Saturday June 6, 2020
I put a couple transplants in the garden, and filled in the rest of the containers with seeds. The main plot is looking really full! All of the rows and containers are full.
- Squash: 1st row (near the front – roadside), where the broccoli hasn’t appeared to come up. And 2nd row in between pepper plants (near the front – roadside)
- Corn: 4th row, intermixed with pinto and black beans
- Beans: (started indoors)(!!): 2 of each- Lentil, Pinto, Black, more Lentil
- Broccoli DeCicco: middle row of containers, from front to back
- Lettuce Black Seeded Simpson: 2 containers, middle row of containers, from front to back
- Lettuce Mesclun Spicy Mix: middle row from front to back
- Cucumber: 2 containers, middle row from front to back
- Arugula: 1st row containers (closest to neighbors), two containers
- Swiss Chard Fordhook Giant: 1st row containers
The garden is looking great. It is super exciting. I put down some mulch, but was scared to go all in. I will wait a week and reassess. Jeez a whole week!! I doubt I’ll be able to hold back putting more mulch out.
It was really fun to put compost down around the kale seed plants, which I did in the middle of last week, during a hot spell! It felt nice and the plants seemed to take it fine. Now it’s probably cooler than 50 degrees, really windy, and overcast. Anyways, the compost was noticeably warmer by digging down a little bit. Very cool. It’s a two bin system, and seems to be working pretty good! It maybe looks kind of ugly going around the garden but oh well.
The bean row is looking really good. Those have come up so well! I don’t know how they’ll look or what growing method can increase my yield, and there isn’t a ton online talking about home gardening black beans, pinto or lentil beans. There is some info on quinoa, and that is looking pretty good as well! Half this row’s seeds were purchased at my local grocery store. The beans did well inside, too, and I finally felt secure in hardening and transplanting them outside. They went onto the back deck in the shade for about 5 days, pretty much all day outside and all night on the kitchen table. Not even back to the grow room… none have died yet since the hardening process, despite totally dropping the seedlings at least twice.
Here are the first signs of herbs. I have been frustrated and anxious about the big herb row I planted last, which wasn’t really sprouted at all yet. I have to do the counting from when I actual sowed the seeds. I don’t remember off hand how many weeks that has been. But I do see a few sprouts of something in the containers. Hopefully not weeds.
The transplanted kale, which was the very first plant to hit the new soils of the main plot, has not only taken really well, but started to flower. This is interesting and unexpected, until I read that kale have a two-year cycle, year two where the plant puts all its energy into making flowers then seeds. I am excited to harvest the seeds of these two kale plants! I could try microgreens, or try and preserve them for future years, I dunno, sell them?
The greens row, row 1, is coming in real nice. Not explosive growth, and I wonder if it’s too warm for them. I just don’t know! It might be worth to try out a few things, especially if the weather gets warmer. The kale was kind of spotty coming up, and I actually transplanted a kale plant that was planted far too close to a spinach plant. I might kill them both from the transplant, or I might save them both! Time will tell. Spinach is looking good. A few wilt and die off. Plenty growing nicely, though! Lettuce is slow to grow but looks pretty nice!
Peas in containers along the west wall are coming up. Maybe not as prolific as the peas in the row, but not bad for containers!
Swiss chard is growing great! They took, I think the spacing is good and they appear to be plenty happy! The flavor isn’t excellent but this will be a great addition to the greens mix and I’m so excited to eat it.
Arugula continues to be the star of the greens row. It is super tasty, and I think I’ll be able to get the first reasonable harvest within a week. It would be good to test a few harvest methods… cut back 50% versus… 5% or something. Half and half? Pak Choi looking OK… one good plant, one medium and one small so far. Broccoli hasn’t really come up. Maybe one plant, but still kind of hard to tell.
I am kind of nervous about tomatoes. Some look pretty dang good, some not so much. I don’t exactly know what they need… I think they need mulching. I might do that tomorrow… or soon anyways if it gets warm, try to keep the warm in the soil. Soil is cold today! I might need to reassess the support situation with tomatoes. Maybe old raspberry canes will do for now.
Carrots are hit and miss. One row looks good, one not so much.
It’s kind of interesting to ponder what will happen with the oft-overseen container plants. Tomatoes are holding their own, chard looks good, and oregano hasn’t sprouted. Or was that… parsley? Some herb in the last pot.
Peas are coming up nicely. I am excited to eat these. I have doubts about my trellis situation. These poles aren’t strong. Neither are my knots. Onion is looking good. I wonder if I’ll get any yield in the containers? I regret not putting at least one or two of those onion transplants in the row!
Lentils are still one of my favorite things to watch. They came up real strong, and now appear to be slowing slightly, or maybe just getting bushier. I have no idea how these will look. I think I can trellis them up a bit, grow them up instead of out a bit. But I also don’t know how the seed pods form or anything about lentils! I mulched half of this row.
Quinoa will be interesting. These are some spindly seedlings! I don’t know how they grow up to be such robust stalks. I’ve never seen a quinoa plant in my life, I don’t think!
The garlic that grew green sprouts in the kitchen is growing. Not fast or anything… who knows. I don’t think I’ll harvest it until 2021 anyways. I guess I don’t know! Hmm. I understand that you plant it in October… I’ll do more at that time.
I appreciate my raspberry bushes even more than ever. They are so bushy and look great. I don’t remember how they’ve looked in other years, but I think I’ll have plenty of berries this August or so. I tried to tie them up this year… just kind of holding them in place where they are right now. We’ll see if that is a positive move. I don’t have a control subject.
The big pots are looking OK. These are beets, mustard, brussel sprouts, and carrots. The mustard is coming up the best, for sure. Carrots are sprouting, though!
The berry box is ho hum. Beautiful plants, not a ton of growth. It is cool to see the blueberry flowers and the strange bulbs on the blackberry.
I transplanted a few pesky raspberry plants from around the yard to the empty wildflower plot. None of those seeds really came up. I think it’s mostly weeds. We’ll see!
The strawberries transplanted from the neighbors are not dying, but not thriving. Maybe one of them. They all seem to be growing up OK but also dying off frequently. Hmm. Meanwhile, the strawberry patch next door is a huge tangle of vegetation! Well, this may change later this year, or next year. They are all still growing, so that is good.
