Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Campwannarun Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 16; 2nd Edition 
19.3 miles raced in 2022 races
Race: Campwannarun Half Marathon
Place: White Bear Lake, MN
Miles from home: 22
Weather: 62; Windy; somewhat rainy

When I ran the snowshoe race after being a Minneapolis resident for all of six days, I was invigorated to race again, after two years of lethargy, mostly brought on by the pandemic. Unfortunately, the damage I did to my ankle from both the frostbite and by repeatedly ramming it with a snowshoe set me back a more than a few days. A week later, just as I was feeling somewhat recovered, I partially tore my calf muscle on a run. Taking 12 days off (after 14 days off earlier this year following some dental surgery) left me extremely behind where I have been every other year for the past decade when April came around. With a potentially difficult challenge coming up in May, I knew I needed to find out as best as I possibly could where I was fitness-wise. I knew it wasn't going to be where I wanted to be by a long shot, but where I happened to be was at least knowledge I needed. 

I remembered seeing there was a half marathon not too far away from me back when I was looking at nearby races for the upcoming year. A relatively low-key event, the Camp Wannarun Half, was exactly what I was looking for. It wasn't as flat as I would like for a race but the ease with regards to packet pickup and getting to it and parking and everything else seemed like it would be a breeze (It was.) So on Wednesday, I pulled the trigger and signed up. In spite of being quite nervous, especially since I haven’t raced in a calendar year, I was eager to take on the 107th half marathon of my life. 

Morning of Race:

Sleeping in my own bed the night before race is a luxury that I have rarely been able to take advantage of in my 20-plus years of racing. I am often racing across the world, and as comfortable as any hotel could possibly be nothing, is as nice as sleeping in your own bed, using your own towels and eating your own food. This ease of planning is the only reason why I can see why some people enjoy running the same local races year after year.

I got up the morning of the race and the forecast which had called for mid 60s at race time as well as some potential thunderstorms and wind looked like it was correct .The temperature doesn’t seem that high but it was the warmest day of the year so far here in the Twin Cities. As it has already topped the high 90s in the last city I lived in (Austin), I wasn't exactly complaining. But, of course for the guy who hates heat, it was the hottest of the year.

Check in for the race was fairly simple and I found myself back to my car with about a half an hour to spare. I took a quick little nap, ran to the port-a-potty right before the race began and with three minutes to spare I was heading to the starting area. This might be close to the 500th race of my life but I still get butterflies when I toe the line. I caught the last 30 seconds of the race director's instructions, walked to the pavement, gave a quick look at the competition, and away we went!

First 5K:

I had seen from the previous results that if I have run something that I was capable of it would’ve been relatively easy for me to win. But I knew I wasn’t there right now and was hoping that there would be one fast guy or a girl who would take off at the start and relieve me of any sort of thinking along the lines of "Crap. Now the three of us are gonna be racing all day long for the win, aren’t we?" 

Luckily for me, not only did a guy shoot out of the block but so did a young lady right behind him. With another gentleman between us I found myself in fourth place with two other guys jockeying for the same position before even half of a mile had gone by. We would stay in these same places for the first two miles until another young lady passed all three of us and pulled a little bit ahead. Over the next mile or so, as we left Bald Eagle Lake and the lovely lake homes behind us, it became the four of us jockeying for position with no one seemingly giving much of an inch.

To Mile Six:

As the miles ticked by I was quite surprised to see that I was running right around a seven minute pace. My goal for this race was to run around 1:33 which was ten seconds slower than I was presently doing. We left the homes of the lake and began running along a frontage road with no much of a shoulder.  It definitely could use a repaving as well.

I put one of the male competitors behind me and was watching another battle with the woman in front of me. At this point, as I had passed and then passed by the guy ahead of me, I had no idea where were would all end up. A little further up the road, the third place guy was closing the gap on the second place woman, who had once held a sizable lead. First place was out of sight. Go on with your bad self.

We were now running next to another lake (Otter Lake) for about half of a mile until we steered closer to the highway and more or less lost sight of the lake.  Or more accurately, with faster cars approaching, there was less enjoying of the scenery and more watching grills of trucks.

Suddenly, right before the fifth mile, I found myself on the heels of the woman in front of me. I knew I shouldn't stop the surge I was having just because I wasn't exactly ready to pass her so I went by with gusto. As we continued down this long straightaway, I was trying to reel in the guy in front of me as well. With flecks of gray in his hair I assumed he might be in my age group and I didn’t want him to win the age group without a fight. (Ends up he was 38, so just a youngster.)

