Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Monday Evening Sail

Finally the weather, time and other commitments conspired to allow us to get out on Jada for a brief evening sail about the harbor. It was a glorious evening! Scenes from our cruise down the point:

Wind turbine blades lined up in the port. They come in via ship
from Europe and then are trucked out of the harbor west to ????

Saltie loading some type of grain - possibly oats - from the smell. Bound for Europe or somwhere overseas.

Closer than it appears in this photo, this laker had just come in under the lift bridge. Nothing like a really big ship chasing you down! Some discussion about who had the right of way ;-> (we were under sail if that is any help).

The Coasties were out and about so PFD's were donned in hopes of NOT attracting
their attention. Being boarded is a hassle and seriously changes the tone of the outing.

Downbound towards the Superior Entry.

Tugboats lined up, remind me of ducklings.

Heading back to the marina. Sailing is at it's best heeled over a bit.

Dredging the shipping lane. Amazing process to watch! This must go on almost constantly as the St. Louis River brings sediments into the harbor. The depth changes pretty radically if you get outside the shipping lane, so we pay careful attention to the bouys (nothing more embarrassing than grounding your boat!)

Sunset over the grain elevators and the Duluth hillside

She still Knits?!?
My latest project has been a doozy. Months long as I custom knit some knee high socks for a friend. The first sock (on the right) turned out to be a bit large in spots so it was back to the drawing board as I refigured my gauge, took new measurements of the leg in question and redesigned the sock. I decided to keep the first sock intact for now and start the second sock. Gives me something to compare to. If the second sock turns out okay I will then frog the first one and reknit it.

Minimum supplies for knitting knee-high socks. Small notebook has leg
circumference measurements at one inch increments from below knee to ankle.

Yarn - Jamieson's Sheltland Spindrift; Colors #103 Sholmit and #425 Mustard
Needles - Size 0 (2 mm)
Gauge: 8.875 sts/inch
Pattern: Wildknits original. Stripe sequence determined by the numerical value of e; leg length 18" from top of cuff (in second version, 16" in first). Peasant heel. Wedge Toe.

Recovery Update:
My legs are feeling quite good. Post-run foot and ankle swelling appeared 24 hours later (as it did after Afton) but was less severe and mostly confined to the right foot. Massage on Monday worked out some kinks. Ran yesterday for 3 miles on the SHT west of Ely's peak. This seemed to get the swelling to subside. Plan to run today and will see if Thursday's are for running to work or maybe I will get the BMW R65 out again ;->

First ride on my new bike!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Minnesota Voyageur Trail Ultra - Race Report

Monday night (July 19th) I had a dream in which I started the race without my shoes, inhaler or pack, because I had misunderstood the time and was late. I kept asking people at the aid stations to call Mr. Wildknits and have him meet me at the next aid station with my stuff.

Friday (July 23rd) I was so anxious I stopped at my local running store to breath in new running shoe fumes in hopes that would calm me down (talking to the race veterans that work there did the trick).

By packet pick-up time I was feeling better, though still wondering why I had thought running 50 miles was a good idea. Headed home to finish sorting out the stuff I would need for the day and then it was off to bed for a 4:00 am wake-up call.

Now, I am a very fortunate woman. I not only live within a half hour drive of the race start and can train on the course, but I also had "crew" that was willing to go to each and every aid station so that I could dispense with drop bags. This turned out to be a wonderful thing as I ended up really needing the support - especially early on. Being local also meant that I knew someone at almost all of the aid stations and that also played a role in how my day turned out.

Arrived at Carlton High School a bit after 6:00 am and headed over to check-in and introduce Mr. Wildknits (aka "my crew") around. Then there were repeated trips to the ladies room until it was time for the race to start. My plan was to just take it easy and see how things went. I had provided Mr. Wildknits with an ETA for each aid station (wildly optimistic, but better early than late, right?!?).
Crossing the swinging bridge at Jay Cooke - photo courtesy of Helen Lavin

On the way to Jay Cooke I realized that I was having issues with the mouth piece/tubing on my hydration pack and was getting very little water out of it, and that I had to go to the bathroom - again. Got to the aid station, handed the pack off and headed for the outhouse.

