2012 was insane. It all happened so fast, I'm still not exactly sure what went on.
Here's my attempt at a year in review...
Reader beware: this is extremely long; grab a snack and get comfy. In the future, I'll do race reports as they happen so I don't waste so much of your life all at once. :)
Reader beware: this is extremely long; grab a snack and get comfy. In the future, I'll do race reports as they happen so I don't waste so much of your life all at once. :)
January - Olympic Trials Marathon
WTF? Did this really happen? If I didn't have the pictures and videos of this event, I might not believe it was real life. After only my fourth marathon ever (Twin Cities 2011), I realized that a) it was a summer Olympics year, and b) I was near the Olympic marathon qualifying time standard (2:46). So 5 weeks before the Trials, I flew out to Sacramento to give it the old college try. Lo and behold, I made it! 2:45:15. Not exactly shattering the standard, but making it nonetheless. I had just punched my tickets to the OLYMPIC TRIALS. Whoa.
The race took place in Houston, TX on January 14, 2012. I ran a 2:53:46. Not exactly scorching the course, especially considering the field of competitors, but it was an experience of a lifetime. It's the only time I can think of where distance runners get treated like rockstars. So cool.
February - LUNA & The Crazy Puppy Lady
Prior to moving to the Twin Cities in 2011, my race schedule had been essentially non-existent, despite hours and hours of training each year. Therefore I was a relative unknown in running/racing circles. But after making it to the Trials, I earned a little street cred and word got around to a friend-of-a-friend who was involved with LUNA (delicious energy bar company).
LUNA was forming a fast, amateur running "team" and I was selected to become a LUNA sponsored athlete! Oh yeah, jackpot! Not only was it nice to have the credibility of being sponsored (even if only a little bit), but it was with a fantastic company/product.
Lexi and Baxter
March - The Unknown
I'm sure some things happened in March, but I can't think of them right now...
April - Hyland Trail Mix, The BooneCrusher, MNOC AR Tune-Up
Although the winter wasn't that cold & snowy, April was the beginning of the end of hibernation and the racing season kicked off. It started with what has become one of my favorite events: the Hyland Trail Mix. It's a running event on the soft, grassy trails of Hyland Lake Park Reserve (Bloomington, MN). There are three different race options: 50k relay, 25k solo, and 50k solo. In 2011, I was the women's champ in the 50k, so I opted to try the 25k this go around. Although the field of competitors included the previous year's female champ, I felt good and took it down in a new course record time of 1:35:04.
Adventure racing (AR) also kicked off in April with a race near the place of all things good (Iowa State University). Boone, IA was the location of the first AR of the year for my team, GearJunkie/WEDALI. We had so many teammates ready to get ripping that we unleashed a six-person mega-team: Biz the Wizard (Justin Bakken), MoMo (Molly Moilanen), Steady Erl (Scott Erlandson), Dr. Dre (Andrei Karpov), T-Pain (Tom Puzak), and myself. A super fun course on some unexpectedly interesting terrain. We captured the top two spots, winning both the 4-person and 2-person divisions, and were all pretty excited to be back at it.
Also, Tom and I teamed up for the annual MNOC AR Tune-Up, a sweet event put on by Mikey Carlson. The theme this year was "transitions" as we found ourselves switching between disciplines (bike, boat, and foot) 11+ times throughout the sprint event. Good times!
May - Fargo Half-Marathon & Wild AR Spring Thaw
With a busy agenda of running and AR, I decided to race mostly half-marathons throughout the summer. The first one being the Fargo Half. I did the race in 2007, finishing 2nd by FOUR seconds in a time of 1:22:01, so I kind of knew what to expect from the course and was shooting for redemption.
And let me just pause to say that part of what I love about running is the "purity" of it...you rely on your body and mind alone to get you from the start to the finish of the race. There are no mechanical issues, no advantages that can be gained by having better "gear" than the person next to you, it all comes to down to what you're willing to put on the line on race day.
