Andy and Kim Holak have jumped into the Race Directing business with a fabulous race. If you don't know Andy and Kim I'll make a brief introduction. Andy and Kim live in Duluth and are very experienced, very talented ultra runners. They both nearly always win their races including the Superior races, Ice Age races as well as winning in other portions of the US. Kim has finished Hardrock twice.
The first time I ran Voyager and was past the cut off I was embarrassed as I met Andy for the first time, upon the trail. He was first coming back and I was last going out. He cheered for me and I turned red. After the race I told him how embarrassed I felt still being out upon the course and there he was, heading home for the finish. He set me straight. He was super supportive and told me that the ultra marathon sets an equal playing field. It doesn't matter where we place, we are all out there running and that he looks at the back of the pack runners with amazement. We are out there for nearly double the hours and don't stop. We persevere to the finish. He told me he was proud of me. I couldn't believe it at the time. I do now.
The race began at Chambers Park in Duluth. I haven't run this portion of the Superior Hiking Trail in the past. This is a section that was finished recently..in the last year or two. I had run from the third aid station on, so I was very excited to see this new portion of the trail.
I went into the race as I did Twin Cities Marathon a few weeks ago: tired and using it as a training run. This would again cap off a 100 mile week in preparation for Javelina. I was able to recover from TCM easy enough. I only hoped the outcome would be the same here. I ran a 50K at Afton on Friday with Topaz and here I was again, going to try back to back 50Ks. Topaz and I took it very easy Friday, taking 8 hours to get in the complete course. I didn't feel sore..just tired.
Apparently the thought of a training run caused me to go into the race unprepared. As I couldn't find Bay Front Park in the dark I ended up at a Starbucks on Superior St. looking for directions. A customer gave me great directions, I was at the Park but couldn't find access to the bus that I could see parked ahead. Crazy. I looped around over and over and eventually jumped a curb and made it to the lot with a minute to spare. As I was juggling through my bag, applying lube, looking for gloves, grabbing gels..I could have used 6 hands, Joann arrived at my window. I tried to talk and get ready at the same time and it wasn't working. Where's my bottle? How can I be so unprepared? Um, because you had the training run syndrome pounding through your head. Oh. Yeah.
Eventually I found one of my four gloves, a hat and some gels and such. I followed Jo to her van to see her pups. She has an old pup that isn't doing so well and a brand new puppy that was with her as well as her hubby. We ran to the bus and Andy asked if I had collected my bag. No. We ran back to Andy's car, collected my bag and number, Andy placed my bag into my car and back to the bus. Whew! Thanks Andy. All set. It was really nice to have a bus to take us to the start so that our vehicles would be at the finish. Ah, the little niceties.
On the bus I saw near Jo and Rick. Rick gave us a tour of the city on the way to the start. He pointed out the pedestrian bridge going over 35 and said we would run upon it into the finish. Cool. He pointed out West Duluth, where he grew up, the aid stations along the way, some of the Voyager course and eventually we were at the start of the race.
Brr. It was 33 degrees, clear. I had on wind pants that are sizes too big, long sleeved top, vest. Fleece hat, one glove..good to hold my bottle with.. I couldn't find any of the other three which I knew I packed and were in the car.., iPod, gels. I didn't have on a watch. I didn't know how far apart the aid stations were, I didn't know how many there were...I guess I was a bit too lacadasial about it all. Training run was all I was thinking.
As we lined up my other hand was cold. I must have mentioned it to Shelly because before we began, Mike came up to me and offered a glove! How sweet. I graciously accepted it, thanks Mike!
As we lined up at the start..me in the way back..Andy gave a course description. He was very descriptive of the course, and before I knew it he was giving a blow by blow of each section. I couldn't remember all of what he was saying. I could hear the love of the trail and the excitement of sharing the race with us in his voice. It was fun to listen to him but I couldn't retain it all.
Andy was going to begin the race by clanking two rocks together but in practice they cracked..or was that a joke..so he said GO!
I saw Wynn blazing ahead of us as we circled the lot before hitting the deer trail. I asked Maria : who is that in the Afton shirt running with Wynn? I couldn't think of who would be running with Wynn that quickly except Andy..who was directing. Well, here it WAS Andy, he was running with Wynn to get him around the lot and direct to the trail.
