Xylaria species

Xylaria species

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wild Duluth 100K

I swore I would NEVER do this race. I know the course, it is tough! Why would I want to do it twice? Signed up for the 50K and figured that would be a good way to end my first year of running ultras.

And then I paced a friend at Sawtooth 100.... and all of a sudden 100 kilometers on the Superior Hiking Trail seemed so reasonable.

Yes - I did step on the crazy train! Soon I sent an email to Andy and Kim Holak asking them to switch my registration to the 100K race. Now I had to figure out crew and a pacer. Mr. Wildknits stepped in and was, as always, awesome crew! He not only got up at 5:00 am to drop me at the race start, but was willing to be out there all day if I asked (which I essentially did). My friend Sara agreed to pace me in from the Munger Trail/Becks Rd aid station (aka Ely's Peak) so, other than figuring out drop bags I was set.

I had not been running all that much since Voyageur 50 mile. The combination of the Afton 50K and Voyageur in July left me a little tired and feeling less than inspired to run. I didn't run real long again until I paced at Sawtooth. That left me with only a few weeks to get in some higher mileage runs before it was time to taper.

The night before the race a bunch of us gathered at Leslie's for pizza, beer and ice cream. It was a great opportunity to pick up some last minute advice from the veterans in the group and talk out strategy for the newbies to ultra running. I then headed home early to finish prepping my drop bags before going to bed for the 3:30 am wake up (I am not a morning person, it takes me a LONG time to get moving in the morning and the race has a 6:00 am start).

Woke up, ate some yogurt and Grapenuts, drank my daily two cups (mugs) of coffee, visited the bathroom (a lot), packed the car with everything Mr. Wildknits would need for the day, and headed down the hill to Bayfront Park and the race start.

After checking in and a race course briefing we headed out the door to the starting line. Andy led the way out of the park and across Railroad Street to the pedestrian overpass and then stood in Michigan St/Superior St. while the runners streamed up onto the trail. There is a lot of climbing in the first 2 miles of the race as we ascend to Enger Park and then out west. I quickly warmed up and had to stop to remove a layer.

Eventually runners settled into their paces and I found myself running with Zach Pierce and John Taylor. As we ran through Enger Park I mentioned how well I know this trail (it is my back yard after all) and then promptly fell. This was to be the first of many falls or almost falls that day. I am usually not such a klutz and the repeated tripping added up over the day leading to a very sore right quad by 20 miles into the race (and some tenderized toes and bruised knees and shins).

As we passed by the spur trail to my house I ditched my extra jacket (which was never to be seen again) and then it was on to the first aid station. Breezed through there and on to the next section of trail. After dipping under a very large willow - twice - we were greeted by a section of trail lit by Halloween luminaries. One of my co-workers, Louise, also lives along the trail and was out to cheer us on. Thanks Louise!!

We climbed to the Piedmont knobs just in time to catch the sunrise over Lake Superior - well worth a stop to admire the view and snap a few pictures.

courtesy of John Taylor

I run these trails a lot and it was fun to share them with others. Soon it was time for another big climb up from Haines Rd and then we were rolling along the ridgeline above Skyline Parkway on our way to the Highland and Getchell aid station (mile 8.8). From there you enter the "Big W". The section of trail from H&G to Magney-Snively resembles the letter "W" - literally. It also includes the infamous "131 steps" (138 in the SHT guide to the trail) and an incredibly beautiful section of old growth maples. On this day all of the leaves were down, creating an ankle deep blanket on the trail that was a blast to shuffle through.

I had created a pace chart with three different goal times, based on 15 min, 16 min and 17 min/mile pace. This was mostly a guide for my crew and to remind me to take it easy at the start (I am terrible at pacing myself). My hope was to be able to run somewhere in the 14 - 16 hour range if all went well; though once I looked at last years finishing times I began to wonder if I hadn't set my goals a little high.

Running with Zach gave me plenty of opportunity to pick up some good advice about running a longer race. And I really took to heart his advice (after a few falls) to just walk the really technical stuff.

