An unexpected adventure

This past week didn’t turn out quite the way that I had planned. After we got done with our race, I got sick. We were supposed to fly out to Vegas on Friday for my wife’s birthday, but I wasn’t sure I’d be up for the trip. Plus, a large snowstorm was moving in, and was threatening to cancel or delay flights.

Friday came and I was on the fence about going, however at the last minute I decided that I wanted to be with my wife on her birthday so I would go. That’s when all the trouble began. Because I had been ‘stuffed up’ I had issues with my left ear upon landing. When we got on the ground it wouldn’t pop, and within a couple of hours it was in excruciating pain. We went to an Emergency Room and they confirmed that I burst blood vessels along my ear drum, but that I didn’t rupture it. It would be sore and damaged for a while.

img_0666At this point I knew that flying back home would be a bad idea because it would put me at high risk of rupture of my eardrum. Thus began the planning for how I would get home without an airplane. At first I thought about just renting a car and driving the whole way in about 3 days. I would want to take the southern route through Albuquerque and Kansas City, since driving through the Colorado Rockies in January didn’t sound like a great idea. It would also mean I’d need to leave pretty early on Sunday morning.

Another option presented itself when I looked at Amtrak. They had a shuttle service that would bring me to Kingman, AZ where I would catch the Southwest Chief to Kansas City. There I would then rent a car and drive the final 6.5 hours home. Because it would involve two overnights, I opted for the more expensive sleeper car. This seemed like the best option as well, because it meant I could stick around until Sunday night before heading out.

img_0675As it turns out, sticking around on Sunday was a good idea. I started feeling a bit worse on Sunday, and when I happened to check my throat it was blazing red and covered in white spots. We headed over to an urgent care, where the nurse practitioner first looked in my damaged ear. She informed me that my ear was infected, and when she looked at my throat she didn’t even bother to take a swab. Since she was giving me an antibiotic for my ear, it would take care of both.

On Sunday night I boarded the van, which took me to the train. The train arrived and I immediately went to bed. I got some fitful sleep, but boarding a train at 2am is never a recipe for a restful night. The next day was spent relaxing and taking it easy. I did some work on a future race idea, and cleaned up some stuff from SC40. I managed a little bit better sleep on the second night, but because the train was heading east I was losing hours to the timezone changes as we went.

img_0691At 6:30am on Tuesday we arrived at Kansas City. I then boarded a bus to take me to the car rental place for the drive home. Thankfully, the drive home from KC is incredibly simple. Within a mile of the car rental agency I was on Interstate 35 heading north. That’s about it. Just keep heading up 35. I listened to a bunch of podcasts, and tried to not eat too much gas station junk food. I arrived at the airport within ten minutes of my wife landing so that we could hop in our own car and finally get home.

The one upside is that I’ve also gotten to see a ton of amazing landscape, from tall mountains to wide open plains. Some areas have snow, while others are bone dry and yellow. This has been a nice perk of traveling this way, as I can simply absorb the landscape. If this had been the plan for how we were going to travel it probably would have been more enjoyable, but I tried to make the best of it all.

Now for some time in my own bed.

Starting the year off… busy

2020 is here, and with it comes winter ultramarathon season, as well as our typical Vegas trip. Plus, with the holidays behind us, work has gotten busier and busier. We just held our second annual St Croix 40 Winter Ultra last weekend, and managed to get unpacked relatively quickly from it.

However, all of this stuff going on means that my body decided it was done. I’ve been sick for the past 24 hours with general blah and on and off fevers. I’m not that surprised, when we push ourselves, eventually the body says it’s time for a break. So, I’ve spent the majority of tonight catching up on the Netflix series The Dragon Prince (not a bad little show honestly).

Right now I’m just hoping to be feeling better by Friday because we have our trip to Vegas for the weekend for my wife’s birthday. A little bit of desert air and relaxation should do the body good. We just have to get out of town before the snowstorm gets too bad.

I’ll be ready for some nice routine come February. Some weekends at home, and getting back to regular running and biking. For now though, it’s about recovery, and getting through the end of the month.

A decade of running

January of 2010 was the start. It’s hard to believe that it was so long ago, but the end of 2019 also marks the end of my first 10 years of running. I could never have imagined when I started this journey how consuming it would become, and how much of my identity would be shaped by it.

