Sunday, July 22, 2018

Race Report: 2018 Vermont 100

On July 21st, I attempted the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Race.  I didn't finish.  This is one of the five oldest 100 miles trail runs in the United States.   I needed a Western States qualifier, and I chose this one because it’s run mostly on jeep roads and horse trails.  It’s hilly, but my understanding was that it’s not technical.

When I entered this race, I was still only running about once a week.  I didn’t know if I could be in shape to run 100 miles, but this seemed like a fairly walkable course.  The time limit is 30 hours.  I figured if I could walk 100 miles in 24 hours at FANS, I could probably walk 100 hilly miles in 30 hours.  If necessary, I could do just enough running to keep myself on pace.

By the end of June, I was not only capable of walking 100 miles, but I was back to running every other day.  After a strong performance at the Manitoba Marathon, I was much more confident that I was in good enough shape to run a significant percentage of the race.  I was also getting more confident that I could do so without injuring my back.

Three weeks before the race, I started to experience some inflammation in my left leg, where my hamstring meets my pelvis.  I had done two fairly aggressive walking workouts that day.  After the second one, I suddenly had discomfort just walking around the house.  I wasn’t sure if it was a partial tear or just tendonitis, but I took it pretty seriously.

I was already as well-trained as I was going to be, so there was no good reason why I couldn’t cut back in my training.  I took three days off, and iced it a few times a day.  When I no longer felt discomfort doing day-to-day activities, I went for a walk at a slower than usual pace.  I felt OK for the first five miles, but then I felt a little bit of soreness.  The next day, I went for a run.  I was able to go farther before feeling any discomfort, but I still felt a little soreness toward the end of my run.

After two more days off, I felt like I was back to normal, but I continued to train cautiously.  At this point, I was doing just enough training to lose conditioning.  I limited myself to one workout per day, at most, and continued to take rest days.

I was feeling like I was back to normal and got more confident that I’d be OK for the race.  Then, after two weeks of really holding back in my walking, I did a brisk walk on a hilly route.  I felt some discomfort during my walk, and continued to feel sore later in the day.  That was just six days before the race.

After that, I did only one workout in the next five days.  Going into the race, I was a little worried about losing conditioning, but I was much more worried that I wasn’t sufficiently healed.  I felt OK running at a moderate pace and walking at a cautious pace, but I didn’t know if I could walk at a brisk pace.  I also didn’t know how it would hold up over 100 miles of hills.

That forced me to abandon my original pacing plan.  If I couldn’t walk at a fast pace, I had to do more running to maintain a fast enough pace.  Walking 100 miles in 30 hours would be fairly easy if it was flat, but this race is hilly.  I knew I’d be slow on the steeper hills, so I had to compensate for that.  I was still afraid to do too much downhill running, so my new plan was to walk the downhill sections and do a run/walk mix on the uphill sections.

The Vermont 100 is run on private land in eastern Vermont, starting and finishing at Silver Hill Meadow in West Windsor.  The closest major airports are Burlington, VT and Manchester, NH.  There aren’t any direct flights from Minneapolis to either of these cities, so getting there involved two flight segments, plus some driving.

I needed to be at Silver Hill Meadow by Friday afternoon for check-in and a mandatory pre-race briefing.  I knew I couldn’t get there on time if I flew out on Friday, so I flew to Manchester on Thursday and drove to White River Junction, which is about 20 miles from Silver Hill Meadow.  I could have found closer lodging, but I stayed at the Hampton Inn in White River Junction, so I could stick with a familiar hotel chain.  I didn’t want to risk any unpleasant surprises.

After checking in at Hampton Inn, I had dinner in town.  Then I tried to get to bed as early as I could.  I didn’t sleep well that night, which is a shame, since it was my only chance to get a full night’s sleep.

Friday morning, I slept in as late as I could.  That turned out to be 5:45.  I had breakfast at the hotel.  Then I drove to Silver Hill Meadow to pick up my race packet and do my pre-race medical check.  The medical check included a pre-race weigh-in wearing the same gear I planned to use for the race.

This race also includes a 100 mile horse riding race.  The courses are different, but they have quite a bit of overlap.  While I was at the meadow, I saw several of the horses in the camping area.

When I was done checking in for the race, I drove back to White River Junction to drop off my race packet and change into street clothes.  Then I drove just across the river into West Lebanon, NH, where I discovered this lasagna pizza at Ziggy’s Pizza.

