Thursday, August 15, 2013

Endless Summer Lebanon 7 Mile Race Report (or, Twilight of the Endless Summer)

It's hard to believe, but the Endless Summer is coming to a close.  It's already mid August, and the Minnesota weather in the last two weeks has been distinctly September-ish, with crisp mornings in the 50s and breezy, sunny days in the 70s.

The last installment of the Endless Summer Trail Run Series was last night on my home turf, at Lebanon Hills Regional Park. I started running there in January with some of the Upper Midwest Trail Runners, and have been there at least a couple times a month all this year. After a summer of weeknight races at parks I'd never run (or, usually, even visited), it was time to return to familiar ground.

Even more fun, I got to do it with a friend. I met Stephanie while doing a crazy Internet running challenge last year, the 12athon. Run 12 miles on the 12th of the month. Earn "bonus points" for doing it in a particularly crazy way. (Examples: 12 miles, all uphill. 12 miles, changing your shoes after every mile. Run a 10K race, then at the finish, turn around and run it in the other direction.) The 12athon ended when 2012 did, but it took till earlier this summer to meet up with the other local 12athoner. It was exciting to join her in her first trail race!

Note her stylin' 12athon shirt!
Despite leaving work right at 5, I was foiled by traffic and by the time I reached Lebanon Hills, the parking lot was full. No worries, the race director had arranged for overflow parking and a school bus shuttle at a church a mile or two down the road.
Taken from my car (at a light), crossing my fingers that I wouldn't miss the bus.
A quick bus ride back to the park...
99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer....
... and just enough time to register, hit the restroom, and run into a few friends before the (slightly delayed) race start.
I met this awesomely dressed runner standing in line. Check out her gorgeous INKnBURN!
Mike and Janet were both racing. Janet's doing her first Ragnar this weekend, and Mike is deep in training for the Moose Mountain Marathon.
It was a Sugarskull kind of day. I love racing in my INKnBURN gear!
Everyone's ready to race.
John Storkamp, race director extraordinaire, gave the pre-race briefing from his  traditional stepladder. It seemed quieter than usual before race start. I was dazzled by the late afternoon sunlight and thinking about the last race of summer, and of what a great summer it's been .Maybe everyone else was too.

The Cliff's Notes version: Pick up litter, flags on your left, if you get lost, just come back here and we'll have a push-up contest and then drink some beer.
A quick countdown, and we're off! We'd been warned that the trail rapidly turns to singletrack, and there was, predictably, a bit of a bottleneck for the first quarter-mile:
Don't worry, it thinned out pretty quick.

Pretty soon, though, the crowd thinned out and the trail grew quiet, cool and shady.

Despite its name, I think of Lebanon Hills more as a collection of little lakes with trails (and the occasional hill) weaving between them, and less as a collection of hills. The trails are generally doubletrack width (singletrack in the winter when they're packed by snowshoers), dirt with a few roots and rocks, and pretty non-technical. They tend toward muddy since everything's close to one lake or another. There are a few respectable hills, but nothing steep. Of the four Endless Summer courses, it's probably the flattest and, I suspect, the fastest.

Most of the trail is wooded or lakeside, and much of it looks like this:
Last night, it smelled like moist earth, green growing things, and lake water.

But there are some lake views, and some of them are quietly beautiful.
This tree was moving so fast it was a blur.

Lake, with powerline counterpoint.

 I ran along with Stephanie, at an easy but ground-covering pace. After a while, we had our section of the trail to ourselves, and we jogged along, feeling pretty good, enjoying the trail. Around mile 2 or 3, I paused to take a picture of some amazing neon-orange fungus in the woods...
Nothing says "Don't eat me!" quite like neon orange
 ... when we saw these guys coming up behind us. Really? The sweepers, already?
"That's not a fungus, that's a trail marker. Oh, wait, that IS a fungus."
Wow! I don't think I've ever been DFL before. Luckily, they were a pretty easygoing bunch. They followed us at a respectful distance as we ran and walked into the aid station, at the Jensen Lake trailhead.

The aid station was well stocked, with water, HEED, gels and salt (because why not?), and some fabulous volunteers.
Kathy, speedy ultramarathoner and excellent person

Amy, who BROKE TWO RIBS running at Afton last week, ran another 4 miles, and didn't seek medical attention for another THREE DAYS. What is it with these crazy trail runners?

Bob and the other sweepers caught up with us at the aid station.
Refreshed, we were soon on our way again, running on the section of Lebanon Hills I know best, the loop around the lake. It was cool but not chilly, the shadows were getting long, and the water was still and beautiful. We ran when we could, walked when we had to, and enjoyed the evening.
The alarmingly bouncy and unstable-feeling bridge at the southeastern end of Jensen Lake. The first time I ran over this, last winter, I briefly wondered if it was a trail runner's hazing ritual.
As a side note, I'd been in a bit of a running funk for the last week and a half -- easily fatigued, decreased endurance, a touch of plantar fasciitis. I'd been addressing it with rest, more sleep, dietary changes (more carbs at every meal) and stretching and foam rolling, but hadn't had a really great run in a long time.

Maybe it was the slower pace. Maybe it was the time of day or the weather. Maybe it was just time for things to start getting better. But whatever it was, this run felt GREAT. My heart was full of joy.
Sunset over the lake
 The trail grew more and more dim as the twilight deepened and we approached the last mile. The sweeper crew behind us was chatty and encouraging. Stephanie, despite some shortness of breath and lightheadedness, was keeping up her pace and looking strong. It's tough to keep going on a hard run, and nothing was going to stop her.

We could hear the finish line before we could see it, and it got louder and louder as we rounded the last lake.
Visitor Center, just ahead!
 And there it was. We ran through together in just under 1:45, just ahead of the sweep crew.

I'd never been dead last before. But for a healing, exhilirating, beautiful run like that, it was worth it. And I'll say it again: if I'd realized the sweep crew was having so much fun before, I wouldn't have been running so hard! Thanks, sweep volunteers, for your patience, encouragement, and sense of humor.

It was fun to run with a friend. I think Stephanie had a good first trail race. I hope we can get her back on trails again soon!

Lots of friends cheered us in to the finish and there was still pizza and beer left. It was nearly dark, a reminder that summer's long days are coming to an end. It was a beautiful night. A memorable finish to the last race of the summer.

As the fall racing season begins, with its longer races, I feel like I'm coming into it refreshed. It's been a great summer for running and racing and meeting friends. I know the fall will bring new delights and surprises. I'll miss summer, but I can't wait.

1 comment:

  1. Your lake pictures at dusk are gorgeous! And I agree about summer being for fun running. Gives us a re-charge to buckle down on fall training. What's next for you?