Some fat bike adventuring

My wife has a side gig as a section leader in a church choir up in Anoka, and sometimes when she’s doing a solo, I’ll go up there to listen to her. Today I decided to make an adventure out of it by riding my fat bike the ~12 miles to get there. Normally, this is a nice easy route that passes through Coon Rapids Dam park, on some beautiful paved paths. However, it’s February in Minnesota, do that means snow.

img_4068Things went really well right from the start when I discovered that the trail that I use to get out of the neighborhood has a nice solid packing down. I was able to ride the entire trail section without issue before dumping out on to roads. The next part of the trip takes me on a bunch of streets until I get back onto a bike path that leads under Highway 610 and into Coon Rapids Dam park. However, this section of the trail was NOT plowed at all.

img_4070There was a small rut that I tried to ride, but after fishtailing off into the deep snow on the side, I decided it was better to just hike-a-bike and walk until the cleared section began again. This section was slow and painful, having to climb over snowbanks at certain points. I really wish they’d clear this section as it’s a really nice area and it would be awesome to ride through in the winter.

I might have been able to make a lot more progress in this section if I had stopped and lowered my tire pressure. I was running at 6psi, and if I had dropped down to 3-4 it may have helped me plow through. However, at the end of this section I was going to be on cleared bike path again, before dumping on to roads. I didn’t want to spend 4-5 miles on flat asphalt running at 3psi, as that would make things a lot harder than I wanted it to be. So, hiking the bike ended up being the better option.

Once I got through this area I ended up dumped onto some groomed cross country trail This wasn’t where I wanted to be, but there were no other paths. I very carefully threaded myself in-between the classic ruts and got out of that as soon as I could. Once I was back on pavement I was able to pick it back up again and keep moving. I found one other groomed trail on the other side of the park that was about two car widths wide, with classic track on one side. The other side was covered in footprints so I decided to just bike through this instead of getting back on roads right away. Probably not the choice I should have made, but I don’t think I did any damage to the trail.

After this is was a lot of bike paths and city streets. That city of Coon Rapids made an attempt at clearing the bike path along Coon Rapids Blvd. but it was still pretty blown over with snow. It was in this section that I really learned what it was like to have a fat bike. I was able to handle a few inches of snow just fine until I felt like I was ready to battle traffic on the shoulder of the road.

Overall, it was a mostly uneventful ride. I learned a lot about riding in winter, and I’m slowly dialing in my gear. I got some Bar Mitts, and holy crap those things are nice. I can’t imagine riding in winter without them ever again. I still need to work on my footwear. I think for days like today just a solid winter, insulated, boot will work fine. I’ll need something more for sub-artic temps, but a 20 degree day like today is just fine. My core has been staying warm, and I have a nice pair of Marmot windproof pants that keep my legs comfortable (with a layer underneath).

img_4069One area of improvement though is that I need to figure out a better fitting helmet. The one I have keeps me safe, but it rides way too high on my head. This isn’t just a winter problem either. My head is shaped in such a way that it doesn’t ride right even in the summer. I’ll need to do some experimenting.

The ride today was tough, and my heart-rate stayed in the 140’s which is high for biking. There was a lot of challenging terrain to navigate, but I had an awesome time doing it. Once church was done my wife needed to get her run in, so I headed back out again and did a 6 mile run. Needless to say I’m completely wasted as I type this. It’s time for some beer and relaxing before tackling some house things that need to get done tonight.

I’m loving learning to bike in the winter. It feels freeing and I’m excited to do more of it!

A little dome running analysis

Sometimes in the winter months my wife and I decide to retreat to the comfort of running inside a fieldhouse dome. We love running outside in the winter, and the cold doesn’t bother us, but sometimes the conditions are just too severe. Often we’ll do a nice long run outside on Saturday, and then head over to a dome for a nice recovery run on Sunday. Or other times, if the trails and roads are too icy we’ll opt for as many loops as we can do inside a dome.

Thankfully, most GPS watches function inside domes, so you don’t need to resort to counting laps. However, not all domes are created equal. In the past couple months we’ve visited two different domes and have had a chance to see what they look like from a GPS tracking perspective.

First up is our favorite dome, the Plymouth Fieldhouse. This dome is just over 5 laps to a mile, and it’s a nice comfortable temperature almost all winter long. If you look at the GPS track, it’s actually pretty darn good. Almost all of the GPS lines stay within the borders of the building.

