Surly Loppet 13.1k {Race Recap}

Trail running is intimidating to me. Sure I run on trails, but they are lovely paved or crushed limestone trails. They are not grassy, muddle, steep, single track hills. Nope. I’ve only run on such terrain once, last winter in the snow on the coldest morning of the fall. It was fun, but not something I thought I’d do often. I was right. It took me six months before I did it again.

Last weekend, with some of my friends and fellow Daisy Troop moms, I ran my first official trail race. We decided on a whim last spring that it would be fun to run the Surly Loppet. If it wasn’t, we’d still get beer at the end. There were three distance options: 5k, 13.1k, and a half marathon. I opted for the 13.1k figuring that a little over 8 miles would be doable. After all, I had no idea how my fall race schedule would shape up.

I won’t lie, I was a little nervous. One because I didn’t run on a trail even once before the race and two, because this is how the course description starts:

“The Trail Loppet is challenging. There are big hills. There are narrow trails with rocks and logs. There are many intersections.”

Eek. I just hoped I didn’t get lost. And those hills…which don’t look so bad here. Only a few of them really sucked.

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Like several places in the country, we were having unseasonably warm weather. Like 80-100 degrees plus intense humidity. Not ideal at all. Luckily with such a race, there was no time pressures or performance anxiety. I only had to go as hard and fast as I felt like it. There was also going to be ample shade which would give us some relief from direct sun on top of the oppressive heat and humidity.

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We got to Theodore Wirth Park with about 10 minutes until my race started. I quick hit the porta potty and ran across the parking lot to the starting line. It was really crowded at the start and we started right uphill. The first tenth of a mile was paved before we moved to some grass and onto dirt trails through the trees.

I won’t go mile by mile because I rarely knew where I was at mileage-wise and it’s kind of a blur. I was happily running, music free, enjoying the scenery and the challenge. There were several times that I was forced to walk because those in front of me were walking. On a single track, there was no room to pass. Frankly, the few walk breaks were welcome. There were usually up very steep, root and rock ridden hills. I only almost bit it three times. I recovered and was happy that I didn’t end up scraping my face because we had family pictures later that afternoon.

I chatted with a few runners here and there as we ran. While I considered wearing my CamelBak I’d decided I didn’t want anything extra on my body. It was just too hot. I wished I had carried my own. There were only two water stops and I was sweating so much that I needed every drop I could get.

When I finished, I decided I wanted to do it again! It was so much fun. It was hard and dirty, slow and steady. It kept me on my toes and I didn’t once look at my watch wondering how I was doing. I didn’t care. I was far out of my running comfort zone and soaking it all up.

I met my friends who had done the 5k, grabbed a beer and waited for our other friends to join us. We already decided that we are going to make this an annual race. Maybe next year I’ll do the half.

 

Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon {Race Recap}

You are strong, you are ready, you are going to do this. Trust your training.

Over the 26.2 miles of the marathon, I repeated this to myself over and over again. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t forget it. I needed my head to be in the game. I needed to focus on the race and not be distracted by negativity or doubt.

I’m going to pause here and preemptively apologize for the length of this post and hello unflattering pictures. Obviously I have not learned how to be photogenic during races. Maybe the professional pictures will be awesome. Anyway, I honestly still feel like I may have dreamed it all and the race is still to come.

Pre-Race

I woke up before dawn after a restless night of sleep. I quickly grabbed my pre-race food and went to the breakfast area of the hotel. I sat listening to the wind outside and watching the sunrise as I ate three pieces of almond butter and jam toast. I returned to the room, did my usual routine and after checking the hourly weather forecast, decided capris, a tank top, long sleeved hooded shirt and my wind breaker with an ear warmer and gloves would be a good idea. Once dressed I met Amy and her husband for a ride to the buses.

LWTM bus

I was strangely calm as we boarded the bus and even as we made our way into the high school where we stayed warm before the race started. It was great, bathrooms, music, water and coffee. We were able to easily find our friend Megan for a quick picture before we were all lead outside for the start.

Pre-Race LWTM

My game plan was to stick with the 3:30 pacer until the half way point. I had Josh’s voice in my head telling me that I could easily run an 8 min/mile pace. After the half point, I would assess how I was feeling and decide how to proceed. I easily found my pacer Don and told him I was going to do my best to stick with him. I didn’t realize that it was a gun start, not a chip start until he told me. We were outside maybe two minutes before the bell sounded and we were off. I made sure I got across that starting line quick.

The Race

We had a few little curves before we actually made it onto the trail. It was a cold first mile with a nasty headwind and temperatures in the 30s. I was glad I opted for my capris rather than shorts and compression socks. Once we were on the trail, the wind became a more of a side wind and we had a little bit of insulation from the trees after a long open patch. The first 5k flew by and I was just so thankful that I wasn’t having to do any weaving or worry about working tangents.

I chatted a little bit with the Don (pacer) and a few of the people around me. I was surprised and a little leary about my ability to maintain the pep in my step. I tried to just enjoy the moment. I looked around at the scenery and read every single motivational sign put along the trail by the race volunteers. It was a really nice touch.

I took my first gel a little early, just after the 10k mark. I had finished breakfast at about 4:45 am, so I was starting to get hungry. Though I was extremely careful about I ate all week, I was fearful of GDF (gel digestive failure), but the gel went down just fine. Our pace group started getting smaller. Some people sped up and other dropped back.  I was feeling amazing. The weather, though windy at times, was actually pretty ideal. It was a beautiful sunny morning and cold but not so much so that I was shivering.

