Arrowhead 135

This week I’ve been spending my time at the Arrowhead 135 winter ultramarathon. This is the iconic winter ultra in Minnesota, and it is known for being one of the most brutal and harsh races around. Participants much traverse (on foot, bike, or ski) from International Falls, MN to Tower, MN on the 135 mile long Arrowhead Trail. They have to be prepared to survive in any conditions, and therefore must carry mandatory gear including -20 degree sleeping bags, bivy sacks, and stoves with which to boil water and heat food. It’s a grueling event, and made even more difficult by this year’s extreme temperatures.

On the Sunday before the race, air temps hit -40 degrees F (well, and C at that point). Thankfully, by the time the race launched on Monday things had moderated to -10. Monday ended up being a good day overall with temps getting above zero for a large part of the day. I even managed to get out for a 4 mile run on the trail, and the conditions were amazing and perfect for a run. However, with nightfall came brutal cold.

IMG_0024As the temps dropped overnight, they stayed there. Ever since late Monday the temp hasn’t been above -15, and the mornings are closer to -32. Going out to start our car for 10 minutes every few hours has become a part of our regular routine. Thankfully, we have a nice warm hotel to sleep in, and when we’re working at the finish line we have a beautiful hot tent to keep us warm. Because it can sometimes be hours between finishers, we often get to relax in the tent and enjoy beer and whiskey and pizza cooked on a wood stove.

In terms of participants, this year looks like a very low finishing rate. The bikers are doing OK at 51%, but many of them were able to make solid progress all day on Monday and even finish the race before the temps got too brutal. On the foot participant side it’s looking like only 18% of participants will succeed. Most have (rightly) decided to end their race early, instead of putting themselves in danger. This year, not a single skier managed to complete the entire course, which was not ideal for skiing at all.

My wife and I have been lucky enough to have been able to work remotely for our jobs for a couple of days while we volunteered in the evenings. It’s been great to be around so many amazing people and see them achieve great things. It’s also marked with a bit of sadness, because one of our trail tribe lost his battle with cancer while we were here at the event. He was a frequent participant in this event, and his loss is keenly felt among the people participating. There’s a certain poignancy to his passing during an event that meant so much to him.

Tomorrow we head back to life in the cities, but for now, it’s nice to have been able to be a part of this amazing event, and the incredible people who are testaments to the power of human beings to survive no matter what.

The One Thing

My wife’s employer gave her a book for Christmas, written by the owner of the company, Gary Keller. It’s called The One Thing, and since my wife had already read it, I decided to give it a go. It’s a quick read, and despite only being a few chapters in, I’ve already gotten a good sense of the message.

That message, simply put, is that if we want to be successful, we need to stop trying to do everything in life, and instead focus on one thing. He rails against the mindset that we need to be involved and doing as many different things as possible, and that by doing so, we’re not doing anything well. All of this becomes complicated by amazing technology that allows us to be connected constantly to dozens of different things that can fill our time. 

As I said, I’m only a few chapters in, but I feel like the core of the message is already starting to hit me. It cuts to the core of what I’ve been struggling with for a decade now, and that is I don’t know what my “one thing” is anymore. It used to be religion, and for a while it kind of was technology. But now, it’s vague. It all goes back to that struggle with identity that I’ve written about before. 

I’ve had some good meetings lately with folks about potential career changes, but I feel like I need to figure out this piece first. In a recent meeting with one individual, he asked me point blank, “What is it that you want to spend your time doing?” That’s the key question that I really need to get figured out. What do I want the day-to-day to look like?

I’ve also been listening to some humanist podcasts that have been meaningful for my wife, and talking with a friend who has gotten into Stoicism. A key component of this thinking is understanding that eternal significance is a pipe dream. Two hundred years from now, no one is going to know or care about me, no matter what I do. There are so few people in history that are remembered beyond their life, that trying to focus on “leaving a legacy” becomes a fool’s errand. 

The key is to focus on the here and now. What kind of impact can to have today? What kind of person can you be to those in your life now, not just as a memory after you’re gone? Those are the questions that bring me back to the question of what is my “one thing”. 

This is once again a blog post without answers, but I feel that by writing down the questions, and the musings, it helps me process and think. I feel like I’m closer and closer to the cusp of figuring myself out. Being on the edge is exciting and frustrating, and I appreciate my readers being willing to ride along while I continue to explore. 

