2016 Reflections/2017 Goals

Earlier last month I had the opportunity to draft my 2016 running reflections and 2017 goals for the final Fleet Feet Marathon Sports newsletter of 2016. The lengthiest of the bunch (slightly embarrassingly so), here’s what I wrote:

2016 was the year I dove into ultra running. Dubbed Ultra Birthday, I ran 30 miles on January 30 to celebrate my 30th birthday. The best part, aside from finishing my first run over 26.2 and this birthday falling on a Saturday, was enjoying the company of family and friends throughout the run down the Greenway and (several times) around Harriet, Calhoun, and Isles. I got lucky the temps happened to be in the 30s that day. In April I trudged through the intense Zumbro 50-miler, with a starting temp of 17 degrees. Then, I racked up several shorter race finishes, mostly on trails… Stigma Breakers 5K at the Whitetail Wood Regional Park, a road 5K in my hometown since I was visiting my parents, a couple of the Endless Summer Trail Run Series races, the Midnight Owl 15K in New Hampshire (again, visiting family) with my sister, the supremely muddy St. Paul Trail Half Marathon, all four Salomon Autumn Trail Series races at Hyland Park with my partner, a half marathon back in my hometown, the Surly Trail Loppet Half Marathon (a week after the hometown road half… ouch), and the Twin Cities 10 Mile.

My goal for 2017 is to balance running with strength—continuing a twice-weekly body weight/free weight routine, a regular dose of hot yoga, and keeping nagging ailments in check with acupuncture and stretching/foam rolling. Race-wise, I’ll start the year off with my most brutal race yet—the Tuscobia Winter Ultra 80-mile run in January with my partner and two friends. I also have my sights set on the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler in Wisconsin and the Salomon Autumn Trail Series, again. So, another year of mixed distances, but more structured in timing and training. Plus, reading more runner memoirs and posting on This is How I Run.

I think the only thing I missed in that recap is my plan to volunteer at a few local races and for an organization like Girls on the Run.

The #1 goal is to be grateful for what I accomplish in running this year. With each finish in 2016, the excitement quickly faded into expecting more from myself or maybe more accurately, regret that I hadn’t done more training, preparation, anything really, to make the moment one I could be proud of. The thing is, I did do the thing. And isn’t that the point? To take action, test limits, and then do it all over again, maybe a little differently because of the lessons learned in the successes and failures?

Jen and I are charging into 2017 with our first ever winter ultra–the Tuscobia Winter Ultra 80-mile run–on Jan. 7 and that will be one HUGE test in appreciating more than just the finish line. I’m already proud of our consistent training, lessons learned, thoughtfully packed sleds, careful gear selection, and even for our excitement (bottled with plenty of nerves) going into the race. Here’s to hopefully crossing the finish line in under 37 hours and to the little victories along the way that provide the means to make that possible.

30 miles on the Luce Line

Luce Line Trail
Luce Line State Trail, 2016

Following a lazy, lazy Thanksgiving holiday — sure, we hauled tires for an hour one day and went for an easy 3-mile walk another day, but nothing within the realm of a full training load — we haphazardly decided on going 30 miles this past Saturday, with a 12-15 mile walk on Sunday.

Wagon re-hitched with PVC pipe (thanks to Jen’s handy work and mighty drill) and gear packed up Friday night, we took off Saturday morning for the start of the Luce Line State Trail in Plymouth. We were both in… moods of sorts, meaning neither of us was really game to start this hike that we knew would last all morning and afternoon into the evening (that’s a terrible way to get going, obviously). Tack on a still wobbly wagon (guess it’s meant to use with a handle) and groups of runners (hey there, dose of envy) looking dubiously at our 4-wheeled companion, we had a rough start.

Fortunately, we still had 29.75 miles to work it out.

It’s funny how the simple act of placing one foot in front of the other, over… and over… and over again can clear up a tough mental patch. We both settled into an acceptable pace and enjoyable conversation. We stayed hydrated, ate homemade energy balls and daydreamed about that burger and fries we planned on grabbing post-all day walk.

