Thursday, December 10, 2015

It's Gnarly Out There!

Two years ago, I tried to run a race series called the Gnarly Bandit despite having never run in a 100 mile race before.  I failed.  I did not complete a single race out of the three that I entered.

The Gnarly Bandit consists of four 100 mile races, followed by a 100k:

  • Zumbro 100
  • Kettle Moraine 100
  • Black Hills 100
  • Superior 100
  • Wild Duluth 100k

There are three cruxes to the series: 1. Zumbro is early in the year, and quite often the snow isn't even off the ground yet.  Very few people are trained up for it yet.  2. There is only three weeks between Kettle Moraine and Black Hills.  3. Superior.

Last year, I entered two of the races in the Gnarly Bandit series (Kettle Moraine and Superior) and finished them in respectable fashion.  I conquered the third crux.  And after running Kettle Moraine, I'm certain I can handle the second crux if I take Kettle extra easy.

I am formally throwing my hat into the ring to complete the Gnarly Bandit in 2016.  I have learned a lot since the last time I tried it.  I have the training, the knowledge, and the willpower to push through it.  I have been on all of the race courses, except for Wild Duluth 100k.  Fortunately, it shares some of the course with Voyageur 50 which I have raced before.  So I have no excuse this time that I don't know what I'm getting myself into.

Only 4 months until Zumbro.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Running Around in Circles

A.K.A. Lemming Loop 3 Hour

It's been a long running season for me.  And, I like to think, a successful one.  Not only did I break my PR at END-SURE (not exactly a difficult chore), but I also got a huge monkey off my back by completing my first 100 miler.  I one-upped by crawling onto the monkey's back and completed Superior 100.  I like to think of this as doing two fifths of the Gnarly Bandit, the race series of which I DNFed every race I entered last year.

When I signed up for Lemming Loop (LL), I figured that my legs were still going to be hurting somewhat from Superior three weeks earlier.  In this, I was correct.  It looks like I recover from 100 milers a lot slower than I would have thought.  It's not a linear function for me, where it's 4 times as long as with a marathon, and twice as long as with a 50 miler.  My muscles seem to heal fine, but my joints stay tender for a long time.  Knowing this, I signed up for the shortest LL distance; the 3-hour race.  Good decision, as I came down with a cold and wouldn't have been able to run anything longer anyway.  Compared to all my other races this year, this one was going to be a balls-out sprint.

I toed the start line with Craig Desjarlais, who also ran Superior, and settled into a nice rhythm.  One guy took off like a bullet.  Craig and I looked at each other, and we both agreed that we would see him again soon.  The body of runners soon split up into packs, and I chose to stick with the lead one, which consisted of Craig, myself, and the lead female (I think her name is Judy Nagy).  We caught up to the bullet about halfway through the loop, and never looked back.  Craig decided to speed up a bit, and I thought it would be best to let him go.  I don't have the leg speed to run like Craig.  So it was just Judy and me.

Judy and I traded leads for the first two laps, until she stopped at the aid station.  I kept going.  I was now all alone and forced to pace all by myself.  I was hurting pretty good at this point, but threw all the pain into my newly-dubbed "pain cave".  I figured I could deal with it after the end.  After all, it was only going to be 3 hours of discomfort.

My plan this race was to carry all my gels with me, and carry a single water bottle.  This way, I could pretty much ignore the aid station and only use it to refill my water bottle.  This was a strategy that served me well.  After the third loop, I made my first aid station stop and was out of there in about 10 seconds.

The race from there on was fairly uneventful until near the end.  I felt like a superstar, blowing past runners who had been out there for 18 hours already.  I tried to give everybody encouragement, and never expected anyone to get out of my way.  But for some reason, almost every single one moved over to let me pass.  Seriously?  I was fresh, and had the legs to be able to take to the tall grass.  Maybe they were just using me as an excuse to move over and get a few seconds of rest before continuing on their way.  The volunteers at the aid station were telling me that I was catching up to Craig, and if I turned it up I could catch him.  I wasn't going to do that and blow myself up.  If he really was slowing down, I would just let him come to me.  Turns out they were telling Craig that I was catching up to him too (I wasn't), and were playing us both against each other.  Evil.

When it was time to start doing short loops, Christine and Bean showed up to cheer me on.  Nothing pumps me up like hearing them chant "Go Daddy Go!".  After one short loop, my watch was showing that I didn't have enough time to complete a second one.  I was nearing the end of my race.  I told Bean that if he got to the start line, he could run with daddy until the finish.  He happily obliged.  Together, we ticked off the final 500 metres before the horn sounded.  On the way back, my legs started to cramp up.  Surely, a sign that I ran almost perfectly.

Craig finished first.  I finished second.  Judy ended up finishing 2nd female.  I don't podium often, so it felt really good even though the field was pretty shallow.

My splits:











Considering that my secret goal was to run 18 miles, I did pretty good.  Fairly even splits except for the 19:55 near the end.  In total, I ran 19.51 miles on tired legs.  When I got home, I went straight to sleep.

Monday, September 21, 2015

2015 Superior 100 Race Report

Superior.  What is there that you can't say about this race?  It is exceptionally well-organized, very well-attended, and the volunteers are amazing.  It was also my introduction to "big-boy" hundred milers.

Two years ago, I asked Sue Lucas if I could pace her for the last 50 miles at Superior.  Fortunately for me, she said yes.  But with a caveat:  She walked fast, and didn't spend a lot of time at aid stations, so I'd have to keep up.  No problem, I thought.  Needless to say, Sue broke me.  By the time we got to Oberg, I was spent.  This gave me two insights: 1. Sue Lucas is an absolute beast.  2. Superior 100 is a really hard race.

