Monday, February 5, 2024

Asselronde 25 km Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 18; 1st Edition
15.5 miles run in 2024 races
Race: Asselronde 25km
Place: Apeldoorn, The Netherlands
Miles from home: 4198 miles
Weather: 50, rainy, quite windy

 *Before I start this recap, I have to say I can't believe I have been writing race recaps on this blog for 18 different years.  To be honest, most of the time it feels like I am just writing these for me to refer to when I am looking back at memories, even though I know they have been quite helpful to a number of people. That latter portion is why, even when I feel like I am shouting into a void, I do my very best to not just tell you, dear reader, about my own race but to provide as much useful information as possible about the race itself so you can be prepared if you ever wish to run it.

That said, let's start year 18!*

My racing has been in the crapper for the past year and a half. Yes, all race results are relative and if I hear a well-meaning friend say something akin to "I'd give my right arm to run THAT speed for one mile" one more time I might never mention a bad race result again, but FOR ME, I haven't been up to my own desires lately. There are a variety of reasons why I think that’s possible but the fact remains that it just is. 


The past few months, however I can distinctly point to one thing which has kept me down, having me DNFing my first ever half-marathon, canceling other races and running the lowest mileage I have ever run in a month since I started keep track on January 1st, 2006: my first ever knee injury. Granted, I know that 24 years into a running career, I’m pretty lucky that this is the first time I’ve had anything go wrong with my knee but that doesn’t make me feel any happier about the fact that I have it now. It’s improving, at least slowly, and it appears there is no need for surgery or anything drastic but it is mucking up my plans.


As such, I knew the race that I was doing outside of Amsterdam in Apeldoorn (a city which immediately like three friends of mine had stories about visiting even though  I had never heard of it prior to me booking this race)  this weekend was not going to be my best. I hadn't factored getting a cold/flu/hacking of disgusting stuff the week before the race into my plans, but when does anyone really? I got here to Amsterdam on Friday afternoon after an overnight flight from my residence in Minneapolis. I felt decent on Thursday when I left but after being up all night, catching a train from Amsterdam to Apeldoorn, I basically slept the whole day away. I woke up, grabbed some dinner and went back to bed. When my alarm went off a 10 a.m. (the race was at 11:45 a.m.) I had slept for thirteen hours. Even all that slumber and more or less half a bottle of NyQuil only left me feeling decent enough to contemplate whether I should run the race. I am a big proponent of NOT needing to be the toughest guy in the room when it comes to things like races and if you are too sick, too injured or whatever, it doesn't matter if you spent a lot of money to do a race, sometimes it is smart not to race. However, I felt decent enough that I felt a race like this might suck, but it wouldn't do any additional damage.  So I soldiered up he nerve to get ready, dressed, and headed to the start about a mile away.


As I was out of country, I did not get my bib number mailed to me and had to pick it up at a theatre which also acted like a staging area for the race.  But as I drew close, I saw no other runners and no way into the theatre. I will cut to the chase: the race was the next day.  


What had thrown me was I originally thought about doing the marathon, which DID take place on this day but a little outside the city.  When I decided that would be too much of a hassle for me coming into town, I switched to the 25 km.  I promptly forgot that the 25 km race took place on Sunday.  So I trudged back to my AirBnb, ate some lunch and took a nap. I got up a few hours later, just long enough to go get some dinner, drink the other half of the bottle of NyQuil, and then promptly sleep again for another 13 hours. 


When I got up on the actual race morning, I felt a lot better than I had even two days prior, but having to motivate yourself to do something for the second time when you weren’t even able to do it the first time is not exactly what I consider fun. As the knee seem to be cooperating I decided that I was going to give this a shot after all. Back to the staging area I went where this time there were THOUSANDS of people milling around.  Hell, I didn't know it was THAT big of a race! It is fun to race in different countries and notice so many varying things about runners. I noticed here in Netherlands is how unbelievably tall everybody is. That should’ve been too much of a surprise, as I knew this is the tallest country in the world, but there were very few heads that I was looking down upon as I got into the starting corral for my race.



On top of forgetting the race date, I had also put out of my mind that this was not a half-marathon but a 25km race which would be 2.5 miles longer. You'd think two plus decades into a running career that you can't make simple mistakes, but rest assured, you can! In addition, while yesterday had been cloudy, today was windy and rainy. Throw in a hilly and undulating course and this was not exactly a recipe for success. However, I’ve often said that sometimes when you feel like crap when you start a race, it’s good to know that you probably won’t feel any worse the rest of the day. Positive thinking!

First 5K: 


I knew that one of the two biggest hills in this course began around the 3rd mile. As such, I wanted to get out in these first few miles and see what I had in my legs before the inevitable slowdown later. I was seeded in the second corral, which meant that I had to run past many people who seemed to have massively overestimated their finishing time. It took me over two minutes of walking just to get to the starting line and I was in Corral B! There were many more behind me which tells you how many runners were there. (Nearly 3,000 finished this race alone and there were other races going on the same day.)


I felt like death warmed over but at least I could breathe. When my 1st mile showed me a 7:22 I was actually quite pleased as it felt at least 20 seconds slower. The 2nd mile was the exact same thing with the 7:22 even though I was moderately going uphill both miles. The 3rd mile gave me a 7:28 as a continued an upward trajectory, and I was feeling shockingly good.  Here, as I prepped for the big hill, was one of the favorite moments of the day. Often in Europe they have a Yield sign with a big "!" in the middle of it to get your attention. It usually has another sign underneath to tell you what should get your attention and this did not disappoint. As we passed over some cattleguards in the road (which the race had generously laid some mats over so that we would not twist our ankles)  I began tittering to myself when I saw what I now know is the word for “cattle grid" in Dutch.


 Yep. Wildrooster. I was wondering how crazy of a cock one has to be to get its own sign. This tickled me for at least half of a mile.


