Surf the Murph 25K: The year I went hunting

This report is nearly bereft of race photos, not because it wasn’t a beautiful day; it was, in fact, the most perfect day I’ve ever experienced at Murphy-Hanrehan.

No, there are no photos because I did something I’ve never done before. I set out with the 100% certainty that I was going to PR, and I was going to do it by a landslide.

The background

In September, my husband and I did some crewing and pacing gigs out west. We spent a week and a half at altitude, some of it over 9000′, and when we came home, I wasn’t terribly surprised to discover that my heart rate had dropped significantly while running.

What did surprise me was that it didn’t change. Weeks passed, and I started to think that I turned a corner in my fitness. With this apparent newfound level of ability, I started to get very, very excited for this race.

The race

I do Surf the Murph every year. It was my first 50K in 2015, and when I attempted the 50K again the following year, my heart just wasn’t in it and I retired after 25K. I’ve been back every year to do the 25K ever since. (The race report for 2018 is here.)

The trails at Murphy-Hanrehan can be extremely muddy – in 2017, there was hardly a dry patch over the entire 16.7-mile loop. This year, conditions were exceptional, and the day was forecast to be simply perfect, with temperatures ranging from 50-62 degrees during my race. Overnight, the forecast shifted, bringing light drizzle at race start, which I absolutely love.

If I was gonna crush a PR, this was going to be the day. I decided, rather arbitrarily, that I would run 3:49:30. Last year’s huge PR was a few cruel seconds over four hours, and I wasn’t going to allow that to happen again.

3:49:30. I could totally do it. Right?

With little fanfare – as usual for this race – the 25K runners were set loose on the course under a light rain. Footing was as good as the rumors said, with the first several wooded miles being damp but not slippery. The steep hills were tough, and I kept an eye on my heart rate. Surely it would be improved over last year, with all my gains!

It wasn’t. Not at all. According to my watch, my heart rate was already edging toward 10K territory as my first mile was considerably slower than year. I fretted over my heart rate as I slowed even more, until finally, I did what any good racer would do.

I decided my HRM was completely wrong and didn’t look at it again. (I mean, it was a definite possibility….)

Miles 2-4 on this course have some fairly aggressive hills, and I buckled in for the fun. Hiking firmly, aggressively, I dug in. 3:49:30.

My nutrition plan was the same here as my last two races: Huma gels, pickle juice, and water carried in my vest, supplemented only by tasty drinks from aid stations. I had my first Huma around mile 3 as I ran through the first aid station with only a wave and a “Thank you” called out to the volunteers.

Huma #2 came around mile 5.5 as I ran toward the Horse Camp, aid station 2/4. Now past the hills of the northern wooded section, there should be nothing stopping me from running but my own will.

Into and out of Horse Camp for the first time, pausing only for a few seconds to grab a ginger ale. From there, it would be only about 4 miles to the next station on some of the flattest terrain the course had to offer, and I turned out some solidly quick miles here. Another Huma around mile 8.5, with a few sips of pickle juice for variety amid all the plain water.

The third aid station, Natchez, caught me by surprise this time around. I’d been keeping my head down, focused on the task at hand, and I was there before I realized it. The volunteers jumped to welcome me, reaching out for any bottles I might have needed filled, but I waved them away with my thanks. I spotted my first Mountain Dew of the day and slammed a glass, followed by ginger ale, and trotted out.

At this point in the race, any race, I typically start to fade. My body is still functioning well enough, but I decide that things are getting hard and maybe my goals don’t really matter. So the night prior, I had written some times on my hand in permanent marker. I wanted to be to the aid stations at 40 minutes, 1:15, 2:15, and 2:50 respectively. These were ambitious, but just a little. By just a minute or three, enough to discourage me from throwing in the towel.

After 10 miles, I was a bit behind these numbers, but I knew that meant I was still ahead of last year’s pace. I didn’t know if 3:49:30 was still possible – or if it was ever possible – but I reassured myself that I shouldn’t put too much stock in my last minute math skills.

Between Natchez and the second pass through Horse Camp, there was some mud. Thick, oozing mud that sucked and plopped and stuck heavily to everything. It wasn’t enough to be demoralizing, just enough to remind us that we were indeed still at Murphy-Hanrehan, and by the way, tie your shoes tighter next time.

This stretch along the prairie into Horse Camp has the gentlest of rolling hills, shallow enough that you should run them but just big enough that they begin to feel like a chore. I snuck a few walk breaks, but for the most part, it was running all the way.

Horse Camp was a welcome sight; I was starting to flag, despite staying on track with eating my Humas every 2-3 miles and sipping pickle juice. I was excited for more caffeine, and here I took a glass of Coke, followed by another ginger ale. My stomach was starting to feel a little full – I’d been taking on fluids for three hours and hadn’t peed, which isn’t super unusual for my runs, but still. Not my favorite sensation.

I remembered to check my watch as I dashed out of Horse Camp, seeing 2:57 displayed. Seven minutes felt like an awful lot to be behind, but I reminded myself that these estimates were based on previous efforts there. If I could stay strong in the last 4 miles – when I’d historically given in and spent too much time hiking – I’d make up a load of time. If.

There was no calculus here. Just some slapdash mathematical wishing.

Out of Horse Camp came the singletrack descent to and ascent from the beaver dam, and I was discouraged to see my slowest mile so far. Here it goes, I sighed. But this year, rather than let it fester, I dug. When the singletrack gave way to the familiar hilly doubletrack of the northern section of the park, I pulled out my phone and cued up my race mix. If I couldn’t keep myself going through force of will, I’d do it through carefully curated thumpy club music.

And it happened. These vulgar, inappropriate anthems dragged me up hills, hiking hard, and pushed me to run when I didn’t want to. My body felt spent, my breath reduced to panting if I wasn’t paying attention. I resigned myself to feeling like garbage – which, I reminded myself, was exactly how I should have felt with only a few miles to go.

The hills seemed to go on forever, smaller than those at the beginning but every bit as relentless, until they suddenly gave way. I passed by the wood pile, the familiar landmark delineating that there was only a mile to go. Perhaps a half mile later, I came across two good friends, one of them serving as a course photographer. I grinned widely, calling out to them, and yelled “I’m gonna set a 10-minute PR!” as I ran by. They cheered, and to my ears, it was like the roar of an entire stadium.

Photo credit: Mike Wheeler

Minutes later, I passed another photographer, and shortly after, a couple out for a walk. I knew that had to be it; the finish must be just around the corner.