So naturally, after last year's complete disaster and string of DNFs, I had to sign up for this year's race.  I needed to earn my first 100 mile belt buckle.

This year, there was a record number of Manitobans driving down.  There was last year's women's winner, Mallory Richard, equally-speedy Steven Grauper, wildcard Dallas Sigurdur, and front-packers Brad Whitson, Murray Arnason, and Craig Desjarlais.  And then there was me.

Steven, Craig, and I drove down together.  It was a fairly uneventful trip down, and we got to Two Harbors with plenty of time for a pasta dinner and quick grocery run.  The pre-race briefing went on a bit longer than I wanted, especially with the long drive to our hotel in Lutsen.  When we got to the hotel, we crashed instantly.

The next morning came far too quickly, as it usually does before races.  But this time I slept like a baby and didn't feel groggy at all.  Maybe I had gained some confidence after my finish at Kettle Moraine earlier this year.  I impressed a few people by demolishing a whole loaf of cheese foccaccia bread on the bus to the start line.  Once there, I realized that I may have made a mistake in planning my drop bags, and made Joel Toews (Mallory's pacer) promise to throw my warm-up clothes in my County Road 6 dropbag (thanks Joel for coming through and saving my race!).  The forecast had been getting cooler and cooler all week, and I foolishly hadn't been watching it and planned my drop bags as if it was the middle of summer instead of the near-freezing temperatures we were going to get.

After a few inspirational words by star race director John Storkamp, of which I don't recall any due to the excitement of getting the race started, we were off.

This year's edition of Superior 100 had the first 4 miles or so detoured on the Gitchi-Gami bike path as a result of a landowner (rightfully) removing permission for the Superior Hikint Trail to pass through his land.  It would be a relatively-flat asphalt start.  One that I thought sucked people into unsustainable paces.  I on the other hand, had none of that and treated the paved trail as if it was at mile 99 and walked the uphills.  I waved all my friends goodbye, feeling certain I wouldn't see them again until the finish line.  As a result of my conservative starting pace, I came into the Split Rock aid station in 163rd place.  After a formula-one style fill-up of water bottles, I was off on the next section.

The trail from Split Rock to Beaver Bay is the longest in the race.  Eleven miles before the next aid.  I brought a third water bottle specifically for this section, and used every drop of water from it.  I realized that I got so much use out of my bottle that it was probably a good idea to bring it along for the rest of the race, and only fill it up on the longer sections (such as Tettegouche and Crosby Manitou).  The views on this section were breathtaking.  A short while in, I realized that I was running in front of Susan Donnelly.  Knowing her finish record, I felt a bit humbled and scared that I was where I was.  There was no reason I should have been in front of her that early in the race, and it most likely meant that my conservative pace wasn't near conservative enough.  Whoops.  I let her pass and tried to slow down a bit.  Nevertheless, I had moved into 148th place.

At Beaver Bay aid station, I took a bit more time.  I had my first drop bag and refilled gels, salt tablets, changed shirt, and socks.  The fresh clothing felt great.  Grabbed a handful of potatoes (no need for salt since that was taken care off) to fill my stomach as a surrogate lunch, then I was off.  This was a short section, so I didn't need the third water bottle.  But even though it was short, it was by no means easy.  I managed to make a stealthy pit stop midway through this section, and if anybody noticed they sure played it cool.  That dropped me to 156th.

The Silver Bay aid station was a quickie.  Filled the third water bottle, slammed some "rocket fuel" (a.k.a. ginger ale) and was out of there.  This section had Bean and Bear lakes, which are absolutely fantastic views.  It was also a notorious section for baking unsuspecting runners who weren't ready for the heat.  Fortunately, this was a cool year and the temperatures stayed quite manageable.  Came across a photographer at the top of a bluff overlooking Bean lake (or maybe it was Bear?), and gave a pirouette.  I don't think it came across right in still-life.  Just as I was hoping for the section to end, it did.  Moved into 154th.

I got a surprise at the Tettegouche aid station.  There was Craig Desjarlais looking very dreary.  He had a problem with one of his legs, and was moving slower than he normally was.  But he said he wasn't ready to quit.  I didn't stick around long enough to let negative vibes become contagious.  I was feeling great and wanted to keep my aid station stops short.  I was warned that the section from Tettegouche to County Road 6 wasn't incredibly long, but it was incredibly hard.  I figured this was a great time to give up running for the day, and start power-hiking.  And did I ever power-hike that mofo.  I had a few runners give me compliments as they had a tough time catching up and passing me, I was walking so fast.  There were some great views in the section, and a very welcome one was seeing the aid station.  When approaching the Co Rd 6 aid station, you can hear it from very far away.  And eventually you can see it.  But then you still have a few miles to go as you need to go past it to descend the cliff (and go over another one last hill) before you get to the road.  It was at this time that it started to get dark.  Fortunately, I had picked up my headlamp at Beaver Bay.  I never thought I would get this close to Co Rd 6 before it got dark.  Moved up into 140th place.

At County Road 6 aid station, I was in for another surprise.  As I ran in, I came across Brad, Dallas, and Murray getting ready to head out!  All three have BQ speed in their legs, so I was very surprised to be as close to them as I was.  I raided my drop bag for gels, salt tabs, my pullover (again, thanks Joel!), a fresh shirt, and my handheld light.  Said "hi" to Robyn Reed, whom I met at the spring race, working the aid station, and was off again.  It didn't take long to come up to the trio of Manitobans.  I think somebody was having a wardrobe malfunction, and I passed them.  I was power-hiking up a storm at this point.  There were lots of opportunities to break into a run in the last half of this section, and I took the opportunity any time the trail gave it.  I don't recall passing many people, but somehow ended up in 126th place.

