Previewing Surf the Murph

This fall my wife and I are planning on running our first 50K race, and we choose the Surf the Murph as our best bet, particularly in terms of timing and how it fit into our other race schedules. In order to see what we are in for we headed down there this morning to try a loop of the course. We arrived around 7am, and thankfully the weather was mostly overcast, despite some high humidity. We took care of our bathroom breaks, filled our bottles and headed out on the northern loop of the trail.

Because many of the trails that are used during the race are closed other parts of the year, we had to do the best we could to put together an approximation of the race course. The northern area of Murphy-Hanrehan park is the hilly portion, and some of the climbs that we had to endure right off the bat took us by surprise. There was a fair amount of walking on this section, but overall I felt like I managed it well. I saw on the map that the southern area was surrounded by prairie restoration areas, which is a runner code-name for “flat”. We had planned to take a small corridor to get to the southern loop, but found it closed, and since the route around it took us back to the car, we took the opportunity to refill our bottles and take another bathroom break.

IMG_3621We jumped onto the gravel road to get to the next trail intersection and began the larger southern loop, and after a mile or so, we experienced the beautiful prairie area off to our side. It was apparent that the area is still being developed, as the prairie was still rather small, but it was quite beautiful. The running along this loop was much easier, with only the occasional steep hill to throw you off your pace.

On the southeast side of the southern loop there is a small lake with a side loop around it. We looked at our watches and debated if we had time for the detour. Because my Cliff Blocks were kicking in hard, I suggested that my wife go on ahead of me, and I’d do the quick 1.5 mile loop and then catch up to her. It would give both of us a chance to run our own pace and not feel guilty about pushing or pulling the other.

I took off down the side trail and felt a surge of energy as I blasted around the small lake. The mile and a half passed quickly, and I felt myself burn off a ton of excess energy with a really nice ten minute mile, minutes faster than I had been doing all day. I emerged from the spur loop and barreled down the path, or what I thought was the correct path. About a mile later I suddenly started realizing that I was seeing the same prairie again, and sure enough I came across a trail intersection marker that we had passed much earlier. I cursed for a while and checked my park map. I decided to try taking a small shortcut path, but found that it was overgrown and closed. At that point I decided that my best choice would be to continue to backtrack, and meet up with my wife at the other end of the loop. So instead of coming up behind her, I’d be running towards her.

IMG_3622We exchanged a quick text message to update each other on the plan, and I started back out. Eventually I met up with my wife and promptly turned back around to finish out the loop with her. At this point we also ran into a couple of people from the Upper Midwest Trail Runners group who I had chatted with on Facebook earlier in the week. They ran along with us and showed up another one of the paths that completed the course. We eventually split when we came across the road, as my wife and I needed to get back to real life and acquire lunch for the family.

My total mileage for the day was 16.25 miles, all of it on rugged trails with some killer hills thrown in for good measure. I’m happy to have been able to see what I’m in for when I attempt two loops of Surf the Murph later this year. Being able to visualize the course really helps with the mental game that goes on in your head during long races. Setting small visual goals, and then passing those markers gives your mind something to do as you struggle through miles upon miles of woods.

I’ll probably spend some time on easier trails for the next few weeks to prepare for Moose Mountain Marathon (26.2 miles on the Superior Hiking Trail), but I look forward to getting back to Surf for an exciting challenge in the fall.