Race Day: Saturday, January 17, 2015 — 9am

This weekend was shaping up to be a pretty good test of endurance. The lineup was Freeze Yer Gizzard 5k, then the 10k an hour later, a 10k snowshoe race the next day, and capping it off with a Beer Mile. Four races in two days, and this was coming off of a terrible night’s sleep in the woods on Thursday. The Freeze Yer Gizzard Run is in International Falls, MN, and is known for brutally cold racing conditions. The 5k and 10k are spaced about an hour apart and a lot of racers do the double.

I felt very frantic on Friday. When, Nick, Diamond and I got back into civilization after a quick overnight adventure in the woods, I hurriedly splayed my camping gear around the house to dry, threw some clothes and running gear into a backpack and set off to work. The plan was to leave for International Falls directly from the Running Co., and so I was anxious that in my rushed state I didn’t forget any crucial items.

Nick, Kyle and I set out directly from Duluth Running Co. just as planned, stopped at Jimmy Johns and picked Stacie up. Nick was clearly not excited about International Falls all day, mostly from the exhaustion of working all day after a crappy night of sleep on frozen ground. I was feeling very similarly, but I knew that if I backed out that I would regret it. On our way out of town, Nick realized that we were actually on our way out of town, and finally pulled the plug. Kyle dropped Nick off at a isolated gas station in Twig, MN, and Nick’s girlfriend Bridget picked him up. So we left Nick in the cold and continued on to the hotel.

As Kyle drove, we figured we would get to our hotel room at 9pm or so. It was pretty dark driving on Highway 53 straight north, and I was very, very thankful for Kyle volunteering to drive my tired ass.

Once we got to the hotel, we met up with a few other fellow Duluthians who were racing and sharing the same hotel with us. Tina, Nate, Joslynn, Allison and few other running buddies were drinking some beers in the room, and we joined in for a bit. Kyle and I practiced for the Beer Mile a bit, and all I can say is that he was looking like a VERY formidable opponent. His chugging skills were on point, very fast and he didn’t seem completely shaken afterwards like I was. When I finally got the last sip down, one dough boy finger-press to my stomach would have made me hurl. Meanwhile, Kyle is high stepping in the hallway. How is that for foreshadowing…

After a markedly better sleep, despite sharing a bed with lanky Kyle, we woke up around 7:30am and were ready to race. A quick stop at continental breakfast and we were on the way to the Rainy Lakes Community College, the site of the race.

All three of us registered for both races, even Stacie, who had raced a hard marathon in Orlando, FL not one week prior. I made a game-time decision to race in shorts. I think this was more for show anyways… the temperatures were a balmy 30 degrees or so. Perhaps a little less. After a few warm ups outside, I confirmed that my choice was comfortable, but I still didn’t want to just stand there.

Toeing the line to the 5k, I sized up the competition. I thought I had a good shot at winning, and my plan was to really race the 5k hard and just get a nice 10k effort in. I thought I was fit to run a sub-17 5k and wanted to really try to push it. However, I could tell that the conditions were not conducive for fast running.

I got a few weird looks as the race was about to begin. And BANG! The race started with a literal gunshot. I sprinted off the front to get a good line in front of the kids and others.

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The driveway out of the start and in to the finish was pretty bad condition, but when we got the main road, it was solid, albeit sloppy and wet. Upon the first turn, I had the lead by thirty seconds or so. I tried to really push it. When I felt I was in a comfortable pace, I surged ahead. I came through the first mile at 5:30, right on pace for my sub 16. The rest of the course was decent, and my mile two, I knew I had it in the bag unless there was a ringer back there just waiting to pull a 4:30 last mile. Unlikely…

My second mile split was 11:30. A little slower, but I just wanted to hold on at this point. I had a few thoughts of slowing down and saving my reserves for the 10k. NO! Keep pushing, I thought. My breathing was labored as I made the last turn and saw the police cars signaling the driveway to the finish. I looked around my shoulder, and with nobody in sight, I made the sprint finish. My watch time said 18:40. Very slow for a grippy course, but a win is a win! The second place competitor was quite a ways behind me, bolstering my confidence on a snowy and slick race course.

