2009 promised to be a different story. And so it was...
Eric, Guy, Kami and I met at Lifetime in Plymouth at 4:30am. Delightful hour to be setting off at. At least I was feeling better than the same hour Friday morning - after a too rare tuna steak on Thursday night I spent many hours between the bathroom and my bed until finally my stomach started to settle down by lunchtime yesterday. To offset the dehydration I took several electrolyte drinks for the rest of the evening and felt like I was almost back to normal by this morning.
The drive was pretty uneventful - comapred to last year where we got lost in the snow and arrived 10 minutes before race start. This time we got there right at 7am, checked-in (since I had already signed up before earning a 'free' entry Wynn graciously allowed Kami to use it) and had plenty of time to get organized and chat with just about every trail runner I know from MN or WI! The men's field was pretty stacked - Andy Holak, Chris Gardener, John Storkamp, Adam Harmer and several other names I knew but was less familiar with. Joe Z was also there coming off a super run at Trail Mix last weekend. Steve Q was on his 3-weekend streak - great stuff! And I got to meet Nic just a few minutes before we took off. Hoping not to see him again until I finished and then he finished :)
It had rained pretty solidly for most of the drive but had eased off as we got close to Chippewa Falls and by the time we were getting ready to gather for Wynn's pre-race briefing it was actually pretty pleasant with temperatures probably in the mid-40's. So I decided to ditch the light rain jacket and just go with longsleeves over a tank top and shorts. And hat. Worked great - got a little hot at times and I could probably have taken off the hat but it wasn't really bothering me. After describing the course, markings, aid stations, etc - the cowbell was rang and off we went - down a ridiculously steep hill start. Knowing that the out and back course would end with this climb! But we weren't thinking about that right now...
The first mile or so was pretty wide grassy trail so there was plenty of space and time to figure out where to fit into the pack before we hit the singletrack. The front guys sped off into the distance and I settled into a nice pace with a few guys ahead of me and Eric behind me. We stayed pretty much that way for the first several miles until I started to pass a few people as I felt like my legs were ready to pick it up a little. I figured I'd follow the same strategy as Terrapin and just go with how my legs felt and not worry too much about heart rate. Not that I was wearing my HRM but I had a fair idea that I was hitting my threshold more than I should be! Those rolling hills really pushed me. It was hard to catch a break. Very little opportunity to relax into a smooth pace.
I refilled my water bottle at the first AS at around 5 miles and kept moving pretty quickly. I decided to stick with gels and clif blocks and water. This has worked well for me in the last several ultras. And apparently has not gone unnoticed - the guys were saying on the ride home that my race reports have become more about running and less about eating :)
If only I could translate my disciplined running eating habits to real life.
I continued to feel good through the next section, running by myself pretty much all the time. I refilled water again at the next AS but ran through the following one just a mile or two later. At that point I was focused on the turnaround. I knew it would not come as soon as I hoped but I felt like I was making good progress and was just hoping I had not gone out too fast. As I write this I am still not sure if I did or not.
The trail was in great shape. A few muddy sections here and there but nothing that lasted more than a few yards and nothing too messy. Of course that didn't stop me falling. And then there were the boardwalks. Thankfully I managed to stay upright on those. Some were very slippery on the way out. A few people did take a spill with some nice bruising to show for it. But nothing compared to Bruce's swim last year. The lakes were beautiful. Wynn reckons he's counted 55 in total along the trail and I would believe it. I would love to come back and run here again in the fall.
Just over 2 hours in I met the lead guys - John was first and his usual focused self, followed by Andy and a few others close behind including Chris, Joe and Adam. It was great to see them all running strong. Though I knew the speed they were going meant I still had some distance to cover. I hit the turnaround with 2:18 on the clock. Happy with that. Now, to just get back in around the same time. When planning my 2009 races, assuming the weather would be decent and the trail in good shape, I'd set my goal at 4:40. I figured that was still possible. It was great to see Julie B and Eve (another super run at Trail Mix last weekend) and others at the turnaround. Huge thanks to all the volunteers and supporters along the way. And to the photographers - Londell and Bryan seemed to be everywhere!
The return journey started out pretty well. I was just behind a guy that I'd almost caught at the turnaround and we ran together for the next 5 miles. When we got to the AS he 'complained' that I was torturing him but he was glad I was behind him a few minutes later when he kept going straight on the road instead of turning left onto the trail... good thing I got his attention as I don't think I was able for a sprint to catch him!
