2011-09-15

Race Report: 2011 Moose Mountain Marathon

The Morning Before and Trip Up
Friday morning started out beautifully. It was my youngest son Ryan's first day of school, and at four years of age, he was certainly ready to venture out of the house and into the world of education. Smart little bugger, and cute as a button, he was excited to go. Connor was to have a short day at school, just two hours, but I didn't want him to miss his first week of first grade. That time is so crucial for children to get acquainted with their peers, and besides, a couple hours without children in the house would make packing easier. O.K. That's not really true. I was willing to take both of my boys out of school and head up a day early, but Meghan would have nothing of it! As a teacher, she couldn't fathom having her own child miss his first day of school! I went with it.

The alarm clock buzzed eight o'clock, and I quickly put on my running gear to take care of my runstreak obligations. The loop around the neighborhood was a standard 1.2 miles, and I finished it on a easy lope. Meghan wasn't feeling very well, but she loaded Ryan into the van and took him to school. After a quick shower and breakfast, I loaded Connor into the car and dropped him off, stopping in the office to let them know I would be picking him up early. I had a quick errand to run: pick up some Gu at a local running store. Since I was so close to Grand Avenue, I drove over to the Running Room, only to be shut down by the time of day. They weren't yet open, and I couldn't wait around while good packing time was to be had.

At home, Meghan wasn't feeling well at all, and packing her things and the kids' things was taking longer than she hoped. I told her to take her time as I gathered the things I needed for the trip. We had planned on packing up the van by 11:20, picking up Connor at 11:30, picking up Ryan at 12:15, and heading directly north from there. Time just wasn't on our side, and Meghan needed time to recover and pack. I decided to pick up both boys, then return home to see how she was doing. When we did swing back around to the house, she was still feeling poorly but well enough to go.  Off to Tofte!

Connor, contemplating what to eat.
Ryan loves his chocolate milk
Seafood and pasta! Nom, nom, nom.
The drive up was relaxing, though slow due to the seemingly constant construction along I35. We may have made one stop on our way to Duluth, and stopped for dinner at Black Woods Bar and Grill on London Road some time around 16:30. The place was deserted except for the retirement crowd, as Meghan pointed out. The food was delicious, and the portions were more than generous. Meghan and I split a chocolate cake that was the size of a small dinner plate. It was so rich that the only thing saving our pallets was the ice cream scoop I ordered.
Monster chocolate cake

We got back on the road after letting Peter, our Boston Terrier, out for a break and after I grabbed a quick stretch on the Yoga mat, tending my aching hip and knee. I was a bit worried that if I didn't take care of it now, I wouldn't do well in the race at all. The way up was barred with more construction, of course. I wouldn't be making it for packet pickup or debriefing, and wasn't going to have time to visit any aid stations to see if I could catch Adam Schwartz-Lowe or Brian Woods.

We arrived at Chalet LeVeaux right around 19:00. The sun was setting, and we were all anxious to get out of the van. It was a cozy little den of an apartment, with a bedroom, living room, kitchen and private bath. At $433 for two nights, it wasn't terribly expensive - better than the published rates for Caribou Lodge (though I know hear there was a discount for runners that may have made the comparison more favorable). The one element that Caribou did not have that I absolutely loved was the Lakeside view and walkout patio. The groomed lawn sported clean lawn furniture and a fire pit and an amazing view of Lake Superior. Peter enjoyed exploring his new digs, and the boys were excited about the idea of sleeping on the pullout! I could have gone cheaper, perhaps even much so, but I wanted Meghan and the kids to have fun while I was off running.

I was still trying to think of a way to get the van back to the Chalet in the morning, since there was no shuttle service, and when I asked about taxis, the hotel staff looked at me as if I were daft. Oh well. I would have to wing it. I figured that my worst and only time for a marathon run was 5:45 at Grandma's last year due to a bum knee and ITBS. I felt I was in much better shapen now, and I had a good chance of meeting or beating that time, even if this was the most grueling course on the planet. I jotted down on a piece of paper, "1:00 to 2:00 PM finish". I promised Meghan that I would text and Tweet as much as I could on the course, so Meghan would have some idea about when and where I was, but I couldn't guarantee coverage.

Sleep was fleeting throughout the night. The boys wouldn't stop talking to each other, so we split them up. Connor was a heavy sleeper, so he joined me in the bed, while Meghan slept on the pull-out with Ryan (Thank you, thank you, thank you, Meghan!). Even with a quiet apartment, I tossed and turned. When I did finally sleep, I woke up multiple times throughout the night, ready to get up and run, only to find that I was 4, 3, and 2 hours away from when I needed to wake up. Finally, at 5:30, I said enough was enough and got ready.
Volunteer at the finish line - whom I should have remembered her name!

