Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Rugged. Relentless. Remote. Home.

As I sit here on the couch, laptop in, well, lap, I find myself having a hard time putting down into words what has been running relentlessly through my mind for the past five days. So much information to process and organize. So much happened in such a short weekend. But the story of my Superior 100 doesn't start last Friday. This one started back in July. The 5th of July to be exact, as I was volunteering at another great Ultra, the Afton Trail Races.

Months earlier, I had made the decision to run the Hallucination 100. It was the "easiest" 100 I could find that was driving distance from home, and it would be the surest bet I had to qualify for Western States. The obvious choice for 100 mile trail races would have been the Superior 100, but this race scared me to death. More elevation gain that Western and more rugged, did I really want my first trail 100, my only Western States qualifier this season, to be the hardest race and most likely DNF out there? No, no I didn't. Registration opened for Hallucination, but unlike other races, I did not immediately sign up. "I have plenty of time" I told myself. "There's no hurry". Week after week went by and I continued this thought process, but the honest reason was that something else was holding me back. Unaware what that was, I continued in my procrastination well into the summer.
It wasn't until the Afton Trail Races that I would finally determine what these reasons were. I spent the entire day at the ATR, volunteering in various areas and talking with so many people, many of them good friends I have met over the past year at these exact events. This community of runners has literally become family to me over the past year, and I eagerly await these races as an excuse to head down and see them. And it was this family that made me realize what it was that was keeping me from signing up for Hallucination. Every one of them had their own effect on my ultimate decision, but it was John Storkamp, race director, friend and mentor (I doubt he knows this) that made the entire picture come together.
With the race in full swing and the volunteers working like the fine oiled machine that they always are at John's races, I found myself with a few extra moments to walk around and talk to some people. Taking a moment to watch the finishers as they began to make their way in, I began talking with John about the usual suspects; past and upcoming races. I began telling him about Hallucination and my reasons for choosing that race. I told him of my wishes to some day run Superior (also his race) and how I just didn't feel I was ready to take on such an endeavour. I told him that Hallucination would be my Western qualifier. "Well, if you change your mind and Superior is full or closed, just send me a message and I'll get you in".  Just a simple little statement, but in that moment I knew that I would be running Superior in the fall. Superior is where I belonged. Superior was my home. Superior was my FAMILY. Family takes care of you, and that simple little statement from John, along with all my other running family, had shown me why I had been avoiding registering for Hallucination. I wanted to be with family for this one. I wanted to run Superior.

So, fast forward two months.

Race day! To this point, I had been maintaining and eerie calm that I couldn't explain. I wasn't nervous, I wasn't scared, and I wasn't excited. I was...nothing. More than anything, I was ready for this race to start. Tapers are never fun and weeks leading up to races are long, but this time seemed to drag. JUST GET ME ON THE TRAIL ALREADY!  Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long and before I knew it, John's pep talk had turned to a countdown. I think this was were I realized that I was finally about to do this thing, because I looked at my crew member and pacer Sabrina and mouthed a "holy shit"!
Keeping things chill at the start

The first stages of the race were fairly uneventful. I think this holds true for many people. Paces are tested, rhythms are found, and conversations are struck as the crowds have yet to start to thin. I found myself just hanging with a small group of runners and feeding off them for the first 9.7 miles to Aid 1, Split Rock. I struggled to find MY pace, but was running comfortably and fairly effortlessly, and before I knew it, I was heading downhill to the first aid station. It was here decisions were made. Running down the spur trail to the aid station offered one of very few opportunities to see the leaders, and once the race spread out, probably the only chance. I was surprised at how close most of them still were and was excited about how things were going. I felt great, I was flying, and I was ready to do something foolish. At that aid station, I made the decision that I was going to go for a 24 hour attempt and would see how long it took before I regretted it. 

It was a little over 10 miles to the next aid station, Beaver Bay, and to be honest, I don't remember much of it. Now running mostly alone, I really settled down into a rhythm and started running my own race. It was in this section that I noticed a hot spot developing on my right foot, and I made a mental note that I was gonna want to take a look at that sooner than later. It wasn't long before I could hear the commotion and the cowbells of an aid station, and without warning I had exited the woods into what would become my favorite aid station. 
As most of you could have figured out from the beginning of this blog, I have never ran Western States. But just like any ultra runner who aspires to run one of the countries most prestigious 100s, I have probably watched every movie, youtube clip, and amatuer bit of footage out there on it. So when I say that running in to Beaver Bay felt like running into an aid station at Western, I honestly believe that's how it would feel. From the moment you exit the woods there is a tunnel of fans, 10 people deep, cheering you and leading you across the road to the actual aid station. From there its a sea of volunteers and crews running around and doing their things. The energy was so high, and so contagious, that I completely forgot about the hotspot on my foot, and after a Nascar fast pitstop and fueling, I charged down the trail. Fortunately, crew member and pacer Shannon had was there taking pictures, and I told her to have the chair ready to look at my foot at Silver Bay, some four plus miles away. 

photo by Ian Corless

Silver Bay came in a blink, and I quickly made a change of socks and checked my foot. No blister yet. In and out in minutes, I headed back out to the trail towards my next stop, Tettegouche, some 10 or so miles away. This was probably the first time all day that I started feeling tired, and I conservatively left Silver Bay, knowing fully what was ahead of me (a month earlier I had previewed Split Rock to Tettegouche on a training run). 
Climbing out of Silver Bay

Knowing fully what to expect the next 10 miles, although still well on pace to run a sub 24, I needed to start conserving energy, so I settled in a picked away at the various climbs and cruised what was runnable. It was also in this section that I took the time to take in what was around me, and forfeited a few minutes to take some pictures. I had my GoPro packed in my vest, and this was the section that had my all time favorite place on the planet, Bean and Bear Lakes. 
To date, the most beautiful place on the planet that I have been
Photo by Ian Corless

Again, the past five days has been a blur, and it's been hard to recall specifically every mile of the race. Especially those early miles that weren't as eventful (aka painful). I do know that sometime between Silver Bay and Finland, the halfway mark, my blister had formed and been treated. I flew through Tettegouche so fast that I literally ran right past my good friend Kate and didn't even notice her (still feel pretty awful about that one), and I caught and passed Joe Boler, but not after running a while with him and having a nice little conversation about hurting vs finishing and when one draws the line. Joe had made the decision that he was tired of suffering for a top spot continually, and I envied him for that. I've been walking that line now between competing and just experiencing races for a while now, and truly look forward to the day I just enter to run and enjoy the trail. However, on this weekend, I had made the choice to suffer. 

The miles clipped off and before I knew it, I found myself flying into the Finland aid station. The excitement of being half done, the atmosphere of another large aid station, and the fact that I was now picking up my first pacer, and I was feeling great and moving quickly. It was here I made a major gear change and changed shirts, dropped that hat and grabbed my headlamp, and restocked my pack. I hit up the food table as my rock star crew took care of my gear, and in no time, Shannon and I were flying out of Finland. Once again I let myself get caught up in it all, and took off way to fast. Within a half mile I had actually dropped Shannon behind a little! Fortunately for both of us, a fallen tree had crossed my path, and she was able to catch back up and I was able to settle myself back down. 
Flying in to Finland. Can't get the pack off fast enough!

