This comic panel is the result of me 1) drawing a seven-panel comic about a race, 2) inking the first four, and then 3) deciding they were lame and this was the only salvageable one. I’ve actually done a bunch of comics lately, then discarded them because not funny. Maybe because the looming election is taking up such a large place in my thoughts. We’ll see how soon I can get my act together.

Here are all the races I’ve done since August, in brief:

  1. Madison Mini Marathon (13.1 mi). Normally I wouldn’t do this race, but a coworker asked if I wanted to run it with him. He did it in 1:30ish. I did 2:07:22. First race back after being off for more than a month for a poorly diagnosed IT band-related injury. 93/256 in my age group.
  2. Safe Harbor Labor Day Dash (10k). Did it on impulse when I woke up in time to bike to the starting line. Took the first three miles to really warm up. 55:24. 26/56.
  3. North Face Half Marathon (13.1 mi). Hilly course, wasn’t feeling it. 2:18:19. 14/15.
  4. Indian Lake Trail Race (12k). Supremely hilly course, and I ran it better than I’d ever done it before. 1:07:49. 17/32.
  5. Fall 15k. Ran far, far harder than I expected I would. 1:19:14. 3rd in age group, 4th woman overall.
  6. McCarthy Park Trail Race (18k). Spent a lot of the race trying to figure out how far 18 kilometers actually was (spoiler: about 11 miles). It was cold and rainy. 1:39:46, which although a good deal faster than the 18k I ran in June (Blue Mounds, 1:55:24), was only good enough for 9/14 in my age group, or slightly more hideously, 28 of 35 overall. Oh well.

With the exception of my exciting finish at the Fall 15k, I haven’t been placing well (and annoyingly, the Fall 15k only did prizes for the top person in each AG rather than top 3). But my times have been good and my races have felt fairly strong.

I wanted to race five different distances this year. So far, I have raced one 5k, one 5 mile, two 10k, one 12k, one 15k, two 18k, one 20k, and four 13.1 mile races. This coming weekend, I am pacing a friend through about 18 miles of her 100 miler, and then the following weekend I’m doing a 28-ish mile trail race as the finale to my season. After that I may take it easy for a while.

Andre is totally over listening to the builders knock out drywall downstairs.
Andre is totally over listening to the builders knock out drywall downstairs.

Em oi! #417: Poor Bastards


Ooh name that book. Or film. The film was also excellent.

Anyway, TWO COMICS IN ONE WEEK? I should pace myself better. Oh well. This actually happened–I didn’t hear the woman’s explanation to her offspring. I do wonder what she said. Okay, let’s bad segue into a quick discussion of the 2016 LMR 20k! (Link to last year’s race report.)


Year Time Pace
2009 1:53:39 9:09
2010 1:41:24 8:10
2013 1:56:41 9:23
2014 1:45:53 8:31
2015 1:50:45 8:53
2016 1:48:47 8:46

LMR20K 2016 micro race report: I ran in a circle that started at the Monona Public Library and went around Lake Monona. My 5K splits were pretty even at 27:11, 26:57, 27:31, and 27:08.

Finish line
Finish line. Those women behind me threw up their arms and shouted “woo” at every photog we passed and honestly I think I could have like punched them and been justified in it.

I was faster than last year, which was my goal. I didn’t beat anyone else in my running group, which was my other goal. This coming week, Saturday May 14th, I have a trail half marathon (the Ice Age half marathon) in La Grange, WI. I was hoping to use the LMR20K to predict my pace for the next race. If the two courses were similar, I would expect a 1:55:xx based on this performance. But they’re not–the trail race is a seriously harder course. And the weather may be quite a bit warmer. So we’ll see.

It was nice to race, though. I put off signing up for many races this spring because of stuff going on in my personal life and I have been missing it. In addition to the upcoming half, I’m also in for the Blue Mounds 18k and the half at Dances with Dirt. Depending on how things go health-wise, I would also like to do something crazy in the fall–maybe an ultra of some sort. Earlier in the spring, I was having some ankle pain after running distances farther than about 16 miles, so I’m going to wait and see if that has cleared up. Surprisingly, swimming helps keep my ankle tendons flexible when these things flare up.

We’ll file this under GV1062 L86 2016, for Recreation. Leisure–Sports–Track and field athletics–Foot racing. Running–Distance running–General works.

In Which I Don’t Really Win Much But Am Still Happy: Tyranena Beer Run Half Marathon 2015

Post-Haunted Hustle with Kristi
Post-Haunted Hustle with Kristi

To preface this story, let me say that two weeks ago I did a local Middleton race called the Haunted Hustle. It wasn’t an “A” race, and though it was fun there didn’t seem to be much point in writing it up other than my friend/running companion, Kristi, getting to see her name in “print” here. Since it’s marginally relevant, I’ll just give the tl;dr version here: Hilly course, cool day, lots of costumes to look at, ran a 1:55:55.

That was, at the time, my fastest half of the season, although to be fair my other half was a trail race, and I also did a 20K in 1:50:xx, which is only about 4 seconds/mile slower. Anyway, since I’d signed up for the Tyranena race only two weeks later, my plan was to use the Haunted Hustle as a hard training run and then really race Tyranena hard, with the goal of running a faster time.

The races were only two weeks apart, so my training was unremarkable. The HH was on a Sunday; I ran 54.19 miles over the next week (October 26 to November 1), with one day off for swimming. That week included one day of dreadmill intervals and a 15-mile long run in the rain. The following week, November 2–7, I lifted legs on Monday, then hobbled through 8-milers Tuesday through Thursday and was completely off except aikido on Friday, for a total of 24.4 miles before the race. No taper, that’s me.

Running along the river in Philadelphia
This is getting dull; here’s a photo of where I went running in Philly a few weeks ago. Jealous?

Tyranena starts quite late—11:30. I got up early (well, okay, I got up at 7:30) to eat my pop tart, drink a small cup of coffee, and loiter around working on my novel until it was time to go pick up Kristi. Last year we hit real traffic on the beltline and it was very tense, so this year I actually left a bit early. And of course the beltline was empty. We arrived in Lake Mills, WI, about 40 minutes away, by 10:20 and picked up our packets, then stood around chatting for the next 40 minutes or so. At 11, I went out for a warm-up jog, just a mile out at a relaxed pace and then some telephone pole intervals on the way back. I got back with just enough time to find everyone, then jump in the line for the port-o-potties and lose them again. Oh well.

We took off at 11:30 and I fell pretty quickly into an 8:30 min/mi pace. Running with the crowd to break the wind, this definitely felt like a comfortable speed, and I decided to hold onto it as long as I could. A bit before the first mile marker, I bumped into Kristi again, but when she took off (aiming for a sub-1:50 race), I made the decision to let her go and try to stay with what I had. This proved to be a pretty good decision.

