Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Mapping Minneapolis: Running Every Single Street

I moved to the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis just over a year ago and was faced with a dilemma: Footing. 

The previous five years in Austin, Texas had me having to worry about cold or bad footing on so few occasions I could count them on one hand. However, moving to the Twin Cities in February meant that if I were going to run outside, I was definitely going to have to re-learn how to ice skate while running.  Growing up in NW Pennsylvania, this was kind of second nature and fortunately didn't take me long to remember how to run on slipper surfaces. That said, while I thoroughly enjoyed the ease of running alongside the Mississippi River just a few blocks from my loft, the slippery conditions were a bit tough.  But it was the wind off the river, combined with the frosty temps, which drove me to find some different routes during the colder months.

 The places that look on fire are where I ran the most.
So one day I decided to venture to a part of the city that looked quite grid-like. I thought if I ran up and down the streets and then back and forth, then no matter which way the wind was blowing, it could only be in my face for so long. (Of course any runner or cyclist will tell you that unassailable logic is often proven wrong when you somehow have a headwind in every directions.) I luckily had a great run, (even with 13 mph sustained winds!), enjoyed this back and forth style running, and an idea popped into my head. I pulled up the map of Minneapolis and noticed how virtually all of the city was one big grid. I decided right then I was going to get to know my new city the best way I knew how: by foot. I had spent most of the five plus years I lived in Austin running the two same routes. I didn't want that to be the case in Minneapolis.

Running every single street is a thing I talked about in an earlier post when I did the same thing in my hometown last summer. But doing so in a town that’s barely 1.5 square miles of runnable streets is one thing. Running all the streets in a city nearly 50 times larger than that is another. 

While I wished to accomplish this task of seeing every doorbell in Minneapolis as soon as possible, I also wasn’t making it my only priority. With racing opening back up again post-COVID, I was traveling more than usual. In fact, it took me a month just to get my first 17 mapping runs in as I travleed to Colorado for a week, ran a half-marathon nearby and then took on six half marathon races in six days in six states. (Two wins and four second places, in case you cared to know.)

I was also spending time on the road working on the app I an launching here very soon, called Sherpa.  Then, in August, my mother’s health began to fail. This wasn't the biggest of surprises, as I wrote here, but it was shocking how quickly she deteriorated. Since that time, I have spent over two months back in my hometown either tending to her health, watching her pass away, or eventually having to clean out her house. As such I wasn’t in Minneapolis nearly as much as I thought it would be in 2022.

After she passed, it’s quite clear that when I was home, I grieved by putting one foot in front of the other. I began knocking out much larger chunks of the city. Runs got longer, I mapped a bit better cutting down on overlap, and generally, I was doing more than just chipping away at the 1,000 miles of Minneapolis streets. When snow fell at the end of November I knew it might get a little bit rougher to run on the sidewalks in town and picked up the pace even more. It appeared that I might actually finish this entire endeavor before the year ended. I was a bit excited about finishing this project in the same calendar year that I began it. 

Then a few different things, including a sprained ankle, and a couple of speaking engagements which took me out of town, put me into a situation where I realized it would take an unnecessary amount of running to finish Mapping Minneapolis before New Year's Day. I figured if I couldn't wrap this up as timely as I had hoped, that I would go another route and go out in style. 

You see, I had for quite some time been avoiding one particular street in Minneapolis. I wasn’t avoiding it for safety issues or anything else other than the fact that it is the longest street in the entire city. At just over 11.2 miles Lyndale Ave more or less bisects the side of the city west of the Mississippi River. Seeing a potentially exciting opportunity, I reached out to the mayor of Minneapolis‘s office to see if the mayor himself Jacob Frey, and extraordinarily accomplished runner in his own right, would like to finish my final run with me. Run through 20 of Minneapolis' 87 neighborhoods and six of its eleven communities would be one heck of a way to get a worm's eye view of the people and its environs. Much to my pleasure, he seemed quite keen on the idea. It then simply became a matter of coordinating schedules (his, obviously more than mine) and trying to find good weather that would allow us to get outside and safely navigate some streets. Four rescheduled dates later and Sunday, March 5th was when I could finally close out this project.

I was extraordinarily flattered that the mayor took time out of his weekend to join me on this quest, and I speak only for myself, but I think we had a jolly old time. I had the unique pleasure of meeting his wife Sarah, and their adorable daughter Frida as well, as they dropped us off at the North 53rd Avenue and
West Lyndale Ave North intersection. One quick picture for posterity with Brooklyn Center behind us and away we went.

The first mile or so was a little touch-and-go as a bright sunshine was melting some of the snow and ice and creating a bit of a mess on the sidewalks. I was attempting to lead the way as I had spikes in my shoes to deal with this slop. In addition, I figured not letting the Mayor go first and potentially injuring himself was a savvy move on my part.  I am all about PR, baby.

 But we soon found our groove and as we passed through the neighborhoods of Lind-Bohanon, Camden Industrial, and Webber-Camden. We picked our way from sidewalks to bike paths to different sides of the street in tandem as even runners who just started running with each other can do without even a word of direction. The sun was seemingly making people happy as we were given wide berths on the road, a few cries of "Watch out for that ice!" and just general merriment from citizens in the neighborhoods of Minneapolis which some would save are a little less savory.

