I awoke at 4, had a cup of coffee, packed the car and checked the weather: 70 degrees, 100% humidity. I was really hoping the latest surge of hot humid air wouldn't make it to the race before it was over; I needed to get in a long run, or a fast run, heck... any run over 20 minutes and I was willing to drive all day to do it.
Driving along Highway 10, I passed a jail, a drug rehab center, an old girlfriend's house and the old State Mental Hospital, all of which held bad memories for me. Lots of bad juju on that road. Going into Big Lake, Julie Berg's hometown, I scanned the radio for Black Sabbath as a tribute, but the closest I could find was Alice Cooper. Big Lake is the middle of nowhere, a nice town if you have to live in that stretch of exurb, but nowhere. And that's maybe a fourth of the way to my destination. I kept listening for songs that spoke to the day to come, but even the music is different in the "heartland," not just the politics, the sources of information or the food.
"Oink Joint Road" was one sign I'd take a picture of, if I did that sort of thing. The one for the town of Nimrod would be another. Of the towns on the way, the one I like is Staples, which has some repurposed old buildings and some maintained in the hopes of future use; there's also a lot of ugly prefab, so it'll be interesting to see what the future holds there. Poor Aldrich has dropped to only 53 residents (2000 census).
I hadn't done a search to see what kind of terrain I was going to be running, so I was looking for clues on the way. The highways run along farmland, which was originally oak savanna, but as one goes north, there's more glacial rocks and thus pastureland replaces crops; planted pines line the road. Itasca could be eastern softwoods or northern hardwoods or pine barrens or aspen parkland - it could be all of these (which was my hope). Getting closer, it appeared it was going to be mostly pine and not even my favorite White Pine, which was logged to all but extinction 100 years ago - but even white pines grow well in a century.
I pulled into the park and quickly got registered. The race director said, "You're Steve Quick!" and then realised he had nowhere to go after that, but it's nice to be recognized. Duke Rembleski showed and we discussed how it must be an easy course, given last year's times; I soon learned that this was because the first runners last year didn't do the whole course and I went out to tell Duke (who by this time was talking to a guy from the TCRC team whose name I can never remember). I went back to where there was a stack of course maps to see what the problem could be - the course map looked a little like transfer RNA.
The race director was calling people to follow him to where there was a tricky spot on the course and I wanted to go, but I was also trying to get my Garmin to lock onto satellites. When it refused and asked if I'd moved hundreds of kilometers, I mistakenly said no (habit) and it couldn't reconcile my location with my last run. I deleted the last run, shut it off, restarted it, wandered around for a while looking for a spot not in a ravine... and got a lock after 25 minutes and 3 before race time.
We got corralled to the start line and I saw Duke, TCRC guy, Kori Mortenson, a guy with a St. Cloud State team jersey. Okay, fifth place for me, maybe. I thought for a moment about the glory days when I'd show up, step into the front line and hear someone say, "oh crap," as they knew that I'd pounce on any little mistake they might make and would force them into an honest all-out race. I still had a shot at first old guy, though I spotted one I knew was fast and, though 43, looks 35.
I hate that. Fast or youthful I can take. Both? Unfair.
The director described the course. "... then you cross over the deer path to the Cross-Over Path, which leads to the Deer Path, but going the opposite way from when you started..." and other giggle-inducing confusion. I got: "single-track," "minimal maintenance trail" and "fire tower." After about 8 minutes of description, someone asked, "Is it marked?" Assured that it was, we were ready.
I intentionally started slower than I'd like, but somehow still got pulled through the first mile in 7:09. The first part is quite easy and I knew I needed to make time here, as I'd lose it on the more technical parts. There's a lot of boardwalk at the start - handicap accessible, not the two 2x6's nailed together that usually constitutes boardwalks in trail runs. The next two miles, I was passing guys who obviously went out way too hard, but I was going too fast myself and was trying to slow. We approached the start/finish line and I was waved the right direction (away from the aid station I could see) and was back in the woods without water. Missing the first aid station was not a big deal, I thought, though I was probably not properly hydrated. Almost immediately there was the first confusing intersection and a guy asked "which way?" - it was my main age-class competition - and I directed him the correct way. 25 years ago, I might not have.
The course has a little of everything and is quite scenic. There's the annoying pothole lakes that all look alike, the annoying glacial ridges that all look alike, the annoying dense woods that all looks alike (except here and there there are green metal fences to protect individual saplings, an odd thing to see in the woods). We got onto some single-track that had poison ivy about the ankles and raspberry bushes about the thighs and something that made my skin break out in hives about knee height. We got to the "minimal maintenance" section, which always means fallen trees and the guys ahead of me were vaulting them - damned show-offs. The first woman caught me, went under a tree, scraped her back and said "ow" in that tone that means "I've hurt myself, it's not serious, don't offer to help, I just want you to hear me complain," not the "ow" that means "I've hurt myself, don't just stand there, DO something!" and which sounds exactly the same to male ears. I decided to limbo under the tree belly up so I could see the scraping bits (risking disembowelment, I suppose) and did it slowly enough to exasperate a guy in blue waiting behind me. Over one tree, under one, around one - the tree trifecta.