I'd met Nic a few minutes after turning around. He was telling me to slow down but I was pretty sure that even without that he'd be catching me at some point. Oh well... we couldn't have him getting chicked, right??!! A few minutes later, I met the next female, Karen S, whom I had the chance to chat to after the race. I was more focused on hitting my goal time than winning the race but no question I was happy to be out in front and seeing someone no more than 10 mins behind was a good incentive. I enjoyed the out and back course as it meant seeing so many people along the way. For the most part everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves - definitely more smiling faces than last year! I was glad to see Eric running strong, and Kami enjoying herself as always, running with Todd and Pierre when I met her. And Guy looking great on his first 50K. Good choice for your first!
My stomach had been doing pretty well most of the run but I was feeling a bit queasy soon after half way. I remembered the porta-loo at the next AS (a welcome luxury!) so held on for that. Things settled down and I continued to take either a gel or 2-3 clif blocks every 30 minutes or so. And electrolytes also though probably not enough given the layer of salt on my face at the finish. The next few miles I started to hurt and felt like I was slowing down a lot though in reality I was probably moving at about the same pace as the way out. I'd moved ahead of the guy I'd been running behind and was passed by another guy so mostly I was running by myself. I'd really enjoyed the several miles by myself on the way out but at this point I could have done with someone to follow or push me. My right knee was a little painful from time to time but nothing too severe. My foot was the main issue. The ball of my right foot has been numb since Terrapin - due to a trapped nerve along the inside of my ankle. The PT massaging and lasering it seemed to be working at first but this past week it seemed to get worse. It hasn't been bothering me too much during my runs but after a few hours out there it was bugging me. And I was also getting a blister along the side of my foot which is weird given that I was wearing my usual Asics Gel Trail Attacks - albeit a new pair which have been ungraded slightly. Still, I think it's more to do with the numbness issue rather than the shoes. At my last session the PT mentioned I may have a cyst given that it's not getting any better so I'll probably have to get it imaged next week. Anyway, no excuses. I am just not in as good a shape as I'd hoped to be at the end of April. With
Back to the trail... I was so glad to see the final AS at mile 26.5. Karen was taking care of things and Nic's parents were also there. It wouldn't be long until they'd see him coming through. Checked the watch and started to count down the miles. I left there right at 11:45am so I'd have to say it might be a bit longer than 4.5 miles... Wynn does mention "Horton miles" in the race info and I know all about them. I knew it was about 2 miles from the section where you are right below the visitor center so I figured I'd just not think about the finish line until then. 20 minutes later Nic blew by me - he was running so strong. No chance of me staying with him. In fact, the thought didn't enter my head. I did wonder though if it had been a girl would I have tried to pick it up? I am not sure I'd have been able to. Despite all the blog commentry the past few weeks I was delighted to see how well he was running. Negative splits always feel good!
I was really counting down the minutes at this stage. Trying not to look at the watch too often but hearing shouts in the distance so I knew that the trail would pass by the visitor center before long. I had to walk a few of the hills along here. Earlier in the day I'd had grand ideas of not walking any hill... that lasted oh until about mile 8! The course might not have the same climbs as Afton but the constant rolling hills were taking their toll on me. Tried to pick it up in that final mile of singletrack before hitting the grassy section and seeing the finish area. I could make out a few guys spread out ahead of me. Just getting through it now. Knowing that delightful hill was ahead of me. As I was nearing the bottom of the climb I could see Nic heading towards the finish line. I ended up more than a minute behind him so that's how slow I was moving up that hill! A few people - including Eric and Kami - actually ran that hill. Not me. Even with Nancy taking photographs at the top!
Oh it was so nice to turn right at the top of the hill and run down the finishing chute. 4:41:20. Close enough to my goal. I would have been happier to feel stronger in the final few miles but I can't complain. Nothing good comes easy. Another beautiful finishers print from Wynn - and the fine piece of artwork that comes with being the first female across the line. As he explained later it was basically put together with 'bits of crap I picked up while out running trails'. How appropriate!
Thanks for the photo Matt!
A few bowls of chilli, my recovery drink, another recovery drink (although, the photographic evidence below would suggest I stuck with the former thus losing the second battle of the day!), and several bottles of water later I was feeling somewhat human again. It was great hanging out with everyone for a few hours while we watched all the runners finish. Sharing stories from today and other recent outings on the trails. A huge thanks to Wynn for an awesome race, and to co-RDs Adam and Matt. Congrats to all who participated in what is quickly becoming a must-do on everyone's race calendar.
(staged) Photo courtesy of Nic
A final piece of advice: when taking an ice bath (which I highly recommend after a hard run) I'd suggest reading material other than "Swimming to Antartica" - it's a wonderful book about an amazing lady - but it reads much better if you're wrapped up in a warm blanket as opposed to sitting in 20lbs of ice!
Thanks to Karen S who sent along the link to her local paper which featured the race - clearly Andy didn't have enough dirt to get photographed :)