January is not yet over and 2012 is still rather fresh. Not too late to type out a few thoughts about running this past year, right? Mainly, I’m going to use photos to highlight some of my best memories in my running-related adventures from 2011. Over the entire year I ran 1,396 miles, a bit more than in 2010, but not as many as I would have predicted. June was my highest mileage month with 181 miles, December was my low with only 72. Best part of the year was managing to stay almost entirely injury free, except for a few minor strains, bumps and bruises.

Heading to Santa Barbara in early March, I was able to find reprieve from the Minnesota winter and rejuvenate my legs with running along the beach and in the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

rusty, trusty sign

My second run in the Santa Barbara area was on the Jesusita Trail along a creek, then up into the mountains and ending near Inspiration Point rewarding me with a fantastic view back towards the city and ocean.

banana slug!

Here’s a banana slug on the Arroyo Burro Trail. Little did I know at the time, but as the year went on I’d have several trail running experiences where I’d come to feel exactly like a slug on the trail.

the three mountain running superstars

Elodie, Scarlet and I on the Rattlesnake Canyon Trail. What a gorgeous spring day to be running in the wilderness with friends!

on Tunnel Trail at the end of Rattlesnake Connector

After splitting off from Elodie and Scarlet for awhile, I was able to get higher into the mountains and eventually come to some magnificent views towards the back country.

back from where I came on Rattlesnake Connector

Such a narrow trail enticing one to fly along in search of adventure. Spots like this always leave me yearning for what’s over the next hill or around the next corner. There is always more to see!

sweaty, happy trail runner up in the mountains

Looking back towards Santa Barbara here the city is hidden beneath the marine layer fog. After running and gradually ascending into the mountains, much is clarified besides the view in various directions.

In mid April I took on my first race beyond marathon distance, the Trail Mix 50K on the trails of Hyland Lake Park in Bloomington, MN.

cuddly couple

As usual, Sarah offered great support throughout the race. Seeing her along the way was always a boost.

about 2/3 of the way through my third loop, wishing it was my last, but no, there'll be another

This race, being my first time running more than 27 miles, presented lots of opportunity to struggle with exhaustion and dead-feeling legs. However, I always found I could keep moving and running easily, even if my pace was incredibly slow.

finishing up loop #3

The 50K course featured 4 loops of 7.75 miles with the terrain getting soggier and more torn up as the day went on. Repeating the same loop time and time and time again was a major mental challenge. By the time I stopped I had my first 50K in the books with a time of 6:00:02.

In May good running friend Shannon and I found a trail race in eastern Minnesota at a privately owned farm— the Growing Green 20K. After an incredibly wet spring, we had lots of water to deal with. Several creek crossings and soggy fields got the runners completely soaked and rather muddy, but what a blast!

cruising along happily

With only 15 competitors running the 20K, I found myself in 3rd place early on and decided to push on to see if I could manage a top 3 finish. Still feeling strong from the past month’s 50K, running hard over less than half that distance was rather easy and lots of fun on sloppy trails.

ALL RIGHT!

I was never able to catch up to 2nd place, but I won 3rd. First podium finish in a race since high school, but it sure helped to be part of such a small field of competitors. Still, what fun! I finished with a time of 1:48.26 for an average pace of 8:52 per mile, which seems slow, but not for that tough course and especially those sloppy trails.

looking on ominously

WOOHOO!

Throughout the year Shannon joined me on a lot of running adventures. We ran a few races together and did several training runs throughout Minnesota on trails. She’s been a good friend, to both Sarah and I, and is one of the few people in my life that fully understands my love of trail running.

Shannon and I at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge

Here we are putting in some miles at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge.

In early July I took on my second 50K and had to drop at the halfway point due to electrolyte imbalance issues related to the exertion over an incredibly tough course. Because of the Minnesota government’s failure to pass a budget, state parks were closed and the race couldn’t be held at Afton State Park as usual. Instead, the race was held at the nearby Afton Alps Ski Area, which is an incredibly hilly downhill ski area! Not only were the hills more intense than they would have been in the state park, but much of the race was back and forth across slopes which were fully exposed to the intense sun of the day. All in all a great experience as I learned more about my limits and how to fuel properly in such conditions.

