I awakened Saturday morning with my eyes swelled shut and thought "I hope the pollen count's lower up in Carlton." (It was.) I was up before the alarm and puttered around, packing and repacking things I should've taken care of the previous night - well, it was 3 AM, so earlier the same night. I was wondering if my body was healed well enough to race 50 miles - make that run 50 miles - but I needed to "get back on the horse." Three weeks earlier, I was sure I would never race again and had spent a day in the hospital from an "incident" at the Afton race.
I had driven about 35 miles when I realized that I'd forgotten my wallet and would need to buy gas, so I drove back home and started again, speeding and worried. I was still one of the first to arrive. One of the first people I saw was Fat Rabbit (yes, he goes by Fat Rabbit and I don't know anyone who knows his "real" name); he's one of those people who just make these races feel right.
I got to say hi to a lot of people and was surprised by the number of last minute entries, many of whom were quite fast. Only a few who had signed up didn't show, including my pre-race favorite, Steve Schuder. It was by far the largest field in the event's history, which is a mixed blessing; it's good financially for the race, but the race is quickly losing its small-town feel (like the Nerstrand Half-Marathon has).
I started off in a pack that included April Cole, Julie Berg, Helen Lavin and Doug Hansel (who I didn't actually meet until after the race; he won the Superior 100 in 2003). Good company! I hadn't seen April since this same race last year, when we ran the first half together, talking about things that most wouldn't [It's a good story, but not for here]; I congratulated her on her win at the Pine Line Marathon and she was soon ahead of me. I was annoying everyone, including myself, with a heart rate monitor whose alarm kept sounding - doctor's orders, until I sort out some things. I was springing over the roots and rocks easily, thinking both how much better I am at technical than last year and how much harder it would be on the way back.
Julie and I were getting passed by a bunch of people, but she was running smart, with Leadville only a few weeks away. It's actually the first time we've run together for more than 2-3 minutes! When we got to an aid station, a woman wished me luck and Julie commented that everyone knows me... I almost broke out laughing, as EVERYONE knows Julie and this particular woman was my cousin. Julie was aiming for a time of 10:25 - she always beats her previous time - but I was hoping for more. I left her as I flew down a downhill, but not before she alerted me that the guy running the other way (Larry?) had just finished Hardrock.
One of the things I was doing in this race was trying to figure out what I could carry at Superior and what I should do with drop bags. Yes, as was pointed out by very many people, I brought a water bottle this year and carried my homemade goo, which I think will work for 24-36 hours. The race was going smoothly and I was trying not to worry about not seeing trail markers, as last year I worried about it a lot needlessly; I saw a runner ahead of me and heard others behind me, so I was okay. Wrong! We made a serious wrong turn, almost 2 miles extra. As I tried to get back on course, I was running much faster than I should've; there'd be hours to make up the extra 15-20 minutes, but instinct had me running too hard.
The next couple of hours was just me answering people who asked "What are you doing back here?" and trying to pass on the single-track. I've never felt like much of a trail runner, but I couldn't help making comparisons and I am definitely more skilled than the back-of-the-packers. I caught Carl just before the power lines and thought I should just run the race with him (if you don't want to spend more time with Carl, there's something wrong with you. He's really that nice.)
On the power lines, there were packs of runners, unlike my experience last year closer to the front and the other runners made running them impossible. You can't pass, as erosion has left deep ruts on either side of a one-foot path (hidden by weeds as well), you just have to walk as slowly as everyone else and ask to pass them at the top of each hill. They seemed much easier than I remembered; then again, I was still fresh and the return trip would be hotter and harder.
Three hours in, I could tell that the year's races had taken their toll. I didn't have problems with energy or soreness, I just didn't want to be there any more. There are bad patches in any race, but this was not just a bad patch. Mentally, I was somewhere far away, where I didn't have to run hard to have a good time. I did get to meet a few people I knew only as names.
I was slowing intentionally and thinking about quitting at the half-way mark. I wasn't recovered from Afton... or FANS... and barely recovered from the Superior 50K. Then, as happens when your mind wanders, I rolled an ankle. Right one, for a change. Not a problem. I now tried to find interesting people to run with. I'll have to look up the name of one guy, who I sheepishly told the story of my year so far; he said, "Steve, if I leave you behind, you should stop. Not at the turn-around. Not at the next aid station. Here. Sit down on the road." He left me behind. Oddly, I recaught him when going even slower later; he must've camped at an aid station.
Not much to say about the next section, as I ran it with a guy who didn't want to talk, didn't want to run beside me, didn't want to pass, just wanted to focus on my back, I guess. Wouldn't tell me his name.
Just before the turn-around, I got caught by a bunch of people, including Zach, who kept me from making yet another wrong turn and Kami, who got me to laugh at myself. I hope I get to talk to her sometime when I'm actually in a good mood; she must think terrible things about me. She was teasing me about my gloom-and-doom attitude and, when she stopped to take a picture, I called back, "Kami, get back up here! I have mean things to say to you!" She called my bluff and rejoined me. I have no mean things to say about her.
I spent a long time at the turn-around, debating whether or not to continue. I could've walked back; in fact, I convinced Pete Anderson half an hour later to do just that. I started up the hill coming out of the turn-around and came back. Twice.
Then I officially dropped out. First DNF since 1981 (I looked it up).
I stayed at the turn-around, trying to cheer on the other runners and be helpful to the volunteers, if possible. I talked with a woman, whose husband, Steve was running. Julie's husband is Steve. Kami's husband is Steve. It was a popular name for a while!
Jon Drew gave me a ride back to the start after waiting for his wife, E., the last person to make the 1:00 cut-off. The seat belt in the truck was definitely set for her! The view of the river from Highway 23 was almost worth dropping out just to see. Jon dropped me off just before the finish clock and said, "Run through the finish!" So I did. I can now say I crossed the line at Voyageur at 6:42, just over the course-record.
Both the men's and women's races were exciting and interesting. Helen Lavin, with an almost ludicrous amount of mud and blood "war paint," won by a small margin over Rochelle Wirth and a woman from California, who both collapsed at the finish, within yards of each other. Joe Ziegenfuss, running a very smart race (as always), won after Wynn Davis wilted once again [Wynn, after so much talk about running even splits, you hit the half-way mark in 3:14!]. Chris Gardner was second, Erik Kaitala and John Storkamp were side-by side for third and fourth; it's worth noting that these three were all late entries.
Added note: Be sure to check out Wynn's description of the race. I was working with some bad information.
My favorite quote was from Lynn Saari: "I saw your drop bag and thought, I wonder what Steve brought that I could eat." You'll never know...
Added note: The best quote actually was at the turn-around, where a woman holding a baby was volunteering. She asked a runner if she could get him anything and he said "You know, I could really use a baby right now."
Steve gets on his high horse and has a hissy fit
Next post, I'm going to try to stop some bad trends in ultrarunners' behavior.