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 have three races in 14 days including a trail 10 miler, a half marathon, and this 35 km trail race. 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 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 2 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.

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!

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Running Every Single Street in Your Hometown

When it comes to the world of running, I remember saying in an article 15 years ago that there’s hardly anything new under the sun. Without a doubt, and obviously, nothing has gotten more fresh.  Sure, we can all try to find something that someone hasn’t done already but that is a rather fruitless search and really what is the point? What really only matters is if it is new to you specifically. Like 52 marathons in 52 weekends, for example.

That said, in the past few years in the running world during the pandemic when races were canceled a few things have popped up was finding ways to challenge one selves to scratch the itch of missing races. One way that became quite popular was running the "fastest known time" for something. Basically, finding a course of some length and note, seeing if anyone else has a documented time for it, and if not, documenting you r own while trying to run the fastest anyone has ever done. This, is obviously limited to the fleet of feet or at least the intrepid who found a trail no one else had run yet.

Another, way, more egalitarian, was made popular by ultrarunner Ricky Gates, and that was to run every single street in a certain area. Rickey ran every street in San Francisco in just 46 days in 2018 and when people couldn't race, many turned to this newish endeavor. 

When I lived in Salt Lake City for four years I was traveling quite frequently. When I wasn’t being a creature of habit I ran the vast majority of my miles around 1 1/2 mile loop in a park across the street from my home.  I know many other people enjoy exploring the trails and seeing that which is around them, and it’s not that I don’t, but I spend so much time when I am running thinking about other things or sometimes nothing at all, that the familiarity of that loop was a salve to my thoughts. That said, when I was moving to Portland Oregon I realized how few of the city streets right near my house I had never  stepped foot on. So in a small undocumented project, as I didn’t have any sort of GPS watch at the time, I simply decided to run the grid like streets of Salt Lake City in the few square miles around my home. 

Suffice it to say that I was pleased that I was able to do this in a small capacity before leaving Salt Lake. In Portland I explored a little bit more than I did in SLC but I had pretty much a four standard runs I ran all the time. When I moved to Austin I more or less stuck to one trail near my home with a deviation here and there.  The trail was paved,  marked with mile markers, and almost unimpeded by any type of vehicle traffic. It was hard to pass this up! 

When I moved to Minneapolis in February it only took me about a month to realize that I didn’t want to repeat what I wouldn’t necessarily call a mistake in Austin, but the lack of exploration.  Plus, I really wanted to really learn my city. That was when I decided that I was going to run every single street. 


That project is moving along rather smashingly even if the world has opened up somewhat again and my traveling has interrupted it quite a bit. I recently found myself in my hometown giving some aid to my mother who had a recent medical procedure. As I had about two or three similar runs that I ran all the time here I kind of fell into the same pattern.  After a few days however, I thought, it might be pretty darn easy to knock out every single street in this 5000 person two-square mile town. 

The reality was that it actually ended up being a little bit more difficult than I thought simply because of two major factors: one, there are a lot of long roads that lead out of the city that dead end and require backtracking. Two, I live in a valley and everywhere out of the city is up a big damn hill.  Fortunately, I had some of the streets already marked previously before starting this project so I knew that would help cut down the time needed to complete it. But six days and approximately 50 miles of running later I can say that I have completed the first ever city where I have run every single street. The fact that it was my hometown was a  nice little bonus. 

What did I learn? Well, I realize that without a doubt they were not only streets that I had never been on by foot, bike, or car but there were streets that I didn’t even know existed. I also learned some streets that were marked on one map were not marked on the other and some that no longer existed were still marked! There are probably a few places where a city street is now private property or have no trespassing. Maybe someday I’ll be able to find a way to knock those off.  Imagine me running through a factory shouting "Sorry, guys. This says it is Mechanic Street!"


