Friday, July 11, 2014

2014 Afton Trail Run 50k Race Report

Many people can point to annual events which indicate the beginning of summer; fireflies, the baseball all-star game, end of school, fireworks, mosquitoes, etc.  For me it is Afton, specifically the Afton 50k Trail Run put on by John Storkamp each July in Afton State Park along the Saint Croix River in Minnesota.

Each Afton is the same; same great organization, great people, low-key vibe, and hills (eight notable per loop).  And then each Afton is different; park closure reroutes, rain, varying heat, and humidity, trail conditions.  This year stood out for me because of the nice cool weather (I don’t think it broke 80°F) and the fantastic breezes in the open areas.

This actually turned out to be one of my favorite Aftons.

And it might be my last.  My family and I are moving to the Oshkosh, Wisconsin area in the next few months and I’m not sure I’ll have the opportunity to make it back to this great race.  I know there are a few races on the IAT and the Northern Unit in that area, so I won’t be wanting for good trail races.  I will be documenting my new running digs through this blog though, and will be continuing it as long as I have more than one reader, other than my mom.


This race has been held at Afton State Park in Minnesota for the past 20 years or so.  25k and 50k distances are offered, depending on whether you traverse 1 or 2 loops through the park.  The trails range from gravel road to singletrack, from wide open prairie to dense forest, from railroad bed flat to eroded washout hills.  Total elevation for the 50k is about 4,700 ft of climbing.  This year 340 or so folks opted for the 25k distance, while about 170 braved the 50k.


The morning of the race was uneventful.  I did not get much sleep the night before (fireworks), but I felt fine, considering.  I also ignored the temptation for a nice scoop of cream cheese for breakfast (read here for that bit of stupidity).  After a nice drive into the park, and a smooth packet pickup, Beth (crew) and I (runner) were at the start with about 15 minutes to spare.
John, the race director, gave us some encouragement and guidance, and then asked who had done 5 Aftons?  10?  A few raised their hands.  This would be my fifth, with sub-5 hr finishes in the last 2.  I was hoping to improve on this trend.

As a prelude to this race, I ran (and finished, woo hoo!) the Kettle 100.  Following this race I had some interesting recovery issues with the ball of my left foot and the associated Achilles tendon.  That, along with the usual calf and hamstring decimation, I was hardly fully-recovered.  I was, however, in decent enough shape to run a 50k hard.  In truth though, I had no idea how my legs would respond.  We’d see.

Beth and I ran into the Kettle RD Tim Yanacheck, who was there to crew his wife.  In fact, I ran into him at various points along the course, and as usual, he had great encouragement for me.  He is truly one of the good people.

And then we were off

I usually start this race near the front, and this year I think I was too far so.  As we careened down the first descent to the base of the ski hill, runners were zipping past me.  The descent is kind of like a cattle chute, so I let others past as well as I could.  It was evident that my foot “injury” limited my speed on rocky descents.

But things cleared up quickly.  The fast people took off, and I took in with a like-minded group at about a 7:30-8:00 pace.  The temperature at the base of the ski hill was nice and cool.  Ahhh.  I love this race (before it gets hot).

The first hill hit quickly.  It is about 250 ft, not too steep, and with a few false tops thrown in.  I had planned on running all the hills if I could, and did just that.  So far so good; my legs felt fine.

Africa Loop

The top of the first climb takes us up to the Africa Loop; beautiful, grassy prairieland along with the associated micro-fauna.  Think Serengeti sans lions and wildebeests.  It was still cool in the early morning and a fantastic breeze was blowing, keeping everyone cool.  Time to pick up the pace!

Following a mile or so of smooth prairie running, we descended into another climate zone called the Back Forty.  This area is more rain forest than prairie, and it tends to be pretty hot and humid.  The descent was pretty painful for my foot, but not debilitating, and before I knew it I was zipping past the first aid station (AS) and onto some nice singletrack.  The Back Forty is a nice 2-mile section off the Africa Loop, with a section of stairs thrown in for fun.  Keeping with the plan, I ran those stairs and was back to the aid station in no time.

The climb out of this section is pretty gradual and affords the opportunity for a running ascent back up to the Africa Loop.  Once on top, the breezes cooled me off nicely.  This section of trail then leads to a wonderful descent to the third AS by the Saint Croix River.  I really like this descent, but today I had to take it easy due to the foot issues.  It was still fun.

Beth was waiting for me at AS 3 with a bottle of UCAN, and an S-cap.  I did not ask for a time update; I was running as fast as I could comfortable maintain, so it wouldn’t really matter.  After the quick turnaround at the aid station, I was off, up Stone Hill.

The Middle Part

Like the previous hills, I ran Stone Hill to the top, and was greeted again with the breeze.  I could feel it warming up a bit, but it was only in the 70’s I think.  Still cool for Afton.  From the hill top, the trails wrapped around the beautiful north end of the park, and then dropped back down to the river.  My favorite vista is on this section of trail.

Of course, once we dropped, it was time to climb back up.  Up the most gnarly of hills in the park, this thing was washed out with exposed rocks and roots.  I didn’t run this climb.  I trudged the steepest sections really.  And then I was on top, through the campground, and back down to the river.

Beth was again ready for me at AS 4.  She replaced my UCAN, and this time gave me a bandana full of ice, ice for under my hat, and some ice down my shirt.  I was sick of turning into a hyperthermic zombie in races past, so Beth and I came up with a plan: ice, early and often.  I will say this, I stayed cool throughout, though I think because of the benign conditions, this was a bit of overkill.  Oh well.

I think at this point I told Beth that my legs were hamburger, and wasn’t this fun?  That’s where I was at.

The Last Bits

Out of AS 4 is a nice flat section that makes you think it is time to put the hammer down.  I’ve long ago learned that this would be a mistake for me.  7:30 pace would have to do through here.  I swear, this flat section hurt more than the hills.

But before I knew it I was at the end of flat and heading up Meat Grinder, the 6th of the 8 hills.  I continued to run the hills, so I was up in a jiffy and into AS 5.  I never know what to expect from this aid station when I round the bend; it was an inexperienced but enthusiastic girl’s cross-country team one year.  This year AS 5 was all business, and I was in and out with a fresh water bottle and gel.

From there it is down into the absolute best portion of trail in the park; the Snowshoe Loop.  From the initial descent, you are assaulted with wondrous singletrack winding up and down though a forested section, with a few open areas and a tough climb thrown in for good measure.  I approached this section with Newton’s first law in mind.  Run it hard, and the up-hills can be dealt without concern with inertia.  I did run hard, and was soon climbing back out to the straight-away to the start finish area.  One loop done, and I felt pretty good.  In fact, I felt I might have PR’ed that loop.