Both issues cared for and I was off to the next aid station.

Somewhere in the next few miles I noticed that my right calf was bugging me. Tight and a bit painful. This is where things went downhill. I already was intimidated by the distance and now my leg hurt early in the race. I kept having this internal debate about whether I really wanted this bad enough to continue. The discussion became external when I would reach an aid station and talk with Mr. Wildknits. Here is where having crew really helped! He kept telling me "you've done this before" and asking what I needed. Even went so far as to rub arnica gel on my very muddy legs. Then he would push me on to the next aid station.

Being greeted by friends who kept telling me how good I looked helped as well. Ultimately my own head was my biggest barrier and I eventually turned to the quotes I was carrying for just this purpose. They were the key to turning on my "inner ipod" and triggered songs that I find very useful when running long distances.

"My feet is my only carriage
So I've got to push on through
But while I'm gone...

Everything's going to be alright"

- No Woman, No Cry - Bob Marley

"Don't worry about a thing
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right!
Singin': Don't worry about a thing

'Cause every little thing gonna be all right!

- Three Little Birds - Bob Marley

Don't ask me why reggae works, but it does. I also had Redemption Song rolling through my head a lot of the time.

The calf seemed to survive the power lines pretty well (I even tried to use them as a method of stretching out the muscles in question). I was still debating how badly I wanted to complete this race and whether or not I could live with a DNF. And I was still siding with "I don't really care enough to push on through". I determined that I would just get to the next aid station and see what happened. At one point I even told some onlookers who yelled something encouraging that I was "indifferent".

I had been handed a race with great conditions and fabulous support and I was in danger of squandering it all over a sore calf and bad attitude.

I did persevere and made it to the Zoo turnaround with plenty of time to spare (40 minutes or so). I was greeted there not only by Mr. Wildknits but also my youngest daughter! Due to the rain her work day was canceled and she came out to see the race. It has been years since my girls have watched me run (I think they were preteens at the time and I was running the Garry Bjorkland Half Marathon) and it meant a lot to have her there. S proceeded to tag along with her dad to the next 5 aid stations, even taking over as crew at Fond du Lac so her dad could stay up on Beck's Road for the Seven Bridges aid station.

The two miles up from Fond du Lac to Seven Bridges are a bit of a grind and I invited a friend helping at that aid station to join me for the "run". Shane - you were perfect! Got me out of my own head and talking about things that were non-Voyageur related. Plus I think I have you convinced to give it a try next year ;->

By now the sun was out, it was getting warm and I had the power lines to face. S had successfully passed the message to Mr. Wildknits to meet me with hat and sunglasses in hand. Topped off my hydration pack, ate more watermelon sprinkled with lots of salt, filled my hat with ice and took off. I carried the hat at first as I wanted to save the ice for when I hit the wide open trails and steep hills where the heat would be the most intense. The first few minutes after I put it on were a bit shocking till I got the ice arranged just right so as to not freeze my skin (very little hair = poor protection from the cold). Despite the earlier rain the hills were not as wet as I thought they would be and the heat seemed to help loosen the calf muscle up and overall I was feeling pretty good.

It was in this section that I realized I would need to change socks, the sooner the better. I obviously had some ground glass (aka: mud) in my right shoe near my bunion and it was a bit agonizing for a while till I hit a creek, and with the aid of the water and some tugging, rearranged the mud in my socks to be less painful.

Coming into Grand Portage

Made it through the powerlines in decent enough shape and came into the Grand Portage aid station to be met by great volunteers and my able crew who helped me not only get out of my old socks, but clean my feet and apply various layers of blister pads and athletic tape to them before I donned new socks and the old shoes (whose tread had been cleaned by Mr. Wildknits while I worked on my feet).