Finally, potatoes have GOT to be one of the more fun plants to see come up. Holy crap these grow fast! I am going to have to add material to the already-bulging plantar box in the alley. 1″ lumber was a terrible idea. I might have to fortify the sides with bigger lumber… if I can make an investment in bigger boards that would be idea. I might have to! And need to learn more about potatoes.
I don’t think the sunflowers sprouted or will sprout. It isn’t sunny by the fence, anyways. Overall, excellent. I don’t have anything going indoors, and it’s shut down. I don’t know why. It’s too hard. NO! I will try to get a project going downstairs soon.
It feels good to have the entire plot with seeds in the ground, or established plants. In fact, the only dirt left untouched from the original 10 cubic yards is on the front porch. That is reserved for the herb seedlings that survived the sprout from downstairs. In fact, it’s a pretty good germination rate! I need to keep that sprouting going! It’s a painfully slow process, and death comes so easy, and it can be stressful and discouraging to have the indoor grow room running. But what do I have to lose!? I could easily have seeds going right now. Gah.
Projects I want to explore more are: watering options such as a drip line, mulching the entire garden, and looking at additions to the soil. Do I need to lower the pH by the blueberries? I don’t know.
02 Jun 2020
June 1, 2020
Yep, I had the first harvest of kale last night, from the transplants from last year. I transplanted two near-death plants from last year’s botched garden and they took nicely. They didn’t sprout a lot of leaves but I could tell they were growing. Then, after further research, I realized that kale flowers in the second year, and that is what was happening. They’re growing seed pods or flowers or something, and the leaves taste pretty bad. Oh well, it will be fun to try and get some seeds and replant them!
Otherwise, things are looking really good. The herb row hasn’t sprouted at all, and neither has my second round of lettuce. The beans are definitely coming up, the quinoa is looking pretty good. The stars of the garden so far are arugula, which is sprouting leaves quickly, and lentils. The lentils nearly all germinated and I’m really excited to see how they grow up. I haven’t talked to anyone who has grown lentils beans before. We’ll see if it’s all worth it… Also, the potatoes are looking really good. It’s supposed to be hot this week so hopefully that doesn’t have a negative effect on any plants.
Finally, all the transplants are looking pretty good! I need to do more research on trellises, and need to look a bit closer at thinning some of my plants, which doesn’t make me feel good to think about!! I don’t know how to go about it… thin according to the seed packet or info online? Or just wait and see, use my intuition? Or not thin and try to maximize my yield? I think the best option is to try and test a little bit… some thinned more and some less.
I’ll take pictures and post soon.
25 May 2020
May 25, 2020
I gathered 5 or 6 containers and put them on the edge of the garden by the fencing and put two rows in each pot, about four seeds each spaced perhaps two inches apart. This is kind willy-nilly so we will see how they pop up!
Otherwise, garden is looking really good. I am very pleased thus far, and it’s really exciting to see things starting to grow.
The arugula is taking off like crazy, and the true leaves are starting to show. That will be nice. The transplanted kale has certainly taken root and growing really well. No kale has popped up yet, though, which is interesting. Pretty much everything in the first row appears to have germinated except maybe the kale and broccoli. Not seeing too much evidence of the carrots, either. Spinach looks really good so far, lettuce is coming in OK. I feel like the next week or two weeks will be big growth in the greens row (row one).
I am especially excited about the lentils, which have really taken off all of the sudden. That was the very, very first sprout, but it was a weed! And now the row of lentils has come up and they look really nice, uniform and strong.
All of the transplants appear to be doing OK, except maybe a few of the weakest chard plants. Hopefully those can take root and survive because I love swiss chard. The berry box is looking really good and the strawberries seem to be taking hold. The blueberry plant is beautiful! It is flowering. My experimental severed raspberry stalk will likely die but that is fine. Plenty more of those. I will try to tie up the raspberry canes to enhance fruiting this year. Gotta do more research on that. The blackberry bushes haven’t seemed to grow at all, but they aren’t dying either so that is OK.
It will probably take another week or so at least for the other transplants to show growth, I’d think. I am really looking forward to the other rows to start popping up… should be sooner than later! Although I’m nearing 3 weeks in the very first row (the greens row), and just 3 days since I sowed a lot of seeds. These next two weeks will be kind of slow, but I really hope things take and by then we are off.
I am excited to mulch around the plants and I have a lot of organic material to do so with. I just have to plan a little bit on how to use it in the best way… mix it all together? Probably the best bet.
The indoor garden, which is really what I am excited about developing further, is not doing so hot, unfortunately. Many of the seeds haven’t sprouted at all, at least in one tray. The beans are looking really good, and the herb tray is hit and miss. They all started drooping, I did some research, started feeding water from the tray itself instead of spraying the tops, and things seemed to recover. Well, one of the early sprouting tomato or pepper seedlings look pretty well dead. I might need to start that whole one over again. I’d like to try peppers strictly indoors.
Finally, the potato shoots look really good and they’re starting to grow. The spuds haven’t done anything and I don’t really know what to expect! All in all, really good and I am super exciting! These next two weeks should be fun to watch.
25 May 2020
May 22, 2020
I filled out the many containers now dotting the big plot. I also filled in pretty much the rest of the four rows in the big plot with various items.
The four big containers on the side of the front porch have (from back to front):
- Brussel Sprouts
- Carrot Touchan
I kind of just spread seeds around and put dirt over the top with these ones.
In the third row (closest to the house), I filled the last two big containers with Yellow Onion starts from Menards.
In the second row, I transplanted starts into the bigger containers (from front to back):
- Yellow Onion
- Tomato Roma
- Tomato Roma
In the first row (furthest from house) I transplanted starts into containers (from front yard to back):
In the second row itself, I transplanted a bunch of starts:
- Pepper Banana
- Tomato Roma
- Tomato Roma
- Tomato Roma
Finally, I filled a bin with soil and put a trash bag around the sides to block the sunlight from penetrating the soil (?? don’t know if that needed to be done…), and filled the back with potato spuds, and the front with potato shoots.
