10 Jul 2022
Saturday, June 9, 2022 – 9am
I was discouraged at the start line to see so few stand up paddleboards, but excited to try to compete and do by best. I signed up for the Vatten Paddlar 5 Mile paddle race in hopes that it’d be a fun training for the Boundary Waters traverse – a project I had on the docket for later in the summer. Also, I had last year’s win to defend. The day started off very similar to last year except I was kind of late getting down to Barnes, which is about an hour’s drive from Duluth, but that hour does not include dropping my board off at the start line, driving to the finish and taking the shuttle back. But, it all worked out and I warmed up just like last year in a perfectly calm, nice and sunny bay where the race started on Middle Eau Claire Lake. Beautiful country.
I did see a kayak that I recognized, and the owner who I tried to draft off last year. The race organizers gave us 15-minute heads up, 5 minutes, and a one-minute notification, and then a GO out of the blue, which caught me off guard. I thought I started my watch and started paddling. I realized… what was I doing? PADDLE!! GO!! Then started thrashing at the water at a ferocious rate, lifting my head to see the green kayak pull out ahead. Two canoes made their way out front, then the green kayak, and I settled into the fourth position, 30 boats or so behind me. I kept my eye on the stand up paddleboard right behind me as well. The glassy water was fantastic. A gust of wind hit me… there it is! I knew the drill – it is so much more efficient to draft and I paddled hard to get to the kayaker in front of me clipping along at a nice consistent rate. I was on either side of him, and at some points really close. I hope that wasn’t a frustration, but I didn’t care enough. This is a race. I finally got right behind in the sweet spot of the wake and the effect was so tremendous. I could stop paddling! I wondered if he started sandbagging to stick it to me for riding his tail so close. When my watch beeped and I saw 11:30 or so, I knew that wasn’t the case. Now, if I could just stick here the whole race, that’d be great. But, a couple buoys and required turns and I lost him just like that
I tried to focus on what I could control, and one thing I learned looking at photos from the Big Ole 17 mile race last year was that I needed to keep my paddle in the water. I was wasting time and energy with my paddle in the air, and had been practicing keeping my stroke the same but getting the paddle in right away and minimizing the recovery time. I had no idea if that was more or less effective, because it was almost a spitting image from last year. One mile in, same exact position with two tandem canoes and a kayak in front, a beautiful northwoods Wisconsin day in July with the sun beating down on me and sweat beading up.
So from there I tried to hold steady, and accomplished that. I kept a 20 foot eye on my kayaker friend, and just made more ground on the rest of the field to the point where on curves and narrows in the middle part of the race were enough where I couldn’t see anyone behind me. I was looking to see, and checking on weeds on my fin. I saw one little stringer and it was enough to paddle backwards and shake it off. I confirmed the seaweed dropped off and furiously paddled forward to regain my momentum. I remembered the shallow areas and had a few close calls, seemingly, going over downed trees and sandy shallow areas. Under the first bridge, through the narrow canal with cheering cabin owners and I got to the dam. Just like last year, this is where I’ll clump up with the slower-to-portage kayak and its speedy owner. I saw him hit sand, and kind of just sit there as I approached rapidly. He got out, got the boy scouts situated to help him and was off on the portage as I landed. I yelled that I was coming through, grabbed my board and ran out of the water to land. I passed the kayaker in the woods right after they looked back like “what the heck is he doing”. I sprinted up the hill and over, down the grassy and steep other side and practically belly flopped into the creek in my haste. I jumped onto my board, crimped my toes to keep my left sandal on and jumped right up to start furiously paddling again. The kayak was just entering the other side of the portage as I got my rhythm and speed back. A few more curves, under the second bridge, and I remembered getting stuck in the sand before the last big lake, Lower Eau Claire Lake. Shallower… shallower… paddle hit sand, then my fin abruptly stopped me and I jumped off and awkwardly, slowly tried to shimmy my way through the sand bar. How frustrating. I wondered how the kayak would do through this. I got to the darker, deeper water, and could see chop coming around the bend already. It was slow going, I saw a spectator and yelled “here is the wind!” and took it head on. Rough. It looked calmer around the bend but I figured the last mile and a half here or so would be slower than the couple of miles I’d racked up already. But also, this is where you put your head down and crank. So that’s what I did.
The kayak was making up ground on me. I wanted to beat him. I wanted to be the fastest solo craft. How cool would that be? So that was my carrot – don’t give up your spot. I figured power, efficiency, and navigation would get me there, and to focus on cutting the corners the best I could helped me ignore the pain of nearly an hour of paddling as hard as I could muster. It worked, but I also knew I was going slower than ever. My focus fell back on a speedy stroke recovery. I had my mean face on, my ugly face, and pushed hard. My left shoulder was starting to get very sore, because I had to paddle in a counter-clockwise direction with the wind coming from my left and really didn’t get an opportunity for relief. The waves and wind subsided tremendously as the finish line came to view. I peered back momentarily and saw the kayak operator no closer than ever. I think I had it. Could I go under an hour? I didn’t think so but was unaware exactly where my time was at. So I focused on bringing it in. I was in pain but could manage for just a few more minutes. On the very home stretch I knew I beat the kayak and it was such a relief to stop paddling at the dock, very warm and happy to finish. The timer yelled out my time: 1:04 and some seconds. Huh. I knew my time from last year. 1:04. Same time? One better placement, though! The other finishers trickled in as I paddled to the bay and jumped in. That was the best feeling ever, and a nice follow up feeling was a cold beer in the sun watching other finishers. After an hour, I just couldn’t wait. I talked to the director Pamela, who like everyone at the race was extremely nice and hospitable. She gave me my sweet medal and $50 in gift cards. I mentioned my request for SUPs to be included in the 10-mile distance. It was funny to see every finisher miraculously have an open Busch Light beer can immediately upon finishing. Not only is it a beautiful area, and a fun and well-produced mom-and-pop race, but the bartender covered my brew since they don’t accept credit cards. Therefore, I’ll be back.
Stand Up Paddleboard: Surftech Bark Dominator 14′
10 Jul 2022
Race Day: Saturday, June 18, 2022 – 6am
Another one. This is such a fun race and it was highly anticipated for me. It is crazy to think that this was the first race I really signed up for way back in 2008 (for the 2009 version). I thought many times during my training cycle how I’ve now been running for 14 years, and I don’t think there is a race that I’ve had bigger goals, bigger expectations, and more anticipation for over the years. The Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon is just so epic! I don’t know why the half has been more, how do I say, anticipated, compared to even the full marathon.
This training cycle was interesting. After Wild Duluth last year, I knew I was able to still put together a good training program and race, but I was curious just how diligent I could be after practically two years of pandemic and issues with motivation and mileage. I tried a few times to get going with no real traction, but March came – crunch time – I put together a program of 12 weeks or so and started off. I started around 25 or 30 miles with the plan to increase mileage by a solid 10% percent per week and implement a long run and one or two speed work days per week. I’d be able to spice it up with NMTC Spring Trail Series starting at the end of April and ultimately peak two weeks before the race with a week over 70 miles. That would, to my determination, put me where I’d need to be to break my personal best set at the 2017 version of this race. That would be a stretch, but if I could execute my training plan and stay uninjured, it should work.
Training started off great. I was feeling good, it was feeling easy. By the time I got to NMTC, I found that even 40 to 50 miles per week was decently hard from a time perspective. With weekend stuff, work and other (some self-imposed) obligations, devoting 6 to 10 hours a week to strictly running felt hard. It was also hard, emotionally mainly, to run without the dogs. In their age, they just couldn’t go more than a few miles and degrade to 11:30 minute pace very quickly. Their sprints are a nice 7:15 pace… but being about 10 years old each was taking a toll on the speed and endurance for them. Despite that, I did lots of mileage with them, 3 miles at a time. Workouts were going unbelievably excellent, and long runs were fun. I’d kind of clump together my key workouts, like long run Friday night and Saturday morning speed work. I am not sure if that is optimal but it was almost a time implication more than anything else. NMTC was unfortunately spotty. I missed a few due to traveling, and the finale to plant my garden. Kind of a weak excuse but I felt very pressured to get plants and seeds in the ground!
As I zeroed in to race day, I became pretty skeptical that I’d be able to reach my goal of a PR. Mileage/volume was not a concern, but the sheer foot speed was. I was perhaps 5-10 pounds heavier than my historic race weight… probably that difference from 2017, not to mention 5 years older. But the tempo runs were not encouraging. I felt like 6 minutes was my half marathon effort. Running enough races, I can kind of gauge what the feel of different distances should be. For a half marathon, I want to feel like I’m sprinting BUT comfortable enough where I’m in control and can hold it with ease for one hour. Then, the last 15 minutes is all grit. Well, that feel or effort was not towards the 5:45 pace I was hoping for back in the spring. I dabbled between doing tempo runs and workouts at my half marathon effort or my goal 5:45 pace. Effort-based yielded slow running, and pace-based yielded one mile, then slower, slower, slower and I’d lock in at just under 6 minutes per mile. So, I wondered to myself on a weekly basis a month from race how I’d be able to run 13 of those in a row, when I couldn’t do two in a row during training. Either way, my body was holding up. I was doing tempo runs, speed work on the road and on the track, long runs with two 18 milers and one 20 miler on the road, and enough easy running to match my goal weekly mileage nearly 12 in a row except one down week where I was traveling. I had a really positive peak week, but nearly three weeks of taper. I just didn’t have the energy to get that last big week after a 68 mile week or so. So, I let it slide, neglected the long run and went for two last workouts. I crushed a track workout with 8-800 meter sprints at about 2:15 per interval 2 or 3 weeks out. Then, I remembered my ole pre-Garry Bjorklund workout about one week out on the course. I always said that if I could run 6 miles on course by myself and meet my goal pace and feel in control the whole time, with gas in the tank, then I’d make it on race day. I set out 8 days before the race, on a Friday after work, and once again had one good mile, a few slower ones, then locked in right around 6 minutes per mile. That won’t cut it. My expectations hit the floor. Oh well!
On race day, I was pretty mental. I kept going back and forth – I won’t hit my PR. Wait, I will be able to! My training was perfect! Nah, no way, how could I? Look at 2017! I was in absolutely prime fitness that is not matched. Tony and I did a podcast interview with Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon champion Kara Goucher, and that coupled with Tony’s pre-race shakedown talk really psyched me up. That was the day before the race, Friday, and I went to sleep that day with the confidence that I could in fact do it. I drew up a mile chart wristband, and got to bed a decent hour. I slept like crap that night and woke up extremely early.
Em dropped me off at UMD as dusk came. I got out and walked towards the bus line at Kirby Center, and had never seen a bus line so long. It was pretty extreme. And so I waited, and every 5 minutes the line would lurch forward. I noticed a storage locker looking thing with people putting their drop bags in there. Huh, that’s interesting. Then, when I got to the bins, there was a sign that read: “no bags allowed on the bus, drop off here”. WHAT?!? That is new! Should have read the race guide. I begrudgingly put my warm up shirt and phone in my bag and tied it up tight. I took with my a caffeinated fizzy water and caffeine energy gels and finally got onto the bus. I started getting nervous…. it was maybe 40 minutes from 6. How are we going to get all the way out to the start, evacuate the bus, walk to the start line, most importantly find a toilet, and get my starting spot all in 40 minutes? I was kind of nervous about that the whole bus ride, but told myself that everyone on this bus is in the same boat. Well, on the same bus. And they’re not going to drive any faster no matter how nervous I am or if I make a scene. So, I just need to be focused and diligent at the start line.
Once I got off the bus, I chugged my drink, tossed my one gel wrapper, and put my other gel in my pocket. I stopped in two different toilet lines, and bailed on both. I kept going towards the front, towards the front, and there was luckily a huge toilet bank very near the front, that seemed to be the shortest, actually. But, it was barely over 5 minutes to the race start at this point, and they were announcing the very last race details before the start. Yikes. The line moved right along, and I stayed true and got my spot. Wow, what a relief. I did my business, was pretty disappointed to have no hand sanitizer, but got to the start in perfect timing. Ready to roll. I saw spring NMTC competitor Andrew at the start line. He said he was looking for a 1:15 or lower. I’d probably see him during the race, I thought. Or he’d run away right away, never to be seen again. That’d be fun to run together, though. Although he had a stellar 10k time recently and was generally crushing me at the trail series races. Way faster than me. As fast as the pre-race went up to this point, the final minutes took forever. Finally, I could see the horn guy talking to the announcer, making their plans. Then, the countdown, blaring horns, and the 10 courses of people in front of me sprinted forward, sucking me along.
Ah… it is go time, baby!! I went with the flow of the crowd, and couldn’t help check my watch just to see. 5:30 or so, looks good. The first mile came by in a flash. 5:53. Good… The second mile took no time at all, either. 5:45. Better. I was in a big group of very fast women that seemed to be pacing really well. The matching race kits were encouraging, because I figured they all had a specific plan and would stick to it better as a group. So, if I could hang with this group, and we’re on pace through 5k, I’d be in good shape. I tried to focus on my efficiency and cadence, keeping that high turnover. I was feeling good, and essentially right on track to beat my record by one second a few miles in. I kept chugging.
I could sense the threshold pace and exactly when I was overstepping, and exactly when I was locked in. That was a testament to my consistent training. I made it through the north shore sections feeling pretty good about my body, my time, and the rest of the race. I find this race is easiest to break up in three or four sections: north shore, lakeside, and then the home stretch past Lemon Drop Hill, which is about a 4 mile run to the finish. Halfway, and my pace started slipping. It was very gradual. A few miles just bit off pace, a couple more miles, and handful more seconds off, and then halfway through lakeside, the pain started increasing and I realized it’d be a stretch to meet my goal. Just like that, I was a minute off pace with not a lot of real estate to make it up, and the pain setting in. The miles clicked off so fast that I barely realized how I was slipping. I was checking my watch every mile but a few seconds seems trivial until they add up. I saw Em’s mom Joan right where she said she’d be, at 60th Ave East, and friends Garrett, Rachel, Brent, Angela, Axel and Lily. I missed Axel’s high-five but got a nice sweaty one for Angela and Garrett, and had to chuckle a bit after that. I consciously knew that my friends gave me boosts, and tried to capitalize on that.
At the historically hardest part of the race for me, up to 40th Ave East to Lemon Drop Hill, I actually felt great. Mentally, I was a bit disappointed because I was really trying to hold on to my pace, the pain was getting harder to ignore, but I was more than a minute off pace heading up to Lemon Drop. Nothing to see here, there was plenty of race left. But running some quick math, I’d need four 5:30 miles to close it out compared to my average of 5:50+ on the first 9. That’s a tall order. But up and over Lemon Drop and I let it rip. I ran as hard as I could down London Road on the nice downhill. It was all downhill from here. I could crank. I wasn’t thinking about efficiency, just raw speed and grit. That was perhaps a bad strategy, because my next mile was over 6 minutes. It was terrible. I saw some cheering squads at Duluth Running Co. and straightened my back and picked up my pace. I saw my mom and Em and the dogs, which was a boost, but I couldn’t muster anything. Two strides past, my neighbors Pete, Susan, Clarence and Eleanor were cheering and I yelled “THIS IS WHAT WE WORK FOR!”. That had been my mantra all day, and despite being a little bummed, I kept reminding myself that I worked really hard to get here, and I should finish it off strong. My next mile was even slower, and people started passing me. But, I held on. I kept it going and tried to keep my grimace down through downtown Duluth. I knew it was just a few miles, and even thought the final miles through Duluth seemed so long, I tried to tell myself that it was a brief sprint on to the finish line. But despite feeling like I could have increased my pace in the early miles of the race, at this point I couldn’t accelerate. There was no way to increase my speed by 10 seconds per mile even for a quarter mile.
It had been just perfect, optimal weather all day. Cool, a nice low sun and tailwind. But, that meant turning at the DECC would give me a headwind. I attacked it, and led out a nice pack of people. I wanted to generate some late adrenaline by trying to beat these people. They had more than me, and I got passed. I peeked at my watch, and 1:16 came a went. I tried to bring it home as strong as I could, but just knew my form was crap and the low cadence, hard running style that I had adopted was not at all efficient or fast, really. At the turn under the Lake Ave bridge, I saw Em and my mom and the dogs again and again kind of ignored them. I didn’t know what to say. The final sprint in was a little disheartening. I put in all this time. I was really pretty close and let it slip. I saw 1:17 on the clock. What crap. I sprinted across the finish line and heard very loud yelling and my name. It was Emily, Michaela, Cheryl and Lacey from work. That was cool! I stopped running, stopped my watch and moseyed on over. I think I just muttered “FUUUCK”, and they didn’t say anything, just looked at me like I was a zoo animal from the other side of the barricades that I’d helped banner the day before. I said something broken like “I … can’t” and just walked away. It was a funny interaction in hindsight.
As I walked through the finish chute, I shook my head, hung it down, and was pretty angry. Then, very suddenly, my mood changed. What the hell, Mike?? I just put together a stellar race. I had been able to run just 4 or 6 miles in training at the pace I just ran 13 miles at. I had a super solid race, probably the best paced road race I’ve run. I had zero issues, and was extremely close to a personal best after a perfect training cycle and while 5 years older and a bit heavier. A big goofy smile adorned my face and I reflected on how much fun that race just was. Hell yeah. A person looking very familiar flagged me down and asked if I was Mike Ward. Yep, It was Alex Richardson, a speedy runner that I raced against at the NMTC series. I hadn’t talked to him at all, or seen him before this year. He said he’d lived in Duluth for a little while but just getting back into racing after a college career. He said The Duluth Rundown podcast motivated him to show up to the NMTC runs. Cool! I chatted with Eric Nordgren and it was fun to hear his story… although not an optimal lead-up with covid causing him to miss a big gravel bike race and some vital training time.
I met up with Em, mom and the dogs and continued to reflect on the race. I think they sensed my disappointment but I put it behind me. I felt proud, accomplished, but more motivated than anything. I was motivated to get back to Garry Bjorkland. I was motivated to tweak my training, put more time and effort into conditioning, and give my record a shot. I’m not done with this race.
Shoes: Mizuno Rebellion
Food: 1 Gu Roctane Vanilla Orange
15 Nov 2021
Race Date: Sunday, October 17, 2021 – 9:30am
At the starting line of the Terribly Tough 10k, the very next morning after a solid yet taxing win at Wild Duluth 100k, I was finally sure that I would be able to make the distance. I didn’t know for sure if I’d run the whole way, and I knew I wouldn’t win. The night before, before going to bed, I didn’t think I would even show up. I set my alarm just in case. When I woke up Sunday morning I felt so terrible, I could barely walk. I didn’t think I’d make it to the start line. But, I started rustling, just put on my clothes and Em drove me. After some coffee and just the walking around to get dressed and get to the car and I was feeling tremendously looser. But not running shape. Maybe walking shape. Not up Ely’s Peak though.
After a brief and painful warmup of light jogging, I was ready to go, hatchet in hand. I had asked the race director Andy the evening before if I had to bring the hatchet to the finish line the next day. He immediately responded with an emphatic “YEAH!” but then followed up that I didn’t really need to bring it. He’d have the arrowheads at the finish line for past Ultimate Wildman finishers. So of course I just had to run the 10k with the hatchet. That was probably no advisable. I got a few sideways looks by Andy and Kim, and Em was pretty strongly against me running with the sharp hatchet. I second guessed my decision many times, but clutched it at the start line until the pre-race brief wrapped up and a “3-2-1, GO!” blared over the megaphone.
I sprinted out ahead, but a couple others sped ahead. Yeah, I had absolutely zero response. Oh well, at least I wouldn’t have to suffer. Well, I was suffering. I could see the climb up Ely’s nearing from the sweet, flat, runnable pavement of the Munger Trail and dreaded it. I hopped right up the rocks, a little off balance. I had to use just my left hand for scrambling up the rocks since my right was in use, clenching my hatchet and trying to pay enough attention to not injure myself or others. My heart was pounding right away and I was breathing heavily. Nearly immediately, I tripped and fell, the hatchet somewhat bracing my fall. The incline was so steep, and I was moving forward so slowly, and hunched over so much that I barely fell at all. It was maybe a foot from where my hand naturally was, to the ledge rock that they landed on. Hatchet still intact, I got up and kept going. I had practically nothing to give but just tried to keep it at whatever threshold level I could muster. I tried to keep the legs churning up and up and up. It felt like I had a parachute backpack on. With rocks in it. I noticed people behind me. The two people up ahead, some young speedster guy and Wynn Davis, a regional trail runner with whom I’ve competed in a few races, were out of sight. Wynn is fast on shorter trail races and I pegged him to win. The race was on way up ahead.
