I titled this report as chaperone report since I didn’t participate in it, my son did. I ran/walked with him the entire time since he’s only 6 and the course location was changed to a much busier area than previous years due to flooding on the normal course. Plus I got to spend all day with an awesome dude that way.
The race this year was June 1st at Mount Normandale Lake in Bloomington, MN. The course was on an entirely paved pedestrian path around the lake. While it was nice to be entirely paved, there were lots of hills on this course compared to the Ft. Snelling course. While none were over 25 feet or so, it added up to about 80 feet a loop or more. The loop itself was also shorter at 1.82 miles. In the end I much prefer the last years course. Nicer course and much nicer/safer tent area set up.
Since I wasn’t running, we didn’t need a crew. Time wasn’t going to be an issue and I’d be with him to help him at any time if he needed it. Last year he got 12.4 miles with little real effort since he mostly spent time in the tent with his sister. This year his goal was to become an ultrarunner!
We got to the race early to get his packet with race bib, medal, and tent setup instructions. They didn’t have his shirt size so this year he got an even bigger shirt than last year. We set up in a place where it should be shady in the afternoon. It rained overnight but now was fine and the forecast was for nice weather. We still brought the tent even without rain just to have a place to change if we needed it. We put all our stuff inside and got his bib on.
The start line was about a quarter mile away from our tent. The lap counting area was even further away. He had to get weighed in first so we did that (he gained a pound during the race) and then went over to the starting line. We didn’t hear any pre-race instructions since there wasn’t any megaphone. Everyone was busy talking to Alex, asking how old he was, etc.
Finally at 8AM we were off and running. So here’s basically how the course went this year from the lap counting tent (not the starting line). Overall we were going around a lake counterclockwise. The first part after the lap counting area went over a small bridge. This area had carp in it. Then we got to the turtle area, with turtles covering every log in sight basically. This was also the area where the short loops would begin in the last hour of the race. Next we went South through the porta potties and tent area. The tent area began the gentle hills area. We then went East through trees. It meandered a lot with hills the entire way pretty much. At the Southeast corner was a steep downhill with a waterfall (it’s a dammed up man made lake) and the only aid station besides the counting tent. Then turned North through exposed grassy area. Then turned West in partially exposed and tree lined area. This area also had a busier road and taller buildings along it. Then down a steep downhill and uphill run to the official lap counting line.
Alex ran up that hill every single loop! It didn’t matter if we walked the entirety of the loop before that hill, he just had to sprint up it. Must’ve been the cheering that always happened there.
Also, along the course were signs telling where certain distances would be achieved during a certain loop. For example, the marathon distance was not far before the second aid station on loop 15. That was of course Alex’s goal, to get beyond that sign. Of course for it to really count, he’d have to go another mile to finish the loop. Last year they didn’t have a 50 mile sign, or maybe didn’t have any signs. It was a nice addition to the race to have these and a good photo opportunity.
The plan was to run the first loop, walk the second and run the third. We ran the first and ran/walked the second and third. By the end of the first loop, we had warmed up. It was cool and breezy which was great if you were running. Alex complained about the hills since he’s not used to them. Of course it only gets worse every time you do the same hill on a loop course.
I’m not sure where to put this in the blog so I’ll just put it here. The tent area is a fun place. There is a contest every year for the best tent area display so while not many people go all out for it, some do. There was a meat raffle one where you spun a wheel. That’s absolutely irresistible to my children. Almost to the point where if you had a puppy, a kitten, and a contest wheel next to each other, they might actually go for the wheel first. Alex did this probably 5 times throughout the day and somehow “won” all but 1 time. Obviously he just won because he was a kid but he didn’t know that. He got candy, or a toy animal, and the last time was doughnuts. Also, there was a guy dressed up as something different every time we went through the tent area the first 4 times through. At first he was bacon (Alex thinks he was a hot dog, so I’m not sure who’s right), the next time he was a can of Mountain Dew. Alex was getting mad since the costumes kept making him hungry for those things. Next I think was Homer Simpson. Finally he was in one of those inflatable T-Rex costumes.
It was fairly crowded the first loop as we thinned out some. I tried to keep Alex from meandering all over the trail in front of people trying to pass, it wasn’t easy. Before we knew it we were seeing signs saying “free beer at the aid station”, followed with another sign saying “just kidding about the beer.” The the usual “you paid for this”, etc. Later in the race, someone put put up a sign with the elevation gain of the race depending on how long you’ve been running. To start with it was just 15 feet, then 150, then 1500, then for the 24 hour runners 15,000. If you’ve ever run a loop course for a day, you’d completely agree! I’ve cursed individual rocks if they’re large enough or distinctive enough to notice every loop.
