Race Day: Saturday, April 11, 2015 – 9am

Time to blast the cobwebs off. I had some really nervous and exciting energy around the Fitger’s 5k. Historically, this has been a race where I can see where I’m at in the early season. Also, historically I start training big in March and so, and I’ve been fit through the winter and spring for once. I knew there were 5 or 10 guys who have beat me in the past, or we’ve raced together, or have said they’re going for a similar time as me. I knew it was going to be a fun race regardless if I get a good time or blow up or whatever. Going into Fitger’s 5k, I was just excited to get out there and let it all out.

I was feeling very fit, albeit a bit knocked around and on the fringe of injury (fringury) with some high volume training in the spring, but haven’t been doing hardly any speed work. All zone 2. Or even zone 1. I did a 4×1 mile workout on the trailsĀ  Thursday before Fitger’s, and that felt really good. It was fast, but hurt the lungs and legs. However, I recovered quickly and knew I had at least a little feel with pacing. I was gunning for a sub-17 minute 5k. My record is 17:08 on a perhaps sketchy course. Fitger’s isn’t the easiest course, though, so that would be a challenge.

On Saturday morning, I ran down early as a warmup, then helped the timing company set up the finish and start line mats. This impinged on my warmup a bit, but seemed to work out perfectly and I had 10 minutes to do some stride outs. There sure were a lot of guys on the start line that I had raced in the past, and I been beat by all of them consistently in the past year. I wanted to lead the pack and win. Not win the race, but beat everyone I was actually racing. Obviously, the 15 flat guys off the front aren’t being touched by me… except in the first 100 yards anyways. My secondary goal was to get under 17:00. 16:59 would be just perfect.

The race started and was congested. With perhaps 15 guys in front of me, I tried to jockey for position. David knew my fake race plan of starting really, really fast, and I noticed he was right next to me 100 yards in. I muttered “there goes my race plan” and thought it was really funny.

Nearing the first turn, a half mile in, things started to pan out. The leaders really started pulling away and the group spread a bit. I was in a group with all they guys I had my eye on… perfect. Eric, Dillon, David, Rob, Adam, and a few others. Also, there were a few guys in front of our pack that were starting to fall back… probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place! I’ve been there, too, and Fitger’s has a really fast first mile.

Over the bridge into Canal Park, I put down the hammer for a little surge. There was real estate ahead and felt like getting in a better position.

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Looking at race pictures, I didn’t realize that everyone was right on my tail. I could feel them but never looked back.

fitgers1Pic credit: Dave Hyopponnen

Mile 1 was 5:20. Fast, but felt good and not super ridiculous. Some years, my first mile is ridiculous. The second mile is pancake flat with a few turns. I wanted to play smart here. I wanted to stay in front, but maybe recoup my energy stores a little bit. I knew there were some people right on my tail because I could hear them.

Before the Railroad Street turnaround, I was gaining on some tall dude I didn’t recognize him. I took a quick stutter step turn at the 180 degree turnaround and tried to ratchet it down with the tailwind. I passed the tall kid before mile 2. Mile 2 was around 5:30. I needed to stick this pace if I want a sub 17. No more slowing down. Right then, Rob surges past me. I couldn’t let him go. Not today. I stayed right on his back and even peeked around my shoulder. Adam was right there too, but the other guys were dropping back. We kept pushing, and I felt good, under the bridge and the looper up over the bridge and back home. I could feel our little pack slow a bit on the bridge because it was a little uphill. This is my chance, I thought, and I made a surge. Rob pushed me forward and said “Go!”. So go I did…

When we turn back onto Superior Street, you can see the finish arch and it is about 6 blocks on a false flat, slight uphill grind. It was here that I make or break the race. Do I crumble, or do I leave it all out there? Do I have the mental stamina to be a contender? I thought to myself to run angry. I thought of some things that made me angry, and I made an angry face and gritted my teeth. Then I thought how this is all I do and my life would be for nothing if I falter. I can’t falter. I really picked it up, or at least felt like I was picking it up! I could hear people yelling my name from the sidelines, but didn’t even bother to look. I did peek at my watch to see a 15:50 or something.

fitgers2Pic credit: Gregg Robertson

With the last stretch into the Pickwick parking lot, I almost smoked a lady crossing the street. I would have bashed her if she didn’t stop herself! I saw the clock and sprinted in with everything I had left. My watch stopped at the line with a 16:49. I actually yelled and gave Erik a high five. Erik has an awesome race, shaving 50 seconds off his record.

Two out of two goals crushed. The endorphins flowed freely. Now, I am so excited to be in the mix with the big dogs on the Wednesday NMTC trail races. Also, this fast effort made me excited for Grandma’s Marathon, as long as I can hold the volume. Not to mention tri season. Tri season is going to be something else…

Results

Race Stats:

Shoes: Mizuno Hitogami size 11
Time: 16:49
Pace: 5:25
Place: 8/1680

Race Day: Saturday, February 28, 2015 – 10am

Driving to Eau Claire, WI, I felt a different mood than most higher priority races. I didn’t feel nervous, I didn’t have a specific goal, and I wasn’t scared of complete failure. This was to be a fun race. And a fun race it was!

After qualifying at Boulder Lake, Nick, Kyle and I all tossed around the idea of what to do for Snowshoe Nationals. We all qualified but didn’t read the bold, underlined and all caps print that says you need to be a USSSA (the governing body of snowshoe running in the U.S.) member before the qualifying race, and neither one of us were current members. So, we were questioning whether we’d be able to race at all. Regardless, the initial plan was to race the 10k on Saturday, which is the true national championship, then race the half marathon national championships on Sunday after staying the night in Eau Claire.

When race day approached, we sorted out the membership stuff and knew we could all race. Kyle decided not to join, and Nick and I decided not to sink the whole weekend and a lot more cash and to just go down for the 10k only.

We woke up early on Saturday, around 6am, to make the 2.5 hour drive into the heart of Wisconsin. The temperatures were very cold, but slated to warm up as we drove.

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With coffee and Mountain Dew, we both were getting pretty jacked up for the race, but no nerves. Usually for a big race, I am nervous and tense, but it didn’t feel like a “big” race, even though it’s a national championship! What other sports can I qualify for an event of this caliber? Probably not many…

We arrived with perfect timing to get registered and set up and go for a nice warmup jog. The temps were really prime and the sun was shining in abundance. There wasn’t much snow, however, for better or worse.

Eventually, we lined up for the race start. There were a few guys I recognized from the Boulder Lake race and I could tell some guys were going to go hard. It’s a national championship after all… The start line was very wide but there was a 90-degree left turn about 50 or 100 yards right off the bat. I lined up far right with the intention to swing wide and get in front of some guys. “Go!” came from the speakers and we were off in a flapping flurry. The lack of snow made visibility a bit easier, and the race was underway.

