Saturday, September 23, 2017

Race Report: 2017 Ely Marathon

This morning, I race-walked the Ely Marathon.  This was one of only two remaining marathons in Minnesota that I had never done.  Ely is in northeastern Minnesota, near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Two weeks ago, I started to add running back into my training.  At this point, though, I’m still not ready to run a whole marathon.  For this race, I decided to race-walk the whole thing.

I drove to Ely on Friday.  The drive took about four and a half hours.  After arriving, I checked into a mom and pop hotel called the Adventure Inn.  Then I went to Vermillion Community College to pick up my race packet.

Ely is a resort area.  It’s in a heavily forest region with hundreds of lakes.  Most people come here for boating, fishing, or canoeing.  People from the southern half of the state refer to this region as “up north.”  After packet pickup, I explored the town.  There are several gift shops with north woods themed merchandise.

When I got up this morning, the temperature was around 70 degrees.  It wouldn’t change much during the race.  The big question was whether it would rain.  It wasn’t raining when I got up, but there was about a 50 percent chance of showers or thunderstorms throughout the morning.

The course was point-to-point, starting on the north side of Burntside Lake and finishing in Ely.  I parked at Memorial High School, where buses where loading to take us to the start.  When I left the hotel, it was raining.  I wore shorts and a singlet, because it was still 70 degrees, even if it was raining.  I kept gloves and a plastic rain poncho in a fanny pack, just in case we got a downpour during the race.  I also wore a Tyvek jacket to keep warm while I was waiting for the race to start.

Before getting on a bus, I asked a volunteer if there were bathrooms nearby.  He said there were port-o-potties on the other side of the park, but if I just needed to do “manly stuff,” I could go behind the building.  Then he added, “You’re in Ely now.”

I boarded a bus and we got on our way.  We made a stop at the Grand Ely Lodge to pick up runners who were staying there.  While we were on our way to Burntside Lake, the rain stopped.  As we drove around the lake, the sun was just rising, giving us a nice view over the lake.  We got dropped off around 7:00 for a 7:30 start.

The starting line was near a shelter that was being used by the volunteers.  I think it was part of a YMCA camp.  They had a table with water and Gatorade.  They also had a campfire.  They provided marshmallows and roasting sticks, so I roasted a marshmallow as a pre-race snack.

Near the start, they had five port-o-potties.  This was a small race, so that was sufficient.  Even after all the buses unloaded, it only took 15 minutes to get through the line.

Before the race started, I took off my jacket and tied it around my waist.  They had a gear check, but I didn’t want to bother with that for just my jacket.  I knew we might be finishing in a thunderstorm, in which case I would want to head straight for my car after finishing the race.

The first mile of the race was on a dirt road.  The soil was sandy, so the rain we got earlier was already soaking in.  The road was wet, but not muddy.

They had pacers for numerous times, going up to 5:30.  You don’t expect to see that at a small race.  As I started walking, the 5:30 pacer came alongside me and asked me how fast I usually walk a marathon.  I told him I’ve only walked a few, but my last two were in the low 5:20s.  I said this one was going to be low key.  Then I said, “Well … we’ll see.”  I didn’t honestly know how fast I would start, and sometimes I get ambitious.

Before long, I pulled away from the 5:30 group and found myself just behind the 5:00 group.  I wondered if the 5:00 pacer was starting a little slow.  5:00 is a little faster than 11:30 per mile.  I couldn’t believe I was on that pace.  Then I reached the first mile marker in 11:29.

In the first mile, I started to feel a few drops.  At first I thought they were falling from tree branches.  Then I realized it was raining.  It only lasted a few minutes, but rain would come back later.

I was relieved when we got on pavement in the second mile.  After my fast start, I eased up a bit.  The next several miles were all about 12 minutes.  That was still a fast pace, but it was more reasonable.

The early miles were hilly.  I had been told at packet pickup that this was a challenging course.  They weren’t kidding.  It seems like I don’t speed up and slow down as much as the runners do.  On the first particularly steep hill, I was keeping pace with the runners.  I even passed one.  At this point, I still wasn’t far behind the 5:00 pacer.

