Looonnnggggg overdue race recap, so here’s a heavily condensed version.
Per the encouragement of a friend, I registered for the Salomon City Trailers Loppet 10K a couple days before the race. Fortunately I’d been running weekday mornings with Eleven, so I was somewhat prepared and ended up finishing in just under an hour!
It was a cool (50 degrees), soggy day in May and totally worth caking my Terra Kigers in layers of mud. The course started in Robbinsdale and followed a sidewalk/single track/rocky/railroad/bike path to Minneapolis. Definitely a new-to-me trek from a suburb to the city.
Highly recommend this race to brand new trail runners and experienced trail racers alike!
After four months of training, planning and gear accumulating, we finally did the thing–the Tuscobia Winter Ultra 80-mile run (ahem, walk)–a mostly unsupported footrace on the Tuscobia State Trail in northern Wisconsin.
Our group (Jen, me, 2 friends, 1 friend’s mom and dad, plus their 3 friends and one of those friend’s sons i.e. BIG group) opted to stay at a hotel in Park Falls so we could skip the early race morning shuttle from Rice Lake and drive ourselves to the start only five minutes away.
Gear Check (Rice Lake)
Jen and I emailed the race directors twice about a couple pieces of our required gear. Even before race weekend, we knew they were the nicest of people and responsive to our questions. Thankfully we took Friday off to finalize our packing and food prep. My nerves didn’t kick in until we were on the road and we both hung out in the car for a few minutes after we arrived, knowing each step toward the gear check building was one step closer to starting this crazy race.
Our group decided to make our way toward Park Falls, and stopped at a bar along the way for dinner. The pitchers of Spotted Cow gracing our group’s tables were tempting, but Jen and I opted to hold off on alcohol and instead indulged in a shared glass of lemonade. I felt a draft and kept thinking, “if this lil’ draft is noticeable, how am I going to survive overnight, on a trail, in subzero temps…”
How many sleds can you fit in a modest motel room? Three! At least. Jen, Cory, and I each brought our sleds and gear into the room so we could fall asleep knowing we were set for the race in the morning.
The Start (Park Falls)
Unlike most race mornings where I have to stop myself from eating too much breakfast, I barely choked down a homemade peanut butter ball and coffee. I did make sure to down a bottle of Nuun (sugarless electrolyte tablet added to water). We left the hotel around 9am, sleds reloaded, nerves revived despite a surprisingly good night’s sleep.
The school common area was filled with racers and their cheer crews, volunteers, plus 160-mile runners passed out on sleeping pads under the lunch tables. The 160-mile fat tire bikers had taken off earlier Saturday morning, and the 160-mile runners and skiers started early the previous morning.
It felt a little chaotic, but the dominant force was excitement and trying to stay warm until the final minutes before the 10 a.m. start.
In below-zero-degree-Fahrenheit weather, the mass of skiers, fat tire bikers, and runners/walkers tethered to sleds gathered in the parking lot a.k.a our start line. The sun was shining and truly felt like a perfect day for this race.
First 30 miles
I was sleepy. Our group mostly stayed together, stopped briefly to eat Uncrustable PB&J sandwiches, and took advantage of a steep hill to ride our sleds down. We chatted, joked, and walked… and walked… and walked some more. It was… fun! Well, aside from my midweight leg layer digging into my hips, but other than that, great. We averaged an 18:00/mile pace. Jess’ family friends cheered for us, enthusiastically!
Eventually Jen and I trekked on our own and decided on our first stop, a bar in Winter, WI for a quick dinner and to rest our feet for a bit. The bar space was great, the greasy fries and not-fully cooked chicken strips weren’t ideal. Fortunately, there was plenty of space to sprawl out, warm up, and drink a glass of lemonade, plus the bar was just a minute or two walk from the trail. I also swapped out the batteries in my flashing red LED lights.
After an hour and adding another top layer, we continued on toward Ojibwa, home of the sole checkpoint.
