Thursday, July 14, 2016

Afton 25K 2016 Race Report (or, "Hey Rand, you should do a trail race!")

Rand and I both lift at the YWCA and our relationship is based on mutual respect, high regard, and of course talking smack to each other. In November, he mentions that he's been running more and putting up some good weekend mileage.

 I say what I say to anyone who sets me up with that kind of statement: "You should run a trail race with me." But to my (mild) surprise, he agrees, and we decide we'll do Afton. It's nearby, it's midsummer so you can train in the heat and on the course, and there's an ultra (50K) and a "fun run" (25K) distance. When it's time to put up or shut up and register in May, we pick the 25K. He's been running up to 16 miles at a crack, all road miles (with one trail run at Lebanon Hills in April). I want it to be a good experience, not a death march. 

Race morning, we drive out to Afton together. Despite my efforts to get him back out on the trail again, life has intervened and we've run together exactly once. But his training times are similar to mine. "We gonna run this together?" I ask. "Sure, if you want to. You're the boss," he replies. "Okay, let's do it," I tell him.
Beautiful morning at Afton. Photo: Rand R.
We get there early, pick up race swag (the shirt's pretty excellent this year), wander around. I introduce him to about 50 people. "This is Rand. It's his first trail run."
"His first trail *race*, or *run*?"
He replies: "Well, kind of both."

John Pitera, who is working the merch table, has the best response. He looks Rand in the eye and says, "You are going to have an AMAZING time out there. After this, you'll never run roads again!"
Not sure what he's gotten into...
... but game for anything.
John Storkamp counts down and we're off. It's the coolest weather I've ever seen for Afton -- start temps in the high 50's, headed for high 70's. It's a glorious day to be out and running.

We run easy up to the first big climb. Rand is a bit surprised when we, along with 90% of the runners around us, slow to a walk.
 "We're walking all the big hills," I explain.
"You're the boss," he replies.
Walking the hills.
There's abundant horse poop on the trail on this climb. Rand is following the road-runner's convention of yelling a warning about obstacles.
"POOP!" he yells whenever we pass some.
I take a different approach.
"Damn 50K runners!" I exclaim. "Can't they step off the trail?"

Mile 2: "Hey, is there a porta-potty somewhere on the course?"
"Um, there are a few pit toilets, first one's at about mile 5. But there's a beautiful dense woods right by the trail!"
"I, uh, think I can hold out for the bathroom."
"Okay, but seriously, the woods are good too. They smell better and make their own toilet paper!"
He is unimpressed.

A short section across the prairie and a fast rocky descent into the Back 40 brings us to the first aid station.
"Hey Rand, do you have a fuelling plan?"
"No, I never eat while I'm running."
"Hmm. Well, you should have a bite of something at every aid station. Literally, just a bite is fine."
He obediently takes a banana, and makes a point of eating something at every aid station. There's no bonking and no barfing, so I'm calling it a win.

Back 40 loop flies by and we're climbing back up to the prairie.
"OOORAH! Hey, did you know I used to be a Marine drill seargeant?"
"Yeah, and how long ago was that?"
"Shut up."
"Do you like my hat? It's new."
"It's a lovely shade of pink, Rand." (It is, in fact, fantastically hot pink.)
"I was going to wear my feather boa, but it's too hot."

"That would have been fabulous."

Rand tells me his godson is joining the Navy. I tell him my favorite off-color joke. He likes it so much he calls him on the phone then and there, climbing back up to the Africa loop:
"Hey Peter! What's long and hard and full of seamen?"
"A submarine!"
Fabulous pink hat. Photo: Kevin Langton
Back on the prairie, we stop at the pit toilet. There's a little line of about 5 runners there. Every time one comes out, they describe, in graphic detail, how it smells inside. Rand's turn comes, he goes in, and emerges two minutes later looking a bit tramatized. Tells the next runner, "Whatever's going on in there, IT WASN'T ME."
Photo: Kevin Langton
 The prairie loop wraps up with Rand telling me stories about the Marine Corps and more mutual bantering/insults.

On the next descent, I get ahead of him, spread my arms out, and make airplane noises. I'm having an absurdly good time. I think he is too.

Through the third aid station and we're heading for the next big hill.
"This one kind of sneaks up on you. It starts as a gentle hill, then gets steeper and steeper."
"Is this the steep part?"

