Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 The Year In Pictures

I am but an old child wandering along unsupervised...John Morelock

2014 was a pretty amazing year.  From running the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim, to climbing Angels Landing, running the Superior 100,  countless trips up north, Mexico City & everything that happened on a day to day basis, couldn't ask for a better one. 
Here it is, 2014 in pictures-

The annual All-Star Break trip to Gunflint

Starting the Rim to Rim to Rim with Greg & Mitch
Where we would eventually finish though it was much darker

Top  of Angels Landing Zion National Park

Finishing up a rim to river hike at Bright Angel Trail Head

Plenty of time out on the lakes of Mpls.

Getting to visit the White House with the World Champion MN Lynx

City Trail Loppet
The Eugene Curnow Marathon

Ali's first Half Marathon
Mexico City with the Wolves
Another trip to Hungry Jack Lake
Another Twin Cities Marathon in the books

Backpacking the Superior Hiking Trail

Getting to see Paul, Adriana & B in Seattle
Finished the Superior 100

Back up the Gunflint Trail
Back to the Grand Canyon

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tribute To Big Mike

"Your work is to discover your world & then with all your heart give yourself to it."- Buddah

Another grey day, the clouds pressing low to the earth, but at least on this morning there was a fresh layer of snow and flakes floating lazily to the ground.
I headed out with no real plan.  Letting the music in my headphones and the direction of the wind guide me.  Turned on to lake of the Isles as the song Bertha by the Grateful Dead played, my mind wandering...
Nearly 9 years ago while living in Marquette, MI I worked with a guy we called Big Mike.  Mike was, obviously, a big dude, tall, with a mustache, glasses and always with a big smile on his face.
Big Mike loved the Dead, in fact Big Mike loved all music and I owe a substantial portion of my music collection to him.  About once a week Mike would swing into my studio, we'd talk sports, and  music  and he would always drop off a stack of cd's.  Take this home he'd say, listen to them and load the ones you like on your computer.  Bring them back whenever you can.
The album that played through my headphones as the wind picked up around Isles was one that Mike had given me.   I put my head down and made my way along the lake, bent into the wind and remembered doing this same thing along Lake Superior and coming up on Big Mike out for a walk. 
He was always walking on the path by the lake, his Michigan State hat on, headphones and carrying his Discman.  He would walk, listen to tunes and stop to pull a small notebook out of his breast pocket.  I asked him once what he wrote in it and he said 'When I hear a song it makes me think of other songs that I want to hear so I always write it down and search for them when I get home.'
It's amazing how music can do that, just take you down a path of memories.  I crossed the road into a park at the north end of Isles and started doing hill repeats.
As I approached the bottom of one hill, the song Acadia Driftwood by the Band came on.  I was obsessed with that song while training for my first marathon in the UP.  That was also my first experience with hill repeats.  I would go two streets over, start at the bottom by Superior and run up High St listening to the Best of the Band.  Sometimes I would see Big Mike up there, he lived in that area.  Walking, sometimes smoking a cigar, either music or the Michigan State game playing through his headphones.
One day Mike walked in and started to juggle stuff in my studio, he was good, really good.  I was shocked and the next day he brought in three bags, almost like hacky-sacks, taught me the basics and left them for me to practice.  I never quite got the hang of it, but Mike used to go to a local nursing home at lunch and juggle and do magic tricks for the folks there.  He would just chat, tell stories, listen and spend time with them; the guy had a huge heart.
Van Morrison singing Caravan with The Band during the Last Waltz interrupted my thoughts and labored breathing as I topped a hill.  That was another album Big Mike had given me, one of my top 5 favorite albums of all time. 
I remembered Mike's Blues show he had on one of our stations.  He called himself Zenith and the show as called 'Zenith rides the bus'.  After I had moved to Mpls to work for the Wolves he would send me copies of the show asking me what I thought and telling me if I liked any of the songs he could send me the albums.
A few years ago Big Mike passed away, quite suddenly due to cancer.  I was shocked.  I heard from a friend of mine in Mqt that he was in the hospital and it wasn't good and then he was gone.
But whenever I hear certain songs, or see the Michigan State logo he's right there, that big smile on his face excited to introduce me to a new album.  

