Monday, May 1, 2017

The PRs We Choose: Chippewa Moraine 50K Race Report

Executive summary:

My first 50K of the year in 6:51, my third-fastest time. The weather was perfect and the trails were too. I ran an almost perfectly even split and felt good the whole way. I set a PR for cheering on other runners, volunteers, random hikers, and dogs. Smiled my face off, yelled WOOHOO, airplaned a downhill, told stories about parasitic worms to everyone in earshot, and had a ridiculous amount of fun the whole way.
New training goal: Spend more time feeling like this.
(photo: Mike Wheeler)

How I got there

This was my first 50K race in almost a year; my last one was Spring Superior. In the intervening 11 months, I'd started training by heart rate (in August), which seems to have kicked my lingering left peroneal/knee problem (along with diligent foam rolling and taping), and made my "slow easy" pace considerably faster.

With guidance from running/life coach David, I was steadily able to add more mileage, and more miles beget more miles, until my mileage in the first 4 months of 2017 (689) was almost double that of 2016 (389). I'd covered marathon-plus distances in three events (pacing at FANS, Grand Traverse, and 36 miles at Icebox 480), set official and unofficial PRs at the 10K and an unofficial PR on the Afton loop, and done more, and harder, and for longer, than I'd been capable of a year ago.

I still didn't really know what to expect on race day. My longest training run this cycle had been 19 leisurely miles at Afton, at the post-Zumbro Pie Run, but on the other hand, I had more miles on my legs than ever before, and I felt ready to race.

On Wednesday of race week, in an email detailing nutrition and hydration minutiae, David ended up with these words:
Thank every single volunteer and encourage every other runner. Positivity is a performance enhancer. I want people to come up to you after and thank you for being so great on the course. This is one of the main SWAP rules... Fuel well, run the downhills with purpose, and smile your fucking cheeks off. You guys are amazing!"
I tend to run pretty happy anyway, but I took it as a challenge. No matter how the running went, I was going to do my best to PR in positivity in this race.

Sunshine and breeze

I got up stupid early on race day, had an omelet (2 eggs, Brussels sprouts, don't kick, it works for me) and coffee. Since race start would be 3 hours after breakfast, I packed an almond-butter apple and a hard-boiled egg and ate them on the drive, with a second cup of coffee. This worked out well. I headed two hours down the road to New Auburn, WI, enjoying an incredible sunrise. 
Worth the crazy wake-up call!
The Chippewa course is an out-and-back on the Ice Age Trail, and starts at an interpretive center set up on a hill. The morning was brisk, so it was nice to have some indoor space at the pickup.

Kari was running, Erik was cheering
Stephanie and Travis were there in the infamous pink van!
I got to run with Jenny!
There was plenty of time to pick up my shirt and bib, wander around seeing friends, and conclude that I'd be OK without my buff and gloves, which I had forgotten.

With 10 minutes to go, we started to line up...
Not very organized, yet
Dave and Janet
Starting-line picture with Janet!
The sun was shining and the temperature was in the low 40's by the time race director Jeff gave a few instructions (follow the pink flags, thank the volunteers), and we were off, down the big hill.

Start to turnaround: Finding my place

It felt great to be running with almost 200 friends, down the hill and across the grass for a mile before we got to the woods. Unsure of the course or my fitness, I'd decided to aim for 3:30 to the turnaroud, a negative split, and a sub-7 hour finish, if possible. My goal for the first section was to stay comfortable.

The course reminded me a lot of Lebanon Hills -- small but continuous hills pushed up by the advancing glacier, which left behind little wooded lakes as it retreated. We climbed and descended gentle hills on leafy trails with an occasional rock or root to keep your attention.

Airplane at mile 2!
(photo: Chase Nowak)

I wanted to run comfortable at least to the turnaround, so periodically I'd back off my speed and let the people ahead of me go. In this way, Jenny Marietta and her friend Taylor eventually caught up to me and we stuck together for the rest of the way outbound. 

Several little plank bridge crossings like
this one -- a little scary and lots of fun!
The trail wound past lakes, beaver dams, and Jenny stopped me to point out a wetlands with three tall trees containing big messy nests. Bald eagles? Maybe so.

We passed backpackers who graciously stepped aside for us. "WOOHOO backpackers! Thank you!"

We passed a hiker with a dog that patiently sat. "That's a good dog!" ("Sometimes," the hiker smiled.)

We reached the mile 9.5 aid station just after the 2 hour mark. I'd breezed through the mile 3.5 aid station stopping only to pound blue Gatorade and effusively thank the volunteers, but now it was time for a water refill and to grab some snacks. Bob Marsh, Janet and Mike Hausken, and the other awesome volunteers helped me out, then kicked me out as I kept thinking of things I'd forgotten, like throwing out my trash.

Jenny, Taylor and I continued up the trail to the turnaround, talking about her "surprise" going-away/birthday party, our kids and their doings, friends and trails we knew. The temperature climbed into the low 50's and I pulled off my arm sleeves. A steady breeze kept things cool and ruffle the water on the lakes. Everything felt easy and fun.

