An Athlete's Diary
I left County Road 6 way earlier than I’d ever left before after pushing to get ahead all day. There were a few lower moments, not just mentally, but physically too. I’d gotten behind electrolytes between Silver Bay and Tettegouche. Then, I overshot the sweet spot on the way down the Sawmill Dome about two miles shy of County 6.
I grabbed my headlamp and a few calories and headed off into the dusk. Night was upon us and I cruised into Finland at about 10:30pm. I left Finland and began the trip to Crosby. Sonju Lake is a mandatory stop but I don’t like to stay there long. On the road into Crosby my pace was brisk, possibly too much so.
Crosby to Sugarloaf is a grind. It’s 3:00am and there is a lot of descending and climbing. Plus, this section of trail is 10 miles long. Sugarloaf is a spot I’ve dropped multiple times and I know if I can get in and out, I’ll finish.
As I pull into Sugarloaf my left foot has been on fire for miles. When I took off my shoe and sock, I expected to see a big ole’ blister on the bottom of my foot. We looked but found nothing. I was convinced there was a blister there buried deep under the skin. I grabbed a safety pin and talked my brother into sticking into the bottom of my foot, in hopes we would be able to alleviate the pressure that had build up. He stuck that thing in what seemed like a half an inch and came out with nothing.
The longer I sat there the better my chances of not continuing on. I had a lot of support sitting there in that camp chair under the stars. Caden was with me, I changed shoes and socks and we took off to Cramer Road as the sun was beginning to lighten up the Eastern horizon.
Fast forward to today, I had a small blister form on that left foot and immediately searched for a safety pin. It probably wasn’t the same pin but the memories came flooding back. Part of training for ultra-marathons and doing them is foot care. Our minds will take us through tough feet but it certainly makes things a bit more difficult, one step at a time. I was able to walk the remaining 31 miles plus to finish in 34 hours, 19 minutes and 19 seconds. That was more than three hours faster than my first finish in 2014.
In the days to follow Superior 2018 the blister we tried to pop at Sugarloaf reared its ugly head and it was buried deep in there. A part of the ball of my foot about the size of a quarter was exposed for the better part of the week, many layers deep.
Tomorrow I’ll do my work barefoot and focus on letting my left foot breathe and heal.
Nothing really profound to share with you today, just an update from the road as I look forward to toe the line at Trail Mix 50k on Saturday.
7 Simple Ways to Stay Healthy This Holiday Season
While sickness around this time of year isn't always avoidable, here are 7 simple ways to stay healthy this holiday season:
There you go, 7 simple ways to help stay healthy this holiday season. Here's to a healthy last couple weeks of 2017! And please, don't cough or sneeze into your hands. Use your cough pocket also known as your elbow. (see image above :))
A Glimpse Into CIW© at PGC
We had a great workout group yesterday at PGC in Edina, MN. Since they started holding exercise groups four years ago, most new employees take advantage and join in at least twice a month. Steve, the owner, is in this shot on the far right and one other, Sharon (in the PGC shirt), has been consistent from the beginning.
Career Integrated Wellness © is something I created years ago. It never shows up the same way at any one company, but always fits just the way it's supposed to based on feedback and agility. The objective is to help employees integrate wellness into their careers. Everybody's got a career, right? If we can align the health and wellness we all talk about with the career that we have, everyone wins!
There were more connections made during the workout yesterday than I can even count. Every week there are many connections made, encouragement delivered and relationships grown.
Learn more under the CIW© tab and contact me if you think this might be a good fit at your company.
I pulled into Sawbill well ahead of any cutoffs and saw my friend John Gustafson captaining the aid station. He and I go back a few years and have shared the Superior Trail on more than one occasion. I told him I was ready for a lift back to Caribou Highlands (the finish line) so I could see a few friends finish the 100 miler…
Wednesday evening I arrived at Caribou Highlands just in time for an amazing home cooked meal. It hit the spot and the crew was alive with conversation, telling stories of adventures past and discussing the path of Hurricane Irma. I caught myself many times just sitting back taking it all in. As I sat back I was surrounded by the buzz of lively conversation and laughter. Energy was high as everyone was gearing up for a weekend of activity. I was with a large group of Superior Trail Race volunteers and I was one of them. I met a whole bunch of people and looked forward to seeing the race I’ve grown to love from a different angle.
The past four years I’d been preparing to run, to toe the start line of the Superior 100 and see about getting to Lutsen 38 hours later. Not this year. A couple of weeks prior to Superior I texted the RD about any volunteer opportunities that might be available. I told him I was coming up Wednesday and I’d love to help out any way I could. Monday, I got a reply with two jobs that had just opened up due to Donnie, a legend in these parts, needing to stay away for medical reasons. I was honored that John would think of me and gladly accepted and anticipated my contributions to Superior ’17.