Race Day
Caribou Lodge was only minutes away, and I was soon strolling over to the finish line. John (I don't know his last name) was there with a woman volunteer that looked like she knew her way around the course (I didn't catch her name - I'm horrible at such things). I was told that the check-in and packet pickup had moved to the starting line instead. That made since, since everyone had to check in anyway for safety reasons. Also at the starting line was a woman I had met at Zumbro 2010. She had been running constantly since, even doig solo trail runs south from Canada on the Superior Hiking Trail. Her experience would pay off later. (If only I can remember her name... Seriously, am I daft?)
Another runner, trying to check in.
Hello, woman whose name I continue to forget.

There were rumors that John Horns was on a pace to set a course record, that Adam was in third place about two hours back.  I waited at the finish, but when there was no John by 06:30, I went off to find a warm place to hole up and wait for the bus driver. It was seriously chilly out there in just my warm-up jacket. I had a plan to get the van back to Chalet LeVeaux, convinced the bus driver to stop at the Chalet so I could drop off the van then hop on board. She was receptive, but hesitant, stating that she didn't really know where she was going and didn't want to get off the main track. I was stoked, but after a few moments sitting in my van mulling it over, I felt that I would be taking advantage of her volunteer service. I didn't want to make her feel uncomfortable nor set a precident for other runners to make the same request next year. I parked the van and reboarded the bus, letting her know not to worry about it.

Cramer Road - The Start!
There was an advantage to being on the bus, it gave you an opportunity to chat with some of the other runners before hitting the trail. I talked with two other runners, both from the Cities area, on the way down. Everyone was in high spirits, and one runner stated he planned on finishing in four hours! That was quite a goal, but who knows, maybe he could pull it off. The check-in line at Cramer Road gave me an opportunity to chat a little with Dusty Olson (though I wasn't entirely confident it was him). I also talked to a father and son pair, the father more talkative, while the son quietly smiled and acknowledged facts. I also ran into Steve (last name), whom I had run with in the Spring 25k. We quickly agreed to pace each other and made our way to the road.  There, I bumped in to Greg and Curtis, fellow DailyMile'ers. Everyone was excited to get started!
Greg and Curtis from DailyMile.com!
Joe!
I have one more person that I absolutely have to include in this recollection, Joe Weise from Ely.  I met him this Spring at the 25K run both before and after the race.  His enthusiasm is infectious and he's always smiling.  We talked about minimalistic running and shoe strategies before the race started, and I swear he's lost weight since April.  You're looking good Joe!



And... Go!
Race director John Storkamp gave us the quick and dirty explanation of the trail, the flags, and the reason for registering everyone that morning: safety. The start was an entirely uneventful, "Ok. Go." Runners laughed and started to follow Larry Pederson in his truck for a short drive up the road and a loop back on to the single-track trail. It gave the 150 runners a chance to spread out before entering the single-track trail. Steve and I found an easy pace in the middle of the pack, and getting on to the trail was pretty smooth. Trail conversation began, as we all started to joke with each other. Seven tenths of a mile later, we passed the aid station with cheers and smiling faces. It was so cool to be back on the trail.
John gives us the quick and dirty...

The first section was a hefty 7.8 miles that had some really gnarly roots and rocks to deal with, and a few peaks to climb. The dangers of a trail run aren't always at your feet, sometimes they're at your head. We had almost finished the first leg of the race, approaching the Temperance aid station. I was looking down at my feet and getting ready to jump over a branch, when I looked and noticed that my face was headed straight for an eight inch diameter tree stump! At the last second, I jerked my head to the left and avoided the collision! I was too stunned to say anything, and Steve also barely missed the hazard. We laughed it off and yelled, "Tree!", but I think we were both shaken up a bit. At Temperance Aid Station, we began stocking up when A few minutes later, a tall runner walked in sporting a gash on his head and a large blood stain drippping down into his eye! Ouch!

Steve and I didn't spend a lot of time at the aid station and were a little confused about which direction to go. Some kind folks pointed out the trail entrance, and we were on our way. We caught up with a young runner by the name of Nat out of the Cities area. We talked about brewing, running, and making your own energy gels. Anything to pass the time, really. We passed a couple of 100 mile marathoners on the way down the Temperance River, and Nat stopped to talk. He would later catch up and pass me as if I were standing still.

