2019 Superior 100

I’ve been reflecting on my 2019 Superior 100 race for the last few days.  This was my fifth finish, 6th start & 6th 100 mile race overall.  I ran this race for the first time in 2013, and made it 85 miles before lack of nutrition, heat & humidity caused me to drop.  2014 I returned and bagged my first finish in just over 36 hours.  I was elated to have pushed past that 85 mile barrier, climbed Carlton peak and finished with a smile on my face surrounded by dear friends.  2015 I went back and set a huge PR by running just over 32 hours.  That was amazing.  I actually out ran my crew that year by hitting an early morning aid station ahead of schedule.  I was on cloud 9 that entire race.  I think I even finished in the top 10 women.  It was amazing.  2016 I ran a different 100 mile race that same weekend - the Hallucination 100 in Michigan and while it was hard in its own way, the whole event paled in comparison to Superior.  So in 2017 I returned to Superior, struggled the last 25 miles, hiked it in & finished a few minutes slower than my 2015 time.  2018 had it’s own struggles, mostly leading up to the race.  Some personal things and a rolled ankle a few weeks before the race left me unsure I’d be able to get it done.  I started the 2018 race on an easy pace, and ran a super strong final 25 miles to finish with a 40 min PR and hitting my time goal in the process.  

Fast forward to 2019, after running such a strong race in 2018 I set an ambitious time goal.  I wanted to cut another hour off my time this year.  I figured I could do it if I executed the race similar to last year, but managed to stay just a little stronger over night.  I also thought it was possible if the trail stayed as dry as it was last year, because in 2018 we had PERFECT conditions.  

My training was good.  I tried to follow the plan Coach Jake wrote for me to the best of my ability.  I got in lots of hills, speed work as prescribed, and LOTS of time on my feet coaching this summer.  I was ready.  I was tapered, excited, well fueled and eager to get started.

Race week arrives, and on Wednesday evening Matt, Sandy (my Mother in Law) and I hop in the truck with camper in tow & head to Lambs Resort where we’d be camping for the weekend.  Matt & Sandy would be my crew.  Matt’s been crewing me since the beginning, and Sandy’s been with me for all 4 of my previous Superior finishes.  They’ve got the system down, and know me better than anyone.

Sandy & Matt. The finest crew I could ask for.

Sandy & Matt. The finest crew I could ask for.

The race starts on Friday, and we head to Gooseberry State Park for the 8am start.  Getting there about 30 min ahead of time gives me time to get checked in, use the bathroom & take a few pictures with friends before we head down the trail.  At go-time, all the runners start on a paved section of trail.  It’s 4 miles of pavement before we make the turn, go under Hwy 61, and start the climb up toward the Split Rock River on the main Superior Hiking Trail.  We’ll be on single track for another 97 or so miles before hitting the finish line at Lutsen Mountain.

Pre-race with Sandy, Matt & Awesome pacer, Chris.

Pre-race with Sandy, Matt & Awesome pacer, Chris.

Kelly & I ready to go!

Kelly & I ready to go!

My friend, Kelly, is running her first 100 mile race and we stay together initially.  She falls in line behind me as I set the pace on the single track.  I’m trying to stay conservative, comfortable & patient in these early miles.  At 7 miles in I feel a pain on the left side of my abdomen.  OUCH! I look and there’s a bee on my shirt.  I flick my shirt & off he flies, but not before stinging me twice.  Shoot, that hurt like mad!! Kelly is stung too, and we stop to assess the damage.  She’s stung in the ankle, and it looks like the stinger is still there, I help her by pulling the stinger out.  We decide that we’re fine, but sore, & bummed that we’ve been stung.  It isn’t long before we see a commotion just up the trail in front of us.  Another runner has been stung & is unable to walk, 4 other runners are carrying him down the trail.  They’re asking if anyone has medical training.  My EMT training is almost 10 years old, but I stop to find out what’s happening.  Runners have gone ahead to alert the aid station that there is a runner in dire straights, but no one has had service to dial 911.  Cell phone service can be really hit or miss on the trail.  I pull my phone out of my pack, take it off airplane mode & I immediately have service.  I dial 911.  

To make a long story short, I spend about 20 min or so with the group of runners helping the man who was stung while on the phone with 911.  I have Kelly go on ahead since I didn’t know how long I’d be.  Once a race volunteer got to us, I gave her my phone which was still connected to the 911 operator for her to take over the call.  I headed on my way.  The good news is the runner who was stung, and nearly unconscious, was able to walk out under his own power after a second dose of an epi pen. 

After leaving the group, I arrived at the first aid station, checked in, grabbed a peanut butter & jelly sandwich and headed back out.  I needed to keep moving.  I saw Kelly leaving the aid station spur trail as I was arriving & told her I’d catch up to her later. 

I headed out of the first aid station with 9+ miles under my belt; the next aid station being 10 miles away.  I’d see Matt & Sandy there for the first time since the start.  I was moving well, really well actually.  I felt good.  I was knocking off the miles, I was passing people & I even caught up to Kelly in this section! I was flying! 

That was either a blessing or a curse....

I arrived at the Beaver Bay aid station, filled bottles, grabbed another peanut butter & Jelly sandwich & checked my pace chart with Matt & Sandy.  I was back on my ambitious time goal schedule..... While that’s great, I probably should have still been 15-20 min BEHIND that goal time at this point in the race, since I’d stopped to help that other runner...

I was feeling the miles already.  I was kicking rocks, and my legs had started to ache.  I was 20 miles in.

I tried to slow down and eat a bit more in the 5+ miles to the next aid station.  I arrived at Silver Bay on schedule, but definitely feeling run down.  I was behind enough on calories that at first glance I didn’t recognize my friend, Alisha..... I needed to do some damage control.  

Kelly and I had gotten separated at Beaver Bay, but caught back up to each other again here, so we left & had 9 more miles together before the Tettegouche aid station at 35 miles.

Kelly and I leaving Silver Bay aid station. PC Volk Family.

Kelly and I leaving Silver Bay aid station. PC Volk Family.

On the way to Tettegouche aid station, 9 + miles away, I tried to settling into a comfortable pace, and focus on getting in more calories. This is a beautiful section with Bean & Bear Lakes, Mount Trudee and the infamous drain pipe section before dropping into the chaotic, noisy aid station at 35 miles. I felt much better when I arrived here than I had when I left Silver Bay. My friend, Alisha, was there crewing Kelly, and she helped me get some anti-chafing cream on areas that were getting irritated and made sure I was eating well. Matt & Sandy were not meeting me here because this aid station is so congested, and I knew I’d be fine until I saw them at the County Road 6 aid station which was coming up at mile 43.5. I’d also be picking up my pacer, Chris at County Road 6, so that would be a longer stop to reset before night fall.

Kelly and I were still running together and having company made these miles flow by. On our way to the next aid station, the rain moved in, and for a short time it rained quite hard. It rained long and hard enough to soak us to the bone, soak our feet and make the rocks and trail slippery. My feet were feeling ok until they got soaked, and by the time I arrived at County Road 6, I could feel some blisters starting. Luckily that short rain storm was the only rain we had for the rest of the race.

Coming into County Road 6 aid station as the sun sets on the first day.

Coming into County Road 6 aid station as the sun sets on the first day.

At County Road 6 I take time to put on a dry shirt, dry socks, extra anti-chafing cream, add a long sleeve shirt to my pack, grab my lights and as much food as I can get in. Chris and I head into the woods on our way to the Finland Aid Station another 7.7 miles away. Chris will be running with me from now until mile 77.9. She will take me through the night and into sunrise on Saturday. She is a REALLY good friend!!

The night sections have a tendency to run together. We arrived at Finland, and met up with Matt & Sandy for the last time. They will be going back to camp to sleep and meet us the next morning at mile 77.9. I changed shoes, ate and repacked my pack with extra snacks. Soon Chris and I were off into the night.

Sonju Lake Road Aid station is another 7.5 miles away. From there Crosby-Manitou is a short 4.2 mile jaunt down the trail. These sections went by slowly, but uneventfully. It was rocky, rooty & dark. The little sliver of moon set early, and the stars came out. Chris & I eventually made our way to Crosby-Manitou.

I knew this would be a longer aid station stop. I needed calories, and was looking forward to my annual Crosby hamburger. Every year I eat a hamburger at this aid station and it always seems to perk me up & a nice change of pace from all the sugar I’ve been consuming. Friendly faces and super helpful volunteers make this a true oasis in the woods. The fire is warm, the music is upbeat & its easy to want to continue to sit by the fire. I tried to get in and out of here in an efficient manner, but I was still taking longer than I had in previous years.

Out of Crosby, it is a LONG 9.4 miles in the middle of the night to the Sugarloaf aid station. The technical downhill to the Manitou River caused my first (and only) fall of the day as I hit my backside on slippery rocks & tumbled into the bushes. Chris played the tough love card, and got me moving again before I could whine too much about it hurting. I’m so grateful for my friend who wanted to accompany me so many miles in the middle of the night down an unforgiving trail. I know this section well and was pointing out the campsites along the way as checkpoints that we were going to eventually get to the next aid station. The sun is coming up as we finally cross the cute covered bridge that I know as a final landmark before Sugarloaf. But my goodness, that aid station just wasn’t coming. Then there were the aid station signs that volunteers had put out telling us that we were “almost there.” Let’s just say that “almost there” at this point in the race is quite deceiving!

We finally reach Sugarloaf & I try to get some savory food in. I’m already tired of sweet things. Bacon, and hash browns seem to help & I’m eager to get to Cramer Road where I’ll pick up my next pacer, Willow, see Matt & Sandy, and hopefully pick up some energy of the marathoners who are starting at 8am from that same area.

In year’s past I’ve been out of the Cramer Road aid station before the marathoners and soaked up all their energy as their fresh faces, clean clothes & good energy pull me down the trail for the final 25 miles.

This year it would be close, and I wasn’t moving as fast or efficiently as I would have hoped. As we get closer to Cramer Road we can hear the Race Director giving final announcements and the music blasting from the speakers. I just wanted to get there, but again the aid station seemed like a long way away.

As we came out of the woods, there is a short road section before turning back on the trail that leads to the aid station. As Chris & I head down the road, here come the marathoners toward us. The fast runners sprinting down the road. And I knew we were all going to bottleneck onto the narrow single track I was about to turn down. I was not prepared to be seeing the marathoners here. I usually see them on the other side of the aid station, today my mood plummets. I’m definitely behind schedule. I’m tired. My feet hurt. The tears start to fall. I don’t want to lose my momentum stepping off the trail for the marathoners, but they are moving fast, feeling fresh, and I feel like I’m getting in their way. I step to the far right side of the trail, walking slowly, feeling sorry for myself. The feeling doesn’t last long as every single one of them cheers me on, wishes me good job, or some form of encouragement. My mood lightens. And soon a few more friendly faces, then my friend Eric is right beside me! He grabs my hand and we jog a few paces toward the aid station. I’m so happy to see him. I come into the aid station, and there is Matt, Sandy, and Willow, all ready to help me get ready to complete the final 25 miles.

I sit at this aid station, fixing my feet, eating and trying to get ready for the final push. I thank Chris for her company all night long, and hope she gets to go take a nap soon. Willow & I head off into the woods. It’s sometime after 8am on Saturday morning. I’m struggling, but energized with some fresh company, a new day & the taste of the finish line coming before dark, if I keep moving.

The next section is 7.1 miles to the Temperance aid station. This section has some demons from my 2013 race when I sat down somewhere in the section and refused to go on. I battle these demons every single time I run this section whether in the race or in training. As a result of frequently training on this section, I know it very well. We run some of the early miles, and then as it gets more technical closer to the river we slow down. I do need to go to the bathroom and I know there is a latrine in one of the campsites a long the river. I’m wandering around a campsite looking for the latrine when my coach, Jake, comes bounding through the woods. He looks fresh and happy. He’s running the 50 mile race which had started much earlier that same morning. There’s not another 50 mile runner around him. He goes on to win the 50 mile race and set a course record in the process.

I decide that I need to keep moving after not finding the latrine. It’s only about 2 miles now to the aid station, and I desperately need to find some cover. However there is no place to step into the woods. I can’t take in any more food unless something comes out… If you get my drift…

I haven’t taken in any calories in 30-40 minutes by the time I reach the Temperance aid station. Luckily there are porta-pottys there, and I immediately find an open one. This aid station takes a little longer because now I need to get in calories. I’m very low energy after not taking in food for 30-40 min before arriving there. I literally have to force myself to eat before I can go on. I logically know I have to eat if I am going continue, but it sure is hard to get those calories on board.

Pancakes and bacon for breakfast…

Pancakes and bacon for breakfast…

Trying to get food in, while Matt & Willow cater to my needs.

Trying to get food in, while Matt & Willow cater to my needs.

Eventually I get enough food to in to start perking up and head out with Willow. There’s only 2 aid stations left. The end is getting closer. This section is only 5.7 miles and includes the climb up Carlton Peak. This is another section I know well. We go down one side of the Temperance River, up the other side and make our way towards Carlton Peak. I’m still not moving that fast, and struggling to get food in, but we’re moving.

Eventually we reach the Sawbill Aid Station. I sip on some coke, grab a baggie of potato chips and we’re out of there. Everything hurts now, so stopping for too long just prolongs the pain. I’m ready to get this done.

Willow is a great pacer, telling me stories of her races, reminding me to eat, and handing me potato chips to munch on when I’m losing energy. The Sawbill to Oberg section is only 5.5 miles, and fairly runnable (on fresh legs) but it feels like it’s taking forever. The end is so close, but yet so far.

It’s somewhere in this section that Willow announces that it’s 6pm. “Wait, what?” I say. I know I have 3 hours or so of running left, and this is a hit to my mood. If it’s 6pm I’m going to be finishing in the dark and worrying about final race cut offs. I immediately burst into tears. I’m trying to choke back tears when I realize something. “Willow, are you sure we haven’t been running together for 6 hours?” I ask. She thinks for a minute, starts giggling and then agrees with me. It’s only about 3pm. We’ve been together for 6 hours. Whew! I’ll still be done before dark!

The Oberg aid station is a sight for sore eyes. It is the last stop before the finish & run by the amazing TC Running Company. I take a moment to sit & eat here, as I still have a couple of hours before I make it to the finish line. I’m not feeling great, but know that I’m going to bag another finish, and super happy to get this thing done.

Leaving Oberg behind. Finish line is the next stop. 7.1 miles away.

Leaving Oberg behind. Finish line is the next stop. 7.1 miles away.

The last 7.1 miles, are always a challenge. There are 2 big climbs, Moose & Mystery Mountains and then the view of the finish line about 2.5 miles from the actual end. You have to keep eating because if you don’t this becomes the longest 7.1 miles of your life, and eating is the last thing I want to do. You can’t go faster if you don’t eat, but you don’t want to eat, so you can’t go fast…. it’s a viscous cycle. Finally the roar of the Poplar River can be heard through the trees, and you know you’ve got it in the bag. After crossing the river, it’s up a wide trail to the paved road of Lutsen Mountain. Down the road to Caribou Highlands, around the pool to the finish line.

I jogged it in battling being light headed, and was happy to arrive before dark. 34 hours & 7 min after starting at Gooseberry Falls I finished. Greeted by awesome volunteers, Matt, Sandy, Alisha & a whole host of friends, I was grateful for the body & mind that allowed me another finish.

A big thank you the Race Director, John Storkamp, Rocksteady Running, and all the volunteers that put on these events. They allow us to push ourselves, and explore places of our mind that we might not otherwise tap into. I always find the domino effect of these events to be so amazing.

Finish Line. PC Sandy Leis

Finish Line. PC Sandy Leis

Now that’s true love. My main squeeze. Couldn’t do it without his love and support. PC M. Volk.

Now that’s true love. My main squeeze. Couldn’t do it without his love and support. PC M. Volk.

Superstar pacers! Chris & Willow.

Superstar pacers! Chris & Willow.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. And THANK YOU for your support.

Until next time! Happy trails and happy running!

Never Summer 100k DNF report

An adventure in the mountains.

I’m always looking for running events that will challenge me in new ways. One of my biggest fears is fear of complacency; getting comfortable & no longer growing. With that in mind I signed up for the Never Summer 100k held at State Forest State Park in Colorado. The race is about 60 miles west of Ft Collins in a remote section of wilderness that bumps up to Rocky Mountain National Park. 

The rumors of this race being a 100k that runs like a 100 mile race is true. It is remote, lots of climbing and a 24 hr cut off. I knew going into it that I would likely need all 24 hrs to get it done. The race starts at 9,000’ and goes up from there. 

I signed up for this race with my friends, Alisha & Jen. Matt & I drove out to Colorado with dogs & camper in tow, and camped with Alisha & her husband, Wade, at the Ranger Lake Campground. We arrived the Thursday afternoon before the race. 

Saturday morning arrived and the race started at 5:30 am. Our campground was about 2 miles from the start & we arrived with just enough time to snap some pictures, and listen to the pre-race briefing. 

With headlamps on, trekking poles attached to our packs, and a mind ready for a day on the trail, the race started. The first few miles we trucked right along on a two track trail with the slightest amount of grade. We were chatting & moving well. Soon we came to the first big climb of the day which would take us up 7 Utes peak. 

It was cool, but clear & we were right on our anticipated pace. I don’t know how many times we’d stop & say “it’s so pretty!” The views were amazing. 

I had been battling a head cold for the week leading into the race, and even though I was getting good sleep, taking all my vitamins & laying low in the days prior to the race, I still wasn’t 100%. I’d periodically have to stop & cough on the climbs and I simply couldn’t attack the climbs like I wanted to without my heartbeat jackhammering in my chest. I felt like I was having to climb so painfully slow to maintain a consistent effort. And while we were spending a lot of time around 10,000’ on course, I was struggling. I didn’t feel like myself at all. I couldn’t get my mind right. I’d have thoughts of DNF (did not finish) and I would catch myself and override those thoughts with a mantra- I am strong, I am capable. 

We arrived at the first aid station at 11+ miles on track, but feeling a little pressure to get to the 17 mile aid station ahead of the cut off. We had just done a ton of climbing & knew if the next section was anything like what we just did, we’d be hard pressed to get there in time. 

The next section climbed some, up to a beautiful section of high alpine meadow, but then it was a lot of downhill where we were able to gain some time on the cut offs into the next aid station. I was continuing to struggle and told Alisha & Jen to go ahead & I would meet them at the aid station. 

I was only a min or two behind them when we got into the 17 mile aid station where Matt & Wade were waiting for us. This race is tough to crew with how remote the aid stations are & the narrow gravel roads to access them. Many aid stations are hike in & as a result we weren’t planning on seeing Matt & Wade the rest of the day. 

We left the 17 mile aid station, and after a short jog up the road, turned onto a two track trail & started climbing. The clouds were starting to build around us & we could hear thunder somewhere in the distance, although it felt ominously close. When we turned onto the trail, the course marshal warned us not to climb too high if there was lightening. Not knowing what was ahead, being well within tree line & only a few sprinkles we climbed on. The climb continued & we would go from sprinkles to sun with rumbles of thunder. Jen & Alisha were climbing stronger than I was and were up the trail but still within sight. We turned off the main trail & headed straight up what seemed like a game trail, my mile split times were continuing to get slower. I was having to stop more often to catch my breath. The thunder continued to rumble & clouds were building. We continued straight up the mountain - literally, so steep that I was at risk of falling backwards if I leaned back at all. I was using my poles to help pull myself up & going one slow step at a time. I was starting to get worried, I was red-lining my effort & this wasn’t even what was considered the hardest part of the course. I was near tears. I was definitely outside of my comfort zone. We were coming out of the trees, still climbing  straight up when an course Marshall/first responder told us to not go over the summit of the mountain we were climbing,  but to skirt around the edge of it. This still required another couple hundred feet of going straight up the face of the mountain. We saw the area he wanted us to take, but it was still exposed, and the clouds were getting even thicker. We had to go along the side of the mountain, it was so steep that my right hand could touch the ground next to me. One wrong step & it was a long way down. The rocks were loose, and you weren’t sure if the step you took would hold. The rocks scattering down the mountainside were echoing my thoughts of how dangerous this was. But we had to keep moving forward. We could see the open saddle we needed to cross & the trail ahead, but it was still all above tree line & completely exposed to the elements. After 45 min we got across the mountain & were making our way across the saddle when the weather really started to deteriorate. We stopped and put on our jackets & kept moving as quickly as possible. I just kept thinking we need to get out of here. The thunder rumbled, then the lightening strikes & then the hail & driving winds. We had to take cover. We went over the edge of the ridge, still above tree line & hunkered down. The pounding hail was incredibly painful. We sat down, trying to make ourselves as small possible while the worst of it passed. The hail let up & we continued on in the driving rain. We needed to get to that next aid station. We needed to get below tree line. I was freezing & soaked to the bone. The wind was still howling & even with gloves on I couldn’t feel my hands to hold my poles. We finally get to a section of trail where we are protected & the rain lets up some. I am on the verge of tears again & desperately needed to get my wet gloves off my hands. My hands are so cold they won’t work. Luckily Jen helped get my poles on my pack & handwarmers out just as volunteer showed up & said the aid station was just up the trail. 

