Category Archives: Race Reports

Detailed report of a race or other event.

Inching My Way Out Of Long Course “Retirement”…Part 2

Since my last post 8 months ago, I have been trying to keep up the momentum and returning to longer events in 2020.

Its been rough.

Since my post, I participated in my first Tour de Tonka bike ride since 2014. It was also the first time that I didn’t do the 100 mile century ride. I opted instead for the 57 mile route to mimic my upcoming Half Ironman.

I was a struggle. It was slow. It was painful. I have work to do…

I was then signed up for the Twin Cites looney challenge. This is a 10k/5k combo run on Saturday and a 10 miler on Sunday.

The Saturday Events were canceled due to lightning. The 10 miler was beautiful and I felt good (but quite slow…where did all of my speed go???)

A couple of weeks later, I did the Detroit Marathon Motor City Challenge (1 mile/5k Saturday, Half Marathon Sunday). This was an absolute mess.

It turned out that my College Reunion was that same weekend. It was a 3 hour drive from Detroit. It was also a semi formal dress event. No problem, I can do it all…

I showed up for the 1 mile, and the weather was cold but beautiful. I decided to go all out. I sprinted the race start to finish. I thought I was gonna die when I crossed the finish line (damn cold/exercise induced asthma).

Finish Time: 8:05.

Not what I wanted to see. My PR is 6:43. I once did a Half Marathon at an average pace of 7:57/mile. Again, very disappointed with my lack of speed.

The 5k started shortly after that. I just did a slow recovery run knowing I had a HM the next day. Even so, I struggled since my asthma was still flaring up.

After that, I went home and changed into my class reunion suit and new dress shoes (didn’t fit very well…huge mistake) and drove the 3 hours to my old alma mater. When I got there, I had a walking tour of campus (damn shoes were killing me) then a couple of receptions where I was mostly standing around.

I left the reunion around 1am. I could barely walk back to my car since my feet were hurting so bad. I then did the three hour drive to the starting line in Detroit. Along the way, I did a quick change of gear and drank a few gallons of coffee. By the time the race started, I had been up 28 straight hours, had blistered feet, and had to run to the bathroom every five minutes.

As you can guess, it didn’t go well.

I finished in just under three hours (PR: 1:44). But about 45 minutes of that time was spent in porta potty lines.

And, with that train wreck, my season ended.

So, I have a Half Ironman in June. I haven’t been to a pool in over 2 years, a 57 mile bike ride took me several hours (and almost killed me), and a HM took about 3 hours (and almost killed me).

I had a lot of work to do…

 

 

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Filed under Race Reports, Random Musings, Training

2018 Year In Review

Minneapolis/St. Paul, Maple Grove MN
Event #116-122
Triathlon #22-23

Changes in life happen. They are needed. There are times in life that you recognize that the current state of affairs cannot continue and that a change is inevitable…even if one has no idea what that change will look like.

I have been struggling with that since 2014 when I crossed the finish line at Ironman Wisconsin. Nothing kills a dream faster then accomplishing it…and the fastest way to do that is by crossing a “finish line”.

That dream motivated me and pushed me farther then I dreamed possible…and it was gone in a heartbeat. Of course, I pretended it was still there as I bounced around looking for something to take its place (another Ironman, more marathons, ultramarathons, cross country skiing) but nothing stuck. I was going thru the motions and not having any fun. I pulled back a couple of years ago and even further last year…but it was still a struggle. I decided to hang up the running shoes completely after last year’s final race.

I decided I would stop racing since my heart was not in it anymore…but I would remain physically active to maintain health and fitness without a schedule to worry about. That was the plan with my last blog entry over a year ago. How did that plan worked out?

In short…it didn’t.

I spent the next 4 months parked on the couch binging on Netflix. I never had any intention of running in the snow this winter, but I intended to get to the pool regularly (never happened), run on the treadmill (nope), do some weight training (nada), and get on the elliptical regularly (6 times…maybe). So, this wasn’t working, but it did give me a chance to heal up from the overuse injuries and the mental exhaustion that I had been dealing with. It also resulted in a complete loss of base fitness and provided me with extra “insulation “. Sigh…

I received an e-mail announcing the opening of registration for a few local events. For the first time since 2012, I had nothing to train towards, and it resulted in no training. So, I took the plunge and started looking at upcoming events.

There were a few things I knew with certainty:
1. No extreme or ultra-events. Short and fun events only. I would avoid everything with the words “Marathon”, “ultra” or “Ironman” in the title.
2. No traveling. It takes too much time, money, and planing.
3. No massive racing schedule. Just a few events that have always been highlights on my calendar that I would enjoy doing.

I ended up deciding that I wanted one running event and one triathlon. The choice for each event were obvious decisions. The best local tri is Lifetime Minneapolis (beautiful urban course which is completely closed to traffic), and the best local running event is Twin Cities Marathon Weekend (I again signed up for the Loony Challenge which gets me guaranteed entry in the Twin Cities 10 Mile as well at the TC 5k and TC 10k the day before).

That might be just enough to get me going.

It wasn’t. At least not right away. Winter was not going away…and I still had no treadmill motivation. We were well into May before I went out for my first run. I almost made it to the mailbox before stopping to catch my breath. Yeah…base fitness is a real thing. I slowly got back to running a little farther. The city put up some new paved trails last year and I started to explore them. It was a 5k run around the neighborhood and an 8 Mile run around the lake. That became my weekly running goal…one short and one long run per week (8 Mile being the new “long run” replacing the 15 Mile weekly long run that I did for years).

As the weather warmed up a bit further, I pulled the bike out and returned to Elm Creek. I used to do 4 laps during my IM training. This year, I planned on just doing one lap (32 Miles) weekly. I had a love/hate relationship with this park in the past, but I really did miss it. It is a beautiful urban oasis and a fun/safe place to ride. This got added to the weekly schedule.

I also made my way back to the pool. 1 Mile weekly swim. So, I had gradually made my way back to regular physical activity 4 days a week. I wasn’t pushing myself hard at any of this…just getting out there and re-engaging a healthier lifestyle.

The events were doing what I wanted them do to…get me active again. But another thing was becoming clear…I had no interest in aggressively competing at these events. That drive was gone. This was a hobby. What I was doing before was like a job. I never had a DNS or DNF in the past 6 years…but now, I was ok with that possibility. If I was sick or injured (or if the weather was dreadful) I felt fine staying home. I would feel just fine with finishing last…and I would still have a sense of accomplishment for finishing. I would place the medal on the wall with the others, toss the shirt on the pile and likely never wear it again, and still keep the bib and finish time printout in a binder with the others. I would not buy extra swag, or photos, or hoard all the stuff that came with the race (swim cap and wristbands for example). And I would not write extensive blog posts detailing in excruciating detail the training or race I had just completed. This was a hobby. This was for fun and fitness. And it got me on a regular (if not very intense) training schedule.

Once I saw my training was back on track, I signed up for another triathlon (Maple Grove Tri). This was usually a good event, although it’s a boring course. It is a late season triathlon that would keep me in my training routine for an extra six weeks, it is close to home, and my employer was sponsoring the event meaning that I would get perks and discounts.

With a commitment to a second triathlon, I took the plunge and bought a new wetsuit. The old one was…old. It also had a bunch of holes and was way too tight when I bought it 6 years ago (when I was at my absolute thinnest). A small would not fit. Looking at the size chart, I was right in between a S/M and a Medium. I decided to size up, and it was the most comfortable I have felt in a wetsuit ever. I could move. I could breath. I could put it on in under five minutes. It wasn’t cutting off circulation to my feet. I could not wait to try it out at my first triathlon of the year…which turned out to be a non-wetsuit event.

Eventually, race day came Lifetime Minneapolis Sprint Triathlon. It was a beautiful (but hot) day. It had been over nine months since my last event. For the first time in a few years, I was excited as I arrived. I even felt a few butterflies in my stomach. As I arrived, I saw that the water temp was 79.1F so it would be a no-wetsuit event. I expected this, and had left my wetsuit in the car. Got my transition spot ready and had to wait a couple of hours before my wave would start. While waiting, officials announced a yellow flag warning due to high heat and humidity. I kept jumping back into the lake to cool off.

I finally made my way to the start line. The swim was perfect, warm, calm, without much bumping with other racers. T1 went smoothly and it was a gorgeous day to be cycling. Despite my light training volume, I was keeping a decent pace and passing more people then were passing me. The run, on the other hand, was brutal. The course was red flagged by this time. It was hot, humid, with no breeze or shade. Dumping water over your head had little impact since it was so humid. But, I was still able to run the whole way to the finish line.

 

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After I left the race venue, I realized that I never bothered to look at my results. It just didn’t matter to me anymore. This was a victory for me since I always fretted about finish time and position, then micro-analyzed what I could have done better. This time, I didn’t even think of checking (or looking at my Garmin for that matter). Eventually, I did pull up the results. I was slower then average but I wasn’t back of the pack either. This is typically where I finish in triathlon events and I was please to see that I did so well considering my “non-training” training this year. I also picked up a few race photos since they were free.