It was such a relief to get some company finally. The voices in my head were starting to bore me, and if anyone can talk, it's Shannon! She was the perfect choice for my first pacer, and we made our way towards the next aid station, Sonju Lake, quite uneventfully. This was a good thing, because just a few miles before Finland, and information I would keep to myself until after the race, another runner and I had encountered a bear on the trail! It was gone before we knew it, and I think it added about 30 seconds to my race, but I know my pacers, and I think I would have been down two of them had they known about the bear! 
A few miles from Sonju and I had to finally sucuumb to the dark and turn on my headlamp. Shannon and I picked our way through the trail and I adjusted to running in the dark. It was definitely slower, and planning my footing had to be more precise and deliberate than ever. Through the dark and the trees, I spotted lights up ahead, and was greeted by the coolest guide of christmas lights to the aid station ever. Sonju Lake was a crew access-less aid station, so I knew that this would be a quick stop. I had grabbed extra fuel at Finland, and between that and a cup of soup at Sonju, I didn't linger long. I was quite surprised however to find John Horns hanging out at this aid station when I arrived. For those of you who don't know, Mr. Horns WON last year. What the hell was I doing running near John Horns?! Jacked up on rest and adrenaline, I once again bolted down the trail. It was at this point that Shannon decided that she wasn't keeping up, and yelled at me to get my ass moving and she'd catch up. She never did, but I being the conversationalist that she is, I could hear her the entire way! She had joined up with John and his pacer, and the three of them, from what I could hear, had some excellent conversations. Less than five miles to the next aid station of Crosby/Manitou State Park, I settled in, found a rhythm and picked my way onward. It wasn't long before I exited the trail to the state park road, and had a nice half mile stretch of gravel to open up the legs on.
Photo by Ian Corless
A welcome oasis of light at Crosby/Manitou

As part of my training weekend one month earlier, I ran a good portion of the section between Crosby and Sugarloaf, so I knew what was coming. Add on to that the enthusiastic run up the gravel road I just overdid, and I was in no hurry to get moving out of Crosby. But I quickly found my crew, grabbed a coat, and refueled for the pending climb. It was here that I picked up my next pacer Greg. Right on cue, John Horns, his pacer, and my pacer Shannon came storming in to Crosby as well, and a few laughs about the last section and well wishes and Greg and I were off. 

The first portion of the section between Sugarloaf and Crosby is a steady to steep drop down to the river, mostly unrunnable in the day, but near impossible at night. By now, the legs are getting tired, I'm 63 miles in to the race, and the downhills are not agreeing with me. Needless to say, I was slow and cautious. It was nice getting a fresh pacer and a new set of conversations to keep me distracted, and Greg provided excellent distracting. He's got a similar sense of humor to me, and we laughed and joked our way down to the river. Soon our voices were being drowned out however, as we reached the river crossing and the roar of the Caribou River. There had been many climbs leading up to this point, but this is what I considered the first of the "just plain stupid" climbs we'd encounter all day. It doesn't show it on the elevation map, but the climb seems to go straight up out of the riverbed, and follows the rockiest, roughest path imaginable. Brian Woods has said it best about sections like this: "has no one ever heard of switchbacks?" 
A brief pause near the top of the climb to decide how we were going to avoid the skunk in the path, and we were moving again. Moving, but not very fast. It was here that the legs started their revolt, and with the aid of an unforgiving trail, the sections that I could run were getting fewer and farther between. I still found myself able to hold a run however, so when the trail deemed me worthy, I opened it up, even if it was sometimes 30 seconds at a time. 
Rolling in to Sugarloaf, I was getting tired and frustrated. The lack of runnable trail was starting to get to me, and now more than ever, I did not need my mind getting anything but focused. I made another gear change and changed in to my compression 3/4 tights and some new socks, grabbed some food, and grudgingly continued on our way. Slightly cheer up by Robyn Reed, aid station volunteer extraordinaire, I was ensured that the next section of trail was far more runnable as the last. And on most any weekend, I'm sure this would have been true, but by the time the legs loosened back up enough to start running again, the SHT had made it quite clear that I would not be running much of anything. Although we were blessed with absolutely perfect weather for the race, this was not quite true for the days leading up to Superior. A week of rainy weather had bogged the trail in many sections, and Sugarloaf to Cramer Rd seemed impacted greatly. 
It was here that it appeared my day had come to an end. No, I had no intentions of quitting, but with unresponsive legs, in a wet, foul footed section of trail had claimed the most important muscle in my body; my brain. Up to this point, a slow down was inevitable. It was expected. It was planned for. My motto during the miles from Crosby to now had been "move with purpose". But my mind was finding no more purpose. There was no more 24 hours. The trail had proven itself unrunnable. I had been defeated, and all I had now was a walk to the finish. I had put myself in a position where at this point, I could have crawled to the finish before the cutoff. I was also fortunate enough to need a battery change in this section, and after putting in fresh batteries, my headlamp decided that it too was going to team up with the SHT and throw everything it had at me. A feature of my headlamp is that it will blink when the batteries are about to die, then dim, then die. So you can imagine my delight when a fresh new set of batteries led to my lamp immediately blinking and dimming. After multiple attempts and sets of batteries, I gave up and conceded, finishing that section with a dim lamp. I was also passed by John Horns and his pacer at this point, so my night was just going fabulously. 
Not finishing was never an option. I'm too stubborn to not finish. Greg did his best to keep my spirits up, but he also knew better than to fill my head with false promises. I was smarter than that. I know a lie when I hear one. And I also knew I would pull out of this. I just needed time. And a little help from the SHT. Time I had plenty of. I still had 50k to go. But would I get the help? 