The hills on this course are all on the first half, with the biggest coming right around mile four. However, none of the hills is really too difficult; my Garmin clocked 248 ft of elevation gain, compared to 362 ft at the HH. Watching my watch on the uphills, my pace occasionally dipped as far as 8:45 or even 9:00 min/mi, but I always recovered on the downhill. At around mile 5.5, I took a gel, another big change from the HH when I didn’t have anything for the duration. I hit the 10k mark in 54:28, according to the chip, and the halfway point about two minutes later. Up through mile 8, everything went really well. Then I noticed the people I’d been pacing off were gradually moving away from me; I didn’t feel like I was slowing, but my watch was suddenly reading 9:00 for pace.

The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philly
The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philly; I’m just including this because it’s cool.

At this point, I made a very conscious decision to push the pace, to leave everything I could behind and do my best to finish in under 1:50. I ran a few intervals using the trees along the path as markers, and gradually brought my pace back toward 8:30. Mile 8 seemed to last forever, but as I hit mile 9 at 1:17:xx, I did some mental math and realized that with 5K left to go, if I could just maintain my current pace I would finish under 1:50 comfortably.

Then, a few minutes later, I remembered that 9+3 is 12 and 9+4 is 13. So if I could run the next 4 miles at 8 minutes/mile, I would be done in 32 minutes. But what are the chances of that happening? Pretty much 0%. But if I ran strategically, it might be pretty close, so I decided to keep on it.

By mile 10, I was definitely beginning to feel the effects of a sustained 8:30 pace, especially in my right hip flexor. Every mile felt like I was making a bet with myself that I could sustain the pace I was running. If I had been smart, I would have brought another gel for this point in the race, but I didn’t really expect I would be doing as well as I was. Also, I didn’t have any other gels at home that morning. Tant pis.

I had a feeling that if I could hit a little better than an 8:30 pace for the actual last 5K, I would hit a sub-1:50. It was at this point that I fell back in with the group I’d been running with earlier and exchanged a few words with them, so I wasn’t looking at my watch and assumed later I just hadn’t been hitting the pace. But looking at my watch splits, I had this:

Mile Pace
10 8:15
11 8:06
12 8:27
13 7:57
.1 (.26 on my watch) 7:30

I ran a 1:51:40 officially, which is about 100 seconds over a 1:49:59—meaning that even if I’d managed 8-minute miles for 10 to 12, I still wouldn’t have made it.

Last year, I ran a 1:53:13 on the same course, so I improved by about a minute and a half. I also managed my goal of beating my HH time. Part of this involved running strategically rather than stupidly, which is what I usually do. The biggest change was to find a pack or at least a tall guy to draft behind when running into the wind. Normally the decrease in perceived exertion in this position makes me speed up and puts me back in the wind; by biding my time, I was able to conserve some energy I really needed. I also didn’t take off with Kristi, which allowed me to save energy I would have spent very early trying to keep up with her (she’s fast). I took a gel at a good moment, about 5.5 miles into the race, with 7.5 miles on my legs. And I reengaged with my race mentally when I started to slow down and actually pushed myself. So I’ll call that a success, even if I didn’t hit my time goal.

Post-Tyranena Selfie with Kristi and Alex
Post-Tyranena Selfie with Kristi and Alex

Doing Something Stupid at the Kettle Morraine 100

My training cycle for this race was an exercise in restraint. Or laziness. I ran 20 miles only once, and did only a few runs in the 16–18 mile range. Instead, I focused on keeping my overall volume high (about 50 mi/week, with my peak weeks hitting 60+) and doing longer runs on both Saturday and Sunday, trying to get 25–30 miles across two days. Since the KM 100 is a trail race, I also tried to get out and do trails at least once per week if not more frequently, and I did my hill work on trails at a park near my house. It was kind of an experiment—in the past, I’ve experienced injury when running a lot of runs over 18–20 miles, so I wondered if there were a way to avoid that. If only there were a way to do such an experiment without, you know, actually putting down all the money for the entry fee and training for and running the race. But at least my point has now been empirically proven. Sort of, anyway.

I should note that I did a two-week taper for this race. I usually hate tapering, and this time was no different. Somewhat amusingly, I decided to use my extra time from running less to go to aikido three times in the week before the race. By Friday night I was wondering why I was so sore. Oops.

Fruitless Pre-Race Nattering

Okay, so the morning of the race, I got up late and kind of hung around, reading and having a cup of coffee. The race actually started at 14:00, but I had to arrive at the Nordic parking lot (the finish line) by 12:15 in order to get a bus to the start. I had toast with butter, peanut butter, and a banana a bit late in the morning, then dithered around for a while before finally leaving a bit before 11. When I arrived in La Grange, one of the two race directors recognized me, which was really nice. Seriously, if you ever want to flatter/impress someone who is face-blind (and while I’m not as bad as some, I’m pretty bad), just recognize them.

From the bus ride into the Scuppernong trail head.
From the bus ride into the Scuppernong trail head.

The bus to the start was a good chance to rediscover how school buses have no shocks. I sat quietly, listening to the guy next to me talk about how he treated his plantar fasciitis, his knee issues, how he had never run farther than a marathon but was expecting to finish the 50K in time to run the 38-mile fun run or at least pace a friend doing the 100 miler. He had brought with him, among other things, salt caps filled with Himalayan sea salt, pills filled with hydrolized collagen[1], pickles, smoothies, and venison sausage. I had brought: five salt tabs in a small plastic baggie and a Clif bar (as well as some sunscreen and bugspray I wasn’t bringing on the run).

The starting line was at the 31.6 mile aid station, which marked the turn-around/halfway point for the 100K runners and the almost one-third of the distance complete point for the 100-mile runners. We were starting eight hours after they were, and a lot of the middle-of-the-packers were trickling in. Actually, it looks like most of the people who finished the 100K finished in 13–15 hours, so these would have been the back-pack 100K people and the mid-pack for the 100 miler. I was both nervous about the race and kind of unsure of how to time my pre-race eating for such a late start. I had brought a bag with sunscreen, bug spray, body glide, and other similar sundries with me to the starting line; I put my race shirt in and tied the top. I was told that it would be treated as a drop bag and taken to the Emma Carlin aid station (at mile 15.9) and then to the finish line provided that I remembered to move it to the “done” pile at Emma Carlin. Okay, well. Mental note.

Cooling my heels before the race. I think my phone did something funny to this picture--my arms aren't that skinny.
Cooling my heels before the race. I think my phone did something funny to this picture–my arms aren’t that skinny.

After all the sunscreening and bugspraying was taken care of, I still had an hour to wait, so I ate my Clif bar and read a short story by Salman Rushdie that was in last week’s New Yorker. Highly recommend it.

Clif bar and Salman Rushdie.
Clif bar and Salman Rushdie.

Shortly before we took off, the aid station played Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” which was pretty awesome.