To 15 km

The problem with Dutch is that it looks like it is English until you try to read it and then you realize it isn't.  There are enough similarities that makes you think you know what is being said until you don't.  Luckily, numbers are the same in all languages.  Kinda.

The hill we were climbing had signs telling us it was "500m to The TOP" with a large inflatable arch with "The TOP" written on it up ahead. I could see, however, that the hill still climbed, at least a little way after this arch so I didn't know if "The TOP" was some brand marketing or what.  Either way, crossing under the arch and still going up was a bit cruel.

Between the fourth and fifth miles there are four false summits. Or I guess three false summits and then finally the high point. I was quite pleased that it was only an 8:08 mile for me when I finally got to the top of the fourth mile. It had felt much slower. Because of the false summits in the next mile, I was happy with a 7:52 for the next mile.  I say this especially as I was not thoroughly drenched from the sometimes hard, sometimes spitting rain we were running into and the ever shifting wind which always seemed to be in our face. One fortunate thing about running slower than one is capable of doing is that I was surrounded by many more runners.  I tried to use their bodies to shield me form the wind as much as possible.  For once, in this land if giants, this actually worked for me!


We were blessed with a downhill at the 6th mile and I ran a 7:19 which was nice to see on the watch.  I was a bit sad to see my pace slow to 7:47 and 7:44 for the 7th and 8th miles if only because I knew these miles were still going downhill, even if it wasn't much at all. At this point, I was beginning to feel the effects of the day, the sickness, the weather, and the fact that I have only run over 10 miles once in the past three months. I note at 14 km (or 8.6 miles) the paved course turned into a hard-packed surface for the next mile. I was surprised to see this because I had thought much of the course was going to be trail and had run so long on paved portions, actually seeing what I expected came as a shock. A quick upgrade as we approached the 9th mile, followed by a quick downhill to the aid station left me quite tired.  I was really wishing this was a half-marathon and not a 25 km right now.


I walked through the aid station, eating a quarter of a banana and careful not to drink the "tee" or "sportsdrink" as I had no idea what either of those would do to my system.  I turned the corner to be back on pavement again and locked eyes with a fellow runner.  "Running is stupid," I said. He laughed and said "And we are paying for it!"


To the half-marathon:


My walk break netted me an 8:41 mile which was fortunately the slowest mile of the entire race. Even as we continued uphill I at least ran an 8:10 for the 11th mile. Runners stretched far ahead of me on what I at first perceived was a rather wide bike path.  When I saw cars coming the other direction I realized that, no, this is a road.  I am used to sch enormous sprawling 6-lane highways going through the middle of cities that I forgot that you don't always need that to get cars around!  


 My energy was ebbing quickly but I was in pure run mode. I am disappointed to say I did not see much of my surroundings as I was running with eyes half-closed, using as little energy to think or see or process information as possible. I had recalled that once we hit the top of the big hill we had been climbing that it was all downhill.  But it was clear there were still some small ups and downs to deal with before that happened and each one took a small part of my soul. I was using runners as markers to pace myself.  Knowing I run downhills better than most (and uphills worse than most) I would let Pink Shirt Girl or Far Too Many Slogans on Shirt Guy, get in front of me before reeling them back in on the downhills.


Then it suddenly hit me.  I hadn't once thought about my knee all day! The cure to knee pain is to be so sick you don't think about it!  But in all seriousness, on these downhills, I hadn't once held back because of fear of injury. This pleased me immensely. A 7:48 for the 12th mile and then an 8:02 for the 13th had me once again wishing I was running a half-marathon as I could finally see the downhill ahead.

To the Finish:


My 14th mile wasn't exactly the blistering pace I was hoping for and I was thrown off how slow it was by the number of people I was passing. I only netted a 7:59 each as I continue to fight the wind and the rain.  Suddenly, as we went around a traffic circle, both just stopped. I was carrying about five pound of water on my body but at least I wasn't adding any more!  


I was now in adulation mode and was finding gears I hadn't felt since a long time before. I ran a 7:33 for the 15th mile and set my sights on the finish line ahead. A few runners either passed me or got passed by me but I wasn't trying to earn an extra spot or two in the standings. I knew that this was going to be one of my worst race finishes in a long time and a dozen runners here or there wasn't going to change that.

When 15.5 miles went by on my watch which almost always UNDERshoots my distance (what a 25 km race equals) and I still had a bit to go, I chuckled. I was getting my money's worth today.  I finished the last .7 of a mile at 7:27 pace and crossed the finish.

I crossed in front of someone I had seen a couple of times who looked like the race director and gave him a fist bump. I had finished in a time of 2:02:08. This made me 787th of 2833 finishers. I had run the notoriously challenging Around the Bay 30k road race in Canada ( the day after running a 10k in South Carolina) in 2:10:00.  Over three miles longer in less than eight minutes of time.  Obviously this was not my best day.

But it was one of them. It was definitely a victorious day for me. Not in the time category, obviously.  But when it came to over coming some challenges, I will remember this race for a long time.



Now it is time to heal this knee, kick this cold, and have a good year of racing.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Richmond Park Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 17; 11th Edition
157.21 miles run and 58 miles biked and 1930 meters swam in 2023 races
Race: Richmond Park Half Marathon
Place: Richmond, UK
Miles from home: 4011 miles
Weather: 40s, cloudy, quite windy

This year has not been a good one for me for racing. I could sit and analyze why that has been for hours and believe me, I already have. Whether it’s getting older, just having not the best weather to race in, a lot of emotional things going on in my life, or a combination of all of the things, it doesn’t matter.  It's been an off year and I don't really know exactly why just yet. I have had some decent races and one in particular that got the monkey off my bank but none that I was like "Yes! That's a good one."  Alas.

