An Athlete's Diary
While I've felt more prepared for events in the past, I was ready for Voyageur.
This summer we’ve been doing more events as a family and my family was planning to join me on this adventure. We ended up getting a screw in our tire on Thursday so they didn’t drive up on the spare. I was on my own.
I went up Friday afternoon and bought an “extra” site at the KOA in Carlton about a mile and a half from the start/finish. Sleep didn’t come real easy as there was a train rolling through my dreams. Actually, the tracks were just meters from my head.
Saturday morning, as the race starting gun went off, I made it to the start and Voyageur ’17 was underway. Walking was my plan early and walk I did. In fact, for a while I was in last place (if that’s a thing in a 50 miler). I caught up to the logjam at the rock and waited my turn like everyone else.
The first 20 miles or so were pretty uneventful as the power-lines weren’t yet scorching and the sun hid behind the clouds as morning transitioned to afternoon. I made it to the zoo at 12:19. The cutoff is 1:00. What does that mean? I was too early to drop. I changed socks, had a few pickles and followed my instructions.
The sun was out again on the road to Skyline and I resigned to steady progress.
From Skyline to Becks is 2.7 miles. I just kept moving along with no watch or GPS to track my progress. My mantra on the trail was, “I’m going to keep going until somebody stops me or I cross the finish line.” The closer I got to the end, the more I could see myself finishing.
The notes from my family were helpful. Elli didn’t know what to write when we sat down Friday. I mentioned something about embracing the suck. She wrote, “Keep going! I Love You. Embrace the suck, I guess…” Thanks Elli. There was plenty of suck to go around and, thanks to your note, I embraced it and it motivated me.
From Becks to 7 Bridges I trudged along, using gravity as an ally when I could. For a while I shared the trail with Jill, a mother of three from St. Louis looking to complete her first ultra. She would!
Anyone who has traveled from 7 Bridges to Grand Portage knows what stands in the way. The power-lines… It was hot. Reports are 94, which is actually not as bad as I’ve experienced it at Voyageur. I tried to use gravity and knew there were just five major hills here. The “Lost in Focus” message I wrote myself really helped. Lost in focus on the goal at hand knowing the only way to get there was to keep moving forward. Remember… “I’m going to keep going until somebody stops me or I cross the finish line.”
Defeat the Stigma was waiting at Grand Portage. Kevin Chem snapped this pic.
The flies weren’t real bad, but they were present. I found that if I laid my bandana over my head, the corners would act as a horse’s tail and keep the flies at bay. Mark doused my head in water before I could answer if I wanted it. Thanks Mark! And, Julio encouraged me on my way off to Peterson’s. Mark said as I filled my water bottle and had a few pickles, “You’ve got 50 minutes to go 2 miles.” So, what did I do? For the first half mile, knowing it was only 11 miles to the end, I refueled and got set for my final push. I knew that if I took some time here gathering myself for finish, I would benefit down the trail. I mixed a Spark, had some peanuts and bacon and tightened everything up for the stretch run.
Then I ran. I was running when I normally wouldn’t. I was walking with purpose, working my way closer and closer to Peterson’s. Once I got to Peterson’s I left for Forbay three miles away. Once I got to Cooke, I was off to the finish.
As I left Forbay I remember verbally telling myself that it was closing time and this was winning time and that there weren’t any options but to run it out. My legs hurt but my mind was strong. I’m sure my nutrition played a role, along with my walking strategy early on in the race.
As I ran into Jay Cooke I was thrilled to see a boy serving at the aid station. He was so eager to help it made my heart happy. I smiled the whole time we talked and as I left had a tear in my eye as I do now just rethinking the encounter. The joy and willingness to serve was and is overwhelming.
I love the section of trail between Jay Cooke and the finish line. It is littered with rocks and roots even though there isn’t much elevation to speak of. It reminds me of Superior. It was here that I met up with Jeff, a husband and father of three who was attempting his first ultra. We talked of many things for the final 3.4 miles. I was walking by now as I’d already put the clock behind me.
With about a quarter mile to go, after we reached the bike path leading into Carlton, we began to run. Jeff ran faster than I did although he encouraged me to run faster than I was. We crossed the finish line just seconds apart from one another and I had finished my third Voyageur in five attempts. My time was 13:50:35.
As I’ve been asked about my Voyageur experience I say that I won many battles on Saturday. My mind would have had me stop if it wasn’t for the encouragement of my family, friends and the many people (volunteers) who make these events what they are.
I carried mileage notes in my water bottle on Saturday with the distances to each aid station. It was helpful to know what was to come.
I am grateful for the support of all the people in my life who sacrifice for me to be able to train (even though I didn't train much for this one) and participate in these events. There’s one more on the schedule this year… Superior 50 Mile on September 9. If my math is correct, will be my 20th ultra marathon finish since 2010. It's been a test every time. Each event has been a test. The test is never the same and I never know the questions before the exam. Ultra endurance is is an always lesson testing one's ability to shift and overcome in real time.
Then, Wednesday evening Caden, his friend Will and I ran the Endless Summer Trail Series 4 Mile. I finished in 32 minutes and change, much faster than I had planned. It was a blast and if you haven’t tried any of the Endless Summer events, they’re on local trails and a lot of fun. Thank you Fresh Tracks Media for the event image. And, if you are in the Minneapolis area, check out TC Running Company. Let them know I sent you in and you'll get 20% off your purchase. They're great and will take however much time is needed to get you set up specific to your needs.
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When we write in our diaries we write about where we're at, we share our struggles and we detail moving to a place that's, for lack of a better word, better than we are today.
I certainly have nothing to complain about as I sit here hearing my children playing with their friends through open windows on this beautiful summer Minnesota evening.
Since my last update more than two months ago my life has felt full. The period of time following Superior Spring was one of reflection, excitement and grief I suppose. Losing Jon has been difficult to process. I did not know him personally but find myself thinking of him often and praying for his family and friends.
Life got busier as I'm sure many of you can relate. School ended and summer came. Baseball season came and went and summer has been full of chaos and bliss here at the Howard house. We've slept in many days with no need for alarm. This house is often a busy place with a thousand questions a day, baseball practice with my Son and Elli's 10,000 shot summer basketball challenge. We're on track!
We did Endless Summer Trail Series at French as a family, I completed Afton 50k on July 1st and am set to, not really prepared to, toe the line for the Voyageur 50 Mile on Saturday.
My business, Training Edge Sports, is growing and I landed a big client (Great River Energy), which starts in January, doing Career Integrated Wellness ©. I've been doing more hitting and pitching clinics and working with players 1:1 to improve their baseball skill. The online personal coaching (personal training) side of things has picked up as well and clients are seeing the results they are seeking.
Months ago I talked a lot about some significant nutritional changes I was making. While I haven't logged many miles this July, my diet has been tight. I'll draw on that as I head into Voyaguer 50 Mile.
So, I'm enjoying summer, struggling to find motivation for regular exercise and tell myself every day to get better in some way.
I would love to hear how things are going for you. Leave a comment here or shoot me an email at email@example.com and I hope summer is treating you well!
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My training is in full swing for Superior 50k and I had a few thoughts today on the trail that I share in today's episode.
Life is an event. Rarely do things go completely according to plan, at least for me and the chaos that surrounds my in this season of life. How we respond and move forward determine if and how we get to the next aid station. Block/Rhythm is taking shape as my schedule has gotten busier and my calendar has squeezed over the past couple of weeks. Do you take inventory from time to time and create a rhythm in your calendar that works for you or do you feel yourself always playing catch up?
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