We scurried into the aid station, and shaking I was escorted into a warm vehicle. I could not stop shivering. The car thermometer read 43 degrees. There were 4 other runners hunkered down in the truck too. We were all chilled to the bone. 

I was done. Ready to turn in my number and call it. I had thought for sure there was a cut off at this aid station and they’d be pulling me anyway. 

Soon Alisha showed up outside the car & said she was going to go down to the next aid station 6 miles away. I was still shivering uncontrollably & it was still raining. There was no way I could go with her. There was crew access at the next aid station & I texted Matt & Wade to meet her & Jen there. I was planning on calling it at this aid station. I was in no shape to leave. 

Cell phone service had been very limited in the area & I happened to have perfect service at the aid station. I texted a few friends & tried to warm up. 

The other runners in the truck were talking about heading down to the next aid station. It had stopped raining & the sun was coming out. From what I understood, if I stayed at this aid station, it would be a couple of hours before I could possibly get a ride back down the mountain to the finish & then I would have no service & no way to reach Matt to tell him where I was. 

I ambivalently decided to go with the other runners to the next aid station 6 miles away. I texted Matt I was on the way. 

The sun was out & this section of the course was mostly downhill. I started running & actually felt quite good. The temp started to rise & I was drying out. I even took off my jacket. I chatted with some of the others who were in the truck & we’d all been stuck on the ridge in the storm. 

My body & legs actually felt really good, but my mind was done. I was happy with my decision of dropping and enjoyed running in the final few miles. 

Two miles out from the aid station, the sky opened up & it started to hail... again.... because if there was any doubt I was going to drop, this was the nail in the coffin. Two hail storms in 30 miles, and I was plenty happy to go back to camp and call it a day. 

I pressed on to the aid station, in the hail, thunder & lightening, but at least this time I was well below tree line. Jen, Alisha & the guys were waiting there, ready to get out of the storm. Jen & Alisha has missed the cut off at this aid station by 2 min. We were all calling it a day. 

I have no regrets. I got everything I was looking for - a hard effort, pushing the edges of my comfort zone & an incredible experience in the mountains.

Until next time… -Kate

Road Trip!

Road Trip!

At the starting line. Kate, Alisha & Jen

At the starting line. Kate, Alisha & Jen

Early morning views

Early morning views

All smiles as we climb higher.

All smiles as we climb higher.

Making our way around Lake Agnes

Making our way around Lake Agnes

Lots of rocks!

Lots of rocks!

Some steep climbing on the way up Diamond Peak

Some steep climbing on the way up Diamond Peak

Less than excited about the second hail storm of the day.  This was when I was hiking it in at the end.

Less than excited about the second hail storm of the day. This was when I was hiking it in at the end.

Superior 100 2018 Edition

“Don’t let your past dictate your future.” 

 This statement was at the forefront of my mind during the Superior 100 this year.  It was a quote in an article written by fellow ultra runner, Susan Donnelly, that she had posted on social media in the days leading up to this year’s race.  You can find the article in its entirety here: http://susanidonnelly.com/blog/my-dad-fort-knox-and-your-future 

Speaking of the days leading up to Superior, it had been quite a rollercoaster.  My summer of running, racing and training had been going well.  I set a 10 minute personal best at my favorite 50 miler, the Voyageur 50 mile trail race, the last weekend in July.  I ran the Marquette 50k trail race 2 weeks later on tired legs, and little sleep as a final long training weekend.  After that I was really looking forward to a nice taper before my goal race of the season the Superior Fall Trail Races 100 miler.

 One week after Marquette, in the first mile of my Saturday morning long run, I stepped on a rock or root and immediately turned my ankle.  I had injured the same ankle on a run in April; it had healed and hadn’t given me any issues up until then.  It hurt so bad! I limped painfully back to the car where I was able get ice cold water on it right away. I was totally bummed.  I had no idea if I was going to be able to race in 13 days.  

 I spent the next 13 days tapering in a big way, with very little running, lots of icing, and trying to be as careful as possible.  I had no idea if it was going to hold up for 103.3 miles of rocky, rooty, single track trail.

 But I was definitely going to try.

 Race week arrived, and on Thursday morning Matt, my friend, Alisha, and I drove up to Two Harbors where the race would begin at Gooseberry State Park the next morning.  We set up camp, visited with my parents who would be with us for the weekend, and hit the pre-race meeting before calling it a day.

Pre-race photo by Ian Corless

Pre-race photo by Ian Corless

Friday morning we made our last minute preparations and drove to Gooseberry State Park.  It was a beautiful morning, and the weather forecast looked ideal.  Rumor had it the trail was dry, and conditions were perfect.

 At 8am after hugs from our friends, and words from the race director, we were off down the trail. It was going to be a 103 mile adventure in the woods.  

At the start with the best crew chief ever!

At the start with the best crew chief ever!

Almost time to “Unleash the Leis”

Almost time to “Unleash the Leis”

These ladies are rockstars!

These ladies are rockstars!

Alisha, Jen & I ready to go!

Alisha, Jen & I ready to go!

The first 4+ miles are on a paved bike path that runs parallel to Hwy 61 going north along Lake Superior.  I connected with Alisha, and my friend, Jodee (who paced me last year, and was taking her first crack at this event,) and we chatted easily those first few miles. Soon enough we crossed under the main road, and up the steps to the single track Superior Hiking Trail that we would be following all the way to Lutsen.  We wouldn’t see pavement again until we were within striking distance of the finish line.

We shifted into a single file line on the trail, trying to find our rhythm among the rocks and roots. It wasn’t but a few minutes into the single track that I stepped funny with my left leg, and my ankle gave me a “zinger.” Oh, ouch.  Crap. I hadn’t rolled it, but just a tiny bit of a funny foot placement, and it was not happy.  “Ok, be careful.  Watch every step,” I told myself.  I walked and ran, and made my way up the trail as carefully and efficiently as I could.  

 The first major landmark is the Split Rock River.  There were a number of volunteers there to help us navigate the river crossing since the bridge washed out a couple years ago.  I made it across with only the tip of one shoe getting wet. From there its up to the Split Rock aid station.  This came up faster than I thought it was going to.  Come to find out my GPS watch was a full mile off by this point – it showed 8.6 miles in, when we were actually over 9 miles in.  Ok, I was happy with my time given my conservative start once I realized the discrepancy with my watch.  

 10 more miles and we were at the first aid station (Beaver Bay) where crews were allowed. It’s always fun to come in here, since there is so much excitement.  Just about everyone’s crew is here and the energy is over the top.  

 I really try to spend as little time as possible in aid stations, but after finding the one muddy spot on the trail, and going over my shoes, I needed to change socks.  I took the time to change socks, refill my pack and grab a couple of cookies from the aid station table before getting back on the trail.

 As the day rolled into afternoon, and I kept checking off the aid stations, I started to worry less about my ankle.  I had found a rhythm and was moving consistently.  I spent most of the day running alone.  I didn’t mind the solo running.  In fact, I prefer it.  I was able to turn off my brain, soak up the day, and keep moving. 

On top of Mt Trudee. PC Cole Peyton

On top of Mt Trudee. PC Cole Peyton

Friday afternoon miles. PC Dan LaPlante

Friday afternoon miles. PC Dan LaPlante

Navigating the rocks and roots!! PC Dan LaPlante

Navigating the rocks and roots!! PC Dan LaPlante

The sun started to drop in the sky and the shadows were getting longer.  I was getting closer to the County Road 6 aid station at 43+ miles where I would prepare for sundown and pick up my pacer, Robyn. Robyn and I would run the entire night together.  Having a pacer overnight can really help those miles go by more quickly.

I got into the aid station at 7:30pm where my crew was waiting with my waist light, extra layers and a chicken wrap.  I was ready for some “real” food, after fueling on pb&j, tailwind, gels, honey stinger waffles, and who knows what else! I’m lucky that I can eat most anything during these events and not suffer any significant stomach upset. Many runners are not that fortunate.

It was still warm, so I tied a long sleeve shirt around my waist, finished my wrap, and grabbed Robyn.  It was time to go into the night.

The next 7 miles went by quickly as we chatted about who knows what… the sun set and it got totally dark, but before long we were following the spur trail into the Finland aid station at 51 miles.  This would be the last time I saw my crew until morning.  It was about 10:00pm and I fueled up on mashed potatoes and bacon.  So delicious.  I didn’t have much more I needed to do, so Robyn and I headed off back down the trail. The more time spent at the aid stations, the later your finish time is going to be, so I really try to be efficient in them.  

Another 7 miles and we arrived at the Sonju Lake aid station where there is no crew access. This is a quiet mirage in the middle of nowhere compared to some of the other aid stations.  I didn’t need much here, some food, a refill of water in my pack, and we were on our way. 

 The night was beautiful.  I felt like I was still moving consistently.  4 more miles and we came to the Crosby aid station where I had packed a drop bag with essentials to get me through the night.  I spent longer here, enjoying what I call the “best, worst hamburgers” (they’re only good because it’s the middle of the night and you’re in the middle of the wilderness,) going through my drop bag, dumping the rocks out of my shoes and spending a few minutes in the pit toilet (hooray for not having to squat!)  

The Crosby section is one of the harder sections on the course.  At 9.4 miles it’s one of the longer sections.  It starts with a long decent to the Manitou River, then it’s a long (really long) uphill to Horseshoe Ridge.  From there it’s some nondescript single track to the Caribou River, then some runnable trail to a covered bridge and then another mile or so to the aid station.  I have done this section a number of times in the daylight during training, so I can learn the landmarks and be better mentally prepared for this long, dark, section.  I’d like to say it helped, and it may have, but I still struggled.  

 Robyn was doing an awesome job of keeping me entertained with stories of kids, backpacking, the boundary waters, cats, and life in general, but I still felt like this section would never end.  At one point we even came upon another runner and his pacer taking a nap along the trail, and it really startled me because at first glance, I didn’t think they were napping! I was sure they were dead! Luckily they were napping, and a few miles up the trail they easily passed us.

I got behind on my nutrition here, and started to feel like crap.  Robyn reminded me to eat and drink more, and within a few minutes, I was moving better again.  I was starting to get on the up-down energy rollercoaster. Feel good, feel gross, feel good, feel gross… I’ve done enough of these events to know that it always changes, so you just “ride the wave.”

We finally arrived at the Sugarloaf aid station.  It was 6:15am.  Robyn and I had been together for almost 11 hours.  The sun was coming up.  It was turning into another beautiful day.  My crew was here, and Robyn was staying here to volunteer until the aid station closed later that morning (talk about a rockstar! Run all night, volunteer all day! Robyn is amazing!)  I decided to change shoes and socks here, and prep for a new day.  Bacon and hash browns for “breakfast,” new shoes and socks and I was ready to rock the next 5 miles on my own.  I put in one ear bud and cued up the music.  I was ready for a new day.

This section started great, but towards the end, my left knee started to give me fits.  A sharp shooting pain out of the blue would sideline me for a step or two then go away.  I hobbled into the Cramer Road aid station where the marathon distance event started at 8am.  

I like arriving at Cramer Road before the marathon start, to soak up some of the energy of the fresh runners.  I figured they had all headed out already since it was after 8 when I got there.  I had some more food, a Tylenol for my knee and picked up my pacer, Cary.  We were back on the trail.  I was in a low thinking my knee was going to continue to bother me.

What I didn’t realize was the marathon course does a little extra before funneling onto the single track trail, and I was still on the trail ahead of many of the marathoners. A number of friends ran by giving cheers of encouragement.  I was starting to feel better.  Riding the wave.  Finding my rhythm again.  My friends, Alysia and Natasha, leap frogged me a few times snapping pictures. Pretty soon I forgot about my knee and my ankle and any of my previous lows.  Riding the wave.  Life was good.

I got into the next aid station, Temperance River, had a quick bite to eat, and hit the trail in record time.  All of a sudden, I was a woman on a mission.  I was feeling good, passing people, and knocking off decent mile splits (for 85 miles into a race at least!)  I started to ask Cary about what time it was, and we started to figure out if I could break 32 hours.  Earlier this summer, my goal for Superior was to try to break 32 hours. I had given that goal up with my most recent ankle injury.  But here I was 85+ miles into my race, and feeling good.  Could I do it? 

“Don’t let your past dictate your future.”

Just because I hadn’t ever broken 32 hours before didn’t mean I couldn’t do it now… I needed to run no slower than 20 min pace for the rest of the race.  Now most of you could probably go out and walk a 20 min mile right now, but I was 85+ miles in, and knew I had a number of significant climbs left, and I didn’t know how much gas I had left in my tank.  

But I was definitely going to try.

And try I did. Up over Carlton Peak, into the Sawbill Aid station, through the fairly boring 5 mile Sawbill section, and into the final aid station at Oberg Trailhead.  I rolled in here at 1:45pm.  It was 7.1 miles to the finish.  20 min pace wouldn’t get me there now.  I needed more.  This section has 2 major climbs, Moose and Mystery Mountain.  I didn’t know if I could do it.

But I was definitely going to try.

I ran as much as I possibly could.  At Moose Mountain I hiked as hard as I could.  On the downhill from Moose, I passed my good friend, Stephanie Hoff, who was struggling, but would with no doubt make it in with plenty of time to spare; high fives and cheers from her and her pacers pushed me onward to Mystery Mountain.  A number of runners on the switchbacks up the last major climb gave me something to aim for, and I continued to pass as many of them as I could.  I know the landmarks toward the end of the course, and they started coming up – the corner where you can see the ski resort, but turn the opposite direction, the campground, the downhill toward the river and FINALLY the Poplar River - the last major land mark before turning off the Superior Hiking trail onto a two track that leads to Lutsen Ski Resort.  All along, Cary had been behind me, keeping me going, reminding me to continue to fuel, hydrate, mile splits and the time of day, and staying focused on my goal - getting in before 4pm and breaking 32 hours. 

I ran that two track, and road through the ski resort as hard as I could. I still didn’t know if I would make it before 4pm.  It was getting close. 

But I was definitely going to try.

 I rounded the corner of Caribou Highlands Resort, around the pool, and into the finish area – 31:56… I was greeted at the finish line by friend, and awesome volunteer, Julie, and my amazing crew and family, tears streaming down my face.  I did it.  I really did.  With all the doubts leading into the race, I still hit my goal of running sub-32 at Superior, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled.

Finish line tears. PC Sandy Leis

Finish line tears. PC Sandy Leis

It was one heck of a race.  I’m not sure what possessed me to decide to run sub-32 in the first place, but that goal motivated me to put forth my hardest effort yet, and a  33 min PR from my 2015 time of 32:29.

I could not have reached my goal without the help of my coach Jake at Trail Transformation, my amazing crew that included my wonderfully supportive husband, Matt, and his Mom, Sandy; my fabulous pacers, Robyn & Cary; all the wonderful race volunteers and Rocksteady Running.

And remember, don’t let your past dictate your future.

Top notch crew! My mother in law, Sandy, and hubby, Matt. Love you both!! PC Alysia Zens

Top notch crew! My mother in law, Sandy, and hubby, Matt. Love you both!! PC Alysia Zens

Thank you pacers! I couldn’t have done it without you!! You guys rock!

Thank you pacers! I couldn’t have done it without you!! You guys rock!

Until next time!
Thanks for reading.

Dirty 30 50k Trail Race Report

I started looking for a mountain race after the Tuscobia 80 mile Winter Ultra back in December. After finishing Tuscobia, I knew I was ready to test myself in the mountains, but I also knew I wasn’t ready for a mountain 100 miler. A quick search on ultrasignup.com brought up the Dirty 30. 

Matt and I had also decided that an out west camping trip was on the agenda this year. This looked like the perfect excuse to do both!!

We left Minnesota on the Wednesday evening prior to the race and we made it to Sioux Falls, SD, where we camped for the night. The next day we were on the road bright and early with Black Hawk, CO, our next destination. 

It was long, but beautiful; and at the end, a little sketchy on the winding, two lane mountain road to the campground at 9,000'. But we made it safely and had the camper set up before dark. 

Friday we hiked, hit packet pickup, and enjoyed a beer at a local brewery, dinner at the camper and an early bedtime. 

The race offered 3 Start times: 6am for 9-11 hour finishers, 7am for 7-9 hour finishers and 8am for the 4-6 hour finishes/elite runners. I opted for the 7am start time, figuring I could finish this in 8 hours or so. Leading into the race, I wasn’t worried about cut offs. 

The race offered a shuttle that picked up runners across the road from our campground. I got up at 4:15am, got ready and headed to the bus an hour later. 

While riding the bus to the start by myself I thought of the previous pre-race buses I’ve ridden and how different, yet similar they have all been. I found a kind of peace in this right of passage. It wasn’t long and we were pulling into Golden Gate Canyon State Park. 

It was chilly as the sun came up, but there was a spot at the start to drop coats and bags. We had to wait in line to check in so I struck up a conversation with the guy in front of me. He was a Colorado transplant from Cleveland, and we swapped stories about Midwest winters while we waited. 

Soon enough it was time to line up. They sang the Star Spangled Banner and after a few announcements, we were off. 

Waiting for the race to start.

Waiting for the race to start.

After short jog up the road, we merged into a single track trail.  Prior to the event I was concerned about the race being too crowded for my liking (I very much do not like crowds.) Come to find out, I needn’t be worried, as I ran alone most of the day. 

The Congo-Line of runners jogged up the trail, and it wasn’t long before I found myself totally out of breath and needing to walk. We were starting at 7000’ elevation and climbing, after all. My bib clearly indicated that I was a “lowlander” (coming from somewhere below 2000’,) and I was feeling the lack of oxygen already. I stepped aside to let some folks pass, and within that first mile I was alone. Another mile or so in I was warming up and stopped to take off my wind shell. There wasn’t another runner in sight. I honestly think I was the last person on the trail from the 7am start time. 

I was so happy to be out there; it was a picture perfect morning with ideal temps and a clear blue sky. The single track trail was lovely and when it flattened out or went downhill, I thoroughly enjoyed running it. But otherwise, I was hiking. 

After 5 miles and a glorious downhill section, I came to the first aid station. I was good on water and nutrition, so kept going. The trail turned upward, I started hiking. It was so glorious; I didn’t mind the slower pace to take in all the amazing scenery. 

There were course marshals on the trail at the potentially confusing trail junctions, and they were all having a blast.  It was fun to come upon them having a mini party in the middle of the wilderness. 

Early Trail Miles

Early Trail Miles

Singletrack dreams are made here!

Singletrack dreams are made here!

The view coming out of Aid Station 1.

The view coming out of Aid Station 1.

Another seven miles got me to the next aid station. I was feeling good and just so happy to have the sun on my shoulders (possibly a bit too much by the end of the day!) and dirt trails under my feet. I felt like I was moving well. 

The next five miles were really tough. A lot of climbing on some technical single track very much like the Superior Hiking Trail - except at 9000’ and climbs that lasted for miles. The downhill of this section was equally technical and I wasn’t making good time. I caught up to another runner and we chatted a bit which was a nice diversion, until we went off course… We only needed to backtrack a little bit before we found the course markers, thank goodness!

A bit more technical

A bit more technical

More rocks.  Going Up!

More rocks.  Going Up!

Amazing view from here!

Amazing view from here!

Headed back down.

Headed back down.

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally got into the next aid station at 17 miles. The runner I had been chatting with earlier was also there and she was asking the volunteers about cut offs. There was some concern that we may not make it ahead of the cutoff times. 

I took care of what I needed to at the aid station and headed out. The other runner was with me and she was really worried. I told her I wasn’t going to worry about it. I knew I was giving it everything I had, and that they would have to pull me, but I was going to keep moving and keep putting out the effort to get this done. I didn’t give the thought of not making it much time. I would do what I could and if that wasn’t enough, well then, so be it.  But it wouldn’t be for lack of trying!!  I came out here for looking for a  hard mountain effort and I found it.  I was soaking up every hard minute of this beautiful adventure.

The climb out of aid station 3 was long, but there were some lovely down hills to run to make up some time and my legs felt great. I was thrilled to run when I could!

I made it to the next aid station still feeling good, but knowing there was at least one more major climb after mile 25. 

