Last year a new race burst on the scene from veteran race director Chris Swenke. He wanted to introduce everyone to one of his favorite parks, Willow River State Park in Wisconsin. To do this, he devised a 10 mile loop around the park that takes you past waterfalls, along a beautiful river, and challenges you with some truly steep climbs. To top it all off, the entire course is beautiful double-wide trail that is 99% devoid of root and rock obstacles.
I decided to give this race a shot this year, and since I had an 18 mile training run on my schedule, the 20 mile option seemed like the best way to go. I hobo’d my way to and from the race, getting rides from friends, and was ready to toe the line for the 7:30am start. Since I had never been to this park before, I tempered my expectations. This was supposed to be a training run, so I knew better than to lay it all out there in the first loop. I knew I’d like to get the first loop done in 2 hours, and then hopefully I could hang on for a finish in under 4:15.
The race launched and I hung out with my good friend Mike Barton for the first couple of miles. When we hit the first big climb I decided it was time to lose the shell I was wearing. As I slowed to take it off, Mike took off for what would be a truly great race for him. The first climb gives you a taste of the handful of hills that you’ll encounter on the course. The nice thing was that in between these hills the course was incredibly runnable and easy. The rolling gravel along the river valley (or on top of the bluffs) was comfortable and fun. The lack of difficult footing meant that you could look around and see some of the park. I got treated to some graceful turkey vultures circling a prairie, as well as multitudes of songbirds.
There is one climb that does deserve its own moment of recognition. Right before the 7 mile aid station you travel along a section of asphalt. Unfortunately, this section of pavement is also the steepest (and felt like the longest) hill of the course. At 15% grade, it was a complete quad buster, and on my second loop it took everything I had to get to the top. For the casual people visiting the waterfall, this path has multiple benches to stop along the way. Personally, I would have preferred a nice staircase!
Throughout my first loop I felt good. I laid down some solid miles, and managed to get over all of the climbs still feeling pretty decent. My goal for lap 1 was two hours, and as I stood at the mile 10 aid station, my watch beeped 2 hours exactly. I knew I couldn’t do lap 2 in that same amount of time, but I was happy with my effort so far. I headed out on loop 2, and within a mile or so I came across Luke Thoreson who had just finished his shift of volunteering and was out to get some miles. We ended up spending the majority of the second loop together, chatting and getting to know one another. It made the miles melt away and before I knew it we were back at the asphalt climb to the mile 17 aid station.
The final three miles to the finish were a bit slower than I had wanted, but once my watch beeped 18 miles, I had a bit of mental wrestling to do to keep pushing. This was supposed to be an 18 mile training run, and I still had two miles to go. My brain decided that it would rather walk more in this section than I probably needed to, but this is why running is as much a mental game as a physical one. I managed to push through the final miles of rollers and crossed the line in 4:10, well within my goal of 4:15.
The greatest takeaway though is how good I felt at the end. I put out a solid effort, and I probably could have pushed just a little bit more, but I was able to walk around the finish line, talk with people, eat food, and overall act like a normal person. When I come in from a race and feel completely trashed, I end up not enjoying the experience, even if I manage to lay down a PR time. However, in this case, I feel like I put down a good performance, and yet still felt good at the end. This is a testament to where my training is at right now, and for me, this is a huge accomplishment from where I’ve been in the past.
Even this morning after, I’m doing great. I spent this morning biking down to Eastside Co-op and I’ll be going for a casual 6 mile run with my wife later. My legs aren’t protesting nearly as much as they have in the past, and there’s only a couple of small pains left on my feet. Overall, a resounding success.
This will probably be my last big race before my 100K in August. I need to get back into my routine and focus on laying down the time on feet, as well as getting my nutrition right, and upping my bike cross training. I am really happy that I did The Willow 20 though. The park was beautiful, and I can see heading out there in the future for some training runs. It’s a great alternative to Afton, and with the well groomed double-track, could be a great option for muddy mornings.
In regards to the race itself, Chris puts on an awesome low-key trail running event. The volunteers were great, the course was marked perfectly, and I got treated to slices of banana, with peanut butter and M&Ms on them at the 7 mile aid station! The hat that Chris designed is simple and clean, just like all of the signage around the course. This is certainly a race worth doing, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for a nice early-May race.
A year ago a bunch of my friends decided to do something crazy… run a marathon around a baseball diamond. This breaks down to 384 times around the bases, which is the number of home runs that baseball player Harold Baines hit during his career. The entire event was just for fun, and because of an injury a couple days before, I decided to just go and hang out with folks.