When I first started running it was mostly to get in shape and lose some weight. In 2010 I was really struggling with my health and well being. All my friends saw it, and when my friend Michael finally pushed me over the edge to do something about it I wasn’t sure if I could actually stick to it. I picked up the Couch-2-5K program and hit the treadmill for my very first workout. It’s a simple alternating run/walk system that slowly, over weeks, built up running stamina until you could run 3 miles straight.

I’m not going to lie. That first week was brutal. So much so that I repeated week 1 a second time before moving on. It didn’t help that I still had a lot of weight to lose, as carrying around more than you need is never a good idea. I believe it was somewhere in week 6 or 7 when everything changed.

By this point I had moved to doing my runs mostly outdoors, with more spring like temperatures. I headed out on a run which was supposed to include my longest segments of uninterrupted running I had done yet. I did the warm up intervals and then looked at my watch before starting the continuous running segment. At the time I was still using headphones when I ran and there was music going on in the background. I remember zoning out while listening to a couple songs and before I realized it I had gone way beyond what I was targeting. I got done with the whole workout and was in shock. I had just run longer than I ever had before. That was the moment that sealed the deal. I was a runner. I could do this.

29048_427624055361_4550976_n.jpgAfter that point, working up to a 5K distance wasn’t hard. I did my first 5K in May of 2010, and my first half marathon that fall. Running simply became a part of my life. Throughout those early years I did a lot of races in the half marathon range, and attempted one full marathon (that I hated). I got into a groove of doing a few repeat races each year, and was building up my collection of race medals and t-shirts. But running did more for me than just stuff my closets, it also gave me a connection to others via which my life was forever changed.

In 2012 I was still playing the online dating game, and when my (future) wife Lisa and I connected, one of the key things we bonded over was running. We had both come to running later in life and had transformed our lives in a positive way through running, weight loss, and fitness. Even though we ran different paces, we still enjoyed sharing our love of being runners and supporting each other.

A couple of years later we were both still running on roads, but we had started to become aware of trail running. My friend John had started dipping his toes into the trail and ultra world, and Lisa had been following the sport for a while. In the end of 2014 she encouraged me to join her for a small trail run at a farm an hour away. Trail running has an ethos of beer and beards, and so I immediately fit right in.

IMG_3157.JPGOnce I had completed that race I joined up with a local trail running group at Elm Creek, and January 31st, 2015 started the next big change in my running life. I immediately fell into the sport and signed up for trail races beginning in April. However, I was also learning the ethos of the sport, and how you give back to the community, not just take. My first Zumbro experience involved volunteering the first day at the aid station in the woods before running the 17 mile the next day.

31880916_1004097819714989_4681658212569579520_n.jpgFrom there, things just progressed bigger and bigger. Since then I’ve run a multiple 50K’s, a 50 miler, a 100K, and a 100 mile trail race. It took me 5 years to work up to 100 miles on trails, but because of that it went amazingly. I’ve also become a part of the community, joining the board of directors for the Upper Midwest Trail Runners association, for which I’m just starting my final 3 year term of service.

My wife and I have also started a small company to put on events, and in a week we’ll have hosted our second edition of the St Croix 40 Winter Ultra. We’re also excited about putting on even more events in the coming years, and spend a lot of time thinking and planning about what we could do next.

IMG_3228.jpgApart from events our running has also given us an opportunity to explore places all over the country. Every time we vacation, running is a part of it. I’ve run along the ocean in Seattle, through the desert in Vegas, and countless trails throughout the Midwest. I’ve had some incredible experiences getting lost in the middle of nowhere.

As I look forward to the next decade of running, I’m asking myself what’s next? I’ve picked up biking as a complementary sport, and I’m finding that trail running has been a great gateway to creating adventures outside. I’m not planning on giving up running, but I think I’ll be seeking a bit more balance in my fitness. I’m also considering adding in some run-commuting, as I’m keenly interested using many different modes to reduce my carbon footprint.

I’ll be starting out my first year of my new decade of running with a bit lighter race schedule. I’m signed up for a lottery for a short 12.5K race (because I want to see the area), and will also be doing a trail marathon, along with my traditional Surf the Murph loop. I’ll plan one other big race for the year, but then try and focus on expanding my versatility. I’ve decided that I don’t want to give up on sled pulling in winter ultras quite yet.

IMG_0495.JPGAs I look back, it’s crazy to think that it’s only been 10 years since I started this because it feels like this has been my life since I can remember. I’m hugely grateful to the folks who gave me encouragement when I first started out, and along the journey. Never doubt the power of influence, but more importantly, never doubt yourself and your capabilities. I was the poster child for “someone who doesn’t run”. Yet here I am.