It was here also that I "formally" met Bohdan and we ran together up to Peterson's. He was a great help during the race. And yet another person surprised to learn this was my first 50 miler (apparently I project an aura of having run more, and longer, ultras than I have). It was also in this stretch that I began to fantasize about an icy cold coke. Thankfully they had one small cup of cola left at Peterson's and I dumped it over some ice. I took the ice along for the next stretch, folding the cup up and stashing it in my hydration packs' pocket for the runnable sections and pulling it back out when it was time to climb out of Gill Creek.

There is a point when walking - as appealing as it is - hurts more than running. Though it could be hard to get going again, running did feel better and I managed to shuffle along steadily if not speedily. At Forbay I picked up some ice for my hydration bladder and a small handful of pretzels and Mr. Wildknits walked with me until after we crossed the bridge and it was time to hit the trails again. This section is pretty runnable and upon some good advice from Alicia Hudelson, I ran most of the distance to the next aid station.

I came into Jay Cooke to be greeted by Sam and Leslie, Team Mega Tough buddies and a goodly part of the reason I have gotten speedier in the last year or two. They were a great support and quickly sent me on my way to the finish.

I had 11:09 on my watch and was wondering if I had a chance to still break 12 hours. The last section of the trail is rugged, and I thought I would be walking much of it. But I soon discovered that much of it is more runnable than I remembered. I was looking forward to the blueberry section and did take the time to pick and eat a handful as I passed through. Then it was down the nasty steps (a bit too high for my short legs) and over the bridge and out onto the Munger Trail for the final paved section to the finish.

Mr. Wildknits met me here and encouraged me to keep running as we made our way to the final turn onto 4th St. As we crossed the last intersection he told me it was time to sprint. I managed to pull out a little speed and to the cheers of the gathered crowd passed under the finish line in 12:02:06.

There are quite a few people I need to thank for making this race the positive experience it turned out to be:

- Mr. Wildknits; who gave up an entire day to drive around western Duluth and Carlton all so I could whine at him every few miles.
- S; who could have found something more interesting to do on her day off than hang out with ultra runners for the afternoon, but chose to be out there on the course, chasing her crazy mom around instead.
- All of the aid station volunteers; those old friends and new, who were endlessly cheerful and helpful.
- the other runners; whose names I may, or may not, have learned or retained. It was fun talking to each and every one of you.
- Leslie; for the original idea to run Voyageur (we are doing this together next year, ultra buddy!)
- Sam; for your enthusiasm and belief in my ability to complete this distance.
- Wayne, Rick, Karen, Ron, Helen, Val, Kim and Andy for training advice, awesome runs and unflagging belief in my readiness to run 50 miles.
- and of course the Upper Midwest Ultra Running Community.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Voyageur Trail Ultra - in brief

Finished my first 50 mile race.
More details to follow.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Prairie Fringed Orchis or ???

Yesterday I ran on one of my favorite local sections of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT). Shortly after starting out I came to an immediate halt to investigate a striking plant. After finishing the run I went back with my cell phone and took a few photos while also trying to memorize significant details. When I arrived home I got the field guides out and set about identifying the flower from the cell phone pictures and memory. My best guess (and it seemed pretty sure based on description) was that I had seen a Prairie Fringed Orchis (Habenaria leucophaea*). I then went online to learn more and discovered that:
a) this is an endangered species in the Midwest
b) it seems to be unheard of in my area

Hmmmm. Either I had found something significant or I had misidentified the plant. So, tonight it was back out to the trail with my camera and a measuring tape to do a bit more investigating. (Why yes, I am that kind of plant geek. Those who have run with me know this. Consider this fair warning to anyone else who spends time with me in the woods. I may have changed careers but I am still a naturalist at heart).

Mr. Wildknits is an old hand at standing around patiently while I photograph flowers, and was willing to assist when it came time to take measurements.

So, take a look at the photographs. What do you think this is?

According to Newcomb's : the Prairie Fringed Orchis has a "lip divided into
3 lobes, the central one broadly wedge-shaped and about as wide as long..."

Another look at the flower cluster:

A look at the stem, it is easy to see the alternative leaves:

"...2 - 3' high..."

"creamy-white flowers, about 1" long..."