And there it was, the gentle, unkind hill to the finish line. I glanced at my watch, and it displayed a cold 3:49 and change.

I was almost there.

I crossed the line at 3:50:16 on my watch, a full ten minutes ahead of last year’s official time. It’ll be a day or two before the official results are out, but to say that I’m pleased would be a gross understatement. This was huge.

Some might read through this and say it was all about mindset. I rankle at that thought. Yes, I believed I was going to PR today. By a bunch. But mindset isn’t magic. You can believe in yourself all you want, but unless you do the thing that needs to be done, it doesn’t matter.

Yesterday, I did the thing.

And so that’s that. The perfect run on the perfect day.

The numbers

Elapsed time: 3:50:16
Average pace: 13:50/mi
Average heart rate: 175 (yikes…!)
Fastest mile: 12:17 – the very last one
Slowest mile: 15:30 – mile 14, muddy singletrack over the beaver dam

From 2018, the biggest change was time spent in aid stations. I shaved four minutes off my running and a huge SIX minutes off my dawdling time. I ate six Huma gels, drank about half a liter of water, consumed several ounces of pickle juice, and had an assortment of carbonated aid station offerings.

Meanwhile, my husband ran (and finished) his first 100-mile race. He completed six laps of this same course, performing almost exactly to plan and beating his calculated goal time. He started at 1am Saturday morning, and I had the privilege of joining him for a few miles on his last loop Sunday.

It also gave me a chance to take some of the photos I didn’t take yesterday.

It was a big, amazing weekend. Now, it’s time to sleep.

A bit about motivation

A few months ago, frustrated by the endless “How do I get motivated??” questions that I see and hear on a daily basis, I decided to share my thoughts on motivation with social media.

The short version is this: MOTIVATION IS A LIE.

The longer version goes like this: If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say they aren’t motivated to run, or asked how I stay motivated, I could afford way more massages.

It isn’t about motivation. Literally the only thing I’m motivated to do when I wake up is stay in bed. And when I get up, I’m pretty motivated to sit on the couch and eat ice cream. I am not motivated to do difficult things. (Or easy things. Let’s be real. I’m not motivated, full stop.)

But wait! you may say with surprise. You’ve done loads of difficult things! You lost all this weight and started running in your 30s while still morbidly obese and log tons of miles!

Yeah, I did that. I DO that. Not because I’m motivated.

It. Isn’t. About. Motivation. The longer you think it IS, the longer you’ll fail.

It’s about dedication. It’s about commitment. I decided that running matters, and so I make it matter even when I don’t want to.

It’s a relationship, guys. I get out of running only that which I put into it. The trails are there for me every day, whether I use them or not. Waiting. It’s up to me to show up.

I’m either dedicated or I’m not. And it’s okay if I’m not. Some days, I go for a sad little jog and give up. That’s still worthwhile. If it happened every day, it would be time to have a chat with myself about whether or not I want to continue pursuing this life. (And it’s okay if I didn’t.)

My running is a marriage. I’m not motivated, but that’s not what matters. It’s bigger than that.

Much bigger.

Stewart Tunnel 50K

The background

Last Friday, my husband and I – along with our good friend, Mike – set out for Belleville, WI to take part in a weekend of races put on by the Ten Junk Miles crew. This would be the inaugural year of these races, set on the Badger State Trail in southeastern Wisconsin. My husband would be taking on his first 100K distance, while I chose the safer-yet-still-daunting 50K.

The weekend itself consisted of six races, from half marathon through 100 miles, all taking place on this same section of converted rail trail. All races were designed as out-and-back routes along the trail, and the focal point of each would the Stewart Tunnel, a 1200-foot long tunnel constructed in the late 1800s. There was a huge turnout for the races, with hundreds of people descending on these tiny rural towns for the weekend. My husband would toe the line on Saturday at 9am, and my race would begin on Sunday at 7am.

Race week

Taper week and I don’t always get along, and the week before this race was no exception. My dormant Achilles tendinitis began to flare up early in the week (not to be confused with my always-Achilles tendinitis, which has been my companion for the better part of a year), and I got toe blisters during a short Wednesday run. My knees started protesting. A twinge in my lower back during Thursday’s run almost brought me to my knees. An on-again, off-again issue with one of my toes was suddenly ON-AGAIN, in capital letters.

Adding insult to injury, I discovered late Friday night that I had a very inconvenient case of athlete’s foot. Because of course I did.

My delicate 2-mile run on Saturday morning was cautious. Nothing hurt too badly, though nothing felt great. The inner monologue was fiercely negative, which it usually is when I’m in the last days before a big race. But I’d gone all that way, so why not?

The races

We camped on Friday night at the community park in Belleville, creating a home base for the weekend. Mike and I had crewing duties for my husband’s race, with Mike pacing the last half. This ended up being hugely informative for me, because it was hot. Like, hot. Afternoon highs were around 86-degrees and the dewpoint was hovering somewhere around “tropical”. The conditions laid waste to the competitors, turning stomachs and causing overheating throughout the day.

After spending the day traveling and working in the sun, I was exhausted, but sleep was elusive and intermittent. I was awake when my husband came in around 3am, completely battered. I took a moment to help him get settled, then grabbed a little more sleep before my 5:30 alarm.

Given the conditions I’d witnessed on Saturday, I was surprisingly calm as I prepped for the race. I ate a few mini donuts with a side of Mountain Dew and arranged my things. As at Afton, I planned to carry all my necessary calories. I had bags of Honey Stinger gummies ready to go, along with six Huma gels. Half were in front pockets, while the other half were tucked in back. My bladder was loaded with around 30oz of water, and a soft flask was reserved for pickle juice.

For once, I felt ready.

We gathered at the pavilion and we were given a few words of wisdom. This was a rail trail, we were told. As such, it wasn’t marked with copious flags. “Trains don’t turn. When in doubt, ask what a train would do.” We were assured that yesterday was hot, but today was going to be better. The anthem was sung, and we were off.

Temperatures were cool and the sun was still low in the sky, casting long clouds that shaded the trail. It was a most perfect morning.

Departing town, the name of the game was slow down. I knew I wanted to take advantage of the first few hours, before the sun rose high, but going out too fast would prove disastrous. So I clicked into my slow easy-run trot and settled in for a long day.

The scenery was beautiful. It was easy to see why the TJM folks chose to have a race here. The trail was indeed straight; you could see for a mile ahead. It crossed numerous bridges, providing broad vistas of rolling fields and farmland. The landscape wasn’t dramatic, but to a girl who grew up in the rural midwest, it was a little like coming home.