Here’s a snapshot of the last 10 years:

Recorded activity count: 1,571
Total dist: 8,903 mi
Total elev: 317,396 ft
Total time: 1812:27:06
Total calories burned: 1,297,274

I couldn’t be more happy with where I’ve been, where I’m at, or where I’m going.

It’s just one foot in front of the other.

2019 Year in Review

As tradition dictates, it’s time for my annual New Year’s Eve Year in Review. I’ve been doing this since 2005, and there’s no reason to stop now. As I looked back over some of those early entries (on a previous blog) each of them seemed to start with, “Wow, it was a big year!” Once again, that’s probably the only way to sum up 2019.

39767886713_1f3cb38578_kThe year started out with Lisa and I putting on our first event, the St Croix 40 Winter Ultra. This was a dream of ours for years, and in January we got to see it happen. People had a great time, and our mission of educating people about how to survive in winter events was a success. As I write this, we’re gearing up for the 2020 version in just under two week.

img_3667February saw more singing gigs with Lisa in choir. I got to attend some wonderful concerts throughout 2019, including a very special one focused on African American music, that I dragged my friend Michael to. Lisa’s continued with Vocal Essence into this season, and so the end of 2019 has also been filled with different concerts. This time I’ve been volunteering as an usher for them which has been a lot of fun.

My biking year started off strong with my fat bike, and despite some issues finding a good bike rack that I liked, I had a great beginning of the season. As soon as the snow started falling at the end of the year I grabbed the fat tires again and began commuting to the train station almost every day (instead of driving). In the summer months I bought a new gravel bike, and can’t wait to get back on it come Spring.

DSC09185March saw me taking a trip with my youngest to Chicago. It was a great time together, and I feel like we started to communicate more as adults on that trip. I know our relationship hasn’t always been the smoothest, but I feel like we’re in a good place now. I finally feel like I’m becoming more of the dad I always should have been.

The running season kicked into high gear in April and the trail race season kept me busy on quite a few weekends. Although, this year we did opt to skip a couple of traditional races, just so that we could reclaim some of our Summer. It also afforded us more time to take the biggest trip we’ve ever done. We headed to Lake Tahoe in California to help our friend Julie with her 200 mile race, and then immediately hopped on a train to Colorado to help Mike with his 100 miler. It was an epic adventure and completely exhausting. Even though we’d never do it the same way that we did, I can’t say I regret it. I got to see so many amazing things that I can’t be sad about being tired and worn out.

fabdd329-48b1-43f9-8e24-b59bafaac483In my personal races I had my biggest year yet (not an exaggeration) running my first 100K race, my first 100 mile race, and attempting my first winter ultra marathon. These, along with a few other smaller races, gave me some incredible memories to wrap up a decade of running. I’ll be posting a more substantial recap of my decade of running in the coming weeks. I’m not 100% sure what 2020 will hold, but I know that I have zero regrets about what I’ve accomplished, and where I’ve met my limits. I’m in this for the long haul, and I’ve got lots of time to accomplish whatever I want to set my mind to.

By May we settled into some nice weekend adventures, often to State Parks we had never been to before. Some of them were a bit buggier than we wanted, but we almost always had a good time. Because of our long trip out west, we didn’t do quite as many weekend trips this year, but that’s probably a decent trade-off. We had planed on a final trip up north before winter hit hard, but alas, just like in years past we had to cancel everything due to a massive snowstorm that was socking the area.

76685742_564700044286447_2390032945264984064_o.jpgI continued as the president of the board of directors for the Upper Midwest Trail Runners Association for another year. I’ve entered my second term, and will probably start to wind down my involvement and pass the baton in the coming years. I feel like I’ve done a good job leading the organization, and it’s time for others to come and leave their mark.

img_0357Although I didn’t brew any beer this year, I got to sample quite a bit. Towards the end of the year I had hit my 2500th unique beer since I started tracking in Untappd. I love collecting new flavors, and trying new things. Beer is often just another adventure for me, and a way to experience the flavors of the world in a delightful package. I still have all my beer brewing equipment, so perhaps next year will see at least one brew day again.

We also got to see a lot of new tv shows and movies this year. Some of our favorites were The Expanse, the Mandelorian, and the Boys. We also got into watching some great YouTube channels like How to Drink and Binging with Babish. And of course, the wonderful world of Bon Appétit, especially the Gourmet Makes series.

