Monday, October 29, 2018

Double Trouble: Two Inaugural Loppet Races

The Red Bull Urban Portage

A few months back I heard scuttlebutt about this race and thought it sounded terrible. I’ve done a number of canoe races that involve portaging and have never found running with a canoe, or trying to run with a canoe, anything I wanted to repeat. I happened upon the registration for this event when I went to sign up for the Loopet Loppet and although I still thought it was ridiculous (about 6 miles of paddling and 4 miles of portaging), Erik and I knew we had to sign up for this event because this is what we do, albeit usually on our own and not part of a race.

We signed up just 3 weeks before the event. That’s not much time for a planner like me:) As usual, we had grand plans to get in some good paddling but then Erik got sidelined with shingles on his face. He didn’t like braving the waves with an eye that was swollen shut in our racing canoe. So we made it paddling just 3 times. We did get in some practice portaging and I found a new way to carry the canoe for which I was really glad.

Getting some training in on a flooded side channel of the Minnesota River. Here we're paddling over a ped bridge! Photo: Erik
Given I wasn’t getting much time in the boat, I devised a little extra mini workout for my forearms in our basement. This included swinging back and forth on our small set of rings and dumbbell exercises. I did this five minute workout about 6 times. We knew a bunch of our fast canoe friends were racing which lowered our expectations. They even pre-scouted the course while we decided to wait for an adventure on race day.

The course started on the west side of Cedar Lake with a half mile portage. From there we paddled to Lake of the Isles and back and then into Brownie for 5 miles of consecutive paddling before we did a 1.5 mile portage into Wirth Lake. From here the paddling and portaging sections were each much shorter as we made our way up Basset Creek. The course ended with a 0.6 mile portage to finish at the new Trailhead.

The course map for those of you who are more visually inclined. The red represents the portaging and the blue the paddling.

I wasn’t looking forward to the long portage between Brownie and Wirth Lakes:( On the flip side, given the cold temps, I was glad to be able to use my neoprene boots from my Alaska trip!

Race morning was chilly. We chatted with our friends as the Red Bull DJ in the massive Red Bull truck played subdued pump up music. Similar to ski racing, we all placed our boats in line behind the blow up Red Bull arch. With a minute to go we got into canoe portage position and waited for the airhorns to go off. Once they did everyone took off running. We had lined up in the second row so we got passed by some people but towards the end of the portage we were passing people back up.

The start under the Red Bull inflatable Arch. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
There's lots of ways to portage a canoe. Here's Josie with the usual up on the shoulder. Photo: Bruce
And Kate with the black canoe demonstrating the waist carry. I switched off between this style and the one below. Photo: Bruce

My new portaging technique- turning the canoe sideways and jamming the bottom of the boat into my neck. This works better for my short arms than up on the shoulders. We just had to make sure that our paddles were well secured. Photo: Bruce
We got a slow start on the water as I was careful to not go in deeper than my boots. Once on the water the racing canoes took off on us. We passed some SUPers and then worked on two non-racing canoes. Erik and I aren’t great canoe racers and it was frustrating at how long it took us to pass these guys who weren’t paddling in sync and J-stroking. Erik and I paddled as fast as we could but we were the slowest racing canoe by a long shot.

Some fast boats! Photo: Bruce
We're in this mix- about to pass the SUPs and about to be passed by the racing boats. Photo: Bruce

Erik started our long portage with a shot of red bull while I opted for the safer water option. We walked the beginning uphill part of the portage to the road and then began running once we got on level ground. Some guy with a fancy camera followed us across the 394 bridge and I’m hoping to get a few seconds of fame in a fancy Red Bull video one of these days!

From there the portage followed some single track in the woods. This part seemed to take forever and I thought we were never going to make it to Wirth Lake. Once we turned north on a more direct route to the lake it felt like we were getting somewhere and then we passed one of the racing boats which elevated our spirits! On that long portage we did a combination of carrying the canoe on our shoulders and at our waists. And then we were at Wirth Lake.

I was glad to have the long portage over and from here the race went really fast. Quick paddle across Wirth Lake- super short portage, short section down Basset Creek, slightly longer portage under hwy 55 and back to Basset Creek. Then we had a longer section up Basset Creek. There was an optional portage around an irrigation pipe but we found it an easy duck.

The optional portage or duck. Photo: Bruce
There was another optional portage around the rapids under Plymouth Avenue. It looked doable and the skilled Greg Zofie in a solo went up right in front of us and made it look super easy so we followed suit. We made it up without difficulty but the water was shallow and we hit rocks a few times (perhaps why I had a small crack in my paddle blade).

Not the first rodeo for my paddle so it was OK it got a bit beat up. This photo, circa 2009, shows Erik and I paddling around Manhattan! Photo: John Kaputska

Some put-ins and take-outs on the portages were rocky or muddy but all were free of underbrush. Erik and I had planned to be deliberate in these areas so as not to swamp the canoe. We were careful but efficient and barely scraped on the rocks.