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However, sometimes their hours are more limited than we would like to deal with. There’s another dome down in Edina called Braemar Field. It’s just over 4 laps to the mile, and often has a wider range of open times.

However, there’s one slight issue with it’s GPS tracking.

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As you can see, it’s tracking is quite a bit off, but especially on two corners (NW and SE). What’s interesting is that on those two corners of the dome are their surveillance cameras. When you run past those corners you can see two little domed cameras hanging from posts. I’m not sure if they’re wireless or not, but I’m betting there’s something in there that’s throwing off the signals from the satellites.

Its not like the rest of the track is perfect, but it’s wild to see the deviation on those two corners on almost every lap. Overall though, it’s awesome to have these great resources available. Being able to toss aside the wool socks and jackets, and just run in a thin shirt, once in a while, is a ton of fun and a great change from the day-to-day of cold. I certainly wouldn’t want to do a marathon in here, but for a simple training run, it’s awesome.

Doing some race directing

A couple of years ago I started hearing about winter ultramarathons. These are long winter events that are steeped in the survivalist culture of Alaskan events such as Iditarod. The idea is that you go a long distance in the middle of winter, with only your gear, and your wits, to help you survive.

Modern winter ultramarathons are still survivalist events, but in a slightly more structured environment. Participants traverse a set distance by foot, fat bike, or ski, within a prescribed timeline, carrying all their gear with them as they go. There are no lush aid stations, and you can’t accept help from anyone who’s not involved in the race. The biggest ones in the upper Midwest are the Arrowhead 135 and the Tuscobia 80/160. As the names imply, these are huge distances (135, 80, and 160 miles respectively), and for beginners, they feel out of reach.

I started having conversations with folks about shorter distance versions of these races, and discovered that none really exist anywhere near me. So, I did the next most logical thing for someone who thinks like I do. I created my own.

On Monday we announced our first ever race, the St. Croix 40 Winter Ultra, which will be held on January 12-13th at St. Croix State Park, near Hinckley, MN. This short-course event will give people a chance to see if they have what it takes to even attempt the longer distances. Participants will also need to prove that they can use their gear, such as their bivy-sack and stove. These are key elements for surviving a harsh Minnesota winter night, while traveling 40 miles alone.

I’m no stranger to running things, I do it for my career. I’ve also run multiple aid stations at some of the biggest trail ultras in the Midwest. Of course, none of that is going to make us any less anxious and nervous about stepping up to the big leagues and fully directing a race. However, I’m incredibly excited about this idea, and I can’t wait to show people how amazing winter in Minnesota can be. I want to give people a chance to experience these amazing events in a safe and constructive way, and help them build confidence for the future. I also want to help them learn to respect the history and tradition of these events, and how to give honor to those who are doing even more amazing things than this.

Today begins a new adventure. I’m stoked to see where it all leads.

The year of 44

Today marks another milestone of another year around the sun. Today I turn 44. When you’re a kid you (for some reason) decide that you need a favorite number, to go along with your favorite color. I don’t remember why, but I chose 44. I’ve used ’44’ many times in online handles or game personas, and in general I smile when I see the number. Now that 44 is my age, I feel compelled to make this year significant.

I started out the day on a high point. I had to do a 24 mile run this week for my training plan, and so I decided to shift my schedule and take Friday off of work and do it for my birthday. I put up a quick event in my running group and sure enough I had a handful of people join me for the early morning start. In fact, my friend Wendi came out and stuck with me for the full distance, despite never wanting to get up before 9am to run.

IMG_2344.jpgWe started out nice and early, with the plan to do 3 full horse trail loops, adding in a little extra where we could to make them close to 8 miles each. The first loop flew by, and I nailed my scheduled itinerary on the nose. For my second loop my friend Tim M. came out to join us. Despite being much, MUCH, faster than me, he stuck with Wendi and I and we once again nailed a solid 1:40:00 loop. This was once again exactly where I said I would be, and I was pleased. About mile 20 my friend Mark met up with us and we continued on our way. At mile 21, everything fell apart.

IMG_2343.jpgRight now, because of all of the melt and re-freeze, there is a LOT of ice on the horse trails. Until the ground softens more it doesn’t have many places to go, and so it ends up turning into a crunchy, uneven mess, or glare ice. I had slipped a bit at one point, but wasn’t too bad. However, at mile 21 I stepped the wrong direction, to avoid a different patch of ice, and planted my foot on a mound of perfectly clear glare ice. Next thing I knew my right butt-cheek was smacking hard into the ground. I rolled over and winced in pain.

