What better way to train for the Ironman than to spend a weekend in Iron County, Wisconsin? I was lucky enough to be invited by my friend, Laurie (who is also training for IMoo), to head down to Hurley, Wisconsin, via bicycle. But the real icing on the cake? We were to sign up for the Paavo Nurmi marathon as a relay team the next day. This may sound like a nice, easy, breezy training weekend, but it’s more than 100 miles from Houghton to Hurley, over glacial cut mountains. And so the story unfolds…
Laurie, along with a few other women (Ann and Diane), Adam, and myself met at Laurie’s mother’s place in Atlantic Mine, about three miles west of Houghton. These ladies are extreme! Like I said, Laurie is training for IMoo, too, and she’s already done it before in 2007. She knows the ropes, and was able to give Adam and I some excellent insight during the ride down, our downtime, and the ride back home. Ann and Diane (along with Amy, who joined us for the half-marathon on Saturday) train with Laurie and on their own. They are easily convinced to be put through the ringer, all for a little athletic fun, I suppose. Ann and Amy are excellent runners; I remember when I first moved back to Houghton in ’07, I raced against Ann in the Canal Run. She’s one tough cookie. And Amy kicked my butt last year at the Canal Run. I tried so hard to keep with her, but she dropped me at mile 5 and I never caught back up. Diane joined Ladies’ Road Riding nights a few times, and she is very excitable and can hammer hard on her Orbea. So I knew these chicks were some serious business. Adam and I were in for a real training treat.
On Friday morning, we loaded up the Durango (Amy would be meeting us that evening in Hurley and was Diane’s partner for the relay) and headed off on our bikes. It was a lot of climb climb climb, descend descend descend, not in that particular order. The roads were great, though. I absolutely love the route along M-26 from Atlantic Mine toward Ontonagon. It’s great pavement, typically not too much traffic, and rolling hills with great scenery. The trees kind of canopy the road. Just outside Toivola, along a beautiful stretch of highway, a deer popped out of the woods and ran along side of us. It was a little unnerving not know when he’d want to cross the road, but we gave him space and the little guy jumped across the highway. We flew down the hills just east of M38, but once traffic started picking up a little more (there seemed to be a lot of RVs out there this weekend), things got a little more hairy.
The ladies, myself, and Adam pushed through the rolling terrain. Some of the hills were long and gradual, and some were the out-of-the-saddle approach. It was good practice in getting in and out of the saddle, and I am so excited to be comfortable on my race bike. There were some downhills that we’d fly on, and it was great to be riding such a long distance with a group of people that were so excited to be out and doing something like that. We would enjoy our breaks, and Adam and I had a chance to hammer out +20mph in some areas.
We stopped every 20 miles or so at gas stations for a stretch and a snack, and it made for the perfect rest intervals. Adam and I told each other we didn’t want to push it too hard with the race the next day, but we found ourselves cruising at 21-23mph on some stretches… which brings me back to the rest intervals- very well deserved! Unfortunately, I disobeyed all rules about race-day nutrition and was a little too excited to eat garlic rice crackers and dill pickle chips from the grocery store in Bruce Crossing. Luckily, the IMoo aid stations probably won’t have garlic crackers and dill pickle chips. If they do, I think I will still be ok… because I really don’t want to eat either of those anytime soon. You can check out the bike route that we took here on my Garmin Connect. I didn’t get the entire route, because after starting off from some of the gas stations I didn’t always hit the start button on my watch, but you’ll get the drift (and 103 out of 106 of the miles).
Anyway, by the time we got to
Ironwood, it was just around 3pm, Laurie, Ann, and myself went for a quick transition run. We then settled into the hotel room where we enjoyed a well-deserved rest. Amy arrived around 630pm, and we ventured to The Liberty Bell for some food. The claim to fame of the Bell is their pizza, and Laurie was really excited to go. Unfortunately, the service was terrible. Win some, lose some, I suppose. I had the chicken Cordon Bleu, which wasn’t the most delicious pre-race meal I’ve ever had, and I was still quite hungry afterward. Luckily for me, and the rest of the group, there was a gelato stand right next door! Cherry chocolate almond screamed my name.
We got ready for the morning and went to bed. In the morning, Diane drove Laurie, Amy, and Adam to the bus pickup. I ended up getting really bad stomach cramps (usually get them from not eating enough) and was balled up on the bed while Diane was away. It cleared up about an hour before we were to leave to go to the half-way point. Phew! That’s the last time I’m eating a high-protein, no carbohydrate dinner pre-race, and I am sure the junk food all day didn’t help.
The half-marathon point, in Gile, was right by a park and was a great spot for a relay transition. The leaders came through while Ann and I were warming up, and it was exciting to see the mix of marathoners, half marathoners, and five person relay folks. I was jogging along the route that the first-half follows, and saw Amy coming in. She was cookin’! I hurried back to the handoff location and waited for Adam.
Adam came into the exchange quickly, and the chip-relay was smooth. His time was around 1:47, which is a 3:33 marathon. Being that his “goal race” would be a marathon under 4hrs, I’d say he’d be able to crush that goal. So, that’s exciting!!
After I wrapped the chip around my ankle, I took off and headed through the rolling hills. I felt good the whole race. There were a few climbs that seemed to keep going, but nothing too daunting for the 13.1miles until the end. I tried to stay relax, not push it too hard at any point, just keep focused. I paid attention to my form, keeping my shoulders relaxed, and running forward. I kept an average 7:27 pace, which is about a 1:37.35 half marathon. There were a few miles that were over 7:30s, with one even at 7:53, but there was also a steep hill in that one, so I wasn’t too worried about it. Having a strong finish really made the whole race worthwhile. My time was not too bad at all for such a hilly course, and had I run the half marathon open, I am confident I would have placed in the top spots. It made for a great marathon-pace run, because for me to do a 7:27min/mile pace on a flat marathon course would give me a personal best (right on 3:15, which is my current goal). Check out the elevation chart:
Post-race, it started to rain a little, and I was cold but not really that excited about the Mojakka (fish) stew. I found a cup of Mountain Dew and a banana, and waited for Ann to come through. I tried to cool down with a quick jog, but my legs were tired and I wasn’t too excited to run anymore. We finally found Amy and Adam, so Ann, Diane, and I were able to shower at the hotel before leaving Ironwood. We stopped at the Dairy Queen in Bessemer for some ice cream (and lunch, I suppose). Yay for a well-deserved M&M blizzard!! I slept the entire way home…
The Paavo Nurmi would be a sweet marathon to do, it would definitely be challenging and not necessarily something I’d try to get a PR for. All in all it was an extraordinary weekend with some awesome athletes.