What a beautiful day to run 26+ miles through the woods of Duluth, Midway Township and Carlton!
The temperature was cool at the start - enough so that I was searching out other runners to stand (okay - huddle) next to when not standing in line for the bathroom. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing, and temperatures were predicted to stay in the low 70's.
Gene called the runners together in the parking lot at the Lake Superior Zoo, provided some brief instructions (did he say to give right of way to the horses???, walk the uphills??? - it is so hard to hear from the middle-back of the pack), and set us on our way.
It is a gradual climb for the first few miles of this race, but the trail is pretty wide after the initial bit around the edge of the zoo, allowing runners to spread out and easily find the pace they are comfortable running. There is a view out over the St. Louis River estuary and on towards Lake Superior at one point while crossing the Spirit Mountain ski hill, but it is hard to take in while running, so probably goes under-appreciated (though I think it would be easier to view when coming from the other direction). It was about this point when I realized that my left shoe was not tied tight enough and from that point on I kept debating when to stop and take care of it. Opted to wait until the first aid station at Magney-Snively, and then second guessed the tightness for a mile or so afterwards.
This year was a "non-Jarrow's Beach" year. Meaning rather than turning off from the Magney-Snively (M-S) ski trail onto a moss-covered-boulder-strewn 'path' ending with a run through a wetlands, we stayed on the M-S trails. It has been a dry summer in Duluth - so dry that the perpetually wet M-S trails had no mud to speak of. I have never run out there without worrying about losing a shoe in a knee-deep puddle. It still offered treacherous footing though due to the holes left behind by horses' hooves, which are even worse when immortalized in dried-up mud. The City of Duluth did a great job mowing, allowing a guess at what lay beneath the grass.
From the Magney-Snively trails we turned onto Skyline Boulevard and headed down towards the Beck's Rd (side note - apparently I am showing my age by inserting a 'the" in front of the name of a road, this was pointed out to me last week by some younger friends) and another aid station. This one was hosted by Mike and Shirley and was the first one where I would see Mr. Wildknits. Last year I came out of the Jarrow's Beach section heading to this aid station and was greeted by Porter "wooing" - his vocalization which was something akin to a howl and only done when very happy. He would continue to do that throughout the race last year. I still miss his greetings.
After stopping to get a drink, it was off to what I think of as "Zap's Loop". This section of the Voyageur trail is also one of the runs in the NMTC Fall Series. Parts of the trail have seen a lot of motorized use, so are pretty rutted, but quite runnable for the most part. It also includes the first of the stream crossings for the race. Last year there was no point in trying to stay dry (it had rained the night before and the streams were up), but this year it was very easy to pick your way across on the rocks - or should have been, I slipped on them more than once and needed to slow down or risk a bad fall. It was along about here that I started thinking about picking a nice location for a bathroom break. It was also along here where I successfully jumped over a log and then promptly tripped over a tiny stump and fell, landing on my hands and knees. Ouch! Popped back up and kept going, not bothering to look as I didn't want to know if there was any blood (none was found later).
At the bottom of this section, in the Fond du Lac neighborhood, is Mission Creek. Last year the creek was knee deep (on me), this year... well I didn't need to get my feet wet. The aid station also serves as a drop bag location and it was here where I met up with an old friend/teacher who I had not seen in years. Her husband was running the race. We spent a brief moment saying hi and then it was off and up the hill (she and Mr. Wildknits would meet up later at the Grand Portage aid station and do some catching up). There is a fair amount of climbing in this section, but it is one I am familiar with, not only from Zap's Loop, but also as a starting point for my long runs on the SHT (spur trail).
Coming in to Seven Bridges aid station
Getting my water bottle refilled
Leaving this aid station you run a short section on the Munger Trail (paved multi-use trail), take a sharp left turn into the woods and are eventually spit out onto the Powerlines section. On a sunny day the best you can hope for is a breeze, it can be a bit like a solar oven otherwise. Saturday was perfect, the wind was blowing and keeping the temps down, the trail was bone dry - so dry dust was kicked up by other runners' feet. Quite the contrast to wet clay clinging to shoes (my first introduction to this section of trail years ago in another NMTC race: Roughrider).
These are steep hills, and climbing them is an exercise in perseverance. I am sure that it was somewhere in here that my heart rate hit the peak of 186 recorded on my monitor ;-> I always mean to count the hills, and always start off with good intentions and then lose count somewhere along the way. I think there are 7 hills - 4 in the first part, then the nice, relatively flat wooded section in the middle and then 3 more. But maybe it is less... It was in this section that I caught up to, was left behind and then caught up to, Steve Hagedorn. We would continue like this for much of the race. He is a great hill climber... I am not. He is also a great encourager of newbie long distance runners like myself.
Made it through the powerlines feeling pretty good overall. Stopped at the Grand Portage aid station and grabbed some pretzels and had Dan pour water over my hands. They were sticky from holding shot bloks earlier in the race and quite swollen (the swelling started early in the run and subsided a bit by the finish). At this point I had been eating a little at aid stations and had backed off taking in Gu's or shot bloks. I think this proved to be a problem in the next section.
