Lessons learned from a Tuscobia DNF

My plan was to pull my sled for 80 miles from Park Falls to Rice Lake. I made it 35 miles before I had to pull the plug, registering my first winter ultra DNF.

So what went wrong? It almost all came down to my back. I’ve never pulled a sled for 30+ miles before and despite switching out to a different harness this year, I still wasn’t able to take the pain. I have scoliosis which complicates my situation, as my lower back curves and twists off to the right. Normally it’s just an annoyance during a long run, but in this case, pulling a sled, it became completely unbearable. I’m not sure what this means for future attempts, but I know that I need to either figure out a way to strengthen my back for endeavors like this, or look at alternatives such as biking or kicksleding.

Despite having to register a DNF, I’m still incredibly happy with how much of the race went. My legs were a little tired, and my feet only had one blister. This is completely manageable and nothing more than I’d get in any other ultra. My clothing was dialed in, and my new Gore-Tex shoes were perfect for the incredibly wet conditions. When I came into the Ojibwa checkpoint people asked me what needed to be dried out. Amazingly, I was almost completely dry. That’s how well my clothing plan worked, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

img_0495My pace was right on track for what I wanted it to be as well. I was aiming for a 10-12 hour journey to Ojibwa, and I got there just slightly after 11 hours. I executed my pace precisely where I wanted it to be, which is phenomenal. The course conditions were wet and soft, which meant that as the race progressed I got slower and slower. The fact I was able to maintain as long as I did is a huge win for me.

So what other lessons did I learn to take into the future? One of the biggest was that I overpacked. I didn’t bother to weigh my sled until I got home, and then realized how much of a burden I was carrying. My pulk weighed in at 41 lbs. which is way more than it needed to be. I packed far too much food and water, especially since I had a 2 liter water bladder on my back. I also carried 2 more pounds of water that I never touched in the 35 miles I was out there. That was just more added weight on my back.

I also doubled up on jackets, and didn’t need nearly as many as I had. All total I had 4 jackets: my puffy for emergencies, a sweat jacket, a lightweight shell, and a heavy weight shell. I most certainly should have ditched the sweat jacket, and might have been able to get away with just the heavy weight shell. In addition to jackets I packed 7 pairs of wool socks. However, with my Gore-Tex shoes, I never changed my socks once in 35 miles, and my feet were dry at Ojibwa. Knowing how well my shoes performed I could have dropped the number of socks to 3-4. I also carried way too many shirts and tights.

I could have easily shaved 10-15 lbs, off of my sled, without even touching on a lighter sleeping bag or lighter sled. That type of weight could have relieved a lot more pressure from my back, and perhaps have made things slightly more tolerable. I don’t think it would have changed the overall outcome in any way, but it might have reduced my suffering a slight bit.

Yet, there was one piece of equipment that I wish I had brought along; a small pair of snowshoes. The trail got to be very soft, and my feet would often punch through the groomed trail. My regular snowshoes are way too big, but a small, lightweight pair of kid sized snowshoes could have been perfect. The snow was already well packed down, so I just needed a couple extra inches around my shoes to keep me afloat.

Finally, the biggest thing I could have done differently is simply not trying to accomplish SO much in a single calendar year. In 2019 I ran 6 ultra distances between races and pacing gigs. I’ve never even come close to that in the past. After my 100 mile race my training went into the crapper, and Tuscobia became “one more thing” that I really should have realized wasn’t going to work. My body needed time to heal, plus I needed more time to get in more specific training. I needed to figure out this back issue sooner, and determine if it can even be changed or worked around, of it I need to move on to something else besides pulling a sled.

That’s the more detailed run-down of what happened at Tuscobia. Overall, I’m happy with it despite the result not being what I wanted. I can’t stress enough how much I love all of these people, and love seeing them ever year. Even if it’s just volunteering, I can’t wait to get to these events and spend time with people who love the same things I love. No matter what happened this weekend, or what may happen in the future, I know I’ve found a great community.

 

Shoe Review: Saucony Peregrine 7 ICE

This past winter I was looking for a new trail shoe for my runs on the local trails, as well as something that I could use on the roads around my house when they’re in sorry shape from a big winter snow or ice storm. I came across the Saucony Peregrine 7 ICE shoes when searching online, and since they were on sale, I decided to pick them up and give them a try over the colder months. Although this review is focusing on the version 7 of the shoes, there doesn’t appear to be many changes in the new Peregrine 8 ICE, so I would expect that everything I’ll say here applies, minus the rock plate that left the Peregrine for the v8 edition.