The training mostly continued until the Maple Grove Triathlon (except swimming never really got off the ground). The weather was cooler, but dreary. The swim was wetsuit legal (my first wetsuit swim in two years). The perks were nice (especially the special section in transition with personalized nameplates). I wasn’t as excited for this event as Lifetime Minneapolis. I had to wait around awhile for my swim start, and everything went ok. My knee had been bugging me for the last few weeks (resulting in no long training runs) and it was giving me grief here. Other then that, it was an uneventful end to my Triathlon season. I again left without bothering to check my finish time (again…middle to back of the pack).

With Triathlon season behind me, I had to work on my run since Twin Cities Marathon Weekend was coming up…and this would include two consecutive days of 10 Miles of running (10k, 5k, and 1 Mile on Saturday, 10 Miles on Sunday). If had not run more then 8 Miles in one day in almost a year (with no back-to-back long runs). Minor injuries plagued me that last month. I strained a rib muscle and that completely sidelined me for three weeks. I ended up running only two times in September (and never over 5k). The weather was particularly bleak and rainy heading into marathon weekend. Fortunately, the rib improved and the rain stopped just in time for race weekend.

As usual, I had signed up for the Loony Challenge. This is a 10k/5k combo on Saturday and the 10 Mile on Sunday. For the Saturday races, they start the morning with the longest race (10k) starting at the marathon finish line. We run on the Marathon course for 5k, then turn around and come back. They then use the same course for the 5k, Family 1 Mile, kids 1/2 Mile by just bringing the turnaround point closer. It’s rather efficient, if a little repetitive. I got there early, got my bibs and shirts, and went to the corporate team tent.

One of the challenges I always face at this event is weather…and layering. I am acclimated to warm weather throughout the summer and this is usually one of my first cool weather runs in months. I pull out all of the cold weather running gear and try to figure out what to wear. I usually end up overdressed. This year would be no different. Temps were in the low 40’s (I would have preferred low 50’s with a light wind. It would be overcast but minimal chance of rain. I ended up going with a long sleeved thermal top with a light zippered windbreaker and long tights. When I got to the start coral, it was windier then I anticipated and I instantly wished I had grabbed some gloves and a head beanie to cover the ears…but it was too late to go back for them.

The races were familiar. I was cold the first mile or two, but warmed up adequately. My hands still got cold when we got a bit of wind. My rib was behaving but my knees and ankles were both stiff and achy. I fell into my normal pace (middle to back of the pack). When I crossed the finish line, I had just enough time to grab a snack, stuff my finishers medal into my zippered coat pocket and get to the 5k start coral. Repeated this again for the family fun 1 Mile Run (always feel weird about this one since it’s a kids race, but I can’t leave bling behind…especially since I run so few races now).

Speaking of bling, I’ll bring up my biggest pet peeve for the weekend…bling. Medals has never been a strength of the Twin Cities Marathon…but they have been getting better. They used to use the same medals and finishers shirts for the 10k and 5k. When they started the challenges, they started creating unique (but very similar) medals for the two races. Well, they went back to using the same medal for the two events. This is fine for smaller events and organizations, but it just comes off as cheap and lazy here. It is especially inappropriate here when a challenge event signs you up for both races. And the medal design was so plain. There was the race name on a plain background with a small emblem on the lower left of the medal (that I have no idea what it is supposed to be). C’mon TCM, you charge a lot for these events! Don’t be so lazy and cheap with these….

Since I’m venting, I’ll mention my other pet peeve for the weekend. The free race photos. In theory, this sounds great. But they had no photographers. They just had high speed cameras taking wide angle photos every second or so. The result is a big group photo with most runners hard to identify. The photos were linked with runners based on a nearby timing mat. There was an issue with that calibration since most of the pics didn’t have me in them. There was only one photo station on the whole course and another at the finish line. No post race photos either. For me, this wasn’t that big of a deal since I have thousands of race photos and most of these start to look alike after awhile. But I felt bad for the first time marathon runners who were denied the option of getting good race photos.

Anyways, I got my gear, walked a half mile back to the car then headed across the street to the expo. I always love this Expo! For the first time, we had to go thru security and a metal detector before entering (sign of the times I guess). The expo was mostly similar to what I was accustomed to…but it seemed smaller then before. It was in the same hall, but official merchandise, TCM booth, Medtronic Booth (title sponsor), and transportation info booth all had much bigger footprints with a lot of wasted floor space. Despite this, some booths were unrented and they set up a bean bag toss or hoopla hoops just to fill the empty spaces. I got the feeling that the the decline of interest in running events that has been occurring over the past few years was starting to be felt here as well. I checked the race numbers and Marathon finishers was down by a couple of thousand people from a few years ago…but 10 Mile participation was up by the same amount and the short events had stable participation numbers. Still, the expo seemed somewhat smaller. The absence of Cariboo Coffee was the most glaring omission (as the free coffee was always a bonus at the expo). Anyways, I got my bib and shirt, and went on my way back home to rest up for day two.

I was up again in the middle of the night the next day. I was really feeling stiff and sore from Saturday’s events. This was going to be a painful run. The weather was the same, so I used similar gear (but added gloves and a beanie). The marathon and 10 Mile start in downtown Minneapolis (near the new US Bank Stadium-home of the MN Vikings) and finish at the state Capitol in St Paul. It starts an hour earlier than the marathon and is a straight line between the two points. The marathon takes a much more scenic tour of Minneapolis before heading into St Paul. The two races share the same final 7 Miles. The race was fine overall. I struggled with the aches and pains that I earned yesterday by competing without enough training. The course was familiar. The support was amazing, especially since we were coming thru about 3 hours ahead of the marathoners and it was not ideal spectating weather. The course was, as always, beautiful. The rain held off and the wind was pretty light. It wasn’t long before my short season came to an end.

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41B38928-2181-476C-B332-AA3A33A44497So, looking back, was it a successful season? Yes and no. The events were spaced out more and I looked forward to them again…so that was a victory. It did motivate me to stay active, but not as consistently as I would have liked. Now that it is over, my motivation is gone and I will need to figure out a way to stay fit during the off-season. These events are some of the best events in the region and I can’t imaging sitting out the Lifetime Minneapolis Triathlon or Twin Cities Marathon Weekend as long as I am even casually involved in running and triathlon. So, yes, I will be back for more next year. I already registered for Lifetime Minneapolis and waiting for early registration to start for another Loony Challenge.

Who knows, I may blog about it too…

 

 

Addendum

The week after the TC Marathon Weekend, I participated in a 5k charity run in support of a friend whose family has been affected by brain cancer. It was a 5k run/walk and I was the only one in my group that decided to run.

That was a mistake.

You see, I had a massive tree fall in our backyard the week before. As always, when I pull out the chainsaw, my wife tells me that I should hire someone to do it. It’s like she thinks I don’t know what I’m doing.

She’s right.

Fortunately, I still have all my body parts but I hurt almost every muscle in my body 2 days before the event. Mostly, I strained a bunch of rib and back muscles. It took me 5 minutes to crawl out of bed the morning of the event. Getting out of the car at the race venue was another significant accomplishment.

Waiting around at the starting area with our team, it felt like I was loosening up. I was registered to run, but I could have just tossed the bib and entered the walking coral.

But, I’m stubborn.

Less then a 1/4 Mile into the run, my back just knotted up completely. Somehow, I kept running, but it was not a pretty sight. Very happy that there were no race photos for this one. I finished in just under 35 minutes…not bad under the circumstances.

This event was a nice way to end the season…supporting others and helping raise money for a good cause.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to get load up on ibuprofen and warm up my heating pad…

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Race Report: Lifetime Maple Grove Sprint Triathlon

August 27, 2016
Maple Grove, MN
Triathlon #18
Event #103

Triathlon season always flies by. This is already the final event of the season. It will be at least eight months before serious triathlon training begins again, and 10 months before my next tri.

Today, I have unfinished business. I left Waconia with mixed emotions. On one hand, I got a 1st place finish in my age group. On the other hand, I had a disastrous swim which has resulted is a severe loss of confidence in my Open Water abilities. I will need to do a lot more open water training before next season. But, I desperately needed a good swim to boost my confidence heading into the off-season. Another bad swim will haunt me for months. The rest of the race is just for fun. It will be a much bigger and more competitive race, and there would be no chance at a podium finish today. That’s just fine. I have already punched my ticket to Nationals. This is just a fun victory lap…

 

PRE-RACE:

The weather was unsettled. We knew it would still be cooler than seasonal, but warmer then Waconia. What we didn’t know was if it would rain. The weather report changed daily. Sometimes it would be scattered showers, other reports would predict severe thunderstorms. The morning of the race, it looked like it would be overcast with possible passing sprinkles. Prepare for anything I guess.