Thursday, October 9, 2014

That's A Wrap TCM Style

"The strenuous life tastes better"-Williams James

"This is it, no more races this year.  I need to recover after Twin Cities, need to take what I learned this season & work on stuff.  I need an off-season." 
That's what I told Ali the week leading up to the Twin Cities Marathon.  I was planning on lacing them up and running TCM for the 7th straight year but having finished the Superior 100 a month prior I was looking forward to an off-season.
The past few years I've said the same thing, only to find myself toeing the line at the Wild Duluth 50K two weeks later, or last year at Surf the Murph 50K.  But this year I was serious (and helped by the fact that Surf the Murph sold out & I won't be in town for the Wild Duluth) there will be an off-season, one to recover & refocus on training.
With that in mind, my brother Alex & I headed to the starting line.  As usual I expected to run the first mile or so with him before he pulled away, and I settled into my pace ticking off miles like a metronome.
But this year I didn't want to just run TCM, I wanted to enjoy it, and leave proud of my effort.
The gun sounded & off we went, I kept up with Alex down to Hennepin, first mile in at 8:08, I'm  not gonna keep that up I said to him.  We made the turn by the Sculpture Garden and up the hill together, another decently fast mile but I could tell he wanted to push it and I wanted to run my race so we parted ways around mile three.
Alex would go on to crush it, finishing in 3:27 and destroying the last 5.2 miles in around 37 minutes.  I never cease to be amazed by the mental & physical fortitude he can muster up on race day.  5 times now we've started marathons together only for him to be waiting for me at the finish line.
I settled into my rhythm around lake of the Isles, but as we made the move toward Calhoun I didn't feel satisfied with just running along at an easy clip.  Finishing, one month after running 103.3 miles, would be a great accomplishment, but running hard would let me leave this season on good note mentally and physically.
So I began to push, bit by bit, seeing what I could do.  The night before Ali and I talked about the run and she said 'What if you have a great day?'  I said 'We'll meet up with everyone at the end and have brunch, and if I have a bad day we'll do the same...'  But this didn't feel like a bad day, not yet anyway, so I pushed a little harder.
Weaving in and out of people around Lake Harriet and on to Minnehaha Creek I kept pushing while trying to remain relaxed.  Oxymoron right?  While I pushed, I also made sure to breathe through my nose, helping to regulate my heart rate and relax my shoulders so that the effort didn't leave me with a sore back/neck.
Around mile 10 I got a boost as Ali and Nicole popped out of the crowd cheering for me.  It was totally unexpected since I thought I had already passed them, and it gave me an extra pep in my step as I ripped off a 751 mile.
As we turned on to Cedar & around Lake Nokomis, I made sure to keep my foot on the gas.  Not fast, but faster than felt comfortable.  I thought back to a few years ago when I was running comfortably and at mile 23 decided to see if I could make it hurt, and pushed as hard as I could over those final 3.2 miles finishing with my second best marathon time of 332.  Would I be able to keep this up and make it hurt again?  I didn't know but I was determined to try.
Up the hill to Melo Glaze, down to Minnehaha Park, still pushing feeling a bit spent but knowing I had more in the tank.  Spotting Mitch & his family cheering helped push me on, and then a mile or so later there was Ali & Nicole, another surprise that propelled me down to Franklin Bridge.

Rolling hills I told myself as I crossed into St. Paul.  Up one down the other then on the up you'll see Mom, Dad & Gramps, then a steep up to Summit & the long slow Summit grind before it levels out.
Just like that there they were, but this time the whole crew.  Another great surprise, Gramps hopped out of the crowd ringing his bell, Wolves winter hat askew on his head, and ran a few steps with me.
That shot me down the road and up to Summit where the good vibes wore off as I neared Snelling and could feel myself slowing down against my will.
Just make it up here, it levels out, I thought to myself.  Next to me I heard two women motivating each other as well.  "Sweat is weakness leaving the body" one told the other.  "Remember how hard you worked for this, there is nothing like the finish line" the other responded.
I smiled recalling some of my favorite motivational lines, then put my head down and pushed to the top where it did flatten out for a bit.
Three miles to go, what have you got left, will it be a good day or bad day?  A lot can happen in three miles.  I've had the wheels fall off pretty hard with this distance to go.
Head up, shoulders back, relaxed yet pushing.  Two to go, leg it out, this is your last race for the year let it all go...whoops, that wasn't supposed happen.  Cramp hit my left hamstring hard, stopping me in my tracks.  I hobbled to the side of the road, bent over to stretch it out, loosened just enough for me to try walking.  After a few steps the walk turned into a trot and I was back at it.
The Cathedral appeared on my left, then the finishing chute, push, push, push.  Alex was already done I was sure, don't make him wait too long!
A quick glance at my watch, can I make it across the bridge to the finish line in 30 seconds?  Let's give it a shot.  Pumping my legs while monitoring my left hammy for the remnants of that cramp; it seems okay.
Missed that 30 second mark which would have put me in at 3:39, instead I lumbered across in 3:40:17 officially.
And then it was over, not just the race but my running season.  I looked along the fence for my family, finally spotted Alex.  He stood there with his medal hanging from his neck, salt streaks down his face & on his tights, crooked smile and a bounce in his step.  He had a great day; I had a really good day, both very happy with our effort.
We met up with the crew, took some pictures, cheers to the season with our free Summit, and then just like I told Ali, we had brunch.
It was the perfect way to end the running season.  Happy with my effort, amazed at the challenges I took on this summer & grateful to have made it through them all with the help of great friends & an amazing family. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Superior 100

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.  But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep-Robert Frost

Go slow, slow and steady, don't do anything stupid, remember to eat, to drink, just go slow and don't think about the big picture, just aid station to aid station...those thoughts were flying through my brain as I lay in the hotel room in Silver Bay the night before the Superior 100 trying desperately to fall asleep.
The following day I was going to embark on a journey of 103.3 miles that could take up to 38 hours (well the time limit was 38 hours, it could take longer I suppose) that meant moving all day, all night, all day and into the night again...it was a distance I had never attempted and had no idea what to expect.

