Race Report: Marquette 50K

It’s about time I put pen to paper and wrote this report, while I still have the memories in my head. This is the third year that I’ve signed up for the Marquette 50K. The previous two times that I’ve registered, I’ve ended up not running it. Either I wasn’t in shape for it, or scheduling conflicts got in the way. The tough thing about registering for this race is that you need to commit on Black Friday the year before the race. They open up a sale that day, and on most years it completely sells out. They do keep a waitlist, but I think they need to do a better job of publicizing that, because according to the results over 100 people of the 350+ registered for the 50K, didn’t start the race.

img_4943As appears to be the custom for my races out of town, my friend Mike B. and I traveled together. However, unlike Badger, this was a guy’s weekend, as Lisa was staying home for a relaxing time on her own. I got up very early on Friday to get in a 2 mile shakeout run before cleaning up and waiting for Mike to show up in his minivan. I opt’d not to bring my trailer for this one, and just share a giant tent that Mike has. He also brought along a couple of cots so neither of us had to sleep on the ground.

The drive to Marquette is around 7 hours, mostly through rural northern Wisconsin. As we got over the boarder into the upper peninsula of Michigan, we ran into a serious amount of rain. This ended up slowing us down a lot, but we were comforted by the fact that this storm was going to mostly miss the Marquette area. It’s never fun to set up a tent in the rain, so we wanted to do whatever we could to get to the campsite ASAP and get things buttoned up before any rain started to fall. Our timing was great and we were set up and ready to head to dinner before any serious moisture hit. Our friend Greg pulled up into the campsite next to us, and the three of us headed into town to meet up with Lynnea and Heather for food.

img_4947We had a nice dinner at the Iron Bay restaurant, along with a couple drinks. However, we all realized that our wake up call was 3:45am, and we needed to hit the sack. Gratefully, the campground was mostly quiet that evening and I was able to get a fitful 5 hours of sleep. Too soon though it was time to get up and start getting ready.

Because I had just done a 100K two weeks before, I had no intentions of racing this 50K. There is a generous 12 hour cutoff for the 50K, and I knew that I could completely hike it and still have time to spare. We arrived at the start, and started getting ourselves ready. Mike was running the 50 mile version of the race, which is the opposite in terms of cutoffs. He would need to push hard to make the initial 50K cutoff in 8.5 hours, and then turn around and hit a solid final 20 miles to get in before the 15 hour total limit.

img_4951Starting a race in the dark (5:30am) gives you the advantage of seeing the sun rise. This is an incredible mental boost when running, and getting to experience it in the first ten miles of the race really makes the time fly. Those miles before the sunrise feel like a different race, contributing a small bit of mental trickery to help you cope with the notion of being on course for many, many hours.

img_4952The race course is divided into a 10 mile loop to the south, that everyone starts on. Then you return to the start/finish area and head out on a 20 mile loop to the north. The 50 milers come back to start/finish a second time and head out on a second 20 mile loop, but this time they do it the opposite direction. I really liked having the clear demarcation between the first 10 and then the 20. It created a nice breaking point where I could adjust strategy and approach the second 2/3 of the race with a different view.

img_4955In fact, that had been my plan all along. I would go out strong on the first 10 miles, and then just hike the 20 as a tourist. I figured that would be all that my legs would be good for. Despite being the easier section, I wasn’t able to run quite as hard as I wanted to on the first 10, due to a couple of very technical sections that required slowing down. This was complicated by some bottlenecks of people who were still bunched up. None of the climbs in this first 10 miles were that bad, but there were enough sections of rocks and roots that I wasn’t able to go flat out. I managed to finish the first 10 in under 3 hours, and was feeling really good. I was well on track for a potential 10 hour finish.

I got back to the start/finish aid station and found my drop bag. My plan was to grab my hiking poles and use those for the next 20 mile section. I was feeling pretty good though, so I just attached them to my vest and headed back out on course (after fueling up). As I left, I got to run a bit with Wayne Nelson, who’s a bit of a legend in the Minnesota ultra and trail scene. It was fun to meet another Minnesotan on course, and we shared a mile or so before he managed to leave me behind. Despite feeling good, I knew I shouldn’t push it too hard. There were still a LOT of miles to go.

The first big climb of the race is actually not one of the “four peaks” that are advertised. The Sugarcube mountain (as I came to find out) is right before the Sugarloaf aid station. It’s a rocky peak that requires a bit of scrambling to find your way up. It’s not terribly tall though, and when I got to the top I was treated to a semi-decent view, in light of what I was about to experience. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to hit the first of the four peaks until after the next aid station, so I didn’t spend much time on this “little” mountain.