Going downhill, the runners would pull away from me.  After that first big hill, the 5:00 pacer started moving farther and farther ahead of me.  By the end of four miles, I sometimes lost sight of her when she went around a bend in the road.

Over the next few miles I passed a few of the runners, but gradually lost sight of the 5:00 pacer.  Then I was by myself.  For several miles, I couldn’t see anyone in front of me.  I occasionally heard voices from behind me.  There were runners back there, but I never saw them.

It started raining again.  It was a light rain, so it didn’t really bother me.  For now, it was keeping me from getting too hot.

There was a long steep hill just before the seven mile mark.  This one slowed me down and took something out of me.  That mile took me 12:51, which was by far my slowest.  After that, the course leveled off.  I was able to recover and get back into a good rhythm.  I resumed walking 12 minute miles.

Between nine and ten miles, we passed the starting line for the half marathon.  Obviously, we wouldn’t be following the same route.  At some point, we needed to run an extra three and a half miles.

After it had been raining for a while, puddles began to form.  We were running on the shoulder of a highway, so there wasn’t always a lot of room to go around the puddles.  I had mixed feelings about the rain.  I wasn’t enjoying it, but I knew I would get hot if the rain stopped.

For the first half of the race, we were mostly running along the same highway, through forests and within sight of a few lakes.  This was the scenic part of the course.  Regrettably, I don’t have any pictures of the course.  I didn’t bring a camera, because I didn’t want it to get wet.

We eventually left that road to begin a long out-and-back section.  We started this section by climbing a big hill.  When I reached the 13 mile mark, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I didn’t lose any time on that hill.  I turned in another 12 minute mile.  There wasn’t a sign for the halfway mark, but I estimated I was on pace for a 5:15 finish.  That would be a PR by almost eight minutes if I could keep up the pace.

A few minutes later, the marathon and half marathon courses diverged.  We did a much longer version of the out-and-back before rejoining them.  When we turned, we started a long dirt road section.  In contrast to the dirt road at the beginning of the race, this one had pot holes, which were filled with water.

For the first time in miles, I saw a runner in the distance, wearing an orange shirt.  I was gradually catching up to him.  Before I reached him, I got to a steep downhill section with lots of rocks in the road.  That was uncomfortable.

I turned a corner to see the 14 mile sign.  Either it was misplaced, or I walked that mile in less than 11 minutes.

Before getting to the 15 mile mark, I passed the runner in the orange shirt.  We turned onto another dirt road and I start seeing runners who were on their way back from the turnaround.  The first one was the 4:30 pacer.  Clearly, it was a long way to the turnaround.

It took me 12 minutes to get from 14 to 15 miles.  Now I wondered if both of these mile markers were misplaced.  Could I really have thrown in a sub 11 minute mile?

When I got to the next aid station, the 5:00 pacer was on her way back.  She should have been about eight minutes ahead of me.  That gave me a good idea how far it was to the turnaround.  There weren’t any other runners between us.

On my way back, I started feeling grains of sand that were getting into my shoes.  I’m prone to developing blisters around my heels when I race-walk.  They were going to be bad after this race.  The combination of rain, mud, hills, cambered roads, and sand in my shoes were really taking a toll.

I never saw the 16 mile sign.  When I got to 17, my combined time for those two miles was 23:25.  Apparently, I gained another 35 seconds over a 12:00 pace.  If I could trust these mile markers, I was crushing the second half.

I eventually got back onto pavement.  I thought I was nearing the end of the out-and-back, but nothing looked familiar.  I should have looked at the course map.  We still had another out-and-back.  At least this one was on pavement.

When I got to the 18 mile sign, a volunteer saw me looking at my watch and said, “I don’t think you can trust it.”  She was referring to the placement of the mile marker.  This one was clearly way off.  Either that, or I slowed to 15 minutes.  Now I didn’t know if I could trust the previous four mile markers.  Maybe I really did speed up. Maybe I was still going the same pace.  Maybe I was starting to slow down.  I had no idea.

