Monday, April 29, 2013

A Biking Buffet

Sunday, just eight days after running the Trail Mix 50K, I decided to try my hand at the MN Ironman Bike Tour held along the St. Croix River in eastern, MN. My recovery from Trail Mix had gone well, but any sort of training for the Bike tour had been cut short thanks to our belated spring. In fact I had only been out on my road bike twice in April, once for around 20 miles and then again for 16 in the week leading up to Sunday. Commuting 8-12 miles a day on a single speed bike is not the best training recipe for a tour that could have me out on the road for 100+ miles, but after biking around Kanabec County on Friday with my buddy Matt on our mountain bikes, I felt good enough to give it a shot so early Sunday I loaded up my bike and headed to the Washington County Fairgrounds. I have never done this event before and it was the first time it was being held in Washington County having moved from Lakeville this year, so they have some kinks to work out, namely parking and bathrooms.... Instead of a mass start the course opened at 630 and you could leave anytime between then and 930, I planned on being on the road by 730 but got stuck in a long line of cars waiting to get into the fairgrounds. Cars were coming from three different roads and the police were trying to funnel them through one door, not a good idea. While at a standstill on this road I looked at the MN Ironman's twitter account and saw people saying parking was a nightmare and good luck getting within 3 miles. I noticed people pulling off into a bank parking lot and parking there so I whipped a U-Turn and did the same, biking the 3 miles to the start where I checked in. The fairgrounds were total chaos so many people, so few port-a-potty's, I checked in and quickly headed out on the 53 mile loop, stopping just around the corner to use the bathroom at the Holiday station, only to be stuck in line there for 15 minutes (still much faster than waiting at the fairground) then finally I was off. The first hour was fantastic, cool temps, sun shining, blue sky, rolling country roads. Then we turned east and just got slammed by a crosswind, turns out the reason that first hour was so nice was a serious tailwind. For the next four hours or so I would battle that wind either head-on or as a crosswind, it never seemed to let up and mentally wore me down. Instead of putting together a full 100 mile loop or two 50-mile loops this course consisted of a 53 mile loop, a 27-mile loop, 29-mile loop and a 14-mile loop all wrapping around to the Fairgrounds. After completing the 53 mile loop (some fun patches up and down hills along beautiful country roads surrounded by trees and streams, and some not so fun stretches, massive hills going straight into the wind, actually saw a woman just tip over on her bike, falling into the grass on the shoulder. I stopped to see if she was okay and she just said 'I am tired...') I pulled into the fairgrounds which were packed with spandex clad bikers who were plowing through cinnamon rolls the size of my head. I sat down to eat a banana, the wind just hammering the table I was sitting at, and decided to head out on the 27-mile loop through Afton since I love that area. Heading out I battled the crosswind for a few miles then went head-on with the wind for the next hour. Down-hills weren't even fun at this point and the wind was so fierce you couldn't get much momentum. I decided to go with a Zen way of thinking 'The wind blows because it's wind, it's doing exactly what it's supposed to do' that is what I told myself until a huge gust slammed me in the face and I didn't care what it was just wanted it to give me a break. The aid stations along the course cracked me up, I pulled into one on this stretch and as you can see from the above photo it was like someone robbed a gas station, Honey Buns, Danish's, muffins, candy, Twizzlers, at this particular stop I was chatting with a fellow biker while watching another guy pull into the stop, reach into the pocket on the back of his lycra biking jersey and pull out a pack of smokes and go behind the gazebo...athletes. There were some fun hills on this section once we finally got the wind at our backs, and as I rolled into the fairgrounds again I decided that was enough for me. 80 miles on the day (plus biking to and from my car) and my longstanding hatred of the wind still intact. Up next the Snake River Canoe/Kayak adventure and then Isle Royale.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Pack A Lunch

