Mississippi riverfront before the JNUC 5K
The 2016 edition of the JNUC 5K
The (not so) new job has wreaked havoc with my running plans this year. My overall year-to-date mileage is the lowest it has been since I started the run log (barely 450 miles), work meetings have conflicted with almost all the weekly WeRunMpls runs and the first Vikings game meant I had to break my streak of nine straight Milk Runs at the Minnesota State Fair. It’s a minor miracle I finished Grandma’s Marathon in June and the Afton 50K in July with semi-decent times. Unfortunately, those two races gave me false hope that I could still run the Superior Fall 50 while being significantly undertrained.
While I have lots of experience with marathons and two difficult 50K trail races under my belt, this jump to 50 miles was a much bigger challenge than I expected. I mean, really, look at this course elevation graphic – 25,000 feet of total elevation change. Portions of the trail are more like rock climbing than running. The winner had a pace of 10:22 Minute Miles. Only 75 people out of 174 starters finished the 50.
So on top of my work/training issues and one of the toughest courses in the country, I had logistical problems, rain and a whole lot of mud to make it even more challenging. Since I neglected to reserve a room closer to Lutsen, I stayed with my sister in Duluth. This meant a 1:30am alarm to get on the road by two so I could catch the 4am bus to the starting line. It rained that entire time, peaking just when we arrived in Finland. I checked in, pinned on my number and waited for the always excellent John Storkamp to lead us out to the start.
This was my first race that required a headlamp, so I picked up one of these from Mill City. We started in the rain at 5:30am, running down a gravel road to the actual Superior Hiking Trail. Once there, it was a big bottleneck and many people walked for quite a while. The first aid station, Sonju Lake, is 7.5 miles in and it seemed to take forever to arrive. My stomach felt terrible and I was experiencing some extreme G-I pain (thankfully not the usual disgusting runner problem you always hear about, though). When I got to the aid station, my heart sank when they said there were no bathrooms until the next one (in 4.2 miles).
I filled up my hand-held water bottle and headed off to the Crosby Manitou checkpoint. The trail was extremely muddy in spots – just like last year’s Spring 50K race. My shoes nearly got sucked off when my right leg sank a foot and a half into the muck. My left ankle got twisted (and still feels off now). At several points, I had to stop and nearly doubled over from the stomach pain. Don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see an aid station. Visited the bathroom, cleaned up some unexpected bleeding, restocked on water and felt a lot better.
The third checkpoint, Sugarloaf, was 9.4 miles away and had a cutoff time of 11:45am. Since my Garmin died, I haven’t been running with any timing devices and didn’t know how long I had been on course. I knew there were a lot of people going slow because of the mud, but I really didn’t think I was close to getting swept so early in the race.
The rain stopped and the sun came out, revealing some amazing views of Lake Superior and the beautiful Minnesota Northwoods. The Caribou River brought big elevation changes and I quickly used up my water supply. This, of course, started dehydration problems that lead to cramping in both legs and stretched that 9.4 miles for what seemed like forever.
As I trudged to Sugarloaf, I was already trying to decide if I would drop out there or attempt to make it to one more checkpoint (Cramer Road, the halfway point and start of the marathon). When I finally got there, the volunteers had already broken down most of the food and I was asked to turn in my timing chip.
Too slow. No options. First-ever DNF.
Disappointed, but it just wasn’t meant to be this year. Mark it down as a learning experience:
The DNF experience was harder without a support crew – there are no shuttles back to the finish, so you are on your own to find a ride. I had a race official take me to the next aid station, then found another group that offered to drive me back to Lutsen. It felt terrible going to the finish line to pick up my bag – everyone there was so happy, while I just felt…out of place.
So what’s next? I need to take a little time to recover, then make running a priority again. Get back to the running club, get back to runs with Megan. Run in the stadium this winter. Do more cross-training. Ski. Bike. Golf. Run Get in Gear 2017. Maybe run Zumbro.
And the Superior 50? Definitely…
Founded in 1994, the Afton Trail Run 50K is one of the premier trail races around, held annually on the Fourth of July weekend over the (very) hilly trails of Afton State Park. Part of John Storkamp’s excellent Rock Steady Racing series, I decided to add this one to the list for 2016 after handing out finisher medals there last year with Megan. Talked with John at the finish Saturday, but I never knew his full story – so inspiring (and makes me want to support his races even more).