The next several miles are a little bit of a blur. I knew the only real ‘hill’ was coming up and that some time after the turn I should see my family. As we curved around with the trail, I looked forward to that turn and didn’t even notice the hill. Around mile 11, I decided it was time to lose my jacket. I had thought ahead and put my arm band with my phone under it so I only fumbled slightly as I tried to pull it off and tie it around my waist without dropping it or tripping myself.

After the turn I knew it was pretty much a straight shot to the finish line. I took my second gel around mile 12.5. We cruised past the half way point at 1:45 on the dot. I had just set a new half marathon personal record by a minute and a half. Woohoo! More exciting to me at that point was that I was still with the 3:30 pacer and continuing to feel good except for some grumbling in my stomach. Up until that point, I had seen one porta-potty. With the stomach threatening to act up, I started looking around for a place to peel off the trail into the trees. I starting thinking, oh shit, I may have to actually relieve myself just off the trail where lots of runners will likely catch a glimpse. I drank some more water and kept moving trying to think of anything else.

Josh called just as we closed in on the 15th mile. Knowing that it was going to be very cold for spectators, I told Josh not to worry about trying to see me prior to the half way point. I figured he must be close. He just missed me at mile 16 but I saw some friends which was exciting! It always so much fun being able to see people you know on the sides.

At this point, it was myself, Don and one other runner. Don said that if we were feeling good around mile 23-24, to speed up and leave him behind. If not, that was ok, but he wanted us to finish with him. He did not want to cross that finish line alone. I assured him I was going to do my best. He was very positive and kept telling me how strong I was looking as we chatted a bit. Right around then, a runner I had met during my last 22 mile training run, cruised up to say hi. Only at a small race like this would we have bumped into each other.

I took my third gel at mile 18. I was starting to get tired mentally but physically I was feeling strong, really strong. I knew the wall could be coming but was hoping it would be just a tiny fairy-sized (as Ella would say) wall that I would easily overcome. After all, I was strong, I was ready and I could do it. I was doing it. I saw friends again who snapped this picture. That’s my friend Megan’s brother to my left.

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Our group was down to just Don and me by mile 19. I guess it was up to me to not let him finish alone. I saw Josh and the kids at mile 20. I screamed out to them in excitement and tossed them my ear band. Don yelled to the kids, “Mommy is going to Boston!”

Jess Mile 20 LWTM

It was then that it hit me. Unless something went drastically wrong, I was going to qualify for Boston. I started calculating in my head what my time would be if I slowed to a 10 min/mile. I knew that wouldn’t happen but it’s a lot easier to do that when running that to calculate an 8:30 or 9 min/mile over 6.2 more miles.

The next two miles started to feel a little more difficult. I decided to take a fourth gel between 22 and 23. I fell back behind Don a bit but no more than a few seconds. He kept looking back for me and I’d yell I was still there. Mile 24 was my fastest mile as I tried to get back on track with Don at 7:43. With us side by side again, he told me that he wanted me to finish before him. Jokingly he said then I’d be able to say that I beat the 2011 winner.

We ran past mile 25 and slowly, a red dot appeared before us. He asked me if I saw it and said, that is Boston. Right there. I warned him that I was going to hug him at the finish line. We inched closer and closer to the finish line. He said I had lied, the first half marathon wasn’t my new PR, this half was because we were going to negative split the race. Right as I got to the last trail crossing I heard Josh cheering, Don said go, go and I did my best to sprint through the finish line.

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As I passed under the big red arch, I saw 3:29:2X on the clock. What?!

Official time: 3:29:28      Average Pace: 7:59 min/mile

Post Race

I turned around and hugged Don, thanking him for keeping me going. Keeping me steady and helping me get my first Boston qualifying time and huge new personal record. I picked up my medal and t-shirt then went towards Josh and the kids.

Ella ran up and hugged me saying she was proud of me, which of course made me start to cry. As soon as Josh hugged me I started blubbering a bit. I was in shock. I had just run, like actually ran every single step of 26.2 miles. I negative split the marathon by 32 seconds (not huge, but a negative split) and qualified for Boston with a 5+ minute cushion.

Family at the finish line LWTM

I knew Amy would be coming through the shoot soon so I hurried, well as fast as I could, back to the sidelines to cheer her in. A few minutes later I saw our friend Dawn cross and qualify for Boston. I cheered her in and then waited anxiously for Amy. When we saw her we all yelled and cheered. She came through, hands in the air, celebrating her first BQ.

 

BRF Finish Line LWTM

We celebrated a little bit before we parted ways for showers and cleaning up. A little while later I heard that my friend Megan PR’d by 25 minutes too! It was a banner day for all of us. Josh, the kids and I grabbed some lunch before heading home because I needed something other than gluten-free bread, almond butter, jam and bananas which was basically all I ate last week.

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Of course I was pretty excited to check out my Garmin stats. Thanks to my awesome pacer, I ran pretty evenly throughout the race. Only six of the 26.2 miles were at an 8:00+ min/mile pace. The slowest of which was 8:03. My fastest miles were miles 24 and 26. I guess those fast finish long runs really helped.  The first half was done in 1:45:00 and our second half was done in 1:44:28. I was 70th out of 326 finishers, 5th of 25 women in the 30-34 age group and 13th of 114 female finishers.

This was a wonderful race. I wasn’t sure if I would like such a small race, but I loved it. It made me want to find other small races to do. The volunteers were amazing, even bringing candy, pretzels and homemade treats to the water stops. The trail was beautiful and flat. This course is meant for personal bests. Everything came together for me, the weather, the course, my training and fueling. I did it and I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to duplicate it again.

When we got home, I booked a hotel room stat for April 17, 2017. OMG, I’m going to Boston!