I came into the Sugarloaf aid station and realized I needed to empty my shoes of rocks. They didn’t have any chairs for runners, but I managed to find a nice rock to sit on. I got my shoes emptied, and my stomach full of food and headed back out for what I was told would be a long stair climb to the top of Sugarloaf. Sure enough in less than a mile I came upon the first of the wooden staircases that would bring me to the top. I actually don’t mind stairs, and many times prefer them to climbing up rocks. They just take a certain mindset and understanding, and once you get your mind away from the monotony of them, they’re actually quite easy.

img_4962I crested the peak of Sugarloaf (along with a boatload of tourists) and was treated to what would become my absolute favorite view of the race. The view from on top of this mountain is spectacular. You’re near the shoreline, and so on one side you have the expanse of Lake Superior. On the other side is the rolling hills of the U.P. I spent a bit too much time up here taking photos, and savoring the view, but soon enough I knew I had to start the decent down.

img_4968The path down the other side wasn’t nearly as nice as the stairs going up, but it wasn’t terrible. I also knew that after Sugarloaf I would be treated to 5-6 miles of relatively flat terrain along Lake Superior. I was starting to physically tire, so despite being on very runnable terrain, I had a tough time actually moving quickly. Instead I enjoyed the beautiful scenery, and at one point I headed down to the shore and dipped my hat in the water. The water was still cool enough that it was incredibly refreshing on my head.

img_4970It was in this area that I started to realize that I might need to poop. I didn’t remember seeing a bathroom at the last aid station, and I started to worry that none of the aid stations had porta-potties. I hadn’t packed any toilet paper, and even if I had, the area I was in seemed like a very developed park. I didn’t want to risk getting caught by day use visitors with my pants down off the side of the trail. After a couple of miles I spotted my salvation. A parking lot was about 100 yards off to my left, and there was a vault toilet there. I ran over and as I approached the door a lady jumped out of her car and ran to the door of the bathroom and started knocking, and telling her young daughter to hurry up, because a runner needed to use the toilet!

The young lady left the toilet and I did my business, and sure enough that made everything feel a lot better. As I hit the trail I started feeling my legs under me again, and I broke into a jog. I was feeling great, and decided that my plan for the mile 21 aid station would be to change my socks and enter the final 10 miles with a good head of steam.

I did make a crucial mistake though at that aid station. In addition to changing my socks I also needed to refill my water, and make more Skratch electrolyte drink. In my ultra-brain I started doing everything myself. Instead, I should have been relying on the volunteers to fill my bottles while I dealt with my socks. I wasted WAY too much time futzing with packages of powder and bladder closures. It’s a good lesson for next time… let people help!

img_4976I headed out on the next section and came on the second “peak” of the four. Called Bareback, this mountain was mostly a long slow climb up granite boulders, with little to mark the trail except for some ribbons hanging from trees. On more than one occasion I had to take a moment and look around hard, to see where I was supposed to go. It was on this peak that I pulled out my poles. Yet, by the time I got to the top I decided that they weren’t actually helping, and that they were slowing me down. So, I put them away and never used them the rest of the race. Another interesting lesson learned.

Coming down the hill I managed to get in some running again. I had been leapfrogging some folks (who I think were from Illinois) and with my new found energy, I was able to finally pass them for good and get in some solid miles of jogging. It was only 4 miles to the next station, and I was feeling really good. The miles were clicking away, and my legs were holding up way better than I expected. I came into the final aid station raring to go, and so I didn’t take a lot of time. I ate a bunch of food, and downed a lot of pop before making my way up the third of the notorious peaks… Top of the World.

img_4981Despite the ominous name, this climb was absolutely most enjoyable of the entire race. It was a LONG climb to the top, but the trail was nicely buffed out and there was nothing technical about the ascent. These are the kinds of climbs that I can really rock, and before I knew it I was on… top of the world. Because of all the intersecting paths, there was a timing mat on top of the mountain. I crossed over it, took a couple of photos of the amazing view, and started the, equally, buffed out descent.

The fact that the 3rd hill was so mild put me in a tremendously good mood. I looked at my watch and started doing some math. I realized that a sub-10 hour finish would be easy at this rate, and I might even be able to get close to 9:15-9:20. But then I encountered… Hogsback.

I’ve climbed a lot of Lake Superior mountains, from Moose Mountain, Carlton Peak, and Mystery Mountain. None of them compare to Hogsback. As I was running along I looked to my left, and there was a couple of people slowly making their way up a steep and technical ascent. I steeled myself for what was to come and tried to climb as best I could. Part way up the hill I came across Heather, who was having a rough time on this mountain. I gave her some words of encouragement (I think… I may have just complained about his mountain needing to eat a bag of d**ks), and then passed her by.

img_4982-1The final section to the ascent goes from a marked path, to a sheer granite rock scramble. The next thing I knew I was on my hands and knees, trying to find anything I could grab on to, to get me to the top. It felt like it took forever, and the entire way my mood soured. By the time I got to the top, I didn’t even care that the view was the most spectacular of the entire course. I didn’t care that I could see forever, and that I only had 2.5 miles to go. Hogsback had broken me.

After spending a few minutes being way too grumpy to the awesome volunteer on top of the mountain (sorry!) I went to head back down. The volunteer directed me where to go and as I looked over the edge I realized that there was no path. Just a steep granite rock face that you slide down on your ass. I muttered more curse words under my breath, and began to crab walk down this rock face, praying that I didn’t rip my nice PATH Project shorts.

Once I got down the rock face I came across Mike, who was making his way up the mountain on his second time around for the 50 mile race. He was hurting bad, and I was in a bad mood, but I tried really hard to be encouraging. I knew that he had a really easy stretch if he could just make it over this damn mountain, and I told him so. We parted ways and I began the slog back to the finish line.