On Halloween when I tweaked my knee on a run I thought it put the nail in the coffin for the crappy year. But then 19 days later, I was feeling pretty good after a training run earlier in the week that went off without a hitch and decided to run a half-marathon. I woke that morning NOT wanting to run the race more than I ever have before. I knew it wasn't going to be the race I had been planning to run all year and I had zero desire. I then proceed to run the best first 6 miles of a race in years.  But my knee protested and I dropped at mile 8. It stung at the time but I knew it was for the best.

This disappointment of my first ever DNF in a half-marathon was a assuaged by how well my knee had held up to over 2000 feet of downhill in 6 miles. Fast forward to nearly a month later, and I’ve had some ups and downs with this knee, and was unsure even a week before whether I was even going to do this particular race. However, as it was taking place in the outskirts of London and I was definitely going to go on this trip that I had booked regardless I figured I would show up in ole Blighty and see what was what.

Two days before the race I did a little sightseeing run of 7+ miles and other than being a little bit jetlagged, and a little bit out of shape because that was the longest run I have done in two months, the knee held up fairly well. Also, hey look! Big Ben. Parliament!

As well as this went, I figured I would simply go out and race to the best of my ability and play the entire thing by ear.

I was fortunate to partner with The Fix Events in this low-key event in the suburb of London called Richmond. Fans of the show Ted Lasso will know it as the location of the fictional soccer team in the show. This particular race would take place in Richmond Park, which is known to hold some very domesticated, but still wild, deer. The race had something going for it that I like, which was that it was four loops of the park to get the half-marathon distance. Other people do not like repetitive loops in a race, but I find them to be very easy to handle. 

Even though it was mid December, the weather in London had been very balmy as of late. In fact, on race morning, it was nearly in the mid 40s by the time we started at the absolutely LOVELY time of 9 a.m.. However, unlike the previous few days I had spent in the area, this was quite windy out in the park itself.  I couldn't tell if it was because of the open nature of certain sections or if it was always like this. Either way, it was howling.  

There was a very old-school feel to the race, in spite of chip-timing and race photographers and all the trappings one comes to expect for a well-run race. I finally realized what it was: no music. No pump up music was being played and I learned that was because this was a Royal Park. I had no complaints about the lack of tunes and Depeche Moded the whole morning. (Meaning, wait for it, I enjoyed the silence. I'll show myself out)

Photo credit

After I got my bib number on the morning of the race, one of the organizers asked me to step up and say a few words to everyone in attendance. I jokingly told them that, in spite of our reputation as loud Americans, I had not simply grab the microphone and started talking to them but rather had to be asked. Not that I don’t like talking to runners, I just don’t like talking in the morning. I think what I said wasn't absolute gibberish. 

Soon after I finished, we lined up for the start where we would begin by running a little out and back to make up for lost mileage that we would need from the not-quite-3 1/2 mile loops and awaited the director's vocal gun signal. The Christmas tree counted down and away we went!

First 5k loop: 22:52 

Photo credit
The course was more than half trail or dirt or grass underfoot. Moreover, more than the first half of each loop was quite hilly. I knew it was going to be a bit challenging for me and a test for my knee.  Haven't ever had a joint problem before I have been so cautious and worried. Muscle soreness or strains always seem like such a more minor thing in my head.

I felt surprisingly good as I often do on race morning. There’s something about putting on a bib number that completely changes. My foot is metaphysical nature and allows me to take minutes off per mile what I’m normally able to do on a training run. But I was cautious and had no major goals other than finishing injury free. By the time we are done are out and back on the grass and began our way to start the first loop. I was somewhere in the top 15. Again where I placed was pretty much, no consequence to me. But I still wanted to do the best I could with what I had. As I mentioned, the first part of each loop was rather twisty in tourney with a few muddy sections to run through, and some hills that seem to get higher as the day went on. I held my own on his up hills, which I’m notoriously bad at, but was a little bummed that I was unable to take advantage of the downhill running that I am also notoriously good at. My body wanted to run fast, but I knew I couldn’t risk the knee. That said, virtually anyone who passed me on the uphills was passed on the down hills on the other side. As it flattened out, and we ran a long, paved bike path, I could see in the distance the area where we had done our turnaround before the first loop began, now I knew what I had in store for me, and it was simply repeating this three more times.

Second loop: 24:00 

Photo credit
I felt pretty good and passed one or two runners as one or two runners passed me. I had a brief mile that was my second fastest of the entire day where I thought I might somehow be throwing down an amazing negative split and shock even myself but just as quickly as the energy spurted, it left me. I began a cat and mouse game with a couple of runners here that would last for the entirety of the rest of the race. It was hard for me not to push too hard but also, it wasn’t like I was lollygagging out there either.  This was all that I had to give. The wind was very much in my face on the way out and the hills as usual took a great deal out of me. I finished the second loop still somewhere in the top 20 but was now beginning to feel some fatigue.

Third loop: 24:21

Almost a carbon copy of the second loop, with just 21 seconds separating the three miles. I began to realize, in spite of the relatively cool weather and wind blowing in our face, that I was absolutely dripping with sweat. Most people were dressed much more warmly as the sweat rivulets made me look like I was running in the heat of the summer. The uphills got more difficult to handle and the downhill got harder to hold back on. There were also plenty of non-race participants out on the course who, while we knew the course was open, they could have been a bit more giving to those of us wearing bib numbers. 

I just wanted to get to that last loop injury-free and bring it home. I went down the big hill on the back end of the loop and looked up to be almost eye to eye with a herd of about seven deer no less than ten feet away from me! No one else was even giving off a whiff of surprise as I let out a "Holy shit. Deer!" As we crested the final uphill on the last loop, I was hoping to find an inner well of strength and speed to power me along and give me a slightly better time. 

Photo credit

Final Loop: 25:03

However, That speed didn't appear. I haven't run over a half-marathon distance since my marathon in April and with the least miles I have ever run in a month in November since I began recording my mileage back in 2006, I just didn't have the chops today. I also knew that as I grew weary, my form could slip and I could re-inure the knee. So I simply pushed forward, holding off a few runners as we bob and weave through those running the 10K (who had started after us) and finished by myself in the finish chute.

