I didn't sleep well Wednesday night; for some reason, drinking boatloads of tea help my breathing (warm moist air?), but the caffeine made sleep a problem. Thursday night, I awoke at 3 AM, wheezing, and found I couldn't lay down and breathe, so I started my day (I read "Regeneration" by Pat Barker - a good book - by sunrise). Friday evening, I was coughing so hard, I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned and got out of bed half a dozen times and then saw the clock said 6 AM. So I did what anyone with asthma would do... I raced! This was not exactly planned.
I had a pot of coffee in an hour, while packing the car (I wasn't thinking clearly, so I just grabbed anything I might need). I tried to remember whether In Yan Teopa allowed race-day entries, assumed it did and didn't check the website. My wallet was empty, so I grabbed my checkbook to pay whatever the fee would be and was glad that I'd just filled the gas tank.
As I pulled out of the driveway, I had to think of how to get there. It had been three years since I'd done it. Highway 61 the whole way, except for the turn toward Frontenac. Was there construction? I vaguely recalled something being closed.
The drive down was uneventful, foggy. South of Red Wing, it becomes an unbelievably beautiful area. You just can't believe that southern Minnesota has such dramatic landscapes, but the jagged rock faces that seem to just jut out of the ground are a hint that this is a true trail race, with one memorable hill.
I hadn't seen any of my trail running friends in months, which is why I came. I hadn't seen Carl Gammon since... 2009? I talked with a number of people, assuring them that I was not planning on racing hard (and everyone said that wouldn't last through the first quarter mile); one guy seemed to be eavesdropping and it didn't hit me until later that he was sizing up the competition and saw me as someone in his age class who looked like a serious runner - that used to be me checking out the field, and not very long ago, and now it seems foreign. I didn't bother thinking about awards; I saw Jim McDonnell and John Kendrick (who's having a great year) and knew I'd have to be in shape to beat them, so there were undoubtedly more fast old guys than awards.
We headed for the start and I took off the long-sleeved shirt I'd been wearing to stay warm and tied it to a post at the start. Looking around, I was underdressed compared to most, but it was about 50 degrees and not windy or rainy, so I thought shorts and singlet was correct.
I kept moving back in the crowd and kept finding myself close to the front, as others did the same. I really wanted to start slowly. For once. Larry gave us some pre-race instructions, including to watch for the black walnuts on the path.
Okay, so the race starts
It's hard to hold back at the start of any race, but this one's downhill for the first two miles, making it almost impossible to pick a pace one can hold for the duration. The first guys were nowhere in sight after only a few seconds and the first masters were close behind them; I found myself behind the first woman (who spent most of the first mile readjusting her shorts under her tights... that's what a warm-up's for, folks) and ahead of the second woman, which is about the position I maintained the whole race. One guy came barreling down a hill past a lot of us and I said, "He'll come back;" the first woman saying she hoped so; I did catch up to him at 5 miles, but he hadn't killed himself and ran well enough to beat me. The first two miles were about 7 min./mile, which told me I'd have to consciously back off before the big hill.
In the third mile, when the course is on a mowed path in a tall grass prairie, I started having breathing problems. I was panting, so I took short choppy steps to match my breathing rate and it kept me in position. This section of the course is rolling and not very memorable, though you do see hills in the distance and you think about them a bit. It's a loop that starts and ends at the park's entry road. I started having abdominal pain, which I hoped was just gas, but it was never more than a worry. At the road, one's just before the 5 mile mark, the second aid station, and the start of the hill.
From 5 miles, it's gradually (and sometimes not-so-gradually) uphill. At 5.8 miles, the real hill begins. The course becomes rockier and less groomed. I scared a deer. One winds past the bottom of a cliff, where one first encounters some rough footing, then the path goes up to the top of the bluff, with two sections of steps. I was quite happy that I only slowed to a walk for about five steps. It was here that I got passed by the only runner I'd see between miles 4 and 8. Just past the top of the hill (6.2 miles, for those who want to keep track), is the next aid station and every time I run it, they have to point me which way to go.
About this time, I had mucus running continuously both out of my nose and down my throat, making for an uncomfortable run. I also started coughing while running (something I was not aware I did, until it had been pointed out to me at Afton the week before by Tom Burr). After that hilltop station, there's a short stretch on asphalt and I picked up my pace. Then I saw Jim McDonnell limping ahead of me. I told him to hang tough and he said he'd rebroken a metatarsal. I've been there - it hurts like hell, but there's nothing to do until you get to the end of the race, so you just keep going, knowing adrenaline will keep the pain down until you stop. I thought two things just then: 1) After I finished, I'd go back and help him out and 2) Just how many old guys were ahead now - was I suddenly in an award position?
The next couple of miles are back to rolling hills and enough turns that it's difficult to tell where you are or to see other runners. There's one stiff uphill before 8 miles and I looked back to see if anyone was gaining. Then there's a loop, just before one crosses the road at 8 miles and you can occasionally see across it to see other runners. I saw no one ahead of me, but going up the incline to the road, I could see one guy behind me.
Crossing the road, it's more rolling hills. The sumac was in bright red patches and there's enough tight turns that I brushed against weeds and picked up some seeds and burrs. Finally, one enters woods again and one knows the end is coming. The trail along the cliff top is single-track, with enough roots to keep one's attention, though, if you look to the left, one gets views of the river from 400 feet up. The rock formation for which the race is named ("In Yan Teopa" = "Rock With Opening") is about a mile from the end; you can't see it from the race course, though you pass a sign pointing to it.
I heard voices. There's a campsite nearby and a picnic area, so I didn't assume it was runners. That's when I got passed by a guy in minimalist shoes, who asked me about Afton (I was wearing last year's Afton technical shirt). He was definitely not my age and I thought about whether I should try to race him to the end. Then I wondered about who I heard him talking to earlier and decided I'd hold back a little and make a charge if a master's runner caught me. I was really falling apart. The last mile was over ten minutes. When I made the turn out of the woods (the last little hill) and got toward the parking lot, I could see the guy ahead of me and I made a half-hearted attempt to go after him. It was too big a gap too close to the end and I didn't really push.
I crossed the line in 13th place, 6th man over 40 in 1:24:56, much slower than the 1:18 I ran in 2006 and 1:14 (?) in 2003, but more than acceptable under the circumstances.
A minute later, I started coughing. Then I thought it passed and I turned to go back on the course and find Jim. Then I started coughing hard enough that I couldn't stand and dropped to my knees, taking some deep wheezing breaths. I was soon recovered enough and I went for my cool-down along the course, about 17-18 min./mile. I cheered for those coming in and, when I saw Jim, he looked fine (except the limp) and didn't need assistance, so I went down the trail to get a look at the rock.
|Photo taken from Matt Patten's blog|
Masters men: Ken Hertz 1:17:54, Joe Bissen 1:19:17, John Kendrick 1:19:18
Open women: Lisa Truax 1:20:29, Leah Popp 1:27:32, Lana Lappi 1:36:46
Masters women: Lisa Messerer 1:33:19, Lonna Simanovski 1:35:59, Lynn Saari 1:42:54
Yes, every woman's name starts with "L."