At this point my left knee was feeling twingy from the climb (I might have banged it on the rock), and I was still grumpy. I looked at my watch and realized 9:15 wasn’t going to happen. My mood did lighten as all of the 50 milers passed me, and I was able to give them some encouragement, and cheer them on. They had a tremendously hard day, with a race that has very difficult cutoffs. It made me pause and remember that I had the easy task.

Soon enough I was down the mountain and on the final stretch to the finish. The last mile of deer trail took forever. I was ready to be done, and I swear I could hear the finish line music from miles away. At one point I came across the campground and I knew that was the final quarter mile. Soon the fence appeared that would guide me to the finish. I ran as best I could and crossed the line in 9:38. Not my best time for a 50K, but a marked improvement over my 10 hour estimated finish.

img_4987I headed to the finish aid station and grabbed some food before joining a bunch of the other Minnesota folks who were reminiscing about the day. We all hung around for a while before I decided to head out and wipe down before changing clothes. I knew I had quite a few hours before Mike would finish so I took the opportunity to hit a local brewery in town, Blackrocks.

img_4988I ordered up a flight of beer, and as I started sampling, my friends Carrie and Rob came in. We all got a table together and started chatting about the day. Greg, Jake, and another guy who’s name escapes me, joined us, and before long we had filled one of their picnic tables with runners. At one point in the evening I checked the live tracking and realized that Mike would be finishing soon, so it was time to head back.

img_4991I grabbed the camp chairs from the van and went to watch Mike finish. Greg went to get pizza with Heather, so it would be ready at the campground when he was done. Soon enough Mike came across the line, beaten up, but successful. Some of his first words to me were, “Never let me do this again.” Marquette 50 Mile is a beast, but Mike finally had redemption on his DNF from many years ago.

After a quick recuperation we headed back to camp and enjoyed some quiet time with pizza, beer, and friends. Sleep was sounding better and better though, so we soon hit the showers and then called it a night. We had a long 7 hour drive home the next day, and a good night sleep would mean the difference between an easy ride, and suffering. Despite some neighbors deciding to play their guitar late into the evening, sleep took me quickly.

img_4999The next morning we packed up, and then all met up at Cafe Bodega for breakfast. I thought I was hungry for biscuits and gravy, but really, I should have just gotten the eggs and bacon. Soon enough though it was time to leave, and we began the journey home. Google routed us around some storms, and before we knew it, we were on I-94 into the Twin Cities. All in all, a nice easy ending to an amazing weekend.

Marquette was a very different race than Badger, but equally as challenging. It made me work in a very different way, and having the two back-to-back, made for a wild couple of weeks. I’m not sure if I’ll be ready to tackle the hills of Marquette right away again next year, but I can certainly see myself returning someday. It’s a beautiful race in a wonderful town. The atmosphere is pure trail running, and I felt like I was among family. I’m grateful to the folks who put this race on, and would recommend this to anyone looking for awesome views and technical terrain. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Race Report: Badger 100K

A couple years ago I heard about the Ten Junk Miles podcast. This is a fun show out of Chicago that bills itself as a “runners” podcast, not a “running” podcast. They talk about running all the time, but the focus isn’t on elites, or trying to make you a better runner. It’s about hanging out with all your running friends and talking about the things you’d chat about on a ten mile run. They have two show formats; a gang show that’s more akin to a morning show, and a long run for the one-on-one long format interviews.

I had gotten to know Scott Kummer through promoting my race, the St Croix 40. Scotty is a big winter ultra guy and when he heard about what we were doing he was excited to jump on board. I got to meet many of the other hosts, including Adam and Holly, when I sat in on a gang show a few months ago. The TJM crew were huge supporters of my race, and so when they announced that they were going to put on a race, I knew I had to be a part of it.

I wasn’t quite ready for my first 100 mile race, but I wanted to do something that would challenge me. When I heard that the 100K race would have a very generous cutoff of 33 hours, I knew I found what I wanted to try. This would be my first 100K attempt, and my longest distance race ever. I signed up, and then realized that I also have Marquette 50K two weeks later. This was going to be a crazy training block, but throughout the year I was feeling good and running strong, so I tried to put any doubts out of my head.

A few weeks before the race we were informed that we could camp at the park where the race HQ was. This was an awesome perk as my wife had decided to run the 50K which started a day later than my race. We wouldn’t have to worry about shuffling any vehicles around, and could just make ourselves at home for the weekend. My good friend Mike B. agreed to come and pace me for the second half of the race, and so around lunch time on Friday we headed out of town for southern Wisconsin.

It’s about a 5 hour drive to Belleville, WI so we arrived just before dinner. After getting settled, picking up our packets and chatting with folks, we headed in to this quaint small town for a nice dinner. My race wasn’t starting until 9am, so I wasn’t worried about how soon I got to bed. I decided to hang out at the Race HQ for a little bit in the evening, and hit the sack around 10pm.

I actually slept really well that first night, which is odd considering I don’t sleep well the first night in a new place. However, I was feeling really calm and confident about this entire weekend. Perhaps ‘confident’ isn’t the right word, but I wasn’t having any anxious feelings or sense of dread about what was to come. I got up and had some breakfast and fiddled with last minute things to get ready. Having such a late start means that you’re ready to go a lot earlier than you need to be.

