Sunday, January 20, 2008

Northwoods Snowshoe Marathon (Ultra)

First of all, my Internet connection at home has been down since Friday afternoon. I stopped by the office today to pick up my Italian Lesson books and to use the computer. Hopefully I'll have a connection by Tuesday. I am not working tomorrow, as I have medical appointments scheduled, so will not be able to respond for a while. Thank for all of the well wishes for the Marathon. It was awesome fun!

Friday evening after work I wore all of the clothing I was planning on wearing for the race for a three hour snowshoe run. I had on two layers over my legs, and they felt cold. I decided to bring 3 layers for the race. I tried running with my snowboard goggles, Troy's goggles and Tyler's. I liked Troy's the best, so decided to take those to the race with me. My snowshoes felt good, my feet stayed warm, hands were good, I was ready for the race.

The boys went snowboarding with their club on Thursday night. Each Thursday they take the school bus from school at 230 and snowboard until they return to the high school at 1000. They had decided that Thursday evening was cold enough, they didn't want to try Spirit Mountain, in Duluth on Saturday while I did the race, at -60F wind chill. I didn't try to talk them into it!

Saturday morning I loaded my ton of clothing into the car and headed for Duluth. The race didn't begin until 930 so I didn't have to leave home until 6. Not bad. The temperature at home was -19F with a -34F wind chill. Duluth was supposed to be -22F with a wind chill of -47 to -63 for most of the day, but sunny!

I reached the race at 845, plenty of time to check in and pick up my race number, minimal visiting as it was WAY too cold to stand around and chat, and time to sift through the mountain of clothing I had in my car.

I decided to wear a very thin base layer of Patagonia silk bottoms, my heavy Hind drylite tights and a pair of Brooks baggy tights. On top I wore the Patagonia silk top, heavy Hind drylite top and an even heavier Hind drylite top. I also wore my Patagonia Spraymiser Jacket that I wear from fall to spring. I had on heavy smartwool socks, Inov 8 Gortex shoes, thick heavy mittens with a wind mitten over the top. A fleece hat and two Turtle Fur neck gaiters that pull up over my head if need be. I wore a one bottle pack stuffed with Cliff Blocks, some Advil and Hammer Gel. I was set to rock and roll.

Out to the start line with 10 minutes to spare. Strap on the snowshoes, take a picture. Ooops, too cold, battery pack drained, bring camera back to the car as it was useless in the cold. No pictures!

Barb, bless her soul, and her daughter Shannon, are the RDs for this race. Barb has put on this race for 18 years! She says she will do it for 20 years. They do a great job. The volunteers! Standing outside for HOURS on end, just to pour us some hot drink and offer us cookies, amazing. Just amazing.

OK, Barb says we are ready to start, tells us it is about the same course as usual, well marked, river is frozen and be safe, be smart, dress well.


The race begins in a race ski area. Lots of hills on a groomed ski path. The first section is straight up hill. I get off to the side so I walk up the hill. The marathoners and 1/2 marathoners began together. The 10K's begin at 1000. As I looked around I think I saw 5 women marathoners and 12 male marathoners. The rest of the pack were doing the 1/2.

My feet were cold instantly. This scared me. I kept making a conscious effort to move my toes back and forth, trying to keep them warm. Once I finally made it to the top of the hill I began to run fast. The snow was perfect. A thick, deep base. I didn't sink at all, it was frozen solid. The snowshoes had an easy time gripping the surface, even on the icy ups.

As I was running hard, I heated up quickly. After 45 minutes I removed my jacket, tying it to my waist. I was shocked! I was actually warm. There was ice in my jacket sleeves and my outer shirt was covered with frost. I had on Troy's snowboard goggles, they kept my face warm. I also had applied Aquafor all over my face so I wouldn't have to worry about frost bite.

Before I came into Aid Station 1 I was having pain on the back of my right heel. What the hell? I've run many miles in the same shoe/sock that I had on. What was going on with my heel?

We ran one loop around the ski area, then back to the start/finish and another loop to AS1. As I ran into AS1 (about 6 miles?) I asked Mike if he had some Vaseline. They had some type of lubricant that I jammed over my sock, hoping it would find it's way to whatever was chaffing the hell out of my heel. I didn't want to take the time to take off all my foot gear, I was only 50 minutes into the race!

I guzzled down 2 cups of broth and an Excel and headed out for the big loop. It was awesome. Clear, sunny day, the runners spread out and I found myself alone. I saw some deer, a fox, I just took in the sights and enjoyed the morning. I was so surprised that I wasn't freezing to death. Eventually I came upon Ed and would end up jockeying back and forth with him the first 13 miles.

