"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Monday, April 27, 2009

2009 Chippewa Moraine 50K race report

The Chippewa race is on an out-and-back course. As the first half and second half were very different for me this year, I'm going to write about them in different ways, sort of a left brain/right brain thing.

It's impossible to avoid comparing this year's weather to last year's freak blizzard. There wouldn't be snow, but rain was possible, and the temperature could be anywhere from 40-60 degrees, making it impossible to plan clothing. I just stuffed the trunk of my car with every item of clothing I could imagine and planned to decide at the race start, by seeing what others were doing. This year Bryan Erickson and I were going in my car (new tires, transmission, fuel line, primary and secondary electrical. Nothing left to fail) and we were missing having Keith Krone this time around. Without snow and having been there before, I opted for a late start (5AM) and of course made a wrong turn, which Bryan corrected after convincing me I was wrong, but not after seeing miniature horses, turkeys, pheasants, and a hawk (Cooper's, I think).

We arrived at 7:58 for a 8:00 start. I dropped Bryan off (nearly taking out Andy Holak in the process [Take that, front runners!]), parked and ran into the Interpretive Center just as they were asking everyone to head to the start line. I had to wear what I had on! I stripped off some excess and found I was going to be the one guy not in a technical tee.

No time for hellos, we were off and running. A quarter mile in, I passed Helen Lavin and said to her I shouldn't be that far up front - yes, the understatement of the year. According to Matt Patten's video, I was in 16th place at 2 miles and those ahead of me were a Who's Who of local ultrarunning! I rolled an ankle at 2 miles and again at 3, where Helen repassed me, the same ankle I blew out about the same time last year, so I backed down a bit.

I ran a few miles with Eric Skytte, who I hadn't met before and who's entered in the Fab 5 series. I joked that, being in the same age class, when he passed me, I'd have to kick him in the knee (for the record, I resisted the temptation). Bruce Smith was just behind us, having his typical good race, though he will be forever known as the one who fell in the water last year. We talked mostly about the race, me remarking, like everyone else, that the footing was surprisingly technical - it had been hidden by snow last year. Occasionally, I'd see a patch of white and think 'snow', but it was always a fallen birch.

I slowed a bit again and Nic Giebler caught me. I've taken a bit of enjoyment from reading the endless taunting he gets from his friend (Glaven) on his blog, which was added to by Helen and then by me. He deserves none of it; he's a great guy (and by beating Helen, I think he was the first woman. See? Teasing him's irresistible!) He asked about what I was reading and I didn't really feel like talking about most of it, so I mentioned the latest was the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. I mention it, because the subject returned later. I took an extra long step to avoid a tree root and a fallen branch and felt my right gracilis muscle tear again, right at the groin. I experimented with different ways of running to see what didn't hurt and was left with shuffling baby steps. I hung with him long enough for him to see me almost take a swim off the side of a bridge, but by 12 miles, I dropped from 9.5 minutes/mile to 10.5. By the turnaround, that would seem like sprinting. I really should've stopped at the portable toilet at the 10 mile mark... I thought there'd be one at the turnaround.

I was passed by a long string of runners in the next few miles, including Dick Bjork, who I ran with in high school (Dick, Andy Scobbie and I, same track team, now running ultras in the woods; this must be unprecedented). There was a 5-6" diameter birch fallen across the path and, not being able to step over it any more, I stepped on it - and it broke, really surprising me, but without incident. I also was passed by Scott Turi, who I met at my local library; we stopped for a photograph - we put our arms around each other and posed - completely taking Bryan, the photographer, aback.