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The start stayed wide for a while, so jockeying so hard for a good position wasn’t completely necessary. I stayed on Nick’s tail for a bit while we entered the park trails. A short, steep valley separated the group a bit, and then the places became a little more solidified once we got onto some singletrack trail. There were definitely a few guys in front of me, but I was in a good position and feeling good. My breath was out of control, but I felt good. I could tell the lead guys were really pushing hard to break away and Nick was still much closer to me. He’s going to have to really crank it up if he wants to content, I thought to myself.

At 1 or 2k into the race, the race positions really seemed to start sorting out. The lead group of 3 guys was completely out of view, and Nick was on the back of a second group of guys who were definitely pulling away from me. I could hear people right behind me, so I tried to keep pushing but wanted to get my breathing under control. Perhaps 3k in, I was decidedly passed by a dude in all black… very formidable. Looking behind me brought some mental relief because there was nobody right on me. So when my overtaker started putting some time on me, I was racing all alone by myself. Story of my life…

The meat of the race was relatively uneventful. The course was sweet–a mixture of groomed ski trails and technical singletrack mountain bike trail. Some sections of the singletrack were completely snowless, however, which was a little weird to run on with snowshoes. It was definitely easy running, and I think a powdery course would have slowed everybody significantly. My breathing came to and I felt totally in control by 5k. I was pretty much in between my overtaker and another kid a few hundred feet back. I can hold this spot, I thought to myself.

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To my delight, the guy in black overtook another racer and I noticed that this guy was fading hard. I started reeling a guy in a green vest, which felt good. On a section of singletrack, I made a strong surge to get right on this guy’s back. Once we popped out onto the ski trail, it was my turn to make a decisive pass! Unfortunately, green vest guy was decisively passed over and over during the race. One more spot up and I was still rolling along. I wondered what place I was in and I wondered if the kid behind me was gaining on me. The switchbacks were deceptive, and it looked like he was on my neck until we’d turn onto the straightaways and he’s way back there. If I ever felt like he was gaining on me, I’d summon some quick-access fuel and surge ahead.

I saw the 9k marker and put on the afterburners to ensure that I would not get passed in an embarrassing last-minute fashion. I could see buildings out through the last singletrack section and felt like a power-beast blasting past a photographer.

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Once out in the open, I could see the guy in all black turning towards the finish line. Flat and packed down, yet windy, I let ‘er rip. A quick glance over my shoulder and I knew I locked in my place. I could see Nick and those who finished before me at the finish line and sprinted in towards them.

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I felt super happy to have executed a great race. What a confidence booster… Nick reckoned I came in 12th or so and I was so amped up to look at the results and read that I was 10th overall and 3rd in the 25-29 age group. Nick had a fantastic race by reeling in a lot of guys right up to the last kilometer, which netted him 5th place and a spot on the U.S.A. National Snowshoe Team, which represents the United States in all international snowshoe events. THAT is cool.

We bummed around Eau Claire for a few hours and stayed for awards. Overall, a wonderful event–well produced, good competition, and awesome course. I am extremely satisfied with my race and left it all out there. I don’t think I could have raced a second faster and to beat out some other really talented runners and snowshoers is good for the ol’ ego.

Results

Race Stats:

Shoes: Nike Zoom Kiger, size 11
Snowshoes: Dion Model 121 Racing Snowshoes
Time: 41:13
Pace: 4:07/km (6:38/mile)
Place: 10/117

Race Day: Sunday, January 18, 2015 — 11:06am

This race was number three of the weekend. Historically, I’ve noticed that snowshoe running is very physically taxing and I had never raced before. After 15k of hard racing the day before at the Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run, I was a little curious to see how this race was going to go. To qualify for the Snowshoe National Championships, one needs to complete a qualifying race, and the Boulder Lake Snowshoe Stomp is a qualifier.

Nick, Kyle and I were geared up and ready to go by 9:30 or so and I drove to Boulder Lake, which is a sweet recreation area about 30 minutes due north from Duluth. We checked in and grabbed our bibs. The conditions were shaping up to be really nice, despite the temperatures fluctuating around the freezing point of water. That, perhaps, made the snow a bit soft, but we dressed light and that helped. In fact, Nick wore shorts! (They were more like half-tights, but either way, his knees down were exposed). I wore these compression-type tights, which I thought would be protection from the flying snow, yet cool enough where my legs wouldn’t get sweaty.

We did a few practice laps, and my legs felt surprisingly fresh and springy, which gave me a major boost of confidence. At this point, there is no point to hold back. God knows it’s not my overly tired legs that will result in a slow beer mile…

After ten minutes of warmups, we tried to stride out a little bit, and it felt good. Nick has had some issues with falling and tripping on his snowshoes, especially early in the season, so he especially was curious to see how a high turnover at a fast speed was going to fare. Taking a big fall in the heat of the race could be morale-buster for sure. Luckily, we arrived back at the chalet, huffing and puffing from the short but intense effort, without falling at all! I felt ice chunking up on the back of my thighs and calves where the snow flings up and leaned over to flick it off, but realized that my tights were just really wet and my legs cold. It looked like the snow was sticking to my tights, then melting–warmed by the heat of my legs. Could this be an issue? I pondered…

After a quick stop to the chalet to warm up, our race was about to start. We watched the skiers start, then six minutes later, we lined up the opposite way, aimed into the woods. The start line was really wide, then there was a 50 yard dash to a big funnel. What a disaster it would be to get caught behind a slower group, just flinging snow into my face while I’m unable to pass!

Boom! The race started suddenly and I forgot to set my watch. I sprinted ahead, the adrenaline of the race start propelling me forward, and I fiddled to get my watch started. As the funnel drew closer, I managed to merge in right behind Nick. We entered onto a section of ski trails, perhaps 10 feet wide and not really groomed. There were sections of really soft snow and the sand-like consistency made for tough running. I was right behind Nick, another guy was right behind me, and Kelly and Eric were up front pretty far. Looking at past results for Snowshoe National Team, Kelly and Eric usually represent pretty well. Eric has been National Champion a few times and Kelly is always way up there, too.

We approached the first big hill and I said to Nick, “This hill separates the pretenders from the contenders!” Turns out, I was the pretender! Nick responded by telling me that we have 35 or 40 minutes of racing ahead of us and not to burn myself out. We train together pretty much every day, and he’s not cocky to tell me that I can’t hang with him and to drop back for my own good! I looked at my watch, 4:50 or so, and realized that sprinting up hills is not in my best interest, especially with 15k of running in my legs! Almost immediately after the hill, I fell back and tried to get into a sustainable pace. A few minutes later, the guy on my shoulder probably got sick of snow being flung onto his face and passed me with ease. One miniscule turn in the trail and I never saw him again.