Okay, back to Fargo. At the start line I spotted two familiar faces in the crowd. One a stud runner, Ladia Albertson-Junkans, that had recently graduated from the U of M where she earned All-American honors, oh and she was also last year's champ of the race; and Megan, a Twin Cities runner that I have seen out and about on the racing circuit. We toed the line, the gun went off and it was ON! The three of us formed a pack from the get-go and quickly set the pace for the women's field. By mile 10, Ladia and I were in a battle. I had been feeling pretty crappy from the start, never really finding a rhythm, so I was psyched to be on Ladia's heels. She made a push, I responded. Then around mile 12 I decided it was probably now or never, I went to make a move and immediately got hit with a gut-wrenching side-ache. I fought to hang on as Ladia countered my move, and did so pretty well. But despite my efforts and a decent kick, she bested me by TWO seconds. GAAAAAAAAAAWWWWW... I was disappointed, as any competitor would be, but felt pretty happy with my 1:18:35 PR.I hate pants
June - Dam to Dam, Baldwin Booster Shot, Garry Bjorklund (Grandma's) Half-Marathon, Tri-Loppet, Stubborn Mule AR
After a strong showing at Fargo, and realizing that recovery from a half-marathon was nothing compared to a full-marathon, I was fully in race mode. I wanted to race every single weekend, so I did!
Dam to Dam is an iconic 20k in Des Moines. Most distance runners in the Midwest know about it, and pros show up because there are some sweet cash-money prizes on the line. I wrote in late begging for a spot in the field and the race organizer was awesome and agreed. He loves having "local" runners show up for his Midwest event, and it's even better if you can throw down and mix it up with the front-runners which I was hoping to do. The race weekend was insane, I won't bore you with all of the details, but it involved an RV brake fire, a 4am cab ride to the start, a 5-mile post-race run home (because of said RV brake fire) and an awesome race result! An Olympian showed up and took it down with a new course record, but I came in a respectable fourth place. My time = 1:13:22. Super fun weekend.
My support crew at Dam to Dam
The second weekend was a low-key 10k/5k road race in Baldwin, WI. Competitors can do the 10k, 5k, or the "Super Challenge" (where competitors race the 10k, then re-toe the line for the 5k after). I opted for the Super Challenge and set some records and placed first in both races on a hilly, country road course: 36:08 for the 10k, followed up by a decent 17:58 for the 5k. Best part of this event had to be the homemade pies that were given out as awards instead of medals or certificates. Delicious!
The third weekend I headed north to Duluth, MN for the Garry Bjorklund/Grandma's Half-Marathon. This year also happened to be the U.S. Half-Marathon Championship, but I didn't realize that and subsequently had not applied in time to be a competitor in that race. Instead, I ran the "regular" half and smoked it! It was extra special because it was the first time my two nieces had ever seen me run competitively. I made special efforts to hit them up with high-fives throughout the race. Finished first with new 1:18:10 PR. Boom.
My super fan nieces: Annika & Julia
The fourth weekend was the Minneapolis Tri-Loppet event. I feel like a broken record, but this was another super fun event. It's an 8k canoe paddle across the chain of lakes in Minneapolis, followed by an extremely hilly 5k trail run through Theo Wirth Park, and then an 11k mountain bike again through Theo. The key to this race is the paddle. In the past two years, Tom and I have teamed up for the boat section and been stuck with what we lovingly refer to as "aluminum ramrods" aka big, old, clunky, heavy aluminum canoes. Despite this, we've both posted respectable finishes. So this year, with better biking legs under me, Tom was convinced that if we got a decent boat I could take it down. We borrowed a race canoe and wouldn't you know it, we shaved 15 MINUTES off of our paddle time and I took it down. Thanks, Tom!