The First Half

At 2pm (plus a few seconds) we took off. I had discovered a few minutes before the start that my watch was claiming it was low on batteries (despite being charged for a full 24 hours before the start!). I decided to use the stopwatch setting on my cell phone to time my progress between aid stations. This meant that while I had a general idea of my pace, I didn’t really know from moment to moment how fast I was running or how far I had gone, which is an interesting position to be in when you’re running 31 miles. Probably as a result, I took off going quite fast. After a while I fell into step with a woman from northern Illinois named Shelly, who was using the race as her last long run before Western States in three weeks. Wow! She was really moving, and pulled me along and provided awesome conversation for almost the first 20K. We hit the first aid station (mile 5) after 48 minutes, a 9:41 pace (it felt much faster than that). I was pretty aware that I was paying a lot up front that I might not be happy about later, but I really wanted company, so I pushed. It was probably a good idea, because after some rolling hills, the race headed out over some meadows, which were 1) grassy 2) beautiful 3) humid 4) unshaded and hot. Getting through those as quickly as we did (I lost Shelly right toward the end, before the Antique Lane aid station, which was mile 12ish) probably helped me a lot in the long run; left alone, the monotony and heat would probably have reduced me to a walk.

The meadows. Pretty to look at.
The meadows. Pretty to look at.

Antique Lane was an unmanned aid station, meaning there was just water jugs and some other necessities, like ice and a big tub of Vaseline I used on some chafing spots. It was only three miles from Antique Lane to Emma Carlin, but it felt like more, especially because I was beginning to develop some hot spots on my feet.


There were a ton of people at Emma Carlin—it was a big trail head with good access roads, so there was a little party going on. I ate some (M&Ms and boiled potatoes dipped in salt, I think) and found my drop bag. Originally I’d been just intending to move it to the “done” pile so it would get back to Nordic in time for me to leave, but I remembered I had body glide in it and put some on my feet. Amazing. I didn’t have problems with them the rest of the race, and when I got home and took off my shoes and socks, I found only one blister.

I spent a good nine minutes at Emma (I got there at 16:46, left at 16:55 or so), just trying to get as situated as possible. Up until this point, in an attempt to control my body temperature I’d been putting ice down my sports bra, and here I rolled some up in a wet bandana and tied it around my neck too. On the whole, ice down the bra cools one much faster, but it also melts faster. Ice in the banana lasts a surprisingly long time.[2]

The Second Half

After Emma Carlin, some single track.
After Emma Carlin, some single track.

Between Emma Carlin and the finish line, there were three aid stations: Horseriders, Bluff, and Tamarack, with legs of 3.1 miles, 5 miles, and 2.7 miles. The section between Emma Carlin and Horseriders was not too difficult to run; it was nice to be out of the meadows and on to some shaded single track. I have actually started to quite enjoy running morraines, which are both pretty and runnable if you’re in pretty good hill condition. The sun was starting to sink here, so I wound up taking off my sunglasses and stowing them. I knew that there were three women ahead of me, and I hadn’t seen anyone in a while coming up behind me—and also, on such a hot, humid day, you don’t make a move at mile 18. Thus it was with some shock that when I stopped to take off my shoe and clear some brush out of it, a woman in a pink shirt doing the 50K passed me by. No fair!

I put my shoe back on and sped after her. It didn’t take long before I caught and passed her.[3] Then I had to put a gap in between us to prevent her passing me back, so I started to run up the smaller hills and run/walk the bigger ones. Every few minutes, I’d hear something and think it was footsteps, or look behind me and think I saw pink, but after a while I decided I was hearing/seeing things. At any rate, you can’t run at mile 18 like you’re sprinting for the finish, so eventually I reconciled myself to possibly getting passed by her. I passed some people in here (mostly 100K runners), and made it to Horseriders 48 minutes later. I had been running for 3:34, making it just after 5:30pm.

The Tough Bit

I knew that the section between Horseriders and Bluff was going to be the hardest of the race. I have run it before as part of the Ice Age 50K, and it involves some stuff that is technical (i.e., roots and rocks you have to watch out for), some stuff that is sandy and unpleasant to run in, and a long hike up Star Mountain (also called Bald Bluff), which has somewhat old, rocky, difficult to descend stairs on the other side of it. Initially I figured I was just going to take my time with this section and that the 5.2 miles would take me an hour. Although the technical sections were not as bad as I’d thought they were the first time I ran this section during my first trail 50K (I have learned something about trail running!), it was still pretty slow going in parts. A guy in a yellow shirt cheered me on briefly as he passed me. Actually, I leapfrogged with Mr. Yellow several times during the second half of the race; other than him, no one passed me after I left behind the lady in pink. And he somehow passed me three or four times.

Sandy horse path from between Horseriders and Bluff. Not good running.
Sandy horse path from between Horseriders and Bluff. Not good running.

It took me 1:10 to get from Horseriders to Bluff, and I was so stunned and excited to be there. I came around a corner to be greeted by a pink lawn flamingo, and then walked into a party. The song “I’m Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage was playing when I came in, which seems entirely appropriate for an ultramarathon. Before I left, the song “Sister Golden Hair” by America came on, which would stay in my head for most of the rest of the race. I got yelled at for grabbing the ice here (“We’re trying to keep it clean!” the lady said). Maybe she was actually speaking quite reasonably, but I felt like that time in the second grade when I tried to touch a sculpture at the Art Institute and got caught by a docent. Yikes.
Bluff was actually a pretty intense aid station to be at because there were a bunch of 100-mile and 100K runners trying to collect themselves. The 100K people had as far as I did left, while the 100 mile people had nearly 50 miles to go. While I thought I was suffering here—my hip flexors were sore, my core had gone entirely to hell, my back hurt, and my quads were just done—seeing them reminded me that while my suffering might feel like a lot in subjective terms, it was probably objectively not that bad, comparatively speaking. I don’t know, maybe most people don’t find it necessary to remind themselves in the middle of a race that they’re not doing that much, but it kind of put things in perspective. Anyway, I should note that in a race like this, where I was pretty tired and out of it, having actual people and music and so on at an aid station made a big difference in psychological terms. If you ever decide to volunteer at an aid station for an ultra, know that you can really make a big difference in psychological terms to the runners. (This is probably true for long-distance tris too, like the half or full IM.)

The top of the hill just before Bluff.
The top of the hill just before Bluff.

The Last Bit

The Nordic trail--a big difference from the Ice Age stuff.
The Nordic trail–a big difference from the Ice Age stuff.

Bluff was mile 24, meaning I had about 7.6 miles to go. The first leg, Bluff to Tamarak, was 2.5 miles. Here we finally got off the Ice Age Trail and onto the wide, piney trails of the Nordic Trail, basically the same area I ran in a month ago when I did the Ice Age Trail half marathon. But nothing looked too familiar, either because it was starting to get dark or because we were running it backwards from the direction I did at Ice Age. Or we were on different trails, I don’t know. At this point, I was focused entirely on just running the distance to the next aid station. I pushed up a lot of the hills, passed some more runners doing the longer races, and eventually made it to Tamarak in 34:08, or at 7:21pm. I had originally hoped to be finishing the race at 7:30pm (and Shelly, my companion from earlier, actually did!). Oh well. I was still pretty confident that as long as I held my place, I was going to finish in the top 10 (my overall goal). I also really wanted to finish before 20:30, because that was when the sun set, and I didn’t have a lamp except the flashlight on my phone.

