Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wild Duluth 100k

Wild Duluth 100k

Training Recap

After Ice Age, I couldn’t quite pinpoint a fall race that sparked my interest.   After leafing through Running Times one day, I saw a section on scenic trail races and they highlighted the half marathon at Wild Duluth – I saw they had a 50k and 100k option so I quickly looked up the race and I was sold.  I was looking for a challenge and a 100k seemed like it was the next logical progression in the ultra world plus I had never been up to Duluth before and I heard the Superior Hiking trail was beautiful yet challenging.  I targeted my training towards this race, I started doing my Saturday long runs on the trails out at Bullfrog with the Flatlander Ultra group, these folks provided me with loads of encouragement and they’re all chock-full of knowledge.  I was hitting all my back to back long runs on the trails and felt strong on most of them.  I wasn’t digging the pavement though, my runs during the week felt awkward and off, my body was having trouble adjusting – luckily avoided the pavement for the most part by doing plenty of runs at Deer Grove during the week and I also found several side trails at Busse that I ventured off on regularly.  

I hit 75 miles during my last big week of training including back to back 22 & 23 mile long runs.  My taper was a bit off this year because I did a Spartan race with Brady 3 weeks out so I wasn’t able to get in any long runs that weekend.  The following weekend I was in the LA region for a technical conference and got in a great trail run with my friend Jeff, this route had lots of elevation gain, it gave me confidence for my race and was just a fun day – although the first 2 miles have over 2000 feet of elevation gain, my flatlander legs felt like jello after running up that!!

Leading up to the race, I was feeling strong and positive.   However, while I was in LA a jar fell on one of my toes.  Great, 2 weeks before the race, I get a busted toe.  It was bleeding, bruised, swollen and sore.  I hobbled around the airport all day and hobbled around the next day, I decided to give it a couple of days rest and it ended up being just fine!   Then the week of the race, I got a cold – I was all sniffly and congested, just felt worn down.  I tried to stay positive and not let the cold get to me but I spent the day before the race just lying around my hotel room feeling super tired and not all that great.   I tried to hydrate and fuel up, sweet potato for lunch and sweet potato for dinner, then went to bed on the early side. 
Revised Course Elevation Profile - 7090 feet
Movescount Elevation Data - 8,953 feet
Strava Elevation Data - 10,351 feet

Race Time!

The race had an early start of 6:00 AM so we’d be starting in the dark.  I woke up around 4:15, jumped in a hot shower to wake up my nervous system and had some coffee and breakfast.   We got to the race around 5:30 so I didn’t have a lot of downtime before the start, less time to fret and get nervous.   The forecast for the day was calling for a high around 49 and sunny, seemed like perfect running weather although I was a bit worried about getting chilled throughout the day since I would be out there for so long!!  I decided to go with shorts, compression socks, a tank, short sleeves, arm warmers, gloves and mittens – this was the perfect combination of gear! The good thing about wearing a pack is that it’ll provide extra warmth when needed as well!  During my two previous 50 milers I’ve had some issues with keeping tabs on my nutrition and making sure I had everything I needed whenever I wanted it, I decided that I wanted to be self-sufficient so before the race I stuffed my pack with all the snacks I thought I’d need during the race.  I didn’t wanna leave any drop bags so I filled up Brady’s backpack with everything I might need and he planned to have it with him at all the aid stations. 

Miles 0 to 3.1 (AS1 - N. 24th Ave. W TH)

The race director went over last minute instructions then we all wandered over to the starting area, I found a spot towards the front and we were off, our headlamps bobbing in the dark.  We started on pavement for less than a mile before climbing up the trail.  I quickly found myself among a pack of guys, we were going a decent pace and I reminded myself to stay relaxed since there was still a very long ways to go!  We hit the trail and began to ascend; the lead pack took off running while the rest of us began power hiking.  This was the first time I was running technical trails in the dark and I soon realized that my lamp wasn’t quite bright enough, I found myself watching the light of the person in front of me and avoiding the shadows cast by those behind me.   We reached the first aid station and blew right by it; 3 miles seemed to go by quite quickly! 
Miles 3.1 (AS1) to 8.8 (AS2 - Highland/Getchell Rd. )

