An Athlete's Diary
As I reflect back on the summer of 2014, one word comes to mind. It’s a word that none of us can thrive without. It’s more than the word though. It’s the community. It’s the Love. It’s the action, the verb of it. That word is support.
I knew the Poplar was close. I had been on this section of trail dozens of times. I was just here three weeks earlier and knew that it couldn't be too much further to the finish line of my first 100 miler (103.3 miles). It was getting chilly again as I was well into my second round of darkness by now. My attitude was going sour and I took my light sweatshirt from around my waist and put it on. The closest point was the finish line so I wasn't worried about getting there. It’s a weird feeling when you have trained so hard for something and it’s about to end successfully. I’m at a loss as I write about it now. I’m going to tell you a story of adventures that sum up the summer of 2014 for me.
Superior was a culmination of unmentionable support shown all summer long. There was my brother, Jesse, who was at three of the four events with me. There is the ultra – running community that has supported me unknowingly through some of the darkest times of my life. Here’s a podcast I did earlier this summer with a friend Denny Krahe.
There’s the Ninja Runners http://ninjarunners.net/ who are incredibly inspiring, especially my friend Maranda Lorraine. My wife at home, who is so supportive in taking care of our three young children as I spend blocks of time on the trail. There is Rocksteady Running http://rocksteadyrunning.com/ and my friend John Storkamp, TC Running Company http://tcrunningco.com/ and all the guys over there, and all of the sponsors, event coordinators and volunteers who make these events possible. At Superior, I had a crew of eight people who made the 5+ hour journey to support me and see me to the end. I had the opportunity to spend time on this trail I love so much with people who I had never shared it with before. That was extremely motivating for me and I am so grateful for the opportunity. I am only hopeful that I was able to somehow impact their lives. I’m sure the experience did because you can’t spend five minutes at an ultra – marathon event and not be inspired. All of the runners out there on the courses throughout the summer being supportive and encouraging.
My year started with training as it always does. I took the winter off from running and focused on skiing for the first time. In February I completed my first ultra – ski event, the VasaLoppet https://www.vasaloppet.us/#, which finishes on Main Street in Mora, MN. Once the ski season ended, it was time to work on some general strength and conditioning with more of a run focus. I moved away from balance and continued to work through training my nervous system for the running season ahead. Hips, gluts, core, shoulders are all important areas of focus. As soon as the trail was runnable, I was looking for mud. There’s a hill on the South side of Elm Creek Park Reserve which is always the first to thaw in the spring. It’s not real long but it’s perfect for some early season repeats. There’s an old game trail so the mud can be thick.
Event 1: Zumbro 50 Mile
I scheduled a hugely impactful meeting for the Friday of the event. I like to do that. I’m always hyper focused just before toeing the line. The race started at midnight which is a very strange time to start a 50 mile race. There were a number of people who had already been running for 16 hours who were attempting a 100 mile finish. The Zumbro races are in mid-April in Southeastern Minnesota and it is fast becoming known for its unpredictable and nasty weather. Check the race report here http://www.trainingedgesports.com/blog/zumbro-50. I did not finish this event. Instead I dropped at mile 34, hypothermic and terrified…
Event 2: Superior 50k
It’s the 3rd year of our annual trip to Lutsen, MN for the spring races. They fill up fast now and this year I decided to do the 50k event. Todd, Tom, Jesse and I made a weekend of it, all finished our races, and we had an amazing time with the community I've grown to Love. Tom and Todd finished their first ultras and Jesse took to the trail for the first time and finished the 25k. Success everywhere. This event was mid-May and the season was just getting cranked up.
Event 3: Voyageur 50 Mile
This was a solo trip for me but I was not alone, not by a longshot. Superior 100 was looming and I was going to use each event this year to refine my approach to finishing that event. This was no different. I headed up a bit early and ran 13 miles on Friday night. The race was Saturday. It was hot and late in the race I had the good fortune of running into John Taylor, who I mentioned in my Superior 100 2013 race report. http://www.trainingedgesports.com/blog/superior-100-2013-my-story He’s a living legend in our sport and it was an honor to spend a few moments with him on the trail. I would be fortunate enough to also spend some time with him at Superior. The heat gave way late in the Voyager 50 mile to thunderstorms and the lightning continued to chase me all through the summer of 2014. It was a 50 mile PR and I established what I thought was a pace I could sustain at Superior. Again, showing up at the finish line drenched and cold, the amazingly supportive community that I belong to showed their support once again, brining coffee and soup.
Event 4: Superior Training
This event wasn’t supported by an organization; it was supported by my brother, Jesse. He has been with me throughout this whole journey and without him, I would not have finally achieved my dream of a 100 mile finish. Read about this adventure here. http://www.trainingedgesports.com/blog/superior-commitment-63-mile-prep-run I had a lot of fun with the GoPro during this August weekend and looked back on the footage we got a number of times leading up to Superior. It will give you a little look into the rugged, relentless, remote nature of the Superior Hiking Trail. I was able to cover 63 miles in under 48 hours and would draw on this training sacrifice during my 2014 Sawtooth 100 http://fall.superiortrailrace.com/race-info/100-mile/ a number of times.
Event 5: Sawtooth 100
For three years I have been trying to finish one of these things. I first tried in the Ozarks in 2012, then Superior in 2013. Those events both led to failure. I learned a lot though. Isn’t that true about anything? Productive failure is one of the greatest gifts out there. If we fail and we don’t learn anything, that’s a pity. If we fail and come out better on the other side, good on you. That’s the way it should be. As the event approached, more people kept stepping up and declaring their support. They weren’t just saying they would be thinking about me as I was on the trail. I do appreciate that too and it is a very real way of showing support. They committed to showing up. They would leave their lives and drive to see me finish. I’m inspired. At every aid station, I knew that there would be a small army waiting to change my socks, fill my water bottles and encourage me to the finish line. I’m at a loss for words. Read more about my first 100 mile finish here. http://www.trainingedgesports.com/blog/superior-100-mile-endurance-run-2014
This brings my summer full circle. We are hours away from substantial snowfall here in the Twin Cities. I won’t run through the winter. Instead, I’ll strap on my skis and embrace my Scandinavian roots by gliding through the woods. A whole new series of adventure awaits come February and March of 2015. I ran the other day, for one of the last times in 2014, and took a moment to reflect on all that I’ve been blessed with in 2014. I am truly grateful for and truly blessed by the amount of support that I’m shown as I take to the trails in search of adventure.
This is the first of a three part series chronicling my transition to winter. Next time I’ll be sharing my plan of transition. I’ll include the process I use to develop a plan around exercise and show you, in detail, what I’ll be up to through the middle of December. Then, I’ll strap on the skis again and begin training for the four events in five weeks I’ve got planned for early 2015. They are all 50k or longer. Look for that plan as it unfolds as well.
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Jon Howard - Husband and Father of 3 | Ultra Endurance Athlete | Owner - Training Edge Sports
Training Edge Sports, LLC