Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Race Report-Farmdale 30 mile Trail Race

ORN: 30 miles, 8:31:51; 25th of 49 finishers (52 starters); 5th of 9 men 50+; Oldest runner  in race by 5 years!! ; Lap times:   2:27:33, 2:54:08, 3:10:11  

Summary:   It was a rugged, steep, slow, humid, toe-busting, leg-straining event in the middle of the Illinois prairie.  And it was how I chose to spend my birthday!   The Farmdale Trail Race was all of that.  

Gory Details:

I’ve had the Farmdale race on my radar for years.   It happens near Peoria, Illinois each fall on the Saturday BEFORE the Chicago Marathon.  In many ways, it’s the opposite of the huge event in the city...this is a trail race, on narrow twisting trails for a handful of people who, for the most part, are experienced runners, happy to run alone on a demanding course.   No glory in this one.  Indeed, the group who now organizes the race calls itself “No One Cares You Run Ultras”.   Yeah.   That’s about right.  

This year, the race finally fell in my schedule.   It took place exactly two weeks after my 100th marathon in Ely, Minnesota.  I was ready for a simple run by myself.   Further, it fell on my 68th birthday and it seemed a great way to celebrate.   

As fitting a proper trail race, the organizers allowed tent camping in the big clearing encompassing the star/finish area.  I drove the 3+ hours to Peoria on a fine autumn Friday afternoon, choosing to take county and state highways rather than Interstate 74.   I got a close-up view of modern farmers harvesting thousands of acres of prime American farmland.   It was impressive in scale.  

And flat.  The Farmdale course, a 10-mile trail loop in a park near Peoria, is billed as “very hilly”.  Driving there, it was hard to imagine a hill, anywhere.    Once there, it became clear the park was part of a flood control project associated with the nearby Illinois River.   And, shoot, no way you could raise soybeans on all those river bluffs.   

I registered, pitched my tent, grabbed some supper and was looking forward to a night outdoors ahead of a trail race.   No rain, the temperatures were mild, the air was calm, all set for a good night’s sleep, right??  Except...the organizers had the HQ tent lit all night (which wasn’t a problem) and the lights driven by a very loud portable generator (which was).   Oy.   I think I fell asleep around 2am until about 4:30am.   

At that point, folks were stirring ahead of the 5am start of the 100 mile and 50 mile events.  With the ten mile loop, multiple events were possible.   I was happy to be up, to watch the group gather and head into the pre-dawn woods on their adventure.

Those folks gone, I had my usual race-day breakfast of two turkey-cheese sandwiches and got set for the 7am start of the 30 mile event.    I had my car backed within about 20 feet of the course, set up my gear for the two pit stops I’d have and we got going right on time at 7am.   Bib on my shorts, I got ready.

As it was my first time ever running this course, the first loop’s focus was just figuring out what was going on.   I had wondered how serpentine a course would be to fit a 10 mile loop into a mere 850 acre site.   It quickly became obvious.   The course was mostly single track, with a bit of time on some service roads and a very few open prairie, grass-covered crossings.   Each loop had about 1,000 feet of elevation gain.   

There were also about six stream crossings.   Since the weather had been dry, these weren’t big obstacles.   Only one got your shoes's a video of one of my traverses: 

I did take two wrong turns as befitting a newbie on this course.  The first during lap one when four of us all missed a quick right turn and the second on lap two when, like a teenager, I had my face glued to a text conversation while on a service road and I missed the trail jumping off into the woods.   Duh.  

The most significant event of the day occurred at about mile 7 of the race, on the first lap.   I whacked a stub of a tree trunk hidden under some leaves with my right foot and caught it full on.  I hopped around and was bent over in discomfort for some minutes.   Lap One...good grief.   How will this go?   I walked a while to catch my breath and assess the damage.   I chose not to remove my shoe.  It became evident most pain was from my third and fourth toes.   My big toe and pinkie toe were OK.   I could push off reasonably with my right foot.   There was no sharp pain, so I figured I didn’t break anything.   But, man, it was there...I could feel it with every step.  It continued that way the rest of the race but didn’t get any worse.   So, I gradually got back to running and carried on.   

I finished lap one, sat down, refueled with chocolate milk (yes, you can drink milk DURING an event, something my HS football coach would never have condoned) and got going again after about three minutes.   Lap two had me entirely by myself, only rarely encountering other runners.   And it became quite enjoyable, a long day alone in the woods.  

By the end of Lap Two, it was early afternoon and temperatures on this sunny day were rising.  I moved my pit-stop chair under a neighbor’s canopy to get some shade.   I took a little longer to refuel and re-hydrate then headed out again.   Lap Three was slower and warmer and had more bugs in the woods.   The hardest portion was the super steep climb just ahead of the one on-course aid station about halfway around the loop.  It was slick, steep, almost requiring all fours to scale the slimy, root-clogged climb.   I got to the top, walked the 75m to the aid station and paused to collect myself while refilling my water bottle and having some salty snacks.    That was the lowest point physically and mentally.