The Checkpoint (~ mile 35)
It was dark, we were getting tired, so for a brief moment we thought, “What if we passed the turn for the checkpoint?!” Yikes. Luckily that really was not possible with how well-marked the turn-off was to the 80-mile race’s only checkpoint. Around 10pm we arrived at the old stone building, filled with incredibly helpful volunteers, soup, hot water, snacks, and heaters. We changed our socks and shoes, added more Vaseline to our feet (blister prevention), gulped down chicken soup and drank some soda (ginger ale to help Jen’s rawish chicken belly and Coca Cola for the caffeine for me). We stayed longer than we originally planned, but it was nice to use a ‘bathroom’ (outhouse) and ‘freshen up.’
And here’s when the trouble started. Jen’s hip flexors were giving her serious trouble that only got worse…
We departed the checkpoint after 11pm and just kept moving. We tried stretching and walking a little slower to ease the increasing pain in Jen’s hips and now, also in her Achilles tendon. Jess and her mom beat us to Radisson (around mile 40), their pre-selected drop-out point. Cory was with them too. Jen could’ve easily dropped at this point, but stubbornly (I would’ve done the same!) decided to keep going.
I wish I had taken a picture of Mars… this farm field in the middle of the night, covered in heaps of perfectly rounded snow mounds. The laser lights looked incredible as they extended beyond a farm building onto the trees and across the trail. We started to get chilly; a sure sign it was time to put on our toasty REI coats. It couldn’t have taken more than two minutes to remove our reflective vests, put on the coats, and re-add the reflective vests–but negative 14 degrees (or maybe it was colder?) has a way of permeating extremities. Our hands were frozen. We had kept them covered at all times with thin gloves, though and re-added our warm mittens, which fit into our big coat pockets to warm our hands back up after several minutes. Arm circles helped warm us up too. Unfortunately, the cold was the easy part. Jen’s hips were in bad shape. She could barely walk, each step looking like she had just stepped off a horse after a trek across the country. I couldn’t offer any solutions, just a few hugs and supportive words as we both knew what was coming…
We didn’t know Jess, her mom, and Cory would be parked at a crossroad near mile 45, but thank goodness they were there waiting to cheer us on. With no other reasonable choice, Jen called it in. I assured her I’d be OK on my own despite it being after 3am. If I got in trouble, and didn’t have cell reception, I’d use the 2-way radio we’d borrowed (in retrospect, awful plan, I didn’t know how to use that thing). She loaded her sled into the SUV, and I continued on, alone.
Alone at night
The hours leading up to sunrise seemed to go by quickly, alone in my own thoughts that didn’t extend beyond the race itself and silly song lyrics that somehow made their way into my head. I stopped briefly to drink cold broth from my thermos. I avoided turning my head to the left or right, because illuminating the woods with my headlamp would’ve almost certainly resulted in being startled by an animal.
Suddenly, the sun was rising! At this point, pending any acute injuries, I felt convinced I’d make it to the finish. Jen, Cory, Jess and her mom stopped a couple times to cheer me on. They were amazing in transitioning from racer to cheer crew, and even picked up a guy who was trying without success to dry off his soaking cotton layers inside a sleeping bag and bivvy sack.
One guy I passed poking around in his sled, later zoomed passed me on the back of a snowmobile, his sled and gear towed behind in an even larger towing sled.
I subsisted on homemade peanut butter balls (chia seeds, honey, oats, dark chocolate chips, peanut butter) and Tailwind in my hydration pack (making sure to blow the water out of the hose after each drink to avoid water freezing in the tube). My waist pack was stocked with snacks–gum, ginger candies, Honey Stinger caffeinated chews, chocolate-covered espresso beans–that I nibbled on.
Somewhere along this long stretch from Couderay to Birchwood (17.5 miles) the lateral side of my right foot started to hurt. But then it’d subside. And come back, only temporarily before subsiding, again. I stopped off to the side to grab my original shoes from a duffel bag on the sled. They were so frozen and hard. I shoved them on anyway. Eventually they softened up, and the carbon Superfeet insert helped ease soreness in both feet.
Ed’s Pit Stop and the LONGEST 17 miles, ever
I made it to Ed’s Pit Stop around 11am on Sunday. The quaint dining area was filled with racers, some looking exhausted, some chattering away. Jess’ mom greeted me and talked, while I wolfed down a surprisingly good pre-made cheeseburger, washed down with a Starbucks sparkling energy juice. It was a great pick-me-up. Plus, I got to see Jen, Jess, and Cory (they had just returned from picking up the cars we parked at the start area).