"Not yet." We come around a corner and it rises sharply. "THAT'S the steep part. We're running till we get to that birch tree. Then we're walking."
That's what we do.

We're at the top of the hill and the sun is shining and you can see the river, Wisconsin, and infinity. "I love this part!" I exclaim. Running feels easy and everything is awesome.

Back down, along the river road, and now we're climbing Campground Hill. I don't know if it's because Rand is feeling good or feeling bad, but he's decided that he's going to give everyone shit on the Campground Hill climb.
"Hey, you, yeah, you there who's half my age. I could run like that when I was 28, too!"
"Hey Rand," I tell him, "If you're feeling good enough to talk smack, we should go faster." And I push the pace, passing five runners on the steep hill.

"Hey, you're going too fast, come back here!"
I keep going. Another runner says, "What are you going to do with him?"
I grin. "I have small children. I know how to deal with them when they get whiny on the trail. You keep going, ignore them, and check behind you after a half mile or so."
Rand, feigning outrage, catches up to me.

"You know what the best part of Campground Hill is?" I ask as we start passing tents and campfires. "It smells like bacon!"
Getting a little silly here...
Down Campground Hill and through the penultimate aid station (where there is a full-bore party going on and I have to stop to hug a half dozen friends), and we're still feeling great.
"We're going to finish this, aren't we?" he asks, sounding a little surprised.
"Oh hell yeah!" I tell him.

We're on the 1.5 mile railbed section now. It's straight, it's flat, and we're going to run the whole thing. We were chatty up till now, but now we're both a little quieter, focusing on translating breath to motion and movement to breathing.

We finish the railbed section strong -- we've passed another four or five runners along the way -- and drop into a walk up Meat Grinder Hill. "I think that's the hardest part of the course," I tell him. "We did good."

At the top of Meat Grinder, less than 4 miles from the finish: "Do you think we could have done the 50K?"
"Absolutely," I say. "It would hurt, but you could do it. And definitely if you got a few long training runs."
"I want to do that next year," he says.
Secretly, I grin.

We're through the last aid station (ice-cold sponges and watermelon and more friends volunteering) and we're in the last 5k of singletrack. "Woohooo!" I yell. This is so stinkin' fun.
Moving into the homestretch
'I'm starting to feel it," Rand tells me. 
"You better be feeling it," I reply, "or we went out too slow!" He's still hanging with me, so I push the pace, just a tiny bit.

Must have pushed it a tiny bit too much, because with 2 miles to go, he hits a rock and goes down. But, he tucks, rolls, and is back up on his feet with only a few smears of dirt to show for it.
"Nice trick!" I tell him.
Then, a few dozen yards later, he does it again, this time grabbing a tree and swinging 270 degrees around it to catch himself.

A runner ahead of us asks if he's okay.
"I'm fine," he says.
"He does all his own stunts," I add.
Since it's late in the race and my brain is getting silly, I elaborate.
"Actually, he's my stunt double. I run, he does the falls. People often mistake us for each other, since we're so similar in our build and dress style."

We pass a few more runners on the last hill I've dubbed "Kick in the Teeth." We're up on the prairies and in the home stretch.
"I'm feeling it now," he says.
"We're almost there. Get up here and run it in next to me," I say.

"See that banner that says, 'Finish'?"
"Is that the finish line?"
"Yes, it is."
We kick it in and cross the finish line together.

We collect our finisher's medals, wander around, eat food. I introduce him to a few dozen more people. We get into a long conversation, over burgers, about the advantages of blowing snot rockets and the joy of peeing in the woods. We exchange sweaty hugs with lots of people.

On the drive home, he asks, "Are you doing any other trail races this year?"

Two days later, he asks for the link to Icebox 480. And sends me a note. "I did enjoy Afton, I wish I'd done the whole enchilada [50K]."

I have created another trail runner. My work here is done.
Congratulations, Rand!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

34 Miles In Time For Dinner: FANS 2016 Pacing Report

Everything she loves about trail racing

Mom came out to run the FANS 12 Hour race in June for the second year in a row. She'd originally heard about the race from Amy at Icebox, and was instantly attracted by the format: a 2.1 mile, looped, gravel and pavement course around Lake Snelling in Minneapolis. As far as I can tell, it was everything she loves about trail racing (great company, great scenery, great aid station support, soft running surface) with none of the downsides (hills, technical trail, getting lost, being alone).