Greg and I did cruise in to Cramer road on a plus, as the trail opened up to a nice smooth path and allowed us to run for the first time in hours. I was even able to comfortably get to a 9:20 pace at one point, telling me that behind all this mess I had become, the legs were still there. I had made the decision coming in to Cramer that I was going to commit the #1 don't an ultra runner could commit. I was going to sit down for a bit. There comes a time where one just needs to admit defeat and regroup, and mile 78 was it for me. I probably still only totaled five minutes at Cramer, but it could have been longer. I had lost track of time, and my Garmin had long since died. As I sat there and rested a bit, I enjoyed probably the best chili ever (everything that didn't sound disgusting was the best ever) and allowed my next pacer Sabrina to get ready. We shuffled some headlamps around and Sabrina and I headed out of Cramer in full glow and ready to move. 
I filled her in on my status, told her of my low, and that although unsure of the when, that I would be pulling out of it. The chili really did seem to work wonders, and at times a actually attempted to run again. But the SHT is a cruel mistress, and she didn't let me run for long. The trail was unforgiving, and if it weren't the roots and rocks, it was a fallen tree. If it weren't a fallen tree, it was another boggy section of mud. We reinstated my previous motto of "moving with purpose", which Sabrina quickly renamed "moving with porpoise". The mood began to lighten, and I actually did begin to hike with a purpose. I was hiking a 15 minute mile and starting to feel good again. 
The saying goes, that hindsight is 20/20, and this holds extremely true what I'm about to tell you. Looking back, I can without question pinpoint this next moment as the exact moment I pulled out of my low and found my spark. As I mentioned before, I needed time and a little help for me to bounce back, and it appeared the SHT had bigger plans for me that to claim another victim. Sabrina ran the next two sections from Cramer Rd to Sawbill, and I can't recall exactly where this happened, but while we were hiking along, moving with purpose, I managed to do something for a split second I hadn't done much of all day. Something the trail, in all its rugged glory doesn't allow. I looked up. Without notice I stopped cold, turned off my headlamp, and told Sabrina to do the same. Confused, she followed instructions. 
"Look up". I don't live in the city. I see the night sky on nearly a daily basis. But I have NEVER seen the sky like this before. There was no ambient light. There was no sound. For those brief moments, the only thing in existence were Sabrina and I and the heavens, shining brighter than I have ever seen. Straight ahead, towering over us and everything else, stood Orion. Like a watchman over us, a sense that THIS is why I was out here flooded over me. I felt safe. I felt energized. I was ready to take this thing home. 
Sabrina and I made our way through Temperance, refueled with some pancakes and some bacon, and even paused for a photo opp with Bob Marsh. It was good to see my friend holding down the night, and I'd been looking forward to it all day. But the race called, and I knew what was looming ahead of us. We had to get moving. We had a peak to conquer. 
The next mile, maybe two I ran, and I ran hard. I was renewed by Orions light and ready to pull this thing together.  I tempered my legs a bit, knowing what was coming, but I felt good. I carried this all the way to the climb up Carlton's Peak. It was just as rugged and ruthless as I expected, and judging from the sounds coming from Sabrina behind me, she agreed. But I pushed on, and I pushed hard. I clawed and climbed my way up that peak, and at reaching our summit, I did something Sabrina wasn't expecting. I stopped again. Sabrina had some reservations about the sections she would be running. Night running was not her thing, and her pacing could have gone one of two ways. I could either have ran for the finish, probably putting me hours later in the day by the time she began her duties, or I could have done exactly what I was doing. Pushing hard, running fast, and putting together an ultimately great race. The latter however, placed her on the trail in the dark, and as excited as she was to get back on the SHT, she was going to miss most of it to darkness. However, as the night gave way to daylight, we reached the summit of our climb at the exact moment the sun began to rise. Yes, I was in a race, and yes, I still had goals, even if they had been adapted throughout the day. However, as my friend Kate says, and something I often need to remind myself, if it's not fun, its not worth it. I mean, if we can't appreciate what's around us, then why are we here? So without a second thought, I stopped, and once again told Sabrina to look up. If you've never watched the sun rise over lake Superior from the near top of Carlton's Peak, I recommend you do it sometime in your life. You won't be disappointed. 
Finally moving on, we reluctantly left our overlook and began the trek back down to Sawbill. It was quite uneventful, and to be honest, another low spot in my race. The climb had wiped me out, and after relinquishing the last two places I'd allow to a couple runners, we ran our way in to Sawbill. 

I was very disappointed with this aid station, as although they had been out there for hours, I was only the 11th runner through, and they weren't even completely set up yet. Not to mention the volunteers seemed tired and confused, I just bypassed the table and quickly made my way out of there. Sabrina turned over her pacing duties to my final pacer Justen, and we headed back up the trail. 
I have seen this section of trail before as I have ran the Spring Superior 50k, so I knew what was coming, and I almost allowed myself to become excited. I knew that this was some of the most runnable trail the Superior 100 had to offer. I also knew, however, that this potentially would be some of the wettest trail the Superior 100 had to offer, and it didn't disappoint. I briefly made attempts to avoid the mud, but the legs just weren't cooperating, and I found myself slipping right in the deepest sections. So it was here, with 12 miles to go, I started my charge and took everything the trail could throw at me. 
Sawbill to Oberg proved to be a difficult section and didn't move fast, but I was still moving with porpoise. It was also here that I took advantage of a trait that I have that most people 94 miles in to a run do not have. I have an uncanny ability to do math, and do math accurately! And according to my math, I could still pull off a sub 27. A sub 27 also happened to be my B goal, and a fire was lit under my ass. We ran in the last mile to Oberg, and if one hadn't known better, seeing me come out of the woods one would have a hard time believing I was 95 miles in to a race.

And here began the beginning of the end. In the full glory of the morning, I walked up to the TCRC aid station, where Kurt Decker offered me the best, still warm, chocolate chip pancakes I have ever eaten! My sudden high was quickly brought back down however, as I looked to the left and saw one of my new friends Aaron Ehlers sitting by the fire. This shouldn't have been a disturbing sight, but Aaron was in this race, and after getting so close last year, I was really hoping this was the year. I had been following his training, and he had been training hard. His IT band had other ideas though. 
I had a hard time leaving Oberg as I was in the company of two extraordinary gentlemen and a great set up. But a 27 was 2.5 hours away, and I would need every minute of it to finish the last 7.1 miles. 
At this time, I also changed shirts for the last time, and made the decision to drop all my water. Yes, you heard that right. 96.2 miles in to a race, I dropped ALL my water. I wasn't drinking it anyway, and I was only carrying around dead weight. I had the biggest of all the climbs ahead of me and wanted my hands free. So I hydrated heavily at the aid station and headed out for the final push with just a shirt, my shorts, and my shoes. 
This last section went by in a blur, and I honestly don't remember much of the details other than the climb up Moose Mountain and the final descent down Mystery Mountain. The climb as the hardest I've worked in my life, and I had all four cylinders pumping, hands on knees and one foot in front of the other; no stopping until we reached the top. I felt a little bad for Justen, because this climb was tough, but unlike Sabrina, I didn't allow any time for slowing down once we reached the top. I was a man possessed, and I would drop my pacer if I had to. I ran as much as I could and walked the descents when they became too steep for my quads. By the time we hit the switchbacks back up Mystery Mountain, I knew exactly where I was in terms of mileage, and if my math was correct, and I knew it was, I was going to cruise in to the finish with no threat of 27 hours. I am not one, however, a man to take things to chance, so when we started the descent down Mystery, I started running and I never stopped. It hurt. It hurt bad. I didn't care. I was less than two miles away from nothing hurting. From the hardest thing I have ever done being just that...done. 
One of the greatest sounds I have ever heard happened in the spring of 2013, when I came out of the Superior Hiking Trail and crossed the Poplar River. The roar of the rapids over the falls welcomes runners to Ski Hill Road, and the final downhill, paved mile to the finish at Caribou Highlands. The second my feet hit that pavement, and everything came together. All the pain went away. The fatigue, the sleep deprivation, the blisters. It all went away. I came through that last half mile in sub 8:00 pace, and when I rounded the pool to the finish, everyone who helped me get there was waiting. 
103.3 miles later. Let's do it again! 

The rest of the weekend went by too fast. My crew and I enjoyed some showers and some well deserved rest on the lawn of Caribou Highlands as we cheered in the other runners finish their own battles of endurance and self. I could have stayed there forever, and honestly, wanted to. Had I been alone and our cabin closer to the finish, I would have stayed until the end. But four other people had given up their lives and their families for four days to help ME accomplish my goal, and it was time for them to enjoy their spoils. We went back to the cabin and shared our war stories. We ate. We laughed. We had a beer. When the sun went down, we followed the live tracking and cheered when our friends came through. We lit a fire. We ate. We laughed. We had a beer. The next day we got up, met down by the lake one last time, and put an end to a perfect weekend. But as all good things must come to and end, so did this. It was bittersweet. We had set out what we came here to do. We conquered the SHT, and now, we had to head home. 
Not a goodbye, but an "until next year"

To all my friends back home. To all my friends in the UMTR and the ultra world. To all all the amazing people I met over the weekend. To the hundreds of volunteers who make this race happen. To John and Cheri Storkamp. I could not have done this race without you. I WOULD not have done this race without you. Thank you for showing me what's important. Thank you for being there for me. Thank you for being my family. For four wondrous days on the North Shore, I was home.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Friends: Afton Trail Run 50K

What a weekend! This one ranks up there was one of the best, and like many of my stories, this one starts a few weeks ago.

