Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Two weeks of racing

In winter I'm pretty used to racing almost every weekend.  In the summer I try to space things out a bit more, but the last couple weekends have had a couple big events for me.  Here's what I've been up to.

Ragnar 8/16-17:  I know a few people who are just getting in to running and were struggling for motivation to keep with it over the winter.  Since I didn't have any good advice (I don't run at all in the winter if I can help it) I went to my fallback motivation plan, put a race on the schedule.  I ran on a Ragnar team a couple years ago and one of the things I liked best about the race was how runners of different fitness and ability levels could all race together on a team and all feel proud about how they and their teammates raced.  So I signed up and started to get runners together.  If you read Rob's blog post he had a pretty good description of what the race entails and how our team did.  I'll give you a short recount of how things went for van #1.  
The day before the race Jeff and I decided to have a contest to see who could pass the most teams during our legs.  I was the very first runner for our team and since I was ahead of the other 20 or so teams that started at 9:30 with us right from the line I did not count them in my total.  I worked hard to try to catch a team from the next wave 1/2 hour ahead, but while I had a couple of them in sight by the time I reached the exchange zone 8 miles was not a long enough leg for me to actually catch any.  I did my 13 push-ups and hopped in the van to head to the next exchange.  The other runners in my van passed a steady stream of teams as the day began to heat up.  We handed off to the other van early in the afternoon and went to find a late lunch.
Jeff sent me a message before my second leg that he had passed 31 runners during his first run, so I knew I had my work cut out for me.  I started my second leg at about 8:30 PM and charged off into the setting sun.  I set a fast pace and about a mile in decided that maybe a hamburger and cheese curds was not the best meal option a couple hours before my second run of the day.  It was a very picturesque run, with a gorgeous sunset over the Mississippi river and a string of blinking runners along the road ahead.  I passed 31 runners, enough to even the score with Jeff, and handed off just as darkness was starting to settle in. We drove ahead to a rest stop a bit up the road to cheer on our next runner and I struggled through my 41 push-ups.
I was not as diligent as Rob about getting good sleep, so when I started my 3rd leg at 5 AM, but it was a cool 55 degrees out, perfect running weather, so I took off, headlight bobbing, chasing after the blinking tail lights ahead of me.  There were some trail sections where I definitely had to keep my speed in check a little and could only keep the headlight on the trail right in front of me.  Then I got out of the woods, the sun cracked the horizon and navigation became much easier.  I passed 24 runners and came into the exchange zone... and my team wasn't there.  What, where was van, where was the runner I was supposed to hand off to?  Well, I didn't have to wait long, a couple minutes later she came sprinting up to the line.  The van had gotten a bit lost trying to find the exchange and got there just a little behind schedule.  I handed off and did my 36 push-ups then grabbed one of the super chocolatey cookies I had in the van for when I was done running.  Once our van was done we made some french toast and eggs and then went to see our team finish and to celebrate a race well run.  Total miles run = 19.  Total pushups = 90.

Ngede Challenge 8/24:  I really like unique races, and the Ngede challenge certainly fits that description.  It is a 50km, 4 leg race near my hometown of Amery, WI.  The race includes a 10k road run, 10k mountain bike, 25k road bike, and 5k trail run and can be done as an individual or a relay team.  It is a very small race (14 racers/teams this year I think), but there is some good competition at the front.
I set a strong pace for the road run but was still only the third person to the bike transition.  My friend Erik was about 3 minutes ahead of me, but I'm a better biker than him, so I was hoping I could close the gap.  I was using a cyclocross bike for both the mountain and road bike segments because it is the fastest bike I have, and it would let me skip a transition.
The mountain bike and trail run were on the Balsam Branch Ski Trails, where I learned to ski.  They are really great trails and I know them well and ski them whenever I am back in the area.  That all makes it that much more embarrassing that I took a wrong turn and ended up adding about 5k extra onto the mountain bike leg.  Part of me knew right away when I made the turn that it wasn't right, it wasn't that I was lost or anything, I just somehow convinced myself that I was going the right way.  I eventually got things straightened out and went to work passing people and making up ground on the racers ahead.
The road bike was an out and back, so by the turn around I could tell how many people were ahead of me and by how much.  It turns out most of the racers ahead of me were relay racers and so not directly my competition.  My friend Erik was leading the individual category and I was in 3rd with second place just ahead of me.  Erik had broken a chain on his cyclocross bike so was doing the road bike on a far too small mountain bike.  This made for an amusing sight and also gave me a bit of hope that I might still be able to catch him.  I moved up into second place, but by the time I got to the run transition I still saw no signs of Erik and knew I wouldn't gain back time on him in the running leg.  Third place was not too far behind though, so I pushed as hard as I felt comfortable with after having been out for a bit over 2 hours already. I caught a couple of relay teams and held on to my 2nd place finish.  This is the 3rd year this race has been run and I won the first two, so it was sad to have my streak end, but it will make next years race that much more exciting.

After that effort I was pretty sluggish on Sunday morning's rollerski (the heat probably didn't help either), so now it is time for a couple easy days to let the body recover and the temperatures to hopefully drop a bit.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ragnar Relay

A few weeks ago Craig Cardinal asked me if I'd like to join a Ragnar relay team he was putting together. If you aren't familiar with Ragnar, its a 12 person, 200 mile relay from Winona to Minneapolis. I promptly signed on, I'm always up for racing and I've been interested in Ragnar for a while, as someone who typically runs alone, the idea of running on a team is intriguing, plus I've been trying to get some long night runs in before the superior trail race in a couple weeks.

I asked a couple friends who had previously run Ragnar for advice and pretty much everyone told me that the secret to Ragnar is sleep. Get enough sleep during the race and the second and third legs will go
well, forget to sleep, and you'll suffer. Because of that advice, I was careful not to forget my sleeping bag and pillow - which made a huge difference in the race.

