Friday, September 7

I am packing my belongings into the back of a Toyota, and pile in with two old friends (Mark and Rigel) and one new (Robert). As we begin our drive from Eau Claire, WI to Lutsen, MN together, the 100 mile racers have already been on the course for over 2 hours, and will continue through the night and into tomorrow. We are prepared (we hope) to race the marathon distance of this race series, 100% trail, primarily on the Superior Hiking Trail. The terrain is known to be rocky, rooty, very hilly, and downright gnarly. I love that word. GNARLY.

I am feeling pretty well trained, and my feet and ankles have been feeling pretty great since the taper week and primarily road miles the week prior. Maybe I peaked again too close to race day, but I did listen to my body better than when I spiked mileage right before the Voyageur marathon. I am learning…

The weather today is very cool, forecasted rain and we are planning to camp at Temperance River State Park tonight. It’s about fifteen minutes from the race finish, and from where we’ll be catching the bus at 6:50am to take us to the marathon start at Cramer Road.

We stopped near Knife River and the guys bought about ten pounds (?) of smoked and sugar cured fish. As much as I dislike smelling like it the rest of the evening, I loved every bite. When I offered to repay the gesture at the chocolates place, only Mark took me up on a pecan turtle. The others stuck to the stinky fish and Robert adored his pickled eggs. The car smelled great. 🙂

We picked up our race packets at Caribou Highlands Lodge – they do a great job hosting these trail runs. After the pre-race briefing and some of Storkampf’s usual jokes (same Race Director as the trail run Jason and I did in May 2012), we headed back to camp. I went to sleep at about 9:15, woke at around 4:30 to the call of my bladder and was grateful for the opportunity to have a moment of solitude and to soak in the beauty of the moon and stars on the north shore.

Saturday, September 8

We tore down tents and changed and repacked the car a little ahead of schedule then left a few minutes behind schedule to get to the lodge for our bus. I knew I only had enough time to very efficiently use the restroom at the lodge before boarding, and I passed Robert on my way to the bus. I sat for probably 5 minutes chatting with the person next to me, and the buses started to prepare to leave. Right about when my bus moved ahead a few feet was when  I saw Robert make a mad dash to the bus behind me. Luckily, he made it just in time.

The weather that morning was very chilly…I had on shorts, long soft pants, a tank, long sleeve technical shirt, and quilted vest. And hat and mittens. We waited at the start for a good half an hour and I took a few walks to get warmed up. Shedding the layers, it was time to start and I am glad I kept my long sleeve with me.

The course was divided into four sections – the first and last around 7.1-7.5 miles with two 5-5.5 mile sections in the middle. Three aid stations total. The terrain for the first section was technical, but less hilly and other than my faceplant at around mile 3 or 4, it went well. That root was feisty. It caught my toe at the exactly right angle in order to pull me to the ground and rip my shoe. I tried in mid-air to shake my foot free, but alas. I went down. Days since face plant: 0. First time that’s happened during a race and I felt a little clumsy that whole first stretch – maybe from my ego going down with that fall, maybe from following other runners on singletrack in a pack. The only other thought is that my last few runs were hills/roads with my road shoes…and the tread on my trail shoes takes a little getting used to sometimes. First aid station was a welcome site – water and a quarter of a pbj down the hatch and off we went. (Rigel had caught up to me somewhere around miles 2 or 3, in time to see me face plant in front of him. He took off like a bolt of lightning in the next mile or so; I kept him in my sites for a while, but couldn’t quite keep up. In the end, he finished about 20 minutes before me…not bad at all for a rock climber who decided to race about 6 weeks ago in order to ‘drop weight’ for climbing and improve his endurance. He is tenacious.)