The course is very scenic, but much of it is so similar - 50 foot ridges between half-acre ponds - that it seems to be without landmarks, except the aid stations. Toward the turnaround, though, there's more moss, more wildflowers (I counted 11 kinds: Dutchman's Breeches I knew. The rest I didn't. Thanks to Lisa Messerer, I know two others were hepatica and bloodroot). There were also a lot more fallen trees and the terrain gets iffier. And there's a fence to climb. And there's two-way traffic as the leaders return. Leading the way for those returning was John Storkamp, who loves to run from the front; then Andy Holak, who was keeping contact and sizing John up; then Chris Gardner, who runs as smooth as silk, but not usually at this pace. Any of maybe six runners had a shot of winning at that point.

I hit the turnaround and Matt said, "You know, you don't have to do every 50K in 5 hours!" I assured him that, though I hit half-way in 2:35, I was already reduced to 12 minutes/mile. I was more than disappointed there was no port-a-potty; I was in need. I traded banter with Julie Berg and Donny Clark and started the second half.

The Dark Knight of the Soul

(Yes, I'm referencing both Batman and St. John of the Cross. Deal with it.)

I entered the woods with the resignation of a man headed to the gallows. My steps were just barely skimming the earth, making every twig an obstacle. The changed gait made my right knee ache and, eventually, the complete soles of both feet were burning. A branch hit me in the eye. This might get ugly.

A parade of women passed, going the other way. I saw one and thought, "Wow. She's gorgeous; I'll have to find out who she is. Oh, and her, too. And her!" This was the hottest group of women ever to run an ultra. Either Wynn set up the race just as an excuse to bring them in, or I really need to start dating seriously again. Then it hit me: It'd been a year since Lori died and I'd forgotten the anniversary. And I wasn't as sad or as guilty as I expected to be, so maybe I am ready.

Oh. Right. I have a race to run. If 14 minutes/mile is running.

"Everybody saying we gotta take a chance and telling me what the hell went wrong. We only listen to the words we sing." - Rancid, "Last One to Die"

Port-a-potty! Long break, then 30 yards, "Do I have to go AGAIN?" Trudge on.

Saw a filly capering. Imagined it saying, "Momma! Look! Look! Over there!" And her, just munching away, saying, "It's just a person."

Came up with the plot for a movie: A couple wed, each thinking the other has money. Then, finding out they were wrong, both take out life insurance policies and race to take each other out.

What if, in the fusion of cuisines, one combined traditions, but not ingredients?

More of the same for hours.

I thought about General Grant entering the Wilderness, slowed by 115000 soldiers and their supplies, trying to get horses and artillery through woods like this. On the third day of battle, the woods caught fire and the wounded suffocated or burned alive [my day could be worse]. How would one deal with a fire here? Those who survived the Hinckley fire stayed in the river, but here, the smoke would fill the low spots. Start a back burn, like they did at Mann Gulch and try to outrun the fire up a ridge? No, book it to a road and hope someone spots you. Gotta get to the next road, the next aid station.

Five miles from the end, you can hear the finish. Three miles from the end, you can see the port-a-potties at the end (No thanks. I'm empty now.) I hit 29 miles and thought, "Wow. No falls!" Then, down I went, stopped from a 40 ft. drop by brambles. I had to lift myself using just my left arm, as I banged the still broken wrist. [bet you'd forgotten by now I broke my wrist weeks ago]

About 1/2-1 mile from the end, you can see the finish, but there's a surprise waiting. A guy passed me and I asked if he was in his 40's (I was still thinking of places!), but he wasn't. We got to the final stretch, a long steep uphill to the finish line, the hardest hill on the course by far and a glance back showed another runner gaining. No way in hell I'm getting passed now! I sped up the hill, repassing the previous guy and finished.

I'm the only one who took longer this year than last year. 6:18. Personal worst.


I was still ahead of a lot of runners, so I got to cheer in Bryan and Kel Doyle, who finished her first ultra, and Bill Pomerenke, Jesse Price and Dan Mattimiro, who are all planning on "shooting the moon" in the Fab 5. Congrats, everyone.