Fueled up, I ran the downhill out of the aid station passing a number of runners. It wasn’t long before a course marshal pointed us to another trail that would lead to the windy peak section. The runners coming up this trail were looking rough. I was smiling and having a blast. I should have been worried about how bad those runners looked... I had no idea what was ahead. 

It was during this section that I decided that Colorado miles are different from Minnesota miles.... as this loop wasn’t that “long” but it took me forever to get to Windy Peak and back. This section was a loop with an out & back to the top of Windy Peak. The initial trail I had turned onto split to the left and we started climbing.  And climbing. And climbing.  I was dying, or so I thought.  I kept thinking that we had to be almost there.  Then in the woods we came to a course marshal for the actual turn off to Windy Peak.  He said it was just another .6 of a mile to the top. It felt SO MUCH FARTHER THAN THAT!  I’d already been climbing for probably 45 minutes. I could feel my heartbeat in my ears. I was moving at probably 30 min/mile pace & struggling to keep that. I leapfrogged another runner, Rich, on the way to the top. When we finally got to the top and our bibs marked with a “W” we took a picture and quickly headed back down. The other runners still coming up looked exactly as I had felt. Defeated.  Tired.   It was hard telling them it was farther to the top than then they wanted to hear. Rich and I ran down to the final aid station together. There was a Colorado “Eagle” there and I was so happy to have made it down from Windy Peak that I took a selfie with the eagle to celebrate. It was 2.1 miles to the finish. Yes! I would make it after all!

Top of Windy Peak!

Top of Windy Peak!

Happiest selfie with an eagle ever!

Happiest selfie with an eagle ever!

I filled my bottle with some water and got moving. Still running the down hills, my legs felt great. It was just my lungs that were tired from breathing so much that I was struggling on the up hills. I started up the climb back to the main trail & came across Rich taking a break in the shade. He caught up to me and we ran the last mile or so downhill together and finished with high fives at the finish line. 

It was super fun to run this race!!!  I was glad to be done, but had the most amazing time in the mountains, even if my 9:40 finishing time said otherwise! 

There weren’t many people hanging around, as we were only 20 min under the final race cutoff of 10 hours! I found my drop bags & the shuttle back to the campground. It had been an epic day, but I was ready to get back to Matt and the dogs. As I got on the bus, the remaining seat was next to my new friend, Rich, and we chatted about what an epic day on the trail it had been.

It wasn’t long and the bus pulled in across from the campground and I shuffled my way back to camp.  What a fabulous adventure I’d just had.  I was gloriously tired and dirty.  I have to say, I have the most amazing hubby ever, as he never once complained about me taking a day from our vacation to go do this.  I am so lucky and so grateful.

May the sun be on your shoulders and a trail be under your feet.  Until next time.

Finisher hat and medal.

Finisher hat and medal.

Just Keep Walking

This weekend I embarked on an adventure I won’t soon forget.  Back in August, Matt encouraged me to sign up for the Tuscobia 80 mile winter ultra.  Never one to shy away from a challenge, I signed up, and with guidance from my coach, started training.  Saturday, December 30, I lined up with my fellow racers in Park Falls, Wi, with temperatures around -15* F.  It was 80 miles to the finish line in Rice Lake.  We had 37 hours to do it in.  We could not accept any outside assistance from friends or family.  One could however get help from other racers, the race volunteers at the 1 checkpoint or stop at businesses along the way, but otherwise we had to carry anything we would need with us.

To carry the required gear, nutrition, water & supplies I would need, I pulled a sled.  Training leading up to this event included pulling a tire to stimulate a sled before we had snow, strength training, running, and then pulling the actual sled once we had enough snow to do it in.  Temperatures leading up the race had been mild most of the winter until the week before when an arctic blast settled over the Midwest, sending temperatures into the double digits below zero.  Going into this at that temperature was going to be a whole new challenge.  Things freeze very quickly when it’s that cold!

Friday afternoon before the race I met up with fellow racer, Angela, to ride to Rice Lake & split a hotel room with.  Traffic was bad, and it was slow going to get to race check in.  We got there with just enough time to do gear check before the mandatory race meeting at 7pm.  The race meeting lasted an hour, and we were getting hungry, since neither of us had eaten since much earlier that day! After the meeting we connected with a couple other runners, and headed to Perkins to get something to eat. 

By 9pm, we were checking into the hotel & nervously making last minute gear adjustments.  How cold was it going to be? How many layers do I need? Where’s my “oh shit jacket” (the warmest jacket you can find that you’d put on only if you needed to stop & bivy.)  It was probably after 11pm when we settled in and turned out the lights.  The 5:30am alarm would come soon.

The next morning we got up and got to the race headquarters to drop the sleds in the trailer and load the bus for the 2 hour ride to the starting line in Park Falls.  I had grabbed a donut at the hotel to eat, since planning breakfast had been the farthest thing from my mind.  As we rode up to Park Falls, I realized I didn’t have anything to eat! Who doesn’t plan breakfast?? That was quite an oversight on my part.  I was hoping for something in Park Falls, but given the remote nature of the race, I kept my expectations low.

We arrived in Park Falls, and were deposited at a church, which graciously opened their doors for us and inside they had hot coffee and more donuts! So, I had a second donut…. I wouldn’t recommend fueling for an event on donuts, but given my lack of forethought, it would be what it was going to be….

At 10am we were lined up outside and with a quick announcement, we were off into the chilly air.  The first few miles we tried to find our rhythm on the trail and get warm after standing around at the start.  I enjoyed chatting with some folks along the way, but it’s hard to talk and hear when you’re so covered and the sound of the sled is rumbling along behind you.  It didn’t take long for everyone to get spread out.  From then on, all you could see were the blinkie lights of others down the trail.

As with most ultra and running events, this is a solo endeavor, and you spend quite a bit of time alone, but it is the community of the other athletes, volunteers, and friends cheering on from home, that keep you moving.

As the morning turned to afternoon, the sun was bright, the snow was crunchy, and I was moving well.  It was a beautiful day; I was warm in all my layers, and happy to be out experiencing it all.  At 25 or so miles, I dug out my phone and sent a couple texts to my mom & Matt let them know I was fine.  The sun would be setting soon, and I knew they were curious how it was going.  I had to be careful how much I used my phone because in the extreme cold, my phone would die almost instantly.  I had to keep it buried deep in my pocket close to my body, so digging it out was an ordeal in and of itself!

Before sunset, we came to a road crossing where there were a couple of bars about a block away, I was feeling good, so continued on, thinking there would be something else soon.  I was still a long way from the checkpoint.  The race had 1 checkpoint at 35 miles near the town of Ojibwa.  I wouldn’t have minded a gas station to stop at to get some more food and water that wasn’t frozen to the point of being slushy.

I continued on, scanning the trail for any sign of civilization.  Nothing.  My hands were getting cold and I mentioned that to another runner as we shared a short conversation as he passed me.  He suggested to make sure to eat enough.  I was eating plenty, I assured him.  The sun went down, and I fully enjoyed a gorgeous sunset that will live in my memory, because I didn’t want to waste the effort & battery to get my phone out!  Soon my legs and my arms were cold.  I tried to eat more; I had peanut m&m’s, nutty bars, beef jerky… I couldn’t seem to shake the chill that was settling in.  And where is a gas station?? Nothing as far as I could see.  Time and miles started to move slower. 

The doubts and negativity started to creep in…  It’s so cold.  If you’re getting cold now, how are you going to make it through the night? Then tears started.  This is so hard.  Everything about it is hard.  Crying is a waste of energy.  Pull yourself together… Oh look, a brightly lit gas station! Thank goodness! Then the tears really started. 

I walked up to find a few other sleds parked outside, and a couple other runners sitting on stools in the back with the fishing bait and gear.  They asked how I was, and all I could do was shrug my shoulders and sniffle.  I needed food.  My logical mind knew that, but my emotions were all over the place.  I just wanted to quit.

I located a slice of hot pizza, a gallon of water and a cup of hot chocolate.  There were 2 other guys there who I had sat near on the bus, Mike & Brian.  As luck would have it, I would find them at every stop I made throughout the race.  I spent some time at the gas station, crying, eating, changing socks, adding another layer, and generally pulling myself together. I decided that no matter what, I would make it 4 more miles to Ojibwa checkpoint and then make the decision if I would continue on.  A few minutes before I was ready, my friend, Shawn rolled in, she was looking good, took one look at me and said, “I’m not leaving here without you.”  I was grateful to have someone to head into the cold and dark with. 

We get out on the trail, and she’s moving faster than I could.  But I can see her blinkie lights ahead of me.  Pretty soon, I find myself gaining on the blinking lights in the distance.  I catch up to her and next thing I know I’m moving well.  I feel like a new person. 

I’m even running some, I can’t believe how much better I feel.  But I’m worried about what’s to come if I continue past Ojibwa checkpoint.  Soon, I see the trail markers, pointing down a two track to the Ojibwa checkpoint.  I follow it to the checkpoint, and it’s a busy place.  A stone shelter in what feels like nowhere, with a warm fire, bright lights, and hosts of trail runners volunteering, taking care of our every need.  I walk into hugs, cheers, and more help than I knew what to do with.

I know I still need to pound calories; so grilled cheese and coke are on tap.  My neck gaiter, and hat are hanging by the fire.  Pictures are snapped, a real bathroom is out back, and after a little while, I know I need to leave.  But I’m scared.  It’s a long night ahead, and no resources after bar close in Wisconsin.   

My friend, Kari, who is an amazing winter athlete was doing the 160 mile option (yes, there is the option at this event to go 160 miles), her Mom was volunteering at the aid station.  I asked  her, “Rhendi, what do I do, if I can’t make it?”  She tells me, “Kate, you just keep walking.” But Rhendi….”Kate, keep walking.”  I get her phone number, just in case.  But I take her words, “Just keep walking,” and head out alone into the darkness.

It was 6 miles to the town of Radisson, I knew I needed to stop, if I had any chance of making it through the night.  I pulled into a bar, to find 2 sleds and some fat bikes out front.  Mike & Brian were there.  Yay for friendly faces! I wanted a hamburger, but the bar tender said at that hour (11:30pm) they only were serving pizza.  So pizza and another coke it was.  Calories are calories, and I needed them all right now.  I used the bathroom (yay for running water!), ate a slice of pizza, filled my water, and hit the trail.  Mike & Brian had left a little bit earlier, and we had made a pact – Breakfast in Birchwood (the next town 22 miles and 6-7 hours later.) 

This section gets a little fuzzy.  The most noteworthy parts were the moon (so bright I didn’t need my headlamp until it set in the wee hours of the morning), the solitude, and a few other athletes that I came across.  A conversation with a guy who was biking the 160 mile distance, and taking a break from riding, so he hiked & pushed his bike while we chatted for probably close to an hour.  I came across another runner who was struggling, who asked if I knew how to get a hold of help, since he wanted to drop.  We dug my phone out of a deep pocket and I called the race director.  He had help coming, and I needed to keep moving, since just that little stop and opening up my layers had caused me to get chilly.  Rumor has it the over night low was pushing -27*F.  I watched the moon move from over my left shoulder to in front of my right shoulder.  I kept eating, drinking, and moving.  I tried to think of another word besides “long” night…  I didn’t come up with anything. Any way you slice it, it was long.

I started to get impatient, looking for the town of Birchwood, I really wanted real food & my feet were killing me.  The moon had set, the wind had picked up again, and I was starting to get legitimately cold.  After what seemed like an eternity, I came across Birchwood and Ed’s Pit Stop gas station.  There were Mike & Brian warming up! Hooray, we made it through the night!

I was a bit of a mess.  As I took my parka off, the inside was covered in ice.  My fleece jacket was also covered in ice.  I was chilled to the bone.  I pulled off my shoes and socks to find 2 nasty blisters on my right foot and the beginning of a blister on the ball of my left foot.  Time to do some damage control.  I knew that if I was going to finish this thing, I needed to get warm and dry.  Plus my stomach was growling.  I was hungry!

 I spent a lot of time here.  Messages exchanged with Matt & Mom again.  I knew I had to finish this thing.  It wasn’t going to be easy.  But I had gotten this far, what’s another 17 miles…. Pain is temporary, pride is forever.

So, I ate, put on dry base layers, popped and dressed blisters, put on dry socks, different shoes, and loaded up to start moving toward the finish. 

This was the longest 17 miles ever.  A roller coaster of energy and emotions.  I’d feel good enough to run at some points, and then at other times, I’d be barely moving.  I needed to keep eating to keep my energy, but I was not at all excited by what I had with me.  One can only fuel on jerky and peanut m&m’s for so long… But I pressed on.  For 75 miles, you follow the Tuscobia state trail and then for the last 5 miles you turn onto another regional trail that takes you into the town of Rice Lake.  In the last few miles of the Tuscobia state trail, I noticed a truck parked at a road crossing ahead.  I knew it was Matt.  The tears started.  I just wanted to be done.  To crawl in the truck and stop moving.  I was so happy to see him and the dogs though! A quick hug at the corner and I had to keep going. 

Pretty soon I made the turn onto the trail for the last 5 miles.  It was wide open and straight as an arrow.  I was shuffling a long at a snail’s pace.  It would be a long 5 miles.  I kept looking ahead and hoping to see any sign of the finish area.  Although I didn’t know what it would look like, but just some clue that I was getting closer.  Nothing. I came across a spectator at a road crossing and promptly burst into tears again.  I was an emotional mess, but I just kept walking. 

There was something up the trail.  I couldn’t tell what it was, I kept staring at it, then I saw Matt and the dogs.  And then I heard the cheering.  What? I was done? This was the headquarters? And with that, more tears, I just wanted to be done, and now I was!! I couldn’t believe it.  I had persevered through the night and the cold, and made it 80 miles while pulling a sled.  This was by far, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

A full day later, I still can’t believe I did it.  I persevered through extreme cold, fatigue, blisters and chafing to walk/run/hike/slog 80 miles.  Only 50% of those that started the 80 mile finished.  This was not an event to take unnecessary risks, because risks could be deadly.  I have so much respect for everyone brave enough to start.  Thank you to all the volunteers who gave up their weekend to stand around in this cold, and to the race directors, Helen & Chris, who put on an amazing event.

Until next time.

At the starting line.

At the starting line.

Moving slowly toward the finish line Sunday morning.

Moving slowly toward the finish line Sunday morning.

Close Up :)

Close Up :)

The finish line!!! 

The finish line!!! 

Superior 2017

“ We don’t grow when things are easy; we grow when we face challenges.” 

As I think about Superior 100, running ultras in general, and why I sign up for these events, this quote speaks to me.  I don’t sign up because they are easy.  I don’t take on the necessary training to complete them successfully because it is easy.  I don’t push myself out the door at the crack of dawn or the heat of the day because it is easy.  I do it, because it is hard.

The weekend started on Thursday when Matt and I headed north.  We enjoyed lunch at the Duluth Grill with fellow ultra runner, Kari, and her family.  After lunch we made our way up to Two Harbors to check into the campground where we were camping with my parents.   We got the tent set up, and enjoyed some time together before heading to the pre-race meeting.

Superior or Bust!

Superior or Bust!

The pre-race meeting was a sea of people at the local 4-H building where it is held every year.  This year photographer, Ian Corless, was taking pre-race pictures of all the runners.  I picked up my number, got my picture taken, and socialized some before the meeting got underway.

Ian Corless Photo 

Ian Corless Photo 

Race morning came quickly and I woke before my 5:30am alarm.  After a little breakfast and coffee with my parents, Matt and I were off to Gooseberry State Park and the race start.

Gooseberry is busy with racers, crews, spectators and volunteers getting ready for a long day(s) on the trail.  I checked in, shared hugs, and well wishes with fellow racers.  There was so much energy, you couldn’t help but be excited for what the day(s) would hold.  A few pre-race pictures, a brief message from the race director, and at 8:00am we were on our way.

My main man.

My main man.

Stephanie & I ready to get going!

Stephanie & I ready to get going!

The first 4+ miles are on a paved trail that runs along Hwy 61 before heading into the woods and single track trail for the next 99 miles.  I had planned on running easy and just shaking out the legs this section.  I ended up running almost all of this section with my friend, Gary, and the miles passed easily, albeit, a little faster than I had planned, but I felt good, so I didn’t stress over it.

Into the woods we went, and I told Gary to go ahead of me.  There had been a lot of talk leading into the race about the mud this year.  I wasn’t worried.  I had run many sections of the course already this summer and didn’t find it any more muddy than usual.  I hadn’t run these early sections though.  They were muddy.  So muddy.  5 or 6 miles in, shoes caked in mud already, I stepped onto some boards, and my feet went out from under me.  I landed on my butt.  I wasn’t hurt, annoyed, but not hurt.  I pressed on.  Moving a bit more cautiously on the boards now.  My hip where I had landed started to bug me about an hour later.  I tried to ignore it.

Picking our way through the mud in the early miles.

Picking our way through the mud in the early miles.

We came to the Split Rock River crossing, where we would skip across the river on exposed rocks, guided by a line of volunteers.  It was super fun.  Friendly faces, and fresh water; carried by fresh legs over the river. Next up was the first aid station, a quick out and back on a spur trail leads to the aid station where no crews are allowed.  My friend, Chris, was working there, so I was looking forward to seeing her and checking the time to see how I was progressing.  I was in and out of there in no more than a minute.  Back up the spur trail, friends and other runners greeted me as they made their way down the trail. 

Split Rock River Crossing

Split Rock River Crossing

The next section, 10.3 miles, is the longest distance we’d go without an aid station.  My hip was starting to bug me and it was making me crabby.  It was too early in the race to be crabby.  It was too beautiful a day to be crabby.  I was doing one of my favorite things.  I decided to take a Tylenol, eat more, and make sure I was drinking enough.  Oh what a difference that made.  My hip was forgotten, and I was feeling better, chatting with other runners, by the time we came to the next water crossing.  This time, it wasn’t fresh, clear, flowing water that we could skip across on rocks… instead it was mid-thigh, stagnant, muddy water that you couldn’t see the bottom of.  In I marched, no need to give it a second thought, I’d change shoes at the next aid station and make sure my feet weren’t getting irritated from being wet and muddy this early in the race.

At 20 miles we reached the Beaver Bay aid station and it was a flurry of activity.  I found my crew, and quickly got a fresh pair of shoes and socks on.  My feet felt so happy with dry socks! Oh the simple things!  Fresh shoes and socks, a pack full of snacks and water, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich square in hand, I was back out on the trail 


I was feeling good, and enjoying myself before we came to more mud.  Slippery, gross, slimy, mud.  I picked my way through it, but once again, my feet went out from under me.  Grrrr.  I got up, kept moving.  Nothing hurt, at least mud is soft… Just taking a hit at my pride, that was all.  I was starting to get a bad attitude.  Time to reset the brain.  I decided that I needed get my head in the game.  I shut off the grumpy brain, and instead tried to focus on gratitude. 

Look around, notice the views (amazing), listen to the birds (happy), check in with the legs (feeling fine), keep moving.  Run with a grateful heart.

Enjoying the view of Bean Lake.  One of my favorite spots on the trail.

Enjoying the view of Bean Lake.  One of my favorite spots on the trail.

The aid stations kept clicking off; Silver Bay, Tettegouche, and soon enough I was on my way to County Road 6.  County Road 6 is a big checkpoint because if you get there after a certain time, you can pick up your first pacer.  It’s also where I figured I needed to get a dry shirt, lights, and ready for the nighttime.

Coming into County Road 6

Coming into County Road 6

I got to County Road 6 later than I had planned, but it was still light out.  I took about 10 min to change my shirt, add layers and lights and pick up my pacer, Chris.  We headed out and chatted all the way to the Finland aid station.

Chris and I ready to leave County Road 6 aid station.

Chris and I ready to leave County Road 6 aid station.

We arrived at Finland at 10pm.  I didn’t spend much time here. My pacer, Jodee, would join me and we’d run together all night.  I said good night to my crew, as they were headed back to the cabin to sleep, and Jodee and I took off.

3 weeks prior, Jodee, myself, and another runner, Laurel, had run this section.  Some how in those 3 weeks, the roots got taller, the sections longer, and the mud deeper.  It seemed like it took forever to get to Sonju Lake aid station.  I was starting to really crave protein.  I was eating at the top and bottom of the hour, but I was really tired of what I had with me (gels, sport beans, waffles, lara bars).  Finally arriving at Sonju aid station, I was thrilled to learn they had hamburgers.  I gobbled one down, refilled fluids, and headed back out. 

The night and the miles dragged on.  Finally the trail opened up to the road to the next aid station and I needed to run.  I had been basically hiking since Finland.  My legs had a different idea.  As much as I wanted to run, my right leg would run but my left leg was still walking.  It was hilarious.  Basically stuck in a shuffle, we progressed up the road, under a blanket of stars to the aid station.

