Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ragnar Race Report

What could possibly be more fun than a van full of six sweaty guys, staying up all night, and running over 35 miles in three legs over a span of 18 hours? If you said, "lots," you obviously haven't experienced the joy of a Ragnar Relay ultra team.

There are several Ragnar Relays throughout the country and we happened to be running the "Great River Relay" from Winona, Minnesota, through the backroads of rural Wisconsin, and somehow ending in the metropolis of Minneapolis. Most teams have twelve runners, but since we were an "ultra" team we had six--Seth, Dan, Tim, Paul, Eric, and I. We all ran three times in legs of 7 to 16 miles from 4 PM on Friday until about 4:30 PM on Sunday.

I was a little nervous for this race--not only was there a lot more to keep track of than a normal race, there would also be people depending on me to run good times. Our team was made up of members of MN Running Wild--our running club that also had three other teams participating in Ragnar. The MN Running Ultra Wild men's team that we started with and our team, MN Running Ultra Wilder, did some friendly smack talking beforehand, but after the first three legs of the race it was apparent that we weren't going to be able to stay with them. It's funny that even though we weren't totally out of their league, over 195ish miles even a small difference in pace adds up in a hurry. In fact, the other Running Wild team ended up taking 2nd in the ultra division and they were only one second per mile slower than the team that won--a difference of six minutes spread out over the whole relay.

I was the first runner and started with another runner named Nate from MN Running Ultra Wild. We had 13.9 miles through Winona and into Wisconsin to cover and it was warm, pretty humid, and there was very little shade. The other ultra team, Scheel's, was also running.

Nate and I ran together until the first exchange. We did a little chatting but mostly in spurts--we were working pretty hard. At the first exchange the regular teams handed off and Nate, the Scheel's runner, and I kept going for another 7 miles. At that point Nate and I were about a minute behind the Scheel's runner. I asked Nate how he was doing and he said he was going to back off the pace a little and I should go ahead. I did, hoping to catch the Scheel's runner. I was cruising pretty well and with about 2.5 miles left I saw the Scheel's runner had stopped to stretch. I passed him a little after that and though the heat started to get to me a little at that point I was able to finish strong.

I handed off to Tim and he too had a pretty tough leg--it was still very warm and humid. When Tim finished we were still pretty close with the Scheel's and MN Running Ultra Wild, but the third runner's for both those teams were crazy fast--especially considering we had our fastest runner, Dan, running our third leg. When Dan finished he had one of the funniest comments of the weekend: "Do they know they have over 20 more miles to run tonight and tomorrow? 'Cuz they do."

Paul, Seth, and Eric wrapped up our first legs, all of them running great at that point. It was pretty lonely on the roads from then until morning--we had the latest start time and with the two ultra teams pulling away from us we were running alone in the middle of the night in rural Wisconsin.

My second leg started at about 12:30 AM. It was the toughest leg I did--not only was it in the middle of the night it also had a long hill and I had no one to run with. Also on this leg, disaster struck. Three miles into the 14.6 miles I heard some sort of loud sound in the forest--probably some sort of bird. I shined my flashlight into the woods to see if I could see this bird that was likely to come out and chomp my face if I didn't preemptively blind it with my flashlight. As I was shining my light into the trees, searching for whatever woodland creature that was making the strange and threatening noises, the road began to turn right. I was running on the left shoulder and failed to notice the turning of the road. I stepped off the shoulder and began to stumble. My left hand was free and caught the guardrail. My right hand, encumbered by a flashlight, uselessly flopped to the side as I brilliantly braced myself on the guardrail with my forearm. My momentum slid me along the rail making a nice cut across my forearm.

I recovered from the slip--luckily I hadn't lost my balance enough to fall over completely so my legs were fine. I wasted some time checking my cut with my flashlight--it was bloody but it didn't look too bad. I thought about stopping at the next exchange but decided it would waste too much time. My teammates handed me some Gatorade at the exchange and I plowed forward--bloody arm and all.