I was a bit dismayed to see at Tamarak that I still had 5 miles to go. My grasp on time and distance were pretty ephemeral here, even though I was sort of ostensibly tracking both. A mile outside the aid station, I passed a number “4” written in marker on a little ground sign. Four miles to go? I was excited. I started to run faster. (Or, really, “faster.”) This section had a good number of rolling hills that I had to walk all or parts of, but I still made good time. I had reached a point where stopping running and then starting again was much more painful than just running straight through, so that is what I did.

Coming into Tamarak. You can see it was starting to get to be twilight.
Coming into Tamarak. You can see it was starting to get to be twilight, so the exposure was blurry.

The signs seemed way farther apart than I thought they should be, so I tried to forget about distance and just focus on how pleasant it was to be running in a pine forest in the gathering twilight. The temperature was finally dropping, and I didn’t feel terrible except for the pain. I crossed the finish line to a gigantic cheer at 8:17pm, after 6:17:03 of running, and shook hands with the RD.

Somewhat amusingly, I stopped just past the finish line to stop my phone timer and try to take a screenshot, and while I was standing there, the woman who tracks results came over and said, “Emily, you were the first woman in the Masters division” (masters: ages 40–49). I was baffled, because I’m not 40, and told her so. Then I looked at the plaque she was holding out. “That says ‘open division’ ” (open: 39 and under). After some confusion, she confirmed that I had actually won the Womens Open division. This was a shock—remember I knew that there were at least three women ahead of me, so I figured at least one of them was young. As it turns out, there were actually four women ahead of me. One of them won the race overall (her name was also Emily![4]), and she was slightly younger than I am. The other three women were all Masters. Races typically don’t double up on prizes (you win either overall OR your age group, not both), so I got the Open award. Nice!

I won.
I won.


At the point I crossed the finish line, the drop bags had not yet returned from Emma Carlin. I wandered around a bit, felt dizzy, had a cup of Coke, and then realized I was freezing (all the ice down my bra all day had left everything I was wearing wet, and when I get done running my body abruptly stops generating heat). Luckily, I had my warmups in the car, so I changed and went back to the Nordic aid station for a cup of coffee with hot cocoa mix in it. There were at this point a lot of 50K finishers (as well as some 100K folks and a really chipper guy who had dropped from the 100 mile after 100K) who were all milling around, looking for their drop bags. The aid station actually closed at 8:40pm (so about 20 min after I finished), and a truck with the various supplies came back around 9pm—but no drop bags! Rather than hang around complaining, I got up and asked him if I could help unload the truck. Movement helped the shivering die down.

The finish area after dark.
The finish area after dark.

Finally, around 9:30pm, the drop bags arrived, so I helped unload those too, then headed out around 9:45pm. Yikes, what a long day. I called B to say hello, and he was a little worried that I would run into trouble driving when I was so tired, but I had The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett by the Eels to blare as I went. And the dogs were happy to see me when I got here. The cat also wanted to be fed.

This is already way too long, but to summarize, a few notes:

  1. Moving steadily in the later stages of an ultra is important. Even slow jogging is superior to hiking it in.
  2. You are passing a lot of people who may be having a rough time, so try to be happy and cheerful—tell them they’re doing a good job and looking good, even if they’re not. Also, be nice to the volunteers. They’re so important.
  3. Helping is better than sitting around when you’re freezing your arse off, even if you’re sore. I would not have thought to jump in and help if I hadn’t spent some time volunteering at races earlier this spring, but I’m glad I did.
  4. Gear: I had a 1-liter hydration pack, which proved to be a good size, and there were enough pockets to carry everything I needed to carry. I eventually got really sick of water though. I didn’t carry any food and probably didn’t eat enough.
  5. Food: This is what I ate: one-half a Hoho, some potato chips, one-quarter of a pbj, a handful of M&Ms, two or three boiled potatoes dipped in salt, possibly a piece of peanut butter cookie (I remember looking at them but not eating any), a cup of Coke, a small piece of watermelon. I think that’s it. Rather unusually, I drank a ton of water (probably three liters). In retrospect, I wish I would have started drinking calories as fluid earlier, because I wasn’t really hungry and I would have gotten some more in. (Post-race, despite how sick of fluids I was: a cup of Coke, a cup of coffee with cocoa mix, another cocoa from a gas station.)
  6. Clothes: I had only a little chafing and didn’t feel too warm. Didn’t get sunburned either. Probably would have chosen a different pair of socks in retrospect, but I survived fine, no big foot damage.
  7. I need to plank more. My core was a mess after 24 miles.
Post-race (pre-shower) selfie.
Post-race (pre-shower) selfie. I’m exhausted.

[1] He claimed that his chiropractor, who was also into ultrarunning, had recommended the collagen pills and that he take a bunch hourly during the race (he had settled on two per hour, which he said was a lower number). I didn’t lean over and tell him what I thought of the whole idea, which smacks of pseudoscience, but I’m hoping he learned something about that during the race. Hydrolyzed collagen, also known as “gelatine,” is the “active ingredient” in marshmallows.

[2] The downside is that it’s hard to gauge one’s perspiration level with all the ice melting all over. I was taking one salt cap per hour, and eating some salty things in each aid station, and that seemed to be enough. Although I had a headache when I finished, it was from caffeine withdrawal, not hyponatremia, despite having drunk probably three liters of fluid over the course of the race.

[3] I am almost totally sure this incident occurred between Emma Carlin and Horseriders rather than Horseriders and Bluff, just because the terrain of the second leg is so much harder to run. But I want to admit, in the spirit of transparency, that I was in a little zone and don’t quite remember.

[4] A total of three Emilys finished the 50K. Only one of the three of us was young enough to have been named during the whopping fifteen years (1993 to 2008) that the name spent on the “Top Five American Names for Girls” list. Actually, my suspicion is the woman in pink who nearly passed me was also named Emily. Or at least, the next woman to finish was also an Emily and was about 45 minutes behind me. Late edit: The next woman to finish was not the woman in pink–I couldn’t find her when looking through the race photos. She may have dropped; although 96 people signed up, it looks like only 76 finished. Or I suppose I could have hallucinated her.

Pacing the Madison Half Marathon

Recently I was asked to pace the Madison Half Marathon. This means, for those unfamiliar with the running world, that in exchange for free entry to the race and a free singlet from the store that sponsored the pace groups, I was asked to run at a specific pace (2:30, or 11:27 minutes/mile) for the entire race. By running even splits, we both help people trying to run a specific goal time achieve that goal and serve as a moving time mark for other runners to gauge their times off of. I also heard spectators pointing to us as a way of figuring out where the runner they were waiting for might be.[1]

Many people asked me what my strategy was going into this, since my normal pace for a race like this would be something like 1:50–2:00 (8:24–9:10 min/mi).[2] It’s not a bad question—when you are used to running at a pace at least 30 min faster, it can feel very strange to slow down so much. In order to ensure that my legs were tired enough, I accidentally ran every day during the past week, culminating in 14.73 miles on Saturday. Then I accidentally stayed up until midnight, so I only got about five hours of sleep the night before the race.