I was 32nd overall in my sixth slowest half-marathon ever in a time of 1:41:41. That said, in spite of its slowness, it’s probably my top five most proud moments of all of my 123 half-marathons. I ran within myself, not knowing what my knee would do, on a pretty challenging day even on a good knee. It seems, as of Monday and a flight home, that I am no worse for the wear today and that I might, just might be out of the woods.

The race itself was very well put together and I am sure that echoes all the races the Fix Events people do. I can definitely say that the next time I come back to England I will be looking to see if one of theirs is being run around me at that time. 

Thanks for such a warm welcome, England, and for helping me end a not-so-great year on a pretty solid note.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Ely Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 17; 10th Edition
144.1 miles run and 58 miles biked and 1930 meters swam in 2023 races
Race: Ely Half Marathon
Place: Square Lake, MN
Miles from home: 246 miles
Weather: 60s, cloudy, windy, slight rain and humidity

For the second year in a row, the app I have co-created, Sherpa, is the title sponsor of the Ely Marathon. For the second year in a row, I was running a half marathon there and excited to do so. I was excited, in spite of the fact that I’ve had less than a stellar year of racing and was definitely still feeling quite tired from the half-Iron Man race I did two weeks ago. 

I had planned more than a few months ago to take this race a little less seriously than most and just have some fun with it and help promote Sherpa in a silly way. I decided the way to do that would be to wear a disco ball helmet and carrying a 3 x 5 flag with Sherpa's logo on it to help promote it to the people at the race and in the city. I have run with the flag on multiple occasions and even on the best days it is quite exhausting. Why I think "have some fun with it" means "make the race harder" is beyond me. I wasn’t exactly sure how this race was going to go but felt I could run solid through the places where I knew it would be easier and then take it easy on the places that were harder, which, given this is a rather challenging race, would be plenty.

Race Morning:

The buses to the start of the various race were located just one block from the finish line. Ample parking awaited all those who needed it, including last arrivals like myself.  In fact, everything about the logistics of the Ely Marathon is convenient and stress-free. I don't say this as a sponsor. I sponsor the race because that is true.  Having run hundreds of races and being a bit of a prima donna on race morning, the last thing I want to do is be troubled with logistics. That is one thing I adore about this event. The lack of headaches.

I was able to catch one of the last buses for the half marathon and still had over a half an hour of time before the race started once I got to the starting line. In addition, it what would have to be an absolute first in my racing life, I got to the bathroom and had absolutely no wait.  I just walked right in.  I almost thought I cut the line. There were more than a few hundred people ready to race, it was as if everyone had already used the bathroom and was saying, "Go right ahead, Dane it’s all yours." In fact, as most runners will know, you get a little nervous before a race, and you have to go more than once, which I did, and almost never had to wait for more than one person.That was a treat.

It was then just a few minutes before the start of the race that I finally unfurled my flag, and put on my silly little helmet. I sauntered close to the start, hoping that I would be able to run close to what time I ran last year: 1:29:13. But given my extra accoutrements, that was highly unlikely. As the wind whipped around us at the start I positioned myself to the far right, not to get in anybody’s way, and simply waited for the countdown. Away, we went.

First Three Miles: 

I saw two people I immediately recognized as the men’s winner last year, and the women’s winner. I figured I wouldn’t be anywhere close to the men’s winner, who I couldn’t beat on my best day, and I was likely to lose to the women’s winner as well. As we started the race and began climbing a small in height, but long in duration. hill, I was already feeling the effects of the wind on the flag. I also just didn't have any zip. 

My 1st mile was at 7:11 which wasn’t too bad given the first hill and my 2nd mile was a 7:06, which was a little bit disappointing because this was likely the biggest downhill of the whole course. The only one which might be more forgiving would be the steeper but shorter hill at mile seven. I remember specifically that I ran these first two miles in 6:34 and 6:32 last year, so I was already well off the pace. As I went from the 2nd to 3rd mile the wind almost ripped the flag out of my hands and I could feel something going a little askew in the pole. As the point was to advertise with the flag, I didn’t mind if I rolled it up a little bit and tucked it under my arm on this portion, as there was virtually nothing but trees and deer out here to see it.

To Mile Seven: 

Quite challenging, this Half Marathon is easily broken up into four sections, which make it more easy to digest. The first section is the three miles do you which include the biggest climb of the day. The second section is the out and back where you go through the town of Winton (pop. 162) and experience a series of undulating hills, but also more than a few Wintonites out cheering you on. It was here in this section that I realized that I had two runners running directly behind me who I hadn’t heard the entire run. One thing about a disco ball helmet is that you can hear virtually nothing!

The only reason I found out these runners were so close is because, as we trudged up the hill, and, as is my norm, I slowed down. I am horrible at running uphills. Once we got to the top and were giving a few down hills to run, I was able to put them behind me. I expected to see them anytime we hit the uphills again, as there were plenty but I didn’t see them the rest of the race. 

Before I even got to Winton the overall leader was already heading back. I could tell that I was getting my butt kicked today because I was much further ahead last year. I never even saw him at this turn around. I actually made a choice to drop my flag at this one aid station, knowing that there was a little loop that I didn’t have to carry it and could be able to pick it up on the way back.

I passed a house with a flag outside and the first word I could see was "Trump". St. Louis County  went for Biden in 2020 but it also included the city of Duluth. I was not surprised to see that out there (just like I am not surprised when I see Trump signed in my own hometown of Titusville, PA.) But when I saw it said "Keep America Trumpless" it was like a burst of energy. You can actually see it on my GPS! 

As I rounded this section, I looked on the ground for my flag ready to shoulder the load again.  But it wasn't there! The volunteers must’ve seen the shock look on my face (impressive given the enormous sunglasses I was wearing and the helmet obscuring my forehead)  because one of them pointed to the other side of the street.  Another volunteer was holding it aloft ready for me to grab. Now that’s what you call service! 