Fast forward to 2019, and this is now a full fledged event. My friends put together a race directing team and turned their little idea into a big happening. This year 35 people signed up to run 26.2 miles in a small circle. Thankfully, they offered some smaller options for folks like myself who just weren’t ready to commit to that level of crazy, and so I signed up for the half marathon, only 192 times around the diamond. As an added bonus, I would get to do this on my birthday!
Even though my race didn’t start until 12:15, I showed up nice and early to hear my wife sing the national anthem and watch the craziness happening on the other other two fields. The entire event was an awesome, baseball themed party, complete with a 7th inning stretch where everyone had to stop for hot dogs. They gave out baseballs as the medal, and everyone got a commemorative baseball card for participating. The event garnered a bunch of attention that even a local news show came out to put together a feature on it.
I hung out with friends and tried to relax, but eventually 12:15 hit and it was time to start my journey. I started out with the pack, probably going just a little too fast, before easing into a nice steady pace. Rounding the bases didn’t seem too bad at first. I was able to chat with people and distract myself pretty regularly throughout the race. However, the real story of the day was the condition of the field. Our massive snowfalls had yet to melt, and so the path that had been cleared on the baselines was covered with water that had no where to go. Within 10 laps my feet were soaking wet.
Some of us tried to find ways around the puddles, and the grounds crew attempted to fix some problem areas, but when all was said and done… it was just going to be sloppy and wet. I moved as best as I could in the conditions, but towards the end I could tell that my legs were feeling very done with this constant turning to the left. Around the 10 mile mark I decided to walk a few laps and drink a beer while I did. This was one of my highlights as I got to enjoy some moving time, and a tasty beverage, in my own personal 7th inning stretch.
I lost track of my laps pretty quickly, and my GPS watch was destined to be dramatically off. These watches just aren’t meant to record data that precisely when your track is in the same place over and over again. Additionally, we were cutting the inside of the baseline pretty tight, to avoid puddles, and over 192 times around, this will heavily skew where the GPS thinks you are. Needless to say, I had no idea how close I was to finishing, until my friend Troy, who was helping keep track of laps, informed me that I had 20 laps to go.
I started counting them down, and when I hit 10 I breathed a sigh of release. After 192 laps I crossed the lap counter and was told I was done. My watch only registered 12 miles, but I didn’t care. I hobbled over to the main aid station and grabbed another beer to chug in celebration. My wife arrived and kindly brought me some dry shoes to put on. Shortly after, the entire event wrapped up and we all headed home.
In the following days I have discovered that I did injure my gastroc muscle in my right calf. There’s a tremendously tender spot, and running and walking has been a challenge. I’m spending a lot of time stretching and rolling it out, and it’s getting better, but it certainly shows the dangers of doing a crazy event like this.
Despite the lingering issues, I am happy I gave this an attempt this year. I had a great time with all my friends, and I know it’s an experience that I’ll never forget. However, next year, I think I’ll just volunteer!
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.
However, 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.
One 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.
By 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.
Coming back to reality after a big trail race is a struggle. My social media feeds are filled with people talking about their post-Superior hangover. As I sit here typing this, I too am feeling sad, longing to be back among the hills, woods, and trail family that I adore. I’ve long since learned that when I return from weekends such as this, I need to take Monday off of work, if at all possible. This year I also went down to the truck unloading party at the race director’s house on Monday for a couple of hours, and that also helped to ease the transition.
It seems that every year at Superior is special, but this year was different for me. As usual I was captaining the aid station at County Road 6. This is a job that I enjoy, and am good at, so I love coming back to do it year after year. I’ve also ended up finding myself on the photography and social media team, therefore much of my free time was spent taking photos up and down the race course. What made this year different for me was what happened on Saturday.
This year I had the honor of being able to pace my friend and trail mentor, Mike B. to his first 100 mile finish. I offered to pick him up at mile 90 (of 103) and pace him into the end. I’ve paced this exact same stretch before with another runner, and it’s an area of the course that I know well and love. Based on how I’ve been performing this year I probably could have paced even more, but it’s always good to be conservative when your weekend schedule is already packed, and you don’t want to get dropped by a runner with a second wind at mile 95.
I got a chance to see Mike the day prior at County Road 6 and he was looking well. The section before my aid station is one that is frustrating for many people. It’s a long 9 mile section that ends with a beautiful view of the aid station from on top of a ridge line. The problem is that the aid station is still a good mile and a half away, down a rocky descent. Many people come in to my station feeling frustrated and annoyed. I could tell Mike was a little bit of both (though not too bad).
