Virtual Race Report: Badger 50K

Due to the pandemic, almost no trail races have been happening. One of the ones that I was particularly disappointed about was the Badger Trail Races in Wisconsin. Last year this race was my first time completing a 100K distance. It was also a perfect testing ground for what I needed to learn before my 100 mile race at Savage 100 later in the Fall.

When Badger went virtual I decided to step down to the 50K version for this year. With dealing with a broken toe, and a slower training ramp up from my recovery from 2019, I just wasn’t ready for anything longer. I felt I could get up to the 50K distance without too much trouble, and then rely on my overall experience to get me through any deficiencies.

I also opted not to travel to the Badger Trail itself, due to all the issues with COVID-19, and instead looked for a trail that was local to me, that mimic’d the Badger as much as possible. That led me to a trail that I have been on a couple times before, the Luce Line trail. It’s pretty much a mirror image of the Badger Trail, in that it’s a long, straight, former railroad line that goes for dozens of miles in one direction. It’s a crushed limestone surface, and passes through a lot of scenic wetlands, farmlands, and small towns.

I decided to do a point-to-point 50K which started me at Medicine Lake in Plymouth and took me straight west on the Luce Line all the way to Winsted, MN. The first couple of miles from Medicine Lake are paved asphalt, and are actually a part of the Three Rivers regional trail system. However, once you get to Vicksburg Lane it’s unpaved all the way to Winsted.

I was lucky to have my buddy Mike B. join me for some of the miles, and as I would soon discover, I’d actually have a lot of company for this run. My wife dropped me off at the lake where I met up with Mike. We headed out with a beautiful sunrise behind us. Before we even hit the unpaved section we met up with my fried Bob M. who was out doing a long 20 mile run on the trail. Bob decided to join us for a while and the three of us soon reached the crushed limestone.

We knew that soon we’d be running into our friend Angela who was doing a point-to-point 50 mile run overnight, starting all the way out in Hutchinson. Within a couple miles we saw a couple people in the distance, and sure enough it was Angela on the final stretch of her adventure. We stopped and chatted for a bit, got a trail report about a downed tree, and then went on our way. We foolishly forgot to grab a picture, but oh well, we all know what each other looks like anyway.

By this point I was moving well, and felt really good. I was targeting a run-all-day pace of around 11:30-12:00/mile, and thanks to some help from my friends, I was able to stop myself from burning out too quickly. That pace did briefly drop to zero when we encountered a huge tree that had come down in the storms of the previous night. This wasn’t one of those trees that you could just step over, as the crown was laying completely across the trail. We ended up needing to slowly find a path through the branches, much like trying to navigate an overgrown path. Slowly, one at a time, we made it through and we were able to get back on our way.

Shortly after the tree encounter, we came across our friends Yogesh and Emily. He was out doing a 74km run in honor of India independence day, and Emily was along for a bit of the run as well. Suddenly this little adventure of mine turned into an awesome group run with a bunch of great people. The miles started clicking off quickly, and conversations were insightful and fun.

Around mile 16 it was time for Mike to leave and get back to deal with a broken tree in his back yard, and shortly before this Bob hit his turnaround point. My wife was waiting as my aid station at this point, and it was good to take a few minutes to refuel eat some real food. The day was starting to get warm and my pace was starting to slow slightly, but my body felt great. After a short break, Yogesh, Emily, and I headed back out.

The next section saw more walking and my pace creeped up towards 12:30/mile. I was totally fine with this, and I knew that as the heat and humidity continued to grow, it was going to become more and more of a slog. Eventually Emily had to turn back and so Yogesh and I kept moving into the afternoon.

Soon we arrived at mile 22, which is Watertown, MN. Lisa was waiting for me once again, and I took advantage of a stop to easily change my socks and scarf down a bunch more real food. This was a place that would have been easy to dawdle, but I knew that the next 9 miles wouldn’t run itself. We gathered our gear back up and started back on the trail.

This is where my experience with ultra distance events really came in to play. As we left the aid station I felt like crap. I ate too much food and my gut wasn’t terribly happy. My body was feeling run down, and I just didn’t want to move very quickly. Yogesh was incredibly kind and walked with me without complaint. In my mind I wanted to quit. I thought, maybe I should just turn around and go back to the parking lot and call it a day. After all, 22 miles isn’t a bad day.

