Virtual Race Report: Badger 50K

Due to the pandemic, almost no trail races have been happening. One of the ones that I was particularly disappointed about was the Badger Trail Races in Wisconsin. Last year this race was my first time completing a 100K distance. It was also a perfect testing ground for what I needed to learn before my 100 mile race at Savage 100 later in the Fall.

When Badger went virtual I decided to step down to the 50K version for this year. With dealing with a broken toe, and a slower training ramp up from my recovery from 2019, I just wasn’t ready for anything longer. I felt I could get up to the 50K distance without too much trouble, and then rely on my overall experience to get me through any deficiencies.

I also opted not to travel to the Badger Trail itself, due to all the issues with COVID-19, and instead looked for a trail that was local to me, that mimic’d the Badger as much as possible. That led me to a trail that I have been on a couple times before, the Luce Line trail. It’s pretty much a mirror image of the Badger Trail, in that it’s a long, straight, former railroad line that goes for dozens of miles in one direction. It’s a crushed limestone surface, and passes through a lot of scenic wetlands, farmlands, and small towns.

I decided to do a point-to-point 50K which started me at Medicine Lake in Plymouth and took me straight west on the Luce Line all the way to Winsted, MN. The first couple of miles from Medicine Lake are paved asphalt, and are actually a part of the Three Rivers regional trail system. However, once you get to Vicksburg Lane it’s unpaved all the way to Winsted.

I was lucky to have my buddy Mike B. join me for some of the miles, and as I would soon discover, I’d actually have a lot of company for this run. My wife dropped me off at the lake where I met up with Mike. We headed out with a beautiful sunrise behind us. Before we even hit the unpaved section we met up with my fried Bob M. who was out doing a long 20 mile run on the trail. Bob decided to join us for a while and the three of us soon reached the crushed limestone.

We knew that soon we’d be running into our friend Angela who was doing a point-to-point 50 mile run overnight, starting all the way out in Hutchinson. Within a couple miles we saw a couple people in the distance, and sure enough it was Angela on the final stretch of her adventure. We stopped and chatted for a bit, got a trail report about a downed tree, and then went on our way. We foolishly forgot to grab a picture, but oh well, we all know what each other looks like anyway.

By this point I was moving well, and felt really good. I was targeting a run-all-day pace of around 11:30-12:00/mile, and thanks to some help from my friends, I was able to stop myself from burning out too quickly. That pace did briefly drop to zero when we encountered a huge tree that had come down in the storms of the previous night. This wasn’t one of those trees that you could just step over, as the crown was laying completely across the trail. We ended up needing to slowly find a path through the branches, much like trying to navigate an overgrown path. Slowly, one at a time, we made it through and we were able to get back on our way.

Shortly after the tree encounter, we came across our friends Yogesh and Emily. He was out doing a 74km run in honor of India independence day, and Emily was along for a bit of the run as well. Suddenly this little adventure of mine turned into an awesome group run with a bunch of great people. The miles started clicking off quickly, and conversations were insightful and fun.

Around mile 16 it was time for Mike to leave and get back to deal with a broken tree in his back yard, and shortly before this Bob hit his turnaround point. My wife was waiting as my aid station at this point, and it was good to take a few minutes to refuel eat some real food. The day was starting to get warm and my pace was starting to slow slightly, but my body felt great. After a short break, Yogesh, Emily, and I headed back out.

The next section saw more walking and my pace creeped up towards 12:30/mile. I was totally fine with this, and I knew that as the heat and humidity continued to grow, it was going to become more and more of a slog. Eventually Emily had to turn back and so Yogesh and I kept moving into the afternoon.

Soon we arrived at mile 22, which is Watertown, MN. Lisa was waiting for me once again, and I took advantage of a stop to easily change my socks and scarf down a bunch more real food. This was a place that would have been easy to dawdle, but I knew that the next 9 miles wouldn’t run itself. We gathered our gear back up and started back on the trail.

This is where my experience with ultra distance events really came in to play. As we left the aid station I felt like crap. I ate too much food and my gut wasn’t terribly happy. My body was feeling run down, and I just didn’t want to move very quickly. Yogesh was incredibly kind and walked with me without complaint. In my mind I wanted to quit. I thought, maybe I should just turn around and go back to the parking lot and call it a day. After all, 22 miles isn’t a bad day.

I thought this for about 10 seconds. Then the experience kicked in. There was absolutely nothing wrong with me that wouldn’t change in the next 20 minutes. I’d hit this wall before, and hit it enough times, that I knew that it would pass. Sure the quick 11 minute miles were behind me, but after I let this stomach issue work itself out, I’d be fine to keep moving quick again, and get this done.

I surprised myself with how quickly my mind turned on itself and shut down any thoughts of quitting. It’s become such second nature for me to look at suffering as not an impediment to moving forward, but just another stage in the journey. Sure enough, we walked the better part of two miles. And then things got better, and we started running little bits again. My wife had headed in to Winsted and hopped on her bike to come back and meet us, and when she came upon us we were doing a solid run/hike pace.

We kept moving really well until mile 27 where it was time for Yogesh to turn around. We said our goodbyes, and thanked each other for the great conversations, and I kept moving forward. My wife was still biking and she rode next to me for a while. Soon she headed back to the car to get me a Subway sandwich for the finish line and for the first time all day, I was alone.

The day was continuing to be a humid mess, but I had fully recovered and was feeling good. I decided to walk the first 0.4 miles, and then run the final 0.6 of each mile. This 40/60 split worked REALLY well and the final miles clipped along with little suffering. During one of these splits I looked down at my watch and saw that I was just about to pass the 50K mark. I took a picture to commemorate it, since I was pretty sure this was a new PR. My ultra brain wasn’t working 100% so I still went back and confirmed it later, and sure enough this was a huge lowering of my 50K PR.