I was disappointed, but not surprised at the number of Trump signs that I saw but I try not to let that color in my thoughts of the populace on the whole.  All told, it was surprising how many memories came flooding back of places and events and things that I hadn’t thought of in 30 years that likely never would have come to me if I had been simply driving down the street. I will not wax poetic or extol the virtues of traveling by foot as if you are reading this  I would be preaching to the choir,. However, I will definitely say something I learned long before I made any sort of name for myself in the running world, and that the absolute best way to see anything is by foot. 

Hands down.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Sherpa

 

I’ve been hinting at something big for myself for quite some time and yesterday I thanked many of you who wished me a happy birthday with information about an app that has been in creation, in one form or another, for over 8 years. Well, as I am nearing the finish line of testing and re-testing, and finally finding the perfect partner who echoes my love for running and safety, Heather Alvarado Rine, I am happy to announce...Sherpa.
 
 
 
What is Sherpa? Sherpa is the on-demand app safely connecting runners and athletes with personalized guides. Think of it as all the best parts of a ride-sharing app like Uber but put into the feet of runners and walkers.

Right now we are building our base of running guides, vetting everyone to make this app as safe as possible. We will be rolling it out in select cities soon, and then, worldwide. If you like the idea of getting paid to run, while helping others achieve their exercise needs, or you yourself can see how valuable it is to be able to run when you want, where you want, and at the speed you want, head on over to GoWithSherpa.com and sign up!




Tuesday, May 24, 2022

New England Challenge (6 Halfs in 6 Days in 6 States) Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 16; 3rd-8th Editions
97.9 miles raced in 2022 races
Race: New England Challenge
Place: Fairlee, VT; Portland, ME; Nashua, NH; Warwick, RI; Westfield, MA; Hartford, CT
Miles from home: 1201 to 1349
Weather: A fairly consistent mid 50-low 60s, humid, foggy/rainy all 6 days

At the end of 2019, I had experienced a surge in my running and traveling after a few years of lethargy. A win at the Perpetual Motion 6 Hour Race got my juices flowing for 2020 and I had an absolutely amazing slate of races planned. First would be a half-marathon race across the Millau Viaduct in France, followed 12 days later by an 80-mile race around Loch Ness, and then just one week later I would run a marathon in Liechtenstein. I planned on traveling Europe that whole time, coming home for a month or so and then going back to run the Berlin Wall 100 mile race. I was as stoked to be racing as I had been in a long time.

Then, you know, 2020 and the Republican response to it happened. (Let's not even remotely pretend it wouldn't have been nearly as deadly without F*ckwork Orange in charge.)

2019 has been a year for change for me as I ran over 3,000 miles for the year for the first time ever.  I have never been a high mileage guy, at least for the types of runs I do and speed I run them, compared to my peers. I didn't expect to run over 3,000 again but as I couldn't race, I trained more. I wouldn't necessarily say I trained better but I did train more. Two years of dealing with a pandemic, fortunately staying healthy physically but beat down mentally (and financially from losing basically all sources of income) left me spent.

I moved in Minneapolis in February and then jumped into a snowshoe race which lit a fire under me. I was stoked to be racing again. Unfortunately, it also beat the living hell out of my left ankle as I was under-dressed for the race. A week later I partially tore my calf muscle on the same leg. I was a bit of a mess. I took some time off and slowly began to try to get my mojo back.

As this recap is already turning into one of "Just get to the recipe, Karen!" things I hear about, I will spare you the odd internet browsings and weird statistics stuff that overcome me late at night while I am wide awake and the rest of the word slumbers. Suffice it to say I soon found myself signed up to run six half-marathons in six days in six different states in less than a month with a goal to win all six.

Winning a race is about half skill and about half luck. If you are a slower runner, the chances are very slim you will ever win a race outright. But even if you are a faster runner, all it takes is ONE other runner to be faster to keep you from winning. This seems obvious but it goes to show how fleeting and difficult the process of winning can be and why racing is such a VASTLY different type of activity than running.

