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.
I asked a co-worker about the St. Paul Trail Half Marathon earlier this year; she said it was fun and I should try it. Since she’s the most experienced trail runner of the store I thought well yeah, I should give it a try! Fast forward a few months and a series of four ‘Bluff Tuff’ runs popped up in my Facebook newsfeed–a weekly series of free training runs led by Endurance United and sponsored by Saucony (hey there old shoe friend, Saucony Peregrine) and Fleet Feet Marathon Sports (hey there oldest running specialty shop in the Twin Cities).
Going into the training series I had my sights set on the full marathon. And then I ran parts of the course a couple times and realized the smart call was to run the half–still more than a handful of miles, but exponentially less pain with moderate preparation.
On a rainy Saturday August morning, I hung out inside the Battle Creek Recreational Center after picking up my hand-colored bib (each of the 3 races had a different color bib) and cool race t-shirt. I debated for 45 minutes whether or not to wear my waist pack in order to carry along a bottle of coconut water/lemon juice and a few Honey Stinger gels. Fortunately I realized before lining up at the start line that an approximately two-hour race in not-t00-warm, rainy weather on a course with a few aid stations meant no need for weighing myself down with a water bottle (no matter how good that lemony coconut water would’ve tasted). I must’ve also sensed that my shorts selection for this particularly sopping wet race day was enough added weight, as they seemed to somehow absorb a little too much water for a moisture-wicking material… (whoops, old shorts!).
Back to the course… The best part of the entire race! Trails! Rain! Mud! A little pavement, single-track, plenty of trees, grass, STAIRS… even the half had it all.
To get an idea of just how muddy the woods were, check out this short Facebook video clip posted by one of the race organizers. Trees (to keep balanced) on the down hills and grass (for hand traction) on the up hills helped, a lot.
The course was well-marked, especially considering all 3 races (10K, 1/2 marathon, full marathon) overlapped at some point(s) along the course. As a half-marathoner, I thought the aid stations were SUPER well-stocked, but I imagine the candies, chips, fruit, etc. were there for the marathoners;)
I was lucky enough to have a personal cheer crew of one–wife extraordinaire–who found me at several spots along the way and even took a few quick videos of me smiling and waving…because I love running just that much!
All in all, the trail 1/2 was an incredibly fun mix of running terrain. Plus, the finish chute ended at a great brewery (Flat Earth Brewing) in St. Paul, where each runner received one free beer (or soda).
40-second video of the 2016 St. Paul Trail Half Marathon
Ice water with Nuun
2x sourdough toast, one with avocado, the other with butter
Gatorade at the 1st aid station
2x Honey Stinger Gel Gold + water at two other aid stations
Running shoe of choice: Altra Lone Peak 2.5
I’ve since (one week later) run my high school cross country alumni race! Recap on the way…
A couple days after spending two and a half days seated in a kayak for miles at a time, I ran 7 miles in the final race of the 2016 Endless Summer Trail Run Series (ESTRS) at Hyland Park Reserve in Bloomington, MN. Considering my legs weren’t feeling fresh and the air was HUMID, I enjoyed the time spent back on the trails.
Wary of the heat, but knowing there’d be a water stop at mile 3.5, I debated brining along a water bottle. Fortunately I erred on the side of caution and grabbed my handheld water bottle. A little cup of Heed from the aid station and a quick soak from a water gun at the half way point helped too.
The course, a ‘double lollipop’ as the race director described it, was wide enough for multiple runners and not particularly technical, primarily on grassy and wood chip terrain.
On top of getting to run another midweek race, followed by a cold beer and plenty of pizza, I ran into a new friend from the aforementioned kayaking trip! A couple also came up to me after the race and said I had been their ‘unofficial’ pacer for the latter part of the race (alas, they did end up finishing faster than me). Running, a great place for meeting people!
Next year, I hope to run all four of the ESTRS races.
Running shoe of choice: Altra Lone Peak 2.5
Upcoming races: The St. Paul Trail 1/2 Marathon! I ran 3 out of the 4 Bluff Tuff training runs to explore parts to the rugged course (which ultimately convinced me the full was not a…smart option this time around). After a mix of shorter races and LONG distance runs earlier this year, I’m looking forward to running (fast hiking up the steep hills) a comfortably tough distance on Saturday. Plus, the late morning (9:30) start time sounds quite luxurious.