A little further down, as the sun became surprisingly warm, and we both shed a layer of clothing, the Mayor said he wanted to get a drink. So we popped into the Winner Gas Station on the corner of W Broadway and N Lyndale Ave.We barely had a foot inside the door before the Mayor was greeted by the security guard there who recognized him even with a winter hat on. It was clear the Mayor also knew this gentleman by name and chatted with him and a few other patrons. We posed for a couple of pictures (I was graciously asked to join even though it was clear they were not aware of how much of a celebrity I am as well) and then proceeded to drink our fluids outside in the sunny weather. (The Mayor thoughtfully shared his drink and I made sure to pour it into my mouth from the acceptable two inch distance as to not pass along any germs.) No less than half a dozen people stopped to talk to the Mayor showing nothing but happiness towards seeing him out and about. 

"These are some of my favorite neighborhoods," he said while pointing out various building being constructed for housing projects and giving me a history of the area.  I laughed and said "I've heard this is the worst intersection in Minneapolis, but that Cub is my grocery store!" sweeping my hand across the street.

We soon were on running through one of the only two areas that is not a straight line as we passed through the Lowry Hill neighborhood and into Loring Park. (As Lyndale Avenue splits these neighborhoods in many places, I am counting them both as neighborhoods we ran thorugh whenever that happens. Fight me on it.) The surprisingly warm and sunny day chilled off a little bit right around here and I put my headband back on.

One of my fave houses.
I asked the Mayor some questions about his time on the Hansons Project for elite runners and he shared some stories one could only get if they were there. We both felt the day was going by rapidly. When I said we only had roughly four miles to go, we suddenly threw down a 7:29 mile in the South Uptown and East Harriet neighborhoods, even while waiting for stoplights and pedestrians. For the most part, we were able to run side-by-side and share thoughts and stories on running in general as well as the city of Minneapolis. He reminisced on door knocking for his first campaign for Mayor on what is one of my favorite houses in Minneapolis (5152 Lyndale Ave S; and if you know how often the number 52 pops up in my life you won't be remotely shocked at this address) and I told him Diet Mountain Dew should be the official city drink. (I didn't, but I should have.)

Before we knew it, we were soon approaching the end. In our conversations, I had happen to mention the passing of my mother. With a block to go he said “This one is for Barb." I said that Minneapolis ended right at Rt 62 but if it was OK with him, we would run under the 35W overpass and give my mom an extra block just for good measure. Once there, we shook hands and he gave me a real nice hug. We then posed for another picture and the difference between this one and the other just 85 minutes earlier felt like a lifetime.

This was my 133rd dedicated run to mapping Minneapolis. All told I had run 1305.85 miles of Minneapolis streets on these runs. The first 50 runs I did netted me 448.45 miles for an average of 8.869 miles per run. The next 50 brought in 499.05 miles, with an almost 10 miles per run average of 9.981miles. The last 32? Well, I ran 358.3 miles for an average of 10.58 per run. Most of those were in subzero temperatures of December and January. As I told the Mayor, I am only moderately fast but I get stronger as the run goes on. Know your strengths.

If I were to ever do this again in Minneapolis (I will not) or be consulted as to how to do it better (I am for hire) I could definitely get the miles down closer to the supposed 1000 miles of streets that comprise this half of the Twin Cities. I’m looking forward to speaking with people in charge of a variety of different departments within the city to share with them what I have seen, what I have learned, and what I find to be extraordinarily amazing about Minneapolis.

Regardless, of info shared with others, my goal was to see my new city in a unique way. I can now say that if you live within the boundaries of Minneapolis, I have seen your porch.  

I've like what you have done with the place.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Ventura Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 17; 11st Edition
13.1 miles raced in 2023 races
Race: Ventura Half Marathon
Place: Ventura, CA
Miles from home: 1987
Weather: 34 Degrees and 75% humidity

When you have run over 400 races in your life, you don’t have too many firsts left to do. Unless you really start stretching for some odd distances or get hyperspecific, the firsts aren't there anymore. Unfortunately, this being my first race since October 1st of last year,  with my mother passing a week later, it hit me that this would be the first time ever in my life I wouldn't be calling my mom after a race to tell her how it had gone. She had so supportive of my racing, learning so much about the sport for someone who couldn't run, that this was a bit of those gut punches which come out of nowhere after you lose someone.

So I thought I would try my best to look at the positives I had going on in my life instead. Too bad my travel for the days leading up to the race made that pretty difficult.

Starting with a canceled flight moving my flight over 12 hours. and then delays on the tarmac when I finally landed adding two more hours to my trip, and culminating with me having to drive through the hell that hath been let let loose on Southern California in the past couple of weeks kept me getting to my hotel in Ventura California for the half marathon, I realized this was not the way I wanted to start the weekend.  But I had made it safely. That's my positive thought there. 

The previous week hadn't gone well with my training as well. My treadmill had broken causing me to miss a workout. A scheduled run of some note got postponed meaning the rest of the week's workouts were thrown off as well. But maybe I would be more rested. (N.B. More positive outlook attempts.) Plus this race was supposed to be a barometer of where I stood right now, so I figured if I could still do well with all of this, it would show I was further ahead than I had even thought. Look at me: Positive Polly!

If you know anything about me it is that I disdain mornings. I just don't function well in them on a good day.  How I have ever run a race in the morning is beyond me. So when I knew I had to be up at 4:45 a.m. for this race, I wasn't exactly excited. But at least the race day would be over early and I could enjoy the full day after the race, I thought. And after both rain and snow smacked SoCal this past week, when the race morning broke cold, crisp, clear and dry, it was definitely the best we could have hoped for.