Last year, she'd come at the tail end of a 100+ mile hiking week in Scotland, and with a sore Achilles. She switched to the 12 walk, put on her hiking boots, and threw down 31 miles in just over 10 hours for her first ultra distance ever, looking totally unflappable the entire time. Afterwards, we changed shoes, waved goodbye to her personal lap counter, and ate a table-load of food at Brasa.
Getting it done last year, in hiking boots.
Yup, 50K.

She liked it so much she decided to do it again, but this time in running shoes. 

One more time, but in running shoes

We arrived at Lake Snelling 45 minutes before race start, with bags laden with delicious snacks, extra socks and spare shoes, and, as the forecast was predicting possible stormy weather, some dry shirts. Much to my amusement, Mom also packed her umbrella.

"You're going to look ridiculous carrying an umbrella on the race course," I suggested.

"I'm going to look dry, you mean, " she retorted.

We ditched our gear in the "Tent for the Tentless," met Mom's personal lap counter, John, and made the rounds, greeting lots of friends who had come to run or to support.

A few minutes before 8 a.m., we lined up for the pre-race briefing. It was fun to see the many FANS runners who have come out for the event for years or decades, some with over 1000 cumulative FANS miles under their belts. It's a race that draws a unique crowd -- lots of veteran runners, people looking for a long summertime training run, and a sprinkling of younger, speedy people out to see what they can do.
Amy, sparkly as ever, and Doug, King of FANS
Amy was there to burn up the course in the 12 hour. Shawn wanted a long training run before Bighorn 100. Doug was defending his title from last year. Cheri was running for the first time. Steve wanted 100 miles, and Radek was race walking but thought he could get 80-100 miles as well. It was great to see so many friends ready to take on the day (and night), and whatever it brought.
Radek was Mom's personal lap counter last year!
Terry, ready for a big day
The director counted down and we started off, first on a short out-and-back section to make the loops add up to exactly 100 miles, then off on the regular loop.

The day was temperate and sunshine alternated with clouds as we started out. We waved and cheered at everyone on the out-and-back, then settled into an easy run/walk patter around the lake. The trail around the lake gradually revealed itself: paved trail through the tent village, a change to gravel road as the trail climbed a small incline that seemed to grow with every lap, then a long shaded winding section through woods and beside the lake before emerging into bright sunlight. Around the corner, past Bob's aid station (maybe it had a other name, but this year, it truly was Bob's: he furnished the music, the signs, the positive energy, and he was out there the whole 24 hours!). Then along the side of the road, down a little slope to the lakeside, and back to the lap counters' tent and start/finish for one loop.
Bob and I showing off our now-repaired elbows. I broke mine a
few years back at Zumbro; he dislocated his during a trail run. 
Mom and I ran easily for a couple of laps. Last year I'd pushed her to eat early and I think I pushed too hard; this year, she just picked out one snack per loop and kept drinking water, and that was good enough for me. I didn't realize until late in the race that she was picking something different on every loop, but I think the variety kept her eating even when she got tired near the end. FANS really delivers on the great aid station variety, rotating in different foods as the day and night go on.

It began to heat up a bit, though it never got too hot. We put on sunblock. (Mom's smelled like a strawberry daiquiri.) After two laps or so, we broke from our rigid run-3-walk-1 schedule and walked the sunny parts of the course, saving the running for the shade.

We finished the third lap, clocking something around 9 miles. "I think I'm done running for now," Mom said. "Let's walk for a while and see how it goes."

We were both thrilled at how things were going. Her longest run at home this summer had been maybe 7 miles, and we agreed that 9 miles of happy painless running was a huge victory, and a great start to the day.

We continued on, talking briefly with other runners as they passed us or we passed them. People stopped by to visit or run a few laps. I was especially  excited to see the radiantly pregnant Arika at the TTFU tent, and had to run to catch up with Mom after stopping to chat. Todd was there supporting several runners, and Sheila was crewing Terry.
I look excited because I just spotted Arika!
Around lap 4 or 5, we spotted Steve Quick at Bob's aid station, and he joined us for two or three laps.
Bob is dancing for us, and Steve is actually
wearing pants, despite appearances
Steve was great company, a raconteur with a ready supply of stories. The miles ticked by as he stuck with us and we entertained each other. Throughout, Mom just kept walking, briskly, inexorably, letting me gather snacks and supplies so that she could keep moving.