At the top of Ely’s Peak I was passed by a tall gentleman who appeared to be wearing cut off jorts. I believe they were running shorts with a unique print, but either way he passed me and I was able to hang on. I asked his name. Kurt. I couldn’t pass him, and didn’t feel like I needed to, and yet hanging onto his tail was easy and I caught my breath up and over Ely’s Peak on the rocky outcroppings on top. There wasn’t anyone behind me. There were a few people out on the trail enjoying the perfect day, and it might have been a concerning scene with Kurt running hard, and me right behind him wielding a hatchet.
We ran together on the technical, rocky section up to Bardon’s Peak. I built up some strength once the running became a bit easier and was really tailing Kurt closely. With some easy running ahead and an opportunity to pass, I took it and surged a bit. It was enough to leave Kurt out of sight. But, it was probably not for long. I would have to keep it up or else Kurt would probably pass me back with no regard. Alone again, I just pushed and pushed. It was an absolutely beautiful morning, and with sweat dripping from my brow I tried to capitalize on any easy running, slightly downhill trail sections. Getting closer to Spirit, I knew it was less just a couple miles – less than two – to the finish from the aid station at Magney. When I got to a little creek crossing with steep embankments on both sides, I knew I was close. But it was the last big climb up from there to the Magney aid station. I saw Kurt behind me, which lit a fire under my butt. My right foot was starting to hurt in the same area as the day before. Right hand turns were becoming excruciating. But besides that I felt good. Pretty strong. No spring in my step, but I could crank pretty good actually. Just like two years before…
I really tried to hammer up the the hill to Magney, and sprinted through the small gathering at the aid station, trying to move my feet as quickly as possible in an attempt to emulate the speed of a fresh runner with the gait of an arthritic shuffler. The shuffle was working. I didn’t see Kurt or anyone else behind me as I passed the cool bridge over Stewart Creek. Nobody ahead, either. They were probably finished. I knew it was just a skip and a jump to the finish line, so I booked it down Skyline. If I just leaned forward, I thought to myself, I’d make third place. Not bad. I hopped back into the woods and leaped and jumped over each root onto the rocky soil leading into Spirit Mountain. I forgot about some of the steep and rocky sections that awaited me. Ugh, I just had nothing. But, I was also very scared and wanted to maintain my third place. With one last bit of energy I surged up a hill by the a very old concrete water diversion structure in the middle of the woods, then back down, up and down a whoop-de-whoop bridge with chicken wire over it, then up and up a slight incline that snaked around mountain bike trails. Nobody biking yet… I just knew Kurt was right there behind me. I could see him.
Sprinting as fast as I possible could over a few longer wooded bridges, I knew I was close. I was excited to get to the catwalk. I was all easy running downhill from here. No more trails. Just one last right hand turn for my foot to endure and then sweet relief. Kurt was behind me. I sprinted with everything I got. He wouldn’t be able to catch me. With the finish sealed, hatchet in hand, I sprinted in. Ahh. No sweet relief, though. My body was wrecked. I was pretty happy with the weekend. A finish was good enough for me. 55 minutes and third place was fine. The success of the weekend was the 100k. With a win at that, all else was fine in the world.
I received an honorary knighting along with the handful of other Ultimate Wildman and Wildwoman finishers, and tied my arrowhead to my hatchet. I don’t know if I’d do the Ultimate Wildman again. It is so grueling! Yet, I’m two for two. It is humanly possible.
Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 13 size 12.5
28 Oct 2021
Race Date: Saturday, October 16, 2021 – 6am
The start line was pretty emotional. I stood there in the dark, probably the only one without sleeves. Kris gave me her jacket and I wore it for a bit, but I really wasn’t any less cold. And she was for sure more cold! As the race director Andy gave pre race announcements, Kris told me to make sure to have fun out there. I was excited. I love nothing more than a long day in the woods. I was nervous. My running mileage on the year, and the past three months, was pretty low comparative to past years of running and racing. I was determined. I really wanted to win this race. There were going to be challengers. I was freezing, and thought I kind of had to poop.
After The Day Across Minnesota bike race, I knew I had a short turnaround. I had signed up for Wild Duluth Ultimate Wildman Challenge before the bike race, and essentially planned it all out with the thoughts that I could slog through Wild Duluth and still have fun. I gave myself a week, then started training right from there. I had a 33 mile week or so, with a long run at 100k goal pace. It was great. Then I built up two more weeks nice and steady to 40. Then I got a cold and a had a down week. I still got in a good effort on the SHT on the weekend. That down week was a little nerve-wracking, because I went right back to a 60 mile week the next, then up to 80+. The whole cycle was full of NMTC Fall Trail Series races, which are probably the best thing for fitness ever, except maybe the long run, especially when one is training for a particularly long race. The training went surprisingly perfect, the climax being back-to-back 20 and 30 miles runs at 4 and 6 hours a piece, respectively. There was a lot of time on technical trail at my 100k goal pace of 12 minutes per mile, which would put me about at 12 hours. The 30 miler in Silver Bay was about the best confidence builder I could ask for, nailing it and feeling good the whole time.
Back to the start line of Wild Duluth, just before 6am in 41 degrees, I remembered that training. I talked to Joe Calaguire a bit about his goals and mine. I asked if Gretchen would go under 12 hours. That was my goal, and she had the pedigree and the season to back up a crazy-fast time like that. He said she was going for the record. I didn’t know what that was. He wanted between 12 and 13. I has hoping for 11:59, and thought that it would be a stretch to get it. I kind of had a race plan in mind. But not a moment too soon, Andy announced he would do a three-second countdown, and proceeded to start the countdown immediately thereafter. With increasing intensity: “three, two, one, GO!”. I took off so fast… I don’t know why. It was fun. It is fun. Someone on the sidelines commented and I heard it all: “you start like I start!”. I knew the somewhat confusing start very well and took off way up front, just like 2019. I felt good. I felt like I was floating. Soak it up, I thought, because it will not feel like this one the way back. Well, maybe when I get back here, but only when I can literally see the finish line. So, up I went into the night towards Enger Tower.
I entered the woods across Superior Street alone. There was lots of dew reflecting off my headlamp’s light. It seemed humid, yet still cold. The air on my arms was definitely chilling me, but it also felt good. The homeless encampment right into the woods was as messy as I’ve seen it, with sleeping bags, clothes, and an industrial dumpster’s worth of trash, spread out all over the woods and literally the trail. You had to dodge the junk just like hopping over rocks and roots. Sheesh. I ran the hills up, feeling like I was keeping a pretty conservative pace. No need to bank time, but I felt so good and was so excited and it was so cold I couldn’t really slow down. I kind of shuffled up a few of the bigger hills. On one of the turns, I looked up to lock eyes with two glowing orbs, then saw the big antlers and couldn’t help yelling “WHOA!”. Then the big buck scurried off and I laughed. A voice behind me asked if I was OK. “Yeah!”.
Up and over Enger Tower and I rang the peace bell for good luck. Zipping around Enger, across Skyline, and down towards the 24th Ave aid station, I was having a lot of fun. I could feel that I’d have to pee soon. There was nobody around me. Nobody right behind me. Everyone behind me… but I had no headlamps or pressure from anyone. As I ran onto the bridge down to 24th Ave West in first place, three miles in and many to go, I thought about how this was panning out to be just like 2019 so far. Hey, not too bad because I won in 2019 and was the defending champion. So, if this is what it takes, I’ll do the race over exactly. And that was true, my training was indicating I was about in the same shape (based on NMTC times and long run performances), and really I figured that if I could roll another 12 hour finish, I would definitely have a shot at winning. But, I was going to race today for the win. Secondarily, I would race for a 12 hour finish. Thirdly, I would race to beat my time from 2019, which was a 11:57 or so. I would do it exactly the same as 2019 by stopping to pee right at Miller Creek. I mean, it’s a nice spot to stop. Surprisingly, there was someone right behind me when I crossed 24th Avenue West, and popped into the woods. I told them I had to pee. “Uh oh”. Then I peeled off to the left, and they told me the trail goes to the right. Then, “oh, nevermind”. They realized why I divulged my personal needs to them. I looked up into the dark night’s sky as I whizzed and wondered how many others would pass me. Hmm. Nobody. Just one this time. The start was uncannily similar. Hopefully not too similar. I remembered what happened on the Brewer Loop, as my stomach rumbled a little bit.
I knew it was 9 miles in to the Highland Getchell aid station, and I was cruising along nicely all on my own. The trail seemed so easy – wide and buffed out. No hills. All runnable. It was giving me everything I needed. Eventually I heard voices behind me, a woman’s timbre. That’s gotta be Gretchen. She is scary. I had done a bit of creeping online, and knew she was having an unbelievable year – two second-place finishes and two highly competitive trail 50-milers, plus some other goodies like FKTs. She was running really well. But maybe, she’s tired from the intense efforts of the year. Either way, she was chatting with someone close behind me. On a couple bends in the trail, I could see them gaining on me. That was probably Joe. I knew they were friends. We all shared a fun run in 2018 as Joe and Gretchen were prepping for Superior 100 Miler, and I was prepping to pace him. My stomach churned a few times and I wondered if I’d have to stop, or if I should, for a quick e-dump in the woods. I really didn’t want to. The sun was coming up, it was getting warmer and felt good, and the dew was burning off from the wooden boardwalks a bit. It was turning out to be a perfect day so far, and I was expecting great conditions for the whole race. I had just a couple more miles to Getchell and kept just chipping away, really eager to get there.
9 miles in and I was feeling really good. I saw Em at the aid station. She asked where I ditched my shirt. I said I didn’t start with hit, essentially threw my headlamp at her and just ran off. I picked a few small items from the aid station – pretzels and coke mainly, then ran right off the portable toilet. I didn’t think there was anyone in there, and knew that Gretchen and at least one other person would pass me up. Oh well. I did what I had to do, and in leaving the toilet I knew it was the right choice. I felt a hundred times better. When I got back onto the trail, I noticed a lot more action at the aid station with people running all over. I saw my new friend Ben Andres running the opposite way. Same deal, probably – pre race jitters and coffee and some early morning jostling of the stomach make for a predictable recipe. I yelled at Em on the way back down to the main trail. “BYE EM!”. She didn’t hear me. Louder: “BYYEE EMM!!!” A few people looked. Not Em. What the heck. Oh well. I wonder where the field was at now. For sure there was one mystery person who passed me over Miller Creek and I haven’t even seen a flash. That was surprising. I’m sure Gretchen and Joe were up ahead. Maybe another person or two, depending on how the pack was shaping up behind me. But, the race was very young, and even though I wanted to race to win, it wouldn’t matter where anyone was until Ely’s Peak on the way back. If someone was out of reach at that point, and I stuck to my 12 hour plan, well, then they are the real deal and I couldn’t beat them no matter what the racing strategy. I wonder if that’d be Gretchen in 30 more miles. Just stick to the plan, roll a bunch of 12 minute miles, I told myself. And that’s what I did.
The miles just clicked off down to the Munger Trail, then back up towards the freeway and Spirit Mountain. I had a bit of buffer and felt comfortable walking up some of the hills around Spirit. I ate a caffeinated gel and was eating really well. I felt way out alone by myself. I didn’t sense anyone behind me, and not really anyone up ahead either. That was fairly normal for a trail race… all the sudden BOOM there is someone 20 feet away. I was making really good time and feeling really good through the east side of Spirit Mountain. I ran on the gravel ski hill access road and knew I had a bit of a buffer on my 5 miles per hour game plan. That’s always nice. I saw Em and the dogs from afar. That made me initially nervous, because I’d be running downhill and she has two maniac dogs. How would she be able to tend to me?? I felt so good, and had a lot of fun bombing down towards the aid station. There were lots of people there, and I was asking questions about who’s who before my arrival. Em said that Gretchen was about 5 minutes up or so, and the guy way up from was looking good. Really good, she said. Hmm, well I told her there is lots of race left. She said he just cruised right up the hill. That was almost motivating to me. Unless this person was really the real deal… I mean we all feel good 15 miles into the race, and sprinting up Spirit Mountain is not always the best play, in my personal opinion. I heard everything I needed to hear, and got my water bottle refilled, drank a bit and ate a bit from the lovely array that Em had schlepped up for me, and took back off.
The miles continued to click off and feel easy up Spirit. I caught and passed a guy, presumably the person running with Gretchen back by Highland Getchell because he mentioned something about her by name. His name was Tony, and I passed him rather quickly near a strange rock and tree formation just up from Skyline Parkway outside of Spirit Mountain. The trail was giving me some easy hills, and good running. I knew the elevation was severe through here, but I continued to bank up lots of time. I zipped into the Magney aid station and saw Adam Schwartz-Lowe and Lisa Byrne. Adam said he heard I started the race fast. Huh, word travels quick I guess. I didn’t think that was that noteworthy… I tried to take some licorice but it was all clumped. The aid station helper helped me, but gave me like 5 pieces. I was hoping for one, but took them all anyways. Plus some coke and pretzels – the magic mixture – and set back off. I was excited to start seeing some 50k runners, and tried to just run conservative. I was feeling good – better than 15 miles in during any of my training long runs. Most of those were around 20 miles. I would have been almost done by now! I didn’t even feel sore or tired. Legs good, everything good. I told myself that it was OK to walk up hills and get closer to 12 minute miles. I was doing mid- and high-11 minute miles, so felt pretty content with that. But, those extra seconds were adding up, and by the time I started seeing 50k runners I was 20 minutes up on my time goal. Sweet!
I saw a fast-looking dude with arm warmers way up, then a couple more sprinkled in while coming down Ely’s Peak. I saw Ryan Soule. I jogged along the Munger Trail feeling a little beat up for the first time of the day really, but generally great. I was looking forward to seeing Em again, and setting off on the crux of the course, the 20 mile middle section. When I got to the station it was kind of buzzing. There were lots of people. Some people came sprinting in like mad, and I recognized all three of them: Chase, Ethan and Bryan. They looked like they were having fun. The intensity on their faces was fun to see. Em told me she was getting VIP Pizza for the next time I was here. Sweet! I ran off after eating a bit, refilling my bottles, and grabbing some extra food for the trip to the turnaround. She asked me what type, and I yelled “Chicken Rueben!!” while running off into the woods.
I was excited for the next stretches because I’d get to see so many people. That’s always fun. But, it’s arguably the hardest section of the race. I really struggled on a 25 mile training run through this exact section just weeks prior. I was dreading the big hills. I knew I had to take it slow and easy and not worry about whomever was ahead of me or behind me. This is where either I make good decisions and set myself up well, or bad decisions and suffer greatly for many hours, or worse. The worst case scenario would be that I couldn’t respond to opportunities or threats later on in the race.
It was a steady stream of people from Ely’s Peak to Grand Portage, practically. It was fun and the time flew by. I still felt very in-control and was running some pretty dang good splits. Maybe too good. I knew, however, no matter how hard I was running, if I could get back to Ely’s feeling halfway decent, I would be in really good shape for the rest of the race. I’ve raced enough to know that I don’t typically blow up spectacularly, and can generally hang on to a decent pace unless I’ve made some really dumb decisions. Then again, going just a minute too fast per mile for 25 miles really adds up! I felt content with that I seemed to be stuck at 20 minutes above my goal pace of 5 miles per hour. I saw my mom, kept plugging along, and then the field started thinning out a bit. I fell down a couple times trying to run around people, but nothing too serious. One was a little dramatic as I stepped off the trail, ran a few strides in the brush and tripped on a branch right onto my hands and knees as a conga line of people passed me. Then, you see the people in high top hiking boots, big backpacks, people literally on their cell phones, people in heavy jackets or jeans. Nobody running anymore. Then, back to being alone. I wondered where Gretchen and this other person was. At Ely’s it sounded like they were both about 10 minutes up and both running strong. Gretchen must have made ground. She was scary. I figured that if she wins overall, and I can re-pass whoever is up front, I’d still get first place in the Men’s division. This is what I thought about as I bombed down the huge hill, on a historic voyageur’s portage route, to the Grand Portage aid station. I got a sip of coke, an orange and some pretzels, and kept on. My feet felt swift on the flat section along the might St. Louis River. They never have felt good running this stretch, despite being pretty flat. So, I kept them moving. Then, I knew it was a massive hill, then some flat running to the aid station. That would be great, to have enough energy to make some time up before the turnaround, and then I could stop there for a more extended time period and feel good about, and maybe have some juice for the flats on the way back, too. So, I justified a nice calm pace up from Grand Portage.
Up the hill… you know you’re at the top of a hill when you see a bench. I was happy to crank away at a few miles on the wide open horse trails in Jay Cooke State Park. I kind of forgot the undulations within the State Park as the race course went down Gill Creek Trail, way down to the bottom, then all the way back up on switchbacks. Oof. It was starting to get a bit warmer out, but still just a perfect day. I tried to remember to keep eating my exercise food and was feeling pretty good stomach-wise. I knew I was at the top again when we got back to the wide open horse trails. Weaving in and out of the Munger Trail, I was excited to see someone. I knew there were two ahead, when would I see them? I ran faster in anticipation. Too fast… but I was excited. I wanted to close the gap up, and put the hurt on my competitors. I ran some really fast miles, but it was doable. Flat, wide open and straight. I crossed over the dam at Forbay Lake, down a little hill, and ran fast towards Olderberg Point. I knew it was close. I saw Gretchen and tried to keep in mind the time. In a split second, I was at the aid station. Em’s nephew Aiden was in a chair next to an open one, presumably for me. I didn’t care who it was for, I plopped into it and immediately started shoving food in my face. Potato chips, Mountain Dew mystery flavor, and emptied my trash and replenished my stocks. I wanted to sit for a while, but they told me that the guy Even was still at the aid station. Oh great! I didn’t want Gretchen to get too far, so cut it pretty short despite telling myself I could take more time there. Em said she got Sammy’s Pizza after all. I told hear that was great, and that I looked forward to seeing her at Ely’s, and took off. I didn’t see Even and so figured I passed him while he was sitting at the aid station. I did some math and figured I was 8 minutes down from Gretchen. Smooth, even, calm. I just needed to chip away at Gretchen bit by bit until Spirit Mountain. Then, the race really begins.
I was pretty excited, and really put down some fast miles right off from the aid station. Yes, it’s the most runnable parts of the course, but they were maybe a bit too fast. I’d have to take it easy on the large hills from here to Ely’s. I remembered at least three big climbs. The biggest of which just past the Grand Portage aid station, right over the road crossing at 210. I saw Joe next, in third place, but many minutes behind. He was probably not a big threat, but ya never know. Plenty of race left. Then, the 100k’ers trickled in from there, steadily all the way to the climb back up to Beck’s Road. I asked Joe if it was just Gretchen in front of me. He stumbled his words a bit as we passed each other: “oh, erm, ah yeah”. Hmm, I must have passed Even at the aid station then! How far back is he??
I continued to feel really good down Gill’s Creek Trail, and down to the river. I saw someone running up ahead. Is that a guy in the 50k who started really really late? I got closer, and made the pass. They said they wondered when they’d see me. I realized it was Even. I was pretty frustrated, actually, and pushed hard to make a decisive pass. This dude cheating?? Joe said he only saw Gretchen. It would be pretty simple to just take 210 all the way back down from Oldenburg to Grand Portage. What the heck? Well, at least ya know, I told myself. He’s right there. Also right there was the Grand Portage aid station. I was really brief there. I did ask how far up Gretchen was. The gal pouring water said she’s right there. I snapped my neck to the left and focused my gaze down the trail. I didn’t see her, but took off in that direction, excited. I ran down the culvert quickly, hopped up onto Highway 210, and across to the big climb up away from the river. I saw Gretchen walking, hands on knees. I quickly caught up, shuffling up the hill. I relegated to walking as well. I told her she was having a great season. She didn’t really say much on that. I passed her and we wished each other well. I wanted to beat her. I wanted to get first place. I ran ahead at the very top of the hill, hard. Now, just like that I was back in the position of 1. Plus, due to several sub-10 minute miles in the miles near the turnaround, I had added to the buffer on my goal time, and was over 40 minutes up. I had made up some really good ground. Was it a poor move? Up and over the historic voyageur’s route then some easy running and I was starting to feel a little tired. I noticed the desire to walk up hills stronger than ever, and my pace when trudging up was slower than ever. I didn’t have the little spark or jump to make it up hills quickly. I had a rash of slow miles, my slowest of the day, and several more over 12 minutes. Oof. Cmon Mike, keep it up, let’s go. I tried to rally myself a bit. I knew this section was hard, though, and would just have to wait it out for some good running.
I knew I was getting close to the hill up across Beck’s Road to the base of Ely’s, where my faithful crew would be waiting with pizza and other goodies. I had mainly passed everyone else from the race. Literally, everyone else from both the 50k and 100k race had passed me. From the lead 50kers through the very back of the pack, from the leaders of the 100k at the time, and the entire 100k pack at the turnaround, to the leaders again, and the very last walkers of the 100k hours and hours from the turnaround. I figured that I put time on the field after moving into 1st place. But I was also struggling. That section – the middle 20 miles – is very difficult. I went pretty hard in excitement to pass Even and Gretchen. I was ready to sit down for a second.
