Saturday, July 25, 2009

Learning to fly at the Lumberjack Days 10 Miler

The historic Stillwater Lift Bridge on a gorgeous summer morning



Saturday morning I saddled up The Silver Hornet and headed east to the lovely river town of Stillwater, MN. It is time again for Stillwater's annual Lumberjack Days summer celebration. I would be running the 10 miler at the Freight House Road Races at Lumberjack Days (a race name that seems to get longer with each passing year). This would be my third time participating in this event.

I did not see the Monty Python troupe at Lumberjack Days... :)



A few cool things happened in the morning. One, on the drive over while listening to the local classic rock station, I heard "Learning To Fly" by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, a song I like very much which sort of became the theme of the day. Two, I pulled into the parking lot closest to the race headquarters and got a sweet corner parking spot (it is the little things, you know). And three, the lady at the packet pickup table actually pronounced my first name correctly.

The latter was the most astonishing thing. Virtually everywhere I go when my name gets called by a stranger, invariably it is pronounced "Gene." I've gotten to the point where I just nod and dismiss the error because it is far easier than explaining ("No, it is 'Jean'...yes, I know it is spelled 'J-e-a-n'...no, it is not a girl's name...my name is French," which by now has often caused more confusion than it was worth). However, she nailed it. Shocked, I told her, "You pronounced my name correctly! How did you know?." She replied with a wry smile, "Well, how else would you pronounce it?" Clearly, she saw my full French name and astutely pieced it all together; a sharp cookie. I know, I am rambling...but a GREAT start to the day!

Yours truly, the Lift Bridge in the background



As always, they bussed us out to Square Lake Park north of town to the race start (this just in: they have not improved the suspensions on school buses since I was a kid!). The weather was gorgeous and seemed as if it would be quite warm today. Sunshine was abundant, only blocked by an occasional wispy cloud. Winds were strong out of the northwest, but that was good because it would more or less be helping us towards the finish. The real saving grace was that the humidity was extremely low, and the air felt almost crisp. It would be a nice day for running, even if it heated up to around 70.

Milling around before the race, I loved the people watching. You see the most interesting outfits (such Capri-length running tights on a 70 degree day). I learned of a local running club that clearly has its priorities in order. I also saw a couple of turkey vultures doing lazy circles over the starting area looking for fresh roadkill. A bad omen? Hmmmmm.... :)

This race is always well attended with over 1100 runners in the 10 miler. Shortly after 8:00, the starter's pistol was fired, which resulted in numerous audible gasps and scared most of the field half to death. We hit the country roads and headed south to Stillwater.

The course is mostly flat with a few minor hills and slow, steady inclines to negotiate. But there are some awesome downhill stretches, and I would guess this course actually has more downhill than uphill. It is very pretty as well with a mix of farm country and some woods (some wildlife too; I saw a Cooper's hawk and heard catbirds mewing en route). I ran at what I thought was a brisk but comfortable pace. I wore my watch today to help keep tabs on myself, and my pace was roughly the same as the 10k I ran over the 4th of July, so I was moving along.

The weather was strange because it was sunny and felt kind of warm, especially in areas with no shade. However, the wind felt really good, having almost a cooling effect for me. Normally I don't do so well when the temperatures rise, so this was something of an anomaly. I felt good, so why slow down?

I started to get excited when I made it through the 8 mile mark. I knew I was going to have a good finish at this point. You can start to see the Stillwater Lift Bridge with less than two miles to go, so that is worth an added boost of energy. The finish line is practically in the shadow of the bridge.

The crowds in Stillwater were great. There were no doubt a lot of people left over from the 5k watching the finish, so there was quite an impressive gallery of people lining the homestretch. I even had a pretty nice little kick right at the end.

Some might remember I established a new PR at the 10 mile distance back in May at the Northern Lakes Run. I did not beat my previous PR; I absolutely destroyed it. I crossed the line in 1:16:37 (results here), blowing away my previous best by over 3 minutes!

What my new 10 miler PR looks like according to my watch (just add one second for the official time!)



This was something of a surprise. Coming into today, I was feeling like I could beat my previous 10 mile PR if I had the right day. I had no idea that I could beat it by that much. I love little surprises like that!

Never have I run this fast for that long of a distance. Maybe I am finally learning to fly, as Tom Petty would say; learning how to be faster, that is. Who knows? All I know is that this was a really good day.

Oh yeah, and the race shirts this year absolutely rocked!

Another fantastic race T-shirt; I love this year's logo...only in Minnesota could you imagine a lumberjack and a gopher doing a log roll! :)



Until next time,

Jean
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