We continued along in the dark, pausing a few times at the top of trail to look at the city illuminated in the darkness.  A few times, our small pack of runners had to do a double take to make sure we were heading the right way since it was hard to see the markers even though they were reflective.  We popped out on the road at one spot and were looking around for a while trying to find which direction to go, a girl passed us and said “you’re obviously not from around here, it’s this way”, I quickly responded with “no, I’m from the Chicago area” as several of us followed her down the road.   We got back on the trail and began to climb again, she was leading our pack and I thought to myself, this climbing is a bit too slow for me but I stayed behind saving my energy.  My power hiking was feeling incredibly strong in this section and I kinda felt like I was being held back but decided to go with it since it was still early on in the race, might as well be conservative.  One of the guys snuck passed and disappeared down the trail; I decided to make the same move shortly thereafter.   After that, I found myself running with another guy, we chatted for a few miles about various races we had done and our goals for the day.  Right before AS2, we made a wrong turn because the marking was a bit hard to follow; we started down one path then second guessed ourselves and turned back to head down another.  While we were running down the wrong path, I could see the guy who had darted off earlier running down the road and I was like hey, we need to get out there so we spun around and made our way into the aid station, luckily this didn’t cost us too much time.   I was still feeling really good at this point and was in high spirits although I realized with it being dark and me focusing so much on the trail, I had barely taken in any water and I had yet to have a snack.  I stopped briefly at the aid station to pull out some snacks and started eating a homemade energy bar packed with sunflower seed butter, oatmeal, raisins and chocolate chips.  As I headed off down the road, I hear my mom yell, “there’s another girl right behind you”, I kinda waved her off and kept going, I thought, dang now that girl is gonna know I’m competitive!!   I ate part of the bar then took half a gel to give my energy levels an extra boost.  My goal was to take something small every 20 minutes, it was 1:45 into the race and I was already behind! 

Miles 8.8 (AS2) to 13.7 (AS3 – Spirit Mountain)

I continued another mile or so with the same guy I was running with earlier until I slowed down a bit to take off my headlamp and put it in my pack.  I was then running on my own.  I was running along enjoying the scenery, found myself smiling about how colorful the trees were and the next thing I know I was on the ground!!  I had slipped on a wet wood plank covered in leaves; of course they had warned us that some of these might be slippery!!  I regrouped, my knee was bleeding – this dang bloody knee, I swear every time I fall, I jack up my knee – but otherwise I was ok.   I took a few steps and started running again, at this point I decided to take the rest of that gel I had shoved in my pocket.     I reached the aid station and filled my bottle, I joked about someone having to fill my bottle for me since I felt like a little kid wearing mittens and unable to do anything for myself. 

Miles 13.7 (AS3) to 15.7 (AS4 - Magney-Snively TH)

Somewhere during this section, I started to feel really rundown – it seemed like I was having a hard time breathing and my HR seemed higher than it should be, it was like the pace was taking more effort than it should.  The closest thing I could equate it to is the feeling of running at altitude!  All I could think about was this lousy cold and how it was dragging me down.  My head just felt like it was pounding.  I kept telling myself, its ok but this is not my day and that I needed to let Brady know that I was adjusting my goals – I just wanted to run and enjoy it, take it all in.   Rachel a veteran ultrarunner who I’d been doing my long runs with told me to breath deep every now and again and to remember how lucky we are to do what we do, and she was right so I took a deep breath and looked around, it was beautiful and calming and a smile came across my face, I was definitely grateful to be out there.   I saw Brady as I crossed this neat looking bridge, he ran with me into the aid station and I told him that I wasn’t feeling all that great – that my head just didn’t feel good and I was also having some side stitches, plus my stomach just felt hollow and empty which was a weird feeling to me.  My initial idea of eating the homemade energy bars and having Pocketfuel wasn’t working; they were giving me side stitches so I turned to Hammer gels.   I filled up my bottles at the stop and started back down the trail.  So far this course has had lots of elevation change and plenty of technical spots including jagged rocks and wooden planks to run over, wooden stairs and rock steps.   So far, it was much more difficult than I expected and there was still plenty more challenges to come!!  Up until now, I was playing leap frog with another girl.  We kept passing one another and taking over the lead.  Leaving this aid station, I was still in the lead. 