I ran into the Ely’s aid station, into the sun, with perfect posture and strong, springy legs to look comfortable and in control. I immediately spotted the chair and ran straight to it, while yelling “200!”, my race number, to the HAM radio volunteers. I slumped in the chair, looked at the pizza and didn’t want anything to do with it, and immediately barked to Em to get my waterbottle filled. My right foot was starting to develop a slight twinge on some of the turns. I didn’t think much of it, but requested she bring the hiking poles, pack and backup shoes to the Spirit aid station. One slice of delicious hawaiian pizza from Sammy’s (not so delicious at the time), a refill of random gels and gummis and junk food and I was conceivably ready to split. A chug of a caffienated fizzy beverage, and Even ran right out of the woods, looking springy and fresh and strong and immediately over to his crew over yonder. Yep, time to go, I thought. I sprang out of the chair and tried to go hard onto the Munger Trail.
Every step was a heavy, dull thud across the blacktop and railroad bridge to the base of Ely’s. It would be more painful up the scramble coming soon, I knew. The few hops onto tall rock outcropings right off the paved trail stopped my momentum like a wall. Ugh, it was a continuous mental battle to lift my legs and heaving carcass up the climb. I figured Even was right behind me, but he’ll struggle too, and Gretchen, and if I just make it up Ely’s a little bit faster and with a little more juice at the top, I would have an even bigger advantage. It was slow, but I made it to the top and kept running, able to catch my breath in between hopping over rocks on the way to Bardon’s Peak.
It was definitely race mode, laser focused on getting to Spirit Mountain in first place still. I was telling myself the whole day that if I got to Spirit in first, I’d be able to power hike up the side, run down to Mile 50 and be able to hold on for the last sixth of the race. Now was my chance to prove it. The miles clicked off right where they needed to be. I’d lost a bit of time but was still 30 minutes up from my goal pace for a 12 hour finish. I didn’t delay at the Magney aid station, take a small cup of coke as fast as possible, and a 5-second decision on food from the station table, shoved into my mouth as I shuffled along trying not to spill the sugary drink everywhere. Right down the hatch as fast as possible and the relentless forward motion continued. I knew it was a nice downhill to Spirit and it would be wise to capitalize and get there as soon as possible. But running was hard. My gait was tight and choppy and the pace suffered, but I was able to endlessly remind myself to push a little extra. Go, let’s go, let’s go let’s go Mike.
I did make good time into Spirit and was joined by Em in a much less popular aid station environment from the first time many hours prior. I was happy to see new shoes. The Altras had done me good, but they were for sure hurting my feet. I was excited for my old standby, the Brooks Cascadia, to envelop my feet. They might aggravate my sore big toe, but it will be worth it for a little more rigidity on the sides. My tendons were shot. The hiking poles will help, too, I thought out loud. I shoved a few cake flavored oreos in my vest and took potato chips. I asked Em if she’d wait for the next runner to come in and time it to tell me at Highland Getchell. At that point, I’ll be over 50 miles in, with some pretty easy running to bring it home. I just had to get there. I knew the climb out of Spirit would be a slog, but a slog for everyone. I knew what to expect, I knew how to attack it to bring it in strong. I thought.
Off into the trees again and I was actually excited to power hike for a while. Up and up, along the lovely Knowlton Creek, I didn’t get much walking relief as the gravel road presented itself a must-run opportunity. I used my new hiking poles to launch into a run and shuffled along. Up and up, I had a couple slow miles. 16’s. Slowest of the day, really. With the aid station stop, I had now dented my nice buffer. I just put my head down to the bridge over Knowlton and ran. I ran down the access road to the new switchback re-route of the infamous 168 Steps section of the SHT. I don’t know how many steps it was, but I ran up the switchbacks, poling in stride. I ran at the top, through the beautiful open maple forest in the appealing light of mid- to late-afternoon. I used up my slow miles and had to make it up now. I struggled to get barely below 12 minutes on my next split. I hit mile 50 across Cody Street, on a sad shuffle up some very firm pavement I told myself that I could make way towards a fast mile across the ATV trail by the big power line, before arguably the last real rigorous climb up to the second-to-last aid station at Highland Getchell. I was so curious the time that Emily clocked if she did happen to wait for my chasers at Spirit. I was not making up any ground, but I figured I was at least 20 minutes up on my 12 hour time goal by the time I climbed my way to the energetic Highland aid station, where beautiful Em and the beautiful chair were waiting for me. Em said Even was 4 or 5 minutes down from me. My aunt and uncle Maureen and Tom were there, and they immediately started talking about how they were hiking the same section the day before and they didn’t see my mom. I essentially ignored them, probably looking like a deranged person as I shoveled potato chips in my mouth and messily guzzled various pops from the cooler. I kept my backpack on, probably squishing its contents against the chair, and hurried up, continuing on with my poles. 4 or 5 minutes. That wasn’t enough time. I couldn’t have one slow mile. That would be it! It was to be all 12 or less from here on. Even this mile… it was a short stop and I was off.
I had to hike up out away from Keene Creek right after the aid station, over Skyline Parkway, and into the woods. I used the poles to run. The boardwalks were hazards, but I was able to get into a rhythm and crank. I wasn’t hungry at all. My energy stores seemed good enough. I was mainly running off adrenaline. It felt like extra food could mess the whole thing up, and I could be violently ill. I felt ill in general. Just generally fucked up. But I was able to run. My creaky joints lurched forward every stride, and it was a cohesive unit of churning legs and rotating arms driving the trekking poles in each cycle. I day dreamed about the finish line. If I won, I thought, I’m gonna yell. For sure yell, then run right into Em’s arms and give her a big smooch. She helped me here, she made this possible. She supported me through the training and followed me with everything I need and more at every station. WITH the dogs. She had told me the sad story of Chally having eaten nearly the whole Sammy’s pizza from the back when she arrived back from the Spirit aid station stop. I could only imagine the long and arduous day of crewing while I’m out playing in the woods. I thought of how powerful it is, when the struggle is on, to use gratitude as a strategy to find extra stores of energy. I thought about how grateful I was, and how lucky I could possibly be, to be able to do this. To run all day in the woods, to complete and compete in a 100k trail run. To win Wild Duluth again, and finish the Ultimate Wildman Challenge with two wins, two days in a row. Ooof, how would I run tomorrow? I was absolutely trashing my body. I pushed a little harder, though, because I knew Even was behind me and coming hard for me. He wanted to win. He thought he could win. Gretchen? Who knows. I was less scared of her simply because even if she charged past me, which was not farfetched in my mind, I would still beat Even out for first man. I wanted a new water bottle. The thought of both of them charging me made me run just a little harder over the rock outcropping and past some lingering 50k finishers in the back of the pack, and onto the flat clearing across 27th Avenue West. I was making good time. One last climb to 24th and I could drop the pack, then a climb to Enger, then all downhill. Let’s GO!!
I got the jitters coming into 24th. There were volunteers at the roadway, and I prepared my backpack for a fast unloading. I didn’t even want a waterbottle. I’d be able to shred back home on fumes. I ran across 24th Avenue West and saw my neighbor Clarence holding chips and a gatorade as high as he could over his head, about 3 feet up. I ran towards him, grabbed a face full of chips, took a huge swig, and essentially threw my backpack and trekking poles at Em and ran off, so excited to get back. She had said he was 4 minutes back still. She yelled to get me to take the water but I was already off. I had a smile on my face. But, 4 minutes? I’d have to move.
I shuffled up Skyline over Piedmont, and continued to shuffle up and up towards Enger Tower. I didn’t stop the legs churning, which was kind of the theme of the day, and just was able to get more momentum downhill than up, and the uphills were pretty demanding, and slow. I tried to judge if I was indeed going faster trotting than power hiking, even with poles. Hmm? I figured yes, I was going faster. 4 minutes back only, I thought to myself. I passed some more 50k runners, my second time seeing them all. After crossing over Skyline once again, and entering Enger Park, I heard the Japanese peace bell get run, likely due to much more people in the park compared to when I was last there at 6:10 am. I was so excited to ring it myself. When I got there, I was happy that nobody’s hand was on the peace bell and I was able to weirdly run right up to it and ring it quick, goofy smile on my face, and run off into the horizon.
I sprinted across the edge of the park area to the steep downhill bomb, practically down a couple miles right to the finish. I was so excited that the extreme pounding didn’t phase me. I leaned further forward. With finally nothing in my hands, nothing on my back, nothing left but to lean in and fall into the finish line, I cranked ass. The footwork was immaculate, not a second was wasted and I became increasingly excited with each vertical foot that the elevation I was at decreased. Down, down across 3rd Street, onto an avenue across 1st Street and onto the really messy homeless encampment area, which 50k runners slowly trotting in and residents milling about, probably wondering why there was so much traffic through there this day. Or maybe not. It was a big mess down there. I ran through faster. I sprinted across Superior Street, a very fast mile split flashing across my watch. Second fastest of the day, besides the first mile. A vision flashed across my mind’s eye of me finishing and running straight into Em’s arms and giving her a huge hug. I wanted it now. I looked behind me. Nobody. I ran faster. I couldn’t run any faster. I just relaxed and held my posture high upright and ran it in. I smiled. Into Bayfront, onto the sidewalk and onto the path to the finishing stretch, and it was so fun to see my neighbors and my mom and Em and the dogs along the side of the finish. I crossed, stopped my watch and yelled, just like I had planned out for hours. I ran under some tiedowns under the arch right to Em’s arms like I planned. It was awkward because everyone was looking at me, I felt, and I nearly tripped and took down the blow-up arch. I was so happy. I sat in the chair and told myself that I was NOT going to be able to run the race tomorrow. I wouldn’t be able to make the distance!
Shoes: Altra Lone Peak size 12.5, Brooks Cascadia 13 size 12.5
14 Sep 2021
Race Date: Saturday, August 14, 2021 – 12 midnight
The title of this race tells you everything you need to know. A day. Across Minnesota. The subtitle includes: for 240 miles of gravel road racing. I had known about this race from Nick Nygaard, who finished the race at least a couple times with his dad and pal from college Ray Rolling, and Ray’s twin brother Race. Nick told Ryan Saline and I that this year was the last year they’re doing it and we might as well sign up with them, and that the race would fill up really fast. So, without too much deliberation, we did. Ryan and Nick and I had traveled together for Ironman Wisconsin in 2015 so I think Nick was reminiscing of that big trip and big race and it was great to be included in a new big one. After signing up, I immediately thought of how training would pan out. I had over 8 months to figure out and do the training.
Training was all over the board. I started trying to bike a hundred miler each month in May, June, July and maybe August. I pondered investing in a new bike, and found a frameset on the internet via Nick. Building that up took a lot of money and a handful of weeks to just collect each component. Then a week to build. Once I had built up the mostly-carbon Salsa Warbird by the end of June, I was almost scared to ride it! Or at least, ride it hard, like my old bike. I felt kind of scared because I built it myself, and also because it was so expensive and nice and fancy. But, I put miles on it. I had no choice, because of a hot training ride while solo in the Superior National Forest in early June, I crashed by old bike and had to finish my new one up and get right on it.
I got a 92 mile ride in in April with Ryan. It was a great ride – real cold at the beginning but we had a really fun time, I think. Over a month later, behind schedule, I planned another trip by myself in the Superior National Forest. I camped at McDougal Lake Campground and was planning two nights out there in the heart of some lovely gravel roads sprawling in all directions. The forecast was for record high temperatures for early June – in the 100s. With that in mind, I planned out a 60-miler in the morning and then a 40 in the evening. I didn’t think I could, or would want to bike 100 straight through the heat of the day. The first 60 was rough. It felt like a hundred miles, and the last miles were arduous. This was not a great confidence booster, that is 25% of the DAMn ride!! I hung out on the paddleboard for the middle of the day, which was really nice. Then I set out around 4pm with the goal to bike 38 miles to Norway Lake on the edge of the BWCA, and back. I picked some really rough roads and was tired. Luckily it was a little cooler with the sun lower, but still hot, sweaty, dirty. I made it out to a narrow road leading to Norway Lake, and the road got more and more narrow. There were lots of rollers. On one, I couldn’t get up the hill on the singlespeed, or unclip in time, so fell over. That was frustrating but I hopped back on. I was probably 18 miles out at this point. Down another little hill, up another one. The boulders in the road were huge – this would be a terrible road to drive on! Then, down another little hill and BOOM! I’m off. I had two flashes in my mind, one where my back tire is lifting off the ground and I’m being catapulted forward, then the other one where my body smashes against the ground, and my helmet ever gently taps a rock as a final landing. One foot was clipped still, and the other was unclipped and crossed over the other. I was a little dazed for a second. I turned back and saw a big boulder that seemed to be displaced. I got right up. Looked my body up and down and realized that I was OK. PHEW. Yikes. I had some scrapes, I was bleeding on my arm a bit, and really dirty as the sandy, dirty road grime just stuck to my sweaty skin. I essentially yelled “fuck this!” and turned right around and started walking. Forget Norway Lake. I was just over 18 miles in. This will be a long trek home. At the top of the hill I hopped back on my bike and knew something was wrong. My wheel was rubbing along the chain stay – it was crooked somehow. I couldn’t ride it. I hopped off and tried to re-adjust my rear wheel, and was immediately swarmed by mosquitoes and bugs unlike I’ve experienced before. I had to fix the wheel and get it back on. It was obnoxious. I glanced at my legs and could tell there was a thick layer of mosquitoes attached. They were flying into my eyes, my ears, my mouth. I got my wheel back on and it was really night. It worked. I rode down the back side of the hill and left the bugs behind. Then, up the next hill, and when I put any real power into the pedals, the wheel would rub or otherwise have issues. So eventually I just ran up ever hill, and soft-pedaled the downhills and flats. At this rate, I’d be back my midnight… and it was such a challenging ride to get out there. I knew that I could link up with County Road 1, though, and take it back. I had my phone, and plotted it out, and it was only 12 miles back home. Once I got to County 1, it was such a relief. I limped in, essentially, and that was the last time I road the Diamondback Haanjo. I was banged up with some road rash, a few sore spots on my thigh and hip, but the bottom line is that I was very lucky to walk away and ride away from the remote crash site!
Ultimately, throughout the spring and early summer I felt I had logged fairly low average mileage, but was able to ramp it up for over 500 miles in the month of July when it really counts. My main issue was getting out every day. When I did get out, I would do 40 or 6o or 100 miles. I biked to work a fair amount, but definitely not enough as I should have. I got four 90+ mile rides in, which was adequate, and a 127-miler in early July was my longest yet. All on singlespeed. My old bike probably wouldn’t take gears due to a slight bend in the frame by where the derailleur hanger connects. I had kind of decided that doing the DAMn on singlespeed would be pretty badass, and I like riding without gears anyways. So, when I built up the new bike I kept it singlespeed. The 127-miler was at the cabin near Alexandria, MN, in one big loop all by myself, so to finish that was pretty relieving. But, on my two triple-digit rides, both on the new bike, I had knee pain on the left side, on different spots, but that both got progressively worse in the final 10% of the ride. I was pretty concerned going into race weekend with my training volume, left knee pain, and the singlespeed. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to finish.
The plan was for Em and me to drive right to Gary, mull about until the midnight race start, she drives across the state while I bike, and then sleep in Red Wing hopefully after finishing the race. We set off in the afternoon with hopes to arrive in Gary, South Dakota, around nightfall. Em’s car was packed full of my bike, gear, and a bunch of food and drinks. We got to the race start area right at dusk, got my race bib and some fun goodies, and went back to the car to sleep a little bit. It was a nice little nap, just 30 minutes, and my phone was buzzing as my comrades arrived and started setting up. We met everyone and it was fun to see the nervous energy of Nick, Ray, Race, Ryan, and Dave. And, myself. And, our respective crew members. We got an updated crew guidebook that Ryan put together, although I had entered our stops into Emily’s mapping app on her phone. Then, we retired for another half-hour relaxing session in the car. (“Nap” is not a fully accurate description). With a half hour until midnight, I got changed, got my bike tires pumped up and right on cue, the rest of the boys rolled right up. We headed to the start line.
We kind of nervously just stood in the middle of the street in Gary as midnight approached. More riders conglomerated around. We shifted down the street a bit. The pack tightened. We all knew the start was near, and I saw it first. The bright flash of a firework, then “BOOM!”, the explosion a picosecond after. The crowd lurched forward. We were off! Yippee. The scary dark hours were upon us. The whole road was full of riders, and we exited Gary and entered a gravel road. Oh yeah. The road was narrow and loose. Oh jeez. I was gripping my handlebars tightly. I could feel gravel flicking up onto my face right away. I should have put on my glasses right away. The night was cool and clear, perfect conditions really. I couldn’t focus on a single thing except steering – I felt completely engulfed in the moment. It was an exhilarating start to the race.
After just a couple minutes of feeling gravel flick into my face from the hundreds of bikers in front of me, I decided that I ought to put on my clear safety glasses. I glanced down for the shortest time possible to orient my hand to my bike bag, and fumbled trying to open the zipper. I had to look down for a second – I couldn’t stop pedaling, though, because of the massive group of hundreds of bikers behind me! I got my bag open, and searched by feel for my glasses. I finally found them, hopeful that nothing spilled out of the bag, but on removal from the bag I realized they were totally entangled with a charging cord for my electronics. I shook the glasses in frustration, and it actually worked to get my spectacles loose. Nice. Now, to put them on my face without crashing my bike. They went on surprisingly easy, I zipped up my bag and was again hopeful that nothing of high value (which was every item in my bag, really. Why would you carry a low-value item across the state of Minnesota on a bike??) fell out onto the dusty gravel. Nice, time to rock.
With gravel flicking onto my face and shielded eyes, and dust lingering about the air like an explosion’s aftermath, we sped through the night. It felt like we were going fast. The first five miles went by so fast, and the split was really fast. 16:59. Wowie. I felt like I was soft pedaling, just getting sucked along by all these other riders. The single speed was no issue. It was perfect actually, even for the fast speed. I zig zagged with my crew. I’d be behind Race for a while, then we’d get shaken up and I was out front. Then I’d realize that Dave was behind me and had been for a handful of miles. Then Ryan led out a long train of riders motoboating past me on the left while I was in the right line. There seemed to be two wheel ruts on the road that were the best path, and one was generally better than the other. The gravel was different than up outside of Duluth, but definitely not bad.
Eventually, the field seemed to thin out a little bit and we reconvened as a group. Someone yelled to pull over at the next intersection for a pee break. It was perfect timing because I had to go. I wasn’t really drinking water from my bladder… it was so cool and I wasn’t thirsty. I was ready for a bite to eat, though, and I grabbed a Twizzler and it was delicious. I got to stay up on eating. It was hard to do so in that mess of riders. I was pretty jacked up still, and the late night hours made it even more fun. We set back off and were soon consumed my more riders. Everyone was all over the place – a big train would pass us like we were standing still, then we’d just truck past other riders seeming to go so slow. The field was definitely still shaking out in the early miles of this long, long race.
I had been questioned by my outfit choices as the start line, as everyone else was in long sleeves and windbreakers, and I was in a tank top. Not a lot of running singlets at the start line. I felt good then, and I felt good riding. My fingers were maybe the only part cold, but really it was almost a perfect temperature for me. The air was definitely cool against my arms, but it felt really good. Meanwhile, Nick was getting cold. He said it just like that. I think everyone else was doing OK, but Nick mentioned it a couple times, and it made me think to myself that maybe I was a bit chilly as well. We turned onto another farm road – they were all named something in the high hundreds – 475th Avenue and 330th Street or something. When we turned, immediately the gravel changed from rocky with a firm wheel divot, to deep and soft sand. I might have unclipped and pushed a few steps, and Nick zinged up right beside me, his wheel turned sideways in the sand and dug right in, and he went down. As quick as it happened, I rolled by him and he popped right up and remounted his bike. Well, if he was frustrated about being cold before, he’s probably hating life now. He jetted out in front as everyone else struggled through the sand. I hopped right onto his wheel and stayed there for a while. It was nice.
My eyes were kind of irking me a little bit. With the glasses, and the thick dust, and being 2am, and the bright white lights shining in front, and blinky red lights dotting the horizon, and lots of shadows… it was intense. I tried to not think about my eyes freaking out. I tried to just turn my mind of and focus on the line I wanted to take and keeping into Nick’s draft. It was almost a ghostly setting, like what you’d see in a horror movie, in the scene with the graveyard. I don’t think I’m in this photograph, but it’s a good representation of the first four hours of riding.