Eventually it was time to start. Scotty gave us very simple instructions… “When in doubt, what would a train do?” This is because the Badger State Trail is an old railroad trail that has been converted to a dirt and gravel path. It also means that it’s straight and flat. Hence, if you ever think you should turn left or right, ask yourself if a train would make a 90 degree turn, and you’ll figure out the answer. Because of the flat nature of this course, I set my sights on beating my Zumbro 50 mile time of 15 hours and 45 minutes. I had nothing to gauge my goal on, but I figured I should put something out there to shoot for.

At 9am we launched. After a quick bit of pavement to get out of the park and under a bridge, we were on the path that we’d be on for the rest of the day, and into the night. I decided to go out slow and easy, setting my sights on a 12:00 to 12:30 pace. Adrenaline took over and my first mile was a bit quicker, but I was able to recover nicely and ease into what I wanted to be my all-day pace. I ran into a couple folks in the first miles, Suzanne and Tyson. We chatted away the time until the first aid station. This was after the biggest feature of the course, the Stewart Hill Tunnel.

This quarter mile long tunnel was built in the late 1800s and has a slight curve in the middle. This means that when you’re at the center of it you can’t see light from either end. It’s a huge tunnel, and I loved getting to run through it. I smartly packed my headlamp, and so seeing my way through wasn’t an issue. The tunnel had an added bonus of being 10-20 degrees cooler than the surrounding air temperature, which was quickly rising. It was going to be a hot one, but the respite of the tunnel provided welcome relief.

After the first aid station I ran some more with folks on and off, but eventually people spread out a bit. The Monticello aid station was run by Holly and it was tempting to stay and chat for a while with her and Dusty, but I knew my plan required only aid station stops of 2 minutes or less. I grabbed some food and headed back out into what was becoming a hotter and hotter day.

It was in this section that I encountered a couple issues that would start to define my first set of obstacles to overcome. First, although being mostly flat, there is a 1% uphill grade heading south. It goes on for 9 miles, and despite being very shallow, your legs feel it. I know that when I hit mile 18 and the path leveled out again, the relief was noticeable. A 1% grade isn’t much, but over 9 miles you certainly feel it. It also didn’t help that this was some of the hottest running of the day, and some of the most exposed portions of the trail.

The second issue I faced was the need to poop. I almost NEVER have to poop in a race. Yet, today, my body decided that I would poop 4-5 times through the first third of the day. I have no idea what caused it, but it certainly made life difficult for quite a while till it settled down. Thankfully, there we’re porta-potties at all the aid stations. This need to poop, along with the slight uphill, made miles 9-18 really, really hard.

At mile 18 we got to a detour in the trail due to some bridge construction. We had been told about this going into the race, and it didn’t change the overall distance in any meaningful way that I could tell, but after a beautiful soft trail, a mile of road was not a welcome relief. It was hot, busy with traffic, and completely exposed to the elements. After this short detour I was elated to be back on gravel.

The Monroe aid station was hopping, and this was the last spot I would get to see my crew until the turnaround. I made sure to fuel up, and despite being in good spirits, I was feeling pretty crappy physcially. I knew my time goal was almost gone at this point, and I even probably said something about it to my crew, but, I hadn’t really dealt with it yet emotionally.

It was 5.75 miles to the next aid, and it was at a slight (maybe .5% grade) downhill. Walking came easy, but my stomach wasn’t done being a problem. I came into the Town Centre Road aid station and saw Dan Slater and Rachel and all I wanted to do was collapse in a chair for a while. I knew I was only supposed to take 2 minutes at each station, but I needed a reset. I spent some time in the toilet and then let Dan cool me down with some wet towels. While in the porta-pottie I felt a little like puking, and contemplated if I could turn myself around quick enough to get it into the proper receptacle. I really wanted to avoid puking into the urinal, as I had no idea if there’d be chunks. Thankfully, everything was a false alarm and I made it out of there with no upchucking occurring.

After spending a bit of time getting cooled down I had to come to grips with the fact that my original time goal was way too optimistic. As I headed back out onto the trail I spent a bit of time hiking it out and letting my mind be at peace. I hit an incredible low just before the last aid station, and came as close to dropping as I would the entire race. I was mentally beat up and emotionally drained from the day in the heat. As I moved closer and closer to the turnaround I took a mental inventory of everything going on. My stomach was coming around and starting to feel better. The heat was decreasing and I had the evening to look forward to. My legs felt good, and despite some hotspots, my physical inventory seemed positive.

After about 5 minutes of taking stock of the situation I started to feel better both mentally and physically and got my first “second wind” of the day. Soon enough I was crossing into Illinois for the final 2.5 mile stretch to the turnaround and as I looked to my right, there was a herd of cows. I took note of them, as these would be the cows that would welcome me back to Wisconsin (the dairy state) in just a little while longer. With my spirits lifted, I started some running. Just a half a mile at a time, but it was enough to manage some solid miles.

Soon I saw the turnaround and ran myself in to the picnic shelter a good 15-20 minutes earlier than I had told my crew to expect me. Despite all my problems, I was doing really well. In my plan, I had scheduled to be at this station for 20 minutes so that I could do a full sock change, as well as assess any lingering issues. By this point my mood was flying and I was excited to spend the night traveling back to the start with Mike. I also got to see a couple of our friends, Travis and Steph, arrive at the turnaround just before I left. They were having a rough day, but I knew they’d pull through eventually.