The Finland aid station is more or less the halfway point of the race.  It's a huge aid station, and the start for the 50 mile race.  I didn't have a drop bag here, so had no real reason to stick around.  I downed some hot chicken soup as quickly as I could, and was out.  The next section to Sonju Lake was another easy section, but was completely in the dark.  It also seemed longer than it should be (typical of running at night).  I noticed that people were starting to pass me, and that my power-hiking pace was slowing down.  The good news is that the highest point on the race course is over this section, so technically it was all downhill from there.  Yeah right.

Sonju Lake was a welcome sight.  I had a change of shoes here, as well as spare batteries for my headlamp.  For some reason I didn't think I needed spare batteries for my handheld, as it was supposed to last for 12 hours on the setting I had it on, and it was definitely fully charged before the start.  About 5 minutes after leaving the aid station, I realized that I forgot my handheld at the aid station.  Aaaaargh!  I briefly contemplated continuing on without it, but came to the conclusion that thinking wasn't my strong point at that time, and that if I had planned to run with it I better should.  I wasted 10 minutes going back to the aid station and reclaiming my handheld.  A few minutes later, it died on me.  Motherf^&*er.  I was now down to one light, my headlamp.  I was counting on my handheld casting shadows on the rocks and roots so I would know how high to lift my feet.  Now I just had the flat light that was emanating from my forehead.  And wouldn't you know it, a few minutes after my handheld died, my headlamp gave me the "low battery" warning.  Great.  That meant I had only one set of batteries to make it the rest of the night.  The cold of the night must have been wreaking havoc with my batteries.  I didn't want to get caught out in the middle of nowhere in the freezing cold, unable to move, so I delayed changing headlamp batteries until I could barely see my feet.  I was somewhere around 1 or 2 in the morning, and down to my last set of batteries.  Fortunately, my handheld started working a little bit, enough for me to be able to change my headlamp batteries.  So at least I wasn't fumbling around in the dark.  Despite all the shenanigans that went on, I arrived at Crosby Manitou aid station in 117th place.

Crosby Manitou is another huge aid station.  If there's something you want food-wise, they have it.  It is also the last aid station before what is affectionately-known as "the suck".  As a result, there were a lot of pity parties crowded around.  I would have none of that.  I knew that if I thought about what was ahead, the warm food would coax me to stay far too long.  I grabbed a handful of cold quesadilla (didn't want to stick around long enough for a hot one) and got out of there.  The suck came quickly.  This section had a seemingly non-stop of ups and downs into the Manitou river gorge, before crossing it and continuing with more ups and downs.  Eventually, you end up in a swamp that threatens to suck the shoes off your feet.  And lastly, you get to the most-runnable few miles of the entire race.  Even though I had a mad case of the sleepies, I took the gift the trail gave me, and ran into Sugarloaf aid station, now in 106th place.

I had made the decision during the suck that I needed a 20 minute nap just to rest my eyes for a bit and stave off the sleepies.  I was in danger of passing out on my feet and face-planting on a rock (if I was lucky), or falling off a cliff (if I was unlucky).  I was greeted at the aid station by Jen (Brad's wife), Lisa, and Dallas (who dropped at Finland), and took charge over me.  They found my drop bag, threw a sleeping bag over me, and let me get my rest.  I don't know if I even slept at all, or if it was even 20 minutes, but when I stood up I felt refreshed.  The daylight had brought warmth to the race again, and I was able to ditch the unnecessary weight of my lights, batteries, and pullover.  After a long aid station stop, I was off.  There was no way I was not going to finish after making it through the night.  The next section to Cramer Road was relatively uneventful, except for all the mud holes.  And somehow I only lost one place, arriving in 107th.

I was in a great place at Cramer Road.  Fortunately, I had missed the started of the marathon, so it wasn't a zoo.  At the aid station, I saw some kids wearing matching shirts cheering on their daddy.  That kind of thing always gives me a warm feeling inside.  A couple of sausage patties for breakfast, and I was moving.  The section from Cramer to Temperance is one of my least favourites.  Even though you follow the scenic Cross River, after you cross it you need to climb up up up before a huge drop into the aid station.  By this point, my knees were starting to rebel.  Everything hurt.  I was crashing.  Hard.  In 93rd place.

I had a huge breakdown at the Temperance River aid station.  I saw in the chair and moaned and whined.  I wasn't prepared to drop.  I just wanted the pain to stop.  I wanted my knees to stop hurting.  I wanted the race to be over.  But none of that was going to happen sitting in a chair.  After wasting far too much time, I took two tylenols and left.  I knew most of the rest of the race, as it was in common with the spring Superior 50k.  The only wildcard was the climb up Carlton peak.  Fortunately, climbing didn't hurt the knees.  But it did make me tired.  For some reason, I was particularly annoyed by some hikers hogging a bench partway up.  I vowed that I would sit at the next bench I found.  And wouldn't you know it, there was a picnic table right below the summit.  When I sat down, the sleepies came back.  The sun was so warm on me, that I feel asleep.  I have no clue how long I was there for.  I was woken up abruptly by Brad shouting at me as he ran by.  I took my cue, and followed after him.  I had lost a lot of time and placing with my ill-advised summit snooze.  I came into Sawbill in 122nd place.

Sawbill was my final drop bag, and I didn't waste very much time there.  Murray was just a minute behind, and caught up to me at the aid station.  I briefly considered running with Brad and Murray, but decided that each person must run his own race, and so left before them.  I don't remember much of the section to Oberg, other than chatting with Stewart, the race director of Ozark 100.  It sounds like a really good race, and one that I would love to run one day.  The downside of all that chatting was that I began missing my watch's beeps, and missed taking a few gels.  That was energy I needed and wouldn't be getting back.  Oh well.  Ran into Oberg in 121st place.