No amount of planning could put it into perspective, I had gone through the maps and tried to guess how long each section would take but having only hiked certain sections, I really had no idea what I would encounter, it was all a guess, so much uncertainty, would my crew find the aid stations, would the food I packed be enough, do I have too much, what happens if I twist an ankle, wipe out, how do people run in the dark, how much will I be able to run...every time I let one question go three more popped up making the night before the start a restless sleep.

Finally at 6am my alarm went off, very late for a trail race, normally we are on the trail by this time but today we had an 8am start and since I was staying close to the starting line we didn't have to leave super early.  A quick shower (lord knows it would be a long time till my next one) bagel with peanut butter & jelly, Gatorade and next thing I know Big Tom is calling saying he and Little Sue are downstairs ready to roll.  My older brother Paul, Ali and I headed down, hydration pack filled with water and snacks, handheld full, visor, shades, ready to go.  When we got to the lobby there was a couple having breakfast they saw me and asked if I was running, yes I replied, so is our daughter they said and 'I hope she kicks your ass' they laughed.  I nervously laughed too, I hope she does too (Turns out Malory was her name and she won the women's division)

Off we went, winding down Highway 61 to Gooseberry Falls the start.  We milled with the other runners, met up with Paige who would be crewing for Aaron, Greg, checked out the falls, slammed a cup of coffee and next thing I knew it was time to line up.  I found a spot in the middle of the pack and listened to the last minute reminders and then we were off.

The first 10 miles to the aid station were uneventful, beautiful trails, some mud from rains earlier in the week and really just focusing on finding a pace I thought I could hold for a long time.  The trail is single track so you end up getting into these trains of runners which early on was fine with me, the group I was in had a pace I felt comfortable at and I could just settle in.  The first 9.7 miles few by and then we were headed down a long hill to aid station number one.

In those first 9.7 miles I had nearly drained my hydration pack & totally killed my handheld, it wasn't a hot day but I was drinking a ton of fluids for some reason.  Plus 10 miles is a long time to go without a fill up but I felt good, having made it there by 10:20, grabbed some food and headed out walking the long hill back to the main trail, another 10.3 miles to the next aid station.  This stretch was similar to the first, lots of people around, this time though I got caught in a train that didn't have the same flow as the first one, I got frustrated with how much walking they were doing on stuff that was runnable, and it took a while to figure out why, there was a guy with trekking poles everyone was trying to get by who was slowing things up, finally along a river we were able to move past him & get the rhythm back and next thing I knew we rolled into aid station number 2 where I saw part of my crew for the first time.  Paul and Ali were there, they helped me get water in my bottle and pack again, both of which were empty, and we chatted while I ate some food and they said my parents were five miles down the road in Silver Bay & I would see everyone there.

Off I went, into the woods again after saying goodbye to Paul & Ali, things had started to spread out and I found myself running alone for stretches, occasionally coming across another runner but not stuck in the crowds of the earlier portions.  The views were amazing and a short time later I made my way to aid station 3.
It was now nearly 2 in the afternoon and despite eating at aid stations and while running I was hungry!  The crew was there and I sat for the first time, smashed half a PB&J bagel, some homemade cookies, fig newtons and slammed half a bottle of naked juice protein.  It was awesome to see everyone and we laughed at how much food I was eating and they said they'd see me again at the next aid station.  I was excited because this next portion was one I had hiked and camped before and knew fairly well, I knew it was challenging but it was beautiful with Bean & Bear Lakes and I would be heading to Tettegouche one of my favorite state parks.

But things weren't so great as I started one of the climbs, I ate too much and my stomach wasn't happy.  I slowed my pace but the climbs were tough and taking my breath away as I worked to get up them, things weren't going too well but I thought it's way too early for the wheels to come off, gotta be a way to pull it together, I started to focus on my breathing, find a rhythm, slow down more to let my food digest, finally after what felt like a long time of ups and downs trying to feel better I hit a runnable section and my body was feeling better so I opened it up a bit and made it to the next aid station where the whole crew plus Mitch was.

It was nearly 5 but I was in great spirits as I ate a little and chatted with everyone.  By this time Ali realized when I got to a station she would take my pack & bottle right away to get it filled, Big Tom had the chair out, I would sit while Little Sue handed me cookies, and Paul and Mitch kept up the convo.  It was great, I didn't talk much out there so seeing people and talking to them was a blast.  We laughed, they gave me a great vibe and then I was off.  I wouldn't see them again until mile 51 when I would pick up Ali to pace me for a bit.