County Road 6 is also the station that sends you off into the long night. Almost everyone, except for the leaders, has to bring a headlamp with them when leaving my station. Once you pass through us, you know that you’re entering into the darkest stretch of the race. It’s also the spot where pacers can first be picked up (after 6pm), and so we sent Mike into the night with his first pacer Shannon.
Eventually Friday night ended and we broke down the aid station. I managed to head back to the house for a few hours of sleep, and then drove to another aid station to see how Mike made it through the night. He arrived at Sugarloaf smiling and happy, despite being solidly behind his “A” goal pace time. He was nowhere near hitting cutoffs, so there wasn’t much to worry about. It was also here that I got to see a couple other friends who were also putting down strong performances, and were recovering from a long dark night.
After checking on Mike, I headed to the Sawbill aid station to work for the day until my pacing duties started. Sometimes it’s nice to be the one in charge, and other times it’s nice to just do work and let someone else deal with being in charge. At Sawbill I got to just do work, helping runners, filling water, etc.,. Soon I got a message the Mike was leaving the previous aid station so I took some time to get myself ready and waited. He arrived right at 4pm, with his second pacer Heather, and my evening of fun began.
Mike was in great spirits. He was moving well, eating well, and power hiking with purpose. We left with just under two hours before cutoffs at Sawbill, and 3 hours and 10 minutes to get to the final Oberg aid station. The rule in the Superior 100 is that as long as you can get out of the final aid station before the station cut-off time, you’ll get an official finish (even if you’re slightly above the 38 hour time limit). However, I didn’t need to worry. The section from Sawbill to Oberg is only 5.5 miles long, and it’s mostly flat. There’s only one big hill, and one other climb that’s noteworthy. Otherwise, you can power through it without much issue.
We also didn’t need to worry because Mike was on fire. He kept a solid 18-19 minute hiking pace through the entire section, and any little hill we came across wasn’t even an issue. Part way through the section I asked Mike, “So how do you feel about running?” He said he felt fine, and so we decided that we would try and run through the final half mile in to the aid station. This section is flat, buffed out trail, and goes through a beautiful pine forest copse. As soon as we hit it we started picking up the pace and before we knew it we were rocking a 10 min/mile jog into the final aid station. We arrived at 5:45pm, LONG before the final Oberg cutoff at 7:10pm.
Despite being well ahead of cutoff, I was also aware of Mike’s “B” goal, which was to come in around 8pm, or slightly after, during the award ceremony. It’s an awesome time to finish the race as the finish line is packed with people, and every time a runner headlamp appears from around the building the award ceremony stops and everyone goes bananas. I did some quick math in my head and knew that if we could keep moving strong, and maybe get in a bit more running, this goal was completely attainable.
Mike’s crew took care of a couple of his quick needs. Due to the massive energy boost we got from the crowds, we RAN out of the aid station. Mike is chugging along the road out of the station (uphill) and I turned to him and said, “You know we don’t have to run this, we can start hiking again.” He wasn’t hearing it though and kept moving. The road into the station is only 100-150 yards, so soon we were back on real trail, which forced us to move back down to a solid hike. The energy boost coming in to Oberg was intense and we were still talking about it the next day.
The final segment of the trail is 7 miles, and it is one of the tougher parts of the course. It includes climbs up Moose Mountain and Mystery Mountain, before dumping on to the final road sprint to the finish. Some of the trail in this area is very, very technical, and so we moved as fast as possible, considering Mike in his very depleted state. However, something that kept Mike fresh was coming across other 100 milers on the trail. He seemed to feed off of their energy, and as we approached each one he got a burst of speed. In this final 13 miles I think we passed over a dozen people on the trail, not counting folks that were taking longer to leave at the Oberg aid station.
Finally, the long climb up Moose Mountain was upon us, and we powered up with as much determination that Mike could muster. In the end, we managed to climb faster than I did when I did the marathon a couple years ago. We arrived at the top, in pretty good shape. It was here that we took the requisite selfie over the big lake before tackling the mile long spine of the mountain. We had talked previously about this section, and decided that we would run it as much as Mike was able. We got in some solid jogging time before reaching the other side and the technical descent.
At this point in the race downhills were much, much tougher for Mike than uphill or flat. It took a little bit of work to surmount some of the large steps down the mountain, but soon we reached the valley below. Due to the perfect weather conditions there was virtually no mud anywhere on the course. This meant that the boardwalks in the valley were dry and not caked with slippery slime from hundreds of runners walking over them all day. It made for a quick passage before coming up to the switchbacks of Mystery Mountain.
