2012 Moose Mountain Marathon

What a difference a year and some familiarity with the Superior Hiking Trail make! Last year, upon reflecting I was rather humiliated by the course and my effort. This year, I feel encouraged and ready to take it on again, NOW! I want more and don’t want to wait another year. Heck, I’m even considering doing the 50-miler next time around. There were a lot of factors that made for a much more enjoyable experience on the SHT, many of which were beyond my own training and control.

As vital as anything else to my improved performance was the weather— around 50 °F at the start with mostly clear skies, clouding over for a couple hours of cool rain in the middle, then becoming partly cloudy with temps at about 60 by the finish. This was fantastic running weather. The rain did add to the technical difficulty, making some of the rocks slick, but fortunately I wasn’t running blazingly fast and putting myself in danger. Plus, while it was raining I was on a portion of the course that allowed me to keep running most of the time and generate enough heat to stay warm. All this cool weather meant I never got close to overheating and cramping was barely an issue. Only once, after about 18 miles when I squatted down to adjust my timing chip’s strap, did I feel a twinge in my left quadriceps as it threatened to cramp. Standing back up and shaking it out allowed me to continue forward without incident.

Going into the race I was somewhat worried, full of reasons I might be in for a brutal day. Despite my concerns I was ready for whatever came, even a major struggle and another outing lasting more than seven hours. With the arrival of my daughter 6 1/2 months ago, finding consistency in training has been a challenge. I’d gotten the bare minimum of miles on my legs, with only one 20-mile trail run prior to the race and only one other outing of at least 3 hours. Living in central Minnesota nothing around here approaches the technical difficulty or hilliness of the SHT. Lots of questions remained concerning what I was capable of.

Then again, I’m a fire-breathing (out the rear), trail-eating, gritty SOB who loves being on trails, even on wild single-track marked by endless rocks, roots, and mountainous incivility. { heh! } I had been on the course the year before, knew what to expect, and had a good idea where I could gain time along with a better strategy for refueling. Plus, I didn’t ultimately give a rat’s ass about my time, I just wanted to have fun and see what I could get done. Overall I had a much more relaxed approach to the race and was comfortably eager to get going and cruise while enjoying the wild scenery. Last year on the other hand, I was ridiculously fired up and, not surprisingly, started much too fast.

Miles 0 – 7.9, Start to Temperance River Aid Station —

After too much standing around waiting and chatting with a few others, the call for the start was given at 8:00 and we headed out. I started with dailymile and fellow trail running friend Chad Walstrom. We ran easily on a gravel road in the middle of the pack for a few hundred yards. Just before turning onto the trail, I saw 100-miler and St. Cloud area running friend Brian Woods. How great to see him about 77 miles into his epic adventure! A short stop with a few words exchanged and then Chad and I jumped onto the trail for our own SHT quality time. Talking while running comfortably for a few minutes and then we came across Brian’s pacer, Dan Cairns, also from St. Cloud, making his way to the Cramer Road Aid Station. Dan reminded me of a good line I had heard from Brian before, “This marathon isn’t a bad one, it’s the three that come before it that are the problem.” Funny to think 26 miles can be the finale of someone’s outing.

Chad and I ran together and among several others for the first couple miles, but after doing some occasional passing and picking up our pace slightly the crowd thinned and we soon found ourselves mostly on our own. With the cool weather and fresh legs it felt easy to pick my way through the tripping hazards and maintain a comfortable pace between 11:00 and 13:00 mpm, for the most part, depending on the trail’s pitch. Most of this section was runnable, with occasional and brief steep climbs/drops along the Temperance River as the trail alternated between following the river’s edge and then shooting back up to the ridgeline. Listening to the river roaring along its rocky bed and crashing into deep pools was invigorating. After 5 or 6 miles and being in front I needed to back off and asked Chad if he wanted to lead, which he gladly did. I followed him around a few bends and let him get farther ahead, stopping to take in a view of Lake Superior at a lookout. Not until after finishing would I see Chad again as he determinedly and quite successfully went after his 6-hour time goal for the race. It was fun sharing those beginning miles with you, Chad!

On the descent into the Temperance River Aid Station I reminded myself that I took a wicked digger here last year, rolling onto my back and sliding a few yards. The fall left me with some abrasions on my back and knees, so this time around I was more cautious, but still moving fast enough to appreciate gravity. Eventually I hit the aid station and was glad to be feeling great, thinking I must be ahead of schedule and ready to refuel then get back on the trail. Sarah and Elena, who were quite surprised to see me so soon, confirmed I was moving faster than anticipated. Plus, as Sarah pointed out, I wasn’t bleeding like last year— I must be doing all right.

Sarah and Elena

Sarah and Elena waiting for my arrival at Temperance River.

Temperance River Aid Station -- 1

Refueling at Temperance River

drinking Coke

Coke, nectar of the trail running gods…with sweat burning my eyes!

back onto the trail

Heading back onto the trail!