On the bus to the start, I met a first-time half marathoner named Peter as he asked if the seat next to me was taken. As we exchanged pleasantries, I was extremely pleasant to see someone in his 40s taking on something new for the first time. He didn't seem to be someone recovering from anything nor having lost a ton of weight which had put him on the bus this morning trying something new for the first time. Rather, he just hadn't had the urge to do this distance until now and here he was. I've never tried to convince anyone to run a race. But when they decided to do so, I will support the hell out of them. Peter was doing his 1st and I was doing my 115th. But we had the same main goal in line - get to the finish healthily. (Peter ran a 1:40 at age 45!  Way to go, Pete!)

Getting off the bus, it was definitely quite chilly with the temperature right around freezing. I had my Sherpa jacket on and slid a beanie over my head and ears. Nevertheless, even with one of my more distinguished features hidden (my ears) I still had a few people recognize me and say hello. As I was zoned out and expecting none of that, it was a nice surprise. I think I coherently responded to everyone.  Again, mornings and Dane don't mix!

I spent some time standing in the bathroom line with a running friend Phil, who just so happened to do the official timing of the marathon I ran around the Crystal Cruise line ship some seven years ago now.

Me and Phil on the wet slick deck.

Bathroom line standing left me just enough time for me to get ready to hop in to the first corral of what I knew was going to be some extraordinarily fast runners. I had absolutely not a care in the world where I finished overall in the race today because I knew even my absolute best time probably wouldn’t even get me in the top 30 of these speedsters. (In fact, it wouldn't have gotten me into the top 50. Wow!) I wished Phil good luck and got ready to run.  (Phil ran a 1:45 at age 61!)

After getting a car out of the running lane that we were about to enter once the race began (they must’ve thought they had the best parking spot ever and couldn’t figure out why no one else parked there) we were finally underway. Billed as having "just the right amount of downhill", the Ventura Half Marathon begins, comically with a slight uphill, followed by a right hand turn into a short but steep uphill for about 1/10th of a mile.

*Break Here for Course Description*

The first quick uphill was a surprise even though it was shown on the course elevation profile. After that, a brief running on back streets takes runners to a regularly-sized running path. Given there were over 1500 runners running this race, the race smartly sent us out in self-seeded waves. So even if it was just a tad crowded at the start, it was great to have some many like-speeded (I just made up a word) runners around me at all time.  The biggest descent by far happens in miles 2 and 3 with a rather surprising and long hill
right before mile five. The downside of that hill leads keeps runners on the road until mile seven (You left the bike path at mile three). For the vast majority of the final six miles, runners will be on this bike path, with slight amounts of downhill (about 30 feet per mile; almost imperceptible) as it weaves through some decent and semi-industrial areas here and there. Only the last half-mile is on the streets of Ventura, ending

with a finish right in front of Mission Park.

*Break Over*

First 5K:

In the first quarter mile I passed a bunch of people who quickly passed me back the minute we hit that uphill. Then when we ran down the other side of that hill, I passed them right back. I am as good at running downhills as I am bad at running uphills! When we hit the first mile markers and I was on the pace that I wanted to run for the day (6:30 per mile) I was quite happy. Given the uphill and how easy I had taken it, I figures the first mile would be a touch over my desired pace. The next two miles, which possessed some of the biggest and longest downhills of the day, gave me quite an additional buffer of time without seemingly taking it out of my legs or energy levels. I thought I might finish far better than I had expected. There was a smattering of fans here and there but mostly it was a ton of fast people running solo on bike paths.  The race crew had their hands full clearing these paths from the debris brought down by the torrential downpour recently but other than a few puddles and mud here and there, it was completely unencumbered.

I thought we were running on the bike path for the entirety of the race so I was a bit surprised when we popped out of the tree-lined path and began running on the roads. We passed over a lovely bridge with new pavement that felt like it had been laid that morning. The water we crossed was rushing far below in the Ventura River which I am guessing is almost never this vibrant.

To the 10k:  

I knew there was a flat section for the next mile or so until we hit the biggest uphill of the course. I ceded a little bit of ground and maybe a person or two through through this flat section but my pace felt the same. As we approached the uphill, its top shrouded in the mystery of early morning fog, it seemed to go on for much longer than I expected. I wish I could say I paid more attention to my surroundings as I knew they were absolutely gorgeous at this point. The greenery from all the most recent rain was around us and the hills we ran by were probably the wettest they’ve ever been. 

I’ve had a problem in my left quad now for what I have to say has been years that I mostly ignore and it also mostly doesn’t bother me. Yet as I was trying to run speed I hadn't run in quite some time, I was definitely feeling it. I cautiously approached every uphill, and even took the downhills with a little trepidation. That said, when even the big hill only needed me a 6.44 mile I was ecstatic. And when with the help of a downhill, the next two miles went rather according to plan. I hit the halfway point of this half marathon with almost a minute of cushion to get under my B goal of 1:25 (My "A" goal was a 1:23. The "C" goal was to make sure I still ran in the 1:27 range, something I didn't even consider worrying about at this point.)

Onto Mile 10:

The next, mile, however, was the beginning of the end for all the things that I was hoping to get. I ran a 6:41 mile which felt like it was much faster and given the little bit of downhill during this mile was quite confusing. I felt I was working just as hard and running just as fast, yet the runners passing me with ease told me otherwise before I even saw my watch. This almost never happens in the latter stages of races, because I seed myself pretty well meaning those who are faster than me are almost always in front of me. In fact, it’s usually me passing others at the end. I thought perhaps maybe this was just an anomaly and I decided to push the next mile a little bit faster. I thought I pushed it faster however my watch showed me I was wrong. My "A" goal was definitely not going to happen, and now my secondary goal was quickly slipping out of my grasp. Another mile and another slow time just barely under seven minutes confirmed that with a 5K left the only thing I was running for was a little bit of pride, and to not injure myself.