Water would be wetsuit legal (and it was…71F). I got their really early since I didn’t get my packet the day before (many didn’t) and parking was a 10 minute walk. The pre-dawn weather was perfect. It was cool, but dry and comfortable. Once I got my packet and got my gear organized, I threw on the wetsuit and headed to the lake. I had a lot of time for a warm up swim…international distance swimmers were going first, and I had over an hour to wait. The lake was perfectly calm. There was barely a ripple and no current. I jumped in and swam slow and relaxed in the shallows then in deeper water. I would then flip on my back and just float there and take it all in. I was perfectly relaxed and at peace. This would be a different swim then last weekend. As the start time drew closer (time trial start by age group…2 swimmers every three seconds), I headed over to the staging area.

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THE SWIM:

I was in one of the first sprint waves and headed off early. I tried not to push too hard. I just wanted a nice relaxed swim. I wasn’t sighting as often as I should, but my plan was to just find my stroke and settle into a rhythm as much as possible. It worked. Despite a bit of zig-zagging around the course and occasional contact with another swimmer (it was much more crowded than Waconia), I was stunned at how fast the turn buoys came up. By the time I came out of the water, I was certain that the course was short. It wasn’t. My Garmin showed 0.5 miles. Right there, my mission for the day was accomplished. The rest of the race was just for fun.

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Swim Split – 19:04 (2:32 min/100m)

 

T1:

Long run to transition. I always have a hard time getting my wetsuit off. My gear was in big ziplock bags to keep it dry from the rain, so transition was not optimally efficient. Once again, I had one of the slowest T1 times in my AG.

T1 Split – 4:20.

 

THE BIKE:

The rain had started  falling by the time I rolled out of T1. As soon as we hit the road, I started reeling people in. Of course, other riders were blowing past me as well. The course may be kind of boring, but it was very dynamic and busy. I glanced at my bike computer. I was typically over 20 mph (except in the turns where I slowed way down…road was very wet…lots of road spray…and I am just not a technically skilled or aggressive cyclist…especially on slick roads). The course was under 12 miles, and both of my 5 mile split times were just above 15 minutes…very pleased with that. Around mile 10, the rain started to come down hard. It felt like sleet and each drop stung a little. The rain persisted the rest of the ride to T2.

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Bike Split – 34:44 (19.01 mph)

 

T2:

More efficient. Finally a middle of the pack transition time!

T2 Split – 2:18

 

THE RUN:

With a more aggressive and successful Bike Split then planned (1/2 mph better than Waconia), I was going to push as hard as I could for as long as I could on the run. It was a 5k…I could suffer for 30 minutes. I went out fast and I was just soaked (feet were sloshing around in my shoes). The ride was a little chilly, but the run was ideal. The rain had let up a little. The sun, heat and wind were non-factors. I have rarely run well this year, but I seem to find a hidden gear during my triathlons (which is definitely absent during my run only events). The first mile hurt…a lot. By mile 1.25, I kept hearing someone right behind me. She was using me as a pacer…and I was doing what I could to drop her. A quarter mile later, and we had joined forces. We were both forcing the other to go a little faster than we wanted to go. We also distracted each other from the inner hell we were in. She had just done the Nationals so I got a little bit of info from her. By 2.5 miles she had hinted that she would not be able to keep up this pace, so I started to pull away. Not too much farther, and the finish was in sight. Many around me started mad sprints for the finish. I tried to copy them but I had nothing left in the tank. I cruised into the finish at an even pace having left it all in the course. I have no idea what I am doing in this pic…

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Run Split – 26:19 (8:30 min/mile)

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Finish Time – 1:26:42

Age Group Place – 12/31
Gender Place – 147/275
Overall Place – 214/503

 

POST RACE:

I am more pleased with my performance today then any other triathlon this season. I exceeded expectations in all disciplines. I recorded faster speeds in all disciplines then Waconia (7 minutes faster on the swim, 1/2 mph faster on the bike, and 30 seconds/mile faster on the run). I got my pic taken and headed for post race food. This was the best spread of the season. A local BBQ restaurant was catering-build your own pulled pork sandwiches with choice of sauces. I went back for seconds. Unfortunately, the rain was coming down hard. I was already soaked and the wind had kicked up a notch. I got cold…fast. With these larger races, I cannot access my gear in transition until all racers are done with T2. I had to wait about 1 hour….in the rain. By the time I got in there, all of my plastic bags of gear (which I had not securely sealed in the heat of the race) were filled with water. It was 2 bags of drenched yuck. It was a long trek back to the car to warm up and dry out.

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And, so ended triathlon 2016. Overall, a fun season (except for the Waconia swim). I had a 1st place finish last week (along with qualifying for Nationals) and a stronger race this weekend. I already have the 2017 schedule tentatively planned. In the mean time, I will focus on the run again and the final races of the year – The Twin Cities Loony Challenge (1 mile, 5k, 10k, and 10 mile) at the Twin Cities Marathon Weekend in early October.

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Race Report: HITS Sprint Triathlon-Waconia

August 21, 2016
Wacconia,  MN
Triathlon #17
Event #102

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When it comes to races, participants usually have a script visualized in their minds eye. Sometimes it’s a dream. Sometimes it’s a fear. Mostly, it is a vision of what has gone before, and a realistic a hope for something a little bit better.

Some races transend expectation. This may be good or bad. Occasionally, they are both. A race that baffles the racer at the end of the day in every possible way.

This was one of those races. Nothing followed the script. Nothing was even close. It made for my worst and best race in recent memory.

My training volumes and intensity have been down from last year. I showed up to participate, not compete. But, I had thoughts that I could get my first ever podium finish. This is not because I thought I could smoke the competition. Instead, I remembered that this was a very small triathlon. Most participants got a podium award. Unfortunately, I was in the largest and most competative Age Group last year. Despite a decent showing, I ended up 5th out of 6 participants. If my age group happened to be a little smaller this time, I could get lucky and score a third place finish…maybe.

I found out last week that HITS would not be returning the Minnesota next year. Judging from last year’s event, this was not be a shock. About 50 participants in the full, 100 or so in the half, and small showings in the Sprint and Olympic distances. The medals and shirts were the same for everyone. The course was dull, even for a sprint, with only a small number of volunteers. Despite rock bottom pricing ($200 early bird pricing for the full), HITS just never caught on. Turnout is much better at local events (participants, volunteers, spectators). So, it was no surprise that this event was absent from next year’s calendar. I am starting to wonder is there even will be a 2018 HITS calendar. HITS has dropped events in Texas, Arizona, Colorado and now Minnesota. This leaves only events in New York, Florida and California. I wasn’t planning on running this event in 2017, but the loss of competition in the market is never a good thing. I truly hope that they can make a comeback.

The forcast called for a cold front to come through town the day before the event. Predicted morning temps was to hover around 50F. Fortunately, there wasn’t enough time for the lake temps to drop. The swim would be wetsuit legal, but comfortable. The run would be nice. I expected to freeze on the bike course, and I started going through my cool weather cycling wardrobe. The day before my race, HITS held their longer events (140.6 and 70.3). Those guys got clobbered with cold, rain, wind, and whitecaps. I definately got the better day of the weekend to compete.

Unfortunately, I did everything wrong leading up to this event. My training was sidetracked. I did not swim or bike for a month before this race. My running volume was down as well. I spent the day before the race watching Gwen Jorgensen win a Gold Medal in Rio (while Sarah True received a heartbreaking DNF). That night, Canada’s rock band – The Tragically Hip – streamed their final show online. The lead singer was diagnosed with brain cancer and had just had a craniotomy, chemo and radiation, and decided that he wanted to tour one last time. I had to watch the show. It was electrifying. But it also wasn’t over until 11:00 pm. Since I had a 90 minute drive to the race site the next morning, and the early transition time, I had to get up by 2:30 am. That gave me about 3 hours of sleep….

 

PRE-RACE:

The weather turned out better and worse then expected. It ended up being warmer (high 50’s) but felt colder due to strong winds. As I arrived at the venue, I could hear (but not see) the waves crashing against the shore. This immediately started to mess with my confidence. This is odd since I have swam in far worse conditions without issue. But the cool morning air, strong winds and the sound of the waves messed with by head. I suddenly had a bad feeling about this race.

It is a small event. Parking was close to the park and I got there just as packet pick up was starting. Generic shirt again (and wrong size), chip, bib, stickers and back to the car I went. After getting most of my gear together, I hiked back to transition and got my area organized. HITS does provide a nice transition area with benches for each participant. After setting up, I decided that it would be easier to get my wetsuit on in the back of my SUV instead on the wet grass…so another hike back to the car. I was walking back to transition for the last time when I took note that I was walking barefoot…I had left my running shoes in the car. My head was clearly not in the game that morning.