Perhaps halfway through the first lap of two, the ski trail bumped onto some sweet singletrack. This was right through the woods, and with the low snow conditions, every root, rock and log created a contoured path. One could never predict how dramatically a footfall would twist and stretch one’s ankle, and I definitely had a few painful ankle-twisters. Snowshoe running is not for the weak-of-ankle, that’s for sure! Either way, the singletrack section was super fun and I really appreciated the beautiful section of woods. It seemed like easier running, but perhaps it was just the technical nature of the singletrack versus the tame ski trail. As well, the woods section required concentration to make sure we were on the right trail. There were plenty of trail intersections, and it was extremely helpful to follow the four other tracks that were ahead of me, even though I followed them onto the wrong path a few times! At least I was confident it was the wrong direction as the prints stopped abruptly. I could only image Eric’s anxiety with picking the correct path.

The singletrack dropped us right onto Boulder Lake itself, and I could see Tony at the water stop signalling the second loop. My watch was right about 30 minutes. I made it my goal to finish in under an hour, but a negative split was a tall order! At least I knew the course the second time around. At this vantage point, I could see that there was nobody even close to me in either direction. Looks like I’m running by myself.

The second loop was just torn up. Each step was so soft and there were sections of really powdery holes, essentially, right in the trail. I was happy to get to the singletrack, which was torn up, but bound to be slow regardless. This way, I knew the course and zinged through it. Once I got to the lake again, I pushed it hard to the finish and got in a few minutes before my hour goal, good for fifth place.

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Contrary to my solo timed run, Nick caught up to Kelly and duked it out the whole second lap for a sprint finish.

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Although it’s kind of nice not to go into the hurt box too bad, I wish I would have been able to keep up with the fourth place dude at least!

As Nick and I warmed up in the chalet, we had a perfect view of Kyle coming through. Upon finishing, he collapsed to his knees, then rolled over onto his back. He left it ALL on the course! Or perhaps he was saving it for the impending beer mile… (That is called foreshadowing).

Results

Race Stats:

Shoes: Nike Zoom Kiger, size 11
Snowshoes: Dion Model 121 Racing Snowshoes
Time: 58:10.2
Pace: 5:20/km (9:22/mile)
Place: 5/33

Photo credits: David Hyopponen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5k Results

10k Results

Race Stats:

Shoes: Brooks PureFlow3

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

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

Photo credits: International Falls Journal and Joslynn Lee.

Race Day: January 3, 2015 – 7am

“This is fun to me.”

After Wild Duluth 50k, I was pretty amped up on long running races and the whole ultramarathon scene. Tony, General Manager at Duluth Running Co., planted the seed in my mind after talking about this Tuscobia race in the middle of winter. The Tuscobia Winter Ultra takes in Park Falls, Wisconsin on the Tuscobia State Trail, which is a 75-mile snowmobile/multi-use trail. There are three distances: 35, 75, or 150 miles; and three modes of transportation that athletes can choose from: ski, bike, or on foot. The entire race is billed as “self-supported,” meaning no aid stations. If you have a leak in your water container, tough luck. If you forget to carry food, you’ll be hungry.

The more I did research, the more I became really excited to register. It would be fun to really embrace winter and get an idea what the whole winter racing thing is all about. The Arrowhead 135 is the big one, and Tuscobia would the perfect precursor to someday putting Arrowhead on my race resume. I registered for the 35-mile foot race in October.

Training didn’t really change from Wild Duluth. I kept my mileage up by trying to run daily and throw in a few 2, 3 and 4 hour runs in the mix. I had a pretty big setback in training while in Mexico over Christmas with the fam. I was nervous that my training would suffer in the crucial training time frame 2-3 weeks out, during which I would ideally have a really big mileage week and then taper off. In Mexico, I definitely didn’t put in big mileage with the exception of one 1:40 run, but the big setback was a separated AC joint in my shoulder after a bodysurfing accident. The AC joint is comprised of the clavicle, scapula (shoulder blade), and a ligament that holds it all together. I tore that ligament and will have a lifelong physical deformity where my clavicle is unattached and sticks up on the top of my shoulder.

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It was pretty painful while we were still in Mexico and traveling, and my running definitely suffered in the days after the ocean wave bashed me. That was just bad decision making on my part… I questioned whether I would be able to race, but the only thing I could do was to run as much as I could without pain and let it ride. Luckily, after a week, it felt much better and I was running pretty much pain-free, although putting on a shirt or backpack was terribly uncomfortable, which could be a major factor in an unsupported race where I need to carry supplies with me and in the winter where layering is key.

Race week brought nerves. I could only think of the different combinations of food, water, and clothes that I needed to carry. What if it’s below zero at the start? What if my food freezes? How much water will be enough? I split a lodge with Tony about 30 minutes out from the race HQ. His race (150 mile bike… crazy!!) started 25 hours before mine, so he was there on Thursday night and I drove down on Friday. The lodge was sweet, Tony left beer in the fridge and it was the perfect venue to calm down, visualize and prepare for the race the next morning.

My alarm went off at 4:10am and I was up and at ’em. I ate some Frosted Flakes and started sipping my pre-race good luck beverage, Mt. Dew. I loaded up my vehicle and made sure my pack was stocked up and ready to go, which it definitely was from the night before when I meticulously double checked the gear.

I arrived at the HQ at about 5am and checked in. I got lucky number 286 and boarded the bus that shipped us 35 miles out to the start in a small town called Ojibwe, WI. The bus ride was not fun. I had to pee, I was cold but my back felt sweaty and I desperately wanted to get running.

About an hour later, we got to the start. Everyone huddled into a brick shelter and the race director Helen went over some last minute details. Finally, we were herded to the start line where all of the 35-mile runners, bikers and skiers started together. The bikers went up front, I was right behind and the rest of the runners and skiers were towards the back. I was trying to scope down any potential competitors, but it’s impossible! In a long running race, anyone can win. In fact, the 150 run winner was a 51 year old woman. The overall winner. Of the 150-mile foot race.

The race started with a little loop-de-loop on spur trails from the Ojibwe parking lot start line to the Tuscobia State trail and back, which accounted for maybe a half mile or mile. The Tuscobia felt like concrete compared to the snowy spurs. I passed bikers, which immediately re-passed me on the hard packed Tuscobia, then passed them again in the powder, and then finally back on the Tuscobia the second time, they passed me for good. Chris, the other race director, was stationed at the turn-in point. The second time I saw him about 15 minutes into the race, I asked if I was the first runner out and he confirmed that I was. Perfect start!