The next stretch was tough, very challenging and long, another 8.6 miles, not much runnable if I recall.  I just put my head down and only thought about the next stop, wanted to get there before dark, didn't want to use my headlamp until I left that aid station.  I rounded a bend and stopped at a cliff, beautiful view of Superior, the Sawtooth Mountains and then I could hear and see the aid station...it looked impossibly far away, but as I would find time and time again in this race, the trail had a way of dropping off quickly and getting you where you needed to go and after a quad busting descent I popped out on highway 6, the first bit of pavement I had seen in ages and was rumbling towards aid station just as the sun went down, making my goal of not having to use my head lamp. 

It was just before 8pm and getting cold and dark as I left.  Tough to hit an aid station and not see my crew but Paige was there so at least I saw a familiar face and she did a great job cheering me on.  I put on my jacket and head lamp and headed off into the dark, 7.7 miles till I would see Team Foke again.

I attempted to run early on this section but my headlamp didn't seem bright enough and some of the sections where frightening so I slowed to a power hike, made my way up to one ridge and saw the most beautiful sunset ever.  The last golden rays were going down in the west while to the east over the great lake it was reflecting purple and a near full moon was already in the sky dotted with stars.  I paused for a moment before moving on.

During this section I fell in with a kid named Jeff who was having a tough time, his stomach had gone south and he was throwing up and couldn't keep anything down.  I lead as we power hiked and talked our way to the next section, he was attempting this race alone, no pacers though he had a crew made up of his family.  I didn't want to leave him on this stretch as I was nervous he would have a really hard time getting to the next station.  We talked about everything from running to baseball to his job as a teacher in Central America and finally we got to Finland at 10:19 where I am pretty sure he dropped.

Ali, Alex and Nicole were at Finland in great spirits, first time I saw Alex & Nicole and it was awesome have all three of them there and know that from here on out I would have company on the trail.  I changed my socks, shoes and shirt, filled up and off we went, Ali and me into the woods for the next two aid stations.

We kept up the steady power hike I had started in the last section, navigating up and down until hitting Sonju aid station where I was offered a pancake by the aid station workers.  "Are you for real?" I asked as Ali laughed, a pancake with maple syrup in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere after moving for over 58 miles, I couldn't think of anything more perfect!  The workers were great; I had some potatoes, sat for a few minutes, avoiding the warmth of the fire as I read it can be too tempting to leave.

We loaded up again and set out for the next stretch still power hiking at a good clip, mentally feeling good, physically not bad just focused on the next stop where I would pick up Alex.  The previous stretch had been longer than we anticipated and I got a little frustrated but was able to let it go and once I knew how many miles to the next stop I could do the math to figure out how much longer till we go there which helped me pace my hydration and eating.

We hit Crosby Manitou at 315 in the morning, laughing as we hiked up the road to Alex and Nicole.  We were behind schedule but they didn't seem to mind just spending the time in the warmth of the car.  Alex hopped out ready to roll, I got loaded up again with food and the two of us set off.  When I picked up Ali she was all coffeeied up and talking a mile a minute which was great I just focused on hiking and listening, Alex though was trying to find his stride hiking in the dark and we moved silently for a while before I finally had to say 'You really should start talking'...he picked it up from there and the two of us powered through a really long section of 9.4 miles, power hiking until the sun came up and then running stretches to make it to Sugar Loaf at 740 in the morning. 

By this time I had been moving for nearly 24 hours, that last stretch was much longer than I thought and we pushed hard at the end, maybe a little too hard I thought.  I mentioned that to Alex and we agreed to use this next shorter stretch to hike hard but recover.  The sun was up, we were in good spirits chatting away just like we do when hiking at the cabin, having a ton of fun, making each other laugh and planning what I would change when we go to the next station and picked up my brother Paul.

At 935 we walked into Creamer Road aid station and I scanned the faces looking for my crew, everyone was going to be there, Mom & Dad, Paul, Ali, Nicole, the whole group but I didn't see them, I walked further and they were nowhere to be found, I turned to Alex, my heart rate picking up, I couldn't stay here and wait for them, would he be able to take me another leg, how would we tell them we had come & gone, I tried to find someone with cell service but no one had any.  Alex told me to sit but there was no chair so I sat on the ground, he said he'd handle it grabbed me a plate of pancakes and glass of water, I sat eating, asked Paige if she had seen them but she said no.  I tried to calm down and just focus on eating and what we had to do next and when I looked up there they were rounding the bend.  Had gotten a little lost but they were there.  I switched shoes (the mud was intense) Paul was ready to roll and Paige told me if we averaged 30 minute miles the rest of the way we were fine.

I had turned the gps function on my watch on during the last stretch to keep me updated to our progress, Alex & I were averaging about 16-20 minute miles and it was nice to know how close we were getting to the aid station, Paul and I had 7.1 to the next one and off we went.

