure (the first being Moab 50K+ a month earlier). We had the pleasure of running with Dorothy Hunter during that race and got to hear all about the Lynchburg series of races. I already knew about Mountain Masochist as I’d hoped that would be my first 50M (it was, in November 2007) but I hadn’t gotten as far as thinking of anything beyond that... and when I heard the descriptions of Hellgate I decided I didn’t need to. A few years of ultra experience later, including my first 100 miler in September 2008 (Sawtooth) and I figured I could tackle it. A month after entering I gave myself a shin injury that I stupidly continued to run with so that I finally had to pull out a few weeks before the race. Fast forward a year and the road had taken a few more twists and turns. The annual shin injury hit a little earlier this year and resulted in many changes of plan... I missed out on Grindstone, which I’d entered after AC-100 was cancelled, and decided to abandon other races, volunteer at a few, and focus on Hellgate. And so it was that I found myself on a flight from Minneapolis to DC Friday morning, reading Aaron Schwartzbard’s course description that I’d printed from the website (if I knew anything it was to not believe a word of the description provided by Horton!). It had been a busy month of traveling, a long weekend in Vegas the previous weekend and before that a trip back to Ireland, with long work hours in between. But the training had gone pretty well. I’d had a really good summer of running and racing, and after taking three weeks off in September with the shin I’d built it back up and made the most of the unusually pleasant November weather. I didn’t feel like I had enough hill training given the climbs I’d become familiar with in these mountains, but it was too late to worry about that now.

I arrived at
Camp Bethel a little before 6pm. The daylight had mostly faded and made me wonder how I might be feeling come sunrise the following morning. I was hoping to be halfway done. Though “halfway” in this race was a little hard to predict. I had picked up a turkey sandwich at Subway having forgotten about the pre-race dinner. I was thinking I’d check in, get my stuff organized, and get a few hours sleep. I went inside to be greeted by a lovely warm fire - a very cosy setting to perfectly contrast what lay ahead, got my number, and chatted to David for a few minutes. I told him how thrilled I was to be here and he assured me I was about to take part in a very special event. I wasn’t going to argue with that.

Having been reminded of dinner I headed back out to the car to get organized, still thinking I would get my sleep time later. Considering this was my second longest ultra I surprised myself by not being terribly organized coming up to it. Mostly due to lack of time, but I wasn’t real worried about it either. Not that I take any race for granted but I think the more races I do the simpler I try to keep things. Especially when traveling to races. Having said that I still ended up with enough supplies for a two week expedition to Antarctica. I turned up the heat in the car and set about the task of dividing up my food between my
Nathan pack and drop bag - which would be at AS4 and again at AS7. I put my second set of gloves/mitts/neck gaiter in the drop bag and also my spare shoes. I decided to stick with my regular Montrail Masochist shoes and put the Gortex version in the drop bag - I started to wear the Masochists earlier this year and absolutely love them. I picked up a pair of the GTX ones a month ago and while they feel good I think they are a little stiffer and I knew that despite the waterproof claim there’d be no keeping my feet dry at the creek crossing. I headed back inside around 6:45PM for dinner - the air was chilly. Not as bad as the 4F I’d left behind in Minnesota, but definitely not ideal running temperatures. I spotted Dorothy immediately and chatted with her and Todd before joining fellow Midwesterners Robert Wehner and Brad Birkholz at the next table. I knew both these guys had run the race several times though I wasn’t sure than a few hours before race start was the time to be looking for advice from veterans! The spaghetti dinner was good and after hanging out for a bit we all headed over to the building where the race briefing would be. Another comfy setting - a main gathering area with bunk rooms off to each side and best of all - hot showers! I would be dreaming about that later. The finish line was right outside the door.

At dinner, David had interrupted proceedings to ask if anyone had spare shoes as one of the girls had left hers behind - size 10? Montrails? Masochists? -
I did a quick size check on the pair I was wearing which I had in addition to the ones I planned to run in and the GTX pair (most of my running shoes are 10.5 but I remembered these being different) - and told Beth I had a pair for her. The poor thing, she had packed 3 pairs in a bag but had left it behind, 3hrs drive away! I caught up with her before the race briefing and gave her the choice of my “old” regular ones, which had about 200+ miles, or the GTX ones which are pretty new. She opted for the regular version. So I repacked the drop bag and was all set.

I don’t remember too much about the race briefing other than the suggestion that we might hit a record low. I think Horton said that meant single digits but I am not sure. I had mentally prepared myself that the race would be colder than anything I had done before so I figured I wasn’t going to worry about it now. The good news was that there was much less ice than some years. A few questions here and there and then it was time to ensure everyone had a ride to the start about 15 miles away (amazing how one finds a way to run 100KM when you can drive it in 15 miles). I secured a seat in JJ’s jeep with a departure time of 11PM. It was now approaching 9PM. When was I going to get my few hours sleep? I chatted to a few people and headed back to the car. A few final checks and set my alarm for 10:50. I figured I got about 40 minutes kip. Good enough.

I was SO READY TO RUN! I had been looking forward to this race for months. Nothing like a few injury-enforced cancellations (NF Madison 50M as well as Grindstone) to juice up the competitive spirit!

That Midnight Start

The drive to the start was eerily quiet. Funnily enough I was riding in the same car as Aaron so that was neat that I got to thank him for his postings. But we were waiting for another girl who must have taken a ride with someone else and ended up leaving a few minutes after everyone else. And since no one was entirely sure of the start location we were just a little nervous. As much as I was afraid of what was to come I really didn't want to miss the race start! Thankfully between JJ and Aaron we made it there after just one wrong turn. Still, I only had enough time for a quick bio break, check-in, and walk over to the start line. In the car over I realized I had forgotten my iPod. It didn’t bother me too much – I hadn’t planned to use it during the night but thought it might be nice later on. In hindsight it was definitely a blessing that I forgot it. Considering the number of spills I took due to lack of concentration I can only imagine the mess I’d be in if I was listening to music too. I had also forgot to put any
Nuun tabs in my hydration pack – as in, into the water - I was carrying a full tube of tabs. I figured I’d do it at the first AS. At the start line I chatted briefly to Sean Andrish whom I’d met at the Wild Duluth 100K in October. It didn’t feel terribly cold at the start though I shivered when I saw a few guys in shorts. A few reports I’ve read say 10-15F. Either way I felt like I had the right amount of clothing – a Smartwool layer, longsleeve hooded top, thin vest, thin wind shirt; tights; gloves and mitts – with handwarmers (a.k.a lifesavers) in between.

11:59PM – National Anthem; 12:00AM – David leads us all with a short prayer for a safe journey in the woods; 12:01AM – we’re off... 100K in the Jefferson National Forest, Virginia.

Start to AS1 Forest Service Road 35 (3.5 miles)

I was wearing a watch but had decided not to look at it for several hours. I wanted to take the first few sections relatively easy and not get caught up with times. I knew this section was among the shortest but was more concerned about the creek than the distance. My goals going into this race were to finish in under 14 hours and to place in the top 5 women. Not terribly scientific I just know that I usually run better with a goal in mind and from a review of the results and a look through Horton’s seedings that seemed to make sense. I figured Donna Utakis (2008 winner and 2009 Grindstone winner) and Justine Morrison (previous winner and many great races in her resume) would be vying for the top spot and I knew Jenny Anderson’s name from other races and had just read in UR mag about a 50K she’d recently won.

We did some climbing through the woods on wide trails but it was pretty gentle. As we approached the creek a group were coming in the opposite direction having missed the turn off. They didn’t seem too concerned so I expect they hadn’t gone far. The creek was deeper than I had envisioned but I didn’t take any time to think about it as I ploughed ahead. I remembered reading Aaron’s advice to not try to use the rocks as they’d be icy. I suppose I still could have actually taken a moment to assess the depth. Water up to my knees wasn’t so bad but almost falling forward so that I had to put my hands down on a rock was so not a good idea. My mitts got soaked half way up. They froze instantly. Oh dear. This was going to be a long night. Thank goodness for those handwarmers. I let the mitts slip down a bit and had the handwarmers in each palm. Not perfect but it’ll work. AS1 came a few minutes later. I don’t remember stopping. It was too cold.

According to
Keith Knipling’s records this section is actually 4 miles long. No surprise there.

AS1 to AS2 Petites Gap (4.0 miles)

Overall, this was probably my favorite section of the race. Most of it was a steady climb on a gravel road. I was glad for the climb as it got me warmed up quickly after the creek crossing. My feet didn’t actually feel that bad at all. And apart from my wet mitts I was sort of glad that I’d gotten quite wet – just to, you know, see how bad it might really be. I had on a pair of Teko wool socks that worked great - they seemed to dry out pretty well. And they had to – several times. With so much talk about the creek crossing you’d be forgiven for thinking there was just the one. Ha! If only. That was just the one where you were 100% guaranteed to get wet. For all the others, it was merely a 99.9% chance. About half way up the climb I was completely alone as the field had spread out nicely. No moon was visible at this point but the stars were so bright. I shut off my headlamp for a few hundred yards and once my eyes adjusted it was so beautiful. My legs felt fresh, the air was cool but not awful. There was no wind along this stretch. I felt so lucky to be able to do this. It has been a great year of running for me and what better way to bring it to a close than running in the mountains under a starlit sky. Unfortunately, a few of those stars were not stars at all but headlamps. High, high above me. Holy crap, this really is a mountain. There was quite a bit of ice towards the top of the climb where it got steeper but for the most part it was possible to find dirt tracts to follow. I hiked alongside a guy for several minutes. Neither of us speaking a word but nice to have company to keep the pace steady. About 50 yards from AS2 I slipped and went down on my right knee. I didn’t even look down so I am not sure if the eventual damage was done at that point but several falls later and the knee didn’t look so pretty. The tube to my hydration pack had frozen solid somewhere along this section so I was a bit worried about that but got it going at the aid station and then tucked it into my shirt. I had planned to wear the wind jacket outside my pack but it proved too much of a squeeze so the tube had been exposed. Silly me. A cup of coke and I was off again. I had not taken any food at this point but I was doing fine. I’d ended up eating the turkey sandwich around 9pm so I knew I wasn’t short on calories. No fear.

3.9 miles according to Keith. A short one?

AS2 to AS3 Camping Gap (5.6 miles)

I left the aid station feeling pretty good. But knowing it was still very early. We encountered the first significant stretch of downhill in the next few miles – first on a rocky trail and then a few miles on a wider grassy trail where it felt good to stretch out a little. This was followed by the first of my ‘nightmare’ sections... rocks and more rocks. It was no fun. But eventually we hit another dirt road and despite the upward slope it felt good to be on secure ground again. Don’t get me wrong, I love technical trail but loose icy rocks combined with sloping ground, in the dark, nah... Back out on the road it was a l-o-n-g climb to Camping Gap. I decided it was time for a gel. I had several gels and other good stuff in my pack though I didn’t use half of it. Along here I saw that the moon had come out. It was beautiful. Not a full moon like other years but a golden crescent low in the sky. Looking at the profile* this really was a long climb so it’s no wonder I was thrilled to hear the girls at AS3 had HOT COFFEE. Nice! These ladies were awesome and I would later see them at AS 6 and 9 – if that were me there wouldn’t have been any coffee left for the runners. I took some coke also and a few quarters of grilled cheese sandwiches. I am not sure but I don’t think I refilled my water here which meant I was still running on my original 70oz or so. I was well hydrated going into the race but knew I should have been drinking more.