I got into a pretty fast pace immediately. I felt like I was pushing hard, but I was jacked up being in first place and felt like I should establish a buffer on the other runners who may have been caught up in the traffic jam on the spur section. In the blink of an eye, 48 minutes had ticked on my watch. I saw the first non-35-mile athlete way up ahead and they were walking their bike. I hoped it wasn’t Tony, who I had been religiously tracking on the internet all night and morning, but heard “Mike!!!” and knew it was him. I stopped and we high-fived. I asked why he was walking and if it was a mechanical issue. He said he was just tired, and I looked in his eyes and realized that he looked TIRED. His eyes were red and I could only image the mental toil of walking a 40-pound bike after not sleeping for at least 26 hours. I continued on running without spending too much time and felt a little bad leaving T-Dawg in the dust.

The first of two checkpoints in the 35-mile race was at about 6 miles in. I got there in a bit under an hour. The volunteer seemed surprised and cheered me on, and I definitely felt like I was zooming past him.

An hour and a little bit into the race and I realized I should probably keep up with the calories I was expending. Around 1:40 in, I finished off my first package of Honey Stinger Chews (Cherry Cola with caffeine), and took down a double caffeine gel. Perhaps it was the caffeine buzz or a nice stretch of hard snow, but I was really cooking along. I felt like I could really push it here, I was breathing hard and going fast. I finally hit some slower snow and my pace dropped to a nice steady, comfortable effort. I was walking and eating, looked behind me and thought I saw another runner gaining on me and running strong. I quit walking and got into a solid zone. I started running scared, which definitely helped.

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The next two and a half hours went by without incident. In fact, I don’t really remember anything from this section. Just some steady running, a few snowmobilers, passing some bikers, getting passed by some bikers, eating and drinking, and a little bit of talking to myself. Every now and again, I’d look behind me and see nothing. The trail was so straight and flat that you could seemingly see for miles.

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I hit the second checkpoint, 25 miles in, at about 4 hours. I was walking more and more by this point, but could still keep a steady running pace for a while. It was this point that I remember that I started to feel pretty bad. My legs were sore, my feet hurt, my shoulders hurt (but not my bum shoulder, luckily!), and the snow was feeling more and more soft and powdery. Every step, I’d lose grip and the lack of traction became very frustrating.

I thought that the last home stretch of 10 miles would be easy to mentally manage, but then realized that 10 miles is a long way. At this pace, it would take me at least 1:30. That is no home stretch! This is when my mantra was really coming into play. I would say “This is fun to me,” and laugh and laugh. I kept thinking that life is too easy and doing something hard is good. There is pleasure in the pain. There is happiness in the un-fun. The struggle was an exciting challenge. This race is how I get my kicks and a great leisure-time activity. Life is way too easy.

I started seeing less and less bikers and more and more long-course people on foot. These people looked rough. Nobody was having fun. At that point, I’m sure, it was a major mental struggle to press on. I realized that 35 miles is child’s play. My race was nothing like the 75 or 150 mile races. Not even close to the same thing. Yet, I was still struggling. I felt a slight tinge in my left knee which gave me more and more pain the more I ran. I was walking a lot. I would run very, very slowly with my feet dragging on the snowy ground, then have a spurt of energy and start running, and then nearly collapse in pain and exhaustion, reduced to a walk once again. This was the program for the last 8 miles or so of the race. Miles were going slowly and the last hour seemed to go by as quickly as the first four. As mid-day broke, there were more and more snowmobiles chewing up the nice hard sections of trails. I would get frustrated and swear. I was sick of snow, sick of cold, sick of the stupid Tuscobia State Trail, sick of eating sugary exercise food and candy, and really sick of running!

Then, I saw a blue water tower and knew I was close. However, I could still see so far down the trail and I knew I wasn’t really that close. A couple more cycles of slow run, fast run, walk, and it was very relieving to see a sign that said “Tuscobia State Trail” and the end of the trail. Finally, no more damn snowmobile trail. A sign led me onto a road, which snaked about a half mile to the finish in Park Falls. I hadn’t seen another 35 mile runner since the first 50 feet of the race, and when I got to the finish tent in first place, I let out a guttural roar, laid down and closed my eyes.

After a beer and pizza, I realized Tony wasn’t going to come in for a few hours yet. I drove home with a cool first place award, $30 gift card and jar of syrup. I was certainly happy to be done, I felt accomplished and definitely satisfied with the win.

I made a few mistakes. One was with training. I definitely would have benefited with a few 6 hour runs and even more 4 hour runs. It was about 3 months in between Wild Duluth and Tuscobia, and I should have done two 6 hour runs and two 4 hour runs, instead of one 3 hour and one 4 hour. Easier said than done, I guess! My second mistake was not bringing more caffeine. Boy, what a boost! I definitely could have used that sort of boost five hours in.

Either way, I had fun. There were ups and downs, and I am really glad it is over, but definitely fun. Tuscobia is an awesome race, very well produced, and I was relatively satisfied with my performance and execution. Above all, I was happy to get a winter ultra in my belt and some experience to help build up to a “real” winter ultra.

Results

Race Stats:

Shoes: Nike Terra Kiger, size 11
Pack: North Face Torrent 4l (Plus 2l Camelback bladder)
Time: 5:59 (Watch said 5:58:59)
Pace: 10:15
Place: 1/21 (24 started)

Race Day: October 18, 2014 — 8am

Wild Duluth is the perfect 50k course. Saturday was the perfect day and I had a perfect race. I registered for the Wild Duluth 50k many months ago and knew I wanted to race it well. Therefore, I trained very specifically and with a high priority for this long trail race.

I’ve been pretty fit and fast all summer, and once September started, I really started to focus on Wild Duluth. It helps so much to have a big base of running fitness, because I think it worked really well to do a month and half of such specific training. I probably could have focused on a road 5k and done really well with that… have that base of fitness leaves the door open without having to work up mileage.

My plan was to run a long four-hour run each weekend leading up to WD. That left me with around 5 long runs, which would be great. The only question was whether my body could all the sudden handle big sessions on the weekends. I’d keep running consistently throughout the week and never skip a day, perhaps with some longer trail runs during the week as well.

I ended up doing three 4+ hour runs, two of which were two-hour out-and-back runs, both on really rugged Superior Hiking Trail terrain like I would be racing on (one of which on the actual course). On both of those runs, however, I averaged over 10 minutes per mile and ended up walking a lot. It’s kind of hard to push through that urge to walk or just stop when it’s a training run. I just thought that time on the feet is the best training as not to injure myself or get burnt out. The final long run was in Hartley, which is much less rugged and much less elevation change. I ran the Hartley trails the whole time, about 1:40 total, then ran to a Wednesday night trail race for another hour, raced the 6k course, and ran home for another hour. I ended up clocking 4:15 and felt really good with 10 days left until race day. I managed to stay healthy and really consistent with training, which is always a good feeling when you toe the line.