I looked forward to seeing the 19 mile marker, so I could get a better idea.  I never saw it.  Eventually, I reached the 20 mile sign.  My time there was 4:00:09.  That’s roughly 12 minutes per mile on average.  That was believable.  I was motivated to work hard to keep up that pace.  If I could, I had a shot at breaking 5:15.  Even if I couldn’t, I was on my way to a PR.

As I came back out to the highway, I had to descend a steep hill.  It made my blisters hurt more than ever.  The last six miles were going to be painful.

I don’t recall exactly when the rain stopped, but now the sun came out.  Suddenly, I felt hot.  Fortunately, it was still mostly cloudy.  Most of the time, the sun was behind the clouds.

After a few minutes on the highway, we turned onto another dirt road with rocks.  I was looking for the 21 mile sign, but never saw it.  I knew I missed it when I saw the 8 mile sign for the half marathon.  More importantly, I saw pavement about a block ahead.  That was a relief.  That last section of dirt road was the most uncomfortable.

When I eventually reached the 22 mile sign, I got an update on my pace.  For those last two miles, I averaged 12:15.  Earlier, I would have been happy with that pace.  Now it meant any chance of breaking 5:15 was gone.  I could no longer maintain 12 minute miles, much less make up the time I had lost.

I passed the Grand Ely Lodge.  As the crow flies, we were only about a mile from the finish, but I still had four miles to go.  We were going to take a meandering route through town.

I did my best to walk as fast as I could, but I was beginning to fade.  My next mile was a 12:20.  Then 12:30.  At that pace, I would finish in about 5:17.  I worked as hard as I could.

Most of the course was well-marked, and there were volunteers everywhere we turned.  That changed in the last two miles.  There were numerous course marshals to stop traffic, but some of the turns didn’t have signs and the course marshals weren’t always making sure runners knew where to turn.  I couldn’t always see other runners, so finding the route was sometimes a challenge.

With just over a mile to go, we turned onto the main highway through town.  I recognized it, because I was about to run right past my hotel.  I should make a list of all the races where I’ve done that.

I ran past the park where we would eventually finish.  I saw a sign that read, “Swedish Line.”  I quickly realized where that was going.  It was follow by two more signs that read, “Norwegian Line,” and “Finnish Line.”  Most people living in this area have Nordic heritage.

I still had to walk several blocks and then turn around and come back on another street.  Looking ahead of me, I saw a big hill.  There was a runner nearing the top.  Of course we had to go up the hill before turning.  Did I mention this is a challenging course?

For the last few blocks, my legs felt like lead, but I eventually finished in 5:17:17.  That’s a new walking PR by more than four minutes.  The finisher medal had a north woods design.

A volunteer told me the food tent was on my right and the beer garden was on my left.  I asked her which way it was to the bathrooms.  She said, “There’s lots of trees in the park.  Just kidding.  There’s port-o-potties to your right behind that tent.”  Yup, I’m in Ely now.

I got to the beer garden in time for the awards ceremony.  They started with the portage division for the half marathon.  Yes.  There were actually people who ran 13.1 miles carrying a canoe.

Getting back to my hotel was a bit of a challenge, since it was on the marathon route.  It seemed like every street in the city was closed for the race.  When I got there, I had to take a shower to rinse off the mud before I could take a hot bath.  Then I gave my shoes a bath.

Excluding ultramarathons and races that no longer exist, I know of only one marathon in Minnesota I haven’t done yet.  I’ll probably do that one next year.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  5:17:17
Average Pace:  12:06   
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  341
Minnesota Marathons/Ultras:  45

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Race Report: 2017 Moose Mountain Marathon

On September 9th, I ran the Moose Mountain Marathon on the Superior Hiking Trail in northern Minnesota.  This is a rugged trail, making this one of the most difficult marathons I’ve done.  I’m out of my comfort zone on this type of course, but I have a goal of eventually doing every marathon in Minnesota.