It was so great to get these sections with everyone, spending time hiking at night with Ali, sharing those moments, pushing from night to day with Alex and now Paul, who lives in Portland and traveled back to help.  We talked about everything as you always do with Paul.  As he talked I drifted back to the times I used to visit him in Madison and always left feeling like I had spent a weekend with a philosopher, and how visiting him and his family in Portland felt the same way.  The two of us kept up the power hiking though I was slowing down a bit as blisters started to hammer the balls of my feet.  I told him I needed to lay down & put my feet up for a few minutes at the next stop to drain the blood from them, he said he'd hold them up for me and at 1244 we did just that making it to the Temperance aid station.

By now the crew was like clockwork, Ali did a great job loading me up with fluids and finding food I was willing to eat (pretty much nothing but boiled potatoes dipped in salt, pancakes, cliff bars and fig newtons) Big Tom was helping me with my shoes and socks, Alex, Nicole and Momma Foke with everything else from glide to sunscreen, bug spray etc.  I felt like a race car (albeit a very slow race car) hitting a pit stop as they changed me out and kept me moving.

Leaving that aid station I could tell my feet were in a bad way, huge blisters formed on the balls of my feet making it feel like I was walking on golf balls.  Paul and I had 5.5 miles to go and just over a mile into this section I stepped down and felt the blisters pop...my socks and shoes were suddenly soaked in blood.  I stood for a second the pain just excruciating, Paul tried to keep my spirits up but this was really painful, every step I took a rock or root felt like it was going straight through my foot.  I cursed, changed my stride and finally went deep inside myself to let go of it, just let go.  Stood for a moment trying to do that and then we carried on.  Gone though were the days of 20 minute miles, we were now around 22-24 and that was over relatively flat (for this course) and the wet sections where my foot would slip hurt even worse. 

We made it to mile 90.7 at 3 in the afternoon, I took off my socks and shoes, a worker looked at my feet and said there was nothing they could do, she helped me clean them off and my crew got me new socks, loaded me up but wouldn't let me sit too long and now we were off again, this time Ali joined Paul and I as we made our way to the next station.

This section brought some dark times, the mud was intense, my mind was going a little bit, I had been up and moving a long time and was starting to get spacey.  Paul and Ali talked, kept me moving, Ali making sure I picked up my feet, didn't spiral too far down a dark path.  I didn't talk much just kept moving trying to block the pain out, focused only on getting to the next stop.

My spirits came back as I got closer to the aid station, my buddy Mitch was running the 50 mile race and caught up with us.  I just heard a 'JOHN FOCKE!' bellowed from behind and there he was, just like in the Grand Canyon, with a great attitude.  We chatted for a bit and I was so excited that he was having such a good race, we joked for a few minutes then he went ahead for what I hoped was a great finish.

 Finally the three of us emerged from the woods a round of applause from the spectators there waiting for their own runners.  It made me laugh as I gave them the parade wave I had perfected during last year's Lynx Championship Parade, raised the roof a little for laughs and then sat down to get loaded up for the final section.

Paul once again decided to stay on, it was quite impressive, I had him marked down for the 77-90 section but he wanted to go the distance so the three brothers set out, for the final 7.1 miles and for the first time since I started I allowed myself think about the end.  My feet were like ground beef, every step painful, any slipping felt like the bottoms were coming right off, I tried to stay dialed in, I knew we had two climbs and two descents left and then it was over.

The first climb was a beast, felt like it went straight up and wouldn't end, Alex was behind me encouraging me to keep going, almost to the top, but we weren't, every time it looked like we were there the trail would turn then go straight up again.  Finally it plateaued, there was little spur trail I noticed that looked like it would give us a pretty good view of the lake and area so I suggested we check it out.  I think Paul and Alex were shocked that I wanted to add on to this but we went down it and there and I sat on a tree stump (like the guy in the book Giving Tree Paul said) and the three of us admired the view before moving on.

We meandered around up there for what felt like a long time, my mind was going to mush; it all looked the same were we going in circles?  No the guys said just keep moving.  I thought I was sort of running but really it was like a jig I was going because I couldn't stop myself on the down hills, Paul and Alex were strolling behind me at a leisurely pace while I felt like we were working pretty hard.

This whole section was really hard, I was slowing way down as my feet continued to deteriorate but what sticks with me the most was how awesome it was to be out in the woods with my brothers again.  It has been a while since the three of us went on an adventure and it was just great to have one in front of me, one behind listening to their conversations while feeling the love and support they were wrapping me in.  At one point as we moved into the final descent I said 'Guys want to just keep going?  I don't know if I want this to end.' They laughed and kept me moving towards the end.
Mentally the last stretch was the hardest I just wanted to be done, people were passing us, my feet hurt worse than I ever imagined and I wanted it over.  Those guys kept telling me how amazing it was, how happy I should be but all I wanted was to be done.  Then suddenly there it was, just run through that chute and its over!  I shuffled across the line, saw Ali standing there trying to take a pic, Mom, Nicole, more familiar faces, a handshake from the race director, a huge chunk of wood on a string (my medal) handed to me, a long kiss with Ali, it was over, 37 hours and 8 minutes after it started.

