The Willow 10 Mile

On Saturday, May 5th, I ran The Willow 10 Mile trail race at Willow River State Park in Hudson, WI. This year was the inaugural year. Along with the 10 mile distance, a 20 mile option was also offered; the 20 mile was two loops of the 10 mile course.

Logistics for this race were about as simple as they come, other than having to wait in line at the park entrance to obtain the daily parking pass. Cost for non-residents was $13, or $10 for Wisconsin residents. For anyone considering this race in the future, I highly recommend bringing cash, because it helps the line move faster!

After following a winding road to the Nature Center within the park, I arrived at the large parking lot, which had plenty of room. Due to the number of race participants being limited to 300 between both distances, the parking lot never filled up completely.

When I arrived, I picked up my packet, which consisted of a trucker-style baseball cap and a race bib. Restrooms were plentiful, with indoor, flush-toilet, restrooms attached to the picnic pavilion and a line of porta-potties near the parking lot. The picnic pavilion housed several picnic tables, and there was a playground for any children in attendance.


Picture borrowed from The Willow website.

After some short announcements, the 10 mile race started a few minutes early. The 20 mile race started before the 10 mile, and I believe they started on time, as well.

The course was beautiful, well-marked, and hilly. Yes, I realize hilly is a relative term, but it contained the largest hills I’ve ever done in a race. I once thought Ragnar Great River was hilly, but this course had Great River beat (at least in terms of runner position #7). Every time I thought I had conquered the last uphill portion, another one was in front of me, with each one being steeper. It was brutal and at one point, I wondered who signed me up for this….then I remembered, it was me, and I’d paid to do it. At least the downhill portions following those inclines were fun!

The best part of the course, though, was the waterfall. I have never stopped to take pictures during a race before, but I just couldn’t pass it up!


As I mentioned above, the course was well-marked. I only questioned myself once, but another runner was able to clarify I was going the right way. There were two water and aide stations, but I was carrying everything I needed for the race and didn’t stop at either of them. Volunteer support was awesome for this race, with approximately 50 of them on the course! They were very encouraging and supportive; the absolute best kind of race volunteers.

What really struck me about this race was how friendly everyone was. The lead 20-milers, who were lapping me when I reached mile 7, were giving me encouraging words and cheering me on. As they whizzed by me, they were chatty. While runners as a community are awesome, there just seems to be something extra special about the trail running community. Out there, it becomes even less about pace and even more about camaraderie and taking on what nature has to throw at us.

As tough as this race was, with its monster hills, I really enjoyed it. In typical runner-brain fashion, I didn’t love it once I hit the last few miles. When I finished, I was sure I’d never consider doing this race again. By the time I got to breakfast an hour later, I was considering doing the race again. When breakfast was over, I decided I really liked this race and would do it again someday.

Now, a few weeks removed, I’ve decided this race was fun! It was hard, and took me a week to feel fully recovered, but it was beautiful. The Willow is a race for those who enjoy a challenge, beautiful scenery, and a low-key, friendly race environment. I highly recommend this one!


My official finishing time was 2:23:31, which was much faster than what I was hoping for, considering  the hills and the fact that this was my longest trail run ever.


Celebratory beer flight at Hop & Barrel in Hudson, WI.

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Shake Your Shamrock

On St. Patrick’s Day, I ran the Shake Your Shamrock 7k. The race organizer, Midwest Events, also offers a 5k option.

I absolutely love themed races, because I love any excuse for a costume. Of course, this meant that I dug out my green shirt and headband, and my shamrock compression socks. The temperature was warm for March in Minnesota, sitting around 45* at race time, so no layers for me! I was plenty warm in a t-shirt and capris.


There were two options for packet pickup; one on Friday night at the offices of Midwest Events and one the morning of the race. I chose the Friday night pickup so that I could sleep in a bit longer on Saturday morning.

Logistics were very easy for this race. The race starts and ends at Kelly’s Korner bar in Centerville, and the course runs through the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Preserve. Parking was available in the lot next to Kelly’s, across the street at the school, and along the side roads. Both distances start within about a block of Kelly’s, so the walk from parking to the start was a short one.