June 25th. My birthday. As many of you know, I have been transitioning out of a long, but very over relationship and dealing with the struggles of not being around my son on a daily basis. It has been a difficult time for me, but with the help of some friends, I have really made some strides towards becoming happy again and continuing the next chapter of my life. However, on June 25th, the old me, the drinker me, made a return visit, and ultimately, I said something stupid. Now I'll be the first to admit I say stupid things all the time, but this time, a friend was hurt. It was unintentional and ultimately far, far from the truth, but I said things and feelings got hurt.
The next week was a rough one. I carried around feelings of guilt and remorse, and while I tried to make things right, it wasn't my decision as to forgive me or not. And things were leaning towards not. I took this pretty hard, and moped around for much of the week trying to figure out how to make things right. Long story short, I was in a dark place. And one day in particular, Sunday the 30th, was darker than the rest. I was feeling especially down that day and was just about to give up hope. I hadn't made my friend feel any better and was about to throw in the towel. I needed a distraction, and I needed one bad. And then I got the text. The following are actual excerpts from the text conversation:

Shawn: I think Afton is still open. I'll get your registration for your birthday present (NO PACER DUTIES!!!) if you want to do it!

Me: Yeah why not.

Shawn: 25 or 50?

Me: Surprise me.

Shawn: Okay. You're in.

Me: So how far am I running?

Shawn: 50

Me: *giant exhale* alright, let's do this!

Like I said, I was looking for a distraction, and here it was. If Shawn had asked me 5 minutes sooner or five minutes later, I probably would have said no. But at that exact moment, I had a serious fuck it attitude. So here I was, one week away from a 50K I was physically ready for, but mentally a wreck and in no way prepared. The rest of the week was a battle between this being a good idea and this being a bad idea. Mid-week I was psyched, but by race eve, I was completely psyched out. Then, just like before, fate reared its head, and my phone rang.
At around 10:30 the night before my race, my friend, the one I had hurt, gave me a call. We talked a lot about everything, and nothing. For nearly an hour we just talked. It eventually did turn to the race and my doubts and fears about it. How I wasn't prepared, how the heat was making me nervous, yada yada yada. But somehow, even after our differences and misunderstandings, she knew exactly what I needed to hear, and by the time my phone cut our conversation short, not only had I forgot about the race, I wasn't nervous about it anymore either.
So the next morning, things went the same as all my races do. Nothing unusual happened. No great feelings of dread or excitement. Just a bottled up energy that I set aside as I prepped for the day. The race itself was exactly the same, and for those of you hoping to hear some crazy stories from the race itself, you can stop reading. The race went great. I felt great and the body held up. I ran smart, I hydrated smart, and the rest followed. That's it. That's all your getting. Everything from this point out is about the events that followed the race.
Afton was the first race that I have flown completely solo. Yes, I had many friends there, but no one that came with me. No one that I was staying with or that drove with me. I was completely on my own time and could do whatever I wanted. The race ended and I went and sat. By myself. I just sat and took in the event. I was still on a high from a new PR (4:22:39) and a 6th place finish and was just soaking it all in. I had bumped in to a few friends and was waiting for others to finish.  My sister even showed up to watch me finish, although since I had predicted a five hour race, she ultimately missed it by about 20 minutes! Sorry Shannon.

I was recovering nicely and moving around about the time my friend Shannon (from this point in the story all references to Shannon will be of my friend and not my sister), was just finishing running an amazing race as well. I ran over to the finish and congratulated her on her race. While she cleaned up,  I walked backwards down the course a ways and cheered on my friends and fellow runners as they brought home the last half mile. I told Shannon that I was gonna start walking and hopefully run in to our mutual friend Greg and help bring him home. It was then that she told me of his struggles, and that his day was not going as well.

The next hour and a half, Shannon and I hung out at the finish and waited for Greg. We watched as other friends finished, I was introduced to many new, great people, and we continued to wait. Being that we live in different towns, Shannon and I don't get to actually hang out too often, and although the circumstances of waiting for a friend who was well overdue were not the best, it gave us some time to really get in some quality bonding. Eventually, we did find Greg and cheered him in the last half mile, then headed back to the finish to continue to support our friend. We found a nice shady spot, took a seat and spent the next hour or so talking about our mornings, the ups and downs, and all the epicness that happened on the trails. More friends joined us, and I met more cool, new people. We talked about my crazy performance, about Gregs heroics in the aid of a fallen runner (who managed to finish the race thanks to his help) and all the stories of first timers and repeat offenders. It was truly the best way I could have spent my afternoon.

When it was finally time to move on, Greg, Shannon and I agreed that it was time for beer, and we headed to meet up with a few of Shannon's friends who were already out. We met up with them, enjoyed more great stories from the day, made more connections and more new friends. We even managed to make it to the Surly tap room (for those not in the know, Surly is a local brewery that makes amazing beer, and has a tap room with only Surly beer. It's nothing short of amazing) and continued just having an amazing time hanging out together. We talked about what runners talk about. We talked hydration, nutrition (our mutual love of potatoes and salt) and upcoming races. We talked about family and friends. We talked.
But like all great things, they must eventually come to an end. All of us had some sort of a drive a head of us, and we eventually parted ways.

I am always going to remember the 2013 Afton Trail Run. But it's not gonna be the PR or the 6th place finish I reminisce about as the years go by. I will tell the story of this race, with a smile on my face from ear to ear, because I will be talking about my friends. It will be about the new friends I made and the two friendships that were solidified even more. It will be about the support of an upset friend who still cared enough to be there for me when I needed it.  It will be about the love of the sport in which we all curse and praise.
Runners are the greatest people on earth, and I am thankful I am a part of it.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Superior Spring Races 50KM

So like most of these race reports, I have no idea where to start. So I'll start at the beginning.

As most of you know, I live in Minnesota, home of the Superior Hiking Trail. And as most of you know, I have taken up the sport of Ultra Marathoning. Until this past weekend, I have not put these two things together. As my interest in Ultras grew (and continues to grow), so does the options to try new trails and see new places. I plan on some day competing in a 100 mile trail race, but have yet to make any decisions as to which would be my first. Locally, the options are limited, but there are a few. The Zumbro 100 is in early April, and being from this great state of Minnesota, this worries me. Winter can be a fickle mistress in these parts, and training for a 100 mile race over the winter can be difficult, if not near impossible. Toss in a year like we had this year, and it's still snowing in May. Zumbro out. This brings us to Superior. The Superior Fall Races has three different races including a Marathon, 50 miler and a 100 miler. It's a late season race so training would work, but the rumors and stories of the brutality of the SHT loomed over my head. Running my first 100 on a course I've never set foot on (with that reputation) scared me a little.

So enter the Superior Spring Races. The perfect opportunity to get a heads up as to what all the talk on these trails is all about. Superior Spring offers two distances; a 25KM and a 50KM. I eagerly awaited registration to open, and the day it did, I was signed up for the 50KM.

