Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Northwoods Winter Trail Marathon


I was so excited to hear that Andy Holak was bringing back the Northwoods Snowshoe Marathon in Duluth. As the Northwoods Winter Trail Marathon.  I always loved that snowshoe marathon!

The new race would take place on different trails, with option of snowshoe or trail shoe. There would be a half marathon and full marathon option. I was all in. I was going to run in trail shoes.

I stayed at Fitgers on Friday night and attended the trail film festival/packet pick up at Iron Works. It was so much fun! 

The race didn’t begin until 930 so I had lots of time in the morning. In fact, I felt like I needed a second breakfast before start time!  I began with 2 bananas and an orange. At the start while waiting I ate a sweet potato.  I was all set!

The weather was uncharacteristically warm. The high the day before was 42 degrees and at the start it was already 32 degrees with a forecast of 40. Unbelievable. It made for very warm, wet conditions. The snow was deep and melting, it was so soft and hard to maneuver through. 

I was surprised that we were able to run on these trails as most are public use and fat bikers use them. I saw people skiing, biking, snowshoeing and running. We were making deep footprints on the trail. We were really messing it up.

The conditions were real tough. We were post-holing through the snow, up mid calf through some of the trail. The snow was too soft to run on top of, we just sunk. Within 2 miles I had to remove my windbreaker. I was glad I had a pack so I could just stuff extra clothing away. It was very warm.

There was an aid station at mile 7. It took me over 2 hours to get there!  I  didn’t need anything, I just trudged on through. I had plenty of Tailwind in my bladder and a good supply of gels.

The trails were just gorgeous. We ran along Hawks Ridge fat bike trail which is perched high above the Lakeside neighborhood with incredible views of Lake Superior and the City. It truly was amazing…yet incredibly difficult to run through.

As I was running back to the start I began to think about how long it was taking me.  It would be 3:30 hours before I finally got to the start/finish again. I began to worry about daylight. I began to worry that it would take me to dark to finish. I hadn’t brought a head lamp. I never dreamed it would take me so long. I began to listen to others complain about the conditions. Their feet were cold and wet. They weren’t going to continue. I began to take a self check. I felt good, strong. I wasn’t sore, I wasn’t cold. I was working hard but sure didn’t want to stop. My only concern was daylight.

I decided I wouldn’t worry about the light. I wasn’t going to stop because of something that may not even happen.

I ran into the start  and asked if anyone had a head lamp I could borrow..no one responded so I refilled my bladder with water and threw away my empty gels. I asked a group of women if they were ready to head back out with me but they were all dropping. I was so shocked.  I said so long and headed out.

I was hoping the trail would have been in a little better condition for the second loop but it really wasn’t. I was still sinking into the warmed snow and doing a lot of sliding.  I decided to make an effort to run faster so that I would finish in daylight.

I didn’t see ANY other runners for the whole second half. Not a one!  I began to wonder if anyone else was running the marathon.  I was running a good two minutes faster per mile, I figured if it was getting dark at the aid station, mile 20, I could stop there. I trudged on and made it to the aid station at 2:45PM. I had a good two hours to do 6 miles in the light…I figured I could go for it.

I continued on, picking up my pace as I neared the finish. I felt so good, so strong, so happy. I loved the trails, the beautiful views of the lake, the overlooks of the city, it really was incredible.

After 6:30 hours I came into the finish. It was a great effort. I was thrilled with my :30 negative split. It was daylight. I made it! 

After I finished a volunteer walked up to me with an age group award. I couldn’t believe it. 1st Place 50-59 and 3rd woman overall.

I had a spectacular time. A great day!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Surf The Murph 50K

Another incredibly fun race experience for me this past Saturday. I feel so blessed to be able to spend time on my feet, in the woods, feeling nothing but joy. It sounds so ridiculous but it is so true.

Just 8 months ago I didn’t think I’d run again, ever. It is just amazing to me how the body can recover, as well as the mind.

Saturday was a lovely day. I awoke early, consumed 2 ripe bananas and headed out to Savage.  It was crazy windy, winds up to 45 miles per hour but the sun promised to shine with 45 degree temperature. Awesome.

