Monday, December 20, 2010

Tuscobia Winter Ultramarathon

First of all - I did NOT do this race :)

Even if I had not run Hellgate last weekend I suspect this would not have been in my plan... but I am intrigued by it and perhaps next year I'll try the 50K as a Hellgate recovery run!

The reason for my posting on the Tuscobia Winter Ultramarathon is that I want to congratulate the winner of the 150 mile foot race (and indeed all of the participants in all divisions in the three races). Yes, you read that correctly. ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY MILES on FOOT, on a SNOW mobile trail, PULLING a SLED!

I am tried just writing about it...

Chris Scotch, who's name comes up a few times in my Hellgate report below, ran his first ultra in July of this year. I guess you could say he was hooked. Read about his passion for running but also for supporting a wonderful cause on his website "Where's Chris Scotch". While there, perhaps think about donating a certain number of cents per mile :)

On Friday morning, he along with 3 other intrepid adventurers set out on foot from Park Falls in Northern Wisconsin, heading west for 75 miles on the Tuscobia State Trail to Rice Lake, and back again. The temperatures were in the single digits for most of the daylight hours, falling below zero F at night. There were two aid stations (in motel rooms) along the way, in Winter (appropriately named) and Birchwood.

Chris won the race in approximately 60:25, crossing the finish line just before 7:30pm last night.

His body is currently deciding if it ever wants to speak to him again.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hellgate 2010

A few things I learned this past weekend –

1. The race is actually 66.6 miles long (I thought it was merely a 66 mile 100K).
2. My pain threshold is way higher than previously believed.
3. Having crew rocks!
4. The hour before dawn is the most incredible time to run through the woods.
5. Always take the bacon.

Going into this year’s race I knew I was not anywhere close to last year’s level of fitness. I wasn’t exactly proud of it, but I was okay about it. The past few months have been a whirlwind time in so many different ways (mostly good) and training simply had to take a backseat. And when needed, I could always pull out the old "foot surgery in June" excuse. No one had to know that it was minor and I was back running within 6 weeks! Oh and that I had run a 100K race in August...

The other major difference with this year’s race was that I knew the course. I knew what to expect. Last year was not only my first Hellgate but I had also failed to research the course other than to read Aaron Schwartzbard’s musings (which turned out to be a Godsend). On the flight to DC last week, I read my report from last year and jotted down some predicted times for Chris so he’d have an idea when to expect me at the aid stations. I knew the weather was going to be much "warmer" than last year but I didn’t really think the cold had bothered me much and I figured less ice but possibly some deep snow wouldn’t make that much of a difference to the terrain. So I mostly based my plans off how I was feeling compared to last year. I came up with 15 hours as my goal. I know that most people thought I was sand-bagging, something I may have been guilty of in the past... but I honestly didn’t feel that I could do much better than that. Two 30 mile training runs in November, following two ~25 milers in October (one of them being TCM) were about the extent of it. Coupled with being a good 10lbs heavier than 12 months ago (which was already above average for most runners). I set my focus on enjoying the race as best I could, putting one foot in front of the other, staying positive and being thankful I am able to do this. My competitive nature hoped that would still result in a top 5 spot. I very much wanted one of those Patagonia shirts!

After catching up with folks at the pre-race dinner and briefing, we organized my gear and I slept for about 30 minutes in the car. One of the lovely things about this race is the finish area at Camp Bethel with it's great facilities. We took off from there at 11PM following a long line of cars to the start area near Natural Bridge. The race takes place in the Jefferson National Forest, criss-crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail several times. The first twenty miles of the race has a lot of road but mostly just on the long uphill sections so it doesn't make a whole lot of difference to me when I'm hiking those climbs anyway.

After a final check on gear, a hug from Chris, followed by a photo...

... the National Anthem led by Sheryl, it was 12:01AM and we were off! This is what we had to look forward to...

Start to AS1 Forest Service Road 35 (4.0 miles)*

*For this years report I am just going with Keith's numbers as they are definitely more accurate that Horton's. In fact, this year I didn't even look at the mileage sign at any AS!

I kept a nice relaxed pace all though here as the trail meandered uphill at a gentle grade through the forest. The trail was wide at first with plenty of space for people to pass back and forth. I settled in a little behind Sheryl and Zsuzsanna, as a few other women went ahead (at least that's what I thought). The creek was lower than last year and I went across it much slower with the result that I didnt get wet. But I made up for that shortly afterwards. Through AS1 quickly just taking a mouthful of water.

AS1 to AS2 Petites Gap (3.9 miles)

From here the trail turns to road and up, up, up we go. This is one of my favorite sections of the course. It's early so the body still feels ok. It dark and quiet out but not much wind until closer to the aid station at the top. I caught up with Sheryl and we ran / hiked the next few miles together. It was nice to get to know her a bit. I'd first met her at Sawtooth 100 in September where she killed the last 10 miles of the course after a horribly wet and cold night in the woods. She took the lead in that race at around mile 95 (of 102.7) and went on to win by about an hour. And I knew she capable of doing the same thing here.