Miles 7.9 – 13.6, Temperance River Aid Station to Sawbill/Britton Peak Aid Station —

Back onto the trail I was ready to press on. Remembering from last year there was a nice section along the Temperance River where I was able to find a decent rhythm. Shortly after getting settled into a solid pace I clipped a rock and nearly ate trail. Just a loss of focus there, but the jolt from lunging and saving myself from falling woke my sloppy ass up good and proper. From the near wreck until the climb up Carlton Peak began, I moved well and was having fun. The best part was the roaring river and fact I hadn’t overeaten at the last aid station— the gut was still fully on board with the task underfoot.

Then the climb up Carlton Peak was on! I remembered from last year how it meandered and remained gradual for awhile. Then farther along, I was shown how steep the trail became and how rocky the peak was. In one section a clearing offers views of the rocky peak and I thought, “Oh yeah, I’ve got to get all the way up onto the shoulders of that beast so I can tweak its nose!” Steep, heart-pounding switchbacks and an endless supply of chunky rocks. Legs were still feeling pretty good and I was able to hike quickly. Passed a lady on the way up and we shared encouragement. She’d later catch up and finish the race ahead of me.

The descent from Carlton Peak was nearly as challenging as the climb— terribly technical with jagged switchbacks and numerous boulders to hop from and around. Eventually the rockiness abated and the forest regained its root-ridden grip. Arriving at the aid station after having been on the trail for about 2:55 I knew I was half done, but the toughest climb was yet to come. The second half would surely be harder than the first. Still, my legs felt strong and I was making much better time than in 2011. I reminded myself this was the aid station where I ate and drank way too much last year, causing a major slowdown over the next few miles while my stomach slowly processed the gunk.

The weather continued to be my savior. While not having to battle the heat I had an easier time rehydrating, snacking appropriately, filling my bottles and getting ready for more trail humping before long. Rain had begun at this point and temps were only in the 50’s, so I knew I’d have to move fast enough to generate enough heat in order to stay warm over the next 5.5 miles. I felt like I would be able to do that and turned down the extra shirt Sarah offered. The rain was coming down in buckets before I headed back into the woods. I was eager to taste more SHT and feel the forest as the rain poured from the clouds.

Miles 13.6 – 19.1, Sawbill/Britton Peak Aid Station to Oberg Mountain Aid Station —

Quite a different atmosphere under the trees on the trail as water drips and puddles along the way. Since I was still moving well, the rain was a reprieve from what was beginning to become an exhausting effort. Running on a ridiculously technical trail is as tiring on the mind as the legs for me. Maybe it’s just a lack of practice on such terrain, but the need for attention on every step wears me down. The cool water washed some of my fatigue and sharpened my focus as I persistently moved forward.

Ups and downs abound along this stretch, including Britton Peak and LeVeaux Mountain, but fortunately nothing monstrous. Legs and feet were wearing down and on LeVeaux Mountain I took my only fall of the day. It was on a slight downhill covered with massive roots. I simply made a poor choice trying to step between two roots while moving a bit too carelessly and caught my toe. Catching myself with my hands on the way down jarred the upper back. Getting back up, brushing myself off and moving again allowed the pain to pass and I knew there was no major damage. BE CAREFUL, PETITTO!

A little farther on came a pleasant series of boardwalks traversing a marshy area. I remember sailing comfortably and having a blast. The boards are rather new here so most of them are stable and the wood wasn’t slippery enough to be problematic. With the boards bowing gently I was able to give my feet and legs an easy time. Eventually popping out of the forest and BOOM!, I’ve arrived at the last aid station with only seven miles to go!

Unfortunately Sarah and I greatly miscalculated my pace and our estimated time of arrival at each aid station was off by a lot, especially the last two. She barely caught me at the Sawbill/Britton Aid Station right before I headed back into the woods and missed me entirely at Oberg. The volunteer tracking runners at Oberg misread his list of runners’ numbers and didn’t spot my “371”. This meant even though I was long gone by the time Sarah arrived, she thought I hadn’t come through. After waiting for three hours she was quite worried and thought I had injured myself on the trail. Of course, I was fine and well on my way toward finishing. Too bad for Sarah though, not a fun time hanging out at an aid station worrying about my sorry ass. She was there for so long I finished the race before she even left that last aid station. Next time I will be sure to have my arrival times at each aid station from previous years noted and we’ll better predict the appearance of my ugly mug.

Regarding the actual stop at the Oberg Aid Station, I didn’t rush knowing the toughest section of trail was coming in those last 7 miles on the way to the finish. I took my time, drank ginger ale, munched some peanut butter and jelly along with pretzels, and got my bottles refilled by some very helpful and enthusiastic volunteers. I even slowly walked the very runnable dirt road leading to the trail hoping I’d catch Sarah before ducking into the woods. The rest here allowed my legs to recover slightly and head toward Moose Mountain with some go juice still in the tank!