On the blogging front, I tried to be a bit more consistent by having regular features. I put together a bunch of product reviews that became my “Tuesday Review-Day” series. I also started tracking my fitness in a weekly recap blog that went beyond the numbers to a journal of how the week went overall. I still haven’t settled on my theme for the blog next year, but I feel like Finding My Best Life was a great theme for 2019.

There were lots of other things that happened in 2019, such as changing jobs, going to concerts, and visiting lots of people. In many ways I feel like I found my best life.

2019 Running Year in Review

The year 2019 is my tenth year of running, and is seems appropriate that I celebrate that milestone with a bang. I’ll be writing a retrospective post on the past decade in a few days, but for the moment I want to spend a little time looking back at just this past year, and how I’ve grown and changed as a runner.

After a couple of down years, 2018 was a strong year for me. I found my groove and figured out how to get back to loving running. I continued that trend into 2019 and decided to tackle some challenges that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. In fact, 2019 blew the doors off of anything I’ve done in previous years.

DSC02628I started out the year with something fun and stupid, the Sandlot Minor League Half-Marathon. That means 13.1 miles around a baseball diamond. It was crazy and my right hip hurt for 2 weeks after that. However, it was fun to get out and support some of my crazy friends.

In May things got more serious with The Willow 20 mile race. This was a newer race on the scene put on by veteran race director Chris Swenke. He does a great job with his races, and this one was no exception. It was a fun course, and I had a great time. It wasn’t the fastest 20 miles I’ve ever done, but I enjoyed myself which is what counts.

bt-trail-races-341From there it was time to really get down to business. That’s because I decided to sign up for my first ever 100K race, the Badger 100K. This is a race put on by the Ten Junk Miles crew who are friends of mine. I’ve wanted to do a rail trail for a while, and this looked like the perfect excuse. It also had a super generous cutoff (over 30 hours) which meant I could take as long as I needed. I didn’t need the full 30, and finished under 18, with a lot of learning in my head to take with me into the future.

I put that to the test when two weeks later I did the Marquette 50K. Since I was still recovering from Badger, I didn’t go into Marquette with any big time goals in mind. I had signed up for Marquette the past two years, but for one reason or another never made it out there. This time my friend Mike make sure I showed up. Expect for climbing Hogsback, this race was a ton of fun, and I encouraged my wife to sign up for the 2020 version. It’s just the kind of course that she’ll love. Plus, I get to tag along and spend some time visiting the town next year.

fabdd329-48b1-43f9-8e24-b59bafaac483All of this led to my biggest accomplishment of 2019 which was my first 100 mile race at the Savage 100. This course was the site of my first ultramarathon distance and so it was appropriate to mark this milestone here. The race went as perfectly as I could have hoped, and I was tremendously proud of how well I worked myself up to this. Now that I’ve broken the 100 mile barrier, I can see myself making a few more attempts at that in my lifetime.

Finally, I’m finishing out the year with the Tuscobia 80, my first winter ultramarathon. It’s ironic that the whole reason I started the St Croix 40 Winter Ultra was because there was no place for people to get experience with winter ultras without stepping up to the 80 mile distance. Yet, now here I am doing the 80 myself. Unfortunately, the race didn’t go as well as I hoped and I dropped at mile 35. My back wasn’t tolerating pulling the sled, so I have some things to work on in the future.

img_4937As with last year, a large part of my training was done running with my wife. That meant I was moving a little slower than normal for me, which really helped me with the long slow slogs of the 100K and 100 mile. It helped me build up endurance instead of just speed (which I’m pretty much given up on ever having in abundance again).

img_5369As an added bonus, we also got to spend time pacing friends on their races. We headed to Lake Tahoe to help Julie with the Tahoe 200 and then headed right to Colorado for Mike’s 100 mile race in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. All of this work built up the tools that I needed to make this an amazing year.

When all is said and done, this was a massive year for me. Even with my DNF at Tuscobia I managed 6 ultra distance events between racing and pacing. I’ve never attempted more than 2 in a year before. In hindsight, it was probably too many, and my goals for next year will be a bit more reasonable. I need to remember to balance out my desire to “do everything” with the realities of burn-out.

I’m not finishing the year with as much mileage as last year, but I’m OK with that. Combined with all the extra biking that I did, this was still my most active year ever. I’m learning to find that balance with biking, running, and hiking, that makes me a well rounded outdoors person, not just a runner. I’m loving looking for adventures, and I want to be ready for them, whatever mode of transport is required.

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