I say “accidentally” because I’m aware that these behaviors are kind of risky in terms of injury; at this point in my running life, I almost always take Mondays and Fridays off. But this week there were things that came up—running with B, running with my fellow pacer—and I couldn’t skip out on them. I also wanted to get a hard weekend ahead of the KM 50K in two weeks. So now I’ve officially peaked, having run 63 miles this week and 28 in the last two days, and will do a little taper. I am actually really excited to taper. I’m tired.

So let’s see what I have some photos of. First off, here is my carb-packed dinner from the night before. Thanks to Costco, from which I purchased approximately five pounds of five-cheese ravioli. Unfortunately, they’re not super amazing—the texture is fine, but the flavor is not strong. Still, it was a pretty good dinner. I cooked the ravioli up with some mushrooms and onions and a white sauce with a little pesto in it. Next time, I will fry the ravioli in butter after boiling them,[3] and maybe throw some blue cheese in the white sauce rather than cream cheese. The salad was your standard Cesar with spinach instead of romaine. When Bryan came home from gaming, he brought me a piece of tiramisu, too.

Carb loading. I'm not a food photographer, sorry.
Carb loading. I’m not a food photographer, sorry.

The next morning, I struggled out of bed at 5:15, having had weird dreams all night about making hard-boiled eggs in tea. I don’t get it either. I got my stuff together (more of an achievement than it sounds like), told the dogs to go back to bed, and scrambled out of the house. I was supposed to meet the other pacers at a hotel on capital square at 6:20 to be ready to get in the corrals at 6:30, so I ran from where I parked (about half a mile away) to get there on time. Instead, this turned into hanging around the lobby waiting and asking each other, “Where is [whoever we noticed is missing]?” Around 6:40 we took a group photo and then dispersed to line up.

At this point, walking down the hill to where the back of the pack will be, things were starting to feel kind of intense. I got the feeling—and I don’t know if this is legitimately what was happening or not—that the runners on the sidewalks were watching us. When we got into the corrals, that would be their signal that it was time to line up. Such pressure.

Pre-race selfie.
Pre-race selfie. My hair is amazing.
Looking up the empty corral at the pacers.
Looking up the empty corral at the pacers.

At 7:00 precisely we took off. Prior to the gun, my pacing partner (also named Emily) and I sort of looked around to see if anyone was willing to declare they were sticking with us, but aside from one shy, noncommital wave, no one was. I don’t know if this means that a lot of people were unsure of what time they might finish in, if they were all planning to run with their iPods (I saw a lot of this), or if they were just shy. We tried hard to be happy and approachable, and as the miles ticked past a few people tried talking to us. One fellow, who I thought might be from India or Bangladesh, stuck with us the whole way; although he seemed to be working pretty hard, he was happy enough to chat when we talked to him:

Em: So, where are you from?
Him: [Something I didn’t really catch]
Em: Where is that?
Him: On the east side of the city.
Other Emily: Wait, did you say “Sun Prairie”?
Em: To be fair, I live near Middleton and never go over to the east side.

Did I look like an ass? I don’t know, maybe. I laughed, he laughed. We high-fived after the race, so I think there were no hard feelings.

Skipping around in time, after about a mile and a half, it started to rain, which was actually not terrible. The rain never got strong enough to really soak us, so my feet stayed dry, and it kept us cool and kept the heat down.

The corner by Camp Randall where the route turned onto Monroe Street was the first place we really started to encounter a bunch of people cheering for us. Some of the people the other Emily and I run with were out to spectate, so it was fun to hear the occasional “Go Emilys!,” but there were just a lot of people who would shout “Go 2:30 group!” Things got quieter as we turned into the Arb, and then as we went up the hill near Edgewood it got crazy again. I was starting to feel like a rock star. Probably the best part of this was when we came past the Berkeley orange stand (just past mile 12, I think); since Berkeley organized the pace groups, they gave us a real good cheer. And from there it was just a few blocks up Dayton (past my old haunt, Ofek Shalom Co-op), then up to State Street and the finish at the capital.

Running through the Arb with Other Emily.
Running through the Arb with Other Emily.

In the aftermath of all this running, I went home and brunched it up with B, then passed out for a solid two and a half hours. Now (writing this the day after), I feel pretty good—my right calf has been a bit sore, but no worse than one would expect from strenuous exercise. Why only the right one? Don’t know. Let’s not dwell on it too much.

So, to finish this thing up, what advice for future pacers? There is some law of nature that states that although your Garmin may work perfectly every time you step out the door, when you really need it to be accurate for a race, it will fail. My watch was off at almost every mile marker by up to 15 seconds or more. I hit the lap button as we passed the markers to try and compensate. Although I had it set up to give a current pace, an average pace, and a lap pace, the most useful way of telling where we were was the total time elapsed plus knowing that we were supposed to be running 11:27s (round to 11:30 for ease of math-doing). If you are running weird splits, like 6:52 or something, write your split times on your arm.

Finally, if you are a spectator and want to have a boombox playing some music to encourage the runners, let’s go with the Foo Fighters rather than Miley Cyrus. (I heard both yesterday, but I just want to make my preferences clear.)

The finish line taken by a professional photographer (credit to Focal Flame Photography
The finish line taken by a professional photographer. Credit to Focal Flame Photography.
A picture of me looking much more uncomfortable than I felt at the finish.
A picture of me looking much more uncomfortable than I felt at the finish. Credit to Focal Flame Photography

[1] In addition to pacing, or pace groups, being a thing that is provided at many major marathons, there’s another role for pacesetters—rabbiting. Rabbiting, often used for world record attempts, involves a fast runner who is typically paid to set a hard pace and act as a wind-break for the frontrunners and then drop out halfway through. There are, to my understanding, some pretty specific rules about what events can use rabbits and who can rabbit for what race (men can’t rabbit for women’s events, e.g.). This kind of pacing also has some ethical issues, because it moves the focus of a race to breaking a record rather than actually having an entertaining (competitive) race. On the other hand, rabbits do count as official entrants, and occasionally when the elite runners don’t follow them, they don’t drop and just go on to win. (Here’s an entertaining video of that from 1981.) But since the race was won in 1:13 for the men and 1:26 for the women, these questions don’t really apply to our 2:30 group.

[2] Since I did a 2:03 at the Ice Age half marathon two weeks ago, I think I could go sub-2 in a road half right now, except for all the various things I did to myself this week, as detailed above.

[3] Postscript: I tried frying the ravioli in a combination of avocado oil and butter. They were awesome.

Post-race, back at my car. My hair has calmed down due to rain.

Ice Age 50 half marathon, take three

One of my favorite spots on the trail.
One of my favorite spots on the trail.

