Sunday, September 8, 2013

Superior Sawtooth 100 + Minnesota Mile double

Last year my husband, Divesh, ran the Superior Sawtooth 100, which is actually 103++ miles, and had a great race.  At some point either before or after the race that year, I pointed out to him that the Minnesota Mile is held in Duluth on the day after Sawtooth finishes and joked that he could run both.  Sadly for me, he did, which meant that this year when *I* did Sawtooth, I had to run the mile the next day too.  After 103++ miles, you really don't need one more...or at least that's what I thought before this weekend.

Sawtooth 100 race report

My race may have ended well but it didn't start well.  About a minute before the race, with all the runners lined up at the start line, John Storkamp (the race director) gives us a quick motivational speech and then reminds us all that we were supposed to check in with race organization that morning even if we already had our race numbers.  "Did anyone forget to do that?" he asks us.  Errmmm..."Me!"  I have to yell, with everyone turning to stare.  

But things improved from there.  It was a nice morning even if it was already quite hot for 8 a.m. in northern Minnesota.  I had decided to run by heartrate, so I stuck to my prescribed beats per minute (145) nearly exactly and enjoyed a nice gentle run through the early easy-ish sections.  The heat was worrying but I stopped to dunk my head in every river we passed, and there was still the occasional bit of cloud cover at that point.

Not too far in.  Photo by Todd Rowe.

Just after Silver Bay (mile 25), the weather took a bit of an unfortunate turn.  The moderately-hot-but-sort-of-cloudy day turned into full sun, high heat, and higher humidity.  I had picked up extra water at Silver Bay to have for pouring over my head, but I still didn't have nearly enough for either drinking or dousing.  But even though the running here was uncomfortable, I was really enjoying myself.  I was feeling strong and was very proud of myself for having started at a sustainable pace.  I was also glad I had made the decision not to wear my camelback-type sack; it would have been an even hotter day if I had tried to run with something on my back.  And I was having fun meeting a few new people--one of them, a guy named Travis, and I talked for several miles going into Tettegouche (mile 35), which made that stretch much more enjoyable.  

By the time I got to Finland (mile 51), I was feeling downright good.  I had had a great segment from County Road 6 (mile 43) to Finland.  I was about a half hour ahead of my 30-hour pace plan, which gave me a nice buffer but wasn't so much that I had gone too fast in the first half.  I had been eating and drinking fairly well throughout the race except for a few isolated vomiting sessions.  And, it had just gotten dark and I was trying out my new headlamp, which it turns out is super bright and better than my old one.  Basically, everything was going as well as possible for such a hot day.

At Finland, I got the excellent morale boost of seeing Maria.  Maria had bought plane tickets to come from Denver to pace me before finding out she has a foot injury that needs another month of rest.  She, being the wonderful friend that she is, came out anyway just to stand around in the dark being bitten by mosquitoes while staying up half the night to wait on me hand and foot at aid stations.  

Divesh had an even rougher deal.  Last year he made the mistake of getting a great split time for the section between Finland and Crosby-Manitou (mile 63), so I gave him pacing duties on that section this year.  This is what I think is the hardest section of the whole course--it has the highest concentration in the known universe, or at least outside of the HURT 100 course, of giant tree roots which must be hopped--and it's certainly one of the most unpleasant.  We did pretty well on it, making good time on the first half and only slowing down when the roots got really bad.

When we made it to Crosby-Manitou around midnight, I got my second special-appearance crew member of the weekend:  Helen.  Helen, probably the most well-known and well-loved Minnesotan runner who doesn't actually live in Minnesota, came out from California.  Chris (Helen's husband) was running the 100 too but I managed to book her first and got her from Crosby-Manitou to Temperance (mile 85).  Poor Helen suffered through a rough night with me.  The humidity just kept getting worse and worse as the night went on, and it was almost as hot as it had been during the day.  My stomach was sick and it was painful trying to throw up.  Worse, I couldn't breathe because of the extreme humidity.  I kept getting panicky and telling Helen all about how I couldn't breathe, which I'm sure she enjoyed hearing 40,000 times over the course of the night.  She tried to keep my mind off the physical problems by telling me some good stories, and it was indeed nice to catch up with her since I hadn't seen her in a while, but I spent the whole night in a lot of misery and couldn't wait for the race to be over.  I've never experienced anything like that kind of humidity--it felt like being held underwater and trying desperately to get out but not being able to.  I think I was fantasizing about air conditioning for a good several hours.