The road switched back several times so that we could see a line of headlamps above and below us. Like Christmas lights! I went ahead a bit on my own and turned off my headlamp for a few minutes to soak up the surroundings, trying to get my head around what would unfold over the next several hours. I knew it wouldn't be easy. But I also felt like these early sections were clicking along okay and that I could look forward to seeing Chris at AS4 (mile ~25) and all the aid stations after that. It would prove to be a great help as things got tougher.

I reached AS2 at 1:32AM, deciding to look at my watch much earlier this year. I figured it would be helpful for next year's planning! I took a cup of coke and a few pretzels and headed off. There were several runners at the AS with me and I heard one of the volunteers say "first women through here" but I wasn't paying too much attention to who was around me. Too early for that.

AS2 to AS3 Camping Gap (6.1 miles)

Soon after leaving the AS we began a long downhill on rocky trail. Perhaps one of the hardest things about this race is the constantly changing terrain from non-technical to technical to very technical... I am used to the rocky and rooty trails in the upper Midwest but what kills me here are the loose rocks - I am not confident enough to cruise down these hills knowing a twisted ankle is never far away. Having said that I think I do go for it a bit more when I'm in good shape as I know I'm running "lighter" and my reaction times are quicker. On this occasion I was happy to let several guys go by me as I proceeded with caution. Though it didn't stop me from falling on the now snowy trail and twisting my knee a little. I was just after taking my first gel and the fall made me a bit nauseous for a few minutes. I knew the trail eventually came out on road and soon enough it was time for more climbing. I was happy enough about that as my legs were still feeling good but I could tell I wasn't hiking as fast as last year with the same effort.

I was alone for most of this section and felt pretty relaxed but was happy to smell the fire and round the turn into AS3 at around 3500 ft. Several runners gathered around the wonderful spread - the volunteers do an awesome job considering the conditions at this race. I am sure they were every bit as happy as the runners to not have the biting cold wind this year. Coke, pretzels and I was off.

AS3 to AS4 Headforemost Mountain (9.8 miles)

3:01AM. Not so bad. I knew the next section would be a long one. I'd told Chris to expect me anywhere between 5:00-5:30AM. So I settled in for a few hours of navigating the mix of dirt road and trail, up and down, all the while looking across to the left seeing headlamps bobbing in the distance. I laughed at how that had frustrated me a little last year seeing how far I had yet to go but this year it felt more like those lights were showing me the way. The trail weaved in and out along the side of the mountain. The thin crescent moon was visible amongst the trees and the lights of several towns far below and off in the distance once again reminded me of how few people get to do this.

As it got closer to 5AM I figured I didn't have too far to go now and was really looking forward to seeing Chris. I had another gel along here and met up Mosi who was running his first Hellgate. He was kind enough to help me up when I attempted to run along an icy section and ended up in a heap!

Chris had come down the trail a ways and we ran the flat section into the aid station which had been moved out to the road this year. I stopped briefly to get a cup of tomato soup, coke and a few pretzels. Off we went across the Parkway (at 5:19AM) and up the snowy trail. Thankfully no repeat of last year's face-plant! Chris hiked with me for several minutes before heading back to check on the competition :)

He thought one woman had gone by while he was waiting for me. Still too early to think about it!

AS4 to AS5 Jennings Creek (6.4 miles)

I was looking forward to the next section knowing there was quite a bit of downhill and that it was one of the shorter sections. Pretty much everything hurt at this stage. Worst was the tightness in the back of both knees. I'm no stranger to tight hamstrings but this was something new and more intense than I would have liked at just over a third of the race down. The other issue was my abs (or lack thereof) - I was being made fully aware of the extra pounds I was carrying with every step of downhill!

Lots of snow for the next few miles. It probably slowed things down a little but was a welcome change from the loose rocks. I rolled an ankle and went down on my right knee again but no lasting damage. A few guys passed me early on but I ran mostly by myself through this section. A few creek crossings as the trail widened and wound it's way downhill towards Jennings Creek a.k.a The Breakfast aid station. Last year I rolled in here with a bloody nose with the result that I had to get my picture taken... this year was a much less dramatic occasion though I was pleased to be told I was in fact the first female through here. Though Chris couldn't quite tell how my brain was working when I asked him how far back the others were and started talking about how long the next section would take me and who I expected to pass me. He pretty much told me to shut up which was what I needed to hear. Though for all the whining and complaining I was doing to him, I was actually pretty happy most of the time I was on the trail!

The usual routine of coke and pretzels and off we went. Chris gave me a few gels and an S-cap. 6:34AM. I was happy enough with my progress given that I was only 25 minutes behind last year but I was worried that the pain I was experiencing was only going to get worse and that pretty soon I'd be losing time. But for now I just thought of putting one foot in front of the other and running when I could.

AS5 to AS6 Little Cove Mountain (7.6 miles)

I have to say I really enjoyed this section. I had forgotten there was so much road climbing back up from Jennings Creek but I didn't mind it right now. I tried to stretch out my calves and hamstrings as best I could on the uphill and kept a good pace going. I was alone for the first few miles and it was so beautiful winding up the mountain in the pre-dawn light. I began to get glimpses of the surrounding mountains and valleys as the sunlight filtered through the trees. I passed a guy near the top who looked pretty cold. I wished I had stuffed the extra pair of handwarmers in my pack to give him. My own were almost used up by that time. They worked a treat last year between a liner glove and my mitts but this year that system was generating too much heat so I ran most of the way just carrying a mitt with handwarmer inside in each hand and putting them on from time to time.