At some point after getting much of the way back up Temperance, I took a walking break to consume a gel, take a salt tablet, and text to Meghan and Twitter. Steve continued on ahead, and I focused on my phone. "At 10 miles in 2 he's.[sic] Carlton peak in 2 miles. #straces" I had meant to say "2 hrs", but I autocorrect thought I was misspelling it. There was no signal out on the trail, but I thought I might get luck on a peak or two and send out the messages. At worst, they would all send when I made it back to a radio tower near the road.

I knew Carlton was going to be tough, but I had little understanding as to how slow it would be to hike to the top! Wow! The following two pictures were taken from the same point, one facing up and one facing down.

Carlton Peak, looking up.
Same spot, looking down.



On my way up, I had passed a woman runner, but as I crested the peak, she shot on by looking strong. She had run the 50k Spring race and indicated that this was the point in which they turned back around and headed north back to Lutsen. The rest of the trail was familiar to her, and she gave me some pointers and insight as to what to expect. It was a huge sense of relief to me to know that most of the way to Sawbill-Britton would be downhill. I needed the break. I tried to let my hips open up and carry me down the hill, but there were so many roots, it was hard to keep up the pace.

I met up with Steve at Sawbill-Britton Aid Station, though he had arrived some five minutes ahead of me. We ate oranges, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, banannas and snacks. We filled up on water, and when Steve headed back out on the trail, I turned back to my phone to text again: "At Brighton[sic] peak aid station. Halfway there. 11:00. Beautiful out. 3 hours left or more. #straces". I was still in pretty good spirits at this point and started out in a trot.

As with any race, you chat with your fellow runners, and it was here that I learned that this was the "easier" stretch of the race. I understood soon how relative that adjective was. Tired, sore, starting to cramp up I hit my emotional low-points of the race. There were no easy stretches on this track of roots and rocks, ups and downs. Tiny little pains in my knee and hip were constant reminders that the old injury could flare up at any minute. Knowing this, I reflected upon the goals I had set for myself this year. I had completed two trail 25Ks, an 8K PR, a 2 mile PR during a triathlon in the Spring, finished in a respectable time in my first "real" triathlon, ran Ragnar Relay with my friends, and was here in the middle of the most challenging run of my life. It had been a hell of a season. Yes, I could live with myself. I would try to continue if I could, but I would feel no guilt if I had to drop out. That fearful, familiar ache never materialized, just the consistent, entire body fatigue and muscle soreness.

Oberg Mountain and a Great Motivator
When I arrived at Oberg Mountain, I didn't immediatly seek ou the race director to drop, rather walked over to the table and started to restock. This is how I remember the conversation going, but know I'm paraphrasing at best. Brian Peterson of the TC Running Room team was manning the station and asked, "Do you need anything?"

"Sure, some water. What's your name?"

"Brian Peterson. How are you feeling?"

"Tired enough to think about dropping." I smiled. Smiled?

"You're not dropping yet."

"No?"

"No. You're looking strong." He said a few more entirely encouraging and simply delivered pieces of sage advise while another volunteer was restocking my water. I just remember my answers to questions weren't entirely quick. I was somewhere in my head, thinking about dropping. Brian helped another racer, and I drank some water. I crouched to the ground on my toes and hung my head down to rest a moment. Why didn't I sit? I could, but I didn't want to.

"Hey, can I get you anything?" someone asked again.

"Um...
"Here, why don't you stand up. Come on."

"No sitting, huh?"

"Nope. Not yet. Can I get you anything?"

"Ginger Ale, I think."

He handed me the pop and offered to walk me out of the aid station. He encouraged me and reminded me that there was only seven miles left. "Hike the hills and run the flats.  Everyone is hiking today." he said.

"What's your name again?" I was determined to remember his.

"Brian."

"Thanks, Brian."

I knew he was right about hiking, but I also knew what was coming: not one, but two of the biggest mountains of the run. At the time, I thought one was called Magic Mountain and the second was Moose Mountain. I later learned that it was Moose Mountain and Mystery Mountain. Regardless, I had no doubt it would take me at least two hours to finish the last leg. I texted: "Brian at Oberg. thanks for the motivation. leaving at 12:40 #straces 7.1 miles left."

The climb began immediately, and I also immediately took a wrong turn, heading up to the peak of Oberg Mountain! About a quarter mile up, a group of hikers stated, "You're going the wrong way!" I started to make my way down and stopped another runner from making the same mistake. We trotted back down the hill and turned to the left. We would trade turns passing each other for the next couple of miles. She would pass me on the uphills, and I would pass her on the downhills. My thighs were burning horribly and starting to cramp, so I shifted to using my hip flexors in a pseudo stiff-legged walk. It helped reserve my strength and avoid any real charlie horses. On the flats and downhills, I focused on ChiRunning methods, pointing my knees down, picking up my heels, and swiveling at the hips. "Cotton and Steel." I managed to actually run much more than I thought possible at this point.