This marathon is held in conjunction with 50 and 100 mile races on the Superior Hiking Trail.  The marathon is essentially the last 26.2 miles of the 100 mile course.  Here’s the elevation profile for the marathon.

All of these races are popular, so there’s a lottery to get in.  I entered the lottery last January, when I thought I would be able to run the whole race.  A few weeks later, I learned I had a spot in the marathon.

After my back surgery in June, I initially assumed I would have to skip this race.  Then I remembered that I had already paid for the first of two nights at Caribou Highlands Lodge in Lutsen.  Not wanting to waste that money, I checked to see what the time limit was.  That’s where I got lucky.

All of the cut-off times are based on the 100 mile race.  The 100 mile race starts at 8:00 AM on Friday and the runners have until 10:00 PM Saturday to finish.  The marathon starts at 8:00 AM on Saturday and we also had until 10:00 PM to finish.  That’s 14 hours, which is pretty generous, even for a race as difficult as this one.

After my surgery, I was told not to do any high impact activities, including running, for 12 weeks.  Then I could resume normal activities, as tolerated.  Those 12 weeks ended on Friday.  I now have a green light to begin running, but running a trail marathon seemed like too much, too soon.  Besides, I’m not in shape to run a complete.  Before this race I hadn’t run a single mile in almost 13 weeks.

If this was a road race, I could race-walk it.  Trails like this aren’t conducive to race-walking, but even at a casual hiking pace I could finish it in 14 hours.  I went into the race with the attitude that this was going to be an all day hike.  Beyond finishing, my only goal was to finish before it got dark.  Dusk is roughly 8:00 PM, so that gave me 12 hours of daylight.

While I didn’t expect to do much running, I was planning to run on the sections that were the most runnable.  I wouldn’t run where there were too many rocks or roots, and I wouldn’t run where it was downhill.  Within those limits, I would run for a few minutes at a time when I saw a section that was runnable.  I didn’t know how many opportunities I would have.

I drove up to Lutsen Friday afternoon.  I stayed at Caribou Highlands Lodge, which was also the race headquarters for all three races.  My room was a “whirlpool condo.”  It was way more than I needed, but when I made my reservation it was the last room available.  It had a kitchenette, a fireplace, a whirlpool tub, and a balcony with a view of the mountains.

From my balcony, I could see a section of trail leading onto the lodge property.  This is how the race finished.

Packet pickup was in a conference room in the lodge, starting at 5:00 PM.  After picking up my race packet, I had dinner in the lodge restaurant.  Then I attended an optional pre-race briefing at 7:00.

The race provided transportation to the start.  Buses left the lodge at 7:00 Saturday morning to take us to the start in Schroeder.

It was 50 degrees at the start, with a forecast high of 61.  That’s great weather for running, but I worried that I would get cold walking.  We were able to check a gear bag at the start, so I wore wind pants and a light jacket on the bus.  Before we started, I put the wind pants in my gear bag, but I kept the jacket on.

Two days before the race, I bought a new watch.  My old one had a broken strap.  Also, it wouldn’t have had a long enough battery life for this race.  The new one had a stated battery life of 10 hours in GPS mode, but I had never tested that.  I switched it into run mode right after we were dropped off, because I didn’t know how much time it would need to find the satellites.  That cut into my battery life for the race.  I now had another goal besides finishing before dark.  I wanted to finish before my battery died.

We started on Cramer Road.  This is a wide gravel road.  I lined up in the back.  This section was clearly runnable, so I started out running at a slow pace.   After a few minutes, we turned onto a jeep road.  This wasn’t as wide, but was still runnable.  After a few more minutes, we reached the trail.  Only one runner could turn onto the trail at a time, so there was a big traffic jam as we each waited our turn to get onto the trail.

Despite my intention of starting near the back, there were lots of other runners behind me.  Apparently everyone had the same idea.  Not wanting to hold up traffic on the trail, I did my best to keep up with the runners in front of me.  That was actually fairly easy.  Because we were bunched so tightly together, nobody was moving fast.  This section of the trail was fairly flat.  Were there were only a few roots, I could easily avoid them.  Where there were more roots, I slowed to a walk, but so did everyone else.