So, to try to win all these races would be quite a challenge indeed, especially for someone like myself who is fast but not FAST fast. But unlike other "challenges" that circulate amongst on the internet, I like to choose ones that are actually difficult. As such, I found myself standing in Fairlee, Vermont a week ago, in the midst of pouring rain seconds from the start of the first half-marathon of six to be hopefully done 121.5 hours later.

(This is a very low-key series of events put on by an affable and capable enough small family. There are definitely things that I feel the races could benefit from a little spit polish here and there and for the most part I won't really mention anything where I feel it could improve. However, I am going to try to include information that most runners will benefit from with regards to logistics and courses and the like which should be, but are not, readily available for those wishing to complete and or all of these events.)

Maple Leaf Half-Marathon: Fairlee, Vermont (Each clickable link takes you to my Strava account for each race so you can see what the course and elevation profile is.)

Quick description: Rather hilly course with a road that could use some new pavement; Relative tree cover to protect you from elements. Main course is a roughly 5 mile loop that half-marathoners do twice. (You can basically double my descriptions for all races for marathoners.)


Standing at the starting line, I wondered how difficult this was all going to be. I had driven the race course the day before and there were some humdingers of hills to deal with. As I mentioned, about 30 seconds before the race started, the rain pour down upon us. As it was 91 degrees the day before, the high 50s and rain here wasn't a problem except for soggy shoes and potential chafing.

As with most of the races, we had to do a little out and back prior to doing the multiple loops. And on most occasions, when we could done and out and back in any direction, we always seemed to choose the portion which had the biggest hill. Some jokingly say that the hills are free; I say maybe don't make your races harder just for shits and giggles.

Within feet of the race starting a taller and more muscular fella than me took off like a shot. I thought "Great.  Day One Second One and I am already not going to win all the races." With a guy on either side of me keeping pace, I wasn't even sure I would place third. But when the lead runner, and subsequently the two guys beside me both turned around that the marathon turn around point, I suddenly found myself in sole possession of first place. By the time I turned around a bit further down the road, it was pretty clear that this race was mine to lose.

Soon the rain stopped and all I had to do was run out the course. The course seemed to be a bit long but I was nevertheless pleased with getting the first race, and the first win out of the way in a time of 1:36:15. I was also pleased that the marathon winner, in a time of 2:42, hadn't decided to run the half today either.

Pine Tree Half-Marathon: Portland, Maine

Quick description: An entirely flat 2.5 mile loop until you get to the quick rise to go up and over bridge, which is also the only paved part on a hard-packed stone trail.  Completely exposed to the elements, whatever they may be.


Day Two of this challenge was eventful if only because I was curious how it would go.  I had run two half-marathon races back-to-back before but had always know that the second race was my final one. Here I would only be 1/3 of the way finished when I was done with this race. With the flat course I expected a stellar time.

I took the pole position to start the race but soon thereafter heard footsteps behind me and right as we approached the turnaround the lead woman passed me. I passed her on the way back as we had a nice downhill but within a mile she had taken the lead again. For the next loop and change she would steadily grow her lead with me sometimes gaining some of it back. Suddenly, at 7.55 miles she just stopped and started walking the other direction. Only through social media was I able to see she felt she wasn't having a good day and decided to call it quits. Appears we were running at or close to her half-marathon pace so I am not sure why she stopped but I wished her well. Now, again, like the day before, I was running alone and I definitely slowed the last 5 miles. From an average pace of 7:05 for the first half of the race, I slowed to a 7:25 or so once I had the second win in the bag.

I did see one runner in front of me in the last half mile or so who was cooking along at a great pace. I figured she was out for a workout.  But right after I finished, she stopped and I saw she had a bib on.  I know for a fact that she had never been in front of me and when she showed up in the results just a few seconds behind my time of 1:35:27, I was a little confused. I am sure it will sort itself out.

Two races.Two wins.

Granite State Half-Marathon: Nashua, New Hampshire

Quick description: Slightly hilly first half of a two loop course with the back half being mostly flat with a out and back on the road before running under a canopy of trees on trail. Footing can be a little dicey depending on rain or whatnot.