While leaving the area we spotted these two smaller specimans alongside the trail.

So, after closely studying the photos and my field guides I am still leaning towards my original identification. Guess I will be calling my friend at the UMD Greenhouse next to see about confirming this sighting; or tracking down contact information for reporting a rare species to the DNR.

Bonus sighting: The monarch catepillars are out!! This area also has an abundant milkweed (Asclepas sp.) population.

Quotes are from: Newcomb's Wildflower Guide by Lawrence Newcomb. 1977. Pg. 42
Other references: Peterson Field Guides: Wildflowers-Northeastern/Northcentral North America; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

*Online sources give the Latin name as Plantanthera leucophaea.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Afton Trail 50K

Wow was it hot!! A little data from the weather service:

6:30 am - Temperature: 70 F, Humidity: 68%
9:00 am - Temperature: 78 F, Humidity: 57%
1:00 pm - Temperature: 86 F, Humidity: 55%

While not a treat for anyone, this essentially was the first really warm day I have experienced all summer. No better way to test out some ideas for making it through my first 50 mile in 3 weeks (Voyageur has a well-deserved reputation for being a hot and humid race).

I had no real time goal in mind though figured it should be somewhere in the 6 hour+ range based on my previous 50K times. There was much debate on the drive down to the Cities between Marcus and Shelly and I on how this course compared with others we had run as none of us had been to Afton before. In addition, Shelly and I joked around about winning money as this was also the USATF -MN Trail Championships and who knew how many of the runners would also be USATF members?

Woke at 3:30 am race day to prepare and make the almost one hour drive to the park. Walked outside to be greeted by temperatures already in the upper 60's, but the wind was blowing giving us some hope of tolerable temperatures. I had excellent directions to the park provided by Zach Pierce and we easily navigated the almost empty freeways.

After picking up our race packets and extra number (USATF members only) it was off to the car to prepare for the race. I was distracted enough to forget to lube up my feet - a mistake that would haunt me on those sandy soils.
Above photo courtesy of Jen Pierce. Not only did I get to be her first picture of the day but she took very good care of me after the race. Thanks Jen!!

I figured the first loop would be my chance to "learn" the course and I tried to remind myself to take it easy. Felt pretty good throughout, though noted my hands starting to swell early on (they do that on hot days anyway, running only makes it worse) and took my watch off and hooked it to my Nathan as the swelling extends up my arms a bit and is a bit uncomfortable.

The aid station volunteers (all of the volunteers) were awesome!! They really know how to take care of the runners and are right there with whatever you need almost before you have a chance to think of what it is. With the heat, watermelon dipped in salt really hit the spot. I also took advantage of the buckets of ice water to soak my hands, in a failed attempt to reduce the swelling. By the second loop I was also scooping out ice to drop down my running bra (multi-purpose garment).

This was the first race in which I used S-Caps. They have been recommended by many runners and I figured it was worth a try. Ultras are an "experiment of one" - what works for some folks doesn't for others. In the past my stomach has not taken to solid foods too well. I have tried out a number of different gels, blocks, and "real" foods and think I have figured out some items that work. Right now it is E-gel supplemented with craisins, home made protein bars and grazing off the aid station tables on things that look appealing at the time.

The first loop went well and I had a general feel for the course. There were some killer uphills and the open prairie sections offered some beautiful views. I could feel some hot spots developing and realized at that point I had not used any Body Glide on my feet. Oops. Figured I would tough it out to aid station 6 where I had my 'drop bag' and take care of it then. I had also intended to switch out my empty gel flask for a full one and grab more S-Caps, just in case.
Coming in to AS 6/25K point and still smiling! Photo courtesy of Jen Pierce

Arrived at the 25k point in 2:51 and sat down to take care of my feet. No actual blisters in sight - yeah! Applied the Body Glide liberally, emptied the shoes and snugged the laces up a bit more. Downed a handful of craisins from my drop box, emptied the protein bars out of my pack as they sounded less than appealing in the heat, and headed to the biffies to take care of another pressing need. Took me 7 minutes to clear that station. It wasn't until I headed down the hill that I remembered the other things I had wanted to do while there. Decided I would need to manage on one gel flask and with the S-caps in hand. This threw me enough to have me shaking my head and still berating myself as I passed Steve Q who was directing runners on the course. My bad mood should have been a clue that all was not well. I am usually fairly optimistic unless my blood sugar is dropping - then my attitude also takes a dive. If I am paying attention that is my clue to eat - NOW! I wasn't being too attentive.