Another incredibly fun race experience for me this past Saturday. I feel so blessed to be able to spend time on my feet, in the woods, feeling nothing but joy. It sounds so ridiculous but it is so true.

Just 8 months ago I didn’t think I’d run again, ever. It is just amazing to me how the body can recover, as well as the mind.

Saturday was a lovely day. I awoke early, consumed 2 ripe bananas and headed out to Savage.  It was crazy windy, winds up to 45 miles per hour but the sun promised to shine with 45 degree temperature. 

I pulled into the lot 45 minutes before race time. Time to collect my bib, lube up my feet and mediate for a while. It was a splendid start to the day.

We began in the dark, I didn’t bring my headlamp as it was a 7 am start and the trail would be light, soon.

The course is 5000’ elevation during the 34 miles. I was able to run most of the hills, I was really amazed at the strength in my legs. There were times, many times, when I looked down at my watch and saw that I was running a 945 – 1015 mile pace. I would become anxious and immediately tell myself to slow down. I am not sure why I was so afraid of running too fast. I suppose it is because that is out of my comfort zone. I am use to running more slowly, that is where my emotional comfort level is. 

I asked myself why I felt anxious, why was I afraid of running this pace when my lungs didn’t hurt, my legs felt good, what was I afraid of?  I was afraid of the unknown things, the  things that could go badly in a moment…but should I fear the unknown? Should I fear that things could  go badly in a moment? decided not to  think so and this brought up many other fears that I allow to control me.  I had quite the deep conversation going on with myself. 

I decided just to run upon feel, quit fearing that I am running too fast.  Quit looking at the watch. Just run. Just enjoy.

In my pack I had all that I needed for the race so I didn’t need to stop at the aid stations other than once to refill with water and  to dump my trash.  I began with 60 oz of tailwind and 10 humma gels.  I drank the 60 oz of tailwind,  20 ounces of water, 8 gels. 

At the halfway mark I looked at my watch and saw that I came in at 3:20. I couldn’t believe it. The course isn’t easy-it is constantly climbing  and rolling. My legs felt strong though, I was able to run many of the hills. My feet didn’t hurt, my legs weren’t tired, I didn’t have stomach upset. I felt great. Feeling great but reserved, feeling that I didn’t want to be too excited about feeling great because that could change to feeling like hell quickly. I stopped myself from having those thoughts. Enough!  Just enjoy right now.

I realized that I could possibly come in under 7 hours. My original  thought was under 8 so thinking about taking another hour off was pretty incredible.  I had a brief thought that even splits would bring me at 640 and that was a blast from my past running days. I quickly brushed that goal away.

I filled my pack with water, dumped out my empty gels and trotted on off. I felt so great. I skipped through the aid stations, laughing, spinning around under a disco ball, moving along with joy.

I didn’t see anyone on my second loop. Not a soul for 16 miles.  I was deep in thought.  I was calling myself out on the stories I tell myself.  

The wind was howling, sometimes pushing me forward, sometimes pushing me back. The trees were SO beautiful, colored so brightly. I stopped a few times to push my hands against the tree, to feel my feet on the roots, to ground myself, to think the deep thoughts, to peel away my layers. This is why I love to run. I can feel. Running always me to feel. 

The last 3 miles I ran sub 10s. WHAT? Who is this girl? I was having so much fun, I realized I felt safe in running faster because there was only 3 miles left. I had plenty left to leave on the trail. I felt my hips push me forward, my toes push me off, my arms pump as I ran quickly down the trail.  

Joy. I was filled with joy by the trail and left joy behind on the trail.  What a blessing. What a day.  

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Aid Station: Eugene Curnow

Volunteerism is a big part of ultrarunning. I look forward to volunteer at races as much as I look forward to running them. The races would not go on if we didn't have volunteers to take care of the runners.

A few months ago I cleared my schedule to volunteer to Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon (formerly Half Voyager). I've run the race many times, in fact, it was my first trail race many many years ago, back in 2000. I was looking forward to it.

