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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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.

Beer Review: Hairless Dog Black Ale

I’d heard about Hairless Dog (a 0.0% ABV beer) for a few months now. It’s finally ramped up production enough that it’s hitting lots of mainstream stores, including Cub groceries. So last night I decided to pick up a six pack and check it out.

Although they have multiple flavors, I chose the black ale because it’s one of my go-to styles, and I wanted to see how they did with creating a deep rich malt backbone. However, when I poured out the beer into a glass I was met with a deep copper colored beer that resembled more of an Amber visually. First impressions matter, and having a beer so light called a “black ale” feels like a miss. They could have just called this beer an Amber or Altbier and no one would have probably questioned it.

img_0424That’s mainly because the flavor wasn’t very “black ale” either. There was a hint of roast, but it was so subtle that it was almost non-existent. The overriding flavor was sweet malt, which makes sense given that this beer does not go through any fermentation. In fact this is their big selling point, that this beer is never fermented so there isn’t even a hint of alcohol in it. It’s truly 0.0%, not a fraction of a percent like other NA beers.

Despite the sweetness the beer tasted mostly OK. It had the character of a Mr. Beer kit beer that you may have gotten for Christmas. Something that comes with old yeast that doesn’t quite attenuate out and you’re left with something tremendously malt forward. It certainly was attempting to be beer, but it was very obviously not. It’s also worth noting that alcohol itself has a flavor, and that helps define what gives beer it’s taste. None of that was here.

However, having said all of these negative critiques, I still got enjoyment from drinking it. It almost felt like if beer were to be made as a soft drink, this is what you would get. A sweet fizzy drink that, in this case, has a dominant flavor of beer. It was drinkable, and gave me a hint of that beer experience, but it certainly wasn’t like drinking a beer. I do wonder if the IPA would come across better, since the sweet malt can be overlaid with a lot of hop character? I might have to give that a try sometime. They also have a coffee stout that might come across better, as the coffee can add another dimension away from the malt.

Overall, not a bad experience, and I’m 100% behind companies trying to create a market for a product like this. I’m one of those people who really likes the flavor of beer, and if for some reason I had to give it up, I would appreciate having options like this that at least taste like they’re in the same neighborhood.