I didn’t have a crew, so I had to rely on drop bags for any gear I needed to pick up or drop off during the race.  There were seven different aid stations where you could have a drop bag.  Of these, the Camp 10 Bear aid station was the only aid station that we would visit twice during the race.  We would visit it at 47 miles and again at 69.4 miles.  I didn’t know how far I would get before dark, but having my drop bag here gave me some flexibility.  By the time I finished 47 miles, I would have a good idea whether I needed to pick up my headlamp on the first pass or could wait until the second pass.

After lunch, I organized my race gear and packed my drop bag.  I had a couple hours to explore White River Junction.  Then I drove back to Silver Hill Meadow for a mandatory pre-race briefing.  I could have saved a trip by waiting until the afternoon to do packet pickup, but I wanted to get familiar with the route.  In the morning, I would have to find my way in the dark.  I couldn’t count on using my phone for directions, because cell reception in this area is spotty, and it might direct me along class IV roads that we were advised not to use.  After driving there twice in daylight, I was pretty sure I could find my way in the dark.

When I got to Silver Hill Meadow, I dropped off my bag.  Then I went to the big tent for the pre-race briefing.  In addition to the usual stuff, we were given some advice about sharing the trails with horses.

During the briefing, the race director mentioned that we would be getting some rain during the night.  That caught me by surprise.  A week before the race, when I started watching the forecast, I saw a chance of rain during the night.  As it got closer to race day, it seemed like the rain risk went away.  The last time I checked the forecast I was only paying attention to the high and low temperatures.  I didn’t think to check the nighttime forecast for rain.  Oops.

I immediately regretted that I didn’t put a jacket or rain poncho in my drop bag.  I certainly could have.  I brought them, and I had plenty of room in my bag.  By now, it was too late.  I had already turned in my bag, and my rain poncho and Tyvek jacket were both at the hotel.

After the briefing, there was a pre-race dinner.  It was a pretty good meal.  They had at least four types of pasta, a few salads, rolls, bread, and cookies.  They also had water and lemonade, but you had to bring your own cup or bottle.  This is a cupless race, and that includes the dinner.  After the dinner, I drove back to the hotel and discovered a baggie with half of my electrolyte pills.  That was supposed to be in my drop bag.  Instead, I had to keep them in my fanny pack.  Fortunately, they don’t take up much space.

After reviewing the forecast, I couldn’t ignore the risk of rain Saturday night.  I had two options.  I could tie a Tyvek jacket around my waist, or I could try to stuff a plastic rain poncho into my fanny pack, which was already full.  In either case, I could eventually put it in my drop bag, but not until my first pass through Camp 10 Bear, which would take several hours.

After verifying the rain poncho would fit in the fanny pack, I tried to get to sleep as early as I could.  I slept well for about four and a half hours.  That’s more than I expected.  I actually felt more alert than I did on Friday.

The race started at 4:00 AM, and I needed to check in at the start by 3:45.  I usually allow an hour to get ready in the morning, and I had to allow time for the drive.  I set my alarm for 2:00, but I was awake at 1:00, so I started getting ready.

I had time to fix a cup of tea and reheat a slice of my leftover pizza.  Then I checked the weather forecast again.  The forecast high for race day was 82 degrees.  The early morning temperature only 56 degrees, so I could look forward to several hours of comfortable running before it got hot.  It now seemed certain it would rain during the night, but it was hard to predict when it would start.  It seemed unlikely it would start before 4 AM.  That gave me 24 hours to finish before it started raining.  Originally, I just wanted to finish within the 30 hour time limit.  Now I was strongly motivated to finish within 24 hours, which was an ambitious goal.  I needed to do much more running than I originally planned.

I had two reasons to be concerned about the rain.  First, I was planning to wear the same clothes and shoes for the entire race, so I dressed for the afternoon heat.  I expected to get cold during the night, when the temperature dropped back into the 50s.  My plastic rain poncho was the only extra layer I could add, and it wouldn’t cover my arms and legs.  If we got a soaking rain, I’d almost certainly get hypothermic.  I struggle with those conditions when I’m running.  I don’t generate as much heat when I’m walking.

I was also concerned about running in the dark on muddy trails. After talking to runners who have done this race in rainy years, I got the impression that the course really degrades when it’s wet.

I had no trouble driving to the start in the dark.  I already knew every turn.  I got there at 3:00 and was able to park close to the start.  After checking in, I relaxed in my car until 3:30.  Then I made a bathroom stop and filling my bottle.