Couldn’t ask for better weather for this race – it was around 60F at the start and never broke 80F. The sun was an issue towards the end, but a lot of this course is in the trees, so my sunburn wasn’t too bad. It did feel warm when I finished, but I know I was very, very lucky compared to prior years. The old “wet sponge tucked in my shirt” trick was quite handy and many thanks to the volunteer at the final aid station who poured ice water on my shoulders. Low humidity and a light, cool breeze also helped things immensely.
This course is quite challenging: two loops of 15.5 miles, 11 aid stations, a net elevation change of 9,340 feet and a 9 hour time limit to finish. Afton State Park wraps around Afton Alps ski area and borders the St. Croix River (both of which I know well), but I was constantly getting confused as to where I was during the race. The race map shows we ran all over the place – up and down the river valley, around the Highlands and Alps areas of the ski area and along two different stretches of the river.
I love race day packet pick-up: saves time (and fuel) and is just way more convenient all the way around. The race started at 6:30am and I got there around 5:30 to check in and pick up my number, the beautiful T-shirt and a race swag bag. Ran into WeRunMpls co-founder Kaitlyn, who was running the 50K with her dad. Hung out in the car for a bit, then we were off and running (one hour before the 25K start).
Completed the first loop in 3:15:35 (12:36 Minute Miles) and was passed by a million 25K runners towards the end. Since I decided to walk every hill on both loops, I was OK with that split. In my mind, I decided that even if the second loop took four fours, I’d still be way under 8. It took me 4:22 to complete that second lap, but I’m still fine overall with that time – I hadn’t run at all since Grandma’s and the weather was definitely warmer the second time through.
Speaking of two loops – I really prefer the out and back style of the Superior Spring 50K compared to this format. At Superior, each half seems different, since you are running up one way and down the other (even if it’s the same trail). At Afton, you get to the end of the first loop and all of the 25K runners are finishing right there, while you have to start all over again. Mentally, a tough image to process. John and I talked about the other differences between the two courses: Superior being much more technical and Afton usually having brutal weather.
Many props to 50K winner Kurt Keiser of Jordan, who at age 42 managed an overall pace of 7:14 over those hills to finish with a 3:44:27 (full results here). My pokey 7:37 was good for 191st out of 210 overall and 30th out of 33 in my age group. I know ultra trail racing isn’t all about the times for most people, but it would be nice to be a little closer to my road marathon performances. Still, this was a 52 minute PR at 50K, so there’s plenty of room for future improvement.
Big thanks to the wonderful group of volunteers, many of them trail runners themselves. The aid stations were delightful – just like a full service filling station. Every time I hit one, someone would run up and take my water bottle to refill while I visited the food table. My most frequent items: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pretzels, gummy bears, Coke and multiple salt tablets (I had recurring cramps in all four leg sections all day). The burger picnic at the end was very nice too (although I couldn’t manage to down the whole thing so soon after finishing).
Next up: State Fair Milk Run 5K
When the good people at Grandma’s Marathon announced plans for the 40th anniversary of the race, I perked up when they said runners who registered early would get a special jacket. When they published a picture of the medal, I signed up right away.
Guess I’m still a sucker for nice bling.
Lots of other people were apparently excited by this year too, with 9,100 runners selling out the race for the first time in quite a while. This was my eighth Grandma’s (and 26th marathon), but I hadn’t been up there to run since 2011. Love the race and how the city embraces the weekend, so I’m not sure why I waited so long to return again.
With my work schedule completely out of control right now, I was not nearly as prepared for this race as I would’ve liked to be. I did get in long runs of 17.5, 21.5 and 15 miles in the weeks leading up to the race, but there wasn’t much in the way of short weekday runs (or any cross-training or speed work). Add in my Garmin dying the week of the race and a forecast for hot and humid weather and my time expectations for this race went out the window.
My A, B, C and D goals were all very low-key: get an official finish under seven hours to get the damn medal, beat my worst Grandma’s time (5:26:54), keep it in the fours and, finally, try to beat my Des Moines time (4:37:23). Three out of four was pretty good on a day when the weather warning flags went from green to yellow to red to black as the day went on.