I basically ran through Oberg aid station.  I wasn't going to let something like 7 miles stand between me and a belt buckle.  I got Lisa to fill my water bottles while I shed some weight in the outhouse for the last push to the finish line.  I was out of the aid station before Brad or Murray got there.  I pushed hard.  Really hard.  But my body just wasn't responding any more.  I felt pretty good getting to the top of Moose Mountain, but the descent blew my legs apart, and I couldn't get my form back for Mystery Mountain (the final hill).  Brad blew by me like I was standing still, and finished 13 minutes before me.  At the top of Mystery, I was passed by Jason, one of the co-race directors of Kettle Moraine.  I was so in the zone, that I didn't recognize him.  He was running the 50 mile, and I think my chattiness was holding him back (sorry).  When I got to the Poplar River, I was elated.  It was less than a mile to the finish line, and all runnable.  If only my body was able to run.  I put on my Emil Zatopek face, and limp-ran through the finish chute.  I don't know if I scared anybody with my primal scream after crossing the finish line, but it was something I just had to do.  I had to let everything that was in me spill out.  35 hours and 18 minutes of suffering was over.  John Storkamp gave me my belt buckle, and as I was crawling toward my hotel room, I heard Murray's name announced on the loudspeaker.  He was only 30 seconds behind me!

I learned that the perfect weather (and slightly easier course) had allowed the men's course record to be broken by nearly 2 hours.  And Mallory also ran a phenomenal race, placing first again with the second-fastest time ever.  I have a feeling she'll be back again next year with the aim of breaking the course record.  Steven Graupner had to drop at Sugarloaf with a bad foot.  And Craig eventually finished with 30 minutes to spare before the cutoff.

This race took a lot out of me.  Over a week later, and my knees and ankles are still tender to the touch.  I haven't gone out for a post-race run yet either.  But it was all worth it.  I got my first 100 mile belt buckle, and finished one of the toughest races out there.  If I can finish this race, I can finish any.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Superior 100 is almost upon us

Just two more sleeps and I'll be running the Superior 100.  This has been quite a year for me running-wise, and once Superior is over I still have one more race to do.  Not that I'm looking past Superior.  If anything, I'm doing just the opposite.

Prerace obsession is in full swing.  I haven't done anything stupid (yet) like heading out for a last-minute 30 mile LSD run.  And my schedule has forced me into a slightly easier taper than I would have liked.  So fitness-wise, I've never been more prepared.

The wildcard for this race is the weather.  We're going to be in a cold snap, with highs of the low teens, and lows in the single digits.  Much cooler than the 30+ weather I've been training in.  While the temps look like perfect running weather, I've completely forgotten how to dress for it!  I think the smart thing to do is to wear a t-shirt and bring a nylon jacket.  A pair of long pants in a dropbag for the middle of the night in case I need it.

Next blog post is either going to be a good one, or a really really bad one.  We'll see.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

2015 Kettle Moraine 100

Last year was a disaster in terms of races.  I had a string of three 100 mile DNFs, including the 2014 Kettle Moraine 100.  In that race, I dropped out at 100k and earned what I dub "the belt buckle of shame".  This year my goal was to finish the full distance.

I went into the race undertrained.  Life (and a broken treadmill) had gotten in the way of quite a few key workouts.  I also was confined to the car for an entire day just getting to the race.  So saying I was a bit stiff at the starting line is an understatement.  I managed to luck out and get a cheap motel room in Janesville, 30 minutes from the starting line.  Looking for a large pre-race dinner, I spotted a Famous Dave's a few blocks away and thought "what the hell".  One hour later, a Feast For One was in my stomach: Four ribs, a quarter chicken, a dollop of beef brisket, corn bread, corn on the cob, steak-cut fries, broccoli, and beans.  I ate everything but the beans because I didn't want to be a pig.

Morning came before I knew it and I was at the starting line with 350 of my closest friends.

The Kettle Moraine 100 course consists of two out-and-back sections.  The first out-and-back starts at the Nordic trailhead, makes a large half-circle on ski trails before exiting the ski area and follows the Ice Age trail east to the Scuppernong turnaround point to make up the first 100k.  The second out-and-back follows the same large half-circle on ski trails but instead of turning east on the Ice Age trail, you turn west and continue until the Rice Lake turnaround point to make up the remainder of the distance.  Each out-and-back has the first 7.5 miles in common, so we would be running the same section of trail for 30 miles by the end.  It gets old fast.

I positioned myself near the front to be a bit of an asshole.  Last year, I positioned myself close to the back, and ended up having to pass half the field after they slowed down 0.1 miles into the race.  This time, I figured it's their turn to pass me.  It's also much easier to let somebody else do the passing.

The nordic ski trails were much larger, steeper, and numerous than I remember.  They would not be bad if skiers believed in switchbacks.  But instead of taking a nice gentle line up the side of a hill, skiers prefer to go straight up and over.  And over.  And over.  The Bluff aid station could not come soon enough, and not just because I disliked the hills.  The Feast For One (FFO) was making its presence known early in the race.  Maybe gorging on massive amounts of greasy food is not a good way to carbo-load.

After a quick pit stop at Bluff, the fun single-track began.  Because of my strategic placing at the start, I wasn't stuck behind a large conga-line who believed in walking over every twig, leaf, and berry unless it was 100% flat.  It was free running for me.  This is my most favourite section of the course, as the hills are not excessively steep (though they can be quite large) and the shade the trees provide is simply magical.  I made it to the Emma Carlin aid station just in time for FFO to come knocking again.  15 miles in and already two pit stops.  Things were not looking good.  I grabbed my second handheld water bottle here, because my next chance was going to be at Scuppernong and I wanted to have a second bottle for the section leading up to Scuppernong.

