Treasured Haven Farms 12 Hour Run

Ever since I changed my running philosophy this year, I’ve been much happier with where I’m at. I’m not stressed about “the next big race” because I don’t actually have any races planned. I’m just doing things when I feel like it. Case in point, the Treasured Haven Farms 12 Hour Run that I did on Sunday. My wife had signed up for this run a long time ago, so I knew I would be there, but I didn’t decide to join in until 9 days before the race. It was another moment where I said, “what the heck, that sounds fun.”

Treasured Haven Farms is one of the hidden gems of the trail race world here in Minnesota. It’s a small organic farm that opens up their property to trail races a few times throughout the year. We’ve done a 7 mile race there before and it’s a lot of fun. This is old-school trail racing at it’s finest. No chip timing, no big fanfare, just a bunch of land with trails on it, and a clock at the finish line.

When we arrived we were greeted by a few other UMTR friends who had also made the trek. They had opted to do the 3 and 6 hour version of the race, which was probably smart given the predicted high temps for the day. This was going to be one of the hottest days of the year with temps reaching into the 90s. We also found out that besides my wife and I, only one other person had signed up for the 12 hour race. This factor would be key later in the story.

img_2720At 7 am the race launched and I started out at a decent pace figuring I should, carefully, bank some miles while the air was still cool. I locked in to an 11:30 pace, which under most, flat, circumstances is my “go all day” pace. The loop that we were running was 3 miles long around the edge of the farm fields, with a couple jaunts on to some beautiful wooded paths. These wooded areas became sanctuaries throughout the morning as the temps started to climb and the sun started beating down hard.

The first couple of hours melted away pretty quickly for me. Just over two hours in I had a solid 10 miles on my legs and was feeling pretty good. After three hours I decided it was time to move to a run/walk strategy to help conserve energy and survive the climbing temps. By this point the 3 hour runners were finished up, however our amazing friend Ann, and another friend’s husband DuWayne (she was running the 6 hour) decided to be our crew for a while.

Every time we came in from a loop they were right there making sure we had everything we needed, throwing away our trash, and generally taking care of our every need. They stuck around for a lot longer than they needed to and treated us amazingly. We were humbled and grateful for how wonderful they were to us. Another friend of ours, Bob, showed up with trail running fixture, Pearl the dog. He lives near the farm and so he stopped by a couple times to encourage us. That was a huge surprise and really lifted our spirits as the day wore on.

Pearl! pc: Bob

As the race continued I caught up to my wife who was a loop behind me. We would occasionally stick together but usually one of us would move ahead of the other as we were feeling good. As the loops wore on I ended up spending a lot more time at the main aid station, taking my time as I felt like it. I went in to this race with very minor goals, and so I wasn’t pushing too hard to do anything phenomenal. A few days before the race I thought it would be amazing if I could get 100K or 50 miles, however as the weather report got hotter and hotter, I decided that if I could bang out a 50K I would count that as a success. By 5 hours in I was already at 20 miles, so I knew a 50K was pretty much in the bag.

As the 6 hour run was finishing up a huge blessing rolled in, in the shape of clouds and a light rain.  Suddenly everything started to feel right in the universe again. There was a breeze with the clouds and the temps dropped in to the 70s. It was a little bit of heaven. Granted I had still been running for 6 hours and was feeling all that pain on my legs. I had a major blister on my right big toe that I got covered up, but it still was an irritant. As the hours wore on it also became apparent how lonely the rest of this day was going to be. After the 6 hours folks finished up, the only people left were myself, my wife Lisa, and another runner named Eric.

Eric was crushing the course, lapping us repeatedly as he racked up miles. He was a solid runner and a super nice guy, however, it sounded like he was just doing this for a training run and that the only reason that he bumped up from the 6 to the 12 was because only my wife and I had signed up for it. One of the times he was passing us he mentioned, “Hey if you guys want to call this early just let me know, I’m cool stopping whenever.” At this point I think we were all feeling a little silly having just three runners keeping a race open for an extra 6 hours.