In a few minutes we were at the deer trail. It went straight up. STRAIGHT. UP. People in front of me were running up this path. I fell in along with them and nearly coughed up a lung. I couldn't breath. The hill went up up up. Maria stated that it looked like an Afton Fat Ass trail. I agreed. But why are we running and more importantly why am I running? Stop this insanity. I had this conversation with myself. Why are you running this hill? Because Maria and everyone else is. Does it matter? Can you breathe? No. I'm gasping and sweating and coughing and I can't breath. STOP IT! Ok. I began to walk. And gasp. And worry about the cold that I still have. Maybe this was too much. Oh my god, it's the first freaking mile. Scary. I walked and sweat and coughed and gagged. I removed myself from the deer trail and walked to catch my breath. Holy crap. Jo and Rick came up behind me. I was trying to catch my breath.
At the top of the hill I rested and took my time going along the ridge which eventually intersected with Mission Creek Trail. I was able to take normal breaths as I was ridiculing myself for running up the damn hill. Peer pressure, how stupid to succumb too.
By the time I was at the first aid station I had removed my (borrowed) gloves, hat and my vest was off of my arms and bunched at my waist. My pants pockets both had broken zippers..yeah, they are the first pair of running pants I ever purchased, so I had all of my gels and stuff in my vest pockets. I felt like a bag lady. I had stuff all over the place. In my haste to leave my car I forgot to unattach my keys to the ring so was carrying the whole damn thing with me! Ring, remote starter, keys, fobs to work and the gym. Nice. It was warming up quickly. I should have worn shorts. I had to take off my top and tie it around my waist adding to the bag lady effect. Enough of my unprepared- ness.
The trail was absolutely gorgeous! As I was running along it reminded me so often of the sections further north that I be surprised when I realized I was in the City of Duluth! The whole 50K was within the Duluth city limits! Totally amazing.
Outcrops of rock near aid station 2 were so much like the section of Bean/Bear Lake further north. We climbed forever and a day, then were rewarded with spectacular views of Duluth and Lake Superior. Just amazing. We seemed to climb for a very long time.
There were awesome sections of pine forest. Soft needles to run upon, the smell of pine profuse in the air. Such a treat. I was so happy. So happy to be running within myself, so happy to be enjoying the sun, the trail, the peace and quiet. This trail run was everything I had hoped it would be: a wonderful day on a fabulous foot path.
I kept thinking about how much I love running in the woods. How I enjoy the smells, the feel of the different terrain under my feet. Climbing the rock, taking in all of the views, running upon the soft needles of pine, enjoying the color of the leaves changing.
I kept realizing the stark differences between Twin Cities Marathon and Wild Duluth 50K! TCM was an assault of the senses. The noise, the people, the City. Wild Duluth was sensuous to the senses: the silence, the woods, the lake, soft footfalls. I enjoy trail running so much more than road running. To think I didn't know trail running existed..
At aid station 2 Helen and Val were manning the station. It was fun to see both gals helping us out. I grabbed a few gels, filled my bottle and was on my way. I asked Shelly how far along we were and she estimated 10 miles. What a great way to spend the first few hours of the race.
The next section was every bit as beautiful and I even recognized a few sections from the Voyager 50 mile race. The highlight was climbing Ely’s Peak. I climbed and climbed upon rocks just like the Carlton Peaks section. Wow. Rocky outcrops through an oak and maple forest and then up to Skyline Parkway.
Shelly and I were running along together and both commented that it seemed this whole section was a climb. It was amazing! So beautiful.
Pretty soon we came into aid station 3 where Zac greeted us with his camera! Bonnie and Jim were here too, helping us with food/fluids. I stuck to water during the run with gels. At one point my stomach was grumbling like it was hungry so I grabbed a corner of peanut butter and jelly here. About 15 minutes later I had a raging headache. It may have been due to the jelly/sugar. I’m not sure. I don’t carry Advil along any more so I just sucked it up.
As I left the aid station Bonnie told me to follow the road for a while and take a right into the woods, hitting the trail. I ran along along along, looking for the flags. I spotted them on the left, continued on.. here I saw someone running toward me. At first I thought she must be a 100K runner, but then saw realized it was Dawn. Oh oh. She told me that she had missed the turn as had I. I turned around and followed Dawn, eventually seeing the flags marking the right turn in all of their glory. I don’t know how I missed it, but I sure did. Even after being told by Bonnie that it would be there and there they are, plainly marked. Oh well. I turned into the woods, thankful that I didn’t have a watch on and that I was still happy, enjoy the day.
