I was so happy when RD Jeff stated that the 2021 Chippewa 50K Race would be taking place. He did such a magnificent job with Mindy Creek Marathon last August, I knew that Chippewa would be much the same. Chippewa would take place over three days, 50 runners each day. How sweet is that! I had entered last year so entered again for a Saturday slot.
Because Chippewa is only 2.5 hours from home I've never spent the night near the race; I prefer to sleep in my own bed and head out early. I arrived to the race course at 730 with plenty of time to collect my things as well as myself for the 800 start. I wouldn't need a drop bag or anything, everything I needed would be on my back. It as so weird not seeing so many great friends that I normally see at this race. Some ran Friday, some were running Sunday. What a weird weird year, albeit much better than last.
I packed my hydration vest, collected my bib and a very nice sweatshirt that I had preordered, said hello to Jeff and Patrice, a few others and went back to my car to await the start of the race.
At 800 Jeff told us to go so off we went. It was raining, near 40F and windy. I chose shorts, a long sleeved top and a windbreaker which I removed and put back on 3-4 times during the race to keep off rain, snow and ice. There was a little bit of everything along the course! The trail was in great shape, not very muddy, mostly dry and soft.
Each time that I have run Chippewa I realize that I forgot how beautiful it was. The course is a constant roll of hills, all singletrack, next to many many pot hole lakes which come right up to the trail. The lakes are clear so that I am able to see the rocks and water life through the glassiness of the water. Much of the trail is laden with soft pine needles, there is a blue heron rookery along the course and many bridge water crossings. The Ice Age Trail is truly beautiful. There are a few campsites along the way and one of these days I'm going to camp along the route. I'd love to spend more time picking my way through, taking in more of the views and then nestling in my sleeping bag under the stars.
I found myself swelling up with gratitude and admiration of the trail, ( my eyes teary, my nose running) of the outdoors, of nature, of God. It was overwhelming and at times I found myself getting emotional. I tried to pinpoint the reasons why and all I could come up with was how happy I was to be right there, at that moment, taking in the fresh air, the dirt, the lakes, my body moving strong and healthy. My mind happy. It was hard to put words to. I think that because for the first half of my life this is something I was never able to do, nor anything that was within my wildest dreams of doing..it was difficult to walk, much less run. Here I was, running for fun, for peace of mind, for health of body. I was in awe of it all and so grateful that after 25 years running is still such a joy.
Into the first aid station at 5 or so miles I didn't need anything. I thanked Patrice and continued on. I began to reflect on the other Chippewa 50Ks I had participated in. This would be my 5th Chippewa. My first one wasn't until 2011 as I ran 6 x the McNaughton 100 Trail Run the week before so would volunteer at Chippewa instead. I remembered that my first Chippewa run was a few months past the radical hysterectomy I had. It was hard for me to get my breathing under control during that race. I remembered that it took me over 7 hours. I remembered 2018 was the first race after injury and an 18 month recovery. Ugh. What a lesson in patience and letting go that was! That race was a gift to me, I knew I'd make a come back. I also remembered it was over 8 hours (806). So many memories upon this trail.
Running into the second aid station at 10 miles I was feeling euphoric. I didn't need anything, just ran through and said thanks. I began to chide myself for feeling so good. I couldn't hold it in. I was euphoric and bubbling over with joy. I passed a few runners in the driving rain, hearing comments back that I was enjoying myself too much. I really was.
As I climbed up the hills I found a strength I haven't always had. I was able to run up the hill, crest it and run back down. I felt strong. I came into the turn around, emptied my gel trash and just turned right around as I didn't need anything here, either. I'd get water at 24 miles.
Running fast (for me), over the roots and up the hills, a man that I came upon called me 'hill master' I had to chuckle. Hills have never been my strength. He was very kind. As I ran on I began to catch those that were ahead of me at the turnaround. The runners were kind as I ran past, commenting on my smile, my attitude, my pace. I responded to a runner that I only have one pace 'steady'. He told me he had gone out too fast and was suffering for it. He told me he could learn a lesson on pacing from me, that I was so strong. I told him, quite honestly, that I don't have to worry about going out too fast...I didn't have that bone. He told me I was killing it. Another asked me if I was part goat as I passed him on a hill.. I've never heard such complimentary things as I've run past others. This was a nice, a very nice change of events. I thought back to some of the negative / crazy things I heard from some of the Zumbro runners two weeks ago and reminded myself not to take those things so personally or seriously.
Still euphoric, I ran into the mile 24 ish aid station to fill my bladder. I was ready to hit the last 10 miles and see if I could keep this euphoria, this steady run.
Running past hikers, dogs I stopped to pet and talk to, coming upon runners that I was able to pass, it was really something. It was such a treat. The rain stopped and a flicker of sun came out across the trail. I raised my arms and let out a sound of pure joy.
I began to count down the miles, thinking I might make this run under 7 and possibly, my best Chippewa 50K time, whatever that was as I really didn't know. As I hit the last 2 mile mark I looked at my watch. I still had time to hike up the last blasted hill to the finish line. I might do this. Running hard, I came up to the hill, put my body into hiking mode and made it to the top, running into the finish.
6:53. I didn't know then that this was in fact my best Chippewa time. The finish time didn't make this such a joyous run. The run, the landscape, the breath of my lungs, the movement of my body, the calm of my mind, the joy. It was intense. So intense. All of these things made this such an incredible day.
When I arrived home I was recounting the day to my son, Tyler. I tried to put to words how much I enjoyed ultrarunning, how much joy I had felt upon my run. I couldn't find the words, I couldn't find the explanation. It just is. It. Just. Is. I feel so blessed.