Miles 19.1 – 26.2, Oberg Mountain Aid Station to Finish —

The climb up Moose Mountain is a real blast to the nuts after 20 miles and nearly 5 hours on my feet, but I knew I had to man up and deal with it if I wanted a respectable finishing time. I also knew I couldn’t entirely burn myself out on the climb because there’s another surprisingly challenging climb immediately after— Mystery Mountain. I managed to keep moving, sometimes at a decent clip, sometimes slower than molasses in January, but I never got light-headed nor had to sit down like last year. Again, the lack of heat changed everything.

The way up Moose Mountain offers views of the steep trail ahead and then you can’t see any farther, but you eventually hit the point where the trail changes direction and you look some more, realizing it only continues to climb. SON OF A BITCH! Gradually and persistently hiking, heart pounding out of my chest, sweat pouring from the bill of my hat— BANG BISCUIT! Eventually, the trail levels and starts to descend. Of course by then my legs were nearly shot and I was too beat down to move quickly without wrecking, so I took it easy.

After not nearly enough recovery time on the descent, the trail annoyingly starts to wind back and forth and climb again. This is the way up Mystery Mountain. The climb is only about 350 feet in a mile, but after 23 miles it’s a brutal kick to the nickels. Oh well, what could I do!? There’s no going back. The quicker I get it done, the quicker I can begin dropping toward the finish line, sit down, rest and laugh about it all. I wonder why they call it Mystery Mountain. It is entirely shrouded in trees so maybe its presence is a mystery, but for runners of the SHT the real mystery is how such a small mountain can be a cruel sucker-punch to the gut.

Once all significant climbing was over, I began my gradual descent toward the Poplar River. Still some ups and downs before the finish, but nothing overwhelming. Legs were pretty much ruined facing the last three miles, but I just kept doing my best to gut it out, walking the steep and extra gnarly junk and running the rest. I got to the point where I didn’t want to run at all anymore, but I forced myself as the six hour mark was approaching. I thought it’d be neat to beat my time from the previous year by a full hour.

Pushing through the pain and I eventually popped out of the woods onto the gravel road leading to Caribou Highlands Lodge where the finish line awaited. Crossing the line in 6:25:08, I was relieved to be done. With a 58 minute improvement over the 2011 race I felt I had put in a respectable day on the Superior Hiking Trail. Within minutes I was thinking of ways to knock off chunks of time and get under 6 hours next year. NEXT YEAR! We’ll see what I can get myself ready for in 2013.

Finally, I have to thank race director John Storkamp and all the wonderful volunteers. What a big challenge to host a major series of races (the 100 and 50-milers also take place at the same time) on such a remote trail! There isn’t even reliable cellular service much of the way so they have to use ham radios to communicate. Everyone involved pulled it off without a noticeable hitch to runners like me. Each aid station is well-stocked and every volunteer I encountered was tremendously supportive and helpful. The trail is endlessly gorgeous with occasional views toward the magnificent Lake Superior. Basically, it’s the best way I know to spend 6 or 7 hours on trail.

Official Finishing Time: 6:25:08
Place: 84 of 144 marathoners

If you’d like to see more numbers, here’s the Garmin data.

in Grand Marais post-race

Sarah, Elena and I in Grand Marais several hours after the race.

2010 Walker North Country Marathon

In reviewing this race, I’ll start with the highlights and end with the foibles, because it is such a varied experience when looking at the first 17 miles compared to the following 9. Training leading up to the race was solid, the taper provided sufficient rest and recovery, and I was greased and ready to rock prior to the start. Weather was ideal for a long race with starting temps in the low 40’s and warming up to about 50 through the 4+ hours I was running— clear skies, sun, and a light wind throughout. I ran in shorts and a sleeveless shirt and was a little chilly for the first few miles, but felt like I made the right decision concerning clothing. I was never really cold until struggling to run near the end. Note to self: for my next fall marathon, try arm warmers for at least the early miles.

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Last minute stretching and ready to GO!

The marathon started on the local high school track where we did a gentle lap before heading onto the road and down the long, half-mile hill. With all the adrenaline and excitement surging I took off fast, but comfortably. I wasn’t worried about starting too quickly as we were heading downhill and I did not want to fight gravity while it was on my side. My first mile split was 7:48, but I wasn’t concerned and gradually reeled it back in— 2nd & 3rd mile splits were 8:40 and 8:39, still a little fast, but more reasonable.

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Shannon and I shortly after starting.