The next section was the dreaded "Meadows".  Basically, instead of taking a meandering route through the trees to go around a large swamp with constant 100% humidity and sunshine (even at night, so I've heard), the makers of the trail opted to make a meandering route through the middle of it.  Fortunately, the sunshine was mostly obscured by clouds and it was still fairly early in the morning.  In the heat of the day, that 9 mile section becomes absolutely lethal.

I made it through the meadows in record time and arrived at the Highway ZZ aid station over an hour faster than last year.  After my routine FFO pitstop, I began the long 5 mile section towards the Scuppernong turnaround.  The first half of this section is fairly rocky, rooty, and hilly.  Fortunately, there are switchbacks up the hills.  The second half of the section is easy double track.  I made up yet another 15 minutes over my time last year to complete the first 50k in 6:25:12.  Seeing as how I DNFed last year for running a slower time, my confidence was shaky.  Nevertheless, after a quick FFO and shoe exchange I was starting my return leg.

The Meadows had warmed up to their full potential by the time I got to them.  My strategy was to use one water bottle for drinking, and the other for hosing myself down.  I also put copious amounts of ice in my buff, and hung it around my neck.  The slow melt of the ice and subsequent leaking of cold water helped a lot to keep me cool, but after 6 miles of baking I was done.  I walked the last 3 miles to Emma Carlin.

The good news was that from Emma Carlin on, I would be running primarily in the shade.  The bad news was that there would be no breeze in the trees.  I kept up with my heat management strategy, and managed to get back to a respectable pace through to Bluff.  For the first time all day, I didn't need a FFO stop.  I did a little dance for joy and began the slog on the ski trail roller coasters.

I came across a lot of runners headed the other way on this section.  I thought I had been moving very well, but apparently they were moving even better.  I then thought back to last year and how I had turned my headlamp on before the Bluff aid station, and was running in the dark on my second trip through the ski trails.  This time I hadn't turned my head lamp on yet, and made it my goal to finish the first 100k without turning it on.  It got rather dicey in the last mile as I couldn't see my feet, but I managed to complete the impromptu goal and turned my headlamp on as I crossed the start/finish line.  100k in the bank in 14:52:33.

I took my time at the start/finish line:  Changed my shoes, had an FFO stop, ate some chili.  At no point did the idea of stopping ever cross my mind.  I had a singular purpose: to make it to the next aid station.  Once there, I would do it all over again.  Even though I detested the ski trails, I powered-walked through them.  My headlamp did not cast good shadows on the ground.  So even though I could see a lot with its wide beam, nothing had any definition and everything seemed "flat".  Especially the dozens of rocks which my right big toe managed to repeatedly find.

The Highway 12 aid station took far longer to get to than I expected.  I think time slows down at night and distances grow longer.  It was starting to cool off at this point, so I made the stop quick (even the FFO stop was fast), and got out of there.  The final section, the Rice Lake Turnaround section is some of the most technical of the entire course.  Lots of rocks, roots, ups, and downs.  It is so steep that in parts they had to install stairs to prevent erosion.  And lucky me, I got to power-walk that in the dark.  Twice.  The elation I experienced entering the Rice Lake aid station (21:15:22) was muted by the sudden realization that I had to do the exact same section again, only in reverse.  My right big toe did not enjoy that prospect and promised to fall off if I rammed it into one more rock.  The aid stations workers were extremely jubilant and tried to be helpful.  But by judging by the pile of empties in the corner of the tent, I figured it would be best if I self-served.  I did the usual fill-up of water bottles, FFO stop, and began to head home.

The sun started to poke its head above the trees as I approached the Highway 12 aid station.  It still wasn't quite bright enough to ditch my headlamp, so I kept it with me.  At this point I could smell the barn.  I grabbed minimal aid, and foregoed the FFO stop.  The skies were beginning to grey over, and they promised to rain.  It was at this point that I realized the section between Highway 12 and Bluff was actually quite runnable if you were able to correctly differentiate between rocks and air.  I began to run.  Over 86 miles into the race, and I was able to run again.  I was on cloud nine.

I got to the unmanned Duffering aid station just as the rain started to come down.  I noticed some other runners slowing down (not sure if because of the rain, or because of the accumulated distance), but got energized by the rain.  I loved it.  Nature was sweating for me.  The rain really cooled the temperatures off, and I still had enough energy to keep my body warm by cranking up the pace.  My excitement fed on itself.  When I got to the Bluff aid station, I blew right through it without even stopping.  Everybody was huddled under the tent, so there wouldn't have been enough room for me to manoeuvre even if I wanted to stop.

Then the ski trails began.

They were sucking the life out of me.  By the time I got to the final Tamarack aid station, I was pretty spent.  Unfortunately, they had pretty much "closed down" by that point.  I'm not sure if it's because they couldn't cook in the rain, or had run out of food, or whatever.  But I really wanted something warm in my stomach for the last 5 miles.  All they had was coffee.  That wasn't going to cut it.  When a runner and her pacer came in and said that it was only 9-minute miles to be able to finish under 27 hours, I stood up and said "Challenge Accepted!".  I took off down the trail at a pace I knew I could not sustain, but did not care.  I only had to make it to the finish line.  I figured that after I crossed the finish line, my lifeless corpse would be somebody else's problem.

