Time get down to business again – the ‘business’ of racing. After almost two weeks of babysitting and an extended period of rest and recovery, I was ready for another challenge. The first weekend of June has plenty of marathons and ultras to choose from but, since I had such a good experience at the FANS timed races in Minneapolis in 2011 and 2012, I decided to enter the 24 hour FANS race for the third time. My goal was to complete more miles than in the previous two years but I soon discovered that a number of circumstances would prove that to be impossible.
Why do this race again and again? Well, when I like a race, I REALLY like it, so I try to return every year or as often as I can manage. Some race directors seem to consistently get everything right and that makes the event immensely pleasurable. Then, too, flights to some cities are much more economical than flights to other cities; the same can be said for certain hotels. When a race is held to support a worthy cause, it makes the often steep registration fee more palatable. The FANS races meet all these criteria. In addition, the race is superbly organized, with dedicated and supportive volunteers, two well-supplied aid stations on the loop course, and a walking division for both the 12 and 24 hour races. The race helps to fund scholarships for post-secondary education for inner-city students and is part of the Pillsbury United Communities of Minneapolis. Some of these students help serve at the pasta dinner the night before the race and greet racers and guests at packet pickup.
I was able to get some inexpensive tickets to Minneapolis (these days, I consider anything under $300 to be relatively cheap) and made hotel reservations at one of our favorite hotels, the Hilton @ Airport/Mall of America, a clean and well-appointed hotel close to the race venue. We were upgraded to the executive club level and that helped quite a bit with our food and drink expenses. After two brief flights, we arrived in Minneapolis around 1:30, picked up our rental car, and made our way to the hotel where we were able to check in right away.
Now it was time to find something to eat. Darcy had discovered a restaurant at the mall that looked enticing so we headed over to Twin City Grill. On the way I managed to touch base via phone and text with my friend Judy from Atlanta who was signed up for the 12 hour race. I had met Judy at the End of the World races last year and had seen her again at Across the Years. Turns out we had a lot in common and had begun sharing our experiences via email over the last several months. I was really eager to see her again. She joined us for lunch, the conversation flowed, and the food was pretty good too. In fact, we enjoyed chatting so much that by the time we finished our meal it was time to get our packets at the Lake Nokomis Community Center.
The center was already bustling with people – FANS scholarship recipients, volunteers, racers and their families, and race officials. We joined in, meeting old friends and new, as we picked up our bib and tee shirt and a list of last minute instructions. Included in our bag of goodies was our medal. FANS is somewhat unusual because the medal is given out before the race; after the race is over and final results are compiled, participants are mailed a congratulatory letter with the number of miles on a sticky tile that can be affixed to the back of the medal. Some fans of FANS have completed these races for 24 years and have accumulated thousands of miles!
Because of some local difficulties (political? environmental? legal?) the race venue changed from Lake Nokomis to nearby Lake Snelling in Fort Snelling State Park. The former location was ideal for me because it was mostly asphalt, with just minor sections of grass and cement. It also had some lighting at night; although I always carried a headlamp with me for the darkest areas, I often turned it off because it wasn’t essential.
Snelling Lake turned out to be very different. The 2.17 mile course was partly asphalt but the asphalt was broken by roots and swales. There were two road crossings which were expertly monitored by volunteers during the daylight and early evening hours when traffic was present. The park is closed from 10 to 6 pm so cars were not a problem during the nighttime. A good portion of the course was trail – fairly well-groomed trail and not very technical but still trail. There were some rocks and fallen branches and roots. There was also a section of small to medium-sized rocks similar to the tank trail at Mayor’s Marathon in Anchorage. These were very hard on the feet, especially as the miles mounted up. The park is not lit at all during the night, so a headlamp or flashlight is essential. Some of the trail slopes down to Snelling Lake; after 12 plus hours on my feet, I had visions of myself weaving across the trail and ending up in the cold lake. The park is directly under the flight path for the airport and planes crossed overhead numerous times.
With no chance to walk the course beforehand I had no idea of what awaited me when the race began. We started right at 8 am on Saturday under cloudy skies that threatened rain and temps in the 50’s. After making my way carefully a couple of times around the lake, I realized that the course this year would be a real challenge for me, especially at night. With my recent history of falling, I was concerned about the rocks, roots, and dark. When my husband stopped by around 1 pm to see how I was doing, I relayed my concerns to him. We decided that it might be best if I spent the evening hours at the hotel and came back during the early morning hours to finish the race. I hesitated to interrupt my 24 hours but I felt it was the prudent thing to do. I couldn’t afford any more broken bones.
Once that was decided, I felt my anxieties abate. I walked as fast as I dared, at least until the late afternoon when the clouds opened and we had several hours of nonstop rain. I put on my rain jacket and hood and continued on, managing to acquire about 43 miles in 12 hours or so. By 8 pm, the 12 hour runners had finished. Darcy came by to drive both Judy (who was now finished and could relax after doing over 31 miles) and myself back to the hotel. My plan was to shower, change clothes, and go to bed so I could wake at around 3:30 in the morning and get back out there.
And that’s what I did. I woke early, had coffee and a bagel, dressed, and got Darcy to drive me back to the lake so I could continue on the course until 7 am, when we were allowed to do a shorter lap course on asphalt for the final hour of the race. My final mileage count was 56.78, far less than my desired goal of at least 85 miles, but still respectable. Although there is a big breakfast for all runners, walkers, volunteers, and guests, and a short awards ceremony, I am usually too tired and not at all hungry so we usually head on back to the hotel for a shower and nap. This year I was not so tired (6 hours of sleep certainly helped) but I was most definitely not hungry, so we made our way back to the room to relax, pack, and read. Later that morning we headed out to the mall where we had an early lunch at Crave’s and then spent both time and money at Archiver’s, a great place to get scrapbooking materials like stickers and papers and such.
I have to think seriously about whether I will do FANS again if it stays at its current location. I may decide to try the 12 hour option at Snelling Lake because I enjoy just about everything else about the race. For walkers who enjoy trails and are sure-footed and want to try a timed race, I would certainly recommend either of the FANS options.
To sum up concisely, here are some pros and cons:
• Superbly organized and orchestrated (the race directors manage to think of everything)
• Lots of well-trained, polite, and friendly volunteers
• There is a walking division for both races
• Race participants, their crew, pacers, and guests are friendly and encouraging
• Aid stations have great food and snacks
• There are portapotties and also indoor restrooms just a short distance off the course
• Animals, lots of them – I saw deer, chipmunks, Canada geese, wild turkeys, and opossum
• The course has lots of shade
• Lap counters are wonderful – they seem to never tire and are relentlessly cheerful and enthusiastic
• Plenty of parking
• The tee shirts never fit me correctly; the fit is always too large and ungainly. The designs are great but the silky polyester is too slippery for my taste
• Surface of the course is part trail, part rock, with some asphalt (but in poor condition)
• Rocks are very hard on the soles of one’s feet
• The course is unlit at night, which could be somewhat treacherous (for me!), even with headlamps and flashlights
• Noise from airplanes on the flight path is very loud