Not even close.  I saw 2:23 on the clock and my heart dropped with disappointment.  The perceived effort was there, but the speed was not.  Oh well.  I still felt fantastic, and it was time to gear up for the second loop.

At the start/finish area, I changed my shirt, re-UCAN’ed, and re-iced, and then I was back down the chute for my second loop.

Back Down the Chute

Well, the second loop was much like the first loop, only a bit slower.  I never bonked or even felt remotely overheated.  The temps never really became an issue for me in this race.  I really was enjoying myself!  I kept on running the hills like before, and counted them off as I climbed each.  8-7-6.

On the downhill coming out of the campground, I passed a 25k runner who was in obvious pain.  I thought I’d encourage her a bit: I said “These downhills sure do hurt, don’t they!”, as I scampered past.  All I got was a glare.  Hmmm, maybe a “Way to go” would have been more appropriate.

I did see Steve Quick on Meat Grinder and introduced myself.  At that point I was in a bit of a zone, so I completely blew off the photographer Steve was conversing with.  Sorry.

Throughout the second half of the race, I was swapping positions with another guy named “Steve”.  We would encourage each other as one passed, but it was evident we were in the same Age Group, so I think there was some competing going on.  I sure was feeling it.  Steve seemed a great guy, and he sure was running strong.  Coming out of AS 5 going into the Snowshoe Loop, he was right behind me.  Great.  I said something like “Let’s hammer this last section”.  He seemed game.  So much for reverse psychology.

He stayed right behind me as I picked up the pace on the initial drop.  I wasn’t really trying to lose him just yet, we had a couple of climbs yet to come, and I wanted to gauge his energy on them.  Plus, I was tired.  I hiked the second-to-last hill and he stuck to me like a booger.  So about 2/3 of the way to the top I started to run, and I opened a bit of a gap by the apex.  I then put the hammer down for the last time.  I knew there were trail twisties coming up and if I had a gap on him here, he might have a tough time keeping me in sight.

Sure enough, I saw no more of Steve after this section.  It always feels good to be in the last sections of a race and to still be racing.  I ran as hard as I could through the last bits of valley and hill until at last, the climb out and the half mile or so of flat to the end.

I ran this section as hard as my hamburger legs would allow, and I crossed the line in 5:08, in 31st place.  Not a PR, but I was pretty happy.  I ran this race as hard as I could on un-recovered legs and had fun doing it.  Plus, I was lucid at the end, and not really feeling injured.  Weird.

In Closing

The winner, Wisconsin native Michael Borst, finished in 3:43, 3 minutes off last year’s course record.  Way to go Michael!

Thanks again to the legions of great volunteers who put on this great race.  Thanks to Afton State Park for allowing the event to take place in their beautiful park.  And thank you Beth for sharing these experiences with me and getting me through the aid stations quickly.

By the way, anyone want a kitten or two?  I have five that can't make the move to Oshkosh.

Monday, June 16, 2014

2014 Kettle 100 Race Report

On the weekend of Kettle, I died a few deaths.  I lost a bit of sanity (but got it back, I think).  I did not finish strong.  I did not run with good strategy.  I did not care about my time.  But I finished the Kettle 100 mile endurance race.  After failing to accomplish this goal in 2013, vindication is sweet.

364 days is a long time to live with a failure around my neck.  My last attempt at the Kettle 100 ended in me feeling mentally broken and quitting at mile 63.  I learned a lot in that race and applied it to the 2014 attempt.  I also now understood, mentally, how I needed to be prepared for the rigors to follow.   If you care to read about the 2013 attempt, check out the following links (Link1, Link2, Link3).  But that is now old history.  Here is my new story.


But before I start, I’d like to tell you a bit about the Kettle Moraine 100 Mile Endurance Run.  Feel free to skip this section if you know this kinda stuff.

This endurance run, in its 19th edition, took place in early June, on the trails in the wonderful Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin, mostly on portions of the 1000-mile Ice Age Trail (IAT).  Those trails vary from steep and rocky to flat and runnable, forest canopied to open prairie, narrow single-track to wide grassy ski trails.  No mountains though.  Or glaciers (not anymore anyway, and the penguins have long skedaddled).

The race started at the Nordic Ski Trails in La Grange, WI.  We then headed west to the IAT, where we proceeded north to the Scuppernong trails near Dousman.  This first section was about 31 miles and made for a perfect first 50k.  We then turned around and headed back on these same trails returning to Nordic.  Then out from Nordic again, back out onto the IAT, but this time heading south to Rice Lake, returning to Nordic via the same route.  A double out-and-back.

The race was run by some fantastic and special people, with one of the best volunteer groups to be found in Midwest races.  Absolutely first-rate.


Living in the Twin Cities, it is sometimes difficult to make it down to my favorite running trails in the Wisconsin Kettle Moraine.  Therefore, I am very grateful that my parents live just miles from the forest and are always gracious and willing to host me for races.  My wife and crew Beth, and the 2 younger of our 4 children headed down bright and early Friday morning so we could be at packet pickup on-time and spend some extra time scoping out some of the course we missed last year (Bluff to Uruguay, er Rice Lake).

Packet pickup and check-in was quick and easy; a cool black shirt in a big green bag.  Following that, Beth and I took a drive through some beautiful Kettle Moraine terrain to find the Highway 12 station (easy) and the Rice Lake turnaround (not so easy).  We were glad we did because finding aid stations in the dark can be difficult for someone not familiar with the local roads.  Beth would absolutely hate it if she missed me at an aid station.

With the logistics complete, and a small meal in my tummy, our kids being spoiled by grandma and grandpa with popcorn, ice cream and a Godzilla movie, Beth and I were in bed by 8:30 with a bright-and-early 4:30 am alarm set;  which went off all too soon.  Everything, of course, was laid out the night before, so we got dressed, did some quick packing, and were out the door by 5:00.  Yawn.
The Lemon-drop of Power

There seemed to be about 400 or so people at the Nordic starting area getting ready to support or run either the 100k or 100 mile races.  It was a comfortable jumble of folks; some nervous, some extremely fit, and most both.  I love the starts of ultras, so low-key and good-natured.  Beth and I hung around the smiling crowd until the opening remarks, waiting for the starting gun to go off.  “Anyone who does not have their timing chip, please come to the table and retrieve it, we have several yet to be picked up”.  Whoops!  I gave Beth a last kiss, ran over to collect my timing chip, and then we were off.

And then we were off, Nordic (1), mile 0.0

Down the rabbit hole.  250ish 100-mile, and 100ish 100k runners fed through the starting gate funnel and into the first section of the race.  Because of the route design as a double out-and-back, the first seven miles of the race become pretty familiar because we will end up traversing it four times.  It is usually pretty painful by the last trip due to the endless and pointless ups-and-downs (PUDS), but the first time through was a breeze.  The temps were in the 60’s and I was feeling fine, cruising along in a crowd that lightened up after about 3 or 4 miles.  Tamarack is the first station we met, where my sister Laurie was volunteering.  I did stop to give her a hug, but then I was through and off to the Bluff station and onto the IAT.

