Back to running

It’s been a couple months since I was able to really run, thanks to a broken toe. I finally passed the 6 week point and decided it was time to get back at it. I had tried to do some hiking at Afton a couple weeks ago, but the rough terrain was just too much on the toe, and I had to bail out of the traditional loop and find flatter, more stable terrain.

This past Saturday though was my chance at redemption. My friend Mike B. and I met up at 6:30 in the Afton parking lot, and we headed out on my first real trail run in months. I told Mike right up front that it’s been so long that this might be a pretty slow loop. Last year I had worked myself up to a 3 hour 15 minute PR pace around the 25K loop, and could pretty easily bang out a 3:20. I knew that today 3:30-3:45 was closer to reality.

As we headed out, we had something else to deal with beyond my injury recovery and de-conditioning… the humidity. Our first descent into the valley was met with fog and mist. It was at that point we knew that this was going to be a pretty oppressive run. Our one saving grace was that there was still a thick cloud cover from the overnight storms. It kept the sun at bay for quite a while, saving us from a lot more misery.

The overnight storms also resulted in some glorious mud puddles. A couple of the ones on the backside of the Trout Brook loop were way deeper than we expected, and the next thing we knew we were looking for a spot to step into the creek to get some of the mud off of our shoes. With our feet nice and wet we proceeded on the rest of the loop, and for the most part things were feeling great. I could tell I was de-conditioned, as keeping up with Mike was at times a challenge. He’s had a great summer so far, and I’ve been stuck with walking. I felt like I could go all day, but my speed was long gone.

Most of the run was uneventful. We ran into a few friends here and there, but overall it was a quiet morning in the park. I still managed to run the length of the river trail from the aid station location to the base of Meatgrinder, which is always a personal goal of mine. Once we got to Meatgrinder though my legs were really starting to feel it. We got to the top and I also started to feel my toe throb every so slightly.

As we came to Snowshoe loop, I knew this was going to be a slow slog for the final 3 miles. About a half mile in to Snowshoe the bonk hit hard and the legs started protesting dramatically. Mike was being very kind and sticking with me, but my performance was getting ugly. I had been managing somewhere in the range of 12-15 minute miles for the previous 13 miles. The final two were barely 18 minute miles. When we got to the final hill I told Mike to go on ahead and finish strong and I’d meet him in the parking lot.

I did manage a few short jogs on the final stretch, but between the legs, the toe, and the oppressive heat of the sun (now completely uncovered), it was a pretty sad sight to watch. I crossed the line at 3:41, still within the window of time I had predicted, but I was pretty spent.

I hobbled back over to the car and began the process of cleaning up and getting re-hydrated/fueled. Despite the bonk, I’m really happy with how the run went. It showed me that despite all the de-conditioning, I’m still capable of getting a rough 25K done if I need to. It feels really good to know that your fitness level isn’t gone in a moments notice, when you’ve spent over a decade getting it ramp’d up. I’m sure I’ll be back to my 3:20 loops soon enough. For now, I’m considering this a solid victory lap.

The story of a toe

A couple of weeks ago I had an unfortunate run-in with a dumbbell. Not the kind currently trying to take over social media, but the kind that you’re supposed to use to lift weights. And before the jokes start about, “That’s what happens when you try to do strength training”, I wasn’t even using the dumbbell for it’s intended purpose.

I was in the basement looking for a particular box. For some reason I had a 10 lbs dumbbell sitting on the table next to the boxes I was digging though. As I shifted one of the boxes the dumbbell rolled off the table landing squarely on my toe. Thankfully I was wearing some sandals at the time, so there was some cushion, but it still hit hard.

Almost immediately I knew it wasn’t good. However, I never cried out in pain, or heard anything pop or snap. I finished grabbing what I was looking for and then proceeded upstairs to asses the damage. I laid down on the couch and took a look, and sure enough it was already starting to go purple. The pain was starting to increase a lot as well. I checked out all of my toes and could tell not to go near the middle one. A light touch was all it took to realize that it had taken the brunt of the impact. The other toes around it seemed to bend and move just fine, but the middle one was in a heap of trouble.

I called the nurse line to get some advice, and they suggested that if I wanted to get an x-ray and make sure nothing else was wrong, to head up to the local orthopedic urgent care. So we hopped in the car (the wife drove) and headed over. As I slowly limped into the waiting room the pain started to get more intense. Thankfully, I had taken some anti-inflammatories before we left.

The athletic trainer took a look at it, and after a quick consult with the orthopedic, I got sent to x-ray (they were deciding if they should do the whole foot or just the toes). They took some pictures of my toe, and sure enough, the middle toe had snapped right at the tip. The x-ray showed a beautiful picture of the tip of my toe, completely separated from where it was supposed to be.