Ooweee it's cold, I thought as I fired up the Silver Fox at 545 Saturday morning. The temp on the dash read 25 as I scraped the windows and wondered what the Trail Mix 50K course was going to be like that morning. The previous Sunday I had gone out to Hyland Park in the rain, sleet, snow, wind to hike for an hour or so to test out my new backpack and some rain gear for my upcoming trip to Isle Royale and that day the trails were full of snow making walking quite difficult, since then we had gotten another 3-4 inches of snow packed on top of that...oh and it was April 20th. Well at least the sun was shining. After picking up my race number and timing chip I retreated once again to my car where I blasted the heater and got ready. April 20th and I have yet to run outside in shorts, today was no exception, tights, trail shoes, long-sleeve under a short-sleeve with my windbreaker over that, mittens, visor and sunglasses. Finally it was time, very few people at the starting line (runners or spectators) we bounced up and down steam pouring out of everyone's mouth/nose with every breath. After a moment of silence for those who lost their lives not only in the Boston Marathon Tragedy but also the West Texas explosion, we were off. The footing on the first loop of four was brutal, constantly breaking trail, punching through the top layer of snow, slipping, sliding, looking for any slice of packed down snow, waiting for feeling to come back into my fingers and toes. The sun was shining though and there was a beautiful sunrise which kept my spirits up as we trudged on through. Eyes trained on the ground, totally focused on your next step, it was hard to look away from the trail to enjoy the scenery. The trail had been changed from years past, putting us on a bit more pavement due to the snow (the danger of falling much great this year) so after slipping around for a few miles in the snow it was quite a relief to come out on pavement for a little bit before ducking back into the snow. First lap seemed to take forever, right as we made the turn into the second I fell into pace with a guy running in a Paul Bunyan flannel shirt, we were about the same age and talked music, and books and running for the second loop (footing much easier than the first as now the 25K people were also on the course and it was still cold enough that the snow hadn't started to melt) By the time we moved on to the third loop the guy I was running with was slowing down, running through snow is sometimes compared to running through sand but it's really different. With every step in snow you slide a little, you need to use your ankles and calves quite a bit, as well as muscles you don't normally use in your glutes and quads, and that took its toll the guy I was running with so we parted ways. The third lap is always the worst. You have run the same loop already twice, you know what's coming up, you know you have another lap & you just want to get that one over with so you can get to the last loop. This lap was made worse by the fact that now the 25K people plus the relay runners were on the course and much of the trail was single track, so you could get stuck behind a huge column of people with nowhere to go. That's when my motto kicked it, pack a lunch boy, it's gonna be a long day. I was already slowed down by the snow and terrain, and mentally just had to realize it was going to be a long day. I had nothing else to do that day, might as well just enjoy it. And that's exactly what I did. I passed some folks when I could, running through the snow to get back up on the packed down stuff ahead, but for the most part just settled in and went with the flow, finally making it around to the start/finish again. This is always a tough part, the people in front of me were 25k runners, so they were done, I still had another lap to go, people are cheering, everyone yelling 'You're almost there!' well not really but thanks. You run through the finish line and then just keep going. It's quite a mental challenge to not just stop and sit down and say "I'm done" I made the turn and started up a hill feeling pretty tired at this point. Decided to walk this hill and when I got to the top made the decision that I will only walk the big hills (hadn't walked at all up to this point) and since I was on my 4th lap I knew where every hill was and forced myself to keep running knowing that there was a break coming soon. At one point I attacked a hill, finding the right footing and bounding up it, surprising the first aid person at the top who said 'Oh my goodness you're like a little billy goat!' cracked me up. Head down, intense focus, body in a flow despite the inability to get any sort of a rhythm to my stride due to the snow. Finally I made the last turn and in cruel irony, had to go up a hill that was a combo of snow and sand having been beaten down by all the runners at this point and made it to the finish. There was no fanfare, most of the spectators were gone, it was still quite chilly, a medal was placed around my neck, I sat down for the first time in over 5 hours, drank a bottle of water, stretched a bit, threw on my sweats and then ate that lunch I packed...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Thoughts On The Boston Marathon

