Another Mullin Double Race Report - William O'Brien 10 Miler and Birkie Trail Half Marathon

I'm running a bit of a back log here.  The Gravel Conspiracy recap took a bit more effort than I had intended and it held up reporting an subsequent reports.  I continue to get the occasional comment from folks saying they enjoy reading my reports so I intend to keep them coming until the number of negative comments exceed the positive ones.

William O'Brien 10 Miler


I've been meaning to run this race on my "home course" for the last few years.  Last year I was signed up to do the event when it was in June, but then it got moved to the week before the Birkie Trail Marathon due to the extremely wet spring we.  I had to bow out because it was too close to my A race.  I had originally deferred my entry to this year, but ultimately used my entry on the Chippewa 50k (kudos to Randy at Front Runner on the great policy).  In any case I hadn't planned to run this year, but got an email on the Friday before the race about it.  By Saturday night I decided to sign up and race on Sunday morning.  So not a great deal of time to mentally prepare for the race.


The plan I developed on the way to the race in the morning was to build on what I had learned at the Sasquatch dash.  That was two fold.  One, be more diligent about keeping the effort level up on downhills.  At the Sasquatch Dash I hit my predefined limit and then I wasn't as quick to pick up the pace again after recovering.  Two, set the governor a little higher.  At the dash I set a max of 165, here I decided that the race was shorter and the weather cooler so I decided on 168-170.  Otherwise it was again a race my own race, don't get too caught up in anyone else's race.

The course starts at the visitor center, heads down to the lower park area, past the lake, up the river and then back up to the visitor center before making a full circuit of the upper trails.  Let's break it down mile by mile.

WOB 10 Mile Race Course
Mile 1

This mile has the major downhill to the lower area of the park.  It started out reasonably hot and I tried to coast the downhill as best as possible.  Other than the initial rev up, I was already bumping up against the 170 limit as we started past Lake Alice.  I was somewhere around 10th place through the first mile with everyone pretty well pulling away from me.

Mile 2

This mile was very uneventful as we looped around the lower park along the river.  I was doing a good job of hitting my target with HRs between 168 and 172.  I was a little disappointed that the group ahead was continuing to pull away until they were out of sight but I had a plan and I needed to execute it.

Mile 3

We climbed back up to the visitor center and started around the upper loop in this mile.  The 125+ foot climb was "fun".  I peaked out at 177 during the climb so I had to relax a little bit to bring things back under control at the top of the hill.  I had one person pass me at the top and another who almost passed and then apparently had to stop and tie a shoe.

Mile 4

Shoe tieing guy passed me in the next mile.  We had a quick chat about the course getting serious in another mile.  This one is the false flat through the swamp under the railroad tracks and almost to the Turkey Loop (Hardwood Hills Trial officially I guess).  I was holding a pretty steady 170-171 through this mile.  I was still feeling pretty good, but only 4 miles into a 10 mile race there is still plenty of time to have over done it so I stayed the course.

Mile 5

This mile is mostly just the Turkey Loop.  The big climb and then rollers.  I again went over the limit on the hill hitting 176 on the first climb and then 175 on the first climb just after the loop.  I did my best to open things up on the downhills and let my momentum carry me as fast as possible.  I was keeping the shoe tieing guy in sight, but he had a healthy gap.  Towards the end he was closing on another guy.

Elevation map.
Mile 6

This connected the end of the Turkey Loop with the "New Trail".  Turns out it is officially Woodland Edge Trail and Rolling Hills Savanna Trail.  Not much to say about this mile again other than creeping over my limits on the bigger hills but keeping the recovery from falling too low.  Leaving the woods I could see STG (shoe tieing guy), the guy he was gaining on, and the first place woman heading over the hill ahead.  This gave me some more confidence that if I kept feeling good I stood a good chance of pulling those folks in over the last third of the race.

Mile 7

I continued to exceed my predefined limit on the hills again hitting 175/176.  The average HR crept up to 172 on this mile.  After a surge the guy who had been between STG and the lead woman completely blew up.  Ouch.  Been there.  I didn't seem to be gaining any time on the other two though.  I also got passed in this mile.  I'm not sure what the guy was doing the first part of the race, but I felt like I was standing still when he went by and he disappeared in a hurry so he wasn't faking it.