When I finished my leg Seth--by far the most energetic runner on our team--looked at my arm. "I never go to the doctor," he said, "but I think you need stitches." An ice cream shop that was open--probably for Ragnar--gave us some alcohol wipes and a cup of water. I poured the water on my arm and scrubbed the cut out with the alcohol. Fortunately the arm was pretty numb and I must've had some adrenaline flowing because it didn't hurt too bad.

Paul had a first aid kit in the car and I was able to bandage my arm up well enough for the time being. There obviously wasn't time to get stitches until we'd finished running 130 or so more miles. At that point Tim was running what I thought looked like one of the toughest legs of the race. Pitch black, no one to run with, and a wicked steep, long, winding hill. But he didn't complain and ran a great leg.

Paul also had an awesome second leg. He was a major trooper having been kept up almost the whole night before with a sick kid. I can't imagine coming into an all-night relay already sleep deprived.

Our sleep in our fifteen passenger van was sporadic. I don't imagine anyone got great sleep--I was laying down for at least 5 or 6 hours total but I don't think I ever slept more than 20 minutes in a row. Seth, on the other hand, took a 15 minute nap. That's it. He took the award for Energizer Bunny. Not only was he not crabby he also had some awesome runs doing over 30 miles at an average pace of 7:09 per mile.

By morning we had started to catch up to some of the other teams--it was fun to not be the last team to hit the exchanges and to get to see some of the creative costumes and van decorations. The Double D's, or, Double Divas, were a fun bunch that were handing out head bands. A couple of our team members including, myself included, got some pretty stylish bands.

We also ran into the Minnesota Running Wild Women's team--they were looking pretty good at that point--especially considering Junal had yacked all over the place after the leg she'd just ran.

Everyone's last leg was challenging but we all got through it. The only one that didn't seem too worked over was Eric. He ran the anchor leg so fast we weren't even ready for him and missed our chance to run together across the finish line. In the end we finished in just over 24 1/2 hours with an average pace of 7:33 per mile. We were the third ultra team behind Scheel's and MN Running Wild and 17th overall.

I had a great time and afterward we shared our beer and pizza and talked about possibly doing the race again next year. All the guys ran tough and were fun to be around and if things worked out I would definitely do this race with them again.

After cleaning out our van Laura and I went to Urgent Care to have my arm looked at. The nurse said they would have stitched it but it had been too long since I cut it open and they don't like to risk sewing up a wound that has bacteria in it. She cleaned it out and pinched it together with Steri-strips as best she could and sent us on our way.

Laura had a busy weekend as well. Besides taking my to Urgent Care she volunteered at Ragnar and ran a 1/2 Marathon. Along with getting to see some friends there she also set a 5 minute PR! The weather was great and I knew that after running two very hot 1/2 marathons and getting some great coaching from yours truly she would crack that 2 hour barrier--and she did, with a 1:57.

Next up for us is Twin Cities Marathon weekend. Laura's running the full marathon and I'm running the 10 mile. Should be a good time!

MN Running Ultra Wilder before the our 4 PM start:

Off we go!

First leg... done:

Dan ready for his first leg in his sweet night gear:

Dan, Tim, and I cheering on Seth:

Us three were done at this point:

I got a picture with a cute volunteer:

Success! Our finishing photo:

Trip to Urgent Care:

Laura (in purple) smoking to the finish of 13.1 Minneapolis:

Laura and a friend from college who was running for Team World Vision:

Laura with our friend and her pacer, Juli:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Gopher to Badger 1/2 Marathon Race Report

It started out a little rainy on the drive over to Stillwater, Minnesota but the weather turned out to be perfect for the Gopher to Badger 1/2 Marathon. Laura was kind enough to get up early with me to go to Stillwater for the start, take some pictures, and drive to the finish line in Hudson, Wisconsin. For those of you not familiar, the Gopher and the Badger are the respective mascots of the Universities of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Today, thankfully (though in animals terms highly improbably) the Gophers triumphed over the Badgers with Gerad Mead of Minnesota taking home the title.