We stayed at my sister’s apartment again and I got dropped off downtown to catch the train to the start. I thought getting there at 4:50 was plenty of time, but the line to board was already down the street. Capacity must be way higher than it seems, though, as everyone in line before me only filled the front half of the train. Talked with three other runners on the way to Two Harbors, including a friendly woman from Colorado and a sixty-year-old gentleman who is a fan of the Galloway run-walk method.
We arrived at the starting line just before seven and I actually waited in line for a port-o-potty (which I think is a first for me). Maybe I missed it, but I don’t think they did the flyover before the start (which was always a highlight for me). Looked around a bit to see if I could find anybody I knew, but decided to head to the chute when it got crowded. No real announcement to start this year either – everyone just started moving slowly to the line and we were off.
Running without a Garmin was strangely liberating. I just wanted to take it slow and let my muscles take over instead of my brain. The only anxiety I had was due to the 4:15 pacer, who I traded places with twice. This race doesn’t have many clocks on course, so I knew I hit the halfway mark around 2:10. After that I had no idea until mile 25, but I knew I was going slower the second half because of walk breaks through each water stop to rehydrate, take on ice and sponges and pour water over my head (all tricks I learned the last time it was too hot).
As I’ve said before, this race takes on a whole new feel when you enter Duluth city limits after mile 18. The crowd support is amazing and they helped me run non-stop from the last water stop at mile 25 to the finish line, where I finished in 4:47:36 (10:59 Minute Miles). Full results can be found here, including my official splits (10K – 59:02, 13.1M – 2:10:22, 20M – 3:30:47 and 25M – 4:34:45).
Next up: Afton Trail Run 50K on July 2
As I likely wrote the first three times I ran this race, the TC 1 Mile is one of the hardest distances I run every year. Even the Superior 50K was a different kind of pain than I experience when trying to run 5,280 feet as fast as I can. My arms feel oxygen deprived, breathing is a challenge throughout, I never seem to have a kick at the end and I usually want to double over after crossing the finish line. Strangely enough, I’m always back to normal in about ten minutes.
This year was unique in a lot of ways. First off, they changed the course again because of the Nicollet Mall construction, moving to a riverfront course near the Mill City Museum and the Guthrie. Second, I was captain of a Corporate Team Challenge group representing U.S. Bank Stadium. Lastly, I’m three years older than the last time I ran this distance (and much, much slower).
The new course was extremely convenient to our office, so our team of eight just walked over for the start. The CTC wave was the very first one at 6:30pm and we made the rookie mistake of standing at the back of the corral. When the race started, our faster runners had to dodge and dart around people for the first quarter mile. Special shout-out to Jordan for being the group photographer, cheering squad and boot storeroom all rolled up in one.
I wanted to run four equal 90-second splits, but only did the first one at that pace, hitting the half-way mark ten seconds over the goal. I’ll admit I basically threw in the towel at that point and didn’t look at my watch again until I crossed the finish line at 6:47, a full 37 seconds slower than 2013. I’d say maybe 10 seconds of that was due to poor positioning at the start, but it was still disappointing.
The team, though, did great – I’m very proud of everyone. Shannon broke seven minutes, Marlon won the overall crown and we all talked about coming back next year prepared to take it to the next level. The post-race party at Day Block Brewing was very nice and several members of our team won door prizes. We ended up getting a table downstairs for drinks and dinner – quite a fun way to spend a beautiful spring Thursday in Minneapolis.
Ever since moving back to the metro area, I’ve been working my way through lots of things on the list of lists page. The Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon has been on my race list for a long time and 2016 was finally my year to try it out. Founded in 1980, this is a race that my friends Jeff and Deb have run many times and raved about, so I was excited to try it out (even though they were out of the country this year). Part of the MN Run Series, the race is produced by the same people who do Goldy’s Run, which I also crossed off the list this year.
Got to tour half of the Wayzata school district during the registration process and on race day: packet pick-up was at Wayzata West Middle School, while primary race day parking was at Wayzata Central Middle School. They had the same odd bib assignment process as Goldy’s, but the line moved much faster this time. The parking lot at the school on race morning was a mess – all the spots were full, but they didn’t put up closed barricades until about a hundred cars cycled through. I parked on a nearby side street and walked over to the shuttle buses, which dropped us off near the starting line in downtown Wayzata.