The final weekend of June was the epic Stubborn Mule AR in Wausau, WI. It's a 30-hour battle in cheesehead country that has proven to be a formidable beast of a race in the past. I raced with a team GearJunkie/WEDALI squad consisting of: Biz (Justin Bakken), Gear Junkie (Stephen Regenold), and T-Pain (Tom Puzak). Memorable moments of this race include an 8-hour night paddle leg (which included us belting out Bohemian Rhapsody while paddling) and Biz hammering a packet of foul-smelling Spam at 2am before the final trek. It was as tough as ever, but we persevered and wound up bringing home the "W."The Stubborn Mule Squad: Me, Biz, GJ, Tom
July - April Sorenson Memorial Half-Marathon & The Most Amazing Race (MN style)
The April Sorenson Memorial Half-Marathon (Albert Lea, MN) was a good workout/tune-up race. Following my VERY active racing calendar in June, I was looking for a relatively low-key race and this fit the bill perfectly. It was hot and muggy on race morning and my legs felt heavy throughout, but the field of competitors was pretty light and I was able to post a course record (1:21:14). Not an epic time, but good considering the circumstances.
The Most Amazing Race (Minneapolis) also took place this month. What a blast! The event is an urban adventure race put on by the Salvation Army as a fundraiser for the organization. It is loosely based on the television show, "The Amazing Race," wherein teams of two race around the world (in this case, the Twin Cities metro area) competing in a number of random challenges. Tom and I signed up, but with so many teams in the field, we had to win our way in through a morning qualifier competition. The real race started in the afternoon and included 30 teams (including the returning champs) plus several teams that had advantages due to their stellar fundraising efforts. Tom and I were stoked for the challenge! We ran, biked, and paddled our way around Minneapolis doing all sorts of crazy stuff including: eating sushi, making a hotel bed to professional standards, trivia at Target Field, charades, canoe paddling, juggling, rock climbing, dancing, and more. The culmination of the event was eating a heaping pile of spaghetti and a one-pound meatball (this on a 90-degree summer day following a 4-hour all-out physical effort). It was disgusting and glorious all at once because we realized with our last bites that we were the champions!
I still get the meat-sweats remembering this...
August - Urban Wildland Half-Marathon, MNOC ROGAINE, RAGNAR, END AR
Things were busy in August, but a little less intense. I raced a local half-marathon, the Urban Wildland race (Richfield, MN). A smallish race with no prize purse and on a weekend with several other local race options for runners to choose from. I had a decent race on a muggy morning; first female, new course record, 1:19:26.
The MNOC ROGAINE (that's rugged outdoor group activity involving navigation and endurance, NOT the hair product) was in August. It was in Pillsbury State Forest, Tom was my teammate and the navigator...I honestly don't remember much about the race. This might have been the one involving a super cool CP (check point) in the lake at the end of the course. Or I might be totally confusing this event with another one. Time in the woods for me is a blur...mostly I just hold on for dear life and carry anything Tom needs me to. :)
The MN RAGNAR relay was next on the agenda. I was recruited by the "Run Like a Mother" squad to head down to southern MN for a point-to-point, 200 mile running relay race that would finish in Minneapolis. So much fun. Captain Anne was on her game as she put the line up together for this event. We weren't what you would call the most competitive team, but we had to be one of the most fun squads on course. I had a blast with the mothers!
August wrapped with a 24-hour AR in North Dakota. The END AR race is put on by a Yoga Slacker (another AR team) and let's be honest, the race director, Andy, is just not right in the head. He created a course that included a feature called the "Devil's Dive" which was approximately a quarter mile bike-whack down a steep hill through the nastiest bush you could imagine. Super awesome...insert sarcasm here. Not to mention a CP placed precariously on the side of a cliff that was eroding beneath our feet as we attempted to attack it. But, my GearJunkie/WEDALI teammates (Biz, MoMo, and T-Pain) manned up and dominated that beast. In an epic battle with team Swamp Donkey throughout this gnarly race, our squad was able to time travel through the night and roll home in first place.
Photo from END AR race report - Team GearJunkie/WEDALI on top
September - Sioux Falls Marathon, Wild Hare AR, The Most Amazing Race (PA style), CP Tracker Nationals
With the end of the racing season rapidly approaching, I decided to pack as much activity into September as I could. It was another 4 for 4, racing every weekend kind of month.
