Testing 1, 2, 3

Four people, a dog, two wagons on the a trail
Lunch break on the Tuscobia State Trail

A weekend away for a dry run on the Tuscobia Winter Ultra course couldn’t have come at a better time–just days post-2016 presidential election. Add in the company of good friends, spouse, and no cell service for a much needed, albeit quite temporary, reprieve from the increasing uneasiness accompanying the results.

I take that back; Jen and I acknowledged the risk of four women venturing to rural Wisconsin post-election. I can’t get over that there was even the need to be appreciative that we didn’t encounter any trouble. I suppose it helped we stuck to an empty campground and a mostly desolate trail… only one confederate flag strewn across a pickup truck crossed our path. As someone who falls into the realm of gender non-conforming and a skin tone whose origin is often left up to viewer discretion, the recent increase in hate crimes left me with a valid concern, but like I said, no harm done beyond heightened awareness.

Back to the trail…

Camp set-up

Tuscobia State Trail sign
Passing through another town, Tuscobia State Trail

After a pre-sunrise departure from Minneapolis, we set up our tent with a 35-degree overnight forecast in mind. Similar approach to dressing for the weather: Layers. We lined the tent with a space blanket, grandmother-made sheep’s wool quilt, inexpensive plush mattress pad (that yellow-ish foamy kind), sleeping pads, and finally, cozy zero-degree sleeping bags.

Day 1 – 20 miles

We (four humans, one German Shepard and one chihuahua) set off on the Tuscobia Trail toward Birchwood, fully loaded with two heavy duty garden wagons and one little Burly for the chihuahua. Since we hadn’t yet pulled a wagon in training, Jen and I opted to switch off every couple hours hauling our new wagon and trying out an ancient (yet quite effective) pair of ski poles that worked well as trekking poles. We lucked out with another gorgeous fall day, around 50 degrees and sunshine.

Jen, Cory, and Jess pulling wagons and hiking up hill
Trekking up one of few inclines, Tuscobia State Trail

The trail, a mix of sand and gravel meant for ATV’s, was a welcome mindless switch from our other long walk endeavors. No maps or trail markers to watch for, no distance or route decisions to be made, just keep moving forward on the seemingly endless trail (spoiler: it does end at 74 miles in Rice Lake).

The goal was to keep a 3-mile an hour walking pace (20-minute miles), and despite quick breaks for snacks, water for the dogs, re-adjusting wagon set-ups, and a 40-minute lunch break, we averaged an overall 25-minute per mile pace.

To pass the time, we chatted, sang (some of us sang, not me, I don’t sing for the best interest of everyone), walked ahead in silence, and occasionally noted that with each step we were that much closer to the tator tot hot dish awaiting us back at camp. Exhaustion, aching feet, and antsiness crept in, but not one of us complained. We simply kept moving forward.

Mishaps

Elizabeth pulling a sled and using trekking poles
First time pulling a sled and using trekking poles

While rope is suggested for rigging up our sleds in the race, rigid poles work better for controlling a wagon in training. Jen and I learned that the hard, wobbly-front-tires way.

Don’t stick a nice winter hat in your little pants pocket expecting it to stay there. It will fall out and you’ll realize it two miles down the trail. On the bright side, you’ll get a gear-free, bonus run in to find said hat while your training mates hang out near a local gas station and bear witness to the aforementioned confederate flag. (Don’t worry, I found my hat.)

Day 2 – 12 miles

We headed the opposite direction of day one with two major highlights: no wagons and only six miles out and back to easily cover in four hours. Compared to Saturday, the miles flew by and we ate lunch while in motion.

The Gear

Two pairs of Altra Lone Peaks
A pair of Lone Peaks with a side of Lone Peaks

Apparel

  • Altra Lone Peak neoshell (zero-drop trail shoe)
  • Merino wool socks
  • Long boxer briefs without too many seams
  • Adventure pants (quick drying active-wear pants with pockets)
  • Lightweight merino wool long sleeve
  • Heavier weight 1/4 zip running pullover layer
  • Light zippered jacket with a hood
  • Lightweight gloves
  • Winter hat