As we continued up Basset Creek this was all new water for us as we hadn’t scouted. We enjoyed the challenge but not the “suck water”- the shallow water that’s less than a couple feet deep. There was another short portage around a fast section and then a final short section paddling up Basset Creek. This part was my favorite because as a bow paddler, my skills can really shine in technical upstream paddling!

Good thing we got so much rain in the past 2 weeks so we were able to paddle more of Basset Creek than portage.

Then we had one last 0.6 mile portage back to the Trailhead. We took off running but once we had to climb the big hill, we just walked. We figured we’re about as fast walking as running anyway. Once we crested the hill we started running again and ran fast all the way to the inflatable Red Bull Finish arch.

My GPS clocked the course at 9.71 miles and we completed this in 2 hours and 7 minutes. We finished 14/28 doubles boats but were closer in time to the winners than the last boat. We ran less than 3 miles back to the start (and not the most direct way either) to pick up our car.

I’m not sure we’ll do this one again, but just in case it’s a one and done we’re glad to have given this Red Bull Urban Portage thing a try.

We also couldn’t help but think of all the ways this course could be made even more challenging...making the portage longer and hillier, paddling up the culvert and weir on Basset Creek under the hwy 55 bridge or starting the whole event on Minnehaha Creek with an upstream paddle, portage into Lake Harriet, portage into Bde Maka Ska and then Chain of Lakes and follow with the remainder of the course.

The Red Bull DJ truck. Photo: Bruce

The Loopet Loppet

Doesn’t everyone want to know how far they can go on foot in one day?

I entered the solo 12 hour category of the Loopet Loppet just 4 weeks before the event. My initial plan was to go the farthest I’ve ever gone on foot in a day- or at least 30 miles. I’m not exactly sure how far I’ve gone in a day before but it’s either in a road marathon or hiking rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon.

As the race neared, I began to get more competitive and started thinking about really pushing up into the 30s...or wouldn’t it be awesome to hit 40 miles!!!

I didn’t train specifically for the ultra. I also didn’t taper and did some hard workouts two and three days before the race. I was mostly going to use it as a long training day with the plan to run for the first 15 miles or so (including a fast lap) and then walk/pole hike/bound the uphills thereafter and once I got tired I would just walk. I hoped that by mixing up the race with running, walking, and using poles that I could prevent any kind of injury.

As the name implies, the course involved a 5 mile course at Theodore Wirth, weaving in and out of the forested parts of the 18 hole golf course on the mountain bike trails. This meant every 5 miles I could easily assess whether to keep going.

Race day was cool and windy but sunny and dry. Most of the day temps were in the upper 30s with a high in the low 40s.

As planned, we arrived to the 7:00 am start just in time to pick up our bibs, pin our bibs on, and stow our gear. I opted to go without a headlight seeing as it would be totally light within 30 minutes of the start and only the last 30 minutes of the day would be dark and I thought I’d probably finish a bit early anyway. I was a bit surprised that everyone (or at least everyone I was around) took off running. Granted, we were running slow. I was happy to tuck in behind a couple girls with headlamps as it was quite dark in the woods even though the sky was getting light blue and pink. These girls seemed pretty legit. They both worse tight fitting camelbacks. I didn’t carry any drinks or food with me. Part of my strategy was to take nice breaks every 5 miles. These girls were talking about how they trained with the loppet ultra running club and that they had to keep reminding themselves this was much longer than the Birkie Trail Marathon. I was a bit frustrated when they used speed walking up the hills and didn’t run all out on the downhills. But I tried to be patient and tell myself that I was in this for the long haul! With about a mile to go in the loop I passed those girls and started running a bit faster- but mostly I just ran my comfortable 9 minute mile pace and faster on the downhills.

Erik still running early on in the day. Photo: Loppet Foundation

I completed my first loop in 57 minutes and then took some time to switch jackets, drink water, and go to the bathroom. My strategy, or rather lack thereof, was to run a fast second lap around threshold pace. The reasons for this included wanting to get in some threshold work, hopefully stave off some muscle pain by varying my technique/speed, and after I ran my first lap slow, to treat myself. Usually I wouldn't consider a threshold run as treating myself but with trail running there is terrain to “work” per se (banked corners, rollers) and so my second lap was the lap to do that. And that’s what I did and it felt good and I hit just under 48 minutes.

My next transition was quick- another couple glasses of water and then I took off with a cookie in each hand. My friend John joined me for this lap. This was a “run easy” lap although John had done one less lap than me at that point and hadn’t ran the last one hard so mostly I was running at my comfortable pace. It was fun talking with my friend but about half way through the lap he was going faster than I wanted so I let him go. Shortly after that, I fell. I was in a new section of trail with some rollers. I kept wanting to land just on the down-slopping side of the roller but I’m not very agile and so I think I landed on the up-slopping side and just couldn’t adjust. Oh well. By the end of the third lap my left knee was having the patellofemoral pain problem again. It was time to grab my poles.