I thought this for about 10 seconds. Then the experience kicked in. There was absolutely nothing wrong with me that wouldn’t change in the next 20 minutes. I’d hit this wall before, and hit it enough times, that I knew that it would pass. Sure the quick 11 minute miles were behind me, but after I let this stomach issue work itself out, I’d be fine to keep moving quick again, and get this done.

I surprised myself with how quickly my mind turned on itself and shut down any thoughts of quitting. It’s become such second nature for me to look at suffering as not an impediment to moving forward, but just another stage in the journey. Sure enough, we walked the better part of two miles. And then things got better, and we started running little bits again. My wife had headed in to Winsted and hopped on her bike to come back and meet us, and when she came upon us we were doing a solid run/hike pace.

We kept moving really well until mile 27 where it was time for Yogesh to turn around. We said our goodbyes, and thanked each other for the great conversations, and I kept moving forward. My wife was still biking and she rode next to me for a while. Soon she headed back to the car to get me a Subway sandwich for the finish line and for the first time all day, I was alone.

The day was continuing to be a humid mess, but I had fully recovered and was feeling good. I decided to walk the first 0.4 miles, and then run the final 0.6 of each mile. This 40/60 split worked REALLY well and the final miles clipped along with little suffering. During one of these splits I looked down at my watch and saw that I was just about to pass the 50K mark. I took a picture to commemorate it, since I was pretty sure this was a new PR. My ultra brain wasn’t working 100% so I still went back and confirmed it later, and sure enough this was a huge lowering of my 50K PR.

My wife had informed me that the final 1.6 miles in to town was paved, and so as soon as I hit asphalt I knew I was home free. However, after 30+ miles of crushed limestone, hitting asphalt again was painful. It was incredibly unforgiving and my feet were not happy for that final stretch. I kept up my 40/60 method and soon I saw the end in the distance. I came around the corner and there was my wife waiting for me to greet me at the finish.

She commented that I looked like I was suffering more than when she left me, which was probably true. Because I was so close to the end I had stopped bothering to eat, and so my energy levels were much lower than they could have been. If I had been going on for a longer race I would have certainly kept the eating going, and I think that would have helped a lot.

Needless to say, I was happy that I was done. We sat down on some bleachers and I ate my sandwich and slammed a beer. Then it was time for the 45 minute drive home to get cleaned up and rest. The downside of doing a point-to-point that starts near home is that you then have a longer drive home. Thankfully, I didn’t need to do any of the driving and soon enough I was cleaned up and napping peacefully on the couch.

I’m incredibly happy with how this virtual race went. I planned and executed the way that I wanted, and I finished with a smile on my face. I probably could have shaved a couple minutes off my overall time, but given my training this year, I was really happy with where this ended up. In particular my ability to push through suffering, and draw on my experience, made me really excited.

This year has been really different for everyone. I’m sad that so many races aren’t happening this year, but I’m grateful for the motivation of a virtual race to go out and do something cool on my own. In the end, I got some cool swag, a new PR, and a lot of great memories on a beautiful trail.

Some video game time

I’ve been getting out of the habit of writing more here, but it’s not for lack of things to write about. Therefore, I’m taking a few minutes this morning to talk about some of the video games I’ve been playing lately.

Earlier this summer I got into Animal Crossing and was pretty much addicted to checking on my island for hours every day, doing whatever I could to maximize profits and complete my house. But as you can imagine, that got old after a while and I honestly haven’t touched it in a couple of weeks. I used to do daily quests in World of Warcraft all the time, but in Animal Crossing it all seemed pointless, as the only thing I would get out of my grinding is more money… that I didn’t need.

Next up I played through The Outer Worlds, a really cool open world game in space with a retro/old-west feel. It was incredibly fun (and challenging), and well worth the time spent on it. I really enjoyed the characters and story lines, and the choices you got to make. The combat system was fine, and I was good with playing it on an easier level to focus on the characters.

I then got really excited about the new Paper Mario: Origami King game. I knew it used to be more of an RPG, and from the screenshots it looks like an RPG-lite type of game. Despite being an amazingly beautiful game, with delightful characters and animations, the battle aspect of the game was so abysmal that I never completed it. Granted I got all the way to the final boss, before quitting in disgust, but it was a constant battle to keep enduring through mindless spinning puzzle battles that gave nothing but coins. There was zero skill development in your character and your companions were sometimes worse than worthless. My friend Wes did a write-up on it that pretty much is a mirror of my experience.