After four and a half miles, the woods grew a little deeper and a breeze came up. I rounded a curve and there it was: the Stewart Tunnel, a black hole in a wall of green.

“So that’s it,” a voice came beside me.

“I guess so.”

And so I met Pete, my very best running friend for the day. We snapped photos of the tunnel, turned on our flashlights, and tiptoed in.

This thing was dark. No, not that dark. Dark. You can’t imagine how dark dark can be. When people stepped into it, they disappeared. When I stepped into it, the world outside ceased to exist. It was so cool inside – and so humid outside – that fog swirled around us. The air was cold and wet, and words can’t possibly do it justice.

It was one of the creepiest and most otherworldly things I’ve ever experienced.

Pete and I jogged along, chatting away the better part of the morning. He was running his first 50K, and he had the very conservative, very attainable goal to simply finish the race. Our paces were conveniently complementary, and we stuck together for the first uneventful 13 miles. My fueling strategy was working well, putting away Honey Stinger gummies every couple miles, taking glasses of Mountain Dew at each aid station.

Aid stations had occurred at mile 5.5 (Tunnel) and 9 (Monticello), and approaching the mile 13 aid station, I knew I’d need to make a pit stop. Pete was still going strong, so we split, knowing we’d at least wave at one another after he hit the turnaround and headed back my way.

In and out at mile 13 (Gutzmer Road) and I downed my first gel. I started using Huma only a week ago, after a friend told me of them, and I found I really love the taste of them. It’s like eating a tiny fruit smoothie, more like a puree than a gooey sugar-paste. Pretty dang delicious.

Approaching the turnaround at mile 15.5, the trees sheltering the trail became fewer and farther between, and the sun was rising relentlessly. It didn’t seem hot yet, but it was coming. At this point in the course, I encountered the greatest incline I’d see: a whopping 1% grade. Over the course of two miles, it was noticeable.

The absolute best part of an out-and-back course is the constant string of people to cheer on. I had the privilege of encountering so many ultrarunners, exchanging congratulations and high-fives as we passed one another. The steady stream of 100-milers kept me feeling grateful and humbled. It was easy to stay dedicated to my relatively-short, knowing that these amazing athletes had been at it for 24+ hours.

The turnaround was a sign on a county road telling us to turn back, and it’s here that I remembered that the second best part of an out-and-back is that feeling of excitement you get when you’re finally facing the right way. As if the first half of the race didn’t happen. It was just a prelude. With a gentle 1% decline back to Gutzmer Road, I felt revitalized.

I was perhaps a mile after my second Gutzmer visit when my guts gurgled in that telltale way that guts can gurgle during a long run. My eyes got wide and I started doing math. And I started walking. I knew I’d be back to Monticello a little past mile 22, and there was a good chance I’d have support from my husband there. I wasn’t planning to take chances, so I played it safe and only resumed running some time later, once I decided I could trust my body.

And here’s the thing about rail trails: When I said earlier that you can see a mile ahead, you can. I saw the Monticello aid station for an eternity. It was right there, so I jogged, but it was so very far away, so I walked. It was this neverending game of “How about now? No? How about… now?” Simultaneously a relief and a torment.

Thank goodness, I saw my husband and Mike as I finally rolled into Monticello. I hastily pulled off my vest as he asked me how I was feeling. “Better than I should,” I replied, and I meant it. My body was feeling fantastic, with the exception of my desperate need for the portapotty. I handed off my vest, making requests for ice water and cold Mountain Dew, and headed off to the bathroom.

Protip: If you can avoid using a tiny death-sauna on a hot, sunny day, do it. It’s terrible. It was sweltering there, and my vision got spotty more than once. I braced my hands on the wall in front of me. Is this how it all ends? Blacking out and falling off a portapotty? Will my husband be the one to find me, face-down with my underwear around my ankles? Oh god, what if it’s a stranger?

I survived, barely. The pit stop made sweat pool in my eyes, and I came out blinking painfully, waving at my husband, asking for a wet paper towel. I sat in the shade, trying to cool down from my potty adventure. “I don’t want to know how hot it is,” I said preemptively. “I bet it’s only, like, 79 degrees and it just feels hotter.”

“Yeah, that’s about what it is,” my husband replied.

It was a bald-faced lie. I didn’t know that, but I got a temporary optimistic boost with the naive belief that the world wasn’t actually on fire and I wasn’t going to melt away.

Armed with a reloaded pack and a baggie of ice to shove down my shirt, I headed out again. It was a long stop, but it was desperately needed. Only nine miles to the finish, just one aid station to go. No biggie.

Halfway to Tunnel aid station, my blister from earlier in the week flared up angrily, and I sat on the side of the trail and fished out the tiny blister kit that I always carry on long races. I stabbed at my toe ruthlessly, trying to find the source, to no avail. Every person who passed me – who I’d passed just a half mile earlier – asked if I needed help.

Trail runners are the best runners. Hands down.

Having lost only a few minutes messing with my toes, I got back to my feet and began jogging again. The jogging was becoming less in the heat of the day; it was now well past noon and the stretch of shady, glorious trail from four hours earlier was now exposed and sun-drenched. When I tried to trot in the sun for more than a minute or so, I began to see spots, so I was reduced to jogging only in the shady bits. I was in for a long hike.

And damn, I wanted that tunnel again.

I reached the Tunnel aid station again and was offered a cold-but-melted freezie. I snagged a grape – my Afton salvation! – and devoured it. At this point, I hadn’t eaten a Huma in a few miles, and the last one had been forced. But I only had an hour to go, an hour and a half at most, and I didn’t think I could manage another. I chased my Mountain Dew with Ginger Ale, filled another baggie with ice, and headed out. With ice under my hat and in my shirt, I perked up. The tunnel was just ahead.

As before, I felt it before I saw it, and it was even darker than I remembered. It was exactly what I needed, and my dawdling paid off when I exited the tunnel and felt positively reborn.

This was the moment that I run for. That moment when nothing matters anymore. Everything is stripped away, and all that’s left is me, my pain, and the run. I felt this inexplicable wave of peace and understanding as my breathing slowed and my pace quickened.

This was it.

And it was here that I caught up again with Pete. I’d seen him at two previous aid stations, shouting out a greeting as I entered and he left. Here, I passed him by, cheering at him as he walked with two other racers. (Two ladies who had been very concerned about my feet and they yelled out to me as I passed, “How’s your blister??” See? Trail runners are the best runners.) I was positively gleeful at having seen Pete again, like a little race-day friendship coming full circle.