The course was very scenic, but much hillier than I expected. Weather that day was very pleasant for May 1, although it was a little chilly waiting for the start in the shade and wind. They had a four wave start, which really helped spread out the masses. I was hoping to stay under two hours and ended up with a 1:54:33 (8:45 pace). That was good for 832nd out of 2,525 total finishers and 64th in my age group of 132 (full results here).
Watch splits: 8:24, 8:06, 8:27, 8:23, 8:20, 8:40, 8:35, 9:02, 8:54, 9:04, 9:16, 9:12
The finish line area in Excelsior was very nice and the shuttle busses back to the school were easy to find and left promptly when full. It would’ve been nice to hang out at sponsor Jake O’Connor’s Public House for a while, but that was not in the cards, unfortunately.
It’s easy to see why this is a popular race that’s been around a long time – add it to your list and you too can purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka… 💜
Saturday marked my 15th straight Get in Gear 10K in Minnehaha Park. Last year broke my streak of six years under 50 minutes (52:23) and I was really hoping to get back under that threshold. When I passed the five mile mark right at forty minutes, I thought I had it made. Of course, I also forgot how long that last 0.2 can take…
The weather this year was perfect for running: sunny, low 40s and a light wind. Started off a little too fast, but stayed relatively consistent after that (watch splits of 7:22, 7:49, 8:22, 8:26, 8:21 and 8:14). The official results page seems to be broken, only displaying gun time and not chip time. My watch showed an unofficial time of 50:28, so I’m getting closer to the old days. That was good for 568th out of 2336 (and 46th in my age group).
Not much else to report from this year’s event. Dropped off three pairs of old shoes before the race that I had tried to donate at REI a few weeks back, which was nice. Took off right after I finished so I could get to the packet pick-up for the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon, followed by golf at Valleywood with Brad. Walking the hills of Apple Valley carrying a heavy golf bag was surprisingly easy, so that was a good training sign for the rest of the 2016 racing calendar.
My stomach couldn’t keep up with the pace, but still managed to retain donut royalty status
Last Saturday was my first race of 2016 and one that I’ve wanted to try for a few years now: Goldy’s Run 10 Mile. Part of the Minnesota Running Series, Goldy’s Run is produced by Podium Sports Marketing, which was kind enough to provide me with a complimentary entry to this race (and also one to their Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon next month).
The course starts outside TCF Bank Stadium and finishes inside the stadium on the 50 yard line, which was quite fun (similar to the Fargo Marathon finish). There is a reported 825 feet of gain, as you cross the Mississippi River four times and climb up and down the river valley. The course also included the Stone Arch Bridge, St. Anthony Main, Nicollet Island, the Broadway Avenue bridge, Mill City Museum and the Guthrie – very scenic overall.
Wasn’t really sure what kind of time I’d have for this one, since my most recent training runs have been on the slow side. When I lined up for the start (in the sunny 18F weather), there was a pacer in front of me with an 8:30/mile sign. I decided I’d try to keep up with her and ran with their group for the first two miles or so. Feeling pretty good, I decided to jump ahead of them and see if I could maintain that to the end. They almost caught me at mile nine, but I had just enough left in the tank to stay in front, finishing in 1:25:27 (searchable results). Congrats to my friend Jenn, who also ran this race for the first time and finished in 1:32:56.
Watch splits: 8:32, 8:07, 8:27, 8:31, 8:23, 8:24, 8:27, 8:34, 8:53, 8:30
The packet pick-up at Sports Authority in Roseville was a disaster (waited in line for more than an hour), but overall I thought this was a very nice event. Race day was great – they started on time, the course was beautiful (and challenging), the on-field finish line was thrilling and they had great refreshments waiting at the end. The Goldy medal was well-designed and the tech shirts seemed fine (haven’t worn mine yet).
Up next: Get in Gear 10K
It’s easier to keep moving when there is Mel-O-Glaze and Coke at the finish line
Last weekend, 75% of the Kingsbury clan headed down I-35 to the Iowa state capital for the 14th running of the IMT Des Moines Marathon. I picked this race as part of the Fifty States quest, with Iowa and South Dakota being the closest ones to Minnesota that I hadn’t knocked off yet. Combine that with a very reasonable rate at the Downtown Marriott ($130 + tax) and what I thought was a rather flat state overall, it was a no-brainer pick for marathon number 25.