At the Bluff aid station I met Beth for the first time.  I doffed some cool-weather clothes and slid on a light mesh shirt.  I took my first bottle of UCAN, 1/2-strength, and I was off.  Totally coherent and having fun.  It was a beautiful morning for a run.

At last year’s race, one of the things that brought me down was a broken upper body.  This year was to be different.  I did core exercises all through the winter, and I worked on keeping my upper body loose throughout the race.  Coming into Bluff, I stretched my arms and core.  No problems this race.

North onto the IAT, Bluff (1), mile 7.5

The wide open and hilly ski trails at Nordic then fed into a rocky, single-track ascent onto the IAT.  Now this is real running; fresh legs, gnarly trails, steady footfalls, and wonderful views.  After the first climb to the top of a bluff (with a fantastic vista), the trail took us into the woods, along the rugged remains of the last glacier.  We cruised up and down eskers and kettles, through sun-dappled woods.  This was a great part of the race (on the way out) and very much worth the price of admission.  I caught in with a train of like-minded runners and we just cruised easily through the forest hills.

Following an unmanned water-stop at Horseriders we were spit out of our forested womb, birthed into an ultra party that is the Emma Carlin aid station.  Woohoo!  Beth was here to get me some more UCAN, and to ice me up.  We knew what was coming, and heat preparation was key to surviving the next miles and hours.

Onto the prairie, Emma Carlin (1), mile 15.8

When it is cool out, this section of the IAT is one of my favorites.  Where else can you go to find prairie as far as your eye can see, wildflowers and native plants with nary an unnatural sound (except for airplanes of course).  But it was starting to get warm, and we were out in the open now.  The terrain, thankfully, was even and smooth, so these miles went easy.  So far so good!  But we would be seeing this section on the way back; when it would be warmer, and my legs would be more trashed.

After two more unmanned water-stops at Antique Lane and Wilton we were into the Highway 67 aid station.  This aid station marks the end of the prairie and back into the woods and hills.

Coming into Highway 67 Aid Station
Back into the woods and hills, Hwy 67 (1), mile 24.1

At this point of the race, I was still feeling fine.  I could feel the temps increasing and the humidity rising, but these were problems for the future.  The here and now was just fine.  This next section tended to be mostly tree-covered and hilly, with some technical footing thrown in, and some actual switchbacks.  Nice.

The highway ZZ aid station is thrown in the middle of this section, but I just cruised right through.  The last portion of this section wound through a campground and was pretty easy, so no problems here.  And before we knew it, the first 50k of the race was history.

At the Scuppernong 50k turnaround it was a quick bottle change (still UCAN) with Beth, and then back out onto the trails.  My legs were still is good shape, but I knew the heat would become a problem soon.  It was now well into the 80’s I think.  I was sweating pretty heavily.

After the second Hwy 67 aid station is where the fun started.  The prairies opened up to upper-80’s heat and very little tree cover.  Even with the ice and a good water dousing at the aid station, I was overheating and I knew it.  My smooth, even pace turned into a shuffle, while my mind started to lose focus.  I was in good enough condition to know that I was not in danger; I was still lucid and sweating.  Taking in calories was out of the question when it was this hot though.  I would just get nauseous; no water available for digestion.  Dang it was hot, but I knew relief was soon to come.

Relief, Emma Carlin (2), mile 47.4

I stumbled into Emma Carlin looking for Beth; I knew she would know what to do.  When we found each other, I sat on the ground and proceeded to try to get my respiration under control while Beth stuffed ice everywhere; down my back, in my hat, up my shorts (that brought me back to life).  I may have whined a bit at this point, but we’re not sure.  When on the ground, I looked up to see a woman staring at me in concern.  She was obviously waiting for her runner to come in, and if I was in this bad shape now, what would her runner look like?  I realized then how I looked, so I smiled at her, got up, slammed water and a bit of UCAN, I was gratefully back into the woods and nearing the halfway point.

Only, there was not much relief in the woods.  With the high temps came humidity, which did not go away with the tree cover.  In fact, all the trees did was block any breeze that tried to cool us off.  This meant more slow going.  My spirits were OK though, at least I was on my way back to the Nordic turnaround.  This section of trail saw my pace slow considerably due to the heat, but I was still in pretty good spirits.  I don’t remember much of the sun-dappled woods that I saw on the way out, at this point it was all about getting back to Nordic.

It was at this point, I think, where my mind slipped just a bit; where I started playing mental games with myself.  Kinda like Gollum.  “Should I quit at Nordic again this year?  Maybe 100k is my distance, and I’m just not a 100-miler.  No, I have to do better than last year, just turn around at Nordic and quit at the next aid station, then this year would be an improvement, and thus a success.  Right? There’s just no way I’m running 100 miles though, just ain't my day.  Beth is going to be pissed, I’ll have to work on my speech.”  Pulling into Bluff at mile 55.7, I told Beth nothing.  I was still not eating, but I was moving OK.  After getting re-iced, and a few whimpers, I was back on the trail returning to Nordic.

Actually, Beth tells me that, at this point,  I told her this would be my last attempt at this distance.  She just replied, "uhuh, right."

The 100k turnaround, Nordic (2), mile 63.2

My mental state coming into Nordic had degraded substantially.  I could not think a positive thought, even though I knew this was what I needed to be doing.  I just could not reference anything happy.  My patronus would have been pretty pathetic at this point.  Once at Nordic, I sat on the ground thinking I did not want to go further, but that shifted part of me knew I really would.  It was at this point where my psyche really seemed to split.  I didn’t really know it at the time, but I separated the wimpy part of me who wanted to quit from my pragmatic self; the part of me who knew I would continue; and one was keeping secrets from the other.  More on this bit of weirdness later.

Back on the ground, Beth re-iced me and forced water into my gullet.  My sister Laurie was telling me I needed to get up, and give me a banana or something.  Marty, a friend who started with an injury, with a planned DNF at the 50k mark, knelt down to my level, eye-to-eye (man-to-man), and told me “you know what you need to do, so get back up and moving on the trail again.”  Darn-it, the man card.  My pragmatic self knew he was right, so up I got and out I went.  Just for giggles I took an espresso gel with me to see if I could start taking in calories again.  I took my headlamp too, it was getting dark.  Plus, now it was raining and I was getting cold.

Back on the trail, cooling off in the rain, I started feeling better.  After the espresso gel, I felt 100-grams-of-caffiene better.  I wouldn’t call my state “good”, but at least I was serviceable.  I was moving.  Plus the temps were thankfully dropping.  By my return to Bluff, the rain had stopped, and I was actually considering taking one more leg before quitting.  I was curious what lay south of Bluff.  How bad could it be?