6.1 miles according to Keith. I believe it.

* It’s very unusual for me but I am just looking at the elevation profile for the first time now (13,500ft of climbing!) – stealing it from Keith’s blog. I don’t think I’ve ever run an ultra where I hadn’t studied the profile, the course, the distance between aid stations etc in great detail... all I can say is, it was definitely fear and not complacency!


Copied (w/o permission) from Keith Knipling's blog

AS3 to AS4 Headforemost Mountain (8.8 miles)

I left the AS just ahead of a few guys that had arrived around the same time as me. The girls at the aid station had warned us this next section was a tough one. 8.8 miles though I only remember hearing the first 8. Either way, after a few hours of running, and heading into that cold, windy section, I was quickly reminded that easy was never mentioned in any of the reports I’d read. But I had my drop bag to look forward to... and nice dry gloves and mitts. My hands weren’t cold but the frozen mitts were a bit of a pain all the same. The first mile or so was very runnable though at one point I got worried I had missed a turn as I hadn’t seen a glow stick for a while. A guy came along behind me and we continued for a bit and then spotted one in the distance. Phew. At no point in this race did I want to have to backtrack. The course was very well marked but there were stretches every so often where the markings were spread out as there were no turns – which induced a mild panic attack thinking I’d missed a turn. After the road stretch we turned onto grassy trail which was pretty runnable and I think mostly downhill. I am pretty sure this is where we encountered the snow. I was not expecting it as I’d read in one of David’s emails that they’d been marking part of the course on Wednesday and it was clear. I guess he didn’t mean the entire course was clear. Along here I took my first bio break. It would be the first of many. I think between falls and bio breaks I set a few new records in this race. Somewhere along here you could see across the valley to the highest section of the course – it was fun to see headlights bobbing in the distance – at this stage I was not bitter about how far I had to go versus the leaders. That would come later. About 2 miles later.

We hit a section of single track – which I later recognized as the Promise Land course. It was technical and quite rocky. I rolled my left ankle at one point and very nearly went careening off the trail which would not have been a good idea given the steep grade. There was a little ice along here also which made things interesting. I slipped at one point and went down awkwardly but just about managed to avoid smashing my right knee on a rock. At this point the fun was all but gone. I was very jealous of those headlamps in the distance that had no doubt danced through this section. And here I was clunking along. Not even at mile 20 and I feel wrecked. My last race had been 3 months earlier. And it was a trail marathon. I hadn’t run 50 miles since August. I wasn’t ready for this race. WHAT was I thinking? AS4 could not arrive soon enough. Out onto road again and up we went. It was steep but I didn’t mind. I felt like we had to be close. Finally, after what seemed like altogether too many miles I could see the AS lights ahead.

I was not a happy camper. I found my drop bag and changed my gloves, mitts, neck gaiter. Got a new pack of handwarmers. I checked my watch for the first time and was hugely disappointed to see 4:49AM. I don’t know what I was expecting but I thought for 20 miles I should be closer to 4 hours. Of course if I had looked at the sign I would have seen that it read mile 21.9 – and in reality was probably closer to 24 miles – but at that moment I was not thinking so clearly. I drank the can of red bull from my drop bag, got my water filled and added a few Nuun tabs. I had some chicken and rice soup which tasted good. Clark Zealand was there and he said the next section was pretty nice with lots of downhill. He was trying to help but so far the downhill experience had been far too rocky for my liking so I wasn’t at all appreciative of his kindness! But I did hear him tell someone that 24 runners had come through. I knew that at least 100 had started. Suddenly the world was a better place! I didn’t even care how many were women. I just knew I need to get out of there and on the road again.

9.8 miles according to Keith. Wow – that’s rough even by Horton’s standards!

AS4 to AS5 Jennings Creek (5.7 miles)

I was F R E E Z I N G. Especially my hands. I knew they would warm up soon but trudging along that dirt road I needed to get myself focused again. Well, let me tell you, there’s nothing like a face plant in frozen dirt to do the job. Whatever I was doing with my hands I didn’t get them down quickly enough and my nose hit at exactly the same time as my hands. Crunch! The noise of the impact registered before the pain - holy crap, I thought, I’ve broken my nose. Immediately followed by, maybe I can drop? Because quite honestly, at that point in the race – a broken nose would have been a welcome alternative to another 40 miles. I quickly got up, thinking I might have to go back to the aid station but remembering I’d just passed a car 20 yards back – I am sure I gave the guy quite a fright. I am not sure how he was connected to the race as he was a ways down from the AS but I did see him later at the finish line - but did not get over to thank him before he had disappeared again. So thank you whoever you are! He took a look, gave me some tissue to clean up the blood and told me I’d be fine. Damn.

Off I went, still sobbing a little – the shock I am sure!! Feeling COMPLETELY sorry for myself. But also thinking that if I have to fall in a race I may as well have a few scars to show for it... not to mention a few photos. More on that later. First, I had to run some. The next section was all a bit of a blur. On balance, the fall was a great thing as the adrenaline instantly heated my body and the pain in my nose caused me to forget all the other aching body parts. Clark was right though, there was significant downhill in the next section. As first, I was thinking it couldn’t all be downhill but then I remembered the name of the aid station was Jennings Creek so I figured if there was a creek it would be low down. The middle section where we climbed an icy road was a bit tricky though – and even the cars had trouble as we came across a guy being pulled out by a truck. I think I passed one guy along here but for the most part was running by myself. Towards the end of this section we wound our way down the mountain through pretty runnable trail and into AS 5 where I was greeted by... the paparazzi! Horton was sitting over by the fire and upon hearing shouts of “Best Blood Award” wanted evidence... no, he didn’t rush over to check was I ok – in fact I don’t recall anyone asking if I was hurt or offering to clean me up. I loved it! Honestly, this aid station cheered me up no end. These people are nuts I thought as I was leaving. And I’m one of them!

I did get offered some bacon and eggs though – this being the Breakfast aid station – but decided it was time to get going again. With a handful of pretzels for breakfast. I forgot to ask how long to the next AS.

6.4 miles according to Keith. But not the worst of the “Horton miles”

AS5 to AS6 Little Cove Mountain (6.9 miles)

Not having done very well with studying the course pre-race I had a vague recollection that Aaron had said AS6 was at 35 miles – and according to him the “halfway” point, with 31 miles remaining. I didn’t know if that meant it was officially marked as mile 35 or not. But then again I didn’t know what mile I had just passed at AS5. Despite this, and having looked at my watch at the aid station to see 6:10AM, I still told myself I would get to Little Cove Mountain by sunrise. Now, one would think that the fact that I was leaving a “creek” and heading to a “mountain” and knowing that after the first two sections all the others were over 5 miles (I remembered that at least), would cause me to be a little less ambitious. I did start to recalculate as the road crept up and up and up. This section in summary: big climb, big descent, big climb. It was on the second big climb that I started to wonder (again) what on earth I was doing here. It was daylight now but rather than take in the amazing views of the valleys below and mountains in the distance, I just trundled along muttering to myself. This is probably one of the few places where the iPod might have helped as the terrain was very runnable. But instead I spotted two guys up ahead... ah yes, nothing like a few “targets” to get Helen going again. Heading up the gravel road that would eventually lead to the aid station, I realized I was moving relatively well as I chatted a little to one of the guys before continuing on. A mix of running and hiking here. And lots of cars going by which was a pain as it was so dusty. I didn’t look at my watch in this section. I didn’t need to. I knew it was long past 7AM. 7:49 to be exact when I finally asked the volunteer recording the times how far behind the other women I was. But I learned that the next girl was only 2 minutes ahead of me. And the “two Canadians” had gone through at 7:25AM. Ok, so my original goal for the first half had been way ambitious. I didn’t feel so bad. I was pleased to be in 4th. And just like that, things were looking up again...

Especially since this was the aid station where my coffee ladies were again! And despite the warning that the next 8 miles were “Horton miles” – aren’t they all I said – I left in pretty good form.

7.6 miles according to Keith. No wonder it took so bloody long.

AS6 to AS7 Bearwallow Gap (8.0 miles)

This section started off well. A nice grassy downhill that lasted for maybe two miles. It was just what I needed. The sun was up and I wasn’t doing as bad as I thought. I felt like I had run within myself to this point and knew that if I could just maintain this progress I had a good chance of being able to finish strong. I wasn’t sure if 14 hours was still a possibility but I figured no point in worrying about that now. I had a little chasing to do...

And then it was back to technical trail with rolling hills. And I do mean technical – this was killer stuff – rock and more rocks, all covered by leaves. I soon spotted Jenny ahead through the trees. And just as soon as I set my sights on her – splat! I knocked my left ankle off a rock and went down. No serious damage. Concentrate. Concentrate. Concentrate. Without doubt this race requires more concentration than any other I have done. Dusted myself off and continued on. I passed Jenny a few minutes later and soon after we both passed two guys. And a while later another one. We were making progress! A mix of up and down but the downhill was pure misery in my book – rock strewn switchbacks with very little room for error. Despite the nice start to this section it was definitely my least favourite. So far.

We crossed a road, some more trail, and then we came out of the woods to the aid station. Now that it was bright the (same?) group decided they needed more photos. But I couldn’t stay long... Jenny arrived into the AS just behind me and was gone through before I had time to drink a cup of coke! Refilled my water, added a few more Nuun tabs (love this stuff), grabbed a few gels from my drop bag, and my baggie of chocolate covered espresso beans (there is no such thing as bad caffeine), and hit the trail again. 9:30AM. Not bad. Not bad at all.

I haven’t been mentioning the temperatures much. I suppose it was cold enough – teens perhaps in the early morning – I really have no idea but it didn’t bother me much. I was keeping my hands warm and my feet would get wet every so often between creek crossings and the odd soggy patch of ground, but they seemed to dry up pretty quick. As the morning wore on it became quite sunny and I think if I’d had shorts in my drop bag (I hadn’t even brought any on the trip not considering this a possibility), I would have been tempted to change.

8.6 miles according to Keith. Well, I can’t say I wasn’t warned.

AS7 to AS8 Bobblets Gap (7.0 miles)

Jenny had picked up her pacer at this AS so I chatted to the girls briefly and asked her pacer how far ahead the leaders were. 10 minutes. Wow. Now I was really feeling good. There was some climbing at the start but I was feeling strong and no question I had my sights on “the Canadians”! Still, it was only mile 42, or 45 or something like that, still a long way to go. But driving down the day before I had told myself the race would start after this aid station so I was pleased that I’d not gotten caught up in times and position early in the race. It’s amazing how the mood swings in an ultra. I’d gone from feeling like crap to thinking things were going just great. I felt like I had a good chance of keeping 3rd place, 14 hours was back on track and who knows, the ladies up front might be feeling more tired than me.