On the second loop, we walked occasionally and spent some time looking at the turtles. Alex counted them every loop and indeed they must’ve moved some since the number was different every loop.
On the South side of the second loop, we started looking at all the different trees and plants. I spent pretty much the entire day telling him what everything was. You’d think he’d know all the trees by the 5th loop, but no. Maybe on the last loop he got a couple trees correct. For the most part, 90% of the plants were invasive species, some even on the noxious weed list. It’s really annoying that the government makes rules about requiring us to eradicate noxious weeds and yet does nothing themselves. This is a flowing waterway so they’re just spreading seeds to everyone down the creek. I could go on forever about that, but I won’t.
We were making pretty good time since we were running a fair amount of the time, with multiple stops to look at plants and wildlife. I think on the third loop or so we saw 6 big carp thrashing around a log by the bridge. We watched them for a while. A muskrat swam by as well then. The sun was starting to break through a little now as well.
People were starting to come out to the park to run/walk their dogs, etc. There was a separate bike path so we didn’t have to deal with them which was nice. Alex was finally starting to figure out how to not get in front of people passing.
He’d take some food here and there from the aid stations, candy mostly of course. Since I wasn’t in the race I had to just eat what I brought with which got fairly boring. I forgot I’d be walking for most of the day so I could eat regular food instead of candy and chips. But all we brought was candy and chips so that’s what I got.
We walked most of the 4th loop and I think all of the 5th loop (except that finish line hill of course). We were both a little tired so we made our first stop in the tent after the 5th loop. This was 2.5 hours into the race and over 9 miles. We had run about 6 of those miles but we never ran much at all the remainder of the race.
We spent about 30 minutes eating sugar and drinking some caffeine pop. That was enough time to get back out there. We ended up from then on stopping after every 3 loops which would take us around 2 hours to do. We’d stop for 25-30 minutes. By 11AM, they were serving subway sandwiches. I don’t remember them being offered last year. Alex loves them but only ate 1 the entire race. Guess where we just HAD to go eat after the race? Subway of course. I told him, we could go anywhere, and he picked Subway anyway. Whatever.
Pretty much most of the afternoon was spent walking around a lake looking at everything. I had the course memorized by the third loop, but Alex was much more just in the moment kind of mindset. He never seemed to know where on the course we were. It probably worked out better that way since he was always kind of surprised when we got to the lap counting tent.
He was pretty excited when we got over a half-marathon distance since that’s further than mom’s gone.
Everyone was of course interested in Alex like last year. Alex was more shy this year. I kept telling him that people that said “good job” were talking to him and not me. I wasn’t in the race and honestly, me walking for 12 hours isn’t impressive. He finally started talking more and occasionally telling people “good job” back. He proudly told everyone he was six and a half years old.
A couple people asked me 6 hours into the race how I got him focused enough to go that long. I never really thought about it before but just said “I’ve been an ultrarunner since he was born so I guess he just grew up thinking that’s normal.” Now that I’ve had more time to think about it, that still rings true. The reason people think something can’t be done is usually just because someone hasn’t yet. Once lots of people do something, it no longer seems impossible, even if it’s still really difficult. I’ve never told him he couldn’t go over a marathon distance, so why would he think he couldn’t.
The other reason I think he was still going was that I made sure last year was fun for him with zero pressure besides having to run the first long loop with me. After that, he did the other loops when he wanted to. He spent the rest of the time playing with other kids or his sister. I spent the weeks before the race last year, telling him about the great runners he’d meet like Courtney Dauwalter. Then when he got to meet her and talk to her, it was that much more fun and memorable. He asked to do the race again this year on his own.
Plus I think 6 year old boys just love to spend time with their dad. I’m sure my wife is jealous I got to hold hands with him all the time.
By mid-afternoon, I noticed he was always falling behind me in one part of the North area despite it being a long gradual downhill section. Turns out he was trying to count all the retaining wall blocks in that area, followed by how many stories each tall building had.
There also was a big party with bounce houses near the lap counting tent after a different 5k event was finished. I’m sure that was torture for him to go past loop after loop, watching kids play on them.