So with training focused on simply racing well, racing fast, and being able to feel strong through the entire 31 miles, I began to prospect on how I would stack up against the field. I thought I could do around 5 hours. Based on the pace that I was hitting in training and past results, that seemed attainable. With keeping an eye on the registrant list, I started to think I could win the whole thing! On race week, I decided I would race for the win regardless of time. Either way, I thought 4:40 would get the win, which is just about 9 minute per mile pace. My race plan was to try and hit 9 minute pace going through each aid station, but race for the win.

I didn’t sleep much on Friday night and was really anxious. I rode the bus to the start line and shared a seat with seasoned ultrarunner Rick Bothwell, who I knew from timing the Moose Run in Moose Lake. He had some really good advice. He told me that whenever you have negative thoughts in your mind, it means that you are low on calories and you have to eat. Simple! Rick’s general demeanor on the bus ride definitely calmed me down.

I tried to pick out my competition at the start line. I figured that two guys had a shot to win and it was going to be a footrace. The other guys were Donny Sazama and Ryan Braun, both of which had run the race in the past and put up respectable results ~5 hours. I had never met either, but knew Donny was a local guy and ended up putting the face to the name before the race started. I heard through the grapevine that Donny likes to start out really hot and sure enough, when the gun went off at 8:02am, he was off like a rocket.

The first five miles was on winding singletrack mountain bike trails with a ton of switchbacks. This was great, because I could see Donny way ahead of me and also two other guys behind me. I was in the middle, and nobody else was really in sight. I really tried to just hold and easy, easy pace here. I knew that if I went too hard the first hour, the other 3+ hours would be really tough. We turned onto an old ATV trail or vehicle path and I lost sight of everybody. There were all sorts of weird trail intersections here so I had to focus on the flagging. All of the sudden, I see Donny running towards me! He swore and said he got turned around, then popped in front of me. We chatted for a bit and realized we knew each other from the running circuit. Then, his shoe came untied (I feel your pain, brother!), and his lead was obliterated. So it looks like I’m in the lead! We turned down into the powerlines, which is a really steep trail section near Jay Cooke State Park that is renowned for being all but unrunnable. I had never been here, and it wasn’t that bad…

I got through the first aid station way, way faster than my pre-planned 9 minute pace said. 47 minutes was my goal, and I think I was in the high 30’s at that point. Oh man! Talk about a buffer… I ditched my long sleeve and turned onto the Superior Hiking Trail. SHT all the way back. That gave me a major mental boost, because I felt really confident following the blue blazes of the SHT, I was in first moving fast and felt really strong.

The next section was through rolling hills over a few creeks and overlooking Jay Cooke State Park to the southwest. The sun was starting to get higher in the sky and it was a very enjoyable section of the race. Donny was behind me most of the time, which helped me maintain a strong pace. When we got to the next aid station, I filled up my water bottle and took a mini Twix bar. Through the second aid station, we run a half mile on the paved Munger Trail, then climb straight up to Ely’s Peak, which is probably the most rugged single climb of the race. I thought that if I could run up Ely’s, I’d surely lose Donny for good. Also that would be a huge buffer to work with at about halfway into the race.

I really jammed up Ely’s, which worked good, because although I was pretty winded, I was at the top really quickly. Hiking up, for instance, I’m still sucking wind but it takes a long time to get to the top! I started seeing a 100k-ers going the opposite way to the 50k start line, which was a nice boost. I knew this section of trail really well, too, so I could anticipate the terrain well.

Getting to the Magney Snively aid station was great. I was over Ely’s and about halfway done, and way ahead of schedule. I was right where I wanted to be, first place, and feeling really good. I saw my dad and training partner Diamond the dog, which was nice as well. I filled up water, ate a slice of PB and J and kept right on going.

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Going down to Spirit Mountain was nice. This section was mostly downhill and a really cool area. Once I got to the base of Spirit, I started to feel fatigued for pretty much the first time of the day. Of course, once you’re at the base of Spirit, you have to run back up… I zinged through the Spirit aid station because it was only two miles from the Magney aid station that I loaded up at. I knew the next aid station, Highland Getchell, would be tough to get to. I didn’t know this part super well, but knew there were some uphill grinds. Then again, after Highland Getchell, it was familiar trail and relatively easy running. That’s what was going through my mind, and I ate as much as I felt comfortable with! The negative thoughts were comin’ in.

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The climb to the Highland Getchell aid station was brutal. It is just one long, two mile grind to get to the aid station. Dad and Diamond were there, and that was nice. I was almost empty of water, so I loaded up and was on my way. At this point, I was pretty much dead on my 9 minute mile pace, which means I slowed down quite a bit in that last section. I knew I could run the next bit pretty well, though, and then it’s a three mile downhill to the finish.

From Highland Getchell to Piedmont, the last aid station, I was in auto pilot. I was running strong, but I could feel the pain setting in for sure. I started seeing half marathoners, which was kind of nice on the mental state, and I felt fast passing them. I thought getting to Piedmont was going to be the best part of the race. Home free, all downhill, and it is the “DRC” aid station, meaning that a lot of the racing team and staff would be there. In reality, it was the worst part of the race! I was dead. I filled up water, shoved some pretzels and M&M’s in my mouth and tried to get out of there as fast as possible. I was hurting. It was a little road run uphill to Enger Tower and then all downhill. I was just dying trying to get to Enger. I just wanted to get done at this point, and was so scared of getting caught. I though in my mind that if I got caught in the last three miles, I’d cry!

Enger Tower was sweet. There was a lot of people and a lot of half-marathoners, and I felt really fast and strong just zinging by them. Once you get past the Enger Tower park area, it’s back into the woods and literally all downhill. I still felt strong and nimble on the downhills, so I pounded it home. You eventually pop out near I-35, run across the freeway and a short road run to the finish line. Once I got to the pavement, I opened up. I could feel my hamstrings wanting to seize up and cramp, so I tried to keep a nice form. I tried to look back and definitely didn’t see anyone. Home free baby!

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The finish line was awesome. I cruised on in, did an awesome shotgun blast to the heavens celebration and yelped a few times. Then a bunch of friends and family ran over, which was awesome. Pure ecstasy! All the hard training paid off for the perfect race. It was a wonderfully organized event and I tip my hat to the Wild Duluth race directors and volunteers for an awesome event!

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Results

Race Stats:
Shoes: Nike Terra Kiger
Time: 4:34:25
Pace: 8:49
Place: 1/140

Race Day: October 11, 2014 – 8:30am

I jumped in the Whistlestop Half Marathon after much, much deliberation. My priority race is the Wild Duluth 50k, which is only a week after Whistlestop, so the risk of injury or slow recovery is pretty high. Not to mention, it was $90 to register late. I wanted to register because I knew I was more fit going into the race than I had ever been in my life and I could shave a lot of time off of my half marathon PR. Also, a lot of familiar faces were racing and it happened to fit into my busy weekend timing schedule. The tipping point was when a girl came into Duluth Running Co. asking if there was a board or something to post her Whistlestop half marathon race transfer. I guess she had a last minute obligation and the Ashland Chamber wouldn’t refund or transfer to next year, only transfer to someone else. I heard her story and offered her $50 for the transfer. I had to pay an additional $10 to Ashland Chamber, but whatever, athletes got a pretty nice race jacket.