My fanny pack was so full, I could barely get it on.  In addition to the rain poncho, I had my car keys, room card, electrolyte pills, camera, and flashlight.  I’d be using the flashlight for the first hour of the race, but I had to have room to put in back in my fanny pack.

As the race started, we ran downhill for the first mile.  I ran this whole section.  I would have been more comfortable walking it, but I wanted to stay with the main pack of runners in the early miles.

We eventually left the road to make a sharp right turn onto a dirt trail.  The course was well marked, but I could easily have missed this turn in the dark if I was by myself.  That’s why I wanted to be in a thick pack until there was enough natural light to see.

I could see some rocks in the trail, so I ran cautiously and kept my light focused on the ground right in front of me.  When we reached a trail section without any rocks, I turned off my light.  There was enough light from the runners around me that I could still see.

Each time we reached an uphill section, the people ahead of me started walking.  When they walked, I walked.  When they resumed running, I did too.  As a result, I was running all the downhill section and walking all the uphill sections.  That’s almost the opposite of what I planned, but it was the path of least resistance.  I training to walk both uphill and downhill, but I only trained to run uphill. I was worried that the downhill running might beat up my quads, but I was maintaining a good pace, running downhill and power-walking uphill.

By 5:00, there was enough natural light to see the whole road, so I stuffed my flashlight back into my fanny pack.

I had to run seven miles before reaching the first of 25 aid stations.  After that, they were never more than five miles apart, and they were sometimes much closer.  There was a place at this aid station where we could drop off our flashlights or headlamps.  I didn’t like having that the excess weight in my fanny pack, but if I dropped it off, I wouldn’t be able to use it later in the race.  I kept it with me as an insurance policy, in case I misjudged my pacing and didn’t reach Camp 10 Bear for the second time until after dark.

I didn’t want to carry too much weight, so I wore a fuel belt that holds only one water bottle.  Early in the race, that was enough to get me from one aid station to the next. When it got hot, my plan was to drink at each aid station and then top off my bottle before leaving.

One of my big concerns before the race was my recent tendon injury.  It was feeling OK, but I didn’t know how it would hold up over 100 miles. If it wasn’t healed, that could easily become a problem that could end my race.  In the first mile or two, I felt some tightness in my left hamstring and some mild soreness in my left glute, but no pain at the connection point.  The soreness went away as I got warmed up, so I was able to walk at a fairly brisk pace.

Most of the aid stations just had water and a sports drink called Base.  I filled my bottle with Base at every aid stations.  The large aid stations also had food.  At each of these aid stations, I ate a PBJ.

The horses started later than we did.  We were about two and a half hours into the race when the first horses caught up to us.  The fastest ones passed us so quickly, that I couldn’t get a clear picture.

Most of the course seemed remote, but we sometimes went past farms and houses on residential roads.   At 15 miles, went through a town and got our first real crowd support.  Then we crossed the Taftsville covered bridge.

We turned to followed a road which gave up great views of  this river.

Throughout the day we were passed by more horses.  Most of the riders were in groups of three or four.

For the first 25 miles, the majority of the course was on dirt roads that looked like this.

Some of trail sections were fairly runnable, but some of them had rocks.  Going uphill, I walked at the best pace I could manage, but some of these sections were steep.  Going downhill, I had to run cautiously.  Where there were rocks, I had to walk.

At the tops of the climbs we were sometimes rewarded with views of the surrounding hills.

I reached 25 miles in less than five hours.  I was averaging 12 minutes per mile, which put me on pace for a 20 hour finish.  I was worried I was going too fast and would pay for it later.  I was also worried about how much downhill running I was doing.  My legs weren’t conditioned for that, and I was concerned I was probably beating up my quads.  I was maintaining such a fast pace only because I felt it was important to finish within 24 hours to stay ahead of the rain.

I talked to another runner who has done this race before.  I commented that it seemed like there was twice as much downhill as uphill.  It wasn’t just me.  He also felt like the course was much easier than he remembered.  I later learned that the first 25 miles was the easiest part of the course.

After that, we encountered more trail sections, and they became more technical. 
We started a climb that went on and on.  I was able to maintain a brisk pace on most of it, but after so much climbing, I knew there would eventually be a long steep descent.  There was.  The descent was surprisingly steep, over a series of grassy hillsides.  For the first time, I passed one of the horses.  On uphill or flat terrain, the horses were faster.  The horses don’t like steep descents, so they tend to be slower than runners on these sections.