The race started exactly on time, and the course is rolling and pretty. The 7k course starts by meandering through LaMotte Park and Chomonix Golf Course, before heading through the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Preserve. The 5k course is an out and back along Main Street/County Road 14. The only unfortunate thing about both courses (they overlap for the last 1.5 miles or so), is the uphill finish.


Immediately upon crossing the finish line, there were snacks and bottled water available. Each runner age 21+ also received a green beer on the patio at Kelly’s. The award ceremony was also located inside Kelly’s Korner.

Shake Your Shamrock is a fun race that I would definitely do again. If you’re in the area, add this one to your must-run list!


Race shirt and pint glass


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Frozen Feet Trail Races

Way back on February 11th, I ran my very first winter trail race. Frozen Feet offers two days of racing – Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon – as well as three distance choices. The distances offered are 5k, 10k, and Half Marathon.

Since this was my first winter trail run, and I had no idea what to expect, I opted for the 5k distance on Sunday afternoon. Winter conditions can vary greatly in Minnesota, so that was also a factor.

The temperature on the day of the race was in the low 20s, and there wasn’t much of a breeze during the run. I wore fleece-lined running tights and a long-sleeve quarter zip running shirt and was more than warm enough; though, I do tend to get quite warm while running. I also chose trail shoes and didn’t have any problems with traction.

As with most trail races, this was a smaller event. Parking was on the road going into the mountain bike trailhead area. There was a large warming tent, about four porta-potties available, and snacks and beverages. Runners were able to hang out in the warming tent right up until a few minutes prior to the start of the race.

When we started, runners were clumped pretty tightly together, considering the course is a single track mountain bike trail in the warmer months. However, once we got to a few hills, the field spread out a bit, and slower runners stepped aside for faster runners to pass. The course was rolling hills, and had a good flow.

This race felt difficult only because I hadn’t been running over the winter months. Also, I forgot that my watch was set for intervals, so it kept vibrating and I didn’t know why. Once I figured out what was going on, I was mostly able to ignore it.

At the finish line, we were handed a leather key chain in lieu of a medal. Shirts were not given for this race, but I believe they were available for purchase. I personally like the option of cheap registration and being able to purchase shirts separately; I have entirely too many race shirts, many of which I never even wear.

The awards ceremony was held in the warming tent after the race, but I didn’t stay for that. Instead, my friends and I headed over to Omni Brewing for a post-race beverage.

Overall, this was a very nice race that I would consider doing again in the future.


My race bib and key chain



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2018 Goals

As I mentioned in my previous post, 2018 will look very different from 2017, at least in terms of my running. Therefore, my running goals are as follow:

  1. Run 350 miles this year
  2. PR the Half Marathon distance, hopefully at the Gary Bjorklund Half
  3. PR the 10k distance
  4. Run a few trail races
  5. Run at least 13 races this year – doing so will put me at 100 races completed

My general fitness goal is to exercise, in some form, at least 250 days of the year.

Other goals include:

  1. Read 100 books between printed and audio books
  2. Increase my savings account
  3. Pay down my student loan debt
  4. Spend more weekends hiking, snowshoeing, biking, etc.
  5. Eat healthier by reducing processed foods and increasing fruits and veggies

What are your goals for 2018?


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The Closing of 2017

Hello, hello!

It’s been a while, but I wanted to take a moment to recap what happened in my running life between the Run for the Apples in October and the close of 2017.

On October 27th, I ran the Scare in White Bear. It was snowy and cold, but a really nice small-town race. I’ve always been a big fan of evening races, so I loved this one. There were friendly zombies along the course, runners in costume, a small bonfire, and hot cocoa at the indoor awards ceremony. Parking was super easy and the course was mostly a flat, fast out-and-back. I plan on doing this race again in the future. My finishing time was 32:00.

The following afternoon, I ran the Anoka Gray Ghost. Anoka is considered the Halloween Capital of the World, so they go all out. I’ve run this race several times and I enjoy it every time. This year, a group of friends decided to dress in 80’s fitness gear. As a huge fan of costumes, I was IN!

