Monday, May 18, 2015

Superior Spring 25k: Race Report

After my last race I opted to do a short, sweet race report, focusing on impressions rather than the overall race. This time, I want to go back to a bit of a more traditional format. 

Going into the race, I was pretty uncertain of how I would feel. I had fallen ill that week after helping my parents start their move (out of a house they’ve lived in for 37 years!). That had involved carrying boxes down, I would estimate, 400-500 total flights of stairs over two days. Talk about an eccentric muscle strength workout! 

After the camping experience, or fiasco depending on your perspective, of last year, we opted to stay in an actual hotel before and after this year’s race. We got in at 10:30 the night before and, after a couple false starts (it gets light really early up North) I woke up, hacked up a nice, neon ball of phlegm, and was out the door by 7:40 and at the start by 7:50. Again, much nicer than last year. 9AM starts are glorious.

The centerpiece of the race, Lake Superior, decided not to make much of an appearance this year. The lake was shrouded in a veil of fog all morning, to the extent that, if you didn’t know better, you might not know there was a lake at all. The weather on the course, on the other hand, was sunny and 50 degrees: perfect running weather. 

The various check-in requirements and pre-race rituals completed, I gathered at the front of the pack for the start, and the ritual reading of “the names of people who didn’t check in this morning.” There didn’t seem to be many people eager to start out at the front, leaving a pack of 6 or so to lead the race up the road. 

After last year, I had my strategy down: ease into the uphills, coast the “flats,” and slay the downhills Colorado-style. I chatted briefly with the eventual 1-2 men before letting them take off up the trail, vaulted onto the rock before ducking under the always-amusing “Bridge Out” sign, and turned uphill. 

Per my strategy, I kept it easy on the climb up Mystery this year, letting people pass me knowing that I would most likely catch them later. Sure enough, I dogged their heels on the relative flats on Mystery, and flew by them down the hill to the saddle, where the worst of the mud flats were the prior year. 
Moose Mountain, with Mystery to the right, from the top of the Alpine Slide

With less snowfall this year, I was hoping these would be in better, faster shape this year. No such luck. If anything, they seemed worse than last year. I knew immediately that there was no staying dry this year, and simply plunged into the muck (later drawing comments on just how muddy I was). 

On the climb up Moose, I stayed with other runners a bit more, still letting them pass me, but then staying on their tail as they continued up one of the two steepest climbs on the course. Sticking behind the second woman and one other Open Men runner, I let the lead woman and another guy get a little too far ahead. This is the one of two places I made a definite mistake. I should have passed the first two on the slight downhills. 

Even so, I again caught up and passed the two in front of me on the screaming descent off Moose, my best descent of the day by far, and caught up to the second pair by the Onion River Crossing. I eventually passed them prior to the aid station, which I tore through at sub-6 minute pace (according to my watch, which I would only look at later). Out time was 1:03:54, well within my targets of 1:05 and 1:10. 

My goal was to negative split. Still feeling good, I thought it would be possible. Coming down towards the Onion again, I put my foot down in a mud puddle only to have it hit a rock and twist outwards, tweaking my ankle. 

It hurt, but not too terribly, and I knew I would have no trouble finishing the race. It did, however, take away my downhilling possibilities for the rest of the race, and the time I took to cinch down my shoelaces let two people (the lead woman and a guy from Gustavus Nordic who I would trade places with at least 5 times over the course of the race). 

I ran gingerly for the remainder of the descent to the Onion River, letting my ankle complain and stiffen up again, knowing from the cheers of oncoming runners that I was still well within striking distance of the two who had passed me. Sadly, on the march up Moose Mountain, with my ankle still tender (as it would remain) another runner overtook me. 

The remainder of the race was a sufferfest. Despite my ankle, I managed to catch Gustavus on the way down Moose, only to lose that place to him when I slipped on a board and ended up with my right arm shoulder-deep in mud. The boards, dry on the way out, were now so mud-covered that they were almost more treacherous than the mud itself. 

The slog up Mystery saw one more runner pass me, but I caught her again on the road to the finish. 

The road section went well. I wanted to hit sub-7 minute pace, and did so. The whole way, though, I kept glancing back to see a runner in red catching me. At the last, slight jog uphill, 200m before the finish, he was right on my shoulder, threatening to nip me at the line. 

I was a sprinter in high school, and still have that leg speed. It took running that last bit at sub-5, but I fended him off, collapsing over the line only to glance up and see that he wasn’t even in my race. 

He nabbed second in the 50k . . . 

All in all, though, I think I executed well in this race. Being sick, with my legs still sore from Monday’s moving, I could have thrown in the towel and just run for fun. Instead, I dug deep, and despite a major spill and a twisted ankle held on for 8th place overall (2:13:51, for a 1:10 second half), hitting my B goal of under 2:15 in the process. Experience counts, and honestly I probably don’t have as much racing experience as many, but I improve with every race. 

The remainder of the weekend was spent exploring the North Shore, eating a glorious dinner at the Angry Trout in Grand Marais (along with seemingly half the other runners from that morning), and touring my parents’ new house on Sunday. 
Post-race lunch with a view.
Cascade River mouth.

Split Rock. There's a lighthouse there. (Sunday)
All in all, a most excellent weekend. 

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