This was my third time running the half marathon here. My times have been very closely clustered:

  • 2012: 2:00:59, 2nd in AG
  • 2014: 1:56:50, 5th in AG
  • 2015: 2:03:51, 10th in AG

Some race is always going to be your personal worst time. That’s just how it works. Interestingly, while I haven’t always gotten slower, I’ve consistently placed lower in my AG. Also, my AG has changed; I do get the feeling that for the half marathon distance, the women’s 30–34 age group is more competitive than the 25–29.

I feel like I’ve recapped this race before (here; looks like B was with me that year—the photos suggest I didn’t have a GPS watch yet, and I had a lot less definition in my shoulders…). Anyway, to avoid boring you, I’ll just hit the highlights this time:

  1. The first loop, I thought most of the hills were not as gnarly as in previous years. Also, unlike 2014, my legs weren’t trashed when I finished the first loop. Perhaps I am becoming a stronger hill runner?
  2. Unfortunately, I did notice I was pretty tired on the second loop (I stopped picking up my feet as well and stumbled a few times, almost falling). And the hills were a lot more pronounced.
  3. I felt like I pushed myself all the way through. This and last week’s race confirm that I’m probably in about 4:10 marathon shape.
  4. After a while, I fell behind all the fast people and was ahead of the slow people, and I found it quite hard to maintain my pace/focus. I knew I wouldn’t win, and I didn’t really want to go into the “pain cave.”
  5. Toward the end of the race, I passed a woman with some Thai tattooed on the backs of her arms. Ungrammatically, I shouted “คนพูดภาษาไทบได้” at her as I came up behind her. She was startled, and responded, “I have eighteen miles to go” (she was in the 50K) before realizing what I’d actually said. Too bad I didn’t get a chance to talk to her.
  6. My bad ankle hurt almost all the way through, which is weird because it didn’t hurt Thursday or Friday before the race and it doesn’t hurt now today (Sunday). Just one of those annoying things, I guess.
  7. I finished 10th in my age group. I’d been hoping I could still pull off a top-10 AG finish, so I guess that’s okay. Disappointed I couldn’t go sub-2, but it wasn’t my day. The weather was cool enough, but very humid. I miss being fast enough to pull off a sub-1:50 half marathon. I wonder if there’s a way to get back there without injuring myself doing speedwork.
  8. Probably not.
Grassy meadows, rather unpleasant when it's sunny.
Grassy meadows, rather unpleasant when it’s sunny.
Red trail, green grass.
Red trail, green grass.

As a warm-up for my 50K that is coming up in . . . four now three weeks and is also held on these very trails, it was reasonably good. I brought my hydration pack along and wore the clothes I thought I would wear for the upcoming race (about halfway through the race, the shorts, which are new, started to chafe, so those are off the menu. Good thing I tried them out.).

  • How annoyed were you with your performance, on a scale of 0–10 with 0 being totally fine and 10 being pretty hacked off? 2.
  • What mid-90s song was stuck in your head almost the entire run? “Gangsta’s Paradise,” by Coolio.
  • Last year, you got disoriented leaving the park, drove to Fort Atkinson, then later started to crash and had to stop at a random gas station outside of Edgerton and buy chocolate milk and potato chips in order to make it home. Did you experience those problems this time? Nope. I had a mini-sized energy bar before/during the race (pro tip: not a great choice of snack if your nose is stuffed up while running, like mine was). After the race, I grabbed a salt cap and some pieces of fruit before I headed out. When I got home, I had some peanut noodles, then later went out for (veggie) sushi with my family.
  • Did you accomplish anything after the race? I slept on the sofa for 90 minutes.
Post-run selfie (post-runfie?).
Post-run selfie (post-runfie?).

Next week, I am co-pacing the 2:30 group at the Madison half marathon, something I’ve never done before. (I’ve never even made it all the way through a race with a pace group, so it should be an interesting time.) I’ll be hanging out at the expo on Saturday around noon, so come say hello if you see me, or catch me at the starting line. Unless you’re going to be weird and awkward and make both of us feel uncomfortable, in which case feel free to continue stalking me quietly from a distance.

Also, speaking of quietly stalking me, if you missed it (and I don’t know why you would have seen this, since I didn’t announce it or anything), I’ve blogged a bit about ultrarunning over at Technically Running. It’s at least slightly humorous and has a picture of a skull I found attached to it for some reason.

LMR 20K: Fifth Time’s the…Something

TL;DR:Good 8K, slightly painful 8K, rough final 4K.

I’ve run the Lake Monona 20K (LMR) almost every year since 2009. Along the way I’ve watched it change from a fairly small race to a large one, with all the attendant problems that change could be expected to produce.

For fun, here are my results:

Year Time Pace
2009 1:53:39 9:09
2010 1:41:24 8:10
2013 1:56:41 9:23
2014 1:45:53 8:31
2015 1:50:45 8:53

Holy cow, I was fast in 2010! I ran my half marathon PR that year too, apparently—1:46:02 at the Madison Mini-Marathon. (I have just discovered that there’s a website, Athlinks, which I am probably the last person to find and which displays all my race results ever going back to my first-ever 5K in 2005 in which I finished in 38:05. Holy shit.) So this year was either my third fastest or third slowest, depending on how you look at it.

Okay, where was I? So this race always takes place the first weekend in May, and that means you never know what you’re going to get in terms of weather. Some years it has been quite warm, some years it has been cool and pleasant. This year it was warm.

The course is a nice one; it begins at the Monona Public Library, runs through some hills in the first 5K, has about 10K through downtown Madison/the Near East Side that’s quite flat, and then a few more hills as you come back into Monona. Most of my running group is getting ready to run a 4-hr (ish) marathon at Green Bay in two weeks, so the training pace was set for 8:59 min/mi. Well, good luck. The race now has 1,225 runners, which makes the start quite congested. After shuffling forward for (what felt like) a couple of minutes after the gun (in reality maybe 90 seconds), we crossed the timing mat and took off at an easy jog. At one point, hitting about 9:30, I joked to my friends, “This is the training pace, right?”

One of the better photos from the race.
One of the better photos from the race.

There was a lot of weaving and throwing of elbows through the first two miles. Eventually we managed to find enough open space to really get up to race pace, and to make up time we wound up running a little faster than 8:59 (miles 4–7 were 8:4x, so were 9 and 10). Ironically, the people I was running most with are not doing Green Bay, and neither am I. What the heck. We came through the 10K in about 55:08, which is fine, and hit the 15K in 1:22:25. Then a combination of heat, lack of water, and fatigue started dragging me back, and I slowed to a 9:xx pace. But at that point,we were almost to the finish, so it almost didn’t matter. With about two miles left, we met a guy named Jud from SLC who was having a pretty hard time of it. He was fun to chat with for a little while before he slowed down to walk, and my friend and I kicked it in to the finish.