Shannon, who has been my training partner for this race, was out there running the course with me. We were both determined to run our own races, but ended up seeing each other often as our goals were close and we’re accustomed to running similar paces. It was nice to see and chat with her on occasion throughout the run, familiar faces are always helpful. Other than Shannon I didn’t know anyone else who was running the full marathon. Fortunately my wife, Sarah, and two other friends were out along the course offering support. I got to see them often and their encouragement along with Sarah’s gear and refueling assistance were a big boost.

wispy clouds, happy runenrs
wispy clouds, happy runners

My strategy for the race was to take what the course gave me, to run strong when the conditions were good and to back off through the more challenging sections. A PR didn’t seem to be a reasonable goal as the course is known to be quite arduous. Much of the race was on the undulating and unevenly surfaced trails of the Chippewa National Forest. Although beautifully scenic, the trails in the forest are typified by unrelenting hills— some rather steep, rocks, roots, and lots of ankle-turning dents through the softer grass-covered sections. Otherwise, the paved portions along the Paul Bunyan Trail were also chock full of challenging ups and downs. Even the smooth paved and gravel/dirt sections of road were fraught with hills. All this seemed to make running for a PR unreasonable going in. Concerning time, I was thinking 4 hours to 4 hours and 15 minutes might be achievable. And yet…

I started strong, feeling like a man possessed. After a couple miles the adrenaline was gone and I was still very much wanting to fly. I knew enough to not blow it in the first half, but didn’t want to pussyfoot around until there were only a few miles left either. I’d rather bonk than run overly cautious. I felt like I was doing a decent job holding myself back far enough from the edge of madness. Splits over the first 7 miles were 7:48, 8:40, 8:39, 8:59, 8:45, 8:45, and 8:36. That was surely a fast start, but I never felt like I was pushing all that hard.

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Shannon and I refueling past an aid station.

Shortly after the 7-mile marker we turned into the trails of the Chippewa National Forest for the first time. Immediately off the road in the ditch there was a mud puddle and no good way around it. Shannon and I both tried our best, but we still each soaked our left feet, which turned out to be more of a problem for her as she developed a big, mean blister on the bottom of her foot. I was lucky and only had a little irritation on the ball of my foot, but no actual blistering.

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Heading into the woods and feeling beastly I was determined to continue to run strong, but wise. The problem was that my excitement to finally be running on the trails blurred my perception and judgment a great deal. I rode the wildman high for too long. I should’ve known I was pushing harder than was prudent when I began to pass bunches of people on such challenging terrain. Rocks, roots, hills, and soon other runners were being left behind. After a couple miles in the woods I thought Shannon must be just a little ways back and I glanced behind me a few times when I had long straightaways behind me. She was nowhere to be found, however, and that could have been another sign I was hitting the trail too hard. The five miles on the trail, although tempered by tough terrain, still show decent splits— miles 7-11: 8:36, 9:04, 9:16, 9:38, 10:04.

The next 6-mile stretch featured some dirt road and then the hilly pavement along the Paul Bunyan Trail. My legs were feeling a bit fatigued from the hard miles through the woods, but I still had no problem keeping my pace around 9:00/mile. I decided to focus on running smooth and relaxedly for awhile, having become keenly aware that I was on track for a PR. I knew I had a long way to go, but told myself that if I can get to around 18 and still have a shot then I was sure as heck going to go for it. I saw Sarah after about 16.5 and was feeling great since I had let up slightly for a few miles. I announced to Sarah, “I’m going for a PR!” She was surprised and responded, “Wow, I guess you’re feeling good.” Splits for miles 11 through 17: 9:05, 9:05, 9:00, 9:00, 9:41, 8:59.

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On the Paul Bunyan Trail, near mile 15.5.

At mile marker 17, unbeknownst to me, I was faced with another turn into the Chippewa forest. This was immediately demoralizing as my previous excitement about perhaps hitting a PR was based on the hope that I’d mostly have pavement or dirt roads the rest of the way. Obviously I didn’t study the map well enough. I hadn’t studied the map because my goal had been to run strong and enjoy myself, not to be anywhere near a PR.

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Heading into the woods for the second time.

So I headed into the forest again, this time feeling like I actually had 17 hard miles in my legs. I knew then that a PR was slipping away, but hoped it would be a less challenging piece of trail and if I ran it easy enough I’d be able to finish with authority. This time there was only about 3.5 miles of trail to deal with, but it certainly wasn’t a cakewalk. Splits for these four miles were 10:39, 11:47, 12:52, 10:38. I was obviously starting to struggle and walked all but the shortest hills. My thought and hope was still that going easy here would allow me to finish well.

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At an aid station before finishing the last chunk of trail in the Chippewa National Forest.

Going easy through the woods wasn’t enough to save my soul. I came out feeling like I had been through the ringer and still had around six miles to go. Running at any sort of a decent clip had become incredible work and everything was beginning to hurt. Back onto a dirt road the hills were an enormous chore and I resorted to occasional walking breaks. I knew I needed to refuel as I was feeling hungry, but nauseous at the same time. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any real food options, only shot bloks which were completely unappealing because of the nausea. Sarah offered me a Lara Bar at the aid station around mile 19.5, but I didn’t think I needed it…oops! Note to self: have something other than shot bloks to munch on for the latter stages of a marathon when/if the nausea sets in.