I carried on from there, with a little over four miles to go and regained some energy.  Knowing the landmarks now, I was happy to see the final crossing of the dam, telling me only one mile remained. 

Crossing the finish line, I was stunned to look at my watch and realize I’d been on the course for over 8 1/2 hours.   It seemed like an awful long time for just 30 miles...but the course was just that difficult. 

Only then did I pull off my right shoe...what a sight that was. was sore and looked awful.   But my self-diagnosis had been accurate.   I’m glad I didn’t quit.  

I spent a good hour or so just sitting and refueling after the run.   The heat was up and I needed to collect myself before packing up the tent and driving home.   The organizers had a great spread and the sub sandwiches were perfect.   I polished off a full quart of chocolate milk and a lot of water.     It was a nice drive home, with more corn and soybean harvest features.   

The next morning, my foot was even more colorful.   But it didn’t hurt any worse. 

It was a tough race.   I don’t know if I’ll run it really depends on my overall strategy of focusing on ultras or trying to get in some more good marathon times.  I’m really glad I did run it though and had I camped somewhere else with better sleep, it would have been nearly a perfect adventure.    

Thanks for reading.   And persevere.

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Race Report-My Marathon/Ultra #100! Ely Marathon, Sept 25, 2021

ORN:   26.2 miles, 4:55:44, (11:17/mi), 102 of 125 overall, 6 of 10 Men 60-69


Never would I have believed a lumpy guy like me could ever finish 100 marathons and ultramarathons.   But it happened on September 25, 2021 at The Ely Marathon in Ely, Minnesota.   Joined by our two older sons, three Elys ran in Ely to celebrate the older Ely.   It was amazing.    

Gory Details:

Background for #100

I started running while living in Africa shortly after our oldest son, David, was born in 1978.   Surprised by how much I enjoyed running, I ramped up to run two marathons in Africa; the first August 1980, just before our second son, Nathan, was born, followed by a second in January 1981.   Circuitously, I came back to running in 2004 and ramped up to my third marathon in St Louis in 2006.   And then a fourth and fifth and......

So, in the fall of 2020, with racing still hampered by Covid restrictions and stuck on 93 marathons, I began to look ahead to wonder how I’d get to 100.  I wanted to make that milestone memorable in some way.   But how?

By early 2021, a bit of optimism returned for the resumption of racing.   It was then I realized, if I could work it out, I could make #100 The Ely Marathon, the race that carried my last name on it.   How cool would that be?    The race ticked all the boxes for a milestone event. I had run it before in 2019, so I knew the course and liked the entire set up.   It made for a memorable story.   In late September, 12 miles from the Canadian border in northern Minnesota, the weather would likely be reasonably cool.   Nathan and family now live in Minneapolis and we could visit them going to and from the race.  Having retired in December 2020, I had more control on my schedule to complete the necessary intervening marathons to make the Ely Marathon #100.   I sat down with a calendar and race schedules and it became clearly possible.   The plan was set.  

In March, I shared the plan with our family.   To my surprise, Nathan quickly replied “Can I run it with you Dad?”   This was not unreasonable, as Nathan and I had run the 2019 Ely Marathon together, his very first marathon on his 39th birthday.   He’d since run his second full I knew he was capable and understood just how hard it is to prepare.   While I didn’t want to ask him to make that deep commitment,  I was thrilled and honored he wanted to join me.   With a full spring and summer to train, I knew it was realistic.    

So the plan was set...I knocked off six more marathons from February to July and was set for #100 on September 25 with Nathan. 

The surprise of #100

And one massive, wonderful surprise awaited.   

Nathan and I  communicated all summer long about our training  plus timing and logistics for our trip north.   We decided that he and I would go alone as marathons are not a prime spectator sport for his 6 and 3 year old daughters.   Thus, my wife and I would drive to Minneapolis, and Gretchen and Angela would have fun with the little girls while we drove north to run.   Nathan bugged me to make sure I booked a hotel room.   He asked me to find a replacement Purdue tank top, like the one above, since he had worn his so much it was tattered.   He triple checked our arrival dates and times.  All good. 

We arrived at their house on Thursday afternoon ahead of Saturday's race and had a blast playing with our granddaughters.   That evening, I reiterated with Nathan the plan to head north around 1pm on Friday.  “Well, we ought to leave earlier, like 11am Dad,” he replied calmly.  “You never know about construction delays.”   I’m good with that.    

