I probably shouldn't have registered for this race, coming as it does just two weeks after running Wild Duluth 100K. I registered for it impulsively after getting an email telling me that the cost of registration was about to increase. At the time I had no idea how beat up I was going to feel after Wild Duluth: if I had, there is no way I would have registered. Maybe the 50K, but not the 50M.
Still, I'm a sucker for October races; it is easily my favorite time of the year for running. Plus, I love doing any race when I can wake up in my own bed, run an ultra, and get back home in time for an evening with the family. So, despite some serious misgivings I got up at 4AM and made the drive out to Burnsville.
My goal was to run sub 10 hours. I knew that this is a relatively fast course, despite the rolling hills provided over the first 5 miles of each 17 mile loop. Plus I ran a 10:07 last year despite some serious foot injury that occurred around mile 40. What I didn't know is if my legs would be recovered enough for me to hold on to the required pace for the entire course. My plan was to run the first loop in 3:20, just fast enough to give me a shot at meeting my goal time, but not too fast that it would burn me out. After that, I would see how my legs felt, either trying to hang on for the 10 hour mark, or slow it down and enjoy the day on the trails.
Things started well. I got through the first hilly section right on pace and picked it up a little bit in the following flat section. I was going a little too fast and slowed it down, intentionally taking more time than needed at the aid stations, and walking even the run-able hills. After the last aid station of the loop, I started getting some pain in my foot in the exact same place I got injured last year. What the what? Was this psycosomatic? Did my brain remember how much I hurt in this section last year, and start sending my phantom signals? Or was this a real overuse injury in the making? After my injury here last year, I couldn't run for six weeks. I did not want to go through that again. I was thinking the smart thing to do would be to just run the 25K and call it a day.
However, I remembered the two things I learned from Wild Duluth. Don't give in when going through a bad spell, and bring your own ibuprofen. Plus, my legs were still feeling pretty good, so I decided to take some vitamin I, and do at least one more loop and see how things were going at that time. I got out of the start/lap/finish aid station at 3:17, just about perfect. As I started heading back through the hills on the second loop my foot was not happy an I was wondering about the wisdom of my decision. Once I finished the hills however, the ibuprofen had kicked in and I was starting to run comfortably again, and at a good pace. Because I didn't spend nearly as much time at the aid stations the second loop, I was to complete it in 3:12.
Still on pace for a sub 10 hour finish, my legs were still feeling good, and my foot problems had been beaten back, I never even considered not doing a third lap. Also, since I was no longer worried about my legs holding up, I pushed through the hills a little harder this time, getting through them faster than either of the first two loops. It was around this point that I started to experience a little of that elusive feeling known as the runner's high. I felt as if my head were filled with helium, just floating above the trail: connected to my body by a string, but barely aware of how hard my body was working.
I usually don't run fast or far enough for the endorphin rush that causes these feelings. In ultras I run too slow, and when I'm going fast enough it is only in shorter runs. I enjoyed the feelings of well being and positivity, but became concerned of the inevitable crash. I tried to zero in on a pace that would allow me to keep feeling good, but avoid a burnout. Fortunately, I found this pace and glided through the final in loop in 3:06 and finished in 9 hours and 36 minutes.
It was a great day for running, and really enjoyed the less technical terrain that allowed me to run most of the way. The volunteers were awesome and the aid stations well stocked. It really is a great way to end the season. I did hear some people had missed some turns, got lost, and did some extra distance. This led to some griping by those involved, but really, I had no problems and am not sure where the confusion occurred.