I tried to not spend too much time here, and the details start to get a little fuzzy.  I know I was slower than I had anticipated.  It was cold, and I put on a second pair of gloves.  It didn’t take long before Jodee and I headed out – another 9+ miles to Sugarloaf aid station.  This section can be rough.  A technical downhill to the Manitou River followed by a long uphill on the other side.  Jodee and I both agreed that the climb didn’t seem as long as it did a few weeks before.  It seemed like it took forever to get to the Caribou River however, which is about 3 miles to the aid station.  After the river it gets more runnable.  I tried running, but it didn’t last long.  I was back to hiking.  This was taking forever.

We arrived into Sugarloaf almost 2 hours behind my anticipated time.  My next pacer, Alli, was waiting for us there.  She would call Matt and let him know how we were doing so he could meet us at the next aid station.  I decided to change shoes and reset.  It was almost light out now.  The sun would be up soon. 

Shoe change complete, pack refilled, Jodee and I headed back out.  Our friends Gary (from the paved path section) and his pacer, Tim, left just ahead of us.  We quickly caught up to them and shared a few miles of this section together.  It was fun to see them and chat about the race so far.  I was feeling good with the sun coming up, and began moving well.  I was definitely energized by the sun.  We arrived at the next aid station, Cramer Road, faster than I had anticipated. 

It was almost 8am when we arrived, and the marathoners were getting ready to hit the trail.  I didn’t stay here long.  Jodee was done pacing, and Alli was on board for the next few sections.  We hit the trail a few minutes ahead of the marathoners. 

Alli and I headed towards Temperance Aid Station.

Alli and I headed towards Temperance Aid Station.

Getting out that close to the marathoner start was a blessing and a curse.  I found myself stepping aside a lot for the fast runners, and losing my momentum.  But it sure was fun to see my friends who were running and soak in the cheers of the marathoners as they passed.  Seeing Silver Fox and Chrissy were definitely highlights!

Alli and I hit Temperance aid station, and were in and out.  The next section has a lot of runnable areas up to the big climb at Carlton Peak.  I knocked out a few 15 min miles here, and I was feeling good as I climbed the rocks up to Carlton Peak.  Just about a half marathon to go.  I could smell the barn.  Coming off Carlton Peak is a technical downhill then a nice easy section before the Sawbill Aid Station.  I was moving well.

We hit Sawbill, and I was craving protein again.  I was over anything sweet.  But there was nothing here except some chicken broth.  I sipped on that and we hit the trail.  I am not a fan of this next section.  It can be muddy, and feel longer than the 5+ miles it is to the final aid station.  I started to run out of steam.  I was still eating and drinking, but every time I would eat, it would be followed by about 10 min of nausea before I felt better.  So it went like this: top of the hour choke down 100 or so calories, 10 min later feel nauseous, then feel better, then need to eat again… repeat… I was starting to get crabby.  I didn’t want to talk.  I just wanted to be done.  Eventually, we arrived at Oberg, the last aid station.  From here it is 7+ miles to the finish line.

I was starting to feel blisters on my feet.  I was weary.  I needed to reset.  So I opted to change my socks.  My feet didn’t look as bad as they felt.  Alli & Jodee decided they would both pace me to the finish.  I was happy for the company, even though I had absolutely no interest in talking.

We headed into the final section.  I was motivated by the simple fact of getting done, taking off my shoes and no longer eating every 30 minutes.  The eat-nausea-energy cycle continued to repeat itself.  I struggled up Moose Mountain.  It took forever.  I picked my way down the technical downhill.  It took forever.  Next came Mystery Mountain and it’s beautiful switchbacks.  I had my poles, and I hit a rhythm.  Head down, poles, legs, arms in sync, I marched.  I was feeling good.  Then boom, I needed to eat again.  I was still far enough out, I better eat again, so another 100 calories down the hatch.  We had picked up 2 other marathoners at this point.  One was from South Africa.  I enjoyed listening to her accent.  We were getting closer.  I knew the landmarks – campground, river, two track, finish line.  I started a mantra in my mind: campground, river, two track, party.  With every step, I repeated it, campground, river, two track, party.  I pressed on.  After what felt like an eternity, I reached the campsite, then the river, then the gravel path to the parking area and road to the party (finish line.) 

Starting to close in on the finish line.

Starting to close in on the finish line.

I ran some into the finish line, but after a minute or two, slowed to a walk.  I had made it.  I had two amazing pacers by my side.  I was so glad to be done, and so grateful for another finish.  I didn’t need to rush; I knew my main time goal had slipped away, so I just shuffled it in.  It was wonderful to round the corner of the pool at Caribou Highlands where my crew, parents and friends were all waiting. Superior 100 finish number 3 in the books in 32 hours and 32 minutes.  3 minutes slower than my 2015 finish time. 

Finish line smiles!

Finish line smiles!

Love these ladies!! Wouldn't have wanted to do it without them!

Love these ladies!! Wouldn't have wanted to do it without them!

I love this race, trail and ultra running community.  It is really amazing that we live where we can enjoy wilderness, top notch events, and a community of trail people who support all facets of this sport.

Thank you to all the volunteers and photographers on the course, Rocksteady Running, my awesome crew (Matt, and Sandy), my patient and fabulous pacers (Chris, Jodee, and Alli,) my ultra supportive parents, and my dear friends, Jennifer and Jonathan for coming out to support this crazy endeavor.  It truly is a community effort.

And let's not forget these two.  xoxo

And let's not forget these two.  xoxo


Why do I run ultras? I have been asked this a number of times recently when people discover that I frequently do running events that are beyond the typical 26.2 mile marathon distance. 

I usually ask myself this during an event when it starts to get hard & uncomfortable.  Why am I out here? Why should I even keep going? This is hard.  It’s hot.  I’m tired.  I’m not having fun right now.  This dialog continues for a while until I get distracted, my mood improves or I make it to the finish line.  I soak up the finish line experience; go about my day and sooner or later sign up for another one.  So, why do I do it?

I don’t know that I have a singular answer.  So in a round about way, this is what I have come up with…

Fear of complacency.  My life is not “that” hard – I live where I have easy access to healthy food, safe places, and a comfortable living situation.  I enjoy my work. It is so easy to fall into a routine, sit on the couch, watch TV, not step outside of the comfort zone, and let the days and weeks run together.  It is so easy to get complacent.  It is easy to NOT do the hard things. 

Being in nature.  I love being outside.  I love being on the trails and moving through the natural world.  The birds, the critters, the changes in seasons; it all has value and adds to the experience.  I am not a fan of crowds, loud noises or a lot of chaos.  Finding peace and quite in nature is incredibly important to me.

I’m competitive.  Yes, I said it; I am a slightly competitive.  But mostly, I am competitive with myself.  Especially in running, you can’t control the weather, the other competitors or even the trail conditions, but you can push yourself on that day, and be competitive with yourself.  And that can take on a variety of forms that are beyond finishing faster than the last time at that distance or on that course – it could be figuring out your nutrition so you don’t hit a wall 2/3 of the way through the race, it could be starting out at an easier pace than you think you need so you can finish strong and not “death march” to the finish line or it could simply be the goal of being willing to adjust when things are not going exactly as planned. 

The community.  I love the trail running community.  The volunteers, the other runners, the groups that organize events, are all part of a great community of individuals all out to accomplish similar goals.  Meeting new friends and reconnecting with old friends are all part of the experience. 

The training.  Training for these events is no small under taking.  It requires patience, consistency, and putting the work in.  It allows me to stay in control of my health and in touch with my body.  I think this circles back to the point of being complacent – where you go about your day, and not realize that you are tensing your neck, eating poor quality foods or skimping on your rest.  Running allows me a chance to check in, see how I feel and where I need to make adjustments.  Do I need a rest day? Should I be eating more vegetables, protein, carbs? Is my body sending me signals that I haven’t taken the time to listen to?  This is all part of it.  Training also lets me connect with friends over a long run.  In this time of hectic schedules, combining running and friends make for a fun use of time and training.

Travel.  Doing these particular events allows me to explore beautiful areas in places that I’ve never been before.  It gives my husband, Matt, and I a reason to go camping and explore trails that we may not otherwise tried.  I’ve traveled a number of places to do events and found some spectacular areas that are just far enough off the beaten path you may not have found them on your own. 

This is the tip of the proverbial ultra running iceberg.  Not everyone needs to run endurance events.  But these are a few of the reasons why I do it.  I hope that you are inspired to do something that challenges you, gets you outside of your comfort zone and gets you moving in new directions, because you just never know what awesome experience is just around the next bend.

Until next time, happy trails!


Sunrise from the trail.

Sunrise from the trail.

Ahhh... nothing better than the peace of a pine forest.

Ahhh... nothing better than the peace of a pine forest.

It's time to get moving!

It's time to get moving!

Hallucination 100

Run Woodstock Hallucination 100 Race Report

Or, how to get by with a little help from your friends…

Every year for the last 5 years, I have had my biggest endurance event of the season the weekend after Labor Day.  Previously, it had been the Ironman Triathlon, or Superior 100 trail race.  This year I tried something new & signed up for the Hallucination 100 mile trail race in Pinckney, MI (which is only 2 miles from Hell, MI, so lets just call it Hell…)

The race is just over 60 miles from my parent’s house, so I was able to combine a family visit and the race in one weekend.   The event is advertised as “Run Woodstock – 3 days of peace, music & running.” It sounded interesting & different from any of the events I’d done before.  The course was 6 - 16.6 mile loops with aid stations every 4 miles, start time of 4pm on Friday afternoon, and cutoff at 30 hours or 10pm on Saturday. 

Matt and I, and Raleigh the puppy, headed to Michigan on Wednesday afternoon, with a quick overnight outside of Chicago before finishing up the drive on Thursday.  We arrived with plenty of time to relax Thursday evening & Friday morning before heading down to the race early afternoon on Friday.

There is camping available at the race start/finish area for those that sign up early enough to secure the sites.  Because I had registered fairly late, we did not have a campsite, and were required to park across the road & walk our gear into the start/finish area.  Matt was planning on “camping” out of the car parked across the road & occasionally meeting me at the aid station that was about half way on the loop. 


We have arrived!

We have arrived!

We walked my gear over to the start/finish area, and the afternoon was really starting to heat up.  The sun was coming out and the humidity was on the rise.  I was already sweating.  My heart sank a little, as I placed my drop bag in the tent, and then found a cool spot in the shade to wait with Matt & Raleigh for the race to start.  I was hot and sticky and had barely walked a half mile… This was not good.

There was a “mandatory” pre-race meeting at 3pm.  It lasted 5 minutes.  Basically they said that part of the course was on roads that weren’t closed to traffic, crossed paved roads, and to watch for cars…. I was not impressed. 

Pre-race meeting & start/finish line.

Pre-race meeting & start/finish line.

There were people milling around everywhere.  Setting up camps, wandering around.  More people than any of the trail races I’d been at before.  And I didn’t know any of them.  It was odd.  Trail racing in Minnesota is a small, close knit, very friendly group.  I wasn’t feeling that here.  I had the name of one person who was a friend of a friend, but couldn’t remember exactly what she looked like.  I tried to stay calm and not worry about the late start, heat, and unknown events that lie ahead.

Soon enough, 4pm arrived, and the 100 mile & 100k runners all lined up together.  The 100k runners had to do 4 loops, the 100 mile, 6 loops.  Any 100 mile runner could drop to the 100k after 4 loops, however. 

Raleigh and I waiting for the start.

Raleigh and I waiting for the start.

We ran through the campground before heading out onto the single track trail.  It was a conga line of runners, as we walked and shuffled along the trail.  The trail was soft, not rocky or rooted like the previous Superior Races I had done.  I was curious why people were walking, it wasn’t even hilly! But I tried to be patient, knowing that after awhile we’d all get spread out.  Sure enough after about 1.75 miles, we came out onto an open crushed gravel trail.  It was flat, and a great opportunity to let the group spread out a bit.  We ran that for a mile, and then turned back onto the single track.  It wasn’t far & we were coming into the first aid station at 4 miles.  It had taken me less than an hour, and I felt good.  I passed through the first aid station, and out onto a gravel road.  We followed the road for another mile and a quarter or so before turning onto another single track trail.  This section from aid station 1 to aid station 2 seemed long – aid station 2 was at 8.8 miles.  I crossed the timing mat and was sitting at 1:38.  My plan was to run loop one in 3:40 (as it turned out I ran the first loop in 3:25).  I left aid station 2 and headed to aid station 3 (which was actually aid station 1 again – you hit that one twice on each loop).  From aid station 2, it’s a two-track road up to a paved road, then you hit the single track trail again before meeting up with the gravel road that takes you back to AS 1/3.  I was excited that I was already back to AS 1/3 and headed for the Start/finish area.  I kept plugging along at a nice pace, feeling good, but geez, this section felt like a long 4 miles.  On every single loop, that last 4 mile section felt like it took forever! 

It's a little blurry, but we're headed off into the woods!

It's a little blurry, but we're headed off into the woods!

I came into the Start/Finish area after loop 1 feeling good.  The trail, I was hesitant to think, felt easy, and forgiving.  I grabbed my headlamp and a hand held flashlight for the second loop because it was only a matter of time before it started to get dark.  I left the start/finish AS just as the evening 5k got under way.   ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? I headed onto the trail, just as I had on the first loop, shuffling along, walking, and going really slow.  I was beyond irritated! I run trails so I don’t have to deal with crowds, and here I am shuffling along with a huge group of people??  Again, I talked myself into being patient.  “It was going to be a long race, stop getting so stressed out.  You’re going to want to walk later,” I told myself.  I took a deep breath, and soon enough was back out on the crushed gravel path, motoring right along. 

After this is where things start to get fuzzy.  The loops start to get jumbled in my head.  But this is what I know: it got dark, it started to rain.  And rain.  And rain.

I know that by the time I got to AS 1 on loop 2, it was dark, but it hadn’t started to rain.  I was basically running alone.  There were folks around, but I hadn’t really found anyone to chat with.  I met the friend of a friend, Linda, on loop 1 and we had chatted briefly before I pulled ahead.  I would play leapfrog with Linda throughout the race, and was always grateful for her cheerful words & positive attitude. 

By the time I got to AS 2, on loop 2, it had started to rain, but it wasn’t too bad.  It wasn’t cold, and after the humidity at the start, it actually felt ok.  I was moving well, and everything felt good.  I was continuing to eat & drink well.  I rolled into the start/finish AS at the end of loop 2 at 7:24.  Still under 4 hours for that loop. 

I was starting to get tired, so had some caffeine & more calories.  I saw Matt & I could tell he & Raleigh were getting tired.  I was hoping they could nap in the car while I continued on into the rainy night.  I could feel my attitude dropping with the continued rain and darkness, so turned on some music as I headed out on loop 3.  That helped some; until my IPod died.  And it started to rain harder.  I pressed on.  I connected with a woman for the last 6 miles of the loop, and we chatted some, which helped those miles pass more comfortably. 

Just over 4 hours later, I rolled back into the start/finish AS having finished 3 loops.  I was soaked to the bone from head to toe.  I knew I needed to regroup.  I didn’t see Matt anywhere, but I had my phone, so sent him a text letting him know I was in the AS (it was set up, so from the outside, you couldn’t see who was in there.)  I started to take off my shoes and socks, and get my feet dry.  That was my number 1 priority.  Get my feet dry, if even for only a few minutes.  I changed my shirt.  Matt came in with some hot broth, and that tasted amazing.  I was so grateful for the help.  He asked if I wanted a rain jacket, I said, “no,” I wasn’t cold, just wet.  I was still moving fast enough to stay warm.  I spent about 20 minutes in the AS, but trusted it was time well spent to get comfortable, take care of my feet, and regroup.  Matt said he’d meet me at the half way aid station this time around.  I told him to text my pacer, Cory, to let her know I was ahead of schedule.  I was still doing ok, and happy to have 3 loops in the bank already.

As soon as I left the protection of the AS, out into the rain, I immediately got goose bumps.  So much for not being cold…  Just get moving, I told myself.  I left the campground and headed out onto the trail, it was now a river of muddy water.  Within 2 minutes of leaving the campground I was in ankle deep water.  My heart sank.  I shuffled along – the hills that had felt nonexistent on the first loop had grown, and now taken on the qualities of a greasy slip-n-slide.  I finally got out onto the gravel path, it was pouring out in the open.  I told myself, “You are impervious to the rain.”  I pretended I was seeing the rain in my headlamp as if I was looking at it from behind a window.  “I am impervious to the rain.”  I kept running.  “The faster you run, the sooner you’re done,” I told myself.  I just kept repeating, those 2 mantras.  It was all I could do.  It was so dark.  I tried to look for any light on the horizon.  Any hint that morning might be coming.  Nothing.  It was dark.  It was raining.  I was starting to get cold.  I could feel my attitude sink.  On the gravel road between AS 1 & AS 2, the wind was blowing and I was down right chilly.  I was looking forward to seeing Matt at AS 2.  I tried to keep moving, but my pace was really slowing. 

I got to AS 2, and Matt was there.  I refilled my pack, and together we walked in the pouring rain up the two-track to the car parked on the paved road. 

The car.  The warm, dry car.  Raleigh, curled up in his crate sleeping. Oh, how wonderful it all seemed.  I stood under the hatch out of the rain, while I changed into a dry smartwool shirt and my raincoat.  I tried to eat a bit more, too.  I had to keep moving.  If I finished 4 loops, I could be a 100k finisher.  I’d be ok with that, I thought.  I pressed on.

Matt had charged my IPod and I turned it on, the music helped.  I was warm and dry under my jacket.  I was moving.  But the trail was a mess - a river of muddy water in some places, and a greasy slip-n-slide in others.  I just wanted to be done.  I knew Cory would be waiting for me at the end of this loop.  But I still had 2 more loops to go.  As I struggled through those last 8 miles on loop 4, I had no idea how I would finish 2 more loops. 

I walked into the start/finish area after 4 loops looking for Cory & Matt.  I didn’t see them, so headed into the tent to change my shoes.  I had to get these wet shoes & socks off.  I tried to keep an eye out for them, but from inside the tent, it’s hard to see.  I cleaned myself up, still wondering where they were.  I worked on not bursting into tears.  I still didn’t know how I’d do 2 more loops.  The trail was in terrible shape.  So muddy.  So slippery.  I was tired of being soaked to the bone.  After 15 minutes, I had new shoes and socks on and headed out.  There they were, looking down the trail for me.  I called to them and tried not to cry.  I had given Matt my phone earlier, so it wouldn’t get wet from the rain, so I had no way to tell them I was there.  My attitude continued to sink.

Cory, was so excited to be there, and that helped.  Other than 1 time earlier this summer, we hadn’t seen each other in nearly 17 years.  We did have a lot to catch up on.  So we headed down the trail.  We chatted, and kept moving.  I tried not to worry about how I was going to do yet another loop.  At 8.8 miles, Matt & Annemarie were there.  What a sight for sore eyes!! The 4 of us hiked down the two-track road, and then Cory & I were on our own again.  My energy level was on a roller coaster.  Up and down.  Up and down.  As we got closer to the end of the loop, my attitude got lower and lower; how was I going to do another loop? How?? I started to cry.  I just wanted to be done. 

I shuffled into the start/finish area with tears in my eyes.  The volunteer who had been there on every loop looked at me and asked me what loop I was on.  I said, “5” and he asked if I was going to go on.  Somehow I nodded my head yes.  He refilled my pack and I stumbled back to my drop bag to change my shoes yet again.  Annemarie & Cory helped get me cleaned up while I ate a hard boiled egg.  Thank god, Annemarie had hard-boiled eggs.  Seriously, who would have guessed? But all I wanted was protein.  I was sick of sugary gels, and bars.  I knew if I was going to even attempt loop 6, I needed food. As my two amazing pacers cleaned up my feet, I ate and slowly started to feel better.  At some point, the rain had stopped, so that was helpful, but the trail was still a mess.

Annemarie and I headed out.  The early section of the trail was actually in much better shape than it had been earlier.  We chatted, and moved forward as best as we could.  There were still places that were very slippery, and just trying to stay upright was hard.  I’ll be honest; this last loop was sheer determination.  I don’t remember much about it.  Annemarie kept me entertained and moving.  I wanted to be done and I had to cover the distance to make that happen.  So with sheer will, I pressed on.  I had no idea how long it was taking, and in the big picture it didn’t matter.  I just needed to finish. 

What I did notice though, was that the people I thought were in front of me, when I was headed in on my last loop, were headed out.  Maybe I was farther ahead of the pack than I had initially thought.  That charged my internal competitive spirit a little bit.  I marched on toward the finish.  That finish line finally came into sight and I shuffled across the timing mats.  I was so glad to be done.  I collected my finisher’s goodies – a straw hat, medal, belt buckle, sunglasses and age group award (2nd place) VW bug.   It was quite the haul!