Pretty soon it was time for aid station 4, the Voyageur 50 Mile turnaround at the zoo. Again, I managed to miss a marker that was plainly marked. I ended up following a river for a long while until a man with a very nice border collie that I spent way too much petting, talking and being kissed by (the dog, not the man), told me I should get going and pointed me in the correct direction.
One of my pet peeves is runners complaining about course markings. Stating that the course is poorly marked, that the course wasn’t marked, etc. I know darned well the course was marked well and that I missed the turns that I did. It was not the marker’s fault or the RD’ fault. It was my fault. Always is. I never complain about markings and wasn’t going to say anything about missing the course. I ran into the aid station and Shelly stated “you must have missed the turn into the woods, I noticed you weren’t in front of my anymore” busted! Yeah, I confirmed that I missed the turn and yet another. Oh well.
I filled my water bottle and told that I was already at mile 19. Unreal! I was having so much fun I couldn’t believe that 20 miles were about in the bag. I didn’t want this to be over yet!
I ran on, toward the next aid station, enjoying the trail. I ran past the Spirit Mountain Ski Hills, under a few bridges, along 35N. It was a reminder that I was in Duluth and not out miles deep in the forest as I kept on thinking that I was.
Pretty soon I saw Dawn up ahead and my competitive side wanted to take over. Before I knew it I was running faster, thinking about catching her. No. You aren’t racing. Slow and easy. No hard recovery for Javelina. Enjoy. Enjoy. OK. I ran on, through the forest when an outcropping of rock appeared. I climbed the rock and peered over the side-there was the City of Duluth, the big green football field, Lake Superior. Fabulous views.
At the next aid station someone stated “You finally caught me, it only took you 22 miles, Julie, see you at the finish” I don’t know who it was but I don’t recall seeing him at the finish. There are so many people that I don’t recognize at races. I often wonder if the ‘know’ me from my blog or if they know me from real life. I ran with a man from WI, who knew me via my blog and I don’t even know his name! He knows all about me, though. That is the disadvantage of introducing oneself via a blog.
The next section was pretty cool. Entering more city running, the Enger park which had this super huge bell ringer thing. Andy later told me I should have rung it. It was a beautiful park. With a climb of over 1300 feet elevation the views were fantastic.
Running into the final aid station I saw Jim and his son, Jeff. It was so great to see so many familiar faces at the aid stations. Jim filled my bottle and told me I only had a 5K to the finish! I couldn’t believe it. Too short! I wanted more. Really, I was going slow enough that I wasn’t taxing myself at all. I was truly enjoying a great day in the woods. Topaz would have loved it. There were plenty of rivers for him to lay in,I’ll be taking him to run those trails.
As I ran the final segment I couldn’t help but wonder what my time would be. I kept thinking it must be near 8 hours, but then with Shelly not to far in back, I didn’t think she would run that slowly. I took Superior 50K easy in May and finished in 630. I was running about the same pace here but this course seemed a little more difficult. Superior 50K has a few long climbs that you do 2x, but this trail is continuous shorter steep ascents and descents. This course reminded me much of Glacial Trail 50K, too.
The final section was so much fun, mostly running downhill - finally - as I had to finish near the lake at Bay front Festival Park - passing through city neighborhoods, birch woods, rock boulders and downhill with more rock outcroppings and a whole mess of jack pines; the fragrance was wonderful, even with a stuffed head cold.
Down down down rock steps with amazing views of the harbor. Before I know it there is the pedestrian overpass going over 1 35. What a trip! Over the traffic, waving to the drivers underneath me, laughing all the way. Down the concrete ramp and under I 35 now. Cool. Running along the street turning into Bay front Festival Park. What a great day, a fantastic trail and an awesome run. I felt fabulous. As I ran into the finish I saw the clock blink to 6:59.
A beautiful brown Border Collie greeted me at the finish. He wanted to go for a run. Lots of kisses and pets, I had to pull myself away from him.
This race was such a treat. Andy and Kim did a great job planning the start/finish, the aid stations, everything. It was perfect.
The park had a huge warm center where I was able to change, our hosts had various chili's and drink to offer. I lounged around a bit, taking in all of the conversation until it was time to head on home.
Thanks Andy and Kim for putting on a great race! I can’t wait to run upon those trails again!