Surly Trail Loppet Half Marathon

Hot. That was the word for the day on Saturday when I ran the Surly Trail Loppet Half Marathon. I had signed up for this race a few weeks ago, since my wife was gone during this same weekend running a Trail Ragnar. I had never run this race before, and had only ran at Theodore Wirth park a few times before. This made me excited to see what more this park had to offer.

However, because of that word I started out with (HOT), this was more than just a simple half-marathon for me. The past week or so, Minnesota has been having a strange warm spell with temps in the upper 80s most of the week. What should have been a nice cool fall race, was shaping up to be one of the warmest I’ve ever done.

Because of the parking situation near the start, I went to a trail head on the Luce Line trail 2 miles away and biked to the race village. As I was biking I could tell that the day was already shaping up to be downright tropical. I arrived at the start and got my bib, and wandered around seeing if I recognized anyone. On the bike ride over I passed Rob H. and said hello, and then as I was waiting near the start line I met up with Kari. We talked about the heat and she declared that she was going to run so slow she wouldn’t even sweat! On a day like this, I personally proved that wasn’t possible.

My wave launched at 9:15 and I started down a simple bike path until we veered off into the woods. My first miles were pretty good, and I was feeling relatively positive, but I could already tell that the heat was going to play a major factor. I stuck around 12-13 minute miles and made sure that I took it easy on the uphills.

Something that I’ve learned in high heat running is that you can sometimes drink too much water. Often times when we are hot and sweaty we want to drink to cool down. However, what can happen is that you flush out all of the salts from your system as you’re drinking. I think that was a direct contributor to the heat exhaustion I got on a race in Vegas a few years ago. Therefore, my strategy was to use my water bladder to drink when I was thirsty, and at aid stations drink a bunch of sport drink. While at the aid stations I would also dunk 2-3 cups of water over my head to cool myself down. This meant that I was staying cooler, but also getting in more than just water. Overall, I felt like the strategy worked out mostly good.

As the race wore on my body started to fatigue severely from the heat. Eventually, I was dragging myself along at a 17 min/mile pace, and just trying to regain some energy by moving slowly. I was savoring every moment of shade in the woods that I could. However, there were long stretches of exposed trail as well. In fact, one of the things that I discovered about this race is that a large portion of it is on paved bike trail, as well as dirt. I’d estimate about 30-35% of the race is on asphalt, which is great for introducing road runners to trails, but on a hot brutal day, I dreaded every moment of pavement.

Somewhere after mile 10 I decided to ditch the shirt, as the black fabric was absorbing the sun. Thankfully I still had my vest to cover my lily-white chest, and spare any of my fellow runners blindness. I started to feel better between mile 9-10 and felt like I was moving with determination. I wasn’t running a ton, but my hiking was solid. I hit the final aid station for a final shower before making my way to the finish. There is a short section of residential road at this point, and it’s all up-hill. Needless to say I was a little bummed that there was no way I could run it. Soon I was back on a bike trail and heading for the end.

I crossed the line, triumphant over the conditions, and with the slowest half-marathon time in my running career at 3:17 (technically Blood, Sweat, and Beers was slower, but it was also a full MILE longer than a half marathon). Given the amount of pavement, and the sub-1000ft of elevation gain in the race, I know I could easily have gotten closer to 2:35-2:45. I was the victim of a circumstance that I know is my nemesis, running in heat. I feel like I should train more for some heat runs, and perhaps I’ll make a point of that next season. Many of my toughest races have seemed to be bogged down by heat related issues.

I looked around at the finish for any friends and spotted Anthony, who I’ve run into a ton at races recently. He came in a bit after me, also suffering from the horrendous conditions. We chatted a bit, I had a half a glass of beer, and then it was time for the very, very slow bike ride back to my car. I had thankfully spent a few minutes just laying and recovering, so by the time I hit the bike I wasn’t doing too bad. Riding with no shirt felt great, as the self-generated breeze cooled me off amazingly.

Soon I was back at my car, and I loaded up to go home and clean up and spend some time in air conditioning. My recovery was swift, which I think it a tribute to how smart I ran this race. I managed my fluid intake really well, and perhaps the only change I’d make is to carry a bottle of some form of energy drink as well. I also didn’t hydrate to excess, and had no signs of any ill effects from the heat when I finished.

As for the race itself, this was the first year I had ran it, and it was a fun time. The race directors can’t do anything about the weather, and so they were as much a victim of it as all of us runners. I was a little disappointed with how much pavement there was on the course, but I understand that they can only work with what they have available to them in the park. Almost all of the bike paths were through tree-lined sections of the park, so they were just as beautiful. There were some short jaunts along railroad tracks which were a new thing for me, but to some degree that gave it a cool urban-trail feel.

