Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wild Duluth 50K - 2011 edition

Well, I could throw out lots of reasons for my performance this year:
- injury in February that hampered any real training until June
- work stress (first week of "Go Live" on our new EHR - electronic health record - coupled with weeks of being short-staffed)
- surprise visit from a family member that changed my 'night before the race' plans drastically
- middle of the night GI issues
- minimal training (in my opinion) for this distance

I went into this race with a goal of finishing between 6 - 7 hours. Six hours was very optimistic, but I had run close to that at the Superior 50K a couple of years ago, so not impossible. Seven hours was an acknowledgement of my training effort and current condition. Runs leading up to this race were mixed, making it hard to really judge my fitness level. I was sure I could at least match my time on the course from my first year of running ultras, so there was my third time goal. Over all though I just wanted to have fun and not have a mental bonk. I looked at this as a time to rest my brain... life is pretty simple on the race course - eat, drink, run, walk.

Friday I helped flag one section of the course which allowed me to stretch my legs a bit after a week of tapering and clear my head after a very stressful day/week of trying to care for patients and learn a new charting system. Along the way I saw:
- a very large hawk perched on a log, finishing off a meal. It stuck around quite awhile, but flew off before I could get my phone(camera) out of my pocket. I was within 10 - 15 feet of the bird and my best guess was that it may have been a red-tailed hawk;
- a garter snake, curled up on the trail near one of the bluffs, I managed to capture a picture before it disappeared into the grasses;
- a ruffed grouse, running down the trail ahead of me.

My friend Sam met me near the end of my section, helped with the final bit of flagging and then gave me a ride back to my vehicle. From there it was a quick dash to race headquarters to drop off flagging supplies and say hello to friends. I thought I was heading to a pre-race pasta party but it was at this moment I got a call from a brother-in-law informing me he was in town (from California!) and wanted to get together for dinner. Off I went to meet him at a local restaurant. We had a great visit and then it was time to head home and prep for the race (by now it was past 9:00 pm). Thankfully Mr. Wildknits had agreed to crew for me and was willing to be at every aid station as needed, so I didn't need drop bags. Instead I packed up the red backpack with everything I thought I would need for the day, and added additional items (first aid kit, S-caps) to a small bin.

I was up for good at 4:30 am to have coffee, eat breakfast and finish getting ready for my race. Shortly after 6:00 am I hiked up the hill to the SHT to cheer on the 100K runners as they passed by. The moon was so bright that I didn't need my headlamp. What a beautiful morning! I was able to see most, if not all, of the runners pass by before I had to head back down to the house for a ride to the race start.

This race has really grown in three years! Once runners were checked in and race instructions given, we were off. I was feeling pretty good and tried to keep things easy as we ran along the trails in Jay Cooke State Park to our first aid station at Grand Portage. Somewhere in this section I realized that I would need to stop and take care of my feet. The area near my bunions was quite painful and I was worried about blisters already. Regretted not applying blister pads to those areas before the race, but had not been having issues in any training runs so didn't think it was necessary.

I came into the first aid station in 53 minutes (5.3 miles), well ahead of my optimistic estimate. Let Mr. Wildknits know I needed the blister pads and ran off to use the "facilities" while he found the first aid supplies. I left the aid station still ahead of schedule.

The section between Grand Portage and Munger Trail/Ely's Peak is one of my favorites and I often head here for training runs. It is 5.7 miles long and, in my mind, broken into two parts, divided by Mission Creek. It is in this section where I anticipated seeing the lead 100k runners - and I was not disappointed. Chris Rubesch came by looking very strong and from then on out I split my time between watching the trail in front of me for obstacles and trying to spot oncoming runners so I could move out of the way as needed.

Knowing the trail gives me a bit of an advantage and I was able to anticipate the aid station and powered in, so I would have a bit more time if needed.
Val and Jen were working this station so it was fun to do a bit of visiting as I checked my hydration pack to see if I needed a refill. I also met up with a few more 100k runners I knew here.

The climb up Ely's Peak is a bear! Especially so when some of the steps are waist high. I offered to let the runners behind me pass, but they seemed content with my pace. This may have led to me pushing a bit more up the hill as I tend to do that when I have someone close behind (I always think I am too slow and subconsciously increase my pace). Near the peak Zach Pierce was taking photos and I had to give him a bit of grief about needing to run and smile near the top of a climb.

Somewhere in this section my stomach started to turn and I could no longer eat or drink. Water was not sitting well, nor were the gels I usually rely on. I slowed considerably while I tried to sort out what was wrong and not make things any worse. I arrived at Magney - Snively (mile 15.3) not feeling well at all. Chicken broth wasn't palatable, but cola, ginger ale and Heed were. I decided if worse came to worse I would walk it in as everything else felt fine.