A few minutes later, I heard footsteps behind me. Pete was feeling great, and me passing by was just the kick he needed to push himself again. We stuck together until the last mile, jogging while we could, walking once the heat had beaten us into submission. He had a killer power hike, and as we entered town, I knew he’d leave me behind. With a little over half a mile to go, he picked up a firm jog and headed for the finish.

I was positively spent. If my life had absolutely depended on it, I could have followed, but I was so happy with what I’d done. I didn’t make my “A” Goal, and I was about to miss my “B” Goal by what ended up amounting to mere seconds. But I was happy and fulfilled, and I walked until the final stretch in the park, where I was confident I could run it in.

And I did.

My chip time was 8:15:01. My big goal had been to break 8 hours, and I finished the first half in around 3:49. If not for the potty adventure and the blister issue, I would have been in shooting range, and I may have been able to dig deep enough to make that mark. But this wasn’t that day, and considering the heat, I’m pretty stinkin’ elated that I only slipped 26 minutes in the second half.

The temperature, incidentally, was 87 degrees.

In any given race, there are always things that you could do differently. But I can’t think of any way I could have made it better. For me, on this day, it was nearly perfect execution, and I’m so happy with it.

Final tally of food ingested was 4 Huma gels, 2 bags of Honey Stinger gummies, around 2.5-3L of water, plenty of Mountain Dew, a cup of Ginger Ale, a melted grape freezie, and what probably amounted to 5oz of pickle juice. I estimate I took in around 800cal, which seemed to be sufficient for the circumstances of the day. Again, could I have done better? Probably. But it went really well.

Post-race systems check revealed a multi-blistered pinkie toe, sore ankles, a slightly swollen knee (which is normal after long runs), a very angry Achilles, and not a single cramp. Today, the day after, I feel fantastic. The Achilles is pretty stiff, but everything else feels perfectly adequate. If I needed to, I could run.

I’m very glad I don’t need to.

And that’s that. It was a great day put on by a great group of people. It was fantastic to see Scotty and Adam again, and meeting Rachel, Holly, and Dusty in person was a delight. I had the privilege of spending the weekend with friends, old and new, and I got to run on this gorgeous, green trail.

Speaking of friends, next on the agenda is other people’s races! September is chock-full of pacing and crewing, from Minnesota to California to Nevada to Colorado. (Well, California and Nevada are the same race. Back and forth.) My job this month is to stay healthy so I can be as useful as possible. And it’s gonna be amazing.

Another Afton 25K

There are a few select races that I like to return to year after year. I consider these to be my benchmarks, because even though they may cover the same distance, no two trail races are created equal.

One of those races is the Afton 25K, and I toed the line for my 4th edition on July 6th. This race is a single loop of a network of trails at Afton State Park, run concurrently with a 50K, two-loop version.

To preface, I’ll say that I absolutely adore Afton, and I love this race. The course is a fairly balanced blend of forest and prairie, a place where you might get lucky and hear both ovenbirds and meadowlarks. The hills are brutal, by central Minnesota standards, and those of us who aren’t able to get out to the SHT or the river bluffs are firmly tested by the challenges presented.

Race day also tends to be hot. Very hot. I will never, ever choose to do the 50K, primarily due to the oppressive heat and humidity that arise in the middle of the day. The 25K gets a smaller dose of it each year, so in the weeks leading up to the race, I made the choice to run at least one of my weekday runs in the afternoon.

I knew I was ready one Sunday afternoon, 93-degrees and thick with humidity, when I looked at my husband mid-run and said without a trace of irony, “You know, when the breeze comes up, it’s really not that bad.”

And so the day dawned, and lo and behold, it was cold. Not cold-cold, but brisk and chilly in the low 60s, and as we drove to the park, I turned on the heat. I knew then that if I was going to meet my PR goals, this would be the day for it.

I was ready to run like a beast.

With the experience of previous years behind me, I lined up much closer to the front than I would at any other race. Afton begins with a long, gradual downhill, just steep enough to have many runners leaning back and putting on the brakes. I, however, love this downhill, and I bomb it with a certain amount of reckless abandon. Technical downhills knock me back a bit, but this one? Lemme at it.

Once the hill flattened out, other runners picked me off handily, as I knew they would. This stretch of flat is where I had stern words with myself about how slowly I needed to go and how easily I needed to take it. It’s a long race with big hills. Save it.

The first of the hills passed uneventfully, a stout climb up to a prairie section, and energy conservation was the name of the game. I walked the climbs, trotted the flats, and when the next big downhill came, I was ready.

Down to Trout Brook Loop I barreled, passing more than a dozen runners over the course of two-tenths of a mile. The first aid station was before me, and I ran through with only a “Thank you!” and a wave.

Which brings up a point of note: I generally have a sour stomach during races. I’ve fought with it for years, trying to force down various foods at aid stations because I think it’s what I should be doing, but for this race, I decided to embrace what I could handle. My pack was filled with Honey Stinger gummies, which I tolerate well, and my strategy was to use aid stations for pop and ginger ale. My reservoir was filled with water, and I was pretty sure that if I kept drinking at the aid stations, I’d get through without needing to refill.

So I skipped the first aid station and cracked into the gummies as I traversed Trout Brook Loop, a deeply-wooded section full of ups and downs with enough roots and rocks to keep you awake. This is one of my favorite parts of the course, and I made fantastic time on it.

Coming out of Trout Brook and back through the aid station, I took some drinks and carried on my way up to the prairie. The exposed, rolling prairie always takes a bit of a toll, but this year, the skies were cloudy and temperatures were still moderate. I clipped through efficiently, taking additional minutes off last year’s time.

Aid station 3/4 is a favorite of mine, a significant marker of the distance traversed. The first passage is around mile 6 and the second at mile 10, with the second big climb of the race between them. Coming into the AS3 side, I was unceremoniously ambushed by numerous friends, who were volunteering for the day. Two pitchers of ice-cold water were poured over me, which was absolutely glorious. I was asked how the race was going. “Fantastic!” I exclaimed as I slammed a glass of Coke. “I’m more than a minute per mile ahead of last year and feeling great!”

Sometimes, those are famous last words, but not yet. I trotted out of AS3, jogging slowly up the long, incremental incline of a gravel road. One of two gravel roads on the course, it’s always a test of how much you have left in the tank. I managed to run most of it, until the hill became steep and I hiked up to the next section of prairie.

