Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Misty Wildflower Hike

Posting this one month after it was initially written

I got out today for a hike along Skyline Blvd in West Duluth. Needed to stretch the legs and work out some of the stiffness and discomfort from yesterday's Spring Superior 50K.

Despite the thick fog and misty weather it was a lovely day to be in the woods. My friend and I strolled along the parkway, stopping frequently to: check out side trails to overlooks; note what was blooming and try to identify birds backlit on a foggy day.



Wild Strawberry

Viola species

Large flowered Trillium
The main reason for walking this section of Skyline is that it has abundant wildflowers, especially trillium.
Juneberry (another specimen)

Viola species

Swamp Saxifrage


Large-flowered Trillium - looking a bit bedraggled in the rain

Wild Oats
Overall it was a lovely walk. And on our drive out we had a Broadwing Hawk fly over head and land in a tree next to the road. We got a very good look at it before it flew off into the woods.

Spring Superior 50K Race Recap

I went into this race with the plan to have fun, enjoy the day and do the best I could in light of some lingering effects from the flu in February (asthma exacerbation that, in hindsight, I should have treated more aggressively earlier in the flare). After two - 5 day rounds of prednisone I eventually wound up on a third, higher, dose and an antibiotic the day before the race.

After seeing my allergist I finished packing and headed north to Cascade State Park to camp. It was a lovely drive up the shore and once I set up my tent and sleeping bag I crawled in and took a short nap before heading to packet pick-up. As always, getting to race headquarters is a lot like arriving at a family reunion. Lots of visiting and catching up with folks I only see at races. I headed back to camp, made a simple dinner and prepped my hydration pack for the next morning before heading to bed.

Race day morning comes early when camping. I am slow to get moving in the morning and there was coffee to brew, oatmeal to make and eat and a tent to take down (it pretty much got stuffed into the car with poles folded and stashed in their bag to be dealt with when I got home that evening).

I arrived with some time to spare (ie: allow me to pace back and forth to any available rest room multiple times), which was good as I still needed to get my shoes on and make final preparations. Per my doctors instructions I used 4 puffs of my rescue inhaler before the race and stuffed it in an easily accessible pocket for use during the race (2 puffs every 2 hours). This is outside the usual directions for use, but the idea was to keep my asthma as controlled as possible so that I could finish the race. I started somewhere in the middle of the pack and took my time heading up the road to the SHT trailhead. I kept reminding myself to be patient, take it easy, and find the beauty in every moment with the plan that if I was feeling well after the turn around I could pick up the pace.

Fortunately this section of trail is awash in spring ephemerals and I kept myself entertained spotting all the Dutchman's Breeches and Carolina Spring Beauty's that were carpeting the forest floor. I also listened in to various conversations around me, occasionally chiming in. As we moved towards the Oberg Aid Station the pack spread out and there were more times of being alone then in a train of runners (my preference).

I took advantage of one of the Rollins Creek Campsites to use the latrine, thinking this would give me a bit of privacy in a woods that was not yet dense with leaves. Alas, as I wound down the latrine trail it turned a bit, as did the SHT, and, combined with some recently cut shrubs, put me in plain view of passing runners. Ah well, hopefully they were busy looking a the trail and not the backside of a runner in a bright pink hydration vest!

Soon enough I emerged onto the Onion River Rd and into the Oberg Aid Station. I stopped long enough to use the outhouse and then headed straight out. My pack was loaded with food, E-Fuel in flasks and water so there was no need to stop at the tables. My goal was to minimize my time at aid stations, something I have been working on the past few races.

The trail between Oberg and Sawbill is one of the most runnable sections, usually. But on race day it was muddy! I soon learned it was just as fast, and safer, to walk through the puddles then try to run through them as there were a lot of hidden rocks. I had already rolled both ankles and dearly did not want to get injured. About a mile or so out from Sawbill I came upon a runner who had injured his ankle. He was hiking in, but looked pretty uncomfortable. I offered to walk with him but he declined, so I let him know I would notify the aid station medic and send help. At that point I tried to note any defining features of the trail, checked my Garmin for mileage and time and headed off as quickly as I could. It turns out I may have been the first runner into that aid station that alerted them to an injured runner (I know I was NOT the first person to pass him). As it was a cool, damp day I had real concerns he would be pretty cold before he made it to the aid station if left on his own.