After everything was in place, I headed to the beach and saw the water for the first time. The waves weren’t as bad as they sounded, but there were a lot of them, and there was a very strong current coming towards the shore.

I was the first to hop in the water for a warmup. The water was very comfortable…but the anxiety skyrocketed as soon as I started taking a few test strokes. The current and frequent waves made it impossible for me to get into a rhythm and I started panicking. The more I swam, the worse it became. I started to doubt my ability to do this event.

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We were called back to shore for a quick pre-race briefing. It would be a mass start from the beach. I didn’t really pay attention to the rest as I was trying to get my heart rate and breathing under control. I couldn’t. Moments later the horn sounded. I let the small mass start (50 or so racers) go ahead and then, with an intense feeling of foreboding, I followed them into the water…

 

THE SWIM:

Let’s just sum it up. The swim was a complete disaster. It was my worst swim since Ironman 70.3 Racine (with the freezing lake temps, six foot swells, the current and the undertow). At least there, I had a reason to panic.

I may have been 100 feet from shore when I felt certain that I was going to drown out here. I actually turned around and started heading back to the beach. I then saw a paddle board that was closer and headed towards her instead (mostly because it was closer). I tried to calm down (didn’t really work) and the paddle boarder agreed to stay near me (since I was already about in last place and marked by the lifeguards as the most likely to need rescuing).

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The course was a triangle. The first leg, I would be fighting the current the whole way. The second leg, I would have waves coming onto my right side (the side I breath from), and the third leg, the current would help me back to shore.

I swam another hundred feet and had to latch on to the board again. I was doing head up breast stroke half the time. I doubt I took more then 5-6 freestyle strokes in a row. This pattern continued until I reached the turn buoy. I grabbed on to it for a break. I looked around me and there were a couple of struggling swimmers nearby, but almost everyone was long gone. I was dreading the second leg. Waves would be hitting me in the face as I tried to breath. I figured that the first one would send me into a complete panic. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. I was able to keep my face above water, but I never found a rhythm. I was still doing a fair amount of breast stroke. I was still taking breathers on paddle boards and buoys.

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By the time I reach the final turn buoy, I started to wonder if I would miss the swim cutoff. We had thirty minutes to complete the swim. It felt that I was in the water longer then that. I checked my Garmin and realized that I never started to timer. I forgot that I could have just looked at time of day since we started racing as a mass start at 7:00 am. I was having that kind of morning.

I started the final leg, and the current finally started to help me. I started to get into a rhythm, but I still fighting a very high anxiety level, and a certainty that I would get my first DNF. After what seemed like an eternity, my feet touched the sand and I crawled back onto the beach.

Swim Split – 26:57

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T1:

I expected to be handing over my timing chip. Instead, I was directed to the wetsuit stripper. A quick strip later and I was in transition. I looked around and I few stragglers we’re heading out on the bike and I was the last one there. I knew I passed at least one swimmer at the end of the last leg, so I was not dead last, but I was very close. I had to start catching up. I had to vindicate myself a little bit on the bike. I tried to get through transition as fast as I could, grabbed my bike, and headed out of T1.

T1 Split – 2:38

 

THE BIKE:

I looked at my Garmin. It still wasn’t on. But time of day was 7:30 am. So my swim + T1 time was 30 minutes. I knew that I had made the swim cutoff and wasn’t going to get an automatic DNF. But it had been close. I felt angry and embarrassed. I knew I wasn’t quite dead last, but I was close. I least nobody would likely be passing me on the bike. Hopefully, I could start reeling people in.

It was time to redeem myself.

I attacked from behind. In the first mile, I spotted the couple that had left transition just as I arrived…

“On your left!”

A mile later, I come to another rider…

“On your left!”

Then my first group of riders…

“On your left!”

You get the idea.

By the time I had reached the turnaround (it was a simple out and back course), I had lost count.

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On the way back, I counted how many were behind me. Twenty two. Not bad…

The ride back was lonely. I passed one more cyclist. Didn’t see anyone else. The stronger cyclist were way ahead of me, and I was all by myself in the middle of the pack.

It was a cold ride. Being fresh out of the lake didn’t help and the windy conditions made it worse. But the hard cycling and the sun did make for a pretty comfortable ride back.

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A few more miles at a steady pace and I was back in T2.

Bike Split – 44:10

 

T2:

I just tried to not waste any time. Certainly room for improvement.

T2 Split – 1:13

 

THE RUN:

I had found some redemption on the bike, and wanted to keep that going on the run. I still knew that a podium finish was a possibility and didn’t want to just miss it because I got lazy in the final few miles.

The first part of the course is a dirt trail. Unfortunately, torrential rains had struck the night before, and the trail was a mud run in locations. I maneuvered through as best I could and got to the road that we were racing on.

If it was cold for the bike, it was ideal for the run. I didn’t think that I would be reeling anyone in, but I wanted to be passed as little as possible. The course was again a simple out and back. On the was out, someone just flew past me. Fortunately, it was a female and not in my AG. I remembered at this point that the body markers had not placed the competitors age on the calf…I would not know if someone was in my AG or not. This would become a big deal later on.

I reached the turnaround and got some water. Several seconds later, I passed someone going out towards the turnaround. He looked my age. I glanced at his calf. His age wasn’t recorded. I had no way of knowing if he was in my age group or not. But a voice in my head told me to make damn certain that he didn’t pass me. I look further back. He still had a little bit of concrete between him and the turnaround. I had a comfortable lead with 1.5 miles to go.

I passed a small number of walkers on the way back in. None of them looked like AG competition. I glanced back occasionally. He was gaining on me, but I didn’t think that he could make up the rest of the distance in time. He was running out of run course.

Soon, I was back at the muddy path. I tried to stay in the grassy areas so I didn’t slip too much. A fall here and I would be overtaken. But, I safely maneuvered the path.

I got back to the park. I just had to get to the picnic pavilion and it would be over. Head down, final sprint, and I crossed the finish line.

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Run Split – 28:27

Finish Time – 1:43:25

 

POST RACE:

It certainly wasn’t the race I wanted. The swim was a disaster. The bike went well, but I was had significantly less training then last season and my bike split was slower then 2015. My run was a little faster this time, and my transitions were improved. But I was seven minutes slower overall. A podium was still a possibility, but it just depended on what the rest of my age group accomplished this day.

I got my medal and a bit of food. The first page of race results was printed and taped to a table. I looked at it. Nobody in my age group on the list. Maybe I had a chance after all. An announcement stated that the award ceremony would take place in about 30 minutes. So, a went to transition, grabbed my gear and headed to the car. After a quick clothing change and loading everything into the vehicle, I headed back to the park to see if I got lucky. I did not feel optimistic.

Upon my return, they were just setting up. I returned to the results board and a second page was posted. I scan down the age group column and started to curse. Two back-to-back M45-49 had made the list. I didn’t see anyone else in my AG. I was still in the running for third. There was still a glimmer of hope.

One last scan of the sheet and I saw it. My jaw dropped because I saw my name…

It was listed next to the first M45-49 result.

I had just won my age group. First place.

I scanned the sheets again. Nobody ahead of my in M45-49. There was one right behind me however. I was right to listen to that voice in my head. The guy chasing me on the run course was in my age group….and he was fast. His run split was 21:53. He had made up 6:30 on me in the run. If he had been 16 seconds faster, he would have won my age group. But he didn’t. I held him off. I was on a podium for the first time…and I was alone at the top.

 

AWARD CEREMONY:

I looked at the results again and took a pic. I texted my wife…and a few friends. I could not believe what I was seeing. The award ceremony was starting and I headed over.

The awards just kind of whizzed by. I was in a fog for most of it. The announcer got to M45-49 and I held my breath. He announced my name. First place!

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I was just dazed after winning the award. Someone I was talking with earlier in the day had come over to congratulate me. He then asked “So, are you going to go to the Nationals?”

USA Triathlon National Age Group Championship. The 2016 event had just occurred a week earlier in Omaha. Some of my most talented triathlon buddies had qualified and attended. I remember reading their race reports and thinking how cool it would be to attend…but that I had no chance in the world of qualifying for it.

“You do know that you just qualified for Nationals right?”

No. No, I didn’t know that.

I got a dry mouth thinking about it. This is thiathlon equivalent to qualifying for the Boston Marathon, or the Ironman World Championships in Kona.

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USAT is the national triathlon organization. They sanction almost every race in the country. They select and train the Olympic athletes, set up collegiate programs, and have a series of regional and national championships. Most events are open and no qualification is needed…except for the Olympic Distance National Age Group Championship (the sprint event held on the same weekend is open to everyone).

I started to do some research. Triathletes qualify by completing a USAT sanctioned triathlon of ANY distance (super sprint to Ironaman) and finishing 1st in their Age Group OR in the top 10% of their age group. This race was USAT sanctioned, I was first in my AG, and a sprint was acceptable distance. There was a little bit of fine print, but none of it seemed to affect me. I reached out to friends who had just finished the race a week earlier, and they confirmed what I suspected. I had just qualified for Nationals.