I grabbed it, held it aloft proudly and began running back the way I had came. By this time the vast amount of runners behind me were streaming by. I received many smiles and high-fives from competitors. I don’t know if it was because of the disco ball helmet or the flag but either way I made some people smile and that’s a pretty darn good thing. 

I went down the other side of the biggest hill of the course and was ready to take on the section between Shagawa Lake and Miners Lake. I always forget that there are two big climbs in this section and the second one really does take it out of you. But the reward for climbing that hill and going down the other side as you get to run next to the ruins of a mill, and if nothing else, it makes for great pictures. 

You also get to join the trail that goes around Miners Lake and avoid some other hills that you would have to climb if you stayed on the road. For that, I am very appreciative! As you run around the west end of miners lake you are usually presented with a few well wishers and a aid station with nice cold drinks - glorious even when it is in the 60s.  And to say something about the weather: I have no idea how mid-60s can feel so warm but it probably has to do with a helmet.  Regardless, I was utterly drenched in my own sweat and so thankful for a cool drink.  I was ready for the best running portion of the whole race followed by one last kick in the butt.

Heading to the Finish:

This long straightaway here is where, after a small uphil,l do you have a nice long flat to downhill section that is peppered with signs that well-wishers have created and left out for you to read. At this juncture in my running career, I’ve pretty much seen all of the motivational signs, but I did chuckle at “Run like your mother used your full name." I then got a little catch in my throat because I realized it has almost been one year since my mother passed and this was the last Half Marathon I ran before she did. 

I didn’t have time to fight with those feelings right now, however. I was feeling the best that I had all day because I had given my friend Heather, and co-creator of Sherpa, the flag about a half a mile back.  I asked her to give it to me a bit closer to the finish so I could just try to run like a normal human for once. With a disco ball helmet but still, kinda normal.

I ran one of my fastest miles of the race and thought I might be able to track down the only two runners who had passed me all race, having done so as we ran between the lakes a mile or so back.  But they must have been enjoying this section as well as they only seemed to lengthen their lead, as they battled it out. One of them had asked when he passed me if this company was paying me a lot to carry the flag.  I told him not nearly enough and laughed. I see now he was a 23 year old and he was battling the 53 year old who passed me. Kudos to Caleb and John for fighting hard to the finish and giving me something to try to chase. I had lost contact with virtually anyone else miles before and this was the spark I needed to try to get moving.

When the flat section ended and the last climb back into the city began, I was feeling pretty good. Unfortunately, no one told my watch that as I had my only, 8+ minute mile of the entire race here. I also had to contend with a morning driver who had gotten a little lost and while trying not to cause any trouble but almost caused a lot of trouble. Luckily, I sidestepped her vehicle and then began running on the main  drag in Ely for the last mile and change. Ely is a small town but it was no small feet to get an entire mile plus of street completely blocked off to all traffic. Runners could feel like royalty as they had the entire street to themselves.  I ran down the middle of it feeling like I was in an apocalyptic movie with no other survivors. There were a few hardy spectators out including the ever-present jello shot givers in front of Gator's Grilled Cheese Emporium. I don't partake but I know others love them and that made me smile. With one last rule hill before the historic theater, I grabbed the flag from Heather, ran a block or two made the final turn and began heading for the finish at Whiteside Park. 

About half of a mile before the finish the ziptie on the flag broke. I am surprised it lasted this long.  I looped my finger through the grommet and balled it in my fist. I would be damned if I carried it this long to have it NOT be seen by the most people in one place!

The announcer got the people excited for my finish and I came in 11th place overall in 1:40:04.  I truly wished I had looked at my overall time as I know I could have found five seconds in me to make sure I ran 1:39.  I know it is a hard course. I know it is windy.  I know I was carrying a damn flag.  But this time realy disappointed me. Just because you decide to goof around and make your race difficult doesn’t mean that you still don’t think you should run fast.

I didn’t do that today, but I did get to enjoy another well-run race here in Ely. The event weekend continues to grow and add new and more exciting parts to it and we cannot wait to help make it a destination race in the future. Being difficult has not stopped any good race from drawing participants in the past.  In fact, some tout the difficult nature of their race as a selling point.  If you get people to desire to come to you, put on a great race, and give them something they can't get anywhere else (like the absolute lovely lunatics who run the race portaging a canoe!) people will come to you. 

I can't say that I will be surprised that if within five years, Ely has to put a cap on their race. We can't wait to see that happen!

Monday, September 11, 2023

Square Lake 70.3 (ish) Triathlon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 17; 9th Edition
131 miles run and 58 miles biked and 1930 meters swam in 2023 races
Race: Square Lake 70.3 Tri
Place: Square Lake, MN
Miles from home: 40 miles
Weather: 55-75; cloudy, warm

After the debacle which was the final few miles of my half marathon last weekend, I was extremely trepidatious about this "Half-Ironman" race. (Quote used here as it was not a branded Ironman race which means it often has less frills but costs about 1/3 the normal going rate.) Most of that fear came from the fact that the weather which had wilted me last weekend looked pretty similar to what I was going to face for this race. Nothing "too" warm but not the best ever. My brain would normally look at 70ish degrees and think that was a good day for a run, but that is only because living in this super-heated world we live in (sure, there's no climate change, Republicans) has broken my brain and I think anything that isn't 90 degrees is the bee's knees. 

I rested a great deal the week before this , especially after a run on Wednesday evening in lovely 65 degree weather netted me one of the worst training runs I had ever had in my life. Suffice it to say I was worried. But I had trained harder on the bike this summer than I ever have in my life (really not saying much but I did have two 40+ milers and a 50 miler under my belt - something I had never done) and was going to simply give all I had.