On to Mile 10:

Turning off the shabbily paved road we were on was a joy because not only were we treated to fresh pavement, but we no longer had to deal with the traffic on the frontage road. Most drivers were courteous and gave us a wide berth. Some did not. It is a bit unnerving when you are paying attention but only half-so because you are wondering if your body parts are going to keep working and how in shape you are.
Unfortunately, around the 8th mile we really began to experience hills I wasn't expecting. Meanwhile another runner had passed me and I was quite surprised giving how large he was. And by large I do not mean in any way demeaning rather he just was a muscular fella who seem to be moving at a great clip.
I more or less felt I was going to be in this position with regards to the other runners for probably the rest of the race. I wasn’t gaining on anyone and no one seem to be gaining on me from behind. Six place isn't too bad, I guess.

Fortunately, these back country roads we were on were far less busy than the frontage road. But with all the twists and turns, and I soon learned a lot more hills, it was getting harder to keep track of the runners in front of me. For the most part, I could only see Grey Flecks and Bigger Guy and as the hills began to take their toll, they got further in the distance.
So here I sat in sixth place with each sequential place in front of me being almost the exact same
distance between the runner in front of them. Ever once in a while the course would curve around the beautiful lake we were running next to (we had rejoined Bald Eagle Lake from the North) and I could see what was happening far ahead of me. It appeared that the young lady running second was beginning to falter somewhat. I wondered if third place guy would eventually over take her.  (He did, but the young lass of 18 had a stellar showing of 1:32:05). I love racing like this where even while I am a competitor, I am still watching what is going on around me like I am a spectator. 
There was maybe a baker's dozen of spectators and a few volunteers braving the elements (heavy wind all day and some downpours later) to hand out little bottles of water. I tried to thank them all for taking time out of their day to make my day fun. As usual, my sputtering along, combined with the Doppler effect, probably had my complimentary words sounding like "thxfORBEINOuthere".

At the 9th mile I grabbed what was my only drink of the day. While the weather was a little bit warmer than I would ideally want, the cloud cover kept things relatively cool. The bottle of water was surprisingly cold as well.  Man, there is nothing better than a cold drink when you are racing and not much worse than a warm one. Also, here is where the rain that had been smattering sporadically really began to pick up and in the distance they were more than a few thunderclaps.  That will help you pick up the pace!
As I finished the small bottle of water and turned my head to throw it into the trash, the guy in front of me , who I had begun to pick up some ground on, apparently turned on the throttle. He was now out of my sight.
To the Finish:

I simply wanted to get to mile 11 because we would be repeating the first two miles of the race and therefore there would be no more unknown. Unfortunately part of the "known" was that we had more than a few rolling hills left to conquer. Here and there I would see Grey Flecks was gaining on Big Guy.  Looked like he would probably beat him in the end.  I, on the other hand, was just falling further behind. (Grey Flecks DID eke out a four second victory over Big Guy.  Would have loved to witness that finish!)

As I pushed forward feeling pretty good about myself I suddenly heard footsteps behind. I was shocked to see someone I hadn’t seen all day coming up to pass me. As there were a multitude of races going on at the same time, al lending in the same place and starting later than us, I thought perhaps he was in one of the shorter distances. As he moved by with ease I didn’t feel like I had much of an answer for him either way. But soon after passing me, he sat down about 20 yards in front of me and went no further. With about a mile left, I suddenly had a feeling that maybe he WAS in my race and perhaps I should attempt to pass him.

Unfortunately, I had too little real estate left when I decided to make that move. I closed the gap considerably but he ended up beating me by three seconds. I was pushing hard but not all out.  There was zero reason to hurt myself by doing some last second gasp to move up one place, if that was even the case. After finishing, I turned to him with a congratulatory fistbump and asked if he was in the half marathon.  He said yes and I said "Crap.". I almost never let someone past me in the latter stages of a race and here if I had simply known he actually racing me,I don’t think I would’ve let him either.  

All told, however, with the course conditions and me being the most unprepared I have been for virtually any race, I finished fairly decently. My time of 1:35:34 was not exactly what I was hoping for but was far better than it might’ve been for a variety of other reasons. I ended up seventh place overall and the only man or woman in the top 15 finishers who is over 40 years old. Not too bad for an out-of-shape old man who is just trying to get back to where he was racing a few years ago before the pandemic wrecked everyone's lives. 