To the Finish:

While the course continued downhill in just about absolutely perfect weather, it felt like I was running on a flat course. A runner would past me, I would run with them for a few seconds, and then they would start to distance themselves. I really didn’t have much of an answer, and it was rather frustrating. I started to debate how hard I wanted to push these last two miles. Was a 1:26 low all that important when that’s not what I wanted at all anyway? As I debated this, for the first time since sixth mile I had a few runners in my sites that I felt I could pass. 

I looked at my watch and noticed that I should run right around a 1:26:20 and picked up the pace nevertheless, hoping maybe I could sneak in under 1:26. But when we hit the 13th mile marker I could see we had well over .1 to go. I am extremely well-versed in being able to run the tangents of course. This means I will cut every corner exactly as tight as possible in order to not run a single step more than I have to. So usually my watch will cut me a little under the stated distance of whatever I race I run (because GPS watches are not as accurate as people think.) Yet, I was quite surprised I would have to make up for another 40 seconds of running I hadn't accounted for as the course was definitely a little long.

As I headed down the homestretch I couldn’t see any of the clocks to tell me how hard I should push until it was too late. I finally saw the clock tick past 1:27 and I was crestfallen. I crossed the mat in 1:27:10 and was rather disappointed with how the whole day had gone. Granted, this was my 25th fastest Half Marathon ever and the fastest I have run in seven years, but it felt like I had so much more in me in spite of all the things that were against me the past few days. Nevertheless,  once again trying to focus on the positive, I realized this race told me where I stood given all of those circumstances. Perhaps I will indeed finish this year with a brand new half marathon personal best at the age of 47. I don’t think there’s that many people who have run as many races as I have that are still on the cusps of brand new personal bests this late in their running life.  

For that I find it easy to be positive.

The course was quite beautiful and very runnable in spite of the fact of a couple surprise are hills that don’t really seem to show up on any elevation maps. For my organizing standpoint, it was very well run, and the volunteers were spectacular, both stopping traffic and handing out water and electrolytes at the eight stations.  I can say this is one of the top five races I’ve ever run where I was running this fast and had so many people around me at all times. It made up for the fact that is was almost complete devoid of spectators.  I can't tell if it will always be this cool and crisp, but I can imagine that most Februarys in this region are still rather hospitable to runners and can see why this race has an astounding amount of runners running it this soon post-COVID. The fact I ran a 1:27 and still finished 106th overall should tell you how many fast people were there on race day.

Next up is my first marathon in over 3.5 years. This is far and away the longest stretch between marathons I have ever had since I began running marathons 22 years ago. This is going to be quite interesting.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Fire Tower Trail Races 35km Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 16; 11th Edition
149.6 miles raced in 2022 races
Race: Fire Tower Trail Races 35km
Place: St. Croix State Park
Miles from home: 101
Weather: 51 Degrees and 94% humidity

I’m gonna win this race.

A month ago I had no races on my schedule. Next thing I know I had three races in 14 days including a trail 10 miler, a half marathon, and this 35 km trail race at the Fire Tower Trail races. It is funny how things escalate. I didn’t really have have any major expectations when I first signed up for this race. I simply wanted to get my legs going again and try to race myself back into shape. Throughout my running career it’s been the thing that I do best, more so than simply training.

But looking at the registrants for this relatively new small-ish field showed me I had a good chance of winning it overall, given the Ultrasignup rankings. I also  thought that two weeks ago with the trail 10 miler and ended up taking fourth who really knows (Granted two of the people who beat me either were last minute sign-ups or drop-downs.) But I was going to win this race.

Temperatures for the race just a few days earlier looked like they would be in the mid-50s at the start and hit 70° by the time I finished. That wasn’t exactly what I was looking forward to giving this would be the longest distance I had run in almost two years. But when we toed the line for the start of the race it was barely over 50° with a slight bit of drizzle and stayed that way for the rest of the day here at St. Croix State park (larges state park in Minnesota by area!)

We were giving some last minute race instructions by the Race Director and a quick look around me gave me the impression I was in a pretty good position to lead this race from start to finish. In spite of winning more than my fair share of races over the years, I have rarely lead the race from start to finish. But I could tell that I would today. I was going to win this race.

With a quick and quiet "go" from the RD we were off. I decided I would take the lead and see who would even go with me at the start. I felt strong and fast in spite of so much going on in my life. Not only all the races I had run recently but the app I am developing and some problems with the health of a beloved family members. It is a little thing but wanting to win the race was something that I felt I could do from a far to show them I cared.

After a half of a mile we left the trail for two seconds to cross the road and here I noticed I had two runners directly behind me. They were chatting a little bit and one of them I think might’ve asked me a question but I was in a little bit of a zone and might’ve rudely ignored them. But I was not really here to chat anyway. I just wanted to run. About a mile or so later one of the runners fell back a bit and the other runner continued to run either right next to me or right behind me. I wouldn’t have minded if he had simply run ahead. I was looking to run just fast enough to win so it didn’t really matter to me if that meant I had to do it from behind or not.

About half a mile before the first of three aid stations we had a long straight dirt road that was well packed. I wanted to see if I could put a little distance between myself and my pursuer so I sped up here. I was hoping he would slow down a bit and maybe even grab a drink at the aid station. I was wearing a new Camelbak (new to me anyway in so much that I have had it forever but never worn it) and didn't need to stop. Given the surge, I felt like I had broke him until about a mile later when we entered the trail again and I could hear that he was right behind me. Drats.