On the ride home, somehow the phrase "new number" came up and I said there hadn't been a new number since Georg Cantor; I love having an audience who got that. Bryan quoted Richard Feynman saying that physics is to math as sex is to masturbation; my response: "More expensive? Has worse accidents?" Chicken cannibalism and the world's smallest pharmacist also got mentions. Life was getting back to normal again. My kind of normal.


wildknits said...

Now I want to know what the other 8 flowers were!!!

Granted, I only ran just past Plummer Road (which is where I spied the bloodroot), hepatica was everywhere. But what were the other flowers???

May have to sit you down at the Superior Races with my field guides... ;->

Lisa (aka wildknits)

Zach said...

Nice job Steve. So you were slower than last year, did you run a 100 mile and 50k in the 2 weeks leading up to last year?? See you at Superior?

Matthew Patten said...

Did you catch my comment on the video coming down the hill?

"Steve... you made it"

I figured you bagged it at the last minute when I didn't see you.

I was impressed with your finish on the hill. When we saw you crossing the field, I figured we had a lot of time before I would see you at the top (as most runners took).

That is why your picture is from the back. I was heckling people on the other side.

I am impressed you did all 3 without needing medical assistance.

You have 2 weeks to heal.

Matthew Patten said...

by the way,

It took me quite a long time to find the right car crash sound to fit that video of you I have at the end.

You are hard to shop for.

Londell said...

I have no clue how you recall so much of a race and do such a great job in descriptive analysis... But I like reading it! Congrats, I would say there are few who could have accomplished what you have in three consecutive weekends and still have the energy to write about it.

Kel said...

Great job Steve, especially given your self imposed race schedule.

And yes, 14 minute miles still count as running for some of us over this distance ;)

Wayne said...

Nice job, Steve.

And yeah, I cringed when I got to this part: "If 14 minutes/mile is running." ouch.


Helen said...

Nice work Steve. Great report - a compelling read as always and you are right on about the first woman to finish :)

SteveQ said...

Wayne and Kel, I knew there'd be some backlash on that comment. I have walked 13 minute miles for a few hours, so that's where my mind was. And, if it helps any, I did slow to 16-17 minutes per mile by the end.

nwgdc said...

Helen just couldn't resist, could she...
It was great to share some miles with you, and I agree with Londell...how do you remember so much, in such detail? Especially after noting how the trail lacked a lot of landmarks--trail, hill, lake, repeated 15 miles over.

SteveQ said...

Londell and Nic - check again and you'll see there's really no detail except interior monologue. Given that I have no visual memory (partly why I don't bother with pictures), I have to register details in other ways, which seem to make for a good story.

Joel said...


THanks for the correct name spellings

SteveQ said...

Oh, Lisa - I'm starting to think some of the flowers I saw were just color variations of each other, though there was one bizarre one that looked like tiny yellow popcorn.

wildknits said...

"tiny yellow popcorn...", "no visual memory..." Think we need a run together to look at stuff - though I am with Wayne and Kel - you may be walking and I may be running.

And off I will go to the field guides when I get home from work at 8:30 pm to figure out what may be blooming that fits that description (other than bird's foot trefoil).

Hepatica comes in both white and purple so that may account for two of the flowers (they were everywhere). Saw leaves of anemone and (I think) virginia waterleaf, as well as pyrola species. I think the stretch from Plummer Lake Rd to the turn around must have been rich with wildflowers. Will need to check it out sometime!

Helen said...

I also loved your comment to Nic about the triathletes - I was looking at Bryan's photos and it was easy to spot who they were :)

Beth said...

Loved your race report. You have a lot to think about over 50K, no wonder you have so many races. You need time to think! Great job!

Jean said...

Steve, you have run longer in three races this month than I have ALL month! :) Absolutely incredible. Very nice job, and I hope you are resting and recovering well. Continued success with your racing season!

keith said...

Aw...for the record, I missed being there, too. I was running a 5 (no zero behind it) K with the kid I am mentoring. We did 12:45 minute miles. Maybe I am not such a good motivator after all.

Hope to see you at the next race...