Soon enough Mike told me my 20 minutes we up and it was time to go. I strapped my vest back on and we began the journey back. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to run a lot at this point, but hiking felt good. We passed the cows quicker than I recalled, and moved back over to the Wisconsin side of the race. We kept up a solid 16:30 hiking pace (roughly) and ran occasionally when I felt good. One of the places I was feeling the best was back at Town Center Road. As I got closer I saw Dan Slater and let out a howl. I had been running for the past half mile and the adrenaline was flowing strong. I’m pretty sure I talked briefly with Rachel again too, but at this point I was starting down the path of ultra-brain.

We got in and out of that aid station efficiently and kept up our solid hiking pace, with occasional running, all the way back to Monroe. This was the last time I would have my wife there to crew me, as she had to get back and go to bed for her race. It was here that I tried to address a problem that had been nagging me for far too long. I had developed blisters in a spot on my foot that I don’t normally blister. For a long time I wasn’t even sure it was a hotspot. Eventually I knew I had to do something, despite the fact that I had probably waited too long. We sat down and begged folks for some duct tape to put over the area of my feet where the toes connect with the rest of the foot. We managed a couple strips, but it was unclear if they were going to hold long.

I started mentally kicking myself for not planning ahead for this better, packing better tape and supplies, and for not dealing with it sooner. As we left the mile 40 station I knew that I was probably going to be in a lot bigger world of hurt than I needed to be because of this. Despite my worries, I wanted to make the next few miles count. We backtracked along the road detour and met up with the trail once more. After a few minutes I felt another “second wind” and told Mike that we were going to run for a while.

And run we did. I didn’t stop at a half a mile, but cruised along for 1.5 miles, at a pace faster than I had done all day. I was feeling great, and the fact that I could do this at mile 44 was amazing. Soon though I knew I had to ease down or I’d completely blow up. We reverted to walking, but I could tell that the wheels were starting to come off the bus. The blisters on my feet were getting worse, and I had to stop to take the tape off, as it was starting to wrinkle.

We kept up as good a pace as I could muster until we hit the 50 mile mark. I looked at my watch and saw that I had bested my 50 mile time by 1:54. I was excited about this, but couldn’t muster the emotion to show it because I was hitting a new low. As I hit the second to last aid station we encountered some rain. It was very light and refreshing, but it was over much too soon. I was still feeling warm from earlier in the day, and I regretted not packing a second singlet (I changed my shirts at mile 40 from a singlet to a t-shirt).

The food at the Monticello aid station was glorious with bacon and hash browns. I ate way too many hash browns before we set out, but I could tell that I was losing my appetite and probably wouldn’t be able to stomach any more food later on. As we plodded into the night my pace got slower and slower. My muscles were completely worn out from running on a flat surface all day long. Unlike many of my other trail races, there were no big hills or curves to change up the pace and engage other muscle groups. My two choices were run on a flat surface, or walk on a flat surface. Because of the blisters, I couldn’t run, leaving me with only one option.

It was only 3.5 miles to the final aid station, but I was entering a dark place. I was tired, my legs didn’t want to move, and my feet were in excruciating pain. We arrived at the final aid station and I decided I needed to use the bathroom. I sat down for a moment or two, but nothing was moving. I was thankful for just a couple minutes off my feet though. I remember getting a bit more frustrated at this aid station, thinking about taking a break, but Mike asked me if I still wanted to try and beat 18 hours. I told him I didn’t care anymore, so let’s just keep going. Ya… runner logic at that time of night doesn’t make sense.

We kept walking and soon we were at the tunnel. It was a cool, moist, respite from the remaining heat of the day. However, after we left the tunnel, the earlier rains had added a thick humidity to the air. I tried to move as best I could, but was barely able to keep a 21:00/mile pace. I was getting whiny and tired, and at one point I told Mike that I just needed to sit down for a moment.

I lowered myself the ground and sat cross-legged with my head in my hands. I don’t think I was there for more than a minute or a minute and a half, but it was what I needed. I got back up and still felt like crap, but in my immature state of mind I told myself, “Ha! I showed you! I sat down even though no one told me I could!” I don’t think it helped me in any way, but I don’t regret doing it.

As we approached the town of Belleville everything was still and quiet. It was 2:50am and no one was stirring outside of the park. I got passed by a couple of ladies who were going really strong. I also managed to pass one person in the last third of a mile, which gave me a little emotional boost (they were peeing… I didn’t have some sudden burst of speed). As I saw the turn to the park the adrenaline kicked in and took away my pain long enough to do a solid jog in to the finish in 17:57:25.

As I approached the finishing chute Mike ran ahead to get a picture of me crossing the line and falling into a big bear hug from Scotty. I held on to him for a moment and told him that was the hardest thing I had ever done, but that it was amazing. He offered me food and beer, and wanted to hear the war stories, but I needed a nap. I told him I’d be back, but that I needed to lie down.

I headed to the camper and crawled in to bed, sweaty and stinky. My wife had just come back to bed after a restroom visit and so she helped me get settled. I kept my promise though. After a couple hours of rest my wife got up to get ready for her race, and I was wide awake. I helped her with a couple things and then hobbled over to the finish area. There, I sat down with Vincent, who had just crossed shortly before I got there, and we enjoyed some breakfast beer out of the keg of New Glarus Spotted Cow.