Before the race I said "hi" to some of my pacing friends from the Minnesota Pacers. It was nice to actually be racing and not pacing after a pretty full pacing schedule this spring and summer. I was less nervous knowing that I didn't have to worry about 10-20 other runners counting on me to run an even pace. Here I am talking to the 1:35 pacer and Ragnar teammate Dan:

There were a good amount of runners, but fortunately the start wasn't congested at all. I told myself I was going to run by feel and though I was shooting for a 1:20-something, I didn't want to limit myself and go too slow if I was ready to run faster. I also didn't want go too fast if 1:20 wasn't possible.

So off I went, by feel, hanging with two guys for the first mile. I hit the lap button on my Garmin to check my split: 5:39. Whoops, I guess the adrenaline of the start made running by feel a little trickier than I was planning. I decided that I'd back it off a little bit because I knew no matter how good I was feeling I wasn't ready to run that pace for a 1/2 marathon.

Around mile 2 I grabbed some water and Laura was there to offer some encouragement. I smiled and she snapped a picture of me--obviously she wanted to capture how handsome and athletic I was looking with an extreme close-up.

Miles two and three I was able to reign the pace in a little bit and hit 6:05 and 6:02. I was still feeling pretty good at this point and confident that I was at a good pace. I cruised through the next few miles at a similar pace, though it was difficult to know quite how I was doing as my Garmin and the mile markers were not agreeing. I'm used to the mile being about .01 different due to GPS error. Every course is measures a little long, but these miles were going from 1.05 to .94. Oh well.

There were some hills between miles 5 and 7 and that slowed me down a little--one of the miles in there was 6:31, but fortunately that was pretty much it as far as any significant hills.

At some point I could see the next runner ahead of me, I think around mile 9. I checked to see how far behind him I was based on a tree he passed. Using my tree-based calculation he was about a minute and twenty seconds ahead, so I knew unless he fell apart I probably wasn't going to catch him.

We crossed the St. Croix River at mile 11--probably the nicest view of the race. The bridge was almost a mile long. At that point I snuck a peak behind me, and I couldn't see anyone. Although I knew I wasn't going to catch the runners ahead of me and it appeared that no one was going to catch me, I still wanted to pick it up for the last mile. From 12 to 13 I ran at 5:37 or 5:57 pace depending on whether you believe the Garmin or the mile markers. I came in right at my goal--unofficially a 1:20:10 chip time. Also I unofficially finished 9th out of 588 runners.

Laura was invited to come into the finishing shoot with the photographer to take a picture, so she got this nice shot of me finishing. It was great having her there--I couldn't ask for a more supportive wife.

Here I am basking in some post-race glory before hitting up the food table. Next weekend it's the Ragnar Relay!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Minnesota Half Marathon Pace Report and Wedding Weekend Fun!

I had a crazy weekend with a lot going on, including a good amount of running. I also, unfortunately, broke my streak of consecutive days of 10 mile or more runs. I'm not too upset about it and although I was feeling pretty strong with all the 10 milers I think taking a break this past Friday did me some good.

Like I said, my weekend was crazy. On Thursday night we had a wedding rehearsal in the Twin Cities then drove an hour to Rochester for another wedding--my sister-in-law's--on Friday. We got there about 11:00 PM Thursday and I was planning on getting my 10 mile run in before 9 AM on Friday. Unfortunately I woke up at 6:45 AM feeling exhausted. I'd gotten up on Thursday morning at 4:10 AM to do a track workout with some MN Running Wild friends so I'd gotten about 5 hours of sleep Wednesday night and then had 6 or fewer hours of sleep Thursday night. It was Friday morning and I knew I had two more late nights coming, a race to pace on Saturday, and I felt tired and sick to my stomach. I decided to sleep another couple hours before wedding day brunch and thus ended my 10 mile streak.

We finished up the wedding on Friday night and headed back to the Twin Cities. Laura was in her friend's wedding and had to leave at 7 AM Saturday morning for all those festivities and I was pacing the Minnesota Half Marathon at 8 AM and had to leave at 6:30 AM for that so it was another short night of sleep. After warming up and chatting with the other pacers we waited for the inline skaters to get going and we were off.

