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.


Kel said...

Great job, Lisa! I've never run the Voyageur course, but I've heard it's tough - especially on a very humid day.

Do you have other races planned for this year?

Hope to see you on the trails soon :)

Megan said...

YAY Awesome! You are so speedy :)

Anonymous said...

Yay Lisa! Congratulations!

SteveQ said...

Steps? Blueberries? Guess I missed a lot when I trudged through that course! Congrats on a great race; now you have to convince Leslie you'll both do the Arrowhead 135 - and then not sign up, just to get even.

Jean said...

What an incredible journey, Lisa! Wow, you are an inspiration. What an accomplishment. My hat it off to you. That was a humid, difficult day to run, and to have run 50 miles in that weather on that terrain is amazing.

Way to go, and recover well!

Londell said...

Cool, cool, cool... I felt your run as I read. Of course, knowing the Marley made it more enjoyable... Congrats. Your plan was great and execution flawless... Bask in the glory and look forward to the next chance to be a STAR!

wildknits said...

Thanks all!!

Kel, the only confirmed races on my schedule are WD50K (no - not the 100K, I live on the course and know better) and the NMTC Fall series. Considering some other races but nothing for sure at this point (oh yeah - will be out of town for the Superior events - self-preservation as I think someone[Wayne/Rick?] would sign me up for the 100 otherwise!!).

Most folks don't notice the steps Steve - they are tough for me due to height, others of normal stature probably forget they are there ;->

I did tell folks about the blueberries but not in great detail - yeah, I am a bit selfish I guess.

Oh, Leslie would see right through any attempts to get her to sign up for a winter race from me. Raynauds and all that. Can't blame her really, she was being smart in coming back from an injury.

Ran today and it felt better than my last two pre-race runs! Now to remember to take it easy...

Mike said...

Great report, glad you persevered through it all, I think that will make this one memorable for a long time. Now you can relax for a little bit and enjoy what you accomplished.

Scream'n Turtle said...

Awesome job on your 1st. 50m, it shows poeple out there including myself that it can and will be done by people like you. Great Job

sea legs girl said...

Awesome, Lisa! What a difficult first fifty miler and you did it! I saw you there and recognized you from your blog, though I wasn't totally sure. Well, now I know. I hope you run more. They just get more and more fun and the recovery takes less and less tiem.

wildknits said...

Thanks Jim. It is doable even when for most of the run you don't really want to be out there ;->

Traci - someone did mention that this was a tough one to start with. But, being my home course it seems rather, well, normal terrain. Half Voyageur was my first ever marathon (trail or otherwise)so it only seemed right to debut at 50 at this race.

Already feeling pretty much back to normal, though trying to not overdue it (hard lesson learned after Half Voyageur one year).

Hope your recovery is going well!

Helen said...

great report! almost as good as your run ;)

catch up this weekend. I will be in touch.

Steve Greseth said...

Congrats Lisa on a great first 50 miler. It was nice to meet Mr Wildknits. He was patiently waiting for you at all the aid stations as I came thru. See ya at Superior 50?

wildknits said...

Thanks Helen!

Steve, Mr. Wildknits was awesome that day! I think part of why he continues to crew for me is he likes hanging out at aid stations and reuniting with folks he has met in past years. He always seems to glean interesting tidbits and learn a lot about folks. Funny for a guy who is pretty shy by nature.

No Superior 50 for me - will be backpacking on Isle Royale that weekend (funny ow that timing always works out).