Things started to hurt a little on the downhill again but even after the dirt road turned to trail it wasn't super technical so I was able keep a decent pace. I was hoping to make it to Bearwallow Gap by 8:30AM at the latest so I was really pleased when I hit the short section of flat paved road at the bottom of the trail and it was only 7:30. What I had forgotten was how long the next uphill to the aid station was... Ahhh why did this not seem so long last year? I hiked alongside a guy as several crew cars passed us in both directions. I tried not to think too much about my tight legs and aching lower back, focused on seeing my super-crew again soon, and the fact that I was at around the halfway mark and the wheels hadn't fallen off the bus. Yet.

Chris was sitting along the road a short way down from the AS. I ran alongside him up to the car, dopped my headlamps, gloves and mitts and asked him for my other pair of gloves, continued up to the aid station - took the bacon that was on offer - Yum! Coke, pretzels, and off we went down the trail. These quick transitions were good not only for saving time but also mentally for me to just keep moving forward and not start to think too much about how I was feeling. 8:06AM. Two things struck me - I had run that section faster than last year and despite the sore muscles, it didn't feel like I'd been moving for eight hours. Chris told me the next ladies had come through AS5 about ten minutes after me. I just had to keep it going...

AS6 to AS7 Bearwallow Gap (8.6 miles)

I was looking forward to the next section. I knew it would be tough. But I had fond memories of it last year as this was section where things really started to 'click' for me and I was able gain quite a bit of time on the leaders. This year my task was not to get caught!

We started out on a downhill which felt good at first. I put a smile on my face and tried to forget about the aches and pains. I had about 30 miles to go but was just taking it one section at a time. I knew the knee-deep leaves section was coming along soon but was pleasantly surprised to find them a bit lower this year and I just felt less cautious running through here - perhaps with the earlier ankle rolls I figured I'd survive another few if it came to it. The beauty of having experienced more than one severe roll during training runs is that I know exactly that break point between short term pain and long term injury :)

I passed one guy at the top of the next descent as we started down the tight switchbacks. A little later I met up with Aaron at roughly the same spot I'd passed him last year - I asked him to chat up the ladies if they came by to slow them down. The section rolled along okay through here, there were a few creek crossings, more ups and down but nothing too remarkable. I knew I was cruising along here faster than expected and definitely faster than my body would have liked but I figured I may as well do what I can now to stay ahead. I didn't know what I'd have left for the next section, or the one after that, but figured trying to convince myself I was feeling strong was a good enough strategy. If nothing else it kept my mind occupied for a few miles.

Towards the end of the section I came upon fellow Minnesotan Dan who was capping off a fine year of racing with his first 100K. We were heading downhill through more deep leaves, across a creek and up the other side. Didn't feel much like climbing but I knew we had to be close. Crossed a road, a short wooded section and soon the aid station came into view. Picked it up a bit and I was there. Greeted by Chris as well as Horton himself and Sophie was there too - it was awesome to see her - despite her giving me a hard time about my 15 hour goal!! I may have been smiling but my legs were ready to argue that it was an entirely sensible goal. Adam C was there also, crewing for Corey, the other of the MN trio. Horton asked if I was ready to crank it up. Hah!

Grabbed a handful of pretzels and smiled for the camera - or is that a pained expression that Sophie captured? Cup of coke and we headed out. 9:54AM. Getting there. Chris told me that Rebekah had come into the last AS 15 mins after me and there were several other girls on the way up the hill as he was driving back down. I was delighted to hear Rebekah (a Hellgate veteran) was having a good race and made a comment that she could pass me but no one else. To which Chris responded that he only heard the last part.

AS7 to AS8 Bobblets Gap (6.1 miles)

I knew within minutes of leaving the aid station that I'd have a tough time getting to the next one. I'd really pushed it in the last section. But I tried to think of the distance as being shorter and couldn't really remember the first half so tried to keep a positive outlook. And then as the climbing continued up to the ridge line and beyond the doubts started to creep in... This was the section where I'd surely be caught.

Still, my legs had finally loosened up - evidence that, when it comes to ultras, things never always don't get better. The pain behind my left knee was completely gone and my right one wasn't so bad. I didn't dare try to stop and stretch out for fear I'd tweak something but just keeping the best pace I could seemed to be working. The hardest thing here was to run everything that was not a steep climb. Several times I would catch myself walking when I knew I should be running. A few miles in, this becomes the "repeat" section. Picture the trail as it hugs the side of the mountain to your left with fabulous views of the valley below to your right; it swings around the corner left, goes slightly downhill for 30 yards, takes a sharp right, goes uphill at a mostly gentle grade for a hundred yards, swings around the corner left... and so on and on and... next year, to distract myself, I plan to count just how many times it does this!