Morning Of:

We couldn't check into the park where this race started until 6 a.m. (supposedly) to begin setting up our gear. Yet when I arrived at 5:57 a.m. the parking lot was 3/4 full. After buying the park pass and realizing I had forgotten a couple of things for my race, I went to see if anyone was selling or had extras. No one did. It wasn't the end of the world, but it was just annoying that I hadn't prepared better.

There wasn't much fiddling around after setting up my bike and run stuff before we headed to the beach to begin the swim. This portion of the tri would be done by self-seeding. Each swimmer would step up to the timer, say their number, have it repeated back to them, then sprint into the water to begin their swim.  I had only had 10 swim workouts this summer but I felt good in my swimming ability. Nevertheless, I wanted to defer to other swimmers who had put in the time and/or were talented. But when not many seemed eager to get in, I found myself entering the line of swimmers about 12th overall. I read my number and away I went.

Swim: 36:42 (4th overall)

Plunging into the the lake, I was the only person I saw not wearing a wetsuit. I know they help with buoyancy but I have had horrific abrasions from them in the past and was perfectly happy wearing just my new Sherpa trisuit. I was also using new goggles and I should have tightened them more than I did. Rookie mistake. A little water slipped in one eye but after one quick stop to empty it out, and one hard press with my shoulder, the googles were more or less fine the remainder of the way.

The water was about as perfect as you could get. I wouldn't have minded it being a bit cooler but there were no waves, no wake, and it looked like glass. Pretty clear as well and just set up for some fast times.

Our course consisted of two separate rectangles and I was ready to fall back on my swimming skills, and my penchant to never kick when I swim, which actually saves my legs for the latter portions. I didn't expect to do that great but I figured I would be ok. Let's hear it for being naturally good at swimming! (That's not a brag but more a self-own since I should probably practice it more. Alas.)

Right after turning at the second buoy, meaning we were halfway through the first of two laps, I looked ahead of me and saw...nothing. As far as I could tell, I was in first place.  This was different. I didn't even feel like I was swimming that fast. And that was where I would stay for an entire lap where I felt someone hit my feet. I hadn't seen them in my peripheral the whole lap which means they were just riding along in my wake. Legal, but annoying. So I threw in a surge to try and lose them and it felt like I did. On the final homestretch, I saw another swimmer way off to my right.  He was definitely swimming fast but couldn't sight worth a damn. He finally got the right tack and was tracking me down but with just a few yards left, I wasn't going to NOT be the first one out of the water. Or at least the first one out of the water I could see.

(As it ends up, there were two others who swam slightly faster than me but started behind me, and another, the overall winner, who swam like a marlin and beat me by nearly 5 minutes. I have no idea if he was in front of me and somehow didn't create a wake or started behind me and just bided his time. Triathlons are so annoying.)

T1: 1:47 (7th fastest)

I didn't feel like I was all that fast in this transition as things weren't going on quickly and other things weren't clicking and I was just kinda moseying along. But lo and behold, I was actually pretty quick onto the bike. Transitions have never been my strong suit but my penchant for wearing my socks when I swim helps.  Some people find that wet socks would stink to cycle in but trying to put dry socks on wet feet takes forever.  And no socks is a no go for me.  And the way I sweat, my feet are going to be wet soon regardless. So, socks on for the swim it is which allows me to run over surfaces a little better anyway.  Win win.

Bike: 3:07:16 (33rd overall)

Within about two miles I had a cyclist pass me, followed quickly by two others. Then a few miles later, two others passed me and I was already feeling the hills.  One of the biggest climbs of the entire race is right out out of the gate. I had driven this course a few weeks ago and had noticed all the hills but there is a huge difference between riding them and driving them. And in spite of my concerted efforts to be a better cyclist this summer, I am still bad at uphills.

There were a few nice sections which had just been paved but there were a few not-so-nice sections (much longer) that were not and were quite rutted and uneven. Not the worst road conditions I have biked on but not fun. 

One thing which I don't understand whatsoever is the little out and back before the second loop. That out and back had a couple of large hills in it (the whole damn course was up and down) that equaled about three miles. The whole bike course was over two miles long. Why in the, and I pause here for emphasis, HELL did we add an extra out and back that made the course long? And this was no mistake. Two plus miles from the finish of the second loop had "Mile 56" painted on the ground with a sign as well. So this was the plan. I am seriously curious why this was the case. I just don't get it. 

Don't advertise your race as 70.3 if it is at least 72.3.

Throughout the first loop my spirits were down. All I could think about was asking if it was possible to drop from the 70.3 tri to the AquaBike which was being run concurrently. And having the biggest hills of the race coming right at the end of the loop didn't help me any. It frustrated me greatly that I had put in a lot of time (for me) on the bike and still wasn't seeing the results I wanted. I know while I upgraded my bike it has a LONG way to go to being top-notch but I don't want the blame the instrument. I just need to remember that triathlons are basically cycling events with a swim warm-up and a run cool down. I hated that I was so mental defeated the first loop. 

On the second loop, I undoubtedly slowed a bit but somehow talked myself out of quitting at the end of the bike. I actually felt pretty good. This is fairly typical for me on looped course.  Knowing what I have in store always helps me. I grabbed a water bottle from one of the volunteers about halfway through this loop.  I sure wish that liquid provided on courses was colder. This is almost universal. Almost always it is not the liquid I need as much as I do the COLD liquid. Not sure why this isn't done by all races. Not blaming the volunteers who were very nice and helpful. Just another thing I simply don't understand about racing.

So many hills.

I was feeling decent even though I was getting passed here and there by a few cyclists. In the other tris I have run I have never been too bothered by this because I would always think about how many of them I would end up passing on the run and it is usually a great deal. 

As we began a nice downhill section (that was interrupted by two 90 degree turns through a bridge which we had been warned extensively about to SLOW DOWN), I once again began having those thoughts. Then the tough climbs at the end of the loop grabbed ahold of my mind again.  My energy ebbed.  My mood soured.  A cyclist passed me after we had both passed the 56th mile and said "I guess we are getting some bonus miles today, huh?"  