I was excited to get to our first aid stop – our longest planned segment of the day at 50 miles. I know Nick was frozen and counting down the miles, and I was pretty excited to warm up a bit and recharge my light as well. I had forgotten what the battery lights meant, but there was a type of code (double green, a green and a red, a double red, and red blinking I think?) to denote how much battery life was left. There was some red in there. Red, BAD! I was so nervous I’d have to put on my headlamp over my helmet or under my helmet and it would squeeze my brain and I’d be so uncomfortable. I liked my setup! 43, 47, 49, 50 miles. Gah, I thought it was 50? Someone said it was actually 51. We eventually caught up to Ryan in there and he was by himself. So, we were all back together as we rolled into the aid stop with the three vehicles parked and ready to help us. I saw Emily with the back of her car open and the seat laid out. I told her that I wanted to sit in the car, actually, if that was OK. She was definitely OK with it, luckily, and I felt bad because I knew I was already filthy with dust and it would get everywhere. It probably will get everywhere anyways…
Em cranked the heat and it felt great. I knew I would be cold once I stopped, and I was freezing. I had felt pretty dang good the whole time, but I knew I was getting colder and colder and it would only get colder for the next three hours. I drank pop, ate one and a half donuts, which were so good, and had Emily fiddling with my bike lights. We plugged the front one in as-is, on my bike, and the back one was taken out and plugged in in Em’s car’s USB port. I was nervous that everyone else would be ready to roll and I’d be unprepared, but every time I looked out they were all shuffling about. Nick had put on a puffy winter jacket and stocking cap to warm up. I kind of scoffed at him since it was still above 50 degrees probably, but I was cold myself and had to put on the one long sleeve layer that I brought. Yeesh, good thing it’s not much colder! I would be screwed! I wasn’t too confident that the long sleeve would provide any warmth, really, since it was super thin. But, better than nothing. I was so cold getting back out of the car, and I didn’t stock any foods or drinks with me – just plugged the lights back in and we set back off from the first aid stop. Two more to go.
It seemed like the pack at large had left us as we stopped. The road seemed much lonelier once we set back off, compared to the frantic, dusty, eerie start. Nick had put on pants, jackets, layers. I had my long sleeve on and was pretty cold once we got up to speed and the cold night’s wind was breezing past me. And we just kind of kept trucking away. I was feeling pretty good. I hadn’t drunk hardly any water, or eaten much food, but stocked up at the aid stop. We stayed together as a group really well, and the road conditions were great. The miles flew by until a winding road near the Minnesota River. We were aiming for Morton, a planned self-supported stop around mile 85. The first sign of dawn came to the left on the large bluff opposite of the river. That was nice. We made it through the scary night. It got lighter and lighter and lighter until I flicked off all my lights. I was pretty excited to get into the next stop. I could feel myself getting a little uncomfortable, a little tired out, excited to sit down on anything but my bike seat. I started counting down the miles to 85. I knew we were close, and we zipped down a big paved hill right to a gas station. Oh, that was a lovely sight.
The probably-normally-sleepy gas station in Morton, MN was teeming with dirty cyclists. It was great to stop. I went inside, and the glory of all the gas station food was overwhelming. I went right to the coffee. Then I saw breakfast sandwiches. I had to have one. I got the goods and waited in line to pay, but then second guessed myself. Maybe I should stock up on candy, chocolate, chips, pop, fizzy beverages, ice cream. Oh well, I just got my sandwich and coffee and sat down and ate it. It was nice to sit next to the Holaks from Duluth, fellow competitors, and hear their story. It was funny seeing some of the presumed “regulars” drinking their morning Saturday coffee and then here are all these cyclists walking around in their spandex shorts. It was maybe a 10 minute stop and we got back together as a group and kept biking down the road. On the way out, we somehow saw Emily driving to the gas station! It was like a mirage, we just goofily waved and she waved back.
We rode on the paved road for a bit, feeling rejuvenated from the stop. We started chatting and talking, and I was eager to hit a few milestones – 100 miles and the halfway point around 120 miles, which was about where our next aid stop was planned to meet the crew. The morning mist was heavy on the leaves and bushes as we turned onto a gravel scenic byway. I started drafting on Dave and we made a bit of time on the group. I requested to stop to take a leak and grab some food, and my bike bag zipper got jammed up while I was fiddling around in there. I tried to inspect it as the rest of the crew biked up and stopped. Without holding up for too long, I was able to jam the zipper into place halfway through the bag. I was worried my stuff would fall out – my food, my cell phone with money inside. That would be pretty detrimental if I wouldn’t be able to notice that and bike away. I looked down repeatedly and all looked safe and sound. The boys started chitter chatter about a hill coming up. I was excited, because the chitter chatter before this was all about the hilly final 60 miles, and we haven’t really had any big climbs yet. There was a bit of questioning of me, on how I’d make it up the hill. It was exciting. We turned onto a minimum maintenance road, and I jetted ahead, trying to get some momentum. I could see the deep crevasses where water had cut into the dirt and drained to the Minnesota River now behind us. I could see the boulders and loose sand dotting the areas of packed dirt and gravel, where I aimed my bicycle. I stood up and pushed hard on the pedals, my heart rate skyrocketing. The dirt path curved to the right and I could see the top. I passed another cyclist spinning out, and got to the top, gassed. Nick was behind me, and we pedaled a ways out and I stopped to address my zipper.
One of the guys exclaimed that if the zipper was busted it wouldn’t go back together. I wouldn’t accept that. I kept trying but to no avail. I couldn’t close my bike bag, and we set back off. We seemed to be atop a plateau, now away from the riverbed roads that we were on for the past several hours, since dark. The sun had risen and it started to feel more like the actual daytime. It was about 7:30am at this point and we were in the heart of farm country. There was either corn or soybean fields as far as the eye could see. The roads seemed designed specifically for farm vehicles, and were essentially one-lane, sandy and loose gravel roads. Once we got back going we made good time. It was a nice mix of cyclists sharing the morning with us, some groups passed us and we overtook and passed others. There weren’t too many solo bikers out there – mainly groups clumped up. Some of the roads up here were really sandy and soft, and that killed the momentum immediately. It was sometimes a struggle to turn onto a different road to find that there was just barely one line to take that didn’t involve fishtailing and sliding around like crazy.
Before long, as we surpassed 100 miles, I started thinking about the next aid stop. This would be half-way. I was feeling good – really good. I had concerns about my left knee, that had given me grief once hitting triple digits in my only two triple-digit rides. I could feel a bit of a tinge, especially if I stood up and cranked on the pedals. Maybe it was in my head. Really, it was great to know that my whole body was feeling pretty good. Hands, neck, nether-regions. All good. I figured I’d tape my knee up. Also, take off my shoes, put on sunscreen, and eat some food. I didn’t think I needed a refill yet – but maybe I’d get a top-off of water in my bladder. I still hadn’t drunk much of it and was peeing pretty frequently. I think everyone was feeling pretty good, as well. It sounds like Race maybe was struggling a little bit, or his knee hurt or something. We had a long way to go. The miles clicked away until I knew we were close. I kept looking at my watch. There were crews at every intersection, and eventually, ours came too. It was great to see Em, and she seemed to be in great spirits.
I first taped up my knee. I had to wipe away the dust and dirt first. I took my shoes off, and Em had a platter of food and drinks for me to pick from. Ray and Race’s crew guy came over with a large sack of McDonalds breakfast sandwiches, and those were great. Also, Em had made some coffee on the side of the road. I divulged in a little bit of everything, and took time to relax in the chair. I put on the sunscreen, and pondered what else I’d forgotten. Elizabeth walked over and chit chatted, and I only tuned back in momentarily to make sure I wasn’t holding up the group. I took a leak in the corn fields behind Em’s car, and eventually stumbled back onto my bike and rode around to find everyone else gearing back up to get out. The tape on my knee was pulling at my leg hair uncomfortably. We set back off, and unlike the other couple stops, it was a little bit laborious to get back going. It wasn’t nice to sit back down, and I finally started feeling the miles. I’d ditched my shirt, and it was starting to get warm as the sun rose higher in the sky.
The miles flew by, and the roads seemed to get bigger and wider as we got closer to our next stop, 30 miles away, in Henderson. We criss-crossed a couple paved roads and generally stayed together as a group. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits. The heat was certainly starting to take its toll, and the vets started talking about some big downhill bombs. They didn’t mention the big uphills. We started climbing. Up and down. There were a few big gravel roller coasters. On one of the bigger uphills, I was up ahead. On singlespeed, you can’t really go that slow. Nick started to catch up to me, and I pushed hard to show him that I wanted to beat him up the hill. He got wind of my competitive spirit and shifted down to zoom right past me. I let out a yell of exasperation. I probably shouldn’t be doing that stuff 150 miles into the race.
Up, then back down. Ray was bombing the hill. His bike had broken somehow. He said he back brake wasn’t operating correctly. I couldn’t imagine going down some of these hills without a rear brake. Water was more and more desirable, yet less and less tasty as the water touching my back was lukewarm as I sipped it out of the tube through my backpack. I starting thinking about the tasty things I’d get at the gas station. I thought I’d eat my pizza. Oh, the ice cream! Ice cream sounded so great. And something cold and fizzy. One last bomb, then a couple turns onto paved roads and we were clearly into a town of some sort. A glance at my watch – getting close to 150 miles – it must be Henderson. We planned to stop here for our second self-supported stop. So, after this we’d have one more crew stop at 180 and then another gas station town stop at 210 before bringing it home. We were getting close. I thought that 90 miles is still a really long way, and it was going to be a struggle from here on out, for sure.
It was again almost overwhelming to get into the gas station. It was a pretty small and crammed store, with shelves of merchandise with barely a walking lane between. I had pizza in my bag, and noticed an Icee machine. Oh, I got that for sure. Then I noticed a gummi pizza at the checkout and I walked out. I ate my pizza with the Icee, but ultimately couldn’t finish the cold drink by the time we wanted to leave. Ray’s rear brake looked really messed up as he was fiddling with it. If he pulled the brake lever, it would move the whole caliper backwards. He seemed hopeless on a fix from the field, but surprisingly hopeful to continue on. There were all types of people in the streets of Henderson, all minding their own business and enjoying the perfect summer day. What a nice quaint little town! They said that we had to go up and over that hill, beckoning to the bluffs straight ahead in the distance. We biked through the little main street and then took a sharp right into a small parking lot, then into the woods. What was this? Definitely not gravel. It was a sandy singletrack trail through a creek bed. I figured it was a small detour to get out of Henderson. We had to walk our bikes through a bit of it. I saw Nick mount his bike up ahead. It was rugged terrain. Tall weeds, tree roots. It took almost 15 or 30 minutes to get through. That was rough on the singlespeed, and I was wishing for the nice riding, cool gravel roads of the morning time next to the Minnesota River.
When we climbed the famed bluff back out of Henderson, everyone seemed to be dragging. I got up top and waited for my comrades. It took a while. The next handful of miles were in the baking hot sun, a mix of wide gravel roads and rolling hills. I got going with Dave a bit and we made big time on the group. After a couple turns, we realized we couldn’t see the group. So we eased back and soft-pedaled for a while. The group eventually came back with Nick at the rear. He kind of recommended that we stay closer together as a group. We set back off. It was so easy to get on the tail of someone, usually Dave, and just ride with my head down, staying in the draft, only to look up minutes or hours later to see that we were way off the pack again. So then we’d recognize that, and soft pedal for a while until the group caught up. We passed a few other racers and it was clear that we were getting into the hottest part of the day. The sun was straight up above us beating down, with no shade and hardly a cloud in the sky. The breeze seemed to kick up a little bit, which was great. Endless countryside. We kept pluggin’ away, seemingly playing leap frog over and over and over, except I was never in the back trying to keep up. It was hard. It made me expend less energy, though, and I almost started feeling anxious that the clock was ticking and we were going so slow. The group behind was making their way, and eventually we stopped ahead at a big tree that was providing shade and everyone grouped together. There weren’t many word spoken. We just all took a little break, then got right back to it. Then, the hills came.
In a past Day Across Minnesota event, Race had had a physical meltdown and had to drop from the race. He knew exactly where the spot was and that we were edging closer to it. It was a fun milestone to bike past that. We had some other milestones during the ride – I hit my longest ride hours before at 128 miles. My watch was about 2 miles behind everyone else’s, somehow. We hit Ryan’s longest ride at about 145 or so. Then Race’s somewhere in the Minnesota countryside. He seemed to be struggling once again. I was lucky that my knee was holding up, and actually felt much better with the tape on it. If anything, my right knee was getting a little sore. Perhaps, I should tape that one, I thought.
The thought of getting to 200 miles was daunting and just kind of crazy to think about, and then several hours of riding to get to 240. We were inching our way. The roads we were riding seemed to be dead straight and rolling, so you could plainly see the impending hill climb right ahead, then once atop, the screaming downhill and series of hills beyond. They came one right after another. I got more and more comfortable with the downhills, but still nervously clutched my brake lever as my momentum picked up right after the hill’s crest. It was pretty exhilarating to see big nasty washerboards pass right by as you hit the perfect line down a tear-inducing descent.
My equipment was working out perfectly. I hadn’t adjusted my bike even once, which wasn’t the case with hardly any rides on my previous bike. That was great. The bike bag was still open and flapping in the wind. Nothing had fallen out, to my knowledge, and I was continuously pulling gummis and twizzlers and chex mix out of there to much on. Phone was still there, that was the important one. And, my body was holding up great. There was a point before the final crew checkpoint that I had a realization. I think I was thinking about what to tell Em. I would tell her that I was feeling great. Yeah, I was tired, but just sheer fact that we were closing in on 75% of the race completed, through the night, through the heat of the day, up and down some monster hills in the past couple miles and I was feeling good – that made me feel great. As I cranked up another hill, dedicated to stomping up every hill and not walking my singlespeed bicycle up any of them, I looked back and noticed Dave right there, Nick right there, Ray a bit back, then Ryan and Race way back. The trend continued up and over each hill. It seemed like the hills were taking a toll on those two more than the rest. From biking with Ryan, I knew we was kind of a watt-weenie and would limit his power output on uphills. Even in training rides, he wouldn’t push at all, he’d down shift and spin up any little hill. So, this was normal. Race seemed to be hurting on the uphills, as he told us. He told me at one point he’s not an athlete like us guys, or he’s not built for this type of thing. I was shocked to hear that. We’re out here, nearly 200 miles in. Yeah, you’re cut from a different cloth that most people, dude!! The difference in fitness or grit, or whatever it takes to finish a ridiculous race like this, in any of us compared to the general population is probably 1%! But, it made me realize that we were in this together, and I had to do whatever I could to boost the morale of the group and not focus on my own physical status or how I’m feeling or anxiety to finish the race. I thought about Nick telling me that he thought I would be one, of any of the group, to not stay with the group and go at it alone for the time and for the glory. I had told him that I really considered that, but ultimately, I did promise him that I’d stay with the group. Not for him or anyone else, really, besides myself. I needed the group, and the trust dissolves if I were to go off now, just because I thought I felt good. The group has brought me this far. They’ve provided a draft, and directions. I hadn’t even pulled out my cue cards! So I had to show my squad some respect, and crank away as a unit. At the next hill, I was up and over it and out of sight. What the hell is wrong with me.
Nick had told me that the next checkpoint was typically kind of hard for the crews. In the heat of the day, now they’ve been at it for hours and hours as well, and at this point the boredom starts to set in, and the feeling of “c’mon guys, just go get it done so we can shower and eat and sleep”. I was expecting that, and otherwise really excited to sit down in the shade, take my shoes off and drink some cold beverages. I started planning it all out – I’d drink a lot of gatorade, drink some delicious pink mountain dew, and fill up my bladder one more time with ice cold water. We got to the checkpoint and just like I planned, the first thing I did was tell Em that I was feeling great. Once it came out, I don’t know why I felt the need to profess that to her. She said she was glad, though, and was buzzing around like the bees to my pop. There were terrible bees around where I was sitting. Em grasped the can of pop from my hands and poured a bit across the roadway. She gave it back to me, and said they’d go after that splash now, instead of my pop. Interesting logic…
We had lots of time. As I sat, the updates came in. Dave came over and said that we really can’t be biking ahead like we have been. It was serious. I agreed with him, and said I’d focus on staying with the group. Nick came over and said Ryan was thinking about dropping. He was in rough shape. Hmm, that was a big surprise to me. I thought he was in control. I finally loaded up on some snacks that I thought might be appetizing as we started to gear up to attack the final 60 miles, allegedly the hardest part of the entire course with lots of steep hills. The consensus was that Ryan wouldn’t be coming with us. He had heat exhaustion and was in the AC-blasted car. If he could recover, he’d be behind us. Oof. That was a blow. I wanted to shake him up. I wanted to rally him. I decided that that’d be inappropriate and I just biked away. I told Em I’d see her at the finish line. She was doing so well – chipper, happy, excited. She was going on and on about the dead animals she’d seen on the back country roads getting to these remote checkpoints. I was looking forward to seeing her next more than anything.
We immediately started a slow roll, and the pace never really picked up. There was lots of talk about the impending hilly section after we crossed I-35 then Highway 52 a while later. The hills got pointed out several times, and it was kind of a feeling of anticipation – “we’re almost there – to the hilly part” – for hours. Either way, the end was in sight. We were riding together as a pack and I really didn’t want that to change. Luckily we hadn’t hit any big up and down hills yet so I didn’t feel the need to mash my pedals. I could just tuck in behind one of the boys, get sucked along in the draft and just pedal a few strokes at a high cadence whenever I started falling back slightly. We were kind of feeling goofy when a local landowner erroneously told us that we were on a private drive and to get off. We told ourselves that he was going to have a long night! I wasn’t feeling appetized by any food I had on hand. A handful of cheese-flavored chex mix did the trick. Gels, oh hell no. Gummis, nope. Anything with excess sugar sounded pretty foul. Warm water will have to do. The sun was getting a little more angular and it felt like we were out of the heat of the day, which was nice. It had been really an ideal day for biking. If it wasn’t really hot in the middle of the summer in the middle of Minnesota I’d feel jipped!
We rode through a couple round-a-bouts, through a developed area across Highway 52. Then it was up into a frontage road and up, up, up. Here they were, they said. I just pedaled normally, my normal mash to get to the top. I was the first on to the top of the first hill. Then, many more to go. The world closed in. This area had more trees and houses along the roads, which was a bit of a change from the wide open fields with sparse farm buildings that was pretty similar throughout the entire day. However, up one, down another, up one, down another hill and it opened up to more farm country. Then up and down another hill – a steep hill – and there was a cool little house at the bottom of a creek gorge where they were offering granola bars and water and maybe beers. Then right back up. I would stop at every top of the hill to wait. The last one was huge and we cheered on Race when he got to the top without walking. He made it – we were all still riding well. We didn’t know about Ryan. If he rallied, he was going to have to make up ground. We weren’t that fast but we were moving consistently. We decided that we all had enough supplies and we’d skip the last planned stop at 210 miles.
I kept plugging away and got ahead of the group. I had to stop. We were going at a pretty slow rate, and I was starting to get antsy to finish the race. We were well over 200 miles at this point and just chugging along. I passed a group of two guys. The one was on the side of the road but he said he was OK. At an intersection, I stopped, and the two guys passed me. I waited a few minutes for the rest of my squad. They caught up, and we kept rolling. We had a nice section of road and we clumped together and drafted for a bit. We seemed so close, but we still had hours to ride when I thought about it critically. Dave had mentioned finishing before dark. We crunched the numbers and it was a good goal. I had a sense of urgency, but I couldn’t speak or think for the whole group. The good part was that I felt good, and I was going to finish. It was such a group effort but all to prop up my own personal goal of finishing the race. Kind of selfish… and I wasn’t helping things by leapfrogging and waiting for the group to catch me. We bombed a huge hill and for the first time it felt like dusk was near. The sun was below the tree line. I couldn’t imagine the fear of Ray riding down this winding, massive hill with no back brake. Nick zoomed down with no brakes at all it seemed. Toward the bottom there was a guy getting off the ground. His shirt was bloody. Woof, bad time to crash. Maybe the best time… if that was 200 miles earlier it’d make for a long, long day. We were near that couple for a couple miles, and it sure seemed like we were getting into Red Wing. There was a cool road along a state forest or management area, then right into neighborhoods. We were spread out as a group, and I stopped with Ray on a curb to let everyone catch up. We didn’t wait long, and we agreed that we would be riding in together, side by side. We zinged around the city. There wasn’t a lot of excitement between us as I sensed the bridge to Wisconsin nearing. We turned off a road onto a sidewalk adjacent to a Do Not Enter one way, and onto the bridge. The bridge! The view was astounding. It was the golden hour. We has just hit 20 hours, 8pm. I was almost at 240 miles on my watch, certain that my pals had more logged. I was hoping I’d get there, just for… I don’t know why. Strava? We went down the backside of the bridge and into a park entrance to the finish. I knew it was right there. I hadn’t studied the maps, but new we were there. Yes. I was so excited for a finish line beer. We rode 5 by 5 down the little road next to all sorts of fans and racers. Then, there was a left turn into the finish chute. It was right there! We couldn’t ride 5 abreast, so we just kind of clumped into the finish. It was over.