First up was the Sioux Falls Marathon. I'll be frank: I decided to run this race because there was a $1000 prize purse with a $500 bonus for breaking the course record (3:00-something...I can't remember exactly). Things went well on race day and I ran a 2:50:38 which was good enough for the jackpot (winner and bonus). Extra fun weekend because my whole family was in attendance cheering me on.
Next up was the Wild Hare AR, a "last minute" addition to the GearJunkie/WEDALI team calendar. The event was a12-hour AR that began in Omaha, but mostly took place in Council Bluffs (IA). Unexpectedly interesting terrain, including some serious hills, Tom and I teamed up to race as a duo against our formidable GJ/WEDALI teammates (MoMo, Biz, and Dr. Dre). We had some great moments, and some not-so-great moments during the race, and wound up placing 2nd overall behind our buddies (1st in the 2-person division).
The start of Wild Hare AR - MoMo, Tom, Me, Dr. Dre
Following the monumental amount of fun Tom and I had racing The Most Amazing Race in Minneapolis, we decided to parlay our winnings ($5,000) on a trip east to participate in The Most Amazing Race (Pittsburgh edition). It was essentially the exact same concept, but in Pittsburgh. Our game plan was to rely on iPhones to provide us with maps, directions, and any trivial information that we would need during the race (since that's what we did in MN). However, we were dealt a crushing blow when on Friday night, mere hours before the race start, we were told all smart phones would be sealed up in front of race officials, not to be used during the race until officials gave the word. Turds! Tom had done a little research in anticipation of the race, but we knew essentially NOTHING about Pittsburgh or the local geography/culture. There were 50 teams in this event, and we were the only out-of-towners. Oh well, we decided we weren't out anything and we would just enjoy the experience. The race began well enough, but we made a serious error by not reading a clue thoroughly and quickly found ourselves racing from the back of the pack. The MN race had allowed the use of bikes, feet, and buses. The Pitt race allowed use of foot, buses and subway, but we found ourselves running basically the entire 24 mile race (as did most teams). In the end, our fitness combined with some luck (and a ninja move by Tom that I won't get into here) placed us second! We couldn't believe it...but the story doesn't end there. It turns out the first place team had cheated during the race. We were crowned the champs! WTF?! Tom and I stared at each other in disbelief at the post-race meal, alternatively laughing and scratching our heads in wonderment. Sorry Pittsburgh, but Honey Badgers (our team name) don't care!
Checkpoint Tracker Nationals is the culmination of the AR season in the United States. This years event took place in Oak Hill, WV; more specifically the course covered the terrain of the Gauley River National Recreation Area. I was lucky enough to be selected to race with my GearJunkie/WEDALI crew: Biz, GJ, and T-Pain. What an experience! We started the 30-hour race with a two-hour whitewater paddle down the Gauley River, followed by hours and hours of hiking and biking up and down serious elevation in the pouring rain. By the time night fell, we were soaked, an ominous fog had settled in, and we were in a battle with team SOG. Some sneaky night orienteering and stellar mountain biking (lots of sarcasm here; the reality is that I threatened to blow up my bike and/or send it flying off a cliff approximately 20-30 times throughout the night) created a window of opportunity for our team to take the lead (unbeknown to us). As daylight emerged, we riverboarded down another section of the Gauley before setting off for the final few CPs. We knew we were pushing the limits of our physical abilities to attain all CPs in the time allotted, a task that race director Ronny Angell had deemed impossible. But as the deadline loomed, our team climbed a few final gnarly hills (getting stung by bees/wasps in the process) and crossed the line in first place. National Champs! Woot woot!
Photo credit: Chris Radcliffe
October - Twin Cities Marathon, Corn-O
A mere seven days following the 30-hour epic effort of Checkpoint Tracker Nationals, I laced up for what I was considering a "fun" run: The Twin Cities Marathon. I decided that this is such a wonderful, scenic, "hometown" event that even if I was tired and not ready to run my best, I wanted to participate. I laced up with relaxed expectations.