Heading South, Bluff (3), mile 70.7

I took on water and 2 gels at Bluff, plus a Red Bull, got a few “keep moving” words from Beth, and entered uncharted territory.  It was dark by now, and my headlamp was doing its best to illuminate the forested trail ahead.  Heading south on the IAT, the trail now took a big drop in elevation.  I kept eating and drinking, and dropping, until I reached a sort-of valley.  A very frog-infested-croaky valley.  The trail here was pretty flat and I actually started making good time.  My mind was still definitely split.  My wimpy side was planning on quitting at Highway 12, while my pragmatic self knew I would, at least, be going to Rice Lake.  It kept telling the wimp what it needed to hear.  Actually, Mr. Pragmatic, at this point, made a deal with the wimp.  If you finish this race, you will never be asked to do another.  Hmmm.  Sounds reasonable.  Let me think about that.

Mr. Pragmatic was lying.

Running in the dark, with my world boundaries the size of a headlamp beam, is some kind of awesome and surreal.  Hours of focusing only on the trail ahead.  It was Zen, or something very like that.  Steady pace and breathing, adjusting footfalls for the rocks and roots 5 feet ahead; nothing existed outside my headlamp beam.  Well, the frogs existed.  Lordy they’re loud at night.  Croaking and barking, they kept me company throughout this section.  My world slowly changed from one of light and bustling excitement, to darkness, rocks and root, and frogs.

The road crossings were lit by green glow sticks.  Very nice touch.  It was then, with a line of glow sticks, that I entered the Highway 12 aid station.  I handled the shocking transition between the Zen of the woods and headlamp, to the lights and sounds of the aid station, well; I was actually feeling pretty good.  Now I knew I would make it to Rice Lake (where I could quit with my head held high, maybe).  I did not tarry at the station, so after recharging my water bottle, and taking a couple of gels, I was back into the woods towards the Rice Lake turnaround.  I wanted me more of that Zen.

Well, having not run these sections before, the trail into Highway 12 was actually very nice.  I made great time and my pragmatic self actually started “knowing” that I would finish.  Ha!  I had no idea what lay ahead.  The nice smooth trail of the previous section was replaced with washouts, stairs, steep ascents and descents, rocks and roots.  In other words, technical “gnarly”.  Oh boy.  The steeps were relentless, and the downs were worse due to the rocky nasty nature of the washout hills.  If I fell on one of those descents, well, I think it would have hurt.  A lot.  I had yet to fall in the race, so I was due.

So I took it slow through this section.  I was eating and drinking well, but I would not consider myself moving very fast.  More power-hiking really.  All the nice smooth trail Zen was replaced with zombie running.  I would love to hammer this section of trail some day, but not today.  Not now.  By the time I rolled into Rice Lake, I was in a sour mood.  My pragmatic self was taking a logical beating from the wimp.  Plus, the trail crossed a narrow footbridge without railings over water prior to Rice Lake.  I did NOT want to fall in there.

The final turnaround, Rice Lake, mile 81.9

I don’t remember much from Rice Lake.  All my good feelings were gone by now.  Beth ministered to me with ice, gels and water.  I also took on some real food as well; pretzels and a sandwich I think.  And before the wimp could open his mouth, I was back out onto the trail, heading home.

I think Mr. Pragmatic had played a joke on me.  It knew that once I started heading back towards the finish, my mental state would improve a bit; I would start to believe.  This did not help my mental state through the last section of trail though.  This was going to suck.  And suck it did.  Up, down, tiptoe through the rocks and roots, all in the world of a headlamp beam.  And frogs, lots of frogs.  Wait, were there frogs on this section?  Maybe I hallucinated them.

I’m not sure how I dragged myself though this section.  I do know that, to maintain a bit of sanity, that I stepped away from myself a bit, and became a bit of an automaton.  I just kept moving, one foot in front of the lamp-lit other, to the next landmark.  Just make it to the next road crossing, water stop, aid station, whatever.  I knew my pragmatic self had already won, that I was going to finish, but my wimpy self still needed to be dealt with.  We still had a lot work remaining.

Once I pulled back into Highway 12 for the last time, I sat down and let Beth nurse me back to life.  I was more pissed than anything.  These stupid trails were slowing me down from getting this beast of a distance over with.  And I wanted to be done; just end this.  BTW, the cheese and salami sandwiches at Highway 12 were delicious.  I would never choose to eat such a thing in real life; but I was far from that.

After more water and real food, I was back out on the trail.  I knew this section would be easier, and it was.  I started moving like a runner again, though nothing anyone else would consider running.  At least I wasn’t power hiking.  It was still dark, but I knew the second sunrise would soon offer me an emotional pick-me-up (at least I read this happens).  All through this last section of the IAT, headlamps were still coming towards me.  Oh my.  These poor souls had yet to traverse the crap that now lay behind me.  They had hours to go.  Poor souls.  But really, they seemed stronger than I; they had a determination in their voices as we offered each other encouragement in passing.  Tough souls.  And before I knew it, the sky was starting to lighten, and I was off the IAT and into Bluff.

A note on staying up all night.  I took some caffeine to help keep me awake, but not that much.  I really didn’t ever feel like falling asleep; I felt as awake as when I started.  Weird.

As good as done, Bluff (4), mile 93.1

I knew I was as good as done in Bluff; with the race that is.  I just wanted to be done; to get this over.  At Bluff, I did not sit down, and I did not whine.  Beth filled me up with water and a gel, and I left post-haste, back to Nordic, just end this.

The last seven miles of this course are the home stretch, no doubt.  But they still hurt.  Those endless hills that seemed so simple in the beginning of this adventure were relentless now.  But they were nothing I couldn’t put behind me.  So after a nice stretch through Tamarack, where I high-fived my sis for the last time, I was running to the finish.  It hurt to run, but my pride would not allow for walking.  I passed a few folks through these pointless hills (the whole thing is pointless really, not just the hills, but anyway), each person hurting more than I was, I endured until the mile markers started to count down from…

Five, still a good distance to go, don’t start thinking about the finish yet.  Why is it taking soooo long for the next mile marker!  This is the distance I run with my friends in Stillwater every Saturday morning.  That’s a really long way!  Too long!  Until…

Four, ahhh, I’m making progress.  Will these hills ever end?  I think I missed the next mile marker.  It has been forever since the last, oh wait there, up ahead is…

Three.  I am actually going to finish this.  At this point, my pragmatic self re-merged with the wimp, and both knew this was in the bag.  I hurt.  Everything hurt.  And these hills were never ending.  But I was moving forward.  And these hills, did I mention these hills?  My slow movement made each mile just draaag.  But before I knew it, there was…

Two.  Two miles.  Holy cow, I thought I could hear the party at the end.  I heard people for sure, and traffic.  Keep running, just keep running.  I so wanted to walk, but now I had no excuse worth listening to.  And then the hills mercifully stopped.  Run, just run Forrest.  And enjoy this, no matter how much it hurt.  And at long last, there it was…

One.  One mile to go.  Where is this energy coming from?  Something my body was keeping in reserve I guess.  At this point the whole race started to flash past me.  The easy first miles, the dreadful heat that turned me into a drooling zombie, all the miles and miles of rocky hills seen through a headlamp.  All that brought me to this point: one mile remaining in a 100 mile race.  Actually, I passed 100 miles already, as the total distance in this race was 100.6.  Whatever.  Just run.

