Sunday, October 21, 2007

Why you should bring road shoes to a trail race

"But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun."
-Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”

I know, I can hardly believe it, either. But the sun came out on Saturday! Honestly, we have not seen the sun in a week. The weather has absolutely sucked since last Sunday. But today, we got our well-deserved break.

And what a perfect day to run in the Big Woods Run half marathon!

I hopped in The Silver Hornet and headed south to the town of Nerstrand, MN, home to the Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park. The Big Woods is a majestic, mature forest that is really out of place on the prairie, kind of like an oasis in the desert. It is a gorgeous stand of trees, and may God bless whoever had the foresight to preserve this land. I was looking forward to running the trails.

Nerstrand, MN



However...

Remember how I said the weather was so atrocious this week? Well, they got so much rain down here that some of the park trails were under water! Out of concern for the trails, they rerouted the course to run on country roads in the area. We would get to run past the park, but not in it. Oh well! I was still excited to go running today. How could you not be on a day like this?

Despite some grumbling I heard from a few people regarding the reroute (such as “I drove all the way down here to run on trails!” and “Instead of running on trails, we get to run a flat, lame 13 miler?”...come on, suck it up, runners! Would you rather be sitting inside somewhere doing nothing on a beautiful fall day?!?), the race director and volunteers were AWESOME! There were all kind of issues with parking due to the wet church grounds, they had to lay out a new course with different aid stations, and they did so with grace and a boundless enthusiasm. Three cheers for all of you! You were great all day!

Now, given that this was supposed to be a trail race, I brought my Vasque running shoes with me. However, purely by accident, I WORE my regular road racing shoe. I am not sure why I slipped them on this morning. Normally I wear a pair of Keen hiking shoes pretty much everywhere I go. But today was different. And I was glad! Since we were going to be running on a mix of pavement, I would be glad to have my lighter road shoes. (Note to self; always bring a couple pairs of shoes! I am slowly learning my lesson about preparing for anything at races. Having options is a good thing!)

St. John’s Church, the race headquarters



The race started at St. John’s Church in rural Nerstrand. We would take country roads (mostly dirt, but some paved) and make a big, counterclockwise rectangular loop, running by the Big Woods State Park, head south, and make our way back to the church for the finish. I originally had no goals, but given the change of course, I changed my strategy and decided to try and push myself harder today and try match the pace I ran at Fargo last spring. The temperature at the start was in the upper 40’s, but would be warming up throughout the morning. But still, a comfortable temperature for running.

The horn sounds, and we are off like a herd of turtles! The county road by the churchwas narrow, so it took some time for the congestion to dissipate. But I settled in at a mid 8 mile per minute pace and just tried to keep it there.

The road to the Big Woods



The prettiest part of the course came between miles 4 and 7. This is the stretch where we ran past the state park. I guess we missed the peak of the fall colors by a week, and the rains this week did not help, but the trees were still gorgeous. All of the oaks were turning, with their muted burnt orange, yellow, and olive green colors. Spectacular! It was fun to run the rolling hills on this stretch of road, and I felt like I was running well. This was a most enjoyable section of the course. We even passed a farm where a bunch of cows were mooing at us!

Miles 7 through 10 were the most challenging. Here, we turned south, and most of the road seemed to be an oh-so gradual uphill. And, we were fighting a stiff SW wind! I think this was the part of the course that slowed me down the most. But not by much. I managed to pass a number of folks on this part of the course.

Around mile 10, we finally turned east to head back to the church and the finish. You could actually see the steeple of the church from nearly 3 miles away, so that was a bit of a tease! :) But at least the wind was helping us here. I tried my best to keep up my pace and chugged along, finishing in 1 hour, 50 minutes, and 37 seconds. That is nearly 4 minutes slower than my PR, but it is certainly nothing for me to complain about, especially on a day like this. I had a very good time running, even if we didn't get to use the trails!

When all was said and done, they were serving homemade soup and homemade cookies in the church. I was pretty warm after the race (and, it was close to 70 degrees, so the day warmed up, too!), so soup didn’t sound good to my stomach (although it smelled great!). I downed an apple and an excellent M&M cookie. Yum!

Believe it or not, I actually won a door prize, too. And it is one of the coolest door prizes ever! I got to choose either a T-shirt, or a jar of homemade jelly. Naturally, I wasn’t about to turn down homemade food, and one of the ladies recommended I grab a jar of the apple jelly, which was made with apples from a tree on the St. John’s Church property! Someone spent hours making this and put a lot of love into these prizes, and that is really neat. I will truly enjoy having this jelly on my morning toast!

Yours truly, with my edible prize



All in all, this was really a nice way to cap the 2007 race season. Sure, there will be a couple of 5k fun runs before the year is out, but this was the last of the heavy duty races until next spring. And what a year it has been! I am looking forward to dialing the training back in the off season, and will look to set some new goals for 2008!

Oh, and completely unrelated to anything, here is tonight's beef and mushroom lasagna I made for dinner. Mmmmmmmm.... :)

I swear I must be part Italian



Until next time,

Jean
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