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.

Shoe review: Saucony Peregrine ISO

Much of my trail running happens in one of two different shoe models, the Brooks Cascadia and the Saucony Peregrine. For years these have been my go-to shoes, racking up 1,147 miles in various Cascadia models, and 525 miles in Peregrines. Despite having a slight issue with one of my last pairs of Peregines (the insole slipped a bit after 300 miles), I still loved the shoe and racked up a ton of miles on it. I also gave the Peregrine ICE shoes a try this last winter, and I’ve still got enough life in them to use them again this season.

My daily road runner is the Saucony Guide ISO, and I LOVE the ISO platform in those shoes, so when I saw that Saucony was bringing the ISO platform to the Peregrine I had to give it a shot. I picked up a pair about 50 miles ago and have been putting them through my standard trails that I train on, including Afton State Park. If you’re looking for the TL;DR… I have never worn a more comfortable trail shoe than the Peregrine ISO. Period. Stop.

When I first slipped in to the Peregrines there was familiarity. It felt like a Guide ISO in many ways, but also like the old Peregrine. However, the Peregrine ISO felt more soft and supple, and my foot felt like it was sliding into a comfortable slipper. The gusseted tongue was soft and comfortable, and because of the way that the lacing overlays are separated, it still felt light and free. The overall fit was great for my foot and I’ve had zero issue with it on any of my runs.

The outsole is nice and aggressive, and after a misstep with removing the strike plate from the last (pre-ISO) model, they brought it back giving solid protection underfoot. There’s a lot of padding on the back of the heel, which might not appeal to some people, but for me it works well. I still feel like I get a solid lock, though perhaps in time it could break down more than I want.

The shoe is also very breathable, due in part to the way the overlays are separate, and not one big piece. The overlays on the toe box are sparse, and it reminds me of an Altra in this area. I do wonder if the sides of the toe box will eventually wear prematurely (similar to what I’ve heard about Altra), but so far they seem to be solid. As for laces, they are the standard Peregrine laces from years past, which work just fine.

Where this shoe really shines for me is in the comfort department. All of Saucony’s ISO shoes have “EVERUN” foam as the topsole, which provides an incredible amount of comfort. It’s one of the reasons I fell in love with their Guide ISO road shoes a few years ago. In a trail shoe, with a soft protective outsole, this comfort shines. I noticed this on one of my first runs in the shoe. I was out for a 20 mile run around Elm Creek with a friend, and I never felt any discomfort in my feet until mile 16. I even remarked about it to my running partner, and how wild it was that it took that long to really feel the miles.

I find this even more impressive because all of this cushioning doesn’t come at the cost of extra weight. Here’s a comparison to a couple of other shoes in size 9.5.

  • 11.05oz Peregrine ISO
  • 12.3oz Books Cascadia 12
  • 10.6oz Saucony Guide ISO

The fact that the Peregrine is over a full ounce less than the Cascadia means a lot on really long runs. Two ounces (one for each foot) might not sound like much, but when you’re running 18+ miles, with 40,000+ footfalls, it adds up fast. One might suggest that the Brooks Caldera could be a better comparison to the Peregrine, so I might give that a shot once my Cascadias are done.

It’s this comfort over the long run that really makes me love this shoe. I’ve taken it out on multiple runs of 18-20 mile distance, and despite any other issues I might have with my body, my feet have never been one. Coming from a traditional shoe like the Cascadia, this was a refreshing change. Saucony really hit a home run, for me, with this shoe, and I highly recommend people give it a try.

Sibley State Park camping

A couple of weekends ago the wife and I took the camper out for our first weekend of the summer. I had read a news article about how it was the 100th birthday of Sibley State Park, out near New London, MN, so we picked it as our destination. We decided a simple one night trip would be a fun way to kick off the year. Especially, since I had a very long run (20 miles) scheduled for Saturday morning, it was easier to plan to be at more familiar parks for that.

As with many of our trips, I try to find new and unique breweries along the way to sample. In this case, there were two before we hit the park. The first was in Willmar, MN called Foxhole brewing. This brewery is right in downtown, next to a theater, and had a typical taproom vibe to it. We found a table and I ordered up a flight. As I worked my way through the variety of beers I was struck with how none of them appeared to have any brewing flaws. Even the sour ale was spot on. When you’re dealing with small out-state breweries, the quality of the brewing process can sometimes leave something to be desired. However, in Foxhole’s case, they put out a solid line up of beers. Needless to say I was impressed.

After our visit to Foxhole we headed up the road to New London for a stop at Goat Ridge Brewing. Goat Ridge is built right on the banks of the Middle Fork Crow River, and their back patio sat right along the shore. I ordered up a flight and we picked a table outside, listening to the sounds of the river. The beer was adequate, and not quite as good as Foxhole, but it also didn’t exhibit any particular brewing flaws. I think that if I had done these breweries in the reverse order, I wouldn’t have dinged Goat Ridge at all. For a brewery in a town of 1200 people, it exceeded the expectations.

