Friday, July 31, 2009

Voyageur 2009

Before Saturday I was already pretty sure that this was my favourite race. Now I am certain! I know that is easy to say after having a great race but I would like to think I’d be saying it regardless. I just love how low key this event is - the small town start, the wonderful volunteers, the variety of terrain, most of it challenging, and knowing more than half the field of runners.

I was feeling pretty good going into this race. Since Grandma’s I’d been trying to improve my eating habits and that seemed to be paying off. I’d also started taking Hot Yoga classes again – something I realized had probably help me deal with the heat in summers gone by. I usually fit in 3-4 classes a week but it’s been mostly the Vinyasa class this year which is heated but not hot. The Bikram style classes are in a room above 100 degrees for 90 minutes so I create a nice puddle of sweat. Afton had gone well but my IT band had given me problems so I’d been foam rolling the heck out of it a few times a day since then. A long training weekend on the SHT 2 weeks prior and a few other solid runs had me feeling as ready as I was ever going to be. And thankfully we wouldn’t be getting anywhere close to the record temperature for Carlton of 98F dating back to 1931. I could live with muddy Power Lines but no amount of hot yoga was going to help me survive that kind of heat wave for 50 miles.

Myself and Valeria drove up Friday evening. We decided not to leave until 6pm to avoid traffic but there was no avoiding road works so it was after 10pm when we reached the hotel. Kami had arrived a little before us. I’d had a good sleep Thursday night so wasn’t too concerned. We got our drop bags sorted and read for a while – I am reading Born To Run and funnily enough I was ready the part about Scott Jurek’s first ultra at Voyageur. We were up around 5:30am and left the hotel soon after 6. A little more organized than last year when we showed up at the start with about 3 minutes to go. Though even that wasn’t as bad as Tracy & Rasmus who woke up about 3 minutes before the start this year!! What a nightmare. Still it didn’t stop them both having good races! It was great getting to meet them at the finish.

But first the start... after chatting to lots of folks I lined up just behind the fast boys and got ready for off. As always the runners are asked if it’s anyone’s first ultra. And sure enough a few young guys - in the front row no less - rose their hands. We haven’t even started and I’ve already decided I’m beating these guys. And then we were off. I couldn’t believe the speed of the lead guy taking off – I later realized it was Dusty Olson who recently won the half Voyageur (and is also mentioned in the book – he remarked later than there is plenty of embellishment in the book, though not as bad as a Dean Molasses book. Wouldn’t be hard). He was gunning for the CR but had hamstring issues later on.

The first few miles passed easily enough. Several of the lead guys disappeared ahead once we hit the single track. The kids passed me a bit later and then I realized Valeria was right behind me so we chatted as we continued along across the swinging bridge to AS 1. We both got a bee sting in the woods but thankfully didn’t really bother us much after the initial shock. After the race I heard that Robert Wehrner (RD at Glacial) also got stung and had to drop due to a bad reaction. We decided the bee should be on next year’s t-shirt and finishers mug.

I had planned to wear my Garmin (not that the useless battery would last the full run but I figured it might help on the way out to keep pace) but had forgotten it at home so just wore a regular watch. I also managed to lose my sunglasses that morning (and my camera later… ultra brain before and after the run!) but it wasn’t too bad as we spend a lot of time in the woods on this race. Also, for the first time ever in a race and ever on a trail I decided to listen to music. I think to avoid the misery of Afton where I couldn’t get a particular song out of my head! I am not sure if it helped though I do know I need to update my shuffle selection before the next race… no surprise there to anyone who knows my music library.

Like last year, I decided not to carry a water bottle given the regular AS – the longest distance being 3.4 miles. But I did have one in each drop bag and was pretty sure I’d pick one up at halfway if not before. I ran by myself through the next section along wide ski trails. I was trying to decide if I should stick to the worn track or try to run tangents through the grass – I know, saving a few yards in a 50 mile trail might seem a bit excessive but I figure it all adds up! The kids were a little ahead of me through here and I ran into AS 2 just behind them. I was looking forward to the next section zigzagging around more ski trails with a short trot on the bike trail. I passed the 4 guys (who later became 3) and continued on. I felt like I was running a reasonable pace but shortly after as we started to climb the switchbacks I saw Tony Kocanda ahead and thought no, this is not good! Though to be fair it was only 2 weeks after Tony paced his friend to 2nd place at Hardrock so I expect there was just a little residual fatigue in his legs! I enjoyed the single track here and came into the next AS just behind Tony and another guy who I think must be Joe Winch from IA (he was wearing a LBL finishers shirt). We were zipping along and then hit some nice downhill so I had fun following Joe (we’ll call him Joe anyway) through this section though I knew I shouldn’t be doing 50K pace this early on a 50 miler… after that I held back a bit as we approached the next AS.