His goal was getting closer and closer. By loop 11 he started counting how many loops were left. He was confident he could do it since we had plenty of time. I of course knew how fast things can go downhill in a race so I was cautious. We stopped after loop 8 and 11. We were going to try to get 4 loops done since we’d be over a marathon after loop 15. Loop 13 was getting slow. I gave him my iPod to listen to, which helped him pass the time and keep his mind off of his soreness. Loop 14 was even slower. He was obviously starting to feel it in his feet and walking slow. He didn’t really complain until we were almost done with the loop. We definitely were going to have to take a break before loop 15. This was of course just 1 loop after he said he was going to do at least 16 loops. How quickly things change.
We had plenty of time so we started loop 15 and stopped in our tent for about 25 minutes. I was kind of trying to time it so that we’d finish loop 15 with 1 hour left in the race so we’d get credit for the distance going back to our tent.
We left the tent to become an ultrarunner. I made sure that one of his favorite songs (Genius) was playing on the iPod when we left. There is a gradual hill right after our tent and it was amusing watching him go up that. It takes a little while to get going again after stopping for a while with sore feet or legs. Usually it’s just a couple hundred feet or so (at Volstate, it took me close to a mile sometimes!) To see him go through that was mixed feelings. On the one hand I was proud to see him fight through it to meet his goal. On the other, I was worried how sore he’s be tomorrow (spoiler alert: he ran some the next day, so obviously it wasn’t too much).
It was less than a mile from the tent to the marathon sign. We actually ran some of this distance once he got over the initial pain of getting going. The excitement was obviously helping. I ran ahead to take a video of him crossing the sign and becoming an ultrarunner (personally I don’t agree with that definition of an ultramarathon but that’s the current accepted definition: anything longer than a marathon). He ran across and kept on running. I had to call him back so I could take a picture of him by the sign.
He was super excited and told everyone he talked to after that point that he was an ultramarathoner. Excitement was keeping him going all the way to the counting tent. The problem was that with all this running, we got there 15 minutes sooner than I thought we would so my plan to get there with an hour left didn’t work. I told him we could just sit here and wait for 15 minutes before we go to our tent and quit, or we could do another loop. He didn’t hesitate and wanted to go another loop.
About a mile before the loop was over he wanted to make sure I wouldn’t try to beat him up the hill at the lap counting tent this last time. I wasn’t even in the race and never ran up it with him before so I’m not sure why he was worried about that. Possibly I think he wanted to walk up it since he was tired and didn’t want me to pass him. Either way I told him that I wouldn’t. I told him everyone is probably expecting you to run up without me like every other time. I told him the same thing I’ve told him before; “The only race I’ll try my hardest not to let you beat me in is a 100 mile race. You’re going to have to earn that one.” He smiled at that. He’ll likely smile the same way someday when he kicks my butt.
He ran up the hill to finish loop 16 and we continued to the short loop area. Since they wanted as few people as possible in this area, I just went with him to the South terminus of the short loop. I told him he could keep doing short loops as long as he felt like and I went to the tent to start packing up. He ended up going back and forth 2 more times for a total distance of 29.77 miles. I think had he known that one more time back and forth would be over 30 miles he probably would’ve done it. He still had 15 minutes on the clock. I asked him if he wanted to go back, but he said no. Overall in the race we stopped for 2 hours total and left 15 minutes on the clock so there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
His secondary goal this year was to not be in last place like last year. I think he ended up beating 4 men and 4 women so he accomplished that as well. Really though in timed events, placing isn’t as important. Some people just go to see how fast they can do 50 miles and then quit, etc.
We finished packing up and went to Subway. We then left for home. He stayed up until we got home (probably due to caffeine) which was kind of nice since he could take a shower that way before bed.
He slept in the next day, not surprisingly. I heard him asking for help in a giggling voice when he woke up. In dramatic fashion, I found him on the floor, face down, moaning. I carried him to the bathroom upstairs but after that, he was walking around like he hadn’t just gone a super long distance for a 6 year old. The little jerk even ran about 100 feet that afternoon when we were walking the dogs. I say jerk because I’m of course jealous of people like him. The next day he was running around playing like normal.
This race keeps track of your total lifetime miles for the event. They even put that number on your bib. Alex only had 12.4 miles on his. A couple people are close to 3000 miles over the 30 year history of the race. Even after this years race, I still have more lifetime miles than Alex and I told him that. He thought about that for a bit and then said “When I run it next year again, can you not run it so I get more miles than you?” We’ll see.