After Goat Ridge, we finally arrived at the park. Thanks to the late setting sun we were able to sit outside and enjoy a bit of the evening before turning in. Unfortunately, the camp site next to us was very close and the people decided to stay up until the wee hours of the morning talking. They weren’t being loud or obnoxious, but their campsite was so close to ours that it was impossible not to hear them. It meant that we got a more restless and disturbed night that we would normally want, but eventually I did manage to get some sleep.

Come morning it was time for an 8 mile run. It was drizzly and a bit chilly, but I knew once I got started that it would be just fine. My goal was to hit a loop called the Mt. Tom trail, and then partway through the loop, head over to the west side of the park and do some of the horse trails. Once I finished with the horse trails I would follow Mt. Tom back around to Lake Andrew and then back to the campground.

One of the first things that struck my about the Mt. Tom loop was how relentless the ups and downs were. The park’s website said that Mt. Tom was 220ft high, which isn’t that big outside of central Minnesota. However, the trail that goes around the mount was a constant journey up and down. There was almost no part of the trail that was flat. Thankfully, the trail was really nice, and it was easy to run on the runnable portions, but by the time I got to the horse trails I was ready for a change.

The horse trails were pretty standard, and they went around a few hills and prairies. I got to see a giant snapping turtle at one point which was fun. They were wetter than the Mt. Tom loop, but since I was already soaked from the drizzle, it didn’t matter that much. I got back to the main loop and continued on my way to the lake. I thought about cutting it short, but knew I’d probably regret that. I did take an alternate path back from the lake that was paved, but it was a nature interpretive trail with placards describing all the trees. It was a fun way to end the run.

As luck would have it my wife was finishing her run at the same time, and we met up a quarter mile from the campsite. She had a blast on the Mt. Tom trail as well, and commented on how unexpected it was to get so many little hills. We also both really enjoyed the Mt. Tom overlook, which is squat little tower on top of the hill. From the second story you can get a beautiful view of the entire area, and it’s actually quite breathtaking.

Once we finished our run it was time to start showering and packing up. Even though it was mid-morning, I still felt a tiny bit bad running my drill to crank up the camper jacks. The poor people in the site next to us probably were unceremoniously woken up earlier than they wanted.

Since it was only an hour and a half drive back we decided to hit a couple more breweries along the way. First we hit Nordic Brewing, a new one in Monticello, MN. We arrived just as they were opening, and got to park ourselves at a nice set of comfy chairs by the windows. Their beer was pretty solid, and I particularly enjoyed their imperial oatmeal stout.

Once we were done there we headed over to Big Lake and one final stop at Lupulin, which is an old favorite that I hadn’t been to in a while. I had a couple beers there and then we headed back to the car for the final part of the trip home. Overall, this was an incredibly fun weekend, and even though we were only gone a single night, it was really easy. Having the camper, and all of our stuff just set up in a box, makes setup phenomenally easy. Most of the time when we get to a campsite, we’re ready to start relaxing within 15 minutes. It sure beats fighting with an air mattress in a tent.

This is the first of a bunch of trips this summer, and I feel like we started off the season right. Sibley State Park was a lot of fun, and the Mt. Tom loop was a great route for a shorter distance run. It was well worth the drive from the cities.

Quick Review: KÜHL Parajax jacket

A couple months ago I started my search for a nice lightweight shell to use when running on cool mornings, or in light rain. I finally made my choice, and I’ve been using the KÜHL Parajax for the past few weeks while Minnesota has been transitioning from Winter to… kinda Spring? Suffice it to say, we’ve been having some odd weather this year, and so having a nice shell has been a huge benefit.

DSC09978-2.jpgI had been weighing my options for a while and settled on the Parajax for a couple of reason. First, like the Houdini it folded into a pocket, but unlike some of the competition the Parajax has a couple of really nice front pockets that have zippers. It was this pocket configuration that really sealed the deal for me.

DSC09985I’ve taken the Parajax out on quite a few runs now, and I’m really liking it. It’s very lightweight, and breathable, but like most shells it helps trap heat next to your body to keep you warm. My usual strategy is to wear it for the first 1-2 miles of my run, and then stow it before it gets too hot that I soak the inside of it with sweat. I missed the window on one particular run and by the time I had taken it off, it was pretty wet inside. Thankfully, the material dries really quick and easy, so all it took was airing it out once I got back home.

DSC09982I haven’t yet tried it in the rain (beyond a quick picture for this post), but like most of these shells, it’s mean to be water resistant, not fully waterproof. For something that is fully waterproof I’d need to look at other option. I’m OK with that though, and I’m sure if I got caught in a rain storm it would provide enough protection to help get me back to safety.

The Parajax is a bit more expensive than some of the other options, but you can usually find it on sale, or discounted with a coupon. It’s a great, durable, jacket and my only regret is waiting so long to pick one up.