Before the race, the skiers on the team all decided to take on an extra challenge; do pushups at the end of each leg we ran, one pushup for every kilometer you've run, and one pushup for for every person you pass on the road. I also tried to convince my van to work on track and field style moving exchanges of the baton - I could only get one person (Jeff)  interested in the rapid exchanges, but when we got it to work, it was really effective, and one of my favorite moments of the race was
hearing other teams at the 2nd exchange "did you see that? that looked like a 4x400, that was ridiculous"

Craig gives us an early lead.
Craig gave me leg 9 (which also meant 21 and 33) so I was a part of van 2 and didn't actually start running until mid afternoon. To be part of the team, we went down to the start and cheered for van 1 at the start (we left at 9:30) and got to see Craig run a very exciting first leg, winning the wave and nearly catching some runners who started at 9:00am.

By the time I started my first leg, our team was running about 20 minutes ahead of schedule. I started out at around 4:40pm on an 8km leg that was considered short but hard, rolling hills for the first three km, followed by a 125 meter climb over about two km, then an even bigger descent down over the same distance and a turn onto a bigger road and a slight downhill for the remaining 1500 meters to the finish. I always find it a little tricky to understand a trail from a description like that, so I translated it into a trail I know a lot better, thats roughly the same as one lap at battle creek, with one hill flattened out.

I got the hand off from Mark, who had a nice strong finish passing a woman in the final 50 meters. That prompted some trash talking from her team mate of the "I'm just going to pass you right back" variety - so I was motivated to make him eat those words and went out fairly hard to put some distance on the guy. I'd caught another two people before the start of the climb but the teams seemed pretty spaced out at that point. I didn't see anyone else until made the final turn and had a good view of the road ahead, where I saw a couple teams about half way to the exchange. Being able to see the exchange, I turned on the gas and managed to catch one more runner before handing off to Jeff with a lot of runners in view. My first leg talley was 8 kilometers, 3 people passed, for 11 pushups, and I never saw the guy who was trash talking in the exchange zone. Seemed like a reasonable start to me.
Leg 7, Jeff and I join Ryan up a tough hill climb.

The second leg I ran started at about 2am and was a rolling 16 kilometer course. I again started out and caught two people pretty quickly, before seeing no one on the empty country roads at night. The second leg was my weakest, due partly to the large (not fully digested) spaghetti dinner we'd had a few hours previously. Everyone had been making better time than we expected so I got the hand off about 2 hours ahead of schedule. I caught a few runners early on, but it was difficult to stay focused on moving fast in the dark. I went another 10 km or so before I saw any more runners but there were a lot of other teams on the road cheering, which was quite nice. As the lights of hudson started to be visible in the sky, I started catching more runners, typically in groups of two or three, and by the time I handed off to Jeff, I had managed to catch 10 runners for a total of 16km and 10 runners, for 26 pushups. It was then about 3am, and I'd only had a 30 minute nap after dinner, so I thought of my friends advice and promptly went to sleep in the back of the van.

The last leg was the second to last in the race. We shuffled around the order of runners in Van 2 for the final run, so that people who were hurting could run easier legs. I ended up with an 11km section from
downtown saint paul to just past the ford bridge, which included a nice long gradual hill climb. Jeff ran setup for me and handed off to me with lots of runners in view. I caught about 13 runners on the hill
while ripping off some of my fastest splits of the race. I slowed down a little at the top, but still kept up a respectable pace and caught another 8 runners for a total of 21, plus 11km for 33 pushups. I'll be
honest, I was tired for those pushups, and the last few did not come easy.

Hopping in the van after my last leg, I met our last runner Anna (and Jeff, who was running with her) 2km down the road and jogged with them into the finish. We were far enough ahead of schedule that Van 1 was still eating waffles in south Saint Paul, they joined us eventually and we enjoyed the sunshine and free beer.

The runners of Van 2:
Mark, Ryan, Anna, Rob, Jeff, Christina

I really enjoyed ragnar. Running with people and having a team to cheer for was a lot of fun (which is also something I really enjoy about skiing with Vakava), and having that many teams out on the course meant there was always someone cheering you on. I was surprised at how hard the race was, although I ran fewer miles than a full marathon, my legs felt much more tired at the end, as a result of running the equivalent of 3 short, hard races in 24 hours.

Our final place was 41st overall, 20th in the mixed, non-ultra category. Our total time was 27:59:05., my next race is the sawtooth 100 and my new goal is to run my first solo 100 miler under our teams Ragnar time.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Vacation Training

While having a lovely roller ski out at Afton this morning, I was telling fellow teammate, Rob Edman, about the day being a nice end to a big training week. I had put in a big week with plenty of intervals because I could (actually had the time!) and because I felt well rested after having done very little the week before while on vacation up north on the Gunflint Trail. Rob asked what my philosophy was on training while on vacation and if I tried to keep my regular schedule or if I thought taking a week off was not an issue. My philosophy is to just enjoy the vacation and not worry about training if I don’t feel like it. I always do at least a couple workouts, usually at the end of it, because I actually start to miss it and just feel like getting out and doing something to get my heart rate up and endorphins flowing. But I don’t fret over getting anything specific in. I figure that I do this for fun and if it starts feeling like a job or making life stressful, then something is wrong. While on vacation I had done plenty of easy hiking and paddling, but I wouldn’t call any of that training. I did do a couple actual workouts at the end of the week, one was just an easy pole hike and the other was some hill running intervals. I had packed a few things that I might want to do a strength workout with, but never really felt like doing one so I didn’t. I came back mentally and physically refreshed and psyched to get back at it and I think that’s how it should be.