After a few more minutes, we reached the Cramer Road aid station.  My bottle was still full, so I didn’t see any reason to stop.  The next aid station was 7.1 miles away, and I was only carrying one bottle, so I had to ration my water carefully.

Never having run on these trails, I was expected a constant alternation between uphill sections and downhill sections.  In fact, the early miles were mostly flat.  I was surprised how much of the trail was runnable.  Where I ran, I tried to have nimble feet for stepping over roots.  I had a short hoppy stride.  I made sure I lifted my feet enough to clear the roots.  I touched the ground only with the balls of my feet.  That worked well, but it probably takes more energy that my usual road running stride, where I barely leave the ground.

After about a mile, we came to an overlook with a good view of Lake Superior.  I stepped off the trail to take a picture.  That gave some of the runners behind me a chance to pass.  I also took off my jacket and tied it around my wait.  Now that I was warmed up, I wouldn’t need it again.  Had I realized so much of the trail was runnable, I would have left it in my gear bag.

We had a few more miles that were surprisingly runnable.  The grade was usually gentle, and there were sometimes sections with no roots or rocks for as much as 100 feet.  Where I saw clusters of roots, I walked, but only briefly.  In the early miles, I was running more than I was walking.  That was a pleasant surprise.

There were three races going on at once.  The 50 mile runners started at 5:15 AM.  They only had 16 hours and 45 minutes to cover 50 miles.  That’s a tight time limit for 50 miles on these trails.  The 100 milers started at 8:00 AM on Friday, giving them 38 hours.  Many of them had already passed Cramer Road by the time we started.  Every now and then, I passed someone doing the 100.  You could identify them by pink flags on their backs.

Our principle obstacles were roots and rocks, but there were also patches of mud.  Sometimes you could find a way around them.  Other times there was no way to avoid stepping into the mud.  In areas that tend to be marshy, there were narrow sections of boardwalk.  In some places, the boards were old and wobbly.  They also got slippery from the muddy shoes of all the runners.  More than once, I couldn’t stay on the boardwalk, and I stepped off into the mud.

The muddy patches were isolated.  I learned from veteran runners that the trail has been much muddier in prior years.  One of the 100 milers said that the mud was much worse in the first 50 miles of their course.  That makes sense, since it rained on Thursday and they started on Friday.  By the time we started, the trails had an extra day to dry out.

After about four and a half miles, we came alongside the Cross River.

For more than a mile, we followed the river downstream.  Here I had to do more walking.  Alongside the river, there was a gentle downhill trend.  Some parts were flat enough to run, but were it was noticeably downhill, I had to walk.  Earlier, the most common trip hazards were roots.  Here there were lots of rocks.

Although this section had a downhill trend, there were still occasional ups.  They tended to be short, but steep.

Eventually we crossed the river at a small bridge.  I quickly learned two things about river crossings.  First, you have to stop and take pictures.  Second, after crossing a river, you start climbing.

After climbing away from the Cross River, there were more runnable sections, but eventually, the trail turned downhill again.  We had a long decent as we approached the Temperance River.  I couldn’t see the river, but I started to hear water in the distance.  Then I heard voices.  I was nearing the Temperance aid station.

So far, I had only been drinking water, so I wanted to get some calories.  I ate a boiled potato at the aid station, while a volunteer filled my bottle with HEED.  As I left the aid station, I got my first view of the river.

After eight miles, I checked my pace.  I was averaging about 16 minutes per mile.  At that pace, I would finish the race in about seven hours.  What I didn’t know is that the easiest miles were mostly behind me now.

We followed the river downstream for a while before crossing it.  We got lots of good views of the rapids.

Where we crossed the river, it was another mandatory picture stop.

After crossing the river, we started a long uphill section.  At first, the grade was gentle, and I could run most of it.  Eventually, the grade got steeper and more tiring.  I had to take walking breaks.  Then the trail got rocky and much steeper.  Now even walking was tiring.