And then the Power Lines. The first few climbs are tough, then it eases off a bit before a few more steep ones. Not bad though. At least not on Round 1. I don’t remember much about the next section – I think this is where there was some trail markings incorrect or changed but I either wasn’t paying attention and managed to go the right way or they were correct when I went by. I did almost miss a sharp left turn off the ski trail a bit later. It’s easy enough to lose concentration along the grassy sections. Back on the paved bike trail and through AS 5 at mile 13.5. I enjoyed the section of solid ground on the way out though on the way back it always feels like I’m running really slow along here. Which I suppose by then, I am. Back to the ski trails and down through Mission Creek before quickly coming into the next AS at mile 15.5. OK, less than ten to go to the turnaround. I was checking my watch at each AS. 2:20. I commented to Erik who had been at a few of the AS that I was going too fast and his response was that I was wearing number 2. Point taken! Grabbed a few gels from my drop bag and off I went.

I have to say the next section felt longer than 3.1 miles. No really steep climbs that forced me to walk but enough to slow me down and start me thinking I’d probably overdone it a little in the early sections. It’s as much mental as anything of course. I knew my legs were plenty fresh but I was looking forward to the road section after the next AS and it wasn’t coming quickly enough. I was also busy trying to calculate how I was doing overall. Last year on the way back I’d fallen somewhere along this section and broken my watch - it had read 5:17 so I’d covered the remaining miles in just over 3 hours. So reaching the AS at mile 18.6 in 2:54 had me wondering if I’d really be able to get back from there in 3 hours today. With this in mind I made the wise decision to run the next 3 miles at 7:30 pace. Making the most of the road section and then getting plenty of mud on my legs going through the horse trails. Out of the woods again at AS 8 (21.7 miles, 3:18 on the clock), downed a few cokes, orange pieces and off I went towards the turn around. I love this section with the awesome views of Duluth. Funny I don’t even remember seeing the town last year! I think I was too busy wondering if the trail was suddenly going to take a left hard turn up a ski hill... thankfully it doesn’t! Still, I couldn’t remember a lot of this section – it switches between paved road, gravel road, single track, rocky trail – a fun section. I knew I was going to get to the turn around faster than planned when I still hadn’t met the front runners by the time I crossed the rocks. A few minutes later Andy and Dusty come towards me. And then back on the road section I met Joe and John. John was smiling. I knew something wasn’t right. I’m not sure if Chris was ahead or behind those guys and then another young guy just before the turnaround. I was surprised not to see Joe who I’d fallen back from earlier – I didn’t actually get chance to talk to him at the finish but I’m assuming he must have taken a wrong turn as I met him on my way back a little later. I did spend a few minutes wondering if I’d somehow taken a wrong turn and skipped part of the trail – but my legs were telling me otherwise!

About a minute at the turnaround and it was time to do it all again. 3:45 on the clock. I’d been aiming for 3:55. Compared to 4hrs last year (4:05 when I was leaving after changing my socks – can’t quite recall why I decided to do that since it was my stomach that was bothering me not my feet!). My goal for this year’s race was 8:10. I think I decided on that back at the end of last year as I was planning the (supposedly light) race calendar for 09. I had finished in 8:19 last year with not having a watch for the final few hours – not sure if that made a difference – nor was I aware that the CR was 8:14 so really all I was trying to do was not get caught! Considering I’d made it back in 4:14 last year the thought of 8hrs did cross my mind. Briefly. I told Kim Holak later that she’d have to come back next year to aim for that - which she could easily do if she ever stops running Hardrock :)

The first section on the way back was grand. Met a lot of familiar faces. Brian, Tony, Matt(s), Scott, Kevin and several others who all seemed to be running strong. I met April along the ski slopes and then shortly afterwards Val who was running with Chris and still smiling. Many times I had to remind myself what of she’d shouted as I left the first AS – ‘have fun out there’! For the most part I was. Though I suspected that was all about to change. Back at the Skyline Drive AS, one of the guys, Ben I think, was stocking up as I came through. Doug Hansel was also here on his way out – telling me he’d hate me and my good humour if I wasn’t such a nice person... I missed his company on the early sections of the race this year! I enjoyed the next section meeting many more people including Kami who was enjoying herself. Kept a good pace through here, back onto the road for the descent towards mile 31.4, meeting Maria and a few others and then Alicia. It was raining quite a bit now but felt refreshing. Left the AS just under 4:41. I didn’t actually think about it at the time but that’s faster than my Afton finish (31 miles). Can that be right? I’d love to know the elevation profile at Voyaguer if anyone’s watch is capable of tracking it accurately?