Finally, I filled the first and third row last containers with Parsley that had been soaking in warm water for a day. I have to remember this one because I can’t see any plants yet!!
I have just a handful of empty containers in the garden, plus 8 or 10 on my front porch that would be great for herbs.
21 May 2020
May 22, 2020
I sowed a bunch more seeds today. Earlier this week, I filled up a bunch of random pots and containers I found on the side of the road. Big score. That gave way for maybe 10-20 more areas for a plant to grow. Although now I have to step around something to get to anything.
I planted the rest of the second row from the house. From the front of the yard (where the onions and peas got planted a couple days back) to the back:
I put seeds in almost all of the containers in the walking row closest to the house. The first couple pots are empty still, but then I planted (from front yard to back):
I also planted seeds in the second row from the neighbor’s house. I planted the back half of the row with Lettuce Mesclun Mix. It has, like 17 different varieties, so I just sprinkled a bunch of seeds in a line and we’ll see what comes up!
In other news, I transplanted some strawberries from the neighbor’s yard. One is looking good, one is looking bad, and the middle is OK. The berry bush transplants seem to be doing just fine, which is great because they were expensive! Either way, they’re small… I might try to propagate them somehow… they probably need to grow more first, though.
The first row I planted, now just one day over two weeks ago, are all coming up nicely. It is super exciting. Very small yet. I am watering once in the morning, a nice even spray.
The indoor grow operation is failing terribly. Sheesh. How demoralizing. I got everything perfect, and the seedlings were looking really good! Then the most recent ones to pop up… I think they were tomatoes, kind of keeled over right away and looked like they were going to die. One big strong black bean had big leaves popping out, but then they started to curl under. And the herb tray that was starting to sprout all starting wilting. Boom, boom, boom… and I knew something was going wrong. What the heck? Temp right, humidity right. I think I was watering too much. I was spraying those babies twice a day, a nice heavy soak. I now know that perhaps watering from the bottom may be a more effective method. Back to the drawing board. I barely checked on the seedlings today out of frustration. I don’t know if I should just kill them or keep it going. I need the containers if I want to try again!!
16 May 2020
May 16, 2020
Today I took care of a few miscellaneous tasks and fell pretty good about where things are at. There are a few sprouts in the ground, I think the frost danger has passed. I cleared out a bunch of old raspberry canes. Then I transplanted two blueberry bushes and two blackberry plants into the front planter.
I had a bunch of potatoes in two varieties. Some were a normal spud with little sprouts coming out of the eyes, some looked closer to baby reds and had a long shoot of one end. I did the first batch in the North/South row in the alley planter box. The ones with the long shoots went into the East/West row. I did about four whole potatoes and cut up a few other to make about four chunks, and I planted four of the long shoot potatoes.
Then I did a few more plantings in the big garden plot. The peas and onions went into the 2nd row to the east, and I did the southern-most part of the row to the first post:
- 1″ deep
- 2″ spacing
- 2 rows about 6″ apart, 3′ each for 6′ total
- 20 seeds?
Onion Country Hybrid
- 1″ deep
- Sprinkled seeds
- 3′ total
I did beans in the bean row, and planted some pinto and black beans towards the north end of the plot, between two posts:
Bean Black Turtle
- 1″ deep
- 3″ spacing
- 3′ long
- 12 seeds total
- 1″ deep
- 3″ spacing
- 3′ long
- 12 seeds total
13 May 2020
May 9, 2020 – 9pm
I was very pleased to make a few crucial investments to the basement seedling room. A small space heater seemed to do the trick for temperature, although I probably need a humidifier as well. With my LED grow lamps, one T12 flourescent lamp, and two new LED shop lights, I feel like I have a good variety in lights and can test to see what setup works best, and keep investing from there, if need be. My last investment in the indoor space was a smoke detector, because my main concern is the electrical wiring, space heater, and buckets of water (to try and increase humidity), plus a plastic wrapped wooden frame. It seems a little shoddy, perhaps dangerous and risky, but I am going to forge ahead with what I’ve got!
Once I felt comfortable with the temperature, I put a bunch of seeds into old egg crates:
Tray 1 – 6 varieties, 3 slots per variety (from top to bottom):
- Tomatoes – San Marzano
- Peppers – California Wonder
- Tomatoes – Delicious
- Peppers – Carnival
- Peppers – Poinsettia
Tray 2 – 6 varieties, 3 slots per variety (from top to bottom)
- Garlic Chives
Tray 3 – 2 varieties, 6 slots per variety (left to right)
Tray 4 – 4 varieties (left to right)
- Quinoa (6 slots)
- Lentils (3 slots)
- Black Beans (3 slots)
- Pinto Beans (6 slots)
Tray 5 – 1 variety, 12 slots
- Quinoa, previously sprouted
I just have to make sure to not move any of the trays and I’ll be able to track what is what!
06 May 2020
May 6, 2020 – 4pm
Immediately after finishing the fence project, I sowed the first seeds in this whole shebang. Well, besides the pollinator flower blend against the house. I filled the westernmost row, and 1/4 of the far southern side of the easternmost row.
- 1″ deep
- 1″ spacing
- 8′ long
- 75 seeds
Kale Blue Vates
- 1/4″ deep
- 10″ spacing
- 2′ long
- 15 seeds (3 bunches)
- 1/4″ deep
- 10″ spacing
- 2′ long
- 15 seeds (3 bunches)
Kale Dwarf Blue Vates
- 1/4″ deep
- 10″ spacing
- 2′ long
- 15 seeds (3 bunches)
Spinach Bloomsdale Long Standing (tape)
- 1/2″ deep
- 2′ long
- 1/2″ deep
- 6″ spacing
- 4′ long (2- 2′ rows)
- 8 seeds
- 1/2″ deep
- 6″ spacing
- 2′ long
- 4 bunches of seeds
Lettuce Lolla Rosa
- 1/2″ deep
- 6″ spacing
- 2′ long
- 4 bunches of seeds
Arugula Slow Bolt
- 1/2″ deep
- 3″ spacing
- 2′ long
- 8 small pinches of seeds
- 1/4″ deep
- 12″ spacing
- 2′ long
- 2 small pinches of seeds
Broccoli Di Cicco
- 1/4″ deep
- 12″ spacing
- 2′ long
- 2 small pinches (5 seeds per pinch)
Broccoli Sun King
- 1/4″ deep
- 12″ spacing
- 2′ long
- 2 small pinches (5 seeds per pinch)
Carrot Nantes Half Long
- 1/2″ deep
- 0″ spacing – sprinkle
- 4′ long (2- 2′ rows)
06 May 2020
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
This has been a lot of work. Today was the day that the garden was built to actually support usage, although tomorrow probably begins the process of enhancing, repairing, and modifying.