It was another warm one but not as warm as Red Wing. The sky was overcast and I actually felt pretty good the whole race. There were more hills then Red Wing but nothing too terrible. I had a pretty decent-sized group the first 6 or 7 miles and then I had quite a few people take off ahead of me. It was a nice change to see people going for it rather than dropping runners as has been the case the last few events I've paced. It's nice to know I'm helping people start out conservatively so that can hit a good time.

I was pacing the 1:35 group--7:15 per mile. My mile splits were great with my fastest mile being 7:07 and my slowest mile at 7:23 (the last mile). Besides those two miles every other split was between 7:11 and 7:18. My group had broken apart completely at mile 10 or so with a couple taking off and a couple falling back. Around mile 12 I caught up to one of the runners who had started with me. He stayed with me a little bit and then sped off. At mile 12 I was 5 seconds fast according to my pace band, though according to my Garmin the last 1.1 miles were actually 1.15 miles so I was probably right on or a little slow at that point.

At 12 one of the course marshals told me I was close to the third place female and I could see her just ahead. I caught her with about 3/4 of a mile to go and slowed up for her a little bit. I told her we had 3/4 of a mile left and since I had no more pace group I would run her in. With about a quarter mile left I knew I was a little behind my pace and I was encouraging her to take off. She did and I let her go--I didn't think it'd be cool to stay while she was in third place. She finished several seconds ahead me.

As I finished the announcer said, "And here's a member of the MN Pacers finishing almost exactly on pace!" That was pretty cool to hear and my official time was 1:35:07. Not bad. I chatted with a MN Running Wild friend, Scott, who went and showed everyone up running the fastest pace group at 1:29:59. Color me impressed. I did a little cool down and finished with 15 miles for the day.

After a short nap it was time to go to the next wedding. We had a great time and I ate a ton of food. Fortunately we got to sleep in on Sunday morning which was good as I did a double running 7 miles around noon and then a 10 mile tempo run in the evening.

I'm racing the Gopher to Badger 1/2 Marathon on Saturday and then running in the Ragnar Relay in less then two weeks so I'm planning on cooling it a little bit--not tapering, just cutting back the mileage a hair. I'm hoping for a good time at Gopher to Badger as I haven't raced a 1/2 Marathon in over 18 months. If you read this long thanks for indulging in my long-windedness.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Shoe Review: New Balance MT10

I had a great idea during my run this morning and unlike most of my great ideas during my runs I actually remembered it. So instead of forgetting my great idea or having my great idea actually be a low blood sugar and lack of oxygen to the brain-induced bad idea, I can share this idea. I'm sure you're curious beyond belief about my good idea, so here it is: shoe reviews. Sure, your foot is probably complete different than mine and our ideas of what a good shoe are may be completely different, but who cares? And so what if you can find dozens of other shoe reviews from more competent reviewers. Maybe if I write a few shoe reviews some company will send me a pair to review--for free!

My great idea struck as I was running through the forests of Lebanon Hills Regional Park and was really enjoying my shoes: New Balance MT10s. New Balance advertises them as their minimalist trail running shoe. They also have a "minimus" road shoe which is, unfortunately, really ugly. I think the trail shoe looks pretty good, but to each their own.I love how this shoe feels on the trail. The outsole pretty much has nothing to it--just round grips and no hard rubber to speak of--just round lugs for traction. On the trail this is a huge asset making it really easy to feel the ground, though the softer, lights round lugs aren't too good in muddy conditions. The sole is made by Vibram and as such is very light and flexible.

The lightweight sole combines with a very lightweight upper--the other thing I really like about the shoe. New Balance says it's 7.1 oz. When I look for a shoe I'm generally a sucker for lightweight. I like a little support (and the MT10 has slim to no support), but I love lightweight shoes.

This shoe also has a 4 mm drop from the heel to the forefoot and has a very thin sole overall. Supposedly this lack of heel to forefoot drop is good for your form and helps you to land more on your midfoot. Generally I like shoes with little or no heal lift and I enjoy the very slight difference in the MT10. I definitely feel like this shoe helps me keep good form and cadence.