This time in transition I took time to put on sunscreen, my new Loopet Loop (aka buff race swag) as a hat for sun protection since I hadn’t brought one, and then for some dumb reason I was getting warm and decided I should switch into just a long sleeve wicking shirt on top. I took off with my poles, doing a bit of bounding but mostly just walking and froze. Each loop had 3 sections connected by an out-and-back trail and the first section was full on exposed to the wind while the second and third sections were very well sheltered. So every lap I was either fine or cold on the first section and then warmed up later on. Halfway through this loop Erik caught up with me. He was still running so I started running, too, albeit quite slowly by now. By using my poles a lot on the downhills, my knee pain actually went away by the end of the loop.

The awesome aid station that included a grill and cook stove! Photo: Loppet Foundation

After that fourth lap (20 miles down) we took a break inside. I ate some chicken noodle soup and a couple cookies. Erik and I headed out together on the next loop and planned to mostly just walk. Unfortunately my right hamstring started to hurt immediately. This hadn’t happened before and I wondered if sitting with my legs propped up on another chair caused this. It bummed me out because I could tell we both had this idea of 40 in our heads since it was still early in the day. Actually, Erik talked about doing 42 miles since a running marathon is 42 kilometers although there is no logic with that. And then he wondered what we should call the 42 mile distance. We never did solve that one. (the confused sucker distance?)

Erik and I split a chicken hot dog and I drank some thick hot chocolate (so much better thick than thin!) before we did our sixth lap with Allie and Kevin who were each doing the solo 12 hour category as well. Only they are much better ultra runners than ourselves and so they were doing their seventh lap. Mostly we walked fast but occasionally I did a bit of running (mostly to catch up with the guys who can walk faster than me). This was the last lap I had any spring.

Our friend Emily came to pace us for our seventh lap. By now I was having a lot of pain behind both of my knees in the lower hamstring and upper calves. I’d never had this pain before and I was struggling to keep any kind of walking pace. I was so grateful for my poles and probably would have quit many miles earlier if I didn’t have my poles. “If only this were a 12 hour pull-up contest,” I lamented. The cookies and tasty soup Emily had brought were getting me through this lap. I surely wasn’t going to end the day too calorie deprived and made full use of the aid station! Erik really liked the pancakes. We chatted with Emily and this made the time go by faster.

Erik, Emily, and I finishing up our 7th lap. I was dressed pretty goofy- but I needed the jacket on the windy section of the course and there weren't any prizes for best (or worst) dressed:) Photo: Loppet Foundation

I ate a couple bites of grilled cheese before we headed out on our eighth loop. Emily had to go and so it was just Erik and I. Erik could tell I was in pain (he was faring much better) and suggested maybe I should call it quits. Nope, today was one of those mind-is-stronger-than-the-body-days. The first bit was always the hardest and after the first few steps the pain behind my knees subsided just a tad. I loved the uphill sections where I could really use my poles and upper body to get me up but the downhill parts were torturous. I didn’t hurt anywhere else. I don’t know why I thought I shouldn’t be in pain after 35 miles. We spent a mile with Erik playing his game of trying to get me to figure something out (in this case, why there is no #36, my Loopet Loppet number, in basketball). The pain behind my knees never let up and nothing else ever hurt.

Now we were at 40 miles and had just 35 minutes left. The loop was shortened to 1 mile at this point and after a pickle and quick stop in the bathroom, I was off to get in one more mile. For some reason, I had renewed energy for this one mile loop. Maybe because the end was really finally in sight, maybe because I was pushing daylight and wanted to finish while I could still see, maybe it was because I was about to get third place, although I thought briefly those 2 girls I had started with were coming up on me but they really had 10 miles on me. I was able to run downhill without any extra pain but I think it was just the endorphins.

The prizes were carved pumpkins that said "1st," "2nd," or "3rd" place. Pretty nifty prize as it gave the relays team something to do while waiting and since they are decompose no one has to add them to their trophy shelf! Photo: Loppet Foundation

Officially I finished with 41 miles although the loop clocked .1 miles extra so for my personal record (plus my trips to the bathroom) I’m going to say 42 miles. While that’s pocket change in the ultra world, it’s a solid 14 miles or so farther than I’ve ever gone before in one day and not bad considering I didn’t do any specific training or tapering.

While the loop did start to get boring, especially the new rougher part of the trail, it was nice to have a full service aid station and access to my drop bag every 5 miles. It made logistics easy- for the racers, spectators, crew, volunteers and organizers. Nice and simple. Although at the end of the day, even though I put 40+ miles on my legs, I went absolutely nowhere:)

Maybe next year I'll be part of a relay team like Team Tutto. They were always lapping me so fast. Maybe if I'd only gone half as far I could be running that fast! Photo: Loppet Foundation

After I stood and sat around at the finish, I made the most pathetic walk over to our car. I kept almost falling until I realized I needed to straighten my knees. For some reason I was upset that I hurt. In redemption, I didn’t use any body glide and had zero blisters or chaffing. And I did make it out for an hour rollerski the next day.

I’m not sure Red Bull sponsored the crazier of the two new loppet events:)

Next up: a 12 hour pull-up contest!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome report!

    The canoe race looked great, and yes, portaging can be fun...