My wife and I talked about it and decided to keep going for a bit longer, but that if any one of us decided to drop that we’d all probably call it a day. At the eight hour mark I took a solid 15 minute break as my wife and I talked about things. She was hurting bad and just wasn’t feeling confident that she wanted to go on any further. The rain had stopped a long time ago, and the sun was coming back out. The temps were predicted to climb back into the high 80s before we would be done. She decided that she was done. I looked down at my watch and realized I was at 30 miles, so I opt’d to go out for one more loop and knock out a solid 50K.

33781994_1983613511649334_4959292251567030272_oAs I headed out for this final loop I found my body working really, really well. Maybe I had just adapted to the pain, but I felt like I could run again. I ended up running almost all of that final loop and knocked out a 35 minute 3 miler. That was almost as fast as my initial loops early in the day. Since this was going to be my final loop, I decided I had better leave everything out there on the course, and so I pushed myself to sub-11 minute pace as much as I could and crossed over the finish line with a few minutes before the 9 hour mark to spare.

With ~33 miles and 9 hours under my belt I decided it was a good day, and I was more than happy to join my wife in calling it done. That’s the beauty of a timed race like this. You can stop whenever you want and if you decide you’re done earlier than the bell, that’s totally up to you. I clocked in my second 50K of the year, only 4 weeks apart, which is light years beyond where I’ve been in previous years.

I probably could have gone on another three hours and finished out 40+ miles, but I wasn’t out there with anything to prove. I kept moving for 9 hours, completed a solid distance, and even found a second wind late in the day that propelled me to some solid running on tired legs. That’s one of the biggest ‘wins’ that I took away from the whole day; proving that just because you’re in pain at one point in a long race, doesn’t mean you’ll be in pain the entire race. Pain is temporary, and our bodies are often able to do a lot more than we think they can.

img_2721I’m incredibly happy with how this race turned out. I don’t know what is next for me, as I’m not doing any long term race planning this year. I’ve got my favorite 5K (Endless Summer French Park 5K) coming up soon, but other than that it’s all up to whatever I feel like. That’s one of the best feelings I’ve had as a runner in a long time, and it’s made all the difference in my attitude and enjoyment of running overall this year. Low pressure and running for fun. It’s what trail running is supposed to be about.


Surf the Murph 25K / 50K DNF

This year I set a goal of completing 3 ultra distance races. I started out my year very early with the Zumbro 50 mile race, which went really well. Next up was Spring Superior 50K, which resulted in a DNF, 7 miles from the finish line. Although a disappointment, I was really pleased with how my race had gone in the first half. My final ultra of the year was to be a return to my first ultra ever, last year, Surf the Murph 50K.

The wife and I awoke at 4am to start getting ready and get some food in our stomachs. We got to the course nice and early, and managed to use the bathrooms, and generally get ready for our race. Unlike last year, which started in the rain, this year was clear, dry and beautiful. The starting temp was around 40 degrees, and it got up into the 50s soon after the sun came up. I knew my training hadn’t been that great lately, so I went out slow and steady, and simply tried to keep it under 15 minute miles.

Soon the sun was shining bright, and I was tucking layers into my vest pocket to stay cool. I got to see friends at each and every aid station, and they greeted me warmly and took care of my needs. The first 10 miles of the race went as good as I had hoped for, which gave me hope for the second loop. However, it was not to be.

img_0016Around mile 12 things started coming apart. My legs started feeling heavy and weak. My knees and ankles were protesting fiercely and my running turned into an 18 minute hobble. Last year I managed my first loop in around 3:25. When I hit the 3:40 mark and still had 2-3 miles to go to finish the first loop I knew I was in trouble. I told myself that if I could get there before 4 hours I would consider going on. I hit the Finish area at 4:14. Despite having literally all day to finish another loop, my body was feeling broken and battered. It was time to call it a day.

