20 August 2014

Marquette Trail 50k

A man and his growlers (photo Staci K)

I feel like I should never go back to Marquette.  Marquette and me are most likely a 'Summer Fling' where everything worked and we got along perfectly...and if i return next year and try to rekindle this romance, it's not gonna work, and she (the course) is going to tell me she has a new boyfriend, and he's better looking and faster and he even found some baby birds that had fallen out of their nest, and he stopped and saved them as well.  Then, he prevented a forest fire.  She's a fickle one, this Marquette 50.  But she's amazing too.

So, I shouldn't go back.  But...I probably will.  For as challenging of a course as Marquette is, I felt pretty darn good all day and loved--LOVED--the experience.  It's probably not true love...but right now it's definitely infatuation!

I felt pretty confident going in to this race, and I'm really happy with the results.  I'm not sure what I would change about the day.  I finished in 4:42, won, and walked away with two growlers (empty when I left the race, but filled up by the time I left Marquette via Blackrocks Brewery).  I have absolutely no idea how Matias Saari ran 4:01 on that course last year.  Truly amazing.

Doug and I arrived on Friday afternoon after a relatively quick drive up to Marquette.  We were camping at Tourist Park, in a tent, so we first went to check-in, got our stuff, and then were off to the park.  We set up the tent, had a beer, relaxed a bit, and then headed downtown to find some food.  We finally found a nice Irish Pub after first trying a brewpub (45 minute wait) and another restaurant (45 dollar steaks).  The place had good food, and along with a pint of beer, my belly was full.  During dinner I went over the race plan with Doug, where I hoped he'd be able to get me aid, and what time frame I was looking at.  I was hoping for 4:30-4:45, so he didn't have much problem getting around.  The RD also provides a map and written directions for the crew to get from point to point, and that was spectacular.  This race's organization is top notch.

I had one last Yuengling (SECRET WEAPON!!) at the campfire, and at about 10:15 we settled in to bed.  I actually slept really well until about 1:30.  Much like at Devils Lake last month, my brain woke up at that point, and while I was well-rested, I wasn't going back to sleep.  Luckily for me, I could be entertained by the thunder, lightning, and rain that would continue until about 4 AM.  Our tent did just fine in it, which is more than our neighbors can say.  From about 2:45 to 3:45 I listened to the parents and two daughters yell about how their tent had flooded, and then listen to them pack everything up, slamming car doors and trunks repeatedly.  Luckily I wasn't trying to sleep more, or that might have been a bit annoying.

Finally, at 4:15, I rolled out of bed.  I had slept in my running clothes, so I immediately went to breakfast...which in this case, was to get out of the tent, open up my cooler, and down a can of Chicken & Stars.  I then walked over to the bathroom, noting all the activity for this time of morning--lots of trail runners were out and about!  In the bathroom was another runner, wearing a Boston Marathon jacket.  "50k or 50 miles?" I asked.  He responded that he was doing the 50k, and that he is from Marquette.  I told him I'd try to keep him close, so that I didn't get lost.  Little did I know I'd run the majority of the first 10 miles with him leading the way!

On the drive to the Trailhead, I had some Starbucks Espresso, letting the caffeine unsettle the same nerves I was trying to relax.  I remember a friend telling me once that you should be standing at the starting line, waiting to go like a 'caged animal.'  I definitely had that feeling on this particular race morning.

After fording a couple huge puddles in my definitely-not-an-all-terrain-vehicle car, we arrived and got settled in.  I was nervous but felt rested and 'springy'--my legs felt fast and light and strong.  It was going to be a great day.  One final hug from Doug, and he left with the car to find some caffeine and food before the storm of 50k runners and 50 milers would take off down the road.

There were some final announcements from the RD and we were off!  One runner in Vibrams took it out pretty quickly, and I found a pace that felt good and ended up pretty close to him.  About a mile in to the race, someone came FLYING past us--Jake Hegge, defending 50 mile champ--and I thought to myself, "He must be running the 50k.  Who starts a 50 miler like that?!"  Apparently he likes to take it out fast.  Nothing wrong with that, when you've had the success that he has.

It became apparent very quickly that my headlamp was ridiculously inefficient.  Because of this I stuck behind a couple other runners, one of whom ran this event last year.  Still, I managed to take two wrong turns but runners shouted at me to turn around, and that was really helpful.

After the first 2 road miles, the course dips in to the single track.  This, even though I couldn't see much of it, was awesome.  It was on the bike trails, so every turn was banked.  The trail follows along a river through here also, so the runners could hear rapids pretty much the entire time.  Very, very cool.  Also, because of the twists adn turns of the trail, there were several times when you could look back for a moment and see all of the headlamps (ALL brighter than mine) bobbing down the trail.  Like I said, very cool.  The 5:30 AM start was an hour earlier than last year, and I liked it.  It helped keep me in check compared to if I was running in daylight, and the sounds were awesome.