I tried hard.  I tried very hard.  But the sub-27 was not going to happen.  I ran every downhill (even the ridiculously steep ones), and power-hiked every uphill (even the ridiculously steep ones).  But in the end, it was running on the flats that did me in.  I just didn't have 9-minute speed left in my legs.  My last-second goal wasn't going to pan out.  But just as quickly as I was disappointed that I was going to miss the impromptu goal of running 100 miles in under 27 hours, I became excited because I realized that I was on the cusp of having run 100 miles.

I finished in 27:10:34.  I did it.  One hundred freaking miles.  Done.  Over.  The monkey that was on my back from last year disappeared in a cloud of smoke.  I was presented my ornamental copper kettle, introduced to a lawn chair, and fell asleep 6 inches past the finish line.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Kettle Moraine 100 preamble

We're a week out from the Kettle Moraine 100 miler in Wisconsin.  My legs are more than recovered from a rocky/rooty/muddy Superior 50k.  Physically, I'm as ready as I'll ever be.  Mentally is a different story.

I've got an axe to grind with KM100.  I dropped from the race last year for no particularly good reason at the 100k mark, and earned my "belt buckle of shame".  Maybe saying there was no good reason is not quite accurate, since I forgot my race vest at home and had to rely on the one handheld water bottle I had brought, along with another I managed to borrow off a really awesome ultrarunner from Mankato called Tom Weigt (Hi Tom!).  I wasn't able to carry any food with me, relying solely on the aid stations and what I could carry in my hands.  So maybe I was a bit calorie-deficient by the time I dropped.  I'll never really know.

But in any case, that's the past.  I can only look forward to the next race, to the next aid station, and to the next step I need to take.  I've been watching the weather forecast for Whitewater Wisconsin like a hawk, and it's been all over the place.  Yesterday, they were calling for highs in the 30s and thunderstorms!  Today, the forecast has cooled off quite a bit to something manageable.  But one thing is constant:  The trails are going to be very soft with a lot of rain falling before (and possibly during) the race.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Superior 50k

The alarm went off at a civilized 6am.  I had plenty of time to get organized and pick Scott up for 8.  I asked Scott if he had everything, as I didn't want to go back to pick anything up.  He said "Yup", and began listing things off.  When he got to "passport", I realized I forgot mine at home.  With egg on my face, we made a quick detour to my house to get my passport.

The drive to Lutsen was pretty fun.  Scott claimed he didn't know how to drive stick (I'm still convinced he was punking me), so he was in charge of the music.  He did a pretty good job at introducing me to the finer nuances of Cajun.  After going around in circles in Duluth, we made it onto the right highway and got to Lutsen in time for race packet pickup and a quick bite to eat at the Caribou Highlands Lodge.  While waiting for a table, we were joined in line by Robyn Reed whose blog it turns out I follow.  She joined us for dinner since it was a long wait for a table, and we got to discuss the finer points of craft beer and mead.

Scott and I decided to camp at Temperence River State Park, but got to the campsite office closing time had long since passed.  Fortunately, a park ranger was still in and let us get a spot for the night.  I can't say enough about those guys, they were really easy going and awesome.  The spot we got was technically an "undesirable" site because it was next to the highway.  But with earplugs in, I didn't hear a thing all night long.

The next morning was chilly, as we had expected.  The forecast we checked the previous day said it would be 6 degrees at race start, and would have a high of 8.  Two hours of sunshine with the rest being overcast.  With a forecast like that, I figured it would be best to wear wind pants and a long-sleeved tech shirt.  When we got to the start line, it felt much warmer so I stripped off the pants (fortunately for everybody present, I had compression shorts on underneath).  After a quick race-day check-in and a speech from John Storkamp (race director extraordinaire), we were off.  I elected to take a relaxed pace.  Scott is much faster than me, and took off at his usual pace.  I didn't think I'd see him again until the turnaround.

The Superior 50k race starts on the road beside the Caribou Highlands Lodge, and makes an out & back along the Superior Hiking Trail to the summit of Carleton Peak turnaround.  Along the way are two aid stations:  One at the Obert Mountain trailhead, and the other at the Sawbill trailhead.  The terrain pretty technical: Plenty of rocks, roots, mud, climbs, and descents.  The trick is into not getting stuck in a conga line where the people in front of you aren't confident in running on said rocks/roots/mud.

The first mile of the race is entirely on the road, and after the first half mile I looked around and realized that there were only 4 people behind me.  That was not good.  Either everybody started off too fast or I was going too slow.  I glanced at my Suunto GPS watch, and gathered that I was going at exactly the pace I should have been going (keeping it real, and waiting to use my energy on the nasty climbs ahead).  It was everybody else who was blasting out of the gate.  Unfortunately, this created one of the aforementioned conga lines the second we hit the single track.  There was more walking through mud puddles and descents than I wanted over the first few miles.  I managed to pass a few people going down Mystery Mountain (wheeeee!) and leapfrogged a few on the insane climb up Moose Mountain.  After we got to the top of Moose, I made my move and blasted past probably about 20 runners, and finally got my groove-on as my pace was no longer being dictated by other people.

Going down Moose, the trail widened a bit and I passed a few more people.  At the bottom, I was surprised to see Scott ahead of me.  He said he had stepped off the trail for a few minutes.  Dang, so I wasn't turning into a rock star.  I didn't even try and keep with him, as he took off again.  After what felt like a few miles of nonstop mud, I came to the Oberg Mountain aid station.  One of the goals I had for this race was to have F1-style aid stops, where I'd fill my water bottles and get out.  I had to make one small modification to that plan this one time, as my left shoe had filled with mud during the previous leg and there were more rocks in it than I would have liked at that stage of the race.  Still, I consider it to have been a short aid stop.  I did manage to have a bit of fun with the "25k turnaround" sign.  I did a 360 around it and kept going.  One quarter of the race was now done.