Over the prairie, down a winding hill through the woods, and to the next challenge: back up the hill. For my money, this may be the hardest hill on the course, wrapping up and around to the hike-in campground area of Afton. I have low blood pressure, and with high levels of exertion, I just don’t get the oxygen I need. I become lightheaded and tend to hyperventilate on really tough climbs, especially later in races. But this year, my diligent pacing paid off, and I managed to hike up without pausing to catch my breath.

Past the campsites and down Campground Hill back into AS4, I was feeling full of energy and ready to take on the rest of the course. I’d been eating my gummies, drinking water, and I took a moment at the aid station to put away a few glasses of various drinks. Two friends, Mark and Jeff, called out my name ominously as they advanced on me with freezing, waterlogged sponges.

Ain’t no sponge bath like an Afton sponge bath.

In and out, and I was onto the long, gravel road that plagues many Afton runners. To run or not to run, that’s always the question. This year, I accepted that I’d need a handful of walk breaks, in anticipation of the hill that was lying in wait.

Meatgrinder.

It’s always huge. It’s always tough. I always need to pause at least once on the climb. Somehow, I still don’t think it’s objectively as hard as the hill up the backside of Campground, but it’s always a beast, coming a few miles later.

As I neared the top of the climb, I heard a call from behind. My friend Stacia caught up with me, and we chatted briefly about how our races were going. At this point, I was starting to tire, and as we emerged from the climb, I felt my first twinge of a calf cramp. I waved Stacia ahead, feeling like the end was near – much too soon.

AS5 was just ahead, shortly after mile 12, and all plans of seeking out pickles for my cramps were forgotten when I was offered a freezie. A FREEZIE YOU GUYS. Wendi welcomed me into the station with a grape freezie and it was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. It gave me life. I polished it off as I walked, and I resumed jogging with a whole new outlook.

That outlook was tragically short-lived, because though the freezie gave me life, it didn’t give me new legs. And this was the part where, just as last year, I was reminded that the worst was yet to come.

I was on track to positively shatter my goals, PRing by nearly 20 minutes. I was a force to be reckoned with. I was tired, sure, but I was crushing this thing. Snowshoe Loop, which comprises a little over 2 miles, is beautiful and lush and green. It’s an up-down-up-down sawblade of singletrack, and when I run just Snowshoe, it’s one of my favorite places on earth.

I once drove out to Afton just to run Snowshoe for three hours. It was glorious.

At mile 13, however, it’s not glorious. It’s destructive and callous, not caring about my hopes or dreams. (Or legs.) I went from a strong 13:45 pace to a heartbreaking 19:30 mile. The hills just kept coming, and I couldn’t get up any of them without stopping multiple times to breathe. My calves were continually twingeing – not cramping, but not not cramping – and I battled with myself relentlessly.

I watched everything start to slip away, and I sighed. I sighed a lot.

Finally, the worst of the hills were over, and I was able to run the singletrack again. I knew I had a small stretch before the final climb up out of the woods, so I made the most of it. It was here when a friend, Mandy, caught me. We leapfrogged briefly, until she buried me shortly after the final climb. She asked what my goal was as she passed.

“I’d like to make 3:45,” I said. Last year’s time was 3:52 and change, which was itself a 10-minute PR, and I was keen to take it down again. “I don’t think I’ll make it, though. Snowshoe just killed me.”

She looked at her watch. “I think you can make it.”

And that was it. I could make it.

The climb flattened out into the final stretch of prairie, and I knew the finish was just around the corner. Nearly half a mile around the corner, but it was right there. I walk-jogged until I was confident I could run it in, and from that moment, I pushed. I ran my guts out, thundering down the chute as my calves cramped and I laughed. I was going to make it.

I crossed the line in 3:44:53.

For the next fifteen minutes, my vision was spotty and I was a little woozy – a side-effect of walking around and telling my race story instead of sitting down and breathing. Once I’d settled in to eat my lunch and stopped talking for a few minutes, my systems balanced out and everything felt good again. Great, actually.

And so ended another Afton 25K. My progress year over year has been a thing of beauty, and looking back on this year’s race, I don’t think I could have done anything better. I know what went wrong, but I don’t think I could have fixed it on the day. Next year, it’ll be more climbing, in an effort to be prepared for Snowshoe. This year? It was as good as it could have possibly been.

Next up will be a 50K, only my third attempt at the distance. I completed my first 50K in 2015, and when I attempted it again the following year, I wasn’t prepared and bailed at the 25K mark. I’ve done a handful of 25+ mile runs, and I finished 64 miles at FANS in June, but the approach is very different for these efforts. Focusing on a 50K race again has been exciting, and it’s only five days away. Ready or not, here I come!

FANS 24-hour run

The background

The FANS 6, 12, and 24-hour runs are charity events held each year to benefit urban youth in their goal to achieve a college education. Entry fees are steep, but they go to provide scholarships to these worthy, under-served students.

Totally worth it.

With my last two Zumbros not working out – two years of snowmageddons? what are the odds? – I’ve continued to chase the 50-mile distance. And so, I reasoned, why not shoot for a 24-hour run? Let’s see how long it really takes to do 50 in a controlled environment, and that’ll tell me 1) if I want to ever do it again, and 2) how long it would likely take me. I anticipated around 16-17 hours for a 50-mile finish, so even if everything fell apart, I could get some sleep and still make it happen in 24 hours.

The race

The weekend started, as all races do, with unrealistic goals. I had figured that, if I just keep trucking along and laying down two loops (1.8 miles each) per hour, I could crush 70 miles. Even 80. I just needed to keep moving quickly.

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These utterly unreasonable goals plagued me for the first three hours, and the internal monologue was brutal. You’re too slow. You’re too fat. Stop pretending to be special. You’re just doing what everyone else here is doing. And you won’t even meet your goals. I always know how to hurt me best – or worst – and I leveled seemingly endless insults at myself in the very earliest part of the race.

Soon, though, I was able to bury those voices. I was fresh and strong, but I still wasn’t anywhere near the early pace I’d need to make these huge goals happen. So I put it away and got down to the business of the day: Just keep moving. By hour four, I was satisfied. It was all fine.

Coming into one of the aid stations, I spotted a good friend of mine, a veteran of the trails and an unabashed bringer of joy. I told her I’d been struggling emotionally, and that while I was feeling better, I was preparing for the next low.