Wagon

  • 400 lb. capacity yardwork wagon
  • Attachment set-up: $17 padded tool belt, two carabiners, thin rope looped through the axel meant for the wagon handle
  • Snacks: Lone Grazer cheese curds, turkey sticks, dark chocolate chips, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, homemade banana walnut muffins, beef jerky
  • Lunch: Homemade beef, spinach, cheddar cheese tortilla wrap; apple; Pirate’s Booty (a luxurious slightly salty co-op treat)
  • Extra trail shoes
  • Extra socks
  • Rope
  • Knife

Backpack

  • Bladder filled with H20 plus Tailwind
  • Red LED lights
  • Headlamp
  • Reflective vest
  • Pocket knife
  • Water bottle
  • Portable USB charger
  • Phone
  • GPS watch attached to one of the straps with a carabiner

What’s Next

Elizabeth and Jen, on a bridge with sun shining on a creek
Training partners for life <3, Tuscobia State Trail

Logging so many miles boosted our confidence. Sure, 20 miles wasn’t easy (to me it felt more tiring than running 20 miles, but I’ve also never done a long run pulling a wagon), but we pushed through it and only have to tack on another 60 miles in two months (breathe in, breathe out, on repeat!). Jen and I are feeling on track with training, but also re-realized the importance of pulling weight at our waists, so we’ll be breaking out the old car tires for a weekly longish walk.

Experiencing the boredom, fatigue and hiking from daylight to sundown provided critical physical, and likely more importantly, mental training. I don’t know that I’ve ever said this before, but… I’m eagerly awaiting snow so we can practice hauling our gear on sleds.

In it for the long haul

Fall colors over the Mississippi River in Minnesota
Mississippi River, October 2016

We’re five weeks into training for our next big adventure together—the Tuscobia Winter Ultra 80 mile run. Yes, 80 miles. In the winter. In Wisconsin. Pulling a sled filled with gear. It’s going to be awesome!

While our training plan is varied in activities—hot yoga, body and free weight strength training, rock climbing, tire pulls, hill repeats—we’ve zeroed in on the long walk. Realistically, we won’t be running too much on the Tuscobia Trail. We’ll be traveling at an average of three miles per hour, hauling our sleds, avoiding frost bite and debilitating pain. Therefore, increasing the time we can walk in one-go is critical to our success. At least, that’s what we think is the case.

The Long Walks

Week 1 – Mississippi River

Jen standing on a swing under a metal bridge
Swinging near the Mississippi

Jen made us a plate of hearty french toast (the BEST bread you can get in Minneapolis, locally milled) complete with seeds, fresh eggs, and Vermont maple syrup (an awesome wedding gift). Then off we went for a 12-mile walk through Minneapolis along West River Pkwy. The neat thing about this route is the option to go off road and walk along the river, complete with structures to climb and dirt to trudge through until we hit Minnehaha Parkway, another beautiful pedestrian and bike trail through Minneapolis. Tried out a 1-mile run at mile nine and learned walking does in fact tire out the legs.

Quick stats: 12 miles | 3:56:07

Week 2 – No long walk

Two weeks in and already skipping out on training? Not exactly. I had registered for the Twin Cities 10 mile and worked a nine-hour shift at the expo the previous day—a LONG day despite no walking. Jen squeezed in an 11-mile bike ride to cheer me on at the race.

Week 3 – Lebanon Hills

Elizabeth and Jen at Lebanon Hills
Lebanon Hills, me and Jen

A beautiful, not too populated set of trails only 20 minutes away from Minneapolis led us through our first official trail hike and a view of peak Minnesota fall colors. As a little incentive, we each picked up a donut from Glam Doll Donuts (OK, I got TWO) for a mid-walk treat. Here’s where I start jotting down random Tuscobia thoughts in a Notes app since these long walk conversations tend to find their way back to their original purpose (race prep). The list is filled with food picks for the race, of course.

Quick stats: 14.25 miles | 4:40:34

Week 4 – Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun + Fort Snelling

Airplane
Up close with the planes above Fort Snelling

Saturday, Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun… A route that I’ve run many times before, so high probability of boredom setting in early on. But, toss in a time constraint and flat terrain for a fun and fast-paced walk on another gorgeous fall day in Minnesota. Bonus: bacon and cheese croissant and a chai from Sparrow Cafe post-speedy-ish walk.