As others crossed the finish we swapped stories of how the race had gone. We talked about the oppressive heat of the day, and how much we loved the tunnel. We shared funny stories from aid station visits, or silly things we had seen along the trail. We savored our victories, hard fought, and justly earned. It didn’t matter how long we took, but that we shared the bond of traveling the same 62 miles together. A shared journey, undertaken in almost 50 different ways.

Trail races that allow camping at the start finish are magical places. They embody the spirit and community that makes this sport so unique. We gather and share our tales, cheer on our friends, and comfort those who were defeated. It’s about more than just challenging ourselves and our physical abilities. It’s about challenging ourselves to be good people to one another.

I got to see my wife take off for her race, and then I went back to bed for a bit. Around lunch time we headed out to see her at the Monticello aid station, and while there we got to hang out with Holly and her team. We saw Lisa crushing her race and then headed to a brewery for a quick beer before getting ready to head home. Unfortunately, because it was a Sunday evening with a 5 hour drive ahead of us, we needed to get on the road shortly after Lisa finished. But we still got a chance to hang out just a bit more and revel in this awesome community.

The story of the Badger, for me, is a story of trying something new and difficult, and persevering. I’m so thrilled and grateful that I got to hit a new milestone, and make so many amazing memories, surrounded by so many generous people. The Badger came about because of a loyal podcast audience. It was founded on the idea of a community of people who all shared a love of running in the woods and hanging out. That sense of community and caring is at it’s core, and it shone brightly on it’s very first running. Hopefully, I’ll be able to be back in the future, but I know that for everyone who toes the line, a little part of all of us still inhabits the spirit of what it means to be trail people, on a little rail trail in southern Wisconsin.

Race report: Willow 20 mile

Last year a new race burst on the scene from veteran race director Chris Swenke. He wanted to introduce everyone to one of his favorite parks, Willow River State Park in Wisconsin. To do this, he devised a 10 mile loop around the park that takes you past waterfalls, along a beautiful river, and challenges you with some truly steep climbs. To top it all off, the entire course is beautiful double-wide trail that is 99% devoid of root and rock obstacles.

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PC: Bob Marsh

I decided to give this race a shot this year, and since I had an 18 mile training run on my schedule, the 20 mile option seemed like the best way to go. I hobo’d my way to and from the race, getting rides from friends, and was ready to toe the line for the 7:30am start. Since I had never been to this park before, I tempered my expectations. This was supposed to be a training run, so I knew better than to lay it all out there in the first loop. I knew I’d like to get the first loop done in 2 hours, and then hopefully I could hang on for a finish in under 4:15.

img_4408The race launched and I hung out with my good friend Mike Barton for the first couple of miles. When we hit the first big climb I decided it was time to lose the shell I was wearing. As I slowed to take it off, Mike took off for what would be a truly great race for him. The first climb gives you a taste of the handful of hills that you’ll encounter on the course. The nice thing was that in between these hills the course was incredibly runnable and easy. The rolling gravel along the river valley (or on top of the bluffs) was comfortable and fun. The lack of difficult footing meant that you could look around and see some of the park. I got treated to some graceful turkey vultures circling a prairie, as well as multitudes of songbirds.

There is one climb that does deserve its own moment of recognition. Right before the 7 mile aid station you travel along a section of asphalt. Unfortunately, this section of pavement is also the steepest (and felt like the longest) hill of the course. At 15% grade, it was a complete quad buster, and on my second loop it took everything I had to get to the top. For the casual people visiting the waterfall, this path has multiple benches to stop along the way. Personally, I would have preferred a nice staircase!

img_4412Throughout my first loop I felt good. I laid down some solid miles, and managed to get over all of the climbs still feeling pretty decent. My goal for lap 1 was two hours, and as I stood at the mile 10 aid station, my watch beeped 2 hours exactly. I knew I couldn’t do lap 2 in that same amount of time, but I was happy with my effort so far. I headed out on loop 2, and within a mile or so I came across Luke Thoreson who had just finished his shift of volunteering and was out to get some miles. We ended up spending the majority of the second loop together, chatting and getting to know one another. It made the miles melt away and before I knew it we were back at the asphalt climb to the mile 17 aid station.

The final three miles to the finish were a bit slower than I had wanted, but once my watch beeped 18 miles, I had a bit of mental wrestling to do to keep pushing. This was supposed to be an 18 mile training run, and I still had two miles to go. My brain decided that it would rather walk more in this section than I probably needed to, but this is why running is as much a mental game as a physical one. I managed to push through the final miles of rollers and crossed the line in 4:10, well within my goal of 4:15.

img_4414The greatest takeaway though is how good I felt at the end. I put out a solid effort, and I probably could have pushed just a little bit more, but I was able to walk around the finish line, talk with people, eat food, and overall act like a normal person. When I come in from a race and feel completely trashed, I end up not enjoying the experience, even if I manage to lay down a PR time. However, in this case, I feel like I put down a good performance, and yet still felt good at the end. This is a testament to where my training is at right now, and for me, this is a huge accomplishment from where I’ve been in the past.