Running down these hills was uncomfortable.  I couldn’t run them freely, so I was constantly putting on the brakes to control my speed.  If I didn’t trash my quads earlier, I certainly did here.  I should have walked down the hills, but it was uncomfortable trying to walk downhill through the tall grass.

When I reached the next aid station, they said we were done with 30 miles.  I checked my watch.  My pace over the last five miles was about 13 minutes per mile.  That was still faster than the pace I needed to finish in 24 hours, but I was concerned about the damage I did to my quads.  I also knew I would slow down in the afternoon heat.  I was already getting hot and sweaty, even though it was only a little after 10:00.  Leaving that aid station, we followed a paved road for a few minutes before entering the next trail section.  I walked this, so I could take the time to eat a PBJ.

The next section of trail was uphill. It was so steep, I couldn’t walk it fast.  Until now, I always passed people going uphill. Now, others were passing me.  This climb went on and on and on.  It must have been at least a mile, and it was all steep.  This section wore me out, and I never recovered from it.

When we eventually got onto road again, I could no longer run all of the downhill sections.  Even when the slope was gradual, I had to take walking breaks, because my quads got sore.

There was another long uphill section, but this one was on road.  I tried to walk briskly, but quickly got tired and had to slow to a casual walking pace.  After the long hill and another uncomfortable descent, I crossed another covered bridge, which led me into the next aid station.

At the Lincoln Covered Bridge aid station, they handed me a wet cloth.  My head was covered with sweat, so I took off my hat and sunglasses and wiped away the sweat.  Before leaving the aid station I ate some pickle slices and a potato wedge covered with salt.

The sign at the aid station said I was done with 39.2 miles.  I thought it said the next one was at 41 miles, but I misread the sign.  It actually said it was 4.1 miles to the next aid station.

I was getting thirsty.  Thinking it was only two miles to the next aid station, I drank more.  In the next two miles I drained my bottle.  I didn’t know it, but I still had two miles to go before the next aid station.

I could no longer run.  Now I was walking both uphill and downhill.  I could no longer power walk either.  All I could do was walk at a casual pace.  Walking downhill was now painful.

During this stretch, I had to face several painful realities.  I still had almost 60 miles to go.  Now that I was reduced to a casual walking pace, it would take me another 20 hours.  Every mile was going to be painful.  I still had enough time to finish within the time limit, but I might have to walk in the rain for as much as five hours.  If that happened, I would surely get hypothermic.

You can tolerate a lot of discomfort if you’re motivated.  At FANS, I had a burning desire to get my Centurion badge.  I no longer had a burning desire to finish this race.  This race was a stepping stone toward eventually running the Western States 100.  For the past year, I’ve had serious doubts about whether I could train for Western States without reinjuring my back, but I wanted to keep my options open.  Now I also had serious doubts about whether I could ever finish that race.  It’s much more difficult than this one, and this one was kicking my ass.  I suddenly had serious doubts about whether I still wanted to do Western States.  There are a lot of races I want to do, and I can’t do all of them.  Having a Western States qualifier in my schedule each year makes me skip other races.  I had an epiphany and realized it just wasn’t worth it any more.  It’s time for me to accept my limits and focus on the races I’m good at.

There was one other thought on my mind.  At the pre-race dinner, I bumped into a runner I know who has done this race 27 times.  When I asked him if he had any advice, he said, “Have fun.”  At this point in the race, I wasn’t having any fun.  It was now just a long painful ordeal.

I was ready to quit, but I had to get to one of the major aid stations.  The next major aid station was Camp 10 Bear, which was at 47 miles.

Before that, I had get to Lillians aid station.  This section was mostly road, but it was still agonizingly slow and painful.  It seemed like it took forever.  When I got there, I ate a piece of watermelon and started eating a popsicle as I left the aid station.  I still had 3.7 miles to get to Camp 10 Bear.  As I left Lillians, there was a brief section alongside a highway.  It was flat, and I started talking to another runner as we both walking along the road.  Then we got onto a section of dirt road, which was also fairly flat.  As we were talking, I almost made a wrong turn.  I didn’t notice the trail marker showing where to leave the road.  Fortunately, I was with another runner who was paying more attention.

The trail was extremely well marked.  If you missed a turn, it’s because you weren’t paying attention.  At every turn, they had yellow disks with arrows.  Sometimes, they also had chalk arrows on the road.  Between the turns, there were yellow disks with the letter “C.”  These were confidence markers to let you know you were still on the right trail.

