Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Switching It Up: A Trail Running Race

Last fall I ran a 27 kilometer road race. I really liked this distance and wanted to do another race of this length but there aren’t many on the road. And that was OK with me because over the past couple years I’ve had some great PRs on the road and I was looking to switch it up this year.

Erik was running Boston Marathon and so I started looking for a spring 25 km as I likely would be doing some training with him. I set my sights on the Maple Syrup Fun Run on May 5th held at the River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. This race is a favorite of my fellow Vakava teammate Craig and his Northfield crew. The winner of each race (there is also a 5 km, 10 km, and 50 km) takes home maple syrup. Moreover, Craig told me he thought I could win the 25 km!

Training was derailed by getting sick and further dampened by some left patellofemoral pain that reared its ugly head after the Birkie. Since I made it almost the first 33 years of my life without this problem I hoped I would be immune to it, but apparently not. By the end of March I made it through an 11 mile run without being sore the next day.

Training progressed nicely over the next couple weeks as I did some threshold workouts with Erik and covered good miles- in between the snow storms:)

Then it was time for Erik’s Boston Marathon. I went to spectate. We were fortunate to fly out before the “snowpocalypse.” As I usually do when going anywhere new, I found a great 10 mile running route that included 4 parks with 2 of them having extensive trails. And by trails I mean nice dirt trails that were dry (while home was getting buried in 1.5 feet of snow). I also chose a pretty hilly route and unfortunately the patellofemoral pain returned.

Undeterred by either the knee pain or the “epic” Boston Marathon conditions (upper 30s, windy, and rainy), I continued with my cheering plan of running 7 miles out to Heartbreak Hill and back to cheer on Erik. I sure was glad to have brought my ski jacket. I knew Erik’s planned paced and had signed up for both text alerts and B.A.A App so I had a pretty good idea of when Erik would get to Heartbreak Hill. Since I didn’t want to stand in the rain for very long waiting for him, I only gave myself about 5 minutes to spare. This was a bit dicey given the terrain was much hillier than I imagined and had to hold my phone in my hand to hear Google Directions (Boston is typical New England where the roads are anything but straight and instead converged in the multiple town centers I ran through).

Once I got to Heartbreak Hill I checked my phone, confirmed I hadn’t missed Erik yet, and waited for him while I tried not to get hypothermia. I was super excited when I saw him and while I didn’t know for sure if I was going to do this or not- I ended up running up Heartbreak Hill on the side street next to the course. I figured this was the best way to cheer for longer and get me warm (I had thoughts of checking myself into the Medical Tent but I’m not quite sure that’s kosher for spectators). Because the spectators weren’t out in full force, Erik and I could see each other going up almost the entire hill. It surely got my heart rate up at Erik’s pace!

Then I continued back to Erik’s cousin’s house where we were staying, climbing some epic hills. My knee really started hurting on the last big downhill but fortunately walking a tad, and then stopping under an awning during a deluge, eased up the pain to a minor annoyance.

The purple circle on the elevation profile is Heartbreak Hill. It pales in comparison to a couple of the other hills I ran that day. Just in case anyone out there is complaining about Heartbreak Hill, you should thank the Boston Marathon for not putting in a much bigger hill into the race as there is plenty of terrain in the Boston area!

After running 24.5 miles in 2 days, once back in Minnesota I backed off my running. We did a fun paddle down Minnehaha Creek and then I did a running shuttle back to the car- only I went the “long” way around Lake Nokomis and included 3 x 1 km as fast as I could go.

Paddling down the Minnehaha Creek through south Minneapolis on April 21st. Photo: Erik

Taking our packraft over the still semi-frozen Lake Hiawatha. Photo: Erik

Then it was time for one last hard workout: 11 miles w/ 8 x 1 mile at threshold pace with only 1 minute in between of easy running. My goal pace was 7:30 and when I realized this amassed to a full hour of threshold I wasn’t sure I could make it, but I was about to try anyway. I had done 45 minutes at this pace just a couple weeks before.