Thankfully, at Surf, you can get credit for however many loops you complete. Since I completed the 25K course, I got a 25K medal, and my time will be listed in on the same page as the regular 25K racers. It was half of what I was planning, but I still felt like I accomplished a lot. My wife came into the finish area about 7 minutes behind me, and had an amazing first loop, but also decided she was done.

We chatted with friends for a while and then started the long drive back home to shower and get some lunch. The drive gave me an opportunity to talk and think about how everything came off the rails today. I’m going to save that post for tomorrow, because I feel it deserves its own space. After spending time thinking about everything, I shouldn’t have been surprised that today didn’t turn out the way I planned. I know why it worked out this way, and I’m sure I’ll be able to fix it going forward.

Despite dropping to a lower distance race it was an amazing day to be outside on the trails. The weather was perfect for running and being outside, and the trail was mostly dry, with all the mud being avoidable. You can never complain too hard when you’re stuck outside on an amazing fall day in Minnesota.

Spring Superior 50K race report

The next big race on the schedule for me this year was the Spring Superior 50K. I ran the 25K version last year, and the Moose Mountain Marathon in the fall, so I was familiar with the entire course, and felt that I could tackle the full 50K this year. However, things didn’t end the way I had hoped.

I rode up to Lutsen with my friend Mike, since my wife wasn’t going to be able to join me until Saturday. Maybe it was the fact that my ‘big’ run of the year was already done with the Zumbro 50 mile, or perhaps the fact that my training hadn’t been what I wanted it to be, with only 94 miles logged in total since Zumbro, but my mental state wasn’t where it should have been. I just wasn’t feeling mentally ready for this race, and was doubtful of my physical readiness as well.

We arrived on Friday night, and simply being around all the rest of the running crowd that I know and love started to shift my mood. Mike and I did our packet pickup, and explored the trail a short bit so I could take some photos. We listened to the pre-race briefing, and my entire attitude started to shift. It wasn’t enough to completely change my mind, but I started feeling my runners excitement kick in. I spent the night vacillating between feelings of excitement and readiness, to feelings of wanting to just go home.

Yet, when race morning arrived the act of getting dressed and getting to the start line made me remember why I love this crazy sport so much. We did our morning check-in and then hung out on the patio for a bit, saying hello to all of our friends who would be joining us out on the trail. Seeing everyone who was either running or volunteering made me happy, and made me want to be no where else in the world that day, except right here.

Because the weather was predicted to be rather warm, I dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, and decided to use my water bladder so that I would have plenty of water for the day. We launched promptly at 7am and I broke into a faster than normal run in an attempt to beat the ‘conga line’ that usually forms when the trail narrows. More importantly, my body was feeling great. Nothing was hurting, like in the past couple weeks, and I felt like I was moving pretty well. It also helped that the trails were bone dry this year, nothing at all like the mud-fest from last year.

We dropped into the trail and before I knew it I was already on top of Mystery Mountain. My pace was solid, but not faster than I should have been, and the miles seemed to click off like nothing. I hit the Oberg aid station in a faster time than I’ve ever done, and felt great doing it. I was feeling good, and my only issue was my left Achilles tendon, that took a hard hit somewhere between Mystery and Moose. The ache wasn’t too bad so I plowed on.

My pace dropped a bit between Oberg and Sawbill, which I expected, but I was still feeling good. However, it was on this section that I started to fight my biggest enemy of the day, the heat. By the time I pulled into Sawbill (with my best section time ever), I had moved on to soaking my buff in water to try and keep my head cool. I was also dumping water down my shirt to try and keep things from overheating. I headed out for the short climb up Carlton Peak with a bit less of a spring in my step but still doing mostly OK.