After a long section of flat roads, I started to feel more comfortable. I felt like I might be recovering.  Then we entered another trail section.  At first it was downhill, and I started to run it.  After a few steps, I thought better of that and switched to walking.  Then I started up a long steep hill.  Other runners were walking up the hill at a casual pace.  I couldn’t even do that.  Everyone was passing me.  This section was single track, so I had to keep stepping off the trail to let people pass.  That section removed any doubt about what the rest of the race would be like.  I was out of gas.

Normally, if I’m considering dropping from a race, I’ll try to make it as far as I can.  Camp 10 Bear was the best place to stop, because my drop bag was there, but I’d be going though there again at 69.4 miles. Normally, I’d keep going until I got there for the second time.  Just getting there from Lincoln Cover Bridge seemed like a death march.  I just couldn’t imagine dragging myself through another 22.4 slow painful miles when I knew I’d be dropping later anyway.  I also preferred stopping in the afternoon.  By the time I got back there again it would be well after dark.

The last two miles before Camp 10 Bear were on dirt roads.  I had no way of knowing if I was getting close to the aid station, so the road seemed to go on and on.

Before one of the last turns, I saw what looked like a trail marker, but it was pointed at a funny angle.  Were we supposed to turn right?  I saw runners ahead of me who were going straight.  A runner at the intersection turned back toward me and asked me if we were supposed to turn here.  I said, “I think so.  I see a trail marker.”  She missed that marker, but looking down the road to her right, she saw one of the confidence markers.

She knew the two runners who went straight and yelled their names.  No answer.  They were already out of sight around a bend.  I yelled, “You missed a turn” as loud as I could.  It was so loud I could hear my voice echo through the meadow.  They heard me and yelled, “Thanks.”  They had to backtrack for about a quarter mile, but that’s better than going miles out of their way before discovering they were off course.  That could really ruin your day.

Camp 10 Bear is by far the largest of the aid stations.  As I got close, I saw a bunch of parked cars.  When I got there, I checked in and asked where the drop bags were.  After retrieving my drop bag, I told one of the volunteers I was dropping out, and I gave her my race bib.  That’s the protocol.  They need to know that you’re no longer on the trail, so they don’t have to search for you when you’re overdue to check in at the next aid station.

It took me 10½ hours to finish 47 miles.  Technically, I was still on pace for a 24 hour finish.  In reality, it would take me close to 18 hours to do 53 more miles at the pace I was now walking.  I had enough time, but I just couldn’t see putting myself through that many hours of pain, and quite frankly, I was afraid of getting caught in a cold rain during the night.

They had a shuttle to take runners or pacers to the other major aid stations or the start/finish area.  Near the food table, I saw they were grilling burgers and brats.  While I was waiting for the next shuttle, I had a burger.  I couldn’t imagine eating anything that filling during a race, but now it was post-race food, and it really hit the spot.

After I got back to the start/finish area, I drove back to the hotel.  By the time I showered and changed clothes, it was already dinner time, and I was hungry again.  I still had leftover pizza, so I didn’t have to go out.

I slept well Saturday night.  I slept in and didn’t get up until 8:00.  When I went down to breakfast, I saw that it was beginning to rain lightly.  That was around 8:30.  I don’t know if there were periods of rain during the night.  If not, I might have been able to finish before the rain started.  If I had known that, I might have continued, but it still would have meant 18 slow painful hours of walking, and I still would have been cold during the night.  It’s easy to second-guess your decisions after the fact.

I made several mistakes before this race that led to my failure to finish.  My first mistake was underestimating the difficulty of this course.  I was expecting most of it to be on dirt roads.  I thought the trail sections would have a surface similar to the roads.  I wasn’t expecting anything technical, and I wasn’t expecting hills that were so steep.  My second mistake was overestimating my own preparedness for this race.  I’ve had some good results running, but those were in road races.  I wasn’t prepared to run on trails, and I wasn’t prepared to do a bunch of downhill running.  My third mistake was not only abandoning my pacing plan, but starting at a pace that was clearly too fast.  My last mistake was not being prepared for the possibility of rain during the night.  I got careless and didn’t keep checking the forecast.  I should have had rain gear and extra layers.  I also should probably have had more than one drop bag.  I’m usually on top of that stuff, but I got complacent.