My wife had informed me that the final 1.6 miles in to town was paved, and so as soon as I hit asphalt I knew I was home free. However, after 30+ miles of crushed limestone, hitting asphalt again was painful. It was incredibly unforgiving and my feet were not happy for that final stretch. I kept up my 40/60 method and soon I saw the end in the distance. I came around the corner and there was my wife waiting for me to greet me at the finish.

She commented that I looked like I was suffering more than when she left me, which was probably true. Because I was so close to the end I had stopped bothering to eat, and so my energy levels were much lower than they could have been. If I had been going on for a longer race I would have certainly kept the eating going, and I think that would have helped a lot.

Needless to say, I was happy that I was done. We sat down on some bleachers and I ate my sandwich and slammed a beer. Then it was time for the 45 minute drive home to get cleaned up and rest. The downside of doing a point-to-point that starts near home is that you then have a longer drive home. Thankfully, I didn’t need to do any of the driving and soon enough I was cleaned up and napping peacefully on the couch.

I’m incredibly happy with how this virtual race went. I planned and executed the way that I wanted, and I finished with a smile on my face. I probably could have shaved a couple minutes off my overall time, but given my training this year, I was really happy with where this ended up. In particular my ability to push through suffering, and draw on my experience, made me really excited.

This year has been really different for everyone. I’m sad that so many races aren’t happening this year, but I’m grateful for the motivation of a virtual race to go out and do something cool on my own. In the end, I got some cool swag, a new PR, and a lot of great memories on a beautiful trail.

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.

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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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.

2019 Running Year in Review

The year 2019 is my tenth year of running, and is seems appropriate that I celebrate that milestone with a bang. I’ll be writing a retrospective post on the past decade in a few days, but for the moment I want to spend a little time looking back at just this past year, and how I’ve grown and changed as a runner.

After a couple of down years, 2018 was a strong year for me. I found my groove and figured out how to get back to loving running. I continued that trend into 2019 and decided to tackle some challenges that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. In fact, 2019 blew the doors off of anything I’ve done in previous years.

DSC02628I started out the year with something fun and stupid, the Sandlot Minor League Half-Marathon. That means 13.1 miles around a baseball diamond. It was crazy and my right hip hurt for 2 weeks after that. However, it was fun to get out and support some of my crazy friends.

In May things got more serious with The Willow 20 mile race. This was a newer race on the scene put on by veteran race director Chris Swenke. He does a great job with his races, and this one was no exception. It was a fun course, and I had a great time. It wasn’t the fastest 20 miles I’ve ever done, but I enjoyed myself which is what counts.

bt-trail-races-341From there it was time to really get down to business. That’s because I decided to sign up for my first ever 100K race, the Badger 100K. This is a race put on by the Ten Junk Miles crew who are friends of mine. I’ve wanted to do a rail trail for a while, and this looked like the perfect excuse. It also had a super generous cutoff (over 30 hours) which meant I could take as long as I needed. I didn’t need the full 30, and finished under 18, with a lot of learning in my head to take with me into the future.

I put that to the test when two weeks later I did the Marquette 50K. Since I was still recovering from Badger, I didn’t go into Marquette with any big time goals in mind. I had signed up for Marquette the past two years, but for one reason or another never made it out there. This time my friend Mike make sure I showed up. Expect for climbing Hogsback, this race was a ton of fun, and I encouraged my wife to sign up for the 2020 version. It’s just the kind of course that she’ll love. Plus, I get to tag along and spend some time visiting the town next year.

fabdd329-48b1-43f9-8e24-b59bafaac483All of this led to my biggest accomplishment of 2019 which was my first 100 mile race at the Savage 100. This course was the site of my first ultramarathon distance and so it was appropriate to mark this milestone here. The race went as perfectly as I could have hoped, and I was tremendously proud of how well I worked myself up to this. Now that I’ve broken the 100 mile barrier, I can see myself making a few more attempts at that in my lifetime.

Finally, I’m finishing out the year with the Tuscobia 80, my first winter ultramarathon. It’s ironic that the whole reason I started the St Croix 40 Winter Ultra was because there was no place for people to get experience with winter ultras without stepping up to the 80 mile distance. Yet, now here I am doing the 80 myself. Unfortunately, the race didn’t go as well as I hoped and I dropped at mile 35. My back wasn’t tolerating pulling the sled, so I have some things to work on in the future.

img_4937As with last year, a large part of my training was done running with my wife. That meant I was moving a little slower than normal for me, which really helped me with the long slow slogs of the 100K and 100 mile. It helped me build up endurance instead of just speed (which I’m pretty much given up on ever having in abundance again).

img_5369As an added bonus, we also got to spend time pacing friends on their races. We headed to Lake Tahoe to help Julie with the Tahoe 200 and then headed right to Colorado for Mike’s 100 mile race in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. All of this work built up the tools that I needed to make this an amazing year.

When all is said and done, this was a massive year for me. Even with my DNF at Tuscobia I managed 6 ultra distance events between racing and pacing. I’ve never attempted more than 2 in a year before. In hindsight, it was probably too many, and my goals for next year will be a bit more reasonable. I need to remember to balance out my desire to “do everything” with the realities of burn-out.

I’m not finishing the year with as much mileage as last year, but I’m OK with that. Combined with all the extra biking that I did, this was still my most active year ever. I’m learning to find that balance with biking, running, and hiking, that makes me a well rounded outdoors person, not just a runner. I’m loving looking for adventures, and I want to be ready for them, whatever mode of transport is required.