Soon after I came to what I thought was the “3hrs to go” spot last year. Hmmm... how sweet would 8hrs be? STOP. Long, long way to go. The next section was mostly downhill towards the creek and then some climbing again. I always think I’ll be able to “pick up time” on these downhills but after 30+ miles that just doesn’t happen. Still, overall I was feeling strong and no sign of the IT band pulling on my knee. I’d been diligently foam rolling it 2 and usually 3 times every day since Afton and it appeared to have paid off. Arrived back at Fond Du Lac just after 5:15 and stocked up on gels and clif bloks from my drop bag. I’d picked up my water bottle at halfway so the kind volunteers filled that with ice and water. Perfect. Off again and back into the woods. OK. Two miles to the next AS. This has been a pretty quick trip on the way out. Under 16 minutes. Well, I guess the slowdown had started in earnest. I don’t think the elevation profile is much different on the return but it took me over 20 minutes! I was getting a bit annoyed with myself. My legs felt ok, but even though my stomach wasn’t giving me trouble I didn’t seem to want to eat anything. I’d had a few bad cramps on the way out around mile 18-19, similar to Grandma’s but they didn’t last too long. Now it just seemed like my stomach was shutting down. I took 2 clif bloks but that was it for the final quarter. Not enough calories. I think I did get a few more salt tablets into me and had been doing pretty well on those. I had a few close calls with calf and hamstring cramps towards the end but I’m not sure any amount of electrolytes is going to avoid that when you’re running hard for 50 miles.

Leaving the AS at mile 36.5 with 5:37 on the clock I was starting to wonder if I’d even hit the CR, much less my goal of 8:10 (the thoughts of 8hrs had dissipated in the last 2 miles!). I was trying to stay positive. Mostly I just wanted to finish quicker than last year. I did really want to challenge the CR but there’d be other years. I relaxed a bit and tried to remember Val’s advice. Have fun girl. You are running in the woods on a beautiful day (sort of), with a bunch of friends. It doesn’t get much better than this. It helped. Or the music did. Or something. Even the Power Lines didn’t seem so bad. I’d looked back at one point and spotted a white shirt that I assumed was Brian a few hills back. I was expecting Matt Aro to fly by at some point just like last year! And then my knee. Out of the blue something went awry just below my left knee cap. I’d started to feel the IT band pulling on the outside of the knee for a few miles now but nothing serious. But this was lower down and seemed unrelated. For about 30 seconds I was convinced something was terribly wrong. And then just as quick the pain disappeared and I trotted on down the hill! Phew.

More ice and water at the next AS. I didn’t realize until later that it was Rochelle helping out here. She’d had a great race a few weeks back at the Half Voyaguer but I heard she was hurt after that so I hope nothing serious. OK. 10 miles to go. Well, 10.6 but let’s be positive here. 6:15. 2 hours? It can be done. Struggling to hike moderately fast up the next climb I remembered Joe on the way out saying that if I could run up this hill on the way back I wouldn’t be caught. I hoped the opposite was not true! It was pretty slow going along here – in fact my pace wasn’t much faster than the power lines section. I was starting to get a bit fed up again. But luckily it’s not a very long section. Short jaunt on the paved trail – as I was running along here I started to imagine this being the bike path at the end of the race. How sweet would that have been? Left turn and into the AS with 8.5 miles to go and 6:40 on the clock. An hour and a half to hit my goal? Not if I continued at the same pace. I knew I had to start to pick it up a bit. Luckily there was a nice breeze off the lake here and I started to perk up a bit with some downhill to come and then the rolling sections meandering through the ski trails. Hit the next AS 33 minutes later – averaging close to ten minute miles. I was very happy with that and my mood was improving with every mile! 7:13. 5.2 miles. The CR was definitely possible and even my goal was doable.

Some more rain through the next section but I didn’t mind. My feet were doing well. I couldn’t feel any blisters despite managing to get wet at every creek crossing. I am loving the Montrail Masochists that I started wearing this spring. Lighter than all my other trail shoes but still enough protection. I used to avoid shoes with a flexible forefoot but now I’ve switched my road shoes also. The only thing that was really bugging me – which I don’t think has anything to do with the shoes themselves – I was continually kicking my ankle bones! And all week since the race I’ve continued to scrape them every time I run. Ow. I think I run slightly blow legged at the knee so I guess that could be the cause. Anyway, no falls this race so I guess I needed to create some blood.

Before I knew it I was back at AS 1 greeted by Wayne and Lisa. I was so happy to be so close! After a quick refill I was off again. Though not before Wayne informed me that John was just a bit ahead and I could catch him. Let the fun begin. No, really I am not that mean but once I caught him and established that he wasn’t injured, just not having a great run, I didn’t feel too bad giving him a hard time!

I loved being back in the rocky section. I know it is not everyone’s ideal way to finish a 50 mile race but no matter how bad I’m feeling I always get a bit of a buzz trying to pick up my feet and run as lightly as possibly across the rocks and roots. It challenges the mind enough to (almost) make you forget how awful you feel. And it is such a pretty section running along by the river. I had to smile a bit later when I saw one of the kids who’d been on the starting line that morning chilling out on the rocks. I’m assuming he packed it in somewhere after AS2 and made his way back here to wait for his buddies.

