Well, I did it - and with a smile!
I actually had a blast on this run. Wore the heart rate monitor (though didn't pay too much attention to it except on the long uphills). Finished the race passing folks - on the trail portions - and pretty happy. Legs feel good (it is 5 hours later as I type this).
So, for those folks who do not know this race: It is run in conjunction with the Superior 50K on the Superior Hiking Trail between Lutsen and Oberg Mountain and back. (http://uppermidwesttrailrunners.com/superior/index.html).
The Superior Hiking Trail is narrow (18 inches) with a lot of rocks, roots and hills. This race starts and ends at the Caribou Highlands Lodge at Lutsen. This equates to about .6 miles of "road" at the beginning and end of the race. The starting elevation is about 1300 feet. You ascend to 1650 feet within the first mile or so, then descend back to 1300 feet and repeat a couple of times, with a descent to 1100 feet thrown in before hitting the turn around at 7.2 miles and 1296 feet. These are not gradual ascents and descents. if you look at the trail on a topographic map, the contour lines are very close together.
The great thing about trail running is that you are not expected to be able to run up all of those hills. Power walking is about the best you can do (unless you are a running god/goddess). Descents can be a blast though - if you can keep your feet under you and don't roll an ankle.
The race course was complicated by a lot of downed trees. Just as you would get a nice pace going on Moose Mountain you would come upon another downed tree that had to be got over, under, or gone around.
The race directors did a great job of marking the trail though and the only time I wandered off course was when I was cruising downhill and followed the trail rather then the reroute. This always ended in a tree top, so no problem with getting too lost ;-> I appreciated that the flagging was on the end of wires (straightened clothes hangers) stuck in the ground. There was not much opportunity to lift my eyes off the trail in front of me.
The start of the race was a bit crowded and I ended up running with groups of folks for the first 7 miles. I am not used to this and it is hard to watch the trail ahead of you when it is obstructed by feet.
A couple of miles from the turn around (and the only aid station) I knew I was having trouble with a blister on my right heel. At first I thought I might just have dirt stuck in the back of my shoe. I had taped the area before starting as a precaution as this has been a recurring problem with these shoes. I ended up pulling the tape off as it had bunched up and was making matters worse. Got to the aid station, begged some tape off of the folks there and covered up the bloody mess that was my heel. Retied my shoe, filled up my water bottle and headed back down the trail (really up the trail as it had been a descent into the aid station).
Had to stop three times in the first mile to retie my shoe as it was too tight and really hurting the top of my foot. Finally got it right and continued on. The sun was shining and temps must have hit the mid-60's , especially in the valleys. Hot!!! Well, at least to this girl from the north country.
One of the best parts of this race - and something not mentioned on the race website - is the spring wildflowers:
Carolina Spring Beauty (http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=CLCA)
blanketed the forest floor alongside the trail for miles. The blue skies guarenteed the Spring Beauty's would be open, showing off their pink pinstripes. Saw lots of Marsh Marigolds - buds only. Heard Ovenbirds and a couple of warblers (don't ask species, I am terrible with warblers). I think I had a permanent smile on my face when I passed through the sections with all the flowers. Pretty sure I saw a couple of patches of:
Adoxa moschatellina(http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=ADMO&photoID=admo_003_ahp.jpg) also.
Both the Adoxa and Carolina Spring Beauty have "Special Concern" status in Minnesota. This is due to their relative rarity.
I think I ran the second half at the same speed (or slightly slower) than the first half. Hard to tell as I was having issues with the chrono feature on my watch and didn't check it at the turn around. Felt great on the way back though and was able to pass a few folks on the downhills as well as the uphills (a rarity for me!).
I had a blast running down the last hill. Nothing funner than some technical single track!
Finished in 3:02. I am quite happy with that time. First race of this distance ever. First long-distance trail race outside of the NMTC series (longest of which is 9 miles and on a road).
Next up: Trail marathon?!
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