2018 Running Year In Review

2018 was the biggest, and most different running year I’ve had yet. As I entered the year, I had to make some changes to my mental state if I was going to have more success than I did in 2017. After coming off some incredibly big years in 2015 and 2016, I ended up spending a lot of 2017 trying to push a reset button. When I started out in January of 2018 I was still battling some injuries, some illness, and some questioning of what I wanted my year to look like in running.

IMG_2344Early on I decided that I wasn’t going to sign up for any races in 2018 until I was sure I was ready for them. In fact 2018 ended up being one of my lowest number of race years ever. I wanted to get back to the joy of running, and continually banging my head against the wall of races I wasn’t ready for wasn’t a good idea. All of that needed to change.

IMG_2456I started the year out slow and steady and built up some good long runs as the weeks progressed. By February things were starting to really click again, and I was feeling great with having zero pressure about an upcoming race day. In March I managed a couple really solid 20+ mile runs, one of them with my good friend Mike. It was after that run with Mike that I decided I was ready for another shot at an ultra. I went home and signed up for the Chippewa 50K which was a little over a month away.

31880916_1004097819714989_4681658212569579520_nRace day came and I was tremendously nervous. Once I got on course I started to calm down, but at the start I still had this nagging feeling that I wasn’t ready. In the end though I managed to get it done, and despite not setting any PRs, I came away from the race with a lot of knowledge about myself, and how to continue to move myself through the dark places we fall in to on ultras.

33781994_1983613511649334_4959292251567030272_oI decided to join my wife at the Treasured Haven Farms 12 hour run, and once again knocked out a 50K+ distance race. If it hadn’t been for the horrendous heat and humidity that day I probably would have hit 40 miles, but I decided to just take what I could with the conditions. Once again, I felt like I learned a lot about how you should never decide that how you feel at one point in a race is how you will feel throughout the entirety. I had a wonderful comeback at the end of that race that showed me things can change incredibly quickly.

The rest of the year only had 4 other races, a couple of which were just little fun 5Ks. The real story of the year though is how strong I was able to be throughout. I managed to set multiple PRs on the Afton 25K loop, and found myself in a position to simply “choose my own adventure” for most of my long runs. Sometimes this would result in 2-a-days, simply because I felt good and wanted to get out again. Other times I found myself discovering new places, and having little adventures that were simple but meaningful.

Screen Shot 2019-01-01 at 9.31.32 AMPerhaps the biggest story of 2018 for me is that I finished up the year with a new all time total of 1602 miles on the year. This is a HUGE milestone for me, as my previous high mileage year was 1160 miles. One of the biggest reasons I was able to do this was because I chose to run with my wife Lisa on many days. This accomplished two things. It got me out more often, since she was on a training plan, and I wanted to spend time with her. It also meant that I was running a lot slower in my training runs, and that allowed me to really pound out a lot more miles, a lot stronger than I had been able to in the past.

IMG_20180708_084140I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in 2018. I have signed up for a couple races in 2019 already, but I’m approaching everything much more cautiously, and looking to try and just maintain and build slowly. I don’t know if 2019 will be as big or bigger than 2018, but I’m not really all that concerned. My attitude towards running has completely changed, and I’m finding joy in the process again. It’s a great place to be, and I can’t wait to see what’s next!

My crazy running friends…

The group of runners that I hang out with here in the northwest metro are a… special bunch. Or maybe I should say they’re “interesting” in that Minnesota “interesting” sort of way. Granted, I’m one of them, so I guess this could also be self-analysis, but what a couple of them came up with for yesterday brought it to a new level.

They decided that it would be wild to run a marathon… around a baseball diamond. That means 384.55 laps around the bases, all in the same direction. Hence, the inaugural Sandlot Marathon was born. I hadn’t planned on running it myself, as I felt like I needed more traditional training at this point in my build up. However, I figured I’d show up for my recovery run and get a few miles under my belt. Jacking up my back on Friday meant that any miles I did at the sandlot would be walking.

