Saturday, February 18, 2012

History Repeats Itself?

I seem to be caught in some kind of eerie version of Groundhog Day. Ran a race this morning - we'll get to that later - and once again ended up in the results as 2nd place to some mystery guy who is 58 years old, and who totally kicked by proverbial butt. The difference this time: it was an out-and-back course, and I led the 10 mile race the entire way, so it was even more of a shock to see the results post-race and learn that I somehow came 2nd.

It was pretty obvious that it was some kind of error, to everyone who was standing around looking at the printout. First of all, this 58 year old was running what would be a world-class age group time, almost 5:00 pace for 10 miles. Heck, his time would have beaten my all-time personal best by over two minutes! Hmm.

To be honest, it was probably a bit of a bear to time this event, because they had a 10 mile, 10k, and 5k, race all out on the same roads at the same time, with finishers streaming in and no obvious way to know which race anyone was in. It's possible that the 58 year old was actually in the 10k and got mis-scored, or of course it's possible that he cut the course by turning around before the actual spot to do so. Anyway, as we mulled about chatting, they started the awards ceremony and sure enough, announced me as second place. I hate this experience: now I had to walk up to receive my award and applause, only to bring everything to a pause as I chatted with the organizer, "Um, I think there might be a little error in your results". I feel like I'm being selfish, but, you know, truth is truth. Luckily, the guy who actually got 2nd place came up too, to say so. Luckily for us, the jolly race director accepted our story immediately at face value and made the announcement for all to hear.

The Sweetheart 10 mile race was held in Mahtomedi, Minnesota, which to my recently-moved-here eyes looks to be a suburb of St. Paul. The course had some rolling hills, but the two notable details were the dirt roads (maybe 30% of the race, with no mention of this on the race website) and the 800 meters (or maybe more) of packed snow and ice out on the course (rather slippery!).

The turn-around spot was particularly slick, and I decided not to fall down (some others weren't so lucky) by simply slowing to a complete stop, turning 180 degrees around in place like a dancer in pirouette (I wish), and then resuming my running. Funny.

I'll be honest: there wasn't a lot of competition. I don't want that to sound insulting to anyone. I've said many times over the years: It's a race, and the other people were racing too, it's not like they all forfeited the victory. We all did our best. On this day, I managed to win. But if any young hot shots had shown up, I'd have been soundly thrashed.

Friendly folks, not a big race, but a nice event and a nice venue. I'd do it again. The results now up on the web seem to be corrected (thank you). I'm not sure if the course was exactly 10 miles, and I'm not sure why the time on my watch was about 51 seconds faster than the time they gave me ... but whatever.

The big question: when will this odd string of losses to phantom runners of 58 years of age ever end? It is some sort of odd curse?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Icy Trails and New Friends

This past Saturday, my wife Monika and I headed south of Minneapolis to meet up with a few fellow trail runners at Lebanon Hills Regional Park. Since our arrival in the great north-upper-midwest (or whatever you want to call this location), I've been digging around the internet looking for a group or team or some folks who we might connect with around off-road running. Finally, on, I found a local group who might fit the bill. Organized by John, they were offering an introductory run at this park of about 7 miles, staying off of the ski trails. 

After working out some babysitting details so that we could both join in the fun, Monika and I found our way to the parking lot and met John, Joe, and John. Yes, it was a little confusing, but probably only to us. Nice guys, and primed to show off a park they loved to run. Admittedly, the unusually mild winter this year made this possible, as John #1 admitted that he'd much rather be on XC skis this time of year. Ah, well, to our advantage I guess.

After quick introductions and a bit of shivering in the brisk air, we headed downhill to the trails and immediately faced our first section of sheer ice. The light snow cover has been melting and re-freezing night after night for the past week or so, and back in the woods this made for some slippery going. It would be a theme all day, and we often ran along the very edges of the paths, seeking just a little traction in the remaining snow or even tip-toeing through the brambly underbrush on either side of the trail. I realize those who love to run on roads will never quite understand this, but there is a kind of primal joy in picking your way along a trail in this way. It's a combination of testing your agility, practicing careful balance, focusing your concentration, and just plain proving you are tough enough to do this that make the action more rewarding than yet another plodding slog around on cold asphalt. At least in my opinion. And well worth the little scratches on your ankles and the effort to pick the burrs off of your socks.

We must have hit just about every possible hiking-only trail in that park. Along the way, we heard about the Upper Midwest Trail Runners, enough to convince us to join soon. That group organizes three different Grand-Prix-style racing series, using area trail races. That's exactly the kind of connection we are looking for, and we hope to join them for as many races as we can over the coming months.

The run, despite the slipping and sliding and waiting for each other, seemed to go by very quickly.  Before we knew it, we were back in the parking lot, being handed chocolate chip cookies and basking in the after-glow of running in the woods. To my knowledge, no one fell down, although I think we all came close repeatedly. 

Unfortunately we had to bolt out of there to get back to our son and the babysitter, because it would have been fun to stay and chat. Maybe next time. I'll say this: nice guys, clearly loved the park we ran, full of facts and opinions about the place and area races, and obviously eager to have more of these kind of casual, let's-go-run-a-trail kind of mini-events. Count us in!