I met two guys coming against me who told me there were six guys waiting to be passed - they were "right there" apparently! I thought about asking them how far but decided I probably wouldn't like the answer. I was right as a few minutes later Chris was out the trail to meet me and figured he'd covered close to a mile. Ugh! Still, it was great to see him and funnily enough he'd called out to me just as Robert was going by him which turned out to be just the impetus Robert needed to switch into "get 'er done" mode. He was off like a shot, gaining 17 minutes on me in the last 15 miles!!

We made it to the aid station at 11:14. Slower than I'd hoped but I was cheered up by Chris telling me that he'd waited 20 minutes at the last aid station and none of the women had come through. Still not out of the woods, in all senses, but getting there... just get through one more long section and the last up and down over the mountain will take care if itself.

Chicken noodle soup, pretzels, coke. Took a few gels from Chris and down the hill we went.

AS8 to AS9 Day Creek (7.8 miles)

Chris ran with me for a half mile or so before heading off to the final AS. Then a few minutes later Mario came cruising by! Man, he looked good on the downhill. I was surprised to catch sight of him a mile or so later upon leaving the road and heading into the woods winding uphill at first. But he had it on the downhills and was able to finish strong. I knew this section would go on FOREVER but I set a goal of 2 hours and just settled in. I had my splits from last year written down and in my pack (I guess I'm competitive with myself even when I'm not competitive) and thought it had taken me 1:45 so I figured I would for sure be slower this time. Turns out I'd misread it and it was 1:30 last year but the upshot was that I felt pretty good when I did make it through here in 1:45!

Things rolled along okay through the woods. I was sore all over but a lot happier than I expected to be. Just one more aid station. As with the earlier sections the leaves didn't seem as bad as last year. Though I did still manage a fall bringing my count to 3. Not bad. I tried to break down this section to figure out how much there might be left to go. I figured we must have covered close to 3 miles by the time we left the road and there was a long downhill to the aid station. And surely I've done a few miles in the woods already... and Chris will likely have time to get out the trail a ways to meet me so maybe just 30 minutes until I see him... and then it would seem like no time to the aid station... it all helped!! And then, something weird happened. Last year I met a guy coming opposite me as I crossed a creek. I was so ready to be done and wasn't at all happy when he told me it was about 18 minutes to the AS. At the time I was so disappointed to hear it was more than five minutes that I didn't think it was odd to get such a specific response. It took me exactly 18 minutes to reach the AS. This year I half expected to meet someone at the creek. Instead, a little further along I met the same two guys I'd met in the previous section. I joked with them that I had yet to find those 6 guys. I hesitated but then asked "how far?" About 15 minutes came the reply. It took me exactly that.

I met Chris a few minutes later and was so happy to be that close. I felt like I'd done ok in that section but wasn't convinced it would be enough. So I cautiously asked "how far back?" He started by saying no one had come in to the last AS while he was there but he didn't want to miss me here so he'd left. Oh right, so you didn't wait long? No... just an hour. I think I hit him.

Got to the AS, a few swigs of red bull, a handful of pretzels, an orange quarter and off I went.

AS9 to The Finish (5.7 miles)

I won't lie, I was thrilled to know that the win was mine for the taking. I knew the time would not be stellar. I figured a little over 14 hours at this point. Certainly not a time I would have expected to win this race considering the very pleasant conditions. But I guess that's the beauty of racing, the unpredictable nature of it. I knew that early on Chris was thinking I was giving up a little or resigning myself to the fact that I'd get passed but I wasn't being deliberately negative. I just needed to think about it logically and be okay with what might transpire. I don't race well if I'm putting myself under pressure and being mentally aggressive. If my mind is calm I find that my body can do the aggressive racing much better.

So here I was, the FINAL section... 3 miles up, 3 miles down. I could see one guy ahead of me on the trail as I left the AS at 11:59AM. I caught up with him after about a mile and we hiked along together, the time going by quickly as we chatted about our races. Both very happy to be within striking distance of the finish line.

40 minutes to the Parkway. Towards the top I had seen two more guys a few hundred yards ahead. I really wanted to run the downhill as hard as I could but I guess they did too :)

Five minutes went by, I figured if I could run this as fast as last year I'd make 14:05 so that was now my goal. The wide trail wound it's way down the mountain, getting less technical the farther down I got.

I met Sophie's smiling face around one corner and soon after there was Chris. Yay! Can't be far now... we hit the road a few minutes later. And then the 1-mile to go sign. Yes, of course I checked my watch. I knew last year's 6:30 wasn't going to happen but thought it'd be "fun" to see what I could do. I was making a lot of weird sounds while Chris was doing his best to encourage me. But Camp Bethel wouldn't come soon enough! Finally, the last turn, the wooden fence, into the camp and the few hundred yards to the finish line. 7 minutes flat. 14:05:24.

Horton there to greet us. I told him that training definitely helps with this race. Jenny was there too - how cool was that! Thanks for sticking around :)

We sat on the grass for a few minutes. I wanted to let it all sink in before heading inside. I've done some stupid things in my life and pushing my body well beyond it's level of training for 14+ hours may have been one of them. But in that moment, it was the most amazing and gratifying experience of my running career. And I got to share it with my favourite person.

Thank you to everyone who makes this race possible - David, Clark, the many students and other aid station workers who take such great care of us under tough circumstances, the medical team and all of the other volunteers who give their time and energy to allow us to do something truly special on a cold December night in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I hope to be back in 2011 - with the goal of training like 2009 and racing like 2010!