My snowshoes were really giving me problems. This had never happened before. My buckle on the back strap disintegrated. It just broke, in like 4 pieces! Now my foot was swaying right to left, back and forth, making my heel hurt even more. Pretty soon the three rubber straps going over the top of my foot felt like they were cutting into my skin. I couldn't believe it. I tried to pretend like it didn't hurt. Just suck it up and run.

As I crossed the river from AS1 to AS2 I saw 3 deer run up ahead of me. They were so beautiful! They must have been wondering what we were doing invading their territory. I walked up a long hill, through the woods, protected from the wind, still plenty warm. The day really was beautiful. You just need to dress for the temperatures. Really!

I readjusted my snowshoe again at AS2. The excel was freezing while Shannon was pouring it. It was so cold! She wasn't able to keep anything fluid. My water bottle was a 24 oz ice block. It was totally useless. I couldn't get anything out of it. Pretty soon Shannon was able to get the excel to pour and I guzzled down a few cups worth, then headed on down the trail.

As I was turned out of the woods, onto a street, heading into AS3 the wind whipped up and reminded me that it was a cold day! I struggled back into my now frozen jacket and zipped it up quickly. I never took it off again during the run.

My face was warm, I put the goggles up on my head. About an hour later I reached up on my head to put them back over my eyes and they were frozen to my hat! I couldn't get them off my hat so I just didn't wear them anymore. I pulled my two gaiters up to my eyes. My eye lashes froze to my gaiter! I wondered if I would pull my eye lashes out? I put my mittens over my eye and eventually was able to get my eyelashes free. Crazy! Again, I was reminded that it was damn cold out!

Every step was beginning to hurt. I kept thinking to myself that I have run 100's with blisters and sucked it up. Here I was, with something hurting on my heel, and I only had to run probably 7 hours. Get on with it! Each step made me grit my teeth. It felt like something was cutting into my flesh.

As I came into AS1 again, almost finished with the first 1/2, I told Mike my heel was killing me and I couldn't suck it up anymore. He was surprised I admitted I was in pain, and immediately set me in a chair, under a tarp, sheltered a bit from the wind. He was frying bacon and sausage! As I sat down he quickly removed my snowshoe and my shoe. We saw the blood coming through the thick sock. I groaned. Maybe I had sucked it up too long. I should have taken care of it when it first began to hurt. Duh!

He gently removed the sock and there it was. A silver dollar sized, popped blister and the skin was hanging on by a thread. He looked at Larry, Larry said they'd duct tape it up. He placed the skin back over the raw exposed flesh and Larry heated the duct tape up so that it would stick. After they taped it up, Mike quickly replaced all my foot gear and made me promise to clean it up real well and place some antibiotic cream on it when I showered. I promised.

I left AS1 feeling SO much better! I could run without pain. I took 4 Advil for good measure and realized, happily, that I was going to reach the 1/2 way point in 3 hours. Yippee!

I came into the start/finish and proceeded to run back to AS1. Mike and Larry asked how I was doing, I stated I was fine and told them how grateful I was. They were the reason I was going to finish the race pain free. What a difference it made to have a good feeling heel!

By the time I reached AS3 the top of my foot was killing me. I couldn't believe it. I was trying to fix the straps when Matt Long blew by me. We had come into the start/finish at the same time twice, and now he was really moving well. I wasn't. I was stuck there on the trail having another equipment failure. I removed my snowshoe and put two of the straps under my trail shoe. I fastened one of the straps and began to run. It felt better, my foot was now swollen so it was good to only have one strap on. Except it caused my foot to again move back and forth. Oh well. Enjoy the day!

I kept thinking about how grateful I was to be able to run this race. To be able to be warm enough so that I didn't have to worry about the cold, to be fit enough so that I didn't have to worry about the distance. I was having a great day, all in all.

I didn't feel tired, I didn't have any stomach issues, no pain other than one foot and that wasn't hurting all that bad anymore. I was blessed.

I enjoyed being outside, in the clear blue sky, feeling my heart beat heavily, listening to my breathing, hearing the birds singing. It was spectacular.

As I came into AS1 for the final time I again thanked Larry and Mike for saving my day. I wouldn't have enjoyed the race so much without their help.

I ran the final loop, could hear the finish line in the distance. I was so happy to come to the pine trees, where I knew the finish line would be. As I approached the line, the few spectators began to clap and cheer. Someone took a finish picture, offered me a hot cocoa and Barb presented me with a real nice finishing fleece sweatshirt with a zipper neck.