There was a trail branching off to the right, but everyone stayed going straight, so I assumed that someone saw a marking I didn't or the adage "if in doubt, go straight" was in play. Soon, a group of eight of us were standing at an intersection we'd been at before, comparing maps. We were supposed to take the unmarked turn. We headed back and I was thinking it'd been about 8 miles since I'd had water and I needed it badly.
I was the last of 8-10 of us to hit the next aid station in a loose pack. To keep the bugs out of the cups, the guy had only put out a few at a time and there was nothing when I got there, as the others had drained them. I stood there, had 4 cups of HEED and took off again. I soon had a horrible pain in my abdomen, which turned out to be gas (and had me thinking of all the odd foods I'd eaten on my birthday the day before). In one spot, there was a cold breeze, which made me look to see if a storm was coming (blue sky) and I saw I had gooseflesh. My skin was cold and clammy and the color was off - my deep summer tan notwithstanding. Great; heat exhaustion was on the way.
I was following exasperated blue guy and later, a teenager. Exasperated blue guy was about 20 yards ahead and I kept gaining on him on each turn, as I cut the tangents. I gained on him as I bombed the downhills. I gained on him on the uphills. Yet, he remained 20 yards ahead of me, until I was tired enough he lost me. I'm not sure how that happened.
I was really in need of that next aid station. The guy in charge of that one never got out of his truck. We came back to this point, but I skipped the aid again, which was a huge mistake.
There was a lollipop out-and-back and I didn't see the first runners, so I figured they must be a very long way ahead. On the way back, I saw no one, so there wasn't going to be a race for the oldsters to worry about and I backed off some more. There was another odd intersection, with a sign pointing the way "after the fire tower," and, with a little searching, "To fire tower." I headed for the fire tower, knowing they're always on top of a nasty hill and suddenly remembering race reports from last year, which I really should've reread before the race, telling of the hill. It's a hill. Not awful, but memorable, especially late in a race. No one coming back was my age, a glance behind showed no one, so I slowed some more. At the top, there was an aid station and I asked how far to the end. "You're in the 25K? About a mile and a half, I think." Crap. Though I need about a quart of fluid, if it's only 15 minutes from the end, better to take just a bit now and load up at the end.
The next guy pointing the way said it was 2 miles. The next said 2.5. I was hoping there wouldn't be another to say it was 3. My mouth was sticky and I was very fatigued, more than just "running tired", it was heat impairment, but it was close to the end of the race. I was nearly walking even slight inclines, thinking the next guy was the teenager I'd passed and I might have to outsprint him at the end if he caught me. Then I saw familiar ground, including the boardwalks and I knew it was close. I didn't bother trying to put on a show, I just crossed the finish and headed to the aid table, where the two water jugs were... empty.
I was dizzy and about to dry heave and I needed water immediately. One of the containers felt heavier than the other and I (correctly) guessed that it held liquid, but the top wasn't loosened to let in air, so it couldn't flow. I opened it and had 12-15 (dixie) cups and had to drop to a sitting position for a bit. A walk to the race headquarter building and I could get more to drink and eat.
No one stayed for the awards. The top guys had only run 12 miles, I had done 17, one poor guy did almost a marathon. In the records, I'll be listed as the third old guy, but I was the first who actually ran all of the course (plus a bit extra).
Having come this far, I had to go to the headwaters of the Mississippi, so I got in the car and headed there. There's, of course, an interpretive center; the source of the big river is an indoor experience. I wasn't even amused.
[Here's someone else's picture of the source. No underage redhead present - I checked.]
The park is beautiful; the best parts can be seen by driving, and it would make a nice place for a road race. I needed gas and there was a sign pointing the way to the nearest station, so I went and found the pumps marked "Non-oxygenated gas: for the use in collectible vehicles, boats and farm equipment." Okay. It's not going to eat up the catalytic converter like leaded gas, but can I put it in the car? If I had slept, wasn't dehydrated, hadn't driven for several hours and run a trail race, maybe I could remember. I put in enough to get to the next station.
[No picture of the actual tree, of course.]
The trip home took longer than the trip up and I spent 25 minutes at a stop light in Clear Lake. I drank a gallon of water I had in the car. At 10 that night, I urinated for the first time all day. That was the high point of the day for me.
Oh, right, finish time.... 2:31:11. Personal worst for a 25K.