The second section of around 5 miles went well, climbing all the way from the banks of the Temperance River to Carlton Peak. Of course, it’s never a straight beeline to the summit, as the trails will twist and wind and switchback over several miles of elevation change. Some of it was quite run-able, and then near the peak it was an all out high-stepping scramble over large boulders and around the base of what I thought Rigel may have stopped to climb mid-race. I heard that he caught Robert on the downhill after Carlton Peak, when I saw Robert at the next aid station. I took off ahead and was somewhat satisfied that I was no longer last out of the four of us. Ok, I admit. I was thrilled. It gave me a confidence boost I needed and the next stretch I walked very little ( on the uphills of course I did some to conserve energy) kept up with some other runners and enjoyed their pace. The main challenge yet peaceful advantage was the rain that set in about half way through that section. I didn’t mind it much, because it helped me find a meditative, zen like focus for a few miles.

What I was mildly concerned with were all the rocks, roots, plank bridges, and downhills getting sloshy and sloggy with mud – ie: slippery singletrack. It didn’t seem to slow me down on that section due to my focus (which helped my footing) but in the last section with the rain having stopped, but hitting miles 19+ with a still muddy and slick surface and more physical pounding….well certain parts of that I took my time rather than face plant again. My mind felt pretty clear and coherent (unlike the Voyageur race in July that was 80+ degrees) but I had to remind myself to be positive…and my legs (ankles and knees in particular) had taken a beating during my earlier, clumsier miles that now accumulated to make every step less than comfortable. At one point I broke into a  mental focus that quickened my stride in the middle of a pine forest and the sound of the birds sounded like a DJ scratching on a Beastie Boys track. I swear. So that accompanied me for about a half mile…later on I switched genres and sounds and went with Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys. Who needs an ipod? To the last aid station I arrived, Oberg, and I immediately asked for vaseline. My shorts had been soak with the rain earlier and I need to prevent a little chafing action from continuing…plus my familiar right heel hot spot needed a re-lubing. Dirt and rocks out of my shoes, my feet felt like new (ha!) and off I went after an unusual, but becoming a marathon tradition for me of having a few ounces of coke at the final aid station. It tastes strangely good under those conditions…

Our final stretch of 7.1 miles included a strong climb to the top of Moose Mountain, a descent about half of that elevation and back up again to Mystery Mountain. On the downhill after the last peak (Mystery Mountain) I was able to make up some time, cover ground more quickly and somehow tune out what my joints were telling me and keep moving. I felt efficient there too, like somehow I had a boost of strength and agility that I’m sure where it came from, but I went with it! I was able to pass several runners during that stretch and felt more confident knowing I was only a few miles from the finish. It helped that this stretch I had already raced (back in May) and I knew once I heard moving water that I was close. As you enter the ski hill area, you near the Poplar River and that sound of sweet, swift water carried me through about a mile stretch of gravely, washed out four wheeler track. That opens up to a gravel service road, the actual road with was still gravel due to road construction and back to civilation to the finish. You run on pavement for about a quarter mile or so there (which felt like hell) before returning to gravel, and then onto the lawn behind the lodge…you actually loop around the swimming pool and take a hard left to the finish gate. Pretty amazing to me that there were kids in the pool (hollering like crazy at every runner going by) as it was only around 60-65 degrees. I realized how frigid I was when I finished and stopped moving.

Would I do it again? Yes. Had you asked me in the first couple hours after the finish I would have probably said no way, Jose…but you know me. I love adventure, I love the outdoors, and I love the camaraderie of the trail running community. And my body has never been stronger, my mind more clear and persistent with positive energy, imagery, and experience. I will most definitely race again. Maybe as I rest today I could plan my 2013 race calendar. 🙂

We definitely represented from Eau Claire, so here are the stats:

Mark Wise: finished 8th place overall in the marathon distance and 1st in his category – the Grandmasters age division. Time was around 4:33:43, average pace per mile at 10:27.

Rigel Menard: first marathon ever, first race ever. Finished 5:23:07 at 29th place overall. Pace per mile averaging 12:20.

Me: Finished 45th overall and as the 8th female to finish the marathon. Total time was 5:46:20 and per mile average 13:14. One face plant. No blisters.

Robert: Finished in 6:40:08, per mile average around 15 minutes.  Face plants unknown. Blisters: too many to count.

144 marathon finishers total. Only 49 of those were women/95 men.

Here’s to everyone who raced the 100 mile, 50 mile and the marathon this weekend. For the love of gnarly trail, dirty feet, and pushing our limits – cheers!