Monday, July 26, 2010

Louisville Swamp WMA 13-14 miler

My proposed 13-14 mile running loop at Louisville Swamp WMA. See Blog entry below ("Misty Morning Hop") for a run report and photos.

Misty Morning Hop (shuffle)

(morning mist on the wetlands of Louisville Swamp Wildlife Management Area, S. Tracy)

This past weekend was my first of several training weekends geared towards Peter Grimes and my up and coming fall running trip: the Maah Taah Hey 100 mile trail run - Badlands, North Dakota. We're taking three days of at least 33 miles each to make the distance. To get ready, I decided to start stringing together 3 longer days from Friday through Sunday and slowly add miles to those weekends until I get to about 2/3 the expected daily distances we expect on our trip.

This weekend, to wrap things up, I decided to revisit a favorite location of mine to run 13 miles: Louisville Swamp Wildlife Management Area, nestled in the Minnesota River Valley just south of Shakopee. There are about 17 miles of trails and 2500 acres of savanna, oak woodlands, floodplain forest and wetlands with abundant birds to look for in each habitat. There's an historic farmstead with stone buildings standing in an old field part way through the trail loop and even a huge glacial eratic (boulder), popular for years with climbers, to run past.

(the main wetland complex of Louisville Swamps WMA as seen from the savanna)
I was very happy to have been accompanied on the run by rockstars Arah B. and Adam S. I picked Arah up at 5:40 am then we swung by and grabbed Adam and it was off to the races (so to speak). The WMA welcomed us with a beautiful mist, blanketting the lowlands of the rolling countryside, and cool temps. I had pieced together a 13-14 mile circuit that includes both Louisville Swamp WMA trails and the State Cooridor system, which runs through the preserve, but the tremendously muddy and flooded lowlands foiled that plan so we stuck to the preserve's main trail system.

(plant geeks: please ignore the predominant Mullen in this pic...focus on the landscape!)

Although portions of the trail system were muddy and slick, the majority of the running was pleasant over easy terrain with only an occassional hill, nothing major. Running here would probably be best in late summer, fall and early winter, with the fall colors likely being the best time. Running at this time of year includes mosquitos; a real challenge when stopping for potty breaks on the woods. Regardless of this fact, however, the views and the abundant wildlife make running here at any time of the year a welcoming proposition.

My first long weekend caught up to my legs around mile 10, unfortunately right about when the trail brought us back to the car. So, somewhat apprehensively, I set off with the still strong Arah and Adam to run another 3+ miles on the State Cooridor Trail. A little over a mile later and I needed a 3 minute walking break, so I cut the other two loose and enjoyed the stillness of the woods. The day had warmed up substantially as well, so my water consumption had nearly doubled since morning. After the short break I resumed running only to find the others turning around at a flooded section of trail under a railroad bridge. I was able to force out the last 1.5 miles back, fighting the urge to stop and let my smoked things and calves relax. Turns out the previous day's bike workout on my monocog 29-er, trailing Rowan in the Chariot for 16 miles, did me in. On the other hand, I think the fact that I was bonking really close to the end meant that my running/biking plan intensity level was nearly perfectly planned out. Always try to look on the bright side, right?
Arah and Adam finished far stronger than I and Adam took off to finish his goal of 14 miles for the day to find that the horse and/or deer flies had awoken. He returned to the car no worse for wear and we called it a day.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Running with the Devil

It started out responsible enough. I waited for the end of the tornado watch to head out for a 12 mile run knowing that I'd get pretty wet, but welcoming it given the heat of the day. I love running in the rain after being in the sweltering heat of a summer day.

A nice quick trot down the steep Isabel St and up the long shallow gradient of Wabasha Bridge with downtown St. Paul as a backdrop. So far so great, in part due to Fleet Foxes playing over my Ipod! Hit Kellogg, take a right and get my first and last significant downhill for the next 4 miles. I pass the wonderful Lowertown area of St. Paul and start the long rise of Kellogg Bridge as I put downtown running behind me.

And it begins...