Another quick pass through the aid station and it was off to Carlton Peak. By now there was a lot of two way traffic and in spots the trail is pretty narrow. Fortunately trail etiquette and courtesy was in full force amongst all the runners and passing by each other went smoothly. It was fun to see familiar faces at the turn up to the peak and to be welcomed by John Horns at the peak and turn around. I got a hug, declined the cheese balls and other refreshments and headed back down towards the aid station.

I made a plan to stop at Sawbill, change my upper layers to dry ones I had in my drop bag and get my feet cleaned up and into dry socks (and go to the bathroom - an annoying theme during runs of any distance). This also allowed me a chance to get a cup of hot soup (using my nifty reusable cup); refill my E-Fuel flasks and in general hit the "reset" button. It ended up being a longish stop, followed by a slightly shorter one after I left when I discovered I had not zipped my pack closed or securely fastened my jacket to the pack. But I think it was worthwhile as I was able to move pretty efficiently down the trail. This is when the compete part of my plan kicked in. I picked up the pace a bit and ran as much of the trail as I could (barring those shoe-sucking mud puddles). I really wanted to finish the race in under 7 hours and possibly closer to 6:45.

I was staying on schedule with my inhaler and had noticed that my cough had loosened up sometime in the late morning (about 24 hours after starting the new medication regimen). I still sounded like an old smoker with COPD when I would cough, but possibly wasn't scaring folks quite so much.

A quick pit-stop at Oberg while a volunteer grabbed me another cup of soup and then I was hiking towards the trail and the final 7 miles. Jamison, one of the race photographers, caught me grimacing as I tried to get the tiny pocket high on my shoulder fastened after putting my cup away (couldn't see the velcro but knew things weren't right). That may have been the most frustrating thing that happened to me the whole race.

I made good progress climbing the steep slope up Moose Mountain (all those hill repeats paid off) and was able to run across the top and down the other side. It was in this section that I had the first inkling of the event that had transpired during the 25K as rescue workers were hiking back towards me (It wasn't until 30 minutes or so after I finished that I learned what happened).

I love the switchback's up Mystery Mountain. I ran what I could and power hiked the rest, gradually gaining on the person in front of me. Then it was on past what I consider "2 mile rock", a glacial erratic that marks a turn in the trail that is about 2 miles from the finish line. At this point my quads were starting to squawk a bit louder, but I set that all aside and pushed as much as I could while trying to calculate if I could finish close to 6:40. Quickly the campsite came into view (1 mile to go) and I headed downhill towards the Poplar River as fast as I could go. Across the river, up the slight inclines and out onto the road. I checked my watch again and thought a 6:43 might be possible and then the headwind hit me! Oof!! Nothing like getting sand/grit/road debris thrown at you so hard you have to close your eyes. I pushed as hard as I could in spite of the conditions, rounded the corner of the lodge and, now out of the wind, sprinted towards the finish to be welcomed by Ron, who was working the finish line, Amelia (a pleasant surprise), Mae and several others. 6:45:32 was my official time, and as it turns out, good enough for first Female Grandmaster. I was very excited when I was called back to the finish line to receive that prize as I had no expectations of winning my age group, especially after seeing who I was up against and knowing that I was at less then peak health.

I owe a big thanks to Jake Hegge of Trail Transformation for getting me back to running injury free and faster. I began working with him last August and started to notice improvements right away both in my mental attitude and physical strength. It has been quite a learning experience as I have never (and I mean never) done any speed work prior to this and only followed the most basic of training plans (and often deviated from those). In addition, I had no real understanding of some of the most basic terms he was using so asked a lot of questions and for the rationale behind many of the workouts. He has kindly put up with all of the emailed questions and adjusted my training plan to accommodate the realities of life (family in town, off to visit the kids out west, taking a weekend long class, doing trail work or just too stressed out to cope with a hard workout).

No comments: