2014-09-20

Race Report: 2014 Superior 50 Mile Ultramarathon

This blog post is a reformatted version of my original race plan, which I have blocked out in grey and italics. Enjoy!
This marathon will mark the culmination of a Spring and Summer season's training for me, with no races to speak of. This is all well and good, since it was a very busy year in general. We moved from Saint Paul to Woodbury in March, ending a different type of marathon: two years of house improvements, repairs, and cleaning.
 
July 28, 2014 marked the last day I had to carry the on-call mantle at work, severing my dedicated, laptop umbilical cord. My title and job responsibilities changed at the beginning of the year as a DevOps Engineer, and the transition was finally complete. For 80% of my technological career starting in 1997, I had carried a pager. This moment was a long time coming, which isn't to say I'll never carry a "pager" again. Let's just hope it will be a long time coming - if ever.
Accommodations: Mountain Inn This year, rather than drop a wad of cash on luxury accommodations at Caribou Lodge, a few runners and I have chipped in for a room at Mountain Inn, a hop, skip, and jump away from finish line. Thankfully, it was a very reasonable rate, and split 4-ways, economical.
Address
360 Ski Hill Rd, Lutsen, MN 55612
Phone
(218) 663-7084
Roommates
Andy Littler, Christopher, Luke
Such a nice little hotel! I obviously didn't spend much time here, most of it being on the trail, but it was close to the finish line (walking distance) and split four ways for two nights, it was quite affordable: $82 each person. The staff was courteous and helpful, the sheets and towels were clean, and the room tidy. Five stars!
My Gear:Although I've run with Vibram Treks along Moose Mountain in the past, I'm not convinced my feet would hold up for twice the distance without some sort of cushion. In the very least, I'll put my Brooks Pure Grit 2's in the drop-bag at Cramer.
I'll wear a lightweight doublet or t-shirt, racing shorts, visor, pack, and headlamp. Doused with bug spray and 50 SPF, I should be good to go.
Bib Number
470
Assignments
http://fall.superiortrailrace.com/2014-number-assignments
Fuel: I plan on dealing with Gu packets for most of the race, though I plan to eat "real food" as much as possible along the way. I tend to get really hungry at the 6 hour mark, and sugar products just won't cut it.
The Pack: This year, I've purchased a Ultraspire Surge pack, containing a 2 liter bladder and a few storage spaces perfect for food, gels, salt, etc. I'm looking forward to not having a bouncing waist belt or water bottles in hand. The only thing that is not great about the setup is filling the bladder; it is time-consuming. Given that I'm not planning on setting land-speed records, I'll benefit in rest from an extra minute or two. The pack will contain:
  • S-Cap Salt Tablets (4 per hour between aid stations - just in case)
  • Gu Bottle (filled from bulk) or packets
  • Bandana/Buff
  • Toilet paper in a ziplock bag
  • Lightweight Rain poncho (if rain is predicted and I can find something I like)
  • Headlamp (to start out with)
  • Empty water bottle for backpack, in case the bladder has issues
Drop Bags: For the most part, my drop bags will consist of restocking my pack with my starting supplies. Additionally, at each stop, I'll leave a clean and dry pair of socks.
With Clem George and Cristy De La Cruz crewing for me, I didn't have as much need for drop-bags. What you see in the plan below became much simpler, since I could hand a bag to the intrepid duo and have them dig for stuff when needed. I did not carry an extra bottle with me, and in fact, felt the emergency blanket and trash bag (folded) were a bit much. I stuck my phone in a waterproof container and had it in my pack the whole race, but I never did anything with it. It only added weight and inconvenience. I might like to run with a small, waterproof, digital camera and a cheap mp3 player next time. Also a small field notebook (weather-resistant) with a Fisher Space Pen (pressurized ink) would be useful.
The Race Plan: Let's be honest: the plan is simply to survive. In the last week, I've taken on a left calf strain running to and from work - a nine or twelve mile hilly stretch, depending on whether I take the bus in for part of the commute. My house is 3 miles from the park-n-ride lot. The next two weeks (From [2014-08-24]), I'm hoping to heal and maintain fitness, nothing more.
My Afton State Park training runs have been around 11 to 12 minutes/mile for 15 miles, which has similar elevation profiles to Superior. If I can maintain a 14:00 minute/mile pace, it'll give me two minutes per mile leeway for an understandably tougher course, and give me time, to finish the later sections under cut-offs. Barring tendinitis or other injury.
Start: Finland Rec Center Here begins the pain for the 50 milers, at Finland Rec Center. This section is described as longer and having a relatively level hiking profile. I have never run this section before, so my expectations are based on what I've found in "Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail", 2001 edition and the elevation charts from the race website. There appears to be a good 350' ascent to Egge lake, a sharp valley, and then a gradual descent to the next aid station.
The real challenge for me here is to keep my pace on target rather than going out too fast.
Next Aid Station
Sonju Lake Rd
Distance
7.5 miles
PaceDurationETA Next Station
13:00 1 hr 37 min
14:00 1 hr 45 min 07:15
15:00 1 hr 52 min
The bus ride in, I sat with Rachel Wellman, whom I believe I know from Dailymile.com. It didn't hit me at the time, but since reviewing her profile, I'm now convinced. She was sweet and quiet, excited to start. There was a lot of energy at the Finland Rec center, and plenty of space for everyone to get ready for the upcoming race.
I ran into Jon Matthiae and had a brief visit. There was also a man from the Ely area with blue eyes and an outstanding moustache! I don't recall his name, though. His face was memorable, similar to my Uncle Greg.
J ohn Storkamp recognized me and said, "Hi!" before going about his race director business. As tired as he likely was, he was all smiles and energy. I drank a 16 oz bottle of water over the 40 minute wait, applied sun block and bug spray, and made my way out to the start line.
John held a briefing on the road, and if you've heard one from John before, you'll be grinning already. His mixes a bit of humor with each speech, and it never gets old. It didn't take long before we were off, torches blazing ahead, cantering down the road to the trail.
Time Departed
05:30
Sonju Lake Road (No Crew) This is another section I have no experience with. There appear to be a good drop of 350' overall to the Manitou River followed by a nice 400' ascent to Horseshoe Ridge. From there, it plunges down 500' to the Crosby Manitou aid station.
Total Distance
7.5 miles
Next Aid Station
Crosby Manitou
Distance
4.2 miles
Pace Duration ETA Next Station
13:00 54 min
14:00 59 min 08:14
15:00 1 hr 3 min
So early in the race, I was still very excited to be on the trail. This section went without a hitch, and Andy and I stuck together pretty well. Somewhere along this stretch, we came upon a runner I had met last year while soaking in the hot tub at Caribou Lodge: Matt Mitchell. (He recalls an earlier meeting at my Moose Mountain Marathon run in 2012.) His wife was seven months pregnant and crewing for him with his parents. We talked about his life as a teacher, his adventure to Germany with his students this last year, the reason for his not having enough time to train for this race. I was glad for the company, and I related to the note on training.
We arrived at the aid station and didn't spend much time there before heading on. I was pretty happy with my pace prediction and was feeling pretty confident. I had only taken one salt tablet during this section, since it was early in the race. I don't recall drinking much, and I didn't top off my water bladder. I doubt it took us five minutes to leave the station.
Time Arrived
07:15
How I Felt
Pretty good. Fresh.
Time Departed
07:18
Crosby Manitou I should be starting this section at the Crosby Manitou State Park about three hours into the race, still short of my approximate long distance training runs at Afton, where I generally run 11-12 minute miles. At 14:00 minute miles, I hope to hold off the inevitable stiffness and soreness later on.
There appears to be _only_ about 650' of elevation change on this section by estimating on the graph: a little over 200' descent to the river, a climb of 150', a drop of 100', and a final climb of 200'.
Total Distance
11.7 miles
Next Aid Station
Sugar Loaf
Distance
9.4 miles
PaceDurationETA Next Station
13:00 2 hr
14:00 2 hr 12 min 10:36
15:00 2 hr 21 min
Andy had been complaining about hot-spots on his feet, having had to run with his work socks instead of his preferred pair. We were supposed to meet up with Clem and Cristy, but they were held up in traffic and construction. I'm pretty sure we were still were running on pace, but three hours in to the run, we were starting to feel it.
My estimates on elevation change from the graphs were off, of course. I didn't count all the micro hills, the little ups and downs of the course, and by this point, I was cursing the mud. It was still pretty early in the race, and I was still feeling pretty solid.
I talked a little bit with Matthew Patten, asking about Adam Schwartz-Lowe, learning that he had won the event earlier that morning! Amazing! The girls in the aid station were dancing and playing music, so I danced along with them while I waited for Andy.
Time Arrived
8:15
How I Felt
OK. Glad to be at the Aid Station.
Time Departed
8:20
Sugar Loaf This is the last aid station of the race before the Marathon runners join us on the trail. This is another section I'm not familiar with, and it holds at least 750' of elevation change; three ascents and two descents. I'm not sure if I'll be holding on to a 14:00 minute mile at this point or not.
My drop bag here will consist of:
  • Brooks Pure Grit Shoes
  • Gu
  • S-Caps
  • Injinji Socks
  • Blister Kit
  • Toilet paper
  • Baby wipes
  • Dry shirt
  • Sunblock
  • Bug spray
  • Towel
  • Hand-held Water Bottles (in case the bladder develops a fault)
  • Clif Bars
Total Distance
21.1 miles
Next Aid Station
Cramer Road
Distance
5.6 miles
Cut-off Time
11:45
PaceDurationETA Next Station
13:00 1 hr 13 min
14:00 1 hr 19 min 11:55
15:00 1 hr 24 min
This section hurt us, the 14:00 minute/mile pace was most certainly not held. I didn't write down the time I arrived at this station, but if I recall correctly, I had lost a good 12 minutes or so, but that was acceptable to me. Some was to the time in the aid station, certainly.
Andy hit a wall here, and I had to leave him behind. My legs were still fresh enough to press on, and when the opportunity to run came, I had to take it. I felt bad leaving him behind, but we each come to Superior with the knowledge that not all of us are going to make it.
Cristy and Clem took good care of me here, bringing out the pickles! Oh, lovely dill pickles! According to her Facebook post, Cristy estimated that we met up at 10:48. I know I spent a good 5 minutes in the chair, so let's estimate my departure at 10:55; still an hour ahead of cut-off.
Luke, our roommate, was also waiting for Andy. We left a pair of socks with him for when Andy came through. I was certain he'd make cut-off here, but not sure how the rest of the race would do for him.
Time Arrived
10:48
How I Felt
Ugly
Time Departed
10:55
Cramer Road The halfway point! Unfortunately for me, this will mark the furthest I've run in one setting all year. The marathoners will have started a good four hours prior to when I reach this point, so it is unlikely I'll see many of them before I finish the race. If I can get out of this aid station and avoid injury, I'll likely finish the race.
This section is the flattest of the entire race, with good run-able stretches. If all is going to plan, I'll have a good 1:40 slush time, and this section should be a good recovery.
Total Distance
26.7 miles
Next Aid Station
Temperance River
Distance
7.1 miles
Cut-off Time
13:40
PaceDurationETA Next Station
13:00 1 hr 32 min
14:00 1 hr 39 min
15:00 1 hr 46 min 13:41
16:00 1 hr 57 min
The trail to Cramer was lonely for a while. I enjoyed those times, as I was able to pace myself rather than compare how I was doing to other runners. I sped up when I felt good and slowed down when things were a little rough. I did end up falling into a group of runners, as you always do in these events. At times, that is exactly what you do need to keep going. Without the deadline or the race atmosphere, I would likely bow out a lot sooner.
I don't recall if this happened along the way to Cramer or the way to Sugar Loaf... That being said, somewhere along the way, I tucked in behind another group of runners and met Cheri Dostal Ryba. I don't recall exactly what we talked about, but I know Nora's broken leg came up and recalling how lucky I was to have such an understanding wife. I vowed then to buy flowers for her and take her out on a date to say, "Thank You!"
When I finally arrived at Cramer, Cristy was concerned that I hadn't taken all of my S-Caps. Clem fed me potatos, bananas, and maybe pancakes. I shared the pickles with Cheri. "Awesome, right?" I asked. She took a moment before answering in the affirmative.
I was still up-beat when leaving the aid station. Time to hit Temperance.
Time Arrived
12:40
How I Felt
Pretty low. Tired.
Time Departed
12:49
Temperance River (No Crew) This section contains the largest amount of elevation change I'll see at once. The dive to the river is almost complete here, but then we go straight up Carlton Peak. It is a challenge to say the least, but I know it'll be a hiking section - no running at all.
Total Distance
33.8 miles
Next Aid Station
Sawbill - Britton
Distance
5.7 miles
PaceDurationETA Next Station
16:00 1 hr 31 min
17:00 1 hr 37 min
18:00 1 hr 43 min 15:24
Although my run to Temperance started out well enough, I quickly started to lose steam.
I happened upon Matt Mitchell in this section again, and we quickly fell into conversation. His ITB was acting up horribly, and our trail brotherhood solidified in mutual pain as we slogged down the Cross River gorge, a part of the trail I had very much forgotten about. "Flat" indeed! This turned out to be the worst section for me. The mud was just as bad as Sugar Loaf to Cramer, and now the downhill was tweaking my iliotibial bands on both legs consistently. We both talked of dropping, but Matt made a pact with me, his idea. We would push through to Temperance and see where we stood with time before the cutoffs. If we were still good, we'd continue. Since there was no crew allowed for us at Temperance, the most convenient place to pull out of the race would be Sawbill. I agreed. I could suffer through Sawbill, and by pushing forward I hadn't given up.
Time Arrived
14:20-14:40
How I Felt
This was my lowest of lows
Time Departed
Unsure 14:50?
Sawbill - Britton This next section has a number of "pointless up's and down's", and it's draining to complete. My strategy here will be simply to jog the flats and downhills and walk the uphills. Eventually, I'll pass through this hell on to the biggest challenge of the day. I'm choosing to have a drop bag here rather than at Oberg, since sunset will happen at 19:20 or so; the woods will start to get dark around 18:30. If things go really south and I barely meet the cut-off, I'll nee that headlamp.
My drop bag here will consist of
  • Gu
  • S-Caps
  • Injinji Socks
  • Blister Kit
  • Dry shirt
  • Headlamp
Total Distance
39.5 miles
Next Aid Station
Oberg Mountain
Distance
5.5 miles
Cut-off Time
17:30
PaceDurationETA Next Station
14:00 1 hr 20 min
15:00 1 hr 24 min
16:00 1 hr 28 min 16:52
Somehow, my pain plateaued along this section. Had it been more like our descent in to the Cross River valley, the trail would likely have defeated me here. Somehow, we found reprieve in a beautiful section of trail devoid of roots and rocks. Matt was still having issues with his ITB, and although I was still sore, I needed to get moving.
I concentrated on picking up my heels and letting gravity pull me forward, and with the more fluid movement, my pain subsided to a bearable level. When I could, I pushed the pace along the trail. After crossing the river bridge, I was pleased to find much of the same on the ascent back up the river. It was there I ran into a trio of 50 milers. They were college friends all running together as a reunion of sorts. One runner, Mark introduced himself to me for the second time -- apparently, I had talked with them earlier on in the race. Eventually, one of the runners had horrible calf issues and all three stopped for a break. I pressed on ahead, taking advantage of the relatively flat and object free trail.
I made great time to Carlton Peak, and on my ascent, I was careful not stress my quads into cramps; they were right on the edge of failing at times. I vowed to take ever tree stump and log crossing sitting down, avoiding the cramp issue that kept me from my six hour marathon in 2012.
There was a group of teen-aged kids on one part of the peak, but I never really ran into them. I did run into a hiker.
"Long day." I stated. He smiled and replied, "And now you're mountain goating it!" Indeed! The run to Britton was only a mile or so past Carlton, and I kept a close eye on my watch. I was truckin!
I felt pretty good getting into Britton. Yes, I was sore and tired, but past my low-point. I felt ashamed for my talk of dropping along Cross River and Temperance.
Cristy and Clem did a stellar job feeding me and prepping me for the last stretch!
Time Arrived
16:35
How I Felt
Awesome! Sore, but encouraged!
Time Departed
16:53
Oberg Mountain This stretch has always been rough for me. In the last two races, I doubt I've completed this faster than a 16 minute mile. There are two very sizable ascents and descents across Moose and Mystery Mountains.
Total Distance
45 miles
Next Aid Station
Oberg Mountain
Distance
7.1 miles
Cut-off Time
19:00
PaceDurationETA Next Station
16:00 1 hr 53 min
17:00 2 hr
18:00 2 hr 8 min 19:00
So much mud! Not much runnable here, but I did the best I could. I don't remember much about this section, though I recall meeting up with one of the 100 miler female runners. Short hair, tired. She sat a bench, and I sat with her. The world spun! Was it the wind blowing in the trees, making the leaves move like the sea? I had to get going; I couldn't sit any longer. I briefed her in that she had another mile and a half or so, to which she was pretty distraught, convinced she wouldn't make it. I encouraged her as I left and don't know what ever happened to her afterwards.
The rest of the way in to Oberg was pretty nice, consisting of boardwalks and some runnable stretches. Of course there was mud; it was everywhere. Saw signs for the Oberg parking log. Ran in with a bunch of runners, Deb and Liz being part of it. There was another young man I kept running into as well. Another Mark? We leapfrogged for much of the race since Cross River.
Getting in to Oberg was exciting! There was a lot of positive energy at the TCRC truck, and Clem and Cristy were on point! I was happy about having reached this point with almost an extra hour before the cut-off, but I was not complacent to sit. I wanted to finish as quickly as my body would allow me.
Time Arrived
18:05
How I Felt
Better!
Time Departed
18:10 to 18:20?
Caribou Lodge The finish line! I've been here twice before, so I know where it is and what it takes to get here (at least with Moose Mountain Marathon). If all is going to plan, I'll arrive some time around 19:00.
Total Distance
52.1 miles
Cut-off Time
22:00
Time Arrived
20:34:02
How I Felt
Great! I finished!
Once again, I managed to catch up with Liz and Deb Vomhof within a mile or so of leaving Oberg, and I stuck with them for the remainder of the race, leap frogging ahead at some point and dropping behind at others. The ascent up Moose Mountain wasn't as painful as I thought it might be, but going down wasn't all that much fun. My legs remembered the pounding they took at Cross River, and I hoped to hold off the inevitable blow-out.
I also ran in to Joe Weise! Doing a 100! A few years back, I met Joe at one of the Spring races along this very trail. He was looking very fit and as he ran with us using a pair of poles, he filled me in on his children and life. I didn't spend much time there -- energy was coursing through my legs at the time. I do want to catch up with him more one of these days, though!
As we came off Moose Mountain we met John, the 58 year old 100 miler who ran with a single pole and slouched severly to one side. He had a unique shuffle run, but he seemed completely unhurried in a confident "I'll get there" attitude. He'd only been running for three years, but decided one day he needed to do 100's. His redoubtable manner gave me encouragement, and I forgot my pain for a while.
Liz was having a hard time on the backside of Moose, and chose to take off into a run. She faced the the same dilemma we all did: go down slowly and painfully, or go down quickly, still in pain, but with less time on you feet. It was a good decision. I eventually made the same choice, and struck out away from the group.
With the switchbacks, it wasn't long before Deb and Rollie Everson caught back up to me. We tucked in behind a 100 miler, who was running strong in this last section with his pacer. Deb's light failed on the backside of Mystery, and mine was beginning to fail as well. Rather than push out ahead, I stuck with the group to rely upon Rollie's light should mine decide to give up the ghost; I had no spare battieries.
Once we hit the road, the 100 miler broke out into a quick pace. I stuck with him, with Rollie close behind. We all were reflecting the energy of the finish line. Cowbells and cheering pulled us in quicker, and the floodgates of emotion let loose: gratitude, happiness, relief. It all culminated in a huge grin, tears, and hugs!
Cristy and Clem were there at the finish-line, first to receive hugs, followed by Andy, who informed me that he dropped somewhere around mile 40. He had a stupendous effort and looked quite clean and refreshed. I was exhausted, on the other hand, and needed food!
We hobbled into the dining area, where a handful of runners gathered and exchanged stories. Clem and Cristy continued to be a great crew, fetching me water and chili and talking about the race. I talked to my dad and Meghan - after fighting with my phone and the Caribou WiFi access point to get T-Mobile WiFi calling working (such a pain).
I learned from Andy that Matt had made it in, completing the race in 15:38, only 35 minutes behind me! Awesome! I didn't see him come in to the dining area, though I understand his family brought him pizza!
Cheri was there, having arrived a half-hour before me (awesome!). Steve Tollerud was there again, having completed the marathon earlier! Really, I wish I could recall everyone I talked to, but I was so tired and glad to be done. I lamented not being able to watch more runners come in, but by the time I felt good enough to walk back out on to the patio, it was well after 22:00, the race cut-off.

Results

I finished! The race results page has a slight calculation error in that it lists this race as only 50 miles, computing my pace as 18:05 min/mile! It's a 52.1 mile race!
Start
5:30:16AM
Finish
8:34:02PM
Time
15:03:47
Pace
17:20 min/mile
I also found this interesting link of my race results on Ultra Sign-up.

Thanks to...

I I wanted to take a moment to thank a number of people. First and foremost, my wife Meghan. For with out her support, none of this would be possible. My daughter had broken her leg on the trampoline the Tuesday before the race, yet Meghan told me to run the race anyway. I love you, Sweetie!
I also want to thank Clem and Cristy, who were complete rock stars at the race! I never had to worry about whether or not I'd have what I needed when I left the aid stations. They were encouraging, supportive, and caring. What more could you want in a race crew! (And Clem makes an awesome camp roasted, dutch oven chicken!)
Thanks to the 180 volunteers who help make the race possible! Indeed there may be other 100 mile, 50 mile, and marathon trail races out there, but few stack up to the dedication, professionalism, and sheer quality that the Superior trail races achieve. Had Clem and Cristy not been there, I know that success was still possible for me with the support of all the awesome aid station volunteers.
Of course, thanks to John Storekamp and his family, for dedicating so much of himself to the success of this race. Rock Steady Racing puts on some outstanding races, ones I will always recommend to friends looking for a challenge!

2014-09-02

Living without a Cell Phone

While I wait for my warranty replacement phone to arrive, I am somewhat flabbergasted at how entrenched that evil little device has become in my daily routine. Here are some of the roles it plays:

  • Alarm Clock: Without my phone, I don't wake up on time.
  • Weather Report: My phone dictates how I dress for the day.
  • Calendar: Reminds me when I need to be somewhere
  • Flashlight: Allows me to pick clothes without turning on lights in the bedroom, waking up my wife.
Once I get on the bus, I have other uses for my phone:
  • Email: I get a jump on work-related topics before I get in, read personal email, delete SPAM...
  • Kindle: or I will read a book to pass the time
  • Social Media: What's life without Reddit, Twitter, Google Plus, and Facebook, right?
  • News Reader:  Feedly to the rescue
  • Camera: capturing moments of life...
Of course, the phone has its general phone-like features:
  • Phone: Yep.. what it was designed for
  • SMS: Although I don't use this too often these days.
While I'm working,
  • PagerDuty Application: What emergencies have happened at work?
  • Jira Browser: Looking at opened issues, etc.
When I'm driving,
  • Maps or Waze: Show me how to get there
  • 4Square: Tell me where to eat
When I'm running or biking,
  • MyTracks: Where did I go?
  • DailyMile: Log what I did
So when I look at the $500-600 price tag for a new smartphone, I start to think that maybe it's not such a bad deal. With a typical lifespan of 2 years, that's $1/day. Still, there are things my phone can't do:
  • Deal with water
  • Avoid fall damage
  • Remind me not to leave it behind (unlikely as that might be)
  • Play with my children
  • Have a date with my wife
  • Fix the front-steps of my house
  • Mow the lawn
  • Clean the pool
  • Visit with family
  • Practice my guitar (as horrible as I am with it)
  • Run!
The all-in-one device is convenient, and maybe too much so. The last couple of days have been eye-opening; I spend too much time with my attention on the screen rather than the environment around me. It is too easy to grab for my phone when I need to look something up or need a distraction. Instant gratification is the rule instead of the exception. Time to change that.

2014-05-28

A Race is on the Calendar! Finally!


It was high time I did something for my motivation to get out and run. As you can see by my training chart, there has been very little of that as of late:


Next on the race schedule, Superior Fall Races - 50 Miler! Without big challenges, there will be no big improvements. I've been feeling down in the dumps lately, despite things going well for me and my family, and I couldn't put a finger on why. Maybe this is the boost I need to get out of the slump!

I haven't scheduled any races between now and then, though it might make sense to do so. Race-specific training will be my focus, with hills being the front and center. In case you haven't seen the elevation chart for the race...

(Copied from http://fall.superiortrailrace.com/)

I'll be logging a lot of time on these:

The Dread-Climber

HILLS! (Looking down Carlton Peak - 2011)

2014-02-09

Race Report: 2013 Surf the Murph 50 Mile

Pre-Race: Would I be ready?

Throughout the year, I had been working toward running the Surf the Murph 50 mile ultra-marathon and sharing my intention to go even further in 2014. Consistency in training seemed to be my biggest challenge due to our family's push to prepare our house for sale. Time was a precious commodity, and I struggled to keep up my weekly mileage. The only other race on the calendar, the Chippewa 50K, my first "official" foray into the ultra-marathon world. I had a blast, but honestly it hurt.

Not wanting to repeat the experience with subsequent races, I begin training in earnest, consistently turning out weeks in excess of 30 miles. I was pretty proud of this stretch of training which lasted from July 7th through September 12th. Either through events or a need to take a break, training came to a halt.

While on-call, my professional life requires me to carry around a cell phone and have a laptop close at hand. This prevents me from the most consistent way for me to get mileage in: commute running. A five to eight pound laptop is a bit too much to carry around in a backpack. In addition to on-call, my wife left town for a period of time, leaving me as a sole care-taker for the children. I enjoyed my time with them, obviously, but it severely challenged my ability to train. Finally, we had a major planned outage at work, which took away from my sleep.

Four weeks before the gun, I still hadn't signed up for the race. I wasn't confident I could make full distance. While on Facebook, I learned from one of the co-race directors that I would get credit for completing the 50K – if I made it that far. Fair enough! I signed up on September the 26th for the longest race of my life.

I have always said that the most influential motivator for my training is a race on the calendar. That following weekend, I did my first real Long Slow Distance run for the entire Summer and Fall seasons. Consequently, these following weeks ended up being the largest weekly training mileages I would run for 2013.

Race Day

Although there was an option to camp on-site at the Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve, campers were not going to be allowed to stay overnight a second night. My youngest son, Ryan, had a school festival the Friday before the race, so I opted out from camping. I was happy to sleep in my own bed even though it was relatively restless.

I woke numerous times before finally throwing in the towel at 4:00. I never wake up this early, but it was useless trying to stay in bed. I quickly packed a bag, showered and ate. I was out the door a little later than I would have liked, especially after discovering that I was exceptionally low on gas. Regardless, traffic was non-existent and Google Navigation brought me to the park entrance without incident and on-time.

I could feel the energy immediately upon arrival as I dragged my drop-back to the Start-Finish area. I put on my waist belt and jacket then checked in to get my race bib and swag. There weren't too many people at the start line, but enough to feel like an event.


The course consisted of three loops around the suburban trail system, a home for walkers, runners, and horses alike. I hadn't had a chance to run the course ahead of time, so it would be an exercise in discovery for me. Aid stations were to be found around every 3 to 4 miles and were fully stocked. It promised to be an exciting day!

The Beginning

I knew a couple of friends were likely to be running that day, and I was fortunate to run into Todd and his friend before the race started. Everyone was excited, and there wasn't much time left to discuss. The race directors addressed the gathering crowd - flags to the left, stay on trail, let someone know if you're dropping out; the normal pre-race tralk.

We were soon off into the darkness of the morning. A great "fire vurm…" of headlamp light reflecting off vests and clothing, snaking up and down the trail. The first part of the course was relatively sheltered from the morning wind, and the day proved to be dry and beautiful. I spoke for much of the stretch with a runner named Scott. He wore an orange coat and was in good humor.

Eventually I pushed on, for no good reason at all other than it felt good. My strategy was to run the flats, walk the uphills and bomb the downhills. Things went well for me, and soon I was at the Natchez Aid Station, manned by the venerable Upper Midwest Trail Runners association who had stocked it with bacon, a welcome change to the normal station fare.

I don't recall much between Natchez and Smurf Village, but I laughed out loud at the unexpected humorous signs. I came to the end of the first lap in good time, around three hours, but I had begun to develop pain in my knees, a touch of ITB.

Second Loop

I didn't spend much time at the Start/Finish aid station, but I did partake in the soup, gels, and refilled my water. It wasn't long after starting on my second loop that I ran into Les Martisko, the long-time race director. He was fascinating to talk to, with this race being his 350th ultra marathon! He showed concern over my knee pain and suggested I find Ibuprophen if I could. I thanked him and shuffled on by.

Keeping up with the run and hike strategy, I did relatively well, but I struggled emotionally with the growing knee pain. At Natchez, I ran into Shannon Lindgren in a new emotional low. With strong thoughts of dropping, I sat on the ground and tried to stretch out the pain. Shannon was very supportive, and we talked about other things to distract me. Arika Hage, a 2014 At-Large Member of the UMTR, gave thoughtful encouragement. She didn't want to see anyone drop at the Natchez station or anywhere along the course for that matter. She gave me a Vespa drink – this crazy, citrus-tasting liquid containing honey bee Royal Jelly – and sent me back out on the trail!

Encouraged and determined, I made it back to Horse Camp where I again stretched and rested. There was no ice and no Ibuprophen to help with the knee at all, but I decided I may as well finish my second loop and qualify for finishing the 50K. If I had to, I would walk it in.

Somehow, I managed to pick up into a trot and came upon Les again, this time running with another co-director for the race, Jessica. He could see I was hurting, and I shared my thoughts about dropping and my inability to find Ibuprophen on the course. He dug out a few Aleve pills and handed them to me. "You could walk the whole thing and still have time to complete it," he encouraged.

We walked for a bit, and after fifteen or twenty minutes, my knee started to loosen up again. "See! Your form already looks better!" Indeed, I was feeling a lot better! I picked it up to a trot again and made it to the Start/Finish in about 4:30.

Third Loop

For some reason, I was feeling very optimistic again. When asked if I was done, I replied "Let's see!" I didn't take off right away, rather opted to hang out, ice my knee, and get some fuel. It was here that I had run into a fellow trail runner, Steve Tollerud, whom I had first met on the Superior Hiking Trail years ago. He had just finished his 25K and was getting ready to go party with a friend of his at a local beer fest. I was jealous, but determined to try my chance at the last lap. He gave me encouragement and promised to bring me a beer! Awesome!

Looking around the site, I spied a young runner who looked like he might be convinced to go back out. He hadn't taken his gear off yet, and he was stretching out a bit.

"Let's go out together!" I suggested. "Just let me know when you're ready." We stocked up, reset our watches, and headed out. The young man's name was Kevin Chem, a resident of Savage, MN. He was of average height and typical build for a runner, and I had estimated his age as eighteen or nineteen. In conversation, he revealed he was only fifteen! That's one-five!

I was amazed! "Why did you decide to run a 50 mile marathon?" I asked.

"I have self-esteem issues," he replied with a sidelong grin. Right. Self-esteem. Seemed pretty confident to me! His legs were bothering him and my knee was bothering me. We were a pair of broken runners determined to walk the last lap passing the time away with stories of our lives. I shared the remainder of my Ibuprophen with him, and we trudged along.

"Are you on the cross-country team?" I asked.

"No. I told my coach I wanted to run this instead." He replied. Self-esteem issues, I chortled in my head. This kid seemed to have miles of confidence and determination. I learned he was interested psychology and that he and his friends were into robotics. I told him of my life experiences as a college student, a young single graduate, a husband, and a father.

At Horse Camp, we stocked up on Twizzlers, soup, and anything to replenish the calories we had burned along the way. We made it back to Natchez and shouted our way into the aid station. Arika was overjoyed to learn I hadn't dropped yet. Looping to the back side of Horse Camp, I grabbed another handful of Twizzzlers, and we kept moving.

On our way to Smurf Village, I thought I hadn't recognized a leg of the race. Had I cut off part of it by mistake? Possibly, maybe. I couldn't decide. I was so tired and sore, that it almost didn't matter any more. We turned a corner, and I once again recognized the trail - there was no way I could have skipped it in a previous loop.

We continued walking and walking, sometimes dropping into silence to live in our own pain. Eventually, we entered Smurf Village and the sun began to drop. Kevin received a couple of phone calls on the trail - not entirely disconnected from the world around us - to let his friends know he was still out on the trail. It was in this last stretch that they met up with us; first two then three teenage boys in for the final hike.

We crested a large hill as the sun finally hid behind the hills to the West, and Steve was waiting and cheering us on with his runner friend! I love these trail runs, honestly! With congratulations for Kevin and I, we all headed back into the thick of it for the final stretch. Kevin received another call; his parents were now on the trail coming out to meet their son.

The light faded quickly, and Kevin and I donned our headlamps again. His parents soon met up with us, and I congratulated them on raising such a determined and strong son. I could tell that Kevin wanted the race to end, and his energy returned. We left behind his parents and friends, and we trotted into the finish in 12:39! We were not the last people on the trail, but we certainly got our money's worth for the time we spent on it.

Les and John Taylor greeted us at the finish line, a huge grin on Les' face. "Walstrom! You made it!" Indeed I had, thanks to him and all of the great volunteers, and thanks to Kevin for being my partner in pain for the last lap.

We retreated to a warm building for pizza and chili. Steve showed up with that promised beer, which I endured to wait until I got home to enjoy (due to a no-alcohol rule for the park). Todd and his friend also joined us; though I honestly don't remember who arrived first. It mattered little. We had all done it; we had all completed 50 miles that day and walked away with a story of endurance and perseverance.

I love these races.

Afterword

Kevin Chem is ready to do more running and last I heard was likely to attempt the Savage 100 mile ultra-marathon this Spring! His race report for the 50 miler can be found here.