Monday, April 26, 2021

Chippewa 50K 2021 = Covid Style

 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.

Feeling Euphoric

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 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.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Zumbro.. 2021 Covid Version

I have quite a few Zumbro race reports on this blog. They go back to the first Zumbro Fat Asses in the early 2000s, through the races and up to this past weekend.

If you click on the Zumbro label on the far right side a whole lot of Zumbro will show up!

Zumbro was cancelled last year due to Covid, was cancelled in 2019 and 2018 due to blizzards. I last ran the 50 M in 2014 when it rained and hailed. The final rain measure was 7" in 12 hours. Crazy for sure.

2021 Zumbro had a different format. Both a 17 mile and 34 mile option were offered. I signed up for the 34 and was so excited to get down there. Covid races this year have been a silver lining during a dark dark time. The races are small, there are no spectators or lavish aid stations and many hours are spent running upon the trail, alone. Definitely my jam.

The race would take place over 4 days with only 100 or entrants per day. I signed up for Saturday at 800AM.

I left home by 5AM and arrived to the race start at 740. I had enough time to change, pack my hydration pack and start my day. I very easily walked up to the start, squeeled with delight at seeing some friends whom I haven't seen in a very long time, heard shouts of GO JULIE as I started my day, running across the start line with a huge smile on my face. I don't think I stopped smiling the remainder of the day!

As I ran  along the course it became apparent to me that this course was very similar to the old fat ass runs Larry would mark out for us so many years ago. I would come across certain lookouts and recall certain memories with old friends. A lookout that John and I stepped off of the trail to witness, a path that Rick and I ventured down, a conversation that I had with Bonnie. So many emotions. Many additional climbs were added to the course and there was the nice flat road section to open up the hips and let 'er rip! It felt good to run a few 10 minute miles after all of the slow miles slogging through all of the mud.

Oh, the mud!  The course was covered with mud. Some of the soils were wet clay like, sucking shoe mud, as I tried to stay upright, calling upon my core to keep me steady. I didn't fall,  just kept on trudging forward.

I came into the first aid station and nearly broke into tears when I saw Donny Clark helping out. Don helped me run my first 50K training run at Afton State Park in 2001. It was great to reconnect again, it's been a while. Covid has put a lot of time and space between so many of us. 

At the next aid station I saw Bill and Chris, so great to see their friendly faces again, too!  I refilled my pack with water and moved on toward the finish of loop 1. 4 more miles of road to go for the first lap.

I came into start/finish at 3:55, feeling really great. Heard others holler out my name and encouragement, giving me a lift.  I ran into the start and ran back out. I didn't have a drop bag and didn't need more water. I was out on the second loop, smiling all of the way. The second pass around seemed to go more quickly, mentally. I had settled down, knew what was coming up, was finding my run nice and relaxed and was feeling fabulous. As I climbed a super hilly section I removed a PB&J sandwich from my pack and had lunch. My stomach was growling and wanted real food. I had been consuming a gel each hour, and drank 200 calories of Tailwind the first loop. I wasn't feeling Tailwind for the second, I'd stick with water. 

I came upon Brian and Joshua and ran a few miles with them, then opened up on the last section to the finish line and ran as fast as I could. I thought I may make 8 hours but I came into the finish at 803. Pretty darn close. I ran hard into the finish, I left it all out there. 

It was so great to see a handful of people that I haven't been able to see this past year or more. I lingered as long as I dared and then headed for home, basking in joy and a deep deep sense of gratitude. I'm so thankful to John and Cheri, all of the volunteers and the runners at Zumbro. What a delicious day!