2017 Grand Traverse 16 mile

Last year, the wife and I did a spur of the moment race up on the north shore called Grand Traverse. This is a low-key event with four different distances (27, 21, 16, 10), that runs along the Superior Hiking Trail from Jay Cooke State Park to Fitgers Brewhouse. It’s a small event, but it’s growing in popularity. Last year a few of our friends came up to do it, and they joined us again this year.

This year we opted for the 16 mile distance (we did the 21 last year), and that meant starting at 8am near the Magney-Snively trailhead. We launched promptly, and soon were back in the woods around Spirit Mountain ski resort. I hadn’t run 16 miles in quite a while, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from my body, but when I started I was feeling great. I kept pace with a few other folks around me, but eventually had to stop to relieve myself, and then found myself all alone (which is how I like it).

IMG_1644I’ve gotten pretty familiar with the southern portion of the SHT, but with all of the new bike trail additions, there were moments where I had to stop and look around to make sure I took the correct turn. There were a few spots where I took a couple of steps down the wrong trail before turning around and going the right way.

One of the benefits of running the race this year was the weather. It was beautiful and perfect for running. Last year, the hillsides were shrouded in fog, meaning that we couldn’t see anything beyond 15 feet or so. This year I could see everything, and stopped far too many times to take pictures of the view I couldn’t see last year.

IMG_1649The portion of the trail from Beck’s Road to Highland-Getchell is VERY rocky. Even though I was feeling good, I wasn’t able to move as quickly as I would have liked because of all of the rocky footing. I was still having a great time, but it meant that I my feet ended up much more beat up than on a regular trail run. In addition, the course was VERY muddy, and I ended up with the back of my legs looking quite coated in brown.

IMG_1642I eventually made it to the second (and last) aid station of the 16 mile distance, and from my memory the only thing left was the climb to Enger Tower, and then the long descent to the path that leads to Canal Park. I forgot that the climb to Enger was a good mile in length, and by the time I got up to the top I was ready to be done. The descent down the other side is very rocky and relentless. I picked up a running partner on the way down and we chatted a bit to keep each other company on the tricky footing.

Once we hit the pavement we decided to jog the rest of the way in. I followed the blue line into Canal Park and then down the lakewalk to Fitgers. I had really hoped to beat 5 hours, but alas, I just didn’t have that much in me and I managed 5:09:29. I would have had to really push harder on some of the earlier miles to make 5 hours a reality.

IMG_1648.JPGI climbed the stairs to the finish line behind Fitgers and met my wife. She had also started on the 16 mile route, but due to a sprained ankle a week ago, she only did 12 of it (which she was very happy with). She would have dropped down to the 10 mile race, except for the fact that the bus was full. The race director was happy to give her a ride back from the final aid station to help her get her miles in.

Once I finished, I got cleaned up and we waited for our friends to finish. They were doing the 27 mile and many of them decided to run together. They came up the stairs smiling and happy, and excited for what they had done. Once everyone was cleaned up we hit the brewhouse for some food. I had a burger that really hit the spot, with some delicious tater tots. When we finished eating we still had an hour before the recognition ceremony, so we headed down to a new brewery a few blocks away (I’ll write about that tomorrow). I tried out some new beer, and then headed back for the fun recognition ceremony and the door prize giveaway. I walked out with a nice pair of socks, and a great bike tire lever.

I really love this race. It’s a great course, nice and low-key, and a lot of great people run it. I know that they’re growing a bit, but I hope that they still do what they can to maintain that small feel. It’s a wonderful example of the trail community on the north shore, and an excellent way to spend a great autumn day.

PC: Wendi B


Surly Trail Loppet Half Marathon

Hot. That was the word for the day on Saturday when I ran the Surly Trail Loppet Half Marathon. I had signed up for this race a few weeks ago, since my wife was gone during this same weekend running a Trail Ragnar. I had never run this race before, and had only ran at Theodore Wirth park a few times before. This made me excited to see what more this park had to offer.

However, because of that word I started out with (HOT), this was more than just a simple half-marathon for me. The past week or so, Minnesota has been having a strange warm spell with temps in the upper 80s most of the week. What should have been a nice cool fall race, was shaping up to be one of the warmest I’ve ever done.

