What better way to train for a 100 mile race in the Rocky Mountains at over 10,000 feet elevation than by spending a few days four weeks before said race at under 2000 feet elevation in the flatlands of Minnesota? It's the reverse psychology thing....I'll trick my body into being acclimated to running hills at high altitude by training on flats at low altitude....or something like that.
One of the challenges of being a normal dude training for an ultra is that, sometimes, life gets in the way. And, honestly, that's not even a really appropriate way of putting it, because most often "life" involves your family, and to suggest that family commitments "get in the way" of ultra training suggests that ultra training is more important, which is definitely not the case. Let's just say that trying to squeeze in the time to have the best of both worlds can be a bit tricky at times.
Case in point, we spent several days in Minnesota last week, far away from anything you might describe as a mountain. The primary reason we were there was to attend my father-in-law's wedding in St. Cloud, but we also transformed it into a summer vacation and stayed a few days after the wedding in the Twin Cities to check out Valley Fair, the Mall of America, and the Minnesota Zoo. I also got to take my son to his (and my) first ever major league sporting event in the form of a Twins game (they lost 7-1, but it was still a great time).
Understandably, trying to squeeze in weekend runs of 3-5 hours in the midst of all of these other activities is kind of tough. In fact, it just wasn't feasible at all and, knowing this, I had actually scheduled last week as a cutback week when I made my Leadville training plan way back in February. Probably not all that conventional to have a cutback week this late in the game, just before taper starts, but it is what it is. If I go out and set a course record on August 17th, everyone will be doing it (hell will also have frozen over, but that's beside the point).
Basically, my goal while I was in Minnesota was to get in at least 10 miles a day, and I largely met that goal. The first couple of days in St. Cloud kind of sucked, to be honest. My father-in-law had told me about a place called Quarry Park that had a trail network (real trails, with dirt, not paved bike paths, which are so often mislabled as "trails") and afters some quick research online it looked like a great option. According to the website, the park officially opened at 8 AM, but I figured if I got there a couple of hours earlier I'd still be able to access the trails, assuming the park would only be closed to vehicles wanting to park there. So, I set out running from the hotel bright and early on Friday morning with aspirations of getting in 20 miles. Right away my legs felt like crap (not sure why) and my stomach didn't feel all that great either (again, not sure why). It was about 3 miles along city streets from the hotel to the park entrance and when I got there it was locked up tight. We're talking 8 foot high chain link gates and fences with barbed-wire on top. It was only 6 AM at this point and I sure as shit wasn't going to wait around for 2 hours for the place to open, so my 20 mile run with some significant trail miles turned into a 13 mile pavement slog down random streets in St. Cloud until I eventually looped back around to the hotel and called it quits. More of the same on Saturday morning, but at least I was able to access the (paved) bike path along the river during my 10 miler that morning.
After the run on Saturday, we packed up our stuff and headed into the Cities for a full day at Valley Fair. We were there from the time they opened at 10 AM until the park shut down at 11 PM. Not sure how many miles I walked that day, but let me tell ya, it was like an ultra in and of itself (with some roller coasters thrown in). Amazingly, after the long, tiring day on Saturday, I woke up before sunrise on Sunday feeling pretty damn good. Before the trip I had sought some trail suggestions from a Black Hills 100 participant (and our 100K record holder) and he had clued me into several good trails in the area. Our hotel ended up being only 4 miles from one of these trails, so I set out for the Lebanon Hills Regional Park for my Sunday run. This time I drove to the park, which "opened" (no gates at all here) at the much more reasonable time of 5 AM. What I found was a great network of criss-crossing hiking, cross-country skiing and equestrian trails. I ended up running 15 miles and felt like I could've spent a lot more time there just exploring the trail network. While there was nothing there that compares to the terrain of Leadville, or even the Black Hills, I was surprised when my total elevation gain accumulated to over 1000 feet by the time I was done. Relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, but better than nothing. That run was followed by a full day at the Mall of America, and then the Twins game, and then some more Mall of America. Kind of wish I had worn my Garmin the whole time just to see how many miles we covered.
Monday was our last day in the Cities and I headed back to Lebanon Hills to squeeze in 10 miles before we headed to the Minnesota Zoo and then jumped into the car to begin the voyage home. We made it as far as Fargo that evening. Tuesday, the last day of the trip, I didn't technically get in a single 10 mile run, but I did run a 7 miler on the mean streets of Fargo before we finished the trip home and then another 5 miles around Belle that afternoon, so the cumulative miles was over 10. Ended up with just over 77 miles on my "cutback" week, which actually isn't too bad although there weren't any real long runs in there.
So, now I'm back in SoDak and staring down the barrel of the last real high mileage week of my Leadville training before starting the taper. Only three weeks to go. It's terrifying and exciting all at the same time.