They warned me not to hold my breath. Next year’s championship schedule would not be announced until the end of the year, and I likely would not get an invitation until January, but I had made it. They also confirmed that the event will be in Omaha for one more year. The venue would be perfect for me. Omaha is a 6 hour drive from home (I could not imagine shipping all my gear and flying to the race), and it was a calm inland lake for the swim (I just could not bring myself to doing an ocean or Great Lakes swim again). It would be a year until the event, so I would have time train for the longer distance in the spring…and get out to do some open water training since I clearly need it. Finally, the schedule shows that the Olympic Distance is held on Saturday, and that I could also do the sprint on Sunday. Sounds like an amazing opportunity!

So, yeah, I had a script in my mind for this event. I would be middle of the pack. It would be my best chance of the year to get a podium spot if luck went my way. I panicked on the swim, I almost turned around and quit. I almost missed the cutoff on the swim and almost got a DNF. Instead, I persevered, had a strong bike, a strategic run, I won my age group, and I qualified for 2017 National Championships. None of that was ever in the script. Sometimes, dreams come true. Occasionally, things you couldn’t even dare to dream of will come true as well. You never know what race day will bring…

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Race Report: Lifetime Sprint Triathlon-Minneapolis

July 9th, 2016
Minneapolis, MN
Triathlon #16
Event #101

Triathlon season in the Upper Midwest is short. Very very short. It is mostly a July/August thing. I have competed in June and September, but lake temps can be very cold. So, we have about 10 months of nothing, then there are two months of triathlons being hosted in practically every lake in the state.

Even though I train every spring for it, it is always a shock when I turn the calendar to July and triathlon season is here. It is also a shock when it disappears just as suddenly on Labor Day.

When I was running the Red White & Boom HM this Monday, I knew that my first tri of the year was coming 5 days later and my mind kept returning to that race. I had to dig out my USAT card and my wetsuit and all of my other gear. So many more details for a triathlon then a run…

Fortunately, Lifetime Minneapolis is one of my favorite triathlons. It’s big, it’s urban, it’s scenic, and it’s well organized. It is also a highlight of my season. As a bonus, the weather looked to be perfect!

Race morning was breathtaking…

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The venue is stunning. The weather usually cooperates, but never quite like this. Sunrise was a moment to treasure. After I put my phone away, I saw some other athletes heading towards transition is a dense layer of fog just as first light was upon them.

I took it all in, and I could remember why I fell in love with this sport in the first place.

Despite to amazing urban park venue, the courses has a few challenges. The bike course is rough. The course has a few tight u-turns and steep (but short) downhills on uneven cobblestone with potholes in one section…on a road bike. Fortunately, the bike course is always closed to vehicular traffic making it much safer. It takes us for a stretch on the West Bank on the Mississippi River, over a bridge, and back down the East Bank of the Mississippi. The roads are narrow, but closed to traffic and wide enough for one way bike traffic. Overall, it works out great…

…but not this year.

This year, the needed bridge to cross the river was being repaired. So, they sent us up and back on the narrow east bank road…and we got some of the tightest sections of the course twice…with oncoming bike traffic…and a lot less room to maneuver.

It was nobody’s fault…just the way it had to play out this year…and the old course should return next year.

As you can tell, I got there early (again). Water temp 75F (wetsuit legal, but not really needed). I opted for the sleeveless. I got my transition station set up then had a couple hours to kill. I went to the practice swim area repeatedly to cool off (my first open water and first wetsuit swims of the year). All the international racers went first, and finally, it was my turn.

 

The Swim (750m or 0.47 miles):

Swim was a time trial start…two racers every 3 seconds. Simple course, green water, calm conditions, not much contact. I continued to do my single speed in the water that I always do at these events. 26/40 place in my AG. Not much more to say.

Swim Split – 18:05

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T1:

I really need to get a little bit faster at these. 37/40 place.

T1 Split – 5:33

The Bike (15 miles):

Pretty much said all I needed to say. Seemed slow at times due to the bottlenecks and added technical elements. I am not an aggressive cyclists if the roads are technical and crowded. Given those limitations, I am pleased with my average speed. AG 30/40.

Bike Split – 51:34 (17.45 mph)

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T2:

Same as T1. Still 37/40.

T2 Split: 3:05

The Run (5k or 3.1 miles):

This was one flat lap around the lake we swam in (plus an out and back on the bridge crossing the lake). Aid stations were at every mile. We needed them. The heat (about 80F and sunny) felt awesome on the bike, and not so great on the run. I had been running very slow all year and I was determined to go faster then my typical 11-12 minute/mile pace. I succeeded. Best run I have had in over a year. AG 16/40.

Run Split – 27:32 (8:53/mile)

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The Finish:

Nothing spectacular, but I was not really competing with anyone but myself, and I am pleased with those splits. Unfortunately, the transitions killed me. Because of those, my overall finish place was worse then any of my 3 disciplines.

Finish Time – 1:45:47 (336/642 overall, 224/359 males, 31/40 AG).

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Post Race:

This race is known for some good hot real food after the race. Since a chicken company was the principle sponsor, I expected some of that after the race. Nope. We got a snack box like they hand out at Disney after a race. Kindof a letdown. The medal was great! It was the events 15th anniversary and the medal reflected that (and…it was a bottle opener again!) The rest of the swag was good too. The shirt was well designed and we got a poster too…too bad there aren’t pros at this event anymore to autograph them.

Overall, great event. Loved returning to triathlon, and looking forward to two more triathlons next month before the season come to a sudden end…

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Race Report: Red, White & Boom Half Marathon

July 4th, 2016
Minneapolis, MN
Half-Marathon #27
Event #100(!)

My 100th event (well, 89th according to Athlinks since they don’t consider events without a finish time as official…so the fun runs and 100 mile cycling events don’t get counted). Fitting that it should be the Red, White & Boom Half Marathon…it has been a staple on my schedule since I started running 5 years ago. It is the only event that I have raced every year since I started to run. The half-marathon is also my most commonly raced distance.

So, I found it ironic that, in reaching this milestone, that it could be my last half.

Unlike full marathons, I am not actively avoiding the distance, but I am cutting back dramatically on all race events. I will likely limit my racing to a spring and fall running event and a summer triathlon. The fall race will be the big event of the year and will be the Twin Cities 10-Mile (no half marathon option available at that event). The summer event will be a sprint triathlon (Lifetime Triathlon Minneapolis most likely), leaving a spring race that will likely be shorter after the off-season (Hot Chocolate 15k scheduled for 2017). A half marathon will almost certainly show up on my schedule at some point…but nothing is on the radar in the foreseeable future.

I have finally settled back into a predictable training routine. Each week I do a 1 mile pool swim, a 32 mile bike/5k run brick, two 10k runs and one “long” run (10k or longer depending on my schedule). This averages out to over 1 hour/day of fitness. It feels like a good balence.

Being on the 4th of July, this is historically a hot race, and it starts early. I received an e-mail that the race would start under a yellow flag due to heat. That seemed a little excessive (mid to high 60’s with dew points in the low 60’s). I assumed it would finish under a yellow flag, but those temps don’t seem too unpleasant.

Packets could be picked up on race morning which makes my life easier. Unfortunately, they have added a 5k run to this event and have opted for two completely separate courses (same finish line) so my race is on the west side of the Mississippi River (about a 1 mile walk from packet pick up) instead of being on both sides and crossing the river a couple of times. I think that I will miss the old course…

The morning was beautiful. Parking was worse then prior years (always a nightmare for this event) even though I got there before they even started handing out packets (5:15 am). I got my stuff, hiked back to the car (to drop off the shirt and pint glass) then headed back to the start. So, I had logged over two miles on my feet before I even made it to the starting line.

The weather was ideal. 64F, slight humidity, nice breeze…and a yellow flag (seriously?) Small dose of reality hit when the cop went by with the bomb sniffing K-9. They wandered through the crowd and opened the garbage bins for a quick sniff before moving on.

The race was fine, but I did miss the old course. This one just wasn’t as scenic. It did get into the low 70’s by the end of the race and I was pouring water over my head during the second half. My speed did not return for this event (I didn’t expect it to) and I am still left to wonder why I am so much slower then before. This race was a full 21 minutes slower then my first half marathon…about 8 weeks after I bought my first running shoes. I am not that much older. Sigh…

As is the norm for this race, they offer grilled hotdogs at the finish. I have never liked these mystery meet products, but I do “indulge” in my only hot dog of the year right after the finish line.

Finish Time – 2:30:02 (grrrr…)

This brings my “spring” running season to a (late) close. In five days, my short summer triathlon season begins (training is already in full swing). Three sprints, the final two being in late August. It should be a nice change of pace…

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Race Report: Fargo Marathon Weekend

May 20-21, 2016
Fargo, ND
Marathon #16 (State #11)
Events #98-99

I had no business running a marathon last weekend.