I’d left the last AS at just under 7:32 knowing it had taken me around 31 minutes on the way out. So I figured I could for sure do it in under 40 minutes. Of course you then start to realize that what appeared to be flat on the way out was a downhill section... once I’d caught up with John I ran just ahead of him through the last mile or so of the wooded area. Out of the rocks and the nice soft trail – though all I wanted was to see the wooden bridge! Finally. 8:02. It had taken me just under 5 minutes on the way out. Yes, I remember these critical details! I was so happy to see that bike path. Not that I could do much for a sprint finish but it sure as hell took the same amount of effort! I heard John say he had no kick although he later said he just didn’t want to ruin my finish line photo. Ah, how thoughtful. No, it didn’t stop me giving him a hard time.


I have never felt so happy crossing a finish line. I think I really mean that. Although I am sure I have said it before. Finishing Sawtooth was amazing but after that many hours I don’t think I could tell the difference between feeling ok, feeling good or feeling great. Last Saturday I felt GREAT! After two and a half years of running ultras with several 50K distances, a few 50 milers and one 100 miler I decided last year that I was best suited to the 50 mile distance and I suppose this cements that idea in my head. Chippewa and Afton were great races for me also but I don’t have the natural speed to be a seriously competitive 50K runner and while I love the challenge of 100 miles and will hopefully continue to do one every year I don’t think it will ever be my main focus. 50M requires sufficient speed but also allows for someone with inherent endurance – both mental and physical – to do well over how ever many hours the course dictates. 8 is definitely possible here at Voyaguer. 10 or 12 hours is a good time at other courses. I think that range is part of what I enjoy. Seriously challenging but at the same time very doable with the right training and focus. And good conditions don’t hurt. Certainly we were blessed with those on this occasion. I am already thinking about next year of course. I suspect a goal of 8:05 will be entered in the spreadsheet by year’s end. But yes, no doubt, I’ll be thinking about 8.

An awesome day in Jay Cooke State Park and beyond. Thanks so much to Rollie, Jarrow and all of the organizers and volunteers. Congrats to Andy on an awesome race. And to everyone who toed the line. Especially the latecomers! It was great to chat with Tracy and Rasmus at the end who were back from Denmark. And a wonderful evening spent catching up with many old and new friends.

Photos by Jen Pierce - thanks Jen for the Awesome Pics! - 'Awesome' part is you - I am just glad I'm smiling in some of them!

Checking the watch. Nice to have a bit of prep time this year!

Time for a smile before the fun begins. And before dumping the sunglasses that I decided to do without as they are not my normal running ones having lost them earlier that morning...
P.S. Duluth Running Co. is a great spot if you have not checked it out. No, I am not sponsored! But I'm open to offers :)

Getting a head start!

The Swinging Bridge

With Valeria.

The Power Lines. Round 1.

Still smiling. But I guess it's still early.

And this, folks, is why we do it.

I love this photo of Kim Martin running with her kids - they ran from the last AS to the finish as she was chasing down Valeria! It was so funny listening to them at the end - Val hanging on for life - ahead by about 30-40 seconds for the final 8 miles! Kim ran 121 miles at FANS in June! And her son - who was 10 at the time - ran the marathon distance at LBL in Kentucky last year. Good genes or what!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Voyageur in the Rain?

Looks like there's a good chance of a wet day tomorrow. Will it slow things down? Maybe on the grassy sections but personally I always feel like I am running slow along here... give me rocks and roots anyday! Though rocks and roots in the rain can be more treacherous... not to mention muddy Power Lines. Yikes - that could be fun.

Regardless, I am looking forward to this race. Last year was a great one all around for me - a few wins here and there but mostly just a lot of fun getting out there experiencing new trails, new races and getting to know so many people. Still, the good races always become favourites for me and I would say that Voyageur topped that list last year. Partly as it was my first time ever running on this trail and also since I enjoy out-and-back courses. And having friends in town from Ireland made it special - it was fun hanging out with them and introducing them to this craziness that has become the norm for me since moving here.

Good luck to everyone running tomorrow - and to those folks heading further north for the Grand Island Marathon.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


This morning I reached my goal weight of 140. I have been trying hard since Grandma's to drop a few lbs. So what do you think I ate today?

I was off-site from work for an all day meeting so I knew it would be bad. But jees I didn't think it'd be this bad...

- 4 mugs of coffee
- Bread Roll & Cream Cheese (full fat)
- Mini danish (I think I had 2 but I am not sure. Probably)
- A few slices of pineapple. Just to feel healthy.

- 2 mugs of coffee
- Jam filled doughnut. Yum Yum. 4 weeks without one.

- Potatoes, Veg, Beef w/mushrooms & gravy
- 2 Diet cokes
- Choc/Raspberry Cake
- Coffee

- 2 Diet cokes
- Loads of caramel popcorn
- An apple. Good? Dipped in toffee. Great!
- Two slices of fruit tart

I figure I can probably skip dinner.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pentathlon Sunday

After making a firm decision last night to not do ANY work today (both work work and mowing the lawn kind of work), I managed to enjoy a taste of all of my five (current) sports. Nothing like making the most of the fabulous weather. Especially since days like today don't seem to be making an appearance in the midwest too often this 'summer'. There is something terribly wrong when it's as warm in Ireland in July as it is here...

