Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dances with Dirt - Devil's Lake style - Julie Treder's Race Report

It has been a few years since I've run a Dances with Dirt race... so it was great to be back.  Once I heard that their race was at Devil's Lake State Park, it wasn't hard to convince myself to sign up.  Many a summer Saturday in my youth was spent climbing the boulders with my family... and the park especially holds a special place in my heart ever since my Dad saved me from plunging to my death after I sliced my knee open and passed out on a rock ledge.  Ah, the memories!
Since last years race was cancelled due to all the flooding plaguing the state, this years edition was the inaugural race.  There were a number of different distances for every runner to choose from... half marathon, marathon, 50k, 50 mile, and a relay.  Wanting to be the most bang from my buck (and having the weird obsession of always wanting to do the longest distance offered at a race!), I signed up for the 50 miler.
Mother Nature had her say in what the course should be.  Due to some recent winds, a power line toppled over and forced the RD to alter the course at the last minute.  Mother Nature can be pretty evil, as I think the revised course was probably tougher than what the original course was going to be.
The race started at 5:30 am, just outside Devil's Head resort in Merrimac.  With some final instructions (follow the pink ribbons from this point to that point, then white from here to there, then connect back up to pink, look out for the different colored ribbons, since they are for the relay, blah, blah...), we were off.  The course is set up to run a 5-mile loop, then 6 miles to the start of the loop around Devil's Lake, follow the 14-mile loop twice, hook back up to the 6-mile section, then finish with the 5-mile loop.
The 5-mile loop takes you up the ski hills at Devil's Head.  You get to check out many of the different ski runs there, like Devil's Alley, Nosebleed Way, QuadKiller Run, etc.  My opportunity to run and chat with Craig Swartwout was pretty short-lived, as he bolted off fairly quickly on his great run (finishing in 9:45).  This section was pretty rugged on fresh hegs... I was definitely not looking forward to how it would be on 45-mile legs.
After finishing the loop, we are sent on the Ice Age Trail towards Devil's Lake State Park.  Never having run the IAT in those parts, I was loving it... despite finding every single thorn bush strategically placed along the trail.  (I must have looked pretty rough, as the aid station workers were frantically looking for band-aids and antiseptic wipes to clean my wounds.)  It was at this time that the marathoners and 50K runners started and passed my by with ease.  A buddy of mine, Matt "the Hurricane" Schrader was running the marathon and quickly caught me.  He was kind enough to keep me company through the next 18 or so miles... despite having the speed to go much faster.  The conversation was great and seemed to make the miles fly by.
The 14-mile loop not only took you up and down the east and west bluffs of Devil's Lake State Park, but it also included the typical random trails (usually game trails) that I associate with Dances with Dirt races.  You don't follow any trails, you follow from flag to flag... wherever that leads you.  For me, that lead over a downed tree that seemed to be booby trapped with a rusty old fence.  The good news was I was able to move the barbed wire from the trail... bad news was that I moved it using the skin on my right leg.  Ah heck, I needed to get up to date on my tetanus booster anyways...
You connect back up to the hiking trails on the bluffs.  Each time I ran those sections, I kept thinking of all the poor souls who were expecting to enjoy a nice relaxing time at a peaceful state park... but instead were constantly overcome by these stinky runner looking to pass by on those narrow trails.  Most of them were good sports about it, thankfully!
I was able to maintain my composure through the second loop and the return trip on the IAT... but still dreaded what was to come -- those final 5 miles on the ski hill.  But I just practiced my power hike on the uphills, enjoyed the awesome overlooks of Devil's Lake in the distance, and finished with a smile on my face... not only because of the sight of the finish line, but of Brian cheering me in to the finish.  Phew!  I survived it!
The race was a blast... chatting with the always helpful and friendly volunteers, enjoying the beautiful scenery along the way and at Devil's Lake, meeting up with some tough runners (like marathon-man Matt, Ironwoman Diana from Lodi, and determined Terri Hayes from South Carolina), and soaking up the perfect weather (warm, but with low humidity).  Am I looking forward to going back next year!!

Note :  LPTRunner Bruce Udell  finished the 50K in 4:44:44 placing 2nd overall and first in his age group!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fried Cheese (head) - Jeff Mallach's Psycho Psummer Report

This isn’t one of those reports where the author triumphs over adversity, sets a PR and inspires the assembled volunteers, spectators and race officials with his extraordinary tenacity, humility and grace. 

This would be the opposite of that. 

In this report, the author sweats, struggles and swears – ultimately succumbing to hardship and achieving nothing more than a t-shirt and a PW (personal worst). 