I thought that there was a lot of mud between the start and Oberg Mountain, but the next section of trail was going to prove me wrong.  The section between Oberg and Sawbill was almost one long swamp.  I let my inner kid out, and puddle-jumped a few times.  The cold mud splashes felt great on my legs as the day heated up.  Wait a minute...  Wasn't the forecast supposed to be a high of 8?  How come there aren't any clouds in the sky?  Uh oh, maybe a black long sleeved shirt wasn't the best choice.

Sawbill came at just the right time, as I ran out of water just a minute before.  A quick top-up and I began the long climb up Carleton Peak.  I was surprised when I came upon Scott on his way down, as I was almost at the top.  I was expecting to have seen him much earlier (like around the Sawbill aid station).  Nevertheless, some words of encouragement were exchanged and I power-hiked to the top.  Halfway through the race in 3:15:48.  The views were amazing.  And the cold beer (courtesy of a local ultrarunning legend whose name escapes me) was even better.  I caught up to Scott on the way down and asked him what was going on.  He told me his ankle was hurting something fierce, and the brace he was wearing wasn't helping.  Doh.

The way back was pretty much like the way out, except in reverse.  The only difference was that I now had 25k runners to contend with.  Fortunately, they were pretty late in their race by that point, and had spread out so there were no conga lines.  I was also pretty relaxed, as I had proven everything I needed to prove, and elected to slow down and save my legs for Kettle Moraine 100 in three weeks.  Lots of words of encouragement were exchanged between myself and the back-of-the-pack 25k runners.  I caught up to a group of 3 women where the race turns from the single track SHT and onto the gravel road.  They were excited to learn that there was only 1 mile left in the race.  I told them to finish strong and book it to the end.  I believe my exact words were "You can breathe after the finish line".  Not sure if they bought it.  One final adrenaline surge, and I crossed the finish line in 6:49:00.  The second half of the race took me 3:33:13, which was a bit faster than I was aiming for.  Still, I'm pretty happy with how it went.  I think if I didn't have my "A" goal race coming up in 3 weeks, I could have easily dropped 20 minutes from my finish time.

Scott finished 20 minutes behind me.  He was pretty happy with that, as he thought I finished over an hour before him and I was stuck without the car keys!  I spent most of the time waiting in line to hose down my legs and shoes.  The atmosphere at the race finish was amazing.  I fell in love with the Superior fall races two years ago when I paced Sue, so I was pleased to find that the awesomeness at the finish line there extended to the spring races too.  A quick change, a bowl (or two) or chili, and a few beers in the sun, and we were ready to call it a day.

The drive back seemed longer, probably because we were both tired from the long day.  A surprise thunderstorm before Bemidji made me want to pull over and spend the night.  Driving at night I can handle.  Driving in the rain I can handle.  But driving at night in the rain, and I draw the line.  Fortunately, the rain was fairly short-lived and we never did pull over in Bemidji.  However, I began to feel tired just after we passed Grand Forks, and we decided it was best if we pulled over and slept in the car at the next rest stop.  A 6 hour snooze was exactly what the doctor ordered, and we got home 2 hours after we woke up.

Now I just need to recover fast so I can get a few good miles in before my big race: Kettle.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Those of you with better memories than I may remember that I ran in END-SURE 50k two years ago and it was epic. For everybody else, here's my old race report.

Fortunately, this year's edition of END-SURE was completely different.  It was a RACE!

Four a.m. came far too quickly.  Managed to crawl out of bed, get dressed, double-checked that I had everything I needed, and picked Sebastien up just before five.  We had a five hour drive ahead of us, the race, then a five hour drive back.  It was going to be a long day, and my car's cruise control bit the dust earlier that week.  Awesome.  We made it to the border just as Neil Diamond's "Coming To America" came to the top of my playlist.  Sebastien, being from France, needed some extra paperwork done.  After a 30 minute wait and him getting forgotten about inside the customs building by a few agents, we eventually got back on the road and made good time.  I had forgotten to get my pre-roadtrip Egg McMuffins in Winnipeg, but managed to scoop one up in Grand Forks.

The Race

The first year the race was put on, there was a large Winnipeg contingent of runners show up, and there was a snow storm the night before and we had over a foot of snow (in some places two feet) to trudge through.  Last year, nobody from Winnipeg showed up and there was no snow.  This year, the Winnipegers came en masse, and it snowed the night before.  Fortunately, it was just a light dusting and actually improved the trail by freezing some of the mud.  Two years ago, the race was a point-to-point with the first half of the race on very flat terrain.  They moved the start and finish line for the start to Sheyenne Oaks Horse Camp, and made the race an out & back.  This means there would be sandhills pretty much the entire race.  Sweet awesome scenery the whole time!

When the gun went off promply at 11, and I wasn't quite ready.  I had all my race gear on, but hadn't tied my shoes yet.  The result was that I was DFL leaving the start line (about 30 seconds after everybody else did).  No worries, as it was a long race.  And I didn't want to get sucked into a pace I couldn't maintain anyway.  There was an initial out & back on the gravel road down a hill (and back up it), before following the road towards the trailhead (about 1.5 miles away).  This section of the race was kinda boring.  I wish they had cut trail from the horse camp to the trailhead, but I guess there must have been some private property in the way.  No worries though.  The only thing I had to watch out for was getting used to a faster pace on the road than I would want to go once we got on the trail.  When I got to the trail, there were a few large puddles that we were able to skirt around.  Thanks to the snow the previous night, the mud on either side of the puddles was frozen pretty hard, and we didn't sink in.  It was here that I came up to Melissa Budd.  She is an amazing runner, and a master at keeping even splits (she has a few wins at Lean Horse 100 to prove it), so I figured it would be unwise to pass her.  I ran with her a bit and we both caught up to Joel.  He was running 18 & 2's, and once his walk break came up I left him.  My plan was to power walk when the trail told me to power walk (up the hills), and not when a clock told me to.  To each his own.  Melissa told me soon after that she had a few road races coming up and she was taking it really easy, and was about to slow down.  That was my cue to leave her.  By this time, it was starting to warm up so I stripped off my toque, gloves, and windbreaker, and attached them to the outside of my race vest.  After about 200 metres, I realized that my jacket was not attached to my vest any more.  I figured (quite rightly) that it wasn't going to be going anywhere and I could pick it up on the way back.