The trail running community is booming!  This is SO good. We need new people to come into the sport, to keep it alive, to keep it breathing. Although I may sometimes complain that the trails are sometimes crowded and that I recall fond memories when only 18 of us finished Superior 100, that doesn't mean that I dislike the growth. I don't. I welcome it and love to guide new trail runners to the best of my ability. I remember what it was like to be new to trails.

There were 429 finishers at Curnow this year!  The race sold out and  I don't think that has ever happened before.

I was assigned to Forbay, Aid Station 7 (out of 8) along the way from  the Duluth Zoo to Carlton. It's a beautiful trail with bridges, powerlines, rivers, grass, dirt, rocks and a whole lot of heat and humidity. There was no rain, little mud. Lots of fun and friends.

Jamison Swift photo

I arrived to Forbay for duty at 745. Jamison was captain, Lisa was medical, Lynnea was assigned to cross guard duty-out in the beating sun. I was under the shaded canopy tending to the supplies. I cut watermelon, bananas and oranges. Filled up potato chip, grape, candies and pretzel bowls. Made sure there was plenty of Coke, 7up, Gingerale poured.

We had cowbells to ring as the runners arrived to our station, lots of hugs, congrats, filling of packs and bottles. Reminding runners to take salt, to eat, to drink. I was shocked that at least a dozen of the runners didn't have a water bottle or hydration vest. They were only drinking at the stations which were spaced out from 2.4 to 5 miles. On this hot day that was just too long to go without water, in my opinion. However, I always seem to error on the side of caution. A few runners sat down under our canopy to get out of the sun. We offered ice for hats, bras and buffs. Nobody dropped at our station (mile 20.5) everyone continued on.

It was so much fun to see so many of the people I love and the new ones that I'm getting to know. It was like one big friend banquet. I had to laugh as I was in the shade sweating to death and as I'd hug a runner friend they'd exclaim 'oh, you are so hot' yeah. I'm hot and sweaty and not running and standing here in the shade. We'd laugh. This must have happened 15 times!  Menopause you know. Hot flash city.

Such a great day, great friends, great fun. Volunteer. Give back to your sport!  You'll love it just as much as I do.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Afton Sweet Afton!

Oh Afton, Sweet Afton!

Really, Afton 50K is pretty sweet. John and Cheri have the RDing of the Rocksteady Races down and they go on without a hitch. Afton was my first 50K, way back in 2002. It was a training run, in March of 2002, before my first 50 miler, Ice Age. I bonked big time and actually had to be carried off the trail…I blacked out..it was pretty crazy scene. I hadn’t eaten -although I was instructed too-I drank WAY too much water and the course was more than I had ever handled before. However, I learned so much and I did not die.

Afton holds a special place in my heart. I’ve run the race 10 times, have trained there numerous times with my closest of  friends and have had so many laughs and smiles.

I am thrilled that I am feeling so great this year and able to run the race two weeks out from my last. It’s not like I’m ‘racing’, I’m running, building back my endurance and having a ball.

My alarm buzzed me awake at 3AM Saturday. After spending a week at the cabin I was tired!  I eventually moved out of bed and got ready for the day, heading out before 4, arriving at the course at 530. Plenty of time to get my packet, my shirts, visit with friends. So many friends!

Maria and I hung at the start line, had the obligatory UMTR photo shoot and were ready to roll.

Mike Wheeler Photo

Photo by UMTR

The morning was warm, it was going to be a hot day. Slow and steady was the plan…with lots of fun sprinkled in!

I didn’t feel any anxiety while running Afton. I know the course, I know the peeps, I’m less than 2 hours from home, I felt great. I brought my iphone along to try music if I wanted but I never played any. I just enjoyed listening to my thoughts, my breathing, to nature.

The first few miles were congested as we all found our place. The aid stations came quickly and I was glad that I had decided to wear a pack as I never have while running Afton before. However, my time between aid stations is a bit longer than the past and it was a holy hot day.  I cruised through the first few aid stations, not needing anything. At around mile 8 the speedsters of the 25K race began to pass. At first this was fine, I just moved aside, but eventually I found myself becoming SO irritated. There were over 600 of them and most of them passed me during that first loop. I was constantly being run down – sometimes on both sides, so I just stood there, letting them pass as many shouted out that they were on my left or right, expecting me to step off of the trail. After I while I told myself to chill out, but I did find myself not stepping off of the trail as much and just letting them get around on their own one way or another.