The clock read 5:52. Wow. A PR.

I removed my snowshoes, sat at the table and enjoyed my hot cocoa. I introduced myself to Lynn Saari who told me I was first woman. Wow! When there is a high rate of attrition, I usually place quite well.

Barb asked me to attend the party following the race, at Fitgers, at 7:00 to collect my award. I told her I would. I called home to tell Steve I won, and that I was going to attend the party, so that I would be home later than I had anticipated. I called Kathy to see if I could come to her place to shower. Kathy, Lynette and Jo ran the 1/2 so they were all at Kathy's, all ready cleaned up.

At Kathy's home I showered, ate dinner and then we all went to the award ceremony. It was so much fun! Barb gave away 5 pair of Atlas snowshoes! They are much smaller than what I wear and lighter. I didn't win anything, though.

I did go home with a fabulous 1st Place Champion trophy, a great sweatshirt and some incredibly awesome memories!

Mike Most told me that he screws his trail shoes onto his Northern Lites Elites, the same snowshoes I have. If I ever get serious about this snowshoe running business, I think I will do the same. The bindings really worked me over.

Three people had on Garmins. Two of the Garmins showed the race was 29.98 miles and the other showed 30.11 miles.

After picking up a 4 shot espresso coffee I was ready to drive back home. I reached Big Lake, safe and sound, before midnight.

Today my foot is swollen and painful. Just the right foot. I have three strips of blisters and bruises where the straps were. The heel is a mess. I can't believe it. I haven't had blister problems in a whole year. The first thing Tyler asked me this morning was if I used my foot potion. I felt embarrassed to say no, I didn't! Duh again. I can't believe I forgot to use it!

Topaz was fixing for a run today, he didn't get anything yesterday. I put on Tyler's size 15 Sorel boot on my swollen foot, my Sorel size 9 on the other and hit the trail for 2 hours. I walked, Topaz got his run on :)

Now I need to head over to Target for some foot care supplies! Next up: Winter Carnival 1/2 Marathon. It has to be warmer, doesn't it?


Carilyn said...

Wow, Julie! That sounds like quite a race. As usual, you amaze me - -22 degrees?! I hate to get out of bed if it is below freezing! Congrats on a great race! Thanks for the report.

mh said...

Great race Julie! I hope your blister heals soon. It will be relatively balmy in St. Paul Saturday for the half marathon. It could even be in the + double digits. I picked up my race bib the other day... I'll be wearing #46. Hope to see you there.

Bev said...

Unbelievable Julie! You are so awesome!

Runner Brewer said...

Once again, you set the standard for tough.

See you in the spring.


Jlie,Well done. I did that race back in the mid 80's and don't think I have ever been so cold.
I have run the 100 miler on the Idiarod course 2X and wanted to suggest I and alot of others people in tose race will use noepreme socks which you can pick up at most scuba diving shops over a light pair of running socks.I never blistered and was never cold.
Good luck with your running.

Heidi Swift said...

I think it's hard for us, as your readers, to express how incredibly inspiring your blog can be.
These race reports, told in your matter-of-fact style, with zero added drama, are what run through my head on long training days.
Fast healing for your feet!

marathonP said...

No one inspires me like you do Julie - everytime. Amazing.

:) phil

Jim said...

Congrats on a great race, Julie! Rest that foot, and I'll see you at MPTR.
- Jim K.

keith said...

whoa. you are tough as nails.

Tom said...

Julie; Way to go!!! you had many reasons to just give it all up and you didn't great job.

Suspended Animation said...

Good Job Julie!
I'm with carilyn, -22 degrees is incredibly cold! I find it hard to run when the wind chill is -10.

Damon said...


I live in Vermont and I've been on the treadmill for most of the past two months. I feel like such a whimp after reading your report. Tomorrow morning, I'm doing a snowshoe run in the dark rather than using the treadmill before work.

Great race!


olga said...

I don't know, Jul, it's downrite crazy...I mean, I had no doubts you could pull it off if anybody, but I don't want to picture myself in those temps:) My warrior days are long gone. Awesome!

Steve said...

Well done, Julie! I'm definitely going to have to invest in a pair of snowshoes and try that race next year. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

Stephanie said...

Hi Julie,
My name is Stephanie Reighart and I am with Trail Runner magazine. I am putting together a race report for our upcoming e-newsletter, Inside Dirt. I would love to chat with you about your experience. Please email me if you are interested.