People were moving me down from the finish, loud music, camera flashes, Mitch, Ryan, Dad, all shaking my hand saying congrats, what do you need, what do you want, they kept asking.  All I wanted was a chair, so I was moved towards one and sat down, done.  I know from the pics I looked pretty out of it, and trust me I was but there was this amazing feeling at that moment, to be surrounded by all that love.  All these people who helped get me through it, I felt wrapped in a cocoon of love, everyone so excited, happy, just what I wanted.  I hoped that this would be something that would get our whole family together for a fun adventure, we would get to spend a lot of time together not at a holiday but working together, bonding, not really a vacation but sort of a working vacation.  As I sat there, arm wrapped around Ali to keep from tipping over, watching them all laugh and talk and share stories I knew it had happened.  We had done it, all of us banding together to get through it.  Yes I crossed the finish line but I never could have done it without them without all the support from all over the country.  Pulling into aid stations to hear them read text's and messages from family and friends who were following along, calls to my Gramps who was trying to keep up on it, it nearly overwhelmed me and I started to feel light headed. 

I had to lay down, wrapped in a blanket, collect myself.  The finish line doctor came over we talked I was fine, he said just take your time.  I needed food, real food, put on sweats, sweatshirt to ward off the cold and then we were on our way back to the hotel.  I ate a veggie sandwich, and then just passed out.

The next morning Team Foke went to breakfast, we laughed about tales from the trails and old stories, at different points the table was in tears laughing so hard at old memories it was the perfect way to end the weekend and while the buckle, sweatshirt, medal and other finisher prizes are great what I'll remember most is that breakfast surrounded by so much love and laughter.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Preparation H (hundred miles)

The best laid plans of mice & men often go astray-Robert Burns

It's race week.  The Superior 100, a foggy goal in the distance for so long, is finally upon us.  The hay is in the barn so to speak, no more time to cram in training, no more dreaming about what it will be like, no more planning now it's time to go.

I've been asked a lot, "How do you prepare for something like this??"  Best answer I can give is, I don't know...I've read books, blogs, chatted with people, picked brains, watched movies & YouTube films but in the end I feel like it comes back to what a guy I ran part of the Eugene Curnow Marathon told me this year, 'Every runner is an experiment of one.'

With that in mind, I tried my best to train.  Running tired, hitting Afton to run trails and hills, running in the heat and soup of a Minnesota summer, running in the cold and rain, also of a Minnesota summer.  Running at times I don't usually run, back to back long runs, walking to and from work to get time on my feet, biking as much as I can so as to not wear myself out running.

Will it be enough?  I don't know I hope so but there's only one thing I can do at this point, just trust the training.  Trust that you are strong enough to finish what you started.  It's not only the physical training; will my mind be strong enough?  When rough times hit, and Lord knows they will, can I overcome them, embrace it, then let go and move on?  Have I trained my mind as much as I've trained my body?  Can the two of them team up to get me through?

The devil's in the details they say, with that in mind I've mapped out as much as I can for my crew.  Directions to aid stations, rough estimates of when I'll be there, what I may need at each spot packed into bags, all labeled, that can be easily transported to the aid stations so I can change socks, drink Gatorade or crush some dark chocolate espresso beans.  My crew has been great, putting up with my constant emails, talking about this non-stop, allowing me time to train and finally agreeing to come along for the ride!

Some will run, some will drive, but they will all be a huge help to me.  It's tough to describe the emotional lift one gets upon exiting the woods and seeing familiar smiling faces handing you homemade cookies.  The lift carries on long after I've dipped back into the woods; cookie crumbs still on my lips...can't thank you guys enough for joining up. 

So the bags are packed, the details are done, only thing left to do is run...how do you prepare, are you prepared, we'll find out!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

They said...

They said you weren't built to run marathons...so you ran 10 of them.

They said to stick with half-marathons...so you started running 50K's.

They said, that's enough...so you started running 50 mile races.

They said stay home...so you went to Patagonia and ran a 63k, and 8days later ran Twin Cities Marathon.

They said you need a rest...so two weeks after that you ran a 55K.

They said you shouldn't go from the rim to the river and back in one day at the Grand Canyon...so you guys went from rim to rim to rim in one day.

They said you can't run 100 miles....

They haven't been right yet...