When the trail finally leveled off, I saw a runnable section and started running.  Almost immediately, I tripped on a root and fell.  I made the mistake of running before recovering from the climb.  I was too fatigued to avoid the roots.

It was a soft landing.  I landed on my right side in a patch of muddy soil, taking the impact with my arm.  I was OK, but it was a reminder that I shouldn’t run when I’m still tired from a tough climb.  After that, I was more cautious about what I considered “runnable.”  After climbs, I waited to catch my breath before attempting to run,

Soon, I started climbing again.  I was on the long steep climb to Carlton Peak.  Near the top, it gets rocky.  Then the trail seems to end and you have to climb over rocks.  I knew this was the right way to go because I was following other runners and I could still see the orange trail markers.

The course was extremely well-marked.  I rarely went more than 10 seconds without seeing a trail marker.

The long tiring climb was followed by a descent that was still too steep to be runnable.  I was relieved when I finally came to several long sections of boardwalk over a flat marshy area.  The boardwalks here were nice and solid, and I could run them.  I was pleased with how fast I was moving on this section.  Then another runner passed me like I was standing still.

The runner who passed me had a blue flag on his back.  That meant he was doing the 50 mile race.  I had yet to cover 13 miles.  He started only two hours and 45 minutes earlier, but had already run almost 37 miles.  I was impressed.  I also no longer felt like I was moving fast.

By my watch, I reached the halfway mark in about three and a half hours.  That still put me on pace for a seven hour finish, but I didn’t expect to do as much running in the second half.

About a half mile later, I reached the Sawbill aid station.  I ate a PBJ while a volunteer filled my bottle.  The aid station was in a gravel parking lot.  As I left, I started running on a gravel road.  Then I heard people yelling that I missed a turn.  I was supposed to make a hard right where the trail entered the forest again.  I said, “I thought that looked too easy.”

The middle miles weren’t as runnable as the early ones.  There was more up and down now.  I seldom saw long flat runnable sections, but I still ran where I could.  When I finished 16 miles, I saw that my average pace over the last eight miles was 16:30.  I was slowing down, but not too much.

I kept plugging away for the next few miles to get to the Oberg aid station.  This was the last aid station before the end of the race.  I ate another boiled potato and refilled my bottle for the last time.  What I had with me would have to last me for the last 7.1 miles.  Leaving the aid station, I crossed a road, and a volunteer pointed to where the trail entered the forest.  I point down the road and asked, “Can I go this way instead?  It looks friendlier.”

This was my first run in almost 13 weeks, and I was running much more than I thought I would.  I’ve lost fitness over the summer, and now I was feeling it.  I could have walked the last seven miles, but I didn’t want to get lazy.  I tried to run where I could.  For the next mile, I managed a good pace, but then I crossed Rollins Creek.  What happen after you cross a creek?  You climb.

The next mile was uphill.  It was gradual, but it wore me down, forcing me to walk.  In that mile, I slowed to 19:34.  That was my slowest mile so far, and it dashed any hopes of a seven hour finish.  I caught up to one of the 100 mile runners and he asked if I wanted to pass.  We were just beginning a steeper section, so I told him I was fine with staying behind him for now.

We kept climbing and climbing.  We eventually realized we were ascending Moose Mountain.  It got steeper and steeper.  On a wide turn, I finally passed him and went ahead on my own.  The steep pitch made my calves sore.  Then the trail got so steep there were steps.  The steps were more tiring, but at least my calves didn’t hurt.

Then the trail leveled off, and I assumed I was at the top.  After a brief descent, I started climbing again.  I couldn’t be sure I was past the summit until I began a long descent.  I wasn’t there yet.  I worked my way around the back side of the mountain.  I could tell I was up pretty high, because I caught occasional glimpses of other mountains through the trees.  I started climbing again.  I eventually reached the top of the climb, but it took a toll.  That mile took me 20:54.

