Race Report: Surf the Murph 25K

This year was the 10th annual Surf the Murph races at Murphy-Hanrehan Park down in Savage, MN. All the way back in 2015, Surf the Murph was my very first 50K and ultramarathon race. Despite the fact that I’m not in love with the course, we’ve managed to make our way back every year since. In 2016 we signed up for the 50K, but only did one loop and decided to step down to the 25K. Then last year and this year we’ve simply elected to do the 25K and call it good. This year in particular required us to do a shorter distance, because my wife’s little brother was getting married that afternoon and I was the officiant!

We arrived to the park much earlier than we needed to for an 8am start, but parking at Surf can be a challenge. We decided to get there before the 50Kers launched, find a spot, and take a nap before we had to begin. The air was cold, in the mid-30s, but the real issue was the wind. It was blowing around 27mph with even quicker gusts. I chose to do two layers when I dressed, but then seeing the wind, I make a decision to toss on my sweat jacket. I needed something to add a layer of wind blockage for times when I’d be out on the prairie sections. The added layer made some of the forest sections a bit warm, but every time I hit an exposed path, I was grateful for the wind block. In future, I think I’d do well to pick up a small Houdini shell, or something similar to act as a wind block.

The first part of the course is quite hilly, which means that I get out of the blocks much slower than I would on other courses that have a warm-up section. In addition, I’ve been dealing with a flare-up of my general anxiety disorder this past 2 weeks, and it’s made me feel like crap a lot. I’ve talked a bit about anxiety here before, and once again I can affirm that it sucks. Strange sensations all over your body that come and go (and make you think you’re having a heart attack), along with a general sense of dread, really impede your ability to focus on putting in a good race.

Despite all of this, I made it to the first aid station feeling OK, and proceeded to start the Triple Hills (it’s just like it sounds, and they suck). In this section my wife Lisa caught up to me and we spent a bit of time together before I got a little bit of energy and moved on ahead to the horse camp aid station. I blew through the second aid station as quick as I could and started on the next section which is the first of the prairie areas. My wife caught me again, and it was then that I was probably at my lowest point. As we walked a bit together I contemplated quitting. I knew that if I couldn’t keep up with my wife, that it would be best for me to just stop. Especially considering our time crunch that we were under for the wedding later.

img_3636However, I decided to just stick with her as long as I could and see how it went. She’s been training incredibly hard this summer, and has been working with a coach. This brought our abilities a little bit closer together, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that she was doing as good as she was. We launched into a nice jog and distracted each other with some conversation.

I’m not sure if it was the endorphins, the company, or just my body being nice to me, but shortly before the Natchez aid station I felt my anxiety start to lift. Natchez is one of the aid stations that is REALLY hard to leave. The TRECs running group that we’re a part of puts it on and it’s filled with all of our friends. We spent far too long visiting and eating before getting back on the trail. Despite the delay, it was really nice to see everyone. Plus, it was nice to get a pick-me-up before the boring road section that leads to the second prairie area.

img_3635One of the things that bugs me about the Surf course is that it’s laid out so that three loops equals a 50 mile race. However, 25K times 3 does not equal 50 miles. That means that the Surf 25K and 50K are actually very long for the distance that they’re advertising. Each loop is about 1.2 miles longer than it’s supposed to be (16.7 vs 15.5). I’m a trail runner. I totally get that our distances are kinda squishy and that a 50K might be 29 miles, or maybe 32, but where Surf rubs it in is that they actually post a 16 mile sign on the course! That sign is a big slap in the face to remind you that YOU’RE STILL NOT DONE.

For some courses, it’s just the way that it goes. However, with Surf there’s actually a super easy fix that could change the course to make it a true 25K. In fact, the very first year I did the course there was a poorly marked turn and I missed a small little 1 mile side loop. I kept going on the path that was in front of me and very quickly reunited with the proper course. When I got done with my first loop my watch was a nice 15.7 miles. Right in that sweet spot for a 25K. However, that’s not the way that the course is laid out and so Lisa and I made the left hand turn on to what we’re affectionately called The Fucking Loop.

img_3629By this point I was actually feeling pretty good and I knew that Lisa was hitting her typical wall around mile 12. I also knew that she wanted to get a 4 hour finish so I started adjusting my thinking into pacer mode. As we turned onto the loop I started belting out a corny rendition of Home on the Rage with some truly amazing twang. Lisa joined in and we had a brief few moments of silliness before putting out heads down and getting it done. Our only interruption was when Mark M. suck up behind us and scared the shit out of us when he said ‘Hi’.