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I wanted to wait around a bit for my friends, and after a few came in, I rushed inside. I was scared to sit down too much, but it sure felt good. I raced hard and was a little leery of going back outside. I didn’t change at all, despite socks that may have been a little damp. I didn’t get sweaty at all, luckily, so kept all my gear on just how it was. A little re-hydration and I was back out on the start line.

I saw a guy I had timed a few times, Kyle Smith, who was warming up in shorts and a singlet, no gloves and no hat. His shorts were shorter than mine. I knew he was really fast AND his shorts were shorter than mine. Especially with a pretty hard 5k in my legs, I knew I wouldn’t win. Kyle also informed me of his very fast St. Scholastica XC teammate Chris who was in the race. Kyle said he had to take it easy, however, and was going out for a nice tempo pace.

The 10k started, and I was immediately behind a pack of guys, unlike the 5k start where I led out of the gate. Of course, Smith was going for the win and he surged ahead very quickly. I focused on quick leg turnover once we got out into the main road, and I was in fifth place. Smith was way out front, Chris was right on his tail, and another guy in white was between the fourth place guy and me. I made a quick move to overtake this guy and sat in fourth place. I kept the legs churning and dropped him. Now, I thought, if I can slowly chip away on this guy in white, I’d be real happy. He was still between Smith and Chris, who were way up front.

On the contrary, the guy in white kept getting farther and farther out of sight, until he took a turn way up ahead, never to be seen again. When I got to the turn, I looked around to corner to see the tiny fifth place dude way back. Just me all by my lonesome. I settled into a nice rhythm. Around two miles in, I thought about how the 5k in my legs is killing me. I tried to relax a bit and get into a half-marathon-esque pace–a pace where I can endure running a long time, yet on the fringe of being uncomfortable. That was the perfect mindset, and I the miles ticked by as I ran through scenic International Falls. The course went through the city, and the different shops and storefronts kept me mentally stimulated.

Next thing I know, I was on the familiar main road to the college with the blinking cop cars in the distance. I looked at my watch–35:00 or so. I thought I could go under 37. I tried to get a last little push on the sloppy but grippy road. When I turned onto the driveway to the finish, 100 yards to go, my watch was 36:45 or so. Close! Push it! I cringed a little bit when I saw the race clock tick to 37:00, then 37:01, then 37:02. My watch said 37:08. Still a PR! Although an hour would have been a PR because that was my first open 10k.

I changed into sweatpants and we all waited for awards. Our group took home some serious hardware. Another Duluthian, Molly, won the 5k and 10k, so the awards were a jolly occasion.

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We went back to the hotel for a little potluck, then drove home in some slick snow straight back on Highway 53 to Duluth. Kyle is the man for driving us. Stacie and I sleeping the way back probably made for a boring drive for him!

5k Results

10k Results

Race Stats:

Shoes: Brooks PureFlow3

5k time: 18:37
Pace: 6:00
Place: 1/172

10k time: 37:04
Pace: 5:58
Place: 4/94

Photo credits: International Falls Journal and Joslynn Lee.

Hike date: Thursday, January 15 – Friday, January 16, 2015
Location: Superior Hiking Trail (Lismore Road Parking lot to White Pine Campsite)
Distance: ~1 mile out and back

I am very happy and pleased to go out into the winter for another winter overnight camping trip. I wanted to venture out last year, but didn’t have the gear that I needed and found it hard to plan a night that would be favorable between the big snowfall and extreme cold temperatures of the 2013-14 winter. This year, however, has been pretty good for hiking and running on the trails. With little snow and mild temperatures, it makes planning for even a simple overnighter much easier.

