Sunday, January 18, 2009

Running Through the Great Northwoods Snowshoe Marathon

Many people who run races run them to only to win, run them only for time, run them only to race. Most of these people are what I would call a higher caliber runner. The daily runs are training for a specific event, a specific race, a specific time. I've just never really run that way.

I truly run because I love to run. My daily runs are for pleasure and the races are the social outlet I sometimes need, or a goal that I need to see. Sure, once I began increasing my speed and my standings at races I certainly became excited to see what could happen at the next race, but I have never run only to race.

Now that my snowshoe marathon is over I will still snowshoe run. This morning Topaz and I hit the trails for 4 hours. There is no snowshoe marathon in the future. It was 16F outside this morning! I couldn't wait to enjoy the warmth, enjoy the snowshoe run. We did. Fully. It was fabulous. I had no aches or pains from yesterday's 'race'. All is well.

The Northwoods Snowshoe Races encompasses three distances: 10K, 1/2 Marathon and Marathon. Barb, the RD told me there were 60 in the 10K, 40 in the 1/2 and 27 in the Marathon.

For the marathon we run a short 'B' loop, then a large loop, back to the start/finish for short 'B' loop and the long loop again. You know I love a loop course!

I always misjudge the time it will take me to get to Duluth during the winter. I forget I'll be driving slower, roads are awful due to weather and I have to stop a zillion times to pee. I am always later than I'd like for this race.

I had a miserable Friday night. I am probably over estimating it when I say I slept 2 hours. Finally at 430 I came downstairs and began breakfast: 1 egg, 4 whites scrambled, 1/2 c oatmeal with splenda and cinnamon. I looked at the thermometer. Happy days! 16F. Wow. I looked up Duluth's temperature. 4F, high of 11F. Good deal.

Eventually I made my way to Duluth. At 915 I was at Lester Park. The two lots were full so I parked way down along the road and ran to the start to get my number and check in. Ran back to get my gels, iPhone and slather my feet with Foot Potion. Remember what happened last year when I didn't wear my Foot Potion? Yeah, I didn't want to have my foot doctored upon again during the race. I grabbed a snowshoe in each arm and ran back to the start line. Barb was giving her directions of the course to the runners. I put on my snowshoes and waited about 30 seconds before she said GO.

I watched everyone take off. The 1/2 and Marathon runners begin at 930; the 10K at 1000. I was dead last, as planned. I walked up the first hill, slowly, listening to others hack a lung as they forged up the first hill. Eventually I began a slow run and began to warm up. It was 4F, it felt great. One pair of pants, 1 shirt; it was nice not to feel like the Michelin Man for a change.

The first portion of the race is held in on groomed ski trails. The snow was well packed and in great condition for snowshoe running. There is one hill after another, rolling and lots of fun. I loved how the snowshoes could dig into the snow as I ran up the hill, propelling me forward, then down down down I'd run, gaining speed until the next hill. Too much fun!

Eventually I began to come upon others, passing them here and there, visiting and catching up. I really wasn't sure who was running the race as I wasn't at the start for more than 30 seconds. I have such a hard time recognizing faces and putting names to them.

Aid Station 1 is just out of the ski park, on our way to the private properties. Mike had sausage and bacon cooking, hot soup, cookies, pretzels, HEED, water and pop. I didn't bother to carry a pack with me. Before I know it I'm carrying a 24 oz ice cube. I left the pack at home. I drank 4 or 5 5 0z HEEDS and went on my way. All that I carried with me were 12 gels and my iPhone. I took a gel at each aid station.

The snow was really strange out of the park. Along an open field where the wind was really whipping up, the snow was like granulated beach sand that had been aerated. It was the weirdest snow I have run through. Up into the beautiful woods, along a steep hill and down back to a road and Aid Station 2. The volunteers are amazing. Here it is, cold and windy, they sit in their car until the runners arrive..jump out and help us out, always with a smile! I guzzled down another 4 little cups of HEED, sucked back a gel and headed out across the field into the woods. I climbed a beautiful wooded hill up up up to an open view of Lake Superior. Dazzling. Just spectacular. I was many deer during this section and a fox as well.

After climbing the trail I pop out onto another road and run down down down to Aid Station 3. A few more cups of HEED, a gel, and off through the hills and woods. It's fabulous. Great views, good outdoors, peace and quiet. I was having a fantastic time.

I don't wear my watch during this race. There are too many variables. Last year the course was a few miles longer, it was colder, this year the snow was funny and deep, two years that I ran the race there was NO snow, we ran on trail shoes, so I feel a watch is obsolete. I run this race to experience the outdoors, to revel in the beauty of the woods and to have a great time on a fun trail. That is exactly what I did.

By the time I hit the second large loop I wasn't running with anyone. The 1/2 marathoners were finished or almost so, the marathoners were wide spread. I came into Aid Station 1 again and was told I was first woman. I laughed and asked if I were the only woman. They told me no, that there were a few running the full marathon. I didn't know who or how many, and really didn't care. I was still going to run for fun. No pressure.

I continued on, enjoying all the beauty of mother nature. I was so grateful that it wasn't as cold as it had been, that I didn't have any blisters, I was in no pain and felt like I could run forever. I wasn't tired. I was feeling strong and full of bliss.

As I was coming into the finish I realized that I wasn't really ready to be finished. I had been enjoying this run so much that I really didn't want to be done. I wanted to continue running.

I saw the finish and saw the RD jump out of her truck to congratulate me on my finish. I stood there thinking I wasn't ready to be done. I wanted more. I stood at the finish for 25 minutes, waiting to cheer for another finisher but none came. I began to shiver and freeze. I told Barb I wasn't sure if I'd make it to the Award Party. I didn't know where to clean up. I wanted a hot shower. She told me she would mail me my award and sweatshirt if I didn't make it.

I ended up running 6:23, 1st woman; 9th overall. Barb thought there were still 10 runners out on the course.

I didn't have anywhere to shower and the party didn't begin for 3 more hours. I didn't know if I could hang out cold for 3 hours. I decided to try Dunn Brothers thinking I could use their sink to wash in. When I saw how small the bathroom sink was I decided against it. I was now completely frozen. I only wanted a hot shower and knew that a sink wasn't going to do the trick.

Back in the car I blew the defrost on high all the way home, trying to get warm, thinking about the hot shower awaiting me.I decided to go home. A few hours later I was cleaned up, in bed, warm and toasty!

Next year will be the 20th running of the Northwoods Snowshoe Marathon. It will be Barb's final race. I'll be there :)

Next up: Winter Carnival 1/2 Marathon. There isn't much for ultra running in MN in the winter. I don't think I have another race until McNaughton 100, in April.

Duluth Paper:


A Prelude To... said...

Great report, Julie. I loved how awesome you felt and I could totally hear the enjoyment coming through your words :o)

Kel said...

Bona fide heat wave compared to last year, huh? Or even last week for that matter ;)

Anonymous said...

I love how you say, "I wasn't ready to stop running." You are amazing, Julie.

I contacted my friend regarding BB comp; hopefully she'll get back to me or contact you directly.


Carilyn said...

Congrats on a great race! I'm with you, the training is the best part of racing. While I was hurt, I was dying to just put in a couple of miles.

David Ray said...

That was a fun read. Your enthusiasm is contagious. Great attitude on running.

JojaJogger said...

Excellent race report. Plus I wanted to say on your blog that your foot potion got me through my first marathon without a single blister!

Helen said...

Congrats Julie! What a way to make the most of the MN winter :)