The trail here was rather runnable in so much that it did not have technical footing but we had long grass with which to contend in some places and some sand/dirt mix in others.  So, it definitely grabbed at the ankles a bit.

Based on some things that I had read about the race I decided to go with regular road shoes and it appeared that might be a bad choice. It wasn’t exactly going to make a huge difference per se but in hindsight trail shoes would’ve made it much better decision. 

A little after the fifth mile high I needed to use the bathroom and I pulled quickly to the side of the trail. The runner behind me shot by with no hesitation which I didn't mind at all as I wanted to run with no one right behind me. He easily put about 20 seconds between us during my break and that is more or less where I would stay behind him for the next five miles.

Twisting and turning, the trail rarely allowed me to see the runner in front of me even though I knew he was just around the corner. I was a little surprised I hadn't caught up to him a little bit more. I wasn't working too hard, but I wasn't going easy either. There were a coupe of obstacles to run through (puddles) or over (downed trees) but otherwise it was just me and the rest of the state park. This is far from my favorite type of racing. I like to see crowds and feel their energy and not always be watching my feet and having nothing but nature around me. Don't get me wrong- this park was beautiful.  But I could do this on a Tuesday by myself. No need to pay an entry fee.

Exiting the trail and once again we were on a hard packed dirt road. I used this opportunity to close the difference between us to just a few seconds. It is always surprising to me how different trail and rpad/dirt road running is. We had both passed some runners doing the 50k and 100k and it always feels weird to be doing the "JV" version of a race when these people are out here running twice as long as you or more.

We both hit the aid station about three seconds apart.  I could see he wouldn't need to grab anything as he had a fuel belt on, like I did. The volunteers were seemingly surprised we didn't need anything and almost forgot to tell us to turn around. Fortunately we knew this was where that needed to happen. The runner in front of me seemed more than a  little surprised that I was right there. I felt really good and was expecting to simply hang in his back pocket until we hit the road again with three miles to go and then turn it into a race. 

I felt something against my leg and looked down to see my shoelaces was becoming untied. Consarnit! I had to stop to fix it. I cursed a little inwardly but by the time we had finished the road section less than a mile later, I had made up all of the difference lost while tying. I felt so good I was finding it hard not to pass him.  I didn't want to do so just yet as I thought he still had some fight in him and appeared to be a better trail runner than me. Best to let him lead the way until I could make a move he couldn't match.

Around the 14th mile I went to pour a water bottle out of my Camelbak and could not get the nozzle opened to drink. I finally just unscrewed the whole thing and took a big swig. I put the bottle back in my front pocket of my pack and then the weirdest thing that has happened to me in running transpired: my energy level dropped like an anchor. Just like that. Like the act of opening the bottle put too much stress on me and it had enough. 

I figured maybe this dip was just my body trying to get the water in it as it needed the liquid and maybe I would soon be ok. But less than a mile later, as I watched my prey pull further and further away from me and soon be completely out of sight, it came to be quite clear that I was toast.

Pushing hard for one more mile was done in vain as he was no where to be seen. Then at mile 16 the bottom fell out. The long grass was now wet with the rain and was grabbing at my ankles and making me feel like I was running in quicksand. It was quite nauseating to go from a 7:16 minute mile to an 8:36 mile but that is what was happening. I had more or less resigned to the fact that I had just somehow lost this entire race and was doing what I can just a hold on to second place. I knew the aid station with 3.5 miles to go had some food and my focus was on getting to it in one piece

I went up a sharp uphill to that aid station and asked for a small peanut butter and jelly sandwich and poured some Coca-Cola into my empty water bottle. I began to simply walk up the hill while my body digested the sandwich and the Coke.  I realized I forgot my cap to my bottle so I had to run back to the aid station. More internal swearing. But in just those few seconds, I felt so much better. It is amazing what a few simple calories can do. And it couldn't have been more than 50 calories. I began trotting up the long hill of the course and couldn't believe this was all I had been missing. I didn’t regain the fast seven minute pace again but I stemmed the tide of pure bonking and desolation for a few more miles. 

A long straightaway on the trail allowed me to at least pick up the pace a smidgen. Now it was simply putting in the miles to get to the finish to see and hope that perhaps maybe the runner I was pursuing had also experienced something similarly taxing. Unfortunately as I got to the last little bit of the course, I could see that that wasn’t the case and had to settle for second place overall in the time of 2:51:54. All tings considered, an 8-minute positive split wasn't the worst thing in the world given how badly I was flagging back at mile 16.

The race winner, Chris, came over and congratulated me and told me he was beyond surprised I was so close at the turn around and wondered where I had went.  He had himself really thrown down the hammer over the last five miles.  Chances are that even if all had gone right, I might not have been bale to reel him in anyway.  I really need to stop looking at Ultrasignup predictions.

I shouldn't be too hard on myself  All but one week of the last seven has been a 70-mile training week.  I have been driving all over the country. I have been working pretty darn hard.  I am just now getting back into racing shape. But all of these legitimate reasons still don't stop me from being bummed I didn't win.I hope I am always this irrational when it comes to running races.

I run for may reasons: health, happiness, training, clearing my mind, etc.

I race to go as fast as possible.

The race itself was very well put on with a chill vibe, marked exceedingly well, ultra-generous cutoff times for the races, and free food at the end. The name of the race comes from an actual fire tower that participants of the 50k and 100k have to climb (via stairs) in the middle of their events. There is an alternate version if you are too scared to climb the tower, but why do this race if you are?  My race and the 11km race did not go to the fire tower so I feel like I cheated myself out of that little experience.

