Race Report: Sandlot Minor League Half Marathon

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

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

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

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PC: Fresh Tracks Media

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

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PC: Fresh Tracks Media

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

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PC: Fresh Tracks Media

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

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

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

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

 

Starting the running year off well

One of the big successes I had last year was in my running. I managed to shatter my mileage from previous years and topped out at 1600 miles. One of the weakest areas of my 2018 though was my early training. It took me quite a while, last winter, to get back up to speed, and I hoped that this year I’d be able to reverse that trend.

However, what I’ve discovered is that isn’t really realistic for me. Coming off a big December means I need a bit of a rest before jumping right back in. I realize a lot of people might be able to go strong 12 months out of the year, but I’ve found that it just doesn’t work for me. Between the cold, the dark, and the general feeling of needing a break, the year usually starts off pretty weak for me.

I’ve also discovered, now that I’m heavily involved in the winter ultra scene, I just don’t have as much time as I thought I did in January. Tuscobia is at the end of December, the St Croix 40 is the second week of January, and then Arrowhead 135 finishes out the month. Toss in a potential trip to Vegas, and I feel like I need to change jobs to something where I can just take the entire month off.

It’s not all bad news though. I went back and looked at where I’m at this year, compared to last year. As of today I’m only about 13 miles shy of my 2018 running totals on this date. What that tells me is that I’m on the same trajectory that I was last year. With how good last year turned out, I have absolutely nothing to complain about. From a long term maintenance outlook, 1200-1600 miles per year is just fine with me. Maybe some years it’ll go higher, but I really don’t need to keep pushing for a new goal every. single. year.

There’s a phenomena that hits most trail runners. We accomplish something, and then we need to move on to the next big thing, and then the next EVEN BIGGER thing, and so on. Eventually, you reach a point where you come to realize that every year doesn’t have to be bigger than the last. You can run for the joy of running and go with whatever sounds interesting. Maybe there’s a year where you just do some shorter races, or perhaps it’s a big multi-ultra year. What matters is realizing that whatever you do, it should be done with joy.

I’m on the right track this year. I’m running happy and ready for whatever adventures await. Go out and experience life, and run with joy.

Arrowhead 135

This week I’ve been spending my time at the Arrowhead 135 winter ultramarathon. This is the iconic winter ultra in Minnesota, and it is known for being one of the most brutal and harsh races around. Participants much traverse (on foot, bike, or ski) from International Falls, MN to Tower, MN on the 135 mile long Arrowhead Trail. They have to be prepared to survive in any conditions, and therefore must carry mandatory gear including -20 degree sleeping bags, bivy sacks, and stoves with which to boil water and heat food. It’s a grueling event, and made even more difficult by this year’s extreme temperatures.

On the Sunday before the race, air temps hit -40 degrees F (well, and C at that point). Thankfully, by the time the race launched on Monday things had moderated to -10. Monday ended up being a good day overall with temps getting above zero for a large part of the day. I even managed to get out for a 4 mile run on the trail, and the conditions were amazing and perfect for a run. However, with nightfall came brutal cold.

IMG_0024As the temps dropped overnight, they stayed there. Ever since late Monday the temp hasn’t been above -15, and the mornings are closer to -32. Going out to start our car for 10 minutes every few hours has become a part of our regular routine. Thankfully, we have a nice warm hotel to sleep in, and when we’re working at the finish line we have a beautiful hot tent to keep us warm. Because it can sometimes be hours between finishers, we often get to relax in the tent and enjoy beer and whiskey and pizza cooked on a wood stove.

In terms of participants, this year looks like a very low finishing rate. The bikers are doing OK at 51%, but many of them were able to make solid progress all day on Monday and even finish the race before the temps got too brutal. On the foot participant side it’s looking like only 18% of participants will succeed. Most have (rightly) decided to end their race early, instead of putting themselves in danger. This year, not a single skier managed to complete the entire course, which was not ideal for skiing at all.

My wife and I have been lucky enough to have been able to work remotely for our jobs for a couple of days while we volunteered in the evenings. It’s been great to be around so many amazing people and see them achieve great things. It’s also marked with a bit of sadness, because one of our trail tribe lost his battle with cancer while we were here at the event. He was a frequent participant in this event, and his loss is keenly felt among the people participating. There’s a certain poignancy to his passing during an event that meant so much to him.

Tomorrow we head back to life in the cities, but for now, it’s nice to have been able to be a part of this amazing event, and the incredible people who are testaments to the power of human beings to survive no matter what.

St Croix 40 Winter Ultra – RD quick recap

This weekend, my wife and I put on our first race. We didn’t just decide to put on something simple like a 5K or 50K foot race. No, we opted for one of the most complex things that we could come up with, a winter ultramarathon with foot, bike, and ski divisions. To make it even more complex we did the entire event overnight, meaning that just like the participants, we got almost no sleep for the entire event.

PC: Cole Peyton

Overall, the event went off amazingly. Almost every single participant came up to us and told us how much fun they had, despite the challenges. We managed not to lose anyone, and there were no serious injuries. The weather was amazing with temps in the mid-20s. Our only complaint was that it wasn’t clear skies overnight for a view of the stars. It cleared up for about an hour around sunrise, but other than that, it was overcast.

The trail conditions weren’t as ideal as we would have liked them to be, with freezing rain in the weeks leading up to the event. About 70% of the course was good, but then another 10% was really bad with glare ice that the participants had to navigate. Despite all of this, many people came in to the finish like saying that, based on our descriptions, they were expecting a lot worse, and actually found the conditions to be pretty darn good.

We have a whole list of Trello cards that we’ve started to keep track of around tweaks we want to make next year. Lots of little things that we know we can improve on to make everything work easier. However, one of the biggest compliments we got all weekend was from someone who said that they couldn’t believe this was a first year event. They felt that everything was going so smoothly that it must have been going on for a while. That’s a huge testament to the mentoring and examples that we’ve followed from the race directors we admire in our life. Without their help and support, this wouldn’t have gone as well as it did.

PC: Mike Wheeler

I have a lot more I could write, but I think it’s going to take a few days to process everything. There were a lot of emotions this weekend as we saw people try something hard and succeed. Seeing the joy on their faces was so fulfilling. Hearing their stories made us feel like proud parents who did something right when raising their kids. For now, I’ll just say that this was an experience that we’ll never forget, no matter how many years we do this.

There’s a lot more work to do in the coming days. Many of the boxes are still just packed in our garage. I decided to go in to work today, because I actually needed a break from race stuff. In the coming week we’ll finalize everything and complete our lists, and start the process of thinking about what’s next!

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!