Although the crushed limestone Luce Line State Trail starts in a populated suburb, each side of the trail lined with big houses, eventually you make your way into rural Minnesota, complete with cows, horses and sheep. We saw a llama farm, but sadly no llamas. We also saw a cat, but it had no interest in us and ran off before we could even try to coax it for a pet or two. I had high hopes of spotting a coffee shop off to the north or south as we crossed each intersection, but instead settled for our insulated jug of hot water and ginger tea. Snacks were top notch, specifically honing in on the savory side i.e. crackers and plantain chips. The homemade energy balls were filling, fatty and not too sweet i.e. perfection.

Moving ahead to mile 14, Jen and I debated back and forth about which mileage tracker to use–my watch or the posted wooden mile markers. I was all for taking a photo with mile marker 15; however, we opted to turn around before that point, when my watch hit 15.00 (I’m the one who will do circles around the car or apartment building to get that extra fraction of a mile for an even .00 or .50, while Jen begrudgingly follows me or simply sits in the car waiting for me to finish up our days’s trek).

So, those first 15 miles weren’t bad. At 16, I somewhat sarcastically commented how happy I was that our car was parked 14 miles away. And then suddenly–an hour+ later–we approached mile 20. Time to pull out the earbuds for the first time in all of our training for some podcast listening and a brief stretch (focusing on the hip flexors and lower back).

While I found my second wind (partially due to being free of wagon pulling for the day after completing my three shares of 5 mile sessions), Jen’s enthusiasm was in decline mode at mile 25. Fully immersed in an episode of Ten Junk Miles and the bit of path I could see lit by our headlamps, I didn’t realize the pain settling into Jen’s feet.

“Fast” forward to miles 26/27, as we make our way out of a tunnel and up a tiny hill, I turn around to ask Jen if she’s doing OK and realize NOPE, not OK. For an ultra distance newbie, she’s prepared for the discomfort that comes with ultra territory, but at this point she’s experiencing intense foot pain, maybe blisters? Maybe flesh-eating-walking-way-too-much-in-one-day-and-newish-shoes-disease? Who knows!

Fortunately, I, 1) bypassed hard-ass mode with ‘don’t worry/you’re doing great/I’m proud of you/just take it one step at a time and don’t even think twice about the upcoming (EIGHTY MILE) distance mode’ and 2) she toughed it out and kept moving despite each painful step, plus 3) I took the wagon back for the last mile.

I also talked her through our three race day goals:

  1. Cross the START line
  2. Walk as far as we possibly can
  3. Cross the finish line

In other words, we have an excellent chance of accomplishing 2 out of 3 goals. Not bad for our first ultra together and her first ultra, ever.

Recovery, part 1: Delicious homemade soup (even in pain, Jen willingly whipped up one awesome dinner), hot epsom salt bath, early bed time

Recovery, part 2: We skipped the second long walk, but still mustered up 5 miles on Sunday around Lake of the Isles. Jen’s feet are doing well (no blisters, ‘just’ intense burning for a full day). My left foot has hurt unrelentingly for the past few days. The joys and mysteries of endurance training.

Next up: This Saturday and Sunday we’ll fit in tire pulling and long walks before and after a myriad of weekend plans.


Quick Specs

Total Time: 10 hours, 45 minutes

Footwear: Altra Lone Peak 2.0 neoshell

Food List:

  • Late July organic crackers (fancy Ritz)
  • Back to Nature crispy cheddar crackers
  • Plantain chips
  • Wild Ginger Harvest bulk trail mix (dark chocolate chips, dried ginger, almonds)
  • Beef jerky
  • Ginger tea
  • 2x jugs hot water
  • 2x bladders with Tailwind
  • Homemade beef, spinach, cheddar cheese tortilla wrap
  • Homemade no-bake energy balls (Whole Foods crunchy PB, Wedge bulk oats & ground flax seed, dark chocolate chips, local honey, real vanilla)

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.