Afton Trail Run 50K/25K,  2011 July 2, Afton Alps Ski Resort

Vanity Moment: I may have dropped from the race, but I’m looking good here— probably more fit at this point than any other throughout the year.

Afton Trail Run, out in the open

Crisscrossing the slopes at Afton Alps, baking in the sun.

Just 3 weeks after the Afton Trail Run I was back at Afton Alps for the Warrior Dash. Frankly, it was a waste of time. The crowd was huge and obnoxious, the obstacles were too easy, and the race distance was only 5K— much too short. The hardest part of the whole day was charging up some of the hills at Afton Alps and then trying to get the mud off after the race was done.

Warrior Dash at Afton Alps

Hey, at least I got some fun photos and a few bites of muddy banana out of the deal!

In August I was part of a team running the Ragnar Relay Great River and what a METRIC SHIT-TON of fun that was! Our team, “Better than Bond Girls: Dirty Martinis”, featured 12 people split up into two vehicles. We all took turns running the 196 miles along the Mississippi River from Winona to Minneapolis, MN over a time of 30:47:54. Each runner had 3 legs, my runs covered 5.2, 9.2, and 5.9 miles. The best part was tooling along through the day and night with a bunch of fun people while occasionally running.

Ragnar Relay Great River

Here’s Erin taking on a monster climb during her first leg, about to get water dumped on her head to cool off. Cheering and supporting my teammates along the way was half the fun.

Ragnar Relay Great River

Finishing up my first leg, it was HOT that day!

Ragnar Relay Great River

The whole Dirty Martinis team finishing our Ragnar experience.

Ragnar Relay Great River

Van 2, what a fun group of folks!

In early September I got my first taste of running on the Superior Hiking Trail with the Moose Mountain Marathon. This was definitely the toughest marathon course I’ve ever taken on and that includes the Equinox Marathon in Fairbanks, Alaska. The Superior Hiking Trail features endless rocks and tree roots and almost constant elevation change as it ascends and descends the numerous small mountains along the coast of Lake Superior. Another great experience, especially since I got to share it with my buddy Curtis! Also along for the trip was Sarah, Curtis’ wife Sarah and their son Blake. The four of us had a great weekend!

Curtis and I, aid station #1

Here’s Curtis and I at the first aid station. We both took a fall on that first leg of the course. Fortunately no major damage, just some scrapes on my back and knee.

indubitably!

At the second aid station, just past the halfway point, feeling hot and beat down, but good enough to keep going.

finally made it!

Nearly done, the finish line is just around the corner!

spent.

Utterly exhausted after the hardest 26.2 miles I could’ve imagined. Curtis was definitely right about this race being significantly harder than the Equinox Marathon.

Sarah, Neko and I

Thanks for the encouragement, Sarah and Neko! That was a hard day on the trails, but worth every slow, treacherous step!

Shannon and I also found some new trails in central Minnesota, including Lake Maria State Park.

Lake Maria State Park

A gorgeous autumn run at Lake Maria State Park!

The Surf the Murph 25K at Murphy-Hanrehan Park in Savage, MN capped off the year’s races. The course was challenging, but quite enjoyable. The crowd was bunches of fun too, with it being Halloween weekend lots of people were wearing costumes and carrying on. I’ll definitely return someday for this race, especially since there’s a 50K and 50 mile option.

Surf the Murph 25K

Shannon and I finished off our 2011 racing seasons with a fun 25K on gorgeous trails in great autumn weather. Hopefully next year I’ll make it back!

As I’ve mentioned before, the best part of all the running I was able to do was staying mostly injury free and having lots of truly rewarding experiences. I was able to share many of my trips with Sarah and friends. Plus, I learned a lot more about myself, what I’m capable of, and how to better prepare for long trail races. We’ll see what next year brings with my and Sarah’s daughter due to be born in early March. Whatever running and racing I get to do next year I’ll definitely be eager to take on the challenge!