We arrived at the back side of Horse Camp and did a quick fueling before the final slog. It was I this section that I moved my watch off of its mileage-only screen, to my full data screen with time, pace and distance. I wanted to do what I could to make sure Lisa got her 4 hour finish. Soon we approached the dreaded beaver dam, and we were grateful to see that the park has started making a boardwalk over it. It meant that we were able to keep our feet dry and out of any beaver homes. In fact, the entire course was the driest I’ve ever seen it. My shoes had zero mud on them when I finished, which is a first with this course.

As we approached the mile 16 sign I gave it two middle fingers and we moved as quickly as we could to the final stretch. I was constantly checking my watch, and with just a few hundredths of a mile to go I yelled out, “two minutes!” Lisa found a second gear and we pushed as hard as we could to the finish line. We crossed just as our watches beeped 4 hours. Lisa’s watch even said 3:59:59.

We weren’t able to stay and celebrate though because we had to get cleaned up and get to a wedding. Mike B. showed up and congratulated us, which was awesome. We had hoped to see him before his shift as the Horse Camp captain. Lisa did a quick washing of her hair in the parking lot and we headed up to Saint Paul. A quick change in the restroom of a Lunds grocery store and we were ready to be presentable for the evening.

Despite how crappy I felt for a large part of this race, and my current fitness potential to have crushed my old PR, I’m really happy with how the day came out. This was my second fastest time on this loop, only eclipsed by my loop where I missed a turn and missed a mile. Therefore, there’s a bit of an asterisk on that PR. I got to spend some great time with my wife, and helped her achieve her goal. By the end I was mostly feeling like my old self and was smiling. I know that things will get better, and I’ll be back to my old self soon enough. For now though, I’m happy with great days in the woods with great people.

Trying some Altras

In the trail running community, Altra shoes are a big deal. They’re all over the place, and people swear by them. I’ve tried on a pair or two in the shoe store, but the fact that they’re zero drop has scared me from making a purchase. This weekend I got a chance to actually take some demo pair out for a real run, on a trail.

We went to Rice Lake, WI this weekend to attend a pre-Tuscobia race event, and one of the perks was being able to check out Altra shoes on Sunday morning and take them out for a jaunt on the Tuscobia trail. I decided to go with the Timp model, as it had the highest cushioning, and the rep suggested that was a good choice for people who aren’t used to zero drop.

The nice thing about the Tuscobia trail is that it is straight, and flat. There was one small dip less than a mile in. Otherwise, I was running on solid double-wide track, with clear vision of miles ahead of me. I can certainly see why people feel that the mental game is killer at Tuscobia. You can see for miles ahead, and it takes forever to get there.

I did a simple 6 miler, out-and-back. My first impression of the Timp’s is that they are probably the most comfortable shoe I have ever worn. They have a nice wide toe-box, but the mid-foot is snug, and your heel feels locked in. At no point did I feel like my feet were sliding around in the shoe. I just felt a lot of comfort in my toes, as they could splay out to their heart’s content. The entire upper material of the shoe was a delight, and it made me quickly realize why people love these shoes. They’re almost like wearing socks. Very comfortable, cushioned socks.

I found that the zero drop pushed me onto my mid/fore-foot at the start. That’s not a bad thing, but after about 3-4 miles I found myself inching back onto my heel more. However, I didn’t feel like I was slamming my heel down any harder than I normally do, so the zero drop didn’t seem to give me too many troubles in that area.

The real test will be tonight, and tomorrow. I’ve already felt a bit more tightness in my upper calves, and so I’ve rolled those out to try and get them stretched. That doesn’t feel like anything that I wouldn’t get used to, so I’m optimistically hopeful. We’ll see how tomorrow morning feels. If I’m completely bound up then I might need to think twice, but hopefully I can wake up feeling mostly normal in the calf area. If so, I think the Altra Timp might be my next shoe purchase.