The months passed and the training, although off to a slow start, was progressing nicely and I was feeling confident that I would be able to really go for it and see what I was made of. My first 50KM was ran just to finish. I was a rookie and didn't know what to expect. My next ultra was the North Face Challege 50 miler. Again, this was ran just to finish as I had no idea what to expect from a run of that distance. So now ultra number three. By no means am I a seasoned vet, but I figured that I've seen the distance, I've trained for the distance, and I know my body just a little bit better. So this time I was going to test my mettle.

About two weeks prior, Superior began sending runners updates on the course. Included in these updates were some photos:
With the weather forecast for highs in the low 50's and a good chance of rain throughout the coming weeks, I had no hopes that this course would be in very good condition by race day. I wasn't too worried about the snow, but with all the rain added on to the melting snow, the mud was going to be a given. I had no real idea of a time goal for this race being I've never seen these trails, but any goal I may have come up with was surely thrown out the window (I won't even get in to the three week old chest cold I was fighting a loosing battle with). Looks like another race ran just to finish.

Fast forward to race day.

With my gear packed and my trusty crew Chief Justen close behind, we headed towards the check in and the starting line. A quick message from the RD, then I stripped off the hoody, tossed it to Justen, and it was time to go. The race started like any other ultra starts, with a huge rush of excitement followed by an underwhelming take off. There were 167 starters in the day's 50KM, and it quickly spread out to what would be the packs that would hold together throughout the morning. I tucked in the middle of the second pack of runners, and quietly cruised my way in to the trails. At this point, the legs felt like lead, but it was not the tired bad lead I had been feeling all week. This was different, and I knew that all my worries from a horrible two weeks prior were gone. The first two miles of the race wound it's way up the first climb, and I comfortably worked my way up. Being that these hills were runnable and walking wasn't necessary, a grabbed hold of a small group of runners and began working my way through the field. Still taking it easy and not pushing, we made our way to the top and headed toward the decent on the other side. It was here that I made my decision. The same decision I had made weeks prior. I was gonna race this thing. I was going to either have the race of my life, or the biggest blow up I have ever experienced. No matter which happened, it was going to be EPIC!

About four miles in we hit our first significant downhill, which was also my first dose of reality and look in to what was in store for me for the rest of the morning. Keeping in the back of my mind that this was an out and back course, I made a mental note of this spot. This climb was going to be brutal. But that's not what worried me. I was four miles in to a 31 mile race, and my quads were already feeling the downhills. All I could think about was "epic". Still hanging on to the same group of guys (six of us), we wound our way to the bottom and came out at the first aid station, Oberg, in 1:15. Oberg was staged at mile 7.75, or so I thought, but when we arrived my Garmin was just rolling over to mile seven. Later I would learn that between the switchbacks and the climbs, Garmins were basically useless. It was already .75 miles off. Mental note.

A very quick stop for an S-Cap and a GU (have I mentioned I have one of the best crew chiefs out there) and I took off, leaving my six partners at the aid station. I headed in to the next section, a 5.5 mile stretch of "rolling hills" feeling confident and fast. Maybe a little too confident and fast as once again, like all my races, I left the aid station way too fast. I eventually settled back down and in to an aggressive but comfortable pace (again, no idea since the Garmin wasn't accurate), and all alone, made my way towards the next aid station. Alone is where I stayed for the next few miles, until finally working down some switchbacks, I could here some voices up ahead. I worked my way down pretty hard in an effort to catch up, then tucked in behind them for a little recovery before I would evaluate my next move. We hung together as a group for another mile or so, with the lead runner cracking jokes the whole time. This continued on until one of the runners took a little fall. Though he wasn't hurt, he and his friend took a brief stop to collect themselves, and myself and the other runner continued on ahead.  It was a this point, that although I can't be certain, I swear the runner in front of me was trying to break me. Once we separated from the other two, this guy (I would later find out through conversation his name was Marcus) just took off. Being who I am, I went with, and it was on. He was definitely a stronger downhill runner than I was (and also a local who trained on these trails), but I would make it up in the uphills and continued with him for most of this section. It was finally about a half mile or more to the next aid station when he shut it down and I cruised past him to the next section.

I rolled in to Sawbill aid station and searched for Justen, but when I didn't see him I made a quick stop at the food table for a bottle refill. Justen quickly appeared and I grabbed another S-Cap and headed back out for the last little section and the turn around, which was the climb up and then back down Carlton Peak.   *Note: I did not run with my phone of camera of any kind, but Justen and I headed back the next day to hike this section, so fall photos are from this hike*

Carlton Peak started out "'easy" enough, and I was able to cruise around and quite enjoy the trails. I was again alone, but this time I just ran my pace and wasn't worried about catching anyone. We were nearing the turn around also, so this was the section where the leaders began working their way back, and some tight passes where involved.
Gradually, the climbs began and the trails began to become more difficult. I never noticed during the race as my head was constantly looking down to avoid disaster, but Carton Peak was looming overhead. Had I looked up and seen this, I may have quit right there. The final climb to the peak came out of nowhere, and to say I was unprepared for it would be an understatement.
Typical footing for the last mile of the climb

Some humbling trail
From this point much of the course was hiked. Being so steep and so muddy and washed out it was just impossible to even consider running. I eventually reached the summit, and was greeted by something unexpected. Well, it wasn't totally unexpected as I had read about this guy prior to the race, but it wasn't until later that I got the answer I had forgotten.  On top of Carlton Peak was a man dressed as what I can only describe as Wild Bill Hickok. Here's a bit of his story:

 "That was Charlie "Chuck" Hubbard - one of the, if not the best, all time trail-ultrarunner in our state. Charlie is just running for fun now days but if you look back in the archives of Afton, Superior, Trail Mix, Big Horn, Ed Fitz and many other races, Charlie was winning them and setting course records - he was almost unstoppable. Great guy."

I tell you what, that was probably exactly what I needed to see. I had completely forgot about that ridiculous climb and as tired as I was, I was ready to head back down. It would have been nice to hang out a second and check out the view, but some pretty think fog was rolling in, and mixed with the rain we were getting, visibility was pretty low. I did manage to make it back up there the next day however:
The trek back down was pretty uneventful and slow, and not much to report. After reaching Sawbill on the return trip, Justen's first words for me were "How was that for you?" I could only answer the same way I was on everything else...BRUTAL!

Nothing really changed much through the next 5.5 miles either, and things didn't really get too difficult until I reached Oberg for the final aid and the final push to the finish. At this point, the end was nearing and I began to think about where I might actually finish this thing. Remembering it took 1:15 to get here on the out trip, I checked my watch (I also had a watch going in case of Garmin malfunctions). If my hazy math was correct, I had 1:22 to make it back in five hours, a goal that I had in the back of my mind but thought would be near impossible on these trails.  Oberg was also the turn around point for the 25KM that started two hours after us, so it was hopping with activity. Being that time was now a precious commodity, I sucked down two S-Caps while Justen topped off one of my bottles, and I bolted out of Oberg after barely a stop. I had two GU's in my pocket and if they were needed they would be taken on the run. 
I headed in to the final 7.75, ready for that climb. Turn after turn I expected to see it, but it never came. I was so focused on remembering this climb, that I had forgot about the 1-2 miles of flat before it. Finally it came, and just as I remembered it, it was brutal. Ironically, although a slow hike, this was probably one of my strongest points in the race compared to other runners. I put my hands on my knees and my head down and started pushing. Step after step I climbed higher and higher, but it never seemed to end! Eventually I reached the top and again looking at my watch, was ready to make that push. Unfortunately, my body wasn't, and one of a runner's most annoying hold ups hit me. A side stitch. Off all the things that could have gone wrong; painful falls, muscle cramps, malnutrition and hydration, I was done in by a side stitch? I don't fucking think so! I'm blaming this thing on my chest cold and the fact that some major fog had just rolled in, but it wasn't much for consolation. I fought that bitch up and down to the final climb before I managed to get rid of it enough to run again. Probably two miles of walking. So much wasted time. I had no solid idea as to how far the finish was and I had pretty much given up hope on a sub five hour race. The night before, I went out for a little 2 mile leg stretcher, so I know where one mile to go was, and corner after corner, it never seemed to arrive. Ten minutes to go, not there yet. Nine minutes to go, not there yet. Shit. 