Having had to fend of female competitors in the first two races (second place on day one, who didn't finish too far behind me was also a fierce competitor) I asked a rather spritely looking young lass what she hoped to run for the race. She said "anything under 1:45" which I felt was likely a bit of gamesmanship. When we did our out and back to start the race and two guys absolutely took off like rockets, it was clear I was not going to win today. Bollocks. Moreover, Ms. 1:45 gleefully stayed in my hip pocket for the first few miles and cheerfully said "You can be my pacer!"

About halfway through the first loop, she passed me and I was not sitting out of the podium in fourth place. However twice in quick successions I had to call out to her as she was about to run in the wrong direction and the second time I regained the lead. At the beginning of the second loop, the road we were on which was obviously being occupied by a timing mat and runners, soon became also occupied by a truck which decided it was going to block the turn around. I was none too pleased as I had to navigate a tight turn, a truck, other runners and still try to grab a glass of water. But this adrenaline boost was a welcome addition.

As the second loop went on, I put more distance between me and my fellow competitor shooting for third. Knowing the loop now and where to run to avoid the sloppy forest floor (it had rained hard the previous night) I was making great time.  By the time I was heading home to the finish, I knew I had at least salvaged a third place. When I was handed the second place plaque I assumed they had made a mistake. Unfortunately for him, one of the marathoners had made a mistake and had done the half marathon start, adding some extra mileage to his day.  The half-marathon winner ran in a time of 1:16 which I couldn't even compete with in a singular half-marathon day. So I didn't feel nearly as bad at having lost my winning streak. Don't get me wrong. I was still not happy but a 1:31:48 was not too shabby of a finishing time.

I was able to tell my young female chasepack that she had finished third right after she told me this was her first half-marathon. Pretty darn sweet day for her, all told!

Red Island State Half-Marathon: Warwick, Rhode Island

Quick description: Six loops or a winding and twisting bicycle path (95% paved) with quick little rises and falls that can be quite tiring on the back half of the loop. Mostly shaded by trees.

I was able to squeeze in a massage the night before this race hoping it would help spur me on to the victory stand again. However, right before the race I learned a new competitor had joined us and he was quite speedy. Within a few meters to start, I could tell that today was again not going to be a win for me. But at least this time I was neither going to be fighting to take third or have all that much of a chaser behind me either. It was a good thing because I was in a sour mood. As lovely as this course was it was the type that I just can't stand. And when you have to do something you don't like for six consecutive loops, it isn't fun. Especially when you know you have two more half-marathons to go AFTER this.


I won't say that I was going through the motions or that I wasn't focusing on racing but without a doubt I was a bit more grouchy about having to weave around fellow competitors who would walk or slow run 2-3 abreast without much concern about trail etiquette. If I had to pick a low time of the week it was definitely here. Getting out with a less than stellar time of 1:38:28 only made it worse. 

I was ready to move on to the next state.

Old Colony Half-Marathon: Westfield, Massachusetts

Quick description: Seven loops of an absolutely flat course in a mostly exposed park with some sidewalk running, some street running, and some stone path running.

As tired as I was, I could only imagine what those who were doing all six marathons felt like. A friend who had done double marathons previously but nothing of this nature unfortunately had to pull out of the previous days race and call the rest of her marathons off for this trip. She had sustained some sort of injury and wisely, even if it was extremely difficult, stopped running and stayed to cheer on her friend for the final two.

By now I learned that the speedster from the day before would be running the last two halfs as well. So right off the bat the wins were out the door and the window for getting a podium finish was narrowing. There were, however, two marathon runners who were running solid times and I was able to use them to help my pace even as first place disappeared into the distance.

It rained pretty steadily throughout and was cool, both which I welcomed. It was a bit of a mid game to keep my pace up and I was surprised I wasn't running faster on this completely flat course but it was also my fifth day in a row of racing. You take what you have each day and do what you can with it. For me it was my third straight second place in a time of 1:37:25. I was surprised it wasn't a bit faster but I think we had some bonus mileage on this course.