Here are the specs:
- Main garden is 30′ by 12′ with four mounds about 1′ high and 18″ wide
- Garden box is 14′ by 2′ and 10″ high made out of untreated cheap 1×10 pine boards
- Purchased 10 cubic yards of “Garden Blend” from Duluth Dirt
- Garden Blend a mix of 2/3 black dirt and 1/3 compost, tested for vegetable growing conditions
- Fence around the perimeter with light poultry netting
12 Apr 2020
Trip Plan: Bike the Grandma’s Marathon course in reverse, from the finish line to the start line. Drop the bike, change to running gear and run the Grandma’s Marathon course back.
Start Time: Saturday, April 11, 2020 – 6:09am
- Bike: 1:12:55
- Transition: 0:03:00
- Run: 3:29:46
- Total Time: 4:45:41
In the months leading up to this day, I had been training hard for the Zumbro Midnight 50. I was in really good shape to try and beat my other two times running Zumbro, in 2016 and 2017. With the novel coronavirus sweeping the world, Zumbro was canceled along with thousands, if not millions, of other events worldwide. I knew I wanted to do something on this day, not to mention continue training for the thing. As expected, trail conditions in Duluth had been deteriorating and the annual blanket trail closure in city limits was imposed in early April, leaving any training grounds and adventure route options to road or pavement only.
As my passion project website www.duluthadventures.com was taking off very slowly, I was eager to think of another multisport adventure loop to do, if nothing else to pad the website. Then, as I brainstormed a loop that could be done in early April (when trails are closed; my favorite inline skating route, Munger Trail, was mostly covered in snow; water not open, too cold, and/and too dangerous to paddle), a Grandma’s Marathon course blitz was the idea that stuck in my head more and more often. It seemed like such a raw challenge… 26.2 miles on the time trial bike, the speed machine, max aero. Then, run the marathon course that so many people have run in 3 hours or 2:48 (my PR from 2015) or 2:09 on. I became excited about the route, and even posted my thoughts on social media, pondering if 4 hours for the bike-run combination was outrageous. Yep! Outrageous, and the response was more of: “you can do it Mike!”. Yeah right! I felt in great shape for Zumbro, yes, but the speed and fitness that it takes to run a fast marathon is not an easy thing to develop. That takes serious time and dedication. Was I there? Maybe… but what about the bike portion? How much fitness does that take? I thought that 4:30 would not be out of the question, under 4 hours would be extraordinary. Either way, I thought that this loop could be widely attempted, especially once news broke of Grandma’s Marathon 2020 being canceled due to the pandemic. Who would try this feat?
I set the date. Zumbro day, of course. What other day would it be? Then I happened to talk to a news reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He, I think, wanted a story about Duluth Timing and Events and how the business was affected by races being canceled, and what the deal is with all of these races being canceled. Well, I kind of steered the topic to Duluth Adventures. Hey, any way to get the word out and more submissions to the site is my main angle! But he seemed to be interested, especially when I mentioned this Saturday being my day to do the next Duluth Adventure. He seemed to be so interested, in fact, that he requested what time I was planning to start the whole deal so he could send a photographer down! Cool! However, it presented a unique twist in the whole setup of this trip, because just like a race, there now had to be a specific time to start. I had a scheduled meeting for Saturday at noon. So, as that Saturday drew near, I looked at the weather forecast for guidance. Sunday looked bad all around. Saturday morning looked to have a better wind direction for going fast on the bike. The wind was predicted to shift by the afternoon. So either start at 2pm and finish around 6 or 7pm, or starting brutally early (relative to my month-long routine of sleeping until 8 or 9am) and finishing with enough time to get home, eat and recover for the virtual meeting at noon. I chose 6am.
I wouldn’t say I trained specifically for the fast bike-run, but I would say I was in great shape leading into April. I toyed with another aggressive run mileage build-up, which worked in my favor 6 months prior. I dreamt about a 60-70-80-90 four week peak. On the third week, I stalled at 75 miles, then decided to take a down week instead of 90 or 100 miles. Then I totally scrapped the plan and started from scratch. Either way, it was an aggressive build and I made it out unscathed. After that run-up in mid- to late-March, I decided to focus on running faster and cross-training with a myriad of sports. I figured this would help me with any multisport adventure I wanted to try. And I felt confident for a 4:30 outing on the revered Grandma’s course.
The night before, I barely squeezed my shoes into my small hydration vest. My running shorts and second water bottle made the pack bulge. The first bottle would go with me on the bike. I was very paranoid to lock my triathlon bike to a tree near Two Harbors when I wouldn’t be back to retrieve it for several hours, and not willing to leave my expensive aerodynamic race wheels out of sight for any reason! I got stuck on the unsupported style of this excursion, and recruiting my roommate Jack to pick up my bike kind of blurred the lines. I decided the line was that I had to bring everything I needed, so no pick-up from Jack, but I could essentially drop anything I wanted at the Grandma’s start line, my turn-around point, for Jack to take back home. Meh, I figured it was unsupported enough to be called unsupported. At least self-supported.
When I woke up, I almost called it off. Ugh, too early. It was 4:57am, and dark. The photographer had mentioned the sunrise in the email, and I didn’t even consider that I’d be starting in the dark at 6am! But the familiar race day excitement roused me and the doubts and regret washed away quickly to be replaced by excitement and nervous dread. The good nervous dread, though.
