Sunday, January 4, 2015

40K for 40 Years

With my birthday falling between Christmas and New Year's Day, it's usually pretty low-key. I like it that way -- maybe a cake and a little celebration, but not a big deal. But with my 40th birthday rolling around this year, I thought it might be fun to do something different. Something on the trails, with friends. Running 40 miles would take all day, I thought... but how about a 40K? Or, since I didn't have a GPS thingy, how about a 6-hour run? My birthday fell on a Tuesday, so I looked at the following Saturday, January 3.

I pitched the idea on the Upper Midwest Trail Runners' Facebook page and got a good response, even though it was the same weekend as Tuscobia. The weather forecast looked perfect (mid 20s-30 degrees), with a big cold front coming through the next day. I packed up a carload of gels, candy canes, and lollipops and headed out to Lebanon Hills early Saturday morning.

Arriving a little before 6 am, a dozen people were there to run. A few more headlamps joined us, and we took off around the lake. It was a great day to run. The trails had packed snow and the lakes were frozen. There was just a light breeze, shielded by the hills. The world was quiet except for the crunch of our footfalls and our conversation.

We took a long tour around the park, hitting all the highlights: Dodd Road, the visitor center, the bunker, Touch-A-Butt Hill. I caught up with Matt, Janet, Arika, Mike, Julio, and Jan. Back to the parking lot at 8 to pick up another crew, and to peruse the impressive pile of snacks that had joined Matt's coffee pots at an impromptu aid station. Teresa's muffins were a huge hit, and Erich's salted nut cookies inspired a cult following. 

A quick group picture...
Thanks, Christina, for taking the picture!
and we were off again. I hung with Amy, Matt, Shannon and Erin for a while as they blazed along. Met up with Ryan and Christina, who had come all the way from Brainerd for the run. I ran the loop in with Kevin, who threw down 20 miles in preparation for his Zumbro 100-miler. We talked Zumbro, new gear, Christmas adventures, and whatever else came to mind.
Mark, me, Janet, and Ryan. Another great Christina picture!
We rolled in from loop two a little after 10. My right knee was hurting (it's given me trouble off and on for a few months), but everything else was great. There were lots of people in the parking lot, coming and going, and even more food at the "aid station". Spent a while faffing around and eating, then looked at my watch and realized it was already 10:20. Time to run!

Jon, Mark, and I ran the last loop together. Jon looked surprisingly good for someone recovering from the flu, and it was great to catch up with him, and to talk to Mark, who I hadn't run with before. We took it slow and easy, which was good for my knee. Aside from a little navigational difficulty around Holland Lake (and some excellent shortcuts through the woods, and another visit to the bunker), the loop went smoothly. I was getting tired by the end, but never felt like I couldn't run.

We were back at the parking lot a few minutes after noon. 6 hours, 40-ish kilometers, longest run since my early October marathon. And better yet, this crew in the parking lot, complete with folding chairs, hot coffee, and birthday presents:
Hello, Maria, Amy, Willow, Troy, and what the heck is Matt doing?! Not pictured: Todd
As I said, my birthday is usually not a big affair. What a cool surprise to have presents (thank you, Wendi, Amy, Willow, and everyone who signed my card!), a balloon, and a specially composed BIRTHDAY POEM! from the amazing Amy! So awesome. Makes me want to have a birthday every year.

This was a pretty excellent way to ring in a new year, a new decade, and a new age group (I'm a Master now! Woooo!). How amazing to spend a day with great people, friends and new friends, in a beautiful place, doing what I love.
Number fail. Photo credit: Todd Rowe
Thank you, my trail running family. I know 2015 -- and my 40s -- will be awesome. Thanks for seeing it in with me!