"Yep. And uphill to boot!" I replied. I thought of the run ahead. I realized it would be on the same course I had just biked and that it was going to be rough. Uff da.

I rolled into the transition, saw the race director and asked if I could drop to the AquaBike. I was ready and willing to be done with the day even if it meant a DNF.

T2: 4:53 (Really low overall. I am not counting.)

The RD was nice enough to say that she would check to see if I could drop. The timer said it wasn't a problem. She said I could also start running and if I still felt like I was done, just to come back and then drop down. This was really nice. Something about having that option got me up and going but not after I had spent a long time in transition putting on my shoes, going to the bathroom and ingesting some calories. I figured I could probably plod through this run and still finish in a decent time. I had long ago thrown out any of my previous time goals and now was just trying to finish respectfully. 

As I trudged out of transition and up the big hill to stat the run, the gentleman of NOW Bikes who had sold me my bike (and had been kind enough to give me a water bottle for the same bike that morning) wished me a good run.

"I don't think it is going to be one," I said.

Run: 1:59:02 (29th overall)

This run started out far better than I could have expected. The first two miles were right around 8 minutes per. Then out of nowhere, assisted by some downhill, I threw down a 7:31 mile. "There you go, buddy!" I said, outloud, to myself. That's hilarious in hindsight.

Even as the hills undulated for miles 4 and 5, I still hung around 8 minutes per mile. I was thinking that if I ran a 1:42 half after this whole day, and thinking about quitting, that would be a huge victory. Then we turned onto a dirt road. Damn it. I just knew some more hills on dirt were coming.

So many hills, Part Deux.

The next mile had four uphills in it including one where I just flat out began walking. I was pissed that I did but it was necessary. Even though I had already passed four runners and was catching up to others, I know when I need to walk. Here I saw the lead runner coming back and man, it sure didn't seem like he was THAT far in front of me. It couldn't have possibly have been the first runner. I must have missed him somehow. 

I filled the bottle I was carrying at the turn-around point and began to try to track down runners in front of me. But ever little gradient of an uphill began to tug at my ankles. My 7th mile was a gallant effort to stay on the right side of the pacing with an 8:30 but then my 8th and 9th miles were both basically 9:30 with walk breaks each. Two runners I had passed in the beginning passed me and I did everything I could to stay with them, running my last good mile of the day in 8:31. Getting back onto pavement and off the dirt road helped.

Then the heat of the day (mid to high 70s by this point) and whatever else finally got to me as the

short steep hills often brought me to a crawl. My last three miles were 11:02, 10:14, and, egads 13:05. It took everything I had to run down the last hill (I had twice stopped running DOWNhill previously) and cross the finish.

My atrocious time of 5:49:38 was over an hour off of what I was hoping to do today. I guess if you take off the extra bike miles and if I had just held the previous pace in the last three miles of the run it would have only been 40 minutes off, but regardless I was done. Cooked. Spent.

I took 22nd overall and somehow got 3rd place in my age group, but those are always just a by-product of who shows up. I had a super tough ending where I just sorta collapsed after the finish and the EMTs came over to me. I had a hard time convincing them I was fine and I just needed a few minutes. They were super kind and attentive. I kept insisting while I looked like a wreck, I would be fine soon. Sure enough, after about 20 minutes after I laid down, I was putting my gear on my bike and pushing up the infernal hill to my car. (Funnily enough, I was driving away when I heard my name announced for my age group award and had to stop my car and bound down some stairs to pick it up. I was beyond shocked at how spry I felt when 30 minutes prior I was feeling on death's door.)

A runner I met about a month ago told me he had done this tri before and it was tough. Runners often downplay how tough things are. I am not sure why. I don't know if they want to sound like they are badass or they don't want to complain or they don't want to psyche others out. So when one just says "ooh, that's tough" listen to them.

This was tough.

But it is done. And I cannot tell you how happy I am I finished it. I think I would have been happy with the drop to the AquaBike or even the DNF after the bike, to be honest. But I made it through this and am shockingly feeling good the next day when I write this recap. I have some abrasions on my ankle from a waterlogged shoe, my neck is a bit chafed as I forgot to lube it up for the swim, and my muscles are a little tired. But I did a short recovery run after watching my beloved Chicago Bears stink up the field and it doesn't even really feel like I did one of the hardest races of my life yesterday. To be honest, this is a bit confusing. I feel like I shouldn't be THIS good in my recovery after one solid night's sleep.

Time to rest up, heal, and remove this monkey from my back. Tri season is more or less done up here (or at least on weekends I am free) so I don't know when the next foray will be but I think it will be in the Olympic distance.  Less bike, more swim, please.  

And hopefully less hills.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Marquette Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 17; 8th Edition
117.9 miles raced in 2023 races
Race: Marquette Half Marathon
Place: Marquette, MI
Miles from home: 395 miles
Weather: 70-75, humid

I don’t remember when or how I found this particular race but I know that it’s been on my schedule all year. I vaguely recall thinking that this weekend would be good to get away from some potential warmth in the Twin Cities and catch some nice cool breezes and maybe even some fall temps up in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Then it showed it was going to be warm everywhere in the world as race day approached and all of that went out of the window. 

For all intents and purposes, the race delivered on what they promised and was what I thought it would be regardless of the weather. There were a few things that are different than what might be expected and I will get into those in the recap, but, when it comes to being disappointed with how the race went personally, that’s just one of those things about racing. It is often disappointing.

I don’t read virtually anything with regards to recipes on the Internet but apparently I have seen from enough memes that instead of just giving the recipe, people will drone for multiple paragraphs before they get to three cloves of diced onions or whatever. I guess I’m kind of doing that right now before I get to the actual recap because when you’ve written about 400 of these and it seems you’re mostly doing it for yourself, it’s nice to put thoughts down other than "I ran this fast for this distance."