Heading up to Peterson's I was feeling pretty good (other than the fact that my butt - as in all of my gluteus muscles - hurt, and had been since early in the race. What the heck!?). I knew this was a longish uphill section and thought I was prepared for it. Eventually though I kept slowing to a walk - even on the not so steep bits. At one point I thought - well, so much for a 5 hour finish, guess walking it in won't be so bad. I got the ibuprofen out of my pack, took that with LOTS of water (I like my kidneys) and then, after a while thought about my mood and what that usually indicates: I needed to eat!! Duh! When my mood goes downhill/thoughts turn negative = low blood sugar. Got out a Gu, drank a bunch more water and was able to work up to a trot eventually.
Linda and a friend were working the Peterson's aid station (it is fun knowing the volunteers, Ed was off to crew at Badwater) and they stocked me back up with liquids and listened to me complain about my aching muscles (as did two runners who I am sure found it mildly amusing). Then it was down the trail. I still wasn't feeling great, but the single track of the Gill Creek trail eventually perked me up and I was able to run more. The course gets onto the Munger Trail again for a bit here and I tried to keep the two runners in sight, while also reminding myself to 'run my own race'. I tried to remember how far it was from this section to the next aid station and seemed to remember it wasn't much after we turned back onto the ski trails.
Coming into Forebay
Heading towards the aid station
I figured at this point I was pretty far off of my goal pace. I hadn't included elapsed time on my chart and can't do math when I am running, so couldn't tell by looking at my chronometer if I was on time or not. I would have to switch to the clock function to see if I was hitting aid stations near my projected times. I was quite a bit off on the way up to Peterson's and by the time I reached Forebay I didn't trust myself to read the chart correctly and asked Mr. Wildknits how I was doing. On time!! I also took the opportunity, since I was only 5 miles from the finish to empty nearly everything out of my waist pack. No extra weight. By now it was bugging me, but I had enough brains left to realize that I was going to be out there a while yet and still had the rocky, rooty Carlton Trail section to get through, so hung onto the pack and a Gu and my water bottle. I had been trying Endurolytes every hour or so, but decided I didn't need them any longer, so also left those behind. In hindsight, this was a mistake as I could have offered them to another runner who was having cramping issues just a bit later. Grabbed a handful of pretzels and was on my way - walking across the dam (hard to chew and run) and then running again when I reached the trail on the other side of the canal.
This is a short section and relatively flat. I remember last year getting a second wind here and feeling great as I came into Jay Cooke State Park for the final leg. This year, while not feeling great I was feeling pretty good. I kept thinking - "only 5 miles left - you can run that, it's almost nothing - you just raced that distance last week.." Then it was into park headquarters, remembering to look both ways before running out onto highway 210, and onto the swinging bridge after a brief stop for a drink.
The Carlton trail is rooty, it is rocky - both sharp slate and rounded rocks ranging from the size of softballs to bowling balls and it is a great place to find blueberries! Last year I stopped to pick a few, this year I didn't (though I did point them out to a runner near by and he did stop). It was in this section that I started to catch up to people that had passed me long ago (and was caught by a friend who had told me earlier he was taking it easy as this was a training run for the Full Voyageur in two weeks). I was encouraged by one running friend that if I just "picked it up a bit" I could break five hours. Hmm... I decided maybe after I got through the technical section I might give it a try. ;-> I just forgot how long the roots and rocks go on! As soon as the trail leveled I did try to push a bit harder, trying to find the balance point of running hard, but not so hard I couldn't sustain it for another mile or two (I am terrible with distances and had no real clue how far it was to the finish). My calves were starting to tighten up at this point (but my butt felt fine ;->) so it truly was a balancing act!
Then it was down the big steps, over the bridge and a left turn onto the Munger Trail. The winds had been building throughout the day, but as I had been running into them when I thought I was going in a different direction I figured this year there would be no headwind on the Munger. Umm, well, kind of... As I came near to the finish the wind gusted - right into my face! Really?!? It was pretty comical.
Crossing the finish line
Someone did a great job of writing all kinds of encouragement on the blacktop and it was fun reading it all while finishing the race. The race directors and volunteers do an excellent job with this race. It may be low-key but it is fun and they take good care of the runners.
Stuck around at the finish line waiting for friends to come in and swapping stories about the run. Many people had a great race that day - setting PR's for the distance and/or the course. There were even some sprints to the finish:
Rick K., Karen G. and Rick B.
Average HR: 162
Peak HR: 186
Later that day Mr. Wildknits and I headed out for a nice, mellow stroll on the Lakewalk and stopped by the Bridgeman's at Fitgers for a chocolate malt. Perfect way to start the recovery process! Sunday it was a 14 mile bike ride on the Munger Trail - passing the Seven Bridges aid station site and the turn into the woods for the powerlines. By Monday I was feeling pretty good and on Tuesday I headed out for a 4 mile run on the SHT. Today was another 4 miler and then it is time for a break again.
This weekend I will be heading north, resurrecting my old skills as a naturalist and joining the SHTA group hike outside of Grand Marias. Last year I did the same thing, but tacked on a 13 mile run (from Silver Bay to Mt. Trudee and back), and ended up injured for much of the summer. Will ease back in to things this year as I am determined not to get hurt. After all, it would mess up my plans to run my first Ultra this fall ;->