The funny part about winter camping is the fine line between an enjoyable experience and being miserable. I want to go, but then I think of how cold and wet and difficult it can be. Cold hands, cold feet, frozen water, and hard ground. Then, the roaring fire and eating delicious food and drinking a cold beer is so fun! Yet the feeling of hiking back to my car, loading it up and getting back home into the warm shower is glorious.

Either way, Nick expressed his interest in joining Diamond and I for an overnighter. We spontaneously picked a night where the temperatures were nice and we had compatible schedules. Thursday night, we had a 14 hour window to do a quick night out, essentially to test gear and get a little taste of the winter camping lifestyle. We left at 7pm in the pitch dark. The White Pine campsite is about a 20-minute drive from home and the hike out is around one mile, making it a perfect site for the application.

The previous weekend, I scored a -30 sleeping bag from Goodwill for $8.99 and a kid’s sleeping bag that seemed to fit Diamond perfectly for $1.99. My bag is a huge synthetic cold-weather bag that probably weighs over six pounds. The tag claims five pounds, five ounces, but I attempted to weigh the bag packed into a compression stuff sack and the scale read over seven pounds. Either way, it is really, really huge and much warmer compared to anything else I have.

The puny one-mile hike in went by in a flash. It was easy walking despite the night and the stars were fantastic. The temperature was warm during the day and perhaps 25 degrees when we left the vehicle, and the overnight low predicted to get as low at 5 degrees. When we arrived to the site 20 minutes later, we set down our packs and let Diamond roam the campsite. We agreed to start a fire first thing, so after gathering some tinder, kindling and bigger logs for fuel, I started a fire. The birch bark started right up and my kindling took well. Meanwhile, I could hear Nick chopping on a fallen log nearby. After I got the fire going to where it would sustain, I continued to gather as much wood as I could. The light from the fire was very helpful in orienting, and I never really thought how exploring for dry wood could leave either of us lost in the dark not 100 feet from the campsite without the guiding light from a fire.

After building up a hearty light and heat source, Nick and I set up our tents. A quick glance over and the fire waned out. The next half hour was spent either stoking the fire or setting up for the night’s sleep. Finally, around 8:30pm, we felt set up enough to eat! I brought munchies and chili, Nick brought brats and buns, and we both brought a few beers. While Nick prepared the meat, I threw on a bunch of sticks and logs and got the fire nice and hot.

The beer was fantastic. The brats were better. What a great night! Clear skies, a roaring fire and some delicious food is what winter camping is all about. We were dry, warm, and content. Diamond’s blinking light would periodically appear out of nowhere, and suddenly beg at our heels for a small bite of brat.

The night was mediocre. The bag was really warm, and big enough to where I huddled underneath it to shelter my face from the cold. Diamond was zipped in to her new sleeping bag for a third of the night. Then, she was all the sudden restless and crawled out. For a few hours, she laid on top of the bag, nestled against me until I felt her shivering. After a slight struggle, I managed to zip her into my big bag. That was not the most comfortable of sleeping arrangements, but it is how we spent the rest of the night. When my alarm went off at 7am, I questioned whether I slept at all.

We hastily packed up camp and left. My water bladder, as well as my water bottle, was frozen solid, which meant that I wouldn’t get a morning drink and that I only drank beer during our trip. Talk about a waste of weight! The hike out took 15 minutes and we were back to civilization in no time.

I think that relying on melted snow is the key. I still haven’t found a good way to melt snow and I desire to get the proper equipment and technique. A lightweight pot would be nice, and I’ll keep searching for a cheap aluminum one. Diamond is still a hassle at night, but I’m sure she is like me–sleepless on one night out.

Nick and I are already planning another overnight trip, but hopefully bumping it up to around 20 miles. I’d really like to do a two-night adventure in below-freezing temperatures this winter, but we’ll see how things pan out.

Key Gear:

  • Gander Mountain -30 sleeping bag
  • Eureka! 2-person tent
  • Gander Mountain self-inflating sleeping pad
  • CCF sleeping pad
  • The North Face Banchee 65 pack
  • Bent Paddle Venture Pils

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