Friday came and we loaded my car.   “Let me drive up, Dad,” he continued.  “I’ll want to sleep on the way home and that means you should drive then.”   Made sense.  I've learned Nathan's sleep habits over the years. We left on time and cleared the Twin Cities into the beauty of Minnesota’s north woods.  At exits, he fussed quite a bit with his phone but I thought nothing of it.  He did seem in a hurry, but then again, Nathan’s always been in a hurry.   I was surprised, though, when he suggested we stop for a late lunch.   More phone checks, but he’s busy with his job, right? 

We were a half hour south of Ely by 2pm and I knew the packet pickup tent was open from noon.  “Let’s stop and get our bibs now, since it’s on our way to the hotel” I suggested helpfully.   “Oh, I dunno, Dad, I’d rather we relax a bit and then get the bibs later in the afternoon.”   Seemed odd, but hey, we had time.   So, we drove into Ely, laughing at the oddity of seeing our surname everywhere, went to the hotel and checked in.   More texting.   Business is busy in Minnesota, donchyaknow?   We put our feet up.  

Around 3:30, rather abruptly, Nathan said “OK, Dad, let’s go get our bibs!”   Didn’t seem like “late afternoon” to me but I was was a beautiful day.    

Packet pickup was in the Ely city park, next to the finish line of the race, underneath a large open sided circus-style tent.   Nathan and I walked in and I headed to the registration table.  “Hey, Dad, let’s go look at some of the merchandise.”  OK, so we walked to the back, right-hand side of the tent and looked at vests, shirts and hoodies with the Ely Marathon logo.  I had told him I wanted to buy something to remember the event.  He encouraged this, showing me various styles, as if we were both browsing the latest fashions on Rodeo Drive.   

And then it happened.  

With my back to the outside of the tent, looking at a quarter zip tech shirt, a man approached me from behind and said “Excuse me sir, can you tell me where I can pick up my bib?”   I calmly turned, answering his question, when I saw the man was our oldest son David!!!!   Oh my!!  I was stunned!  Why on earth was he here????   “I’m going to run the marathon with you!”   Are you serious????   

It was true.   David was also going to run the full marathon to honor my 100th.   The entire family knew about this and had been in on the planning since May.  And not one person, my wife, my sons, my grandkids, not a one, leaked a single peep to me.   I was totally unaware and completely surprised.  David had driven that morning from his home in Evansville, Indiana to fly from St Louis to Minneapolis to Duluth where he rented a car to drive to Ely.   Thus, all the texting with Nathan was to work out the timing for David to arrive at the Ely City Park just as the two of us were at packet pick up.   And it all worked.   The best surprise ever.   

The three of us were yelling and laughing and hugging and smiling and talking and standing in amazement all at once.   I then realized we were making a bit of a scene in the circus tent  that others were curious about.   So, it became the first of many opportunities I had to have one son under each arm and briefly explain how cool it was that three Elys were in Ely to run Ely.  

David, Joe, Nathan

Nathan THEN allowed us to pick up our packets, all together at last.  It was fun to respond when the lady asked us “So, what’s your last name?”   “Ely.”   “Yes, this is the Ely Marathon...and what is your last name?”    So fun.   Three bibs, consecutively numbered.   We were set.    

The remainder of the afternoon and evening was awesome.   We hung out at the hotel, had a wonderful dinner together full of conversation about matters trivial and substantive.   It was such a rich time, all the while being amazed at the surprise the guys had rigged and the depth of the gift they made by both training all summer to share one event with me.    They told me the whole "My Purdue singlet wore out" was a ruse to get one for David to wear.  Nathan's shirt was just fine!  We laughed and laughed.    We finally concluded we needed to get some rest as a marathon awaited in the morning. 

Running #100

Since Nathan and I had run this race two years ago, the logistics were familiar.   A point-to-point course, the Ely Marathon required we show up around 5am near the finish line where we boarded a school bus for the 30 minute ride to the start line, deep in the northern Minnesota woods.   The three of us were about the only ones talking on the bus at that hour!!   Still dark, the bus dropped us off, drove away and it was striking at just how far we had to go to run back to town.   

The three of us had decided over dinner we’d not try to run side by side during the race.   Nathan had some very good training and his preparation indicated he had a real shot at a 4:10 to 4:15 marathon.   David was confident he could finish but was figuring it would be around 5:40 or so.  I had a modest hope of finishing under 5 hours and mostly wanted to enjoy the run.   We were all OK with this plan.   So, as the start time neared, we posed for one more photo side by side in our matching Purdue singlets.   

The gun fired at 7:00am and Nathan was off quickly.   He's partially hidden in the second photo, in the blue visor and sunglasses...even with the 4:05 pacer and a guy carrying a canoe (more on that below). 

David and I ran the first couple of miles together, which allowed for this wonderful photo by a race photographer early on.   The scenery was just this terrific all day. 