I barely muttered to the race director that I was a single speed rider. He didn’t hear me. I told him I was singlespeeder. His mind was blown, I’ve never seen someone more excited! He said I was the last one – the 6th singlespeed finisher to get the last gin bottle. Oh, that was so exciting. I was pretty pumped. I took my bike and my gin and my beer aside to the ground and wanted so bad to take off my shoes. My big toe on my right foot had been numb for hours and hours. As I rested, I saw a guy walk up to the finish line. It caught my eye, especially when he pointed at me, then pointed at his friend in a little huddle nearby. They were talking about something, I knew it. I went up there. It turns out, I was the seventh singlespeed finisher, and they missed a guy right before our group finished. I said I’d give the gin back. They said I couldn’t, I had to keep it and they’d get the real 6th place finisher another bottle. It was a little disenchanting.
All in all, it was an incredible experience. It was unlike any other race I’ve ever done, due to the nature of the teamwork that we experienced out there. That was special. I don’t know if I’d do a bike race that long again. 100 milers are maybe a bit more enticing. Weeks later, my big toe is still kind of messed up. It took me a long time to clean my bike off, and even longer to write this story.
05 Aug 2021
Race Date: Sunday, August 1, 2021 – 8am
In the water of the first Brewhouse Triathlon in about 24 months, my last time at the race losing for the first time in 7 years or so and having not trained for triathlon hardly at all in the meantime, I was really nervous. I knew exactly what to do, but the fitness level was lacking and I didn’t want to be in the mix. I like to be up front at Brewhouse Triathlon short course, not in the mix. I like to win. But the bottom line was, I don’t deserve it.
Leading up to Brewhouse, my running volume was probably consistently lower the past six consecutive months, than almost any other single month in the previous 8 years! And slow running, too. I hadn’t swam more than a 500 yards since Brewhouse 2019, but my biking was extraordinary, especially in the month leading up to Brewhouse. I biked over 500 miles in July, but literally all gravel single speed miles. I had major concerns about my tri bike – namely the pedal, which had fallen off months earlier after seizing up, and literally the day before in a practice ride. It seemed to be spinning freely, and worked well in the morning, but was highly questionable.
I arrived in the morning, my van loaded with two bikes and all my tri gear. I set up at the start and saw Em loitering about. It was so great to see her and know she’d be watching the whole race and seeing me finish. It was like a weight lifted off my shoulder, actually. I anxiously paced about, setting my stuff up, trying to remember the morning routine. Dump, bike, run, get body marked? No, body marking, test the bike, dump, jog a bit. Well the decision was made for me and I saw Ryan on the way to the portable toilet area. Check that off the list. Feeling good, I rode a mile and the bike was working great. That was a relief. Yep, it felt fast, but I was unsure of the monster MPH readings that I know I’d put up in prior years. My quads seemed even a little stiff from a 60 mile gravel ride the day before. I knew the bike was the key today. I ran a bit then made sure everything was in order, put on my wetsuit and hung out by the lake.
I had lost Em but found her on the bluff by the shoreline. It was nice to get a pre-race shakedown with her as Matt Evans got married to Shelly with Rod Raymond enthusiastically yelling into the microphone and people cheering.
Once I got into the water, I felt pretty good swimming a few strokes, actually. I peed in my wetsuit, which is always kind of icky. But I’m led to believe that it helps with buoyancy. I tried to channel my countrymen USA Olympians after studying swimming the night before on primetime broadcast. Bent elbow, generate power from the hips, stay streamline with head down. Yep, it’s all in the muscle memory. I swam around and back to shore and people started congregating in the water. I wanted to get onto someone’s heels right away. They’d pull me along. That’d help right away. When you see Matt Evans in the water you know it’s about to be go time. I faintly heard the countdown from 10 start, and I think it was Paul Rockwood who asked “oh, are we going already?”. We could all hear “3! 2! 1! GO!!” and it was a free for all. I got a fairly good jump but was overtaken by churning bodies everywhere. I could feel my heart rate skyrocket and I was about out of breath after just a few front crawl strokes. Plus the splashing was sending water all up into my gasping mouth. It was terrible.
I avoided getting kicked, and eventually the crowd kind of thinned out. It seemed like a huge group sped off in front of me and I was left in the wake with a few stragglers. I tried to keep a good line and found myself off to the left a little bit. That’s what you get for never open water swimming…
The first buoy seemed like it took forever. The second one was an eternity. Once I got to the first one, I was pretty hopeless about the swim portion. I was dead already. I just kept a rhythm, and by the second buoy, felt really good actually. I felt like I was making good time, kind of out by myself where I liked to be. Maybe there wasn’t that big of a group, or they kind of spread apart. I seemed to be in the front end of the start wave, although I knew that probably wasn’t true. As I turned, trying to stay efficient but not get punched in the face, I thought about just staying calm and relaxed until I knew I was close on the home stretch.
My goggles worked well, the water seemed to be decently calm for swimming, and I was feeling really good getting to the second turn buoy. Bing bing bing, and I was on the home stretch. I focused again on form and keeping a strong stroke. I focused my legs and pushed home, sighting every now again to be surprisingly on course the whole time. Feeling good about my swim, I tried to put on the afterburners once I got past the last buoy and into the swimming area. I didn’t have any power whatsoever, but felt it was a good swim. Furthermore, swim was about done without a scratch. Now, onto the big daddy. Time to crank.
I was able to run pretty well into T1, and even remembered to eat my caffeinated gummis instead of sitting on them like in 2019. It was quick onto my bike and I had a major sense of urgency. The suspense was killing me – how fast can I bike into first place? It was smooth into my bike shoes and I somewhat precariously smashed up to full speed without the concerning pedal falling off. I stopped one pedal stroke to see if the pedal was still on. Yep. I knew it was a tailwind, but was pleasantly surprised to see 27 mph on my watch once I felt up to speed. Keep it up, Mikey. I drank a bit of water over the Island Lake bridge and past Boondocks restaurant. I passed a few people feeling like a speed monster. Reeling people in is so fun. I couldn’t see the motorcycle up ahead, but had a long way to go. No way my swimming is even in the same echelon as some of those. There are good swim-bikers that exist! But might as well try to bank time while I have a nice tailwind, I thought. I knew I had extreme endurance on the bike. So push it.
When I turned to Emerson, I still hadn’t seen the leaders. Shortly thereafter, I saw two cyclists, one with a disc wheel. They were decently ahead, actually. I’d catch them. I cranked and cranked into the wind. My mph dropped. I didn’t make ground. I got into T2 after losing my shoe. Someone yelled “you lost your shoe!”. I was so mad at those shoes, I didn’t even look. It was at my bike after the finish, though.
I tried to transition as quickly as possible, because Ryan and Benjamin put a gentleman’s bet on T2 time and I was confident. I had an issue with my shoe heel folding over as I smooshed my foot inside without elastic laces. Oh well. I sprinted towards the swim exit and knew it was up to the run to seal the deal. Who was up ahead? At the run exit, Emily was standing right there and yelled that she was a minute back. Must be Shyanne. MN Tri News had pegged myself and Shyanne McGregor, local beast triathlete, as winners. That article was the only confidence I had. Now, starting the run, I thought I could run her down. I saw her. I thought there was someone else biking up ahead of me? Maybe I passed them in transition. I don’t know. I just need to run, and run fast. I had major doubts that I’d be able to fend anyone else off. Especially with the likes of Paul Rockwood and Benjamin Welch closing hard. I wasn’t confident in their training, though, but I knew for sure that I couldn’t be confident in my training! So I just focused on hunting down the lone runner ahead. I was hoping to go under 6 minutes per mile. My first mile was over by a handful of seconds. Yeesh, not what I want! Up the hill on County Road 4 past the outdoorsman’s club, I reeled her in a little more and a little more, and I knew I’d catch her. But I was also running very sloppily. My form was crap, I had no endurance and no speed. I could tell I was making traction at the water stop to turn into the boat landing at the run half-way, because when I turned I saw Shyanne running back toward me, then a left where a volunteer was beckoning her. The volunteer pointed me right, and I went, knowing that that way was opposite from every other year that Brewhouse Triathlon has been at Island Lake. Typically we go straight, clockwise to the boat launch parking lot, around the bend, then a right hand turn, and a left to complete the lollipop loop. This year, a volunteer was pointing a different way, and Shyanne had taken a small wrong turn by what it looked like. I finally caught her around the loop portion, and she got confused when the dirt trail went under a low-pass tree out to the main lot. She didn’t fully know exactly which track to take, and I passed her and showed her the way. I felt kind of bad that she clearly wasn’t dead certain on the exactly route to take, but it was a change from previous years and I was a little nervous that I didn’t take the right route! No, there was pretty much the one way, and so I trucked on back towards the water stop.
Before I turned back onto the main road, I saw Paul Rockwood running smoothly onto the gravel. He would be pursuing me. Who else was on the loop? Hopefully no fast runners. Hopefully not Benjamin. I looked back, and Shyanne was in close pursuit. Would she close on me after my kersplosion? Well, don’t kersplode, MIKE!
I didn’t care about the grimace. I channeled the 2020 Olympic Triathlon champ from Norway who gritted his way to gold looking like he was in immense pain. I tried to push as hard as possible. I was so happy to get to the trail, but it was immediately more grueling than the road. I tried to sprint down the boardwalk, and felt like I might vomit if I kept up the painful pace. Don’t vomit, I said in my head. Off to the other side, and I just felt pooped. My form was so spread out and inefficient, I was probably running 7 minutes per mile pace over the rocks and pinecones. I could sniff the win, but just needed to hold on. Once I got out to the grassy picnic area, I was so happy to be done soon. I peeked over my shoulder and knew that nobody was there and I was safe. I thought about the Olympic triathlon champ looking over his shoulder 5 times, then walking in the last few steps. I let it up just a tiny bit to make sure I didn’t yak on the timing mats, but saw 1:05 on the clock and sprinted through the finish, leaning for style.
I crumped over on the ground, totally spent. God, that was terrible. All that effort for slow, arduous, inefficient pace. It was a relief, and an honor and joy to reclaim the Brewhouse Short Course Triathlon title, and to know that I still had the fitness to pull it off. Something is working! Shyanne had a crazy fast race and finished right behind me. Paul was not far back either. Between the finish and awards, I biked 30 miles on gravel on the singlespeed machine. It was grueling. I made a vow to practice triathlon and pull a fast Park Point 5 Miler before the 2022 version.
Shoes: Mizuno Wave Rider
Bike: Specialized Transition
Wheels: Profile Design 78
Food: Bike: 3 Clif Bloks, couple sips of water
05 Aug 2021
Race Date: July 16, 2021 – 8am
I was excited to try my shot at a second paddleboard race in as many weeks. I wondered how much differently pacing would play into a race of 17 miles versus 5. My upper back had stopped being sore a mere day earlier, and I was paddling at an all-out effort to maintain about 5 miles per hour at Vatten Paddlar. That effort seemed unsustainable for over an hour. I was hoping for under four hours this day.
In previous years, and regularly scheduled for this year was a finish line on the lake of my parents’ cabin – Lake Miltona. The start line is just minutes away from the cabin and so when I heard about the race it was a no-brainer to register. I like to think I like long stuff better so I signed up for the 26 mile race event through many lakes. Due to low water the distance was downgraded to 17 miles, and I was OK with that. It was so nice to stay at the cabin the night before, and I made the long drive from Duluth to Miltona the night before, had a nice big breakfast in the morning and drove to the start line relatively late in the morning. (Relative to some other races when you’re up at the crack of dawn).
I saw local Duluth resident Jared Munch, who has some serious SUP accolades, including paddling trips of hundreds and thousands of miles (well, over one thousand miles). He had won the race in the past, and after looking at past years’ results, knew a past winner Craig Stolen was also signed up. Past winning times were at a 5mph average at least, and I couldn’t hold that for 5 miles one weekend before so didn’t have incredible confidence on pulling off another win. But I knew that I could utilize faster paddlers’ wakes to my definite advantage! And Jared told me about that key to the race beforehand as we were preparing.
It was a short time at the starting area, which was nice. I sunscreened up, got my pack and lifejacket all set up, and used the porta-potty at the boat launch. I had no issues putting my board in the water and warming up a bit. I tried my sandals instead of shoes this time, and wanted to try fingerless gloves just to avoid blisters. I didn’t know if that would be comfortable or not. I was fiddling with my stuff and one glove went in the water. Great! One wet glove. Gah. I second guessed my footwear, but didn’t want to set them on the deck unstrapped. What the heck am I doing out here? I was so tired the weekend before after 5 miles, how was I going to triple that plus a couple?
Other boats were circling around the small bay where the race was to start, and at 8 it was clear that the race would start late because not everyone was in the water. What the heck?? I’m here. Anyone? Anyone? There was a brief pre-race briefing, and I learned that there were no buoys at this race, as opposed to buoys lining the course a weekend before, and that the maps were pretty critical to completing the full course. The course was straightforward, but it certainly relied on map-reading and orienting yourself to the land features. Luckily, I felt like I had pretty good experience in that with just a couple Boundary Waters trips under my belt. I tried to study the maps as we neared the start time, and the organizers audibly agreed that 8:10am would be the race start. With a 10 second countdown, the line of boats heard “GO!” and churned up the bay by paddling out towards the opposite shore. A big, sleek solo outrigger canoe took off way fast, with Craig right behind drafting, and Jared somehow caught off guard and paddling hard to get on the draft. They were far to the left, and just took off way too fast. They were immediately gone and I was pretty bummed right away that I missed the draft. It was going to be a long, long day.
The weather was looking really good. A decent wind of 10mph by noon from the south. The first many miles of the race were headed north, affording a nice tailwind for the majority of the race. But, that means we’d have a headwind for the final 6 or 7 miles of the race, and the wind was only set to pick up throughout the day. I glanced at my watch and I appeared to be moving pretty fast right away. 17 miles, I told myself. Long long day. I had studied the little course map as much as I could to start, but wanted to make sure I was going where I was supposed to. Each of the lakes seemed fairly short, and the course fairly simple to follow. Also, I had a group of three up ahead cranking. I did see them going into the first tunnel from Lake Victoria to Lake Geneva. I was dripping sweat already. There were a couple dudes near the culvert with a cooler offering bottled water. I declined and paddled right through.
It was a bit shallow on the Lake Geneva side of the culvert but I got through no problem. The rower and two speedy paddleboarders had made up big time and they were nearly out of sight. I drank some water from my bladder hose, peeked at the map – straight ahead across the lake – and paddled away. Yep, it was gonna be a long day, I thought. I looked behind my shoulder after a paddle stroke and I saw two other paddleboard racers pretty much right there. Gah. My stroke slowed, power decreased slightly. I was gonna draft them.
Trying to keep a smooth, efficient rhythm and I heard right behind me: “you wanna draft?”. I yelled YES and stopped for one second. I was able to lock in with two older guys on 14′ boards. I recognized one of the boards in the pre-race meeting, the announcer talking about the prize drawing at the end and how this person won it and was back to compete in the race with the board he won. Cool board! He was cranking. The other guy had a more racy-looking one. Narrow, sleek and fast. It was nice to draft for a little bit. We chatted a little. Then, I started falling back. Gah, WHY. This was supposed to be easier! I had to get back in the draft. Ahh.. got back right behind the guy in the white board. Nope, fell right back. I HAD to surge if I wanted to avoid losing two more paddlers and being left in no mans land. I surged, and surged hard. It was no avail. They pulled away. Whatttt the heck. What am I doing out here doing fricken SUP races. The carbon kayak-like craft pulling those two fast dudes was way up ahead, out of sight. I was in the middle of Lake Geneva. Struggling. I stopped the aggressive surge and just kept paddling. Something must be wrong, and so I looked back. The leash was out of the water, but there was a huge clump of weeds dragging behind my craft. Typical! How long has this been going on? It must have been before the first culvert where it was a little mucky with weeds and shallow. I stopped, back-pedaled and tried to fish the weeds out. Accelerating quickly from backwards, I hoped to juke the weeds off as one big clump. A clump floated away, so I figured that did the trick. I paddled off, checked back and seemed to be clear.
Wow, just that acknowledgement that it was the weeds slowing me down gave me a bolt of energy. Plus, the brief break of relentless paddling. I felt like I was going faster… The shore was getting closer faster, and I seemed to be making time on my two pals right up ahead. Sure enough, I caught up before the end of Lake Le Homme Dieu. It wasn’t as hilarious of a story to them as it was in my head. They went through the culvert first, and I saw my mom on the road over top. Sweet, that would be nice for some energy potential future tunnels.
Onto Lake Carlos, I felt like I was cruising. I dropped the two older racers, and was chasing the three ahead of me. It was probably no contest at this point, but ya never know, and it’s an out-and-back so we would see everyone anyways. I paddled tight to a point, where there was a boat pointing towards the docks at Lake Carlos State Park where the turn-around buoy is. I saw the gal in the sleek boat just cranking ass way out ahead. She was making real good time. And, I figured, right against the wind. Yeesh. I got closer to shore, and it seemed to be getting a little wavier. It had been perfectly calm on the water with an ever-light tail breeze. In the first place for paddleboards was who I thought was past winner Craig Stolen not too far from the canoe racer, and Jared Munch not too far back from him. I was still a ways from shore, and the two guys behind me were a bit back. The guy in the orange board, the won board, was closer, and the master blaster on the white board was a bit back from there. I started planning my turn-around. Might as well eat a bit of food then. Might as well now, because the waves were pushing me to shore and I could see the buoy pretty close, through a bundle of weeds sticking out of the water. I saw my mom on the dock. I got onto my knees, grabbed a bag of chips off the front of my vest, seemingly fumbling about, just shoving the food into my mouth as quick as possible, a bit more, then shoved the baggie back into the front of my vest. I drank water immediately, then started trying to turn at the buoy. I got pushed to shore a bit, but righted myself and paddled away into the straight-on headwind.
It was over 10 miles in at this point, over half over and I was feeling pretty good. Good pace, muscles good, grip still good. I didn’t think I could make big time on Jared or Craig. They looked comfortable enough and that was just a really big gap. I could hold off the people behind me, and just see how the time would pan out to be. The wind was pretty rough, but I thought it’d benefit me. It was kind of a fun change up. Everyone’s paddling into the wind, if I can just slice through with greater efficiency, I can make up even more time on the field. Just keep cranking. The guy in the orange board made up a bit of time, and he was right there. He had earlier said he was slow in the waves. It was wavy, and a bit tippy every now and again. Not necessarily easy paddling. We were babied on the first majority of the race. But he was right there. He practically caught up to me! But we weaved headed back to the point where a volunteer boat was anchored. I would shake him in the shallows of the point, in the weeds. My board seemed to be in good shape, without weeds in the back. I was checking, and I weaved through the islands of reeds to the open middle part of Lake Carlos and back to the final culvert.
The corner I was passing through, with islands made out of reeds, offered a brief reprieve from the wind. I passed right through it. There seemed to be another jut-out ahead that I aimed for. It was a little arduous. I couldn’t stop for one second without the waves pushing my board to the side. I had to paddle on one side, and if I tried for relief on the other side I’d turn so quickly. I didn’t care about the slow rate, but noticed my mile splits were the slowest of the race so far, by far. I had put a little time on the guys behind me. They were both pretty close to each other, but I had a bit of a gap now. I couldn’t see Jared ahead.
I turned the corner that I had been aiming for and it was really shallow. I paddled hard, confident in my line, and luckily I didn’t hit the bottom. It was close, though. I saw the culvert right at the end of the bay, straight on pretty much along the northern shore. A peek behind and just like that, like a rubber band, he was right back behind me paddling furiously. I couldn’t shake this dude! I wanted at least bronze! I pushed hard toward the final lake, eating some gummi frogs for a last jolt of energy. I got close to the last culvert over a road and there were lots of people – several on the road, plus an angler in the water with waders, and my mom. I didn’t have much to say – I essentially grunted. I was tired. These waves were tough. I had to let it all out for third place, and knew this lake was pretty short, just along the right side to the finish. I was so excited to paddle on my left, if all we had to do was kind of bend around the right shoreline.