Because of the parking situation near the start, I went to a trail head on the Luce Line trail 2 miles away and biked to the race village. As I was biking I could tell that the day was already shaping up to be downright tropical. I arrived at the start and got my bib, and wandered around seeing if I recognized anyone. On the bike ride over I passed Rob H. and said hello, and then as I was waiting near the start line I met up with Kari. We talked about the heat and she declared that she was going to run so slow she wouldn’t even sweat! On a day like this, I personally proved that wasn’t possible.

My wave launched at 9:15 and I started down a simple bike path until we veered off into the woods. My first miles were pretty good, and I was feeling relatively positive, but I could already tell that the heat was going to play a major factor. I stuck around 12-13 minute miles and made sure that I took it easy on the uphills.

Something that I’ve learned in high heat running is that you can sometimes drink too much water. Often times when we are hot and sweaty we want to drink to cool down. However, what can happen is that you flush out all of the salts from your system as you’re drinking. I think that was a direct contributor to the heat exhaustion I got on a race in Vegas a few years ago. Therefore, my strategy was to use my water bladder to drink when I was thirsty, and at aid stations drink a bunch of sport drink. While at the aid stations I would also dunk 2-3 cups of water over my head to cool myself down. This meant that I was staying cooler, but also getting in more than just water. Overall, I felt like the strategy worked out mostly good.

As the race wore on my body started to fatigue severely from the heat. Eventually, I was dragging myself along at a 17 min/mile pace, and just trying to regain some energy by moving slowly. I was savoring every moment of shade in the woods that I could. However, there were long stretches of exposed trail as well. In fact, one of the things that I discovered about this race is that a large portion of it is on paved bike trail, as well as dirt. I’d estimate about 30-35% of the race is on asphalt, which is great for introducing road runners to trails, but on a hot brutal day, I dreaded every moment of pavement.

Somewhere after mile 10 I decided to ditch the shirt, as the black fabric was absorbing the sun. Thankfully I still had my vest to cover my lily-white chest, and spare any of my fellow runners blindness. I started to feel better between mile 9-10 and felt like I was moving with determination. I wasn’t running a ton, but my hiking was solid. I hit the final aid station for a final shower before making my way to the finish. There is a short section of residential road at this point, and it’s all up-hill. Needless to say I was a little bummed that there was no way I could run it. Soon I was back on a bike trail and heading for the end.

I crossed the line, triumphant over the conditions, and with the slowest half-marathon time in my running career at 3:17 (technically Blood, Sweat, and Beers was slower, but it was also a full MILE longer than a half marathon). Given the amount of pavement, and the sub-1000ft of elevation gain in the race, I know I could easily have gotten closer to 2:35-2:45. I was the victim of a circumstance that I know is my nemesis, running in heat. I feel like I should train more for some heat runs, and perhaps I’ll make a point of that next season. Many of my toughest races have seemed to be bogged down by heat related issues.

I looked around at the finish for any friends and spotted Anthony, who I’ve run into a ton at races recently. He came in a bit after me, also suffering from the horrendous conditions. We chatted a bit, I had a half a glass of beer, and then it was time for the very, very slow bike ride back to my car. I had thankfully spent a few minutes just laying and recovering, so by the time I hit the bike I wasn’t doing too bad. Riding with no shirt felt great, as the self-generated breeze cooled me off amazingly.

Soon I was back at my car, and I loaded up to go home and clean up and spend some time in air conditioning. My recovery was swift, which I think it a tribute to how smart I ran this race. I managed my fluid intake really well, and perhaps the only change I’d make is to carry a bottle of some form of energy drink as well. I also didn’t hydrate to excess, and had no signs of any ill effects from the heat when I finished.

As for the race itself, this was the first year I had ran it, and it was a fun time. The race directors can’t do anything about the weather, and so they were as much a victim of it as all of us runners. I was a little disappointed with how much pavement there was on the course, but I understand that they can only work with what they have available to them in the park. Almost all of the bike paths were through tree-lined sections of the park, so they were just as beautiful. There were some short jaunts along railroad tracks which were a new thing for me, but to some degree that gave it a cool urban-trail feel.

I’m unsure if I’ll be back next year. This particular weekend in September always seems to fill up with various races. There’s still In Yan Teopa that I want to get down to, so perhaps Surly Trail Loppet will need to wait a while before I return to it. If you’re a road runner looking to get a taste of trails, I’d recommend giving this race a try. It’s a good time, and well managed. Hopefully, in future years, the heat won’t be such a huge factor.