Then something amazing happened. I rounded a corner, and there in front of me...the bridge.
This bridge crossed over the river one last time, and was the end of the trail...less than a mile from the finish. I looked down at my watch again. Seven minutes! I would have to run my last mile in nearly seven minutes, but dammit, I was not getting this close and not making it! The final mile was all gradual downhill, and I used that gravity to run as hard as I could to the finish, rounding that last corner in to the snow and mud patch that blocked the loop around the pool. In to the open now I looked up and saw the clock. 4:58 and some change. If I had any energy left, I would probably have started crying from happiness. Officially, I crossed the line in 4:58:46 and found a nice quiet spot to lay down and take off my mud caked shoes. I had just ran the Superior Hiking trail, and it kicked my ass. But not before I tore it a new one! 

The rest of the day was spend showering and heading back to the finish to watch my friends come in. Shawn Severson, running her first ultra ever, came in ninth overall, second in her age ground and was the 2013 USATF-MN Masters Ultramarathon Champion! Kaboom! Mind blown! My friend Greg also conquered the SHT and had a very solid race, only minutes off his lofty goal! Everyone got cleaned up and rested and joined together for some beers and to rehash our war stories. It was probably one of my best days I've had in a while. 

So, will the SHT be host to my very first 100 miler? Probably not. Will I ever run 100 miles on the SHT? You better fucking believe it! 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Full Circle

Three years ago, I invited myself along on a friends journey, and so the adventure began.

For those of you who recall a while back, the resurgence of my running career began a few years back, when my friend Justen signed up for the North Face Endurance Challenge 10k in what is advertised as Madison, WI. A former runner myself, hearing him talk of this upcoming weekend brought something back to me that I had been missing, and so in keeping with formalities, I asked him if he would like a running partner for the weekend. I won't bore you with (and I don't remember) the details of this race except for a very brief conversation we had while at the start/finish area. There we were, standing around watching the other runners, and admiring the 50 milers in particular. Thinking how crazy that would be, neither of us could imaging doing it, but both of us agreed it was on our "list". Someday.

Fast forward to last Saturday. It's 4:50 a.m. and I'm standing in the dark with 221 other runners listening to Dean Karnazes ask "who is running their first 50?" Fifty freaking miles. Here I was, at the starting line of the SAME event from three years ago that got this whole madness rolling listening to a legend in the ultra world wish us all good luck and to have a good run. I didn't know it at the time, but while listening to one ultra running celebrity, I was currently standing right behind another. Ian Sharman, a growing name among the ultra world, and eventual winner that day, was standing right there, applauding all of us 50 "virgins" and those others hoping to qualify for Western States.
A sea of headlamps 

The race itself started out pretty uneventful.  The first 6.7 miles went by quickly and dark. Mostly wooded ski trails, the footing was good and the rolling hills kept the mind occupied. I found my pace (a 9-9:30 range), tucked behind a small group of runners, and spent the next hour plus listening to others tell their tales of ultras and running. Feeling good, I cruised in to the first aid station, where my crew of Justen (the same) waited with my pre-mixed fluids and grabbed any gear that needed shedding. A quick heads up on what he should expect from me at the next crewable aid station at mile 21.1 and I was back on the trails quickly.

The next 14.5 miles kind of went by in a blur. Pretty uneventful, I kept an effort to maintain around a 9-9:30 pace, but occasionally found myself pushing 8:30. Somewhere in this section I realized I was thinking too much about the "race" and how I was "running" and sticking with other runners. I started to take in my surroundings and let everything go, letting the other runners fade around the corners and out of sight and mind, and I quickly settled in to a rhythm and a pace that was mine. This portion of the race brought the first section of the Ice Age Trail, and ironically, the second we hit it, the temps dropped about 10 degrees! However, the morning was warming and it was welcome. The Ice Age trail was narrow undulating single track with some short climbs and steady decents. A perfect trail for this portion of the race. Mixed with several short and long wooded "bridges" and walking paths, this trail provided just enough to keep the mind occupied.

Cruising in to aid station #4, I quickly spot Justen and indicate a shoe change is in order. I started the day wearing my Vibram Spyridon's, and though my feet were still feeling good, I sensed wearing these much longer might bring a whole other story. So I slipped on my NB MT10's, grabbed some more food and another handheld refill, and heading back to the trail towards my next goal: Aid station #5 and mile 28.2. This section of the course is the most undulating that I encountered all day. The course guide states that is "keeps the mind busy". I suppose if swearing at every uphill you come across for 7 miles is keeping the mind busy, then it did it's job. The hardest part of this section wasn't the hills. I walked the hills. It was actually some nice recovery. The hard part was never getting in to a rhythm. Finding the motivation to start running again when you could see up ahead that you would be walking up another hill in 50 meters was difficult. Knowing that due to the extra walking that this 7 miles would take nearly twice as long as normal was excruciating and nearly disheartening. But it was planned and expected, and I kept telling myself that this was all planned for. Finally climbing out of the hills, the course opened up to a prairie section and some warming sun. This section also introduced some out and back, which gave us the opportunity to see some of the front runners cruising along like they weren't even working! It was actually pretty cool and kept me entertained while I battled the hills.

Aid station #5 came up and again I met up with Justen. While he refilled my handhelds, I headed to the food table and really took advantage of what they offered for the first time that day. By this point, although I was not keeping up with my calories like I should have been, and I had only eaten a few GU's so far, sweet didn't sound too appealing. Then I saw them. Potatoes. And salt. My savior! Seriously, the best thing offered all day. Although the chicken broth sounded amazing as well had I had read that it works wonders, I passed due to the day's rising temps. This was also the time of day when the physical battle took a back seat to the mental. Already farther than I had ran in any training run all year, I new that I was getting in to unfamiliar territory and would soon be running farther than I have ever ran (previously 35.6). "Just an average Saturday run left" I told Justen, and with some encouragement from a volunteer who agreed with me, I was off to tackle those damn hills again!

Heading back in to the prairie and towards those hills was not an easy task. The heat was nearing it's high (I believe upper 70's) and knowing what was a head of me made for little motivation, but again I kept telling myself I was getting some good "rest" while walking that I would need near the end. I was also now heading back towards those runners behind me, and it was very cool and fun to see them pushing on as well and cheering them on as they did me. It was sometime shortly after leaving the last aid station that I also realized something important. Early in the race, I was peeing. I wasn't anymore. Not only that, I could feel my quads tightening. Fuck. I was getting dehydrated. I had 32 oz to get me through seven miles, and unlike the other aid stations, this time I intended to arrive at the next one empty. With a mile to go, I did just that, and came cruising in to the last crew accessible aid station completely dry.