Then I got the bad news that it would be 6-8 weeks for it to heal, and until that time, running was a no-no. Part of the reason I wanted to get it x-rayed was to confirm a break vs. anything else. If it was just soft tissue damage, I could let it heal for a week and then live with any residual pain while it continues to get back to normal. With a broken toe I need to be careful to let it heal and not re-fracture it with a hard running strike. If I re-fracture it, I’m back to ground zero and the waiting time starts over.

Yet, it’s not all bad news. Biking has been working just fine. I just needed to be careful about how I set my foot down when getting off the bike or coming to a stop. I don’t need to push with my forefoot on the bike (if I don’t want to), so I was able to start biking almost right away the next day. I even managed a great 50 miler today.

Walking has been really slow to come back. My first attempts to go for a walk were painfully slow as I hobbled down the street. I kept it very simple for the first few days before slowly extending my walks further and further. I’ve been walking in very stiff-soled sandals which has helped a lot. However, I was anxiously awaiting the day when I could get back to feeling some more normalcy while walking, even if I couldn’t run for a while. That day was today.

It’s been 16 days now, and each of my morning walks has gotten better and better. I’ve been slowly getting back to my normal walking pace, and my walking form is completely normal again. So this morning I set out for a long walk. I still have things I want to do this Fall, but to do them I need to keep training, and building up stamina. Therefore, even if I only can walk, I need to start upping the miles and putting in the endurance work. I headed out, not sure how exactly how far I’d make it, but I knew it wouldn’t just be a simple walk around the park.

My son joined me, and we headed out on a route that would give him a bail-out point if he wanted it. However, he opted to stick it out with me, and by the time we got back home the watch was at 6.5 miles and I felt fine (well, a couple blisters I need to deal with). We even managed to keep up a really strong pace, and my overall average was under 18/min per mile. I’m really, really happy with how well it went, and I think I might be able to get back to the type of mileage I want rather soon (albeit slower than normal). I’ll probably stick to flatter surfaces for another week or so, just to be sure.

Some of the events coming up that I want to do will involve a lot of walking, so in many ways this is still really good training. Not quite the way I wanted to get my miles in, but I’m happy as a clam to at least have an option. Plus, being able to supplement with long bike rides, helps with all the cardio endurance I need as well.

That’s the story of my toe. It’s broken, but getting better. I’ve also managed to not let it break me.

Race Report: UMTR Stir Crazy Solo Virtual Fatass 2020

Somewhere in our crazy mind, the UMTR Board decided that doing a virtual fatass would be a great idea, and to make it even crazier, we added a twist. The loop you run (or out-n-back) has to be less that 0.5 miles long. So this morning I headed over to the pond two blocks away, and started my loops.

img_1055This pond is 0.4 miles long, so it’s the perfect distance for this event. It also has a gravel path around it, which makes it a little bit more like trail running. I haven’t been running a lot lately, so I didn’t have any serious goals, but know I could probably knock out 10 loops pretty easily (4 miles).

It was a bit chilly when I started out, with temps in the high 20’s. I overdressed, as usual in the Spring, but thankfully had lots of pockets to stuff gloves and hats in. The sun had just come up with I started my loops, and there was no one else around. In fact, during the entire run I never saw another person. Just a couple of dogs in the fenced in yards next to the path. It was just like it was supposed to be. Quiet and alone.

img_1054Around loop 7 I decided I was feeling good enough for a 10K and started the math in my head. With a 0.4 mile loop, every 5 loops is 2 miles. So I needed 15.5 loops to make it 6.2 miles. What’s cool about this park is that there are a couple of different entrances and there is another path into the park at the half-way point that dumps me out about 30 feet from the street I live on.

Once I hit 10 loops the temps started really warming up. In fact it started to melt a small frozen section of the path, resulting in a small water/mud hazard! I couldn’t believe how trail like this little run was becoming. I might actually get a few specks of dirt on me! Being this was my longest run since early March, I was starting to feel the miles pile up. The last couple of loops were a bit of a slog mentally, but my body seemed to be doing just fine. I was incredibly consistent over this entire run with each mile landing between 10:35-10:49/mile. I am phenomenally pleased with that.

img_1056Finally the watch beeped 6 miles and I started the final half-loop to the east entrance to the park. I hit stop of my watch and it was almost 10K on the nose. Really shocked at how well that worked out. I did a slow jog back down the street to my house and spent a few minutes just hanging out in my driveway to cool down. It was super fun to do something silly and crazy, and in solidarity with all of my other trail running folks. I can’t wait to see all the entries this week as we tally the results. It’s amazing what a community can do with each other, even when we can’t be in the same place.