Even this morning after, I’m doing great. I spent this morning biking down to Eastside Co-op and I’ll be going for a casual 6 mile run with my wife later. My legs aren’t protesting nearly as much as they have in the past, and there’s only a couple of small pains left on my feet. Overall, a resounding success.

This will probably be my last big race before my 100K in August. I need to get back into my routine and focus on laying down the time on feet, as well as getting my nutrition right, and upping my bike cross training. I am really happy that I did The Willow 20 though. The park was beautiful, and I can see heading out there in the future for some training runs. It’s a great alternative to Afton, and with the well groomed double-track, could be a great option for muddy mornings.

In regards to the race itself, Chris puts on an awesome low-key trail running event. The volunteers were great, the course was marked perfectly, and I got treated to slices of banana, with peanut butter and M&Ms on them at the 7 mile aid station! The hat that Chris designed is simple and clean, just like all of the signage around the course. This is certainly a race worth doing, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for a nice early-May race.

Race Report: Sandlot Minor League Half Marathon

A year ago a bunch of my friends decided to do something crazy… run a marathon around a baseball diamond. This breaks down to 384 times around the bases, which is the number of home runs that baseball player Harold Baines hit during his career. The entire event was just for fun, and because of an injury a couple days before, I decided to just go and hang out with folks.

Fast forward to 2019, and this is now a full fledged event. My friends put together a race directing team and turned their little idea into a big happening. This year 35 people signed up to run 26.2 miles in a small circle. Thankfully, they offered some smaller options for folks like myself who just weren’t ready to commit to that level of crazy, and so I signed up for the half marathon, only 192 times around the diamond. As an added bonus, I would get to do this on my birthday!

lrg_dsc09178Even though my race didn’t start until 12:15, I showed up nice and early to hear my wife sing the national anthem and watch the craziness happening on the other other two fields. The entire event was an awesome, baseball themed party, complete with a 7th inning stretch where everyone had to stop for hot dogs. They gave out baseballs as the medal, and everyone got a commemorative baseball card for participating. The event garnered a bunch of attention that even a local news show came out to put together a feature on it.

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PC: Fresh Tracks Media

I hung out with friends and tried to relax, but eventually 12:15 hit and it was time to start my journey. I started out with the pack, probably going just a little too fast, before easing into a nice steady pace. Rounding the bases didn’t seem too bad at first. I was able to chat with people and distract myself pretty regularly throughout the race. However, the real story of the day was the condition of the field. Our massive snowfalls had yet to melt, and so the path that had been cleared on the baselines was covered with water that had no where to go. Within 10 laps my feet were soaking wet.

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PC: Fresh Tracks Media

Some of us tried to find ways around the puddles, and the grounds crew attempted to fix some problem areas, but when all was said and done… it was just going to be sloppy and wet. I moved as best as I could in the conditions, but towards the end I could tell that my legs were feeling very done with this constant turning to the left. Around the 10 mile mark I decided to walk a few laps and drink a beer while I did. This was one of my highlights as I got to enjoy some moving time, and a tasty beverage, in my own personal 7th inning stretch.

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PC: Fresh Tracks Media

I lost track of my laps pretty quickly, and my GPS watch was destined to be dramatically off. These watches just aren’t meant to record data that precisely when your track is in the same place over and over again. Additionally, we were cutting the inside of the baseline pretty tight, to avoid puddles, and over 192 times around, this will heavily skew where the GPS thinks you are. Needless to say, I had no idea how close I was to finishing, until my friend Troy, who was helping keep track of laps, informed me that I had 20 laps to go.

Screen Shot 2019-03-20 at 3.58.32 PMI started counting them down, and when I hit 10 I breathed a sigh of release. After 192 laps I crossed the lap counter and was told I was done. My watch only registered 12 miles, but I didn’t care. I hobbled over to the main aid station and grabbed another beer to chug in celebration. My wife arrived and kindly brought me some dry shoes to put on. Shortly after, the entire event wrapped up and we all headed home.

In the following days I have discovered that I did injure my gastroc muscle in my right calf. There’s a tremendously tender spot, and running and walking has been a challenge. I’m spending a lot of time stretching and rolling it out, and it’s getting better, but it certainly shows the dangers of doing a crazy event like this.

Despite the lingering issues, I am happy I gave this an attempt this year. I had a great time with all my friends, and I know it’s an experience that I’ll never forget. However, next year, I think I’ll just volunteer!

 

Race Report: Surf the Murph 25K

This year was the 10th annual Surf the Murph races at Murphy-Hanrehan Park down in Savage, MN. All the way back in 2015, Surf the Murph was my very first 50K and ultramarathon race. Despite the fact that I’m not in love with the course, we’ve managed to make our way back every year since. In 2016 we signed up for the 50K, but only did one loop and decided to step down to the 25K. Then last year and this year we’ve simply elected to do the 25K and call it good. This year in particular required us to do a shorter distance, because my wife’s little brother was getting married that afternoon and I was the officiant!

We arrived to the park much earlier than we needed to for an 8am start, but parking at Surf can be a challenge. We decided to get there before the 50Kers launched, find a spot, and take a nap before we had to begin. The air was cold, in the mid-30s, but the real issue was the wind. It was blowing around 27mph with even quicker gusts. I chose to do two layers when I dressed, but then seeing the wind, I make a decision to toss on my sweat jacket. I needed something to add a layer of wind blockage for times when I’d be out on the prairie sections. The added layer made some of the forest sections a bit warm, but every time I hit an exposed path, I was grateful for the wind block. In future, I think I’d do well to pick up a small Houdini shell, or something similar to act as a wind block.