I was down to Canal Park pretty much right at 6am, and started to get ready. I saw the News vehicle far away from the start line and didn’t take action. The photographer Tyler texted me, then I saw her run up and introduce herself. She snapped a few pics of me getting ready and pumping my tires up. I was kind of muttering to her… “I guess I’m almost ready here, what else do I need? That’s it I think”, but it was really just muttering to myself, really. It was kind of awkward… do I acknowledge her at all or just act like I am alone like normal? Whatever, time to rip. I put on my aero helmet, locked my car and put the key in the pack, put the pack on, bike shoes on, and rode up to the start line. Watch at zero, I almost went. Wait! I took a look at the time before setting off: 6:09 and maybe 30 seconds. I hit the start button and started cranking in the dawn light of Canal Park towards the photographer kneeling in the empty street. Nobody else in sight.
It was cold. My fingers became uncomfortably cold within minutes. It was fun to zing around Duluth, but I knew I was losing time by dodging gaping potholes, sand and gravel on the roadway, and navigating the several turns until getting out of town. The sunrise at Brighton Beach was incredible, but I whipped my head around the other way when something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. Oh! The photographer girl. Gah, don’t look right at the camera Mike!! So I put my head back down and cranked towards the Scenic Highway 61.
Once onto the highway, I finally felt like I was going fast and could get comfortable in the aero bars. My stupid aero helmet with the long tail in the back was not conducive with my bulging pack. The helmet was hitting the pack, and to see just a few feet in front of me required my eyes to be looking up as far as I could. That wasn’t a great view, and I was most comfortable by looking down at my front wheel, which was darting back and forth on the white lane line. I had to look up, for the sake of safety, and that pack was definitely a source of frustration the entire ride. However, the miles clicked off fast.
My fingers actually warmed up enough once I got going, but my feet had become very cold. It wasn’t really that uncomfortable, but I could feel the numbness creep in. Otherwise, I was actually a pretty nice temperature. When I took a swig of water, it felt like ice water in my mouth. I though there was actually ice forming at one point. I didn’t want to spend the time to eat or drink, though, and became focused on staying aero and cranking away. I tried to maintain a steady effort, but nothing too crazy. In hindsight, I didn’t push hard enough, and I didn’t have the bike mileage in my legs (or really, in my head), to accurately gauge how much effort I was putting forth. Also, it was too cold to check my 5 mile splits, which I’d hoped were in the 12 minute range. It was too cold and I was too focused on maintaining a good speed, to do anything besides sit in the aero bars and crank away.
My photographer Tyler was taking a ton of pictures. She seemed to meet me at the next sweet view every five miles or so. Oh man, I thought, these photos will be gold on my blog site. What a treat. I didn’t see her after Knife River, and I certainly starting noticing the Grandma’s Marathon mile markers with more anticipation, counting down from five to four to three. Couple more minutes here… I spent excess energy looking up in hopes to see the big clearing of Sonju in the distance, or two cars parked on the side of the road. In what seemed like a very short ride, there it was! I saw the two cars, and it was a relief. I had been a little anxious about what to do if Jack wasn’t there, for whatever reason. I wasn’t spending the time to drink water, let alone try to call or text him on the ride. A few peeks of my watch and I was super jacked about my time. I thought I’d averaged 24 mph or faster on the ride, based on my quick math after a quick glance. WOW.
When I got to Jack and Tyler, I first noticed how numb my feet were. I mean, numb. Can’t feel them. Yikes. I forewarned them both that I was going to get naked now. I tried to strip off my tights and bike shorts, which was reminiscent of a triathlon’s T1, struggling with a wetsuit. My shorts went on quick, then my shoes. It was definitely uncomfortable to deal with my frozen feet! Jack luckily just grabbed my bike and tossed it in his vehicle, so I could readjust my pack setup and prepare to run. I was working with a sense of urgency, and after tossing my additional drop-off items in Jack’s car, lined up at the Grandma’s Marathon start line like an elite runner ready to compete. No starting gun, though, just my own preference on the exact moment when to start. My watch is the starting gun, so when I hit the start button, I jumped off the line.
Oof, my first few strides were the classic jelly legs of transitioning from bike to run. The frozen feet added another element. Gah, that was a weird feeling. Jack sped by and honked his horn. Tyler drove by next, soon out of sight. The frozen feet had transitioned to pins and needles, ouch. However, the sun was rising higher in the sky and I could feel its rays. The rest of my body was the perfect temperature. And it was very quick for the jelly legs feeling to vanish and the feeling of strength to replace. Oooo yeah. Let’s get it.
After only a mile my feet warmed up and I was really the perfect temperature. It was probably 34 degrees… a tough temperature to plan for. I saw Tyler down the road a bit and focused on running as if she wasn’t there as I heard her camera click away. Another mile and I felt a slight jostling in my stomach. Darn. I saw a portable toilet at the Mocha Moose and figured it’d be a good insurance policy to stop. I did, and felt better despite a mid-9 minute mile split. Time to settle in at 7:30, I told myself. And that’s what I did. The miles started to click off. I saw my personal photographer about every mile, it seemed. It was kind of fun to see where my watch was at when I crossed each mile marker. I wasn’t running the tangent of the road, that’s for sure. Tyler jumped out of her car and ran to my side of the road for when I crossed the Mile 4 marker. When I hit mile 6 I thought about how this is kind of like halfway to halfway. 13.1. Wait, that’s like 6.5 miles. When I got to the Mile 7 marker, which was 7.08 on my watch, I said I was halfway to halfway. Nice. My splits were good and I was feeling great. I figured this pace would give me a 1:40 half split, which is a 3:20 marathon. I thought my bike was around 1:10… how long was that transition? I was kind of fumbling around… maybe 5 minutes? I remembered 6:09am. I tried to do math. I figured a 3:20 marathon would be damn close to 4 and a half hours for the whole trip. I can do it.
The miles kept clicking off, and I got tired. Oof, this is going to a long, long day, I told myself. With a handful of miles until halfway still, I remembered the first miles. Those were the golden miles, I told myself. I felt good back then… But I kept trucking along in a great rhythm and fairly consistent mile splits in the 7:30 range. I hadn’t seen Tyler in a long time. That was probably the end of her assignment. Darn. Just me and the road out here. I tried to run the tangents when it looked like a big curve in the road, which was not the least dangerous thing I could have done. The curves always end up being pretty tame, anyways. I was just looking longingly ahead, always. It kind of felt like running the actual marathon, except the water stops are definitely a highlight of each mile. There is energy at each water stop. No extra energy on this day, except the other solo exercises, the animals and nature, and the traffic. Traffic may be an energy suck, actually.