I got up slowly, my hands slightly scarred from trying to catch myself, and I knew I had jammed my back really good. It cause enough of an impact on my body that for a few moments my ears were ringing. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean a concussion, but for sure I know my back is going to be very sore for a couple days. I got up and we kept moving. I tried running a couple steps and knew that it was all done. The final miles would all have to be walking.

The amazing thing is, my friends are amazing. I told them to feel free and go on without me, but they stuck with me. When we met up with Andy a mile from the finish, he also joined in and we formed a walking pack for the final stretch. I had originally planned on finishing out the leftover portion of the 24 miles when we got back to the parking lot, but at that point I was done. I stopped my watch at 23.58 miles and called it a day. That was close enough, considering I was in a lot of pain.

IMG_2348.jpgWendi then went to her car and pulled out a yummy cake, and we pulled some beers from the trunk of our cars and enjoyed a mid-day birthday snack. Getting to spend time with amazing people like this, who are willing to stick with you after things go wrong, is a true testament to how caring trail people can be. We enjoyed out snack and then headed out our separate ways.

I made a couple stops on the way home for food and such, and then made my way to my house for a shower and recovery. Once I was cleaned up I eventually took a nap to try and recover some more. Rest felt good, and I’m hoping that rest is all my back needs, so that I can get back at it. Once I woke up it was nearing the time for my wife to get home and go to dinner. Both of my kids have been recovering from being sick, so we postponed the big family dinner till Monday, and Lisa and I just headed to a fast-casual place for burgers.

IMG_2350.jpgAnd now it’s time for me to sit, relax, drink more beer, and reflect on the day, and the year to come. I feel like there are going to be some changes this year. I don’t know exactly what they will be, but it’s starting to feel like things are coming together. Maybe a job change, or perhaps some new adventures in places we hadn’t planned. My running might really stick this year and I’ll run some events that I’ve only dreamed of. I feel like the options are open, and for the first time in a long time, I’m feeling hopeful.

Maybe it’s just the beer, but perhaps I can make this hopeful feeling last a bit. My life is only half over, so there’s plenty of time for new adventures, and new experiences with the people I love. Bring it on 44. I’m ready.

The lessons of winter

There are many things that winter teaches you in Minnesota. How to dress appropriately, the difference between types of snow, and often, how to simply have fun and enjoy it. However, one lesson that we were reminded of this year was that it’s always better to deal with the aftermath of a snowstorm in the morning than in the middle of the day.

Back in January we had a big storm roll through; nothing out of the ordinary, just a basic 6-8 incher. The problem was that it started around mid-day, after everyone had gone to work already. St. Paul Public Schools didn’t decide to end the school day early until it was far too late, and they paid the price. Many of their busses got stuck on the streets, and some kids didn’t make it home until after midnight. It was a complete debacle and PR nightmare.

This weekend the weather started to predict a big snow for Monday. As the hours got closer and closer it appeared that we were in for another repeat performance with a heavy snow hitting around mid-day again. After having learned their lesson in January, almost every school district in the area announced on Sunday eventing that they closed for the day Monday. Frankly, it was a wise move.

However, the weather decided to take it’s time, and the apart from a bunch of freezing drizzle, the main snow didn’t start to fall until late afternoon in the cities. Having lived in Minnesota almost my entire life, I know that tomorrow will be cries of complaint that there was no reason for school to be closed. Despite the fact that even the slightest shift of the storm track could have caused a repeat of January.

You see, in Minnesota our memories are short and selective when it comes to weather. We complain about the cold, or the snow, or the horrible job that the snow plows do. But then we forget that we’ve done this over and over, every year for all of the lives that we’ve lived here. Nothing we’re experiencing this winter is that different from any other winter in our history. In fact climate change has made things even a bit milder than when we were young.

Yet, we keep thinking that weathermen are all-knowing seers who can predict a storm path to the very minute and square foot. We believe that All-Wheel-Drive means we’re invincible and can ignore all road conditions. And we think that our lives are so busy and important that we can’t be inconvenienced, even a bit, to just let nature do it’s thing.

Fellow Minnesotans, let’s try, just this once, to remember what winter here is like, why we respect it, and why it’s an important part of what makes us who we are. Tough, bold, and hearty.