It’s the fourth day of the Running Ragged 20in20 Series. After running faster than I had planned yesterday, I wondered if I would pay for it today. In particular, I wondered if racing up a steep hill at the end of yesterday’s race was hard on my knee.
I woke up early, so I had extra time to ice my knee and ankle before starting to get ready. My most painful area continues to be my big toe, where the blood blister under the toenail is getting larger, and the pressure makes the toe hurt all the time. Other than that, and a few sore muscles, I didn’t feel too much different this morning than I did the other mornings.
Today we were racing at Quarry Park and Nature Preserve in Waite Park. This park used to be a granite quarry. Several of the mining pits filled in with rain water over the years. Now they’re used as swimming holes. There’s a network of trails through the park. Our course followed some of these trails.
Our course today was an out-and-back through the park that we had to run 12 times to finish a marathon. The first third of it was gravel. This section had good footing.
The rest of it was a mixture of grass and clay. Here, the footing was uneven in spots.
Where we transitioned from gravel to grass/clay, there was a section that can get muddy when it’s wet. Here, they covered the trail with rocks that are 1-2 inches in diameter. Finally, just before our turnaround point, we went up and over a section of smooth rock. It was a granite dome.
My times for the first three races were all under five hours. I didn’t go into any of those races with five hours as a goal. I just ran at a pace that seemed reasonable, and it turned out to be faster than I expected.
It would’ve been tempting to go into this race with a goal of breaking five hours again. It also would’ve been tempting to see if I could win another race. Those were things I would keep in mind, but I didn’t want to force it. I need to pace myself to do 20 of these. If anything, I’ve been running too fast. Today, I just started running and waited to see how I felt.
One factor was the weather. It was much warmer today. When we started running, it was already in the upper 60s. By the time I finished, I expected the temperature to climb above 80. I usually hold up well in hot weather, but I expected to be slower today.
As I started running, my knee felt about the same as it has every day. It didn’t quite feel normal, but it wasn’t painful. My big toe hurt, but that was something I could ignore. My ankle felt OK until I got to the grass section. Then I felt like it wasn’t flexible enough to handle all the awkward landings where the footing was uneven.
I started running at a comfortable pace and took occasional short walking breaks. After the first lap, I usually walked for one to two minutes as I left the aid station. My other walking breaks were dictated by the terrain. I walked the section with the rocks, because I really didn’t want to risk tripping there. If I fell, it would be a hard landing. The granite dome was the high point on the course. I always walked up and down that hill.
Two runners went out faster than everyone else. One was Tim, who has been taking the early lead every day he’s been here. The other was Jessica. This was Jessica’s first race of this series. She was doing 50K today, but she was starting with fresh legs.
For my first two laps, I was going at about the same pace as yesterday – perhaps just a little bit faster. I wasn’t sure if I would keep up that pace. I was pretty sure I could for the first half of the race, but I didn’t know if I would need to take longer walking breaks as it got hotter.
In my third lap, my ankle started to feel more comfortable. Maybe it loosened up after running a few miles. Maybe I got better at picking the lines with the best footing as I got familiar with the course. Maybe I subconsciously altered my gait to adapt to the terrain. I’m usually a heel-striker, but I sometimes found myself running on the balls of my feet.
The laps we were running today were the same distance as the ones we ran yesterday, but they seemed to fly by much quicker. Before I knew it, I was already done with my third lap. The laps probably seemed shorter because there weren’t as many sections where I had to slow to a walk to avoid roots. There were some roots, but they were all within about 30 feet of each other. If I walked over the rocks and paid attention in this section, there wasn’t anyplace else where I had to worry about tripping.
The course was well-shaded, and we had a cool breeze from the start. That went a long way toward nullifying the heat. There was one section in particular where I always felt an icy cold draft. I don’t know where that cold air was coming from, but it always felt good.
I always noticed where I saw Tim and Jessica at either end of the course. Yesterday, Tim’s lead was getting bigger for the first four laps, but then it started shrinking. Today, Tim’s lead kept expanding for the first half of the race. It didn’t seem likely that he would be coming back to me today. Jessica built a lead in the first two laps, but after that I always seemed to see her in the same places.
My halfway split was faster than yesterday. I was on pace for 4:50, but I still expected to slow down as it got hotter. One factor in my favor was the wind. It was stronger now. I originally expected to take longer walking breaks in the second half, so I could dissipate excess heat. It seemed like the wind was taking care of that.
As I started the second half of the race, my goal was to break five hours. My plan was to run three more laps at the same pace. If I could do that, I’d have plenty of room to do extra walking in the last three laps.
As I was getting near the end of my seventh lap, I accidentally kicked a small rock. Guess what part of my foot it hit. Yup. It was the big toe that was already painful. Now the pain was intense.
As I started my eighth lap, I skipped my walking break and started running hard. I was trying a pain management trick that I’ve learned over the years. I ran hard enough to generate more endorphins. Endorphins are natural pain killers. If you have the energy to do it, running with more intensity can make pain melt away.