I spent some more time thinking about my long term goals. I often say that I want to complete a 100 mile marathon by the time I'm 40, inspired by my friends Adam Schwartz-Lowe and Brian Woods, both of which were running Sawtooth at that very moment (Adam had completed by then, actually). If 24+ hours of running is truly my goal, I needed to learn to cope with being on my feet even when I don't want to be. I had given myself permission to drop, and ironically it made it easier to keep going. I wasn't worried about whether or not I would finish, since I was already past the point of no return. I wanted to run a 100, so damnit I would finish a mere 26.2 if I had to crawl there.

But there was no crawling involved. In fact, I continued to hike and run, hike and run. When I finally crested Mystery Mountain, my spirits soared. I didn't truly believe that there were no more uphills, but the downhill continued to carry me ever closer. I walked a few of the flats, catching my breath between the downhill runs. Then it happened; I heard the roaring of the Poplar River! What a sound! Wahoo!

I crossed the bridge with a big grin and noticed a runner on the other side taking a breather. I asked him how he was doing, and he confided in me that he was having problems with charlie horses. "Half a kilometer! We can do this!" I said, pointing to the sign and giving him a fist bump. Bob was from Minneapolis area and was running his longest trail run to date. He was 27 years old, and had spent the last eight years of his life in the military, returning from Iraq a year ago. He was strong and determined, and I heard no more about his legs. We set ourselves on an easy run and enjoyed the rest of the flat run.

This was the stretch that Jason helped me most on in the Spring, and somehow I had found someone else who was just as determined to "finish it how i started". I admire people with such drive. As we approached the finish line, he had family and friends cheering him on. The ruts in the road made it easier to treat it like a single track, and I dropped a little behind, but he waited for me. It was obvious that he wanted to finish together, but I pushed him forward. "Go, go, go. You go first!" Everyone was cheering, and I thought with a smile, "You deserve it."

When I did pass the finish line a second later, Larry Pedersen handed me my finishing token, a biased cut branch with the Moose Mountain Marathon logo burned on the surface, and congratulated me. I felt honored to be awarded by someone who has given so much to the sport. I saw Adam sitting at bench right at the finish, and he cheered me on, inviting me to sit down. On my way over, I started to have a slight asthma attack, which puzzled me. I had no allergy problems the entire run, and now that I had finished, I was having a hard time breathing? I went over to a wall and stretched my arms up to pull open my diaphragm. I made my way to the picinic table where Amy and Adam sat, vowing not to lie down. The last two races where I did, I cramped up so badly I couldn't move. Adam encouraged me to drink a lot of fluids and pointed out the lemonade. It was cold, sour, sweet, and oh so freaking good. I drank four pints in short order. I hadn't paid close attention to when I finished, and Adam informed me "about 6:45". I'm going with it. I sat there and talked shop with a couple of other runners, who had lots of questions for Adam. He quietly answered them with humble grace.

When I walked over to the conference room to pick up my sandwhich, I walked past Dusty Olson (again, who I hadn't been confident was actually Dusty, but didn't ask his name to confirm) and asked him if he finished. "Hell yeah!" he replied. "Nice!" I replied and high-5'ed him. I wasn't until later that I learned he had finished the marathon course in 3:40! No kidding, "Hell yeah"?! I'm constantly impressed by trail runners. Dusty was so easy to talk to. You can tell he just loves the sport and the people in it.

About 30 minutes into my recovery, I really wanted to get back to my famiy at Chalet LeVeaux and share news of the finish! Getting in the van was a little challenge, but I didn't cramp up too badly. Meghan congratulated me and noticed that my lips were purple, PURPLE! What the heck? After a quick shower, I grabbed a beer and went to the pool room with the boys to relax in the whirlpool. The warm water was so nice on my aching legs. Afterwards, we grabbed dinner at Moguls Bar and Grill back up at Caribou Lodge where I had a "husband fail" for not introducing Meghan to Adam. He walked by in the restaurant, and I called him over. We chatted a bit, and he headed over to the table with his wife and friends. DOH! I thought they had known each other already, since I've known Adam for many years now. Oops.

I would like to close with a congratulations and salutation to the other runners, volunteers, and race director...  Special thanks to Brian Peterson at the Oberg Aid Station. He knew just the right things to say and in the right way. You were awesome, Brian.  Brilliant, even. I also want to thank family for putting up with my insane hobby.

I'll be back, Superior Hiking Trail, and next time I'll be running the 50!