All of the aid stations were crewed by great folks and it could be hard at times to stop visiting and head out onto the next section. I even was treated to nut-free cookies baked by Nancy Griffith to accommodate my tree nut and peanut intolerance. Thanks Nancy!!

I encountered the first 50Kers in the section of trail between the Magney-Snively and Munger Trailheads. From there on out I would have lots of opportunity to cheer on friends as they passed by.

I had an interesting time descending Ely's Peak. Not only is it steep, but some of the "steps" are waist-high on me. By then my right quad was less than happy and I couldn't fully rely on that leg.
Coming into the Munger Trailhead aid station - Mile 20

At the Munger aid station I was greeted by Val and Eric. Val as always is a bundle of positive energy and not only made sure I got enough to eat but reminded me to maintain good posture ("tall, tall, tall"). Soon enough I was back out on the trail and headed for Grand Portage.

On a side note: Val is convinced that I have a 100 miler in my future. Apparently Mr. Wildknits spent enough time at that aid station to think that it may be true as well. Not sure what those folks are thinking!

The next section is one of my favorites. Beautiful forests, rolling hills with no huge climbs - just a joy to run. But on October 16th I found myself struggling. My right quad was sore, I had been running alone for 7+ miles and I was once again thinking about dropping out, if not at that next aid station then at the turn around point. Maybe 50K was a more reasonable distance?

Running into Grand Portage - outbound - Mile 25.7


I arrived at Grand Portage to be greeted by Jen Pierce, John and Chris Scotch. After a bit of whining, eating, and discussion about whether or not to keep going, I decided to head back out onto the trail. After all the next mile was flat(ish). I did take the opportunity to use my rescue inhaler at this point as my chest had been feeling pretty tight. I usually don't need it other than prior to a race but was very glad I had Mr. Wildknits carry it along.

I was surprised to have not seen any 100ker's on their way back yet and kept expecting them at any moment. I think I was on my way up the Grand Portage trail (and boy is that a bugger of a climb!) before I encountered the first runner on their return trip.

With the leaves down the views in Jay Cooke from the ridges are stunning! I was soaking in the beautiful light and enjoying the views while I walked and ran towards Oldenburg Point and the turn around.

And what a greeting when I arrived! Not only were the ham radio operators enthusiastic but so was the aid station crew. I was offered a variety of food and beverages but at that point was most interested in the outhouse (an opportunity to go to the bathroom without having to squat or worry about someone coming along at the wrong moment) and then putting my feet up and stretching out my legs a bit. Any talk of dropping at that point was quickly squashed by Matt Long and others at the aid station, including Mr. Wildknits, and I was off again on my way back.

It was at this point that I met up with Shelly who had been carrying cookies for me for the past 15 miles (sent along by Nancy as they were on a little car ride when I came through Magney the first time). What a treat!

On the way back to the Grand Portage aid station I started to feel better and put aside thoughts of dropping. A similar thing happened at Voyageur. The lesson I take away is to ignore what my brain is telling me in the first 20 - 30 miles ;->

Back at Grand Portage - Mile 36.3

Sooner than I expected I was back at Grand Portage. There was another rousing greeting by the ham radio folks and an opportunity to visit with some spectators. It was in this section that I had given myself permission to walk - not only the hills, but also at other points if that was what felt right at the time. That said, Jen told me I had to run into this aid station for photographic purposes (what is it with those Pierces' and their insistence on running into aid stations?!).

I was looking forward to arriving at the Munger aid station. Not only would I see Mr. Wildknits and Val again, but my pacer, Sara, was meeting me and I would have company for the rest of the run. Usually I do not mind running alone, but I was ready for a little distraction from my own thoughts at this point and knew that Sara would not let me get too whiny.

Another reason for looking forward to the Mile 42 aid station:

M. Johnson, DDS and bagpiper

Last year Mike piped me into the finish. This year, rather than asking him to sit around for an unknown amount of time late in the evening, he chose to meet me out at Magney. What a way to be greeted and then sent on my way!

As hard as it was to descend Ely's Peak, climbing up - especially that first step off of the Munger Trail - was even harder. Much of the trail here is comprised of bare rock or a jumble of sharp rocks. In other words, not very runnable. This was definitely the point where I started to really slow down. After the first crossing of Skyline Blvd. the trail gets more runnable and I felt like I kept up a decent pace.