I took off before noon, eager to finish the remaining 17 miles. Traveling around 3 mph meant that even with less than 20 miles to go, I still had several hours before finishing. I only encountered a 160-mile racer and two fat tire bikers along this stretch. It felt endless, particularly as my right foot was hurting with increased frequency (luckily, still subsiding in pain in equal frequency) and I was confused about the mileage remaining on the Tuscobia State Trail and then on the Wild Rivers State Trail. It must’ve been a couple hours later that Jen, Jess, and Cory were just ahead, cheering me on again. That helped, a lot. Then I started feeling anxious knowing I wasn’t going to finish before dark, and started feeling bad for anyone from our group waiting for at the end. I couldn’t move fast enough! Really, I couldn’t. Not any faster than a 17:00/mile pace, and more often a 20:00/mile pace. But I kept moving. And took a photo of some bison.
Cold hands and the Finish (Rice Lake)
Probably around 5pm on Sunday I started to feel chilly. I stopped to put on that cozy REI coat, unfortunately not taking care to make sure my hands stayed warm throughout the finagling. My hands felt rock hard, but I was lucky they eventually warmed up sans frostbite.
A half hour or so later I saw flashing red lights ahead, unsure if that was a biker that had passed me or the finish line marker. But then I saw the silhouettes of my Tuscobia companions and I picked up the pace.
31 hours and 30 minutes after starting, I was so happy to be greeted by my race companions–Jen, Cory, Jess and her parents–at the finish. One of the race directors congratulated me and took my photo under the ‘finisher’s’ Tuscobia Winter Ultra banner. I ate two slices of pizza, lay on the floor, recorded one more Facebook Live video thanking friends and family for posting encouraging comments I read a couple times during the race, and pet the unofficial race dog that had followed random racers for hours.
Of the 146 racers that started (80-mile and 160-mile runners, bikers, and skiers), 86 racers finished. I feel proud to be among the finishers. I also feel SUPER proud of Jen for completing OVER HALF the race. As someone who was commonly skeptical of her own abilities, she pushed through discomfort, reaching far beyond her comfort zone into brand new territory and completed SO MANY miles beyond what she’d ever done in the past. We both wish she had finished. But that doesn’t take away all that she accomplished.
Jen and I have talked about a few things we’d do differently next time, gear tweaks, major training changes… in other words, it’s not out of the question that we’d find ourselves on the Tuscobia Winter Ultra start line, at least once more…
Big shoutouts to our Tuscobia race group (including racers and cheer crew), the volunteers, the race directors, the team at Fleet Feet Marathon Sports (an awesome place for buying gear and working a side gig), Lyn Lake Chiropractic (they generously sponsored a few of my care appointments leading up to the race) and friends & family for their support!
I debated back and forth between water-resistant running shoes, short gaiters, tall gaiters, a boot-esque running shoe, and more. Ultimately, I semi-randomly ordered a pair of shoes that worked out for the absolute best (Gore-Tex trail shoe, modest heel-to-toe drop). And unlike a few other items I experimented with on race day, I did wear these A LOT beforehand to get fully acquainted. I’ve done well with zero-drop (i.e. Altra Lone Peak) for long running efforts, but I’ve noticed they don’t work as well for me in long walking efforts.
Primary socks: FITS Sock Expedition socks (thick and wool)
Secondary socks: FITS Medium Hiker Crew (wool)
Primary shoe: North Face Ultra Endurance GTX with a carbon Superfeet insert
Secondary shoe: Altra Lone Peak Neoshell
Yaktrax RUN (didn’t need ’em)
Wool and synthetic-blend layers were KEY in staying warm and dry.
Mizuno wool long-sleeve baselayer with a Saucony light fleece long-sleeve on top
REI quarter-zip fleece pullover (added warmth Saturday evening)
North Face windproof jacket (love the chest pocket, loose fit, zippered hand pockets and hood)
Featherweight Mizuno running jacket (added warmth later in the race)
REI Stratocloud Hoodie Jacket (added warmth late Saturday evening and Sunday evening) – I LOVE this coat; Jen and I refer to them as our sleeping bag coats. Even more perfect with the chest media pocket, deep inside pockets, and cozy hood.