The gravel part of the course is the most runnable. It has stable footing, and there aren’t any trip hazards. My plan was to run hard all the way to the end of the gravel section. Just before I got to the end of it, I passed Jessica. Then I slowed down and walked over the rocks as usual. I ran the clay and grass section conservatively, as I had since the beginning of the race.
My plan worked. The pain in my big toe wasn’t gone, but now it was manageable. I could tune it out.
As I got closer to the turnaround point, I saw Tim coming back. His lead was much smaller now. I could see that he wasn’t running as fast. I ran that lap faster, and he ran it slower. In combination, those two things cut into his lead significantly.
Up until now, I didn’t think I could catch Tim. Now I realized I probably could, if I continued to hammer the pace whenever I was on the nice runnable gravel section. On my way back, I ran that section fast again.
I was curious to know how much more I cut into Tim’s lead. As I neared the end of the lap, I could see him at the aid station. He left the aid station just as I was getting there.
I took my time walking through the aid station, and I drank some Gatorade. That was all the walking I did. For the second straight lap, I skipped the rest of my walking break and immediately started running. I once again ran hard on the gravel section.
Time was a good distance ahead by the time I started that lap. It took a long time to catch him. After I passed him, I continued to run hard to build a lead. I didn’t slow down until I reached the section with the rocks. After that, I ran conservatively.
After the turnaround, I was curious to see how much of a lead I had. It’s not that far from the turnaround to the granite dome. Before I got there, Tim was already over it. I had a lead, but it wasn’t huge.
When I got back to the gravel section, I no longer felt the need to pour it on. I had a lead, and it would probably grow if I just ran normally. Tim wasn’t running as fast now. Besides, I still had three laps to go. At some point, I had to throttle it back.
When I finished that lap, I wanted to make a bathroom stop, but I didn’t feel like I had a safe lead. I walked through the aid station and drank some more Gatorade. For the third straight lap, I began running as soon as I left the aid station.
Other than skipping my walking break at the beginning, I ran the tenth lap the same way I was running earlier in the race. I walked over the rocks and on the approach to the granite dome from both directions. Everywhere else, I ran at a comfortable pace.
The first time I saw Tim in that lap, I checked my watch. I had a lead of about three minutes. That might be safe, but I still needed to make a bathroom stop. When I saw Tim after the turnaround, it wasn’t until after I was over the granite dome. My lead wasn’t huge, but it was expanding.
At the end of my tenth lap, I finally made a long-overdue bathroom stop. I drank some Gatorade, and started my next lap. For the fourth straight lap, I skipped my walking break.
When I saw Tim again, my lead was somewhere between three and four minutes, even after taking a bathroom stop. That seemed safe. At the midpoint of the lap, my lead was even bigger. I got well past the granite dome before I saw him.
As I started my last lap, I was about four minutes ahead of my pace form yesterday. It’s worth noting that yesterday I poured it on in my last lap. Today, I was running it conservatively. Still, it now seemed likely I would be faster than yesterday.
For the first time in five laps, I started my lap with a walking break. I walked for about a minute and a half. As I walked, I noticed soreness in my glutes. When I resumed running, I noticed soreness in my quads. I was paying a price for running so aggressively, but I was having fun. The competition with Tim was making the race more interesting. In a series like this, you have to worry about both the physical fatigue and the mental fatigue. You don’t want every day and every lap to feel the same. If nothing else, competing with Tim was keeping my head in the game. I’d worry about the sore muscles after the race.
When I passed Tim, I had a seven minute lead. That was definitely a safe lead. All I had to do was run this lap at a reasonable pace, and there’s no way he could catch me.
As I made the turnaround for the last time, I was able to enjoy passing each feature of the course for the last time. I was glad to get up and over the granite dome for the last time. The approach to it from the back side was a tiring hill, even walking. I was also happy to get past the rocks for the last time. Finally, I got to enjoy the icy cold draft for the last time. That’s my favorite feature of this course.
I finished my lap, ran through the aid station, and rang the bell. I finished in 4:45:10. For the third straight day, I ran faster than the day before. For the second straight day, I won the race.
After finishing, I walked to one of the swimming holes. This one is 45 feet deep, and it’s late in the season, so I expected the water to be cold. There was a couple wading. I asked them how the water was, and they said, “Cold!” That’s what I wanted to hear.
I took off my shoes and socks and waded in. I went in as far as I could without getting my shorts wet. The cold water went about halfway up my thighs. It wasn’t as cold as an ice bath, but it was quicker and easier.
If I stood in place for too long, the water around my legs would warm up. I kept moving, so my legs would always be surrounded by cold water. It was soothing on my feet, ankles, knees, and most of my sore muscles. I staying in the water for about ten minutes. Then I put on a pair of flip-flops and walked back to my car. I did more icing when I got back to the hotel.
Jessica did the 50K today, but for the next three days, she’ll be doing the marathons. Her goal is to break five hours each day. I’ve broken five hours for four straight days, but I don’t know how long I can keep that up. For the next few days, I’ll be competing with both Tim and Jessica. Who knows? Maybe someone else will show up with fresh legs.
Distance: 26.2 miles
Average Pace: 10:53
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras: 409
Minnesota Marathons/Ultras: 62