Midway on the exposed, long, high Kellogg bridge Fleet Foxes add the rising and alarming sound of sirens to their otherwise extraodinarily mellowing style. Hmmmm. I look to the west and see the tell-tail ominously dark and otherwordly colors of a tornado-potential skyscape. So much for waiting for the tornado watch to pass before running. The rest of the run includes forecasting ahead, every few moments, to the nearest culvert, bridge, cave, or underpass...just in case I decide to integrate some sprints into the run. Thoughts of Dorothy and flying, stiff, mooing cows come to mind.

I turn off the end of Kellogg and catch the continuing rise up along the cliffline to the top of Indian Mounds. What a glorious place to be buried! The Sioux of the area chose this spot to bury their kin given its tremendous position in the landscape. As I run past these mounds I am again amazed at just how wonderful and fortunate St. Paul really is. And just how fortunate I am.

I reach a high point and meander down the path to the Highway 61 crossing and catch Upper Afton as it negins to sprinkle. Another long, steady rise to the top of another high point along the Mississippi River I'm feeling surprisingly well on this run! I crest the last hill just as all Hell begins to break loose. The rain intensifies, the wind swirls the vegetation into chaos and lightning is going off all over the damned place...exactly half way through the run. Perfect! No easy way out. I remove the headphones to enjoy the concert of sound.

I drop down onto the path leading through Battle Creek Park that follows the creek on a steady, dark descent into the gorge where two Indian Nations faught a historical, epic battle seemingly forever ago. The rain now ramps up to an intensity that forces me to buckle under the stinging of its drops threatening to peel my skin off at times. I can barely keep my eyes open to watch my foot placements and give up on looking straight ahead. Branches have fallen off trees onto the path in places demanding instant hurdling and side-stepping skills to develop spontaneously. I mentally locate the up-coming cave and estimate my foot speed downhill, over the creek and dive-time into the caave should a tornado suddenly jump over the top of the gorge ridge high above me.

I escape the volitile, impossing gorge and cross under Highway 61 to catch the footpath back home along the Mississippi River. I run through streamlets sometimes deep enough to overtop my shoes, dodge fallen limbs and two boulevard trees that were uprooted and bear down through the pulses of intensity in the storm. As I reach the barge docks just east of downtown, tug boat captains amplified voices cut through the storm in unclear, deformed tones and their spotlights move around through the darkness and hit the shoreline where I run. I make my turn back up the second to last hill, a good one, back to Kellogg and up to the Wabasha Bridge.

Still going strong! This is wonderful! The rain slows to a nice rate as I run down the beautiful bridge and catch, interestingly enough, Water Street. I head away from home, so I can get that extra mile in, to catch the mother of all hills in St. Paul: Ohio. Fortunately, I only need to do a portion of it, to Isabel, the first street off it from the bottom, but definately feel every stride. The rain picks back up in intensity one last time as if to say "you're not home yet...I still have you for another 3/4 mile!" As if to punctuate the point, a piece of hail finds its mark in the exact center of the top of my head. The wind ramps back up to gail force and the rain goes back to droplets too big to be real. I follow cliffline overlooking downtown back to my home and decide that the 2 block cool down walk will have to be run at what feels like breakneck speed.

I open the door and walk into the house with the biggest smile I've had on my face in quite some time and my wife doesn't need to ask why. She just lights up and smiles knowingly and with joy.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Battle Creek Sunrise

The alarm goes off at 4:15 and I rub deep slumber from my eyes and try to focus them on the floor as my reluctant body struggles to get upright. By the time we make it to the trailhead at Battle Creek for our morning run, both Alicia and I are awake and, amazingly, excited. The day's first rays of sunlight are illuminating the sky, shedding the darkness of night as well as our drowsieness.

Running at Battle Creek is fun. Flat out fun. Although there's only about 8 or so miles of single track, there's also another 3-5 of ski trails, if you like. To have it's kind of hills and trail so close to home is nice for those times when going off to Afton or other hot-spots doesn't fit into my schedule. To experience it's trails this early in the morning, once you're awake and moving, is heavenly.

We do our 6 miles or so feeling like we're two kids having gotten away with something, snickering all the way home and throughout the day (in-between moments of nearly falling asleep at our desk that is).