Lessons learned from a Tuscobia DNF

My plan was to pull my sled for 80 miles from Park Falls to Rice Lake. I made it 35 miles before I had to pull the plug, registering my first winter ultra DNF.

So what went wrong? It almost all came down to my back. I’ve never pulled a sled for 30+ miles before and despite switching out to a different harness this year, I still wasn’t able to take the pain. I have scoliosis which complicates my situation, as my lower back curves and twists off to the right. Normally it’s just an annoyance during a long run, but in this case, pulling a sled, it became completely unbearable. I’m not sure what this means for future attempts, but I know that I need to either figure out a way to strengthen my back for endeavors like this, or look at alternatives such as biking or kicksleding.

Despite having to register a DNF, I’m still incredibly happy with how much of the race went. My legs were a little tired, and my feet only had one blister. This is completely manageable and nothing more than I’d get in any other ultra. My clothing was dialed in, and my new Gore-Tex shoes were perfect for the incredibly wet conditions. When I came into the Ojibwa checkpoint people asked me what needed to be dried out. Amazingly, I was almost completely dry. That’s how well my clothing plan worked, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

img_0495My pace was right on track for what I wanted it to be as well. I was aiming for a 10-12 hour journey to Ojibwa, and I got there just slightly after 11 hours. I executed my pace precisely where I wanted it to be, which is phenomenal. The course conditions were wet and soft, which meant that as the race progressed I got slower and slower. The fact I was able to maintain as long as I did is a huge win for me.

So what other lessons did I learn to take into the future? One of the biggest was that I overpacked. I didn’t bother to weigh my sled until I got home, and then realized how much of a burden I was carrying. My pulk weighed in at 41 lbs. which is way more than it needed to be. I packed far too much food and water, especially since I had a 2 liter water bladder on my back. I also carried 2 more pounds of water that I never touched in the 35 miles I was out there. That was just more added weight on my back.

I also doubled up on jackets, and didn’t need nearly as many as I had. All total I had 4 jackets: my puffy for emergencies, a sweat jacket, a lightweight shell, and a heavy weight shell. I most certainly should have ditched the sweat jacket, and might have been able to get away with just the heavy weight shell. In addition to jackets I packed 7 pairs of wool socks. However, with my Gore-Tex shoes, I never changed my socks once in 35 miles, and my feet were dry at Ojibwa. Knowing how well my shoes performed I could have dropped the number of socks to 3-4. I also carried way too many shirts and tights.

I could have easily shaved 10-15 lbs, off of my sled, without even touching on a lighter sleeping bag or lighter sled. That type of weight could have relieved a lot more pressure from my back, and perhaps have made things slightly more tolerable. I don’t think it would have changed the overall outcome in any way, but it might have reduced my suffering a slight bit.

Yet, there was one piece of equipment that I wish I had brought along; a small pair of snowshoes. The trail got to be very soft, and my feet would often punch through the groomed trail. My regular snowshoes are way too big, but a small, lightweight pair of kid sized snowshoes could have been perfect. The snow was already well packed down, so I just needed a couple extra inches around my shoes to keep me afloat.

Finally, the biggest thing I could have done differently is simply not trying to accomplish SO much in a single calendar year. In 2019 I ran 6 ultra distances between races and pacing gigs. I’ve never even come close to that in the past. After my 100 mile race my training went into the crapper, and Tuscobia became “one more thing” that I really should have realized wasn’t going to work. My body needed time to heal, plus I needed more time to get in more specific training. I needed to figure out this back issue sooner, and determine if it can even be changed or worked around, of it I need to move on to something else besides pulling a sled.

That’s the more detailed run-down of what happened at Tuscobia. Overall, I’m happy with it despite the result not being what I wanted. I can’t stress enough how much I love all of these people, and love seeing them ever year. Even if it’s just volunteering, I can’t wait to get to these events and spend time with people who love the same things I love. No matter what happened this weekend, or what may happen in the future, I know I’ve found a great community.