The finish line actually caught me by surprise.  I rounded a corner and there was the mat.  There was Beth waiting for me with a big smile on her face.  I actually wished that that last 100 yards would take longer, just so I could savor this moment.  But of course, like all appalling things, this race must come to an end.  I crossed the finish line in 25 hrs 52 min.

I finished, Nordic (4), mile 100.6

I finished.  Holy cow, I finished.  What an amazing feeling; elated and destroyed at the same time.  It was a good feeling.  Like I stated in the beginning, today I died a few deaths.  I lost a bit of sanity.  I did not finish strong.  I did not run with good strategy.  But I finished.  I imagined Nietzsche and Freud, kind of like Darth and Obe-wan at the end of Star Wars, smiling and nodding knowingly.  I did not know how I did it, but I think they knew.

Beth was waiting for an embrace, and then prevented me from crumbling.  My body, once it realized it was really done, went into shock a bit, I think.  After feeling a bit light-headed, I started shaking uncontrollably.  Forget food, I wanted a warm blanket and sleep.  And thankfully, that came soon after; after a nice elevator ride.  Elevators, what a nice invention.

The next day

Beth, God bless her, downed a Red Bull and a Coke, and safely drove us home Sunday afternoon.  My body is now showing signs of recovery.  I did sustain a sprained left ankle, or a strained left Achilles tendon; whatever.  I am getting better though.  I’ll be ready for Afton in 4 weeks.

Thank you to God for getting me to the point of being able to attempt something like this.  Thank you to my parents for their support, grandchildren spoilage, and offer of domicile.  My sister for her support along the route.  Marty, for saying the right words to keep me moving.  My friends and family back home following my progress via texts and offering their support.  The great volunteers at the aid stations, without whom, this race could not be run.  And, thank you Beth, without whom these pointless races would be just that, pointless.  Thanks for giving this some meaning.

Am I doing this again next year?  Heck yes!  It would be the pragmatic thing to do.


251 hardy, optimistic folks singed up for the 100 mile race.  I'm not sure how many toed the starting line, but the website lists 111 finishers, of which I was 44.  Way to go, Kyle from TN (16:55) and Tracy from IN (19:16), the race winners.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Running of the Llamas

4 months until Kettle!  I’m jussayin.

Also, check this out: trail running, European style.  It's called a Vertical-k.  That is elevation, not distance.  Pretty intense!

Are you all familiar with The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona Spain?  It is a very old and amazing event that could never be possible in our United States of Litigation.  It’s not really an endurance sport, as it only goes for about 1,000 yards.  But it is pretty extreme.  You’ve got to outrun 16 badass bulls at an average of about 15 mph; that’s a 4-min pace!  Take that Spartan Commando Warrior Dash!  Actually, the most famous version happens in Pamplona, other cities in Spain and Mexico hold similar events.

But I’m here to announce that I’ve discovered that we, here in America, have the next best thing!  I give you, The Running of the Llamas.  I knew of this event for a few years now, and on an early fall day last year I thought I’d take two of my kids to witness the spectacle.  The running happens every year in Hammond, WI, and it is as much fun as you want to make it.  Check it out on YouTube.

Knowing the run started at 1:00 pm, I thought I’d get to the event about 30 minutes early to get a good spot along the road.  I mean, who would go to the Running of the Llamas, right?  Wrong.  The place was packed with people.  At least a thousand.  Really!  Street vendors were selling anything from 4-oz bacon on a stick, to jewelry to Llama wool blankets.  It was quite the unexpected atmosphere.

I tried to get my kids as close to the street as possible, but the best we could do was 2-deep.  Oh well.

Next year I’m going early and staking out a good spot.  And I’m eating bacon for lunch that day.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Happy 2014

Happy 2014 everyone.  This is a mixing of mostly unrelated topics; I’m not very organized this time of the year.

St. Croix Valley Runners
We’re a group of runners who meet at Brown’s Creek parking lot every Saturday morning at 8:00 am for a gentle 5 mile run.  Rain or snow, hot or cold, someone always shows up.  Except that one time Dave had to run the route by himself.  Don’t expect a super fast pace, we run mainly for the social aspect.  And we’re on Facebook evidently.

5k Race Series
The New Richmond Centre hosts a 5k race series with one race per month October through April.  The cost is $20 for the whole series, so you can’t go wrong.  Plus, 50 or so runners show up, so the turnout isn’t bad either.  I’ve run the November and December races and find this series a great way to keep my fitness throughout the winter.   I wrote about the December race here, and I won the January race!  Yea Old Guys!

Lapham Peak Trail Runners
There is a group of trail runners that get together in the Southern Kettle Moraine called the Lapham Peak Trail Runners.  Great group of people; my sister is a member. I did get the opportunity to run with a few of them on 12/28, on the Funk Road segment of the Ice Age Trail.  The run was on snow-covered trails along the beautiful Oconomowoc River.  Thanks for taking me along guys!

Kettle 100
It is time for me to make another attempt at the 100 mile distance this spring at the Kettle 100.  My last attempt went very well, except for the fact that I did not finish (blog post).  My lessons learned will be put to good use:
  1. Running 100 miles is nuts; I had no clue.  The mental aspect of racing this distance is one for which I was not prepared.  I will be doing a bit of visualization.
  2. Beware the chair at mile 63.  I am doing a U-turn at the start-finish.
  3. Running 100 miles on hill and trail was hard on my whole body.  My core and upper body weakness became very evident later in the race.  I’m starting core work now!
  4. Screw the goal time, just finish my first 100 miler.  Well, I need to set a pace, so I will need a goal time for that, plus know I can do a 20 hr 100-miler.  So maybe I just need to be prepared to throw the schedule out the window and just finish the darned thing.

I am planning on the following races later this year:

I haven’t run Superior before; in fact this should be my first trip north of Duluth.  Should be fun!

Monday, November 18, 2013

New Richmond 5k Fun

Like many of you, I like to run.  While we do have our preferred distances, it doesn't matter if it is 100 miles or 1; we like to run.  Some of us are competitive in the longer stuff, while in the short/fast distances we'll strain a gluteus just to be a mid-packer.  But why then is it fun for long-distance runners to run fast? Until oxygen debt has us drooling and tripping over our own shoes?  5k's are grueling, but not for long.  I think short races are fun because they are short; we're barely warmed up and it's already time to have a Clif bar and a banana.  I had one of those races last weekend.

But this report is not about my 5k race, that would be boring.

Every year, the New Richmond Area Centre hosts a series of (7) 5k races throughout the winter, one a month from October to April.  The whole series costs $20.  It would be challenging to find a single race entry at that price, so I consider it the deal of the century; a no-brainer.  For that price you get a shirt, low-key race vibes, non-certified courses that tend to be a few k long, and more importantly, a reason to run throughout the winter.  Plus they start at 9:00 am.  I can still sleep in!

The November iteration was one I was not planning on attending.  It was too soon after my last 50-miler, and I was still in recovery mode.  And for $20, I can miss a few and still have a clean conscience.  I went though (what the heck), intending on a relaxing 5k tour of the New Richmond Industrial Park.

The start line for this race was in the Family Fresh parking lot, with the course an out-and-back on paved trail.  There were about 100 racers toeing the line that morning, with a great mix of moms and dads, kids, students, dogs, strollers, and a few runners.  Good weather too; at about 40°F, some of us were in shorts and tee's.

After a ready-set-go, we were off, high-tailing it up the trail.  After an initial sorting out, I found myself in the lead pack, consisting of a girl's high-school cross-county team, myself, and a 12 year-old boy in gym sneakers.  This report is about that boy.

He was TRUCKING, having a blast!  Prepubescent arms and legs flailing about just trying to stay with the 6:30 pace.  The contradiction between the smooth flowing stride of the girls with his discordant zombie sprint on Red Bull was joyously evident.  But what he lacked in style and efficiency, he more than made up with zeal.  He would inch into the lead, and then look around with a loopy grin that seemed to say, "I can run faster than these people.  Those are just girls and an old guy, and they're slow.  I'm going to win.  This is easy.  Mom said I was a good runner, and she was right!"  And, of course, the rest of us are cringing for the eventual blow-up.

But he kept this up for far longer that I expected.  After about a mile though, I could tell he was starting to flag.  The periodic forays into the lead had ended, and he was now working hard to maintain pace.  And his smile was unfortunately gone. Compared to the lead group's symphony of rhythmic footfalls and harmonious breathing, he was playing the roll of jazz trumpeter; off beat and blowing like a freight train.  It was a little sad to see, though not really unexpected. Talk about a school of hard knocks.

Eventually, his strain turned to panic.  He was now delving into some serious oxygen debt, and losing his battle with consciousness.  Each time he looked back to gauge the leaders' positions, I could see panic in his eyes.  They now seemed to say "What's happening? It wasn't supposed to be this way?  Why is this so hard?  I can't breathe!  Man these girls are fast!"

And then he was gone, like a parachutist into the slipstream, he just disappeared.  Bummer, I was rooting for him.  It was like the lead group just lost its mascot.  I think he learned some valuable lessons though, like "running is hard", and "racing is harder".  What heart!

I did see our 12 year-old runner at the finish line.  He eventually did cross the line, and he did not look too good.  But his smile was back.  Maybe he'll be back too.  I hope so.  I admire youth with an adventurous, "go for it" spirit.  He'll have the rest of his life to learn to strategize and moderate.

I crossed the line in second place.  I did drop the girls past the half-way point, though some high school boy loped past me just short of the finish line.  Inches from an old-guy win!

Maybe in Decemebrrr.  And I'll be looking for my 12-year-old friend; I've got to meet him, and maybe chat on him a bit.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Mary's 2013 Autumn Leaves 50k Race Report

Mary recently ran the Autumn Leaves 50k at Champoeg State Park in Oregon.
Here is her race report.

My cousin Amy, who some of you met (the woman with the green cast, who had breakfast with us at the Oasis ) has been wanting me to do a race in the Pacific NW for at least 4 years. When she lived in Seattle I looked at some races there, but they looked a bit too challenging for me and the timing never seemed right.

Then she moved to Portland. She joined the Oregon Road Runners Club and this summer she suggested the Autumn Leaves Run, which is put on by the club. She had volunteered last year and thought it was a race I would like. The website made it look appealing, so I registered. The race takes place in the Willamette Valley at a State Park which is the location where Oregon became a territory of the US. It is located about 30 miles south of Portland on the way to Salem, the capital.

I flew to Portland on Thursday to get "acclimated" to the rainy humid weather! It's been so dry here in Tucson that it actually felt good. I intended to watch Amy's son in a district cross country meet, but just missed his heat. Was fun to be part of the event though. It was supposed to be sunny all weekend so I didn't even consider an umbrella or other rain gear when I packed. On Friday it started getting overcast and the weather forecast for Sat. which had been sunny and low 70's now turned into 42 degrees at the start and a high of low 50's. Fortunately I had taken an assortment of clothes.

The Race Start Pavilion at Champoeg State Park in Oregon
There were two distances for the event, a 50 miler which started at 6:00 AM and the 50k which started at 7:00 AM. When we got to the park it was pitch dark and I then understood why they said headlamps were essential.(It's light in Tucson by 6:15 so I sort of thought I could get by without.) There was a festive atmosphere at the start since the 50 milers had started already. Some runners were coming in from doing their first loop before we started. The race director reviewed the course briefly and we were off. I hadn't thought about strategy (I'm not like Dave) for this event and was already about two miles into the race when I realized that this was a very runnable course and not your usual trail ultra where the hills automatically allow some walk breaks. So I reverted back to my marathon strategy of walking about 30 sec. every 10 minutes.

The race consisted of 5 loops. Each loop was a 10k and there was a 1.2 mile section which was single track trail. There was basically one aid station which you passed by on the way out and  back. It was fairly strategically placed, but I could have carried a water bottle. The bike path started on a very flat path which passed through a meadow area for about a mile. The trail then entered a more forested area along the Willamette river and became just slightly rolling with a small hill as you came to the 3.1-mile turn around point. The out and back course allowed for seeing all the participants many times. It was interesting to watch how the look on their faces or their gait changed as they became more fatigued. I was lapped by the lead woman several times. She was doing the 50 miler and ran a blistering pace. Her name is Pam Smith and she was the woman winner of Western States this year.

The cool weather made for excellent running conditions, but it was hard to figure out what to wear. I started with two layers and capris. After the first loop I took off the long sleeved shirt and grabbed my arm sleeves. After the second loop I was chilled and grabbed my wind breaker jacket. Amazingly I wore the jacket for the next 3 laps and was never too warm.

Since this course was relatively easy to run it was more of a psychological challenge to complete the same 5 loops. I was quite relieved after the 1st loop when I suddenly realized I only had 4 loops left instead of 5. It just took me one loop to wake up!  By the third loop I decided I needed to be distracted and put on my I-pod. This worked amazingly well and the 4th loop flew by. When I finished this loop I thought for sure that I would be able to run under 6 hours and 30 minutes. ( I was really planning to slow down this last lap since I had already run almost a marathon ). Well, my cousin Amy had asked if she could run the last lap since she needed to do a 10k that day for her training program. So she joined me with her heart rate monitor on and we got going. I was amazed that I could still run with minimal breaks. She really pushed me and in the end I ran the 5th loop at the same pace as the second loop. My time was 5:52. I was very surprised to see that I had run under 6 hours.

Mary and Amy at the Start/Finish Area
Since it was a very low key event, we gathered my gear, ate the post race meal, thanked the race director and his wife and went home. A couple days later I checked the results and was pleasantly surprised to see that out of 68 finishers I was 34th and I was the second oldest runner in the race. There was one man who was 68 and he finished behind me. This would not be an event for those who like bands at every aid station and lots of fancy swag, but there was chipped timing, a certified course and friendly people helping at the race and running it. What more could a person want?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

2013 Surf the Murph 50M Race Report

What a way to end the racing season!  Good friends, perfect weather, hills and 50 miles of beautiful trail.  I went into this race with some distinct personal goals, and I came out wondering how far and how fast I can take this running thing.  In the end, it was a real eye opener for me.

But first-things-first – Surf the Murph is a series of three races set in the 2,800 acre Murphy Hanrehan Reserve in Savage, MN.  A single loop of the park nets a little less than 17 miles, so we get races at a long 25k, a long 50k and 51 miles depending on the number of loops you feel like suffering though.  The terrain varies from dirt road to technical singletrack with about 2,000 of elevation change for each loop.

A few things someone interested in running this event should know:
  • Most all of the hills are encountered in the first 5 miles of the loop; they are a bit relentless, but each no more than 300 ft or so.
  • The event is pretty low key; no laser light shows or paid MC’s.  Costumes are encouraged!
  • Don’t zone out if you are not familiar with the course.  There are so many intersecting trails, that losing track of the flags will get you off-course in a jiffy.  Pay attention at this one.
  • If you like fall scenery, you’re in for a treat.
  • What other race do you get announced at an aid station with a horn?!

Race Goals – As I stated before, I had a few goals for this race.  Last year was a pretty good run for me: a 9:30 goal while actually crossing the line in 9:12 and 11th place overall, while losing 10 minutes on an off-course jaunt.  This year, I felt that an 8:45 finish should help me crack the top-10, so I planned my pace to match, with no unintended off-course excursions this time.

Race Morning – The alarm went off Saturday morning at 4:30 am, so my wife and I could be at the park for the 6:00 am start.  I am so glad that we pack everything the night before; I am pretty worthless for the first 30 minutes each morning (commuters you have been warned).  The weather was a wonderfully clear 43°F with some light winds.  This would be a good start compared to last year’s 22°F start.  Plus, those giant klieg lights in the start/finish area?; they put out an enormous amount of radiant heat.  And I forgot my sunscreen.
For clothing, well, I was afraid of getting too chilled at the start, so I wore two layers, with a plan to remove the outer as I warmed up: technical tee, shorts and arm sleeves underneath, with a sweatshirt and running pants over top.  Add a pair of gloves and a Gore-tex beanie, and I was set.

At the Start
Packet pickup and the pre-start went very quick; the StM team is pretty efficient.  The race shirt was the same as in the previous years (long-sleeve technical with a turtleneck collar), though lime green this time.  A note to the RD: your pre-race pep talk was hard to hear.  Maybe get in the middle of the crowd or get a bullhorn?  No big deal though, we knew the drill.  We all chatted and milled around the start area, waiting for the clock to wind down.  Typical pre-race nervousness.

Loop 1
And then we were off.  After a resounding “runners ready”, we were off down the bunny trail; about 100 bobbing headlamps leaving the well-lit start area.    Into the void.  I started near the front with the intention of staying within the top 10 for the entire race.  I just love the start of races, the opening miles feeling effortless, though always a bit unnerving to think of the 50 miles yet to be run.  Easy running though, keeping the pace under control, and conversations going with those around me.  Until the hills start that is.  After about a half mile the terrain shifted from flat and easy to (pointless) 100-300 ft ups and downs, some kinda steep.  I just kept the heart rate under control and tried to Zen through.  I knew that any over-expenditure here would be paid back three-fold on the later laps; not fun.  I was getting warm though; the extra layers would need to come off soon.

Aid station 1 was located in the hills here, but after only 3 miles, most of us just ran right through.  I had taken no calories prior to the race, and did not intend to do so until much later, letting my fat-burning furnace kick into “sizzling”.  I just had my waist-pack water bottle, which would not need a refill until much later due to the cool temps.

A little different this year, I ignored the standard operating procedure of walking the steep hills, running most of them.  I thought it foolish to train so hard in the hills prior to the race, only to walk them during a race.

After about 5 miles, the hills mercifully stopped, and the trail spit out into the horse camp aid station.  It was here that I met my wife and crew, Beth.  We traded water bottles and I lost the sweat shirt and pants.  After some words of encouragement (I think it was, “well, what are you waiting for?”) I headed out onto some flat land trails, with my headlamp still on my forehead.  The sun was just starting to lighten the horizon by now.

The terrain between the horse camp aid stations is fairly flat and even, so it was time to kick up the pace a bit.  I joined with a group of guys, and the eventual women’s winner, and we kept between an 8:00 and 8:30 pace.  Aid station 3 came and went, and then there were only three of us.

Between Aid 3 and 4 is Smurph village, a couple miles of deer trail that wind through the forest.  Running your own pace can be difficult through this section in a conga line, so I sped up a bit to hit this section first.  This proved well for me as I run well on this type of terrain.  I gapped the other two in this section while I wound my way amongst the Smurph signs; off her meds indeed.
Into Aid 4, I met Beth again, and it was here that I took my first calories of the day.  I traded my water bottle with one filled with UCAN.  This liquid/food/starch stuff seems to provide a steady drip of carbs without tripping my insulin response, resulting in no central fatigue/no bonk.  This stuff works for me.  Unlike a gel, it takes a while before it truly kicks in.

The section between Aid 4 and the finish is a bit hilly, but nothing like the start.  There is one hill (Pikes Peak) that I walked.  Last year I remember a log that needed to be hurdled on the steepest portion of this climb; not so this year.  I think it had decomposed enough that it no longer posed an obstacle.