Super Blood Wolf Moon

Sunday night we got to experience a lunar eclipse. This will be the only one we will be able to see this year, and so I decided I wanted to adventure out and see it. Because I didn’t have work on Monday I could stay up a bit later and drive a bit out of town to get away from city lights.

I picked up my friend Michael and the two of us headed up, out of the city. Our plan had been to hit a bar and grill in Bethel, MN for a drink and a snack while we waited for the show to begin around 10:40pm. However, the bar and grill I had picked out decided to close at 10pm, despite their website saying differently. Thankfully, this is exurb Minnesota, so there was another bar just down the road that was more than happy to accommodate us with some food and drink.

One of the trickiest parts of photographing the moon is realizing that you cannot let the camera pick your exposure. The moon is incredibly bright, but it takes up only a small portion of the frame. Therefore the camera thinks that it needs to hold the shutter open for a LONG time, when in fact you just need the moon exposed.

I ended up with an exposure time of 1/2 to 1/4 of a second for most of my shots, and I think it turned out pretty well. My only issue is that I don’t have as large of a zoom as I would like, so I ended up with a lot more ISO grain than I wanted, when I cropped the pictures in.

Overall though, it was a fun night, and a really cool phenomena to see.

Another slow running start to January

Seems like just about every year, my January running gets derailed. Sometimes this extends in to February as well. This year, just like clockwork, I got sick and I’ve only run a handful of miles all month. This year we also had the added complication of race directing the St Croix 40 race. All this adds up to yet another slow start to the year of running.

I shouldn’t let it get me down because I know it will get better. Yet, sometimes it can get very discouraging when you come off of such a strong year, and find yourself needing to find your legs again. The cure to this feeling is remembering that no matter how bad a couple weeks may go, it will get better. It always does.

My goals this year are pretty light. I’ve got a couple of races on the calendar, but nothing that I need to worry about too soon. My plan for the rest of January is to just focus on the joy of running and enjoy my time outside. Now if we could just get a bit more snow to enjoy…

St Croix 40 Winter Ultra – RD quick recap

This weekend, my wife and I put on our first race. We didn’t just decide to put on something simple like a 5K or 50K foot race. No, we opted for one of the most complex things that we could come up with, a winter ultramarathon with foot, bike, and ski divisions. To make it even more complex we did the entire event overnight, meaning that just like the participants, we got almost no sleep for the entire event.

PC: Cole Peyton

Overall, the event went off amazingly. Almost every single participant came up to us and told us how much fun they had, despite the challenges. We managed not to lose anyone, and there were no serious injuries. The weather was amazing with temps in the mid-20s. Our only complaint was that it wasn’t clear skies overnight for a view of the stars. It cleared up for about an hour around sunrise, but other than that, it was overcast.

The trail conditions weren’t as ideal as we would have liked them to be, with freezing rain in the weeks leading up to the event. About 70% of the course was good, but then another 10% was really bad with glare ice that the participants had to navigate. Despite all of this, many people came in to the finish like saying that, based on our descriptions, they were expecting a lot worse, and actually found the conditions to be pretty darn good.

We have a whole list of Trello cards that we’ve started to keep track of around tweaks we want to make next year. Lots of little things that we know we can improve on to make everything work easier. However, one of the biggest compliments we got all weekend was from someone who said that they couldn’t believe this was a first year event. They felt that everything was going so smoothly that it must have been going on for a while. That’s a huge testament to the mentoring and examples that we’ve followed from the race directors we admire in our life. Without their help and support, this wouldn’t have gone as well as it did.

PC: Mike Wheeler

I have a lot more I could write, but I think it’s going to take a few days to process everything. There were a lot of emotions this weekend as we saw people try something hard and succeed. Seeing the joy on their faces was so fulfilling. Hearing their stories made us feel like proud parents who did something right when raising their kids. For now, I’ll just say that this was an experience that we’ll never forget, no matter how many years we do this.

There’s a lot more work to do in the coming days. Many of the boxes are still just packed in our garage. I decided to go in to work today, because I actually needed a break from race stuff. In the coming week we’ll finalize everything and complete our lists, and start the process of thinking about what’s next!