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Why race directors shouldn’t feel bad when canceling their events for COVID-19

The recent coronavirus outbreak, COVID-19, has disrupted life as we know it, and at the moment it often feels confusing and frustrating about how to react. One of the things that has happened over the past week are many running events being cancelled, alongside other major sporting events. This can be a very frustrating and stressful thing for people who have been looking forward to their event, and can result in some backlash. However, as a race director myself, I wanted to share my perspective on why RD’s shouldn’t feel bad if they need to cancel their event.

Let’s start off with the squishy stuff. Being a race director is stressful and hard work. You’re pouring yourself into an event that you hope brings people joy and happiness. Nothing makes an RD happier than when they see people smiling as they cross the finish line. You can see the everyday stress of life melt away as you send people off into the woods to run free. It’s a truly wonderful thing.

The last thing that any race director wants to do is put people at risk. No race director wants to send out an email after an event to let people know that something might have happened at the event that would put them in danger. There’s not a single RD that I know who would want to send out an email informing folks that they may have been exposed to a sickness. That worry taints everything about the event, and it’s the opposite of why RD’s do what they do.

But apart from “feelings” and “worry”, let’s look at a couple of practical issues. Many people don’t realize just how difficult it is to maintain any type of cleanliness and sanitization in a race environment. First off, the aid station tables are havens for germs and bacteria. Many races have gone to single-serving cups of food items which helps a lot, but it’s not foolproof. I’ve been to more than one aid station where runners will grab a small cup of food, bring it to their mouth and dump it in, and then put the cup back down on the table to be re-used. The volunteers might not even notice this and think it’s an empty cup waiting to be filled.

Volunteers should also be wearing gloves when dealing with food as much as possible, but this doesn’t prevent spreading through coughs and sneezing. Plus, volunteers are often called upon to help runners with their equipment, packs, and physical needs, and can end up touching all manner of bodily fluids.

Then there’s the actual runners themselves, who are fond of blowing snot rockets, end up with runny noses and coughs from exertion, and generally spread their bacteria all over their vicinity. It’s simply the nature of being active and exerting oneself. The exposure is less on a longer race course where people are spread out, but in shorter, more compact races, many runners are always in a crowd of people.

Even despite precautions, it’s very common for RD’s to get sick a few days after an event with some type of virus. They’ve depleted their immune system through stress, and just exposed themselves to a lot of things. But it’s simply a part of the experience for many, and we understand the nature of how this works.

Now that I’ve said a lot of gross stuff, let me say one very important thing.

For the most part this is all fine.

I’m not a doctor, but I believe and have been taught that human beings are amazing creatures with a developed immune system that takes care of the majority of what we encounter. For the majority of people, it’s not the end of the world when we encounter common germs and other bacteria. We have the capability to fight them off. That’s because our immune systems have learned over our lifetimes how to fight off the majority of things that we’ve encountered. COVID-19 is new. There’s a reason it’s called a “novel” virus, because we’ve never seen it before.

Until we can catch up and figure out how to vaccinate and better treat COVID-19, we’re in a very vulnerable spot as a species. We’re at an inflection point where we need to allow our bodies, and science, to develop the defenses that we need to combat this new threat. But that takes time. The only way to stop our medical system from getting overrun is to limit the spread of the virus as much as possible, so that we can catch up. Practicing social distancing, staying away from large gatherings, and limiting where we go, for a couple of weeks is HUGE to stopping the mass spread of the illness.

That’s why it’s OK that races have to be postponed, and race directors shouldn’t feel bad about that. None of this running and racing stuff is SO important that it’s worth risking someone’s health over. We’re all doing this because we have a passion for it (trust me RD’s don’t make much of money, if any). So, let’s cut race directors some slack and let them make the right choices for the time in which we’re living. In a few weeks things will start going back to normal and life will continue on. There’s lots more races to run, so let’s make sure we all get to the start line together.

A decade of running

January of 2010 was the start. It’s hard to believe that it was so long ago, but the end of 2019 also marks the end of my first 10 years of running. I could never have imagined when I started this journey how consuming it would become, and how much of my identity would be shaped by it.

When I first started running it was mostly to get in shape and lose some weight. In 2010 I was really struggling with my health and well being. All my friends saw it, and when my friend Michael finally pushed me over the edge to do something about it I wasn’t sure if I could actually stick to it. I picked up the Couch-2-5K program and hit the treadmill for my very first workout. It’s a simple alternating run/walk system that slowly, over weeks, built up running stamina until you could run 3 miles straight.