It’s not all bad news.  A week ago, I couldn’t walk at a brisk pace without aggravating an injured hamstring tendon.  I didn’t think it would be healed before this race.  Apparently it was.  It didn’t bother me during the race, and it’s not bothering me today.  I have lots of sore muscles, but that tendon isn’t sore at all.  After three weeks of mostly resting, I’m ready to resume training.  I was really worried that I would aggravate this injury to the point where I would be jeopardizing the other races on my schedule.  Not finishing this race, but being healthy again is a trade-off I’ll gladly accept.

Race Statistics
Race Distance:  100 miles
Result:  Did Not Finish
Distance Covered:  47 miles
Average Pace:  13:24

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Race Report: Cheese Curd Festival 10K

This weekend, Deb and I went to the Cheese Curd Festival in Ellsworth, WI.  I had never heard of the Cheese Curd festival until Deb mentioned it a few weeks ago.  My first impression was, “I like cheese curds, but it is worth driving all the way to Wisconsin?  You can only eat so many cheese curds and then you’re full.”  Then Deb told me they had other things like craft beer from several Wisconsin breweries and ice cream from local dairies.

As it turns out, Ellsworth is only a 50 minute drive from where we live.  I thought the city sounded familiar and wondered aloud if they had a race there.  Deb said, “They have a 5K and a 10K.”  Cheese curds, craft beer, ice cream, and a 10K race sounded like a good enough reason to travel.  I decided to see how fast I could race-walk the 10K race.

Some of the events we were interested in were Friday afternoon, and others were Saturday morning.  We could have made two trips, but decided to save time by staying in a motel that was just a few miles outside Ellsworth.  We drove to Ellsworth Friday afternoon.  The Cheese Curd Festival started at 4:00, but we got to Ellsworth early, so we could check into our motel room first.  Then we went into town to find parking before it got crowded.

As soon as the festival started, we bought tickets for a tasting event called Craft and Curd.  Five Wisconsin breweries each paired one of their beers with a different flavor of cheese curd.  Each pairing cost two dollars.  Afterward, you could go online to vote for your favorite pairing.  I tried all five.

Rush River Brewing Co. in River Falls paired their Unforgiven Amber Ale with a tomato/basil cheese curd.  This was probably the most conventional cheese curd flavor, so it was a good place to start.

Barley John’s Brewing Co. in New Richmond paired their Mango Double Pale Ale with a habanero/pineapple cheese curd.  The mango flavor in the beer paired will with the pineapple.  The beer was strong and hoppy enough to hold its own with the bite of the habanero.

Pitchfork Brewing Co. in Hudson paired their Third Stall Pale Ale with a Sriracha cheese curd.  I thought the Sriracha flavor overpowered the beer.

Swinging Bridge Brewing Co. in River Falls paired their Peanut Butter Porter with a raspberry cheese curd.  They called it a peanut butter & jelly pairing.  I like porters, and I also like raspberries, so I was excited about this pairing.  The beer was good, but I thought the raspberry glaze on the cheese curds needed to be stronger.

Finally, Hop & Barrel Brewing Co. in Hudson paired their Crooked Grin west coast style IPA with a jalapeno cheese curd.  The IPA had enough hop flavor to pair well with the jalapeno.

I voted for Swinging Bridge Brewing Co, but my opinion was in the minority.  The last time I checked, Barley John’s Brewing Co. was leading the voting.

After the Craft & Curd tasting, we browsed the arts & crafts booths in the marketplace.  Then we hit the food trucks.  Deb had a taco baked potato.  I had a brick oven pizza with chicken, bacon & cheese curds.

After dinner, we looked at the classic cars and went back to one of the booths in the marketplace.  Deb fell in love with this cowboy themed decoration.

Later, we made one more visit to the food trucks.  I had to try a smoked bacon-wrapped jalapeno stuffed with cheese curds & BBQ.  We each had maple ice cream shakes.  Finally, we left with maple cotton candy, maple root beer, and maple candies.

I sometimes have trouble sleeping, but this was one of my worst nights ever.  The air conditioner in our motel room was too loud.  Even with ear plugs, I just couldn’t tune out the noise.  Without the AC, I would have been too hot to sleep, but with it, it was too noisy to sleep.  I managed to nod off two or three times, but each time I woke up after only about 20 minutes.  I eventually got up and started getting ready for the race, but I briefly considered skipping it.

Packet pickup for the 10K race started Saturday morning at 7:00 at Snap Fitness, which was only a few blocks away from the park where the festival was going on.  We got there a few minutes early, but had to wait a long time before I could get my race packet.  Apparently, all the race bibs got delivered to the wrong city.  They eventually got them, but it delayed packet pickup by 45 minutes.  After I had my race packet, Deb moved the car and went to a pancake breakfast that started at 8:00.