To the person, or persons who planted the bombs at the Boston Marathon this week. I hate to say it but I think your plan backfired. Whatever your plan was, I don't think it worked. All you ended up doing was making an already inspiring event, even more so. Every marathon, ultra-marathon, triathlon, heck every 5K and race of any distance is full of inspiring stories. Stories of people who used running/walking/biking/swimming to get through tough times, to lose weight and become healthy, to push themselves to new limits, to learn what they are capable of. There are stories of runners stopping mid-race to help others who are having health issues, recently there was the story of a Doctor at the Twin Cities Marathon who was on pace for a personal best, when someone near him suffered a heart-attack, and the Doc stopped running and immediate went to work on saving their life, and he did. Once the person was stabilized the Doctor went on and finished the race. And the Boston Marathon has more inspiring stories than any other, whether its what people put themselves through to qualify for the race, or the long history of amazing races run there. Add another chapter of inspiring stories. Stories of spectators rushing on to the course, pulling off their shirts to make tourniquets for runners and other spectators effected by the blast. Stories of runners running from the finish line to hospitals to donate blood, first responders running into the blast, pulling back fencing and carrying victims out. An already inspiring event just added another layer of inspiration and show of the human spirit. Runners train their bodies and minds to be able to complete the 26.2 mile race, first responders, paramedics, police & firemen train their bodies and minds for situations such as this and all came up big on Monday. All became Heroes. So on Saturday morning as I toe the line at the Trail Mix 50K, preparing to run through the snow, sleet, wind, slop and cold that is a Minnesota spring, I will run not for the victims of the Boston Marathon Tragedy but for the heroes. Those who were injured or killed by the blast, those who ran to the blast to help, those who ran to the hospitals to donate blood, and all of those who made it to the starting line, and for those who didn't have a chance to make it to the finish line.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Buffet Of Races

Much like an Easter Sunday brunch buffet, when it comes to running sometimes my eyes can be bigger than my stomach (or stronger than my legs as the case may be) Every year I try to plan out a running schedule that will allow me to test myself with a number of events, pushing the distance and hopefully still allowing for recovery in between. The goal is to get to a certain level of fitness, maintain that level with different distances and events throughout the summer. Sometimes it works out great where I maintain that level and excel, other times I get too excited and add in too many events, not allowing for proper recovery and totally gas myself. Last summer things were moving along quite well, I posted a person best in the 50K in April, did an Olympic Tri in June, missing a PB by a few minutes, beat my time at the Mount Hood 50 by nearly an hour in July, and then ran my 2nd fastest time at the Twin Cities Marathon in October and two weeks later limped to a 7:36 finish in the Wild Duluth 50K, clearly showing that with little recovery time between racing a marathon and attempting the up & down tract of the Superior Hiking Trail was not my smartest idea. But I loved it, in fact as much fun as the Mt Hood race was, the way I literally felt like I flew through parts of it, the cheering and support of my family, the beauty of the course and the struggle of the last three miles. That Wild Duluth 50K was my favorite race of the year. It was the one that I thought about least and hadn't even planned on doing it until the week leading up to it. I worked late Friday night, got up at 3am drove through the fog to Duluth, challenged myself to the brink, nearly quit with three miles left only to dig down and find something I didn't know I had to not only finish but finish strong. Then hop in my car and drive back to the cities to be at work the next day. I love that feeling of pushing to the brink, being on top of Duluth in an absolute mental battle and looking down at the City going on as if nothing was happening in the hills above. It reminded me that Ultra's are not about glory or prizes, but about challenging yourself and finishing. Two weeks prior I finished Twin Cities to a crowd of thousands, crossing the finish line while being shown on a big jumbotron, my name was boomed out through the speakers. A medal placed around my neck, every sort of food and drink available as I limped to find my family and drop bag. In Duluth it was me and another guy not racing to the end, but helping each other get there. There was no jumbotron to announce our finish, in fact there were barely any people at the finish line (and we didn't really know when we were actually done) There was no medal, I was handed a soup cup/bowl as my finishing prize (much more useful than a medal I must say) I laid in the grass a few feet away from the guy who I crossed the finish line with. I thanked him for helping me when I was mentally crushed, he thanked me for the same. We shook hands, I got in my car and left. This summer I have decided that is what I want more of, the simplicity of that challenge, pushing to the brink, surrounded by good people, and connecting with nature. It starts again with the Hyland 50K, the next week I plan to spend some time on the Superior Hiking trail, hiking, then a 100 Mile bike ride back in the Cities. After that, a trip to Isle Royale to hike it end to end, in July a 50K to start the month and a 50miler to end it. Hoping for a 100K in October. I may have bitten off more than I can chew, the eyes may be too big for the strength of my legs, but nothing makes you feel as good as knowing that and yet finding a way to finish.