The Speedster, A.J., who I had heard had a PR of 1:11, was making his victories look easy as he lapped me with no problem with well over two loops to go for me.

Nutmeg Half-Marathon: Hartford, Connecticut

Quick description: Six loops of a golf course with a gradual 100 feet of loss over the first 2/3 of a loop and a less gradual two-stage climb on the back half. You can choose to run on the street or a trail for the first half.  Mostly exposed to the elements.

I had heard two days prior about the hills of this race and I will admit that they really got into my head.  They are indeed challenging but not too daunting. I had gotten another massage the night before this race as I was doing what I could to keep my body in check. I had been driving solo for approximately 500 miles between all the races but that was after I had already driven another 500 miles plus in the four days before as I toured Vermont. In addition, I was driving more than you would think because I was doing this ultradorky thing of trying to knock out counties in the United States I had never been to.  Fortunately I had a hybrid car that was giving me over 50 miles to the gallon. I figured I was out this way, I might as well kill two birds. I am happy to say that I closed out Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Once I visit the island counties which house of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts will be completed. Have I mentioned I am single?

I wished A.J. good luck on his victory and then fell into the rapidly-becoming-familiar position of watching him disappear into the distance. After two loops, I was surprised that an older gentleman was sticking pretty close behind me. The next loop he had halved that distance. By the fourth loop he was in my back pocket.

As we created the big hill, which was just about at the end of each loop, a car came zooming into the parking lot we were running in and, apparently trying to make his tee time with the Pope, the driver decided that if he hit me, that was collateral damage. Luckily I jumped out of his way just in time, which was an amazing display of dexterity here 5.75 half-marathons in. As the older chap behind me, Antonio, shook his head at the driver, I fell back for half a second to collect my wits. Antonio was now in second place as we hit the mat to begin the fifth loop. Adrenaline coursed through me and I soon passed Antonio again. on that previous loop I had actually felt a twinge in my calf muscle and slowed a good twenty seconds or so per mile. But here the pain was gone and I wanted second place. So I took off.

Antonio would tell me later that I had been running a perfect pace for him (I am so gad I could help all these people with my unplanned pacing efforts!) and he thought he might have a shot at taking me on the last lap but I zoomed away. In fact, my fastest two miles of the entire day were the last two. I closed it out in decent fashion taking 2nd place for the fourth straight day in a time of 1:38:25, my second slowest of the week.

I was very happy to be done.

My average time for these 6 half marathons was 1:36:18 with each day being my 95th, 89th, 69th, 104th, 99th, and 103rd fastest half-marathon times respectively (out of 113 lifetime halfs). I have often battled with doing this sort of racing where the times for the races are potentially admirable simply because of the number of races you run. I don't really like that whole "impressive because of the self-imposed barriers" mindset. But given where I was coming into this race, even taking out the driving and the pressure to not just show up but race hard each day, I am pretty pleased with how it all went. I am, a few days later, still quite knackered but shockingly unsore. I do not think there was much more I could have given each day than what I did and that, above everything else, leaves me pleased. If I won, placed on the podium, or finished tenth was all just a matter of who showed up. But *I* showed up every day. That's all we can ask from ourselves.

I have Gilbert's Syndrome with his a liver disorder that makes it markedly difficult to recover from strenuous activity. The time it takes to get refreshed from a hard race should take me more than the normal person. But for whatever reason, it doesn't.  My 52 marathons in 52 weekends, where I was setting seven new marathon PRs in the last ten races of the year is a testament to that. When I wrote my book Ignore The Impossible, it wasn't some catchy phrase mean to be hung on a doorway. It truly is how I choose to live my life. Don't bother yourself with what you should not be able to do. Don't worry if this doctor said you could never do this again or these friends told you to stop. Waste no time trying to prove anyone wrong.  Focus on you and the goals you want to achieve.

You will likely be surprised with the results and happier than everyone else in the end.