I enjoyed this section. Or at least I enjoyed it more than other sections. After 40 miles, it’s all relative. Mentally I was doing well, and it was a very pretty section of the course as the trail swung in and out of the mountain to the left with views out across the valley to the right. Once again, I remembered Aaron’s posting on this section – I recalled he hadn’t been too happy with the repetitive nature of this section but it seemed to be what I needed at this point. Still, even flat, fairly runnable trail gets old after a while – especially when your legs don’t really want to run all that much. This was where I developed a new mantra - each time I would feel like walking I told myself – “I bet the Canadians didn’t walk this”. As it turns out, I guess they did. But it helped me to keep moving forward. A short descent and then out onto a dirt road for the one mile climb to the aid station. The climbing was actually a welcome change. And I was hiking pretty well. Still, I was very surprised to turn the corner a hundred yards from the aid station and see the two girls just arriving to it. It pleased the aid station workers no end to have a bit of front runner excitement happening on their watch!

A very quick stop here. I didn’t need a refill. Just a cup of coke and a handful of pretzels and I was off. After “the Canadians” for what I hoped would be the last time! 10:45AM.

6.1 miles according to Keith. Short = good, right? Not exactly, not when I was expecting more of the same in the next section.

AS8 to AS9 Day Creek (6.6 miles)

This section started out deceptively well. After I caught up with the girls and chatted for a bit, I continued to descend along the dirt road. The road goes down for quite a ways, I think 2 miles or more, turning into a gravel road about half way down. It was nice to feel like I was making progress. And hopefully opening up a bit of a lead. I didn’t come here thinking I could win. Not that I didn’t dream about it but I honestly didn’t think it was within my reach. I’d had some good races this year and felt good about my recent training, but I was up against girls that I believe are simply more talented than me. Having said that, I know a course like this plays to my strengths. Patience and persistence. Mind you, this section would definitely test the former!

If I had thought about it I might have remembered reading about a section that “seems to go on FOREVER” but for the first hour or so I blissfully assumed that it even if it was a bit longer than advertised it surely wouldn’t be much different from the previous section. So I set my goal of reading the final aid station at 12 noon. Sorted. I’d be home by 13:30 if the final section panned out. If I should have learned one lesson in ultras by now it’s that when things start to look really good... something ain’t right.

The downhill came to an abrupt end with a turn onto single track and up we went. The rest of this section was just awful. Meandering aimlessly through the woods seemingly going nowhere fast. Don’t get me wrong – it was beautiful trail, the sunshine filtering in through the forest – and on any other day I’d feel like I was in heaven. But after 50+ miles, kicking leaves had lost its appeal. Along here I met up with Robert. He witnessed a rather spectacular fall as I swung off a tree and landed in a heap. Luckily, just leaves underneath. I thought for sure once we emerged from this section we’d be close. The vegetation started to change and I started to get excited. 11:50 on the clock. And then, along comes a runner from the opposite direction. I knew I hadn’t gone wrong but he had me worried all the same. He confirmed he was a pacer heading out to meet his runner. I asked him how far to the next aid station. Not far, was the reply, it took me 18 minutes, and I was taking it easy. Now, I’m sorry, maybe we’re all ultra runners and everything but “not far” does not equal 18 minutes. More like 8 or even 10 would have been ok. It was 11:57 on my watch. This sucked. Big time. But he did add that I’d be going downhill soon.. However, it became apparent that we had different definitions of “soon”. Five minutes passed, more up and down. I crossed a creek and headed up the other side and actually said (whined) out loud “Why did he lie to me?” God, what a baby! Another five minutes and finally some downhill. I was never so pleased as to see that aid station. Not least because I knew there’d be a cup of coffee waiting for me!

Funnily enough, I arrived at exactly 12:15PM.

7.8 miles according to Keith. Now, that’s just mean.

AS9 to The Finish (6.3 miles)

Horton had said at the race briefing that it was a short section – 6 miles – 3 up and 3 down. That part I remembered clearly. The sign on the gate said “6 easy miles”. I wasn’t so sure about that. But at least I finally felt like I knew what to expect. I got my water half filled, downed the coffee, and set off up the road. A guy had come into the aid station just ahead of me and headed off at a steady jog. I had no intention of even trying to run. My hamstrings were so tight I was worried what might happen. I figured even an hour to the top and I should still get down the other side in under 30 minutes. My 14 hour goal was well intact. Hiking up the road I took a look off to the left and saw a clearing high up in the trees. I sincerely hoped we were not going over there. It seemed farther than 3 miles. A lot farther. We weren’t. But the road did twist and turn and continue to climb at a grade beyond what my legs were asking for. Still, after a while I realized I’d passed the gate and so I checked my watch. Yet another part of Aaron’s story I’d remembered was his estimate for this climb – the gate was about 1/3 of the way. I’d gone 16 minutes. I figured I should see the parkway by 13:10. This pleased me no end. And I guess inspired me to push a little harder. Before I knew it I was at the gate and the guy in the truck was asking for my number. Is this the top I asked? It sure is, came the reply. 12:58. Seriously? Sweeeet!

Off I went at a gentle trot down the dirt trail. For some reason I was convinced that there was a technical section ahead and so I didn’t want to get too excited. But next thing I knew I was out on the road. Wow – I must be close. I couldn’t remember how long on the road but 1.6 miles came into my head for some reason. 13:15. I can do this in under 13:30... I was searching for the mile marker. I knew that Brad and Robert had marked it the previous day while they helped with the course marking – so I figured (prayed) it was likely to be accurate. “1 mile to go” – there is nothing so sweet! Especially when it came quicker than expected. 13:19. I can do this. YAY. I wanted to see how fast I could run the last mile. I remembered at
Terrapin Mountain 50K that I had really hammered it to the finish. And here we had a similar, mostly downhill grade. I could see the guy ahead of me. I knew he was too far ahead and anyway I had no need to catch anyone else. I checked the watch again and then I saw him make a left turn which I knew had to be into Camp Bethel. I soon followed. The road curved around, and finally, FINALLY, the finish line was in sight. David and a few others were outside. The guy ahead finished, the clock ticked over the 13:25 mark. Onto the grass and up through the orange flags. DONE. 13:25:18. A happy camper once again! My last mile – 6:30. There was a time not too long ago when it took me 6:30 to do a 1 mile road race.

5.7 miles according to Keith. Making the final section shorter than advertised almost made up for the rest. Almost.

The Aftermath

A few finish line photos and then off to the car to grab my stuff. I had spotted the icy stream as I was running into the camp but all thoughts of that quickly evaporated as I got chilled immediately after finishing. I headed for the hot shower. Glorious. Cleaned up my face. It didn't look much better. And then chilled out on the sofa for several hours. With multiple trips to the soup and chilli pots at the back of the room. This was the perfect finish line setting. Runners would arrive and people would run outside to greet them. Back inside for warmth and chatter. Awards being given out constantly – Patagonia finisher shirts, 5 year awards,
BEAST series awards... I came away with an entry shirt, a Patagonia technical shirt and for winning David showed me the Patagonia jacket that he’ll get printed with the race name/date - there is some serious schwag to be got here! Robert finished shortly after me for a PR and Brad also set a PR – by something over an hour I think! I got to chat with Jenny, and later Donna and Sophie – who broke her goal of 15 hours by just over a minute – nice one! It was such a pleasure to get to know these ladies and to meet so many new people. I watched Dorothy finish becoming the only woman to get the BEAST series this year – huge congrats!! That is 6 tough races throughout the year. I enjoyed chatting some more to Aaron and also to Keith who’s Dad I had met while crewing at Sawtooth in September. And in between all that I enjoyed a very relaxing massage! I could have stayed for hours but had a flight from DC early Sunday morning so I headed off around 6pm. Sad to bring the event to a close but knowing for sure I’d be back again.

Something Special

The word David Horton uses most to describe this race is “special”. And there is no doubt about that. Be it the challenging conditions, the night sky illuminated by a million stars, the beauty of the trails, the community of runners, the incredible volunteers, the intimacy of the pre and post race festivities, a race director like no other, this is indeed a special race. Thanks to everyone who makes it possible.

The Stats

100K (a.k.a 66 miles)
13,500ft of climbing
13:25:18
1st female
8th overall
116 starters
89 finishers (18 women)

8 Nuun tabs
6 Vanilla Power Gels
9 Succeed tabs
1 Stinger Chews
3 Coffees
1 Can Red Bull
Chocolate covered espresso beans
Grilled cheese sandwiches
Soup
Pretzels

7 bio breaks
5 falls
1 bloody nose
1 even bloodier knee
1 bruised ankle
0 blisters
0 lost toe nails (so far)

The Epilogue

More so than any other race, and perhaps due to my lack of knowlegde of the course going into the race, I would say that running it again would be a completely different experience. It might be better, it might be worse. But definitely it would be interesting to see how things would change. Of course, no two years are ever the same in terms of race night/day conditions so that is a key factor, especially with this race.

With knowledge of the course, could I improve my times on certain sections? Would it help me mentally to know what's ahead? Or would it be distracting?

In writing my race report several things came to mind...

- I didn't consume nearly as many calories as I had planned; I had divided up my gels and clif bloks so that I'd have about 200 calories an hour - as well as whatever I felt like at the aid stations - but I averaged less than 100 calories an hour, not even touching the bloks; certainly, having eaten well in the preceeding days (and weeks) meant I had plenty of reserves to draw on and I don't feel like it negatively affected my performance - but it's something I would probably try to be more diligent about next time.

- More hill training never hurt anyone! To be honest I hiked better than I expected but given how awful my hamstrings felt on the last uphill climb I know that I have some work to do there.

- The fact that I could run a 6:30 mile to finish makes me wonder how much I had left in the tank? If I had pushed it sooner, could I have gotten closer to the CR (13:01)? Or would it have had the opposite effect?

I guess there's only one way to find out if running Hellgate once makes the second time any easier. Though I fear I already know the answer...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Short Version of Hell(gate)

I will be having nightmares about rocks for weeks. Rocks covered with leaves. And by all accounts this was a pretty good year with the leaves more packed down than usual. And the ice wasn't near as bad as other years. And even the temperatures seemed okay - at least by recent MN standards. I suppose all this means I'll have to go back again to experience Hellgate in truly hellish conditions...

100K (+ 4 "Horton miles")
13:25
1st Female
8th Overall

The long version will be... long.

Monday, December 7, 2009

From Vegas. The Road. To Hellgate.

Vegas

Had a really fun long weekend in Las Vegas with the girls. Pam, Kami, Susan and I flew down Friday... my first trip there... all of the girls had been several times but not all recently so much had changed. Seems like 3 or 4 old hotels get torn down every year and 1 mega hotel goes up in it's place! I had a great time hanging out with the girls... gambling, partying, shopping... and cheering them on in the marathon yesterday. And then partying some more. We left the gambling to Susan at that point who was the only one having any luck. I ran a few miles of the marathon with Kami, tried to find Susan but missed her... and then watched Pam cruise by at mile 23 a few yards behind the 3:10 pace group - only to pass them soon after and finish in 3:07 and change. Holy crap! Way to PR having run a then PR of ~3:15 at TCM just two months ago! It's been a stellar year for Pam and I look forward to more of the same next year. No pressure :)

Las Vegas was pretty much what I expected. I thought Caesar's was the neatest of all the hotels we were at. The Luxor pyramid too - that light is pretty cool. The fountains at the Bellagio were beautiful. We had some great food, finishing up with a fab meal at Sushi Samba last night. No end of places to spend money but I managed to not lose too much in the slot machines... and if I hadn't just switched from playing 10 cent to 2 cent when I hit five 7s I would have actually came out on top. By quite a bit! Yeah - that's the kind of money I'm talking. If I have to part with serious cash I'd better be walking away with some goods. Typically in the form of yet another completely unessential purse. But THIS one's from Vegas and so I'll always think of the fun time I had hanging out with the girls when I wear it. There's no purse I cannot justify...