Mile 8

South America (Prairie Overlook Trail).  I continued to feel pretty good despite exceeding my plans slightly.  The climb up to the top was pretty tough and I was getting a touch of feeling tired.  But I knew from the top I had the punchy double hill out of South America and Gum Hill (Wedge Hill Savanna Trail) to go in the last 2.5 miles.  I took splits to the two in front of me and had 1 minute and 45 second gaps.  I thought that was a fair bit, but not impossible.  I let it rip down the hills and gave the hill out of South America a good steady effort.  Another uptick in average HR here to 173.

Mile 9

At this point I was committed to abandoning the plan and going for it.  I was still feeling good (well as good as you feel after running fairly hard for 50+ minutes.  I figured I was sitting in 11th place and wanted a shot at the top 10.  Over the railroad tracks and through the swamp I felt like I was moving really well, but I couldn't catch sight of the two I was chasing.  At the base of Gum Hill they finally came into view.  It looked like I had maybe eaten up half of the gap over the last mile plus.

Knowing this was the last hill which would be followed by a mostly flat crossing the top of Wedge Hill, the S-Hill, and the final field, it was really time to give it.  I ran Gum Hill hard.  As I crested the hill and turned left into the field I hit mile 9 and my HR was 183.  I had averaged 176 for the last mile.  Plan out the window.  Time to just hold on.

Mile 10 + 0.1

STG was now only maybe 50m ahead of me.  I gave myself maybe 30 seconds to recover, though my HR disputes any recovery before I went after him.  I wanted to be sure that when I passed him I made it fairly definitive.  I had just taken 45 seconds out of him in the last 1.5 miles so I was moving pretty good relative, but maybe he was conserving.  As came up on his shoulder I said it was all downhill from here.  Maybe it was what I wanted to see, but I'm pretty sure I got a look of "where the hell did you come from and how are you trying to hold a conversation".  That is so much more fun than the 1,000 yard stare after blowing up I'm used to giving to other people.

Having demoralized STG I took off after the lead woman.  I was still moving really well (managed to run a 6:45 pace across the top of the hill) and caught her just before heading down the S-Hill.  I bombed the S-Hill and poured everything I had left into the quarter mile finish.  I'm really pretty amazed with my finishing kick.  Sub 6 for the last quarter mile.  Not too shabby after 10 miles.  Avg hr of 182 with a max of 185 in the last 1.1 miles.

Mile splits and associated avg hr.  Look at those last two miles + 0.1 mile.  Probably a little too much left in the tank.

Final time of 1:16:47 (7:36/mile) good for 9th overall.  I'm pretty happy with the result.  I'm also really happy with the overall execution as I learned a little more about racing this type of distance.  Namely that I can go harder.  I really pushed hard those last two miles and didn't blow up.  I'm not sure how to translate that into spreading that effort out over the rest of the race and determining how much faster I could have been.  Something to try at the next race.

Birkie Trail Half Marathon


And just like that, we are at the next race, the Birkie Trail run.  While I love the Birkie Trail and the event is super well run, after last year's full marathon where I blew up pretty spectacularly my motivation to try again was fairly low.  Starr was pretty adamant that she wanted to do it again, so since I was going to be there anyway I decided I better do something.

I signed up for the half marathon just prior to one of the last price hikes.  It isn't the cheapest race around, but I'm willing to pay a little extra for the Birkie name since they back it up with a quality event.  Not too long after that Ben Popp, Birkie Foundation Executive Director, put out a call to run the marathon relay with him.  I put my name in the hat, but ultimately wanted to run a little more than the relay leg options.  In the end he said he had a replacement for me if I wanted out.  I took him up on that, but more on the replacement in a little bit.

Just like the Gravel Conspiracy we drove up the night before and car camped at the start line.  That was a new option this year and it worked out great.  I wish we could have been there earlier to take advantage of the socialization.  Even though we couldn't socialize we did save the crazy-o-clock alarm if we were going to drive up the morning of.