I hit halfway right a tad slower than 1 hour and 40 minutes in. I’d have to dig deep to finish this thing out in a negative split. But I was feeling good. It was kind of the feeling in a 50 miler, like I’d been training for. My body seemed to be self limiting to a pace that was sustainable. I felt tired, yes. My legs were starting to get a little sore, perhaps. But I knew at halfway that I was on track to finish strong. However, my time was not exactly a motivating factor. I seemed to be slipping from 7:30 pace, and to be a little slower than 1:40 for the half was slightly discouraging. Then, upon a second calculation, I would need a 3:10 marathon or so to hit 4:30! I must have been wrong about my bike split and transition… it was hard to find a definite calculation to know how long my bike and transition were, but I could tell that it’d take a big negative split to hit my goal. Oh well… finish ‘er out Mike!
My next target was Brighton Beach. Getting off this stinkin’ highway would be a nice change of scenery. Any change of scenery… and the Lakeside section of the Grandma’s course just makes you feel like you’re into town finally. Thinking back to the ride, the portion getting out of Duluth and onto the Scenic went by in a blip! Plus, mile 20 is always a good milestone to hit in the marathon. So I looked forward to Brighton Beach in an attempt to help time fly by a little bit faster. The miles continued to click off, and I felt another swash of the stomach. Darn. It wasn’t an emergency situation, but the swash was enough of a discomfort to notice my mile splits. I pondered the likelihood of a portable restroom at Brighton Beach, or at one of the rest stops between here and there. Eh, probably not. And then the slightly uneasy swash because an emergency real quick. I felt “the clench”. So I ran off into the woods. Actually, the break was nice on the ole churning leggies. There are only probably 2,500 more portable toilets on this route during a certain weekend in June. Today, one. And no matter how unpleasant the e-dump in the woods was, I ran off feeling much springier and more fresh. In no time, I ran across Lester River and into the Lakeside neighborhood. I was feeling pretty good. Strong, speedy again (well, speedy enough), and in control. Usually during Grandma’s Marathon, or even the Garry Bjorklund Half, Lakeside is a death march. Usually I am hanging on by a thread, having gone out way too hard for the first bunch of miles. That being said, each step through Lakeside today was still tedious.
The next milestone was Glensheen Mansion. Glensheen has always been the toughest part of the course. Maybe it’s simply a landmark to remember the suffering. This time, I was moving well. My mile splits continued to be consistent. Consistent enough, at least, to not feel like I was falling apart. I was excited to run past Glensheen and try Lemon Drop Hill. The hill did reduce me to a shuffle, but I was up and over and on to London Road. I was getting real close, and getting excited. I knew that 4:30 was out of reach, so just focused on finishing strong. Each mental Grandma’s Marathon milestone clicked by: the turn up 12th Ave; crossing DRC, where I remembered all those years passing with many high-fives and a jolt of adrenaline; Fitger’s with the massive crowds at the Mile 24 water station. Today, just another day and I was running on the sidewalk. I probably looked like a maniac, some haggard dude running hard with a backpack and making audible grunts of pain. Oh well. I ran around a car pulling out and down to Michigan. Mile 25 came and went, and it was on to the final push. I was looking at my marathon time now. It’d be close, but a sure lock for 3:30. Around the DECC, past the Blue Bridge and the Irvin, and I could sniff the finish. Yes. However, all the sudden 3:30 was coming up real quick and I knew that I absolutely could not let up. Around by the hotels, across the marker for Mile 26, and my hair stood up on the back of my neck. There it was! That little hit of excitement, that little rush that you get near the finish line of a race… I got it.
Amidst the pain of the finishing stretch, I found it kind of funny that I was running down the middle of Canal Park Drive just like any other marathon day. Nobody was out, no cars, no businesses open… nothing. 11am on a Saturday and just me pushing as hard as I can. This coronavirus is bizarre shit!
I crossed the finish line with 3:29:XX on my watch, and yelled out right away. ARGHH! It was the same yell as one makes directly after finishing a speedy interval on the track, for instance. A smile came onto my face, and I laid down right next to the Grandma’s Marathon Finish Line plaque impressed into the nearby sidewalk.
It was without a doubt a fun trip. I found it incredibly interesting how little I could dip into the pain cave without a bib on. The next day, my legs felt pretty good, similar to any other long training day. The day after a Grandma’s Marathon, I am dead!! That takes many days to walk kind of normal again. It felt like I was pushing to my abilities during this solo effort, but I don’t think it was comparable to a race effort, in hindsight. Perhaps one is simply more risk averse in a non-race, unsupported situation.
My hope is that somebody else tries this route. I would love to hear the story about how they suffered greatly, as I did. Yet, it was all worth it.
27 Feb 2020
Race Date: Saturday, February 22, 2020 – 9am
There was excitement at the start line for the four hour loop race. I don’t think many people had done a fixed time winter trail run before. It was my birthday. I think that might have been a first for me, too, racing on my birthday. Either way, from the first step after the “GO!” through a bullhorn, my brain was in a different mode. Well, different from the mindset of: seek and destroy. I had been on a winning rip and earlier in the week, earlier in the month, earlier in the year, I thought I could win. I also looked forward to duking it out with Chris Rubesch, with whom I have duked it out with many, many times. And every time it is gritty and so fun. I saw Matt Eidenschink before the start and discovered he’d registered the night before. Ooo, that was a curveball! Matt is a freak.