As part of my race plan, I broke the run into three phases, with the individual aid stations as sub phases to keep my mind occupied from how much distance I had remaining. Leaving Station #6 was the beginning of my third stage, and the final 15 miles of my race.  With a new plan to stay hydrated and a couple salt capsules in me, I pressed on. The return trip went much the same as the first time through, though rejoining the major trail system brought us back to join in with what were now runners from the other races that day. This turned out to be a bit of a blessing, as by now us 50 milers were thinning out and it was nice to see some signs of life out there. But even better than that were the reactions of those 50k'ers and marathoners. One might think that being passed by someone running 50 miles would have been disheartening to them, but the reactions were just the opposite. Excitement and cheers were commonplace, and I don't think it could have come at a better time. Nearing Station #7, I found out just how important those 50k'ers could be. As I approached a group of runners ahead of me, the "leader" of their group noticed I was running the 50 mile, and promptly and enthusiastically shouted "50 miler coming through! Way to go man! You are my hero for the day!" I wearily and kindly returned the thanks and encouragement back to them, and joined them for the final quarter mile to the next aid station, laughing and forgetting about everything but enjoying the moment.

Amongst all that camaraderie aside, I still had a mission ahead of me, and now it was getting real. I had entered the day with the goal of finishing. Just accomplishing that would have been enough. But me being me, I also put in a time goal. One that if everything went perfect and according to plan, I felt confident that I could accomplish. This goal was 10 hours. Throughout the day, and with the aid of my Garmin, I was keeping tabs on this goal in the back of my mind. Always slightly ahead of this goal, I knew and planned that I would soon be slowing down, and that things would average out. Mile by mile, I remained under this goal, and as the miles ticked away, so did any doubts as to accomplishing this goal. But it was station #7 were this hit the hardest, and the adrenaline started coming back. I was now at mile 40.2, and had just under 10 miles to go. At my current goal pace of 12 minute miles, I would finish in just over nine hours. Barring any major disaster, I would crush my goal. Keeping my station stop brief, I refilled refueled, popped another salt capsule, and charged towards the next and final aid station. It was about 200 yards in to this next section that I calmed down and reminded myself that, although only 10 left, this was nearly two hours away. So I pressed on, but never really took my eyes off that watch.

As prepared as I was for this race, I have to be honest that I really didn't study the race guide like I should have. I knew where all the aid stations were and which ones were crewable. I knew when and where I would make gear changes and where I would make any kind of move or decision as to my race. But somewhere in those 45 miles, I lost track of how far the last aid station was, and more importantly, how far I had left AFTER that final aid station. So, when I pulled in to station #8 and over heard a volunteer telling another running "only 3.7 to go", I almost choked on my potatoes! "Wait, how far did you say" I asked, and he confirmed what I had wanted to hear. Even though I was wearing a GPS watch that told me how far I had ran, I still had it in my head that there were about 5 miles to go. I had lost all sense of the physical and was now feeding only off of those numbers running through my head.

Hearing this amazing news, I dropped my food, grabbed my handhelds, and headed straight for the finish. I quickly did the math, and if I maintained the 12 minute miles I had planned from the start, I would finish in just UNDER nine hours! From this point on, the count down had begun. Every half mile, I re-evaluated and saw that finish time get lower and lower. With a just under two to go, my lack of caloric intake had caught up with me, and my stomach was pissed. But I made a deal. "Stomach, you have 20 minutes to go. If you get me to that finish line, I promise you I will find a tent, head behind it, and you can throw up all you want, but you are NOT puking now!" Somehow, it agreed, and with half a mile to go, I exited the trail and hit the pavement that led back to the visitors center, and the finish. It's funny, because normally at this point, I put down that final kick to the finish. I to be honest with you, I think I may have tried! But the legs just kept pressing forward at their current pace and that was good enough for me. I was going to CRUSH my goal of 10 hours. Justen was just ahead to jog me in a little, and the finish festival was in sight and beaming with excited fans and runners waving me home.

So here I am, 8:47:20 later, finishing my first 50 mile run. Looking at this picture, I remember being a little more excited crossing that line, but I guess this was all I could muster! I was greeted by Justen and hundreds of excited fans, and although I couldn't express it, I was happy. I spent the next hour getting water and unsuccessfully trying to bring my heart rate down. I was over heated and exhausted, and I spent a good 40 minutes in the shade behind a tent. But things got better, I was able to walk around and take in some of the events of the day, including the awards ceremony, where I watched Dean Karnazes award the winners, and Ian Sharman. It was now me who was applauding him. They day had come full circle. Just as I have.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


61 miles, 24 hours, one hell of a story!

September 3rd, 2011 was such a crazy day, I almost don't even know where to begin.  I guess it all started as a challenge. Not a personal challenge. Not a dare. Just "a challenge". While logging my miles on DailyMile one day, I was cruising through some of my "friends" entries and there it was. Staring at me. The Do Epic Shit 24 Hour Non Jog challenge, posted my fellow DM'er, the Una Runner (aka, Logan). I was intrigued. A friendly challenge set up to see how many miles one could log in a 24 hour period. Set up because he was missing out on an actual 24 hour trail race, this was more of challenge for Logan, and a way to inspire others along the way (at least that's my interpretation, cause that's what eventually happened with me, but I'm getting to that). "This guy is nuts"I thought, although this wasn't surprising in the least because Logan has been doing some pretty insane/epic things since I started following his training. I continued to log my miles and that was the end of that. Or not.

The next day, there it was again. Another post promoting his "Do Epic Shit 24 Hour Non Jog" challenge. This time I clicked the link and read the description. Why I did it, I'm still not sure. Maybe I just finished a good run and was feeling daring. Maybe my sub-conscience was looking for excuses to do the extraordinary, but I clicked join. What the hell, right? I had no goals of winning the thing (and not the point of the challenge), and in the least I could see what I was made of. Besides, I could stop at any time.

The weeks went by and the day of the challenge arrived. I had it all previously worked out to run multiple shorter runs with brief to extended breaks throughout the day, with a goal of 50 miles in mind. Unlike Logan, I would not be running for long periods of time. He was training for an upcoming ultra; I was not running an ultra until next year. I decided I would run between midnight and midnight. At least that was the plan. I finally hit the road for the first of my runs at 1:30 am. Five miles later, I was back in bed and getting some sleep before my son woke. I was voluntarily losing a large chunk of my day. I wasn't taking this too seriously, remember (lay on the heavy foreshadowing here)?

The first half of the day is really a boring story. I woke up early, snuck in a treadmill run, then got my son ready and brought him to his grandma's. Then I ran. Then I ran again. And again. Five miles here, 10 miles there, and so on. By 4:00 pm, I was 16 hours in to my day and had 40 miles behind me. Up until this point, I was feeling good and actually having a good time! But somewhere out there, something happened. Somewhere in those runs, I decided that I actually wanted to do this thing! 