Gator Sport fleece-lined face protector (kept our faces warm, easy to breathe out of)
0-degree sleeping bag
1 pint pot
3 flashing red LED lights
The Good Stuff
Not required, but we found this stuff to be essential.
pStyle (a super simple stand-to-pee device I commonly describe as a water slide…)
REI microfiber towel in lieu of tissues or handkerchiefs (SO SOFT on the nose)
Ziploc baggies with the slider closure (so much easier with frozen or mitten-clad hands) for snacks
Hand-warmers and more hand-warmers
Mountainsmith Drift Waistpack – swapped out our padded tool belts for these to store snacks, lights, and attach our pulk system; perfect size, fit and durability
Insulated thermos (not essential because we had hydration bladders, but liquids stayed liquid-y)
Camelbak with insulted hose, filled with Tailwind and worn over baselayer (didn’t freeze!)
A race series for the average runner, featuring the speedy and the inspiring. I’ll self-place myself somewhere in the middle, just out there on the trails of Hyland Lake Park, enjoying the crisp temps and racing vibes.
This is my second year running the complete Salomon Autumn Trail Series–four Wednesday evening races ranging from 3.5 to 4.2 miles–and not-particularly-long-story a little shorter, I ran better this year.
By better I mean, finishing 3 of 4 races faster than last year, faster overall time, and taking 1st in my age group versus 2nd last year in the series.
2016: Total time = 2:00:51, 1st in my age group (F3039)
2015: Total time = 2:03:24, 2nd in my age group (F2029)
The biggest change in training was less about the frequency, and more about the distance and type of training–a couple longer races leading up to the series plus a few more weekly hill repeat sessions. Also, new shoes! Specifically, the Nike Terra Kiger 3, an awesome trail shoe for racing. I think another helpful piece was reminding myself with every step that I needed to push through the discomfort of the pace and keep going. Always keep going.
Aside from earning the cutest little plant for placing in my group, the other highlight of the series occurred after race #3 when a fellow racer told me I looked strong and relaxed. All the more empowering since I was feeling the fatigue of having run a 1/2 marathon the previous weekend.
Although I’m planning to limit the number of races I do in 2017, I definitely plan to include all four Salomon Autumn Trail Series races.
The week leading up to the Medtronic TC 10 Mile I was feeling some marathon envy. Between the road closure signs, the energy at the expo, and social media buzz around the Chicago Marathon and Twin Cities Marathon, 10 miles didn’t sound like nearly enough for a crisp fall morning on the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
In the end, thank goodness I only registered for the 10 mile! Another 16 miles would’ve demolished me after spending nine hours on my feet the previous day working at the marathon expo. Also, that detail of training for a marathon was conspicuously missing from my fitness.
I didn’t have a goal time going into the race (any time would be a PR since I’ve never run a 10 mile race), but I was happy with a sub-1:30 time. Granted the first woman crossed the finish in 52 minutes and 49 seconds… so. much. speed! I also glanced back at my Discover Whitewater Series half marathon time, which was slightly faster. With that said, here are the five best highlights of the race:
Five TC 10-mile highlights
Walked to the start. Convenient downtown location (at least by foot, bike or public transit)
Met up with a friend at the start and awesome knowing we were running the same race; plus, brunch afterward
Run hard, done in under two hours, get same food as the marathoners (chips, bread, broth, fruit)
Spectators. The “Worst parade ever!” signs are getting old but I laughed out loud at a “If Trump can run, so can you” sign and another one later on “If Trump can still run, so can you”
Cool temps and fall colors
This likely marks my last race of the year, unless I opt into running a local turkey trot. Gobble, gobble.
Lesson 1: A road half marathon six days before a trail half marathon ensures you’ll be running on tired legs, REALLY tired legs.
Lesson 2: A cheaper tech shirt that fits a little big at the start of a difficult and humid run will continue to stretch and grow and force you to question the fact that you’re an experienced runner who supposedly knows how to select a race day outfit.
Lesson 3: Relying on aid stations may be the lighter, no-carry option, but also leaves you hungry and in desperate need of fuel, especially during Lesson 1’s situation.