Bluff Tuff Trail Half Marathon

Ever since deciding to focus the rest of my year on smaller races, I have registered for a couple that I’ve never done before. The first on the list is a race that is run over at Battle Creek Park in Saint Paul, called the Bluff Tuff Trail Half Marathon. It’s a part of the Urban Trail series put on by Endurance United, an organization that seeks to get people active in endurance events. They have a large focus on cross country skiing, but they also put on some trail races.

In previous years this even was known as the Twin Cities Urban Trail Marathon, as it wound through the park, as well as along various paths on the Mississippi riverside. Because of the difficulty in putting on such a big event, they chose this year to focus on just the half distance. To add some excitement to the mix, a month before the race, they were informed that some of the paths that they wanted to use near the river would be closed. This meant that instead of a point-to-point race, ending at Flat Earth Brewery, they needed to confine all 13 miles inside the park.

This was my first time running at Battle Creek, so I had no idea what to expect. What I found is that there was no trouble at all finding all kinds of trails and singletrack in which to put on a long race. However, it required a lot of noodling around, and it appears that some of the course marshals had to alter signage as the race went on to accommodate getting people going in the right direction. I didn’t mind the course at all, as it combined a lot of really cool elements, and despite the compact nature of the park, I never felt like I was just running back and forth or in circles.

The weather today called for rain, and there was even a slight chance that the race could get cancelled for severe storms. Thankfully, all we ended up with were some mild showers. Partway through the race the sun even poked through the clouds for a few brief moments. I wore a long sleeve shirt, and most of the time I didn’t regret it. When the sun peeked out I started feeling like I wish I had short sleeves, but I managed to just pull up my sleeves a bit more to cool down.

We launched at 9:15am, and I settled into a nice easy pace as we entered some double-wide grassy areas. My training has been very minimal this year, and so I knew I needed to just take it easy and enjoy the day. I’ve had five runs this year over 12 miles, and 4 of those were races. Today was going to be a bit of a challenge for my physically, but I feel like I still have a lot of mental fortitude from the past few years of achievements.

As we wound around Battle Creek, I was struck by just how beautiful this park is. I grew up in east Saint Paul, but we usually spent our time up by Lake Phalen. I rarely had reason to come down to Battle Creek. What I discovered today was an amazing set of trails that I’m going to have to spend more time visiting. The amazing thing about this park is that it’s just a couple miles outside of Downtown Saint Paul. In the selfie below you can see the outline of part of Downtown over my shoulder. The picture makes it look further away, but you could easily run there from this park. It’s amazing to have this so close to an urban core.


As the race wore on my body started to feel more aches and pains that I normally do. This park, and this course, includes a LOT of elevation for a city park. When all was said and done I got almost 1300 ft of elevation change over the course of the 12 miles (more on that in a bit). To compare, this is just a few hundred feet less than places like Afton and Zumbro. It’s awesome to know that I don’t need to travel all the way out to Afton for some hill training if I don’t want to.

Once I had completed a particularly rugged section of singletrack around mile 9, I found myself on some pavement for a bit. It wasn’t very long, and frankly, just getting to run on flat ground for a half mile was a nice change of pace. Soon though we were right back at it, with an amazing climb up some switchbacks to get back on top of the bluff. By this point in the race my hamstrings were killing me, but I knew I didn’t have too much further to go.

IMG_1378.jpgThe distance was a bit of a confusing factor to the race. The mile markers, and the maps, showed a solid 13.1 distance. However, as the race wore on, my watch and the mile markers started drifting. By the end, I was a full mile behind where the markers said I should be. I took a look at a half dozen other Strava users who ran the race and every single person finished around 11.5-12.2 miles. What this tells me is that the original measurement of the course was probably off (perhaps old GPS?). I know for many of the road runners in the race, that might have been a big deal. As a trail runner, I really didn’t care. As long as I get a fun course, that’s somewhere in the ballpark of what I want to run (distance-wise), I’m cool.

Once I got on top of the hill, I managed to get a bit more running in, but I knew I was reaching the limit of what my training had prepared me for. I noodled around the upper section, following the flags, and saw the finish line in the distance. We had to round a small pond before we finished, and (at that point) it felt like the biggest pond in existence. As I approached the finish line I heard the Race Director Andrew announce, “The beer garden will be closing soon! Last call for beer!” You bet I ran like hell at that point. I rounded the finish line (2:50 finish) and made a beeline for tent.