When I began the long awaited descent, it wasn’t any easier.  It was steep and there were lots of roots.  I walked the whole way down.  Even the walking was slow.  There were places where I had to step down next to roots, and it dropped off too much for me to reach it.  I often stopped to figure out how I could get down.  For someone with longer legs, this would be runnable.  For me, it was barely walkable.  I wondered if I was going slower on the way down that I was on the way up.  Not quite, but close.  That mile took 20:31.

After descending from Moose Mountain, I began to climb Mystery Mountain.  This was the last significant climb.  It started out gradual, but got steeper.  Thankfully, this climb wasn’t as long.

The descent from Mystery Mountain also wasn’t as bad.  There were a few steep spots, but the grade was mostly gentle.  In one spot, the trail leveled off, and there weren’t any roots for about 200 feet.  This would have been runnable, but I kept walking, so I could drink the rest of my HEED while I could safely take my eyes off the trail.

There was one spot where I was gaining speed on a gentle downgrade and saw a sharp drop-off ahead of me.  It was one of those places where there’s a big step down after a tree root.  I grabbed the tree to bring myself to a complete stop.  The abrupt stop gave me some discomfort in my lower back.  I stepped down gradually and then resumed walking.

For a long time, I wanted to make a bathroom stop, but the trail was narrow, and the woods were thick.  There wasn’t any place where I could get off the trail.  With a mile and a half to go, my watch gave me a low battery warning.  I didn’t know how much battery life I had left, but I dismissed the warning so it would keep timing my run.  I was hoping I had enough battery life to make it the rest of the way.  A bathroom stop was now out of the question.  I had to press on to the finish.

In the last mile, I crossed a bridge over the Poplar River.  I hadn’t taken any pictures since Carlton Peak, but here I had to stop.

After crossing the bridge, I saw runners ahead of me leaving the trail to get onto a dirt road.  At our pre-race briefing, we were told there would be a short road section leading us to the property of Caribou Highlands Lodge.  I was getting close.

Once I was on the road, I could count on sure footing the rest of the way.  My legs were sore, but I ran.  Every so often, I looked at my watch.  It was still working.  I followed the runners off the road and onto a short trail that went around the condos and behind the lodge.  As I neared the final turn, I heard them announce my name.

I cross the line in 7:18:45 and received a finisher medal made from a tree and twine.

This was my slowest marathon by far, but it wasn’t actually a bad time for this course.  I finished 170 out of 302 finishers, putting me roughly in the middle of the pack.  It’s worth noting that this is the second most difficult marathon I’ve run.  The only one that’s harder is Pike’s Peak, and it’s hard to compare those two races, because they’re challenging in different ways.

I was tempted to take a whirlpool bath, but first I had to shower to rinse off the mud.  It took some scrubbing.  Then I went back outside to have post-race food and watch for friends.  I compared notes with two friends who were doing the 100 mile race, but missed cutoff times.  Mud was a much bigger obstacle for them.  I eventually got to see another friend finish the 100.  By then it was late, and my legs were getting sore and stiff.  I used muscles that I haven’t used in months.  I should have taken that whirlpool bath when I had the chance.

It’s a day later, and I haven’t noticed any symptoms that would indicate a problem with my T8-T9 disk.  It should be fully healed, but I’m nervous.  I ran much more than I intended to run.  I also fell once.

The discomfort in my lower back was gone by evening, but returned today after the drive home.  It’s not a sharp pain, but it also makes me nervous.  I had an L5-S1 disk injury earlier in the year.  Hopefully that’s not becoming an issue again.  I’ll keep an eye on it.

Mostly I have sore, stiff quads.  Stairs are a real challenge today.  That’s the inevitable result of doing a bunch of trail running after 89 days of not running at all.  I may stick to walking for the next few days.

I’ve crossed Moose Mountain off my to-do list for Minnesota Marathons.  Now there are just two Minnesota Marathons I haven’t done.  Next up will be the Ely Marathon.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  7:18:45
Average Pace:  16:44
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  340
Minnesota Marathons/Ultras:  44