Soon enough we were back at Magney-Snively (mile 46.3) and it was time to eat some more cookies, enjoy some hot soup and grab the headlamp and flashlight I had left with Mr. Wildknits. I also (for the 2nd time that day) admired the VW bus sitting in the lot. Apparently I had asked about it the first time through, but forgot whose it was in the intervening miles. It wasn't until a few days later that it finally clicked that the bus belonged to Dale Humphrey who was working that aid station (When Mr. Wildknits and I first met and married we owned a series of VW's - two buses and a bug. We only moved on to more "modern" transportation, ie: with heat, when our 2nd child was on the way. They hold a special place in my heart).

It is a short stretch on some truly nasty (very technical) trail to the next aid station. Sara and I joked at one point about taking the Alpine Coaster to the bottom of the hill. By now it was starting to get dark and the temperature was dropping, especially in the valleys. All the more incentive to keep moving.

My stomach was also getting a bit touchy at this point, so making choices about food was a bit harder. Soup was sitting well and I kept making an effort to eat things that were salty to help replenish the salt I was losing in my sweat (could feel it on my face). I also reminded myself to keep eating the gels I had along (egel - two packages in a 5 oz flask diluted with water, which makes it easier for me to take in. This product also contains electrolytes and seems to work well for me).

Of course now we were once again traversing the "Big W". I knew it would take some time to get through this section, especially as we would be doing it in the dark. When we reached the 131 steps I remarked to Sara that I expected I would need to rest midway up - but surprised myself by reaching the top of the stairs with no more difficulty than I do on a training run. I did take time at the top to catch my breath and admire the moonrise before we were shuffling off through the leaves on our way to the next aid station.

Running from west to east on the trail is much more familiar to me, and somehow running in the dark with a friend to talk to made the time pass pretty quickly. Soon enough we were at Cody Street, then West Gate Blvd and then on our way up to Highland & Getchell. The hardest thing about reaching this aid station is climbing over the guardrail. It is a big step and I am sure it is amusing for spectators to watch weary runners negotiate this obstacle (especially those of us who are vertically challenged).

Shane - who was staffing this aid station - took my request for grilled cheese to heart and had a hot sandwich waiting for me. He used the ham radio operators and the drop bag labeled with my race number to track my progress (I hear I was a bit later than expected into the aid station). He also had some home-made potato soup on hand (yippee for hot food when the temps dip into the 40's!).

It was here that I was greeted by quite the group of well-wishers. Not only Mr. Wildknits but also Wayne N., Karen G., Vicky B. and my friend Roger R. (who ran his first sub-20 min 5k that morning) were out to cheer me on.

At this point, after having ascended to the top of the ridge, you are rewarded with spectacular views over the bay, West Duluth, the harbor and Lake Superior. The lights are incredible and I am reminded how lucky I am to live in this city and what a gift this trail is to the community!

As we reached the section of cliffs that parallel Haines Rd we could see a car parked near the trail crossing. Interesting.... Once we reached the road crossing it became clear that Bruce, Sara's partner, was waiting there for us. I was really touched by his being out there and cheering us on.

From here I am in my neighborhood and really do know every inch of the trail. This is good and bad. I knew where I could try to push a bit and where I just had to keep up a steady walking pace. All of this of course complicated by it being quite dark. The moon was up, but was not bright enough to offer much help.

There is a steep descent off of the Piedmont knobs which can be a hoot and a holler in the daylight when there is clear trail. It was a bit of a slog this night as I did not want to fall (had enough of that early in the day). Soon enough we were across Skyline and descending some more towards the reservoir, 10th St (a two+ block section of road - where we saw Bruce again) and then on towards Lincoln Park and the last aid station. As we crossed the foot bridge over Miller Creek I started to see glowing colors in the trees along the trail. It took me a bit to figure out that someone had hung glow light bracelets on the route up to 24th Ave. W. Very cool!!

The road crossing was eased by some volunteers that stopped traffic to let us across. This is a tricky spot as there is a bit of a blind corner at the top of the hill and it can be hard for cars to see pedestrians.