Battling pain and a lack of energy it had become obvious I had gone too hard for too long over terrain that was more than I could handle. Shortly thereafter I settled on the remaining goal of just finishing the damn thing. I was pissed, but felt like I had learned some more tidbits about myself. Mainly, I now have another example of how emotions can blur my perception of physical signals. Much can be overcome through sheer will, determination and even with eagerness and joy, but physical limitations can only be stretched for so long before we pay a price. Body and mind are not two. To be a smarter runner I have to stay more in tune with all aspects of my being.

I tried to enjoy the scenery as well as I could and trudged on, alternating between running slowly for 1/2 a mile to a mile and walking for a few tenths of a mile. It was incredibly frustrating to hardly be able to run after feeling quite strong for 2/3 of the marathon. And yet, in the end I am glad I went for it and learned some hard lessons. I still enjoyed my experience overall and even appreciated the struggle. The course was thoroughly impressive, the volunteers and organization of the event were also topnotch.

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Shannon and I finishing. Her official time, a solid 4:16:04. My time, something to build on at 4:26:42.

Today, the day after, I’m sore but recovering quickly. I feel like I’ll be able to run and resume my training in a couple days. I look forward to my next marathon and some other race distances before then. I’ve run four marathons beginning in 2007, two this year. This year’s other marathon, on June 13th, was the only time I really ran a smart one, but it was such a different race with all its pavement and more manageable hills. There is still so much to learn and all kinds of training to take on and conquer.

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Feeling better after getting some bologna and banana in me.

Looking forward I’m hopeful and excited for whatever comes next!

The Numbers:
Official Time: 4:26:42
Avg. Pace: 10:11
Split for First Half: 1:57:44
Division Placing: 2 out of 5
Placement Among Males: 29 out of 50
Overall Placing: 35 out of 62

» The rest of the photos are here.

anxiously waiting atop the hundred-foot pole

I don’t know how to train months on end for a big event, like a marathon, and keep entirely calm in the final days leading up to the big race. Even though I’ve been telling myself the goal this time around is to run hard and to appreciate whatever comes my way throughout the race, I can’t help but be nearly blown over by eager anticipation. Mostly it’s excitement, positive and rousing, but of course there’s also been nervousness and doubts popping up along the way. Long endurance events require even longer periods of hard training. Hours upon hours of focused movement certainly have interesting effects on the psyche. In my weaker moments I keep retreating back to the fact that, even with all the training under my belt, there’s no guarantee a race as long as a marathon will go well. Much can happen on race day and from such thoughts most of my uneasiness arises. Without long runs over the last several days to settle my mind, I’ve been flooded with all sorts of scattered energy. A better person might channel the nearly boundless energy into positive action and of course there’s plenty of work to be done around here. My life, on the other hand, has been little more than fits and starts lately. Single-minded attention is difficult when my body craves, more than anything else, to RUN!

So what of it?!?

Nothing. All this matters little in the end— all part of the nearly unavoidable consequence of being a runner who choses to challenge himself in long races on occasion. Life will go on in its extraordinary way with or without my participation and acknowledgment.

And also it is a matter of life and death! I cannot in good conscience devote so much of my life to running and training for marathons and not take it seriously. The man I am now is in great part due to what I’ve endured and learned through running, especially training and completing long, hard runs including three previous marathons. If I’m not going to go out and give it my all then I might as well stay home and watch television— something pathetic like QVC. And by giving it my all, I don’t mean striving obstinately to reach some sort of unrealistic time goal and getting injured along the way.

The all I want to give is my entire being. I want to manifest myself fully out there and completely engage with the course and the varied circumstances I’ll surely encounter over those 26.2 miles. There’ll be much to experience and numerous opportunities to awaken to something new, something deeper than I’ve realized before while running. I want to launch headlong into the course with trust in my training and abilities and with the courage to head joyfully into the unknown. Let it all be covered with a sweet coating of gratitude to all in my life who have helped make it possible to run this marathon. I am ready and glad for the opportunity to run!

I’m reminded of an old Zen koan (teaching story), case 46 from the Mumonkan. It goes like this:

Proceed On from the Top of the Pole

Sekiso Osho asked, “How can you proceed on further from the top of a hundred-foot pole?” Another eminent teacher of old said, “You, who sit on the top of a hundred-foot pole, although you have entered the Way you are not yet genuine. Proceed on from the top of the pole, and you will show your whole body in the ten directions.”

Mumon’s Comment: If you go on further and turn your body about, no place is left where you are not the master. But even so, tell me, how will you go on further from the top of a hundred-foot pole? Eh?

Mumon’s Verse:
He darkens the third eye of insight
And clings to the first mark on the scale.
Even though he may sacrifice his life,
He is only a blind man leading the blind.

Running a marathon can be a lot like stepping off the hundred-foot pole, I think. At least now in my running life I have not reached the point where marathoning fits easily into my comfort zone. There will surely be points where I do encounter previously unknown, or at least not well-known, aspects of my being. And there may be a point where I find myself standing on the edge of a great precipice, running further may bring me somewhere I’ve never really been before.