I planned to fill my pack at AS 5 where I knew my old running pals would be. Sure enough, as I ran in I spotted Nancy, Tom and Alicia. Tom filled my pack and I was greeted with hugs by the others. It was so great!  As I was running out Jeffrey caught up with me for a big wet hug. I’ve missed these guys! 

Speed work hasn’t really come into play yet since I began to run in February so earlier in the race I decided to try it out. I was feeling so good, why not?  I ran faster minutes here and there in the open field areas, thinking I’d see if I could get 16 miles done in 3:20 or so, then thinking I’d slow down the second loop to finish in 730-800.  The 320 would be fast for me in the shape that I am in, but it would be fun to try.

Sure enough, I came into the start/finish at 317. Wow. Super. I feel fine. OK, now I’ll do loop 2 in 4:30, I figured, finishing in 745-8. I slowed down, enjoyed the fact that I was no longer being run down by 25Kers and just really enjoyed myself. I was by myself most of the 2nd loop, feeling the heat, feeling my body move, enjoying the run.  I didn’t have any foot pain, I felt strong. I felt hydrated and had plenty of energy. I took in the course, reliving all of the memories that it brought with it. 2014 was the last year that I ran the race. The course was stunning with the river, the hills, the singletrack, the new downhill trail recently completed and of course  all of the happy faces at the aid stations.

Freshtracks media photo

At mile 22 I was ready for COKE. I came into the aid station and drank a few glasses, then again at the final aid station. I was ready to run into the finish.  Sure enough, a few miles out, I’m running downhill and catch my foot on a root. Boom, I go down, fully sprawled out and sliding down the hill. Good grief!  I pick myself up, collect myself and run on. Time to wrap up this race.

At 702 I ran into the finish line; faster  than I intended and feeling better than I believed I could.  What an amazing day.

Mike Wheeler photo

The finish line was bustling with people so I hung out for an hour or so before heading for home, fully gratified and feeling blessed.

Paulette Odenthal photo

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Black Hills 100 Mile Trail Run: 50K

Oh, what a delightful adventure!

Last Friday I decided I’d like to enter the Black Hills 100 – 50K option. I entered the 100 miler in 2013 but Troy ended up with a scheduled baseball tournament so I never attended. I was excited to go out and run the shorter option.  The race offers a 100M, 50M 50K and 30K.  Something for everyone!

I asked if Steve or either of the boys wanted to accompany me out west and no one was interested. I decided I’d go out solo. After entering last minute, as entries were closed on Friday, I looked for lodging. None of the motels had anything available so I figured I’d call Sturgis RV Campground-the host for the race. Online it showed all cabins were taken but I figured I’d give it a try. Sure enough, the woman who did the scheduling told me that someone who had made a reservation was now coming alone and had 5 beds open. I told her I was interested and she told me she’d check on it and get back to me. Bingo!  I received a text that I was welcome. Awesome.

Is it weird to travel to Sturgis by yourself and stay with people you don’t know? I didn’t ask myself that question for more than 30 seconds. I decided there was nothing weird with it at all.

I was on the road Friday morning by 4AM, heading west. My trip out to Sturgis was thankfully uneventful. I stopped at Chamberlain Rest Stop and was wowed by the new 50 foot statue erected.  I ate my lunch in her shadow. I was so wowed by her in fact that I stopped back on my way home to lunch with her again. Impressive.

Very impressive statue at Chamberlain SD, overlooking the Missouri River.

Eating my lunch at the rest stop.

I arrived to Sturgis quite early, checked in at the RV Campground and then walked over to packet pickup. There were not many people around, I  walked over to cabin 13. Nikki, who reserved the cabin, was not there yet so back to pick up I went and volunteered for a few hours. I had so much fun meeting new people-not a strength of mine-but something I am working on. When I went back to the cabin my room mates had arrived. Theresa was in the same boat as I and scored a bed from Nikki, too. These cabins are only $60 a night. They are clean, small, but nice and have 4 bunk beds plus a bed in the loft. Really incredible. I learned that they get $2000 a week during Rally week. Amazing.