By the time I reached aid station 1 on the second loop I was not feeling well. My hands were swollen and the heat was really getting to me. Maria and crew were great - trying to figure out how to help me when I didn't even know what I wanted or needed. I stuck around eating watermelon and soaking my hands in the ice water and generally wobbling about for a bit wondering what in the heck I was doing out there. The neat thing about this loop course is that you hit the same aid stations a couple of times. #1 is also #2, # 3 is also #4 and #6 is also the finish. For the most part they are quite close together - the longest stretch is just shy of 4 miles. When not feeling well that is comforting knowledge!

Between #1 and #2 I was struggling and having serious thoughts about the wisdom of continuing and my overall judgement in signing up for not only this race but any ultra and especially a 50 mile race. I made it back to Maria who, with her family and crew, once again did an awesome job of taking care of me and providing encouragement. At this point I had debated dropping, figured I would have to walk out anyway and decided I would just walk to the next aid station and decide from there.

I headed out and somewhere in the next mile or so my attitude took a turn for the better and I started running again. I ended up mixing in a lot of walking on the second loop, often running until I felt too hot (or there was a hill) then walking again. Thankfully the winds kept up which made the open prairie sections bearable.

Coming into aid station 3 on the second loop. Photo courtesy of Londell Pease.

They had popsicles at aid station 3. Amazing what some frozen sugar water and food coloring can do for ones spirits! Photo courtesy of Londell Pease.

Coming into aid station 4 - second loop - had to dodge some campers this time around. Photo courtesy of Londell Pease.

It was fun to see Londell and Westy at this aid station. Londell was taking pictures, working the aid station and even going out after runners in trouble. Westy had dropped out after one loop but headed back out on the course to cheer on others. His comment that I was still "chipper" combined with a gentle nudge to stop hanging out at the aid station, a challenge to finish in an hour and the knowledge that I was 5 miles from the finish got me moving again.

There are some long flat sections along the river and they can be a bit of a challenge. No real reason not to run them other than not wanting to. It was a good opportunity to work on a nice easy pace though I was thrilled to hit the hills again - what can I say, I live in a hilly town - that is my norm.

I was using my Nathan Intensity pack which has a 70 oz bladder. I had refilled it at least twice, but the last time it was with ice (love ice cold water). I had figured in that heat the ice would melt and replenish the water supply adequately. During the last 3 mile section (snowshoe loop) I discovered I was wrong! I ran out of water. I hadn't refilled at aid station 5 as the pack felt full enough. It was only when I had trouble getting water out of the tube that I did a more thorough check and discovered all I had was ice. Figured I could manage as I didn't have far to go but soon realized I needed a drink. Was offered a squirt out of another runners' water bottle as he passed by and then a bit further along opted to take the pack off and dig out the ice (this was made easier by the way the hydration bladder is sealed - like a dry bag - easy to get your hands into!). This turned out to be just the right amount of fluid to get me through to the finish.
Coming into the finish. Photo courtesy Jen Pierce.

By then I was dreaming of an icy cold Coke. Shortly after finishing Jen asked what I needed, "icy coke" was my request and she was able to deliver! At this point I was ready to have her adopt me ;->
Stretching out and downing a Coke. Photo courtesy of Londell Pease.

After downing a couple of cups of coke and ice it was time to get up and visit with other runners and deliver some strawberries.

Bonus: I ended up 3rd Masters Woman in the USATF -MN 50K Trail Championship! I am thrilled to join Eve Rukavina and Sonya Decker in this honor. Who would have thought it was possible?!?