Thursday morning my new friend Jerry and I were headed to the Beaver Bay trail head to mark trail from Beaver Bay to Silver Bay. It’s a beautiful 4.9-mile section of trail with lots of climbing and descending. We drove Bill’s car and had the crew marking the Silver Bay to Tettegouche section leave my car at Silver Bay. It was good to get on the trail for a bit as my feet weren’t used to the technical terrain. By the time we got to Silver Bay I was hustling the way I knew I could and gained a lot of confidence for the 50-mile race I was going to do Saturday. Jerry and I got back to Caribou Highlands at noon or so and I spent the rest of the day doing some computer work and gearing up for Thursday Night Football! I like football so I was pretty excited for opening night.
Friday morning was the start of the 100-mile race. John asked if I would be a course marshall on a section of trail coming off the Split Rock loop 10 miles into the race. The aid station is down a hill towards highway 61, then once you hit the aid station you come back up the hill and head to Beaver Bay. My job was to direct runners coming off the loop towards the aid station, then direct runners towards Beaver Bay on the way back up. We didn’t want anyone to do the Split Rock Loop more than once :) What a beautiful day!
I got back to Caribou Highlands at 1 or so and my mind shifted to the race I was about to attempt. Usually when I’ve got a race like this I don’t volunteer beforehand. I’m glad I saw the other side of this event. It makes me appreciate, even more, the sacrifice and commitment by the race director and all of the dedicated volunteers that make this thing go. Now I had to try and figure out how I was going to cover 52.1 miles having not run more than 4 miles TOTAL since Voyageur 50 mile on July 31. I had a couple of things going for me heading into this year’s Superior 50 mile though.
It’s about a 45-minute bus ride from the finish to the race start in Finland and most everyone is trying to get a few more minutes of shut eye on the ride. I did too. When we got to Finland I lubed up good with peri-garde. I’m not a big fan, as most of us probably aren’t, of chaffing during these things. I’ve learned over the years that extreme chaffing with 20 miles to go can make it pretty easy to end things for my races. During Voyageur in July I had no issues and was hoping for the same here. The key I found is to lay it on thick! I went to the bathroom and off we were. Temps were in the 40’s and you could see your breath. I underdressed to start as I knew it would heat up quick. It did and I was perfectly dressed all day.
The only real plan I had for my race was to get to Sugarloaf as soon as I could and figure it out from there. A couple of sections I was worried about mud were Sugarloaf to Cramer Road and Sawbill to Oberg. Gustafson was at Sugarloaf and I was in and out in a hurry. Sugarloaf to Cramer is pretty runnable and I ran a lot.
I got into Cramer well ahead of the cut, changed out my socks and headed up the trail. The Cramer to Temperance section is runnable too and I ran a lot there. I did stop by the river for a quick bird bath. It felt great! I knew up the South side of Carlton’s peak was going to be slow going so I went slow. That whole section was slow really and, at some point on the way down, I decided I was going to call it quits at Sawbill, head to the finish and watch my friends finish their 100 miler.
As I pulled into Sawbill well ahead of any cutoffs and saw my friend John Gustafson captaining the aid station. He and I go back a few years and have shared the Superior Trail on more than one occasion. I told him I was ready for a lift back to Caribou Highlands (the finish line) so I could see a few friends finish the 100 miler. “No you’re not.” He said. You’re going to finish. I have a lot of respect for John and he knew I was looking great, feeling great and was going to finish this race.
I changed socks again and headed up the trail to a chorus of “finish, finish, finish” from the crew and aid station volunteers. I pulled out my phone and facetimed my family for a mile or so and that really lifted me up. For most of the section from Sawbill to Oberg I walked. I walked with a purpose and patience only gained through knowing this trail and this point in the race. There was little mud to speak of and for this I was grateful.
When I got to Oberg my goal was to get out of there and see how far I could get before the darkness hit. I changed socks, added my rain jacket around my waist just in case it got cold after the sun went down and made it my mission to get down the back side of Moose Mountain before dark. It’s a tricky descent with lots of roots and slick terrain. I made it! It wasn’t until I got half way up the switchbacks that I needed to turn on my headlamp. As I got to the top I remembered John Mathson, who we lost at this very spot, during this year’s spring races.
It’s all downhill from there! I was running. Aside from the 25k race I did a few years ago, this had to be the fastest I’ve every covered this section of trail. One conversation I had with a fellow runner this year was about how we get these sticking points on the course stuck in our heads and we let them affect the runnable sections as we anticipate the suck. This time around I embraced the sucky parts, dropped it into first gear and ran when gravity helped me. That was a big mental boost this year.
I got into Caribou Highlands at 8:20 and change and was thrilled at the amount of people hanging out waiting for runners to come in and finish. With each finisher, our name was announced and there was a huge roar from the crowd of crews and fellow runners. John even announced my name and I got an extra ovation. It was a special moment. One that I won’t soon forget.
I say thank you for everyone involved in making this event happen. Superior has changed my life and I’ll forever be better because of it. My wife held down the fort here at home for four days while I was gone. She worked and shuffled kids from one thing to the next. She’s always been supportive. I think she knows how much this community means to me. It was really gratifying to give back and volunteer this year. I didn’t make it to all of the pre-race festivities but it feels good to have contributed.
This surely was A Superior Experience!
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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