Merry Christmas folks. And remember, always take the bacon.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Getting caught up!

Life gets busy, doesn't it?


- Is going okay. Not great, but okay. And right now I am happy with okay.
- Training for Hellgate took a few hits between a lot of travel and, er, something called Beer Relays which I do not recommend the night before a planned 30 mile training run...
- Two 30 mile runs (on days not following Beer Relays) at Murphy in November was as good as it got and minimal hill training having not made it to Hyland in a long time. And the planned night run at Afton over Thanksgiving got reduced to 10 miles with about an hour before dawn. But heck it was a beautiful run. Followed by a lovely time catching up with friends and "family" at the Pederson Benefit Run. Check out the link if you didn't make it out there.
- So the race starts at midnight tonight. I am super excited about it. I know that I am way off my fitness and training level from last year but I am thrilled to be able to run a race like this. The last few months of "downtime" have been good great for me! It's a race I hope to do for many years to come. Last year I had a goal of 14 hours and despite wanting to drop at mile 20, followed by a mini pity-party-for-Helen when I took a good spill, I was able to get my head into it, knew I had put the training in, and ended up smiling my way through the second half, finishing in 13:25. I have no such expectations this year though I suppose I'd like to finish in under 15 hours if I can. I will go out easy again and just see if I can keep it going.
- After this race, I'll be traveling for the next few weeks, CA for work, back to Ireland for Christmas, MN for New Years and more work travel in January. So my plan is to just run when I feel like it and try to get back into a better routine of yoga and spin next month. I don't care so much that I am not in good shape right now but I do have BIG plans for 2011 so I need to get back a bit of discipline!


- Is an incredible journey. I wasn't looking, but I found it. And it's great. Just great.
- The weeks and months are flying by way too fast. It's busy, always busy. But in a good way. And anyway, I wouldn't be happy if it wasn't.
- I had a wonderful time in Hawaii in October (there is a draft post somewhere with photos that I will eventually get back to!) - my Mum & sister came to visit and after a fun weekend in MN over the Twin Cities Marathon weekend, we headed off to Kona for a week, toured the island, enjoyed the beautiful beaches, amazing scenery, the Volcano, sunset from atop Mauna Kea, the lush green northern loop, and at the end of the week we had a blast supporting Pam at Ironman Hawaii! Getting to the World Championships in an incredible achievement, smiling your way through the final leg on the marathon is why we know this won't be Pam's last trip to Kona.
- I'm excited that my brood of nieces and nephews will be added to in the spring! Going from 1 to 6 in 3 years is a sign of the above average number of sibings I have :)
- They are above average people too!
- Work is going well. The past few months have been kind of hectic but I can't complain. I am doing something I love and I know that's not something everyone can say.

We flew into DC last night. Found the cheapest motel ever ($38) in Front Royal and have about a 3hr drive now to get down to Fincastle and Camp Bethel. Thought I was doing great fitting all my gear into a small backpack for the trip until we got here last night and I realized I had FORGOTTEN both headlamps! That discovery was followed by A LOT of swearing, general bad humour and feeling totally fed up. But alas, there was a Target store across the highway!

OK. Time to get back on the road.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Still alive...!

... and planning to get caught up on the blog sometime soon. It's been a busy few months with travel and work and life and... (sort of) training for Hellgate 100K. I will have a slightly different goal to last year! But still really looking forward to the race.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fall Superior Trail Races

There's nothing like a series of 3 hardcore races on my favourite trail to get me excited about trail running! And even though I wasn't actually racing this year, I was looking forward to the weekend as much as always. It was a long one. A busy one. A memorable one. And most of all, a fun one. I could write pages but given how bad I've been at posting lately I am just going to get my thoughts down and leave it at that. As always, the pictures tell the real story... here are a few but many more can be found at the links posted below.

Don's map is an indication of how much work he puts into this event... (Helen)

Course-marking with Bonnie & Maria on Friday... (Bonnie)

Brian and crew at Silver Bay... (Helen)

Chris arriving into Tettagouche... (Mark)

Vale leaving Tettagouche... (Helen)

The shirt every girl shown own :) Check out the fun website here... (Jeff)

Cooper eyeing up the Baptism River (runners cross the bridge in the background)... (Mark)

All smiles at the finish line! (Mark)

The Races:

The Sawtooth 100M race starts at 8AM Friday, the Superior 50M race at 6AM Saturday and the Moose Mountain Marathon at 8AM Saturday... all are point-to-point so that finishers cross the line at Lutsen sometime Saturday morning / afternoon / evening... it is an awesome finish line and luckily the weather had started to clear by the time most of the finishers got there.

The Weather:

WOW - it rained several inches between nightfall Friday and dawn Saturday... and continued to drizzle for a few more hours. Combined with that foggy conditions in the woods and you can start to appreciate what the 100 milers went through on the toughest sections of the trail. Sonju and Crosby-Manitou are bad enough in the dark! Even though the 50 mile and marathon runners didn't have to content with the downpour they did have to deal with the effects. A pretty wet course made for some tough navigation.