By this point it was starting to get dark and somewhere on the mountain we had to turn on headlamps. Every 100 miler hopes to get in before darkness sets a second time, but I don’t think it phased us much at all. Mike was feeling great, and had managed his race well. The previous time I had paced someone on this section they came in before dark, but they also were pretty trashed and couldn’t move nearly as fast as we were going this year. These events are about being smart about your endurance.
Although we had held a conversation during much of these sections, the final pull to the finish was done quietly. The night was dark, and the air was filled with the sound of the Poplar River, and the cheers from the lodge in the distance (2 miles away). The Poplar is the final marker that denotes that you’re done. From there, it’s a quick climb up off the trail and a run down a road to the finish. We hit the start of the road and Mike started running. We were actually hitting a sub-10 min/mile pace at times and I could tell that his energy and adrenaline was spiking. I cranked my headlamp up and ran along side Mike to give him more light on the road, as this was a very unfamiliar surface for him after 36 hours. We rounded the final path to the lodge and I fell back behind to make sure Mike got a great finish line picture.
We crossed the finish line at 8:23:02pm… right in the middle of the award ceremony. Mike briefly sat in a chair before the overwhelming desire for the coveted Superior sweatshirt made him walk a few more steps to the tent to receive his prize. The rest of the evening is a blur of people congratulating him on his finish and stories of hardship and struggle on the trail. We stuck around to the end, and got to see other friends cross, many of them finishing their first 100. Soon though the finish line was being broken down and it was time to get Mike to bed. Though, not before a quick stop off at a local hotel bar that was still serving food so that we weren’t going to bed hungry.
The next day we began our journey back to civilization. We opt’d for a quiet breakfast at a local bakery and hitting the road sooner rather than later. A nice meal at OMC Smokehouse in Duluth capped off the adventure of the weekend. Mike had done something incredible, and I was humbled to have gotten to be a part of it. He’s been a key part of my trail running journey, and I feel like I maybe was able to pay him back, just a little bit, in this last 13 miles.
Now we’ve arrived back at reality and the cold harsh world of work and responsibilities. I’m still having some type of allergy or cold issues bugging me, most likely from depleting my immune system over the weekend. I’m anxious to get out and run more, but can’t really manage more than 3 miles right now with my head stuffed. I know that there are still more races this fall, and that I’ll be a part of many of them. But, there’s something special about Superior. People talk about how amazing Western States 100 is, or Badwater 135. Yet, much of what makes them special is the community that surrounds them. Superior is like that. It’s a community that comes together to experience the best “Minnesota mountains” we can muster.
In the end, it’s not the height of the mountains that makes for a memorable trail race. It’s not the insufferable mud, the ankle bruising roots, or toe-stubbing rocks. It’s the act of being present with those roots and rocks, surrounded by nature and those that love it as much as you do. We learn about ourselves, and how to accept ourselves in success or defeat. We learn what we’re capable of and how much we can overcome. Being a part of the Superior tribe isn’t about just finishing a race. It’s about being the best that we can be, both on and off the trail. Discovering the beauty of our world, and of humanity, one small mountain at a time.
Ever since I changed my running philosophy this year, I’ve been much happier with where I’m at. I’m not stressed about “the next big race” because I don’t actually have any races planned. I’m just doing things when I feel like it. Case in point, the Treasured Haven Farms 12 Hour Run that I did on Sunday. My wife had signed up for this run a long time ago, so I knew I would be there, but I didn’t decide to join in until 9 days before the race. It was another moment where I said, “what the heck, that sounds fun.”
Treasured Haven Farms is one of the hidden gems of the trail race world here in Minnesota. It’s a small organic farm that opens up their property to trail races a few times throughout the year. We’ve done a 7 mile race there before and it’s a lot of fun. This is old-school trail racing at it’s finest. No chip timing, no big fanfare, just a bunch of land with trails on it, and a clock at the finish line.
When we arrived we were greeted by a few other UMTR friends who had also made the trek. They had opted to do the 3 and 6 hour version of the race, which was probably smart given the predicted high temps for the day. This was going to be one of the hottest days of the year with temps reaching into the 90s. We also found out that besides my wife and I, only one other person had signed up for the 12 hour race. This factor would be key later in the story.
At 7 am the race launched and I started out at a decent pace figuring I should, carefully, bank some miles while the air was still cool. I locked in to an 11:30 pace, which under most, flat, circumstances is my “go all day” pace. The loop that we were running was 3 miles long around the edge of the farm fields, with a couple jaunts on to some beautiful wooded paths. These wooded areas became sanctuaries throughout the morning as the temps started to climb and the sun started beating down hard.