The first aid station is at about Mile 5.  I entered this aid station with Jake way out front and several runners around me.  I stopped for a drink of water, and was on my way again.  A couple spectators at the AS yelled "Go Chad!", so that prompted myself and Kyle (the eventual 50 mile winner) to yell out Go Chad!! too.  Chad ended up being a local, and I asked if he wanted to lead us, as Kyle and me had already missed two turns together earlier.  Chad was happy to move ahead, and for the next 5 miles (to complete the first loop) I was within 10-15 seconds of Chad.  By about mile 7 or 8 I didn't need the headlamp anymore, and Chad, Kyle, and me played the game of finding the next trail marker.  Chad had been on some of these trails, but not all, so it was a team effort.  Kyle eventually pulled ahead and out of sight.  So, Jake is wayyy ahead, Kyle is gone, and Chad is leading me.

It turns out Chad is the same fella from the bathroom at the campground earlier in the morning (with the Boston Marathon jacket)!  As mentioned, he is a local to MQT (as the cool kids call it) and had high hopes for this run.  He looked very solid in front of me and it was great to share the miles with him.

The final 2 miles back to the Start/Finish area is uphill, and I definitely didn't climb this nearly as strongly as Chad was.  When finally getting back to the Start/Finish Aid (right around 90 minutes), I told Doug that this course was great.  I got my fist Simple Bottle with CarboPro in it, and headed out for the "Big Loop" which contains the 4 big climbs -- Sugarloaf, Bareback, Top of the World, and Hogsback.

Only about 10 feet on to the single track, Chad stepped to the side and told me I could go past.  And just like that, I was leading the 50k, with 2 50 mile runners ahead of me.  I didn't see Chad again until the end of the race.

This section, from mile 11 to 14ish, was beautiful.  I'm starting to sound like a broken record.  This single track trail reminded me of a rainforest.  Lots of big ferns, damp rocks and roots, and several sections of boardwalk.  The rain the previous night helped this sensation, I'm sure, but still--a beautiful area.  The last .5 miles before the aid station at Sugarloaf is on a road.  I was happy to see Kyle and Jake ahead of me on the road, maybe 30 seconds up.  I knew that I was moving well, my feet felt light and fast on the technical areas, and seeing them ahead was a boost.

At Sugarloaf, Doug was waiting again with my second bottle of CarboPro.  I finished off the Lemonade nuun CarboPro I had and changed bottles with him.  Okay...now let's get to work.  I've done a good job of pacing and staying under control.  I'm 14 miles in and feel very fresh.  Now come the climbs.  Let's get to work.  It's time to race!

Mile 14 -  Getting ready for Sugarloaf and switching in to 'Race Mode' as I leave the aid station (photo Stacy K)

Sugarloaf Mountain was a pretty easy climb.  It's all staircase.  I would jog between the sets of steps, and then just climb up the steps two at at time, trying to use my arms as much as possible to pull me up and save my legs.  From the top, the view as amazing.  I wish I had a camera and a bit of leisure time to stop and soak it in.

Coming down Sugarloaf I caught up to Kyle and passed him.  Kyle was happy and talkative and upbeat all day.  Quite a character!  He held on for the win, and I'm happy for him, as it got tight toward the end of the day, with Mike Dietz finishing second only about 4 minutes back, despite being more than 30 minutes back at Mile 31!

Once off of Sugarloaf, the course follows the Shoreline trail along Lake Superior for about 7 miles.  Besides a couple staircases, the track is sandy pine needles.  You can really cruise through here.  It wasn't long before I caught and passed Jake.  "Just a 50k..no need to worry about me!"  I said as I passed.

Get ready for it:  This section of the course was...beautiful.  The sun was out and shining, a breeze was coming from my side off the lake, and I was moving very well.  I even passed a couple people still asleep in their tents along the trail.  What an amazing place to spend a night...although the previous night's storms might have made it a bit interesting.

Doug met me about half way through this 7 mile section.  I told him to wait around a bit and let me know at the next aid station what kind of lead I had.  While waiting, he snapped off some photos too.

Shoreline Trail, Miles 15-21, were Amazing.

At the next AS I was still feeling really good.  I had not quite finished my bottle of water/CarboPro/nuun, so I just had them top it off, and continued on my way.  The next section includes Bareback.  Coming out of the AS Doug was waiting and snapped a couple pictures before I even saw him there.  When I asked about the splits to people behind me, he shared with me he saw Jake and Kyle but nobody else.

Mile 21, Harlow Lake Aid, just before the 2nd big climb of the day: Bareback Mountain

After hearing that from Doug, I immediately erased it from my memory.  I still had 10 miles to go and 3 big climbs, so I didn't need to be feeling like I could downshift from my approach at this point.  Besides...it's very likely Doug has no idea what he was talking about anyway.  (I hope he doesn't read this)

Bareback is about a 200 foot climb, but it's all on outcroppings of rocks and boulders.  The 'course' was literally marked by wrapping softball-size rocks with pink tape and laying them along the way.  Due to the rain, it was slippery also, and I took my first big fall at this point.  It could have been a lot worse than it was, and I'm thankful I was able to continue.  These sections are definitely sections where you want to take your time, watch where your feet are, and use your hands!