My crew found me a chair to sit in and got my muddy shoes and socks off.  Shockingly, I finished without a single blister.  The chaffing from my shirt, shorts, bra and pack however, were a totally different story after being wet for nearly 26 hours.  My official finisher’s time was 25 hours and 56 minutes. 

Finisher's goodies!

Finisher's goodies!

Final thoughts – ultra distance running, while advertised as a solo endeavor, is most definitely not.  Thank you to my AMAZING husband, Matt; and my two fabulous friends, Cory and Annemarie.  Without you, I would not have finished 100 miles. 

I have no interest in doing this particular event again, for a number of reasons, which if you’re curious about, I’ll share with you individually.  There’s a ton of events out there, and some connect with you and others don’t.  While this was a nicely organized event, I just didn’t love it. 

Next up is TwinCities Marathon on Oct. 9.  That will be event number 40 in my 40 by 40 quest - my goal for this year was to finish 40 events of a marathon distance or beyond before my 40th birthday.

And if you've made it this far, thanks for reading!!! 

Voyageur 2016 Race Report

A few days ago, I ran my 5th Voyageur 50 Mile Ultra Trail Race.  This event has become a favorite of mine since I started running ultras in 2012.  The low-key feel of the race, great volunteers, well stocked aid stations, and a challenging course keep me coming back year after year.

I always have a few goals going into a race.  The first is to finish.  Anytime you step up to the start line of a race, you are taking a chance that you might fail.  This becomes even more of an issue as the race gets longer.  I always respect the distance; a lot can happen in 50 miles, and 10-11-12 hours on the trail.  You just never know what can happen or what condition the trail will be in or what Mother Nature might throw at you.  My second goal is to finish in less than 11 hours (and try to pace myself in such a way that my first half time & my second half time aren’t that different.)  My third, and stretch (if everything went perfectly) goal would be to finish as close as possible to 10 and a half hours. 

I made my first goal, and nearly my second goal.  I finished in 11:05.  I am actually really happy about this, even though it isn’t a personal best time on this course. I’m happy because I didn’t quit. 

That’s right.  I didn’t quit.  I wanted to.  I thought about it.  I wondered why the heck I was even doing it.  My favorite race, on well trained legs, with previous experience on this course, and I wanted to quit.  I got to mile 20 and I was really considering hanging it up. 

What went wrong?

Well, I started the day out great, running the first 3 miles with 2 amazing ladies, laughing, enjoying the trail, picking our way through the rocky, technical section that leads to Jay Cooke State Park.  Once we crossed the swinging bridge, the trail opens up and becomes very runnable.  I let my legs speed up and enjoyed the grassy ski trails.  The next few miles were good.  I was feeling good coming into the third aid station where I saw Matt, and our puppy, Raleigh.  I wasn’t sure when I’d see them again, so after a few words, grabbing some peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I was back on the trail. 

Crossing the swinging bridge 3+ miles in.  Endurance Kennels photo.

Crossing the swinging bridge 3+ miles in.  Endurance Kennels photo.

The next section was ok, but I was starting to feel tired.  It was about 10-11 miles in.  I kept pushing on, and made it to the power lines section.  This section is what makes this race so great – you go up and down these huge hills that are under power lines cut through the woods.  There is no shade, and the climbing and descending can feel never ending.  It’s steep enough that going down is tricky and climbing up sometimes requires the use of grabbing onto the vegetation along the trail.   I powered through this section well enough, and came out on the paved trail to another aid station.  I don’t know if I grabbed anything to eat here, and if I did, it wasn’t enough.

Splashing through one of the creek crossings early on in the race. Endurance Kennels photo.

Splashing through one of the creek crossings early on in the race. Endurance Kennels photo.

I left that aid station on the paved trail, and continued on.  But as I went, I was getting more tired, my left calf (that was bugging me in the weeks leading up this event) was nagging me, and as a result I was unloading it in such a way that the right side of my back was starting to hurt.  My mind started to panic. I’m already tired??? I’m only 15 miles in to the 50 total!!! My leg hurts, am I doing permanent damage?? My back hurts, and I’m tired, how am I going to make it?? The negative voices started getting louder.  The voices that tell you you can’t do it.   I was walking up a gravel 2 track at this point, really considering dropping out.  But I had 2 tylenol tucked way in my pack, and I decided that I would start with those, and if they didn’t help or they wore off and I was painful, then I would quit.  But I wouldn’t quit until I gave those a chance to work.

I walked into the next aid station at mile 20 with a glazed look on my face.  Luckily this aid station was packed with ultra-savy volunteers that recognized that I probably needed more calories.  One volunteer refilled my pack with water while I grabbed some coca-cola and a handful of cookies.  I wandered out of the aid station with a full pack, caffeine in my belly & a handful of sandwich cookies to eat on the way.  I continued to walk up the paved road that leads to the next section of trail.  When I reached the trail, I started to run.  And I actually felt ok.  The Tylenol was working; the sugar & caffeine were working.  I was moving a bit faster!

The next section is open, rolling horse trails before another aid station, and then it’s the final kick to the turn around at the Duluth Zoo.  The final kick to the zoo takes you across Spirit Mountain ski area and a lovely, long down hill to the aid station.  During this long downhill, I passed many of the runners coming the other way who were ahead of me and we waved, smiled, and cheered each other on.  My favorite part of this section came when I was passed by a large group of (what looked like) high school cross country runners running up the trail towards me, every single one held their hands out for a passing high five as we met on the trail.  It was so great!  Their energy and enthusiasm carried me to the turn around aid station at mile 25. 

I rolled into the aid station at 5 and a half hours on the clock - way behind my estimated time of 5 hours that I had told Matt to expect me in.  I grabbed some more coca-cola, and something to eat as Matt and Raleigh met me there.  He asked how I was doing, and we walked out of the aid station and up the hill together.  Apparently, he had been at the 20 mile aid station and left before I got there because he thought he missed me.  I have a sneaking suspicion that had I seen Matt at mile 20, I would have turned in my number and called it a day.  I guess everything happens for a reason.

Matt and Raleigh turned off the trail to head to the river to hang out as I continued my power hike back towards the start - 25 miles away.  I was feeling more like myself.  I was able to alternate running and walking the uphill section towards Spirit Mountain ski area.  I was starting to pass a few other runners along the way.

The second half of the race was great.  I felt strong; I ran every section I could.  I climbed up and down the power lines, enjoying the sting of sweat in my eyes as I baked in the mid-day sun.  I cruised through the aid stations grabbing another sip of coca-cola, and pb&j on the way.  I had gone from wanting to quit to “Beast Mode.”  Soon, I was back to the last aid station, 3.4 miles from the start/finish area.  I knew the last few miles were really rocky and slow, so I tried to stay patient, but move efficiently across the trail.  After 2 miles, I turned onto the final section of paved path before turning into Carlton for the finish at the high school.  I didn’t know what time it was, as my GPS watch had died hours before, and honestly, I didn’t care.  I was so happy to have made it through mile 20, find my groove and run a solid second half, that the time was not important.

Another reason I like this event, is that everyone sticks around to cheer other runners in at the finish line.  The lawn next to the school was packed with racers, spectators and volunteers.  You really feel the love when you cross that line.

Post race notes:

My calf still feels ok – not sure why it got so crabby mid-run and now feels ok.

I don’t recommend always fueling for an ultra on coca-cola, & sugar.  This was one of those times that what had worked for me in the past was not working.  So I did what I could to keep the calories coming in to keep moving forward. 

The mind is a powerful thing.  I always tell my coaching clients and athletes, “Where the mind goes, the body will follow.” I KNEW the negative thoughts were getting to me.  I also had learned that if I keep eating, drinking and moving, it would usually pass. 

I am so grateful for the opportunity to run, and be surrounded by amazing people who are a part of this community.  But most of all, I am grateful for a wonderfully supportive husband who is willing to spend his day going from aid station to aid station with puppy in tow, and a smile on his face. 

Matt & Raleigh.  Endurance Kennels photo.

Matt & Raleigh.  Endurance Kennels photo.

A hard earned finisher's mug!!

A hard earned finisher's mug!!

Hills, Sweat and ATVs

Otherwise known as the Crown King Scramble 50k.   This was quite an adventure and one of the more challenging 50k races I have done.

Matt and I decided to take a quick “Spring Break” to Arizona this last weekend for a little vacation.  We had some friends in the area and I found a race that fit my 40x40 goal.  (My goal is to do 40 races of a marathon distance or beyond by my 40th birthday in December.)  We flew out of Minneapolis Friday morning, and after an uneventful 3-hour direct flight we were on the ground in sunny Phoenix.  We had a leisurely lunch, found our hotel and enjoyed the company of friends on Friday night.

Soaking up some sun!!!

Soaking up some sun!!!

Saturday morning we awoke to an early alarm to make the final preparations for the race.  Our hotel was on the north side of town, about 30 minutes from the start at Lake Pleasant Park.  We found our way to the park in the pre-dawn light, and I checked in and received my race number.  The morning was calm, and the light breaking over the mountains was beautiful. It wasn’t long before we all were lining up for the 31-mile trek to the town of Crown King.

Pre-race.  M. Leis Photo.

Pre-race.  M. Leis Photo.

There were about 200 runners who lined up & after a few announcements from the race director (the color of the ribbons marking the course, watch out for ATVs, the course is not closed to other trail users, etc) we were off.

And we're off!  M. Leis Photo

And we're off!  M. Leis Photo

The first mile or so is on pavement out of the park, and it immediately starts to gently climb.  The course is an up hill course with the final 2 miles downhill to the finish line.  I started out trying to meter my pace, and run steady before the sun crested over the hills.   After the first mile or so, the course turns onto a gravel road.  There are some houses out here, but it’s very desolate.  The road is undulating with most of the up hills preceding a nice downhill.  There are a few cars, but they all slow down for the runners. The first aid station is at 8.5 miles and I quickly grab a couple snacks, and continue on down the road. So far, it’s going well, and I’m maintaining a solid pace.  At this rate, I could finish in 6 hours. At 11 miles, the course turns & there’s a sign for Crown King.  The road narrows & gets a bit rockier and less maintained. This is definitely a “jeep road.”  It wasn’t long after that we start getting passed by a few jeeps and ATVs - people out enjoying their Saturday morning in the mountains. The dust & exhaust, after being passed by these vehicles just hangs in the air.  I’m glad for my buff around my neck to breathe through when I get passed by these vehicles. 

One of the many Jeeps on the trail.  

One of the many Jeeps on the trail.  

It's a long, desolate road to Crown King.

It's a long, desolate road to Crown King.

Mile 15 is the next aid station, and the course has taken a steeper turn up hill.  No longer are the ups immediately followed by a nice downhill.  The sun is out and it’s starting to feel a bit warmer.  My pace has slowed some.  I come into the aid station, and refill my pack with ice & water.  I also get a volunteer to pour water over my arm sleeves – this feels amazing.  The cold water hangs on the sleeves and I immediately feel like a new person.  The sleeves stay cold for a couple miles once I leave the aid station.  I’m ready to take on the hills.  I’m power hiking the climbs and running whatever down hill or flats there are.  But it’s mostly power hiking, and my pace is slower than if I were running however, as soon as I start to run any of the climbs, my heart rate spikes.  So I’m relegated to power hiking the climbs & running whatever isn’t up hill!

The next aid station comes at mile 22 or so.  It’s in a low area with lots of shade.  They offer me a cup full of margheritas.  I politely decline, even though they sound delicious.  I refill my pack with ice water, wet my sleeves & grab some cookies to go.  The next aid station is another 5 miles away.  There’s more climbing, and more ATVs.  They come in packs, 4 or 6 of them at a time.  Zooming up behind you.  The trail is narrow enough that I step aside and let them pass.  They pass frighteningly close – one wrong move on their part, and I’m going headfirst off the mountainside.  Once they pass, I am left in a cloud of dust.  In my mind I try to extend them some grace – they are doing something they enjoy on a Saturday morning, I’m doing something I enjoy… But the fact is, I don’t understand it… And I’m sure they don’t understand what I’m doing – why would I run up a mountain when I could ride up it in a Jeep or ATV??  I try to put it out of my mind, but every time I hear the sound of another one coming up behind me I would just get angry.  The noise! The dust! The exhaust!! The fact that I have to step aside on the trail, when I am ready to just be done!!  I’m irritated to the point of nearly bursting in to tears.  But I just keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Climbing.  Moving.  One foot in front of the other.

Pretty soon, I come around the bend of the trail and I can see the aid station up the mountain ahead of me, and the trail stretching out behind me in the distance.  The aid station looks as it is on top of the mountain.  It’s such a tease!! I just tell myself I have to get up there, and then it must be the start of the downhill to the finish.  Was it 2 miles downhill or 3 miles downhill?? Either way, I know I’m close.  I find the spring in my step & power up the switchbacks to the aid station.  Helpful volunteers fill my pack with ice and water, wet my sleeves and send me on my way.  I take a few steps, around the bend only to realize, I wasn’t at the top…. I could see I had more climbing to go.  Ok, well there’s only one way to do it.  One foot in front of the other.  So I march on.  I see people up the trail, and they become my carrot – I reach them and pass them, offering a “good job” or “how’s it going?”   Finally, I come into a stand of pines; it smells different up here, like the forest.  It’s refreshing after coming out of the desert.  There are2 people standing up here, they tell me it’s downhill to the finish.  Only a couple miles left.  I check my watch, 2 miles to go.  Thank goodness for the downhill, I was ready to run after power hiking the climb the last few miles.  I run and my legs feel good.  I keep looking for Matt and Crown King.  I just find more Jeeps, ATVs and dust.  This may be the longest 2 miles downhill ever.

It only looks like a shadow from here, but there really is an aid station up there!

It only looks like a shadow from here, but there really is an aid station up there!

The pines, and the top of the climb!

The pines, and the top of the climb!

Finally, I see Matt!! The finish must be close now.  I come into the town of Crown King, and it is a busy place.  I make the turn to the finish line & collect my finisher’s jacket & mug.  I’m glad it’s over.  Crown King is noisy and dusty.  I find a seat at a picnic table in the shade.  It does feel good to sit down.  Matt comes by and we chat about our day – his 2 plus hour drive up here, my 7 plus hour ATV filled hike.  I grab a quick bite to eat, but it’s becoming very apparent – we are over it.  The noise, the dust , the ATVs.   They’re everywhere!! I quickly change into dry clothes and we hit the road.  It’s a long, dusty, road out of Crown King, but we eventually find the pavement & the open road to head north to Sedona.  It’s time for the rest of the vacation to start!!!

Finally, getting close to the finish.

Finally, getting close to the finish.

The town of Crown King.

The town of Crown King.

We had a lovely time in Sedona – hiking, hanging out & enjoying every minute.  The race was an adventure (a white knuckle drive in small rental car for Matt, and an ATV infused 50k for me) and while I’m glad to check race #33 off the list, I don’t have any plans on returning to do this one again.

Thanks for following along on my adventure!!

Until next time!

Psycho-Wyco Race Report

This last weekend I traveled to Kansas City, KS, for my 3rd running of the Psycho-Wyco Run Toto Run 50k.  This is a fun, well-organized race that provides a great training goal and opportunity for a change of scenery in the middle of a Minnesota winter.

I had been checking the weather forecast leading up to our departure on Friday before the race and it predicted dry and warm conditions.  I was excited to run in the sun and on dirt trails!!

After working part of the day on Friday, Matt and I hit the road for the 7-hour drive to Kansas City.   We arrived about 10pm that night.  It didn’t take long, and I was in bed with the alarm set for 5:30am. 

The alarm went off and I started preparing my drop bag and gear for the day.  Breakfast was coffee, a banana, and vegan chocolate shakeology.  It was a quick drive to the race start where I picked up my race number and this year’s hoodie.  The weather was chilly – high 30’s at the start.  I was in shorts and tank top with a wind jacket, knowing it wouldn’t be long before I needed to stuff my jacket in my pack.

At the start.  M. Leis photo
Soon enough it was time to start, and we were off, across an open area and up the hill onto the single track trail.  It was a little congested at first, and I tried to be patient.  After the first mile or so, runners were a little more spread out and I had some room to find my own pace.  The trail was in great shape – a couple of muddy areas in the first few miles and two shallow water crossings. Overall the driest this course has been in the 3 times I have run it.
Water crossing early in the first loop.  Mile 90 photo.

The course is a 3 - 10.3 wheel-measured loops  – my garmin came up short each time, but based on how much the trails winds and loops around, I’m not surprised garmin couldn’t keep up.  It’s a very hilly course with the back half of the loop being harder than the first half (in my opinion.)   The aid stations are close together and well stocked.  One aid station had home made cookies that were fabulous! Thank you to the volunteer that made them!! I asked for one on each loop!

The first loop went quickly and within 3 miles I had my jacket off.  It was going to be a warm day.  I made sure to drink plenty of water and sip on my hydrate electrolyte replacement drink regularly.   I finished the first loop in exactly 2 hours, right on my estimated pace.  I refilled my hydration pack with water, grabbed another bottle of hydrate, a couple bites of nutella tortilla rolls and I was off to start loop number 2.

I find the second loop of this course to be the most challenging because you know that you still have one more loop to do and there is a certain level of fatigue you start to feel as this loop drags on.  You know you have to do every hill again, and you know the temperature is going to continue to rise.  It becomes a mental game.  I was starting to get warm, but in no way was I going to complain about the heat! It was time to keep hydrated and sweat it out!  I have been dealing with some chronic calf tightness that presents itself as ankle pain.  I knew I was favoring that ankle some on the climbs because my right quad was getting extra tired.  I slowed a little on this lap and finished in 2:14.
Climbing up the dam with another runner.  M. Leis photo.
A nice downhill to stretch the legs.  M. Leis photo.

By the third loop, the remaining 50k runners are fairly spread out, so I ran the bulk of this loop completely solo.  I popped in one ear bud for a little music pick me up and focused on putting one foot in front of the other.  I was starting to feel the effects of the heat.  On the climbs I could literally feel my pulse in my head.  I knew I needed to be mindful of my effort and continue to eat and drink regularly.  I was starting to fade and my pace slowed a bit more, but I was still running a few of the non-technical sections, but I was ready to be done.  I saw Matt a few times on the course; he was like a ninja, hiding in the woods with his camera.  I knew if I spotted the car, he would be close by.  I saw him just before the last aid station.  It was a great pick me up before the last 2 miles and 3 big climbs to the finish.  I managed to wrap up the final loop in 2:24.  I was hoping to have finished the last loop a little quicker, but overall I’m happy with how it went.
One final time up the dam.  The runners were pretty spread out by now.  M. Leis photo.
One last crossing on the third loop.  I wasn't feeling as graceful this time around! Mile 90 photo.
One of the many climbs on the course.  M. Leis photo.

My official finish time was 6:40 – 4 min slower than last year, but that is ok.  Not every race will be a personal best time and even the same race from year to year can have drastically different conditions.  I also felt like I went into this race a little under trained for ultra trail running.  I have been doing a lot of cross training since really focusing on my personal training business the last few months.  Teaching group fitness classes, continuing to ride horses and helping clients one on one has left me with a little less time and energy to focus directly on my running.  But it’s all good – I’m so grateful to be able to do all of those things! Having the opportunity to help others lead healthier lives, and run long distances and still ride a few horses is truly a dream come true.  I’m excited to see what the rest of the year holds. 
Official finisher.  M. Leis photo.

Until next time!!

2015 Superior 100 Race Report

Wow.  What a weekend.  It’s taken me a few days to decompress and review what actually happened between Friday & Sunday & Gooseberry State Park & Lutsen Mountain. 

First and foremost I have to take a moment to thank my crew and pacers.  You guys rock.  Coming into aid stations, my crew worked like a well-oiled machine – filling my pack, refilling my snacks, and attending to my needs.  My pacers pushed me and kept me focused on the trail so I could reach goals that I didn’t even think were possible.  A big thanks go out to: My wonderful hubby, and number 1 fan, Matt Leis; John Magner who is 3 for 3 crewing/pacing for my Superior Races, I am so grateful for your support; my In-law’s, Jerry & Sandy who were eager to lend a hand at aid stations & kept me well fed post-race; my parents, John & Ellen, who drove for 2 days to be a part of this crazy adventure, and entertained all of us at the camper for dinner Thursday night; to Annemarie Arzenti, who keeps us laughing & made sure we didn’t take ourselves too seriously; and to Katie Leslie who joined me through the night during the hardest sections of the course, may the stories, laughs, and f-bombs we dropped along the way go down in history. 