Miles 15.7 (AS4) to 20.0 (AS5 – Munger Trail)

This next section of the trail was crazy wicked as we climbed up Ely’s Peak.  The trail was extremely rocky and we’re talking like big rocks, some of them I could barely step up.  At the top, you had to navigate the trail based on blue blazes on the boulders and some of them were a bit hard to spot.  Of course, I got off track and that girl passed me again, saying the course is over this way.  I followed her down commenting that it was kinda confusing up there.   The 50ker’s were coming back at us now and everyone was super encouraging,  we were all telling each good job, keep it up, etc.   Heading back down the other side of the peak, wasn’t any easier than coming up.  I seriously had to watch my footing, I didn’t wanna fall and slam my head on a rock.  Plus it hard with people coming up the trail too!  I reached the aid station at mile 20 and saw the girl filling up her bottle.  Great, she wasn’t that far ahead of me.  Brady told me that even though I wasn’t feeling well, I needed to make sure to stay on top of my nutrition and hydration, which reminded me, I needed to pop some electrolyte capsules and get some calories in me.   This was the last time I would see Brady and my parents until the turnaround point at mile 31.   The guy who has the course record told me that Ely’s Peak was the most technical section of the course and that the next part would be much easier, I was relieved to hear that! 
Miles 20 (AS5) to 25.6 (AS6 – Grand Portage)

The girl in black left the aid station before me but I wasn’t that far behind her.  I soon came across her on the side of the trail searching through her bag, she asked me how I was feeling and I said eh, not that great, mentioned that I had a cold and she said she was sick too plus was having some stomach issues, so both of us were running at less than a 100% and it we were both rookies when it came to the 100k distance.  I passed her and wished her luck.  These next 5 miles were not pretty for me, I was feeling incredibly run down and sick, and my mental attitude was shot.  I was running along and tripped on something and fell to the ground, another part of my knee scuffed up and sore, I limped for a few steps while it loosened up.   I drank some water and continued on, next thing I know, I was on the ground again and again and again.  At this point, I was getting really frustrated and the girl in black had already passed me.   I drank a bunch of water, took some electrolytes and downed some calories. I kept on moving but I was not happy, I was wondering why I was even out there, telling myself that I should just call it in before I seriously injure myself.    I wanted to just sit down on the side of the trail for a while and cry, tears started to swell up in my eyes, I think a few rolled down my cheek – I felt so frazzled and so tired and sick and just out of it.  I’ve never been on the verge of tears in a race before; I never felt this bad, at least not this early on.  How the heck was I gonna suffer through 35-40 more miles of this??  While all of these negative thoughts were in my head, I kept repeating – I will not quit, I will not quit.  I knew that barring any serious injury, I would not allow myself to quit, I just couldn’t do it.  I would finish this thing no matter how long it took me.  I finally reached the next aid station and filled up one of my bottles with water and the other with Heed, which was refreshing and hit the spot.   Dang, if this was only 50 miles, I’d be halfway done!! 

Miles 25.6 (AS6) to 31 (AS7 – Turnaround – Chambers Grove)

After leaving this stop, they told us to follow the trail up to the power lines.  I wasn’t really sure what that meant but I would soon find out.  The trail jutted up a 100+ foot climb in less than 1/10th of a mile, this thing was steep and this thing was covered in slippery mud!!!  I looked at it and muttered a four letter word along with you’ve got to be kidding me as I started hiking up it, my feet slipping backwards, I was grabbing at grass and braches along the way to  help pull myself up and prevent myself from sliding all the way back down.  As I was powering up this thing, I thought about Brady and his Spartan Ultra Beast race in Vermont.  If he could power up a steep hill like this carrying 2 – 60 lb sandbags, I could get myself up this thing.  I finally reached the top only to see that the trail took a steep descent before heading back up again, ugh.  I could only imagine how much I would hate heading down this on the way back!!  It finally flattened out and the trail eased up for a while.  This next section was on a new mountain bike trail and I loved it, it was incredibly runnable.  The trail had lots of ups and downs and twists and turns but it was smooth, there weren’t very many hazards to trip over so I felt like I was making up some time during this section and could run almost the entire way without having to navigate any tricky terrain or hike up some steep massive hill.  I was still in 2nd place and found myself feeling a bit better but I was still feeling off.  I stepped aside for a few mountain bikers to pass me, geez guys you could at least tell me that you’re coming and give me a heads up – they later informed my dad they had no idea a race was going on!  I came around the corner into the aid station at the turn around to see Brady, my parents along with Jason and Brenner, a couple of fellow stair climbers who came up from Minneapolis to cheer me on.   I came into that aid station around 6:40, much slower than my initial targeted time of 6:00.  I went straight to Brady, I told him how much I had been struggling and that I really suffered miles 20-25 and how I really wanted to quit.  He knew that I didn’t have it in me to give up and that I would find a way to keep going.  The girl in black was sitting at the table while her crew attended to her, Brady told me that she didn’t look all that great either.   I went to chat with Jason a bit and told him this wasn’t my finest hour but appreciated their encouragement, as I stepped back out there he told me to stay tough out there, that thought rang through later in the race.   It would be another 10 miles until I saw my crew again and that would be when Brady could jump in with me, knowing this kept me going!!  I knew that it would probably take me about 2-2.5 hours to get back there especially since this whole race had been taking me longer than expected.  I figured I would get to the 42 mile mark around 9 hours. 

