This past Saturday, the annual summer gathering of trail people, known as Afton 50K/25K, took place. This event has been going on for decades and is a wonderful way to kick off the July 4th weekend in Minnesota. As always, Rocksteady Running puts on an amazing event, with great aid stations, a well marked course, and a tremendously great vibe that makes you feel great about being there. As my second year at this event, I was very excited to get back to this race, and to these trails.
To say that my running year has been off to a sluggish start would be an understatement. I’m nowhere near where I’ve been in previous years, and my performances are obviously reflective of that. Going into Saturday’s Afton 25K, I had a very tempered expectation for what I would be able to achieve. The only goal I wanted to achieve was to beat 4 hours.
Since I enjoy some statistics, I went back to compare my running year in 2016, with what I’ve accomplished so far in 2017, leading up to this race. By the time I hit Afton 25K last year, I had already logged 745 miles, compared to this year’s 343. This year my mileage has been very low, and Saturday’s race was only the 7th time all year that I’ve logged double digit mileage. In terms of weekly miles, I’ve only run over 20 miles in a week twice this entire year. Last year I didn’t run LESS than 20 miles until after the Zumbro 50. Needless to say, my expectations for the race were pretty low.
I started my day with some volunteering, running down the 50K course a bit to take pictures of the runners as they passed through about a half a mile in. Once that was done I got myself ready and launched with the 25K pack. I had the honor of running alongside my friend Amy for quite a while to start, and we leap frogged each other quite a bit during the first 4 miles. I blew through the first aid station, feeling surprisingly good, just grabbing some water to dump over my head.
Eventually my friend Amy’s ability to bomb the downhills meant that she pulled farther and farther away from me, and I settled into a nice pace for the level of training that I have done. Aid station 2 and 3 were pretty much a blur, though I know I spent too much time chatting with folks at AS3 before heading up the hill to the campground. However, as I looked back at the run, I got to AS3 at exactly the same time this year as well as last year.
By the time I had swung back around to the other side of AS3 which was AS4, I had dropped about 4 minutes from my pace from the previous year. Something that I’m proud of both years is that I ran the 1 mile segment of the River Trail, which is long, flat, and has the tendency to suck out your soul (similar to the road at Zumbro). I climbed up Meat Grinder and arrived at AS5, just a mere four minutes behind my pace from 2016. At this point though, the lack of training was starting to catch up with me.
As I headed into the Snowshoe loop my entire body was dragging. I was feeling exhausted, and despite a MUCH cooler year this year, I was feeling hot and sweaty. As I hit the final hills I felt my legs scream in agony at me, begging me to stop. I didn’t stop, but I did slow down quite a bit. Additionally, at one point I stepped wrong and gave my left ankle a bit of a tweak. I had to gingerly step down hills for the next 10 minutes making sure I hadn’t done anything too serious. However, as I looked at my watch I knew I would easily beat four hours, and so I wasn’t too concerned.
I finally reached the last stretch to the finish line and convinced my body to run the final half mile. I crossed the finish and immediately grabbed some liquid and found a quiet place to sit and lie down. The lack of training caught up with me in a big way during the final 3 miles, and now I needed some rest. Yet, despite all of this, I only lost an additional 8 minutes during those 3 miles, putting me at 12 minutes slower than last year.
Some people would consider this much of a drop in performance a huge disappointment, but frankly, I’m overjoyed. With how little running I’ve been doing, the only thing that really got me through was my years of experience, and general conditioning from running so many miles in previous years. I was thrilled with how well my body felt and performed before the wall hit on Snowshoe. I frankly, could not have asked for a better outcome given the circumstances.
Once I recovered, and saw my wife finish, I grabbed some food and then changed clothes to head down to AS3/4 and take more pictures. I arrived in time to get a good selection of the back-of-the-pack 50K runners as they came into the aid station on their final loop. After about an hour or so, things seemed to be pretty much done, so I headed back to the car and we began the journey home. Overall, it was a tremendous day and a wonderful reminder that I can still do this, despite the setbacks. I feel much more energized and motivated to get back out there and make a solid attempt at Marquette 50K this year. I know I still have a long way to go, but in the immortal words of Monty Python and the Holy Grail… “I’m not dead yet!”