IMG_2361.JPGI arrived just as they were launching. My friend Brian did a lap in a T-Rex suit before stripping it off and sprinting to get back into position. For most of the time, the main group of guys stuck together, with an occasional person deciding to sprint for a lap to gain a slight advantage. I grabbed my coffee and started some laps, deciding to try and get in at least two miles of base walking.

IMG_2367.JPGAs the day warmed up the snow on the diamond melted and deformed. Shelly, Amy and Julie worked with shovels and rakes to get things smoothed around, and since I was walking, I decided to drag the rake behind me as I lapped around. It was actually a lot of fun, and hopefully it helped keep things a bit smoother for the crazy folks.

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PC: Shelly

After my two miles were done I took a break and hung out for a while. I then got a text from my wife that she was finishing up her 25 mile run and was only 3.5 miles away. At that point I decided to hang out for a bit longer and wait for her. Since I was going to be there for a bit I decided to keep moving and managed to knock out another 2+ miles of tiny baseball diamond loops.

Eventually Lisa arrived and we needed to get going to get to the MN United FC home opener game (another amazing part of this weekend!). I bid farewell to everyone and walked back to our car. Throughout the day I kept tabs on progress, and sure enough all of the guys who started the race managed to finish a full marathon around a small baseball diamond. This is an amazing, and crazy feat, and I’m proud to call these guys friends. A little bit of crazy sometimes makes life fun and enjoyable, and these guys brought it in spades yesterday. Congrats Tim, Mark, Andy, Brian and Matt!

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PC: Tim

 

Tuscobia Winter Ultra Volunteering

For the past year I’ve been fascinated by the trend of winter ultras. These are long, self-supported, races that are descended from survivalist races in Canada and Alaska. Participants must get themselves through grueling conditions, with only their wits, and their equipment. There are two big races in the area, Arrowhead 135, and Tuscobia 160. This past weekend the wife and I went down to the Tuscobia race to help out and see more about what this crazy event is like.

CFNetworkDownload_YajTMH.jpgOne of the first key differences with winter ultras is the amount of gear that participants have to carry. It doesn’t matter if you’re running, skiing, or biking, you need to have enough equipment in your sled to survive in frigid temps until you can be rescued. That means bivy sacks, and sub-zero sleeping bags, as well as enough calories to eat well, yet have some left over at the end. When we arrived on Friday night, gear check was in progress, and runners (well, mostly walkers) were fidgeting with their bags, making sure that they had everything that was on the mandatory list.

We had the opportunity to meet up with many of our friends who were doing the 160 miles on foot or ski on Friday night. The 160 bikers would leave Friday morning, along with the 80 mile participants from the turn-around point of the trail. We gave hugs, met the race directors in person for the first time, and soaked in the atmosphere.

DA7493DE-8515-4E39-A8CE-26B521F3F0C4.jpgThe second key difference with these races is the culture. This isn’t just a laid back trail race. It is something different. It’s about your ability to survive, and your determination to just keep moving no matter what. You need to believe in yourself and your ability to even attempt something this crazy. This is a race where a 20% finish rate is a good year.

CFNetworkDownload_0U1wLc.jpgMany of the people here are repeat offenders. They love coming out to these races and testing their winter cred. I saw so many happy reunions that I knew something special was going on. Out on the trail you cannot receive help from anyone but volunteers and other racers. More often than not, another racer has saved the day for another, and that creates a lasting bond. When you’re all alone in the wood, with just yourself and other crazy people, it’s good to know that you can rely on the other folks in the asylum.

Once the pre-race meeting wound down my wife and I headed to our hotel room for a night of sleep before the start. The next morning we showed up and cheered as the 160 mile run/ski racers left Rice Lake, WI. We would not see any of these people for more than 24 hours.