The morning was cold so I bundled up in tights and a long-sleeve top. On my way to the start line, I noticed most of the elites (whom I was starting with) were dressed in shorts and tanks/bra tops. Turds! I needed to strip down, but I had only cold-weather options. I mentioned this to a fellow runner, Melissa Gacek, as we were dropping off our sweats bags and she kindly offered up an extra pair of shorts she had with. With about 5 minutes until the gun, I quickly ran into the church that served as the elite warm-up area and made a 2-second transition to shorts instead of tights. Crisis averted!
On a surge of adrenaline, I started the race quickly, but not out of control. As miles passed, I felt fine, but could feel the beginnings of tightness in my hamstrings. Grrrr...last year my quads turned to bricks, this year it seemed that my hamstrings might be planning a revolt. I kept chugging along and it wasn't until the half-way point that my hammies really started announcing their displeasure with the effort of the day. I told them to shut up and keep working; we only had 13.1 miles to go! I stopped smiling and talking to the crowds around mile 20 (the infamous "wall"), and now my hamstrings really hated me. I resisted the urge to relent, figuring that the faster I ran, the sooner I would be done. So despite some SERIOUS hamstring cramps, I trucked along and finished in near PR time: 2:45:54. Oh and it I was the first MN, female finisher on the day, and 15th female overall...not too shabby.
The MNOC Corn-O Championship (in title only) took place in October at Sever's Corn Maze in Shakopee, MN. It was an amaze-balls sprint event through a magical corn maze. Followed by a mini-O in the hay bale maze, followed by sprint relays through the corn pit. So much fun had by all!Slogging through the corn pit
November - White Bear Lake 10-Miler
Following my effort at Twin Cities, I was approached by Ron Byland, the coach of MN RED (a local running club for people of all abilities). He asked if I would like to join the club and "come out to play." I don't dislike people, but running has always been something I enjoy doing on my own (for the most part). I'm a strange creature in that most days, I really look forward to hopping on my treadmill (yes, that's right) and just shredding the crap out of myself. I don't NEED races, I don't NEED training partners, etc. I find that I have this inner compulsion/drive that inspires me to challenge myself each and every day regardless of surrounding circumstances. I mean, that was my life before moving to the Cities: I lived in a po-dunk town and trained like a fiend for no particular reason other than I enjoyed it. However, I liked Ron and was intrigued by his training plan. So with my eyes set on running and PR-ing at Boston in April, I decided to join up with the club. It's been difficult to give up control of my running and take it easy on "off" days, but I had a good result running with one of the MN RED dudes at the White Bear Lake 10-miler (2nd overall, 1st female, 58:57). We shall see...
MN RED crew at White Bear Lake 10-Miler
December - VO2 Maxing and Relaxing
No races in December, but an interesting opportunity did present itself. A professor was conducting a study on marathon runners including measures of body composition, VO2 max, and balance. I was lucky enough to get wind of this opportunity and fit the bill of an "elite female marathon runner" which he was seeking for data collection purposes. Turns out my VO2 max was the highest the professor had ever seen in a female in all his years of testing athletes. Side note 1: professional runner, Katie McGregor, tested immediately before me and she was in the 60s, as are most professional female athletes. Professional males usually score in the 70s (males are genetically predisposed for higher scores). Side note 2: my high score certainly means my system is efficient, but it is partly due to my small size. In terms of the volume of oxygen my body transports, my body is good, but not crazy off-the-charts. However, when you combine that with the fact that I'm so small, I become extremely efficient. Just felt I should disclose that...
Congratulations if you've made it this far. I know this was an extremely long report, but I figured I had to start this blog somewhere and I had plenty of experiences this past year to draw upon. Future posts will be race by race so as not to become novel-ish like this post.
Stay tuned for my adventures in 2013 which include a trip to Japan, the Boston Marathon, more delicious LUNA bars, and I'm sure some adventures in the woods (complaining about riding my bike).
Keep it real.