Sunday, August 05, 2007

A brush with greatness at the "Lake that Speaks"

Given that Watson, MN, is the “Goose Capital of the USA,” it seemed only appropriate that that race I entered was named the Wild Goose Chase. The race was a 30k that made a counterclockwise loop around Lac qui Parle Lake. There were runners participating in a 3-person team relay (10k a piece), and there were others like me doing the whole thing solo.

The name “Lac qui Parle” is French for “Lake that speaks.” The lake was undoubtedly named as such because of the amount of noise made by the migratory waterbirds, especially the Canada geese who either call this place home or make it pit stop during migration. The entire lake is considered a state game refuge. You will find no homes dotting the shoreline here. And there is a state park on the southern end of the lake. It is an area of great history, fantastic wildlife viewing, and the lake is an impressive and imposing body of water.

The historic 1835 Lac qui Parle Mission, just south of the start/finish line

I knew right away that I was going to like this race. The parking instructions read as follows: “Parking will be near the finish line, which is on the SW corner of Co. Rd. 32 & Co. Rd. 33 by a tan machine shed.” Clearly, this would be smaller, low stress, and fun event!

According to the race director, the area has had no rain in nearly a month. Of course, Mother Nature decided that the day of the race would be a perfect time to start making up the deficit. (But really, the area needed it badly, so it was hard to complain too much) Temperatures were in the upper 50’s with pouring down rain at the start, and there was about a 20 MPH southeast wind. I literally left the confines of my warm car 5 minutes before we got going!

At 7 AM, we hit the road. The crowd dispersed very quickly, and it wasn’t long after that I found myself running more or less by myself. Occasionally a runner would pass me or I would pass someone and we would strike up a conversation.

The rain actually subsided somewhat and stayed somewhere between light drizzle to a fine mist for most of the race. This, I found, was really a blessing in disguise. As much as I had been complaining about the hot weather lately, running in near 60 degree temperatures with some light rain to keep me cool was a treat.

The course did not have a great deal of elevation change, but there were a number of gradual hills that we had to climb. Nothing steep, just persistent and long. The first part of the course was a mix of farmland and game refuge, and the latter stages included some spectacular lake views.

My pace was comfortable and deliberate. I wanted to make sure I didn’t fry myself early and have nothing left for the end. I passed through the first 10k and relay checkpoint in 54 minutes. Perfect.

There were aid stations set up every couple of miles. I made it a point to greet and thanks the volunteers at each of them. Running in the cool rain and wind is easy. Standing in the cool rain and wind while pouring water for runners had to suck. But they were troopers; very enthusiastic and supportive folks.

The first great view of Lac qui Parle Lake came at the Milan bridge, shortly after the 7 mile mark. The lake looked eerie through the dark clouds and low hanging fog, almost like a scene out of Scotland. I half expected “Nessie” to raise his head out of the water!

Then, I had my brush with running greatness.

Shortly after I crossed the Milan bridge, I made the turn to head down the west side of Lac qui Parle Lake. Just past the 8 mile mark, I heard the sound of quick footsteps behind me. I was a little surprised, because I had just looked back a couple of minutes ago when I was on the bridge and there was nobody in sight.

I was greeted by a cheerful voice, saying “Hello! How’s it going?”

I turned to look, and I immediately recognized the smiling runner, even though we had never met. My inner voice spoke to me and said:

”Holy crap, it is Carrie Tollefson!”

Yes, Carrie Tollefson. The Minnesota-born speedster, 2004 Olympic runner, member of the USA Track & Field team, featured on the January 2007 cover of Runner’s World, and spokesperson for the Minnesota Grown Program. She is one of the finest runners not only in the state, but in the country. And here she was running as part of a relay team at this little race! (It turns out she grew up in this area of the state, which helps explain her presence here)

“It’s going pretty good!”, I said, trying to hide my shock that I was running with and talking to this elite athlete.

“Are you doing the relay or the whole 30k?” she asked.

“I’m doing the whole thing,” I replied.

With boundless enthusiasm, she said “That is AWESOME! Keep it up, you are looking great!”

As she promptly left me in her dust, I responded with, “So are you!” And when I say “left me in her dust,” I mean she was gone! I could not believe her speed, and the relative ease at which she was burning up the road. She was so nice. I saw her chatting with other runners ahead of me as well. Eventually I lost sight of her on a long stretch of road in what seemed like a matter of minutes.

Now, if a compliment from a running superstar doesn’t inspire you, nothing will. Onward! :)

Running towards the next major checkpoint was a challenge. Remember I said there was a strong southeast wind? We were running directly into it now! However, inspired by my encounter with one of the great runners in America, I sucked it up and kept digging.

My pace slowed while going into the wind, but I did enjoy some beautiful views of the lake, even spotting several American white pelicans on the water. I made it through the 20k checkpoint in 1 hour, 49 minutes, so the second 10k took somewhere around 57 minute.

With 2/3rds of the race done, I felt quite good. Over the final 10k, I passed three runners and made my way around the south end of the lake. Shortly before the 16 mile mark, a deer ventured out of the woods to greet me, and a large bald eagle sitting in a tree top looked on, seemingly unimpressed. It was nice of the wildlife to come out for the race!

The finish was a little bit sinister. The final two miles were almost all uphill. Again, nothing especially steep, but it was the steepest hill of the course. With tired legs and a shortened stride, I kept after it. Soon the familiar tan machine shed at the parking area was in sight, and I tried to keep my pace up to bring it home to the finish.

The “Lake that Speaks,” which I ran all the way around

I finished in 2 hours, 43 minutes, and 33 seconds, good for an 8 minute, 46 second per mile pace. In a way, I saved my best for last, because the final 10k was my fastest of the three, even with the hills that led up to the finish. I am very excited about my performance!

After the race, there was a cookout with grilled hot dogs, assorted fruits, and plenty of water and Gatorade. Music was provided by a local folk band. And the warm shelter provided by the Lac qui Parle State Park headquarters was greatly appreciated by all the runners.

A fun event, a beautiful course, I got to run and chat with an Olympian, and I finished my longest race to date. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning.
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