IMG_1988.jpgOnce they had cleared out, we decided to go change and get in a short run for ourselves. The temp was zero, with zero wind, and zero gusts. It was a big zero kind of day! We did a fun 3 miler on the trail and then returned to the hotel to change and get packed for our trip to Park Falls, the site of the 160 turnaround, and our home for the next two days.

The drive to Park Falls was cold, but beautiful. There was an eerie frost on the trees during one segment of the drive, that reminded up of something out of a fantasy novel. Every branch was delicately covered in a thin layer of white. It was beautiful and surreal, and a harbinger of the cold that was about to befall the racers.

6305810701433284122.jpgWe arrived in Park Falls and got a bite to eat before relaxing at the hotel. The turnaround opened at midnight, but we knew that we could watch the check-in times of the racers to see when they’d actually be arriving. As evening approached it became apparent that it would be a long night of waiting. We hit the sack and set an alarm for 2AM to check again on the leaders progress. We sent another alarm for 4:30AM before getting up and heading to the gastropub that would serve as the race checkpoint until midnight Saturday night.

We arrived about an hour before the leader, Paul Schlagel, was visible down the street from the pub. It was dark, so I headed out to meet Paul and walk the final block in with him and see how he was doing. I was shocked at how positive he was, and how high his spirits were. I asked him how he was doing, he said fine, and then proceeded to talk to me about my interest in maybe (maybe) attempting one of these someday. When Paul finally asked me how many people were already at the pub, and I told him he was the first, he couldn’t believe it.

IMG_1998.jpgWe found him a spot at a table, fetched him is bag, and proceeded to get him whatever he asked for to get himself ready for the return 80 mile trip. Soon more people on foot arrived, and we began tending to their needs as well. Things quieted down a bit until early afternoon when the lead 160 mile bikes arrived. They started at 6AM Saturday, and the two leaders were cruising. Ben Doom and Dan Lockery came in together, had a quick bite of soup, and were back on the trail before we knew it. Little did we know that this would not be the norm for the rest of the evening.

IMG_2007.jpgBefore this though, we had to get the 80 milers launched. I left the pub and headed over to a nearby school to help get things organized for a 10AM lunch of all of the modes of transportation. There are a lot more 80 mile racers than 160, so it was a bit of organized chaos getting everyone and their gear where they needed to go. The local church was awesome, and opened their doors to us, and gave out donuts for the racers. Everyone headed out to the start line in high spirits, and before we knew it, they were off.

IMG_2001.jpgBack at the pub, soon more bikers and walkers arrived, and the pub began to fill with racers who were trying to decide how to recuperate before the return trip, or call it a day. Many people just needed a couple of hours of sleep on one of the beds upstairs and were ready to head back out. Many other though were done the moment they walked through the door. This is not an easy race, and slowly, the -18 degree overnight temps and periodic wind, started to take it’s toll. We called in many drops over the next few hours, and helped folks find rides back to the start line.

By evening were waiting on the final racers to arrive, and all but 2 decided to call it a day. One of these two was tremendously inspiring. Jennifer came in as the final runner, but she wasn’t despondent or emotional. She was a bit confused about why it took her so long, but she felt fine and wanted to head back out. After a short rest, she decided to at least fulfill a lifelong goal of getting 100 miles. I was pleased to see the next morning that it looks like she made that goal, before finally succumbing to the race against the clock, and calling it a day.

IMG_2009.jpgOut of the final group of bikers, only one headed back out into the cold dark night. The rest decided that they just couldn’t handle another 12 hours of -18 temps, this time heading in to the wind. We helped them get warm again, and eventually arranged for some transport for them back to the start. By this time it was close to midnight, and although we had a wonderful time, we were also quite exhausted. My Garmin informed me that I had enough steps to be the equivalent of 10 miles, and I wasn’t even one of the racers.

We headed back to our hotel for a nice night of sleep before the 3.5 hour drive home on Sunday. Thinking back to our experience as volunteers at this event, it was obvious that we were witnessing something unique. This wasn’t anything like we had done before, and the participants were amazing people to watch, even when they didn’t succeed. They were inspiring and determined, but also the most humble people you’ll ever meet.