I think the only similarity between the Olympic event and my Sunday is the running portion (8M of FUN at Afton - snowshoe loop followed by the MTB trails). I am pretty sure there's no climbing involved in Pentathlon (it was on the way home from Afton so I had to stop by). Definitely no swimming (didn't get to the pool all week and my arms could tell). Though I think there is something to do with water? No. Maybe not. Biking? (a nice easy ride with Tanya, Susan & Patty - who both did Heart of the Lakes tri this morning, followed by a short run) No, I don't think so. Or do they ride horses? No, but I am pretty sure they do archery. Which always makes me think of Robin Hood. Which makes me think of horses. You see the logic. And definitely no yoga anywhere in the Olympics. Though it's only a matter of time before the IOC sees the light. Finishing off the day and indeed the weekend with a relaxing hour of vinyasa by candlelight is just perfect.

All in all, a fun day. And I am now officially ready to TAPER. I can do it. I know I can.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Eagle Mountain Challenge

Last weekend was spent running some of my favourite sections of the SHT as well as exploring new trails. The most fun run I've had in a long time was up and down Eagle Mountain - the highest point in Minnesota. Coming from Ireland it is reassuring to know there are others who call 2301ft peaks mountains!!

So... the Eagle Mountain Challange will be the 10K round trip from this sign to the geological marker at the summit and back down again. Not for the faint-hearted. It might not be much of a climb but the boulders and roots sure do make it exciting. And that was without traffic! Imagine the fun of meeting people going full speed on a 3ft wide technical trail. Cool. Bonus points for stopping to take a dip in the beautiful Whale Lake (no whales).

Prior to this fun expedition on Sunday morning, I'd run the 7.5M loop with the guys at Hyland Friday morning and then headed north to meet up with Holly to kick off the Beta IV weekend. This was so much fun last year so I was really looking forward to a weekend of running the SHT, especially with the weather forecast (warm and sunny - as it should be in JULY). We covered 20 miles that afternoon on the SHT south of Duluth - starting out at Spirit Mtn and running to Jay Cooke State Park - followed by an out and back that took in some of the Voyageur course (really looking forward to that race). The first several miles were so beautiful with lots of rocky terrain and overlooks - very similar to the Silver Bay section.

Got to the cabin in Tofte around 8pm that evening - had fun catching up with everyone and then getting ready for an early start on Saturday. We woke at 5am and were out the door before 6. Dropped cars/water and started out at Beaver Bay. Turning right immediately after the bridge brought back memories... I missed the turn during Sawtooth and took a nice ten minute detour. I love love love the next several miles of the trail as it climbs above Bean and Bear Lake, Silver Bay, Mt. Trudee, whereupon I took a ten minutes sun-bathing break/nap. Continued on at a fairly easy pace enjoying the soltitude of the trail - expected to meet more hikers but it was pretty quiet. Reached Co. Rd. 1 where we'd dropped water so I stopped at ate my tuna sandwich (yes, there was mayo on the tuna and I had no stomach problems so hopefully that means it can handle anything at Voyageur unlike last year!), downed a can of redbull, and chilled out for a bit. Off towards Co. Rd 6 then where I'd left my car earlier. Got some water and then through Section 13 for an out and back to bring me to 28 miles for the day.

So, after Sunday morning's trot up the mountain I ended with a nice round 100K for the 3 days. Happy with that, especially since my knee/IT band didn't hurt too bad. It was better Saturday that Friday and hardly any pain Sunday. I've been on the foam roller at least twice a day and I think it helps a lot. I did mean to get to the PT but work has been completely mental this week and last so it's hard to fit much in. I am hoping to get caught up on sleep the next few days as 4hrs a night is not conducive to a good run next weekend.

Speaking of that I guess I am tapering. Haven't ran much this week and will not probably run less than 10 tomorrow and just 10-15 all of next week so that should be good. Another fun run at Hyland this morning. 1:02 for the 7.5M loop - it is damn hard keeping up with the boys and that's after most of them already doing a lap! Not sure I'll ever make it there for the early bird start but how bad to fit in a 15M run before your day even starts...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Afton 50K

+ 5 gels, 6 nuun tabs, matching big toe blisters, lots of swearing, a few strawberries and ALL of Nancy’s coke

- taper, buckets of sweat, the idea that I actually like hills, falls (not so much as a bruise) and the ability to get a bad running song out of my head

= Helen’s 2009 Afton 50K experience

This was my third time to run the 50K and despite my many complaints on that second loop I have no doubt it’s a streak I’ll aim to continue for many years to come. The only good thing about the 2nd loop is that it’s the last one.

The morning started out well. After a pretty crazy start to the week with late nights at work and even later nights working at home I finally got a decent sleep Thursday night and was in bed early again Friday night. So when the alarm went off at 4:45AM I was actually ready to get up. Quick shower, got ready while the coffee was brewing and the oatmeal cooking, checked through the gear bag, filled my water bottles, checked the gear bag again, and I was in the car by 5:15AM. It felt pretty cool out and the forecast seemed decent so things were looking up.