Coming down off of Bareback wasn't bad.  From the top, I looked back to where I had come from and didn't see anyone, and was definitely motivated to keep moving by the deer flies in that open area of the course!

This section is only 3.4 miles, so soon enough I was all the way around Harlow Lake (which the course kind of circles at this point), and entering the final AS of the day:

Entering Mile 25 Aid Station.  Only 'Top of the World' and "Hogsback" to go!
Mile 25.  The AS volunteers were AWESOME.  I filled my bottle (now empty) with ice water, had 3 cups of Coke, and started out on the final 7 miles.  Two Big climbs and some uphill back to the finish.  I was fairly confident I had the win at this point but still knew someone could be charging, so I decided I'd run every step of the easy terrain I could.  Even very very slow running is still faster than walking!

It's a gradual 1 Mile climb out of the AS to the top of "Top of the World" but it gains 310 feet along the way.  I think my run at Devils Lake in July really prepared me well for this run.  A climb like this at Devils Lake would have been walked in its entirety by me.  Instead, I ran almost all of it.

So, at Mile 26ish I'm over the top of the 3rd climb of the day and on my way back down the other side.  Once off the boulders, the trail is pretty nicely groomed and easy to run.  Looking at the Strava Data, I covered this 1.3 mile descent right around 7 minutes a miles, and often under.  It sure didn't feel that fast when I was running it, but I know I felt great coming down, just trying not to roll an ankle or catch a root or MISS A TRAIL MARKER!

So, now I'm at Mile 27.5.  Time for Hogsback.  This one is NO JOKE.  

It took me 14 minutes to go the final .5 miles to the top of Hogsback.  I was beat, using my hands to grab on to little bunches of grass and weeds, and literally fighting off tunnel vision as I did it.  About half way up this final climb, Joe Jameson was there making sure the Markings were all correct.  He actually founded this race and is a heckuva runner himself.  I remember him rolling me up at Glacial Trail 50k in the last 6 miles a couple years ago like he was just out for a sunday stroll.  

When I reached Joe, like I said--about half way up--he shared with me that the worst was yet to come.  He was right.  He witnessed me actually slide back down part of the rocky top portion.  But, upon reaching the top, he totally made up for it by snapping this photo of me.  

Top of Hogsback.  Breathtaking:  600 ft straight up.  Took me about 30 minutes to get up and down.

After taking the photo, he pointed me in the correct direction to get down the mountain, and said "Congratulations."  At that point he turned back up the trail to look for the next runner.  Now THAT was a cool feeling!

I definitely took my time getting back down Hogsback, as it's no less technical on the other side.  It was about a 30 minute effort all in all to cover mile 27.5 to 28.5.  Coming off Hogsback is a wooden sign that reads "1.9 miles to NTN Trailhead".  Soon enough (well, actually, the finish line couldn't come soon enough!) I re-joined the trail back to the trailhead.  Those last 1.8 miles are the longest of the day...and mostly uphill!  

But when I finally caught sight of the barn and the finish line, nothing hurt.  It was a great feeling to turn the corner and finish off an amazing morning on the trails.  I pointed up to God and said a prayer for the help this morning, and then thanked him for my wife and kids.  

Then, I had a cup of Coke, another of water, and then some Gatorade.  Rehashing the run with the RD was fun as well.  As Doug and I started to walk over to the parking lot, a random guy asked me if I'd like a "Celebratory Beer."  Of course, I said "Of Course!"  He asked what kind of beer I wanted, and after I showed him the back of my shirt, he handed me a Founders All Day IPA.  In a nutshell, that's the kind of people at a trail run.  Just a random guy, there cheering on a buddy of his, with a cooler full of good beer, and willing to share it.

Andrew G. puts on an amazing event with great volunteers, and I hope to return next year.

Then again, it's probably best if I let this 'Summer Fling' stay in 2014 and not screw it up in 2015 :)

Other Stuff:


  • 1 can Chicken & Stars, 1/2 can of Starbucks Expresso for breakfast.
  • 20 oz of water, 200 calories of Carbo Pro in the 30 minutes before the race started.
  • 16 oz of water, 2 tabs of nuun, 300 calories of CarboPro from miles 10-14
  • 16 oz of water, 2 tabs of nuun, 300 calories of CarboPro from Miles 14-21
  • A couple cups of Coke at mile 21 and 25 aid stations.
  • S! Caps at 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30

Strava Data.

Local Paper Recap.

A video of some 50k'ers on Hogsback.

Full Results.

16 Days until Lapham Peak
23 Days until North Face
53 Days until Glacial Trail 50

11 Aug - 17 Aug
47.5 miles
3,619 feet

1 comment:

Ellora said...

This is really the only way a wife can know what happened during a run...