Race day for the Psycho Summer 50K in Kansas City started with a cup of coffee, blueberry bagel with cream cheese and temperatures in the low 70s.  By mid-afternoon, the thermometer would rise to 92 degrees with a relative humidity of about 80%.  

The race, hosted by the Kansas City Trail Nerds, is held at Wyandotte State Park in Kansas.  Participants have their choice of running one loop (15 miles) or adding another and making it an ultra. 

After a few instructions and some door prizes (including a Garmin Forerunner, nice!), the race director, Ben Holmes, asked runners to assemble on a park road that, about a tenth of a mile later, would siphon us onto a single track trail that led into the middle of the park.  

The first half-mile was crowded and slow, as many of the runners tentatively made their way over the gullied trail. For the first hour or so, I stayed with a group of 15-milers – not running too fast and promising myself that I would drink a full bottle of water between each station (the aid stations were three miles apart).  Climbing Hedgehog Hill – the steepest hill on the course – I remarked to a group of runners nearby that the trails were very similar to those we run in Wisconsin – except hillier.  Imagine that.  In Kansas. 

There were several stream crossings, patches of shoe-sucking mud and longer stretches of trail covered with shattered flat rock, but the hills and the heat were the story of the day.  As the sun pushed the clouds away, I realized I wasn’t taking in enough water.  I drank a full bottle of water at one aid station while waiting to dowse my head under a hand pump. 

Not long after that stop, I met a guy from Marquette, Michigan and we spent time talking about Wisconsin ultras, the new Marquette 50-miler, mutual acquaintances and how the cool northern summer had made heat training impossible.

At the halfway point (the start and finish), I ran by the shelter and the tables covered with goodies and ice-packed coolers full of beer and re-entered the woods.

At the next aid station, I had to sit down.  A young woman filled a bag with ice and placed it on my neck.  A volunteer in his late 20s, I’d guess, refilled my water bottle and brought me a bowl of watermelon.  His wife, standing next to me, commented that she wished he would pay that much attention to her.  I think she was kidding.  With all this attention, it wasn’t long before a senior aid station volunteer walked over and started asking me questions – mostly, I presumed, to determine whether I presented a liability risk.  I briefly thought about pretending I was President Eisenhower or Magic Johnson, but I’ve had enough experience with myself to know that these sort of jokes usually aren’t well-received.

I drank three 20-ounce bottles of water at that aid station – and completely melted the bag of ice on my neck – before the young guy suggested that I get back on the trail before the inevitable lactic acid build-up.  Good advice. 

I thanked everyone and jogged into the woods, still dehydrated (all that water – and still no sloshing in the stomach), slightly stiff and, more than anything else, preoccupied by the persistence of the bright sunshine.

All this must have affected my focus, because a few miles later I blew by a course arrow and added another three-mile loop to my run.  The definition of a “sinking feeling” is passing by the same landmarks three times, when you know there are only two loops.  When I re-joined the course, I conceded that this was not my day.  I walked in the last eight miles… chatting with a guy, fresh out of the service, who was hoping to run a trail marathon or 50K in every state.  At the finish, he introduced me to his expectant wife – we wished each other well and I left for the car to lick my wounds.

On a scale of 10, with 10 being exceptional, I’d rate the Psycho Summer 50K: 

TRAIL:   8   Lots of twisting and turning single-track, some bridle trails and park roads.  Relentless hills.  Very well marked. 

ORGANIZATION:  9  Great volunteers – friendly and helpful and many experienced runners with good advice:  “When is the last time you took an S-cap?”, “Why don’t you just quit and go home?”, that sort of thing.   Negatives:  No beer left for the lingerers. 

CHUM:  8   Technical t-shirt, colorful enameled finisher’s medal and free downloadable photos.            


Euchre, Power Lines and Killer Bees – Kevin Grabowski’s 2009 Voyageur Race Report

Our gear was all stuffed into the trunk of Julie Treder’s Taurus by 9:30 am Friday as we got set to make our way north to Duluth for the 2009 Voyageur 50 miler.  This trunk full of gear would not smell quite the same on the return trip…

 Julie drove and Jeff Mallach rode shot-gun as we barreled off towards Mauston to pick up Angela Barbera, completing our LPTR posse for the weekend.   The trip north went by quickly and we were in Duluth by 4:00. 

 Our motel was right downtown and offered a great view of lake Superior.  It was also less than a block from a shop advertising urine cleaning  (I’m guessing they never saw my pee after a hot day and 50 miles).  