We joked about "fake running." This was something I'd invented at Icebox last November. I'd dragged Jenny and Jon Matthiae out on a fifth loop (miles 28-35) by promising, "We're not running. We're fake running!" By running verrrrry slow and easy (fake running!), we'd gotten it done in good style. Plus, it cracked us up to say "fake running." Still does!

Runners ahead of us began coming back, first one by one and, as we neared the turnaround, more and more. We yelled and cheered for everyone, told the first five women their rank and splits, stopped to hug a few. I regretted not bringing along a cowbell. As always, out-and-backs are the best for seeing everyone in the race. Not far from the turnaround, we passed Kevin Chem. "I'm too old for this shit," he told me, grinning anyway.

Turnaround to finish: Taking care of business

My goal was to hit the turnaround at 3:30, and we ran in right around 3:20, still feeling great. I was really happy, and excited about turning around and running back home.
Awesome AS volunteer went beyond the call of
duty by taking a picture of me. Thank you!
After a five minute stop to move nutrition into the front of my pack (Larabars, Clif organic food, Shot Bloks, and a few Gu and Roctanes), I took off again, this time with Taylor and Ross Jilk. Jenny stayed behind to run in with her cousin, doing his first 50K.

The three of us set a comfortable pace and had a merry time of it for the better part of an hour, picking up a few more runners in our train. I told stories about parasitic worms (don't know why it was on my mind, but fun to talk about). Ross told us about his work in plant biochemistry, and Taylor told us about textile design. It was fun and relaxing. We hiked the hills, ran the flats, and moved along.

A bit before the mile 9.5/21.5 aid station, Ross began to drop back a bit. "Too much biking, not enough running," he explained. Taylor and I pulled ahead and ran into the next aid station together.
Finish line selfie with Taylor!
She'd spotted a tick on my calf a mile or two out, so I was of course imagining I had them everywhere. When we got to the aid station, I asked Bob to check my legs for more ticks. Thankfully, he found none. Thank you, Bob! We grabbed a few snacks and went on.

The next section had a bit of breezy cool road, then a run through an open, meadow-like area. The sun was overhead and I was glad I'd brought my sunglasses. The humidity was low and the breeze felt energizing. We both still felt good and moved well.

Back across another plank bridge!
As the trail to the final aid station wound on, conversation faltered. We were still moving well, but for me, it helped to focus on keeping that forward movement going. We passed lots of people on our return trip, probably 15 or more. All were still looking strong, and afterwards, a few told us they'd picked up their pace as we passed. It was good to feel progress on the long trail.

We went down another decline, and started walking up another hill. "We're taking care of business," I said. Taylor agreed. "We're doing pretty well!"

The first/last 5 miles had mile marker signs, and I whooped when I spotted the first of them. "Only five more miles?" exclaimed Taylor. "Yes!" I exclaimed. I guessed we had only a little more than an hour to go.

Just before the final aid station, we passed Kevin Chem, who was power-hiking but looked strong, then Kari Gibbons, who was working out a cramp. They both caught up to us at the aid station as we attacked the delicious orange slices (me) and pickles (Taylor), and finished close behind us.
This may be the last time it ever happens
Out of the final aid station and through terrain neither of us remembered well. "I remember this hill, but I didn't think it was this long," I said, more than once. But we were still running! The mile markers slowly counted down. 3.... 2... then we were on the grass and could see the visitors' center up on the hill... 1...

We ran, and ran, and I kept waiting for the final big climb. (I wanted to have an excuse to stop running and walk! I'd been running a long time!) Taylor pulled ahead a bit as I started walking too early. Finally, after a false climb and little descent, it was unmistakeably there.

Power hike up the big grassy hill, past the "NO WALK HILL" and "EMPTY THE TANK" signs, and at the top, the flag-lined 100 yard run to the finish. The clock ticked to 6:51 and change as I crossed the mat, grinning and cheering like a little kid.
... and we're back where we started!

The PRs We Choose

I set out to set a PR for positivity and joy in running on Saturday. And really, it was a pretty easy PR to set. After all, the weather was perfect, the trails were beautiful, and I felt pretty good the whole way, enjoying the company of new and old friends. But the act of consciously choosing to be joyful and to embrace the run with all it brought changed how I experienced it, and made it greater than it would have been without that "race plan."

I reached my sub-7 hour goal, my "beat the women's median time" goal, and got decently close to my "beat the overall median time" goal. I set a benchmark for my fitness this season. And I figured out something about setting process oriented goals and making this run and every run worth celebrating.

A little while after I got in, Janet finished her fourth Chippewa 50K. She checked her phone messages, hoping to see her son's prom photos. Instead, it was full of photos of her brand-new, first grandson, born that morning right as we started the race. Her face lit up with joy as we gasped and yelled and hugged.
(photo: David Shannon)
A fast race is nice. But some race day events stay with us forever!