This particular race is more about the atmosphere and fun with friends, so I took it easy and chatted with a friend while we ran. My finishing time was 34:46.

Next up was the Hale to the Bird 5k on Thanksgiving morning. This is another favorite race of my family’s. We love the small-town feel, nice course, and easy logistics. Nothing really stood out about the race this year, probably because it’s an annual thing for us. My finishing time was 32:35.

My last race of the year was the Jingle Bear 5k. This was our second year running this one. Again, it’s another race with a small-town feel. Much of the course is the same as the one for Scare in White Bear, just run in the opposite direction. It’s fast, flat, has a view of the lake (or ice in the winter), offers indoor restrooms, and has an indoor awards ceremony. My family plans to keep this race on our calendar as our annual December race.

2017 was my best running year yet, for so many reasons. I ran 20 races this year, ran my first marathon, PR’d my half marathon distance, PR’d my 5k distance, made more awesome memories with my favorite running friends, AND hit a PR on annual mileage! I finished out the year with 511 miles. My previous highest mileage year was 232 miles, back in 2012. My life felt like it absolutely revolved around running in 2017. Most importantly, though, is the fact that I was able to stay healthy through it all; it was almost magical.

The year of 2018 will look very different from 2017, because I will not be training for a marathon. I’ll get into more specifics about my plans for 2018 in my next post.

Until then, tell me about your best running year.


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Run for the Apples 5 Mile

run for the apples banner

Borrowed from the race organizer’s website.

I’ve had the Run for the Apples 5 Mile on my radar for several years, having previously registered for it twice, but being unable to participate. I decided to add it back to the calendar this year; it’s fairly close to home, partially off-road, and is fairly inexpensive. I love fall running, so I thought this would be a perfect fall race.

Well, I thought it would be a perfect fall race until I woke up that morning to lightning and rain. The temp was in the low 50’s, but the wind and rain made it feel much colder. Thankfully, the lightning quit by the time I arrived at the apple orchard an hour before start time. Also, I was glad there were areas to huddle under shelter before and after the race, to stay out of the rain and wind.

The race started on time, with the course winding around the parking lot, along a street, then onto the orchard property. It wound through the orchard, around the fields, onto another street, then finished on the orchard grounds again. It was hilly, with one hill being quite long and steep; I did not expect that! But, the view at the top of the hill was gorgeous, overlooking a lake surrounded by fall colors.

As you can imagine with a rainstorm before race time, the course was very wet and muddy. I was glad I’d chosen to wear trail shoes, because the grip definitely helped on the slippery mud. I was also glad I’d packed an extra outfit, including socks and shoes.

The race finished on a slippery, muddy downhill, which I loved. I splashed through the mud and across the finish line, where water, apple cider, apples, and cookies were waiting. My finishing time was 1:00:49, which used to be my road 5k pace! I was very happy with my time, especially considering the weather, that it was partially on trails, and that it was hilly. To top it all off, I won 2nd place in the Athena division (women over 165 pounds)!

Overall, it was a nice race that I’d consider doing again, but preferably with better weather. It’s a well-organized, smaller race. Carrie Tollefson was even there, both running the race, then cheering on runners along the course.

Do you have a favorite fall race?

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TC 10 Mile – 2017

When registration opened for this race, I was very much on the fence about whether I wanted to run this race again. I ran it last year and while I didn’t dislike it, I didn’t really like it, either. My overall feeling was “meh.” But, running friends persuaded me to get in on the lottery, and I figured I could always transfer my entry to someone else if I got in and still didn’t want to do it.

Of course, our team was selected to run the race. I teetered between running the race, thanks to a fear of missing out, and not running the race. I knew several people who hadn’t gotten in and would have happily purchased my bib. It was a tough decision, but ultimately wanting to spend the day with my running friends won out and I decided to do the race.

I went to the expo and packet pickup on Friday of race weekend, arriving just after 4:00 pm. I spent about an hour wandering around, but was a bit disappointed with the expo; it was missing booths I had visited last year (Caribou Coffee, Ragnar Relay) and was looking forward to visiting again.