My last big workouts before Wild Duluth took a precedence over any sort of taper, and I did a long run just over 4 hours on Wednesday. I took Thursday off and did a nice easy run on Friday. I drove to Ashland early on Saturday morning and definitely still felt a little worn down from the Wednesday run. My plan was to hit 5:45 minutes per mile through the whole race. Realistically, as long as I have a strong race, I’d be content. Of course, if I felt really bad, I’d ease back as not to put myself way back with recovery.

The weather was perfect for running, and after a little, yet very tight and stiff, warm up run, the gun went off. I didn’t look at my watch and just wanted to feel out the first mile. Jerry said we were running 5:20 pace, so he eased back a bit. The first mile was 6:17 or so. Sure, it was easy and felt good, but I knew I could crank it up. Jerry’s watch need a configuration!

Just as I started the second mile with aspirations to hit under 6 minutes, I noticed my shoe was untied. Bummer! I tied it as quickly as possible and double knotted it (again…). The second mile was still over 6 minutes. I was still feeling good, but really wanted to crank it down more. At this point, we were on the gravel trail. It took a little bit to get locked in on this sort of surface, but I found a good pace and let it rip. Each mile was closer to my goal pace, and I seemed to lock in at around a 5:53 pace. This was fine by me! There was no need to risk blowing up. I clicked off miles consistently, and next thing I know there was 2 miles left. After putting in so many long hours on the trail, an hour just flies by!

I managed to reel in another guy, which gave me just enough mental boost to finish strong. That last mile was the only one that felt overly strenuous. I felt my form deteriorate and I was breathing hard, but running really hard.

I didn’t know what place I was in, but knew that I had a big PR. My watch said 1:17, which is smoking compared to my previous record of 1:21. I watched a few friends come through, ate a ton of snacks and showered, then headed to Spooner, Wisconsin for an evening timing gig. I was super pleased with a PR, 5th place overall, age group winner and a solid, strong race overall. Above all, though, I was happy that I felt really good the rest of the day and the next day. I knew I would be able to recover quickly for Wild Duluth in 7 short days.

Results

Race Stats:
Shoes: Brooks Pureflow 3
Time: 1:17:36
Pace: 5:56
Place: 5/1,521

Race Day: August 10, 2014

After two sweet races in a row, I was so ready to keep it going at the Green Lake Tri. This one is a perennial classic for me, and I love the flat and fast course, so I was amped. Ryan, Nick and I booked a hotel and went down to Willmar for the night.

As opposed to the previous two weekends, the weather at Green Lake was terrible. I really don’t like racing triathlons in the rain, and it was really rainy and cold. That should make for a fast run, anyways. I was really excited to let it rip on the fast course. I was also borrowing a pair of race wheels from my buddy Bill, so I figured I could have a super fast bike split and follow it with a steaming run in the rain.

I was confident that I would be able to take Nick down again, despite the longer run. I figured with a little more flux room in the swim and bike, I’d have enough to hold him off. Another guy on the start list, who was pegged to win by Minnesota Tri News, was a guy who calls himself Casey Miller. He was a fast bike-runner but I had him on the swim. My plan was to get out of the water with a big margin, hold everyone off on the bike and have a steady, fast run for the win.

In the warm water, I started off the same way as Brewhouse one week earlier–push it early and establish a good position in the front. Another guy really crushed the swim and I couldn’t catch him. I swam neck and neck with another guy who I didn’t see after T1, but he was swerving everywhere!

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When I got onto the bike course, I tried to let it rip. I didn’t see anyone in front of me or behind me, so it was kind of lonely out there by myself. At the turnaround, I saw Tim Bode, the fast swimmer, hammering. I’ve raced him here before and knew I could catch him on the run if I shrink his lead on the bike a bit. Once I started the return route, I saw Casey pretty close behind me, and Nick pretty close to him. This was going to be a good race!

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I got off the bike and zinged through the transition zone. The announcer, Jerry MacNeil, mentioned that that sort of fast transition meant that I was going for the win. Correct! I knew I would catch Tim, it was just a matter of how long it would take Casey to get me, how long we could run together, and who had the grit to finish it out in first place. As I was exiting transition, I knew Casey was in. I started off fast and tried to lock into a pace early. I felt good running. Casey caught up to me near the short course turnaround in between miles 1 and 2. I stuck on his shoulder and we ran side by side for a half mile or so. I got a little cocky and wanted to make a move, so I kicked it up. He matched me stride for stride. Then I eased back into my pace and he kept going. That crushed me mentally. What a weak move!

At the turnaround, I knew Casey had the win. He put too much time on me just in that mile, he looked strong, and I started to feel really bad physically as well as mentally. I saw Nick after I turned around and he was pretty close. He had passed Tim as well and looked speedy. A mile later, I looked around to see how much he had gained on me, and he was right on my shoulder! I didn’t even hear him coming and he passed me in a picosecond. I told him Casey was 5 minutes or so ahead and he zoomed off, leaving me in his dust. That was tough mentally, as well, because I knew that I had third place no matter what. I could probably walk a little bit and still get the third spot. My pace slowed and I dragged myself across the finish.

Nick reeled Casey in for an amazing first place finish. As mentally tough this race was for me, especially after two big races in a row, it was a huge mental boost for Nick and I was really happy. I know Casey was kind of pissed getting reeled in, but it sounds like he faded a bit, too.

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It was still a fun race, I won my age group, and I love the production of the Green Lake Tri.

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Results

Race Stats:
Wetsuit: Blueseventy Helix (From, like, 2007)
Bike: Specialized Transition AL with HED3 wheelset
Shoes: Brooks Pureflow 3
Time: 1:53:50
Swim: 19:09
Pace: 1:27
Bike: 54:03
Rate: 24.4
Run: 39:16 (For comparison, Nick had a 32:00 run split. Freak status)
Pace: 6:33
Place: 3/48

Race Day: August 2, 2014 – 8:30am

After an outstanding race in Chisago a week before, I was more excited than ever to defend my Brewhouse Short Course title. I had won the race three times in a row and going for number four. Although there is always the chance of a ringer coming in for the win, I had had this race locked down really well all three times. The biggest threat in my mind was Nick, Assistant Manager at Duluth Running Co., and running phenom. We had been training more and more and more together during the spring and summer and I finally convinced him to dip his toes in the tri game. He had pretty good results at Timberman short course, finishing second, but had recently dropped stacks on a tri bike and wetsuit. In the tri game, you can buy speed.