At this point, I made a critical mistake, which was chugging three quarters of the bottle of water I got handed and then eating a granola bar and half an apple. The sudden entry of food and lots of water into my stomach when I had been moving so hard in the heat undid me. I had to sit down for a few minutes because I felt woozy, and then I slowly shlepped the half mile back to my car to drive home, grimacing from some unpleasant stomach cramps. When I got home, I had a shower and a nap, and then I took a salt tablet with my lunch, which made a pretty big difference in how I was feeling. So, pro tip: if you run really hard, don’t eat directly after you stop running. Give it a moment. Add fluids gradually. You will feel much better. Also, if you’re on a course with infrequent water stops and it’s the warmest day of the year so far, bring both salt tabs and your hydration system. I neglected to bring both, and regretted it.

Viroqua Triathlon Race Report

Ok, Viroqua Triathlon race report. I’m going to try to keep this short because I’m pretty tired and I got stuff to do. Got up at 4:30 in the morning (a time I’ve concluded should not exist) after a few hours of fitful sleep, ate a poptart, and dragged out of the house by a few minutes after 5. I’m glad I took extra time to pack everything up and put my bike in the car the night before, because triathlon requires so much gear and preparation that trying to do it at 4:30 would have led to me driving off sans helmet or something terrible like that. I had actually planned to leave the house by 5, assuming the drive was 90 min, so I would arrive by 6:30. The drive was actually longer than that, and I had to stop for gas. It got a bit nerve-wracking, actually. I was just pulling into the outskirts of Viroqua (a town with a “watch out for horse-drawn buggies sign on the main drag, as well as actual horse-drawn buggies galloping along) at 7.

At 7:10, I arrived at the pool. There were a few bike racks set up, so I dropped my bike off and ran inside, where no one seemed too concerned that we were 20 minutes away from the beginning of the race. Packet pickup went quickly enough, and I changed into my swimsuit and set up my transition area in about 15 minutes total for all three activities, so that by 7:28 I was standing on the deck of the pool. I was in the first wave of swimmers (at the time, I assumed that this was because I registered super early so I couldn’t convince myself not to do the tri. More on this later though.). We were assigned two to a lane in a really nice six-lane pool. I was in lane 1, and it was really wide—we probably could have gotten another person or two in without issue. The way the pool was set up, there was a wall with an opening in it that led to a shallower area (probably for water aerobics), and consequently the pool was super warm, at least in comparison to the pool I usually swim in, which is kept at 81 degrees. So everyone gets in the pool, the lane counter explains how everything works—eighteen laps, I’ll signal when you have one more using a kickboard and then signal when you’re done, have fun and good luck. I was a little nervous, suddenly feeling unsure about decisions like wearing my earplugs in the pool, wearing my watch, signing up for a tri when I’m obviously not a triathlete. . . . Pretty normal pre-race jitters, I guess. A few minutes after 7:30, the race director got on the microphone and talked and then we started.

Because of the nerves, I was feeling out of breath by the time I got to the end of the first lap (unusual for me). I guess I was probably pushing the pace, and also trying to do flip turns, which is always a bit stressful in a new pool. I consciously slowed myself down, focused on my stroke, and decided to stop with the flip turns for the time being. Things improved. By the time I hit nine laps, I was really moving—I passed the guy who was sharing the lane with me. I felt like I was flying, super aerodynamic despite the watch. I finished the swim in 17:24.3, the second fastest swim split!

Transition was run out the door and down to the transition area, dry off as fast as you can, regret the choice to try to put on tight spandex tri shorts over wet legs, hop about like an idiot, make sure your ear plugs get into your bag of stuff, grab the bike, duck underneath the rack of bikes because I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing, and sprint for the exit. 2:53.8. I think this is comparable to other tris I’ve done. (Actually, I just looked it up, my first transition in my first tri was 5:05, but I had to take off my wetsuit and I dropped my chip and all kinds of terrible stuff. I apparently didn’t blog about my other tris.)

The bike course was really pretty amazing. The first five miles were mostly downhill with a few rolling hills I was able to get up without issue. I knew ahead of time that there were only two really serious hills on the course. The first came a bit before mile 10, I think. According to MapMyRide, it was a 4.3% grade, which is pretty steep but not as steep as the hill I do hill repeats on. I knew it was going to be trouble when I was listening to the RD give me a description of the bike route, and when he said, “And then you turn left on Helgerson Road,” some guy standing behind me said, “Oh man, we have to go up Helgerson Hill?” Hills that have names are not fun hills. In person, it seemed very, very steep, that kind of lung-sucking climb that makes you grab the handlebars of your bike and bend over and just gasp to try to get through it. Sitting up straight is a better strategy though. Also, as I slowed down, a gigantic cloud of bugs came to attack me. Awesome. The second hill was longer but less of a climb (1.9%) and I went up it without any issues—it was actually almost fun compared to the first hill. As I was just getting to the base of the second big hill, some of the first sprint racers started to catch me. One asked if I was in the Oly. I said yes and that it was nice to see someone, since I’d been basically alone for the last ten miles. She mentioned that there were only six people doing the Oly, and only two women (so that was why I was in the first wave). I knew the other woman had gotten out of transition a few seconds before I did and was really fast on the bike, since I hadn’t seen her since. So at that point I knew I was basically racing for second place. Maybe she would have a bad run and I’d be able to catch her.

The best part of the bike was going past all these little small-town Wisconsin buildings. I passed a very small white clapboard church with a steeple, and a small graveyard behind it. It was like biking through Our Town. As I crested a hill, a flagger shouted to me, “Don’t worry, it gets better from here!” and then added, as I was almost out of earshot, “And then it gets worse again.” An accurate description of life. I finished the bike in 1:23:31, a pace of 16.8 mph if you believe their course measurement of 23.41 mi, and slightly slower if you go with the 20 miles my watch measured it at. Yes.

T2: Put on your shoes, blow your nose, remember to take off your helmet and go. 1:48.5.

As I was coming over the last small hill on the bike course, I’d seen the lead woman who was quickly overtaking the kid I’d shared a lane with (the run shared the same road as the bike course). She was really moving, so I knew I wasn’t going to catch her. At the same time, I’d passed another woman who was doing the Oly (turns out there were more than two of us) at around a mile into my run, so I had to push it a little to make sure I didn’t get caught myself. The run was a 10k on an out-and-back course—it ran almost entirely downhill to the turnaround, and almost entirely uphill back to the finish. I feel like I’ve learned two things from ultra running—the first is, always stop to fix small problems before they become big ones. And the second is, run with the terrain when you can, because it will totally turn against you. So I did the first 5k really fast, I think I was running 8:30s. The turnaround was a guy sitting on the bed of his pickup with his puppy. I got a glass of water from him and headed back. I passed the other runner who was on her way out to the turnaround and we attempted to high five. I cheered on a lot of the last few bikers and told them they were only a mile from the finish, and they cheered for me. It was cool and overcast, and the rolling fields and small houses made it feel like a Grant Wood painting. I slowed down to a 9:10ish pace on the way back because of the hills. With about one mile to go, my legs were pretty done. But then I got a little more downhill and made a respectable finish. Run time was 55:14; total time was 2:40:52, well below my goal of three hours.