The plan for the whole day was to keep the runs short in hopes that, although it would make getting in the miles more difficult, it would make the miles I did run a little easier. But now I had new goals creeping in my head. 60 was not out of the realm of possibility, and should I dare even think of the idea of more? Blinded by these elusions of grandeur, I decided mid run to make a 10 miler into a 15 miler (ended up at 13). If I was going to do this, I needed to get moving. These are the moments when I need to tell myself that I am an idiot. A week of mental preparation and planning thrown out the window mid run? Yep. I am an idiot. I survived the run, but by the time I got back, it was over. Hell, the run put me at 53 on the day. A number I could have been proud of. Shit, it even surpassed my goal. I had four hours left on my day and my body was ready to call it a success. Unfortunately, my body is connected to my brain, and after 53 miles, it wasn't working too properly! 

I went home and regrouped. A couple hours on the couch, a few slices of pizza, and the best Newcastle I have ever had in my life later, and I was feeling refreshed (as refreshed as someone who just ran 53 miles can be anyway). Although motivated for one final push, I had no willpower to head back in to the darkness to finish this right, so I sally'd up (apologies to any Sally's out there) and hit the treadmill for one final push.  I kept it slow, I cranked the tunes, and I hit the start button. With every mile closer to 60, I could feel myself getting stronger, more excited. Every mile closer I was hitting the speed button and speeding up just a bit (I also just wanted it to be over). 60 came and went and I ended the day running the same pace I started with a grand total of 61 (it just seemed cooler than 60)! 

The story could, and for all purposes, does end here. But this day, these runs, could not have been possible without the support of those enduring (and following) the pain along with me. To all my fellow DM'ers who cheered myself and others on as we attempted the "Epic", I thank you. My motivation lies with you (and a little internal competition). I am truly grateful. 

Friday, August 19, 2011


Apparently, unbeknownst to me, I do NOT have superhuman strength.  My body has limitations, and last week, I had to acknowledge them.
2010 was my comeback year. The first year back from a 7 year hiatus from running. I build a small, but solid base of miles and topped off a successful year with a 36 minute marathon PR.
2011 was going to be my building year, and for the most part it started out as just that. I started running right away, January 1st. I acquired a treadmill and I hit the rubber running. A couple months later my VFF's arrived and I began working on building my foot and leg strength. I even started doing some light workouts in the gym at my work during my breaks.
But somewhere along the lines things changed. I started getting good again.  May brought upon me my second marathon since the comeback, and fourth overall. Since I wasn't running this marathon for a goal time and instead running with a friend who would be running his first, I went in to this race relaxed and confident. The pace was slow and there were plenty of walk breaks, but five hours after the start we crossed the finish line. I was not tired. At all. Sure, the legs had there tender areas, but for the most part, I felt like I could have kept going for hours. This was, to say the least, a confidence booster. I was in better shape than I thought. And what does one do when they realize that things are going great? They change them.
With my new found swagger, I went home and started searching new training plans. Since my ultimate goal is to run an ultra in 2012, I thought what better opportunity than to start now! Not to get cocky, I convinced myself that this was an experiment of sorts; this was a good time to start testing out various ultra plans. I would alter where it needed altering, and cut back when necessary. That was the plan anyway.
I jumped right in to my new plan, and for two solid months, it was going great. My body was reacting nicely, and I felt great.  It wasn't until the last week in July that I noticed that my runs were getting harder and my legs weren't recovering like they used to. Just two weeks earlier I had run 24 miles and would have gone more if time allowed, but now I was struggling with 10-12. It didn't take much to tell me that something needed to change, and that change had to come from my training.
I made the decision to take (nearly) a week off from running. Not just to rest my body, but to rest my mind. The plan was that I would finish my long runs for that weekend, and then rest until my next long run the following weekend. This would give me 5 full days of recovery, but allow me to only miss 23 miles on the week (I was still having the ego problem and thought this was a good compromise).  The week went off without a hitch and after five days the fatigue was subdued and my mind refreshed. Friday rolled around and I headed out the door to run what I had hoped to be a 20+ mile run. My schedule had me at 4 hours, but I figured if I could hit 20, I would be satisfied considering the week off. When I strolled up the driveway at mile 14 for my gear change and refueling, I decided that I had run enough.
Sure, I was tired, but no more than I normally am at 14 miles. It took a few hours, but later that day I realized what was happening. During that last week of running prior to my break, I felt myself giving up earlier and earlier in my runs. My mind was weak. This was partly the reason I had decided to take the break in the first place. It had seemed that this metal funk I was in hadn't completely gone away. I found myself making excuses. Excuses as to why I should sleep in. Excuses as to why sleeping in has left me short on time to run long. Excuses as to why making it up tomorrow will be alright.
Currently, I am still battling these excuses, but am coming closer to a resolve with them. With my final marathon of the season looming, I have found peace in a new running schedule. This super-hero's krytonite is and has always been his mind. With every obstacle I run in to I find a new way to overcome it. I have no doubts that by race time, I will have hurdled this obstacle too. Come this October, I may not be running for a marathon PR in a cape, but I do have a fancy new pair of tights!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

My Annual Beat Down

It happened again. About the same time every year I run into some sort of snag in my training. Whether it be weather, illness, injury, or motivation, somehow my training always gets derailed. Any one of these things can really put the breaks on an otherwise successful summer.  This year I have ran in to four.

After a miserable winter/spring, I was ready for some warmer weather. I did not however, mean like this. Temps of mid to upper 80's have dominated most of the summer, which actually came late this year. I really don't recall much of a spring and vaguely remember the last run that the weather was pleasant. Handling the heat is one thing, which for those of you who really know me, I do not do well.  What makes this summer especially awful is the humidity. Humidity levels in the 80-100% (yes, 100%) have all but done me in. Throw in the Minnesota Summer storms and scheduling runs around this weather is near impossible.

Obstacle #2 this year was illness. I rarely get sick, and when I do it's usually one of those 24 hour deals, but this year I was hit by the flu hard. Four days of actual sickness, a 102F temperature, and a week to recover stalled my new training plan before it could even get started. I am just now getting over it.

Next up is support, or lack there of. This one is new to me. In years past, I've always had teammates supporting me. Even my parents and sister, although they think I'm crazy, have given me support. This year is different. I now have a family of my own, and with it a newly selfish partner.  To give her some credit, she did bear my child, and for that I am ever grateful. And pre child, our lives were quite different. We each had our things and gave each other the space when needed. Now however, to make scheduling around work and child even more difficult, those few times I do find to get my runs in, she makes me feel guilty for leaving, thus forcing me to find even odder times of the day to run. Late night runs or very early morning runs seem to be the only time I get, which is difficult due to my 2nd shift job. And I am OK with this. Years of working as a bartender (which I thankfully no longer do) have taught me the patience of a saint. What gets me is her unwillingness to change. Apparently she doesn't need to make sacrifices from her old life, and often ends up staying after work (she's still a bartender) and having "a couple".  Like I said, I am OK with this...for now. It's been 15 months since our son was born and the time is coming where no longer can we live those lives.  I made the decision to stop. It's not that hard. Now it's her turn.

All these lead up to the final hurdle. Motivation. I am tired, hot, abused and broken. Each week that goes by; each long run missed makes it harder the next week to get out and do it again. I have taught myself tricks. I have learned to lie to myself and keep going. One of these days I'm going to catch on, and I can only hope that I do not break.

I have found some great support in friends, both those I know and those whom I have never met. Thanks to those runners who have "taken me in" and kept me motivated. Thanks to those total strangers who daily congratulate others on their accomplishments, great or small.  You have taught me more than you know, but that's a whole other blog.