Minnesota being Minnesota

One Wednesday this week we had a rare occurrence for Minnesota in October, 70 degree temps. For one day the temps spiked and we ended up with a humid, soupy mess. I went out for a run over lunch and was utterly miserable from the humidity. Wednesday evening I had my traditional Beer and Bikes ride, and as I started out the front started to roll in, that would signal a major change in the weather.

As I started to ride I got caught in a major downpour of rain. Because of the heat of the day, the rain was actually very, very refreshing. I kept it slow on the slick roads, but made it to the meet up spot just fine. It was actually a very enjoyable ride, similar to a nice run in a summer rain. When we headed out from the meetup spot it became clear that the evening was about to get interesting. The wind out of the NW was picking up tremendously.

As we rode south, I realized I was in a much higher gear than normal. I was cruising along with ease, and I knew that spelled trouble for the ride home. As we crossed the 10th Street bridge over the Mississippi River we were almost blown off of our bikes from the intense cross wind. We eventually made it to our destination and settled in and tried to recover.

About 8pm I started my ride back. My route takes me a different direction, and so once we were back across the 10th Street bridge I turned left on 5th and began the slog home. At this point the winds were in the 20-30mph range, and the National Weather Service even recorded a high gust of 61mph. All of this was coming right in to my face as I tried to ride up hill. I ended up putting the front gear into the “granny gear” just to give my legs some respite.

Eventually, I made it home safe and tried to warm up a bit in the shower before heading to bed. With the wind came cooler temps, and by the time I was home I was happy that I packed a nice jacket and gloves. Then on Thursday morning I checked the temps before heading out on my run… 36 degrees. The temps had swing 43(!) degrees from the day before. That’s an insane temperature swing, but it’s kinda what happens in Minnesota this time of year.

Needless to say, I was happy with the cooler temps, because the air was drier, and there was much less wind. My run this morning was comfortable and cool, which is more akin to what we expect this time of year. It’s just Minnesota being Minnesota.

What I learned this week

This week I attended a conference for work. Even though I just do IT work, it’s nice to spend time with the people I’m working for and learn more about what they do. Even though a lot of the conference wasn’t relevant for my job, I feel like I learned something very important this week… the system to support people stuck in the justice system sucks.

At our conference we got to hear from some key people in the judicial system, including one of our state’s supreme court justices. I also got to attend sessions by some justices who work with sex trafficking, as well as a former inmate, turned artist. All of these people told a story of a system that in many cases is failing to protect some of the most vulnerable in our society. This is no fault of the many hard working people within the judicial system who are trying to follow a myriad of laws that have been handed down to them by politicians who may or may not understand the issues that are plaguing the system.

A few facts and figures

  • 80% of the people in prison have a history with Family Court. This means that they’ve had a childhood that has already been touched by the justice system. Perhaps they were removed from their parents, or they’ve spent time in foster care. No matter the issue, it’s obvious that many problems start young.

  • 65-85% of all girls in sex trafficking were formerly in the foster care system. Sex traffickers pray on the lonely and those with low self-esteem. Growing up in a system that makes you feel like you’re not worth more than the paycheck your foster family is getting for you, speaks volumes to these young people’s psyche’s.

  • Prisons aren’t doing enough (if anything at all) to prepare convicts for a new life after they’ve paid their debt to society. Many prison programs are in place to simply give inmates something to do, and keep them out of trouble. Sometimes felons can learn a trade in prison, but they don’t learn the practical skills of how to survive in a society that doesn’t trust them. Persons on parole have to behave perfectly. Imagine if jaywalking or getting in trouble at work because you left 5 minutes early meant that you spent 6 more months in jail.

These are just a few of the things that I learned this week. My role with the judicial branch doesn’t affect any of these areas, but as a citizen of society, I weep for what is happening to many of these lives. These are individuals who, many times, have had to start life at a disadvantage. They haven’t had the family support that they’ve needed to become productive members of society. This leaves them susceptible to making very bad choices with their lives, and then entering a spiral that they can never escape.