Miles 31 (AS7) to 36.4 (AS6 – Grand Portage)

The girl in black and another guy left the aid station before me but I darted off with a new sense of purpose, I had to make it 10 miles to where Brady would be able to run with me.   I could see the girl in black on the switchbacks and I inched closer towards them, I was still digging the smooth mountain bike trails, I could just put it on autopilot and run!!  I ended up passing that girl about a mile or two after the aid station and I just kept moving forward.   I could see the other 100k runners who were heading out towards the turnaround and everyone was super encouraging.   I made my way out to the power lines, ugh, now I gotta head down this super steep muddy trail!!  I cautiously walked down that hill and I felt like I was moving at snail’s pace, at one point my foot snagged on something and my heart started racing as my body was flung forward, I grabbed a nearby twiggy branch and luckily kept myself upright.   I finally made it down but it was time to head back up the other side then back down again, I eventually made it safely outta there and into the aid station.   I was cruising at this point, another guy who had passed me a while ago was there and made a comment about me picking up the pace and making up time, he was right, I was on a mission!  

Miles 36.4 (AS6) to 42 (AS5 – Munger Trail)
Mentally I was a little worried about this section because it’s where I really struggled on the way out and hit a major low spot, I also found myself on the ground several times so I was a bit more cautious as I made my way through.  This course was scattered with rocks, wooden planks, stairs, little bridges, etc and this section was no different.  I found myself power hiking the inclines, maybe a bit more than I should and the descents were a bit slow, I know my downfall is technical descents, I’m just not very confident in myself and need more experience!  The guy in the blue shirt would get closer on the hills and I would pull ahead on the runnable portions, why am I such a weak hiker?  I felt so strong power hiking at the start of the race but now I was just inching along up those hills.  He eventually passed me before coming into the next aid station.  I kept looking at my watch, I was ahead of schedule, I started to worry that Brady might not be there since I was moving at a quicker pace.  My crew was there but Brady wasn’t quite expecting me yet but he dropped his stuff and was ready to run!  I came in super excited telling them that I was feeling much better than I was 20 miles ago, which was shocking.  I’m not sure if my cold decided to stay behind at one of the aid stations or if my fueling was getting better so I was gaining more energy, either way I was feeling good. 

Miles 42 (AS5) to 46.3 (AS4 - Magney-Snively TH)

We left the aid station and I pointed out the peak we were about to climb and told him it was incredibly rocky but the views were incredible.   We ran down the road and turned up the trail which at that point was just a bunch of giant rocks, he’s like wheres the trail??  I said, here it is, let the adventure begin!  We started the climb, chatting with the guy in blue as well.   Brady was off in front and the other guy was like oh look at mr. showoff with the fresh legs, haha.  It was true, we’d been moving for more than 42 miles!!   After we reached the top, the guy in blue blasted off down the trail saying that he wanted to stretch his legs, we continued on at our normal pace.    My legs were still feeling pretty good, whenever I was running I felt strong and like I could keep on going but the hiking and super technical spots just slowed me down.   Coming around a turn, I was surprised to see my dad – we deemed him the trail gnome of the day since he was always about a quarter to a half mile down the trail from the aid station.   We reached the aid station, my mom told me that the aid station captain told her that I needed to eat something, he was worried about me because I didn’t grab anything when I came through the first time around (back around mile 15.7), she explained to him that I was a vegan and very particular about what I ate and that I was carrying stuff in my pack.  During our run, Brady told me that this aid station had a full tent with a heater inside and lots of warm food even had a little window so you could peek out to see what was going on, he’s like we can stop in there if you need to and we’ll show you around.  I was like that sounds nice but we’re in a race and we’re crunched for time, haha :) I filled my bottles again and we were off towards Spirit Mountain, only about 16 miles to go!  