One of the things that appealed to me about the idea of the ICE shoes was the Vibram Arctic Grip outsole, which claims to be able to grip ice much better than a regular outsole. I got a chance to run on ice a little this winter, and found that the shoe performed OK, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations when it came to gripping ice. Maybe that’s because I never noticed the times when it added grip, but overall I still felt like I had to be somewhat careful, or switch over to using my screw shoes, for really icy conditions.

However, I did find one scenario where these shoes completely blew away my expectations… wet and slippery boardwalks. As spring dawned on the area, I found myself at a local trail that has many boardwalks along it. These were all soaking wet which usually means that they’re phenomenally slippery. However, the Peregrine 7 ICE shoes acted like sandpaper and gripped the wood amazingly. I still took my time and was careful on the boardwalks, but at no point did I ever feel even a bit of slippage. It was really amazing, although an unintended benefit of the shoe.

From a fit and comfort perspective, these shoes are what you’d expect from the Peregrine line. They’re soft and light, and feel nice and responsive. The standard lugs are well sized for light trails, and the shoes react well when climbing and turning around rocks and roots. With a 4mm drop, the shoes feel low, but still not zero-drop territory. I never had any ankle or Achilles trouble, despite being more of an 8mm guy.

I’m on the fence as to if I would buy these again. They got a lot of use this winter, and I loved wearing them, but I’m not sure the ICE technology was worth the extra premium (had I not gotten them on sale). If you can find these on clearance, you can’t go wrong, as they’re a solid trail shoe. You might get some benefit from the ICE protection, but even if you don’t, they still will give you many miles of durable use.

iPhone 7 waterproofing and winter running

One of the side benefits when I got my iPhone 7 is the more ruggedized nature of the construction. In particular the waterproofing has proven to be really useful for me. Not because I want to take my iPhone into a pool, but for something I didn’t quite expect until it happened.

I run a lot in the winter time, and often I simply stick my phone into a coat pocket. In the past I’ve always put the phone into a plastic baggie to protect it from condensation. However, with the iPhone 7 I’ve been able to completely forgo a bag, and just let the moisture collect on the outside of the device. This morning, when I went for a run in -19 degree F temps I discovered actual ice forming on the outside of my phone when I returned.

I still wanted to snap a picture or two before heading in, and the phone worked just like normal, with no degraded battery, or any issue with the moisture freezing on its surface. I brought the phone inside and quickly grabbed my tablet to take a picture of the frozen phone. Within a few minutes the moisture had dissipated and the phone was as dry as when I started.

Having a more ruggedized phone in winter is proving to be a huge benefit. If you’re a fan of winter running, I would suggest looking into something like the iPhone 7, or other Android phones that are waterproof, to keep you working no matter the cold.

 

Snowy Running

Last night Minnesota decided to turn back to winter and we got 3-4 inches of light fluffy powder. Since today is Saturday and I needed to run, my only choice was to strap on the screw shoes and hit the trail. The temps were beautiful this morning, around 28-30 degrees (F), which made for amazing running weather. Couple layers on top, some pants and head/face protection and I was good to go with no coat.

IMG_4049I hit the Elm Creek singletrack mountain bike trail before anyone else had been on it. This turned out to be cool and beautiful, but also exhausting. Pushing 3 inches of fresh powder on quick up and down hills REALLY wears the legs down. I wore a heart rate strap this morning and was riding around 165 the whole first 2/3 of my run. Keeping in mind I was never able to get faster than a 13 minute mile when I was pushing the snow.

IMG_4050Eventually a fat biker came through and I was able to ride his tread for a while before he turned off onto a different path. When I completed the 8.7 mile loop and went back out for another 3.2 there had been enough fat biker action that I was able to keep my HR down to the mid 150s, but by that point I was so wiped I still wasn’t able to go very fast.

It was an amazing morning for a run, and I really feel like I’m ready for winter running now. I captured a few pics from the morning, my favorite being the one above in the featured image. It captures a spot in the trail that I love, where you’re suddenly surrounded by pine trees that are thick and close. It only lasts for 100-200 feet, but it’s an amazing section of the trail.