Race Morning
I stayed in Two Harbors with my parents on Thursday night in their camper.  I actually slept remarkably well & woke moments before my alarm at 5:30 ready to get going.  The usual morning routine – coffee, pre-race breakfast (chocolate shakeology & a slice of toast with peanut butter,) a shower, and dressed for the race.  At 6:50am we left for Gooseberry State Park, Mom, Dad & Mr Patch, the Jack Russell. 
Pre-race coffee!
At the race start, I ran into lots of friends, and hung out with my trail buddy, Stephanie Hoff, for a little while.  Before we knew it, it was time to get lined up.  I felt ready.
Mom, Dad & Mr Patch

Pre-race pic with Stephanie Hoff
Gooseberry State Park to Split Rock Aid Station (Mile 9.7)
This year the course started out a little different due to some changes on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT).  We now had 4+ miles of bike trail before we connected with the SHT.  My plan was to run 9:30 min/mile for the 4 miles.  I looked at this as a 4 mile warm up before the race actually started.  I wanted to stay relaxed & not go out too fast.  At 30 minutes in my watch beeped cuing me to eat – I would continue to eat every 30 minutes for the rest of the race.  I had part of a Lara Bar while I jogged along.  During this section I had an opportunity to catch up with my friend, Kamie, who I had raced much of last year’s event with.  Kamie, Stephanie & I enjoyed some light conversation. 

Pretty soon the course turned under the highway, and connected with the SHT.  It was go time.  I continued to work on staying relaxed, walking the technical sections and the climbs and just getting into the rhythm of being on the trail.  Soon enough we arrived at the Split Rock Aid Station.  The spur trail down to the aid station is a fun place to see where you’re seeded in the pack, since it is only one of 2 places that is an out and back.  There is no crew access here, so I was in and out rather quickly.  Grabbing half a peanut butter & jelly sandwich to eat on the climb back out of the aid station.  I was 10 minutes ahead of my projected pace at this time.
Quick selfie before getting down to business!
Split Rock to Beaver Bay Aid Station (Mile 20)
Beaver Bay is the first opportunity to see your crew, and I was looking forward to seeing them.  I was moving well and at about 16 miles came to this long section of standing water.  At first glance, there wasn’t a clear way to go around it, so I opted to go right through the middle. That probably wasn’t the wisest decision… It was nearly knee deep in spots & filled my shoes full of mucky, nasty water.  I don’t get grossed out by much, but this totally grossed me out.  The next four miles I spent trying to decide if I was going to change my socks when I got to the aid station.  I wasn’t planning a sock change this early in the race, but this was disgusting.  I could feel the mud in my socks & shoes, and even though they were starting to dry, the grit was not going to do me any favors over the long haul.  I made the decision that I would change socks at Beaver Bay. 

I rolled into Beaver Bay at 12:25pm, a full 30 minutes ahead of my plan.  I quickly got fresh socks on, and my pack refilled, and by 12:30 I was back on the trail.
20 miles in with my #1 crew member!
Beaver Bay to Silver Bay Aid Station (Mile 25)
This is a seemingly short section, I don’t recall much here except for the fact that I found myself in the middle of a pack of runners I couldn’t shake.  After spending so much time on the trail training by myself, being in a large line of runners was a little stressful.  I was hoping the approaching aid station would spread people out a bit more.  I arrived at Silver Bay at 1:40pm, 40 minutes ahead of schedule.  I felt good, and in 4 minutes I was back on the trail.

Silver Bay to Tetttegouche Aid Station (Mile 34.9)
This nearly 10-mile section can feel long, but luckily I trained on this part of the course on 2 separate occasions, so knew what to expect.  I know that this helped me manage my expectations.  This section is also quite beautiful, as you climb up to the ridge overlooking Bean & Bear Lakes, pass Mount Trudee & then navigate the uber technical downhill known as the “Drain Pipe.”  Then it’s lovely single track for a couple miles as your cruise into Tettegouche State Park.  I found myself alone for most of this section, and didn’t mind it at all.  I continued to eat every 30 minutes, and I felt good.  Strong.  Confident. 
Coming into Tettegouche.  Robin Wirth photo
I arrived at Tettegouche at 4:20pm, 50 minutes ahead of schedule.  I was happy to see my parents here as well as the rest of my crew.  I picked up my headlamp here, just in case I didn’t make it to the next aid station before dark (I had needed it in previous years, and being stranded without a head lamp will really slow you down!)  I was back on the trail 5 minutes later.

Mom helping me out at Tettegouche
Tettegouche to County Road 6 Aid Station (Mile 43.5)
This is another long section – 8.6 miles – and can be mentally draining.  At County Road 6, you can pick up your first pacer, so that is always a pick me up after running all day alone.  I found myself mostly alone again in this section.  I passed a few folks on the way out of the aid station, and had a guy a little way behind me, but not close enough to really talk to.  I kept moving well, and having run this section a few weeks ago in training, I knew what to expect.  I also know that you can see/hear the aid station at least a mile before you get there.   I rolled into County Road 6 at 7pm feeling strong, and ready to continue without a pacer until Finland if needed.  I was still 50 minutes ahead of schedule.

Running into County Road 6 aid station
Lots of laughs!! You can't take yourself too seriously!
County Road 6 to Finland Aid Station (Mile 51)
Matt paced me this section, and I was grateful for some company.  We cruised along, and chatted about our day.  I was still feeling good, and I knew I was pushing the pace a bit more than what he was planning on.  It was here that it started to get dark & my headlamp with its high-powered battery pack was working great.  This section wasn’t too technical, but it started to wear on me as we got closer to the aid station, and the battery on my headlamp started to die.  I don’t think I’d even been using it 2 hours.  I knew at Finland I’d need to switch to AAA batteries in it.  I kept thinking that the aid station was just around the corner.  The trail dragged on.  FINALLY we crossed a bridge and saw the sign pointing to the left that signaled the spur trail to the aid station.  My headlamp was nearly dead by now.

We jogged into the brightly lit aid station in the little town of Finland at 9:30pm.  55 minutes ahead of schedule.  It was a perfectly clear night, and the temperature was starting to drop.  My main order of business here was gloves.  My hands were ice cubes.
Katie & I ready to go into the night!
Finland to Sonju Lake Road Aid Station (Mile 58.7)
Katie was now pacing me, and we rolled out of Finland at 9:35pm after finding gloves, batteries, and sipping on some hot chicken broth.  I had the first caffeine of the night at this point.  After feeling dumpy towards the end of the last section, I knew it was time.  I was starting to ride the energy roller coaster, and as long as the peaks didn’t get too high & the valley’s too low, I was ok.  It was all about managing my energy.  I started to anticipate my 30-minute feeding alarm because I would start to feel sluggish.  I’d eat, and I’d feel better.  Just like magic.

Katie and I would spend the next 21 miles together.  This first section felt ok.  A little slow due to the rocks & roots, but we made it to the next aid station feeling pretty good.  My headlamp was starting to fade, so I knew a battery change was going to be in order.  There are no crews allowed at Sonju Aid Station so Katie & I would be in and out fairly quickly.  Some hot soup & fresh batteries and we were ready to go.

Sonju Lake Road to Crosby Manitou Aid Station (Mile 62.9)
I don’t remember much of this section – it was dark, my headlamp wasn’t great, and we were getting frustrated by the roots.  I knew it was only 4 miles to Crosby, and the road into Crosby was a great place to check out the stars and stretch the legs.  Pretty soon we made it, the stars were impressive, and we slowly jogged up the gravel road to the aid station.

We arrived at the Crosby Manitou Aid Station at 1:45AM, still nearly 50 minutes ahead of my planned schedule.  I had told my crew not to meet us here, so they could get some sleep, and I had a drop bag with food, dry clothes, and more batteries.  The aid station volunteers were great, as they retrieved my drop bag, and got me “the best - worst “ hamburger ever.  The hamburgers here taste bad, but they work miracles!!  So I always have one!  After putting in more new batteries in my headlamp, we were off.

Crosby Manitou to Sugarloaf Aid Station (Mile 72.3)
I know that this is probably THE hardest section of the course.  Katie, on the other hand, didn’t know what she was in for.  A few minutes after leaving the aid station the course drops down, down, down, to the Manitou River. Then it climbs back up, up, up to Horse Shoe Ridge.  For me, there is nothing runnable about the first half of this 9.4-mile section.  Shortly after leaving the aid station, I was having more trouble with my headlamp.  It just wasn’t bright enough.  I was getting so frustrated.  Luckily, Matt had sent a “backup” headlamp with me, so I retrieved that and wore both headlamps together.  This helped some, but was barely enough light to move efficiently. Katie and I would mumble about the rocks, and challenges of this section, it was hard.  I knew there was a runnable section towards the end, but it seemed like it took forever to get there.  Finally we crossed another river and the trail opened up.  My legs were fried, but it felt good to change from hiking to jogging – or shuffling, as the case may be.  It was still pitch black dark, and I knew we were getting close to Sugarloaf where I was looking forward to meeting my crew again and changing my shoes and socks.

We finally arrived at Sugarloaf at 5:45am, an hour and 45 minutes ahead of my original plan and a solid 45 minutes ahead of when my crew was expecting me.  They were nowhere to be found.  The aid station volunteers helped me refill my pack, and I struggled changing the batteries in my headlamps (darn headlamps!!) my fingers were cold, and I just couldn’t get them changed.  Luckily Katie’s husband had met her there, and he gave me his headlamp to use.  Katie had survived the night with me, but was done pacing.  I told her not to worry, I would continue on alone.

Sugarloaf to Cramer Road Aid Station (Mile 77.9)
I left the aid station and turned on my ipod for the first time.  I knew this section was fairly runnable, the sun would be coming up and it was only 5.6 miles to the next aid station.  I felt good, and was actually happy to continue on by myself.  Plus I knew my crew would FOR SURE be at the next aid station! As I ran alone, I could hear voices of a pair of runners behind me, but I couldn’t see them, and I hadn’t seen any runners in front of me since early in the Crosby section.  I was perfectly happy.  I knew I was moving well & the light on the horizon added a little spring in my step.  I watched how the morning light danced through the trees, and I wished I’d had a camera to capture the magic of those early morning hours, but I'd given up my phone back at Beaver Bay.

As I rolled into the next aid station, the start of the marathon distance event, I wondered what time it was “in the real world.”  The marathon would start at 8am, and no doubt I would get caught up in the mass of runners.  I tried not to worry, and looked for my crew as I came into the aid station.  As I did, a marathoner that I knew ran up to me & gave me a big hug.  That was such a highlight to my day.  Thank you Jayne!!

I arrived at 7:40 AM, a quick shoe and sock change, a couple chocolate chip pancakes and with Annemarie by my side, I was back down the trail.
Annemarie & I ready to rock & roll!

Cramer Road to Temperance Aid Station (Mile 85)
I managed to leave Cramer Road ahead of the marathoners, and enjoyed a nice runnable section of trail.  I had ran this section a few weeks back, so knew that it was pretty easy to start, one or two big climbs and then a long downhill stretch to Temperance State Park.   It didn’t take long to start to see the marathoners.  They all wished me luck & cheered for me as they passed.  I’d have to stop & step aside on the narrow trail to let them by, and we’d exchange some words.  I’d try not to trip them with my hiking poles.  Sometimes I wasn’t as organized with them as I could have been.  But we all laughed & I told the marathoners that they needed to keep up the pace so I didn’t pass them later.  It was a really fun section.  I saw a number of runners I knew and that really helped perk me up.  I rolled into Temperance at 10 am and feeling good.
BACON!!! Pancakes and bacon never tasted so good!

Temperance to Sawbill Aid Station (Mile 90.7)
At this aid station I picked up my friend, John, and he and Annemarie both paced me this section.  It was fun to have both of them to talk to and keep me moving.  After leaving the aid station you run down one side of the Temperance River, cross the bridge and then start a gradual 4-mile climb up to Carlton Peak.  I kept moving right along, and shuffling faster than a hiking pace when I could.  It wasn’t long and we came to the technical part of the climb that is the last bit up Carlton.  I kept pushing and ended up passing a few marathoners.  I looked over my shoulder to find John right behind me, but Annemarie nowhere to be seen.  One of the things I love about Annemarie, is I don’t have to worry about her.  I knew she’d catch up once she got over the climb.  I started the descent down towards the aid station and one of the marathoners came up behind me and said, “Annemarie wanted me to tell you, ‘she’s not dead’.” We all laughed and kept moving.  I knew she’d be fine!
Coming into the Sawbill aid station you run across some wooden boards before you cross a road and come into the aid station.  That section of boards was the longest section ever! I don’t think it was more than ¾ of a mile or so, but it dragged on and on.  I just wanted to get to the last aid station!! I finally rolled into Oberg at somewhere around 2pm. 

Oberg to the Finish Line (Mile 103.3)
I needed to sit down at Oberg for a few minutes.  The final push over Carlton Peak and then running the boards into the aid station had taken a bit out of me.  It was warmer than it had been, and I found myself feeling a little wonky.  Plus I had neglected to eat when my alarm went off the last time because I thought I was only a few minutes away – it ended up being more like 15 minutes.  Someone brought me the best chocolate chip pancakes ever and after a couple minutes I was ready to hit the trail again.
My awesome hubby, Matt, and John decided to pace me together the last 7.1 miles to the finish line.  By this point I was tired and definitely ready to wrap this thing up.  I told the guys that I would be putting in one ear bud.  Listening to music can really add a spring in my step and take my mind off the nagging pain that accompanies a race of this distance.  It isn’t long into this section that you climb up Moose (or is it Mystery?) Mountain – it just goes up and up, and when you think you are done, it turns and goes up some more.  I just wanted to cry.  For some reason this climb really got to me.  Keep putting one foot in front of the other, listen to the music, tune out the boys behind me, keep your eye on the prize, are just a few things I kept telling myself.  I finally made it to the top.  I knew this was the worst climb of the section. 
At one point when John & I were chatting earlier we talked about me finishing in the 33 hour range.  He had thought that was doable.  I agreed, but then after that climb, I wasn’t sure it was.  I knew my 3 mph pace had slipped, and I wasn’t confident I had it in me to get it back.  I was tired.  I was tired of eating, but my alarm kept beeping every 30 minutes, and I’d reach blindly into my pack and find something to eat.  I tried not to get emotional about it – calories are calories.  Even if I didn’t “want” what I pulled out, I ate it anyway. 
Pretty soon, my energy level was increasing, and I was within the last 5k or 3.1 miles.  I can do 3.1 miles in my sleep.  I could “smell the barn.” An incredibly upbeat song came on my ipod & I spotted a runner up the trail.  That was all I needed – a carrot – I turned to John, and said, “he’s mine.” I would pass him.  It wasn’t that I wanted to beat that person, or finish ahead of him; it was literally just a carrot to get the lead out of my ass and get me moving a little faster again.  When that song would come to the end, I’d just repeat it.  It had the same rhythm as my shuffle, and I found my groove.  It wasn’t long, and I passed that runner – the same marathoner I had been leap frogging most of the last section.  After a little bit, John reported that I just “ran” a 17 min/mile uphill in the last 5k!  Yes, I was ready to wrap it up.
It wasn’t too much longer that I passed some other runners.  We were within the last mile and a half or so. And then came the bridge over the Poplar River!! My favorite spot on the trail!! I knew I was close and from there I ran the rest of the way in.  I thought I was flying, I’m sure I wasn’t in actuality.  You turn off the trail onto a paved road through Lutsen Resort.  I kept running.  I wanted to walk, but there was no way that I came this far to walk it in to the finish line.  There was no point in leaving anything in the tank.  I kept running.  Pretty soon, Matt & John peeled off for me to run the last section around the pool of Caribou Highlands to the finish line.  And I could hear them announce, “In her second Superior 100 finish…”
John and I crossing the Poplar River!!
Finish line smiles!
Finish Line
I crossed the finish line to see my parents (and Mr Patch) and my crew and pacers.  I couldn’t believe it.  I did it! Another finish, and way ahead of my time goal!! My friend, Stephanie was there and she came over to give me a hug.  She asked what my time was, I said, “33 something.” I was quickly corrected by my crew that I had finished in 32 hours and 29 minutes.  A 3 hour and 45 min personal best over last year’s time!! I couldn’t have been happier!

Thank you to everyone for your support and encouragement of my adventures! Until next time, Happy Trails!!!

Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Race Report

This last weekend I ran my 4th Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Race.  In 2012, this was my first 50 miler. Every year I keep going back because it has become one of my favorite events.  It is a no-frills event, one of the oldest ultra marathons in Minnesota, and it has maintained a down to earth, small town feel. 

The race starts at 6am on Saturday, so Matt & I made the 2+ hour drive up on Friday evening, got my packet, and set up camp at Jay Cooke State Park, which is only about 10 minutes from the start/finish area at the Carlton High School.

We camped right next to my friend, Stephanie, and her family.  We swapped stories and hung out while my amazing hubby cooked a yummy dinner over a single burner stove.  We had prepped a few things at home to make cooking faster, and before long, I had chicken, roasted sweet potatoes & asparagus ready for dinner. 
My #1 fan, crew chief, head cook, best friend, and true love :)
About 9:15pm we decided it was time to make preparations for bed, and set the alarm for 4:30am.  The campground was a little noisy, but I didn’t stress about it, and actually slept ok for the night before a race.

At 4:30am the campground was very quiet, and we got up and got organized for the day.  I had my liquid breakfast of Vegan Strawberry Shakeology & a cup of coffee.  At 5:15am we head to the race start.

After checking in, using the bathrooms, taking a traditional pre-race selfie, and visiting with other runners it was time get this race started.
Pre-race selfie!
M. Leis photo

Excited to get going!
M. Leis photo

Stephanie and I ran together for the first ¾ of mile on a paved bike trail before the course made a right turn on to some technical single track.  We had both agreed that we would run our own races this year.  Within a few minutes, Stephanie had pulled ahead, and I told myself to be patient & run intuitively.  At 3.4 miles I came to the first aid station at Jay Cooke State Park, and the course opens up into some wide, grassy, cross country ski trails.  I arrived there in 42 minutes, feeling good, and sweating a lot already.  I passed through this first aid station without stopping, I was carrying enough water to get me to the next one which was only a couple miles up the trail.

As I left the first aid station, I fell in line with a guy named, Terry.  We would end up running much of the first half together.  We chatted and enjoyed having the company to pass the miles.  The second & third aid stations arrived quickly.  I was definitely sweating, and trying to make sure that I was eating and drinking enough.  I popped salt tablets every hour or so along with eating potato chips and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the aid stations.  I was still feeling pretty good. 
Hanging out with my new friend!
M. Leis photo

The powerlines are really what Voyageur is known for – you run through this section of power lines that are exposed and incredibly hilly – probably 200-300 feet straight up & then straight back down.  If they are dry, it’s tough but doable.  When they are wet, it is like a giant slip and slide.  On the outbound direction, they were wet this year.  On the first one going up you would step and then slide back, and grab onto whatever vegetation you could find – some of those bushes were thorn bushes, so I brought home some scrapes and scratches, too.  But I finally made it through the section without any falls and still feeling ok.

The rest of the outbound course is pretty runnable – some technical down hill switch backs, a creek crossing or two (enough to soak your shoes enough that they never really dry) and a nice downhill gravel section to the turn around at the zoo.

As I was approaching the turn around at the Duluth Zoo, I would count the women in front of me.  I like to know about where I stand in the pack, and I was looking for Steph to see how far ahead she was.  She is so strong on courses like this, I was confident she’d be in the top 10.  When I saw Steph coming up the trail, she was 7th or 8th woman and maybe 20 minutes in front of me, looking good.  I was sitting in 10th or 11th place.

I refilled my pack at the turnaround and quickly headed back up the trail.  It is a long up hill grind.  I ran-walked up the gravel trail & passed a couple women along the way.  This felt good, and I knew I had cracked the top 10.  I was feeling confident.

Leaving the turn around aid station at the Zoo.
M. Leis photo

Confidence in an ultra event can be short lived.  A short while later I was starting to crack – and needing to find that special place inside my head where I can grind out the miles and continue to move forward.  I had started to experience some chaffing on the inside of my left thigh.  At one of the aid stations I asked for vasaline, but it didn’t help.  I noticed a hot spot on the bottom of each foot.  I worked on keeping my feet dry through the creek crossings on the way back, but all I really wanted was a fresh pair of socks. 
Coming into the Beck's Road Aid Station 31 miles.
M. Leis photo
I saw Matt at an aid station at 31 miles, along with his friend, Jason.  That definitely made me feel better.  I got a 5 hour energy drink from him that I put in my pocket for later.  I knew I’d need a caffeine kick before the power lines a second time.  More uphill hiking.  My thighs were on fire. My feet were hurting.  And soon enough I was back in the power lines.  This time they were dry, but it was so hot. When you’d crest the top, I’d feel a breeze and that would offer a slight reprieve.  Onward.