The 10K race was supposed to start at 8:00, but it was delayed until 8:30 because of the mix-up with the race bibs.  We needed to check out of our room by 11:00.  With the 30 minute delay, I was worried about having enough time after the race to drive back to the motel, shower, and pack.  Again, I briefly considered skipping the race.

I’ve only walked one other 10K race.  That was the Bermuda 10K in January, which I walked in 1:05:28.  Before that race, I did several fast-paced workouts on the treadmill.  Before this race, I wasn’t doing any training at a fast pace.  In recent months, I was doing lots of mileage, but it was all at a more conservative pace.  While I had no objective reason to think I could walk faster now, I keep surprising myself with strong race results.  It’s amazing what a good mileage base can do.

While I was waiting in line to use the bathroom, two runners who have done this race before told me it’s really hilly.  In pre-race announcements, the race director said this was a hilly course that would challenge us.  I had doubts about setting a PR, but reminded myself that the Bermuda 10K was also a hilly race.

The race started in the parking lot in front of Snap Fitness.  We had to follow highway 10 for a few blocks before turning and heading south.  The highway was open to traffic, so we had to stay on the sidewalk.  That made the first few blocks a little bit congested.  I worked hard to set a fast pace.  I was trying to keep up with the runners who lined up in front of me.

Those first few blocks were slightly uphill.  When we turned, we started up a more noticeable hill.  Some of the runners were already walking.  I worked to maintain as fast a pace as I could.

None of the early hills were unusually long or steep, but the early miles were peppered with them.  I tried to walk as fast as I could, but I wondered if my effort was sustainable.  In the early miles, I didn’t feel like my stride was that smooth.  I tried to keep my cadence as rapid as possible.

When we reached the southernmost point on the route, I began to wonder if I missed the one mile sign.  We turned west for a few blocks and then turned north to head back into town.  We eventually got to a bigger hill that challenged me.  At the top of the hill, I could see the two mile sign.  I was anxious to know what my pace was.  That gave me the motivation I needed to power up the hill.

When I set my 10K PR, my average pace was 10:32.  I was working so hard that I fully expected to be doing 10 minute miles or faster.  I was disappointed when I saw my time.  My two mile split was 21:05.  I was actually one second slower than my PR pace.

I wondered if I just didn’t have the speed to challenge my PR.  I have good endurance, but lack of speed training might have caused my mechanics to become less efficient.  Yes, there were hills, but they really didn’t seem that bad.  My impression at this point was that Bermuda was hillier.

Just past two miles, we merged with the 5K race.  They started later than we did, but they were just getting to the one mile mark of their course.  The mixture of 5K and 10K runners (and walkers) made it harder for me to know if I was maintaining a consistent pace.  I pushed myself to go as fast as possible and hoped for the best.

I passed a father and son who were walking together.  He said, “There’s a speed-walker.  That’s cool.  He’ll beat some of the runners.”  Hearing that helped keep me motivated.

We detoured a few blocks off the main road to minimize conflicts with traffic.  When I saw the three mile sign, I checked my watch again.  My time was 31:32.  My effort was paying off.  Now I was a few seconds ahead of my PR pace.

Just around the next corner, I saw an aid station.  It had been at least two hours since I last had anything to drink.  It was a sunny day, and I was getting hot and thirsty.  Still, I knew if I took any time to drink, I’d have trouble making it up.  I skipped the water station.  I told myself 10K was short enough that I could press on to the finish and drink afterwards.

The 5K and 10K routes diverged again.  With only 10K runners in front of me, it was easier to see if I was keeping up with the pack.  I picked up my effort.

A few blocks alter, we returned to the major north-south highway that runs through town.  We had to stay between the white line and the shoulder, so there wasn’t much room to pass.  To maintain my pace, I needed to pass one of the runners.  I moved around her as quickly as I could.

In the distance, I could see where the runners ahead of me were turning to head east.  Before the race, I studied the course map.  I didn’t know the streets, but I was familiar with the general outline of the course.  Each time we reached a major turn, I had a sense of where I was on the route.  I estimated we were getting close to four miles.

As soon as I reached the turn, I saw the four mile sign.  I got there in 41:42.  That was encouraging.  I sped up significantly in that mile.  If I could maintain that pace, I would easily set a PR.  I was tired, but I only had 2.2 miles to go.  It all depended on how many more big hills there were.

