The opening line to most of the race reports will probably contain some variation of this phrase: "It was a dark and stormy night..."
The weather forecast for this past weekend was grim - even by northern Minnesota standards: rain, temperatures into the low 30's, howling winds (up to 30+mph) and snow. Yup, you read that right... snow, up to a 1/2 inch was predicted. How to pack for the possibilities? Into my bag went: shorts, t-shirt, long-sleeved zip-neck shirt, fleece vest, winter tights, wool hats (two - one lighter than the other), brimmed hat, silk/wool mittens, a couple of weights of socks, rain coat, running jacket, wind pants, and shoes; along with the other miscellany necessary for a night away from home.
Drove up the shore through darkening skies and intermittent rain showers. Being an optimist I was wearing sandals (besides which I knew my feet would be happier after the race in these so easier to wear them than pack them). Arrived in Lutsen with time to set-up the display board I had put together of spring wildflowers along the SHT, pick-up my race packet, get settled in my room and attend the pre-race briefing.
The weather was getting nasty at this point, lots of rain and we could only hope the storm would pass through before morning and we wouldn't be running in a downpour. Woke several times during the night and listened to the winds howling around the building and wondered if they would die down at all or if my biggest risk on race day would be being blown off the side of a mountain or being hit by a falling tree.
Woke up early (one reason to stay up there was to see the start of the 50K race at 7:00 as I had several friends running in that race) and started sorting through my stuff. Shorts? No. T-shirt? Yes, layered under the long-sleeved shirt. Vest? Only for walking around in before the race as it was chilly in our room. Tights - yes. Wind pants? Yes, but again only for wearing at the start of the 50K. It was no longer raining though the skies looked pretty dark so debated rain coat vs running jacket for awhile. Decided against it as the rain coat is heavy and overkill unless it is pouring. Opted for the slightly thicker and longer wool hat, and mittens were a no brainer. Looked out the window to see snow falling - horizontally at times. Hmmm... It was going to be an interesting day.
After checking in and milling about the 50K runners headed outside for the start of the race:
And I headed back inside to have some breakfast, read the paper and putz around for two hours until the start of my race.
The race climbs up into these hills.
The weather was interesting... very windy (nothing like starting a race heading up hill into the wind) with occasional snow showers. Better snow than rain, less likely to get wet. The races start out on a paved road at the Lutsen Ski Resort and proceed uphill to a gravel road, then a ski trail and then the single-track of the Superior Hiking Trail. From here on out it is a typical SHT running experience: roots, rocks and steep ascents and descents. With the cloud cover and cool weather I was not very optimistic about seeing any wildflowers but was pleasantly surprised. Dutchman's breeches abounded as did the carolina spring beauty's - though they refused to open their flowers, why waste the effort when no pollinators would be out and about? Also spotted violets (purple ones even), marsh marigold and bellwort, just getting ready to bloom.
The weather was an interesting factor during the race. I was glad I went with the warmer hat, kept it on the whole race. My mittens alternated between being on my hands and being tucked into the waist belt of my water bottle holder. If the wind was blowing directly on me - mittens were on, which seemed to help keep the hand swelling to a minimum. I ended up unzipping my jacket and long-sleeved shirt fairly early on and would use the zipper on my jacket to regulate my body temperature from there on out. Down in the valleys, protected from the wind: mittens off, jacket unzipped. Up on the ridges: mittens back on, jacket zipped up.
There is a long switchbacked downhill section through a maple forest early (late) in the race that I absolutely love - in both directions. It is pretty easy footing and has spectacular patches of wildflowers. Fun running (power walking).
Some of the other climbs/descents on this out and back course are a bit of a grunt - especially with short legs ;-> Saw the first 50K runner come by and then after awhile began the steady stream of runners heading back on this out and back course. this of course meant not only paying attention to the trail, but also being aware when someone was coming and stepping off to let them pass - tricky if you were on a board walk section or in a particularly narrow stretch of trail. But, trail runners being a polite lot, we all managed and would alert each other to runners coming along.
Before I knew it I could see Oberg Mountain and, checking my watch, realized over an hour had passed. Really?!? I didn't feel like I had been running for that long already. Got out some Cliff Shot Blocks and ate a little as I seem to do best with something to eat every 45 - 60 minutes and was 'overdue' at this point. Reached the Oberg Mountain Aid station, filled up my water bottle and headed back the way I came. By now the sun was staying out for longer stretches and it was quite pleasant out there, if you were out of the wind.
I have a terrible memory for landmarks during runs and tried to make a conscious effort this year to remember where certain features were in relation to the finish line so I could gauge my progress. Kind of worked this time, at least I knew when I was within a few miles of the finish ;-> What I did know this year, different from last, is that the finish line is a long ways away from where you come off the trail (relatively) and not to get to ahead of myself and try to "sprint" in to the finish when I hit the pavement. Nope, wait until you round the buildings and can see the pool ;->
Finished in 2:50:31. Twelve minutes faster than last year. My goal was to break three hours, so I am very pleased with my time and how I ran.
Though I wore my heart rate monitor I did not look at it during the race, instead just running what felt like a good pace. I have the zone set at 142 - 162 bpm, what I have been considering my long run effort, and was in that zone for 31 minutes out of the race. My average heart rate was 166, with a peak of 190 and a minimum of 103. Finished the race feeling like I had a little something, though not much, left in the tank. My legs were feeling a bit crampy and I made a conscious effort to walk a bit and then stretch a lot (something I am terrible at doing after a race). Eating and drinking after a race is still a learning process for me. Sometimes things look much better than they feel once on the inside.
A huge thank you to Gretchen and Mike Perbix - race directors; Bonnie and Donnie Riley - course flaggers; Larry Pederson; the Two Harbors Ski Team and all the other volunteers for your efforts in making this a great race! See you next year.
Now I am off to get ready for my next adventure: a five day backpacking trip to Isle Royale. We leave in two days so it is time to assemble gear, prepare meals and sort through clothing.