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!