As I stood in the garden, drinking my beer and waiting for my wife to finish, I felt my calves start to protest. I took every opportunity that I could to stretch the out, because they were just about ready to cramp up hard. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait too long for her to round the corner. I finished my beer, had a brief chat with RD Andrew and we headed out to get on with our day.

I’m so glad that I’ve decided to scale back my running this year. This race was tough, and a challenge, but I had a ton of fun, and I enjoyed myself. Sure it wasn’t an ultra distance on the north shore, but it was a beautiful urban course, with a lot of great hills and trails. Having fun with this is what matters the most, and I’m happy to say that getting to run this amazing race in the city where I grew up was awesome. Tonight, I’m very sore, but happy and fulfilled. This was a great race in a great place, and I’m thankful I decided to give it a shot.

Afton 25K race report

This past Saturday, the annual summer gathering of trail people, known as Afton 50K/25K, took place. This event has been going on for decades and is a wonderful way to kick off the July 4th weekend in Minnesota. As always, Rocksteady Running puts on an amazing event, with great aid stations, a well marked course, and a tremendously great vibe that makes you feel great about being there. As my second year at this event, I was very excited to get back to this race, and to these trails.

To say that my running year has been off to a sluggish start would be an understatement. I’m nowhere near where I’ve been in previous years, and my performances are obviously reflective of that. Going into Saturday’s Afton 25K, I had a very tempered expectation for what I would be able to achieve. The only goal I wanted to achieve was to beat 4 hours.

IMG_1176Since I enjoy some statistics, I went back to compare my running year in 2016, with what I’ve accomplished so far in 2017, leading up to this race. By the time I hit Afton 25K last year, I had already logged 745 miles, compared to this year’s 343. This year my mileage has been very low, and Saturday’s race was only the 7th time all year that I’ve logged double digit mileage. In terms of weekly miles, I’ve only run over 20 miles in a week twice this entire year. Last year I didn’t run LESS than 20 miles until after the Zumbro 50. Needless to say, my expectations for the race were pretty low.

I started my day with some volunteering, running down the 50K course a bit to take pictures of the runners as they passed through about a half a mile in. Once that was done I got myself ready and launched with the 25K pack. I had the honor of running alongside my friend Amy for quite a while to start, and we leap frogged each other quite a bit during the first 4 miles. I blew through the first aid station, feeling surprisingly good, just grabbing some water to dump over my head.

Eventually my friend Amy’s ability to bomb the downhills meant that she pulled farther and farther away from me, and I settled into a nice pace for the level of training that I have done. Aid station 2 and 3 were pretty much a blur, though I know I spent too much time chatting with folks at AS3 before heading up the hill to the campground. However, as I looked back at the run, I got to AS3 at exactly the same time this year as well as last year.

By the time I had swung back around to the other side of AS3 which was AS4, I had dropped about 4 minutes from my pace from the previous year. Something that I’m proud of both years is that I ran the 1 mile segment of the River Trail, which is long, flat, and has the tendency to suck out your soul (similar to the road at Zumbro). I climbed up Meat Grinder and arrived at AS5, just a mere four minutes behind my pace from 2016. At this point though, the lack of training was starting to catch up with me.

As I headed into the Snowshoe loop my entire body was dragging. I was feeling exhausted, and despite a MUCH cooler year this year, I was feeling hot and sweaty. As I hit the final hills I felt my legs scream in agony at me, begging me to stop. I didn’t stop, but I did slow down quite a bit. Additionally, at one point I stepped wrong and gave my left ankle a bit of a tweak. I had to gingerly step down hills for the next 10 minutes making sure I hadn’t done anything too serious. However, as I looked at my watch I knew I would easily beat four hours, and so I wasn’t too concerned.

I finally reached the last stretch to the finish line and convinced my body to run the final half mile. I crossed the finish and immediately grabbed some liquid and found a quiet place to sit and lie down. The lack of training caught up with me in a big way during the final 3 miles, and now I needed some rest. Yet, despite all of this, I only lost an additional 8 minutes during those 3 miles, putting me at 12 minutes slower than last year.

Some people would consider this much of a drop in performance a huge disappointment, but frankly, I’m overjoyed. With how little running I’ve been doing, the only thing that really got me through was my years of experience, and general conditioning from running so many miles in previous years. I was thrilled with how well my body felt and performed before the wall hit on Snowshoe. I frankly, could not have asked for a better outcome given the circumstances.