Let’s see what happens!

2010 Lake Placid Marathon, The Full Story

Today marks ten days since the marathon and the first time I’ve had a chance to sit down and write out the whole story of what went down during the race. More than anything else, it was an enjoyable experience that left me feeling good about this year’s training thus far and encouraged about my abilities and long-term running goals. Still, it was a marathon and wasn’t without difficulty. For the first time running this distance I did not bonk and actually met my time goal— 4 hours for this race. I finished in 3:58:14, which is an improvement by 1 hour, 11 minutes, and 42 seconds over my previous best in the 2008 Equinox Marathon.

That’s the short and skinny, now the details…

Sarah and I stayed the night before at my mother’s place in Wilmington, which is about a 15 minute drive from Lake Placid. She and Tony hooked us up with a great pasta feast the night before that loaded me up on carbs and had me ready to run far and fast. Uncle Frank and Aunt Sue also joined us for pasta and we had a nice time eating and relaxing together while Neko and Darwin, Mom and Tony’s dog, played like crazy. I got to bed early that night and woke up feeling refreshed and ready to go the next morning. After a bagel with peanut butter and some oatmeal and fruit, I was raring to go.

Having Mom, who’s been living in the area for a number of years, there to get us to the race start was helpful. She knew the best route and exactly where to park. We arrived with plenty of time for last minute porta-potty stops, warming up and stretching. Mom was a big help to Sarah all day with logistics as they cheered from various points of the course. Uncle Frank was also out and about throughout the race cheering me on and taking photos. Aunt Sue joined him by the end to help me across the finish line.

Sarah and I before the start.


I got myself to the starting line and found a spot about fifty feet behind the front row. There were tons of people lined up, 2,500 in all including the half marathoners who shared the first loop of the two loop course with the runners doing the entire 26.2 miles. After some encouragement by a medalist from a member of the most recent Winter Olympic U.S. bobsledding team and some other pre-race hoopla, we were ready to go. The gun, or horn as it were, finally sounded and we took off and I inched my way through the crowd and across the actual starting line. We were packed in tight and it was slow going for the first quarter of a mile, which was fine, because I was planning on starting slowly anyway.

The crowd gradually dispersed and I was able to settle into a comfortable stride within a mile. With no pacers during this race I had to rely entirely on my GPS to keep my pace in check. With my goal pace being around 9:00 minutes per mile, I thought I’d let myself run a bit slower than that until I had enough space to really find my groove. I still started a little fast thanks to the adrenaline and energy of the crowd, but I wasn’t worried about it as I reeled myself back in to near goal pace within a couple miles.

Highlights in the first few miles included gorgeous views as we circled around Mirror Lake and a crazy guy with a lot of energy shouting about how he was hoping they had Jack & Cokes at the first aid station. I was feeling great during the first quarter of the race, strong and relaxed.

I reached an aid station after about 4.5 miles and, for the first time ever, struggled to open a package of Shot Bloks. My sweaty fingers prevented me from getting a firm grip on the package and I couldn’t tear it open for the life of me. As I got frustrated the simple task of tearing the plastic got harder. Eventually my teeth, fingernails, and anger proved to be unstoppable and I tore into the package and fed myself the first two margarita flavored Shot Bloks of the day. I calmed myself afterwards, realizing the 20-30 second break was probably a good thing.

Chewing my first Shot Bloks of the day.

Chewing my first Shot Bloks of the day.


After the shot blok fiasco I passed Sarah and Mom for the first time since leaving them behind at the start. Their cow bells and cheers propelled me forward. Then I had my first experience of the decent sized hill that began just past the Horse Show Grounds, where Sarah and Mom were hanging out, and ended at the left turn onto River Road. Even though we had driven much of the course the previous afternoon, I hadn’t noticed how big of a hill this was. Fortunately my first time on the hill was on the way down and I made a mental note of how this might be a challenge the two times I have to run back up it.

River Road was a good sized out and back section, which the marathoners ran twice— the first time was about 5.5 miles and the second iteration went farther, covering around 8 miles. My first time on River Road went smoothly and I was still feeling top notch. Running comfortably, not pushing too hard and not going too easy, I just cruised along between 8:50 and 9:00 per mile beside the river and keeping myself in check over the rolling hills. I took short walking breaks through the aid stations and drank a few swallows of either water or Gatorade. For the most part I drank Gatorade at the aid stations, that is, until the last 6 miles when nausea hit me.

At about mile 7 I passed Joe Mashaw, a friend from high school, for the first time. He was cranking along and looking real strong. I knew he was running, but we didn’t find each other before the start like we had hoped. I saw him right away as he was returning after the turn around on River Road and was about a mile ahead of me. We shouted encouragement at each other and I felt revitalized. Seeing an old friend for the first time in years brought back cross country and track memories and made me want to take off after him. I held back though, knowing his goal was 3:30 and I wasn’t quite ready to run that race. I settled back into my pace and continued on. I was glad to reach the turn around and have the first half of loop #1 behind me.