Happy to have seen what The Strip is all about (or at least the 1/10th of it that we covered). A total feast for the eyes. But I can safely say not a town I need to rush back to. And it probably feels much the same way about me.

The Road

If you only ever read one more book please choose The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I started it almost a year ago but only made it to about page 50. I was enjoying it (though it doesn't seem the right word to use) but I ended up not bringing it on my trip to Argentina, opting for a few lighter books instead. And I just never got back to it. I picked it up again Friday morning as I was packing my bag and decided it was coming to Vegas - quite the antidote.

It is a phenomenal book in my opinion. But don't take my word for it. Read it. It's not so much the actual story - many books have covered similar ground. The storytelling is faultless. A father-son relationship at it's very purest "... each the other's world entire." The language simple for the most part, mirroring the bleakness of the landscape, but interspersed with biblical vocabulary that captures the immenseness of the story. To quote the Bookforum's review - "The Road is a deeply imagined work."

McCarthy's style of writing can take a bit of getting used to but having read No Country for Old Men last year I knew I would be adding his other books to my collection at some point. The Road was number two. They made a movie (of course) that came out a few months ago though I have not talked to anyone who has seen it. I probably will not go to see it. But I think I will watch No Country for Old Men over the winter. And at some point I'll start on book number 3 - All the Pretty Horses - which will then lead to number 4 and 5 - a trilogy set in the southwest spanning a century or so. But first I want to read a book I got for Christmas last year (seems rude not to read it before the next Christmas don't you think?) - The Angel of Grozny (Inside Chechnya) - by Asne Seierstad, the Norwegian journalist who also wrote The Bookseller of Kabul - another good read. My sister gave me a signed copy that she got after a lecture the author had given at her college. I'll bring it on my trip to Virginia this coming weekend. Given the story it will probably make Hellgate seem like heaven. Speaking of which...

Hellgate

I am so excited about this race. I have wanted to run it ever since hearing about it while running Mountain Masochist in Nov 2007. I entered last year but couldn't go when I injured my shin. Luckily the annual shin injury happened back in September this year. October and November were solid training months so I'm feeling as ready as I'll be. Of course, I could have done with more hills given the long climbs ahead of me. No injuries though my right ankle is still a bit weak since the Duluth run. And I am probably about 8lbs over what I'd like to be. Maybe more - I've stopped talking to the scales. Hardly surprising given the last few weeks of late evenings in the office which resulted in many many trips to the candy jar. Along with all of the travel in the past two months - and associated eating habits - the many miles logged were just not enough to keep things in check! But not to worry - I tell myself I'll need the reserves for a 100K...

My goal is 14 hours. We shall see.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

SHT, Hyland, Afton, MN River Bottoms... all in a week's work!!

Hard to believe December is almost upon us - but what a great month November proved to be for running in the midwest!! I was so lucky to be able to get my heavy training for Hellgate in while the weather stayed decent. Of course, I could be faced with very different conditions in the mountains of Virginia in 2 weeks time but I think the ability to train well beats freezing my ass off for hours in miserable conditions simulating a 'worst case' scenario!

SHT

"Gotta love the SHT" was Connie's comment after I posted photos of last Saturday's run on fb. And that pretty much summed it up! The trip up north started with picking up my mother at MSP Friday afternoon... we headed straight up to Duluth. I could tell she was wondering (yet again) where she'd gone wrong with me as we took a detour along a lonely Skyline Drive to the Magney-Snively parking lot to drop some aid for the morning - it was pitch black, cold and windy - just as it would be when I planned to get there at 6AM the next morning.

After getting to see some of the trail during the Wild Duluth race weekend I'd really wanted to get back up there for a training run for Hellgate and figured it would be a good spot for the long one. So I'd made arrangements to run the SHT-Duluth section point-to-point starting at Grand Portage (in Jay Cooke state park) at 4AM, meeting up with folks along the way who wanted to run shorter distances. Starting this early gave me some more night running experience (Hellgate starts at midnight) - and it meant I would be done at a decent time so as not to completely abandon mother!

So, after a few hours of fitfull sleep (sort of like pre-race nerves!) - I woke at 3AM and drove out to Grand Portage. Lisa was going to be meeting me at 6AM at Magney-Snively so I hoped I hadn't underestimated the early sections. I started running at exactly one minute to four and everything was going well for the first hour when next thing I'm lost in my thoughts... and roll my right ankle. OW. Followed by many other choice words. I couldn't believe it. Well, I could. But I was pissed. It was just getting back to normal after rolling it a few weeks earlier at Hyland. That morning I'd continued to run on it but it had swelled up quite a bit by the time I finished the run. The right one's always been a bit weaker having pulled ligaments years ago (while doing some distinctly non-running activity) and I've rolled it badly several times over the years but I have to say the white hot pain I experienced this time around was new. A few moments of thinking I needed to turn around, feeling very shaky, followed by some tip-toeing forward, then walking, then very tenatively beginning to run. Hmmm... this doesn't seem so bad after all. But maybe it's just the shock and it's all numb? I'd say I was in shock alright but I knew I needed to keep moving or I'd freeze and I decided I was closer to Lisa's car than mine. So off I went. Soon I was at the Munger Trail and then hiking up towards Ely's Peak. Remarkably the ankle didn't give me much trouble the rest of the run. At one point I rolled it just slightly but no pain. I couldn't believe it after the initial pain being much worse than usual. Maybe finally, the 'dodgy' ankle has given up complaining!

I got to Magney at around 6:10 with Lisa waiting for me. Another car had pulled into the parking lot a few minutes before and was over at the far side. It's this sort of creepy shit that scares me more than anything I might meet out on the trail. I was glad I hadn't been there on my own rummaging through my drop box with my headlamp...

We set off for Spirit Mountain and beyond. It was fun running with Lisa who knows this trail well. As the sun came up the views over Duluth were fabulous. And running down along Kingsbury Creek was just gorgeous. It was dark when I covered that section sweeping at WD. Just thinking about it makes me want to run there again soon! Got to Highland & Getchell just before 8AM where we met Kami, Eric, Vale, Guy and Jenny. They had all driven up that morning. The next few sections are a lot of fun, some nice rolling hills and technical trail. We met up with Leslie Semlar along the way which was very cool. Unfortunately Eric's achilles didn't hold up well so he headed back to the car and planned to meet us at the end. What a bummer after coming all the way up. But it's not a tendon to mess with. The weather couldn't have been more perfect for the run. I'd gotten a bit chilly standing around for the few minutes before we left H&G but was well wamped up within a few miles. Lisa jumped off close to her house at Enger Tower and then Leslie turned around as we hit the pavement just before the footbridge. Myself, Vale and Kami continued down towards the Canal Park area to the Lakewalk and over to the Rose Garden. Guy & Jenny had left a drop bag there complete with a can of sf red bull for moi - awseome!! As we headed up towards Chester Creek I called Andy - he ran down towards us and then as we headed up towards UMD we detoured over to their house to say hello to Kim and make use of the facilities! Nothing like a home-AS at that point in a run...

Andy ran with us through the next section past Hartley Nature Center (really loved this part) and showed us a route through the woods rather than running along Vermillion road which was very cool. Kami had stopped at the Nature Center - she'd rolled her ankle recently as well and didn't need to push it so Eric met her there and then myself and Vale continue on to the finish at Martin Rd. Some lovely wooded sections and singletrack to get us there. The full trail distance with all the spurs to parking lots etc is 39M but I figure I did about 36M. Good enough!!

Got cleaned up, heated up (aka coffee) and then met up with Mum in Canal Park for a look around the shops. Back to the hotel to relax for a bit and then we went for a lovely dinner at Thai Krathong and later met up with Kim and Andy at the Thirsty Pagan (where I would definitely have devoured the tasty looking pizza if I wasn't already full!). Next morning I did an hour out-and-back from Highland & Getchell to top off a great weekend.

Hyland

Lots of running at Hyland these days. For some reason I had rarely trained there until this year but it really is a great park and since the summer the Friday mornings with the guys have been a real treat. Good company, great runners... and always entertaining conversation!

Wednesday evening I headed out there for a run a bit later than planned. But they had the ski trails around the lake lit so it was fun to do some loops of that section. Though I have to wonder why the park is lighting the trails given that I didn't see another soul on my 11 mile run! The following morning I was out there again as Val and I hit the ski hill at 6AM... with the day that it was I decided to dedicate a hill to the many people in my life I owe Thanks to... 10 hills later I figured it was time to start multiple dedications... and hill number 20 ended up being a general catch all Thank You!

Home, shower, church, visited friends and enjoyed yummy pre-feed Irish Coffees - and then off to Kami's for a fabulous meal and afternoon of fun with her family. It was a great way to spend the day. Of course, we all ate plenty... everything was so scrumptous. Finished off with a few board games where the competitive spirits came out in full force!!

Hyland again Friday morning with those who'd stayed in town for the holiday - ran off some of the damage with 2 loops. And then did some damage to the wallet for the afternoon...

Friday night we went to the MN Orchestra to see Hansel and Gretal - Wow! It was a fabulous production. I'd been to a few performances at the Bascilia previously but never to Orchestra Hall and not to a staged production. It was really well done and the music and singing were unreal.

Afton

Saturday the trail fun moved east for the annual FA at Afton. Great to see everyone out there. I'd planned an early loop and ended up with company meeting John and Matt at 6AM. After Friday's 17 miles I wasn't so sure about their 2:15-ish plans so I let them off as we hit the Africa loop... Matt PR'd for the 25K! I rolled in about ten minutes later and we added on a bit before meeting everyone else for the 9AM start. Mum had come out with Vale so she hung out with Alicia while we all headed out in the sunshine... it was yet another beautiful Fall day and we knew it could well be the last one... off we went meandering through the park, chatting, laughing, enjoying the trails. I headed back to visitor center around 11AM to finish with 24+ miles. And then proceeded to feast - it is a wonderful thing that many trail runners are also awesome cooks!

I crashed pretty early last night with the few long days catching up with me. Hot Yoga this morning felt so good. I hadn't been in a week so it was nice to stretch out and let the heat soak in. With the running easing off now I hope make it a few times a week.

MN River Bottoms

For a while now I have been meaning to check out two local trails - Lebanon Hills and the River Bottoms. And finally I made it to one of them today! And better still I got to run with Pam - we figured it had been several months since we'd run together which is yet another reminder how quickly this year has flown by! We started out at the parking lot just off Old Shakopee Raod in Bloomington and headed east. It was a perfect end to a few weeks of hard training with a nice 10 mile run on flat soft trail. I definitely have to come back here on snow shoes this winter - it will be perfect to work on technique before tackling the hills! The trail was quiet with just a few bikers. So peaceful - hard to believe a city lies atop the bluffs!