The climb to Carlton is tough, an uphill slog that turns into a bit of rock climbing. By this point there was a lot of two-way traffic with people coming down the mountain, but it was fun to encourage everyone who was ahead of me. I ran into Mike again as he was descending, about 20 minutes ahead of me. I made the final ascent to the top of the peak and took the requisite selfie with the lake in the background. Kevin Langton was there in a fake wig cheering everyone on and being the amazing Keven that he is. I knew I couldn’t dawdle long, so I turned around and started back down.

IMG_4466Even though I was on a downhill almost the entire time, I wasn’t getting as much speed as I wanted. Partly this was due to the very, very rocky terrain, as my Achilles and lower back were feeling pretty beat up at this point. But even when I got to the runnable boardwalk I was having trouble keeping my body heat under control. I got back to Sawbill a solid hour ahead of cutoff, did what I could to cool down, and started moving as best as I could again.

The final section between Sawbill and Oberg was where it all fell apart. I tried some light running for .5 to .75 mile stretches, but it just wasn’t working. Every time I ran my heart rate spiked, and I started to feel some of the initial effects of heat exhaustion. By two miles in, I was feeling nauseous, and my balance was starting to suffer. At this point pretty much everyone was passing me, and I knew I was probably done for. The final 2 miles to the aid station were a slog, clicking off 26 and 24 minute miles. As I looked at my watch I realized I had used up almost every last minute of my buffer, and would be arriving mere minutes before cut-off.

Because I know how horrible heat exhaustion can be, I decided that I didn’t want to endure that while climbing back up Moose and Mystery mountain again. As I approached the Oberg aid station I unpinned my bib, and decided it was time to take my first DNF ever. My friend Mark gave me a couple quick words of encouragement, telling me that I could still continue on, but even he admitted that he saw I had ‘the look’ and was done. According to my GPS I ran 21 miles, but the official course distance was 23.25 miles. Either way, it was all I was getting done for the day.

I plopped down in the chair at the aid station under a canopy, and started running through the whole day in my head, while trying to cool down. When I reached the turnaround point at Carlton Peak I was still on track for an 8-8.5 hour finish. Everything fell apart in that last segment from Sawbill to Oberg, and its astounding to see how quickly a run can turn south. I finally got cooled down, and myself and three other people who either dropped or missed cut-off, took a car back up to Lutsen to rejoin our families.

I found my wife and let her know what went on, and then headed back to the room to shower off. After getting cleaned up we headed back to the patio to hang out with friends and toss back a few beers. Everyone was talking about the heat this year, as it took a toll on lots of people. A couple people were talking about how they were vomiting up Moose and Mystery Mountain, which again cemented my decision to drop in my mind. The last thing I needed to do was pass out while trying to climb up such huge obstacles.

We hung out on the patio for a while, and saw the rest of our friends cross, exhausted and tired with times far slower than they had ever done before because of the heat. After a while it was time to go back to the room and get some rest before dinner. I fell into bed last night still thinking about the race. There was that little part of me that brought up thoughts that I should have just continued on, that I could have gotten it done. It’s easy to think things like that when you’re lying in a soft bed in an air conditioned room. I knew I made the right choice, no matter what that little part of my brain was telling me.

I started trail racing in 2015, and I’ve slowly been moving up the levels into these harder ultra distances. It was only a matter of time before one of them got the better of me. The Superior Hiking Trail is some of the roughest terrain out there to run on, so it’s no surprise that when combined with a really hot day, things didn’t turn out in my favor. My sights now turn to a couple half-marathons and a 25K in the next few weeks. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get in some training in warm weather to get myself better acclimated to heat.

Although the weekend didn’t turn out quite as planned, I can think of no place I would have rather had this experience. Superior is a special place, and when you’re surrounded by great people it makes everything all right. Most of my friends have already joined the DNF club at some point in their running career, and to have them supporting and encouraging me is what makes this community so damn special. I’m truly grateful to know so many awesome trail runners.

I’ll be back Spring Superior, we have some unfinished business…