It was past noon now and Mom was beginning to crave real food. We stopped briefly for quinoa salad I'd packed, which tasted fresh and tasty, and bemoaned the lack of PB&J sandwiches at a the aid station.
The accordion players came out again this year!
Their sign cracks me up. It makes it sound like
a disease or a natural disaster or something.
Early in the afternoon, Janet came out to keep us company. She was fantastic company, and ended up doing seven (!) laps with Mom. It was her first event after a very difficult through-hike of the Border Route Trail in northern Minnesota, and she kept us entertained with hair-raising stories of epic blowdowns, terrible weather, and horrific blisters. Mom kept right up, telling her about Boundary Waters canoeing expeditions. It was fun to have a new person to talk to, and I'd been looking forward to hearing more about the BRT trip. And our walking pace seemed to suit Janet just fine.

We made a quick stop to re-tape Mom's feet and grab some more quinoa salad. Cheri was in the first aid tent getting some gnarly blisters taken care of. She was so solid at this race, and got 46.5 miles in 12 hours! 

Around 2 o'clock, Chris and the boys came down to join us for a lap. 
This was the best picture I could get...
We had a great time showing them the trail around the lake, the boys bounced back and forth, and William found a stick to wave. (Of course.) It was a great lift to see the boys. I'm pretty sure Karl would have done at least one more lap, and possibly two or three! After a lap with the boys, I took off to shuffle cars so that we'd have transportation at the end of the day. Mom and Janet kept going.

Showers and breeze moved through over the afternoon, and I turned my windshield wipers on and off, and took my sunglasses on and off, repeatedly on my drive. Back at the course, the racers had little bouts of rain but nothing serious. Mom's umbrella remained packed.

I got back in the late afternoon. The lap counters told me Mom had been through 20 minutes ago, so I decided to catch her by going the other way. I jogged the loop backward, which was a fun chance to see lots of runners. 

Shawn had rallied after going through a tough spell. Amy still looked great. Radek was race-walking the heck out of the course. Doug was absolutely rock-steady, smiling, and cranking out the miles, on his way to another win (first man -- he was beaten by Courtney, who set the new women's record, 135.7 miles!). Steve had acquired a whole entourage of friends and supporters, including Kevin. He got his 100 miles. (Kevin ran FANS 24 hour last year and got 70. He also wrote one of the funniest and most moving race reports I've seen in a while. Go check it out. When I asked him if he was running it this year, he told me, "HELL NO. That was the most awful thing I've ever done.") 

I caught up with Mom and Janet near Bob's aid station, as they finished up lap 13. Wow! We were in the homestretch now, with only one more lap to the 50K mark. Mom was still crushing it, moving along at a steady, unstoppable speed. Every time I stopped to get food for her or fill her water bottle, I had to run to catch up. We cruised through lap 14, as she glanced at her watch. "I want to beat last year's time!" she said. Last year she'd hit the 50K mark in just over 10 hours. Today, she got there in 9:35.

"50K here!" I yelled to the lap counters. They rang the cowbell and we cheered.

"One more?" I asked her. "New distance PR?"

"Oh, okay," she agreed. And off we went again.

Our final lap felt like a celebration. We stopped for pictures.
Everyone's still smiling!
We thanked volunteers, especially the unstoppable Bob. We bragged about Mom's distance PR to runners who passed us and who we passed.

Soon, we were coming back to the start/finish one last time. "I can't think of any reason to do any more," Mom said. "Let's go get some dinner!" It was a little before 7 p.m. Dinner sounded good to all of us.

We got a few victory pictures...
15 laps!
34 miles, all smiles!
... and headed off to Brasa with Janet to eat ALL THE THINGS.

A good day

I joke about Mom's motivation for coming to these events. I claim it's 10% race, 50% seeing grandchildren, and 40% dinner at Brasa. But whatever the proportions, I know that for me, it's all about a chance to spend time with her, doing something that's a little out of our comfort zone, a little bit more difficult than we ordinarily do, a high-water mark that we can look back at and say, "I did that."

I'm grateful to have a parent, a friend, a partner-in-adventures who's willing to come and try crazy things with me. Thanks, Mom. Let's do it again soon.
Love you, Mom!