The race has a large section about inclusivity which is nice to read indeed and having met the RD, I feel like they back it.  How exactly they would know about it per se is beyond me but it is still a good thing it is listed.

All told it is a solid first race for a trail 50k or more given the ease of running it and accessibility to runners on the course, at least at the aid stations.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Boundary Waters Bank Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 16; 10th Edition
127.6 miles raced in 2022 races
Race: Boundary Waters Bank Half Marathon
Place: Ely, MN
Miles from home: 246
Weather: 49 Degrees and 94% humidity

There’s so much about this race weekend to talk about that it’s going to be hard for me to limit myself to not bore the bejesus out of everybody, so bear with me. 

First and foremost the marathon weekend I attended in Ely, Minnesota was the first that my new company, Sherpa, would be sponsoring. That alone is a huge part of what’s going on in my life right now and without a doubt could be a long story. Suffice it to say that the entire marathon weekend went off amazingly and I couldn’t have been happy with how things turned out. I have been in touch with this race since its inception (running the marathon in 2018) and it just keeps getting better. to be a part with it moving forward is a huge honor and one full of excitement for me and all those involved

My app partner for Sherpa, Heather held down the fort on the day of the expo and by the time I got there in the late afternoon, it was like everyone already knew her name and everything about the company. Just a stellar job by her connecting with the community, runners and everyone else. I wasn’t even supposed to be here this weekend as I had a speaking engagement in California, but that was canceled. So last minute I decided to come up to Ely and assist even though I knew Heather would represent us well. A few days before the race I noticed how awesome the weather would be for me for racing and decided I might as well run the half-matathon! In hindsight, I can’t imagine having not been here for this weekend.


I decided that even though I wasn’t in the shape I wanted to be to race as well as I would like to represent us, I would give it all I had.While I have had a much better training year than the past few, I haven't had a lot of opportunities to race. Sure, I did six half marathons in six days in May, but that was more like a multi-day stage event than it was just one race. Last weekend I did a trail race here in Minnesota that was supposed to give me an idea of how my training had been going. Unfortunately it was 100% humidity and warm and left me quite deflated as an end result. It didn't leave me with much of an idea how I would run, on roads, in better weather. So, unsure how I was going to feel when I toed the line, I simply did just that.

First 5K 

The race started and immediately one of the runners took off to the front. Not long after that another runner followed him and it was clear that I was going to finish, at best, third today. As we climbed up the short hill at start, one other runner was in front of me and the first female runner was next to me. As we crested the hill and started going down I was able to open up my stride a little bit and put distance between me and the first female runner. Over the next mile and a half, while there some uphill to mention, these were nevertheless the best two downhill miles of the whole course.

I was surprised at one point to hear some footsteps closing in behind me. I thought that the female runner had caught up to me on the downhill. In fact, it another male runner who soon left both me and third place in his rearview mirror. I was now sitting solidly in fifth place and had a feeling this might be where I was for the rest of the day. I didn't know for a few more miles how close the lead female runner stuck to me for most of the race. Sneaky sneaky!

Nevertheless, two separate 6:30-ish minute miles to start the race me feel pretty darn good about what the rest of the day might hold. I hadn’t run that fast in a race in quite some time. Our third mile had some downhill but also a little bit of a rise to contend with. When it was still under seven minutes for me I was pretty happy. I thought I might be able to get a 1:27 today if things went really well but mostly I was hoping just to break 1:30. It had been six years since I had been under that barrier, something which used to be relatively routine for me.

Lollipop to Mile 7

My first big challenge of the day would come right before the 4th mile when a steep uphill would present me with an idea of exactly how the day was going to go. There were some crowds here and there are some people sat at the ends of their driveway even in little bit of drizzle.  As I churned along it was awesome to see the Sherpa name on so many signs out here.  All the hard which has gone into this was making me proud. The signs still surprised me.  I had moments of "Hey, that's MY company!" followed by realization that yeah, well, of course it is out here.

When I ran 6:58 for the hilly mile I can say that I almost jumped for joy. I felt certain it was going to be over seven minutes and to tackle it under that was a huge surprise. As we ran towards the very small town of Winton Minneapolis (population: 180) I knew there was a little loop of about .8 of a mile. At this juncture, where I was just about to head out on the loop, the first two runners were coming back at me and were in lockstep. I was taken aback to see the previous second-place runner so close to first place.  The last time I had seen them was before the fourth mile and there was probably 100 yards between them. It looked like it might be a fight to the finish. (It appears it was as only only 29 seconds separated the 42 year old David Hyopponen and the 32-year old Henri Carlson who took second.)

After I finished my loop, the next rolling hills segment is where I would see virtually every other runner in the half marathon. I spent as much energy as I could spare to say good job and wish them good luck on their race. They did the same to me and it was a wonderful exchange of camaraderie. I saw my app partner Heather, who is dealing with a foot issue recently, doing a solid job of running smart without hurting herself. We exchanged a high five and I got ready for a steep climb before a nice steep downhill to take me out of this loop. I felt for certain I would have another mile over seven minutes but keeping it in the sixes again, leaving me elated.

Onto Mile 10: 

With a long straightaway I could see fourth place up ahead of me but with about a minute and change of a lead I wasn’t certain I would be able to catch him. I simply wanted to get to the 10th mile and then attempt to turn on any jets that I had left. A small spritzing of rain was coming out of the sky right here as we traversed the hillier northern route along Miners Lake. We made a detour off of the road onto a bike path that had not been part of the course when I ran it for years ago and I can say I was happy to avoid a big uphill in front of the Grand Ely Lodge. 