So when we took off, plenty of testosterone out of the gate, the pack jammed up the first hill and onto the singletrack, and we were moving fast. The first mile was under 7:30 with plenty of people surrounding me. We hit an intersection and I saw an arrow pointing back at us. So I stopped, got pushed in the back, and Chris ran off. I yelled that we’re running the wrong way and the pack immediately turned toward the arrow and back to the correct trail. Chris caught up and was definitely frustrated. I wondered why that arrow was there… the trail must have to come from that way or else why would it be pointing at us? Nobody seemed to be too interested in pondering. We spread out a bit on a snowmobile trail. Still fast. Matt and Chris ran ahead. The pack shifted. Back onto windy singletrack. How long would it take until we memorize the route? I think Ben had said that… The first lap was about 2.8 miles or so, and low 20-something minutes. Yeah… probably not accurate. So at the lap zone, I yelled to the race director Andy asking what we do at the gazebo. He didn’t understand. GAZEBO! I fell behind in this conversation and the pack definitely left me this time. Oh well. So I took the chance to take a pee. And just like that, one loop done, I was definitely in no man’s land once again. I didn’t see a single person around while on my pee break in the middle of the woods.
Now by myself, I settled into a nice pace. My effort seemed pretty even, but definitely slow. I wondered if I’d catch up to Chris and the rest of them. I wondered if I could do 31 miles, an even 50k, 10 laps on the dot, on my 31st birthday. It was such a nice day. Perfect trail, hard packed, fast. The sun was out, warm but not uncomfortable. I ate a gel after an hour. The laps clicked off. Two, three, four. It was pretty quick, though, that my question regarding 31 miles was answered. I fell off that pace after that first lap. I would need five laps by two hours, halfway. No way. My laps were coming in around 30 minutes. That’s pretty slow, I thought. Maybe a bit under… I thought I remembered my goal of a marathon and how I’d have to go 27 minutes per lap. Maybe I didn’t remember that right. I kept trucking, robot-like.
I couldn’t see anyone who was in front of me but plenty of people behind me. It was kind of fun, a little frustrating to pass many others on the course. The trail was holding up great. But there were plenty of twists and turns and I hadn’t seen anyone ahead in a long time. I figured people would start dropping back and I could duke it out with Chris and Matt. I figured Matt was up there, and Chris kind of knows what he’s doing. He is a master pacer, and I tend to explode, so I kind of discounted seeing those dudes. Bleh. Ah, oh well. Then I was passed. Leslie has been on a bigger rip than I, with a long string of wins at the winter series. She passed me with ease and left me in the dust. I couldn’t hang with her for one second. That blew the wind out of me, and I went into survival mode.
Luckily the body was holding up well, so no harm done. I made excuses why I was running slow. I had a weird week. I wasn’t running as much, I took that big break. Camping in the woods. Blah blah. All that did was justify me running slower and slower, and I did definitely slow down in the last couple of loops. I figured that I could do two more loops within the 4 hour limit. I did the second to last loop, then went right back out at about 3:25. That left 35 minutes to get back or the last loop wouldn’t count. If I crank a bit, I could get my marathon goal. Wait, no fricken way. 8 laps is less than 25 miles! Gah. That last lap was an anxious one. I didn’t feel comfortable the whole time. The reality was, the previous laps were at a lower limit of pain. One’s body is going to feel pretty run down after several hours of trail running regardless. The lack of comfort on that last loop was more so with the anxiety of not making the time. I didn’t want to push really hard unless I had to. I wanted to keep some in the tank. But I could also keep going… so I kept my foot on the gas for sure. When I finished that eighth loop with a few minutes to go, I headed straight back out for the 0.5 mile loop with mile markers every tenth of a mile. I painstakingly made it up and on to the top of the sledding hill. I thought I heard Andy counting down but it was kind of muffled. I headed towards the downhill and heard the siren, for sure. I spotted the .4 mile marker ahead. So that means .3 was my last one. I ran it in even though the race was over, totally exhausted, and reported .3 miles. Oof. It was hard to tell what place I was in, but it was at least 5th. Dang. But the day was great, the trail was excellent, the camaraderie was wonderful, and the effort was certainly a positive gain in fitness. What better thing to do on one’s birthday?
Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 12 size 12.5
Gear: Handheld water bottle 19oz
Food: 1 gel, 1 package gummis, bunch of oreos, licorice, pretzels, coke
10 Feb 2020
Race Date: Saturday, February 8, 2020 – 10:00am
I felt somehow calm at the start line, despite the fact that it was really crazy… I was about to begin a really long ski, a ski race in fact, with many others around me, after less than a month of learning and training!? What else but to go for it? One minute at a time… just don’t fall right away. Don’t make a fool out of yourself, Mike. I talked to myself a bit while the anthem was being sung. Immediately after the national anthem, “BANG”, the gun went off and everyone lurched forward.
Looking back a month, I still can’t believe I have classic skis! A bunch of friendly pressures, little pokes, and the fact that this winter was perfect for it, and next thing I know I had some sweet skis and was headed up the shore towards Grand Marais. Kris helped me break in the skis at Sugarbush ski trails, very nearby Oberg Mountain, and the site of some naps and some sleep-deprived running a few months prior while pacing at Superior Fall 100 Mile. Kris gave me some crucial tips right away, and it was a truly exhilarating little jaunt through some beautiful woods as the sun was setting behind trees and faraway ridges. I was so eager to get back out, and that I did! I was able to roll many km’s on my new skis. Time on the skis was the best method to learn, perhaps paired with watching and trying to analyze classic ski technique of Olypmic 50k championship competitors on Youtube. After two or three outings of about 10k, I stopped getting really sore, but was still very nervous about lining up at Vasa until gutting through 30k at Boulder Lake. That one hurt bad, so I was expecting the gauntlet going 42k in Mora.
When the gun went off on a sunny and cold day in Mora, Minnesota, and everyone lurched forward, there wasn’t much I felt I could control except push forward. There was no way to get into a track so I just kind of double poled with the crowd on the flats. Before even crossing the start line, there was a spare set of skis directly ahead and I was able to open my legs to let them pass between. Phew, OK, that was the first obstacle of the day passed with no issue. Bring it on baby! The next obstacle: a 90-degree left turn. Oof, turning hasn’t been my strong suit in skiing. Neither has going down hills, moving in and out of the tracks, staying upright when the tracks end, or anything requiring technical ability. All I had was fitness. Left turn, done. Nice. I eventually got into some tracks, and felt like I lost time just managing the pack. I was sucking wind though, definitely working hard. Perhaps that was just adrenaline.
