Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Ragnar Great River Relay: An Ultra Race Report

What's more fun than packing 6 guys in a van, driving two-and-a-half hours to Winona, Minnesota, and then spending the next 24ish hours running, trying to sleep, ignoring the smell of six sweaty runners, and trying to force down food while ignoring the horrible nauseous feeling of a stomach deprived of real food? If you answered: lots of things, you'd be correct. I would have also accepted, "who in their right mind would do any of that?"

Admittedly, there is some fun involved in pushing the body to its limits, and some fun involved doing it as a team who's also attempting to do something physically exhausting (and idiotic). In the span of 23.whatever hours, over the course of 203 miles (208 if you account for Dan's getting-lost-miles) in Minnesota and Wisconsin, six of us on team Minnesota Running Ultra Wild fought our way from Winona to Minneapolis in our quest for ultra running greatness.

The ugly bunch of us.

When I first agreed to be part of this well-oiled ultra-running team, we had our sights on greatness--specifically we were hoping to win the men's ultra division. When I ran this race a couple of years ago, our team pulled off 3rd in the ultra division, and a couple of the members on that team plus a couple of guys on the second place team that year were running on this year's team.

Forgetting the result, I will say that we all ran tough. I didn't have the mileage base I had in 2011 due to this past November's knee injury, Don had a rather painful hip injury, Bill was dealing with a knee injury, and Dan is really good at getting lost.

Despite all that, we managed our 203 miles at an overall pace of 7:11. Alas, it was not good enough for an ultra-victory. It was good enough for 4th overall and 2nd in the ultra division. We had the latest start time, and spent our entire race passing teams that started hours before us.

At first, I had more fun than two years ago. I started off pretty strong, and it was fun actually passing people every leg rather than running alone almost the entire race. This year we opted to run six legs apiece rather than running three double legs. I felt this way made it easier to run the first four legs faster, but the downside was not having several hours to rest in between legs.

Despite how terrible I look, I was actually feeling good here.

After my third run at at 1 AM, I started feeling sick to my stomach, things started to get pretty difficult. I had a tough time eating or drinking anything. My first three runs broke down like this:
  • 8.2 miles at 6:20 pace (5:02 PM)
  • 6.6 miles at 6:19 pace (9:13 PM)
  • 3.4 miles at 6:17 pace  (12:49 AM)
I still managed to run my fourth leg (5:15 AM) of 3.8 miles at a 6:13 pace, but by later that morning I was sunk. My fifth leg (9 AM), through the hilly terrain in and around Afton State Park, ended up being 5.4 miles at 8:17 pace, and my last leg (12:30 PM), through West St. Paul and downtown St. Paul, was 5.1 miles at 7:47 pace. Overall I ended up running 32.5 miles at a 6:51 pace--not terrible, but slower than I would have liked.

The end of my last leg--feeling terrible.

After my last leg, Paul suffered through the heat, then Don brought things home. While many teams joined their last runner to cross the finish line together, we just watched Don cross the line. We wanted our finish line beer and pizza and didn't want to hold things up.

Don flexes his muscles as he crossed the line.

At the end I felt pretty rough. I was able to choke down some finish line Domino's Pizza, but I couldn't handle more than a couple sips of finish line beer. When I got home I found out I lost almost 10 lbs over the course of the race, and after a shower and drinking as much as I could stomach, I passed out in a sleep-deprived stupor.

Everyone ran well while dealing with injury, and 4th overall and 2nd men's ultra is nothing to be ashamed of. A couple guys said they were done with Ragnar, and I would be surprised if after suffering through this year's race I'd do another ultra team. I won't totally rule it out, but I'd be surprised if I do this one again.

Now it's back to the grind of training for the St. Louis Marathon at the end of October.

Happy Running!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Pace Reports: Minnesota 1/2 Marathon and Gopher to Badger 1/2 Marathon

Though I haven't paced quite as many races this year due to grad school and other commitments, I did get the privilege to pace these two excellent races. It was my third year-in-a-row of pacing the Minnesota 1/2 Marathon, and my first year pacing Gopher to Badger after racing it twice.

The Minnesota 1/2 Marathon has always been a unique event, and a fun one to pace. The race also includes some rollerblading events, including a duathlon. This year the weather was cool, and there was a slight breeze keeping things fairly pleasant. As the race went on, it was a little on the warm side, but mainly because there isn't much shade and it was very sunny. Last year it was overcast, which made things a little more comfortable.

I was pacing the 1:35 group, and I started out with a nice group of 8-10 people. The group wasn't real chatty, but they did laugh at my lame pacing jokes every once-in-a-while. My favorite is, "if you think I did a good job, let the race officials know. My name is Nate. If I did a bad job, my name is Dan."

One tough thing about Minnesota 1/2 is that the mile markers always seem to be a little inconsistent. I did my best run a steady pace, but it's tough when the miles don't seem to be accurately marked. It went OK though, and my group stayed with me until around mile 8 when some fell back and others went ahead. At that point I had two runners with me.

Around mile 10, one of the 1:30 pacers dropped back to run with me. He'd dropped his key, so after he found it he came back and finished with me. Around mile 12, the last two guys with us picked it up for a strong finish. We did a pretty nice job coming in at 1:34:59.

Laura also did the race as a training run, and she had fun as well. Here's a picture of us getting pumped for the race:

The very next week was the Gopher to Badger 1/2 Marathon. Unfortunately my favorite pacing singlet was taken, so I had to wear a small, which was a little on the tight side. Despite the wardrobe difficulties, I still had fun.

I paced the 1:35 group again, but this time I co-paced it with a guy named Curt. He's been doing quite a few marathons, and the 7:15 pace was pretty comfortable for both of us. We chatted quite a bit, and we also had a decent-sized group the whole time.

This year they changed the start line location and the first several miles of the course. It was pretty nice as they cut out one of the beginning hills--I'll definitely consider racing this one again next year. The course is also one of my favorite as it finishes by crossing the I-94 pedestrian bridge from Minnesota to Wisconsin, and heads downhill to the finish at Lakefront Park next to Lake St. Croix.

Two of the members of our pace group were shooting for a PR, and they both made it as they finished right in front of our 1:34:50 finishing time.

Laura also did this one, finishing faster than her previous week. It's nice for her to use these 1/2 marathons as training runs as she gets ready for the Twin Cities Marathon in October. Here's some pictures from the race:

Laura and I getting pumped for the race.

"Spot on" Minnesota pacers.

Laura cruising into the finish.
This weekend I finished my second Ragnar Great River Relay. Stay tuned for the epic race report on 200 miles of relay fun.

Happy Running!