And then, as I was having my breakfast, and driving, I switched on the radio to A Fine Frenzy’s Almost Lover. Unfortunately rather appropriate, but a bad, bad idea on race morning... After losing myself in my thoughts for a few minutes I soon changed over to CD and my mood instantly brightened upon hearing The White Stripes - one of my fav running-music-bands. But I never did get that darn song out of my head and so over and over again for many miles in my head went the lines...

Goodbye, my almost lover
Goodbye, my hopeless dream
I’m trying not to think about you
Can’t you just let me be?
So long, my luckless romance
My back is turned on you
I should’ve known you’d bring me heartache
Almost lovers always do

Not quite the tempo I was looking for.

I started out towards the front with probably 20 guys in front of me. Ran a little with Sonya in the first mile and then we caught up with Kurt on the hill. (Before the race I was giving Kurt a hard time about his compression socks – a few hours later as both my calves were cramping in the final few miles I was sorely regretting not wearing my own pair! I am not sure they make a ton of difference but worth trying.) I was sorry to hear Sonya had a rough time later in the race - she is a much faster road runner than me and I’m sure on a good day for her would have given me a run for my money. We’d passed Steve who asked if we had a spare water bottle... Steve... I said the only excuse he could use today was a completely broken bone and actually it had to be a leg. He ended up catching up again a bit later and we ran together for several miles which was fun - or at least amusing :)
Apart from that I didn’t really chat with anyone along the way. For pretty long stretches I was by myself not seeing anyone ahead or behind. This suited me pretty well as I knew in the first loop I had to keep a reasonable pace and if I kept seeing people close ahead of me I’d be trying to catch them... not a good idea that early in a 50K. As for the second loop it would not have mattered – nothing was going to make me run faster :)

The first few miles passed easily enough. I was wearing my 'new' Garmin 405 and tracking the average pace. I hadn’t really decided what I was aiming for but knew I’d be happy with something under 4:45 so I figured I’d try a similar strategy to last year – run the first half a bit faster than I'm totally comfortable with and see how well I could keep it together for the second loop. I am not really sure why I thought this was a good idea given that I have not done as much trail running this spring and had sort of forgotten to taper. But anyhow, along I went watching the average (overall) pace swing between 8:30 and 8:50 depending on the terrain. My nutrition strategy was to take a gel at AS 2, 4, 5, 6 and repeat on second loop. I was carrying a hand held water bottle, refilling at those same AS and adding a
nuun tab every time. I used these electrolyte tabs for the first time on the night run last weekend – and liked the taste. I don’t like most sports drinks but these are mild and I figured I’d try them instead of S-caps to see how they worked. I am not sure they completely replace S-caps. I’ll have to check the nutritional info (maybe would have been a good idea to do this prior to use) as I did get some bad cramps in the last few miles. Though I got those last year also – just a different muscle group today! I would recommend them for their ease of use but the claim that they are not fizzy is a load of crap. It doesn’t last long but you do have to release the gas from your water bottle after dissolving. It could be that the shaking makes them fizz but how are you supposed to run with a water bottle and not have it shake. So I think the spiel on the wesbite about the difficult science it took to remove the fizz is a little wasted on runners.

Anyway... speeding down the hill to AS 1/2 where Maria was running the show, taking care not to twist an ankle, and into the Back 40 loop where the air was pretty thick in the woods. It wasn’t hot like it has been in previous years but the humidity was pretty high. Still, I would say overall more favorable conditions than normal. Back to see Maria and gang a mile and a half later, water refill, and the climb up to the prairie. Passed one guy on the stairs in that section but saw no one else until the end of the Africa Loop where Steve caught up and we headed off down the hill – this is my favourite section of downhill running on the course so I enjoyed that. Then around the back of the gravel loop to AS 3 where Pierre and Carrie were taking care of things. No stop here on my first pass through but I did hear Londell giving me (or Steve? yeah, probably Steve...) a hard time – while taking photos of course! Along here that darn song was going around and around in my head and then funnily enough Steve shared the tune he couldn’t get rid of – can’t recall what it was but I think mine still took the prize for worst running song.

Then it was up what used to be my worst nightmare on this course – the gravel hill – but that mantle has now been taken over by the next uphill. Still, it wasn’t much fun climbing this one either. Ran it the first time around though it wasn’t much faster than a hike. Met up with Dan (?) along here who had very kindly given me pins for my number that morning – I got back to my car after picking up my race packet and realized I had forgot pins. I normally have a stash of them in a random gear bag in my car but actually cleaned out my car recently (not that you’d notice) so I couldn’t find any. Dan was parked beside me and had some spares so that worked out well.