When I got to the final lake, it was a nasty cross-wind and I realized I had to paddle on the right to stay on track. My shoulder was killing me. My form seemed to be deteriorating, and I was using different methods to get forward propulsion, like long, deep, powerful strokes, then I’d be doing rigid, choppy, but very rapid paddle strokes. It was all painful. There were a few boaters and I didn’t want them to look at me struggle. I had to put time on this guy behind me, we were both aware of where the finish line was at, and he was strong right behind me, steady. I saw a big building and thought the finish was around there. I just put my head down and cranked away. I thought I got into some weeds too close to shore. I looked back. He was there, but pretty far back. I couldn’t stop. That would be the only way to lose. I saw docks further to the left, and a couple kayaks. That must be the finish. My shoulder was so sore from paddling on my right side. I had to push as hard as possible. It would be over soon. I happened to barely have a peek on my watch in between violent paddle strokes, and noticed I was beyond four hours. Jeez. The finish line became close enough to see exactly how I had to skirt around a batch of reeds, then in between two docks to the beach, then run across the finish line. I paddled it home, feeling so ragged. I pushed my boat onto the sand, hearing it scrape, then jumped off with the leash still attached and ran my board over the finish line. Oof. It was over. I stopped my watch, then barely dragged my board off the finish line to where others were lined up, and almost clumped to the ground.
Due to goose poop, I stayed upright. My mom was there, asking me questions and if I wanted a ride. I couldn’t make a decision, or form coherent sentences, so essentially she left to get groceries and I slowly recovered from an all-out intense effort to capture third place in the stand-up paddleboard division. In a cooler there was water, and in a grocery bag beef jerky and other various snacks for racers. That was pretty tasty. I took the shuttle back to the start line, got my van, drove it back to Lake Darling, stopped on the way at a gas station. I got chocolate milk, 1919 root beer, and a white gatorade and it was all so good. Back to the resort, I hauled my board back to the parking lot and strapped it on. I hit lengthy road construction on the 5-mile drive back to the cabin, and by the time I was back I was so exhausted I didn’t make it to awards! The 17-mile effort was intense, but the format of paddleboard racing is addictively intense and I’m so excited to do at least the two next season, as well as various other paddleboard route attempts.
Watercraft: 14′ Bark Dominator
25 Jul 2021
Race Date: July 10, 2021 – 9am
The Vatten Paddlar was the first race I’d lined up for in about a year, and the second in 18 months. And my first paddling race! Needless to say, I was excited for a real race: to compete and push myself and get a finish line flood of the brain chemicals I like.
The morning started by picking up some drive-through breakfast at the coffee shop and hitting the freeway. I was planning to make the hour or so drive to northwestern Wisconsin, to the start line and drop my board, to the finish line to catch the shuttle, and shuttle back to the start. I was right on time, with ample time, despite being a little stressed until I got the start line. The first person I saw was the person I bought my new racing-style paddleboard from: John Mundahl from Herbster, Wisconsin. That was nice to know at least someone, which I didn’t really expect, and to talk about the board and paddling a little bit. I dropped my board and paddle near the launch by other crafts, in a bush, and went off to the start line. I wouldn’t really feel comfortable until I was back to the start line, even though that was hours away.
It was a 15 minute drive to the finish, and I caught the shuttle easily with a couple other paddlers and our nice driver. John shared the back seat with me and I did enjoy talking even more about paddling. It is fairly foreign to me still, and it’s honestly hard to find specific information about paddling, really especially stand up paddleboarding, on the internet. We got back to the start line with an hour at least until the start time at 9. I kind of dawdled around, did a fairly normal pre-race routine no matter what the sport, and got pretty excited pinning a bib to my jersey once again.
I think I was the only one to perform a warm up – I wanted to get into the water with a little bit of time to make sure my setup was on lock. I didn’t know if that was part of the rules. I had found an extensive rules document on the website the night before and was glad I had. Stay between the buoys and shore, no cheating. Eventually as we got within 10 minutes of the race start, the boats all piled in at once. I saw the couple other SUP competitors, and there were certainly a few other 14′ racing boards. My board’s former owner John was in a fast-looking canoe with his wife. The morning was just taking forever as we neared the start. A line of watercraft stayed behind the dock, “GO!” and we were off.
I didn’t look around me, but just paddled furiously right out of the gate to get ahead of everyone. I was wondering if I would regret pushing really hard right away, but I pushed hard right away anyways, and it kind of shook out with two canoes up ahead, a guy in a kayak in front of me, and the two paddleboards behind me. I knew that drafting was going to be very beneficial, and the kayak in front of me seemed to be a perfect option – just fast enough where I maybe couldn’t do that speed alone, but not too fast where I kill myself. I had to surge to get in the draft once I had the first fear of losing him. I took a peek behind me and saw a SUP paddler pretty close behind me as well.
When I got into the draft zone of the kayak, I almost hit him in the back of his craft! The stern. I could feel the draft immediately, and sucked right in. Ahh. But I didn’t have a good stroke. The stand up stroke is definitely different than a two-sided paddle stroke of a kayak, and I would kind of catch-up then fall-behind with each stroke as he had paddles in the water for pretty much double the amount of the time. I was dripping sweat a mile in on the beautiful Middle Eau Claire Lake, and maybe hit my fastest mile ever on a stand up paddleboard as my watch beeped for the first split in 11:40.
Training was spotty up to race day. I had a few 5-10 mile paddles on the new board, and that is about it… Dinking around at the beach or at the cabin, mile here, mile there, but nothing in any semblance of race training. I was going on pure general fitness to keep me in the mix here. And that lack of specific training maybe showed as I wiped the sweat away and skipped a stroke and the kayaker in front of me slowly pulled away from me. The SUP guy was pretty close behind me. I tried to tabulate the number of minutes as I crossed a cabin dock and rounded a corner. I was maybe a couple minutes in front, in first place in the small, small SUP division.
Looking at the race map beforehand, I had kind of broken the race into three parts – the first lake, the connector and the second lake. I knew there was a portage, and that was essentially into the home stretch. That’s what I had in mind as I suffered, trying to eek out every bit of power in my paddle stroke, track the board efficiently, and not lose time. I never realized how much you slow down if you don’t stay constantly paddling, until now, as I had someone behind me seemingly always paddling.
The course was beautifully marked with buoys well within eyesight every time. I was excited to see a river form on the southwest side of the lake and hopefully make up some time on the portage. I already knew I’d run it. The weather was absolutely perfect, despite the sun beating down and seemingly high humidity. I didn’t bring water – and figured I could go without water for an hour. I seemed to be on track for an hour as my watch showed a second split a little bit slower. The race was mostly west and southwest, and the wind was very calm out of the northeast. It was nearly a mile where the kayaker in front of me and the stand up behind me were equidistant to myself. As we entered a winding river-like waterway connecting Middle to Lower Eau Claire Lakes, we all broke up a little. The kayaker kind of took off, and I somewhat inadvertently cut the corner through some weeds. I knew that weeds in the fin would slow me down, but I could also inspect and remove weeds at the portage if I needed. The racer behind me took a wide turn around the weeds. Did I break the rules? Does he think I did? I was slightly concerned for a second, but oh well, no buoys and that wasn’t in the rules! Either way, I put the most distance on the field in the race so far. I pressed hard through a fun winding canal to the portage. There were a bunch of people, the Boy Scouts as it was told, at the sandy landing helping out. I didn’t take the help as I hopped right into the water with my shoes and all, grabbed my board and ran as fast as I could, hoping to catch the kayaker and get a draft in. I did catch him getting into his watercraft, and I tossed mine in right behind. I tried to get going as fast as possible, but the kayak pressed on with equal urgency and despite an intense surge I couldn’t close the gap. I looked behind and saw nobody. Under a railroad trestle, through another narrow channel, and I unfortunately got lodged on a sandbar. I quick jumped off and splashed around until I could push off to deeper water, and I hopped back on a furiously paddled away.
Onto the final lake, I knew it was a mile or so around the far shore to the finish. I just followed the buoys and tried to crank as hard as I could without stopping. I seemed to make up time on the kayaker as I grunted with each stroke. I was starting to feel the burn in my shoulders and wanted sweet relief from paddling so bad. But I wasn’t there yet. A quick glance at my watch and I knew I wouldn’t go under an hour. Oh well, I had so much time on the paddlers behind me I knew I’d at least win. That revelation made me slow down a little bit, as I continued to curve around the west side of the lake into a bay. I saw more people on the water then the finish line. Nice. I looked down and saw blood streaming down my leg. What the heck? It must have been a scab I ripped open on the foam decking when I hit the sandbar and had to jump off and back on the board. I washed it off with water quick, then finished up the race. Oof. I was so beat at the finish line, and my shoulders were dead. It was really nice to stop.
I talked with a few of the competitors, and one was going to the Big Ole race the next weekend. I left quickly, though, to get back to Duluth before noon. First, I took a cookie and grapes. Those were very delicious. The race was incredible – well produced and that is really important for a first timer to feel comfortable. It was different experience than I had before on a paddleboard. The thrill of racing… is great.
Pace: 12:36 minutes/mile
Watercraft: 14′ Bark Dominator
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!
12 Jan 2020
Race Date: Saturday, January 4, 2020 – 9:30am
After very challenging conditions one year prior, I was certain by race week that the trail surface at this year’s Northwoods would be prime. All it takes is one day to totally destroy or totally repair the trails in winter but the forecast looked prime and things shaped up perfectly.
I got my packet the night before at the Trailrunning Film Festival and cool films were great to get me jacked up to race and to run. Running consistency had been good but mileage stagnant and no speed work or long runs. My daily routine in the late fall and early winter kind of fell into place with running to and from work mostly. One week before, I had a reality shock when I realized that 26.2 miles is a long way, and went out for about a two hour/12 mile trail run. Just one week out and the conditions were very terrible and challenging to run… but what a week can do!
I thought Wynn Davis would win with ease, which he was certainly poised to do last year before he got lost. I hadn’t seen him for a year, since he ran off on the Amity snowmobile trail on loop one. And I didn’t see him on the start line. I wanted to complete this race smartly by running the first loop easily and then seeing what I had left for loop two, knowing I didn’t have a ton of run mileage in my legs in the previous month, and hopefully I’d be in the mix of the race. I get to the start line, however, and just have to be in the mix no matter what, right off the line. So when I heard “GO!”, I just shot off sprinting towards the hill up to the trails. Not sticking to the plan…
Oh yeah! The snowmobile trail was running fast. Fast and hard-packed. I realized right away that being too cold was not going to be an issue. Down to the bottom of Lester Park and some of the half marathoners went ahead and sprinted out of sight. Then I was leading a pack of all marathoners. We were chatting. Ryan Soule was right behind me, I’ve run with him before and knew he had a lot of races on deck. He did well at Icebox not two months prior, and was training for a 100k in February. He’s in shape. Was I in shape? I was feeling smooth going uphill and we were certainly moving. The mountain bike trail was in pretty dang good shape just for shoes. The time went by quickly but it was a grind getting up to Amity. We dropped one guy and it was down to three. I was excited to be in the race… this was going to be fun. I had to push a little once we got onto the snowmobile trail. I wanted to shake those guys. Why? Dumb! I was already pushing it way harder than I should be to stick to my initial plan. I think I had a form of “race brain” where I wasn’t thinking straight. So I sprinted off onto Amity Trail and dropped those guys. It was fast conditions, after all! Good footing. I ate a gel. I couldn’t eat and run and the two guys caught back up to me right away. Then passed me. Then I stopped to pee in the woods. They ran out of sight. I jogged in to the aid station and was brief. Dave and Sonja were there with several others. I barely even looked at faces, though bundled, and barely looked at the food, but grabbed as much as I could, ran off and tried to eat on the go. The road was very icy. I couldn’t see anyone up ahead. I had pretzels, pb and j, and an oreo or two. I was pretty warm with my headband around my wrist, gloves off, sleeves rolled up, shirt unzipped to ventilate. And that was perfect. Beautiful day.
I got a little frustrated running into the Hawk Ridge section. This is around mile 8, and the trail just seemed difficult. Soft, rutted, sugary, up and down, no traction. I couldn’t see anyone around me. Just keep those legs churning. I had no relief on Hawk Ridge proper. That COGGS trail has excellent views but is just challenging. I don’t care what season, it’s hard to run! How easy would it be to run on the road just 10 feet over through the woods… I kept those leggies churning, despite feeling the fatigue. Well, here is where things fall apart, I thought. Here is where I pay for walking into a marathon without any long runs. How long does that volume stay in the legs? Wild Duluth was only… 2 months and a few weeks ago. Yep, that is long enough to lose it.
The switchbacks near the end of Hawks Ridge were welcomed, and I enjoyed darting through the trees to get to the Amity West trails. I knew this section kind of went on and on and on, it’s very twisty and turny, and you can see the finish line way before the actual finish line. I went down and down and could open up a bit. The surface was great through Amity West despite a lot of ruts and ankle-busters. This was like real trail running, I thought. I saw Ryan on one of the switchbacks. Ooo! But then realized that that point in the trail could be pretty far away. I tried to estimate how many minutes passed until I got there. I estimated one minute. Sweet. Across Seven Bridges Road and I still hadn’t passed anyone. I felt that the half was near. I knew that we ran to the finish line then right back out. I took stock of my water. Would I have enough to make it to the aid station? Yes. But probably barely enough. Do I need food? No. I ate another gel. I passed the other guy, I think his name was Ryan too. He was peeing by a tree. He muttered “I’m getting tired” and I passed him. In an instant, there was the finish line. I saw Ryan Soule walking out of the aid station area, and made the half-way check-in by stopping in my tracks just past the finish line and sprinting right back out there. I passed Ryan, who was walking up the steep hill up and out of the finish area. Oof, yep I was getting sore. I took off on the snowmobile trail, which seemed to be in similarly good shape as the first loop. Maybe slightly less firm footing. Ryan was right behind me. I eventually remembered to look at my watch for my half split, roughly 1:45. The course also appeared to be slightly short, which I recalled from the year before.
I wondered if he was going to make me suffer. I wondered if I’d make him suffer. I thought about asking him if we were going to make each other suffer. Down to Lester and on to the uphill grind. I was pushing it decently hard. I felt the pressure of Ryan right behind me. This is where it gets gritty, I said to myself. So far so good. Nutrition, good. Water, good. Legs, hurting. Was the first loop too fast? Just keep those legs churning. That is what I did. I didn’t stop to walk, I kept that running motion going like a steam engine.
Up and up. Ryan was further back. Then I looked again and he was back a bit more. A few twists and turns and I could see him slip ever so slightly further back from me. That excited me, I got a little adrenaline boost and pushed it a bit. Ok, this is mile 15 or so… if I’m pushing it is that asking for a terrible disastrous end to the race? Remember self, no long runs recently!! I just kept chugging.
On top of Amity and I opened up a little. Not like the first loop, though. I was anxiously looking back and no Ryan. Could I hold first place? Oh yeah. The feeling of running scared is as good a motivator as any. One has the incentive to race smartly up front. One also should push it to keep the lead intact, though. A nice steady effort would be the best policy. Amity went quickly. It was a beautiful day. I tried to remember a good trick… practice gratitude. It just works well! If anything it’s something to fixate on. Maybe remembering to fixate on stuff that makes you terribly angry would do the same to make the task at hand less miserable. Oh well, gratitude works well so I’ll stick with that. I told myself how incredibly lucky I was to be out here. Where else would I rather be than in the perfect winter conditions that we were experiencing? Nowhere.
I was even more brief at the aid station the second time around. My eyes shifted behind me and I saw nobody approaching. Dave and Sonja were the only two that remained at the aid station and I barely muffled two words in between shoving my face with pretzels. I took an oreo to go and remembered to run on the right side of the road to avoid the huge ice floe. Into the Hawk Ridge section, I became frustrated with the sugary snow once again. I couldn’t really tell if the snow conditions had changed or my fatigue was inevitably making running harder. I kept ’em churning though. Hawk Ridge proper didn’t seem so bad the second time around. Maybe it was because I knew the end was getting near. It was getting quite warm, I ate another gel. I was getting excited to get off the Hawk Ridge escarpment because the Amity West trails were great on the first loop. Once I got there, though, it was a slog. I figured I had the win and would just need to somewhat maintain. Then my watch beeped in the high 13’s for a mile split. Whaaaat. I wasn’t going that slow, was I? I tried to find another gear. Ugh. Nope. It was a slog. Please don’t let this go, I begged myself. I was surprised I had maintained this well for this long. I recalled a few longer days within the previous handful of weeks out testing out these new Altai Hok fat skis. It wasn’t running, but I justified those backcountry ski miles as enough to keep me moving well this late in the race. Good training. Five hours working through deep snow has to be worth something, after all.
I reached the sliding hill overlooking the chalet and finish line, and there were plenty of people sledding and the trails were busier than ever. I figured I was three miles away to finish and well past an even split for the day. Oh well. The upcoming twists and turns and switchbacks would give me last chance look to see if it’d be a dog fight or I could run it in comfortably. As if I had any gear besides one, anyways. I leaned into that gear, muttering one last time my mantra for the day: “keep those leggies churning”. Any positivity was long gone and my brain had one distinct focus of finishing the damn race. Across Seven Bridges and I knew it was a matter of mere minutes before the pain and agony was over. I experienced a few frustrating stumbles and missteps. On the final stretch I thought race volunteer Mark was giving me a high five but he was pointing to the direction of the trail. Crap! I went the wrong way for a botched high-five and had to backtrack slightly. But just one tiny piece of trail and I was home. I sprinted in to the finish in first place. Sweet. Then I fell to my knees. Ouch.
Northwoods went surprisingly great. I had somewhat low expectations, I totally ignored my race plans from the first step, and raced kind of stupidly but it all seemed to work out perfectly. My body was wrecked though. I could just feel it immediately. Total destruction. That is the price to pay. I knew it’d heal, though. I think there is much to be said about the daily grind, in and out, rolling those miles. Either way: fun, painful, rewarding or tedious, it was a beautiful day, an impeccable day, out on the trails. That is the best part of it all.
25 Oct 2019
Wild Duluth 100k Race Day: Saturday, October 19 – 6am
Terribly Tough 10k Race Day: Sunday, October 20 – 9:30am
I had a pit in my stomach in the dark, headlamp shining, as I stood with 80 other runners at the start line of the Wild Duluth 100k. Sure, I was a bit nervous. 100 kilometers is a long way. What about the next day? I had expectations of myself and didn’t want to fail. But the pit in my stomach wasn’t as much from nerves as it was from just an upset stomach. Great…
The concept of going back to Wild Duluth was hatched during my experience pacing my pal Joe Calaguire at the Superior 100 Mile. During a reconnaissance run up the North Shore in August, I realized my flat abilities and low fitness levels and probably griped to he and his friend Gretchen about needing a race to register for the whole run. Gretchen highly recommended the Wild Duluth 100k, her favorite race, and both she and Joe then regaled about finishing the year prior. Dang… I told them about how I loved the 50k race, having finished in 2014, 2015, and 2016. After that long 34 miler in August, I definitely had Wild Duluth 100k on my radar. Or maybe the 50k… something for sure. Maybe for sure… that’s a lot of running. My body wasn’t in prime shape. I had ankle and foot issues, fears of injury. I felt really terrible after Brewhouse Tri though, the terrible feeling of being out of shape. I had to put together a training regiment but do it smartly and simultaneously cure my injuries and ailments. Is that even possible? I started to run regularly after that up north run with Joe. After all, I was gassed after 34 miles and he expected me to run 50 miles with him through the night at Superior. I hoped I could do it but didn’t even really expect it of myself. But I it would feel great to be able to run all 50. I started running daily, my mileage increased and I started designating one day per week as a long run. The next big run, of course, was Superior 100 itself in early September. My pacing duties were a shock to the system for sure. Despite going 17 minutes per mile on average, I had to bow out after… 34 miles. I had extra fitness, the pace was slower than our training run in August, but I was so tired and mentally unable to proceed after going the exact distance in our training run a month earlier. Joe had another pacer Ryan on deck and he took over. I took a nap, ate some food and had coffee and was lucky enough to join in for the last 7 miles. Ryan and I pushed Joe hard to the finish and it was super inspiring to watch and be a part of. He finished his first 100 mile run with nothing left in the tank, passing 3 people in that last section. I was jacked and even more excited to compete, train and finish Wild Duluth 100k. I had to go long. Plus Superior 100 2020… everything. I’d race everything in 2020! Yeah!
My excitement settled after Superior 100 weekend. Next up for me is NorthShore Inline Marathon, of which I am the race director, and which requires an extreme amount of time leading up to and on race weekend. I told myself I’d wait until after NorthShore to register for Wild Duluth but I couldn’t resist. I just had to. I signed up for the 100k, if nothing else just to get a 100k finish on the running resume and somehow jumpstart my training with 8 weeks or so to go. I noticed the new Wildman challenge. Either you run the 100k Saturday and 10k Sunday or the 50k Saturday and half marathon Sunday to complete the Ultimate Wildman or Wildman, respectively. So I signed up for the 10k too. Oh well, I could hike the 10k if push comes to shove.