Leslie S. was at this aid station, along with Rudy and others to cheer me on. She had won the 50K race that day and we had a moment to do a bit of catching up on how her race went. I was also warned at this point that Shelly was close by and I had better get a move on if I wanted to beat her to the finish. Off Sara and I went, cup of soup in hand to "run" the last 3.1 miles to the finish.

The last section is rolling for about a mile or so, then climbs to Enger Park and from there it is a two mile descent to Bayfront Park. About a mile from the finish Shelly caught up to, and passed, me. She was moving along quite well and was just cruising down the steps. She has had quite the year, topped off with finishing the Sawtooth 100 just a month ago and knocking over an hour off her Wild Duluth time from last year.

The finish is on pavement, though still on the Superior Hiking Trail. It was at this point that I checked my watch for the first time in hours (I had taken it off and strapped it to my Nathan pack early on due to a bit of hand swelling) and realized how late it was! As I came up to the race finish I saw 17 hours and 14 minutes on the clock. But more importantly, I had finished my first 100k and felt like I ran well.

I was touched by how many folks stayed up to watch me finish (and possibly bet on who would cross the finish line first, Shelly or I). I also got the opportunity to catch up on how others' races had gone.

Soon though I was shivering (despite putting on dry layers) and Mr. Wildknits was loading me into the car for the trip home where I was greeted by the 36 steps that lead to our front door and the 16 steps that lead to our upstairs (and bathroom and bedroom). Negotiating them wasn't too bad and I managed to climb into the shower and get cleaned up without tipping over.

The next day my legs were sore and getting down those stairs involved holding onto the handrail, the wall and employing that special hop-step that many a long distance runner is familiar with. By Monday I could navigate the stairs without holding on and was able to hop on and off the sailboat with only minor difficulty (we took the mast down and had her lifted out of the water). Tuesday and Wednesday I was out walking a local ski trail with no major issues. I am allowing myself a few days off of running as my right quad has been protesting a bit - especially things like getting up from a squat or fending a boat off a dock. It was a little bit hard not running to work yesterday (after all Thursdays are for running to work) but it seems like a proper recovery is in order.

One year ago I ran my first ultra - Wild Duluth 50K. I followed that up two weeks later with Surf the Murph 50K. Then this past May I ran the Superior Trail 50K, in July it was Afton 50K, then Minnesota Voyaguer 50M (my first at that distance), and now my first 100K. What a year!

I have been blessed with some incredible trail running friends and mentors, wonderful team mates (Northwoods Minnesota-Wisconsin and Team Mega Tough) and an awesome crew (aka Mr. Wildknits) that have made this year of running ultras possible.

A quick note about equipment/clothing:

Duluth in October can be cold! We were blessed with dry, relatively warm weather but it was in the 30's at race start, warmed to upper 50's/low 60's during the day and then dropped again. I am fortunate to have Icebreaker as a sponsor via Team Mega Tough and I used their crew top, long-sleeved shirt and socks during this race. I was warm and comfortable throughout and had no blisters (a first)! As a knitter I know the value of wool; and merino is one of the best fibers out there. I have been running in this stuff since last fall/winter and it is holding up quite well.

Team Mega Tough is also sponsored by Nathan. I have been using the Intensity Race Vest for all of my ultras this calendar year. Prior to Wild Duluth I received a new vest (due to a leaking bite valve) which has had some upgrades from their previous model. The bite valve worked flawlessly and the pockets seem to be a bit bigger, especially the zippered one on the left, which made it easier to store a 5 oz gel flask (also a Nathan product) as well as other needed items.

I have been working my way down from motion control shoes to something with a bit less stability. Right now I am running in Montrail Sabino Trails and really liking them. My local running store Austin-Jarrow (also sponsor of Northwoods Minnesota-Wisconsin) and their wonderful staff got me hooked onto these shoes. I have a very wide forefoot and bunions (hallux valgus) which makes fitting shoes a challenge and means mail ordering shoes is out of the question. I have learned the hard way that fit can change in the same model of shoe from year to year. Jarrow and his staff have been troopers in finding shoes that fit my feet.