I could tell by the cheers behind me that I had a runner not too far in the distance. I love using little tactics like that (crowd noise) to not look back and give the pursuer any sort of notice that I might know they are there or be concerned about them.  That’s racing, son! Turns out the lead female had been hanging around and might have been getting ready to strike for my place. Fortunately for me, I was still feeling good.

Even at this part in the race, where things were going well, I was still afraid the wheels would fall off.  In fact, it was right here in the 2018 marathon where I got passed like I was standing still by a marathoner to give up first place in the race. To this day I still don’t know how a seasoned older veteran set a huge PR on this tough course to beat me and I am still a little salty about it. I didn’t want to repeat letting anyone passing me here so as we shot through the wooded bike path, I picked it up the best I could.

To the finish:

Now on the southern part of Miners Lake we had one of the longest straight stretches of the race.  This was the type of running that I like best. When I can zero in on a target instead of having to run up and down little small risers and guess where my prey might be is where I can usually make a move and reel people in. A huge testament to the skill of the runner in front of me is how in spite of me picking up the pace he stayed the same distance in front of me,  In fact, he might have even increased his lead.  Jerk.

I knew the last two miles were a slow steady uphill with two big bumps to contend with as we ran to the finish through the streets of Ely. I began to nervously look at my watch and do the math. I was far less concerned about where I was placing even as I put more distance between me and my pursuers and more concerned about making sure I broke the time goal that I wanted. As we passed by the finish line in the park (we would have to cruelly leave it just to come back. Put on blinders!) I saw the awesome Race Director Wendy in virtually the exact same spot I had seen her four years ago. A wonderful smile and happy face from her definitely lifted my spirits and I bore down in spite of the hills. Turning around a few blocks later to head towards the finish I threw down my fastest mile since the second mile of the day. I could see the red of the unforgiving clock blinking away ahead. I knew 1:27 wasn’t going to happened but perhaps I could still sneak in 1:28. 

With a block to go I could see it was going to take a herculean effort and risking pulling something in my old legs for a few more seconds was not worth it here. Instead enjoyed the last 250 meters to take in all of the Ely residents cheering me on as they came out to support this wonderful race. (All except the one car which blew right through barriers about 100 feet in front of me and was promptly pulled over by some of Ely’s Finest. Good work, officer!)

I finished in 1:29:13 which was not only good enough for fifth overall
but gave me my fastest half-marathon in six years. It was still only my 41st fastest half-marathon ever (out of 114) but it is a step in the right direction after so many others in the wrong. It made me think I might still have one last PR attempt in me after all!  Not too bad for the oldest finisher in the top 10. (Sure didn't think that was going to be a thing I was saying about ten years ago!)

So many people had such great days. If you didn't click any of the links, know that the Ely Marathon is world-famous for allowing runners the option to run the race, CARRYING A CANOE! There were so many reasons we chose this race to be the one we sponsor for the next three years and this is undoubtedly one of them. 

A plethora of exciting things are going to be happening in the next months with myself and Sherpa and Ely and I cannot wait to bring them all to you. As for now I will be happy with my finish for a day or two and get ready to get back on the horse again on Saturday for another race and hopefully another leap forward in regaining what has been lost in the past few years!

Sunday, September 18, 2022

O' Brien 10.4 Trail Race Recap (Minnesota State Champion Trail race)

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 16; 9th Edition
114.5 miles raced in 2022 races
Race: O' Brien 10.4 Trail Race
Place: William O'Brien State Park
Miles from home: 45
Weather: 63 Degrees and 100% humidity

I haven’t had a race since June and haven’t had a race I’ve written about since I did my 6 half marathons in six days back in May. The fun relay I did in June had to be canceled at the end for a couple of legs because of weather conditions and it just didn’t feel like something I should write about as I don’t really have a full experience of all the relay legs.

I’ve been enjoying some really long training run weeks even while traveling all over the country recently and wasn’t really expecting to have any races on the docket. But a week ago I looked around me on Ultrasignup and saw that there was a Minnesota State championship for the trail 10 miler not too far away. As I have said many times, if there is a championship race that I can enter nearby me, even if I’m not prepared for it, I will likely do so. 

The race would be a challenge for me simply because it was going to be things

1.    I don’t do very often and

2.    I don’t do very well. 

Namely I don’t trail race often and I hate short punchy hills in trail races. I’m never able to get an actual speed going and it amazes me how bad I am at the uphill. But I had an off chance of winning this race outright based on who was registered and the “predictions” on the website. I thought that would be a nice little feather in the cap to add State Champion to my resume. Even after five straight weeks of 70+ miles and hardly a taper to speak about, I was convinced it was feasible. 

Race Morning:

The forecast called for the temperature to stay relatively cool in the mid 60s but rain throughout the region the days before left us with literally 100% humidity on race morning. I arrived a little earlier than I normally would simply because I wasn’t aware of the logistics of the area.  This meant I was also up earlier than I would have liked but a 9 a.m. but it allowed me to cheer on the people who started the 50 km race.  I did not envy them having to run in this humidity and that was before I even knew what the course was like.