We started down a big hill.  I could see ahead of us that the road would eventually turn uphill again, but not for a long time.  I walked downhill as quickly as I could, and I enjoyed the rest break.  Two runners passed me.  One said to the other, “We really needed this.”

I couldn’t believe how long we kept going downhill.  I feared what might be coming later.  When the road eventually turned uphill again, it didn’t seem like the climb in front of us was nearly as big as what we just descended.

The hill was still somewhat tiring.  I reminded myself that I only had about a mile and a half to go.  I didn’t need to conserve energy.  I was taking long powerful strides, but my cadence was slowing down.  I forced myself to pick it up again.

As I neared the top, I saw a sign saying there was an aid station ahead.  I realized I would need to skip this one too.  Somewhere in the previous mile, I found my rhythm.  I didn’t want to risk interrupting it to drink, even if I had the time.

I saw the next major turn on the course.  Now we were going to head south almost all the way to the park, where we would finish.  The aid station was right after the turn.  The five mile sign was right after the aid station.  That mile wasn’t as fast as the previous one, but it was fast enough.  I gained a few more seconds.

The road turned downhill.  It was gradual at first.  I saw a group of four runners ahead of me, and I tried to catch them.  I passed one when he took a walking break.  I couldn’t catch the other three.  The road turned more sharply downhill.  I worked to go as fast as I could, but there was no way I could catch a runner going down this hill.

I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I kept looking ahead to see when we would begin climbing again.  I couldn’t see any hills yet.  The descent kept going and going.  Then the road leveled off.  A runner who had already finished was going the other way.  She said we only had 400 meters to go.  It soon became apparent that there wasn’t going to be another big bad hill.

The last two miles seemed to be mostly downhill.  Thinking back, I realized the first two miles were mostly uphill.  It was never that steep, but the road would go up, level off, and then go up again.  That’s why my first two miles were so tiring, yet weren’t that fast.  It was an uphill trend in the early miles.

Finally, as I was nearing the last turn, the road turned ever so slightly uphill.  Right at the turn, I saw the six mile sign.  My time was 1:02:57.  I was on pace for a PR, but not by as much as I expected.  I suspect that mile marker was misplaced, but at the time I had to trust it.  I worked hard to maintain a fast pace over the last two tenths of a mile.

I could see the traffic barriers at the northwest corner of the park, but I couldn’t see the finish line yet.  There wasn’t any big balloon arch or anything – just a chip mat in the middle of the street.  You had to get close before you could see it.  A runner flew by me as he sprinted to the finish.  There’s no way I could match that pace; I just kept up my effort.

As I got close enough to see the clock, I realized I would break 1:04.  I finished in 1:03:45.  That’s a new PR by a fairly wide margin.  Early in the race, I had doubts, but I never let up in my effort.

For post-race snacks, I got a water bottle, a banana, and a bag of cheese curds.  That more than made up for skipping breakfast.  The curds were filling.

For doing this race, I also got a T-shirt and a bag full of swag.  For a $35 dollar entry fee, it was a good value.

Deb and I walked to the car as quickly as we could and drove back to the motel.  I ate about half of the cheese curds in the car.  The rest had to wait until after I showered.  We had no trouble checking out on time.  Then we went back into town for the next tasting event.

At 11:00, there was a Milk and Cookies tasting.  There were seven flavors of milk and eight kinds of cookie.  You could pair them in any combination.

While I was in line to buy milk and cookies tickets, Deb got in line for the big tent where you could buy baskets of deep fried cheese curds.  We didn’t get any on Friday because the line was too long.  Deb didn’t have room for both and decided the cheese curds were more important.  I decided to try just two milk and cookie pairings and then join Deb in the cheese curds line.

For my first pairing, I had a chocolate chip cookie with whole milk.  That was the favorite pairing from the previous year.  Then I got exotic and had an “Elvis” pairing of a peanut butter cookie with banana milk.

After eating our deep fried cheese curds, we were both full.  We took one last look at all the craft booths and then we left.  We were originally planning to go to an ice cream tasting at 1:00, but we were both full.  We were also tired.  It was time to drive home.

We went to Wisconsin mostly for food and fun.  The 10K race was an afterthought, and I almost skipped it.  I’m glad I didn’t.  I not only improved my 10K walking PR, but I got some training that will help me improve my marathon times.

Race Statistics
Distance:  10 kilometers (6.2 miles)
Time:  1:03:45
Average Pace:  10:17 per mile