My training then catapulted forward majorly. With the exception of NorthShore Inline Marathon race week, I’d averaged about 40 miles per week for over 5 weeks. I drew up a training plan for the remaining 5 weeks to Wild Duluth. A quick turnaround, but I was hearing local runner Jess Koski in my head. He was an interview subject for the Duluth Rundown podcast, and talked about high mileage training, specifically getting to the 100 mile week threshold. He claimed any runner can reach 95% of their potential by getting to 100 miles per week by any means necessary, and hold it for three weeks or so. “Hundred, hundred, hundred”. He also claimed he would jump from 20 miles per week to 100. It was unbelievable, reckless, but intriguing. After a long, droning and meticulous build cycle of over 20 weeks in the first months of 2019, I was excited to try something different. Also, I had no choice but to adopt some of Jess’s methodologies. Once NorthShore came and went I only had 5 weeks until Wild Duluth.
My plan was to bump up from and average of 40 miles per week to 60, then 70, then 80. NMTC Fall Trail series was in full swing, and I would do at least one long run per week. A big double on the weekend would be even better. But the key was to not get injured. I adopted a three prong approach with chiropractor, physical therapy, and massage. PT made a difference. I visited Malcolm Macauley, who is also the inventor of the Lightspeed Lift body weight reduction treadmill. I decided to put my eggs in that basket by getting some PT work and utilizing the Lightspeed Lift once per week to get my mileage. Week one was a success and I felt pretty good. On to week two and I bumped it up. All systems go. The body was holding up great. PT made a difference but I was also being diligent about foam rolling and taping my sore plantar facia band. The third week I bumped up to over 80 miles. My key workout for the week was a speedier 15 mile run on gravel in drenching rain (to build mental fortitude), then a 5 hour run (2.5 hours out and back on the Wild Duluth course) for 25 miles the very next day. I crushed them both, but was a little nervous about my pace for the 5 hour run. I found it difficult to hold 12 minutes per mile. It was a struggle to feel like I was running with a conservation mindset and getting consistent sub-12 minute mile splits on the technical and challenging race course. I could lock in right above that pace though… and 12:15-12:30 pace felt like the normal. I knew that wouldn’t be enough to win, though. After that final simulation run, I felt very confident about a 13 hour finish but wondered if I could pull off 12 hours or less. To win, I knew I’d need 11:30 or faster.
Come race day, I felt great. Every week at NMTC, I’d chipped away at my placements. They felt easier. I knew I was getting fit. I certainly put in the time on my feet with race simulations… One 20 miler on the race course at goal pace of 12 minutes per mile, a 38 miler on the SHT at goal pace, and my capstone workout of 25 miles at just slower than goal pace out and back on the toughest part of the race course. After a two week taper down, my body was feeling really sturdy. I knew I had some vulnerabilities but was fully aware of them and thought I knew how to mitigate any problem spots and early destruction. The 100k was my goal. Sunday 10k, afterthought. The competition was looking pretty stout, and primed for a great race. There were proven ultramarathon runners, past WD 1ook champions, but no superstar runners who would undoubtedly win. But there can always be that dark horse in the race…
I woke up very early on race morning with a 6am start. My stomach was feeling pretty crappy at home but I had to make sure I was full of food and ready to rock. The weather looked great and I was comfy at the start line in my shorts and singlet. “Ready, set, GO!” and the group of headlamp-donning ultramarathoners took off into the early morning darkness. The race director Andy ran with us to make sure we took the right route. I went off really fast with the intention of seeing who was out there. Who would follow? Who would pass me? If I got out to the front I’d know who else was out there. So I sprinted off, knowing (or simply hoping) that one fast mile on flat pavement wouldn’t have any impact on the remaining 61 miles. That first mile was well under 8 minutes, and I was in the front of a conga line of people, leading the race up to Enger Tower. I was passed on the trail by a guy who I swear was telling Andy at mile .2 he’d run over a marathon distance like 6 times but never done a marathon or longer race. I was pretty sure he said his name was Tyler. Atop Enger Tower I pressed my hand on the post to ring the giant peace bell. Then I saw Tyler standing there, not running, facing me. He’d been turned around already. Jeez, who is this guy!! I took the lead again, zipping on by to the first aid station. I didn’t really need anything but filled two tiny sips worth of water and ate one oreo. I saw the chase group in my peripheral vision bypass the aid station completely and run into the darkness of Lincoln Park. I already had to pee, and stopped in the woods shortly after the aid station. As I turned around I saw another group of people pass me. Sheesh, where am I at now? It doesn’t matter, RUN YOUR OWN RACE MIKE. That was to be my mantra for the day.
10 days prior at the NMTC Pine Valley fall trail series run, I had a lot of confidence and went out to race. Well, I got smoked. I was with a pack for a mile and fell off. They passed me mercilessly and it crushed me. The next race, Bull Run, was a challenging, hilly and longer one in Jay Cooke State Park. I told myself to race my own race. The effort was day and night better. I moved up from 11th that Wednesday to 4th place at Bull Run. I felt good the whole time and finished strong. It was confidence booster and mental focus that I needed. Race Your Own Race. So when the hoards of people passed me, I told myself that it was OK, and reminded myself of the magic pace of 12 minutes per mile, 5 miles per hour, that I was to hold for 50 miles straight, then crank it down or do whatever I needed to do for the remaining race to finish under 12 hours.
So I kept on moving forward. My next miles were right on target. Some slightly faster than 12 minutes, some slightly slower than 12. I’d see something like 11:47 flash on my watch for a mile split and say “yes, good” under my breath. I didn’t see or sense anyone behind me, and was surprised to not see anyone ahead of me. I mean, I was moving pretty good on the trail and it seemed like a lot of people passed me during that first aid station stop and pee break. After 5 miles, I was way ahead of my one hour target, thanks to the first three miles being very speedy. So I had a buffer. Time to lock in, and lock in I did. I continued to click off miles, under the bridge of Haines Road, and up to Brewer. Light came and I took off the headlamp. I ate a gel. My stomach hadn’t felt better from the early morning. In fact worse. Way worse. I almost had stomach cramps. I had a bit of the “clench” going on, and knew I wouldn’t make it to the toilet at the Highland Getchell aid station 3 miles away. I had to take an emergency dump, so pulled off of the trail to a cliffside, held on to a tree and popped a squat. I was sure glad to have brought toilet paper in a baggie in my small handheld water bottle. It was a quick ordeal and not too unpleasant. I then ran off, like a rocket shot off. I felt like $1,000 bucks and no longer in discomfort physically or mentally. The feeling of knowing you have to poop can drag on you. Smooth, I said to myself. Keep it smooth.
The miles kept clicking off and it seemed like no time that I was at the Highland Getchell aid station about 9 miles in. I still had a buffer, and still hadn’t seen anyone ahead or behind me. I realized I forgot a cup and it was cupless event. Of course, I had my water bottles (handheld and vest with two bottles), but nothing for pop at the aid stations. I wanted coke! I instructed my all-star crew of Emily and my mom to fill up my bottle with water. I was brief and frenzied. I left them to run into the parking lot to the portable toilet. It was just to clean up and use the hand sanitizer. Mission accomplished. Back to normal. Luckily my friend and aid station attendant Mae lent me a cup. I drank coke, had some pretzels and shoved gummi bears in my mouth as I headed down the trail. I finally saw someone approach from behind just as I darted onto the trail. Down, down, rocks, roots, up, up. I’d lost the guy behind me. Back to no man’s land. My watched beeped for 10 miles and I was still well ahead of my target 2 hours for the distance. I was locking in at my goal pace, though. Where is everyone else? I wondered why I wasn’t passing anyone. I mean, I’m running good, running consistent miles. It seemed like there were so many people in front of me. RACE YOUR OWN RACE MIKE. The miles continued to click off during the overcast and fair morning. I was kind of warm already. The handheld was a great choice, though, and I felt like I had plenty of water and room for food while traveling as lightly as possible.
The next section was going good but also was frustrating. I kept rolling my ankles. Both of them slipped many times, and every time I’d yell and swear. Luckily I was in no man’s land and nobody was around to hear me. Nothing was lasting, but I knew each slip of the ankle caused damage. My ankles, feet or lower legs were probably going to go first, so I had to protect them. Whoop, ankle roll, “FAAAA!!!”
With energy and feeling smooth, I made it down Spirit Mountain with ease. Those were some smooth downhill miles, but I couldn’t help but think ahead with dread on how uncomfortable the climb back up would be, because it seemed like a full 2 miles downhill to get to the unmanned water station at the Spirit Mountain lower chalet. I prepared to refill my water and was surprised to see Emily and my mom. Hmm, I thought I told them to skip this aid station and go to Magney… I didn’t say anything, just drank some gatorade and grabbed a gel. It was a quick in-and-out. I did ask out loud about my placement and the field ahead, and the HAM radio operator chimed in to say I was in 8th place. Hmm! Interesting. The top guys were must be making time on me, and I believe the report was that a few guys were running together about 20 minutes up. Nothing crazy…
The climb up the other side of Spirit was tough, but I made it through smoothly with no damage done. Keepin’ it smooth. When I got to Magney, I ate some pretzels at the aid station while a volunteer filled up my handheld water bottle. They asked what they could do for me, and I replied that my crew wasn’t here yet. I asked them to tell my crew that I left already. They asked who my crew was. I said Emily and my mom. Then I saw Emily drive by at the exact moment I ran off. I told the aid station volunteers that that was my crew. I hoped they’d make it to the Munger Trail aid station in time. I kind of worried about that, but knew I had some time before I’d make it there myself.
Down, down, down, puddle jumping some creeks and through the woods I ran. Up to Bardon’s Peak, I wondered when I’d see 50k runners and was excited to see how that race would be panning out. I still hadn’t seen a 100k runner since the one guy at Highland Getchell. Nobody in front of me. No man’s land! Race your own race. I was completely impressed by the lack of water and mud on the trail. The trail was dry and tacky. Boardwalks were bone dry. I did experience a few mud pits that were pretty raunchy, but they were surprisingly few and far between given the amount of rain Duluth had received in September and October. I saw two 50k runners while traversing the rocky outcroppings near Ely’s peak. They were neck and neck in the front. I didn’t recognize either of them. About a minute back was my running pal Kyle Severson, who I’d shared many running miles with this summer. I saw Chase Edgerton, a guy with a really cool name who I met at many of the NMTC fall race series races. He and I duked it out several times. He was in the mix. I saw Anna Lahti right up there, Kaelyn Williams right behind her, who I’d pegged to win. Pat Davison gave me a high five on the trail as he passed. I saw Kyle Schmidt right up there, too. The top 15 runners in the 50k were all within 10 minutes of each other. It’d be a dog fight out there. Cool. Dave Schaeffer yelled at me as we passed. It was fun to see friends. I passed the top 20 people before the Munger/Beck’s Road/Ely’s aid station. Once on the Munger Trail, I ran it in to the my crew feeling really good. I was frenzied at the aid station stop but Emily knows exactly what to do. She’s been through this before, and probably knows what to do better than I do. Mom was taking pics with my sister’s dog Rose in tow. I told them I wanted pizza back here. Emily said Hugo’s didn’t open until 11. I said I meant on the way back and ran off into the woods.
I was 20 miles in and right on pace. I hadn’t hit 4 hours quite yet. I tried to pinpoint my exact mileage at 4:00. 20.9. That puts me about 1 mile up on my goal pace, a buffer of almost 12 minutes. Let’s call it 10 minutes up. That’s a good little buffer. My body was getting sore, sure, but I was feeling really good. Really controlled, mentally stable, positive. I told myself that I should feel super lucky to be out here in the woods. I am so lucky that my training went so well and I’m out here and really doing it. The passing 50k’ers offered encouragement, and personal contact brings one out of one’s own mind temporarily. Before long, I caught up to a 100k runner, local guy Alex. I chatted with him a little bit, he seemed to be in good spirits. He let me pass and I made the move and wished him well. A few more miles, getting closer to Jay Cooke, and I passed another. Matt was his name and it was his birthday. Cool! I wished him a happy birthday as I made the pass and left him out of sight. I KNEW I’d start picking people off. My strategy was paying off. So I started thinking… Ok now I’m in 6th place. I’d see every single competitor in the 100k because of the out-and-back format. When would I see the front runners? How far up would they be? What would they look like? Are they killing each other up there in a game? I am just back here racing my own race. I figured past champion Ryan Braun would be up there, if not hanging in first place. I also figured beast ultra runner Brandon Johnson would be up there. He is super strong. I passed one more runner in the deep technical woods outside of Jay Cooke. Then across a ridgeline and down a huge hill towards the Saint Louis River.
I was in and out of the Grand Portage aid station, which is prohibited to crews. I asked how the field was stacking up. They said I was maybe 4th place and the two guys up front were way up there, probably 20 minutes up. I knew I was 5th place, so took a mouthful of delicious Coke flavored gummi bears and ran off. I took advantage of the easy running through Jay Cooke towards the turnaround. Besides a few monster climbs and descents, the trails were wide, flat, rockless and rootless. Thus, completely runnable. I made some really good time and knew I was close to the turnaround and the next chance to see my crew. I was really looking forward to it. Still feeling pretty good, I tried to capitalize on the best running terrain that I’d have the whole race. I noticed some much faster running splits but was OK with that. I saw the first place guy come through at about 5:35 race time. I was curious at what exact mileage the turnaround would be at. 31? 30? My goal going into Wild Duluth was to go under 12 hours. For better or worse, the exact mileage would have a big factor on whether I could hit that benchmark. I saw the second place guy, for sure it was Tyler and he looked really good, just a few minutes back. Then I saw Brandon maybe 5 minutes down from the leader, and Braun a minute or so behind him. A minute later, I got to the aid station. The front was decently clumped up, and there I was in 5th place. I couldn’t imagine there was anyone in the chase. I was running so consistently.
At the turnaround, I sat down to take a load off. Emily replenished my handheld water bottle with water and gels in the pocket. I’d kind of slowed down on eating on the trail. My gel intake was OK but I wasn’t making much progress with the gummis or more solid food like Clif bars. As I sat I ate handfuls of Old Dutch chips, which were immensely delicious. My watch read 30.6 miles or so. Without much more ado, I stood up gingerly. Oof. All the sudden my legs felt so heavy. I asked my mom and Emily about pizza and they said they’d have it and would see me at Munger Trail aid station. I grazed the aid station for munchies, filled my mouth and my hand with various snacks, and set back off across Highway 210 and into the woods. Back to Bayfront. My watch read 5:49. So I figured I was about… 13 minutes back from the leader. Wait, double that because it’s out and back and I’m 26 minutes back? Oof. Race your own race, Mike! Next on the chopping block is Ryan. Then Brandon. No… race your own race, race your own race. Either way, I was doubtful I’d be able to do anything because my legs felt terrible. How did this happen??
Running was a drag. Luckily, I was able to keep up a good clip and hit some fast miles on the first hour of the return trip. I felt a need to make a pit stop and at Forbay Lake saw a portable toilet. Might as well stop… so I did and it was a good idea. I hobbled back into the woods and some cheery horse riders congratulated me and told me they were counting and I was in fifth place. I barely mustered “thanks” with a deep sigh. A glance at my watch was timely as I saw 6 hours come and go. My mileage was relieving, almost 31.5 miles in, and I was proud that despite feeling like shit I was able to run good. At this point, I figured I had a buffer of 20 minutes on my goal of 12 hours. Excellent. So I tried mental tricks such as gratitude. I told myself how lucky I was to be out here. How lucky could I be to be able to do this? How lucky am I to have had such a great training regiment. I nailed those workouts to get me here. As long as I could run smoothly, I’d be in good shape. The pain is fake. Smoooooooth. Smooth running on these nice runnable trails. Ugh a hill…
I saw 100k’ers heading to the turnaround and my notions of an absent chase pack were confirmed. I was pretty well set in 5th place and I figured at the very least I could hold this effort or slow down within my 20 minute buffer to get 12 hours flat and hold my place of 5th. It was nice to see all the other 100k participants, but I felt bad by not offering much encouragement. I just didn’t have the energy to respond with anything more than “thanks” or “nice work” or just “nice” or a mumbled “mehhh” as they passed.
The whole way to Grand Portage was pretty rough. I just didn’t feel good. I knew I had to run and was luckily running good, but it was not fun. I saw Bob and Lindsay at Grand Portage as I took some pretzels, coke and gummi bears. Luckily they had cups there. The coke was delicious. I ran off quickly, barely noticing Lindsay holding their newborn baby! As I entered the solemn woods once again I felt bad about not stopping or barely acknowledging them and their new baby. Gah, I just got my head down… Oh well, down to business here.
The big climb out of Grand Portage was actually very welcome. The change in pace, literally, felt nice. I wasn’t power hiking very fast but making my way up good enough, and the change-up of terrain made running at the top just a bit easier. I ate a gel and had a bit of a second wind. The sun was coming out after being pretty cloudy all day. Not that that was necessarily good… I had been sweating all day. I squirted myself with my water bottle and it felt great. Up ahead, I saw Braun. Ooo! There we go. After some tough miles after the turnaround I was in survival mode. I had a pretty big buffer on my time goal, so let’s get it. I slowly reeled Ryan in and when he sensed me nearby he immediately pulled to the side and let me pass. I thought that was strange. I chit chatted a little bit, and he said he was pretty drained after getting a cold earlier in the week. Dang. What a bummer. Ryan had done a 11:32 and an 11:31 in the past two years at Wild Duluth 100k for 1st and 2nd place, respectively. He knew how to race this thing and was frankly my biggest concern competition-wise before race morning. It’s a bummer he wasn’t able to compete at the same level he was accustomed to at this race, but that is how life goes. I made the pass and after a few minutes, looked back to see nothing and nobody. That provided me with a little jolt and I was back. I was back! Keep it up, Mike. You are doing great. You are fuckin’ doing awesome Mike. I was talking myself up. It kind of fell on deaf ears and I couldn’t help but feel tired, depleted, sore and ready to be done. But I knew I still had juice in my legs and they kept churning. It was turning out to be a completely beautiful day, the sun shining through the fall leaves. Colors were amplified at the vast overviews atop Saint Louis River bluffs. With a series of switchbacks and a climb ahead, I heard my name. “GO MIKE!” I responded “Brandon?” I knew it was him. I saw him walking with his trekking poles. I jogged up steps carved into the hillside to catch up, and chatted with him a bit. He seemed eager to talk. He said he was dragging a little bit but still well on target for his 13 hour finish. I said he’d be on track for 12. He said he wasn’t but for sure under 13. OK. I wished him well and continued on ahead of him, running out in front. He kept talking and I felt kind of bad leaving him in the dust. It’s a race baby, and the pass gave me another little jolt. No time to chat, I had to exploit that boost of energy. Now where are these other two guys, I wondered. Brandon was now out of sight, and I tried to do some quick math. Was I still on track? Oh yeah, for sure. Is Brandon just factoring in some major slow down to get under 13 or am thinking wrong? I figured if I held 12 minutes per mile from here on out I’d get to mile 60 at like 11:40. That’s a super respectable finish time.
I felt pretty good and was happy about the terrain through Mission Creek. It was just variable enough to get a good mix of power hiking and running. Both felt decent, neither felt great. I nibbled on some gummis. I ate a salted carmel Gu and it was delicious. I wondered if I’d be hungry for pizza in an hour. I wasn’t hungry at all. Taking down a gel is one thing, slamming pizza is a totally different deal. It was good to be in a good mood. I thought about grabbing my trekking poles for the climb up Ely’s Peak. That means I’d need my vest. That may be a good switch-up. I didn’t mention anything to Emily, though, so they probably wouldn’t be prepared. Hmm. I’ll ask anyways. I knew I was close to the aid station, and very excited to see my crew, when I crossed over Beck’s Road. John Storkamp was the volunteer crossing guard, and in a brief pause for a vehicle to pass I asked how the field was looking. He said they were way up, maybe 20 minutes. Hmm. Ok.