 After check-in we stopped in at the Duluth Running Co.  This is a great local running store with tons of gear and supplies.  Another stop at the grocery store and then off to dinner.  Our pre-race last supper was at Luce’s for pasta – Three vegatarian lasagnas and one fiery Tortellini Diablo.    A quick and satisfying meal and we were back at the motel with an hour or so to kill.

 So what would four ultra-runners do with time on their hands when the night is young? Euchre of course!  An outdoor patio, a lake-view, a deck of cards, and Julie Treder going strong with trump to force the right bower.  It was a magical evening. 

 Saturday morning we were up bright and early and greeted with a forecast calling for a high of 68 degrees and scattered storms.  We weren’t crazy about the prospect of rain, but temps under 70 sounded appealing.   Soon we were back in the car and off to the high-school in Carlton  - a 25 minute drive south of Duluth.  As we pulled up, we spotted fellow LPTRunner Robert Wehner who had driven up Friday and camped with his family.   Five fit runners and a full day ahead of us – What could go wrong?  Ummmmm…  I can only speak for my day….

 Thirty minutes to race time and I found myself in line for a bathroom with no lights.  As one person would stumble out rubbing their eyes, another would venture into the dark to feel their way for the toilet.  When my turn came, I shuffled forward with deliberate steps, arms groping ahead ala Helen Keller.  I was able to identify the sink, then the garbage can and then… another sink? I felt around some more – Ahhhh… my hands are in the urinal.  Excellent.

 Back at the start area there were lots of familiar faces and I enjoyed chatting with the Minnesota contingency.   The race began right at 7:00 and we were off.  The out and back course starts with a short road section followed by a quick stint on a asphalt bike-path.  Some technical trail was not too far away, however, as much of the first three miles contained rocks, roots, twists and turns.   This section forced the field to string out quickly and passing was somewhat difficult.   I passed a pack of runners as we left the technical section and headed off solo for a while.  

 It was easy to get a rhythm for the next few miles as the trail rolled easily through the woods.  I got into such a rhythm that I didn’t notice the lack of flags for several minutes.  Approaching an abrupt T in the trail, I was alarmed to see no markings.  Panic.   I should have immediately known that neither way was right and headed back the direction I came from.   I didn’t, of course, and wasted time dashing down the T in both directions, desperately looking for flags I knew wouldn’t be there.  Resigned, I turned back and started running back the direction I came from.   It wasn’t too long before I saw Robert down the trail, headed in my direction.  He was just at the turn I had missed. The course had turned left onto a more narrow section of single track than the one I had continued forward on.   Crap. 

 Robert waved me on and I bolted off, aggravated with myself for not paying attention.  I would find out later that Robert was among several runners that got stung by bees.  He got tagged 7 times in quick succession and had a strong reaction.   His skin got very red, his heart raced and nausea was not far behind.  He spent over an hour at an aid station where he vomited and sat dazed.  He eventually tried to continue the race and made it several more aid stations before realizing that the down-time had cost him a chance to stay ahead of the cut-off time and he wisely to called it a day. 

 Meanwhile, I was bearing down on the infamous Power Lines and fighting negative thoughts less than 10 miles into the race.  Then there was another mini-detour.   Vandals had re-marked the course into dense vegetation.  I followed two other runners and it didn’t take long for us to figure out that this could not be the way.  We back-tracked and headed off in the most logical direction which, fortunately, was correct.  (This sabotaged section was corrected later by Matt Patten, co-race director of the Chippewa 50K,  who took the time from his race to re-mark the area so no-one else behind him would make the same mistake – I feel like an idiot for not thinking to do that myself…Thanks Matt!)

 It wasn’t long before were headed right for the Power Lines.  This section has some geographical features that are truly hard to describe.  The best description I can think of is a series of GIANT ditches.  And I mean GIANT.  As you approach the first one, you can only see about half of the total rise.  Right before you get to the steep incline the trail surprises you by dropping down an equal distance, seemingly into the bowels of the earth.   This, of course, doubles the anticipated climb for anyone new.  I was new.

 Two rises are nearly back-to-back but the next four are separated by a short wooded section.  Here I found going down-hill was almost worse than the up-hill.  At least uphill you were in control and could go as slow as needed to maintain your composure.  Down-hill was a different story.   The steepness forces you to use every available muscle to prevent yourself from free-falling.  I considered curling into the fetal position and rolling down. 

 Relieved to be done with the Power Lines, I continued on.  At this point I was only 13+ miles into the race, but it already seemed like a full day.  I was okay physically, but mentally, I was starting to check-out.