Two weeks until Hellgate. But first a long weekend in Vegas with the girls. Talk about two completely different weekends - but I am looking forward to them both!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"The Returnee"

As I was logging on to the Hennepin Co. fine payment system earlier today I thought it was quite clever, though not very amusing, that the word verification read "the returnee".

It made me wonder if this was a customized program. Maybe there are other word verifications like "gotcha!" and "ha, now, you're sorry..."

In any case, upon seeing the $1.50 "convenience charge" that was to be added to the online payment I went with the less green option of mailing in a check. Just like the last time.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Where The Wild Things Run, Surf, Race... and Party!!

Again, it’s been too long.

Hard to believe how quickly the weeks are flying by. We had an early taste of winter, then a fabulous few weeks of autumn, Thanksgiving is almost upon us... and then it will be Christmas! I love Christmas. It is without doubt my favourite holiday. I love Christmas trees, lights, decorations, presents (especially the presents) and of course, the food. I love traveling home for Christmas. I love the buzz. At airports, around town, pretty much everywhere you go. I love the complete insanity of last minute Christmas shopping. It’s a ridiculously commercialized, over-hyped holiday. And I love it.

Meanwhile, there’s been some running, some racing, some volunteering... and some partying. I will start at the end since I might never get there if I don’t. I am actually sitting on a flight to Miami as I type this and will upload it later. It’s no wonder time is flying by given the amount of travel lately. This is another work trip but I can’t complain – packing only shorts and t-shirts for my running gear – how bad??

Party

The party of course was the UMTR Awards Fest last Saturday evening. What a fun time we had! Needless to say I was thrilled to receive, er, a few awards. Two I knew about, the other was a genuine surprise. I’m not humble, or shy, or unassuming in any way – but I honestly continue to be a little in awe of all that I have achieved in the past few years. That probably sounds the complete opposite of what I intend but basically I am just thrilled to bits to be able to run and race as I have. I still pinch myself some days out on the trail – is this really me? Am I actually “a runner”? Winning stuff? Course records? And having the time of my life while doing it...


Speaking of course records – I think I set one this morning for running (in 2 inch heels) from the security area to gate G17. Ohmigod... I thought I was doing ok for time – until I saw the line for security. I’d been upgraded which usually means a short line but not at 9AM this morning. 20 minutes later I’m sort of getting close... but its less than 20 minutes until the flight departs. My boss was on the flight so I text him and he asked the agent how much time I had... 9 minutes... by the time I got through security and grabbed my stuff I had 3 minutes... I legged it! Turned the corner to G17 just as the airline agent had gone through and let the door close behind her. I thought no way she’s letting me on. But I raced over and knocked, okay pounded, on the door – she was at the end of the jetway and turned around – and, phew, came back to open the door for me! I was very thankful. I then proceeded to cough incessantly for the first ten minutes of the flight – I’m sure the guy beside me was wondering what he was going to catch!

I digress. The party – great collection of people as at any trail runner gathering! All the usual suspects, though a few couldn’t make it. And a few new faces whose names are familiar from races this year. Lots of people brought their partners and families and of course it was a very social occasion with everyone mingling throughout the evening. Though I still managed not to speak to some people I meant to including Kel and Londell - sorry about that! Some official business whereby Zach and other were elected to the board for 2010. Well, actually for 3 years I think – congrats Zach ;) Then of course there was the food. Wow. I could not help myself. I must have had at least 10 servings of desert. Who made that blueberry cheesecake? It was phenomenal. And Karen’s cake – that deserved an award all by itself! And of course there was Matt's homebrew... without which a trail running party is not complete.


Jason Husveth gave a very insightful and entertaining talk on his work and the ecosystems in our region. Clearly a very accomplished ecologist, Jason has made some serious finds including several rare plant species. Bryan Cochran got the slideshow going, a few hiccups but it continued to run while people socialized some more. And in between all of this the awards for the MN Trail Series and the Fab Five Fifties were presented. Kate and Steve doing the honors for their respective series. Including the one Steve gave himself which was quite funny. I was sitting beside Carl who assured me that Steve’s point system is indeed accurate – he should know as he maintains it - though I’m still not convinced! The announcement that Chippewa Moraine 50K will be the Championship race in the ultra series next year. I didn’t catch which one for the MN series. Jim McDonnell introduced the 1st annual Braveheart Snowshoe Series - check out the UMTR website for more details. I, for one, plan to snowshoe a lot more this winter! Then later some more awards. Daryl Saari received a very fun Wynn Davis’ original for his Gnarly Bandit accomplishment (several 100M/K distances). I have no doubt the large framed personalized cartoon superhero poster will hang proudly in the Saari household! Next up was Trail Person of the Year which went to a very deserving recipient – Wayne has had a great year of running, finishing his first 50M at Surf – but beyond that was one of the volunteers that cleared trail after the ice storm hit the SHT in May, volunteered at several other races – Voyageur is the one I remember most as he gave me a great boost at the last AS telling me John was just ahead (I know Wayne, I wasn’t supposed to tell – but Thanks again!), and then helped an injured runner at Superior thereby forgoing his own race. Now that’s someone you want to share the trail with! And then Trail Runner of the Year - Bonnie was doing the honors here and before long it became apparent she was talking about yours truly. All I’ll say is I’m honored and feel incredibly lucky to be a part of a fantastic community. Both Wayne and I also proudly received a piece of Wynn’s artwork - definite conversation starters!


You see what I mean by Original Artwork! Thanks Wynn for your hard work on all of the awards. And thanks Karen for taking the photo :)

Race

With getting back into running after the shin injury I was building up the miles throughout October. Then along came the BSC 6K – this is the only race of Corporate Fitness Series that is for BSC employees only (others include well known 5 and 10K races around the cities – HeartBeat, Autumn Woods Classic etc). I had run it in 2006 and again last year, setting a CR each time, but definitely wasn’t feeling up for another one this year after a 20 miler at Murphy two days earlier. But, I laced up the bright orange racing flats that I haven’t worn since a half marathon in May and we took off around Rice Lake (Maple Grove). First mile was around 6:10 and each subsequent one a little slower – but with a nice downhill finish I managed to hang on and finish in 23:38 (6:21 pace) – 1st F and I think 7th overall. There are a few speedy guys at work – I think the winning time was around 19:40. I took almost a minute off last years time so was well pleased with that. Though funnily enough I did this thing I often do in races that I plan to run every year – as I’m entering the last half mile and knowing I’m likely to finish faster than I have in the past I think to myself – maybe I shouldn’t push it quite so hard – it will just make the time to beat even harder next year!!

The next race for me is Hellgate 100K in mid-December. I am super excited about this race. Much more my cup of tea than a 6K race! Training pretty hard for it right now though I know I should be doing hill repeats. I shall have to get myself to the ski hill at Hyland next week...

Surf

Halloween saw the second year of the Surf the Murph races in Murphy-Hanrehan Park in Savage. If you have not run at this park yet please get there soon – it is an awesome park so close to the metro area. I didn’t pay too much attention to this race last year as I knew I wouldn’t be able to run it and I didn’t know too many others who were. But this year I decided to respond to Cindy’s email looking for volunteers. My motivation was not entirely philanthropic. I wanted to make sure I would not sign up to run it to allow myself plenty of time to recover from my planned 100 mile race (Angeles Crest 100). As it turned out, AC-100 didn’t happen (forest fires) but a shin injury did (overuse). When AC-100 was cancelled I’d signed up for the North Face 50M in Madison the week before Surf but then with the injury it proved to be too soon to race that distance. I thought briefly about rescinding my volunteer duties and jumping in the 50K at Surf but honestly I’d had so much fun at the aid station at Wild Duluth that I decided instead to continue to get in some good training for Hellgate and channel my energies towards a fun AS for the runners.

And boy was it fun?! The Halloween theme was easy, the menu prep a little more challenging for me who is not so used to the kitchen. Note to self – check the oven next time before turning it on to 375F. The poor frying pan that had been resting easily on the shelf for God knows how many months was a little dried out when I discovered it as I was putting the banana bread in. The pumpkin soup took a few practice runs that week – not helped by my blender falling apart mid-way through the first batch. I didn’t get to taste any of the pumpkin pie but if anyone is wondering what the ‘secret ingredient’ was – onions! It was meant to be another batch of soup until I discovered that can was pie mix and not puree. Can? What, the soup wasn’t prepared from scratch? And to make matters worse I actually had a conversation with one of the runners about roasting pumpkins. My justification for that particular white lie is that I didn’t want to disappoint him and have him leave the AS all depressed.

It really was a fun day. Les and Cindy and all of the volunteers put on a great event. Fun to see Maynard at the start, caught up with Sean Faulk who I’d met at Superior (and who is off to Japan this month to run a marathon!), and had a chance to chat with many other training and racing friends throughout the day. And I got to hang out with Christie who worked the AS for several hours – she is new to trail running so I thought it was very cool that she would volunteer at a race to see what it’s all about. The 50 milers came through the AS 3 times, the 50K twice and the marathon and 25K runners once. Pretty soon I had no idea who was running what race but it was fun to see the same faces over again! Spotting the lead runners was easy though – Duke had an awesome run in the 50M finishing in just under 7:30 – despite taking a spill just before coming through on lap 3. Bonnie and Don were at the AS at the time and how cool that Duke took the time to say hello (and clean up!) even though he was clearly on his way to setting a high standard for the inaugural year of this distance. Valeria had a nice win for the women as she and Eric ran together for the day. Both experienced a few issues but finished strong. It was Val’s birthday so we had a card and cupcakes at the AS to celebrate! Brian P had an awesome run in the 50K lowering the CR significantly. Leslie Semler won for the women to cap off a great year. I don’t know Leslie but had intended to seek her out on Saturday night but got distracted... that blueberry cheesecake! The marathon field was the smallest one but take nothing away from female winner Lisa Trainor who at 50 continues to set standards. I want to be just like her when I grow up. I’m not familiar with most of the other names or the 25K runners – except for Carrie who did great to finish her first 25K not long after her first half-marathon race. And a huge shout-out to Justin Barton, Maria & Doug’s son, who at 13, finished his first 25K!

All in all, a fun day on the trails with 4 races, ~150 runners, gorgeous October weather... and more Halloween candy consumed than I care to remember.

Wild

Similar to Surf, I signed up to volunteer at this race months ago. It would be exactly 4 weeks after AC-100 and knowing that running TCM last year after Sawtooth was a bad idea I figured a chilled out weekend up north would be more in order than a race. It was a blast. From start to finish. I took the Friday off work, ran with the guys at Hyland that morning and then arrived up at Bayfront Park a little before midday just as the trail markers were being organized. We set off to mark various sections, Andy and I taking the southern most ones. Right from the outset at Chambers Grove, where the 50K would start and the 100K would turnaround, I knew that Andy and Kim had designed an awesome course. The first hill was a killer as many enthusiastic 50K’ers would discover the following morning. The course wound its way through some neat singletrack, along ridges and soon onto the SHT. Earlier in the summer, Holly and I had run the subsequent sections from Grand Portage through Munger Trail (where our AS would be) and up Ely’s Peak. We split up the marking to make the most of the time and got it all covered except for a short section close to Bardon’s Peak area which I marked the following morning. Got back to the Bayfront Area and before long it was starting to get dark. As I am writing this I think I covered much of the remainder in an earlier post... and the stewardess just told me to put my laptop away. Suffice it to say that Wild Duluth is a race you should run next year! The course is awesome and the fact that Duluth is so accessible for many in the MN/WI region makes it all the more appealing. The weather certainly helped this year but I think even in colder or wetter conditions it would still be beautiful. I had such a fun day – and night – sweeping the course with Jeff and Pat was a blast. Hearing stories of their running careers and beyond, all the while running new trail by headlamp, with the city of Duluth lit up beneath us.