During the week, I went on a couple of short, fast rides, and kept my running up. My race strategy is pretty fail-proof, so I went with it again–start really fast in the swim to get out front, hold a blistering pace in the water and come out the leader. Keep the lead on the bike and put a lot of time on any fast runners, then leave it all on the run course by starting fast and ending fast.

Everything looked good in transition. The weather was literally perfect. I got a little swim warmup in and the gun went off. I really pushed it hard on the way out to the first buoy in the thin rectangled-shaped swim course. I think I was the first to turn, tried to sight smartly on the next short section. I think I was still in first turning the last buoy, and tried to look back and stack up the competition. Nobody on my heels. On the home stretch, I was breathing really heavy only on one side and tried to keep it tight and fast. When I got to the beach, I looked back and there wasn’t anyone even close. I had the perfect swim. Now to go to work.

After a speedy transition, I hopped on my bike. It took a second to get my feet into my bike shoes. I’ve been careful with this after popping the shoe off a few times. That takes much more time than carefully getting my feet in. Once I was locked in, I brought it to the pain locker. I focused on smooth, round pedal strokes and to generate as much power as possible. At the turnaround, there wasn’t anyone that close to me. Some of the closer guys to me weren’t able to run with me, so I was specifically looking for Nick, who would surely out run me. He was in 10th place or so when I saw him, and my confidence soared. As long as I could crush it on the way back, the run would be a piece of cake.

I rushed through T2 as fast as humanly possible and was out on the run. I tried to keep my legs turning over as fast as possible… it’s hard to get that pure speed, all out anaerobic feeling after biking, no matter what the distance. As long as Nick isn’t breathing down my neck… I hit the turnaround and didn’t see anyone even close to me. Once I got back onto the road (the turnaround is a lollipop shape), I saw Nick cruising really fast, but he was too far off. I knew I had it in the bag, but kept pushing just in case. The finish chute was ecstatic.

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After catching my breath, I turned around and saw Nick coming in fast. Wow, he picked a TON of people off on the run. He put two and a half minutes on me on the run, and I had the second fasted run. This was a 5k run, by the way.

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I was happy to have two awesome triathlon races in a row and also to uphold my title as Brewhouse Short Course champion.

Results

Race Stats:
Wetsuit: Blueseventy Helix (from, like, 2007)
Bike: Specialized Transition AL
Shoes: Brooks Pureflow 3
Time: 1:02:24
Swim: 12:04
Pace: 1:29
Bike: 30:52
Rate: 24.1
Run: 17:42
Pace: 5:43
Place: 1/207

Race Day: July 27, 2014 – 7:30am

The Chisago Lakes Triathlon has historically been my highest priority race of the year. The previous three years I have strived to get to 4:30 for the half ironman distance. I don’t know why I had that time in my mind for so long, but I never really got close. My first attempt at the 70.3 mile race resulted in a 4:47. Then I did 4:42 two times in a row at Chisago. I found it hard to shave time off of my overall time… if I tried to crush the bike, I’d pay for it on the run.

This year was a bit different. I knew I wanted to race Chisago, but my triathlon training was seriously trumped by running. I’d been going to tri nights, but hardly rode my bike or swam besides Tuesday nights, although I felt pretty fast on those nights. Meanwhile, I’d been running more than ever.

Leading up to the race, I got really nervous that I would explode my quads on the bike. It’s one thing to be able to keep up during tri nights on a flat 14 mile out-and-back, but to ride 56 miles and then run with less than 100 miles on my bike for the season was a really scary prospect. I figured I needed any edge I could get, so opted to shave my legs.

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My plan for the race was to swim smart, bike conservatively as not to blow up, and let ‘er rip on the run and make up time on the one discipline that I’ve been actually doing during training.

Again, I stayed at my aunt and uncle’s house, which is a short 15 minute drive to the start line. This is such a great accommodation before a big race! I met my mom, who was racing as well in preparation for Ironman Madision, at the packet pickup on Saturday and did a little open water swim with her. I ate pasta and went to bed really early.

Race day was really nice. The weather turned out to be perfect, party cloudy with a slight chance of rain later and cool. I set up transition and sipped on a Mountain Dew. I was afraid I forgot how to race a triathlon for a second! No, I just didn’t train for swimming and biking. The transition only takes mental training… After biking a tiny amount and making sure my pedals were clipped in, I hopped into the water and waited for the race to begin.

I was in a later wave, which made me pretty bummed, because the year previous, I swam over a ton of people and felt like I didn’t swim as fast as I could have on a course with 50 people. Chisago Half is pretty big after all… So that reinforced my “swim smart” game plan. When my wave went off, I tried to get way ahead of everybody, which worked out well. I was out on my own for the first 1000 yards or so, then caught the stragglers from waves in front of me. I navigated through those people with relative ease and felt good. After that, the only real backups were at turn buoys. After the last turn home, I tried to kick it up a notch. I exited the water in about 33 minutes, which is definitely respectable given my lack of swim training.

Onto the bike, I tried to play it cool. I looked back to my race strategy at Grandma’s Marathon and wanted to emulate that by easing back if I ever felt like I was breathing too heavily. The course is really flat and fast for the first 25 miles or so, then goes down a big hill, then back up a big hill and is pretty flat the rest of the way. I definitely felt good into the halfway point and going up the hill sucked, but I made it though. At this point, I started planning out the rest of the race. I knew that if I could keep a steady rate through the last 20 miles, I would be in a great position starting the run. I finished out the bike leg just trying to maintain. It helped to think that despite how bad I’m feeling on the bike, the run is going to be much easier because of my heavy run mileage. When I got back into town, I started getting super amped up because the split was 2:28, which is really fast based on how well I felt!

Into T2, I had to pee really bad, so I stopped in a portable toilet in transition. Also, I doubled back to empty my pockets of bike garbage. I felt like it was a sloppy transition, and was almost twice the time as my T1 time. Starting the run, I went out hard. I figured I could hold a sub 6:30 pace after an easy bike. Granted, I was pretty shredded after getting an otherwise stupendous bike split. My first few miles were close to 6 minutes a piece. A few miles in, my pace slipped to around 6:30. I really wanted to hold this pace, because I thought I had that sort of fitness, and I would completely crush my PR with a half marathon around 1:25. The meat of the Chisago run course is always kind of difficult. Around mile 7, I knew I was slipping fast. My pace was over 7:00. I tried to take down a gel and got past the turnaround. From here, it is just a grind it out scenario. My form was crap, but I locked in at 7 minute pace and knew that I would still have a pretty good PR unless I was reduced to walking.

I ended up coming into the finish line with a 1:28:59 split for 13.1 miles, which is my half-ironman run record, and a total time of 4:33, which was 9 minutes faster than the year previous. Needless to say, I was completely jacked up and excited about it, but then the confusion set in.