Lesson 4: Always check you’ve locked the porta-potty door. Always.
Lesson 5: You’ll still love the run despite learning these lessons the hard way. Perspective is seeing a guy throw up his breakfast at mile 3, another being held up by four people at mile 8 (and spotting the ambulance shortly thereafter), and another guy tumble and roll a couple times before proceeding on around mile 10.
My race goal was to enjoy a couple hours of trail running at an easy pace. The wave start helped with pacing (I opted for the 2nd of 4 waves)–less temptation to take off fast. The runner traffic jam that grew as we made our way down a narrow, tall-grass/muddy hill within the first few minutes helped keep my as-of-late-desire to take off too quickly in check as well.
The Loppet Foundation describes the course as a “…challenging course with big hills, narrow trails, rocks and logs.” Accurate. Also, mud–a given after a day or two of heavy rain. There was some concrete–a little bike path here, a little random concrete structure there to hop over, a little sidewalk–but primarily awesome single track dirt and roots, patches of cross-country-esque open fields, and even a boardwalk over Wirth Lake.
I struggled. First of all that silly shirt I chose was driving me crazy. To the point I considered taking a couple extra minutes (I was already moving slowly) to slip it off and reattach the race bib to my shorts. Secondly, I was craving calories. I know better than to wait on gels at a typical half marathon, because by the time they’re offered, you’re already in a deficit. Plus, there were no gels… Thank goodness for cut-up bananas at mile 8 though! The best two pieces of banana I ever had. All washed down with the best cup of Gatorade I’ve ever had. Finally, my legs were exhausted from the previous weekend’s race. I got passed. A lot. I hiked it up the hills and cautiously made my way over fallen trees.
Despite working through lessons 1-5 in one race, I accomplished two of two goals–just enjoy it and take it easy.
I woke up four minutes before my alarm, amped for the day’s race in two hours. Fortunately my parents and I stopped at a co-op the day before so I could stock their house with my favorite coffee (Love Buzz, a tasty dark roast). Coffee prepped, I ate exactly what you’re not supposed to on a race day–something I’ve never actually eaten before–but really, what harm could a fancy organic cacao bar do? None, as it turns out (phew!)
I traveled 300 miles for the Discover Whitewater Series half marathon (and to see my parents, hi!), so my duffel bag was packed with three race outfits plus two pairs of running shoes (options, love options). Deciding on the most minimalist outfit–a pair of men’s Brooks spandex shorts (thicker material and longer than most spandex shorts I’ve seen for women), a lightweight Brooks t-shirt (no silly flare at the hips, long enough to cover past the top of my shorts, modest crew cut, and sleeves that happen to be the perfect length and circumference for my scrawny arms), plus the lighter weight shoe option (Altra One)–I grabbed a Honey Stinger gel, partially-filled water bottle and headed outside for the short walk down the street to the starting area.
A view of the start line merely steps away from my parents’ house was one of the many race perks. My parents arrived a few minutes later and we chatted with family friends (small town charm at its finest!) until it was time for the half marathoners to line up behind the inflatable START archway.
3, 2, 1… BANG, I took off… MUCH TOO FAST. Of course I felt great… miles 1, 2, 3, even up to mile 6 the legs are relatively fresh. Then they realize, hey, we’re not trained to keep this pace for this distance… And down goes the energy level. Fortunately I had a caffeinated Honey Stinger ready to go and a peppy volunteer at the next aid station hand me a cup of water. I subsisted on Gatorade (my runner guilty pleasure) throughout most of the race and despite pushing the pace followed by the inevitable slow down, I smiled wide each time my parents appeared, cheering loudly, matching smile for smile.
The course, incredibly well-marked and well-stocked with aid stations and volunteers, plus one high school band, made for a solid reminder of why I’ve been loving trails more and more–that concrete and cement of a road race is brutal on the legs. But I suppose so are the STEEP hills commonly looming around any given trail corner, albeit in a much different way.