 As the race progressed, there were several asphalt road and bike-path sections that I didn’t expect.  I really didn’t like running them and was thankful every time the course turned back onto the trail.   Eventually the course cut across Spirit Mountain – a ski-slope outside Duluth.  The views were incredible and definitely the highlight of my race.  I silently thanked the Ultra-Gods that the race directors had not routed the course up the ski-hill as the incline was steep and long in both directions on either side of the trail.

 Another short asphalt section (I thought this would be all trail !?@#$) and I was at the turn-around.  After all my inner-whining and two missed turns, my time was still 4:13.   But I still had a case of the I-Don’t-Wannas… Not sure why, but I just wasn’t motivated at all.   I knew I couldn’t drop with-out any legitimate physical  reason, but I sure thought about it.  Instead, I spent 4 or 5 minutes devouring water-melon and PB&J’s.   Good and full, I had no choice but to turn around and finish this one.  At least I would be seeing more people with the out and back format.

 About two minutes down the trail I saw Matt Patten - “Hey Matt!!”  He didn’t call me bait, but I knew I was.   Further along, I was happy to see Julie, followed closely by Jeff and Angela a little later on (with LPTR secret hi-signs exchanged of course).

 On the way back there were several asphalt downhills I should have been able to take advantage of, but I just didn’t feel like turning my legs over.  Back on the trail it wasn’t long before Matt Patten caught up to me.  I wished him well as looked really strong and I knew I didn’t feel like picking it up with a long way to go. 

 The miles flowed by without much incident.  I was starting to be passed with some regularity as I continually down-graded my race goals with every passing aid-station.   I didn’t feel too bad coming through the Power Lines the second time and actually increased my pace for a short time afterwards.  I was anxious for this to be over. 

 About three or four miles from the finish I saw someone walking ahead.  “Patten??!  Is that you!?!?”  Matt had looked so strong before, I was sure he had finished already.   I pulled up and walked with him for a while.  He said he was still running well before the Power Lines but the humidity really red-lined him in the hills and he was cramping badly.  I knew any of my goals for the day were already reduced to finishing so we just walked the next three miles and shot the breeze.  It was probably pretty merciful as this was the most technical section and it felt good to just walk instead of trying to navigate it with tired legs.  By the time we got back on the bike path for the last ½ mile or so, we started running again as we could see any minimal effort would put us under 10 hours.

 After the finish I kept an eye out for the rest of the LPTR crew.  Julie would cross the line in 10:48 and Jeff was not far behind in 10:51.  (Jeff’s time was almost 15 minutes faster than in 2008!)  Angela was doing the race for the third time with her two previous attempts within one minute of each other.  Not this time… She dropped over thirty minutes to finish in 11:53!  Robert was in good spirits despite being disappointed about having his race hijacked by bees.  What a goofy sport this is…

 Our post-race re-hydration campaign was executed a few blocks from the motel at Fitger’s Brewery in true LPTR style.  Amazing what a few beers will do to correct your attitude.  I’m thinking Superior 100 in 5 weeks… what could go wrong?!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Afton 50K

"Grand oaks and delicate prairie flowers grace the rugged, rolling landscape of Afton State Park outside the Twin Cities in Minnesota.  Trails traverse remnant and restored prairies, wind down deep ravines and rise up to the grassy ridgetops and bluffs overlooking the scenic St. Croix River." 

LPTRunner, Angela Barbera, reported that the trails were very reminiscent of ours at Lapham Peak (although the hills were stretched out over 25K instead of 7 miles).

Angela and Brad Birkholz both made the trip out to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  They were rewarded with great trails, great people and AWESOME shirts!  The shirts are designed by race director John Storkamp and they are worth the trip just to snag one!  I haven't seen the 2009 version, but the 2008 is shown below...
Of course to wear the aforementioned shirts in good standing, you must first finish the race!  The 50k consists of two rolling 25K loops through forest and meadow.  There were 138 finishers on the day with Brad clocking 5:40:46 for 47th place and Angela running 6:15:59 for 76th.  

Official Results at:

2009 Western States 100

Wildfires in 2008 forced the cancellation of the Western States 100 for the first time in the race's history.  The 2009 version only felt like there were wildfires with temps soaring into the 100's.  The heat took a toll on the field as 160 of the 399 starters eventually dropped out. 

Among the strong who did survive was LPTRunner Beth Simpson-Hall.   She slowly worked her way through the field, moving up from 294 place at Red Star Ridge (16 miles) to 260th place by Devil's Thumb (47.8 miles).  By the 100k mark Beth had vaulted 55 places to 205th and eventually finished the race in 191st place for her  fifth finish at Western States!
Her time of 29:09:37 earned 3rd place in her division -  Hardware on the big stage!!