Miles 46.3 (AS4) to 48.3 (AS3 – Spirit Mountain)
Spirit Mountain is a tough section because we climb down the mountain then have to go back up but we just cranked through this section onto the next aid station.  

Miles 48.3 (AS3) to 53.2 (AS2 - Highland/Getchell Rd. )

This next stretch would be a big longer; we had 5 miles and at the rate we were going I figured it would take us around an hour or so.   We kept cruising on the easy sections and hiking on the hills, I told Brady that I was sorry for slowing us down, that I was doing the best I could.  He commented that the terrain wasn’t easy, he had only done 10 miles but already thought it was a tough course!  As we approached the 53 mile mark,  I threw my arms in the air and yelled, single digits with a smile on my face; we were so close yet so far away!!  It was like never-ending trying to get to that next aid station, time just kept ticking by.  I kept saying it doesn’t feel like we’re moving that slowly, why aren’t we there yet.  We took a wrong turn somewhere, there were some pink flags associated with a construction area and another random runner guy saw us and called us up towards the trail, at least we didn’t venture too far off the path.   We hadn’t seen any other runners since the guy in blue left us back up on Ely’s Peak.  We hit the pavement and I was like ok, the aid station is right up around this corner, we turned and nothing.  WTH?!?!?  Where did the aid station go??  Did they pack it up, no they couldn’t do that there were still too many runners out there plus my parents would still be standing there even if the aid station was gone.  We kept on running, my mind playing tricks on me.  I was thinking dang, I need water, we still have over 8 miles to go and I need water.   It was starting to get dark and chilly too, we were gonna need to pull out the headlamps soon too.   We navigated some more trail, then popped out in the construction zone, now I knew we were really close to the aid station.  We turned down the road and I could hear my parents cheering for us.  We came into that aid station, Brady grabbed some snacks, I filled up my smaller bottle with Heed which reminded me at one of the stops the Heed flavor was strawberryish and that just cracked me up, I made a comment to the girls there and one said, this one is melon and the other one starting laughing and said no, its melonish.  Good times, haha.  I got my headlamp off and put on a long sleeve shirt since it was getting dark and cold, we had about 8.5 miles to the finish and the time on my watch was 12:24 (real time 6:24), so much for me finishing in under 13 hours!!    

Miles 53.2 (AS2) to 58.9 (AS1)

At the start of the race, it took me about 1:43 to get to this stop so I thought it might take us about 2 hours to reach the finish.   We headed off with the sunlight vanishing, my watch let out a few beeps, it was about to die, dang!   I thought my watch would make it through this whole thing!!  I looked down several minutes later and the screen was blank, dang how would I know how much time had passed??  The distance on my watch was a little off, it gets wonky with all the elevation change and switchbacks and twists and turns of the trail, I think my watch was about a mile or two behind but when it died.   But the time was valuable, then I would at least know how long we’d been moving plus I’d know when to take in some calories.   I felt like I should’ve had a backup watch, Brady didn’t have a watch either – he had his phone but it was tucked away in his pack.   We continued onward and upward, always seemed like we were continuing upward!   We had another long stretch before the last aid station, the sun was setting quickly and I was thankful for my extra layer and for my mittens.  We reached the top of the climb and the sunset was incredible, lots of pinks and oranges and I smiled.  I was glad to have Brady there with me, he kept me going and kept me focused plus it was just nice to have some company.   It was getting darker and darker and the trail was getting harder to see, we rounded a corner and a guy in full camo pops outta the trail with a loaded bow, “hey” he says in a raspy voice.  Both of us are thinking, what the heck is that guy doing out there??  Talk about creepy, I was certainly glad to have Brady with me at that moment.   Not sure what that guy was doing or where he was going but hopefully he didn’t mistake any runners for whatever he was hunting.    This was another section where it seemed to take a really long time to get to the next aid station, it was pretty dark now and the terrain was tricky in the dark.  Brady kept stubbing his toe on rocks and roots, so far I was doing alright, hadn’t fallen since my 4-5 falls back in the “early” stages of the race.   I kept thinking we’d be approaching the aid station any time, I saw a white looking tent through the trees so I yelled out to Brady that it was just around the corner, nope it was just someone’s house.  Onward and upward, I knew where we were, we were at that same spot where the girl in black passed me and group of guys when we were searching for the trail, ok we gotta be close now.   The tendons in my feet were killing me, during my training I’d been having issues with the posterior tibialis tendon in my right leg which goes down from your calf into your ankle so my ankle would get really sore about 10 miles into my run, well that pain had subsided and now the tendon in the front of my foot was feeling really tight and sore, I tried to ignore the pain and kept moving forward.  I just wanted to get to the finish! 

