Yesterday someone posted on Facebook that the only people out on the roads were fools and trail runners; that may have been redundant. The St. Louis area was blanketed with between 3″ (where I live) to 8″ of snow, and despite meteorologists nailing the forecast road crews seemed to take their sweet time clearing the streets…at least the ones we were all using. You see, snow or no snow, Saturday was the 25th running of the Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run, and people were determined to be there.
As in pretty much every area of my life, I’m a big chicken when it comes to driving in the snow, so I was pretty thrilled when my friend Cheri offered me a ride. She had to be at registration early to bring giveaways from her sponsor, Power Bar, so she rolled into my driveway at 5:50 a.m. On a good day, the drive to Grafton takes around 45 minutes; slowed by heavy snow and covered roads, we took nearly an hour and fifteen minutes.
|View of the bluffs on the River Road|
Despite the crazy road conditions, we didn’t actually have any problems until we got to the Lodge, where we promptly got stuck twice in the parking lot. My pushing wasn’t too effective (I blame my warm but virtually tread-less boots, not my noodle arms), so big thanks to the guy in the Marines hat who helped us the first time and to Russ and Daryl who helped us the second time. Cheri escaped near-disaster when parking as her car slid within an inch of a concrete-covered light post and then again later when a minivan ended up mere inches from her car on the other side.
|We survived the trip!|
There was so much more snow at the park than at home. I think they ended up getting around 8″, and everywhere you looked was amazing winter beauty. I always look forward to this race, but because I’ve been logging much better training than in past years I was particularly excited to run this year; I felt confident I was in PR shape. Because of this I had some mixed emotions about the snow. It was gorgeous and made the story that much more fun (“Remember the year we ran Pere Marquette in 8 inches of snow??!”), but it was also forcing me to reframe my day from “race” to “adventure”.
|The great hall of the lodge, largely empty 1.5 hours before race time|
No one else was finding their travel any easier, so registration was weirdly empty for a long time. In a normal year, this hall would be packed by 8:00, but instead the road outside the lodge was bumper to bumper as cars inched their way along. In the end, 466 racers showed, though some ended up having to change waves and run in an extra “late” wave set up to accommodate those who got stuck longer than expected on the roads. Not only did so many racers brave the bad roads, but many volunteers did as well. To me, it’s one thing to make a slightly ill-advised drive to be in a race; it’s a whole different level of commitment to do so in order to help out. Big thanks to all the volunteers who were there!
As the start time neared, I pinned on my bib, took off my boots, and padded around in sock feet. I couldn’t wear my running shoes inside because I was trying something new. Earlier in the week, Mickey had shared a link in response to my Facebook whining about not wanting to run on icy roads.
I was intrigued, but not entirely convinced. Then, on Thursday night I saw one of Emily’s Instagram pictures showing she’d done the exact same thing to her shoes. With a snowy forecast and two of my super-smart, research-prone friends doing/recommending the same thing, I was sold. I stopped at Home Depot on my way home for supplies.
Though he was convinced I was crazy, Jeff was nice enough to help me get started, and then I (over)did the rest by myself.
In addition to getting the same idea from two different trusted sources, I was also reassured by the knowledge that, if I somehow ruined my shoes, I was ruining the broken ones and still had a brand new pair of Cascadias waiting in the wings. Of course, this was only helpful if I tried on the screw shoes ahead of time or at least brought the spare shoes along with me…neither of which I did. Oops. The lodge didn’t allow cleats to be worn inside, so I slipped them on by the door and headed down to the start line.
|Runners waiting for their waves|
This was my fourth year running Pere Marquette and the first time I’ve actually made my wave on time. Normally I get caught talking and have to start a wave or two later. The clock neared our start time and Mike told us to “Go…no, not you guys!….ok, NOW go!”
Running in fresh snow is hard work, but we had the advantage of following 23 other waves of runners whose feet had packed the snow into a flat, hard pathway for us. I ran cautiously at first, unsure of my footing on the smooth surface, but I quickly gained confidence as my shoes dug in. Any question I had as to the value of the screw shoes was put to rest on the first climb. I watched as people ahead of me skidded on the slippery surface, losing traction and momentum. With no such problem, I was able to pass people who were slowed by the conditions. That didn’t stop my friend Jody from passing me on the hill, though. He’s still a much stronger runner than I am.
|Stolen from either Cheri or Amy 🙂|
The hills, like always, left me gasping and out of breath, walking the biggest ones, but the scenery was a wonderful distraction. I could’ve spent the entire race taking pictures of the snow-covered trees. It was such a neat experience to run somewhere I’m so familiar with and see it look so different.
The snow smoothed over many of the rocks and roots you have to look out for, and it covered the treacherous layer of leaves that can hide all kinds of ankle-turners. Because it was so packed down, it was almost like running a really white sidewalk. Downhills were a blast. Rather than hurt my time, I think it may have actually helped me. The only time I felt like the conditions slowed me down was when I had to crawl through a fallen tree or was caught behind someone slower and had to either bide my time or detour through the thicker snow on the sides to pass.
Coming into mile 6, where the course crosses the park road and then loops back up, I was looking forward to seeing my friend JB, who was continuing a tradition of running the last section with me after finishing his race. Patrick, Chuck, and Robin were at the turn cheering and taking pictures, so I got to wave to all of them and then pick up my pacer. 🙂
This year’s race was a wonderful contrast to last year’s suffer-fest, and I was a much happier running partner for my friend this time around. Last year I’d been hurting and also feeling the effects of basically not training for the month leading up to the race. This year I ran much stronger and, better yet, was having fun. Having just cruised down a long hill, I was feeling good and passed a couple people as we started up the trail. The stairs were terrible as always and made me very thankful for my long legs as they seemed even taller than usual. We were admiring the beautiful day and I mentioned how sad I was that I didn’t have any pictures, so JB offered to take my phone and get some pictures for me. I think he did an awesome job.
|Up another hill…|
Like I’ve mentioned before, it’s pretty awesome to have friends who are bloggers or blog readers and understand the importance of pictures to break up all these words. 🙂
|Might be my favorite running picture of me ever.|
In addition to being company and photographer, JB also did some gentle coaching as we approached the last long downhill. “OK, you’ve got room to pass here…get around these people before you hit the downhill and they’ll never catch you again.” I kind of lack any kind of killer instinct, so I probably would have just jogged happily along until the finish, but I followed directions like a good little girl and passed several people here.
The last mile of the race is a blast, primarily downhill and you can let loose. I was pushing hard (and had the freight train breathing to prove it) until about .5 miles from the finish when my shoe came untied. What to do? I didn’t want to stop and tie it and have someone pass me, but I didn’t want to step on it and fall. Instead I slowed up, watched Jody pass me again, and ran carefully into the finish. Stupid shoelace.
So now, in the space of a week I’m 2/2 in snowy winter races. That bodes well for the Little Woods Ultra on the 28th. And what more can you ask for than to have your favorite races in crazy beautiful, memorable circumstances? That, and sharing the experience with so many of my friends was plenty for me. Even so, I still got one more treat from the day, and that was a 4+ minute PR on the course! I’m pretty happy about that.
|I like the direction this is going.|
On the other hand, if you contrast the amount of training I did leading up to this year’s race with the amount I did leading up to the past two years’ races (it’s a lot more this year), then maybe that 4 minutes isn’t all that impressive after all. Either way, it’s been a lot more fun racing with at least a certain amount of preparation and work leading up to the event. I think this “training” thing might just stick.