As I came into the next aid station, I got some ice for my hat, potato chips & filled my pack with ice and water.  Keep moving forward.  Then I saw another woman just ahead of me, I passed her and offered a word or two of encouragement.  I knew I was in the top 10 now.  I had to keep moving and not get passed back.  Shortly after that I saw another woman ahead of me.  She was pretty far up the trail and moving well.  I told myself to be patient, and stay strong, and not worry too much about it.  My competitiveness got the better of me, and I was pushing hard.  Too hard for having 10 miles left to go.

I ended up catching and passing her and she told me I was now in 9th place.  I thanked her for the information & told her she was moving well.  I was thrilled.  I knew I wouldn’t run a personal best time, but to finish in the top 10, that would be awesome.

A lot can happen in the last 10 miles of a race…. Remember that chaffing I mentioned, I kept pulling my shorts down to cover it, but it wasn’t helping.  My feet felt like the bottoms of were disintegrating.  I was having a much harder time keeping my body from over heating.

I came into the 2nd to last aid station, 5+ miles from the finish needing water and ice.  As I arrived, and as the aid station volunteer was filling my pack, the woman I had recently passed, blew through aid station and was out in front of me.  I didn’t have my pack on to even try to chase her down.  I sighed and told myself that 10th was ok, too.  I knew I couldn’t catch her. 

I left the aid station not feeling great.  I knew the next section was pretty runnable, and to try to run what I could without over heating.  I passed a few guys along the way, and offered words of encouragement.  I had been running alone since 20 miles or so.  I was getting tired of the conversations in my head.  I was really wanting to be done.
Leaving the 2nd to last aid station.
M. Leis photo

At the last aid station, Matt & Jason were there, and a volunteer asked me what I wanted – “Ice & chips,” I responded.  Ice in my hat, and a handful of chips to go, I was on my way.  I wanted to be done and the only way that was going to happen was if I kept moving.
On the Swinging Bridge headed towards the finish line.
M. Leis photo
I crossed the swinging bridge and onto the technical trail.  I was struggling.  I was walking, and not power walking, just walking.  A few guys passed me, and then 2 women passed me… So much for that top 10 finish again this year.  I was starting to see things – rocks that didn’t look like rocks, trees that didn't look like trees, and feeling very much like I did at Superior 2013.  I just kept telling myself to keep moving, and the faster I move the sooner I'd be done. I was no longer having any fun.

My thoughts moved to my friend, Toni, who is fighting cancer.  I hadn’t had the opportunity to visit with her before I left for the weekend, and I wanted to dedicate this race to her.  I knew that her battle is so much harder than any chaffing, blisters or heat rash I was going to experience.  I thought about her a lot those last 3 miles.  I prayed for her and for her family.  I knew the last .7 mile was on a hot paved trail leading back to Carlton and the finish line at the high school.  I prayed for a breeze.

I finally got to the paved trail.  I told myself that I had to run.  Just get this over and done with.  I was running and all of a sudden I felt it – a cool breeze.  I looked up to the sky and said “thank you!” It was a magical moment.

Soon, I turned the corner and had the school in sight.  I didn’t have a finish line kick, but I jogged it in and received my finisher’s mug.  I finished in 11 hours and 25 minutes.

Almost there!
I had nothing left to give. 

Matt, Jason & Stephanie were all waiting for me at the finish.  I am so blessed to have such a supportive husband & amazing friends that support these crazy adventures.  And I can't wait to go back next year for #5!!
4 years of Voyageur :)
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog!!
Until next time!!

Eau Claire Marathon

“Everything you ever wanted to know about yourself you can learn in 26.2 miles,” as quoted by Lori Culnane.  I learned a few lessons today.  I’ll share those with you as we go along, but let’s start by saying today’s marathon did not go as I had hoped.

The Eau Claire Marathon is held in Eau Claire, WI, which is exactly 120 miles from my house.  When I registered, I didn’t give the location, race course or logistics much thought.  The timing fit my schedule, and it seemed like a nice low-key event.  I don’t care for big city marathons, the crowds, and lines give me the heeby-geebies, so this seemed like a nice road marathon to attempt a Boston qualifying time at.

As the week lead up to race day, I realized that logistically, it being 2 hours away, and a 7:30am start time wasn’t ideal.  Do I get up early, drive to the start or pay for a hotel nearby?  After a few nights of discussing our options, Matt & I decided that I’d just drive over race morning, and meet up with my friends, Steph & Joy.  The last few weeks I’ve been getting up at 4am anyway, so that shouldn’t be an issue. 

Race morning comes, and the alarm goes off, I hit snooze – maybe this should have been my first warning.  I NEVER hit snooze on a race morning.  I’m usually cranked to get up and get moving.  So when I do get up I’m about 15 min behind “schedule.”  Not a huge deal because I had worked in some additional time, just in case.  I brewed some coffee, got dressed, said good bye to Matt, grabbed my race breakfast and hit the road.
Pre-race selfie!

4:30am on a Sunday morning, there is NO traffic.  Awesome! Smooth sailing!  I got across town and into WI in record time.  One pit stop on the way, and I was there, finding a nice parking spot right on schedule.

Steph had warned me that the park start/finish area sat on top of a hill.  I grabbed a few things out of the car, and headed up.  It was about a 10 min walk… mostly up hill, to the start/finish area.  I easily found Steph & Joy & we picked up our race packets.  A quick stop at the porto-potty, which there were a ton of, luckily, and we headed to the start to line up.

Steph & I lined up together & soon we were on our way.  Music in my ears, plan set, mantras ready, I started the first mile.  There were some crowds & I was slightly behind the 3:45 pace group.  I checked my watch, and I was dead on 8:20.  That pace group went out too fast… Mile 2, still behind the 3:45 group, 8:10.  I backed it down a little.  The first 10k, was right on 8:20 pace average.  I was thrilled.  I was breathing a little hard, but if I turned up my music, I couldn’t hear myself panting, so therefore, I was fine, right??  The 3:45 group was behind me, and all was good.

Or was it… my pace started to falter with some hills, ok, no big deal, I’m fine, I told myself.  I started working on my mantras.  “Stay relaxed,” “keep your cadence high,” “pop!pop!pop!” as I marched up the hills.  But by mile 9, and this enormous hill that ended near the airport, I was spent.  I was over a 9min/per mile pace… “I didn’t come this far not to work,” I told myself, I tried to pick it up, another mile, 9:30.  Finally, I came to the conclusion I’d just do what I could.  Keep it under 4 hours? That seemed like a reasonable goal.

I hit the ½ marathon at 1:54.  Ok, that works, I told myself, just maintain this pace & you’ll break 4 hours.  It was getting hot.  I really was struggling.  I had no energy.  We turned into the wind, which on one hand was nice, as it kept you cooler, but on the other hand, it felt like it was literally sucking the life right out of me.  I contemplated sitting down in the shade, but kept pushing on.  I was carrying a hand held bottle, which I’m really grateful for, as I could drink between aid stations.  I refilled my bottle a total of 4 additional times.  I made sure I popped some salt tabs, and had a gel every hour or so (It ended up being miles 8, 14, 18, 22 for gels.)

I watched the 3:45 pace group move on by.  They were on track now.  Then shortly the 4:00 pace grouped moved past me.  I tried not to let that get to me.  I had pulled ahead of Steph, who was battling a cold, around mile 2 or 3.  She passed me too, definitely fighting the heat, about mile 16 or 17.  I tried to keep her in my sights, but that was a lost cause.  I kept moving, running, or walking when I was light headed and nauseous.  I was drinking well, but the heat was beating down on all the runners.  You could see it take it’s toll on many people today.  I just wanted to finish, standing up and breathing, at this point. 

At this point too, I changed my mindset.  It was no longer about meeting my goal of a Boston qualifying time, it was simply about finishing, and being grateful for this opportunity to run.  To be able to run, injury free, in a safe place, with gas in my car to drive me home, and food waiting for me at the finish.  I love running, and that’s what I was doing! This helped me get through a few more miles.

Mile 22 meltdown...
My lowest point was mile 22, it still felt like I had so far to go.  I texted Matt, and was on the verge of tears.  I talked myself out of crying, just wasted energy anyway, and I knew that the low point would pass.  Experience teaches you that if you wait it out, it will get better.  And it did.  Around mile 23, we came into the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire campus, and all the students were out.  There was so much energy, and it really helped pull me out of my slump.  Then it was only a 5k to go anyway.

I ran to the base of the hill at the park, and was starting to overheat after running the last couple miles without walking (not fast, mind you, but faster than walking!)  I walked/jogged up the final hill & into the finish area.  I was SO grateful to be done!   I found Steph, Joy & some additional friends that had ran the ½ marathon distance.  The heat blew us all up. I was in good company!
Finish line with Steph.

My official finish time was 4:16.  Not a personal best or a personal worst either, just another run on a hot day on a fairly hilly, and windy course.

Race Swag
Today’s marathon reminded me to respect the early season heat, wear sunscreen & use more body glide than you think you need.  :)

I don’t know if I’ll run another road marathon this year.  I may just stick to the trails for summer; my next events on the calendar include a 50k on July 4, a 50 miler the last weekend of July, and then the Superior 100 in September.  I have plenty to work towards, so we’ll see if it makes sense to do one once I’m recovered.

Thanks for taking the time to read my race ramblings.
Remember to:
*Be grateful.
*Respect the heat.
*Wear sunscreen.
*Use more body glide than you think you need.
*Thank your race volunteers.

Psycho-Wyco 50k 2015

Psycho-Wyco was my first trail and ultra-distance race of 2015.  I wasn’t sure what to expect regarding my performance.  Mostly, I was looking to enjoy myself, and I prayed for warmer temperatures and no ice.  I ran solid mileage in January, but only one 20 miler, which I did on snow covered trails at my local park.  I had been doing regular workouts with weights along with my running, but my nutrition the last couple weeks leading to race day had suffered.  I had no idea how the day would play out.

Kansas City is about a 7 hour drive from where I live.  I worked a few hours on Friday morning, and then we hit the road about noon.  I had packed a small cooler with some snacks, but nothing substantial.    It wasn’t quite dinner time when we cruised through Des Moines, Iowa, and we weren’t really hungry anyway.  It was still another couple hours to Kansas City.  I had hoped that we’d find something decent along the way.  As the sun went down and we started to get hungry, the towns got farther apart, and the food options got slimmer. I had been doing all the driving and I was ready for a break, I found an exit that looked promising… The signage at the exit pointed to a gas station, and a couple restaurants 2 miles off the interstate.  So we headed in that direction, the signs were somewhat misleading… There was a Pizza Hut, a local pizza place & the smallest Hy-Vee grocery store I’ve ever seen.  We opted to check out the grocery store.  We left with wraps, deli turkey, and some baby carrots.  This would have to do.  Matt took over driving, and I started putting our “dinner” together.  We made it into Kansas City about 9pm.  We were staying with some of Matt’s family, and we were welcomed into their home with hugs and the smell of something wonderful in the oven. 

We spent some time getting settled in and catching up and found that the wonderful smell from the oven was coming from stuffed jalapeños baking.  So at nearly 10pm on the night before my race I enjoyed stuffed jalapenos and a slice of chocolate cake.  Maybe not ideal, but certainly delicious! I hoped those jalapeños wouldn’t come back to haunt me!  It was nearly 11:30 before we hit the sack.  Morning would come early.

Morning did come early, but there always seems to be enough pre-race adrenaline to offset the lack of sleep.  Matt and I had our breakfast and headed off to the race.

I mingled with a few friends from Minnesota before the start, and it wasn’t long before we were off.

I found myself in a pack of runners early on, but it only took a mile or so before everyone started to get spread out.  After about 5 miles, I found myself running completely alone.  The course is a 3-loop course of just over 10 miles.  The first half is easier than the back half in my mind.  On the first loop the trail was frozen, but there was no snow, and it was really uneven. You had to be extra careful to watch your footing because there were so many frozen foot prints, and rolling an ankle became a very real hazard.  Add to that lots of leaves and rocks on the trail, and it made for some tricky places.  But this is why I love trail running. You just have to take what the trail gives you.  I found the most runnable sections were those areas on long up hills.  Now most ultra runners hike or walk the hills, I do too, on most days.  But because some of the areas that I’d have normally run, I needed to walk so I didn’t roll an ankle, I found that even if it was a hill and the footing was good, I ran it. 
Hiking up Dam Hill, this was a significant climb to an aid station.  Photo curtesy Matt Leis 

I finished the first loop in just over 2 hours, and I was pleased with that.  After a quick stop at the aid station, I started the second loop.  This was a whole new game.  The sun and earlier runners (there are 3 races, 10 mile, 20 mile & 50k on the same loop) had warmed up the trail, so now it was a mucky, slippery mess… The places that were frozen before were like grease.  So now I walked some of these same areas so I didn’t end up on my butt! Even on some of the hills that I had ran in the first loop, I was back to walking because it was so slippery.  I was starting to get frustrated, and my hips were starting to hurt from all the uneven terrain. 
The hills were starting to get to me on the second loop, but I just kept smiling! Photo curtesy Matt Leis
Every mile I watched my pace drop.  I didn't let it bother me, and just enjoyed the day for what it was.  I was running dirt trails, my body basically felt good, the sun was out, my wonderful hubby was out on the course taking pictures, life couldn’t be better!  I just kept reminding myself of all those blessings when I was slipping and sliding around.  Soon enough, lap 2 was done, and I was starting the third loop.
On the bridge to start the final loop.  Photo curtesy Matt Leis

There is something about the third loop that makes it special.  First of all, the trail had dried up a ton in the 2 plus hours I’d been making my way around it.  There was a little greasy mud in the first couple of miles, but then it was really nice.  I found myself running more, and running more of the hills.  Secondly, it’s the last loop.  You know you don’t have to climb those hills again; you won’t pass through that aid station again.  You’re like a horse headed for the barn.  Or at least I was.  I felt great.  With the better trail conditions, I could run, and running felt awesome.
Making my way down one of the many hills. Photo curtesy Mile 90 Photography
Headed for the finish line.  Photo curtesy Matt Leis
I ran it in as hard as I could.  I felt good.  I could hear the finish line before I saw it, and the music was pumping.  Finishing a race, whether it’s your first or your 100th is something special.  That feeling never gets old.  I even did a little dance at the finish line.  Trail running is so much fun!! Being in nature, pushing yourself, and the thrill of a race simply makes me smile; I couldn’t hold it in any longer.
Finish line!! Photo curtesy Mile 90 Photography

I am so blessed to be able to do what I love.  To have been able to take a short get away, enjoy a weekend with family, and run trails in the sunshine is a recipe for happiness.  I hope that you can find something that you enjoy, that makes you smile, and enjoy it as much as possible.
Finish line dance :)  Photo curtesy Mile 90 Photography

Superior 100 2014 - Redemption

It’s a little hard for me to write this race report, for the simple fact that by doing so, means it’s over.  It’s that strange sensation that you have after major life events when you feel changed on the inside, but the rest of the world is moving along as if nothing out of the ordinary ever happened.  It’s a little surreal. 

As most of you already know, I had attempted the Superior 100 in 2013, and had to drop at mile 85.  It wasn’t long after that I knew I needed to return this year and take care of some “unfinished business.”  Coming into the race this year, I felt stronger and more confident than I had in 2013.  My 2013 DNF (stands for “did not finish”) actually taught me a lot of really good lessons.  Many of which I hoped would keep me moving better this year.

Soon enough it was race week and I was excited to head north.  I had an awesome team of people that were going to be a part of my journey.  First, was my wonderful husband, Matt, who had seen last year’s DNF first hand.  Then there was my mother in law, my parents, my dear friend from Michigan, AnneMarie, my friend Tracy, who’s husband was running the marathon, and my two best running pals Colleen & Steph.  I was surrounded by love, friendship, and the best support a girl could ask for to get to the finish line.

On Thursday we hung out in Duluth and then had dinner at my parents camper in Two Harbors before the race meeting.  After the meeting Annemarie and I spent the night at the camper with my parents and everyone else headed up to the house in Lutsen.  Lucky for me I had earplugs – because sleeping on an air mattress listening to the sound of multiple people snoring was not allowing for the most restful night’s sleep…I tried not to stress about it, and just rest as best as I could.
Dinner at the Sierra Base Camp

Race morning arrived and we got up and moving.  I had some coffee, scrambled eggs, a banana and a muffin before heading to the start.   It was cool, sunny and dry.  Perfect conditions.  There was a lot of excitement surrounding the visitor’s center at Gooseberry Falls State Park.  And after a few pictures and some nervous chatter, it was time to get lined up to start.
Pre-race pic with my parents and Patch

And we're off!

I lined up near the back with my friends Kamie and Joli.  After a couple of announcements we were on our way.  As the runners got more spread out, I was leading a small train of runners – me, Joli, Kamie, and one or two others.  I hadn’t seen Joli in a year, and we had plenty to catch up on.  Kamie said we were going to eat every 30 min.  That sounded good to me, and every 30 min, we’d all have a snack.  We’d remind each other to drink, and the camaraderie was lovely. Those first 9-10 miles passed easily and we came into Split Rock aid station.  I grabbed ½ a pb&j sandwich, refilled my water and electrolyte drink and headed out.  Kamie was right behind me.  We were right on schedule.  It was 10:35am.   Kamie and I would be together for over 50 miles of the race, and there is no doubt in my mind that was a key to my success.

Kamie and I continued to work together, her reminding me to eat, and turn my toes forward (when I duck walk, my knees hurt…I had no idea, just that tip alone saved me a lot of pain!) and me keeping the pace conversational, and relaxed.   The day was perfect and we kept checking off the aid stations. 

The first place you can see your crew is at 20 miles at Beaver Bay.  We were a little ahead of schedule, it was 1:20pm.  It was great to see most everyone there, it’s hard not to get sucked into a lot of chatter at the aid stations, so I told my crew to “get me in and get me out.”  They did a great job.  Most of the time I could keep it to about 5 minutes.  Refill my pack, grab some food, pb&j or broth and get going.
Coming into Beaver Bay

It was great having Kamie for the first half – we knew that we’d each run our own race, but we figured we were closely enough matched that if we could get to County Rd 6 – or 43 miles to pick up our pacers together, that we’d be in good shape.

My goal was to get to County Road 6/43.5 miles before dark – the section leading up to that is long and challenging.  That coupled with the sun going down and being eager to reach the pacers, it can be a mental game.  This is where our pace started to slow some, even though I was motivated to get there before it was totally dark.  I finally had to break down and put on the headlamp.  Shoot. But eventually we made it to the paved road, and jogged down to the bright lights and excitement of the aid station.  We arrived there at 8:45pm, about 30 min behind my anticipated schedule.

One thing I really found interesting is how during this event I lost my sense of time.  Kamie and I were chatting at one point when we realized we’d been out there for over 11 hours… Didn’t feel like that at all.  I became more motivated by the rise and fall of the sun – Friday – get in as many miles before dark.  Then Friday night, get in as many miles in the dark as possible, because that will get you closer to the finish line.  Saturday, get as many miles done in the daylight, so you don’t have to put that darn headlamp on again!!!

At 43 miles, I picked up my first pacer, Colleen, and we headed off into the night.  She was excited to be pacing and there was a lot of fun chatter.  Pretty soon Kamie and her pacer were right behind us.  Having 2 new people to talk to was great.  I continued to lead the train and set the pace.  We were having a blast. 

The four of us rolled into Finland – 51 miles at 11:20pm, I was about an hour behind my “plan.”  I was starting to get some hot spots on my heals – so changed socks and added some tape to the heals to prevent more blisters.  This was my first long aid station – I think it was just over 10 minutes.  Colleen and I headed out and before too long Kamie and Sue were right behind us again.  Another 4 + miles and we were into Sonju Lake Road.  No crews here so we checked out the buffet of food and refilled our packs.  I was going to have some more pb&j, but a guy dry heaving right behind me into the bushes, turned my stomach… Let’s get out of here!

Off into the darkness the 4 of us went.  This was probably where I started to really notice some other runners not doing so well.  We offered salt tabs, and reminded them to keep eating.  We were still eating every 30 min – whether we liked it or not!! And there were times that I did NOT want to eat.  But we were moving right along.  Our pace continued to slow some – the trail can be really technical in places, plus it was dark, my headlamp sucked, and I was starting to get tired.  I still wanted to hold off on caffeine as long as possible.  It was during this section that Kamie & Sue pulled ahead.  I wouldn’t see Kamie again until the finish, but my crew kept close tabs on her & let me know she was moving well.