I cannot wait to get back up there – and as it happens I don’t have to... roll on Friday night!! I’ll send out an email to the dead runners list in case anyone else would like to join in the fun.

Ok, the laptop has to go. Apparently there’s a space shuttle taking off somewhere around us in ten minutes and I happen to be on the right side of the plane to see the action!!


P.S. Online again at hotel. The launch didn't happen (on time) - but the green-blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean made up for it. Glorious. I love the sea. Almost as much as Christmas.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Time...

It's time I posted something but I have no time. Or more specifically work is gone a little crazy again and I am trying to get as much sleep as possible (to prove myself wrong that I do need more than 6hrs sleep - I am not sure about that one yet) so blog posting/reading time is limited. Definitely time I wrote up something about the Wild Duluth races as it was a fantastic weekend up there - and a great race to volunteer at. For the RD's perspective check out Andy's race report on the website.

Back running high-ish mileage and feeling good - I know that I should probably be getting more rest and recovery but while the weather is this good I am getting out as much as possible...

No more races until Hellgate (well, apart from the BSC 6K around Rice Lake - out the back door from work - on Nov 6th - where I need to defend my title!!). Lots of early morning runs in the dark to get used to night running and will have to throw in a midnight run at some point - the "Hell" in Hellgate partly refers to the midnight start... as well as the deep stream crossing a few miles in, the bitter cold wind (remember the frozen eye-ball reports from a few years back??), and the fun climbs... Am I looking forward to this race? You bet.

But first, volunteering at Surf the Murph - AS food requests by Thursday please!!


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Getting back to it...

I should probably wait until after the weekend to write this post but I'm going with the optimistic approach.

Running a few miles here and there last week while in Ireland felt pretty good (not least because of the lovely autumn weather. Yes, autumn/fall, not winter!). Then Monday night I went out around the lakes for 7M. Everything feels good when running but when I get done and massage my shin there is definitely some residual 'stuff' in there and I get some tingling and mild fascia burn when I rub deep.

So, my plan is to run a few more 7-8 milers this week and then Sunday morning, after volunteering at Wild Duluth on Saturday, I'm planning to run ~2hrs on the SHT heading south from Duluth. It's a fab section of trail around Spirit Mountain.

And that run will likely dictate the rest of my season. For sure I am not running NF Madison but I did sign up for Hellgate 100K. This is a race I really really want to do. I signed up last year and had to cancel due to that shin injury. So I'd be pretty bummed to have a repeat of that. On the other hand I have no intention of running with an injury (ha, I say that like the throught would never enter my head) so if Sunday's long run tells me the shin is not healed I'll be backing off for the rest of the season and quite possibly taking on a different focus - hot yoga teacher training. The course is being offered starting the weekend after this so I need to decide next week. I am definitely interested and even though it's not cheap I would consider it a good investment. But it's quite time intensive (3hrs Fri/Sat/Sun through mid-Dec as well as min 3 classes per week) and between work and travel through end of year it might not be possible in any case. It would also mean missing Hellgate so that's why it's sort of "either or".

So, if the running goes well over the next week I'll stick with plans for the race and build up to a few 20/30+ milers in Nov. And plan on the yoga course next winter (usually offered once a year). If not, and schedule allows, I'll take on a new challenge...

Looking forward to seeing some of you up north this weekend. Should be a beautiful run. Perhaps not the fall colours run people were thinking of but the course should be in great condition and it looks like Saturday will be a bit warmer than this week.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

In absentia

Is it good or bad that without running I don't have much to blog about?!

In Ireland this week for work. And fun. Had a lovely weekend catching up with family - and meeting baby Sean, my nephew. He is too cute. Full of smiles and laughter these days. 3 months and changing every day.

I ran 1 mile Sunday on grass, barefoot, felt great. No pain. Then last night I ran 4M on the roads. It felt great being out there - my lungs were really enjoying it. My shin felt a bit off during the first mile. Not painful just not 100%. But the next few miles were good. I iced it when I got done as there is definitely still some residual inflammation there. Hard to tell what's going on with it or when it will eventually go. When I woke up this morning it felt fine but again not 100%. No pain flexing it which is an improvement over a few days ago.

I don't know if I should keep running this week or just leave it. But it's killing me considering the nice mild weather here. And I just love running when I'm back in Galway or Sligo. Reminds me of all the training for my first marathon 5 years ago. When it was all so new to me!

Anyway, I guess work might dictate what I have time for this week. And then when that is wrapped up it's time for more socalising. And wedding dress shopping with my sister - very exciting - she just got engaged a few weeks ago so the timing of this trip worked out nicely!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Accepting it!

After several PT sessions since the marathon and endless rounds of ice massage, no running, just in the pool and yoga classes since Saturday... there is still relatively intense pain deep in the muscle (anterior tibialis) when I flex my foot back. So, I emailed the Grindstone RD today to withdraw from the race. I am in San Francisco for the week with work and have been thinking nonstop about how much I love running and what a pity it is I cannot be outside early in the morning running through parts of this city I won't have a chance to otherwise experience. Bringing back memories of the marathon I ran here in 2005. And enjoying the start of fall running.

And the more I thought about it I realizied that even if I could make it through Grindstone it would hurt and would likely put me out for another several weeks if not months. And no race is worth that. Well, maybe some races are but not this one, not right now.

On the upside it means I can leave for Ireland a few days early and spend some time with the family and my baby nephew. And celebrate with my (other) sister who recently got engaged. And with a bit of luck be able to start running again while I'm over there.

And if that goes ok I'm still signed up for the NF 50 miler in Madison Oct 24 so I have to believe there's a good chance I'll be back in action to get in some training for that. It might not be as good a race as I'd hoped for but I've never ran on that section of the Ice Age Trail so that alone will be cool.

No regrets. Moose Mountain was a blast.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Superior Trail Races 2009 - Crewing, Pacing and Racing!

All in a days work. Or two days in this case. Though it felt more like one really long day. I guess that’s what happens when only a few hours sleep separates them. I am not sure if it was the 40oz of coffee that morning, topped up with several diet cokes and I don’t want to know how many gummi bears, but I was buzzing about all day Friday and had an absolute blast hanging out at the Aid Stations watching everyone come through, helping Eric and several others runners – some of whom I knew and some who I would get to know throughout the day. In retrospect I just hope that I was actually a help and not a hindrance – I know there are times when I am racing that I just want people to leave me alone and stop asking me what they can do for me. But maybe I am just a crabby runner…!

This is going to be more of a ‘trip report’ than a ‘race report’ given that I had no intention of doing any racing myself. And probably a pretty long, meandering one at that…

The long weekend started off with an excursion to Taylor’s Falls with my workmates. Yes, another team building event! And this one I was fully committed to attending given that we’d be canoeing on the lovely St. Croix. And it meant that I had a slightly shorter journey up to Two Harbors that night. I arrived up there just as people were leaving the race briefing. Chatted to a few folks – including Pierre who was brandishing bright yellow roller skis – surprisingly he didn’t arrive to the starting line with them Friday morning! Perhaps they’ll make an appearance at Arrowhead. Caught up with Eric who I’d be crewing for the next day in his first 100 mile attempt and then headed up the road to the very comfortable Grand Superior Lodge where I’d also stayed the night before last year’s race. Eric’s foray into ultrarunning is a bit like my own… start running with a (road) marathon training group and throw in a few trail runs, then the ‘short’ race at Trail Mix, which sets you up for a ‘less short’ race later that year and before you know it you’ve signed up for your first 50 miler. And there’s only one place to go after that. Well, many places really but one step at a time!

Day 1

We were down at Gooseberry Falls soon after 7am. It was great to see so many familiar faces milling about as I took some pictures and chatted with everyone I knew. Caught up with Jen Pierce and figured we’d be spending much of the day together as Zach was planning about the same pace as Eric. Erik Dalgaard who I’ve known from my early days with the run club at Plymouth Lifetime was also running his first 100 and I was excited to see how it would go for him. We ran the marathon up here together back in 2006 and had such a laugh doing it though I recall quite clearly at the finish line thinking the 50 milers were nuts not to mention the 100 milers. Who’d have thought we’d both be among them within a few short years!

Larry spoke a few words and then everyone moved to the ‘start line’ and off they went among great cheers. 70 brave souls. Warm and humid already at 8am. More coffee and a few more mini muffins (the start of quite an incredible day of feasting) and Jen and I headed towards AS 1. Not that we should have been headed there really with the ‘no crew access’ but we designated ourselves the official race photographers (
me - the amateur - and Jen - the pro). After hiking several minutes in the wrong direction we turned around and eventually found the AS well before and runners were expected through. The first to appear wasn’t someone I recognized (the “guy from Pennsylvania” – and eventual winner). Nor the second (the “Belgian guy”). But then Chris Hanson and Kevin Grabowski came along and soon a string of familiar faces including Adam and Matt, and soon after Eric, Zach and Erik. Pretty brief stops at this AS. Snapped a few more shots and then we were off to Beaver Bay. Now this was much more comfy spectating – out came the camp chairs – a second breakfast of granola bar and banana – and general good fun chatting with Amy, Lana, Kurt and Carrie, and many others hanging out in the now hot sunshine. Beautiful day for spectating alright. Not so much for running 100 miles. It was evident that many runners were already feeling the heat and this before hitting mile 20. Some had run out of water long before the AS and this would catch up with them later in the day. The runners came through in pretty much the same order. I had Eric’s Perpetum handheld ready to go, refilled his Nathan and he was off. Erik came though soon after. Meanwhile I caught sight of a Happy Trails shirt and figured it had to be a Virginia runner – and sure enough it was Gary Knipling whose name I recognized – this seriously energetic 65 year old would finish in a solid 32 hours to take 8th place overall! I’ll be seeing him at the Grindstone start line in a few weeks time.

Next stop Silver Bay. Caught up with a few others here including Holly K would be running the 50 the next day. I have to admit I was a little jealous of the runners at this point - watching them leave this AS for my favourite section of the course, with fun technical trail and amazing views overlooking Bean and Bear Lake. The sun was still hot and ice was the most sought after commodity here. The runners were getting more spread out by now and we had missed the top guys go through but for the most part people were looking good. More photos and water bottle filling. I went out the trail a bit with Eric and later with Erik and each time when hiking/running I was pleased that my shin felt good. I’d had a few PT sessions that week and figured it should be ok for a night’s pacing. Met Scott Myers' parents here – it was their first ultra experience and unfortunately not Scott’s best one. Still, he was incredibly good humored at every AS and we had a good laugh at Co. Rd 6 as he plotted how to fool his parents into thinking he was feeling great upon arrival at Finland knowing they’d be there.