The hotel turned out to be great – within walking distance of the start and finish area, no forced two night minimum and a 2pm late check-out for runners to return and shower after the race. The room was your typical downtown business hotel as far as furnishings go and the staff was very friendly. Just like most business-class hotel chains, though, they still charge extra for wireless internet and a 30-second phone call I made from the room to Colleen’s mobile phone was billed at $5.75. Ouch.
As for the race, I was disappointed with my performance (4:37:23 – 10:36 pace, 895th overall, 77 out of 106 in my age division). I could blame lots of things, but it was mainly just a lack of faster training miles during this cycle that blew it for me at the end. Turns out this part of Iowa is far from flat – the course map shows a rise of “just” 150 feet, but the hills between miles three and eight were substantial. Not Superior Hiking Trail bad, but still very trying. Ironically enough, that part of the race was also my fastest (first 10K in 55:00 for an 8:52 pace).
The weather was really cold at the start – about 35F with clear, sunny skies and a light wind that picked up substantially as the morning went on. I had packed a “cold” outfit and a “warm” outfit and completely picked the wrong items to start with. It was great before the race, but once things started, I was too hot. Colleen and MK drove to around mile 16 and I was extremely thankful they had brought part of the other outfit with them.
One of my favorite parts of this course was the loop around the famous blue oval that is home to the Drake Relays. First held in 1910, this track has hosted a who’s who of the running world: Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, Michael Johnson, Carl Lewis, Jesse Owens, Wilma Rudolph, Frank Shorter, Gwen Torrence and several hundred other Olympic athletes. My lap was probably one of the slowest ever recorded there, but it’s fun to think of Randy Wilson setting the 800m record (my high school event) on April 28, 1978 – a blazing 1:45.86!
I hit the halfway mark right at two hours and was hoping to stay in the 4:00 – 4:20 range, but I started to cramp up and had to take longer and longer walk breaks during the water stations. The sections around Waterworks Park and Grays Lake Park were not my favorite – you could see the huge loops around those areas and both felt like forever to complete (even though they were only about two miles long each). I saw Colleen and MK again around mile 25, then headed to the finish line, which was in the same spot where we started (Locust Street bridge). Running the second half 37 minutes slower than the first was just sad, but it’s over, it wasn’t my slowest marathon and it still counts as a finish.
My Garmin said I ran 26.4 miles, so I guess I took the tangents poorly. Here are the watch splits: 8:45, 8:53, 8:49, 9:01, 8:33, 9:03, 8:52, 9:05, 9:01, 9:04, 9:26, 9:34, 10:05, 10:14, 10:37, 11:56, 10:46, 11:35, 12:28, 12:01, 12:25, 12:25, 14:00, 12:08, 12:28 and 11:47. The official reported splits were: 10K – 55:00 (8:52), Half – 2:00:15 (9:11), 20 miles – 3:19:05 (9:58) and last 10K – 1:18:19. Nice food options at the end, which I also thought was organized very nicely. Still couldn’t find the family, but that my fault for not telling them where to meet ahead of time.
The expo was small, but nice. We saw our friend Kris Jessee, who ran the half in an impressive 1:43:58. You could tell this is really more of a half marathon event – there were just a couple of spots for marathon bib pick-up and a whole wall full of spots for the half. With just 1,392 people in the full, there was plenty of elbow room once we split from the half runners around mile three. The full marathon course was well supported throughout, but there weren’t a whole lot of spectators. They gave out the shirts at the expo and not at the finish (one of my minor pet peeves), but they are very nice. Cool medal design too.
The rest of trip was short, but fun. MK had a school project based on planning trips, so she practiced on this one. Based on her research, we stopped at the very cool Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden and drove by the pretty state capital building. We also hit up locally-owned Zombie Burger + Drink Lab for lunch, where I ordered the huge double “Dead Moines” burger (smoked gouda, prosciutto, ham and truffle mayo). It was great, but trust me when I say a single is more than enough. RAYGUN, the Greatest Store in the Universe, was just down the street, so we of course had to stop in and do a little shopping there.
We didn’t stick around too long after the race on Sunday, breaking our locals-only food rule with a quick stop at Noodles and Company before hitting the road back north. The road construction on I-35 once we passed back into Minnesota was completely ridiculous. MNDOT really needs to study ways to improve that whole situation. The Iowa DOT runs some pretty awesome “modern” rest stops – perhaps they can give MNDOT a call and lend a helping hand…