Continued along through the prairie and down Nigel’s Hill – some sweet downhill running here also. Out onto the river trail and before long we were heading up my new worst nightmare hill. It’s not named on the map but I’ve heard it called KOM. I have no idea what that stands for but I came up with a few new names for it on the second loop. Back through prairie and down Campground to AS 4 where I refilled again and took off for a mile+ along the flat river trail. This felt great as I got the average pace down to 8:30 where it would not be again! I caught up with a guy who’d flown past me down the Campground hill only for him to again fly by me as we started up the Meat Grinder – he commented to Steve “it’s only the flats that get me!” – not a bad complaint for a race like this. For once I actually found the Meat Grinder pretty kind and emerged with enough energy to settle into a nice pace all the way around to AS 5 where Jeffrey refilled my bottle – a quick hello to Nancy and Tom and off I went to hit the single track in the Snowshoe loop. Oh what fun – I love love love this section. If only the race was run on this and the MTB trails then I’d be happy! I made it back to the half way point from AS 5 in exactly the same time as last year – 27 minutes – to come through in 2:12 at 8:32 pace. I think about 2 minutes faster than last year. I dropped my water bottle and picked up a new one that I’d filled with water/ice that morning so it was still nice and cool.

Off I went on the second loop after a quick pit stop to tighten my laces. I was feeling good. Knowing that I would definitely slow some I thought that it still might be possible to beat last year’s time of 4:36. At this stage the time was more important to me than winning. Sure, I wanted to win but I had no idea who was behind me or how close they were and knew I wasn’t going to find that out so I figured I could only run my own race and not worry about whether anyone was going to catch me. As it turned out the guy who had passed me on the last climb out of the Snowshoe loop was the last to do so. After that I ran alone for the entire second loop apart from meeting a few 25K folks and two 50K guys I passed in the final few miles.

The first climb wasn’t so bad and as I continued on through AS 1 things were going fine. Not exactly feeling great but my legs felt strong. No aches or pains yet. I had a quick bathroom break before the stairs and continued around back to AS 2 where I took a few strawberries. I was a little behind on my gels/nuun but felt like I was getting enough calories. Ran the hill back out onto the prairie – the last of the bigger hills that I would run! I enjoyed the Africa loop as it gave my legs a nice break before the downhill and another pass through AS 3. I should really have topped up my water bottle here but kept moving. The gravel hill was tough but not a complete mind crusher. By the time I was heading down Nigel’s Hill my left knee was hurting pretty bad. I’d had a few twinges earlier but now it hurt every time I ran downhill. It’s the IT band pulling on the outside of the knee – a problem I’ve had for a few months. I was getting PT for a while and the foam roller helps but of course it hasn’t been sore for a few weeks now so I’d abandoned the foam rolling. Nice time to be reminded of that.

Along the river and then back up my nemesis... the overall average pace had fallen to 8:50 earlier and before long it was close to 9:00. I couldn’t believe it – how quickly it seems to slow and how difficult it would be to take it back down again... especially since I couldn’t go all out on the downhills with my knee bugging me. In an attempt to get rid of the song that was still going around in my head I tried to come up with a new mantra to deal with these hills. It was no good just complaining or getting annoyed with how quickly I seemed to be fading. Running angry does not suit me. Guessing that he wasn’t an ultra runner (though I am sure someone will correct me) “What would Jesus do” wasn’t going to work and then I remembered a training run a few months back with Duke, Eve and John where I’d been in complete awe of how easy Eve made this hill look... “What would Eve do” – now this was what I needed to be thinking. The only reason I was in first place at all was because this lady was not running so I figured I’d draw some inspiration from the performances she’d put in here over the years. It worked. At least for a few minutes. Up that beast and through the campground and back down to AS 4 where I got refilled, a few more strawberries, coke, lots of coke, and a request for new legs that was quickly dismissed by Pierre. And off along by the river again. Oh how I was looking forward to walking/crawling back down there after the finish to soak...

I was tired now. And just in case I needed another reason to moan a blister had formed under each of my big toes. It was a struggle a get my pace back down in the 8’s. A lot of calculating what pace I needed to keep in order to finish under 4:40. I figured an overall average of 9:00 minute pace would be 4:39 something so that was my goal. And since there was no sign of anyone behind me I decided I definitely wanted to win also! That put a spring in my step for all of 30 seconds as first my body resisted and then my mind... Why oh why could I not just be happy with running for the joy of running????

I was glad to finally hit the Meat Grinder so that I would legitimately walk! It was tough but at that stage the countdown was starting and I was just focused on getting to AS 5. Didn’t run nearly as much of this hill second time around though I made a better effort once out on the ski trails and felt like I was picking it up a bit by the time I hit the AS. Refilled and took a few strawberries and downed 3 cups of coke in less than 5 seconds which amused Nancy! Complained about my IT band to Tom who I think was just surprised to see that I hadn’t fallen at all...