She shrugged and replied, “Well, maybe it won’t get worse. Maybe today, this is how you get to feel.”

I carried those words with me for the rest of the day. And you know what?

It never got worse.

I mean, everything else got worse, for a while, until it just stayed bad. In those first hours, I spent much time jogging on the asphalt path, and my Achilles tendinitis raged. I began splitting my time on the grassy shoulder, and though it was more challenging and uneven, the Achilles improved.

Blisters began early – two great big ones that nearly covered my pinkie toe. I drained them, replaced my Trail Toes with Desitin, and changed my socks. I didn’t have another blister all day. (It was overcast and chilly when the run started, having just rained in the area. I opted for Trail Toes to protect from moisture, but when it didn’t rain, my feet just got really hot and sweaty. Desitin was a better choice for me in those conditions.)

Every loop had two aid stations – the timing tent, which recorded our laps, and a small station at the halfway point. My own things were at still another location, so in 1.8 miles, there were three opportunities for food and drink. Which is crazy, really.

The timing tent always had pickle juice, so I took a glass of that every lap for the first 12 hours or so. I had only one cramp all day – and that was when I sat down and contorted myself to deal with my blisters – and I blame my pickle juice regimen for that. (And it was delicious. I love that stuff.)

My husband joined me on-course around hour 6, and somewhere around hour 8, my friend Beth hit the scene. We walked, we jogged – well, I jogged and she walked, because my energy-conservation pace is a firm hike for others. We learned so much about each other over the hours we spent together, and it was a fantastic time. Her cheerful attitude made the laps fly by.

At the 13-hour mark, Mike took over. Let me tell you about Mike: he’s something else. A fellow trail runner and good friend of my husband’s, he was the first person to reach out to me at random and ask if I needed help for this race. I’d been non-committal – mostly because I was utterly clueless about what I was doing – and a week or two later, I got a message simply stating that he was planning to show up and do the overnight with me. I found out later that he’d also be turning up two hours before the race even started, to set up one of his own tents to serve as home base and get camp organized. He was a powerhouse.

When Mike came back in the evening and took over from Beth, I was mostly reduced to walking. I was sore, and my feet were starting to ache. I wasn’t eating much, which is typical for me on long runs. My stomach was fine, but nothing sounded good. I would take a bite of my favorite things and be totally disgusted. Because of this, I kept myself stocked up on sports drink and pop, to keep some calories flowing even when I couldn’t manage more than a few bites. I never seemed to hit the wall, so I assume I was keeping up just fine, but it’ll benefit me in the future to experiment with other fluid-based strategies.

The change to exclusively walking relieved my Achilles, but the tibialis anterior in both legs was working overtime. I started trying to roll out my shins with every loop, in a desperate bid to keep the pain in check.

At some point after dark, the wheels started to come off. I was closing in on 50 miles, and my walk had increasingly become a hobble. By the time my husband rejoined me – he wanted to be there when I hit 50 – I was audibly whimpering. My feet and ankles were throbbing, the anterior tibs were positively on fire, and a mild chafing problem I’d been managing for hours had become a raging issue. These midnight miles were taking 26, 27, 30 minutes to achieve.

By some twist of measuring – and by my need to run on the shoulder of the path – I was always on the extreme outside of a round-ish loop. This meant that the measured distance of the course wasn’t what my watch displayed. My watch rolled over the 50-mile mark a full mile before I passed the on-course sign denoting it. In order to receive official credit for the distance, I needed to do what the signage said.

And here’s the magic: When my watch hit 50 miles, do you know what happened? Do you know what changed in me?

Absolutely nothing.

Nothing was different here. My next steps were the same as the ones before. I was still engulfed in darkness, passed by an occasional runner, following the narrow white beam from my headlamp.

At a 50-mile race, there would have been a sense of finality. Of achievement. You cross the finish line, you get your medal, and you sit down to eat a cheeseburger with friends. It’s a brief marker of achievement that poses as an endpoint. It’s a thing.

But not here. For that, I think, I was grateful. It was a hell of a lesson in the middle of the night.

Here, now after 1am, I issued my demand to my husband, steadfast crew chief. “I’m laying down for a while. I need to. I can’t keep going.” We quickly negotiated a time – 90 minutes – and he helped me to the tent. I tucked into bed, and after a few minutes of feeling the pulsing of my excruciating feet, I fell asleep.

Shortly before my 90-minutes were up, I awoke shivering. Every time I moved out of the tight ball in which I’d slept, my teeth chattered violently. It had gotten cold overnight, and I was still flushed from the sun and exertion. My husband helped me gather up my things and waited patiently while I changed out of the salty, dirty clothes I’d slept in. I moved slowly, but felt good. Really good. I was wide awake and the pain was gone.

Without a plan in place, I set out with both Mike and my husband shortly after 3am. With my fresh legs (and a clear head) again, we started doing the math: How many loops, how many hours, how many minutes per mile. If I wanted to make 100K, I would need another 12 miles in the next 5 hours. On any other day, a 12-mile easy run for me would take fewer than 3 hours. Here? Nope.

But 5 hours was entirely doable, if I kept paying attention.

I had two glorious loops without pain before it started sneaking back in. The respite was worth the 2 hours of downtime. It gave me faith in the process and a new understanding of how my body recovers.

As I closed in on the final hour, it became clear that not only would I make 100K, I’d make it with plenty of time to spare. I’d then have the option of tacking on additional miles in whatever time I had left.

After 23 hours, my hobble was back and it wasn’t gonna go away again. I had another mile to log to get my official 100K, and I immediately decided that I would be done. Immediately. I finished out that last mile fantasizing about laying on the grass and not moving for a really long time.

When all was said and done, I finished my official 100K in 23:20. And again, because of the nature of these events, there was no fanfare. It just ended when you were done.

“You still have 40 minutes left. Sure you don’t wanna get your money’s worth?”

Official results won’t be up until much later. If not for the fact that I was trumpeting all morning how excited I was, nobody ever would have known that I was hunting down a huge first.

We didn’t wait for breakfast or awards. The pain was escalating pretty dramatically by this time, and I just wanted to get home and into bed. I don’t think I’ve ever slept so soundly.

I know there are a million things I’m forgetting and a jillion people I haven’t mentioned who made a difference. I was surrounded by friends who were either running their own races or helping others, and it was an amazing place to be. I’m so very glad I did it.