Overall, I wanted to finish in under two hours. Considering my half marathon PR is 1:46, I eventually felt good about my 1:50 finish. Plus, after slowing down by 30-45 seconds or so per mile in the latter part of the race, I was pleased to find a burst of leg speed in the final mile for a solid finish down Walworth Avenue, through the high school parking lot and for a lap around the bouncy track. I never doubted I could handle the distance, so there’s that bit of a confidence boost going into this weekend’s Surly Brewing Co. Trail Loppet Half Marathon… Hills, hills, and more hills.
Discover Whitewater Series Highlights
Free pasta dinner (I’m more of a sweet potato or wood-fired pizza type of pre-race dinner person, but the free family dinner was cool)
Several aid stations and super encouraging volunteers at each one
Separate finisher shirts (there was a miscount, so I haven’t yet received my shirt) and medals for each of the three events (5K, 1/2, kids’ race)
Free Kiwanis breakfast post-race (another family meal opportunity)
Free beer and aquatic center pass (sadly as an out of towner I didn’t leave time to take advantage of these perks)
Hometown course! My parents know the area, so it was great to see them often along the course; I also ran into some old high school friends, my 1st grade teacher, my childhood doctor, my childhood swim instructor, plus a few other family friends
Ahh a downhill stretch
Cushy track finish
Thanks to my dad for the great photos!
My mom made sure the car was full of snacks for the long drive back to the Cities, so I started the energy replenishment on the go (blueberries, a green juice, water, plantain chips). Ideally I would’ve taken the time for an epsom salt bath upon arriving home, but maybe I’ll learn my lesson the next time around…starting this weekend after another 13.1 miles in Theodore Wirth Park!
If I had signed up for all the races that looked fun or challenging at the beginning of this year, I’d be broke and injured. So I kept the registrations to a minimum (although a couple of free entries and lower cost races have made for a more than usual race-filled year). With that said, I still managed to race twice in less than a week last month.
The Dirk Siebold Alumni Cross Country Meet – 5K
I’ve been waiting for this cross country meet all year. Now in its 15th year, the annual alumni race pits former Whitewater High School (Wisconsin) CC athletes against the current team in a 5K. OK, it’s not particularly cutthroat, but there are low scores to be earned and a winning team declared. Spoiler alert: The alumni won! I finished in 4th for alumni (6th place for alumni vs. current team and 7th place overall including unattached runners), meaning I scored for our team (score = adding up the overall place finishes of the top 7 runners on each team, lowest total score wins).
The course starts in an athletic field, crosses a street, and heads straight up a steep, grassy hill. Then we wind through a little woodsy area, speed down a quad-crushing hill into another field, and a long/less steep uphill for another downhill into the woods, up ANOTHER STEEP, gravel-ridden hill, for yet another quad-crushing downhill, repeat the field/hills, and back around to the finish! I pulled ahead of a current team member (a.k.a. high school kid) in the first quarter mile and pushed to stay only steps ahead. The group ahead of us was at least a minute away, so I focused on keeping my place (and pace for that matter). In other words, a challenging practice in not giving in to fatigue and doubt for 3.1 miles. For all the effort I felt I put forth in the first 2.5+ miles, I realized in the final quarter mile or so there was more to give. I picked up the pace and bolted down the final stretch across the field to the finish–with a smile of course! (Oddly, but not really surprisingly, I smile a heck of a lot more during a strenuous race than I do in everyday life, but really, who can smile ALL the time?)
The nostalgia continued post-race as I chatted with old high school friends, our former coach (newly crowned the namesake of said CC meet), and indulged in Rocky Rococco pizza.
Jen and I had a few days of recovery time for race #1 of the 4-part Salomon Autumn Trail Series.
Salomon Autumn Trails Series – Race #1 – 4.2 miles
This is our second year participating in the Salomon Autumn Trail Series (2 years ago we ran just the 4th race, last year we loved running the entire series), a lower-key trail run at Hyland Park Reserve in Bloomington, MN. Weather-wise, the night was perfect! Performance-wise, it seemed like I started out too fast for my current fitness, but I ended up placing in the top 10 for women (9 out of 65) and shaving off some time from last year’s first race. Must’ve been the new trail shoes–a pair of Nike Terra Kigers that fit more snugly than my Lone Peaks, yet still offer ample room in the toe box.
A trail run with 160 other runners, some mango slices, a bottle of local beer–not bad for a Wednesday evening.