That is us three doors down from Eric's bus.
I woke up when the Ultra marathon started at 5:30, but promptly went back to sleep.  Ultimately we were up in time to get the marathon folks (Starr, Tammi, Eric, and Ben Jonjak) to their start at 8:00.  I then had a two hour wait until the start of the half so I went back to bed and napped for probably half an hour.

I got a quick warm-up in and rolled up to the start line by Kevin Rogers and waited for the "Ready, Go" command.  Seriously, I don't think a ready command, followed by an unceremonious go command 30 seconds later is the best way to start.  But that is just me.


Following up on the lessons from the week before at the O'Brien 10-miler I had didn't want to change my plan dramatically but I had a few thoughts.  First this was going to be a little longer with a stated distance of 12.5.  Secondly the hills are bigger and steeper here.

  1. Target a HR of roughly 170-172.  Go slightly harder, but not too much because this course is harder and longer.
  2. Walking hills was expected as they are steeper and longer here.  Keep an eye on overshooting on the hills but be sure pick it up again before too much recovery.
  3. As always, run my own race.


For the first half a mile or so I ran on Kevin's shoulder.  He then moved to the front of the group we were running behind and then he was gone never to be seen again.  The climb from the trail head up to the Birkie Trail proper is just that, a climb.  It is about 1.7 miles to the Birkie Trail and it has a net gain of over 250'.  Needless to say, I didn't have much trouble getting to my target HR.  This early though I was able to only take one very short power hike break to keep things under control.

Out onto the main trail there is an initial descent and then the climbs really start.  It wasn't very long before I was power hiking the hills to keep my effort levels in check.  Even then I was getting my HR above target, but nothing more than a couple of bpm.  During this stretch I had a few people pass me as they kept on plugging up the hills.  I was optimistic they were going to over do it and I was racing smart and I would see them again before the finish.

I made it to the Boedecker aid station where I took a quick cup of water and continued on.  The turn around for the half marathon was not nearly as far down the trail as I thought it was.  I thought we followed the marathon course for the whole southern loop, but where as they turned almost to OO, we turned around and hopped onto the Birkie Classic Trail just over half a mile out of Boedecker.  Which meant we were back at Boedecker not quite 2 miles later at just over 5.5 miles in.

I was still feeling good at this point.  There were a few of the people who had passed me not too far up the trail ahead of me.  One of them was putting time into me gaining on the person ahead.  I'll call them Red and Blue.  Red had been trailing me for a while until between the Boedeckers until he passed me and was gaining on Blue who had took off long before Boedecker.

As we reached the sweet CAMBA single track and hopped on the Seeley Pass trail, I was probably about a minute down to Red and Blue who were not separated by much.  The single track is tight though so they immediately disappeared as I got a big grin on my face as I settled in to try and flow the trails by foot instead of by bike.  Unfortunately that is easier said than done.  It is still some super sweet trail though and it was a great day to be running through the woods.

The first mile of the single track descends fairly consistently before hitting a little open field where you do a big loop and head back into the woods to start the climb towards the high point.  This was the first time since hitting the single track that I caught sight of Red and Blue again.  They were running together and I took a quick split and they had about 45 seconds on me.

This was just after mile 7 and things were still feeling good.  I was doing some mental math and figured I had roughly an hour or less of running to do.  I wasn't really ready to deviate from the plan yet, but the constant climbing that never reached the pitch where I felt like I had to walk resulted in me pushing a bit higher than plan.  That next mile, while happening to be the slowest split thus far by over 2 minutes was also at an average HR of 174.

Another small part of what raised the HR was I was starting to get sucked into someone elses race.  On one of the switchbacks I noticed that I was gaining on Red and Blue.  While I wasn't necessarily pushing to catch them, I certainly wasn't backing off to let them disappear again.  Right around the end of this mile I finally closed the gap and figured I would sit in behind them and recover.  My thought process at the time was if I could run for several minutes at 170 or less I would go ahead and make the pass and push on.  If not, I would sit in until someone else made a move and decide then.