My awesome post-race selfie, for those (Mom) who didn't see it on FB.
My awesome post-race selfie, for those (Mom) who didn’t see it on FB.

It turns out that there were in fact seven athletes who competed in the Olympic tri, five women and two men. The lead guy was out of the pool and out of transition before I managed to get to transition, so I never even saw him—he finished in 1:59:xx. The last woman, who must have been so far back I don’t even know if she’d started the run by the time I finished it came in at 4:04:xx. The age groups wound up a bit weird (why was it Men 20–29 but Women 26–35?), but I was the only woman in my age group and consequently got a medal. Overall I finished fourth of seven participants and the second woman of five. The woman who beat me did the swim in almost exactly the same time (she was a few seconds slower than I was), then did the bike in 1:11 and the run in 44.5 minutes. So clearly there’s something to aspire to.

And that’s it. I had a sweet roll from a local bakery, put my stuff back in the car, and drove to Green Lake for my husband’s family’s family reunion. Conclusions: All the time I spent doing 5×100 at I-want-to-die speed in the pool paid off. I should have spent more time pushing myself to go faster on the bike and working on hills instead of just training for distance. Running track has helped me keep my speed decent, despite the high training volume; my legs felt good and I think I would have been faster in a non-tri race. I can’t say I was sorry to get up this morning and “only” run without having to do a brick (a workout where one does at least two of the three tri disciplines), but I’ll miss some of the variety of triathlon training as I transition to getting ready for my last big race of the year, the Antelope Island 50k. Of which more later, because this “short” race report is now suddenly 1,800 words and I need to go make myself some dinner and maybe walk the dogs. Thanks for reading!

Ice Age Trail Half Marathon Race Report

After a nice dinner with friends last night, I went to bed at 23:20 and got up at 7:00 this morning, a relatively relaxed start for a race day. B got up about half an hour later (I’d already dressed, taken the dog for a jog, and gotten myself the standard pre-race breakfast of half a bagel, peanut butter, and half a banana) and we rolled out around 7:50. After a brief stop for sugar donuts (for the driver) and gas (for the car), we were off.

Last year, I ran the 50k and it took 6 hours and although I got 4th place in my division, it was a grueling trek that left me sore for days. I was not really prepared for the hills, the terrain, and the other challenges of a long trail race.

This year, I won’t say I felt entirely ready–I went into this thinking I had done neither enough hill work nor enough speed work to really perform as well as I could.  When I signed up, it was with the hope of going sub-1:45, which would be a personal record (on any type of terrain). Instead, by the time I got to the starting line, I was hoping to finish in around two hours, which is  respectable for a half marathon but not amazing.

We arrived at Kettle Moraine State Park around 9:10, enough time for me to grab my race packet, spray myself with bug spray, put on my number and chip, and use the (somewhat scary) park outhouse.  Ugh.  Then we lined up, got a quick course talk (I missed most of it, since I was in the bathroom–the gist of it was “Two loops, follow the yellow arrows, there are some aid stations somewhere.”). And we’re off!

Do I look nervous?I had lined up toward the front, since I got to the line-up late, and although I felt like I went out pretty fast I was passed in the first mile and a half by what felt like the whole pack.  So I gave them all nicknames: Mr. Two-Bottles (one in each hand!), Ms. Newtons (not really a trail shoe?), Mr. Asthma Attack (at least that’s what he sounded like as he passed me), and Girl Giant, who was about a foot taller than me (not that I’m that tall, but wow).

I should mention that the trails here are not single-track; instead, there are cross-country ski trails,  hiking trails, and horse trails. Generally I prefer trails like this over single-track, although there were a few spots where things got a bit sandy underfoot, which is uncomfortable. The hills are quite steep and fairly constant; runners don’t get much in the way of downtime. A number of the descents are quite rocky too, so bombing down them without paying attention is hazardous.

I remembered the climb out of the first aid station from last year (it was mile 18 of the 50k; it’s about mile 2 or 2.5 of the half) and I had to force myself to relax as I hit it–my calves were cramping  up and I was starting to get a side stitch. Clearly in an attempt to maintain position I was running too hard, taking the hills recklessly–running scared, not running smart. After a while, I let go of all of my ambitions and I settled into a nice pace (about 9:15/mile, though I didn’t know it at the time, since I don’t have a GPS watch). I hit the second aid station around 45 minutes in (I think it’s around mile five), and shortly after that picked up a couple of chatty 50k runners. The woman, from Milwaukee, was a CPA. I didn’t ask the man what he did. The 50k has a 13-mile out-and-back and then two 9-mile loops; they were just finishing the out-and-back and seemed to be making pretty good time. They buoyed my spirits some, and we reached the start/finish/beginning of the 2nd loop area at almost exactly one hour.

At this point, I headed into the second lap with a lot more confidence. I was feeling very strong. I had brought a gel along with me, with the plan to take it at the halfway point if I felt like the wheels were beginning to fall off, but I didn’t need it. As I bid my new acquaintances farewell (the 50k and half marathon diverged about fifty feet past the starting area), I realized that Mr. Two-Bottles was directly ahead of me, and Ms. Newtons was leading him.  I began pushing a little harder on the downhills, and over a few successive ridges managed to pass them both and put some real distance between us. I decided I was going to run conservatively until I got to the second aid station, then push hell-for-leather for the finish.

Then, as luck would have it, I realized coming into the first aid station that I was right behind Mr. Asthma Attack. I took it easy on the long hill out and passed him a few turns later. I felt like I was keeping a pretty easy pace and I was able to run most of the hills in this section of the course.

Coming into a wide meadow, I saw a bright shirt ahead of me and realized–it’s Girl Giant. Unlike the others I had passed, she was still moving quickly–and smart: I saw her walk several hills, a good bet on this course. But by running some of those same hills, I was able to pick up some time. Finally, around 1:46:xx we reached the second aid station. The sign noted we were about 1.5 miles from the finish line. She left just ahead of me; I grabbed a cup of water, drank/inhaled half, dumped the rest over my head, and took off, dripping slightly. A few turns later, I had passed her, and ran it in for 2:00:59 and 2nd in my division.

Happy and Tired

B was waiting for me. We stopped at the local cafe/deli/general store on our way out and I got a coffee, into which I added sugar, skim milk, and a scoop of vanilla protein powder. Then I ate a chocolate-covered creme filled donut. This may not have been the best choice (or so my stomach suggested), but it was delicious. Then I took a nap.

A few lessons learned: Don’t get carried away with the crowd right at the start; it’s easier to save some juice for the second lap and pick people off than it is to come back from a bad start. Drink lots of water. Be careful when bombing down hills–if you over-reach, your knees will start to hurt. Walk the hills that are too steep to run. Know which hills those are.

I think I’ll be back next year.

(Photos taken by B on his iPhone. Thank you!)