I’m not going to lie. That first week was brutal. So much so that I repeated week 1 a second time before moving on. It didn’t help that I still had a lot of weight to lose, as carrying around more than you need is never a good idea. I believe it was somewhere in week 6 or 7 when everything changed.

By this point I had moved to doing my runs mostly outdoors, with more spring like temperatures. I headed out on a run which was supposed to include my longest segments of uninterrupted running I had done yet. I did the warm up intervals and then looked at my watch before starting the continuous running segment. At the time I was still using headphones when I ran and there was music going on in the background. I remember zoning out while listening to a couple songs and before I realized it I had gone way beyond what I was targeting. I got done with the whole workout and was in shock. I had just run longer than I ever had before. That was the moment that sealed the deal. I was a runner. I could do this.

29048_427624055361_4550976_n.jpgAfter that point, working up to a 5K distance wasn’t hard. I did my first 5K in May of 2010, and my first half marathon that fall. Running simply became a part of my life. Throughout those early years I did a lot of races in the half marathon range, and attempted one full marathon (that I hated). I got into a groove of doing a few repeat races each year, and was building up my collection of race medals and t-shirts. But running did more for me than just stuff my closets, it also gave me a connection to others via which my life was forever changed.

In 2012 I was still playing the online dating game, and when my (future) wife Lisa and I connected, one of the key things we bonded over was running. We had both come to running later in life and had transformed our lives in a positive way through running, weight loss, and fitness. Even though we ran different paces, we still enjoyed sharing our love of being runners and supporting each other.

A couple of years later we were both still running on roads, but we had started to become aware of trail running. My friend John had started dipping his toes into the trail and ultra world, and Lisa had been following the sport for a while. In the end of 2014 she encouraged me to join her for a small trail run at a farm an hour away. Trail running has an ethos of beer and beards, and so I immediately fit right in.

IMG_3157.JPGOnce I had completed that race I joined up with a local trail running group at Elm Creek, and January 31st, 2015 started the next big change in my running life. I immediately fell into the sport and signed up for trail races beginning in April. However, I was also learning the ethos of the sport, and how you give back to the community, not just take. My first Zumbro experience involved volunteering the first day at the aid station in the woods before running the 17 mile the next day.

31880916_1004097819714989_4681658212569579520_n.jpgFrom there, things just progressed bigger and bigger. Since then I’ve run a multiple 50K’s, a 50 miler, a 100K, and a 100 mile trail race. It took me 5 years to work up to 100 miles on trails, but because of that it went amazingly. I’ve also become a part of the community, joining the board of directors for the Upper Midwest Trail Runners association, for which I’m just starting my final 3 year term of service.

My wife and I have also started a small company to put on events, and in a week we’ll have hosted our second edition of the St Croix 40 Winter Ultra. We’re also excited about putting on even more events in the coming years, and spend a lot of time thinking and planning about what we could do next.

IMG_3228.jpgApart from events our running has also given us an opportunity to explore places all over the country. Every time we vacation, running is a part of it. I’ve run along the ocean in Seattle, through the desert in Vegas, and countless trails throughout the Midwest. I’ve had some incredible experiences getting lost in the middle of nowhere.

As I look forward to the next decade of running, I’m asking myself what’s next? I’ve picked up biking as a complementary sport, and I’m finding that trail running has been a great gateway to creating adventures outside. I’m not planning on giving up running, but I think I’ll be seeking a bit more balance in my fitness. I’m also considering adding in some run-commuting, as I’m keenly interested using many different modes to reduce my carbon footprint.

I’ll be starting out my first year of my new decade of running with a bit lighter race schedule. I’m signed up for a lottery for a short 12.5K race (because I want to see the area), and will also be doing a trail marathon, along with my traditional Surf the Murph loop. I’ll plan one other big race for the year, but then try and focus on expanding my versatility. I’ve decided that I don’t want to give up on sled pulling in winter ultras quite yet.

IMG_0495.JPGAs I look back, it’s crazy to think that it’s only been 10 years since I started this because it feels like this has been my life since I can remember. I’m hugely grateful to the folks who gave me encouragement when I first started out, and along the journey. Never doubt the power of influence, but more importantly, never doubt yourself and your capabilities. I was the poster child for “someone who doesn’t run”. Yet here I am.

Here’s a snapshot of the last 10 years:

Recorded activity count: 1,571
Total dist: 8,903 mi
Total elev: 317,396 ft
Total time: 1812:27:06
Total calories burned: 1,297,274

I couldn’t be more happy with where I’ve been, where I’m at, or where I’m going.

It’s just one foot in front of the other.