This marks the first time I have ever run a half-marathon in Minnesota. In spite of the less-than-stellar time (only my 89th fastest out of 107) it will be memorable for me. It's my 30th state to knock out a half marathon in with a whole slew of them coming up soon. More importantly, this race helped shake off the rust and show me that while my training miles rarely impress, when it comes to race day, I almost always have more in the tank than I think.

While a bit tired the rest of the day and into the next, I was more than shocked to not be sore at all. Perhaps I have a few good races left in my after all!

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Book Across the Bay Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 16; 1st Edition 
6.2 miles raced in 2022 races
Race: Book Across the Bay 10K
Place: Ashland to Washburn, WI
Miles from home: 225
Weather: 11 degrees; Windy

I just moved to Minneapolis a week ago. My movers are still in the "We will notify you in 1-2 days when you can expect your belongings" phase. (They are about to get put on blast.) I have a variety of cold weather clothing in my moving boxes but just barely enough with me to get by. In addition, I haven't had any real desire to race in like two years now. All this did not put me in prime position for what happened yesterday morning.

I asked my friend Candice what she was doing that evening. She told me she and her boyfriend were doing a snowshoe race in Ashland Wisconsin, which 3.5 hours away. For whatever reason, within half an hour, I was in the car, signing up for the race over my phone and making snowshoe reservations (The only pair I own, which I won, and have never worn, were, you guessed it, in the moving boxes.) I left shortly after noon and the race began at 6 pm. I had to get my shoes, get to the packet pickup, and then get to the start of the race. It was exciting and invigorating!

When I got to the snowshoe rental place, I found out since I was planning on returning right after the race to my home (yep, 7 hours of driving for a 10k race) and they would likely be closed when I finished, they couldn't rent the shoes to me because I had to be the one who personally returned them (I was going to have a friend or someone return them the next morning.) Bollocks. They did, however, have some for sale. I looked at what I was going to rent, which looked like the size of garage doors, and the racing ones they were going to sell me, and decided I might as well bite the bullet and get me some racing shoes! 

The race began in Ashland, Wisconin, where I was buying these shoes, but ended in Washburn Wisconsin, where the packet pickup was. You parked at the end and they bused you to the start, so you would be near your car when you finished. Excellent idea but it was leaving me with diminishing time to get ready.

I pulled into my parking spot and then began changing into my cold weather gear in my car. I have no idea why I didn't wear it up to the race but I figured all that driving with tight spandex on wouldn't be that comfortable. Somehow I managed to get all the gear on without flashing all of Wisconsin and jumped out of my car ready to go get in line. More than a few people commented on my Texas license plate with remarks of "Slightly different weather, up here, eh?" To which I replied "Don't cha know!" I can speak the tongue, people.

It was a pretty seamless packet pickup and before I knew it was heading to the buses to go to the start.  I saw that the vast majority of people were skiing and not snowshoeing but that virtually everybody had a buddy. Poor Dane was all alone on the bus but at least I got the seat to myself.

At the starting line, there was a large tent set up (thank goodness) and with nearly an hour to kill, I am glad that at least human bodies create some heat, as they didn't have any heaters in the tent. As this was only the second time I had ever put a pair of snowshoes on my feet (the first was a race I did in Oregon seven YEARS ago) I had seeded myself in the second wave of runners to go out. I always try to respect the talent level of people who may be more experienced than I. I've found in 20 years of racing, I seem to be about the only one who actually does that.

One last minute bathroom break, then I jammed my winter jacket into a bag that would be transported to the finish, tightened my snowshoes way more than they ended up needing to be tightened and I started shuffling toward the start. I couldn't actually see if those in shoes should be in one place and skiers in another so I hopped over a snow wall that seemed manmade (but I can't figure out why it was there) and made my way to the starting line with mere seconds to spare. This was a large race. Nearly 3,500 brave souls, many with names that have umlauts, were ready to race.

As the sun slowly faded behind us, I think I heard someone say "Go!", all the skiers took off, and I followed.

First 3k:

Almost immediately I could tell that in my desire to make sure the snowshoes didn't fall off (a problem I had in my only previous experience) I had made them WAY too tight. I was doing my best to be as unobstrusive as possible to all the skiers around me, some who were doing the classic skiing and some doing the skate skiing you see in the Winter Olympics. I wondered how they chose which style to do while I nimbly ran around poles and skis and bodies. All I could think about was the end scene of "Better Off Dead" where Roy skied across Lane's bindings and he had to go down K-12 on one foot.  I didn't want to be a Roy here. Always be Lane.