4:12. OK – if I was going to hit 4:40 I had to put this baby to bed in 28 minutes. I think last year it took 29 on the second loop so I wasn’t sure it was going to happen but off I went with a mission. Made good progress through the first mostly downhill section – knee was sore but not awful. Through the ravine at a decent pace and then it was time to turn uphill. Uh oh... this was going to be the difference vs round 1. And there was no point calling on Eve for inspiration now – if she were out here she’d already be across the finish line!! Hiked up and over the crest until it started to slope downwards. I really could have started to run sooner but my motivation was slipping. Out into the long grass where I picked up the pace again and then my calves started to cramp. I’d felt them a little bit earlier but now it was full on and I knew that if I pushed it too hard I’d be walking. So I kept things under control and made my way back into the woods, through the other side of the ravine. I love this section so much where the track gets narrow and it’s mostly downhill with a few bumps, over the fallen tree, and then that short steep uphill. I was able to run it but rather than my usual uphill forefoot running I had to plant my heel to avoid my calves cramping completely. Then out of the trees and under the bridge. Quick check on the watch. 4:33. It had taken me exactly 7 minutes to get to the AS on the first loop... Could it be done? Through the woods again, a smile on my face as I neared the end of this race but I was really on the edge here trying to keep the legs moving just fast enough – through the short grassy section and up that monster of a climb. Walking of course, and not keeping anything resembling ‘form’ – 4:37... almost at the top... soon turned to 4:38 and I knew it was unlikely but at least I could run again now. Around a few turns and I could see the line of cars. A few hundred yards, 4:40:29 would still really be 4:40. Right? But alas as I motored down the ‘finishing chute’ the clock ticked over the half minute... and this ain’t no BQ race – it must be rounded up! And as I write this (and no doubt as you are reading this) - I am thinking is WTF - like 10 seconds really matters in a 50K race? But at the time...

[7/7 update - official time 4:41:12 (9:04 pace) - I guess all that sweat in my eyes blurred my vision!]

So the exact same time as Chippewa a few months back. Overall I was very happy. Felt decent enough for most of the race. Probably didn’t have enough electrolytes – will have to look at a mix of nuun and S-caps. And of course I was delighted to win. A girl can never have enough interesting ‘artwork’ :)

Tanya and Patty were at the finish line having run the 25K. After a quick chat with a few folks I headed over the car to grab my Recoverite and we made our way down to the water. I was determined to get a good soak in! Not quite ice-bath temps but I made up for that later. Back up and got changed into some clean clothes, had some food and enjoyed a few hours catching up with everyone.

As always, it was great to see so many familiar faces on the starting line and along the way at the AS and at the finish line. Congrats to Matt for taking first overall. And a huge thanks to John, Alicia and all the volunteers who make this race what it is.


Race photos courtesy of
Londell Pease, Jen Pierce, Tanya Kroll, Bryan Cochran & John Maas - thanks folks!

A confused Helen wondering what a timing mat is doing at a trail race...

Listening to sound advice from the RD: "Run as hard as you can for as long as you can"

It's hardly a hill but that little rise to AS 3 always seems to get me!

Amazing the creatures that hide out in the woods at Afton!

At AS 4 on the second loop my coke addiction took over - more of the same at AS 5!

With an eye on the clock willing it to slow down...

When I did find pins I made sure they stayed on!

Happy to be done!

Where this year's adventure all started... the icy cool November water would have actually felt good yesterday!

It's already on the wall!

And to think we once ran roads!

Afton 50K - Splits

For anyone interested I thought I'd post my splits. The garmin read it a bit short - which I guess meant I was going a little faster than my average pace was showing. I think.


Mile - Up - Down - Pace
1 -- 240 -- 328 -- 8:26
2 -- 224 -- 60 -- 8:18
3 -- 371 -- 435 -- 8:51
4 -- 353 -- 377 -- 9:02
5 -- 194 -- 128 -- 8:37
6 -- 148 -- 352 -- 7:56
7 -- 419 -- 148 -- 9:14
8 -- 91 -- 358 -- 7:43
9 -- 481 -- 232 -- 9:56
10 -- 98 -- 366 -- 7:43
11 -- 292 -- 107 -- 8:42
12 -- 364 -- 383 -- 7:58
13 -- 95 -- 101 -- 7:53
14 -- 402 -- 364 -- 10:19
15 -- 273 -- 257 -- 9:33
16 -- 58 -- 255 -- 7:52
17 -- 459 -- 213 -- 10:08
18 -- 90 -- 255 -- 7:58
19 -- 468 -- 429 -- 10:11
20 -- 473 -- 325 -- 10:07
21 -- 95 -- 265 -- 8:29
22 -- 665 -- 508 -- 10:40
23 -- 129 -- 380 -- 8:30
24 -- 604 -- 312 -- 11:45
25 -- 158 -- 492 -- 9:06
26 -- 95 -- 62 -- 8:24
27 -- 382 -- 191 -- 11:27
28 -- 90 -- 140 -- 9:13
29 -- 345 -- 262 -- 11:12
30 -- 300 -- 382 -- 9:11
30.71 -- 137 -- 175 -- 9:07
30.71 - 8,593 - 8,642 - 9:09

Finish Time: 4:41:09

Results not yet posted but I think my official finish time was under 4:41. Though I remember reading a pace of 9:04 on the results board and that would be more like 4:41:30.

Oh well... enough worrying about those few seconds :)

7/7 update: Official time 4:41:12, pace 9:04