After about an hour and fifteen minutes of running, between 8 and 9 miles into the marathon, I took my first electrolyte pill with water. I was determined to ward off cramps at all costs. Between the margarita Shot Bloks, Gatorade, and a couple electrolyte pills I figured I would be set. Turns out this worked and I did not have any leg cramping, but I did have nausea during the last 6 miles which was probably caused by taking in too much sugar.

After finishing up River Road for the first time I turned back onto Highway 73 in front of the Olympic Ski Jumps and made my way up the hill there for the first time. I was feeling quite good still, so I ran it, but I ran it easily. My heart rate only climbed into the mid 160’s, so I was definitely keeping myself under control. Past the hill I was back to the Horse Show Grounds where I saw Frank, Sarah and Mom again. Their cheers and excitement kept my spirits high. This is also where I told Sarah that the next time I pass her at this spot, in about 3 miles, I’d be ready for a new package of Shot Bloks and my iPod. I also asked Sarah to start the tear into the packaging for me. I was determined to not have to fight with plastic anymore that day!

Around mile 12 near the aid station where the half marathoners veered left towards the finish line, my mind and body finally began to acknowledge the truth of 26.2 miles. It’s not like I had been tricking myself into believing I was out to do anything less that day, but seeing the half marathoners go one way and a much smaller group of runners turn around and continue with the second loop made it real. I was about half way into the marathon and suddenly I began to see signs of fatigue. No longer was it effortless to continue my goal pace, now the hard work was beginning and it was time to test my training.

I made it back to the Horse Show Grounds where this time we had to do a one mile loop through the grounds themselves. Not a big deal, except that we were suddenly running on some chunky gravel. My minimalist running shoes didn’t offer much protection and a few of those rocks brought pain to my feet— no major concern, just enough to remind me that running isn’t always typified by sunshine and butterflies. I got myself to Sarah and Mom where I washed down another electrolyte pill, took a short break, grabbed my next shot blok package and my iPod and took off again. At this point I had covered 15 miles and was still on track for a sub 4 hour marathon, but I knew the hard work was ahead of me. I knew there would be periods of difficulty and I’d have to push to stay on track and reach my goal.

Restocking with Shot Bloks and getting the iPod ready.

Restocking with Shot Bloks and getting the iPod ready.


And so I headed out leaving Sarah and Mom, knowing I wouldn’t see them again until the finish. I headed down the hill towards River Road, ready to take on my last out and back along windy, rolling hills. By now the sun was threatening to come out as the cloud cover had momentarily thinned and the temps were warm enough to leave me feeling hot and wanting to drink more than my stomach could handle. The weather had been great all day, starting out cloudy and in the low 60’s with no wind. Temps only climbed to the low 70’s and the sun did mostly stay behind the clouds, so weather was on my side for the race.

On River Road between miles 16 and 17, keeping my pace around 9:00/mile began to be a bit of a challenge. My body was wanting to slow down, but I wasn’t going to give in without a fight. I knew I had some wiggle room with pace as my average for the first half was around 8:55/mile, but I certainly didn’t have enough time for lollygagging, so I did my best to keep it in the low 9’s per mile.

On the way out River Road that last time I began to pass a number of people I had been running near over the first half. I did my best to encourage them with good cheer, because I knew how I was starting to feel and imagined they might be having struggles of their own. I also know how great it is to hear encouraging words from fellow runners, so hopefully my remarks were helpful. On this iteration of the River Road out and back we were going the whole length of the road, which was about an 8-mile round trip. After passing the aid station where the turn around was located during loop #1, I began to yearn for the final turn around so that I could truly feel like I was on the way to the finish. Eventually, at mile 19.4, I reached that turn around aid station where I refueled and took a couple minute walking break.

Getting going again and back up to speed was tough. I was 20 miles into the marathon and my legs were starting to lose their get up and go. Still though, I knew I was on my way to breaking 4 hours if I could only maintain some semblance of running over the last 6 miles. And that’s what I did, I kept cranking along near my goal pace and walked only through the aid stations while drinking a little water. I kept to water over the last several miles as nausea had set in and I was afraid of hurling during the final push to the finish line. Must be my stomach was over-saturated with sugar from too much of the Gatorade and Shot Blok combo, at least that’s my best guess concerning the nausea.

Secretly I had been hoping to start kicking around mile 24 and to finish in a flurry, but miles 24-25 were typified by painful fatigue and ongoing nausea. I ran through the last aid station deciding it’s best to continue to focus on keeping my forward momentum going and trying to keep running smooth. According to my GPS I didn’t have much time to spare, I had to keep pushing to the finish if I was going to come in under 4 hours.