I finally got over out of the way of most everyone else when I saw some other runners to the left. I stopped and quickly tried to undo the release mechanism to loosen the shoe. I think I did but by now I was mad I was losing time and just started running again.

The first mile was trying to find the right technique to run while my left shoe would occasionally clip my right ankle. I can say, in a word, yowch. Soon the ankle was numb enough from the cold that I couldn't feel if I had gotten better at running or just didn't feel the clips any more.

To the 7k mark

After passing the "3k Down, 7 K to go!" sign I felt like I had finally hit a rhythm. The sun had now set

behind us and we were following these amazing ice markers to stay on course. Like enormous fancy ice cubes, with the center hollowed out and some sort of kerosene candle (I think) in the middle, these markers were every ten yards or so for the entirety of the course. I can't tell you how cool this was.

Here I can also say how absolutely fortunate we were to have a tailwind. As the relatively balmy 11 degrees felt fine enough when you were exercising, it would have not been fun to feel the arctic blast in our face if the wind was going the other direction.  Every kilometer had some sort of bathroom or drink accompanied by a bonfire and those fires showed the snow whipping across the ice on front of us. Just gorgeous.

I was passing tons of skiers and a stray runner here and there and only a few skiers passed me. I felt like I figured out the shoes but when I tried to run harder, the tight bindings hurt my feet even more. Earlier this year I took one of the longest breaks I have ever taken in running to try to fix a wonky and sore achilles and heel and after two weeks of no running at all (but swimming and lifting weights) it has felt like I had never run a day in my life as I ease back in. My achilles feels much better but I am still quite wary of any little niggle. On the ice in the snow with these shoes on, I was even more worried. 

But on I trekked.

Heading Home

I had spoken to some very nice people before the race as we warmed ourselves in the tent who had done this race numerous times. They told me about an ice dragon at the 8K mark which breathed fire. I figured she was likely frozen in the head from the cold and nodded politely. But soon after the 7K mark, up ahead, I would see blasts of flame explode in the darkness. As I got closer I began to run with vigor as I knew I had just over a mile to go after I passed the dragon.

What a sight to see it was! Absolutely fantastic.

I began to knuckle down here with this final mile to go as I felt like I was doing far better than expected.  I also didn't want to lose a place to someone in another wave because I let up at the end and they knuckled me by a few seconds. So I gave it all I had, within reason from the pain of the shoes, and bit the bullet. I was now running as fast as some of the skiers and passing some at the end. The finish line lights once again illuminated the snow before us and the wind billowed across pregnant with snowflakes in a beautiful display.

My final few steps got me up and over the only hill on the course (I loved the elevation profile (flat) presented at the race!) and I finished in 51:53. I immediately took of my shoes and saw ice had caked on my now bare ankles, as my tights had rolled up. Swollen and already bruising from the shots they had taken from my shoe, my left ankle was sore. I grabbed my jacket, hoofed it to my car and immediately began making the 3.5 hour drive home. If I was going to be in pain I could at least be in pain in my own bed. Well, my own inflatable air mattress. (Seriously, movers, you have two days until you get your own post.)

I had seen what was reported to be the overall winner's finisher's time which I assumed had to be some sort of misprint. But upon further investigation when I got home I saw that the winner, in my freaking age group, nonetheless, was not only the SIX -time national champion in Snowshoe racing but did a snowshoe 10k this evening in a time I haven't even run a road race 10k! 35:54! However, When I saw that I had finished 6th overall out of 375 finishers, I can tell you I was indeed elated.  (My friend who told me about this race? First overall woman and her boyfriend was second overall man. Fast kids!)

For over two years I made the small sacrifice of almost never racing, never traveling, wearing a mask, and doing all the things which would not only keep me and my loved ones safe but also to help stop the spread of this pandemic. (How ridiculously self-centered and narcissistic are you to see how easily we could have ended ALL of this a year ago and just refused to do so?)  But all this time, I didn't realize HOW badly I was missing racing. This race brought out a fire in me.  It might still take some time to get into shape again, and I am definitely not any younger than I was not only pre-pandemic but pre-moving to the blast furnace of Austin which robbed me of five years of racing and training, but the fire and desire are there like they haven't been in a long time.

I am looking forward to stoking those flames!