Joining the fat tire set

For couple of years now I’ve been interested in fat tire bikes. I test rode some a year ago, and then again twice this year. I really love the smooth feel of them, and I’d hope that it might be something to help me get outside biking in the winter a bit more. Plus, we have lots of single track around here that I’ve never been able to do on my road-focused tires of my fitness bike.

In my deliberations I tried out a bunch of different brands: Surly, Trek, Framed, Felt, and Salsa. I enjoyed most of them but felt most comfortable on things like the Trek Farley 5 and the Framed Wolftrax. They had a more comfortable geometry for me, and didn’t feel as aggressive. Ever since I test road the Framed bikes I’ve been pulled towards them. They’re really great feeling bikes at a much lower price point than other brands, plus they’re a Minnesota company.

In this same time period I also joined a local FB group for people to post bike items up for sale. The other week I came across a 2 year old Framed Wolftrax at a really great price and so I reached out to the owner to take a look. Long story short, it was is pretty good shape and the price was right, so I got it. It needed a few things tweaked on it (I have no idea what he was doing with the limiter screws….), and a new front disc rotor, but that was easily fixed.

I took it out for a little ride to a local brewery on Wednesday and had a blast. I can tell it’s more work to move, but I was able to keep up with a 14mph pace that the group was doing. That’s a fast pace for me on my regular bike to begin with. Needless to say, in the winter, or off-road, I’m not going to be concerned with pace, so this works out just fine. I’m excited to get it out there more in the coming weeks and get more comfortable with off-road riding.

If you’ve never tried a fat tire bike, give it a shot sometime. It’s incredibly fun, and a great way to get around.

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Race Report: Surf the Murph 25K

This year was the 10th annual Surf the Murph races at Murphy-Hanrehan Park down in Savage, MN. All the way back in 2015, Surf the Murph was my very first 50K and ultramarathon race. Despite the fact that I’m not in love with the course, we’ve managed to make our way back every year since. In 2016 we signed up for the 50K, but only did one loop and decided to step down to the 25K. Then last year and this year we’ve simply elected to do the 25K and call it good. This year in particular required us to do a shorter distance, because my wife’s little brother was getting married that afternoon and I was the officiant!

We arrived to the park much earlier than we needed to for an 8am start, but parking at Surf can be a challenge. We decided to get there before the 50Kers launched, find a spot, and take a nap before we had to begin. The air was cold, in the mid-30s, but the real issue was the wind. It was blowing around 27mph with even quicker gusts. I chose to do two layers when I dressed, but then seeing the wind, I make a decision to toss on my sweat jacket. I needed something to add a layer of wind blockage for times when I’d be out on the prairie sections. The added layer made some of the forest sections a bit warm, but every time I hit an exposed path, I was grateful for the wind block. In future, I think I’d do well to pick up a small Houdini shell, or something similar to act as a wind block.

The first part of the course is quite hilly, which means that I get out of the blocks much slower than I would on other courses that have a warm-up section. In addition, I’ve been dealing with a flare-up of my general anxiety disorder this past 2 weeks, and it’s made me feel like crap a lot. I’ve talked a bit about anxiety here before, and once again I can affirm that it sucks. Strange sensations all over your body that come and go (and make you think you’re having a heart attack), along with a general sense of dread, really impede your ability to focus on putting in a good race.

Despite all of this, I made it to the first aid station feeling OK, and proceeded to start the Triple Hills (it’s just like it sounds, and they suck). In this section my wife Lisa caught up to me and we spent a bit of time together before I got a little bit of energy and moved on ahead to the horse camp aid station. I blew through the second aid station as quick as I could and started on the next section which is the first of the prairie areas. My wife caught me again, and it was then that I was probably at my lowest point. As we walked a bit together I contemplated quitting. I knew that if I couldn’t keep up with my wife, that it would be best for me to just stop. Especially considering our time crunch that we were under for the wedding later.

img_3636However, I decided to just stick with her as long as I could and see how it went. She’s been training incredibly hard this summer, and has been working with a coach. This brought our abilities a little bit closer together, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that she was doing as good as she was. We launched into a nice jog and distracted each other with some conversation.