And no, I’m not sure if I’ll ever do this again. Long distances create suffering, and I’m still figuring out how much of that I can take. Or want to. I’m sure that, after an acceptable period of time, wherein I’ll totally forget how bad it was, I’ll sign up for something outrageous again. And it’ll be terrible then, too. Terribly wonderful.

Surf the Murph 25K: A retroactive race report

I’ve just completed my race report for Surf the Murph 2019 and realized, egad, I never published my 2018 report! So here it is, backdated, in all its belated glory.

The big day

Surf the Murph 25K is a mainstay in my yearly race calendar, but this year was special. It would fall on the day of my youngest brother’s wedding. Many of the festivities would take place outdoors, so we were hopeful that both the race and the wedding would see a beautiful, sunny day.

Well, there was sun. And frost. And sub-freezing temperatures. Our alarm went off at the practically-late hour of 5am. Getting a parking spot at Surf was a top priority, given the logistics of the day, so we arrived early and napped in the car.

It was windy and cold, and I managed to dress exactly right: a little too warm when sunny and sheltered from the wind, a little too cold when it was cloudy and exposed. I blew through the first three miles feeling happy, refusing to look at my watch. I told myself that I was in 4-hour shape, so why micromanage and get frustrated? I went through the first AS slamming a Mountain Dew and not missing a moment.

On the way to the Three Hills, I saw Jamison ahead. I recalled that I’ve caught him here before, when there are fewer places to run properly, and I did so again today. He pulled away after a few minutes together, and I let him go. I remember, around mile 4 or 5, feeling the sort of glee that I chase every run. Feeling invincible, feeling indescribably joyful. I wanted to keep that feeling forever. Into Horse Camp and out quickly, with 2 glasses of Mountain Dew and a Coke chaser.

I burped my way around the first few corners before I caught Jamison again. He just wasn’t feeling into it, and I asked if he wanted to stick with me. We were both non-committal, but we would stay together for the last 11 miles of the course.

So fast we’re blurry! Or something.

Into and out of Natchez, feeling lifted by the presence of our friends at the aid station. I spent a little too long here, chatting, and I felt the pressure as I took another glass of Mountain Dew. We headed out onto the section of road.

The course was bone-dry, and by the time we hit the pavement, my ankles were feeling it. I jog/walked more than I should have needed to on this flat, straight section. When we got back onto the prairie, I told Jamison that I was starting to struggle. I always hit a hole around miles 11/12, and I think it’s why I don’t like half marathons but I love 25Ks. I just don’t have enough time to enjoy it again in a half, by the time I dig back out of that low point. Jamison committed to dragging me along dutifully. We shouted out a twangy rendition of “Home on the Range” as we trotted along. It helped.

The ziggy-zaggy loop on the way back to Horse Camp is especially vile for 25 & 50K runners. It serves to add mileage for the 50-milers, but for those of us at lower distances, it makes our races longer than they need to be. We called this The Fucking Loop. It slogged on and on.

Suddenly, desperately, I needed to pee, and I charged full-bore into Horse Camp and to the porta-potties. Before departing, I grabbed a Mountain Dew and a Ginger Ale, turning down offers of snacks.

Once back on our way, Jamison gave me a brief time update, which he’d also done once before. I thanked him but said that I didn’t really want to know. I knew he was still watching, but didn’t bring it up again. He kept pulling me along.

The hills after the beaver dam were less ominous than I remembered, but my hamstrings were beginning to make themselves known. So, too, was my ankle; it had felt great, for the most part, but occasional bad steps served to aggravate it. It felt “Fine”, as I told Jamison, because it did. It just hurt. Apparently a thing can be both.

With less than 3 miles to go, I said that I still felt good, so it was probably time to push. I doubled down, trying to run more hills, with varying degrees of success. I was wary on heavier leaf cover, and this area seemed to have larger rocks and more sticks on the ground. I couldn’t dig in like I wanted.

I knew we were getting close, coming past the wood pile, and still I refused to look at my watch. I was reaching the point where I simply wouldn’t be able to respond, anyway – I was pushing as hard as I felt able. So we walked and jogged in silence, with my breath becoming more and more ragged.

Until, finally, Jamison said: We have two minutes. And that was it. Two minutes, and I didn’t know exactly how far to go. I found another gear – half broken and grinding, for sure, but another one. We careened around the corners and down the modest hills, and as we sprinted – “sprinted” – up the hill to the mat, Jamison stepped back. I hit the mat, stopped my watch, and doubled over.

3:59:59 was the time on my watch. (A time that Strava readjusted, for reasons unknown, to 4:00:01. Jackasses.) A 24-minute PR, on top of it all.

It was just after 12pm. We loitered only a minute or two before heading to the car, where garment bags, water, and shampoo waited. I washed my hair, bent over beside the rear bumper, and it froze nearly as quickly as I could soap it. With clean hair – hey, it’s something – we drove straight to downtown St. Paul for wedding photos. My baby brother was getting married today, and it was a small miracle that the schedule worked out to allow us to race. As it happened, the schedule changed, and my family patiently waited at Union Depot for us to show up after all other photos were done. We stopped at a grocery store, grabbed some lunch for the bride, changed clothes in the public restroom, and made it to the Depot by 1:15. I scrubbed down my legs with baby wipes, posed for some photos, and we were off again.

We boarded a riverboat at 3pm, and the ceremony commenced shortly after launch. Jamison presided, it was beautiful, and I stayed awake the whole time. I even stayed awake through dinner, and social hour, and watched the sun set over the river. The boat docked again at 7pm, and in spite of my family’s urging, there would be no after-party for us.

So, we’re home. I’m exhausted and full of joy. Tired joy.

A long, wonderful day.

2018: the year Zumbro out-Zumbroed itself

When I chose Zumbro to be my first 50-mile race, I was optimistic. It’s a race in a place I enjoy, full of people I love, and it has a generous 18-hour cutoff. It would be hard work, but not outside the realm of possibility.

Until the weather blew in.

I woke on Friday morning in a warm hotel room, the sound of rain pattering on the sidewalks outside. My plan was to hunker down here as long as possible, knowing I wouldn’t sleep well at camp before my midnight start. I got restless, though; Zumbro was calling. I’d dropped off my husband with our camper the night before, and I was ready for the big day to begin.

With activity all around me, my day was uneventful. Hours of rest and almost-napping were punctuated by trips to the Start/Finish area. The 100-milers were cycling in and out as the day wore on, covered in mud from the slick, sloppy, course. The rain came and went, and without cell reception to check the weather, my hopes were rising. Maybe the blizzard would miss us.