Onto Tettagouche. Without our camp chairs. We arrived here well ahead of the guys but given that it was now late afternoon a lot of the 50 mile and marathon runners on their way up to Lutsen tend to stop off here so the place was buzzing. Alicia and Kate were running the AS. And Valeria, Brian and
John, and many others were hanging out. It’s a pretty tight junction so everyone was in a close group cheering the runners as they came out of the woods. Some longer stops here to get sufficient food. Helped with a few foot repair jobs and two speed workouts down the trail to the car – the second to get my headlamp for Erik as I realized he couldn’t make it to Co. Rd. 6 before dark. Eric had already gone through and was looking great so I wasn’t at all worried that he wouldn’t make it. Earlier I had chatted to Wouter (the Belgian – though really he must be French or at least definitely related to Pierre) while he took a break to get some calories in. I noticed he’d been sitting a bit longer at each AS but seemed quite happy with how things were going. Funny guy – by now we all knew his story of running Cascade Crest 100 two weeks earlier (taking 4th place in 21 hours), Amtrack to Grand Forks and biked across to Gooseberry Falls! So it was no wonder he was feeling a little tired…

Jen and I made our way back to Silver Bay to pick up our chairs. Though it took me two trips to actually pick mine up. I didn’t think it was possible to get ultra brain just from crewing. Had gas station pizza and coffee for dinner. Lunch had been a smorgasbord of granola bars and gummi bears. And a banana just to feel healthy. While at the gas station Jen undertook the fun task of washing icky socks as she thought Zach might be running low – the humidity was giving him blisters early on (only to later find several spare pairs!). And I got my camera battery charged. And then onto Co. Rd. 6 where I was looking forward to catching up with Tom and Nancy. We parked up in the gravel pit, got our stuff together and headed down the road – to be greeted by the smell of grilled cheese sandwiches! I knew I’d be here a while so held off for now… Busied myself with a few runners coming through. Another foot repair job on Craig – borrowing moleskin from Sean Faulk who had decided to drop here. That was too bad as he was running strong earlier but like many others maybe not cautious enough in the heat. I knew Sean’s name from several race results (the correct spelling of the name sticks with me!) but had never met him before. But I have a feeling we’ll be seeing him at Hyland soon! Though it will be a while before I make it back there… but more on that later.

It was probably close to 7pm when we got to this AS and I was expecting to see Eric come through pretty soon. He’d been somewhere around 30-32hr pace through the first few AS and though I knew leaving Tettagouche he was probably on the upper end of that he seemed to be in good form and getting enough water and nutrition despite having run out of water at least once earlier in the day. The time passed quickly at the AS between chatting to Tom and Nancy and helping a few runners. Before I knew it the sun was fading and I was wondering if maybe I should go out the trail with my headlamp. I had on my Keens but figured I wouldn’t be going too far. Just as I was thinking of heading off Mike Henze (FANS 24hr superstar) who was crewing for
Richard Chrz said he was going to do the same - even though I think he knew Richard had a headlamp he figured there might be others without one. So we headed off down the road and into the woods. I quickly realized that whatever light was left in the sky it was much darker in the woods. There is a pretty steep climb up from the road and then some up and down. It’s a pretty rocky section and overall I would rate the 9 miles from Tettagouche as the toughest section of Sawtooth. Thinking about this didn’t help. I had reassured Eric that he had loads of time to make it before dark. We started to meet a runner every few minutes and I was hoping each head-lit body would be closely followed by Eric but then we met Zach and he said that Eric had hit a rough patch not too far out of Tettagouche and was having stomach issues. Crap. Soon after we met Richard so Mike turned around with him. I figured we’d gone about somewhere between a mile and a mile and a half at this stage. I was mostly fast hiking and running a little. Shin felt good but my feet were getting a little sweaty in the Keens! Then I came across Pierre and Erik – who thought Eric might possibly have turned back to Tettagouche. What to do?! I continued on and I think only a few minutes later met Ryan who told me Eric wasn’t too far back and he’d very kindly given him a second light. Yes! Sure enough we soon met up. Probably a bit over 2 miles to make it back to Co. Rd. 6. Eric hadn’t been able to eat at all that whole section and had hardly drank anything either. He was feeling pretty rough and well off where he'd wanted to be so I knew he may be thinking about calling it quits at the AS. We agreed not to make any decisions until he got there and got some food into him. We hiked pretty slow but kept moving along and made our way down the rocky terrain and back onto the road sometime after 9pm. At the AS Eric knew he needed to eat but had no appetite for anything. I started on my first grilled cheese and got him to eat some of it which actually went down okay. He was drinking a little as well but by now the night was setting in and out here along the road it was pretty chilly. Several others had come through - some, including Jason who was looking strong and enjoying one (or two) grilled cheeses - continuing on, and others not. Bodhan, still smiling but no longer in his red polka dots, decided he'd had enough fun for one day. I went up to the car for some more supplies and ran into Laura who'd just driven up from the cities and had been at the AS when Erik has come through, and was heading for Finland. By thetime I got back to the AS, Larry had come along and Don was here also ‘gently’ coaxing Eric to get his ass out of the chair. It was quite comical – there was a guy from Iowa whose name escapes me that was also on the verge of dropping and Don was basically working his way over and back between the two guys. In between all of this Eric was telling me he was going to wrap it up here and we could get some sleep and then I could run the next morning. At this point I believe the 50 miler was on the cards. We even joked about him running the marathon. Yes, definitely some ultra brain setting in. It was getting close to 10:30PM now and I knew we needed to move if we were going. I hadn’t realized until talking to Mike Henze earlier that I could pace from this AS (allowed after 6PM) so I had changed into my running shoes upon getting back to the car but kept my long track pants on as I figured we’d be hiking more than running. Eric was pretty cold and shaking quite a bit despite a few blankets around him. I wasn’t sure how much to try to push him to get going but I could tell he was thinking that 50 would be better that 40-something. Got a bit more food and drink – I made it to three grilled cheese – equaling Jason’s record I believe! Bonnie kindly offered to drive the truck to Finland. And after a few final words of encouragement from Don – who in fairness told Eric to go down the trail a few hundred yards and if he felt awful turn around and no one would try to argue – though as I write that now perhaps the truck would have been already gone :) Anyway, it worked and Eric was on his feet… and even the guy from Iowa decided to come with us. Success! We left sometime after 10:30PM and sure enough were soon warmed up and hiking a good steady pace. About a mile in there is a campsite and there was a group out along the trail cheering for us which was a nice surprise. Further along we came across Andy the friendly hiker who we sent back the trail to Iowa runner – we plotted a pretty reasonable (at the time) story about Andy being a pissed off ultra runner who’d been timed out by Larry last year and was back to take revenge on the runners making it through the cut-offs this year. Iowa guy zoomed past us a few minutes later. Either Andy was a super motivator or a really annoying kid. But not an axe murderer.

We kept up a good pace all the way to Finland arriving around 1:30AM. Eric was in good form and his stomach was coming back. The rice burritos being served up here were going down well. But I could tell he had pretty much decided he was done. After some more debate – with Don working solely on Eric now as Iowa guy had decided to call it a night immediately upon arrival - I said I would go put on my shorts and we’d get going again. But it was not to be. Eric was glad to have done the 50 but I think the combination of a still dehydrated body, the late hour and knowing that tomorrow would be another hot day made a nice comfy bed at Caribou Highlands seem all the more appealing. A good achievement for anyone on the day that it was. The others who would arrive after us all decided to drop and through the night the aid stations would see people come by foot and leave by car. We’ve been complaining about the summer being too cool here but no one was expecting high 70’s to hit the northshore for the weekend. Add to that the intense humidity on the mostly heavily forested trail and you get a 50% finish rate.

It was after 2AM when we were leaving Finland and close to 3 getting back to Lutsen. Not that I remember much of the drive but thankfully the road was quiet! There had been talk of the morning races on and off but given that I needed about a week to digest the contents of my stomach, not to mention that my shin had started to bother me on the hike to Finland, I figured it was a fun idea but not a very smart one. I set my alarm for 6:30AM.

Day 2

It can’t be 6:30AM already? It isn’t. Some people coming in downstairs. Back to sleep. It can't be...? It isn't. Shelly’s alarm going off at 5:15. Back to sleep. Sort of. It's 6:30. Will I or won’t I? I get up. Lean over the balcony and see Matt sleeping downstairs. He’s half awake and tells me he came 2nd in the 100K (Adam taking first). I tell him I’m going to run the marathon. He says something incoherent or at least something I didn't want to hear. I shower, get dressed, realize I look like I’m pregnant with twins. I call Eric. At first he thinks I say I’m not running and tells me that’s a good idea as it looks like another humid day out there. I clarify my intention and he says it’s still a good idea. I drive over to the lodge, see Holly and Chae, pick up Eric and we set off for Cramer Rd. Via the Coho CafĂ© which thankfully opens at 7AM on a Saturday. Large coffee. Food? God no. Well, ok I’ll have a croissant. The coffee perks me up no end and by the time we turn onto Cook County Rd 1 - I decide my goal will be 4:20 and perhaps that will be enough to win and possibly be a course record. I knew Kim Holak had run 4:24 last year or the year before but I didn’t know if that was the record.

We get to race start about 7:30AM. I fill my water bottle, add a nuun tab, and stuff 2 gels in the carrier pocket and a baggie of S-caps and nuun tabs in my shorts pocket. I tell Eric in the unlikely event that he doesn’t want to sleep for the rest of the morning and might find himself at Oberg in about 3 hours time that I would really love to see him there. And if he had a can of red bull in his hand that would be even better. I get myself signed up. Good thing Larry was there to verify my free entry as the checkbook was the last thing on my mind that morning. Larry gives me the scoop on the 100 milers' progress – Chris Hanson was closing in on first place at one point through the night or early morning. Kevin Grabowski was holding steady in third. I chat to lots of people including Anne F who was talking to Shelly at the time. Anne asked if we knew each other. No, but we slept together last night. I spot Edan from Thunder Bay who is originally from Dublin and has not lost his accent one bit. We met up here back in 2006. I recognize the girl with him who turns out to be Nicola and I knew she had won this race previously. I see Wynn and figure there’ll be a record attempt in the men’s division also. I toddle off into the woods for a few minutes and realize I will have some fun digesting those grilled cheese sandwiches over the next few hours. I warm up by running a few short out and backs along the gravel road. My shin hurts. I ignore it. I am stupid. I love racing.

It’s time to line up. I see Kim Holak and think I should have stayed in bed. She tells me she decided to sign up the day before and I tell her I decided an hour ago.