Miles 58.9 (AS1) to Finish

We approached the aid station and I called out my number, they had a huge fire blazing here and it looked so inviting and warm but we were on a mission and the finish was within reach!   As we left, a girl called out, it’s all downhill from here!!  I said I’m not sure that’s a good thing!  As I mentioned above, my downhill skills aren’t all that great and now we’d be going downhill on technical terrain in the dark!!  Plus my foot was not digging the downhills.   Only 3 miles to go, before we left, I asked the guy for the real time, it was about 8:00 – ok, trying to process finishing time in my head.  How long can 3 miles take??  I was thinking maybe 30-45 minutes, I’m still get used to the timing on trails and in ultras, everything just takes longer but I’m starting to accept that and my mind has learned to process the extended timeframe needed for long runs and these races.   Going downhill in the dark on rocky terrain was totally tricky; we spent a lot of that time walking because it was just too hard to plan your next step.  We saw a group of people which ended up being 3 ladies, they said they were pacing one of their friends who was walking.  My mind quickly started questioning who they were pacing, what do you mean you’re pacing a girl, where did this girl come from, how did someone pass me without us knowing???  Brady had the same reaction, he mentioned that I was the first place female in the 100k and the girl mentioned that her friend was in the 50k, phew!   She told us to watch for the reflectors on the way down and if we got lost they’d be behind us, she also mentioned that we were about 2.5 miles from the finish.   In several spots I kinda had to shine my light in various directions to find the markers, sometimes the markers would be a ways down the trail and hard to pinpoint, I kept thinking we were off track then I’d see the reflector shining in the distance.   I could tell we were getting close to the bottom of the trail, Brady tripped and was on the ground, he kinda tweeked his back but got right back up and kept on moving.  I was worried about this back, I was feeling bad because this was taking so long and because he wasn’t into endurance events like I am and he was only out there because he wanted to be there for me and support me, navigating in the dark wasn’t easy and it’s frustrating when you can’t totally see where you’re going or when you keep stumbling.   I knew we were getting close to where the trail would end and where we’d pop out on pavement, head over the pedestrian bridge, around the park and into the finish.   I could hear voices behind us, I started freaking a bit, was that the girl in black, was she gaining on us, I felt a sense of urgency.   We hit the pavement and I just took off, I bolted down the sidewalk, my legs felt so fresh and so free, it’s always amazing to me that at the end of these races, your legs can move so quickly.   It didn’t feel like I had been out there for 61 miles, I didn’t think about anything I just kept running, I looked behind and Brady was behind me but I didn’t see anyone else, I just kept running.  I turned the corner and could see the finish, I picked up the pace and even though there was only a handful of people milling about, I could hear them clapping and cheering.  

I crossed the line as the first female in 14:42, I was much slower than I originally anticipated but I finished.  I persevered, I didn’t give up when it got tough and I wanted to quit, I made myself power on and it was definitely an experience.  This course was wicked and tough but beautiful, this distance is no joke.  I’m not sure what’s up next, several things are circling in my mind but this race has pointed out several things I need to think about and work on such as, running technical trails in the dark, downhill running and power hiking.   I also need to get stronger during the off-season, I’m planning to lift weight and do core exercises.  I’m not sure when or where my target race is but I’m just going to take it easy for a while and see what sparks my interest.  

thanks for carrying my luggage!

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