I’m unsure if I’ll be back next year. This particular weekend in September always seems to fill up with various races. There’s still In Yan Teopa that I want to get down to, so perhaps Surly Trail Loppet will need to wait a while before I return to it. If you’re a road runner looking to get a taste of trails, I’d recommend giving this race a try. It’s a good time, and well managed. Hopefully, in future years, the heat won’t be such a huge factor.

Seattle Trip 2016: Day 8 – North Olympic Discovery Half-Marathon

Since Lisa and I like to combine some running with our travel, we decided to do more than just run some trails, but actually sign up for a race out here. She found the North Olympic Discovery Marathon as signed herself up for the full, whereas I decided to do the half, since I already had my big race of the year, and I don’t enjoy full road marathons that much.

We awoke very early so that Lisa could catch the bus to the early start of the marathon. They had an option for slower runners to start an hour early, at 6am, so Lisa took advantage of that. I putz’d around for a while back in the hotel room and then set out to catch the bus to my half start line at 8:30. Even that early in the day I could tell it was going to be a hot race, and so I slathered on sunscreen and wore my new hat.

The course runs along the Olympic Discovery Trail, which is a paved walking/running trail that runs along the northern part of the peninsula, although not all of it is completed yet. There are portions that go alongside roads, but the section that I was running on was all bike path. We launched on time and I fell into a nice steady ten and a half minute pace. I really had nothing to prove in this race, and I knew after a week of travel and eating poorly, I wouldn’t even come close to a PR. However, I wanted to at least beat 2:30 overall, so I set out with that goal in mind.

The trail was about 40-50% shaded, which was a great respite from the sun. I still made sure to drink at each aid station, and I alternated dumping water on my head or on my hat. However, I discovered that my hat seems to resist moisture, so in the future I won’t bother putting water on it. I will either dunk it in water completely, or toss some ice cubes in it to keep my head cool. Thankfully, the shade was enough to help cool me down, and I never felt overheated.

I decided to take my time on a couple of miles and enjoy the beautiful trail. At one point we descended into a beautiful river valley with a covered bridge. Around that point I got to cheer on the marathon leader as he climbed the massive hill out of the valley and faded into the distance. Looking at my watch I realized that I probably had dawdled a little too much and had to pick up the pace.

The rest of the race is a downhill to the finish, so I was able to make up some solid time. My stomach gave me some issues around mile 8, which meant I wasn’t barreling down the biggest downhill, but I managed to keep up a consistent pace. Once we settled into the steady flat area along the bay I spotted the 2:30 pacer and slowly reeled her in. I managed to get a good 3 minute lead on her over the last few miles. I came in around 2:27, beating my goal, but feeling really tired of the pavement pounding.

In terms of races, the NODM is a small race. There are only around 1000 people in the half and full marathon, so it certainly has a small town feel. The aid stations are pretty well done, and one of them had a delightful Star Wars theme to it, complete with full cardboard character paintings along the path. My biggest complaint with this race was actually Port Angeles itself.

When I hit the flat portion of the trail for the final 3-4 miles, I was running along the harbor. It was then that my nose was filled with horrible smells of rotting seaweed, sulfur and other smells I’m assuming were sewage. I was trying to run as much as possible at the end, but the smell was one of the more unpleasant things I’ve had to push through in races. I realize there’s little that the race could have done about this, but it makes me wonder what in the world is going on in the harbor around here to turn it into such a fetid mess.

Once I crossed the finish line, I assumed I would be waiting a bit for my wife to come through, however she had a really rough day and ended up dropping at mile 18. She actually attempted to drop at mile 13, but the volunteers there had no idea how to deal with a dropping runner, and so she had to soldier on. She was a bit sad that it didn’t go as planned for her, but as I’ve already experienced this year, sometimes finishing a race just isn’t in the cards.

It was fun to have running be a part of our trip, however, I’m feeling like I’m done with pavement races. My feet hurt almost as bad as when I run a 50K, and I know my knees prefer the softer feel of dirt. I think in the future, when planning running and travel we’ll look at more trail type races, or just find some places to run for fun.

IMG_4646The rest of the day was spent recovering with yummy food and a whole bunch of beer. We hit a couple restaurants in town for lunch and dinner. The place we hit for dinner was this really nice gastropub with a live jazz duo and a great selection of craft beer. Now it’s all about packing up and getting read for a 3 hour drive early in the morning to the airport.

This has been an amazing trip, and it’s been wonderful to spend time traveling together for our belated honeymoon. We’ve seen such amazing sights, and had such a great time that going back to reality is going to be tough. Alas, it does have to come to an end, and I’m sure we’ll be talking about this trip for a long time to come.