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Learning Lessons

There's a great line from one of my favorite documentaries 180 Degrees South that says 'It's not an adventure until something goes wrong.'  This summer, training for the Superior 100, running has been going very good.  Not getting all the races or mileage that I hoped for at the beginning of the season, but I've stayed healthy, put in some good, challenging runs and overall was feeling pretty confident. 
But then I headed to Afton a few weeks back and suddenly things changed.  The night before I headed out for what I hoped to be a really long day on my feet running trails I was searching for motivation.  I was tired, mentally and physically, been on and off the road a lot and wasn't too far removed from running a trail marathon. 
On my commute home from a game that night I tried to figure out what I wanted to do, run for miles or time, what route should I take, do I have to stop at a store to load up on stuff?  When I got home I hadn't answered those questions, and when I got up and started packing they were still just hanging there, I'll figure it out I thought. 
Threw my hydration pack in my car, my handheld, a pack of shot blocks, gel and some Nunn, made a fruit/protein smoothie for later that I put in my cooler and headed out, still unsure of what that days goal would be...on the drive I enjoyed a cup of coffee, listened to the new Trampled by Turtles album, felt the warm sun and thought 'This will be a great day' but that feeling never really took over, there was doubt in the back of my mind, though I wasn't sure why. 
I never stopped to pick up any food, thinking the bagel I had for breakfast would be enough, as I parked and grabbed my stuff the sun was already glaring down on me, the first few miles down to the creek & back up to the prairie felt really hot and humid.  I made a mental note to drink more fluids then realized I didn't have my salt tabs, add another mistake to the list. 
First few miles went great despite the heat, and then as I climbed to the campground I started to get hungry, ate a gel, drank more water, but the heat was taking its toll.  My shirt was soaked, shorts followed suit, visor was dripping.  Foolishly I thought I had figured out how to stay hydrated, I mean I had run the Grand Canyon earlier this year I knew what I was doing! 
And I did...until I didn't.  In the Canyon we took tons of precautions to make sure we had enough water/electrolytes, food etc.  On a little run in Afton I didn't have those things, sure I had enough water, but I didn't have the salt tabs, I was behind in hydration & there was no catching up, I felt it more on the long, flat stretch that came next, a small stone in my shoe started to make me mad, I was frustrated, mentally I was starting to lose it, I was only 13 miles in when I stopped to get the stone out & realized my day might be done.  
Trying to regroup I hiked the Meat Grinder hill, dropped into the snowshoe trails, the shaded single track usually gets me fired up and focused,  but all I could think about was the hole in my sock my big toe was sticking out of and how hungry I was. 
Made it back to my car, mile 16 the midway point, feeling depleted and spent.  I opened the cooler and chugged the smoothie I had made, it went down but didn't settle easily.  I spent a few minutes in the shade trying to regroup; I was in great shape what the heck was going on?? 
After a few minutes I shuffled back to the trailhead hoping that smoothie would replenish me and things would turn around soon.  They didn't, I power hiked to the top of a hill and hit the meadow, no shade, sun now hammering me, and the tall grass made it humid, no wind to speak of, drinking water and Nunn practically every other step I realized today was not my day.
It was humbling, I got to a patch of shade, looked at my watch, 18 miles, if I turned around I'd be at 20 when I got back to my car, not the day I planned but then again I hadn't planned well at all. 
Shuffling back through the meadow cramps began to crop up in my quads just above my knee.  Not what I needed, feet suddenly felt like ground beef in my soaking wet shoes. 
Just before a big downhill I stopped and sat on a bench, cramps moved up and down through my calves, I could see them just below the surface pulsating.  As I stood up to get moving I got stung by a bee, are you kidding me??  A string of expletives exploded from my mouth, I just wanted this to be over. 
A day that started with such promise ended with me laying on a picnic table in the shade by my car, completely humbled, maybe the Superior 100 was not such a good idea, maybe I should take up golf, can't believe I burned a day off for this terrible run...frustration and exhaustion feeding off each other as I wallowed in self-pity. 
But that's where it ended, as the line from another one of my favorite movies Big Lebowski says 'Sometimes you eat the bar and sometimes the bar eats you.'  Today the bar ate me, chewed me up and spit me out, but it wasn't the trails fault, it was my fault.  I didn't plan well, I was arrogant thinking I could just breeze through it, a day like this was coming as I got comfortable with my runs & thought I was smarter and tougher than the trail....as much as days like this suck, they are a great reminder to respect the trail and distance every time you step out the door.
My muscles were shot, body more sore than it had been in months as the cramps has just wreaked havoc, I limped around the rest of the day working out what went wrong, what could I control and fix for next time? 
The next day I was back out running, not fast, not smooth, but moving, working out the kinks and planning my next big run, mentally and physically working to bounce back.  Not every day can be a great day, bad days happen but if you plan better and run smarter a bad day can be mitigated to a not so good day, it doesn't have to become a train wreck. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Planes Trains Automobiles & Feet