The Action:

It was pretty much happening all over! From Brian leading the way in the 100 miler from the get-go (seriously - take a look at the startline photos - he is already 10 steps ahead of everyone else after 20 seconds!!), to the exchange of the women's lead late in the game, to the awesome course record in the 50 mile and the record number of marathon finishers - it was tough to keep up at times. Especially when cell phone coverege is severely lacking in these parts!

The Winners:

Without exception, every runner should feel like a winner. This year more than ever given the tough conditions. But the top finishers do deserve special mention - Brian Peterson for his incredibly consistent pace throughout the race, only slowing slightly in some of the night time sections when he started to get cold; Sheryl Wheeler, the women's winner who ran the last 10 miles at lightening speed, 47 but showing no signs of it - I want to be like her when I grow up! Vale for her awesome 2nd place finish in her first 100 mile trail race. I don't think anybody smiled as much that whole race! Chris Rubesch for a smokin' hot 50 mile finish and John Horns along with him (in his first 50 miler) - both going under Duke's CR time from last year. In the women's race Arika Hage capped of an awesome first season of ultrarunning. Kirk Walztoni ran a speedy marathon in his first race on this trail while 2nd place finisher Ryan Braun took ~15 minutes off last year's time! Rochelle Wirth added to her resume of wins in the women's race, while Deirdre took 2nd in her first attempt at this distance on the trail. Looking at the results you would hardly guess the conditions were so unfavourable!

The Volunteers:

I was among this awesome group of people for a few days and got to see some of what it takes to put on these races. It's unreal the hard work a core group of people put into the event - Larry, Colleen and their family, Don Clark, Maria Barton, John Storkamp, Joe Lovett, Bonnie Riley to name a few - all of these folks and many others put in long hours preparing for race day, course-marking, setting up/supplying aid stations, manning aid stations, tearing down aid stations, and then when all of that is over going home and cleaning all of the gear. It's pretty incredible. For my part, I had an absolute blast course-marking the first 19 miles with Bonnie and Maria on Thursday, working the Temperance River AS (mile 84.3) for a few hours Friday night / Saturday morning with Holly, Karen and Jeff (Jeff very kindly covered for me when I took off - during the busy hours - to pace Chris to the finish), and then later sweeping from Sawbill to Oberg with Bonnie (and Cooper!). It gave me an insight into the dedication of the folks that you often don't see at the finish line because they are elsewhere still working... As runners, we generally want to be out there on the trail but an equally rewarding and enjoyable way to participate is to volunteer. If you've not done so already this year, please make it a priority to help out at one of the upcoming fall races.

The Pacing:

Woohoo - success! My pacing record ain't so hot but to be fair this year was a little easier as I wasn't running with Chris until the last 18 miles so I was hardly going to let him drop at that point! Not that he would have even considered it. In his first 100 mile race, in his first season of ultra running, in his, ahem, first year of running AT ALL... he sort of did all the work :) It was great to be a part of his race, seeing him at the aid stations during Friday (giving him a hard time for coming into Beaver Bay almost 1 HOUR ahead of plan - though I could tell he'd been having a lot of fun...!), hanging out with his Dad and knowing he was in good hands after mile 50 when I headed off to Temperance River to help get the AS set up. When he came through at around 8AM Saturday morning he was luckily not suffering from the cold having made a smart decision to wear his gortex shell during the night. The rain had eased off quite a bit at this stage and was due to stop completely within the next few hours so I didn't have to worry too much about my gear. Chris refeuled, as Cooper looked on - no doubt bemused by the events of the past 24 hours - and soon we were ready for off. We got warmed up running along the west side of the Temperance River, crossed the bridge and started the long haul up to Carlton Peak. I was impressed by how quick Chris was moving along here but that was nothing compared to the descent! The next section wasn't quite as much fun given how miserably wet and soggy the trail was and those rolling hills are a killer for tired legs. But we made it into Oberg at just under 28 hours on the clock and I knew that despite a painful hip, Chris was on track to finish strong. And that's just what he did. Read his own story here and find out about his St. Jude Children's Hospital campaign.

The People:

More so than any other local race this is THE social event of the year! It was great to see all the usual suspects out there on the trail, and to have time to chat with the volunteers and supporters (many of whom were running the marathon or 50 miler Saturday) at the aid stations throughout the day on Friday and while running / sweeping on Saturday. The fun continued at the finish line Saturday night as we gathered to cheer the runners, all of whom, even those braving a 2nd nightfall on the trail, crossed the line with a smile. And a well deserved sense of accomplishment.

The Visitors:

We always love showing off the Superior Hiking Trail to (sometimes unsuspecting) runners from other parts of the country. Sheryl Wheeler, the women's 100 mile winner, traveled from New York, and Adam Cassedy came from West Virginia to run a strong race and take 2nd place. And because he says such nice things about our lovely race I stole a few excerpts from his race recap (which I would encourage you to read as well as other postings on his blog - Adam is a very accomplished runner):

"These trails are seriously technical with rocks and roots everywhere. I found the roots to be far more menacing than the rocks. Several folks asked me afterward how this course compared to MMT and I just said, "they're totally different, but they certainly have the technical stuff in common." The climbs on the course were deceivingly difficult. Trail designers definitely didn't believe in switchbacks and had no aversion to scaling rocky ridges by hand-over-hand climbing."