Sturgis, SD. I wonder what is in the pink bags?

Race Headquarters

Nice cabin, plus a loft where Theresa slept.

Very clean $60 nightly cabin.

Nikki arrived and we all introduced ourselves and became acquainted.  We had a great time over the weekend and all agreed that coming together at the Black Hills races was not weird at all! I would certainly do this again.

On a side note: the cabin right next to us was filled with Minnesotan's!  Last week I ran at Elm Creek with Amy - who was entered in the 30K and Troy - who was crewing/pacing for Matt, Brian, Jeff and Brain, all running the 100 Mile. Super fun small world!

All of the race events were held near the campground, the bus was at a park .5 mile away where the finish line and after party were held. It was a great place to stay. I think we were all asleep by 830 as Theresa had a 300 wake up for the 50M and Nikki and would soon be following her.

It was so great to have a bus ride out to the start, then finishing .5 mile from the campground. We rode the bus out to Dalton Lake. It was  a bumpy hour long ride. I visited with a man from Spearfish who grew up in Sturgis. I learned about the economy of the area and how the motorcycle rally sustains the small town, he answered my many questions. 

I thought that the city gave off a weird vibe. Huge bars and restaurants, big campgrounds and grocery stores, many gas stations…that have very few people inside of them. I felt like I was in a ghost town. Most of the people were tourists visiting the Black Hills and race entrants. I didn’t see many people who actually lived and worked in Sturgis.

Entering the 50K (versus the 50M or 100M) gave me a sense of adventure and calm. I didn’t have to worry about drop bags being packed and strategically placed along the course. I wasn’t worried about becoming sore and exhausted. I wasn't worried about injuring myself as the last two 50K and training runs I've put in this spring have been delightful. I have run easy and effortlessly, not pushing myself at all...just grateful to be back out in the woods. I have the endurance down...I'm ready to begin working on speed. I was excited for a run that would be challenging given the elevation and altitude, yet beautiful. I was so excited to be running again.

We were dropped off at Dalton Lake trailhead and 90 minutes before we would begin. I watched some of the 100 milers run through and was again thankful I was running the 50K. They had battled a lot of hail, rain and mud out there the night before. Now the sun was out and the sky was blue.

Making our way to the start.

At 755 the RD came to herd us up and send us off. We ran out of the campground area and onto the trail-to walk over an elevated cattle guard. This promptly spread us all out as we took turns climbing over it. There would be many cattle guards along the Centennial Trail.

Right off the bat there was a big climb.  We’d climb 1000 feet in a short time. I would feel myself huffing and puffing, telling myself to take it easy.  I kept climbing. I was more concerned about running down, would my knees be screaming? Climbing feels better than the downhills these days.  I made it to the top, shot a few pics, sucked back a gel and let my breathing get under control. Oh it was so beautiful!  I was so grateful to be right exactly where I was.

I was able to do a lot of running in the next section before dropping down into Crooked Tree. The course was heavily wooded with beautiful pine trees and  the trail was covered with soft pine needles. Really amazing. As I began to descend the 1000 feet I just climbed I tried not to take mincy short steps and instead let myself fall into a downhill run. My knees felt good, my neuroma was quiet. I was a given a gift of splendor. I was so filled with gratitude.

I ran into the aid station, threw away my empty gels and got out of there. I know not to spend any more time than absolutely necessary in the aid stations. I was on my way. 

The next section was made up of short, steep climbs and downhills, not too grueling. This section was  abit muddy as the creeks were coming up next.  The scenery was amazing. I would stop and look up at the sheer cliffs surrounding me, then look down at the bright red mushrooms, at the crooked trees. I was so happy. I had a constant smile on my face.

I could hear rushing water, I knew that there was at least one crossing before the Elk Creek Aid Station at mile 13. A woman on the bus told me there were 5 crossings. I was quite certain she was mistaken. She wasn’t!