None.

The reasons I did so are listed in my previous post, but I was massively under-trained.

After my back-to-back full marathons in October, I took a prolonged off-season (where I did next to nothing), followed by a bronchitis that took over 7 weeks to clear up (where I did absolutely nothing), followed by looking for excuses to do even more “not much of anything”. Occasionally, I would hop on the bike trainer for 30-45 minutes, but I almost never touched the treadmill.

In the 7 months since the Des Moines Marathon, I ran both Disney/Star Wars half-marathons (which are more “events” than races as I jog from photo stop to photo stop), along with the 10k and 5k run/walks that were part of those two weekends. Aside from that, I did a winter 10 miler and a winter 5k (both part of the TC In Motion Summit Challenge running series. Both were painful). Aside from that, I might have done a 5k training run every couple of weeks or so. Basically, I wasn’t trained for the half marathons or the 10 miler…and it showed.

I “upgraded” my Fargo Half Marathon to the Full Marathon mostly out of nostalgia (“Stupid is what Stupid does”). When I did Des Moines, I was considering that it could be my final marathon. Over the winter, I came to the conclusion that my marathon days were behind me. That said, I felt a little sad about that. A sentimental part of me wanted to do it one last time, knowing that this would be the final time. I upgraded with less than a month to go. I immediately regretted it as I was in no shape to run a marathon. I started “training” with about three weeks to marathon day. It wasn’t pretty. I basically tried a few times to do a “long run”. The best I did was 9 miles with a handful of 10k and 5k thrown in. Finally, with 2 weeks before race day, I completed a very slow 18 miler. It would have to do. I did a few more 5k and a 10k slow runs leading to race weekend.

I live about 3 hours away from Fargo, and this race had always been on my bucket list of races to run. The course is very flat, and Fargo has a cute little college town charm. The course winds through neighborhoods, downtown streets, 3 college campuses, some bike paths along the Red River and crosses the river into Moorhead Minnesota. The expo was held on the floor of the FargoDome which would also be the start and finish lines for almost all of the races (indoor start and finish for the marathon, half marathon, and 10k).

I drove up on Friday morning and headed to the expo. It was your typical mid-sized expo. It had the normal array of vendors, groups promoting their own events, samples, and the official event merchandise store. I only picked up a cotton Fargo Marathon T-shirt for $10 (I have a ton of technical fabric finishers gear, but it’s nice to have a few basic Cotton shirts for day-to-day wear) and an event poster for $10 (I usually don’t get these, but I had plans for it).

I checked in for the marathon (bib, timing chip, 1/4 zip long sleeve tech shirt, Under Armour Event Bag). The 5k registration desk was nowhere to be found. When I asked about it, the vague response I received was “somewhere upstairs”. I go upstairs and wander around (there are no signs giving directions) and eventually found it on one of the concourses in front of one of the arenas entrance. Got my bib, chip and shirt, but no bag (one per registration…and since I was doing the challenge, I only registered once). I asked a volunteer where the starting line for the 5k was being staged…and I got a blank stare. She asked the others, and nobody at packet pick up knew where the race was starting (answer: just outside the doors they were standing in front of all day…in the arena parking lot).

These are examples of my biggest complaint about this event…multiple organizational blunders. This race is 12 years old, and has 15,000 participants, but volunteers have no idea where packet pick up is held, or where races start, and there was no signage to help. There was also no course map ever printed for the 5k (Edit: there was one buried on the website, but not in the guide or printed up like all the other races were). The whole thing seemed amateurish and disorganized. This was a recurring theme all weekend.

I then went in search of the charity I was running for. A post popped up on the Fargo Marathon FB page indicating that runners running for a charity would get a bonus medal. I looked at the charities and I signed up to run for a local animal rescue (and I made a donation). I received an email prior to the race stating that I could pick up a running bib before the race to help promote the charity during the race. I inquired about it at the race information booth…and I got the Fargo Blank Stare (I was getting used to this look). The volunteers at the event information booth directed me to ask about it at the volunteer check in booth (seriously?). I eventually just stumbled onto a small booth next to the “bib number lookup” table with a sign that stated “charity runners”. The booth was unmanned and empty. More disorganization…

Mark Allen (6 time Ironman World Champion) was a keynote speaker at 4pm. I asked where it was located at the “info booth”. Fargo Blank Stare. They didn’t even know there was a talk. They pulled out the race booklet and found out that it was on the second floor. I head up there and find…nothing. There were four conference rooms with no signs indicating where, when or who would be speaking (more disorganization). Eventually, others wandered upstairs and we just started entering random rooms until we found one that looked like it was setup for the talk.

At 4pm, Mark showed up and gave a great 1 hour presentation. Many in attendance were Ironman finishers who were eager to hear someone who had such success in these events. After the talk, I had the chance to meet him, get a photo and got an autograph on the event poster. Great souvenir for me from this event!

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By that time, the 5k was starting to line up. I did a quick change into running gear and headed to the starting line. The organizers made an attempt to keep the runners and walkers separate…they even had separate staging areas and a separate starting line for walkers, and volunteers were clearly holding up signs for the different paces. It helped a little…but I still ended up with a lot of walkers around me.

I lined up towards the back of the 25-30 minute coral. As soon as we passed the starting line, we had 2 sharp turns which was a huge bottleneck and it slowed everyone down. We then turned onto a side street. Unfortunately, that side street was very narrow, and had parked cars on both side of the road. The remaining path was about wide enough for a car to drive through…and way too narrow for 6500 runners…and there were small area areas of construction as well. For the first mile, I walked a lot (and even stood still from time to time). By mile two, things started to loosen up and I was able to run the rest of the way.

Fargo 5k Finish Time – 30:06.

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After the race, I got my water and medal (very nice medal for a 5k!) I went back to the expo and there was still nobody at the volunteer runner booth. There was a box with the “charity runner” medals in it. It looked like somebody had broken into the box and there were multiple medal 50 count packs in the box…one of which was torn open. I ended up just taking a medal and leaving. I figured that they would be on the arena floor at the start of the race or at the finish line. They weren’t. If I did not help myself to the medal, I never would have received it. Another sign of the disorganization that permeated this event…

I then left the FargoDome and headed to Noodles & Company for some carbs (huge lineup at the restaurant). After I headed to the hotel and realized that there was construction (bulldozers and jackhammers) right outside my room window. Despite my complaints to the hotel (Fargo Inn and Suites), the construction continued well past 10:30 pm. I got about 3 hours sleep.

I was up early on marathon morning. Coffee, small breakfast and headed to the FargoDome. As always, I was about the first one there. I got a prime parking spot just in front of the arena’s front door. Once the doors opened, I headed inside and watched as the runners filtered in and the anticipation start to build. There was an indoor bag drop, indoor bathrooms, and real seats, so the indoor venue was a massive perk.

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In time, marathon runners were permitted onto the floor to line up for the start the of the race. Once we had lined up, the half marathoners and the 10k runners filtered down. I decided to join one of the slowest pace groups…5:30 finish time. I met a fellow Marathon Maniac (65 years old, and finishing off his 50 marathon/50 states quest). He also planned to run slowly (and doing intervals…run 2 minutes, walk 30 seconds). We started running together and it was a nice distraction as I was hoping to be able to talk with someone to help the time pass. The race started and we headed out (a little faster than a 5:30 pace). The weather at the start was ideal (high 50’s, sunny, light breeze), but I knew it would heat up.

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The first few miles let the runners thin out. The starting leg was through residential neighborhoods, and was a different route than the half marathoners and 10k runners, lightening the course congestion for everyone. After awhile, we ended up on a bike path along the Red River then crossed a bridge into Minnesota. The course then headed towards University of Minnesota-Moorhead campus. We did a loop through campus followed by more bike trails. By this point, I was getting hot, tired and I was fading fast. I had started fading by mile 10 and hit the wall by mile 15. I had expected this, but it was discouraging to feel this bad this soon. Also, by this point, the sun was climbing in the sky and the mercury was climbing fast. It was well into the low seventies by this point.

A few comments about the course. The organizers did a pretty good job of showing off their community and there was a nice variety of scenery. Course support was average (aid stations every 2 miles until mile 20, then every mile), with two GU stations. Crowd support was pretty good with lots of candy, water, signs, and beer. Photographers were sparse, but the entertainment wasn’t…58 bands on the marathon course.

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Miles 15-20 was a painful slog. My new best friend kept me moving forward (I told him to run his own race, but he indicated that he didn’t care about his finish time and kept me going). At mile 18, we changed the intervals to 2 minute run, one minute walk. At mile 20, I waved him off as I was really slowing him down, and I really was starting to feel that I couldn’t continue with the structured intervals.