"We hung out at the finish a while and it was good to finally get to meet the guy I had chased for the last day, Brian Peterson. He ran a phenomenal race, especially in his first 100. I expect to see some big things out of him. Race director Larry Pederson has his hands full over this race weekend with the 100-mile, 50-mile, and Marathon all going on simultaneously. I don't know how he does it, but he manages amazingly and puts on a top notch event. This is really as good or better a 100-mile that I've done. I'd love to come back and run it again and would highly recommend it to anyone. The Superior Hiking Trail is absolutely amazing, the aid-stations are second to none, and running a point-to-point 100-mile race in such beautiful country makes this race very special."

Several others traveled across the country, including Susan Donnelly who returned for her 10th year! Larry presented her with a beautiful handcrafted table to mark the occasion. A great accomplishment for Susan and an equally great piece of work by Larry - who makes all of the wooden awards by hand.

The Photograpic Evidence:

As always there were many talented photographers along the course to capture the events of the weekend (click on the name). And I took a few also... enjoy!

Londell Pease: "Please feel free to download them as I posted them actual size. I expect I will delete them from Picasa in late December to make room for other photo's I take."

Jen & Zach Pierce: "If you want print quality copies to keep, click on the photo until you get to the black background version and click "View All Sizes", "Original", "Download"."

Helen Lavin & Mark Scotch: This is an unorganized mix of photos I took and Chris' Dad also - feel free to download any.

Brian Cochoran (the true professional!) was out there also and in between supporting Molly in her awesome race to take 4th place he snapped some pics... I expect they will be posted on his website soon (I think the ones on there now are from the 2008 race).

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Where's Waldo 100K

Welcome to Oregon! This was the view from the flight into Portland - Mt. Hood with Mt. Jefferson in the background...

It was so nice of Carrie and Aaron to move to Portland last year. Giving Kami and I a good reason to run Where’s Waldo 100K in south east Oregon. A first visit to this beautiful part of the country for both of us. I’d heard good things about this race and figured it would be a good one to train for over the summer. As it turned out, foot surgery in June decided otherwise. But having built up the miles over the past month, and with Kami having run (and won) a tough 50 miler at Dances with Dirt in July, we were both looking forward to a relatively relaxed long day on the trail.

The weekend kicked off early, flying out to Portland mid-week. A fun night camping by the ocean, falling asleep to the music of the sea lions, was followed by one of the most memorable runs ever through old growth forest to the town of Seaside.

Ecola State Park and the northern Oregon coastline...

Friday morning we chilled out in Portland, a little shopping, and then a fun trip east past Mt. Hood, via Bend and south to our pre-race accommodation at the Gilchrist Inn which I totally recommend if you are ever in the area.

With a 5AM race start, the morning wasn’t long coming. We’d decided to go without drop bags (hardcore ladies that we are!) having not made it over to the pre-race meeting the evening before though as it turned out they were still taking them in the morning so we threw a few things in a bag for mile 37. The weather was perfect and promised to remain so throughout the day. Cool for the most part with some sun breaking through the clouds every so often. Carrie and Gary (Chris’ uncle) had brought their road bikes and planned to bike a few hours in between seeing us at the few accessible aid stations. It was awesome having those guys there for support. And equally cool to show up at race start and see a few familiar faces – Kerry and Aaron from the DC area that I know from the Virginia races and Amy whose name I recognized from a number of races. Ashley, who’d won the 100 miler at Bighorn, and a few other locals.

And then it was time to run... or... walk. Myself and Kami took it nice and easy up the first (1000ft) climb on a dirt road (a.k.a. ski hill). And right at the back of the pack is where we stayed for the next 20 miles. Happily running along with regular photo stops as the sky brightened and the amazing mountain scenery revealed itself. 62 miles is a long way to go and we were in no rush.

Despite what I had heard about technical terrain the trails were super smooth – at least by MN standards – very runnable for the most part. After the initial climb from the ski resort at Willamette Pass, we meandered through the woods and then a nice easy downhill. Through the first aid station and then some rolling hills before the climb to Fuji Mtn (7144’). We turned onto the out and back section and passed through the second aid station before the climb started in earnest, meeting runners on their way back from the summit. The view from the top was breathtaking – the gigantic Waldo Lake to the north, with Mt. Bachelor and Sisters peaks beyond. Snow capped Diamond Peak to the south and the impressive series of mountains to east, a few of which we’d soon be seeing up close and personal. The next several miles were a lot of fun. We ran nice and steady through the pine forest, different from the northern Minnesota forests with little undergrowth among the tall trees. Through a few meadows and soon we were at AS 3 at mile 20.5 where Carrie and Gary were waiting for us on their bikes. Awesome volunteers here, and at all of the aid stations – it’s pretty impressive how well manned all of the stations were considering how remote this race is.