IMG_2005.jpgNo one was in this race for the glory. This wasn’t something you do so that you could brag about it at work later. This was about you, your body, and your ability to mentally handle days alone in the woods. If you could keep putting one foot in front of the other, or turning over one more revolution of the bike crank, you’d slowly make your way home. It was about survival, and accepting the world for what it is. No one chose the overnight temps that we go, but they embraced them as part of the experience. When you live in a climate such as ours in the Great North, you either accept the cold winter, and learn to embrace it, or you hate it and leave. There is so much beauty in the cold and snow, and once you learn how to survive it, it becomes a magical playground.

For three days this weekend, amazing people did amazing things in this playground. They created a story for themselves that will not soon be forgotten. The persevered and triumphed; they learned their limits; but above all they discovered who they are and what they’re capable of. There were no quitters or failures at Tuscobia. There were people who embrace hardship, learn from it, and grow, despite setback and disappointment. If there is only one thing I learned this weekend, it is that success doesn’t happen at the finish line. It happens as you take that next step, and then the next one, over and over, as you discover what you’re truly capable of.

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.

Garry Bjorklund (Grandma’s) Half Marathon

Last fall my wife and I ran the Duluth One Mile. The day prior I had run Moose Mountain Marathon, so the only reason I was running the One Mile was to get a shot at a guaranteed entry into the Garry Bjorklund half. As fate would have it, my wife got an entry but I didn’t. At that point I started contemplating doing the full marathon, but thankfully I got selected in the lottery and we both toed the start line of a nice 13 mile race this morning.

My running lately hasn’t quote been what I want it to be. I’m 10lbs overweight, and I’m dealing with some nagging muscle and tendon issues. However, with all the work I did at the beginning of the year, I felt I should still be able to pull out a decent half marathon. A couple weeks ago I managed the North Olympic Discovery Half Marathon, and came in around 2:27. I knew I could beat that, and so today was about getting a little more speed under my legs.

One complication was that I woke up with a bit of an off stomach. Nothing too major, and probably influenced by waking up at 3:45am, but I made the decision to not take any nutrition during the race itself. I knew that this meant I would bonk at some point, but I just hoped it wouldn’t be till later in the race, after I had established some solid miles.

The temp when we launched was still in the 60s, and with an overcast sky it was actually really pleasant. This wasn’t meant to last however, as the sun soon came out, and any chance of rain seemed to disappear. I started planning for cooling down, and overall did a great job keeping my body temp low. Every aid station that had wet sponges meant a fresh one inside my hat. This kept my head feeling great. By the middle of the race I was dumping water down my back, and that kept me fairly cool throughout the rest of the course.

Sure enough, by mile 10-11 I was feeling the lack of nutrition and had to slow way down. My first 10K was sub 10 minute miles, but after that I started creeping up towards 11. I gave myself permission to walk lemondrop hill, and as we entered downtown there were brief moments I had to walk while trying to stretch out my back a bit. All in all though, I ran 99% of the race. I crossed the finish in 2:16, just a minute slower than my goal, but I felt good. Everything in my body seemed to be feeling OK, and I wasn’t falling over from exhaustion.

My wife crossed about 20 minutes after me, and we headed back to the car to get our cooler for a day of lounging on the beach. We had a couple good friends running the full marathon today, and we knew we had some time to kill before they would be crossing. I ended up falling asleep under a tree near Lake Superior enjoying a beautiful lakeside day. Eventually our friends made it across the finish line, suffering through a very hot run with temps approaching 80 degrees.

My friend and I had planned a celebratory beer for when he finished his first marathon, and since we both grew up in east St. Paul near the Hamm’s brewery, I picked out Hamm’s for that special beer. On a hot day, after a long run, it actually wasn’t that bad of a beer, and was very refreshing. We eventually hobbled back to our cars to make the trip back to the casino where we’re staying one more night. Overall, a really good race, and a good time up north.