I saw my mom in the woods before popping out to the aid station. She was yelling like crazy, very excited. I guess it was exciting… I’d passed two more people to scrape my way into third place. I yelled at her to get my poles from the car. She said they were there. When I sat down and started nibbling on a piece of pizza, I mentioned how I was really happy with my time so far and knew I could hold this pace and really happy with being in third place. My neighbors Pete and Susan and Clarence were there cheering me on. It was an energetic atmosphere. I was happy to see my poles and vest on the ground. Nice. Crew knows best! I instructed Emily to fill my two vest water bottles. An aid station volunteer took them from here right away and filled them up. Nice. I spent longer at this stop, taking time to drink fizzy water, mountain dew and gatorade. I was parched, as my handheld bottle had been emptied in the last section. The volunteer pushed me back out. “Ok it’s time you get back out there man!” Better not argue…
I went off, poles in hand. Oof, that’s was a rough transition. I felt like I could barely run, but eventually the wheels started rolling, I got momentum and ran it out on the Munger Trail towards Ely’s Peak. Light like a feather. During the toughest climb of the race course up Ely’s, I was breathing heavily. I felt OK, was thankful to have my poles, but when I got to the top and was able to run I couldn’t get the discomfort of the vest out of my mind. I had used this on all three of my long training runs, plus the two 34-milers with Joe. It didn’t bug me then! Were the straps off? I tried to fiddle with the straps a bit. It made no difference. Ugh, whatever. My underarms were already chafing from the singlet rubbing and I’d forgotten time and time again to apply some ointment to those trouble spots. My nipples were getting quite painful but not to the point where I could remember to address it at an aid station. So what’s a little rubbing from this pack on my shoulders? I just kept hammering up and over Ely’s.
The next mile split was well over 12 minutes. More like 15:00. Bad. Oh well, that’s why I had the buffer on my time. I knew the next 10 miles would be the most difficult on the whole course. That’s an objective statement… they’re just the hardest miles. Not to mention I was at mile 42 or so. 20 to go. If I could get to mile 50 feeling OK I knew I could hammer out the last bit faster than this bit. But I already didn’t feel OK. Although, I had experienced a little bit of a renaissance between Grand Portage and Ely’s Peak. My positivity waned with each mile towards the Magney aid station as every single split was over 12 minutes. I got close to 12 a couple times… maybe a 12:45 minute mile here or there. But those were met with some 15 minute miles. That won’t do it. I saw my buffer fade into oblivion with each mile. And each beep of the watch, I’d do math. 20 minutes up on my time. 15 minutes up on my time. 10 minutes up on my time. 9 minutes up on my time. It was still a buffer, but my trajectory was not looking good. I wondered if I’d see my crew at Magney. They had plenty of time to get from Ely’s to Magney, but from Magney to the bottom of Spirit Mountain is only two miles for me, and a difficult route for Emily and my mom in the car. With much more water on my back instead of in my hand, I ran through the Magney trailhead without stopping. I wasn’t hungry anyways. I saw Bruce, Brandon’s dad, with a familiar bag of Old Dutch dill pickle chips in his hand. He said Emily gave it to him for me. I declined his offer and ran off. It was a rough looking run though. Only two miles, all downhill, to Spirit. Make it Mike. Make up some time baby. Let’s do it. You’re doing great. You’re doing it. Keep it up. I’m so lucky to be out here. This is great. Fuck this. I hate this. I’m dead. My legs are fucked.
I ate another gel and snacked on a gummi or two, then strategized a bit. It was a big uphill climb out of Spirit Mountain. I should keep the poles, despite my slow going with them and the pack. This stupid pack was rubbing so bad but I didn’t even care. It wasn’t painful. It would have been, and should have been, but any and all pain was being compressed and shoved away. Eat some food at Spirit. Climb up and out of Spirit and you can make up time on the way to Highland Getchell. From Highland, it’s pretty runnable. If I can feel good at Highland I can run it in for the most part. What do I need to do to get there? Eat food.
I sat at Spirit and ate a waffle. I shoved another gel in my pack, then drank mountain dew and some big slugs of gatorade. Emily said that the two guys up front were duking it out. She thought one guy passed the other, and the one guy had asked her exasperatingly how much farther. Psh, a long way bro! So someone was hurting… I left quickly, but not without mentioning I’d drop the pack and poles at Highland Getchell. The climb up Spirit was brutal and with a lot of walking. I hiked up and up. I knew it’d be slow. I remembered it from the way down. It was slow. My mile splits were not encouraging. My buffer further minimized. I made OK time on the back side of Spirit, though. Just keep moving. Where is that guy?
I tried to recall the specific point when my watched beeped 10 miles. It was a specific point… oh yes, Cody Street! That was my benchmark. I could do that last stretch in two hours for sure. Where was I? Close. I kept checking my watch over and over as I thought I got closer to the Munger Trail. The 10 hour mark got closer and closer and I knew I was getting closer and closer to Cody Street. Then from the Munger Trail, under the I-35 freeway, it was maybe 5 or 10 minutes to Cody Street. I popped at onto the Munger at 10 hours flat. I was just over 50 miles. My buffer had minimized from 20 minutes at mile 40 at Ely’s Peak to 4 minutes. I tried to run faster to get to Cody Street at a good time. I saw a runner up ahead. I’ve been pacing this whole thing for 12 minutes per mile, 5 miles per hour, which equates to 12 hours for 60 miles. But wait, this is a 100k race. That’s supposed to be 62 miles. My GPS was indicating that it’d be closer to just over 61 miles. That means my 12 hours estimate has been wrong this whole time. Oh no. It was completely demoralizing. Not only have I lost 15 minutes in the last 10 miles, but I desperately needed that 15 minutes to get under 12 hours. At this point, I’m not 4 minutes up on that magic 12 hour finish time, I’m over 10 minutes down if I keep doing 12 minutes per mile. Crap. I started thinking about how I’d frame this… I’d post on Facebook how I didn’t meet my primary goal, how I didn’t meet my secondary goal of a sub-12 hour finish, but had a great race and did as well as I could. I put it all out there. I can’t go any faster right now, so… that’s the story. I was happy to know that I was about a mile out from the next aid station, where I’d get to see my crew again. And I’d get to drop this god damn pack and poles. They suck. So keep on running. You’re doing great Mike. How awesome is this that you’re doing so well. I tried to force my brain to be positive. My legs did keep churning forward, so maybe the mental positivity did work. But it was kind of fake, because I would just as quickly revert to negativity and dread, an overwhelming desire to stop.
As I strongly anticipated the upcoming aid station, I saw a shadow up ahead. I actually sniffed, as in smelling blood in the water. There he is. Time to crank. I sprinted ahead, a major jolt of energy out of nowhere. The guy who was leading at the turnaround was walking, and I ran up the hill, blazing past him in a blur. It felt great, so strong and forceful. He’s not passing me again. Nobody is. I’m up here in second place now. The excitement was still with me as I ran into the Highland Getchell aid station. I was so excited to get the vest off of my back, and I dropped them with my poles, took my handheld water bottle back, now stuffed with enough food to bring me to the finish. Emily told me the guy in first place was way up and looking really good. He was 17 minutes ahead of me. Oof, that’s a big gap. She said “sorry hun”. I waved my hand at her. Oh well, I figured that sort of time would win the race. This guy put together a good race. Good for him. I was pretty sure it was Tyler, who had never run a ultramarathon race before. It’s gotta be him. Nice work guy. I made a brief stop at the food table to grab some gummi bears. I ran off, excited to be in second place and close this race out. I knew it was relatively easier running from here on out and I would be able to hold a decent pace. I still had some juice in my legs, but the uphills would sap me. It was really hard to get back running once I’d stopped. I felt a pre-cramp feeling on the insides of both of my upper thighs, especially when I was power hiking. Would my inner thighs actually cramp? That would be bad. At a boardwalk, I hopped up and my calf almost cramped. It was that pre-cramp feeling. Yikes. That’s a close call. My calf felt like it was on the absolute fringe of an all out cramp. I told myself “relaxed”. “Smooth and relaxed. Run smoooooth and relaxed.” So that’s what I did. But any small hill would stop me nearly dead in my tracks. My hike was slow. But once I got going, especially on a slight downhill, I could roll.
I was at about 10:20 race time out of Highland Getchell. 17 minutes is impossible to close, Emily said it all with the solemn “sorry hun”. But now it was a race of the clock. 9 miles in 1:40 is… hard. I tried to calculate based off of my magic goal pace of 12 minutes per mile. 9 miles takes 1:48. So I need to shave off… about one minute per mile. Let’s get it. I went into overdrive mode. I had told myself all day that once I get to mile 50 I can let ‘er rip and just go. Well, here I am in second place, having moved steadily through the field with my “Race Your Own Race” strategy, on the cusp of going under 12 hours. It was going to be extremely close regardless. I tried to make good on the runnable sections of trail, but would get stymied by any little hill. My power hiking was slow, and it would take precious time and effort to get back going again. Come on, keep pushing keep pushing keep running, run run run. Run Mike. Run right here. I’d push off of a tree to get some forward momentum. My mile splits were OK, but not good enough. High 11’s. Some low 11’s. I was clicking them off. I got a little turned around atop Brewer Park with the zig zagging mountain bike trails and a reroute. I got back on course and tried to sprint down Brewer. I made good time, but was once again stymied under the Haines Road bridge. I just couldn’t run up the hill! Crap, I’m losing time. Each mile was enough to keep the dream alive, but not enough to be comfortable at all. Let’s get it, Mike. Come on, you can get 12 hours. I really didn’t want to not meet either of my goals. To have the goal to win is stupid because you can’t control who signs up and what sort of shape they are in. But the goal to go under 12 hours is all me. Regardless, they were both goals for this race and I was close to meeting at least one of them. Come ON Mike, let’s GO! I pushed hard. I wasn’t hungry or thirsty. I didn’t feel depleted, full, or anything besides tired. But I was fortunate enough to be able to run on any slight downhill. So when I saw them, I took advantage.
Piedmont came and went, check that off. I sprinted down the steep decline, jolted across Skyline, then down down down across some boardwalks. This section was mostly downhill so I anticipated making up some good time, but there were no incredible mile splits here. A few more in the 11 minute range. Good enough, but not great. I really looked forward to the flat section and brief road run getting into Lincoln Park. I thought I was close, just around the corner. Nope. Right over this hill right? Nope. When I get there it’s like a mile to the aid station. Get there Mike. Boom, there it is. I ran it out, passing a 50k’er or two in the process. I sensed the final aid station was close so expended some extra effort, all adrenaline at this point, to get there. I ran up the hill away from Miller Creek. If I could get to the aid station at 11:30 race time, I could make three 10 minute miles. I can do that to close it out. I can do it! I popped out at 24th Avenue West, crossed the road to the aid station. I planned on dropping my water bottle to go extra light. All I need is some gatorade and I’m off. No time to spare. I heard Emily yelling frantically and literally jumping up and down with her hands in the air. “GO GO GO!!! Mike, keep running, come on you can’t stop here!!!” Ok, that’s what I was planning on doing I guess… but when I got closer to her she yelled at me: “he’s right there! He’s walking, go get him! You got first place!” WHAAT? I was in utter disbelief. How did I make up 17 minutes? I thought he was in good shape at Highland Getchell? That was 6 miles ago, how can he fall apart that bad this close to the end? But it doesn’t matter… there he was. He was moving really, really slow. I chased him down. Wait, that’s a 50k runner. I passed the 50k runner. There Tyler is. I recognized his white jersey. He had a pacer. They were walking. I was running. Running hard, actually.
I’d been here before. In 2015, I was in 2nd place in no man’s land from mile 15 to mile 28 in the 50k race. I somehow caught up to the first place guy, saw him at the final aid station, but he ran away from me and I couldn’t respond. I wasn’t going to let this happen this time. I want it too bad. I got juice left in the tank. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. My head buzzed a bit. The adrenaline rush was intense. So I picked up the pace even more as his pacer glanced behind him. I made a decisive pass. Tyler congratulated me. I didn’t say anything. I heard his mom, presumably, driving on Skyline Road within shouting distance. She yelled at Tyler “he’s in the 100k!!” I was completely within earshot, just 10 feet ahead of Tyler and his pacer. He yelled back “I don’t care.” Well, if that how he feels… and I sprinted into the woods as hard as I possibly could.
I was in first place. Holy crap. How did that happen?? What an incredible racing experience to fall behind at mile 3, run alone in 8th place until mile 22 or so, then just move through the field one by one by one until mile 58. The adrenaline carried me up to Enger Tower. I didn’t walk, somehow summoning the energy to trot up the hill. There were kids at the peace bell but I just had to ring it. I asked them if I could but didn’t wait for them to respond. They moved aside as I jammed my hand against the pole. Then I set off on a dead sprint. It’s all down from here and I can roll three fast miles. I know I can. I have to. I’d crossed the 24th Ave West aid station at 11:30 flat. Three 10 minute miles is all it takes. I recited Drake lyrics in my mind: “I want it all, half was never part of the agreement.” I want both my goals. I spent the whole race thinking it wouldn’t happen and here it is, well within my grasp. I sprinted downhill further and further. Across 3rd Street, Across 1st Street. I was going almost too fast for my brain to process the rocks and roots. But that wasn’t because it was actually too fast, it was because I was actually too tired. I knew if I could get to Superior Street with 10 minutes to spare I could run it in. It’s flat pavement from there. Unless my calf cramps on the hard pavement. Yikes. It was so close to cramping, I could just feel it right there. But I popped out to Superior Street, sprinted across and over the freeway bridge with 10 minutes to spare. I was going to do it. I kept pushing down the path, across Railroad Street, onto the bike path that I ran with Andy and the whole rest of the 100k field 12 hours prior. A few turns into Bayfront, a glance at my watch and I knew I’d have the sub-12 hour finish. The adrenaline had never left and when I thought about that seemingly impossible finish time the hair on the back of my neck stood up, my head buzzed, and I knew I’d give a big yell at the finish line.
I had a cheering squad at the finish, and Andy was there to give me a hug. Then I yelled. My watch said 11:56, I was jacked up. I couldn’t believe the finish. Just unbelievable.
I waited for Tyler, Ryan and Brandon to finish. Tyler was a skier, new to the area and a Saint Scholastica student. I told him he had some serious potential. He was he wasn’t really trying to win or anything, just wanted to check out the trail community and try something new. He pacer said they walked the last 7 miles. Ouch.
I was painfully sore, and my mind went to the next day. I left absolutely nothing in the tank for the Terribly Tough 10k. My legs were shot. Luckily, there were no injuries that I could discern, just extreme full body soreness and pain, especially in my legs, obviously.
At home, I took a shower and finished it off by standing up, turning the water all the way cold and standing with the front of my legs and the back of my legs towards the water for about 5 minutes. Then back to warm. Then compression socks. Then food. I couldn’t really eat. I had an array of drinks but couldn’t seem to drink enough to replenish the dehydration. Like I was kept forgetting to drink. My head was so buzzed up from the win and the whole race day that I wasn’t tired even by 10pm. I had woken up well before 5am. Ugh. My alarm was to go off at 8:20am the next day. I tossed and turned all night.
The next morning, I woke up well before my alarm. Emily got up first and I rolled around a little bit. I was for sure sore. But it didn’t seem like anything would be of serious concern for the 10k race. I was curious if I could push or if the body would say no. I noticed some strange specific pains. My second smallest toe on my right side. Shoulders from pack rubbing. Underarms from jersey rubbing. Left back of heel. Calves. Hamstrings. Quads. Hips. Butt. I stood up and stretched a bit, went to the ole foam roller, and it actually felt good to press on my muscles a bit. The foam roller, as always, works out all kinks and I already felt way better than the previous night. Even after the cold shower I was so sore, but this morning I was loosening out really well. This may just happen. I’m gonna go for it, I thought to myself. I told Emily I thought I’d go for it. We agreed to get takeout coffee and bagels, I gathered my stuff together and we headed back to the Munger aid station, the Superior Hiking Trail trailhead at 123rd Avenue and Beck’s Road where the inaugural Terribly Tough was going to start. During the car ride, my legs stiffened up and I was pretty uncomfortable by the time we parked.
Looking at the start list, I knew I could win on fresh legs. Racing the NMTC series prepares you extremely well for a 3-6 mile all-out effort on challenging and tough trails. But what about super trashed legs… I figured I would warm up a little bit and just see how things feel. I got out of the car, walked it off, checked in and used the restroom. I went back to Emily’s car to roll out my legs a bit more with the 1″ PVC pipe section I’d brought. That felt good, and I felt good. Good considering the circumstances.
Emily walked out with me, took my clothes and said she’d meet me at Spirit Mountain. Then she left. I was in a little bit of an unconventional race outfit. First of all, I couldn’t stand to turn my ankles anymore. I was deathly afraid of my ankle tendons being so inflamed that they couldn’t hold my foot in place and I’d roll my ankle even more often. I couldn’t take that! So I taped my feet like crazy. It initially hurt because of the tape pulling on my skin and leg hair but that was a non-factor once I started warming up. I put on compression socks, my “old” mikeward.cool jersey, and half tights, which I’d never really run in, let alone raced in. Finally, I had the same handheld at the previous day. It was a little damp. Gross. But nothing in it besides water in the bottle.
With 10 minutes or so to the start, I tried running. All systems go. I saw Brandon and his running partner Sam, who’d run the 50k the day before, on the Munger Trail and so we jogged a bit. Brandon was running good despite the 100k. Sam was too. They were both planning to complete the 10k with their wives at a slower pace than their speediest potential. We turned around right before the rocky entrance to Ely’s Peak. I really thought I could run this thing at a decent clip. Would I crash and burn majorly at mile 1? Who knows.
Lining up at the start, I saw Schuney and Greg Haapala right up front. Andy made some pre-race announcements and before long, he yelled “Ready, Set, GO!!” through the megaphone. We ran up the little gravel entrance to Munger Trail, took a right, and hit the pavement for a quarter mile. I sprinted out front right away. Why? I do not know. Why do I have to start hot every single time?? I just wanted to see. I glanced behind me at the railroad bridge and Schuney was right there with me. I might not be able to take the trails or any elevation… might as well bank some time on the flat pavement. A hard left onto the rocks and I just hopped on up and scrambled up and up and up. So far so good. No implosions. Feels normal. Weird! But oh, I was breathing heavy. Nothing like that the day before at all.
I made it atop Ely’s peak, past quite a few bystanders, feeling really good. I made the scramble pretty quickly and even though I was breathing super heavy and my heart rate was probably jacked, I still had juice to run on the flats. I hopped around the rocks on the top of Ely’s and it was really fun. Dang, how is this happening! I didn’t feel frustrated with the trails, the rocks weren’t bothering me. The excessive ankle taping seemed to holding up fine. I felt solid! My watch’s first mile beep confirmed that with a time under 10 minutes. I noticed Dave behind me. But eventually he was gone. Hmm! The rocky section on top of Ely’s came and went, now into the woods. On to Bardon’s Peak. The day was utterly perfect. Beautiful temperature in the morning, ample sunshine. The trail was dry, nicely stamped down from the day before. Low wind, it just seemed that the trail was more visible than the day before. I was zooming. It felt really fast and really fun. That gave me a jolt.
I could jump up rocks and do small technical scrambles just fine, and there are plenty of them, but had issues with the longer inclines. Those sapped me a few times. I just tried to churn my feet up any hills. I knew that was slow going, though. My second mile was further under 10 minutes. The miles were clicking off fast. Wow, almost half way! It’s like my mind was still on ultramarathon mode. I just kept pushing. Nobody was in sight. Keep going man. You got this. Still talking to myself…
I knew intimately that the last tough hill is up the spur trail to the Magney trailhead, the aid station from Wild Duluth. It was again set up as an aid station. I blitzed it and tried to open up on the gravel of Skyline Boulevard. Up a bit, then down. I sure opened up. It did feel good. I was in disbelief. This was an interesting test in the human capacity. How does the damage-repair cycle work? It makes me think about multi-day efforts like…… what else…… a Superior Hiking Trail thru-hike.
A drop right off of Skyline led me down, down and down all the way to Spirit Mountain. I figured I could go fast since it’s very much downhill, but the rocks, technicality and narrow, sharp turns were just impossible. That is just slow running terrain! My energy levels were pretty even. I was certain I could have been faster on fresh legs but I was running pretty good on super tired legs. Every mile was under 10 minutes so far, and every subsequent mile I had hoped to get under 9. Nope. Mile 5 was 9:55. Crap. I said “Crap” to myself out loud. But I was winning the race, all boardwalks from here on out. The time was flying by and the race was almost over. That was fine by me, although I was having great fun. The 100k was not all fun, that’s for sure.
Just like Andy promised, I saw the finish line well before getting there, and seemingly passed it. Mark was at the final turn and I sprinted down the gravel road down towards the lower chalet at Spirit Mountain. I saw my crew once again, Emily and my mom, but this time they didn’t see me on the course the whole time. They had no idea where I was at. I crossed the finish line, happy to be done.
I just stopped on a dime, got a hatchet, another champion bottle, and a mug. That’s a lot to hold. I set it all down to take off my jersey. It was really hurting my nipples and my underarms.
And just like that, the odyssey of running 110 kilomters in a weekend was over. Holy crap, the Ultimate Wildman Challenge can be done.
Wild Duluth 100k
Terribly Tough 10k
Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 13 size 12.5 (100k), Nike Wildhorse (10k)
Handheld: Nathan 19oz insulated
Vest: Ultimate Direction FKT Jurek