The two of us fell apart around mile 3 or so as the race settled in.   The weather was near-perfect for running, with temps in the upper 40s, sunny skies and very little wind.   The course is quite hilly, which was a surprise two years ago.   I was mentally prepared this time and was content to walk a lot of the steeper sections, knowing the distance remaining.  

A unique element of the Ely Marathon is it’s “Portage Division”.   Since Ely is well known as a starting point for canoeists exploring the Boundary Waters, it fits to have a category in this race for the rugged individuals who want to lug a full-size canoe on their shoulders for 26.2 miles. 

Yes.  Many people paid good money to do just this.  I fell in with two portage guys from around mile 4 to mile 9 or so.   They were young, strong guys with excellent upper-body definition, having a merry chat with each other as they jogged along, their canoes bouncing on their shoulders.   They welcomed me into the conversation but I really didn’t feel quite worthy.   These two were ripped and quite comfortable under the load.   Yeow.   On a long incline in the 9th mile, I thought it wise to walk while the two of them jogged on up and over the top.   They gradually pulled ahead and ended up beating me by about 30 minutes.   That’s humbling.  The winning canoe portage time??  A stunning 4:23:20.   Amazing.

Along with the canoes, there is lots of Scandinavian influence in Minnesota leading to this bit of running humor along the way:

It actually made me laugh out loud.  And do a few imitations of the Muppet's Swedish chef.

Around miles 14 to 19, the course had an out-and-back section during which allowed us to see runners ahead and behind us.   Nathan and I saw each other on this section in 2019 and I was hoping I’d see both lads this time.  Sure enough, I saw Nathan at about mile 17 for him.  He was feeling strong and looked was terrific to see him and snap a selfie. 

We encouraged each other and then carried on.   I soon hit the turnaround at the end of a lonely gravel road.   A little less than a mile later, I saw David running my way...he wasn’t that far behind me.   It was a thrill to see him and learn he had also seen Nathan.    I was very happy he was running so well and looked as if he’d be way stronger than his projected 5:45 time.  

In the "you can't make this stuff up" category, I met David next to a water stop.   A volunteer at the water stop told us she had grown up in Lafayette, Indiana and was excited to see the Purdue logo.  Then, she began singing a full blown version of "Hail Purdue" our beloved fight song!  I joined in full voice and David tried to not look too embarrassed.   In the middle of nowhere...Go Boilers.   

I was soon at mile 19 and on the final approach back to the town of Ely.   While there had been a lot of runners to see on the out-and-back, the course was now just “back” and I was by myself again.   I got great service from each aid station along the way, though, since they weren’t in a rush.   There may even have been some dancing involved.....

The final three miles for me were slower.  I didn’t “hit the wall”.   But I was just out of gas and more tired than I expected.   The lack of enough miles in the prior six weeks while I was on a consulting gig likely had the impact.   Nevertheless, it was a pleasant time of reflection as I wrapped up a milestone race.   

The course wound back through the heart of Ely toward the finish line in the park.   As I saw the banner from four blocks away, my fatigue vanished and I was smiling like a kid.   The race announcer was kind to mention as I approached the finish line that this was marathon #100 for me.   

Across the finish was great.    

I got my medal and turned around and walked back out on the course, figuring David wasn’t that far behind me.  Sure enough, I met up with him as he was entering those final four blocks, the finish line in sight.   He was happy to see the finish line and happy to see me.   We ran the final 800m together and it was an honor.    

We then saw Nathan, who had finished and had changed clothes and was back at the finish line.   It was so awesome to be together, all of us completing a marathon.   No small task on any day and all the more special on this occasion.    

A guy with a video camera and microphone walked up to me, having heard I finished my 100th marathon and did quite an official-sounding interview with me.   Here it is:

Our official results of the Elys at Ely in Ely.   

The three of us hung out and cleaned up after the race but then the time had to end.   Nathan and I headed back to Minneapolis, while David was driving back to Duluth the next day.   It was hard to have such a marvelous time end, but it did.   So thankful for what these guys did to share a big event with me.   It demonstrated love in a most tangible way.   

Reflections on 100 Marathons

I would have never imagined finishing 100 marathons and ultramarathons to be possible.   Yet, like any long journey, it happened through a series of single steps in a consistent direction.   I’m thankful that God has granted me good health to be able to continue to train.   I’m grateful for my wife’s whole-hearted support of my training and racing.  I’m grateful for my entire family’s interest, shown most powerfully by David and Nathan joining me for #100.   I’m grateful for the resources to be able to buy shoes and travel to interesting places.   Yet, as much as I enjoy running, it is not who I am, it’s merely something I do.   First things first.   Getting to this milestone is a good reminder of that to me.