As Minneapolis and the surrounding states have suffered through a warmer than average summer, I still am so happy that I’m no longer living in Austin, Texas, where I likely would’ve burst into flames this past three months. And it was the surviving similar weather for five years previously which I think has broken my brain a little. When I saw that the forecast for this race called for it to be in the low 70s with 70% humidity I thought that was pretty darn good. It is decent compared to the two straight months of triple digits that Austin has been dealing with for example. But that still doesn’t mean that it is good for me for racing. 


However, the morning of the race broke quite windy and cloudy with some serious gusts along the shores of Lake Superior. I thought the hardest part of the day was going to be dealing with the wind, if it turned directions from heading east (the way we were running) to into our face. But I would deal with that if it happened.


As I rode the school bus to the start of the half marathon at the Michigan Iron Industry Museum I didn’t think that I would be setting the world ablaze with a super fast time. But I felt that my race would give me a good idea of where I stand for the half Iron Man distance race that I would be doing the next weekend. I didn’t have to spend much time at the start to wait around as I planned, taking the last bus to the start. I just wanted to get to running. There was a very relaxed vibe amongst everyone almost like a race wasn't just about to happen. With just a few minutes before the start, I meandered to the front of the line, positioned myself about 30 people back, which is where I thought I'd finish, and waited for the countdown.

Instead of doing this in my normal format, which is pretty tried and true, I’m going to break this race down into the three sections that I think people need to know about if they are going to race.

First Five 1/2 Miles

The countdown sent us on our way and we went down a quick first hill. After a first little bit of winding through the parking lot of the museum, and then around a cemetery, across a road, and onto a dirt path, we made a left turn onto the Iron Ore Heritage trail. I had spoken to some people who had run the race previously while waiting for the bus, and they told me that the trail was half paved and half gravel. It ends up they were just about exactly right. You’ll see from where are you join the trail at just about 1 mile in, until mile 5 1/2 , the Heritage trail is a mixture of small rocks, gravel, dirt, and in one place underneath a bridge, some iron ore pellets. That was pretty interesting. 


And while the race page will tell you the first 5 miles are all flat, that is definitely not the case. In fact, tween miles three and four, there are more than a few little risers. I’m not saying that this is the end of the world or that you’re climbing up Mount Everest but when you are told that it’s flat or downhill, and you have more than a few quick little risers in front of you, it can really play with your brain.It can play with your brain even more when what is supposed to feel easy right around seven minute miles continues to get slower and slower as sweat pours down from your head and soon soak your entire body. 


These first 5 1/2 miles are for the most part either shaded by trees or have enough forest foliage to block any winds of any nature. Although, given how much sweating I was doing in what was not all THAT bad of weather (roughly 70 degrees and 70 % humidity). What was bumming me out was efforts that felt like 6:45 minute mile were being closer to 7:05. As such, I decided that instead of fighting against what was obviously not going to happen, that I would just try to mitigate these first miles and when the downhills started, hopefully pick up the pace.

5.5 miles  to 10 miles

If you look at the elevation profile, it says from mile five to mile nine you lose nearly 100 feet per mile. That should normally be something that I take severe advantage of but today was not the case. While I definitely picked up the pace a good 15 seconds per mile for the first three miles of this portion, by the 8 mile I was right back into the slog that I had been feeling earlier. What should’ve been me being light on my feet but instead me listening to the sweat slog through my socks of my drenched shoes. I didn’t realize as the race slowly evens out between the ninth and 10th mile that this was the beginning of the end of the race for me. 


What is nice about this course that is being run on this trail is that on multiple occasions it crosses roads where your supporters can come out and easily see you multiple times. I actually became "race buddies" with more than a few different spectators. Even when I am struggling, I do my absolute best to try to be friendly to people who are out there cheering us all on. But by the time we hit the 10th mile and the race completely ended for me, I didn't even have the energy for that.

Mile 10 the to Finish

I’m not sure if it was because it was Labor Day weekend or what exactly but there was another festival going on which brought a lot of spectators down to this area of beautiful downtown Marquette. There were plenty of people out there and even if they weren’t cheering you on, just having some bodies around you is energy that you can feed off of. This energy is something I’ve missed in a lot of my races in the past 5 to 10 years where I’ve happened to get away from the big city races and spent more time on the trails or a small town marathons. It gets a little bit lonely out there and sometimes just feels like a long training run. So having bodies around you feels good especially when you are feeling bad .


As we passed the mile 10 marker and I grabbed two big glasses of water and came to a dead stop. I was definitely feeling bad. I won’t bore you with details about the last 5K, but suffice it to say, I stopped a minimum of four more times. Sometimes for a break of water and sometimes just try to gather the energy to push through. 


There was a bathroom permanently placed on the trail with a drinking fountain that signs along the race alerted you to. I wasn't exactly thirsty but I stopped anyway.  This water fountain was one of the coldest fountains I’ve ever had in my life. I wanted to just pulled up a chair and pour all the water on me. I’m not saying that I really needed the water as I was still sweating profusely, but it sure perked my spirits up. 


The final stretch was a little bit cruel as we ran up to where we were finishing and then back away from it just to come back up again. The course seemed more than a little bit long as well which added about a minute to my overall time, but considering I lost probably five minutes in the last 5K, it really didn’t matter.


I finished 58th overall in a time of 1:38:05
in what would be my 104th worst half marathon out of 120 in my lifetime. This is definitely not what I was hoping would build my confidence for the triathlon next weekend. The forecast predicts a better day and man do I need that.  This has been a tough year for me, in racing and life and my confidence is definitely shaken. I know am in the best cycling shape I’ve ever been no matter what the weather is that shouldn’t be a problem on the bike. Regardless, I made it through another race, collected a non-precious medal and am still standing. No race finish is guaranteed until you finish so that's my silver lining.