Once I was done wandering, I headed over to the Moms on the Run booth, where I volunteered until the expo closed just after 8:00 pm. For the first few hours, a coach from another MOTR location was volunteering with me, so we had a nice time chatting between visitors. I also had a nice time chatting with the race director of the Earth Day Run in St. Cloud. If you’re looking for a nice race in April, check this one out!


In the MOTR booth at the Expo. Please excuse my crazy hair.

Fast forward to Sunday, the day of the race. I had told myself that if it was storming when I woke up, I would head back to bed and skip the race. Well, it was only misting a tad, so I got ready and headed to our carpool location. By the time I was 15 miles away from home, it started pouring and the wind was whipping. Had it not been for the friends I was running this with, I would have turned around and headed home!

The weather remained windy with intermittent rain while we drove to Minneapolis and waited for our corral to move to the start line. We arrived at US Bank Stadium about an hour prior to race time, to make sure we had time to eat our pre-race breakfast, use the porta-potties, and drop our sweats. Right as our corral started moving toward the start line, there was another big gust of wind and a brief moment of rain. The moment passed quickly, though, and it didn’t rain again until after I had finished the race and had my sweats on.

I had decided before the race that I would follow the 3:00 minute, 30 second intervals I had followed for the marathon. My starting pace was very easy and I settled in, knowing the first few miles of the course would be crowded anyway. As is expected, runners spread out more once we hit the first hill of the course; after this point, I really didn’t have to do much zig-zagging through people, which was nice.

Before I knew it, I was approaching mile 5. The time really flew up until that point, but this was when the hills started getting bigger. The next two miles would be an uphill climb. I surprised myself, though, by not needing to take any extra walk breaks. I powered through my intervals without losing much time off my pace. The stretch the 6 mile marker to the 7 mile marker felt long, but I was in the zone. I was forcing myself not to look at my watch, but to run by feel instead. I wanted a course PR, preferably something around 1:55:00, but I also wasn’t willing to be miserable the entire time. Also, I knew there were a lot of Girls on the Run and Moms on the Run cheering squads along the course, so I wanted to make sure I spotted all of them.


This was somewhere around mile 7. Photo cred to fellow MOTR lady, Sue.

After the 7 mile marker, it felt like the time passed quickly again. It doesn’t hurt that this is where the course levels out, then starts dropping toward the finish. I felt like my pace was picking up, but again, I refused to look at my watch. The crowds were getting thicker, so the energy in the atmosphere was increasing.

Once I hit 9 miles, I allowed myself to look at my watch and confirmed that I was on track to PR the course, and likely even hit my 1:55:00 goal. I started running harder on the run portion of my intervals and walked faster during the breaks. With only a half mile left to go, I kicked it up another notch and was done taking walk breaks. The downhill run under the huge American flag, and then to the finish, was glorious. When I had the finish line in sight, I sped up as much as I could and sprinted across the finish line. My finishing time was 1:53:45 – a course PR!


At the finish line!

I then collected my post-race goodies (chocolate milk, salted nut rolls, water, and salty chips) and met up with my friends. When everyone was accounted for and had a chance to snack, we grabbed our sweats and headed for the coffee line, then the beer garden. Many of us had to stop and ring the PR bell along the way!


Ringing the PR bell – I took 8 minutes off last year’s TC 10 Mile time!

The remainder of the day was spent going to lunch, taking a much-needed and appreciated shower, and registering for the Gary Bjorklund Half Marathon while watching football.

Ultimately, I was glad I ran this race again and had a better experience. I was tired, sore, and crabby when I finished last year. (Sorry, Nate!) This year, I felt really good and even had fun. I don’t have an interest in doing this race again, only because I’ve done it twice now and the logistics are a pain. But, I would definitely consider being involved by volunteering in some capacity.

This is was my last distance race of the year, as I plan to stick to distances 10k and under for the remainder of 2017. I’m looking forward to a break from distance, before starting training for the Gary Bjorklund Half in February.


What races are left on your calendar for the year?

Do you have a favorite fall race?

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