It was very hot my then (80F) and my lack of sleep was hitting me hard. I started breaking up the remaining distances into the smallest possible sections…the next block, the next tree, the end of the current song, etc. I glanced a few times at my watch and thought that I might be able to avoid a personal worst. I was guzzling the power aid and pouring water over my head at every aid station. I had stopped sweating…which is an ominous sign. The miles ticked down more and more slowly.

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I had wondered what I would be feeling at this point of the race. I signed up for it out of nostalgia. I wondered it I would be questioning my decision to sign up for this race, or my questioning my decision to stop running marathons after this event. Would it be sad or bittersweet?

Nope. It wasn’t. I couldn’t wait for this to be over.

It reaffirmed my decision that this was my last full marathon. It was with overwhelming relief that I saw the FargoDome coming up. There was a short run through the parking lot, down the ramp into the dome and the finish line.

Marathon Finish Time – 5:29:27 (personal worst).

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I got my medals (these things are huge and beautiful), water, and finishers photos. Post race food was pretty basic (pizza, banana, chocolate milk). I used the free access to shower facilities at the stadium (free for all runners…thank you Fargo Marathon for this perk!) and headed out.

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Post race, there was a pub crawl in downtown Fargo. No purchase was needed….just get a passport, go to every bar, get it stamped, and get a bonus medal (just like the finishers medal, but a bottle opener). As expected, nobody seemed to know anything about this. The event guide listed a website for details but the website didn’t exist. I went downtown, found a participating bar, talked to the bartender and figured it out. I had to walk around downtown for about an hour (after running a marathon), but I wasn’t going to leave any bling behind! Once finished, I started to head back home.

Overall, Fargo is a mixed bag. The things they focus on (nice route, amazing medals, race entertainment, indoor staging area), they had surpassed expectations. But, they kept overlooking basic things that any event should be doing. Lack of signage and not giving volunteers some basic information about the race and packet pick up led to a lot of needless pre-race stress. Their ability to reply to e-mails or FB questions was inconsistent (over half went unanswered). The course support and post race food was barely average. With these multiple gaffs, I would have to rank Fargo as delivering an average to slightly below average running experience, with the caveat that there are some exceptional features for an event of this size.

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Race Report: Disney/Star Wars Dark Side Challenge

April 15-17, 2016
Orlando, FL
Half Marathon #26
Events #95-97

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“2:21 am. In a shuttle with all my running essentials. Bib…check. Timing chip…check. Running belt…check. Garmin…check. Magic Band…check. Lightsaber…check. The list of running essentials is a little different at Disney…”
-FB post on Half Marathon morning

To me, Disney events are “experiences”, not races. With all sorts of photo stops and other distractions on the course, speed and finish time is a secondary consideration. As long as I am fast enough to not get swept, I’m happy,

The theme again was “Star Wars”. In case you haven’t noticed, I am a bit of a geek about all things Star Wars. That said, this will be my last trip to the House of Mouse. I have reached my saturation point with Disney…grateful for my experiences with no compelling desire for any more.
Registration:

Just registering for Disney events is a huge challenge. The events are very popular, and can sell out in minutes. I have heard many stories of people trying to register the moment the tickets went on sale…and they still could not get in. I was already registered for the Star Wars Disneyland races for 2016 when the WDW races were announced. They also announced a special coast to coast award for anyone running both in the same year. If I were to run both, I wanted that extra medal. The other motivating factor to sign up this yeas was that my speed had vanished in the past 18 months. I could still use some of my faster times from my 2014 season to guarantee me preferred coral placement. However, another Disney trip would be a significant expense that was NOT in the budget (Disney is very skilled at separating cash from their legal owners). With strong spousal support (thanks dear!) we sorted out a way to make it work…if I could get registered. Fortunately, there are a lot of Disney fans who are runners and there are a lot of Facebook groups out there of runDisney fans. I belong to several, and one group has set themselves up as an official runDisney travel group who can secure tickets in advance. I put in my requests and got everything I wanted. I then had to find hotels (at WDW, it is worthwhile to stay on property since nothing outside the parks is in walking distance, and there are free shuttles from all Disney resorts to and from the start/finish lines). After all that, I had to figure out “Magic Bands” for the first time. These bands are attached to your wrist and have a computer chip in them. They are linked to your credit card (allowing for easy purchases on site), are used as a room key, serve as your park admission tickets, and you can reserve dining and attraction FastPasses. Setting it up, downloading the app, and figuring my park itinerary months in advance took a lot of work (but, it did make life easier once I reached the parks).

July 14 – Expo

Straight off the plane, I headed to the expo.

Disney had lost my bib.

They had my info, my registration, and my bib number, but no bib. Took about 30 minutes to straighten out. Got a new bib (still in coral A), my 4 shirts (cotton shirt for 5k, tech shirt for 10k, HM, and “Dark Side” challenge). Once that had been sorted out, I headed to the expo. It was a decent size, but nothing overwhelming. There was a wait to get into the official merchandise area, and some things had already sold out (early afternoon on the first day!) Fortunately, my needs were modest. I wanted an official event cotton t-shirt, a few commemorative pins and I was set (I would have bought a hoodie too, but they didn’t make any for a race in Florida). Once that was done, I went to Downtown Disney to shop and eat before turning in for the night.
Ride Photos.

Disney decided to stop outsourcing race photos for the first time. They do a very lucrative business taking guest photos at their parks and the race photos got bundled with those plans. So, for one fee, I got photos from all the races, all my ride photos and park character meet and greets. I’ll be spacing them throughout the race report. I’ll start with a few ride pics…

Test Track:

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Space Mountain:

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Seven Dwarves Mine Ride:

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Tower of Terror:

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Expedition Everest:

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Aerosmith Rock and Roll Coaster:

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April 15 – Dark Side 5k

The race started at 6am. The shuttles started rolling at 4am. I was up at 2:30am. Sometimes they have some cool things to do while waiting for the race to start. This event did not disappoint. They had set up 8 character meet and greets/photo ops with detailed backdrops. The mini-sets included Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt, Darth Maul, Darth Vader, Captain Phasma, BB-8, Raptors (those tentacle monsters from Force Awakens), and Stormtroopers. With the lighter crowds at the 5k, and getting there early, I got through every line except BB-8. I’ll share highlights of each a little later. But I did spend as much time as I could at the photo ops before racing over to the starting lines.

The 5k course is pretty simple, and always the same at WDW. We start in the EPCOT parking lot, run for a mile outside the periphery of the park (to spread us out a little) before entering World Showcase and doing a lap. We then run through Future World and exit again…finishing in the parking area. The run through the park was great! Very scenic, lots of photographers, and just a few character photos (R2-D2, Chewbacca, Rebels, Stormtroopers, and a scenic shot of Spaceship Earth. The race wasn’t timed, and the lines at the photo ops were short (well, shorter then I expected them to be during the next couple of days). So I stopped at all of them. Once the fun run was over, I headed to the Magic Kingdom (mostly to check out the Seven Dwarves Mine Ride Coaster) before heading to Hollywood Studios and checking out the Star Wars themed attractions.

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In Park Character Meet and Greets:

Hollywood Studies has two Star Wars characters for meet and greet photo ops. These are Chewbacca and Kylo Ren. Unlike the photos at the races, there are not rushed. The actor stays in character and multiple photos are taken. Here’s a few highlights.

Chewbacca:

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Kylo Ren:

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April 16 – Tie Fighter 10k.

Race started at 5:30 am. Shuttles started at 3:00 am. I was on the first shuttle again, jogged to the meet and greets…to find that some of the lines were already cut off! I did get a couple, but the lines (and the crowds) were much worse today. The starting line was not in a parking lot, but on a closed highway. There were still 6 corals, but they were much larger. This race was point to point. It started outside of EPCOT, did a very short run from one side of the park to the other (no park tour today), followed by a run through a shopping/resort district on out way to Hollywood Studios. We had a nice run through there before the boring highway stretch to ESPN Sports Complex. Same characters as the previous day (much longer lines-45 minutes for Chewbacca) so I passed on most of them. They did have an Emperors chair set (from Return of the Jedi) that you could sit in (pretty cool) and speeder bikes, and a scenic shot at Tower of Terror. But, overall, kind of disappointing. They had moved all the starting line characters to the finish, and I had time to get several more photos. After that, I headed to the other two parks. Expedition Everest alone is worth the price of admission to Animal Kingdom. EPCOT disappointed. Future World has a retro-future charm that reminded me of The Jetsons. The 3 rides I wanted to see was Soaring (closed for refurbishment), Test Track (easily the worst coaster I have even been on…and basically an ad for Chevy), and Mission Space (retro dull flight simulator). However, there was a food and garden show going on in EPCOT where there were several food trucks with very good tapas style appetizers and deserts. I basically just ate my way through World Showcase. I headed back to the hotel early. The next day would be insanely early (even by my standards) and I had to get packed. I could not get a late checkout and time might be a little tight after tomorrow’s half marathon.