At the Crosby-Manitou aid station with Maria.  Photos by Todd Rowe.

Finally, finally the humidity broke a little around 5 in the morning.  I had done so much walking overnight that I had gotten an hour behind schedule, so we didn't get to Temperance (mile 85) until 8:30.  I spent a while at the aid station there, trying to get my stomach back together and eat enough to be able to run a reasonable amount of the last 20 miles.  When I did finally get going, my legs felt surprisingly good and my stomach wasn't hurting nearly as much as it had during the night.  Running was working out well and I made it to Sawbill (mile 91) much earlier than I expected to.  Divesh paced me the last 8ish miles from Oberg (mile 96) to the end, and despite us being passed by a flying Chris and my very disloyal former pacer Helen, I was feeling good again.  A few weeks before the race I had done a 45 mile training run and I really think that was the way to go--my legs felt much stronger towards the end of this race than they ever have in a long race.  Stronger except for miles 99 to 101, that is, when I completely ran out of all energy.  No amount of Gu was helping, and we had to walk until there was long enough of a downhill that gravity managed to get me going again.  And then, just a couple of easy miles til the finish!  

The best part about Minnesota races is the people, and this one is no exception.  Sitting around the finish area talking to so many great people made all the pain worth it.  

I didn't make my 30-hour goal time, finishing in 30:55.  But on that day, with that weather, and with my legs feeling as good as they did in the last 20 miles, I'm happy enough with it.

Minnesota Mile

Unlike Sawtooth, the Minnesota Mile did get off to an auspicious start for me.  Divesh and I got back to Duluth around 8:30 Saturday night, about 6 hours after I finished, and headed out for dinner at the India Palace.  When we walked in the door, the first table of customers we saw were some of the elite milers.  We had obviously chosen well!  

I got a solid 9 hours of sleep that night and in the morning headed down to the start of the race for a warmup jog.  When I got down to the starting area, things looked like they were starting to go wrong.  I knew I was probably going to need something sugary to get my body through a fast mile at this point, but instead of eating something sweet at the house, I had decided to bring some chocolate chip cookies with me and eat them while I went to pick up my race number.  While I was getting the number, I discovered I had left the cookies in the car, which Divesh was currently parking a mile away.  I met up with Elsa, who was going to do the warmup jog with me, but I was a little nervous that if I did 20 minutes of running before the race on no sugar, I wouldn't have enough energy to even finish the race.  So in the end I decided to forego the warmup and find a coffee shop to buy something sweet; the best I could do was a biscotti with a packet of sugar dumped over it, but it was going to have to do.

I suspected that I wasn't going to be able to run much faster than a 9-minute mile, so I was in the slowest wave of the race.  I started in the middle of the pack at about 9 minute pace but quickly realized that my legs actually felt fine and that I could run much faster.  I picked it up a little but still was being pretty cautious since I had no idea what was going to happen if I pushed too hard.  My first 400 took a full 2 minutes!  From then on, I just kept speeding up and speeding up, and the faster I went, the better I felt.  I couldn't believe how much fun it was to actually run fast, as opposed to 100-mile pace.  Eventually I was going pretty much full speed with a giant grin on my face.  I may have had the most fun of anyone in the entire race, considering that racing a mile is supposed to be more about extended pain tolerance than it is about fun.  In fact, I may have had the most fun I've had in any race ever.  I crossed the finish in 6:42; my best post-high school mile time is 6:02.  Maybe there's something to this whole 103 + 1 challenge after all...