"The strenuous life tastes better" William James

This story starts like many others, with an alarm clock going off way earlier than should be allowed...this time the fog horn sounded in my hotel room in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Heck of a way to start off the first full day of my 34th year on this earth, and it was going to be a long day.
Quick shower, finish packing, bus to the airport...all 31 bags accounted for and checked, quick breakfast of a veggie bagel sandwich, load onto the plane, nap, wake up in St. Louis.  Off one plane on to another, immediately fall asleep, wake up, still on the ground...hour flight delay waiting for a storm to move through the Twin Cities, finally plane takes off, crash again, wake up in Mpls.  One journey down, another about to begin...
I stood on the platform waiting for the train to take me from terminal two to terminal one, going over the events of the upcoming afternoon, it was noon now, drive to Target Center, drop off my equipment, then home to trade my work travel stuff for my running travel stuff, with the flight delay I was already an hour behind.
Train to my car to Target Center & home its only 1pm, quick cup of coffee (first of the day) by 130 back on the road this time headed 100miles south to Albert Lea.  I started my career in Albert Lea in August of 2002 and worked there until 2006, learned so much there and made so many great relationships that it will always hold a special place in my heart.  I was headed back for the first time in at least 3-4 years to host their Sports Hall Of Fame banquet.  An honor bestowed upon me after the long time host Orrie Jirele passed away unexpectedly last fall.  Orrie was going to be inducted into the Hall this year and I felt blessed to be a part of it, and knew I had some big shoes to fill as he was loved by the community.
Made it to the Lea in time to meet up with Bob Hamburg, one of the nicest men I've ever met, we chatted for a half hour-45 minutes then it was over to the radio station where I started to meet up with June another one of my favorite people.  When I was working there June was my second mother and has always stayed that way to me, can't express how much I appreciated her help when I was down there.
We chatted until about 5 then it was over to the Golf Course for the banquet...at this time I realized I had not eaten since the first airport, nearly 12 hours ago!
Got to catch up with so many old friends from Albert Lea prior to and during dinner it was great to hear stories of what their kids are up to and relive old games.  I heard many stories about Orrie, how he filled every day with as much as he could, how he took time to be part of so many people's lives and how he inspired and continues to inspire people.
The banquet was great, fun to see so many people come back to the community and hear their stories, games played, teammates played with and how important it all is to them.  We wrapped up at 9pm and after saying goodbye to another one of my favorites and close friends Andy Dyrdal (who I rented a room from during my time in Albert Lea) it was time to hit the road.
Back on 35, this time headed north, quick stop at Subway to smash a foot-long as there wasn't a vegetarian option at the dinner, then on to St. Paul, swapped cars with Ali, she took over the driving and just like that we on our way to Duluth.
Greg, Mitch, Ryan and their families were well ahead of us and probably already in bed by the time Ali and I started north, it was going to be an early wakeup call again...We made it to Indian Point campground at 130am, pitched the tent and crashed around 2, only to have the fog horn sound rouse me at 440 (hey sleeping in compared to yesterday!) Quickly I pounded a bagel, put on my running gear and then Ali and I headed to Munger Inn to meet the guys.   

We were running the Eugene Curnow Marathon, a 26.2 mile point to point trail race starting in Duluth and finishing around Carlton.  Ali dropped us off and then went back to the tent to crash, the four of us stood around catching up, hadn't really seen the guys since the Grand Canyon and then after a quick race brief we were on our way. 

Greg and Ryan took off, while Mitch and I fell into our routine, running at the same pace chatting the whole time.  Laughing, remembering tales from the Grand Canyon, marveling at the views as we climbed Spirit Mountain overlooking the city and the Big Lake. 
There had been pretty heavy rainfall the night before and the trails were muddy with a lot of standing water in places.  We tried to dodge it best we could but then just gave in and embraced wet shoes...
Scampering up hills, sliding back down, laughing the whole way, mud covering our legs and shoes, splashing across freezing streams went Mitch and I as the sun began to climb.
Eventually we made our way to the dreaded power lines, a series of steep descents followed by steeper ascents, made all the more difficult as they had been turned into mudslides by the rain.
First one we got to I took one step and landed on my backside, Mitch was ahead surfing down trying to keep his balance while I slid down pretty much on the seat of my shorts.  If going down was challenging then going back up felt impossible, we struggled to get footing, down on all fours, slipping and sliding on the mud until finally able to gain some ground.
Laughing the whole way we made to the St Louis River that was roaring with the recent rains.  Mitch and I stopped to watch the rapids before crossing the bridge for the final three miles.  At this point I got a hop in my step and couldn't contain the joy I had at flying over this technical trail.  Mitch waved me ahead and I took off like a colt, hopping up logs and small hills, floating over the rocks and roots, mind totally in tune with my body, pushing a little faster, a little faster, what do I have left? 

Finally hit the black top and blasted up to the finish spotting Ali, Greg, Brit, Meredith, Ryan and all the kids at the end, a great way to end a great race.
Mitch followed shortly after, they all took off back to the cities but Ali and I were in Duluth another night, we hit canal park, got a great meal, saw a beautiful sunset and finally sleep called for my eyes and I dropped off under the Super Moon.
The next day Ali and I got up and headed back to the trails, we hit Jarrows Beach (had to show Ali how miserable it was) then climbed Ely's peak for the views of Superior in all spending 3 hours out on the trails before heading back to the cities. 

Weekend wasn't done yet, had to ring in 34 with the family and help Big Tom celebrate 67 with an amazing meal and great company of Gramps, Uncle Johnny, Momma Foke, Alex, and Nicole.  As I dropped Ali off she said I know I always have a good weekend with you because I am totally exhausted, I told her you can count me among the many inspired by Orrie, fill each day to the brim!