I’m not sure if it was the endorphins, the company, or just my body being nice to me, but shortly before the Natchez aid station I felt my anxiety start to lift. Natchez is one of the aid stations that is REALLY hard to leave. The TRECs running group that we’re a part of puts it on and it’s filled with all of our friends. We spent far too long visiting and eating before getting back on the trail. Despite the delay, it was really nice to see everyone. Plus, it was nice to get a pick-me-up before the boring road section that leads to the second prairie area.

img_3635One of the things that bugs me about the Surf course is that it’s laid out so that three loops equals a 50 mile race. However, 25K times 3 does not equal 50 miles. That means that the Surf 25K and 50K are actually very long for the distance that they’re advertising. Each loop is about 1.2 miles longer than it’s supposed to be (16.7 vs 15.5). I’m a trail runner. I totally get that our distances are kinda squishy and that a 50K might be 29 miles, or maybe 32, but where Surf rubs it in is that they actually post a 16 mile sign on the course! That sign is a big slap in the face to remind you that YOU’RE STILL NOT DONE.

For some courses, it’s just the way that it goes. However, with Surf there’s actually a super easy fix that could change the course to make it a true 25K. In fact, the very first year I did the course there was a poorly marked turn and I missed a small little 1 mile side loop. I kept going on the path that was in front of me and very quickly reunited with the proper course. When I got done with my first loop my watch was a nice 15.7 miles. Right in that sweet spot for a 25K. However, that’s not the way that the course is laid out and so Lisa and I made the left hand turn on to what we’re affectionately called The Fucking Loop.

img_3629By this point I was actually feeling pretty good and I knew that Lisa was hitting her typical wall around mile 12. I also knew that she wanted to get a 4 hour finish so I started adjusting my thinking into pacer mode. As we turned onto the loop I started belting out a corny rendition of Home on the Rage with some truly amazing twang. Lisa joined in and we had a brief few moments of silliness before putting out heads down and getting it done. Our only interruption was when Mark M. suck up behind us and scared the shit out of us when he said ‘Hi’.

We arrived at the back side of Horse Camp and did a quick fueling before the final slog. It was I this section that I moved my watch off of its mileage-only screen, to my full data screen with time, pace and distance. I wanted to do what I could to make sure Lisa got her 4 hour finish. Soon we approached the dreaded beaver dam, and we were grateful to see that the park has started making a boardwalk over it. It meant that we were able to keep our feet dry and out of any beaver homes. In fact, the entire course was the driest I’ve ever seen it. My shoes had zero mud on them when I finished, which is a first with this course.

As we approached the mile 16 sign I gave it two middle fingers and we moved as quickly as we could to the final stretch. I was constantly checking my watch, and with just a few hundredths of a mile to go I yelled out, “two minutes!” Lisa found a second gear and we pushed as hard as we could to the finish line. We crossed just as our watches beeped 4 hours. Lisa’s watch even said 3:59:59.

We weren’t able to stay and celebrate though because we had to get cleaned up and get to a wedding. Mike B. showed up and congratulated us, which was awesome. We had hoped to see him before his shift as the Horse Camp captain. Lisa did a quick washing of her hair in the parking lot and we headed up to Saint Paul. A quick change in the restroom of a Lunds grocery store and we were ready to be presentable for the evening.

Despite how crappy I felt for a large part of this race, and my current fitness potential to have crushed my old PR, I’m really happy with how the day came out. This was my second fastest time on this loop, only eclipsed by my loop where I missed a turn and missed a mile. Therefore, there’s a bit of an asterisk on that PR. I got to spend some great time with my wife, and helped her achieve her goal. By the end I was mostly feeling like my old self and was smiling. I know that things will get better, and I’ll be back to my old self soon enough. For now though, I’m happy with great days in the woods with great people.