Then I basically had to chill for an hour waiting for my race to start.  I meandered around, used the bathroom numerous times, and just trying to stay calm but focused. As we were lining up I was talking to a fellow runner and his wife (Chris and Sandy) who mentioned to me that a very fast runner was dropping down from the 50 km to the 10 mile distance. This threw a little wrench in my plans of hopefully not having to work too hard to win but that’s what is so difficult about winning races: You have to beat every single person who shows up.  It sounds like a no brainer but unlike personal bests or winning an age group, this involves beating EVERY person there.

As we stood in the starting corrals the Race Director was very kind enough to single me out and ask me to say a few things about myself. As it was still early morning for me and I was barely awake, and there’s a few things I enjoy less than saying “Hey I’m Dane Rauschenberg and this is why you might think what I have done is impressive but you also might not so I guess you can decide for yourself!” I instead got information out to everyone about Sherpa. That made me happy as it is clear people were very interested in learning more. A few seconds later we were lining up to start the race. 

First 5K:

There was a 5 km race going on at the same time as the 10 miler and as we shot out of the gate one of the guys who I knew was running the 5K took the lead. Shortly thereafter the runner who dropped from the 50 km usurped the lead at the front and began to assert himself. I figured if I had any chance to beat him I had to stay with him on the very first section of this race which included not only a little bit of asphalt running but a nice strong downhill. Nevertheless, as we entered the woods half a mile later, he was already a good 50 yards in front of me with no signs of slowing down.

At the 1 mile mark, the runner who was running the 5K passed me and I decided to do my best to try to keep him in my sight. About a half mile later another guy wearing a 5K bib passed me and thought they were going to have quite a little battle for first place. I was trying to decide if I had any chance to win this race and how hard I wanted to work if I was just going to end up in second place anyway. I figured I would simply see what happened in the next few miles until we started to hit the hills around mile four. Then I could make any further decisions.

As we got to the start of the race course and the 5K lead runner took his turn the second guy in front of me continued on the 10 mile course. It was now clear he was running my race, and had signed up the morning of so I have no idea of what he could so. A quick glance over my shoulder surprised me as a runner was sitting right in my back pocket. He appeared to be one of the runners that I thought that I might have to contend with today when looking at the registrants earlier. So here I sat in third place in danger of being in fourth place pretty soon and lots of re-evaluations of what I was going to do on this race day we’re going into my mind. 

The Hills:

Around 3 1/2 miles is where the hills really began to start and almost immediately the guy behind me began to put distance between us. I know the way to get better at things that you are not good at is to practice them but I race so infrequently in these conditions that the time spent doing so doesn’t seem to be well spent. But on a race course like this it really starts to get in your head that if you just simply out in a little more race-specific training you might be in a better position. Every downhill allowed me to pick up a little bit distance between us but they were far too many quick uphills that were making the distance grow. 

I missed a turn at 5 1/2 miles but ran about 10 yards out of the way before regrouping and getting right back on course. About a mile earlier I had noticed that there was a runner behind me that was a little bit closer than I thought anyone would be. I assumed he was the other runner that according to the pre-race predictions was going to be challenging for first.

By now, I had long ago been drenched in sweat but as the hills lengthened I could feel the effects of the humidity taking their toll. It wasn’t getting any cooler in spite of the tree cover and relatively decent cloud covering as well. As I came out of this loop where I had almost missed the turn, I saw the lead female runner almost do the same thing. A long straightaway opened up and I could not see the runner in front of me. I wondered if he had gotten off course and had to backtrack the way I had and somehow might be behind me. Unfortunately, as I climbed a long straight hill to mile 7 ½, I saw probably about two minutes of running in front of me. I really wanted to make an effort to catch him but his uphill running game was far stronger than mine. I was resigned to finishing fourth even if I was pretty unhappy about it. 

The Finish:

A nice deep downhill gave me some good feeling in my legs before two quick uphills stole that feeling right back. At about 8 1/2 miles there was a short half mile stretch that was nice and flat and I admit that I slowed down a little bit thinking that all was in the bag. However after a super steep uphill about half a mile later I turned around and saw that the runner behind me had closed the gap considerably. In fact, I found out later that in 9th and 10th miles he made up over 40 seconds on me. That’s pretty damn impressive. That said, as much as fourth place sucks I would be damned if I was going to cede it to someone in the last mile of this race.

I picked up the pace on a relatively flat section and put my head down.  I can occasionally make it hurt more than most and this was one of those times where I was doing just that. If he was going to take fourth place, he was going to have to take it; I wasn’t giving it to him. A surprise and precipitous downhill allowed me to turn on the jets and make the gap between us insurmountable. I might not be able to run up those very well but if anything I can do the downs.

With about a quarter of a mile left I could see the finish line ahead and simply glanced over my shoulder one time to make sure everyone was where they were supposed to be and finished in a time that was rather disappointing (1:19:19) but was all I had on this day. 

Fourth overall.

The race itself was very well run.  The turn I missed was mostly my fault as I was just zoned out.  There were plentiful aid stations for 10 mile loop. It was, as with all trail races, a bit lonely. I do miss the crowds of street racing and that was one reason why I got away from trail racing for a while. Most of the time, when you are near the front, it just feels like you are on a solo training run that you paid for.

All told, definitely not what I was hoping to get from this race both by the end result and to let me know how I was feeling. I haven’t had a “fast” race in ages and this didn’t tell me whether I have any left in me. But I do best in racing when I race often so I am likely going to be cutting back on the miles and ramping up the races.

First off I have the Boundary Waters Half-Marathon thisSaturday as part of the Ely Marathon weekend that my company, Sherpa is the title sponsor of.  The weather looks much more inviting up there even if the course will be challenging. Exciting for all the things which will come from this weekend!