The first couple of hours melted away pretty quickly for me. Just over two hours in I had a solid 10 miles on my legs and was feeling pretty good. After three hours I decided it was time to move to a run/walk strategy to help conserve energy and survive the climbing temps. By this point the 3 hour runners were finished up, however our amazing friend Ann, and another friend’s husband DuWayne (she was running the 6 hour) decided to be our crew for a while.
Every time we came in from a loop they were right there making sure we had everything we needed, throwing away our trash, and generally taking care of our every need. They stuck around for a lot longer than they needed to and treated us amazingly. We were humbled and grateful for how wonderful they were to us. Another friend of ours, Bob, showed up with trail running fixture, Pearl the dog. He lives near the farm and so he stopped by a couple times to encourage us. That was a huge surprise and really lifted our spirits as the day wore on.
As the race continued I caught up to my wife who was a loop behind me. We would occasionally stick together but usually one of us would move ahead of the other as we were feeling good. As the loops wore on I ended up spending a lot more time at the main aid station, taking my time as I felt like it. I went in to this race with very minor goals, and so I wasn’t pushing too hard to do anything phenomenal. A few days before the race I thought it would be amazing if I could get 100K or 50 miles, however as the weather report got hotter and hotter, I decided that if I could bang out a 50K I would count that as a success. By 5 hours in I was already at 20 miles, so I knew a 50K was pretty much in the bag.
As the 6 hour run was finishing up a huge blessing rolled in, in the shape of clouds and a light rain. Suddenly everything started to feel right in the universe again. There was a breeze with the clouds and the temps dropped in to the 70s. It was a little bit of heaven. Granted I had still been running for 6 hours and was feeling all that pain on my legs. I had a major blister on my right big toe that I got covered up, but it still was an irritant. As the hours wore on it also became apparent how lonely the rest of this day was going to be. After the 6 hours folks finished up, the only people left were myself, my wife Lisa, and another runner named Eric.
Eric was crushing the course, lapping us repeatedly as he racked up miles. He was a solid runner and a super nice guy, however, it sounded like he was just doing this for a training run and that the only reason that he bumped up from the 6 to the 12 was because only my wife and I had signed up for it. One of the times he was passing us he mentioned, “Hey if you guys want to call this early just let me know, I’m cool stopping whenever.” At this point I think we were all feeling a little silly having just three runners keeping a race open for an extra 6 hours.
My wife and I talked about it and decided to keep going for a bit longer, but that if any one of us decided to drop that we’d all probably call it a day. At the eight hour mark I took a solid 15 minute break as my wife and I talked about things. She was hurting bad and just wasn’t feeling confident that she wanted to go on any further. The rain had stopped a long time ago, and the sun was coming back out. The temps were predicted to climb back into the high 80s before we would be done. She decided that she was done. I looked down at my watch and realized I was at 30 miles, so I opt’d to go out for one more loop and knock out a solid 50K.
As I headed out for this final loop I found my body working really, really well. Maybe I had just adapted to the pain, but I felt like I could run again. I ended up running almost all of that final loop and knocked out a 35 minute 3 miler. That was almost as fast as my initial loops early in the day. Since this was going to be my final loop, I decided I had better leave everything out there on the course, and so I pushed myself to sub-11 minute pace as much as I could and crossed over the finish line with a few minutes before the 9 hour mark to spare.
With ~33 miles and 9 hours under my belt I decided it was a good day, and I was more than happy to join my wife in calling it done. That’s the beauty of a timed race like this. You can stop whenever you want and if you decide you’re done earlier than the bell, that’s totally up to you. I clocked in my second 50K of the year, only 4 weeks apart, which is light years beyond where I’ve been in previous years.
I probably could have gone on another three hours and finished out 40+ miles, but I wasn’t out there with anything to prove. I kept moving for 9 hours, completed a solid distance, and even found a second wind late in the day that propelled me to some solid running on tired legs. That’s one of the biggest ‘wins’ that I took away from the whole day; proving that just because you’re in pain at one point in a long race, doesn’t mean you’ll be in pain the entire race. Pain is temporary, and our bodies are often able to do a lot more than we think they can.
I’m incredibly happy with how this race turned out. I don’t know what is next for me, as I’m not doing any long term race planning this year. I’ve got my favorite 5K (Endless Summer French Park 5K) coming up soon, but other than that it’s all up to whatever I feel like. That’s one of the best feelings I’ve had as a runner in a long time, and it’s made all the difference in my attitude and enjoyment of running overall this year. Low pressure and running for fun. It’s what trail running is supposed to be about.