Icebox 480

On Saturday the wife and I drove down to River Falls, WI to participate in a wonderful end of season race, the Icebox 480. Many of our friends have run this race in years past, and we decided this year was the year we were going to join in as well. Icebox is a timed race, meaning that you can run as much or as little as you want in 8 hours. The course is a 6.3 (advertised as 7) mile loop around some mountain bike trails. There’s a nice mix of mild elevation, rocky/rooted terrain, and quick rollers to keep you on your toes.

Unfortunately, my wife is dealing with a toe injury, so she came along just to volunteer. When we arrived it was dark, and it was somewhat funny how you’d maybe bump into people you knew, but unless you turned your headlamp to all sides you could end up standing next to a friend and not even know it. At 7:30am we launched, and since there was no hurry I waited for a bunch of people to go before heading out. There was still a bit of a conga line for about half of the first loop, but it wasn’t too bad.

I settled into a comfortable pace, which meant that my time running with friends was somewhat minimal. Many of them are in much better shape right now, and so we would chat for a bit, and then they would move on ahead. I wasn’t upset or frustrated though, since I was enjoying myself and felt like I was doing quite well for where I’m at. I finished the first loop in about 90 minutes, and was happy with my time. I ran most of it, and felt strong. I could feel my body getting tired though, so I decided that my goal for the day would be three loops.

I grabbed some food at the aid station, and started out on my second loop. I took it a bit easier this time around, and I found myself walking more and more. When I got to the second aid station at mile 4, I asked my wife if she could meet me at the start/finish area with my coat. I decided that my third loop would be a hiking loop. As, I had talked about earlier this year, I decided to focus on shorter distances this year. That meant that even three loops of the course would be the longest run of 2017 for me.

IMG_1786.jpgI headed out for a nice leisurely third loop, enjoying a nice fall day. We had gotten a bit of snow this past week, but there was none to be had on the entire course. It was a bit overcast and windy, but thankfully, when you were in the trees the wind was a non-issue. I slowly made my way around the course, and when I arrived at the aid station again I told my wife to go ahead and meet me at the finish in a bit and I’d call it a day. Of course, as sometimes happens, there were lots of friends at this aid station. I think it took me a good 10 minutes before I left to finish out the loop.

I eventually arrived back at the start finish and started chatting with folks. My wife met me there and helped Robyn’s mom with some IT band issues. Eventually though, we decided it was time to go, and we headed over to the Rush River Brewery right next door. In hindsight I wish I had come back after the brewery to see people again, but with this 19 mile run being my longest of the year, I was wiped. We arrived home and I showered and fell into bed for a solid 2 hour nap. That’s not something I do very often at all.

I can tell that I’ve lost a lot of my endurance over the course of this year, and it’s something to look at building back up in 2018. I’m pleased with what I got done at Icebox though, and I can certainly see coming back next year. It’s such a nice low-key end to the season, with no pressure for how far you go. I can see why this one is such a favorite of runners in the area. I loved seeing all our friends, and getting to spend some time with great trail people. It was a great day outside, and a wonderful event with a wonderful community of people.

Race Report: Surf the Murph 25K – 2017

This was my third year at Surf the Murph. Two years ago it was the site of my first 50K and my induction into the ultramarathon distance. Last year I tried for a repeat, but after a big year with my first 50 mile race I just wasn’t up for two loops of the course, and DNF’d after 25K. Since I knew my running this year wasn’t up to snuff I only signed up for the 25K, and was very happy I did so.

The weather all week had been calling for rain on Saturday, and wow did it deliver. To make sure we got a decent parking place we arrived 90 minutes early for our start. We grabbed our bibs and then went back to the car to relax. I leaned back the seat and started to doze off just as the heavens opened up in a torrential downpour. I felt very sorry for all the 50 milers and 50K runners who were stuck out on course in the storm. I don’t know how long I slept, but when I awoke things had calmed down quite a bit. When we headed to the start the rain had slowed to a slight drizzle, and throughout the day it wouldn’t amount to much more than a steady spring rain.

IMG_1723.jpgWe launched at 8am, which is an hour later than I’ve ever done at Surf, and it meant that I didn’t need a headlamp. That was a nice welcome change as I usually have to stow it within a few miles once the sky lightens up. It was one less thing to carry which was fine with me. I had already overdressed and had to stuff my extra shirt into my pack within a mile from the start. I was thankful for my Outdoor Research hat as it is waterproof, and the brim kept the rain from dripping into my eyes.

The first part of the course is very hilly, and so I made the decision to go out nice and slow (a change from previous years as well). I ended up averaging around 14 minute miles for the whole race, but starting slow meant that I could pick up steam later in the race. I had some of my fastest miles at 11 and 12. I was feeling good at that point and decided to burn some excess energy. I wasn’t able to keep it up long, but it felt good to get a little faster for a bit.

IMG_1725.jpgHowever, the big story of the day was the mud. In the past, this course always has some level of mud, but due to the recent rain the entire course was completely covered. This is one of the muddiest runs I’ve ever done, even beating the 2015 Spring Superior 25K where I came back covered up to my knees. Surf added in a ton more puddles of standing water, which kept your legs a tiny big cleaner, but meant that you were plodding through water for hours. By the time I had hit mile 13 my quads were burning from all the prancing I had to do, leading with my toes to avoid getting my shoe stuck.

This year the beaver dam was once again bigger and more flooded than ever. The race organizers put down some boards to help with crossing along the top of the dam, which helped a little bit. Unfortunately, every step was not solid, and at one point I sank in up to my knee. I really feel like the park needs to do something about this section. It’s a part of a regular marked trail but it’s simply never going to be passable ever again (apart from the dead of winter) without destruction of the dam and massive ground mitigations. They need to either put up a real bridge or move the trail to a different location.

One of the the unique things about Surf is that all of the distances (apart from the 50) are very long. In order to make 3 loops equal 50 miles, each loop is actually 26.7K. That amounts to over a full mile beyond 25K, which after a long muddy day, feels like forever. Even though I know the loop distance, and have run it multiple times, I always get grumpy when mile 16 hits. I want the loop to be done, even though I know exactly how long it is. I need to figure out something in the future to stop myself from getting so pissed about something that I know right from the start line.

photo credit: Lisa

I came across the line in 4:07:43 (Strava time), which isn’t my fastest ever time, but it was better than last year by about 7 minutes. I found some friends and said hi and then went to watch for Lisa to cross. She was only about 15 minutes behind me and I got to cheer her across the line. In fact when she saw me it made her realize that the finish was just around the corner I was standing on and that she could still make her goal.

Once we got our medallions of wood we headed to the fountain to get cleaned up and then to the car to get changed. Even walking around the start/finish area you could tell that the conditions were getting worse and worse. I know many people were dropping early due to the intense mud fest. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a nice mud run, but this was extreme, and I couldn’t imagine going out for even one more loop, let alone 2. Huge props to those who were able to get it done.

Once we wrapped up it was time for our traditional burger at Five Guys and then home to get cleaned and showered. Thankfully, I’ve run this race in years where it’s been beautiful, with lots of dry running. If this was the first year I had ever been to this course I would be leery about coming back. However, I know that next year it could be a totally different scenario, so hopefully I’ll be up for at least one loop around Murphy-Hanrehan.


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.