I was curled up in the camper for yet another fitful nap at 8pm when the thunder and lightning started. The winds pounded the camper as rain and sleet came rushing back in. By 10pm, the tapping of sleet had turned to a splatter, and I smiled from my blanket cocoon, assuming we were settling in for a night of drizzle.

Outside, however, was nothing but snow. Where only hours earlier the landscape had been brown and muddy, it was now whitewashed. The flakes were monstrous; enormous conglomerations of wet snow that smacked me in the face like well-aimed snowballs. The beacon of the Start/Finish area was now invisible, obscured in the whiteout.

For the 50-milers, this is where the story began.

“We debated letting you start tonight,” the race director told us. The conditions were treacherous, and by the time we reached Aid Station 1/4 in only 3 miles, we would experience life-altering conditions. It would not get better. “If you’re not confident, take the shortcut back to the start.” There would be no on-course rescue; the ATVs and shuttles were getting stuck in the mud and snow. Be safe, be sure. Or don’t start.

With that, we were released into the darkness.

The hills were steep and slippery. It wasn’t the mud, and it wasn’t the snow. It was the unholy demonspawn that was born when the two mixed in just the right proportion, packing the snow into ice with a slick sheen of mud over the top. The conga line of runners was moving slowly, deliberately, as we climbed the narrow path.

As the path widened and the field began to spread, I settled into a rhythm behind another runner. His name was Charlie, he said, and we chatted briefly, companionably as we slogged through the mud. It was hard to tell exactly how deep each muddy stretch was, until you stepped and sunk to the shin. The air filled with the sound of feet. Plop-shhhlockplop. Plop-shhhlockplop. Once, my foot came out without my shoe, and I delicately fished my foot back into the deep hole, reseated it into my shoe, and carried on.

And still, we were climbing. It felt like miles. It might as well have been miles. Then, we were at AS 1/4. Glowing lights, cheering, applause. I felt overheated, but here in the valleys, sheltered from the wind, it was hard to judge what level of layering was appropriate. We all dressed ourselves expecting the worst.

It got worse. It got better, but it got worse.

Sometime soon after AS 1/4, Charlie dropped me. My world reduced from two headlight beams and a pair of guiding feet to one solitary circle of light. Runners would pass or be passed, but I found myself very alone in the woods, in the dark. I liked it that way.

Where the footing was bad, it was very bad. At AS 2/3, I sat down to dump mud from my shoe and scrape little clods of dirt off the soles of my socks. There were places on the course where I would ski down small hills of mud, using my poles to catch myself. And there were other small hills of ice, where catching myself was harder. Scarier. It was never more than a few feet at a time, but it was enough to rattle me.

It was somewhere after AS 2 – before I would see it again as AS 3 – when I decided this would be my only loop. The icy descents were too hard, and though they were few, I knew I was risking significant injury. I filed it away: Noted. One loop. Check.

And where the footing was good, it was very good. Stretches were beautiful, soft, runnable. I got into the rhythm with my poles, pulling myself ahead, up and over. When it was good, over and over again, it was incredible.

In these times, I would need to remind myself: One loop. All of this isn’t worth falling down a tiny little hill.

The parts of Zumbro that are normally dreaded were fantastically runnable, thanks to the weather. The sand coulees were soft with snow, the perfect consistency for effortless running. The rocky descents were packed, the rocks less threatening under inches of snow. I ran spots that ate me up last year, during an historically warm Zumbro 17, and it felt wonderful.

One loop.

After AS 3, the game changed. The climb up Ant Hill passed quickly this year, with the enormity of the looming hill reduced to a small circle directly in front of me. My hike was strong, and I was anxious to get to the long, moderate ridge at the top.

As I crested the hill, no longer nestled in the trees, the wind hit. Weather reports had anticipated 22mph winds, and the gusts were much more. The snow was whipping here, crawling across the trail into knee- and thigh-deep drifts. Within minutes of a runner passing, their footprints were obscured. Every step was breaking trail here. Sometimes, a howl of wind could be heard, and I would crouch down, turning my face away, bracing into the gale. In daylight, I knew I could look out across majestic vistas and see for miles. In the dark, I suspected I was inches from certain death, and the valley was waiting to take me.

I’ve been cold while running, but never quite like this.

I traversed the ridge like this for over a mile, trudging and ducking and trudging some more. The descent from Ant Hill, a treacherously rocky hill that claims ankles every year, became more runnable as the blizzard went on, transitioning into soft, snowy track with only hints of rock.

And then I was back into the valleys. The mud was firming up with the cold, the difference between wetness that spills over into your shoes and softness that maintains a deep footprint. The footing was improving as the race went on.

One loop. Still reminding myself.

The long gravel road went on for a lifetime. I was awake and alert, but still, I heard voices in the woods and slew that surrounded me. Laughter. Or maybe just the creaking of trees and the shaking of snow. The branches were hanging low, sometimes scraping faces and heads, heavy with snow and ice; some snapped and cracked with the weight. I stopped to tie the same shoe over and over again, the frozen laces unwilling to behave.

AS 1/4 came and went for a second time, sending me onto the final leg of the course. There were only a few miles left, with a long singletrack section that felt like home. The snow here was perfectly packed, soft underfoot, winding through the trees. The sun was just beginning to rise, casting the landscape in dark greys, and my heart skipped. I smiled, I ran, I was full of joy here. I wasn’t ready to be done.

Finally, the singletrack dumped me out onto the rutted, flooded, muddy road leading to the finish. Less than a mile of hopping over and around tiny lakes and streams and it was all over. I ran across the snowy field at the campground, focused on Start/Finish. My husband stood waiting, cheering, as he’d been doing for nearly every runner since Friday morning. I burst across the line, beaming, exclaiming to anyone who would listen: “That was amazing! I’m not going back out, but that was amazing!” Surrounded by friends and loved ones, I felt invincible. For a few minutes, I was invincible.

My loop time was 5:55, a decent time in these conditions, but not enough for a viable 50-mile. I felt good – really good – and was ready for more; seeing my time made choosing to stop that much easier to stomach.

And that’s where my Zumbro 2018 race tale ends. The next 10 hours were spent alternately huddled in the car and mingling with friends. I finished healthy, uninjured, and proud. It was the best DNF I could have ever hoped for.

Post-race systems check: Achy ankles and knees, tender feet. No blisters, no chafes, no sprains. A little sore the next day, but will be ready to run in a few days. Onward to the next adventure!

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Friday

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Saturday