Trying some Altras

In the trail running community, Altra shoes are a big deal. They’re all over the place, and people swear by them. I’ve tried on a pair or two in the shoe store, but the fact that they’re zero drop has scared me from making a purchase. This weekend I got a chance to actually take some demo pair out for a real run, on a trail.

We went to Rice Lake, WI this weekend to attend a pre-Tuscobia race event, and one of the perks was being able to check out Altra shoes on Sunday morning and take them out for a jaunt on the Tuscobia trail. I decided to go with the Timp model, as it had the highest cushioning, and the rep suggested that was a good choice for people who aren’t used to zero drop.

The nice thing about the Tuscobia trail is that it is straight, and flat. There was one small dip less than a mile in. Otherwise, I was running on solid double-wide track, with clear vision of miles ahead of me. I can certainly see why people feel that the mental game is killer at Tuscobia. You can see for miles ahead, and it takes forever to get there.

I did a simple 6 miler, out-and-back. My first impression of the Timp’s is that they are probably the most comfortable shoe I have ever worn. They have a nice wide toe-box, but the mid-foot is snug, and your heel feels locked in. At no point did I feel like my feet were sliding around in the shoe. I just felt a lot of comfort in my toes, as they could splay out to their heart’s content. The entire upper material of the shoe was a delight, and it made me quickly realize why people love these shoes. They’re almost like wearing socks. Very comfortable, cushioned socks.

I found that the zero drop pushed me onto my mid/fore-foot at the start. That’s not a bad thing, but after about 3-4 miles I found myself inching back onto my heel more. However, I didn’t feel like I was slamming my heel down any harder than I normally do, so the zero drop didn’t seem to give me too many troubles in that area.

The real test will be tonight, and tomorrow. I’ve already felt a bit more tightness in my upper calves, and so I’ve rolled those out to try and get them stretched. That doesn’t feel like anything that I wouldn’t get used to, so I’m optimistically hopeful. We’ll see how tomorrow morning feels. If I’m completely bound up then I might need to think twice, but hopefully I can wake up feeling mostly normal in the calf area. If so, I think the Altra Timp might be my next shoe purchase.

Minnesota being Minnesota

One Wednesday this week we had a rare occurrence for Minnesota in October, 70 degree temps. For one day the temps spiked and we ended up with a humid, soupy mess. I went out for a run over lunch and was utterly miserable from the humidity. Wednesday evening I had my traditional Beer and Bikes ride, and as I started out the front started to roll in, that would signal a major change in the weather.

As I started to ride I got caught in a major downpour of rain. Because of the heat of the day, the rain was actually very, very refreshing. I kept it slow on the slick roads, but made it to the meet up spot just fine. It was actually a very enjoyable ride, similar to a nice run in a summer rain. When we headed out from the meetup spot it became clear that the evening was about to get interesting. The wind out of the NW was picking up tremendously.

As we rode south, I realized I was in a much higher gear than normal. I was cruising along with ease, and I knew that spelled trouble for the ride home. As we crossed the 10th Street bridge over the Mississippi River we were almost blown off of our bikes from the intense cross wind. We eventually made it to our destination and settled in and tried to recover.

About 8pm I started my ride back. My route takes me a different direction, and so once we were back across the 10th Street bridge I turned left on 5th and began the slog home. At this point the winds were in the 20-30mph range, and the National Weather Service even recorded a high gust of 61mph. All of this was coming right in to my face as I tried to ride up hill. I ended up putting the front gear into the “granny gear” just to give my legs some respite.

Eventually, I made it home safe and tried to warm up a bit in the shower before heading to bed. With the wind came cooler temps, and by the time I was home I was happy that I packed a nice jacket and gloves. Then on Thursday morning I checked the temps before heading out on my run… 36 degrees. The temps had swing 43(!) degrees from the day before. That’s an insane temperature swing, but it’s kinda what happens in Minnesota this time of year.

Needless to say, I was happy with the cooler temps, because the air was drier, and there was much less wind. My run this morning was comfortable and cool, which is more akin to what we expect this time of year. It’s just Minnesota being Minnesota.