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Why was my best time off of almost no bike training? I had a faster bike and run than ever. Did shaved legs really contribute an abnormally fast 56 mile bike ride? Is run-heavy training the best way to go?

Either way, I was excited for triathlon racing. My mom had a decent race as well. I don’t think she was extraordinarily content with her time, but good Ironman training regardless.

Results

Race Stats:
Wetsuit: Blueseventy Helix (from, like, 2007)
Bike: Specialized Transition AL
Shoes: Brooks Pureflow 3
Time: 4:33:47
Swim: 33:15
Pace: 1:35
Bike: 2:28:11
Rate: 22.6
Run: 1:28:59
Pace: 6:51
Place: 22/414

Race Day: Friday, June 18, 2014 – 6:30pm

The Park Point 5-Miler is a cool race that I had done once before. It is a pancake flat out-and-back course where you can really let ‘er rip and race like a 5k. It’s always really competitive, too, so it is fun to see how you stack up. I think I jumped in this race last minute (should have done a timely race report… don’t quite remember!), but it was worth it because it is so fun and I got free socks. I wish every race gave away socks instead of tshirts.

I aided with the timing on this race, too, which just consisted of setting up the start mats. This was a very simple task at 75 degrees and sunny, but felt weird in short shorts and a running singlet!

Once the race started, I went out really fast and wanted to see if I could hold my first mile split the whole way. The field spread out pretty quick and it seemed like the leaders were pretty much set by the time the first mile came up. I had a fast split somewhere in the 5:40s. I got passed after the first mile but before the turnaround and thought that the finish order was pretty much set for me. Nobody else was gaining on me from behind and I would have to majorly implode to let another racer get in front of me.

My blistering pace was catching up to me on the way back, and my right foot was starting to hurt quite a bit. The plantar faciitis was definitely flaring up for this one. I started reeling in the kid who passed me earlier and that was motivation to keep pushing. I could feel my form starting to deteriorate, but I think I was keeping my pace up. I saw Tony, General Manager at DRC, on the sideline and he told me to catch him. I tried to kick it into high gear and got the kid in front of me. It really feels good to reel someone in like that!

I jammed it in to the finish line and had a really good time. I know I dropped back a little bit on the way back, but it was at least enough to bump up one place. I mowed down on some race rolls and drank half my weight in chocolate milk as I waited for my friends to finish. My foot was in pain, though, and I was limping.

A lot of familiar faces were there, and that makes it really fun! Instead of doing a cool down run, I biked back to the Running Co. where my car was parked.

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Results

Race Stats:

Shoes: Brooks Pureflow 3
Time: 28:32
Pace: 5:43
Place: 9/385

Race Day: Saturday, June 21, 2014 – 7:45am

Grandma’s Marathon… what a race! This was the sixth year in a row I had raced on this day, but my first marathon. The Garry Bjorkland Half Marathon is really where this all started, and it was only a matter of time before I jumped into a 26.2 mile race. Why I registered in the first place, I don’t really know, but it was definitely well in advance. That means a I had a long winter and spring to train.

Training for a marathon is definitely different than anything, even long course triathlon. The sheer volume and consistency of running was made possible in large part to Diamond, my running partner. As if having a terrible race isn’t the worst prospect in the world, shrill barking in my ear is literally the best motivator to run in sub zero weather.

Anyways, the weather looked good all week and training leading up to the race was spot on. I felt confident going into the race and wanted to nail a 6:45 minute mile every single mile. The only mystery is how my body would react to working at the race expo from 5-9pm on Thursday night and then 9-9 on Friday. In the past, working the long days and trying to race 13.1 has been really tough, so I was pretty nervous how the ol’ bod would hold up to a much longer and more strenuous race.

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I enjoy racing in cool weather, and definitely don’t mind a little mist! The race day brought 50s and foggy, light rain and mist. The pre-race nerves were there, but I felt like I had a really solid race plan and felt confident. This section will be brief, because as I write this, it is October and I don’t exactly remember how I felt during the race…. Note to self: do race recaps as soon as possible.

I began the race right on schedule. Every mile was a few seconds within my goal pace, and if I ever fell off, it felt easy to crank it up a bit to even my time out. I ran with some people for a bit and then either passed them or lost them in the mist. I remember talking to one guy who had to take a dump and lost his friend. He latched onto me in an attempt to make up time and catch his buddy, but I think he burnt himself out.

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I knew that getting into town was going to hurt. I had been dealing with some plantar faciitis and was anxiously waiting for it to flare up. Even though the crowd support is really big in town, that is where I’ve always started to feel the burn in the half marathon. Sure enough, I felt my pace drop off bit by bit going past the Glensheen Mansion into Lemondrop Hill. My legs and muscles were starting to feel super fatigued, but I gathered the mental fortitude to put these thoughts of pain aside. Also, I knew my friends and supporters were coming up quickly.

I got a second wind as I came into the London Road business district. I think that this is always where you can pull through and have a good race, or crumble. I saw a group of friends on the side of the road and my form all the sudden was fantastic and I didn’t hurt so bad anymore. Andy snapped a few pics.

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I also knew that Duluth Running Co. was right around the corner. That was going to be a huge boost because they always have a ton of spectators and a lot of familiar faces. And a free keg, so everyone cheers loudly. I ditched two gels at DRC, which means I only had two gels and sporadic water and Powerade at aid stations.

DRC was great. It felt like I was running a 5 minute mile and I high fived everyone on the curb and then disappeared into the mist. Once I was hidden, I could feel my back slump and my hips collapse. I was really fatigued, but at this point, you just keep running the final two or three miles. I tried to keep my pace but know I dropped off a bit. I knew I had to get around a 2:57 flat to hit my goal pace, and I really wanted to go under that, so I tried to kick it up in the finishing chute. My sister Emily snapped a few pics from the stands, where my parents and sister were spectating.

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When I finished, I felt my calves cramp up immediately. I dropped down to grab them in pain. A volunteer came up to me and said that I better walk. He was right… I got up and my calves felt much better. Then, I waited at the massage tent with some snacks. Boy, that was uncomfortable. Walking felt good. The pain subsided until I sat down or just stood there. After 15 minutes with no line movement, I opted for self massage instead. I saw my parents and friends on my way to the drop bag area. The race went well and the only low moment of the day was when my running friend Stacie missed her BQ by a few minutes. If she kept her pace through the halfway mark, she would have met her goal by, like, 15 minutes. But that is price you pay for starting off too hot!

Overall, I was very pleased with the race. It went perfectly according to plan. Although I was slightly off my goal, the time was still really good in my eyes, and I had a new viewpoint on the marathon distance.

To avoid piercing barks, I was back running that week!

Results

Race Stats:

Shoes: Brooks Pureflow 3
Time: 2:57:38
Pace: 6:47
Place: 265/6212


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