The first part of the course is quite hilly, which means that I get out of the blocks much slower than I would on other courses that have a warm-up section. In addition, I’ve been dealing with a flare-up of my general anxiety disorder this past 2 weeks, and it’s made me feel like crap a lot. I’ve talked a bit about anxiety here before, and once again I can affirm that it sucks. Strange sensations all over your body that come and go (and make you think you’re having a heart attack), along with a general sense of dread, really impede your ability to focus on putting in a good race.

Despite all of this, I made it to the first aid station feeling OK, and proceeded to start the Triple Hills (it’s just like it sounds, and they suck). In this section my wife Lisa caught up to me and we spent a bit of time together before I got a little bit of energy and moved on ahead to the horse camp aid station. I blew through the second aid station as quick as I could and started on the next section which is the first of the prairie areas. My wife caught me again, and it was then that I was probably at my lowest point. As we walked a bit together I contemplated quitting. I knew that if I couldn’t keep up with my wife, that it would be best for me to just stop. Especially considering our time crunch that we were under for the wedding later.

img_3636However, I decided to just stick with her as long as I could and see how it went. She’s been training incredibly hard this summer, and has been working with a coach. This brought our abilities a little bit closer together, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that she was doing as good as she was. We launched into a nice jog and distracted each other with some conversation.

I’m not sure if it was the endorphins, the company, or just my body being nice to me, but shortly before the Natchez aid station I felt my anxiety start to lift. Natchez is one of the aid stations that is REALLY hard to leave. The TRECs running group that we’re a part of puts it on and it’s filled with all of our friends. We spent far too long visiting and eating before getting back on the trail. Despite the delay, it was really nice to see everyone. Plus, it was nice to get a pick-me-up before the boring road section that leads to the second prairie area.

img_3635One of the things that bugs me about the Surf course is that it’s laid out so that three loops equals a 50 mile race. However, 25K times 3 does not equal 50 miles. That means that the Surf 25K and 50K are actually very long for the distance that they’re advertising. Each loop is about 1.2 miles longer than it’s supposed to be (16.7 vs 15.5). I’m a trail runner. I totally get that our distances are kinda squishy and that a 50K might be 29 miles, or maybe 32, but where Surf rubs it in is that they actually post a 16 mile sign on the course! That sign is a big slap in the face to remind you that YOU’RE STILL NOT DONE.

For some courses, it’s just the way that it goes. However, with Surf there’s actually a super easy fix that could change the course to make it a true 25K. In fact, the very first year I did the course there was a poorly marked turn and I missed a small little 1 mile side loop. I kept going on the path that was in front of me and very quickly reunited with the proper course. When I got done with my first loop my watch was a nice 15.7 miles. Right in that sweet spot for a 25K. However, that’s not the way that the course is laid out and so Lisa and I made the left hand turn on to what we’re affectionately called The Fucking Loop.

img_3629By this point I was actually feeling pretty good and I knew that Lisa was hitting her typical wall around mile 12. I also knew that she wanted to get a 4 hour finish so I started adjusting my thinking into pacer mode. As we turned onto the loop I started belting out a corny rendition of Home on the Rage with some truly amazing twang. Lisa joined in and we had a brief few moments of silliness before putting out heads down and getting it done. Our only interruption was when Mark M. suck up behind us and scared the shit out of us when he said ‘Hi’.

We arrived at the back side of Horse Camp and did a quick fueling before the final slog. It was I this section that I moved my watch off of its mileage-only screen, to my full data screen with time, pace and distance. I wanted to do what I could to make sure Lisa got her 4 hour finish. Soon we approached the dreaded beaver dam, and we were grateful to see that the park has started making a boardwalk over it. It meant that we were able to keep our feet dry and out of any beaver homes. In fact, the entire course was the driest I’ve ever seen it. My shoes had zero mud on them when I finished, which is a first with this course.

As we approached the mile 16 sign I gave it two middle fingers and we moved as quickly as we could to the final stretch. I was constantly checking my watch, and with just a few hundredths of a mile to go I yelled out, “two minutes!” Lisa found a second gear and we pushed as hard as we could to the finish line. We crossed just as our watches beeped 4 hours. Lisa’s watch even said 3:59:59.

We weren’t able to stay and celebrate though because we had to get cleaned up and get to a wedding. Mike B. showed up and congratulated us, which was awesome. We had hoped to see him before his shift as the Horse Camp captain. Lisa did a quick washing of her hair in the parking lot and we headed up to Saint Paul. A quick change in the restroom of a Lunds grocery store and we were ready to be presentable for the evening.

Despite how crappy I felt for a large part of this race, and my current fitness potential to have crushed my old PR, I’m really happy with how the day came out. This was my second fastest time on this loop, only eclipsed by my loop where I missed a turn and missed a mile. Therefore, there’s a bit of an asterisk on that PR. I got to spend some great time with my wife, and helped her achieve her goal. By the end I was mostly feeling like my old self and was smiling. I know that things will get better, and I’ll be back to my old self soon enough. For now though, I’m happy with great days in the woods with great people.