Once I recovered, and saw my wife finish, I grabbed some food and then changed clothes to head down to AS3/4 and take more pictures. I arrived in time to get a good selection of the back-of-the-pack 50K runners as they came into the aid station on their final loop. After about an hour or so, things seemed to be pretty much done, so I headed back to the car and we began the journey home. Overall, it was a tremendous day and a wonderful reminder that I can still do this, despite the setbacks. I feel much more energized and motivated to get back out there and make a solid attempt at Marquette 50K this year. I know I still have a long way to go, but in the immortal words of Monty Python and the Holy Grail… “I’m not dead yet!”



Trail Mix 25K

This year we decided to add in the Trail Mix 25K race into the Upper Midwest Trail Runners Trail Series. It’s a very popular local trail race at Lake Rebecca Park Reserve, and is a great introduction to trail running for beginners. I hesitated on signing up early, and opt’d to just do race day registration.

I had never been to this park before, so I was curious about how the course stacked up to other routes. I did some searching on Strava and discovered that the elevation nearly matches the Elm Creek horse trail loop, meaning that this should be pretty familiar territory for me. Both routes are also around 7 miles in length, so this should be just like doing two loops of Elm Creek.

I arrived early to register and then chatted with other folks that I knew that were there. I snapped a pic of the UMTR folks for our Instagram feed right before we launched at 9:30am. I stuck to the back of the pack, since I’m not a fast runner, and I also like to avoid the crowd at the front. This still doesn’t mean I went out at the appropriate speed, and probably should have dialed it back a bit. Soon the mass of people started thinning out and I was able to set my pace and settle in for a few hours of running.

The course was double-wide horse trail, with a couple of short gravel roads, and two segments of bike path. In other words, this is very similar to anyone who’s run Elm Creek before. The main difference being that I felt like I was on pavement a bit more between a couple of the trail junctions. As for elevation, the hills were much more mellow than Elm Creek. Even with a similar about of climbing, I never felt like I was climbing up anything tremendously steep. However, the downside to smaller hills is that you end up with more of them. You also tend to run up them without thinking, expending energy that you might not have on sharper hills.

Trail Mix is a great race for people crossing over from roads, and one of the benefits is frequent aid stations. The loop is 12.5K long, and there are aid stations roughly every 3K. This means that you’re coming across water and food frequently enough that you don’t have to carry any if you don’t want. I opt’d to not carry any water, and for the most part was fine. There were a couple moments where I felt like I would have liked some extra water, but the aid station was never that far away.

IMG_0863On my first loop I felt pretty good. I ate a lot of food in an attempt to keep my energy up, and made sure I was hydrating enough. I ran more of the uphills than I probably should have, but I wasn’t keeping up an outrageous pace. I came into the start/finish area to start my second loop in just over 90 minutes, which was just fine with me. My training this year has been pretty bad, so I was happy with my time so far. I gobbled up some food and headed out on the second loop.

The second loop was hotter than the first, so I doused my head a bit when I came across water. I also felt my energy wane somewhat so I backed off my pace and started doing a bit more walking. However, I enjoyed running through the mud puddles; prancing my way through, while others futilely tried to stay dry. As I got close to the final aid stations I realized I was pretty much out of energy and so I kept it slow the rest of the way in. My final loop came in around 107 minutes, which considering where I’m at fitness wise was just fine with me. My overall time was 3:19.

I grabbed a bit more food and chatted with folks a bit before deciding I needed a nap and headed for the car. I made my way home, showered and immediately fell asleep for a nap. It’s somewhat frustrating to me that I’ve declined so much that even a 25K has me feeling like my first half-marathon race. I know I can get back out of this but it will take time. It may affect my decision to attempt the Superior 50K in a few weeks. I’m considering just volunteering and work on building myself up for Marquette 50K later this year.

I had a good time at Trail Mix, and I can see myself coming back again next year. It’s a fun, easy, course, and it is very well managed. The was an abundance of aid and volunteer support, making the entire experience fun and easy. The weather was amazing, topping out in the 60s by the time I was done. Thankfully, there was a cool breeze most of the time, so it never felt overwhelmingly hot (I do wish I hadn’t forgot sunscreen though).

If you’re looking for a fun race, especially as a new trail runner, Trail Mix is a great event. Even if you’re experienced in running on dirt, Trail Mix is a really beautiful place to run and get in some solid miles with great support.