As it turns out I was still running around 172 and maybe 3 or 4 minutes later Red decided it was time to pass Blue.  I was quick to decide I was going with him.  Things definitely heated up at that point.  It was probably about 1/3 of a mile and we hit the Birkie Trail and the high point.  Over that stretch we proceeded to drop Blue who clearly was redlined and we caught another guy struggling who said he was going to hop on the train.  I encouraged him to climb aboard, but he was unhitched almost immediately.  Not terribly surprising as he was clearly struggling and Red and I had just upped the effort.  I personally averaged 176 over that stretch.

Red and I complimented each other on the push to the high point and then agreed to push and pull each other along for a while.  I took the lead at that point and proceeded to surprise the heck out of myself.  Still feeling pretty good despite being 9 miles into the race and having been pushing harder than originally planned for the last two miles, I made the decision that the original plan again appeared too conservative and it was time to run by perceived effort instead of HR.

HRs continued to climb, paces continued to drop, as did the elevation.  Miles 9 and 10 which got me almost back to the top of the Birkie Ridge trail were with HRs of 175 and 178 respectively.  I was definitely feeling it, but not in the I'm almost blown-up kind of way.  Red was still right with me but I was feeling confident that I was still in control.  I figured that was a really good sign considering the HR was well above what I had originally figured was the effort level required for this duration.

As we hit the Birkie Ridge trail my plan was to open it up on the downhills and use momentum as best I could, but to then take one of the few uphills and try to break Red.  I decided to take the first one, but underestimated the size of it.  This particular one climbed about 30 feet and then turned a 90 corner and climbed another 15.  I pushed hard and could feel the gap open behind me, but I could feel that I had almost buried myself when I got to the top.  Looks like I hit 186 at the top of the hill and considering the highest I've ever seen is 192, I was definitely burning most of the remaining matches.

Based on the encouragement from the nordic trekers I was scaring when I would blow past them I could tell that I hadn't definitively dropped Red.  I was disappointed it hadn't worked, but I wasn't giving up just yet.  I would say I recovered the rest of the way down, but that isn't really true.  I took the foot off the gas some and knew that Red had caught back up, but I wasn't trying to drop him anymore.

For a distance guy, I've always had decent top end speed.  Fast twitch muscles are some of the first things to go and I'm not the youngest guy out there any more.  But my guess was that I had 20 years on Red and I was betting on my kick to take the finish.

As we were approaching sight of the finish line Red and I exchanged a few brief words.  He said he hoped he was pushing me.  I assured him he definitely was.  Then we both encouraged each other to finish it out strong.

From the exit of the woods to the finish line was probably a touch over 200m.  There was little dip and a very gentle rise to the finish chute.  We both opened it up down through the dip.  As we entered the fenced area with probably 100m to go I really kicked.  And Red was still right on my shoulder.  Damn.  With probably 30m to go I found another gear and was all out sprinting for the finish.

It was close, but I took the sprint finish for 22nd place by a stride or so.  Remember I said my max HR was 192.  I hit 190 at the finish line.

Red and I shook hands and congratulated each other on a fantastic race.  I can say without a doubt, he pushed me to run those last 4 miles much harder than I would have on my own.  I'm guessing it was maybe two or more minutes he pushed me to shave off.


So the third race in row where I had a plan, executed it for a large portion of the race before determining it was on the conservative side.  This is probably the more fun way to find the limit than crossing it and blowing up at each race while backing it down to find the limit.

Overall I'm very pleased with the race.  I continue to learn more about racing smart and this was a good result.

Back to my relay replacement.  Ben got Birkie Ambassador, Minnesota native and MSHSL nordic champ, future Olympian, Annie Hart to replace me.  Probably an upgrade.

Me and my relay replacement Annie Hart.

Mullin's What's Next

Gandy Dancer half marathon tomorrow!

I blame Jim Thanig, but we signed up for the Ice Box 480 on November 7th.  What could go wrong with running 8 hours at White Tail Ridge?

It won't be long and we will be on snow.  Ski season!