 

2019 Biking Year in Review

It’s time once again for my annual wrap-up of my running and biking adventures for the year. This year marked a huge change in my biking behavior, due to a couple key things. First off, having a fat bike meant that winter riding was more comfortable for me. Even though I only got out once in January, it still meant that I was on my bike every single month of the year. That’s a huge milestone for me.

IMG_0388.JPGThe other aspect that changed for me was seeing my bike as a viable means of transportation, more than I ever have before. This meant that even in February I was using two wheels to get around and get places I needed to be. A couple of these early rides took me up to Anoka for some singing gigs my wife was doing, and it showed me that I didn’t need to depend on the car for everything.

This attitude propelled me into main riding season with a sense of purpose to try and reduce my dependence on my car. This was helped by my job change in May that brought be back to working for Metro Transit, and working in downtown Minneapolis. That means my job was less than 10 miles away from my house, which is a great distance for commuting. For days when I didn’t feel up to the full distance, I also had the option of the train, which is only 1.8 miles from where I live. In fact, towards the end of the year my car sat in the garage most weekdays.

IMG_0235.jpgIt wasn’t all business though. My wife and I also went on some adventures together, and with our friends Abe, Chuck, David, and Dale. We’ve did the Gateway Trail, around Coon Rapids, some trips to the Lake Woebegon Trail and Paul Bunyan Trail. This is all in addition to some jaunts around town for food and beer. This meant that my 2019 mileage was almost double what I’ve ever done before. As it stands right now I’m finishing out the year at 1385 miles, which is a HUGE improvement from previous years. Especially when still running 1500 miles a year. With my perspective on using my bike for more commuting, I’m positive I can up that mileage even a bit more next year without impacting my running too much.

IMG_4801.JPGI also continued to ride with the Beer & Bikes gang, which got me on the road at least once a week. It continues to be a great way to keep me biking consistently throughout the year, even when I may be slacking at other times. In addition I held my annual Fall Fifty+Five ride, which is 50 miles and 5 breweries. It’s an all day excursion that draws a lot of new people out, and is a great time. This year we ended up with some wet and cold conditions, making it not quite as enjoyable as years past, but still a good time overall.

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Beer & Bikes at Free Bikes 4 Kidz again!

In bike news, I also had a big change. Since 2011 I’ve been riding on a Trek FX 7.2 hybrid bike. It’s been a solid ride for me, and it’s launched me on a great number of adventures. However, I felt like this year was the time to make a change. I had been testing bikes on and off for months, and had narrowed down to the gravel bike category. I felt like it was a great fit for the types of adventures I like to do. Coincidentally, it also fit with my wife. She came along for some of my test rides and fell in love with the Salsa Journeyman, which she picked up mid way through the year. I still hadn’t decided on what I wanted yet (I take a long time to decide these things), but knew there were a few models I was focusing on.

DSC01584.jpg Eventually I had an opportunity to test ride a Salsa Vaya and immediately fell in love. The steel frame was supple, and the geometry fit me perfectly. It comes with a Shimano 105 with a 1×11 groupset, which was exactly the drivetrain I was looking for. It was exactly the bike I wanted, and at the time was on sale, so I jumped at it. It’s been an amazing tool the second half of the year. Before I put it away for the season I had already logged close to 300 miles on it in just a couple short months.

IMG_0061.pngSome of those miles were due to my spur of the moment bike packing trip with my friend Mike. He had picked up a bike this year, and since both of us love camping and the outdoors, it was a great fit. We headed out to Carver Park in Victoria, MN and spent the night. It was really cool to be able to bike somewhere, set up camp, and enjoy a night outside. It was a bit cooler and wetter than we wanted, but we still had a great time. I can’t wait to do more adventures like this in 2020.

Screen Shot 2019-12-26 at 10.45.37 AM.png2019 was an amazing year for my biking, and I’m excited for the future. I feel like I’m in a great place with both my running and biking. I do plan to hit a couple gravel ride events in 2020, to get some exposure to that side of things, but otherwise, I’ll continue to build on my desire to use my own power to get myself around. I can’t wait to keep building next year.