It is only 2 miles to the next aid station at the base of Spirit Mountain and I focused on getting there in a timely manner without getting hurt (the trail here is quite rocky and mostly downhill). I took Mr. Wildknits words to heart to not think about my stomach (has worked on rough Lake Superior crossings).

It was great to see the crew at Spirit Mountain (Storkamp's, Don Clark, et al) and I downed some more ginger ale and Heed before heading up the trail. My stomach was settling down at this point and I continued to feel strong. Mr. Wildknits had indicated that a few friends were up ahead and were looking forward to me catching up to them. I thought he was just trying to motivate me so was quite surprised to actual see my friend Sam just prior to reaching the drop into Kingsbury Creek. Unfortunately she was also having stomach issues and had slowed quite a bit. My attempts at motivating her were not successful and I was soon running on alone.

This section is quite rolling until it passes under the freeway, then crosses Cody St. There has been a lot of construction in this area recently and there was netting down over straw/fiber that was catching on my shoes. This led to a bit of "high stepping" in order not to trip. After a short walk up Westgate Blvd (someday I will run this stretch) it was onto the Keene Creek Valley and the climb to the Highland & Getchell aid station. I had quite a surprise waiting for me once I made it up the final set of steps, over the barrier and across the five street intersection. Ed and Linda Dallman had driven up from Florida! Ed is one of the people I credit with getting me into ultra running and Linda has been there at many an aid station to tell me to stop whining and get moving.

At this point my stomach was feeling better but I was sticking to liquids from aid stations so as not to risk another episode of stomach trouble. I think I may have taken three pretzels here, but was still not too keen on water so avoided that completely. I think I also gave up my extra flask of gel as I knew I wouldn't be using it. This next section is where I had been flagging the previous afternoon, and is a part of the trail I know well as it is close to home. I headed out, looking forward to the beauty of the woods and the views over Western Duluth and towards Lake Superior.

Soon enough I was descending to Haines Rd, then crossing to the Piedmont Hills. After a bit of rolling trail it was time to descend towards Skyline Blvd and on towards the 10th St reservoir and Lincoln Park and the 24th Ave. W aid station. When I reached the bridge over Miller Creek I found it lined with spectators. What fun! And what a change from last year when I ran (well really walked) this bit in the dark!

From this aid station it is only 3.1 miles to the finish. It wasn't long until I was passing the spur trail to my house, crossing Skyline again (and again) before entering Enger Park, rounding the Peace Bell and then starting the long descent towards downtown and Bayfront Park. I still felt strong at this point and like I could continue on if needed, which was nice in light of my training this year. The finish is interesting, one of the few stretches of pavement, but it is so fun to run up towards the big arch in the park.

My official time was 7:12:02. By far my slowest in a 50K. I did not meet any of my time goals but I did have fun and I didn't crash mentally so I count this as a success.

After having a bit to eat, swapping stories, and cheering in other runners I headed home to clean up, bundle up and head back out to the course to watch for 100k runners I knew. It turned into a late night/early morning but was so worth it to watch friends finish this challenging race.

Sunday I was back out on a race course for the NMTC Hawk Ridge 6k. Initially I figured at best I would be walking much of the first mile as it is uphill, but surprised myself by running the whole distance (thanks Chris for the great chat up the hill!) and turning in a respectable time as well, with a pretty decent finishing kick.

It took most of the week before my stomach was back to normal and I had much of an appetite or a taste for water. I took Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off from running (though did get out for a walk on the trails Wednesday). Thursday's are for running to work so that is what I did, in what may be record time! I did opt out of a run home though as I was still a bit tired and had had two close calls with vehicles that morning and just was not up to battling traffic.


All this free time has meant more time for knitting. And a good thing as I have cast on, knit, ripped out, redesigned, cast on, knit, ripped out and reknit a hat three times. I know how to get the most out of my knitting dollar! As of now the hat is moving along nicely and should be done in plenty of time for the NMTC end of season potluck and awards ceremony.

Today, rather than running, I headed out with Mr. Wildknits to the Lester Park mountain bike trails. This was my first venture onto these trails (on a bike) in over 20 years. Wow!!! Spectacular! We had a blast and I was smiling ear to ear by the end of our all too short ride. From there it was on to an event at the Three Irish Girls yarn studio where not only did I get a lot of knitting done, but I managed to walk out of the studio with 5 skeins of yarn (hard to resist a merino, silk blend or some lovely merino fingering weight yarn). I must have been overcome by all the yarn fumes in the air....

Tomorrow it will be back to racing, with a 9k (NMTC Roughrider aka the Powerlines to those familiar with the Voyageur course) and then the following weekend Surf the Murph 50K. After that.... well, we shall see what the new year brings.

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