The workout started well for the first 3 miles of threshold. Then the short breaks got to me as well as a set of stairs on mile 4 and my pace dropped to 7:45 average and I was getting really hot (it was a warm afternoon). At that point I decided to bail on the workout. I gave myself a longer rest time (a bit over 3 minutes) and planned to stop to get water at Minnehaha Falls Park. I figured the fastest way to get to water was to do another mile interval, so I did and hit goal pace again at 7:32. Then I got my water (it was from a drinking fountain that likely had just been turned on because it was nasty) and then did one more mile interval which was quite slow at 7:50 pace. So instead of 8 x 1 mile at 7:30 pace w/ 1 minute rest I ended up with 6 x 1 mile at about 7:35 pace but w/ lots of rest before the last one.

It’s always a bit of a let down to not make my goal workout. That being said, I knew it was aggressive and had I backed off to 8 minute mile pace I most certainly would have been able to complete the whole thing. This didn’t make me feel very confident heading into the race but then a couple days before I ran 7 miles easy in an hour (albeit on flat ground) which works out to 8:32 pace. Given this, my goal pace for the race was 8:15 minutes per mile.

Despite a 7 am start, temps for the race were already in the 50s and it was sunny! I guess we are less than 2 months away from the summer solstice. The 25 km and 50 km races started together. We started and I tried not to run with Craig and Erik and let them drift ahead along with one other 25 km guy and a couple 50 km guys. After half a mile that lead pack was out of sight and now I had to pay attention to the markings at trail intersections! My pacing was good until we started climbing a small hill a mile in and that got my heart rate up. A mile or so later there was a bit of a tricky downhill with some loose rock. I try to run these downhills pretty aggressively but this one was a bit gnarly so I did a sideways gallop until I felt confident to just run all out with what I call reckless abandon.

The course consisted of 3 loops. Each loop had a small section in common and then both the second and third loops had different short out-and-back sections.

One of 2 ridges over the Straight River. So pretty. Photo Gaylon Murray

By the end of my first loop, I was a bit disappointed that my left knee was hurting again with the patellofemoral pain. I was only 5 miles in but I guess with the downhills this was inevitable. Otherwise I felt great. There was one guy who was following just behind me the whole first lap but no other women in sight. I took a long chug from my water bottle at the lap and then started running again. The guy who had been just behind me was now just in front of me. We kept running at a decent pace and it was fun to see Erik and Craig on the out-and-back section. There was also a long tunnel on the second lap. Nearing the end of the second lap I was really starting to get tired. My legs didn’t have great spring and I was breathing harder than I wanted. I guess I must’ve not paced appropriately and started out too fast. The good news was either my knee stopped hurting or else I stopped paying it any attention.

Erik emerging from the tunnel! Photo: Gaylon Murray
This is the guy I ran with throughout the race. This was on our second lap when I was trailing him. We were throwing down a bit under sub-8 mile here which did me in. Photo: Gaylon Murray
Craig, who crushed the men's 25 km field, cheers for Erik in one of the out-and-back sections. Photo: Gaylon Murray

The course wasn’t terribly hilly but there were still some hills and by this point I walked up the big hill up from the river. I came through 10 miles at 1:25 and was beat! I chugged more water at the lap. My stomach didn’t feel like taking on food so I grabbed the gel I had and tucked it down my shorts. The guy I had been running with was still right with me and I said something about being a bit sad to already be so tired. He seemed to be in the same boat as me and so we started talking. And we talked the whole last lap which made my effort so much easier and made the race so much more fun. I was also surprised when I was still hitting 8:30 pace at times because my body felt really really tired and we were talking. I was quite sure the other women were very far behind me and after climbing the big hill about a half mile from the finish my legs were dead so I was happy to just run in easy still talking. It was my first ever running race victory- albeit among a small field; and at such a low-key race I can’t find the results.

Running and talking on the last lap with that gel stuffed down my shorts. Photo: Gaylon Murray
My time ended up being 2:15 for an average pace of 8:38. I wish I could have run a bit faster but hadn’t done that many long runs and perhaps that in combination with the hills were too much for me? I’m thinking about doing the Trail Loppet in the fall and thinking maybe I should get in some more training on hilly trails before then.