Sunday, Fort Snelling… We’ve walked through Fort Snelling once before together and somehow I had forgotten how CLOSE the planes get near the main entrance of the park. Whew. A short drive from home (or light rail ride), and although it’s woodsy, it doesn’t quite have that out-of-the-city feel i.e planes and people-a-plenty. We added in a 10-minute run that didn’t feel awful after a few walking miles. Progress.

Quick stats: Sat. – 7 miles | 1:53:24 and Sun. – 13 miles | 3:43:10

Week 5 – Banning State Park

Banning State Park
Banning State Park, rugged terrain section

We felt like a couple of klutzes, tripping over little rocks and slogging through hundreds (thousands?) of crinkly leaves. I had a head cold and we both “sprinted” several repeats tethered to a car tire the previous day. We didn’t know how exhausted our legs were until we hit the relatively uninteresting trail. We learned two things though: Our boredom finally subsided, so maybe this training thing is working our brains too and Banning State Park is awesome after you get through the first few less-than-stimulating miles. Lunch by the river, rugged terrain, and a steep hill made for an impressive trek only an hour and a half outside the city.

Quick Stats: 15 miles | 6:17:36

So what’s up next? Well, more long walks, more twice-a-week strength training sessions at home, a switch from weekly hot yoga to indoor rock climbing, and a camping adventure on the Tuscobia Trail where we’ll pull an all-terrain wagon and test our anticipated race day nutrition.

We’re definitely in it for the long haul.

Salomon Autumn Trail Series 2016

Small plant and goat stuffed animal
I won a little plant (1st in age group), and a little goat (raffle)

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.

Salomon-tweet.png
Run tweets.

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.

Twin Cities 10 Mile

Medtronic Twin Cities 10 mile finish line
Finishing the Twin Cities 10 mile! Found myself (sporting the black compression calf sleeves) in the Kare 11 finish line video.

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.

Me and Hannah post-race
Me and Hannah post-race!

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

8:45 per mile, 2372 out of 9203 overall, 1046 out of 5987 females, 200 out of 1033 females 30-34
2372nd place out of 9203 runners…
  1. Walked to the start. Convenient downtown location (at least by foot, bike or public transit)
  2. Met up with a friend at the start and awesome knowing we were running the same race; plus, brunch afterward
  3. Run hard, done in under two hours, get same food as the marathoners (chips, bread, broth, fruit)
  4. 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”
  5. 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.

Surly Trail Loppet Half Marathon

Surly Trail Loppet, 2016, start/finish area
Surly Trail Loppet, 2016, start/finish area

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.

Running through the mud
Charging through the mud!
Photo credit: Steve Kotvis, f/go (www.f-go.us)

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.

Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis is home to the annual Surly Trail Loppet half marathon, 13.1K, and 5K. I’ve had my eye on this trail race for a few years, so despite “preparing” with the Discover Whitewater Series half marathon the week before (eh, timing) I dug out my muddiest Lone Peaks for 13.1 miles of sloppy fun.

Running toward the finish line
The finish in sight, finally
Photo credit: Jen

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.

Finish time: 2:20:59, 10:46/mile, 396/630 overall, 119/261 females, 46/98 females 30-39 age group
Finish time: 2:20:59, 10:46/mile, 396/630 overall, 119/261 females, 46/98 females 30-39 age group

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.

 

Discover Whitewater Series Half Marathon

whitewater-half-marathon-2016-start
At the start of the Discover Whitewater Series half marathon, 2016
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!)

whitewater-half-marathon-2016-2
Favorite moderately androgynous summer-time running outfit
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.

Whitewater-half-marathon-2016-certificate.png
Overall place: 60/228, Female 30-34: 4/13, Overall Female: 14/123
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

Thanks to my dad for the great photos!

Post-race

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!

Two races, one week

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.

Elizabeth about to cross the finish line
WHS Cross Country Alumni meet, 2016, running to the finish!

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).

Jen's first CC meet, my I can't even remember how many, and Cristina's approximately the same unknown count
CC meet, post-race, Jen, me & Cristina

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

My feet in the Nike Terra Kigers
Nike Terra Kiger, new trail shoes

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.

Next race: Salomon Autumn Trail Series – Race #2 and the Discover Whitewater Series 1/2 Marathon