Back into the woods and soon the climbing began again. We were headed towards the first (and smaller) of The Twins. This section was beautiful and we were able to run most of it at a pretty gentle pace. This AS crew had gone all out as we were welcomed into “The Pearly Gates” by, literally, volunteer-angels! Refueled with a mix of sweet and savoury goods, we continued to climb for another mile or so before hitting sweet downhill that led us all the way to Charlton Lake at mile 32 where again we got to see Carrie and Gary. Perfect spot for this aid station, along the lakeshore. I think we got here at about 7 hours on the clock – pretty much where we’d planned to be for a 15 hour finish. We’d passed several people in the last two sections and would continue to do so as the climbs and altitude took their toll. The next 5 miles were by far the most runnable of the course, almost totally flat after an initial climb out of the aid station. However, foliage was greatly lacking in this section and with both of us badly in need of a bio break, we arrived at AS 6 happy to find toilet paper :)

Dropping out was not high on our list on things to do at this race but we did recall the advice from the website as we left here...

"The second half of the course is remote. From the aid station at 37 miles to the finish the course does not cross a road. Dropping out in that section will not make your life much easier."

I’d greatly underestimated the next section of trail and also thought it was about 2 miles shorter so it was probably the only time during the entire race when we got a bit frustrated. Heading back to The Twins aid station we assumed the climb would be somewhat similar to the earlier one but as it turns out Twin number two is quite a bit higher. Or it could be that we actually summitted this one and not the first, which, at 7362’ took a while! Still, we seemed to be moving well up the hills and sometimes the break from running was welcome. After a good mile or more of downhill, we finally arrived back at the aid station which had now turned into Hell, complete with volunteer-devils… these guys really knew how to keep our spirits up! Several runners were stopped here, taking a little extra time to refuel. Many were also picking up their pacers here, at mile 44.7. We were very happy to see the mileage posted as I’d convinced myself the aid station was at mile 43 and thought it would come much sooner.

We continued on, hitting more downhill for a few miles before rejoining the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) as we headed towards Maiden Peak, the highest of all at 7818’. The trail started to wind its way up and we soon found ourselves at the mile 50 aid station. 11h30 on the clock - feeling pretty good and, oddly enough, looking forward to seeing just how tough the next section would be. We left the aid station with a girl from Houston, and a few guys just ahead. As Kami remarked later, this section was “every man for himself.” Indeed! Three miles to the summit and I decided I would push up that hill as fast as I could. One hour and seven minutes later I was at the summit freezing my ass off taking photos. I had passed about ten people on that climb. I am not sure why but I was quite pissed climbing that mountain and while I normally run much better when happy, a little anger seems to work quite well for speed-hiking! I came down from the summit, met Kami along the way, and hung out at the junction for her before we descended through some rocky terrain to the final aid station at mile 55. Not only were the ladies here in great form, they provided face-wipes and neck massages! Nice.

There’d been much talk about the last section being all downhill. Unfortunately there was a little climbing to do first. And some flat along a beautiful lake – what a perfect setting for camping. I need to come back here! We hit the downhill with around 3 miles to go. The altitude was beginning to take its toll and breathing was not as easy as we’d have liked as we made our way towards the finish line. Still, it had been such an amazing day. The chance to run all day with Kami. To see friends, old and new, along the way. To enjoy a beautiful part of the country. I would not have wanted to spend one minute less on that trail on that day.

For the record:
- Kami & I crossed the line 14:50:20, 59/60th overall, 13/14th female
- Chris finished in 13:41:51, 40th overall, pretty sweet time for a first 100K - 6 weeks after his first ultra!
- 123 starters / 107 finishers
- Men's 1st: Timothy Olson 9:25:04
- Women's 1st: Meghan Arbogast 10:52:50 (12th overall)

Some photos from race day...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bento Box

Lunch time in Tokyo...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


(Where's Waldo / Oregon report to follow!)

It's great being back in Japan after so many years... I lived here for 3 years about ten years ago (1998-2001), in a city called Toyama on the west coast (Sea of Japan). During that time I made several trips to Tokyo so had gotten to know the place quite well. Then I was back here for two short visits in the summer of 2004. And now, after a few days here, it certainly doesn't feel like it's been that long... I had forgotten how much I love this town...

So this is the kanji for Tokyo:

This is a new building that wasn't here in 04 and proved to be a good landmark on my run this morning...

Because even though the signs are in English and I can read some Japanese, I still didn't have a clue where I was going...

And it was early - though I'd been awake since 3:30AM...

I ended up at the Meiji Shrine - where, upon instruction from the guard, I had to walk not run...

That was cool - it's the kind of place where you want to be peaceful...

First stop is to wash your hands...

And then you can enter...

And read something about the shrine that was established in 1920 in honor of the Meiji Emperor...

The entrace to the main hall...

You wouldn't want this door to close in your face...

Beautiful woodwork...



Apparently so...

Then it was off to Yoyogi-Koen where I used to hang out every visit to Tokyo - though I was not a runner at the time so I was seeing it from a different perspective this morning...

There were lots of runners about...

And a few dogs - the big ones get a break from the little ones...

And everywhere, vending machines...

But more importantly there were some trails...

Which apparently one is not meant to run on...

(the above kanji means "stop"!)

Nobody does graffiti like the Japanese...

And then, on my way back to the hotel I was running along and looked up to see the good old conical flask symbol which brought back memories - this is the HQ of my old company that I worked for in Toyama...