The first few kilometers were equally stressful as the first minute. I didn’t know if I should be in the tracks, and once I got into the tracks they’d end or the trail would turn sharply and the tracks deteriorate. Then I’d almost fall and lose my rhythm and potentially block people. Out of the track, I felt slower, and could only double pole. If I tried to kick, I’d nearly topple over. I definitely fell one or two times within the first half hour or hour. I got right back up… it was mentally relieving to see other people falling all over the place. I told myself it was bound to happen, and to just get back up and keep motoring.
There was a decent amount of uphill and downhill, but no crazy downhills. The trail had a lot of twists and turns, but also some nice open and straight sections. Really, the course was great and had a perfect variation of terrain for me. The sun was shining, and I was feeling good pushing pretty hard. I felt strong, but limited by my technical ability and lack of comfort being on skis and having poles attached to my hands. I knew this was a fact as other skiers around me would spread out from me on tight curves and downhills. My watch said 9 miles after what seemed like no time at all, and I figured I’d be at the loop point before long. Nice. Feeling pretty good. I was going back and forth with a couple people that I started to recognize. Then I’d fall down, get all tangled up, not be able to get back up, step on my pole, get super frustrated. Then I’d get passed by a guy I passed long before. Then I’d get stuck behind that guy in the tracks, not knowing if I should pass. After a minute, I’d get sick of sitting back and jumped out of the track, fall back a bit, only to double pole like mad to barely catch up to the person and not even make a pass. Ugh. That scenario replayed itself several times.
I had one gel and a few sips of gatorade on that first loop. Hot gatorade, that was something new! Mmm, very delicious. I finally got to the turnaround. Time to keep trucking. I was definitely in race mode… kind of just “go go go”. I couldn’t exactly monitor my energy stores to see where I was at. I felt pretty good. I also felt like I was getting sore. My right thumb was the most sore of anything. My pole was rubbing weird, or I was gripping weird or something. I didn’t give much time to remedy the situation. I wasn’t really actually sore anywhere else. Maybe abs and back, but I was double poling and feeling good. Kind of a general soreness, but that’s expected after an hour or two of hard exercise. Across the first lake, and I felt fastest by striding. The double pole kick was OK, double poling felt slowest and least efficient, actually, and striding just felt good and sustainable.
Around the bend, over the lake and I remembered to look at my watch for a rough split. It read 1:33. NICE. I was jacked up. If I held this pace, which I felt I totally could, I’d be at sub-3 hours. That’d be crazy! I was thinking 3 hours, or more realistically 3 and a half hours as a finish time. Nice… keep pushin’ Mike. I talked myself up and was feeling really good as I could now envision the finish line. I knew the whole course now, and it wasn’t so bad. There wasn’t really any concerning spots. A few tricky corners, a few little hills, but not too bad. Let’s go baby.
The second lap was immediately kind of different. I felt like I was in no man’s land. This happens to me at every race! There were plenty of skate skiers around, but it was just me and the tracks and all of the classic race seemed to be spread out. That was kind of nice. At least I didn’t have to navigate other skiers. I came across a few people here and there and seemed to be able to get around them with ease. One by one I tried to pick people off. I was super motivated by going under 3 hours and wanted to do so by leaving it all on the race course. Then, each classic skier that I saw ahead was a new goal, a new person to rein in. I ate an exercise waffle I brought, and planned to eat my last gel for a final boost with 10 or 15k to go. The waffle was frustrating to eat as well… dealing with the wrappers was impossible. I need to figure out something else with food. I drank another sip of gatorade at the next station and zoomed on. I fell a couple more times, the last of which being so frustrating as I was feeling in the zone! I felt a sense of urgency, like every second counted. And I couldn’t untangle myself from my self. My legs got all crossed, arms crossed, then I started swearing and getting frustrated. I popped back up and pushed hard to get back in the track. I was pretty much equally double poling, kick double pole and striding. Push and push and push. I skipped the last two aid stations, and kept picking classic skiers off. I felt like I was making really good time, and that jacked me up.
When I zipped through the last aid station, and knew I had about 8k to go. That would go by like nothing, and I knew now was my last chance to try and shave time. No way I would let things slip now! But there were a few moments when I felt completely drained. Like my arms and legs were giving out. It was mental stamina that allowed me to keep pushing. My friend Eric was racing the 50k skate, and before the race as I expressed my fears and concerns, he told me that I knew how to suffer, which was a big component of ski racing.
Striding was definitely the only way to go, and I felt it to be the fastest. Especially on the lake coming in to the finish, all I could do was stride out. I tried to pole a little bit just to see, but just felt so much slower, and it was much more strenuous. I just keep moving forward as well as I could. Kick kick kick. Go go go. I had pretty much been at a threshold effort for nearly three hours. I was ready to be done.
A few skaters came up beside me as I struggled to ascend the last hill. I chose to stride out on the finish stretch into town, way to the left in the tracks. I even told a skate skier next to me that I was done striding, for life. I got a laugh out of him. Oof, yes I was tired out. But I pushed hard after the last turn into the finish line, exactly where we’d started hours ago, hopping out of the tracks and resorting to double poling into the finish. It was brutal. I saw my mom right before the finish, and also saw coolers of drink beyond the finish line. My sights were set. I crossed the line and stopped moving. I was totally beat. Oof is right. I kind of slinked to the ground as my mom caught up me and started talking to me from the sidelines. I couldn’t really hear, I just had to unclip my skiw. My body was almost tremoring from the difficult and sustained effort. That was a shock to the system. I eventually stood up, took my ski poles off and tried to collect my skis and stuff. I felt like my biceps were about to cramp. But I was alive and well! The post-finish endorphins were for sure hitting hard.
My mom had retrieved my dog Diamond, who I’d left in the cold car. I was afraid she’d freeze solid despite my coat and her dog bed, so it was a relief to see her as well. I went straight to the drink coolers. Mmm. I was depleted of calories for sure, and drank some blueberry soup, hot gatorade, ate a bunch of oreo cookies, and had a couple cups of hot cocoa. Oh yeah, that hit the spot. I was dead. What fun. I will definitely be back ski racing. I have a lot to learn, and I can really recoup some free time lost just from bumbling around out there. But on that day, I gave it all I got. And that is what racing is all about!