Larry sets us free. Wynn bolts off and another guy goes with him. Edan and Nicola and another guy are ahead and then Kim. I decide to tag along behind Kim. WTF am I thinking? I know I can’t keep up with this lady. I am breathing hard within 200 yards. I realize it is mostly my stomach demanding attention and that I will be taxing my system a little more than usual today. A loop around to get the marathon distance and we are back across Cramer Road and soon onto the single track. I realize I have not have been on this section of trail since Sawtooth 12 months ago. And that was in the dark. I love it. We are running fast and dancing across the roots. Edan and Nicola are a little ahead and Kim is right in front of me until she stops to get a gel down and lets me by. Soon we are all running along in a line. There is some climbing and I am impressed by now easy Nicola makes it look. I know that she could jog up Mystery Mountain and make it look graceful. But I notice she is not carrying a water bottle and think that might be a mistake on a day like this. I am out of water by the time we arrive at Temperance AS. 1:11 on the clock. I didn’t know exactly how many miles we’d covered but figure it was over 7 so I was happy with that (7.9). No time wasted here as I have the bottle open, nuun tab added, fill it, 2 cups of coke, and I am off. Alicia is there with a quizzical look – she has been up all night except for a few hours sleep on a picnic bench at Finland! As I’m running by I tell her about Eric. Into the woods again for a few minutes before the trail hits Temperance River. It is beautiful along here. Some fun rocky sections. I left the AS ahead of the others and proceed through the grassy section, across the river and a good part of the way up the gravel path with no one behind me. Then Edan appears and soon Nicola and another, new guy. We pass Vishal from Chicago along here. It had been fun seeing his crew at the AS throughout Friday. We had passed Eva in the first section. She was moving well and would finish first female in just under 31 hours. And then sleep in her car that night before driving back to New Jersey. And no doubt still be smiling when she arrived back east. I tell Nicola to go ahead as we start climbing. I remembered how this had felt just after sunrise 12 months ago. On that occasion no part of my body wanted to run but I had given myself an hour to get up Carlton and 45 minutes to get to Sawbill. And I had gotten close to that. Today I figured I should make it in half the time. As we started to descend Nicola lets me by and we hammer it down the back side and then along the flat section, across the road and along the boardwalks – where I almost end my day – and into Sawbill AS. 2:03 on the clock. Sweet. Again, I wasn’t sure of the exact mileage but I figured at least half way (13.6). And I knew the next section would be kinder. I refilled, grabbed a gel and left the AS ahead of the others. I had not seen Kim since Temperance but figured she would not be far behind. I’d taken the two gels I had with me just before the two AS so I planned to carry this one until almost Oberg and then take another one for the final section. As soon as we hit the trail I started to run pretty hard. From the start of the race my shin hurt with every step. Not shooting pains just a consistent ache. Though it was better when I landed more on my forefoot so it didn’t bother me as much in this section where I could increase my cadence and run smoother. Not quite Chris Gardner smooth though I told myself that’s exactly how I was running. I decided if I got passed in this section that I would drop at Oberg. I don’t know that I would have or not. I wanted to win. I wanted to break the course record. And if I wasn’t going to do that I figured there was no point in making my shin worse. Makes sense right? OK. So I didn’t care about the shin. I just wanted to win. I like winning. But of course I wouldn’t have dropped…

10 miles to go. Too soon to be thinking about winning. Just keep moving at this pace. The guy behind me was keeping pace and that really helped. Turned out to be Ryan who was running his first trail marathon. His parents were at the finish line and I told them it wouldn’t be his last and that next he would be running 50 milers and then… they didn’t want to hear any more! My stomach was not bothering me particularly other than my abs were getting a serious workout holding it all together. But I knew I needed a potty break. I was also trying to remember the end of this section from last year. I knew that Teresa and Pam had hiked back out to meet me so I was looking for landmarks. Soon enough I saw the junction where they’d met me. I remembered Pam telling me it wasn’t far. Then I remembered how I’d been annoyed (sorry Pam) because it was far. But was that just 100 mile far or really actually far? It was really actually far. Over a mile for sure. We crossed the wooden bridge and then onto the ski trails. Some winding around here and I knew it was at least a half mile so I ducked off the trail and into the woods. Ryan flew by shouting “nice pace”. It took a bit longer than desired but I felt so much better. I arrived into Oberg AS and there was Eric with my red bull. Yeaay!!! It was down in seconds. Water bottle refilled and I was on my way again. Eric said the guy had just left. I was more concerned with the ladies behind me. I started to ask how Erik and others were doing but he told me to get going! I passed Pat Susnik and Nicholas Olson as I was getting on the trail. I was clearly full of energy after my red bull and made the mistake of cheerfully asking them how they were doing and telling them they looked great. They didn’t look great. They didn’t feel great. They said something about running 95 miles. Probably along the lines of “How the hell do you think we feel?” They would probably have appreciated it more if I told them they looked like shit.

A quick wave to Oberg Mountain – we had to do this loop the first time I ran the marathon in 2005. Larry’s add-on at the start is much more sensible. And considerably easier. Which of course makes no sense at all when you think about it. And then onto Moose Mountain. This came much quicker than I was expecting. I guess I was moving well. I was convinced Nicola would catch me on either this climb or the next one. So, after another potty break, I kept moving as fast as I could and started to run immediately after hitting the top. Nice flat section through the woods here and then a mix of up and down and before I knew it I was approaching the switchbacks on Mystery Mountain. Ah, the fond memories I recalled. Not. This final section had taken me 1:50 last year. Yes, I remember these things. 1:20 was my goal today. It was getting close to an hour. Damn I had forgotten to pick up a gel in my red bull-induced excitement. Nothing for it now. I saw Kevin up ahead and he was running. I figured if a 100 miler was running these switchbacks then I certainly could. As I passed him he asked if there was anyone close behind - I told him about the guys leaving Oberg. I figured he would know that was a ways back but later he told me that got him worried and he moved faster in case they would catch him. They finished about 30 minutes after him. I knew I had to be close to the top. I also knew how many times I had thought that last year. A few trips out to view Lake Superior and then it was downhill. Oh yes baby. We are hammering this home. I saw Ryan up ahead and then a large group of hikers. They saw him of course but not me so I almost took one of them out as they turned around to carry on after Ryan had passed. As soon as I’d gone by I thought I should have asked one of them for water. I had been rationing myself to a mouthful every 5 minutes. I was almost out and dreaming of a huge glass of coke. Ryan let me by and I continued to descend at a good pace. Then finally that beautiful sound of Onion River, the open trail, the left turn, the bridge… at some point along this section I had decided 4:12 was possible. Time was ticking by. I was getting close. Up the hill and then onto the gravel road. But still some way to go. Past the ski lodges that you at first imagine to be Caribou Highlands. More flags up ahead. 4:10. And then across the grass and onto the trail by the lodge, around the pool, and HOME. 4:11:03. I told Larry it was harder than Lean Horse 50. I meant it.

Boy, was I one happy chick at the finish line. At least for about 30 seconds - until I realized just how badly my shin hurt. God how stupid was that? But how much fun. Three weeks until Grindstone. Plenty of time to recover. And hey, if I can do that for 26.2 miles on three ibuprofen I am sure it will all work out.

Eric, Guy (who’d had to drop from the 50 miler after he pulled his hamstring. Ouch.) and several others were at the finish line. I iced my leg and got some fluids into me. Then took a shower and got ready to head out to find Valeria, and Erik and Zach. We decided to hit Sawbill first where we caught Val flying through and smiling the whole time. Stan had just gone through ahead of her looking strong. They’d run together for some of the early sections. John Mass had also come through and a few hundred milers. It was fun seeing some of the same people as the day before. Well, not so much fun for them I suppose. The poor guy from Alabama (or Arkansas?) was much happier when we told him there was a 50 mile and marathon race – he was a bit concerned by the people flying by him! Laura was there waiting for Erik and had been at all of the AS through the night. She headed off out the trail to meet him. Zach arrived and was suffering pretty bad with his feet. He got them fixed up and Eric decided he’d do a bit more of the course and headed off towards Oberg with him. What a neat way to finish off the weekend’s events!

Steve Q was working this AS and gave us the low down on how strong Duke was running and we figured he’d surely win it which he did to set a new CR of 9:32.
Brian P ran an awesome race to come in next having moved up through the leaders as the miles counted down. Next was the guy from Kansas and then Matt Howard who told me later that was the fastest time he would ever run that course as he wouldn’t be attempting it again! He did enjoy it but is looking forward to the much more runnable terrain at the Madison NF Challenge. After a stop at Oberg to catch Val again and for Jen to swap places with Eric and pace Zach to the finish – we made our way back to Lutsen to watch Stan finish 5th in his first 50 miler. Nice one. John Mass in 7th – another smart runner who ran his own race on his first attempt up here… and next Valeria in a fantastic 10:52 to take an hour and a half off her winning time from last year! Way to set the record.

We hung around for a bit and then headed down to the lake for an ice bath. Val and Eric got two picnic chairs and sat in the water while I settled for chilling just my lower legs. I think it helped but I proceeded to limp around for the evening. Back at the finish line we watched the 50 milers continue to come through interspersed with 100 milers. Erik finished his first hundred having run a very smart race taking it easy through the heat of the day on Friday and fast hiking many of the sections. Which works well when you have legs as long as Erik! Wouter finished with a smile on his face – he’d taken a break at Oberg when we were out there earlier and we’d gotten a good laugh when he said “I suppose, this would be a really stupid place to drop”. He went on to tell me about his next race in France in a few weeks time – just 90 miles that one. I tell you – related to Pierre. Soon after Zach and Jen came though looking happy but no doubt glad to be done – I am guessing it will take a while for the feet to look the same… Jenny M finished her first 50 smiling and many other familiar faces continued to cross the line. We headed indoors for dinner though I know my stomach would have been perfectly okay not seeing food until Monday. The two groups from Chicago were in the restaurant and between us all I think we livened up the place nicely. I am not sure if it was the few glasses of wine or the lack of sleep but everything sure seemed funnier than usual.

Back out to the finish line for more laughs. Karen Gall finished and was an absolute riot filling us in on her final hours on the trail. The rocks and logs miss her. Brad Birkholz came along sometime after midnight with a huge pack looking as if he was taking off on a long hike but apparently he was just heading over to the playground area to set up base camp. After several minutes of sleep deprived mindlessness discussing how Valeria and I would make excellent sherpas (being foreign, maybe even exotic, made up for being clueless about Little Debbie’s) we decided it was probably time to call it a night. I am writing this and wondering - did that whole scene even happen?

It was another amazing weekend on the trail. On THE trail. I am lucky to have run some awesome trails around the country - but there is nothing quite like the Superior Hiking Trail. Congrats to everyone who participated in the weekend’s events and thank you to the tireless volunteers at all of the AS and everywhere in between, and especially to Larry, Colleen and family.




If you were there this photo by Jen P requires no explanation. If you weren’t – the boys are simply wondering “Is he really going to run in those?” He did.


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The Aftermath

I woke up Sunday morning in more pain than I have ever felt after a race. Of course it wasn’t the all over body pain the 100 milers were feeling but the intense shin pain had me wishing I felt the way I had 12 months ago instead. By the time we got back to the Twin Cities the whole muscle was very swollen. I iced it repeatedly that night and kept it elevated – while following IM Madison online tracking Pam (a.k.a Kona bound rock star!) and Tanya. I can walk quite okay on the ball of my foot but flexing it either direction at the ankle and putting much pressure on it is not good and even today after two PT sessions the muscle is still swollen. And in case you are wondering, fascia burn is as painful as it sounds.

Anyways, PT and no running (except in the pool, yawn) for a few weeks and I should be right as rain for Grindstone. Sounds like the perfect taper eh?