After another 4+ miles, we came into the Crosby Manitou aid station.  I was ahead of my time from last year at this point, but still falling behind my plan for this year.  It was 4am Saturday.  My crew was getting nervous.  I was still feeling better than I had a year ago, so I wasn’t too worried.  I love this aid station.  They have the “best worst” hamburgers ever.  It was the wee hours of the morning and I inhaled ½ a cheeseburger.  It was gross and delicious all at the same time.  I also changed pacers here, and Steph and I would share the next 27 miles together.

We moved out of the aid station and deep into the Manitou river gorge.  Down, down, down to the river, up, up, up to horseshoe ridge.  The stars were amazing!!! This is a long section –nearly 10 miles, but the sun started to come up and the end of it is pretty runnable.  So enough power hiking and on to some jogging… I called it “shuffle shuffle” – hardly a run.  Just using different muscles.  I wanted out of this section badly.  My feet were hurting like mad.  I was fighting the good fight, but it was definitely getting harder.
Morning Sunrise on the trail

Finally out of the woods to Sugarloaf aid station.  Matt, Sandy and Annemarie were there.  They were fresh after getting a good night’s sleep.  I needed to change shoes and address what was happening to my feet.  They pointed me towards a chair and covered me in a blanket.  I wasn’t cold, why would I need a blanket, I wondered.  And within a minute, I was shivering.  The wind was breezy, but it was another beautiful morning.  Matt took off my shoes and socks and we determined I had one large blister on my left heal and a small one on my right foot.  The right foot we’d leave be, but the one on the left was getting big.  I drank some soup and tried to eat while they worked on my feet.  Matt poured cold water on them, even though I was shaking the cold water felt awesome.  Annemarie handed me some alieve, and I washed that down with a V8.  After about 20 minutes, I was up and headed towards Cramer Road. 
Steph getting me moving after shoe change at Sugarloaf
My feet were KILLING me when I got out of that chair.  But I knew I needed to just put it out of my mind.  Steph pushed me along, and continued to remind me to eat and drink every 30 minutes.  Pretty soon the alieve kicked in and I felt great.  This was a short section and we cruised, even making up some time.

We arrived at Cramer Road feeling good.  It was 10:30am and I was still an hour behind my planned schedule.  I was excited that I was moving well again.  I passed on the eggs this year, (I was superstitious that the eggs I ate here last year were my demise… I know they weren’t but I couldn’t take that chance) filled up my pack and we were off again.  It was on to Temperance.  I had some demons to slay here.

Steph mentioned this was runnable so I put on some music and cruised – until the mud and the rocks and the climbing slowed us down.  Just get to the boards by the river she said – then you can run… It wasn’t quite that simple, but we got it done… There was more climbing than either of us remembered and the miles weren’t clicking by quite as quickly either.  I was motivated to get to Temperance and get out of this section; it just felt like it took forever.   Finally we were there.

We arrived at Temperance at 1:05pm.  Within 10 minutes I was headed back out.  The early miles out of Temperance are nice – runnable trail, you see some tourists, you realize there is life outside of the Superior Hiking Trail… but then you climb, and climb, and climb up to Carlton Peak.  This was the physical barrier I was worried about last year – Temperance was the emotional barrier I was worried about this year.  I was through Temperance, now I just needed to conquer Carlton Peak at nearly 88 miles on my legs… I get to the top and boom, the tears, the first and only tears of the race.  I had made it…. There was no stopping me now.  2 more aid stations and a half marathon to go.

At 3:15pm we pulled into Sawbill aid station.  I was back on my pre-planned schedule.  I was feeling good.  I was over 2 hours a head of the cut off time.  My parents were here, along with my crew.  It was refreshing to see everyone, and I get to change pacers.  Annemarie was joining me for the last 12 miles. 

Annemarie and I headed out of Sawbill and on to the mucky trail.  This section was so bad after the 100, 50 & marathoners had gone through here.  But we moved right along trying not to get our shoes sucked off in the mud. 

We arrived at the Oberg aid station at 5:25pm.  Plenty of time ahead of the cut off and maybe even enough time to get done before dark.  Maybe?  I was in and out of there in 2 minutes.  I didn’t have much left to do.  Make sure I have just enough calories to get there without bonking… I hadn’t really bonked yet – eating every 30 min was like magic!  Annemarie and I headed out.  I tried to keep power hiking to stay one step ahead of the sunset.  This section was a bit of a mental game, too, you are so close, but yet, still far enough out that it takes a couple of hours.  I wanted to get done before dark.  The sun was starting to set and I probably should have put on my headlamp, but we finally made it out on to the gravel road just before the river.  And once we were out of the woods, the moon was amazing.  We stopped on the bridge over the poplar river for a split second to take it all in and snap a couple pictures. 
Moon over the Poplar River.  I made it!
I ran up the hill to the paved road.  Then up the paved road and there was Steph, Colleen and Matt waiting for me.  I ran even faster, across the road back into the grass and around Caribou Highlands.  Just as I came up to the building I heard a deep voice from above, “Kate is that you?” I responded, “I think so!” For a split second I wondered if it was God, then I realized there were people standing on the balconies above me… I giggled and ran it on in to the finish line.  Kamie was standing there waiting for me, looking as fresh as a daisy.  She gave me a huge hug & my family escorted me to a chair along the side.  And just like that it was all said and done.

Superior 2013

Writing this blog post is turning out to be more challenging that I would have initially thought.  It should be simple, embark on an epic adventure, finish, celebrate, share your story with others. Done.  This time however, it wasn't that simple... But that's ok, because that's how we learn, and grow.

This last weekend, I lined up with nearly 200 other runners at Gooseberry State Park to follow the Superior Hiking Trail 103 miles to the finish line at Lutsen Mountain.  We had 38 hours to get there.

By my side was my trail buddy, Steph, and we had agreed we'd run what we could together, but knowing that it was likely that we'd end up getting split up before the day(s) was over.  The morning air was warm, but I had goosebumps from my nerves.  After a few words from the race director, we were off.

In the beginning there were these single file packs of runners.  A train of people stretching down the trail, but as the miles wore on, it didn't take long for people to find their own pace & get more spread out.  Pretty soon you were with a group of maybe 3 or 4 people without being able to see anyone ahead or behind you.

It didn't take long before I noticed a steady drip of sweat off the right corner of my baseball hat.  One drop at a time, but at a regular rate of drip...drip...drip... My bandana that I carry with me was getting very wet from wiping my face & soon felt completely saturated.  I worked hard to keep drinking & eating & to remember to take a salt tab now & again.

Steph & I arrived into the first aid station, right on schedule.  I had put together a schedule for myself & my crew of what time I had "hoped" to arrive at each aid station & what the cut off times were for each one as well.  Staying one step ahead of the clean up crew was my goal.  I wanted to finish, but I wasn't out to set a land speed record!

At 20 miles, the next aid station, we got to see our crew.  That was exciting.  I was really hot, and I had ran out of water in the previous section.  I added a bottle of Heed (electrolyte replacement drink) to my pack along with 2 liters of water & a variety of bars, gels, & snacks.

As the days have passed since the race, some of the more finite details have faded.  But it was going into the County Road 6 aid station (about 43 miles) as one area that sticks out in my mind.  Steph was running strong & in the miles leading up to this aid station, we had gotten separated.  I was a little bummed, I'll admit it, but I totally understood.  When you need to fly, you fly! I would only see her 1 more time before the finish line.  My crew would update me along the way as to how she was doing.  The other thing that happened here, was it got dark.  In many ways, I think we, as runners were looking forward to it getting dark.  After sweltering through the day in the hot sun, we had all hoped nightfall would bring some relief.  I stopped for a brief moment to dig my headlamp out of my pack & turned it on.  It took a little while to get used to running in a small beam of light, but there I was alone on the trail with my light & having really no idea how much farther to the next aid station.  Soon I saw a sign that said 4 miles... 4 miles?!! Are you kidding?! I was sure I'd done at least that much.  Boo.  Ok, well, keep going I told myself.  Pretty soon another runner came up behind me & we ran together for those last 4 miles.  Another big bummer here, was you were up high on the ridgeline & all of a sudden you could see & hear the aid station below you.  So you knew, you just had to get down to it... It took another 45 minutes to get to that aid station!! Every descent I thought would take us there.  I was nearly on the verge of tears when I finally popped out of the woods to be greeted by my pacers, Colleen & Katie.

I refilled at the aid station here & Katie and I headed into the woods.  The runner I had met in the previous section was still with us & we had picked up another guy.  The four of us swapped stories & shared some laughs along the way.  It was so much fun!!! Such a change from the dark place I had been in earlier.

Before we knew it, we arrived at the Finland aid station.  51 miles.  HALF WAY!!! This was awesome.  Half way.  I changed my shoes & socks & Matt cleaned up my feet (he's a keeper!!) Then Dale & I headed off down the trail.  Dale was going to run with me for 3 sections & about 21 miles.  It started out well enough, but then my body wanted to shut down.  It was sometime after midnight.  Maybe 1am.. I'm really not sure.  We had 7+ miles to go to Sonjou Road aid station, where we would not have a crew.  I was spiraling into a hole.  Dale told me stories & encouraged me to eat & drink.  I was walking & but not really going anywhere.  We finally arrived into Sonjou Road & I wanted something salty.  So I sat in a chair by a fire for a few minutes & sipped on some broth.  This didn't taste nearly as good as I had hoped... I was getting shaky, but knew I wasn't getting anywhere sitting there.  So I picked myself up & moved on.  Dale picked up a baggie of potato chips for me & half a banana.  Off we went.  I felt awful.  I was barely moving.  Dale "forced" a couple potato chips into my hand & I would eat them one tiny bite at a time.  All I wanted to do was curl up in the fetal position & go to sleep.  But luckily for me, Dale wouldn't let me.  He kept pressuring me to eat the chips & drink water.  And believe it or not, I actually started to feel better.  Who knew the magic of potato chips?? Seriously! It was getting on to 5am by now & I could tell that it was getting lighter - maybe only by degrees of light, but morning was coming.  Soon we hit the road into Crosby Manitou State Park.  Matt & John were there & they helped me jog in.

At Crosby, there was a lot of activity.  I sat in a chair & somebody brought me a hamburger.  I'm not going to lie, that hamburger patty was pretty gross.  But I ate it anyway, and it too had some magical properties.  I picked up my trekking poles at this point, because I no longer could trust my legs.  And Dale and I were off for our final 9 miles together.

I had heard rumors of this section being very tough.  They were true.  A few minutes after leaving the aid station, I got stung by a bee.  It hurt like mad! But Dale took my bandana and dunked it a river & we tied the cold cloth to my arm.  That felt sooo much better.  The climbs & descents here were crazy.  I was actually really grateful the sun was coming up & I was reaching this in the daylight.  Speaking of the sun coming up.  That also proved to be magical.  As day broke over the woods, the song "Morning has Broken" came into my head.  I hummed the few words I could remember over and over as we made our way through the forest.  I was feeling good & we were almost done with this section.

We came into the next aid station & I was greeted by my crew.  Always a refreshing site.  I drank some perpetuem (protein, carb, caffeine mix), changed my socks & Katie & I were on our way.  I felt good.  I was picturing the finish line.  I had this in the bag.  Or so I thought.  We kept on cruising & the miles seemed to fly by.

Soon enough, we came into the next aid station & I was finally going to run with Colleen.  I think we were both pretty excited.  I said thank you and good bye to Katie, and Colleen & I were off.  Things started out ok here.  We chatted some, and she pulled me along down the trail.  But sooner than either of us would have liked, I started to spiral downhill.  I wasn't able to eat, nothing sounded good.  Nothing I had or Colleen had was appetizing.  She encouraged me to drink my Heed.  That tasted awful, too.  I wanted to puke.  I thought I was going to.  I was barely moving.  This went on for a long time.  One step at a time, Colleen encouraging me to eat or drink, anything.  Me barely able to get anything down.  Hardly moving.  Finally at one point I asked if I could sit down.  I sat in the middle of the trail & couldn't stop yawning.  I was done.  Colleen put her hand on my shoulder & said a prayer for me.  Something I will never, ever, forget.  With some encouragement & the truth that my day was over, I got up.  I still had to get off the trail.  No one was going to come in & carry me out.  I had 4 miles to go to the next aid station.  I don't have any idea how long it took me to finish those four miles.  Colleen had her phone and called Matt to come in and walk out with me.  By this point I was starting to see things (ok, truth is I was seeing stuff way before this too...) and the 3 of us were able to giggle about it now and again.  The sweepers (people who were volunteering to take the course down after the last runner) were following us.  I was it.  The last person on the course at this point.  I remember being able to crack a joke or two, and Colleen and Matt still trying to get me to eat or drink anything.  But I was barely moving.  But one foot in front of the other finally will lead you to where you need to go.

And after a total of 32 hours and 39 minutes of continuous forward progress, I found my finish line at 85 miles.  I sat in a camp chair by the car, and with that, the tears came.  There was no stopping them.  9 months of training, endless support from my wonderful husband, the encouragement from my friends, and the fact that I didn't make my goal all came flooding down around me.  

I don't know if I'll ever be able to express the love that I felt out there from my crew, pacers, and other runners - Joli & Scott, especially. 

After taking a shower & grabbing a bite to eat, we all went back to watch my friend, Steph, finish her 103 miles.  It was really impressive to see such grit, and determination on a hot, challenging course.  I am so impressed by her & grateful to call her a friend.

And now what?  Here I am with 85 miles under my belt, but the larger 100 mile goal is still out there.  I will achieve it.  But as I'm still nursing the occasional blister & stiff and sore muscles, I'm not willing to say when just yet.

Thanks for reading, and all of your support.  Here's to the next grand adventure!

Taper Time!

Dear Training Cycle,
I think it's time for us to take a break.  I've been following you day in and day out... You've knocked me down, you've built me up, but I've met someone else.  Your partner, the taper.  It's been a good ride, including new personal records at both 50k & 50 mile distances.  Now it's time to see how well you really did.  I'm going to go & enjoy tapering & I'll see you later.

Well, it's really here - 3 weeks to go until the Superior 100 mile.  If I haven't done it, it's not going to get done.  I've always been a fan of the 3 week taper - some people do 2 weeks, but 3weeks has always been successful for me.  Now it's time to dial it down gradually while leading up to race day.

Here's a little overview of the adventures I've had while training this season.

First race of the season.  50k finish at Psycho Wyco Run Toto Run in Kansas City.

Trail Mix 50k.  Snowy day in April, where I won my age group!

The following weekend was Chippewa Moraine 50k.  Snowy & muddy.  Steph & I were 2nd & 3rd in our age group! Another successful weekend!

Night runs at Afton with my 2 favorite trail ladies!!!

Afton Trail Race 50k.  36 min personal best over the previous year's race.

Lots and lots of miles logged at Lake Rebecca Park.  So grateful for this gem only a few miles from my house.

And of course a mid-summer training run on the Superior Hiking Trail.

Running adventures while on vacation in Michigan.  Always fun to find beautiful places to enjoy & explore!

It's been fun, but I couldn't have done it without a certain someone!

Until next time!! Catch y'all later!

Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Race

This weekend Matt & I headed to Duluth for a weekend of adventure.  I was joining my trail buddy, Steph, along with her husband, Chris, and friend, Joy, for the Voyageur 50 mile Trail Ultra.  While the ladies were running, Matt & Chris headed to Canal Park in Duluth to see the Tall Ships that were spending the weekend in the harbor.

We had elected to camp this weekend given the jacked up prices of area hotel rooms.  Plus camping always adds to the adventure anyway.  Ma Nature can be a finicky lady, and after a week of 90 + degree days here in the cities, she graced us with a week of 70's and a nearly picture perfect forecast for the weekend.

We packed the car for a casual summer adventure in the northland.  As we drove north, we checked the weather and found cooler than average temps & lots of rain forecasted... Probably would have been wise to check the forecast BEFORE we left the house, because we'd have likely tossed in rain gear...

We drove through patches of rain & arrived at the campground to chilly, cloudy temps, but no rain. Got the tent set up (which was a pain, given we were trying to stake into really rocky soil,) and enjoyed a lovely evening around the campfire with the gang.

Pretty soon it was time for bed & the alarm was set for 4am.  As luck would have it, our piece of ground wasn't nearly as flat as we'd have hoped, and I had a restless night's sleep.  I was cozy given I have the warmest mummy bag ever, but didn't sleep well.

The alarm went off & we got our stuff organized.  I had packed a tank top to run in along with my new favorite skirt.  I had tossed some arm sleeves & a long sleeve shirt in my bag, but managed to leave those in the tent, so I was stuck running in a tank at 48 degrees at the start...

Once we got moving, I was ok.  Luckily I had my buff, that I could make into a hat, so that really did help keep me warmer.

6am race start - short trip on the pavement to the trail, and right away we were greeted with some really technical, rocky stuff along the river.  It was slow going since all the runners were still in packs, and picking through the rocks takes time.  I made a mental note, that the last 3 miles could be slow, since the course was an out & back.

After the 2.9 mile aid station, things opened up & we had some very runnable sections.  Plus multiple creek crossing of ankle deep water, & river crossings with broken bridges... The race director did say "If it looks unsafe, you're in the right place."  He was definitely right.  But that just added to the adventure.

Steph, Joy & I stayed & worked together to make the miles pass quickly.  Some places I lead the way, other times it was Steph or Joy.  The hardest sections were miles 20-25 & 25-30.  On the way out, at about 19-20 miles, we hit the Powerlines.  It was overcast & cool - such a change from last year, where I felt like I was baking in the direct sun.  The powerlines are these rolling "hills" maybe 200-300 feet straight up - think steep enough that you are grabbing the ground in front of you, to help you lift yourself up.  And repeat it 4-5 times... Up, down, up, down, repeat...  

The next section was Jarrow's Beach... the farthest thing from a beach... about a mile long section of pointy rocks just waiting to grab an ankle.... Really slow going.

Just past the 25 mile turnaround, about the time we were heading back through Jarrow's Beach, it started to rain.... We got through the beach before the rocks got too wet, but not soon enough to get through the powerlines before they turned into a greasy mess.

It was insane on the return trip through the powerlines.  They were so slippery that once you scrambled your way to the top, attempting to grab anything, bush, root, bramble, anything, to get traction on, you then slid on your butt down the other side because if you didn't, you'd end up on your butt anyway.

All of us hit the ground at least a time or two.  But I keep saying, "It's not how many times you fall, but how many times you get up." I've come to learn that falling is a part of trail running & you just have to dust yourself off, and carry on.  

There were times on the return trip that it was really raining, and cold.  It was gross, but we just kept moving & working together.  My main goal for this event was to finish feeling strong enough to continue.  Given that I have Sawtooth 100 coming up in Sept, I wanted to know if I could keep going.  Mission accomplished.  I was happy to be done for today, but didn't feel totally trashed... I still have a lot of miles to log between now & September, but this gave me a good boost of confidence.  Plus Steph & I set nearly a 2 hour PR from our time last year.  11 hours & 31 minutes, compared to a slightly different course last year in 13 & 1/2 hours.  And we finished as 10, 11 & 12th women overall.  :-)

I love spending the day on the trail with these ladies.  Plus it was so fun to meet some new people along the way.  Even if it was cold & gross, it was an awesome day!!!!!

Why I Run

I've been doing some thinking lately about why I run.  Why would I register for an event that requires me to "run" 100 miles, if I didn't have a good reason lace up my shoes nearly every day.

Last week I registered for my "A" race of the season - a 100 mile trail race on the Superior Hiking Trail in Northern Minnesota held in early September.  Training for this event is going to require me to log hundreds of miles on my feet over the coming months.

So I asked myself, Kate, why DO you run?

Here are some reasons that I came up with:
* I always feel better when it's done.
* To catch up with girlfriends.
* To enjoy some alone time.
* To listen to music.
* To enjoy the solitude of the woods.
* To avoid becoming complacent.
* To watch the changing of the seasons.
* To enjoy a sunrise.
* To enjoy a sunset.
* To look at the stars.
* To explore new places.
* To push my limits.
* I enjoy food more.
* A hot shower never felt so good.
* It becomes meditative.
* To relieve stress.
* To solve a problem.
* It becomes an outlet for my competitive spirit.
* To meet new people.

These are just a few reasons I lace up my shoes nearly every day & head out the door.  As I came up with this list, what really became clear is that there is no 1 reason why I run.  And each run can start as one reason & morph into another.  There are as many reasons for me to run as workouts I need to log!

Each day is a new adventure & I'm really excited to dive into training for my 100 mile event.  I'm looking forward to exploring new trails & parks around Minnesota & meeting new people along the way.  I'm excited to share many of those miles with my good friends & enjoy their company on trails new & old.

Until next time.  Happy trails!