And then I was into the start/finish for the completion of my first lap.  I had planned on a 2:50 lap, and was just a bit concerned when I saw 2:30.  That’s a lot of time off my goal pace and it left me wondering if I would have to pay the piper for going out too fast.  Beth told me not to even think about it.  I removed my arm sleeves, replaced my beanie with a ball cap and sun glasses, and I was off again.  Feeling strong.

Loop 1:  Goal: 2:50,  Actual: 2:38

Loop 2
I ran out of the start/finish area feeling pretty good about that time, and had decided that if I could finish the second loop under 3 hours, I would gun for an 8 hr finish.  Ha!  I was already writing my victory speech.  I've done that before, and you can guess the end result in those races.  Ah hubris.

Typical Fall Murphy Hanrehan View
The initial hills felt fine on the second loop, and I was still feeling strong.  The quick first loop made me a bit worried about an overdrawn energy account, so I slowed it up a bit.  Just a bit.  I ended up running this section with two guys, Yellow Hat and The Red Rider.  It is tough to run with someone through hills as we all needed to pace ourselves individually.  We all stayed within viewing range, with a little bit of chitchat, but that too can be tough in the hills.

One feature of lap 2 that I remembered from last year was the addition of new trail signs.  Billboards had been erected at a few tricky locations between loops.  Hmmm, some folks must have been taking off-course excursions this morning.  Easy to do.  Gotta pay attention.  I should know.

With a swap of UCAN bottles with Beth, I left Yellow Hat and The Red Rider behind at Aid-2.  For the remainder of loop 2 I worked hard at keeping my pace under control, saving something for the last loop.  I was nearing the midpoint of the race, and from here on in I would not be passed by another 50 miler.  The first three 50k racer came through.  Eric Sensemen was well ahead of the other two and looking very strong.  He ended up setting the 50k CR that day at 4:04.  Smokin’, Eric!  I also started to come upon the back end of the 50k race.  It was nice to have some company on the trails; it can get a bit lonely out there.

As the second loop was drawing to a close, I was still feeling great.  Weird.  I now felt I might be in the position to try for something remarkable on the third loop.  The fatigue I am so familiar with late in races just wasn’t there.  It was at that point that I started to fear going off course, as I have done in my two previous runnings of this race.  I’ hatedthe thought of running so well and then getting lost.  I would search hard for the next trail marker, and feel a sense of relief when I saw one just around a bend.  A few seconds after passing a marker, I would start to doubt my navigation, and would stress until the next trail marker.  Sometimes I just need to learn to relax a bit.  Funny.

Loop 2:  Goal: 3:00,  Actual: 2:42  (Race time: 5:20)

Loop 3
I decided to hammer the last lap; as hard as I could push.  It is not often that I think I can achieve something remarkable while running (my use of the word “remarkable” is relative of course; I by no means consider myself really fast).  But an 8 hr Surf the Murph 50 mile would have been something, and I probably wouldn't get many chances at something like this.  Think strong thoughts!

The initial 5 miles of hills on the last lap went something like this: “I won’t have to do this hill again.  Or that hill, and so on…)  It was like this that I found myself pretty spent but smiling, coming out into the Horse Camp aid station.  That hurt; but it “hurt so good” as John Mellencamp says.

With the keto-adapted, fat-burning diet I have been adhering to the previous year, central fatigue/bonking is a thing of the past.  It is a strange thing to feel discomfort to that level, and to be so completely mentally sound.  But as I get used to that feeling, I learn that I can push my body much harder than my mind lets on.  And push I did, and my body did not fail me.  Almost.

At about mile 40 my left calf started to cramp.  I did not feel this cramp was due to fueling, hydration or electrolytes; I was managing these pretty well.  I think it came from pushing my muscles too hard and for too long, plain and simple.  I started praying for relief.  I did not want to come this far and work this hard only to be brought down by cramping.  If I kept my left foot flexed forward and minimized the push-off, I found that the cramp would diminish and become manageable.  It sure slowed me down, but not too much.

I concentrated on getting down every stretch of trail as fast as possible.  I have never run this hard this late in a 50 mile race.  It is a strange thing to have so much fun while experiencing so much discomfort.  I used each mile marker to remind myself of each manageable distance yet to come.  14 miles, 13 miles, 12 miles…

I’d like to diverge a bit for a moment.  I do not care for the term “pain” when describing what I feel when running hard.  That term gives that feeling too much power.  I feel pain when I break a leg or pull an Achilles tendon.  Pain makes me stop.  “Discomfort” now, that is something I can work through; I am tough enough to deal with that.  I was feeling a great deal of discomfort.

Hammering the remaining miles
(Bryan Cochran Photography)
At the last aid station I ditched the waist pack and pounded home, my cramping calf setting as my speed limiter.  I was passing many 50k racers and second-loop 50-milers at this point, and I concentrated on reaching and passing each one.  That helped take my mind off of the distance remaining.  And before long, I heard the cheering at the finish and I knew I was as good as done.  I was really enjoying this!

Loop 3:  Goal: 3:00,  Actual: 2:51  (Race time: 8:11)

Wow, what a great feeling to have finished so strong.  I had run an almost complete race (except for the slow second loop and the cramping on the third).  And holy cow did the runners get fast when compared to last year!  In the 2012 event I ran 9:12 for 11th place.  This year I took an hour off of that time and ran… an 11th place?  The front runners were smokin’ this year!  Michael Borst ran a 50M course record 6:46, way to go Michael!

Note: Final results put me in 8th place.

It is a strange feeling to run so hard that I start to cramp up, and enjoy the sensation of pushing myself to my limits!  I think that now I better understand my limits and how best to prepare and push past them next season; nothing some specific training can’t overcome.  Next year will be exciting for me!  Steve Quick stated that he would be gunning for the M50 win next year at Afton.  That got me thinking about what I really could accomplish there.  I think a 4:30 is certainly within my reach.  We’ll see!  It is always dangerous to put such lofty goals in print.

At the End with my Jujyfruits Shirt
(thanks Bobby!)
I’d like to finish this blog post on a spiritual note, as this run was certainly a spiritual experience for me.  God gave me this gift of running, and I am grateful.  What gift can I return that is better than utilizing His gifts in the best ways possible; using His gifts to the fullest.  I ran this race as a gift to God, working through my great discomfort for His glory, not mine.  I could have been disappointed for falling short of an 8 hr finish time, or missing the top-10… again.  But that would be making it about me.  Thank you God for the gift of running, I hope you liked my gift to you.

Thank you Beth, as always, for sharing this experience with me, and making my food/hydration/aid stations so easy for me.  Thanks to the volunteers; the aid stations seem to be better each year I run this race.

And now I can eat Fritos and have a hamburger, on a real bun.  With French fries!  Time to relax, get a little fat, and enjoy the holidays.  The Kettle 100 is not too far off!