Now, I'm not one of those crazy "YOU MUST LAND ON YOUR MIDFOOT!" types. In fact, if you're running downhill and you don't want to do a forward somersault and crack your face open you're probably better off landing on your heel a bit. One reason I like that there's a little bit of heel on the MT10 is that you can pound the downhills and have some protection on the heel while keeping good balance.

Though the MT10 is great on trails I don't love it on the roads. It's fine for the first few miles but I think the total lack of hard rubber on the outsole doesn't do me any favors on the pavement--especially when it's hot outside. At the end of my run today I could feel the bottoms of my feet heating up on the blacktop. I know some people run barefoot or in those 5 finger things with no cushion but on the hard, hot pavement I like to have at least a little bit of cushion in my shoes and there is almost none in the MT10.

Two other things I don't love about the MT10s are the lack of toe protection and the seems inside the shoe. The toes, like the soles, have no hard rubber on them. This was a problem during the Afton Trail Run 50k when I stubbed my toe on a rock. It was almost like I kicked the rock barefoot.

New Balance says the MT10s can be worn with or without socks. I would highly recommend not wearing them without socks--especially if you haven't worn shoes without socks for awhile. I went on my first run with these--about 6 miles--sockless. It was not a good plan. I ended up with blisters on both feet--and not in places I've ever got blisters before. Both blisters were the result of seams rubbing on the tops of my feet. One seam was clear sewn wrong and I eventually used a scissors to cutout the excess material that was folded over itself. Maybe the seams being a problem were unique to my MT10s but I've worn spikes and racing flats that were much more comfortable without socks then the MT10s. I haven't tried these without socks since that first run.

Other than the minor faults I think the New Balance MT10 is a pretty solid shoe. Others have run with it on pavement and without socks just fine. I enjoy how lightweight it is and how I can really feel the trail when I'm running. I'll definitely keep using it as my main trail shoe.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

River City Ramble Pace Report

It. was. hot. Seriously hot. Although 77 degrees doesn't sound that bad at the start of a race, it was also 84% humidity according to a runner who checked the weather station on his dock minutes before the race started (apparently people have weather stations on their docks in Red Wing). This same runner ran with me for part of the Minneapolis Marathon. He was planning on running with me the first half of the Red Wing 1/2 Marathon and then taking off. Unfortunately that wasn't in the cards for him.

The running conditions at the River City Ramble 1/2 Marathon were far from ideal. The humidity was high, it was very sunny, and there wasn't a breeze to speak of. When there were breaks from the hot sun in the trees it was often even more humid--it was so humid I had to take my sunglasses off because they were fogging up.

I started with a pretty good-sized pace group with around 15 runners looking to run a 1:35. I usually plan on losing a fair amount of runners 8-10 miles into a half marathon but this one was so hot and humid that I lost the initial group at the mile 4 water stop. Only one runner was with me at that point--the one planning on taking off halfway through.

It was nice having him to run with as I'm amazed at his ability at 60+ years old to run the kind of times he runs. Around mile 8 he started hurting and I dropped him around mile 10. After that I picked up a couple stragglers beat down by the heat and humidity but they too eventually fell back. I felt bad for everyone going for a good time or a PR as it just wasn't the day for it. I finally motivated one gentleman as I passed him with about 1/2 a mile to go. He caught back up and ran past me to the finish line.

I came in officially at 1:35:04 though I thought I was closer to 1:35:00 according to my watch--still a pretty solid pacing time.

I was a little sick to my stomach after finishing and forgot to grab the camera to catch Laura's big 2 minute PR in the 1/2 marathon. I was a little worried she wouldn't set a PR with the poor running conditions but she came through with good pacing and a tough effort to finish over a minute ahead of her pacer. I'm so proud of her--I can't imagine many people set a PR on a day like that.

Laura and I after the race:

Pacer Adam from Maple Awesome, Minnesota right before we enjoyed his traditional post-race beverage--PBR:

An update on the 10 mile streak:
I've made it nine days in a row while covering 101 miles. I'm not sure how much longer I want to do this--10 days of 10 mile+ runs sounds pretty good but I don't really have a good reason to stop the streak. I actually feel pretty decent and it's not like I'm short on time. What do you think?