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Pre/Post Race Character Photos

I discussed this above. Some photos came out pretty good. Some didn’t. Here are the highlights.

Raptor:

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Stormtroopers:

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BB-8:

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Captain Phasma:

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Darth Maul:

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Jabba The Hutt:

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Boba Fett:

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Darth Vader:

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April 17 – Dark Side Half Marathon

I was up at 1:00 am. Shuttles started at 2:30, and I was on the first. Surprisingly, the lines were better. I got through Vader again, as well as Boba Fett. After that, I did not have time for a third. The crowd was bigger (12 corals today). Fortunately, I was able to use my 1:44 Half Marathon time from two years ago to get me front corral placement all weekend long (1:51 half marathon time or better was needed). Again, I counted on that preferred start to get me to the photos before the lines got crazy. It worked at the 5k, but not at the 10k. The course would follow yesterday’s 10k route until after Hollywood Studios. Then, it would take a long detour to Animal Kingdom before routing us back to ESPN. I figured that the first two photo ops would be the same as before (R2 and Chewie). I was satisfied with the photos I had of them and made the strategic plan to skip them and only wait in line for “new” characters. Surprisingly, R2’s line was short (shorter then the 5k). I could not pass that up. Then, Chewie’s was short as well, so I stopped yet again. I had lingered in line long enough by then that the course was much more crowded. Hollywood Studies had a big stage with Kylo and some Stormtroopers (stopped again). The road to Animal Kingdon was long and dull, once there, we did a big lap around the parking lot before entering the park. There were mini sets of the Trash Compactor and Wampa cave, Stormtroopers were on patrol, and scenic stops of “Everest” and the “Tree of Life” (stop, stop, stop), before the last stretch back to ESPN. When I got there, I received FOUR finishers medals (Half Marathon, Dark Side Challenge (finishing the 10k and Half Marathon during the same weekend), Kessel Run Challenge (finishing the Star Wars Half Marathon at both DisneyLand as well as Walt Disney World in the same calendar year), and Coast to Coast Challenge (finishing any Half Marathon in both parks during the same year). I snagged a couple more photos before leaving.

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What The Heck, This Is A Race Report, So Here’s A Few Words About The Actual Running…

I was undertrained (a 5k training run once or twice a week since October) and I felt it. I was very slow and not very motivated. Despite the character stops, my finish times were awful. I was having pain in my big toe (never had that before, and it would just randomly come and go), both ankles (chronic issue, and getting worse), and my left knee was feeling modestly unstable. Hamstrings were tight by the final race. Fortunately, I had a head start and a generous amount of time to finish…so I was never at risk of being swept. The weather was great for the 5k and the half, but very muggy for the 10k. I did a lot of walk breaks beyond the photo stops and aid stations. The aid stations were plentiful, and Disney did a good job keeping up entertained. If you are a Star Wars fan, this is a great event and I would recommend it highly. My finish times are awful, but here they are…

5K – no idea-it was untimed and I forgot to stop my Garmin

10k – 1:14:30
3341/12169

Half Marathon – 3:03:46
10423/18171
Final Thoughts:

So, was the event worth it? Mostly yes…but I am a runner and a diehard Star Wars fan, who also loves Disney…so it hit all the right nerd notes for me. However, the California and Florida experience were quite similar (WDW did a great job having a lot of character experiences off the course so the lines would not be cut off and people would not get swept simply for stopping for photos…but I expect DL to incorporate that opportunity next year). I really enjoyed it, but a more casual fan should be fine with either DL or WDW event. Running all the races at a weekend does allow more opportunities for character and running photos, and I would recommend doing so to most participants. The 5k (being untimed, and much less crowded) provides a great opportunity to do the Disney experience. Then, the more serious runners can just run the timed events and ignore the distractions.

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As I stated, I had a great time, but this will be my last big trip for a long time. They are just too expensive, too much stress planning, and too much time away from home. I am driving to Fargo next month for a Half Marathon (3 hour drive and an overnight star at a Super 8). After that, I will be staying a little bit closer to home…

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Race Report: Hot Dash 10 Miler

March 18, 2016
Minneapolis, MN
Event #94

When I signed up for this race, I figured that it would be one of those “throwaway” events. I needed an early spring event to keep me doing some training during those cold winter months. This seemed like a decent one. I had never run this race before, but they had introduced chip timing and medals this year. It is also a part of a year long running series that I am doing (bonus jacket, bonus bling). I figured that 10 miles would be easy.

I was wrong.

This would be a tough one. Until about a week ago, I was laid out with bronchitis for seven weeks (right at the end of my “off-season”). During that time, I ran only one time…the TC Valentines Day 5k. I ran a few times over the last 1-2 week due to the early spring we have had…and I had a very hard time getting through 10k. Ten miles would be tough. It would be a catered training run, and a test for my stamina with three upcoming half marathons.

The other issue was the weather. We had a long stretch of beautiful weather this month (61F and sunny last weekend). This weekend was the only dip in temps we have had in several weeks. It snowed overnight, along with freezing rain. The tempurature was below freezing for the drive to the venue…and it was slick and treturous. The  start time was after 9am, and I hoped that the late start would allow the roads to go from icy to wet. For the most part, that is exactly what happened. But it was cold, and windy, and gloomy, and damp. The run would involve strategic layering, and adjusting the number of layers as the race progressed.

Overall, the race was uneventful. It was flat. The course was well known to me, and would have been scenic with nicer weather. At mile 4, in an urban/industrial area next to some urban parkland, a clearly terrified deer came running along the shoulder of the course in the wrong direction. It was clearly not used to a couple of thousand runners invading his home on a quiet Saturday morning. Glad there was a grassy shoulder…people could have been hurt if it ran down the middle of the road as we were still densely packed together. I remember marveling at its speed which contrasted my own. I was slow, and was hurting by the end (feet, ankles, knees, quads, calves, hamstrings), with nothing left in the tank by the finish line.  The only consolation is that I ran the whole thing (except for aid stations). It was a partially reassuring test for the races ahead. I could do the distance, but not quickly or enjoyably. Part of me felt like I no longer belong at these events.

Finish Time – 1:45:43

To put this finish time in perspective, my PR for the Half Marathon is about 5 minutes faster then this. Even when fully trained, my speed had vanished last season. This year, untrained, I feel like I am going through the motions, shuffling from point A to point B. This is not satisfying or rewarding to me in any way.

For our efforts, we received a very nice bamboo long sleeve quarter zip running shirt, a cheesy finishers medal of an oven mitt, the typical post race food, and a scoop of “hot dish” (what Minnesotans call a casserole). The name of the race is a play on “Hot Dish” and is supposed to celebrate all things Minnesotan (runners are encouraged to wear plaid and to sport a real or fake beard). It’s a theme. My next races will have a much better theme. One I can really get excited about!

Next up…Disney Star Wars 5k/10k/HM. Should be a blast, and a little warmer…

 

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Race Report: Valentine’s Day 5K

February 13, 2016
Minneapolis, MN
Event #93

Although this this event has been around forever (oldest Twin Cities winter running event), I have never been tempted to run it. I run for bling, and I want chip timing. This event was always an untimed “fun run” with no medal. Last year, they added chip timing. This year they added bling. They also made it the first race of a series “Summit Challenge” that gives guaranteed entry to the Twin Cities 10 mile (one of only 2 events in the state that is a lottery). So, I signed up.

When race day arrived, I was very under motivated. The air temp was -10F. I would have to arrive early to get one of the few parking spots near the start line. So, this would be a 1 hour drive each way, and 1+ hour of waiting around for a 5k. I would have to layer up to the point that I would have a load of laundry from this 30 minute event.

The things I do for bling…

Fortunately, there was no wind. I didn’t count the layers as I put them on, but I had 6 thermal tops/jackets and 4 sets of bottoms. I ended up being nice and toasty.

I got there very early, hung out in the car and went down to get my packet. The event shirt was long sleeved, pink, and stated “Running makes me HOT”. They also had back tags to indicate relationship status-Green “Single”, Red “Taken”, and Yellow “It’s Complicated”. I saw a lot of yellow tags on the course. Did not see any mingling with the green tag folks (but, it’s hard to try to meet people when everybody had every square inch of their body bundled for the polar vortex).

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Not much to say about the event except that it was nice. It was one lap around a downtown lake. Most of the ice was off the path/road, but it was cold and crowded…I possible to try for a PR. So, I just fond a comfortable pace and plodded along.

Finish Time: 31:54

We got a heart shaped medal at the finish (the organizers of this event have never been known for their medal design, but have really stepped up their game in the last 1-2 years. This medal was not jaw-dropping, but a surprisingly nice 2.5″ effort for this organization). There was also some hot cocoa which everyone reached for as they scuttled back to the warmth of their car as fast as they could.

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Next event (and second series event): Hot Dash 10 Mile-March 19.

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