As I moved along with the creek I noticed that the trail seemed to disappear and drop into the water. There wasn’t a rope so I didn’t think this was the crossing I had heard about but I saw the Centennial Trail marker on the trees, surrounded by water. Hmmm…I guess I just go through this.  Yup. On the other side of the flooded trail was creek crossing 1. It was cold but felt so good!  It felt good to stand there, letting the cold water refresh my legs and remove all of the mud from my shoes. I wondered if I’d have to stop and fix my feet at the next aid station. Perhaps. 

Continuing on I crossed a total of 5 water crossings. The woman on the bus was correct. At the last crossing a photographer sat, clicking off a fun photo of me.

Another mile to the aid station, perfectly placed if one wanted to change shoes or socks after the water. I came into an area with my people spectating, assuming this was the aid station. As I walked around perplexed, looking for the drop bags, a person came running to me. I exclaimed ‘ oh, do you need my number’ then I realized it was Kevin Langton!  ‘No, I want a photo!’ Oops!  I didn’t recognize him all cleaned up and wearing shades!  We laughed, he took a few photos, promised he’d see me at the finish and I moved on.  He told me the aid station was another mile or so up the trail.  I decided not to work on my feet.  They felt really good and I was just pumped to move on.   I did grab a restock of Humma gels for my pack and refilled my bladder, grabbed a baggie of Advil/Aleve and headed on out to climb the next section.

Out of Elk Creek we climbed from 4300 to 5000. After that climb though was the most wonderful downhill section!  It wasn’t steep, it wound around and around, allowing for full stretch of legs and just running and running downhill. It was so great!  I don’t think I’ve ever felt so good running downhill before. The trail was soft with the rains the previous night and was covered with pine needles. I couldn’t contain my joy. I didn’t bring music along but I was singing at the top of my lungs. I didn’t see anyone in sight. What a thrill.  In looking at the elevation chart I see that we dropped from 5000  to 3300 feet. Wow, that’s awesome!!

As I was running through the pine forest I kept hearing this chhhhh chhchhchh chhhchh sound. I stopped numerous times trying to figure it out. It sounded like it was from the top of the trees. I thought perhaps woodpeckers? It was constant as I ran miles through the pine forest. I couldn’t see anything.

At Bulldog Aid Station I decided to have a couple cups of COKE. Oh my, caffeine and sugar..what a hit ! I then added in 2 Advil and felt like a million bucks. I filled my pack with water and buzzed out of there. Running full speed ahead, down into Alkali Creek Aid Station.

Kevin's photo

I didn’t need anything at Alkali. There were only 5 or so miles left of the race. I knew I was going to finish well within the 11 hours offered. I had a few gels left and my pack felt like there was plenty of water. I checked in and out and climbed up the trail.

The last section was a mix of meadow, woods and the city of Sturgis. I ran through the woods, climbed up through a meadow where a thunderstorm decided to let loose. I pulled a black garbage bag from my pack and placed it upon myself. I was climbing through a cow pasture, going from 3500 feet to 4391 feet in the middle of a thunderstorm, with no trees in sight. A mama cow with two calves mooed at me as I passed through. I was relieved when the storm clouds passed and the rain stopped.

1 mile left!  I hit the cement sidewalk for the final stretch. The cement felt awful. I ran on the grass next to it. As I was running along the parking lot to the park…Kevin jumps from his truck with a camera in hand. He snapped a photo as I ran past.

Kevin's photo

As I came across the finish line in 7:56 I exclaimed how beautiful the course was and what a wonderful day I had. There was a group of people next to me that didn’t feel the same way and let me know. I forget that sometimes I need to curtail my excitement.  I was so thrilled, so grateful, so amazed by this wonderful gift I was given: to be able run in a beautiful place. I am so grateful!! My body felt strong.

Nikki congratulated me, snapped my pic and told me that she was 1st woman, 3rd overall!  Her first ultra!! Amazing!!

I hung out at the finish line for hours, catching up with my friends, making new ones and cheering in the finishers. I've missed this so much.

Sunday morning I awoke early, we all packed up and I headed back for home sweet home.

Gratitude. Lots of gratitude.