Then I hit an unexpected hill at about mile 25. The day before we drove most of the course, but not this horrible stretch. I had only read about the challenging hill on the way to the finish line. Calling the hill “challenging” was an understatement. This hill would have been challenging on fresher legs 10 miles earlier. After running 25+ miles it was downright brutal, but upward I ran. I did walk briefly on the steepest piece of road before the final two turns leading up to the Olympic Speedskating Oval, but this was mainly to catch my breath and bring my heart rate back down to a reasonable level before the homestretch.

Fighting through the final climb to the Speedskating Oval.

Fighting through the final climb to the Speedskating Oval.


Those two final steep pieces felt like a last mountain switchback on a tremendous climb, but instead of arriving on the mountaintop I came out on the flat quarter mile that is the Speedskating Oval. Once I was done with the hill and on the flat I poured it on and rounded the corner to see about 3:58 on the clock. What a relief! I sprinted to the finish with all I had left, crossing the line with a clock time of 3:58:26. Official finishing time was 3:58:14. Overall I’m pleased, this being my 3rd attempt at running a marathon and the first time without a wicked mountain in the middle and tough trails throughout.

Finished!

Finished!


Immediately following the finish I wanted to barf, so I wandered around cautiously and caught my breath. After a few minutes of not running the nausea began to subside and was replaced by elation and relief. Running 26.2 miles hard ain’t no joke! Meeting my time goal and knowing I ran a reasonably smart race and felt decent most of the way was quite rewarding. I am now more encouraged about running than I’ve been in awhile and am looking forward to whatever comes next.

Glad to be done, but feeling like blowing triumphant chunks!

Glad to be done, but feeling like blowing triumphant chunks!


What is next remains to be decided. I certainly hope to take on another marathon this summer or fall. Maybe I’ll pursue a Boston Qualifier over the next year or so. Maybe I’ll take on an ultramarathon before long. Whatever I decide to pursue, I’m going to go after it with gusto and have fun along the way.

Joe and I sharing a laugh and reflecting.

Joe and I sharing a laugh and reflecting.


Now, 10 days from the Lake Placid Marathon my legs have fully recovered and the only residual soreness is in the top of my right foot. Hopefully that’s just bruising and the pain goes away soon, because I am eager to start training again. Until I’m healed I will be searching for the next marathon. Bring it! WOOHOO to running!

The Numbers:
Official finishing time: 3:58:14
Age Group Placing (30-39): 30th out of 66
Overall Placing: 118th out of 382 total marathoners
Average Pace Per Mile: 9:06
Average Heart Rate: 159 bpm
Maximum Heart Rate: 179 bpm
Total Calories Burned: 3649

spring is imminent!

This morning I installed a pull-up bar in the house so that I can grow wings and glide along with ease and joy while running through the trails and open prairies of the upper midwest. Warmer temps are here— lately it’s been getting into the 30s everyday and today it might hit 40. I am incredibly excited about running on the thawed surface of trails again soon. Actually, two days ago when out for a 10-mile run (first double digit mileage since 11/22 when I ran around the lake) some of the mud was beginning to appear on one of the dirt roads I was tearing along on. This was only my second run in my Inov-8 Roclite 295‘s and I have to say, they’re quickly becoming my favourite (they’re made in the UK after all) pair of running shoes ever.

The tread on these bad boys is a bit overkill for pavement, but it works and handles every other surface I’ve been on so far with aplomb. Even on packed snow and ice I’ve had excellent traction— too bad I didn’t buy these a couple months ago. The shoe is quite light for a trail shoe (10.4 oz) and does not contain any unnecessary motion control components. The cushioning is more substantial than in my New Balance MT100’s, yet it’s not excessive and the shoes are still rather low-profile. I am continuing to adapt to a midfoot striking running style, so I am glad to have a shoe with decent cushioning since I still have some tenderness in the balls of my feet.

I’m starting to take Neko along with me on more runs too. Nothing too far yet since she’s not quite 7 months old, but last week she did 4 easy miles with me and didn’t show any signs of fatigue or soreness the next day. I probably won’t take her out for more than 5 miles for a few more months, but it’s encouraging to see how much she likes running. She’s less distracted by smells since she’s moving faster and she seems to like the pace of running more than walking slowly along. There’s so much more for her to learn and experience still, having a dog is great fun an adventure.

NOTE: As I was typing the above, Neko was bouncing around behind me chasing the rainbows (from the rainbow maker) that are dancing around the room. I turned around to find that she pissed on the floor in her overexcited state, hence the edit. Come on, puppy!

Back to running…

My first race of the year is probably going to be the Earth Day Half Marathon here in St. Cloud on 4/17. Being this far along in my running already, I think it’s realistic to consider doing two marathons this year. I’m trying to figure out which ones and where. I’d really like to make it up to Fairbanks for the Equinox, but that might not be a good idea since we have a wedding to attend in Texas shortly after that race. I’m also going to be home in June around the time of the Lake Placid marathon, so that might fit into my plans. Otherwise, there’s several in Minnesota and Wisconsin, including some great trail marathons in northern Minnesota. I certainly have many options to consider.