That left me with wanting something new to play, and I decided to go old-school (well kinda). I wanted another open world type game like Breath of the Wild or Outer Worlds (or even Fallen Jedi), and so I had my oldest bring over his discs of Red Dead Redemption. I’m a few hours into the first game and I’m starting to get the hang of it. I’ve only accidentally shot my horse once, so that’s a good thing. The controls are a little odd, with the same button doing a dozen different things depending on context, but once you get used to it, it seems to work well. I know that Rockstar Games does a good job with their titles, so I trust them on this being a good method.

Of course the story is somewhat dark, and you have to make a myriad of ethical choices throughout. For the most part I’m trying to play it as a redeemed criminal trying to do good in the world, which is I think what the story wants. However, it appears that I can certainly go off-book a bit to be a bit harsher and cruel. Overall though, I’m keeping it pretty straight to the intended outcome.

My son also brought over RDR2, which is a prequel to the first game, and I’m actually excited to see the backstory to this, as you’re thrown into a world and a situation that appears to have a lot of history to it. Needless to say this should give me enough to keep me occupied for a while, and it’s a fun distraction.

The results of the health experiment continue

As I mentioned a couple of months ago, I’ve embarked on a new dietary path to improve my health markers. This week was one of the big tests, as I got my cholesterol levels tested again. I can honestly say that I was as anxious for this test as I was for any test I’ve gotten.

Moving to a completely different dietary path is a challenge. I’ve been a vegetarian before (college and high school), but going completely plant-based (vegan) takes it up another notch. When I was a vegetarian in college I probably could have also been labeled a “cheese-a-tarian” with how much I loved the yellow and white stuff.

I actually gave up straight milk a long time ago, but processed dairy has always been a staple in my diet. When I went vegan at the end of May, I never really missed meat that much, it was cheese that tugged at me. I’ve tried a couple vegan cheeses and they’re OK, but not the same. Fake cheese sauces are closer to the mark for me, and some local places that make fake mac and cheese are really good. I have also developed a solid love of hummus.

But here’s the question… was it worth it?

The test results are in, and my scores are the lowest that they’ve ever been! My overall level is 157, with an HDL of 45, and an LDL of 88. To put this in to context I’ve never had an LDL below 119 (in the past 10 years), and my most recent (May) LDL was 180. This was a HUGE improvement for me, and although I want to bump my HDL a bit more, I’m very happy with where things landed.

In many ways, it would have been easier to accept defeat, get a bad test result, start taking a statin and go back to my old eating habits. But seeing such a major change makes the challenge all worth it. Now, it’s about changing the mindset and simply recognizing this as the new reality. I’ve discovered a ton of amazing foods over the past 3 months, and thankfully, living in a major metropolitan area means that I have a lot of resources at my disposal for a vegan lifestyle. I think this is all going to be just fine.

And hey, beer is still on the menu!

The streak has ended, but…

Back at the end of March I decided to join up with #30daysofbiking. The goal is to bike, even just a little bit, every single day of April. Things went so well in April, I opt’d to keep it going and see how long I could ride at least 1 mile every day.

Then, this weekend hit. On Saturday morning I went for a nice 25K run, and when we got home we headed up to Father Hennepin State Park for a day-trip. It was a glorious day, taking a short nap to the sound of waves nearby. We walked around the park, and enjoyed a couple quick brewery stops on the way home.

And then I forgot.

That’s right, after 123 days of at least 1 mile of biking per day, I forgot.

The funny thing is, I didn’t even realize I had forgotten until I was out on today’s ride. That’s the problem with streaks, just because you get into a habit, it doesn’t mean you still don’t need to work for it.

However, to cap off this 123 day achievement, today’s ride became a celebration, not only of so many days of biking in a row, but also a new all-time distance. I was on a ride with some friends, and we managed 100K across the Twin Cities, from Woodbury, back to Minneapolis, and then up to Fridley. It was longer than I had ever ridden in a single ride, and my legs are certainly feeling it. But, it seems like a worthwhile capstone to the end of my bike streaking.

I’ll for sure still be biking regularly, but at least now I won’t feel pressured to do a quick ride around the block, just for the sake of a streak. Happy biking all!