This is what’s on my mind from this week, and I felt like it was something that I needed to share. Maybe the next time you see or hear about someone in your circle who’s had to come in contact with the judicial system, cut them a little slack. They’ve possibly been struggling with life for a long time, and the best that we can do is try and support them in trying to rebuild what they’ve lost (or never had).

The shoes that didn’t work

img_3448When I put on my shoes to go pace my friend at the Superior 100 trail race, I noticed something a bit more “air conditioned” about them. After 275 miles of hard trail work they had developed some blow-out holes on the upper. Those 13 miles at Superior were the final journey for those old Brooks Cascadias, but thankfully I had recently returned from TC Running company with something new.

Although the Brooks Cascadias have worked for me, I wanted to branch out. I was disappointed in their traction on wet surfaces, and they’re a bit of a bulkier/heavier shoe. After about 45 minutes of sampling different shoes I settled on the New Balance Hierro v3. They felt really comfortable running around the store, and I loved the bootie like construction that acts like you always have a gaiter. My wife has these shoes and they work well for her, so I took the plunge.

I took them out for a short 3 miler last week and things seemed OK, but I was immediately struck with how HOT the shoes are. The rubberized upper means that the shoe holds in a lot of heat, which I see as a benefit in the winter, but during the summer it was very noticeable. I decided to give them another shot with a 14 mile run this past weekend on my regular Elm Creek horse trail loop. This is where things took a turn for the worse.

img_3351On my first 7 mile loop I started to notice how much my foot was sliding off the footbed. I had heard that this could happen with this shoe from time to time, but my wife found it to not be a big deal (she has wider feet that are more snug in the shoe). However, I was finding myself feeling like I was sliding around a lot, despite being the proper size for my foot. Every downhill or piece of slanted trail gave me the sensation that my foot was leaving the shoe and entirely sliding off the footbed. I felt the edge of the midsole on multiple occasions, and I knew this wasn’t going to work for me. I adjusted the lacing three different times in that first loop, which helped somewhat, but not enough to get rid of the sliding sensation.

A little bit in to my second loop I started to really notice that something wasn’t right. I’m not sure if the unsteady feel of the shoes was causing me to tense my foot, but about 2 miles in to my second loop I was starting to feel a great deal of pain. When I finished the loop and arrived back at my car I was in tremendous discomfort, specifically along the outside-bottom of my right foot. I crawled in to the car and let my wife drive me home. I took off the shoe and immediately felt some relief, although not as much as I hoped for.

Once I was home and cleaned up, I took some pain killers, and laid down to get pressure off my foot. The pain had become very intense and I didn’t want to put any more weight on it than I had to. After an hour or so of lying around things seemed to settle down, and I was able to move more normally. I still felt like I had a large lump under my skin on that portion of my foot, but the pain had ebbed enough to get on with my day.

I was scheduled to sweep the O’Brien 10 Mile Trail Race on Sunday morning, and I was very concerned that I wouldn’t be able to do much more than stand at the finish line in my condition. I messaged the RD, and he said to show up and we’ll play it by ear, depending on how my foot was feeling. I went to bed that night feeling OK, and by morning things had seemed to return to about 85% of normal. I headed to the race, this time wearing my regular road shoes, and decided to give sweeping a go.

Myself, and two other sweepers (John and Rick) headed out and I was immediately convinced that the issue had been the New Balance shoes. I was able to power hike, and occasionally jog, the entirety of the 10 mile course with none of the discomfort I had experienced just the day before. After three hours on my feet I wasn’t any worse for wear than I would expect after 6 hours of total trail movement over two days. I’m still a bit stiff and sore today, but the acute issue is no more.

I’m not totally sure what the issue with these shoes are, but it’s obvious that they don’t work for me. Last night I went online and ordered some Cascadias and Peregrines, in models that I know both work for me. I’m sad that the New Balance experiment didn’t work, but when push comes to shove, I need my feet to feel good. Hours and hours of trail time requires feet that are functional, and despite all the other cool features of the Hierro, I can’t risk doing damage to myself.

That’s my shoe story for today. I know that the Hierro’s work great for other people, so perhaps this whole blog entry is a long-winded For Sale advertisement for a pair of 9.5 mens NB Hierro’s. However, for myself, it’s back to things that I know are tried and true.