When I got to about 3 miles from the turnaround point, the leaders were coming back.  Lots of high fives were had by all.  The first two guys even managed to turn around before the 25k runners started (under two hours to the turnaround, WOW!).  I got to the turnaround (which doubled as the first aid station) in 2:47 feeling great, and having just run out of water.  A quick fill-up and a few free salt tabs, and I was heading back.  My race plan was to take the first half really easy, and re-assess on the way back.  Speed up if everything was feeling good, and negative split.  I was feeling good, so I sped up (or so I thought).  I started to reel a lot of runners in.  Some of them were obvious blow-ups, and others were moving well that were just going a wee bit slower than I was.  The second (and last) aid station came far earlier than I expected.  A quick calculation in my head said that I only needed to fill two of my water bottles to make it to the end in one piece.  I was running by feel instead of using my GPS watch's pace feature, as the constant turns and hillwalks would have made that number meaningless.  And I was feeling great.  A lot of people commented on the ear-to-ear grin I had as I passed them.  As I approached the finish line before the last mile out & back, I ditched everything I had except for a water bottle and gunned it.  The last uphill right before the finish line felt like a sick joke, but I took it all in stride running the adrenaline rush that only the scent of the finish line can give.  I crossed in 5:41:46.  The second half of the race took me 2:54, so I'd call that an even split.  I probably walked more hills on the way back than I should have.  Overall, I felt great at the end.  Sore, but great.  Some twisted sick part of me wished that the race was 50 miles and wanted to run the trail one last time.  I've never felt that good at the end of a race before.

Sebastien also had a good race, finishing the 25k in 2:44 (which was also his longest race to date).  Most of the other Winnipeggers had great results too.  And everybody had a good time.  Mallory won the women's 50k and Stephen destroyed the old course record in the 100k.  We ate burgers, shared laughs, and drank beers.

Unfortunately, Sebastien and I didn't have a hotel room to crash in, so we had to leave at 6:30 and try to be back in Winnipeg before midnight.  Thankfully, Sebastien was cool with taking the first driving shift so I could let my legs rest for a bit.  After a fill-up in Grand Forks, I took the driving duties back and we had an uneventful drive home (the Canadian border guards are much cooler than the Americans).


END-SURE 50k is a great early spring race.  The weather is just right, and the sandy soil drains makes the trail 99.99% dry.  The course markings are exactly where they should be, and the level of organization is great too.  I recommend it to anybody!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Race planning 2015

So last year's race plans kinda fell apart.  I managed to DNF every race I entered, except for the 24-hour Lemming Loop (hard to DNF a timed race).  66 miles at Zumbro, 62 miles at Kettle Moraine, and 50 miles at Black Hills.  All results were vastly under the full distance of 100 miles.  And I had an excuse for each DNF.  But when you really get down to it, the real reason was being under-trained.

This year is going to be different.  I've made some changes.  First off, I got a coach.  Not just any coach, but one who knows what he's doing.  My diet hasn't improved much, but that's not terribly high up on my list.  It's more of a "nice-to-have".  Being able to run the full distance is a first priority.  Running fast is a second.

Now that it's January, the time has come to plan out my year's races.  I've already signed up for two, am considering two others, and am waffling about another one.  The races I've already signed up for:  END-SURE 50k and Kettle Moraine 100M (my "A" race).  I previously wrote about END-SURE here, and am hoping to halve my previous time.  It's later in March now, so the odds of a snowed-in trail are a lot lower.  As for KM100, I've decided that I dropped in that race last year because of my head, not because of anything physical.  I know I can do that race.  The terrain is relatively flat, and it's mostly shaded.  There's absolutely no reason for me not to be able to do it.

The races I'm considering:  Superior 50k and Superior 100M.  The Superior 50k is another early-season race, a few weeks after END-SURE.  It would be a good long run to get in before KM100.  It would also qualify me for Superior 100M, even though John Storkamp has already assured me that by pacing Sue for the last 50 miles two years ago, that I knew what I was getting myself into and am already qualified.  Finishing Superior 100M would be amazing.  But I know it's a huge undertaking.  There is way more vertical in that race than anything else I've done.  And running along with Sue over the last half of the course just about broke me.  I don't think I would have been able to do that twice!  But for some reason, I'm a sucker for punishment (e.g. my race goals last year).  I already have a race plan made for it, so I may as well run the damn thing.

The race I'm waffling about is Lemming Loop.  I know I'm going to enter it, but I'm not sure of the amount of time.  I definitely don't want to enter the 24 hour, as that's just a little too long going around in circles and I don't want to take an extra vacation day.  The thought of aiming for 100km in 12 hours is appealing, if not ambitious.  But the 6 hour is also pretty appealing.  Fortunately, I have a lot of time to make up my mind.

To summarize, here is my list:

  • END-SURE 50k
  • Superior 50k
  • Kettle Moraine 100M
  • Superior 100M
  • Lemming Loop