Race Date: Saturday, March 9, 2019 – 7am

Two days before race day I landed in Las Vegas with my mom, business partner Kris, and brother Andrew. We were all traveling to Page, Arizona for the Antelope Canyon Ultras, a trail race of varying distances through the desert and deep canyons of northern Arizona. This was to be my first real destination, vacation-type race, besides perhaps Ironman Wisconsin in Madison. That is not quite the most exotic travel destination, although Madison is a very cool city. So I was really excited to travel to a very scenic, warm, far away place to race. We drove from Vegas to our resort on Lake Powell across the dam from the race site in Page. The drive in was incredible–otherworldly. Sandstone features and deep gorges and reds and orange, deep green desert vegetation and Joshua trees. It was cool. We were all excited for a vacation.

The next day, we explored Horseshoe Bend and ventured off nearby though extreme wind, eventually joining the actual race course. We knew because of the pink flagging attached to rocks and shrubs. Then we drove to the race start. It was not clear where the start and finish lines were, where the course went, or anything. Volunteers and race staff were out setting things up. We got our race bibs next, then settled down for an early morning to race.

The 7am temperature was forecasted to be a brisk 36 degrees with a high around 60, and abundant sunshine all day. I ate instant oatmeal for breakfast, grabbed my handheld water bottle and pouch filled with gels, put on a few layers and we drove out early. We arrived with plenty of time to get a lay of the land. It was a calm race morning and by the time 6:55 rolled around, I was lined up for the start and ready to rock, feeling good. Cold, but good. Numb, but good. I had faith I’d warm up quickly, though. As I looked around at my fellow racers, I saw people in down jackets, people with barely any skin exposed, hats, everything. I felt very skimpy and exposed in a singlet and short shorts. At the last minute, I saw two others appear at the start line. They were the only other people in my peripheral vision me who looked like they were ready to rip.

Photo credit: Julie Ward

Once the announcer yelled “go”, our pacer Mike set off and I was right behind him, pushing the pace. I thought it was funny to go out hard, like I had to or something. Like I would win only if I went out really fast right away, way out in front. I commented on Mike’s great name, he left me at a road crossing, beckoning to the other side where the pink flags continued. He also mentioned that it was really windy the previous day and to relay the status of the course markers to the aid station volunteers, in case they needed to readjust for the rest of the runners. Because if I was still in front, I’d be the first runner to go through that area. Hmm ok.

The first couple miles were a bit up and down, through decently fast sand, but definitely loose footing. I made it to the first aid station before mile 2 in no time, and ran right through it. I peeked my head back and saw two runners, presumably the two who looked serious, a couple minutes behind me. Up a little mesa, views abound, then down I ran. Then more down. Down, down, down, along a fence to my left on a semi-packed sandy double-track trail. Woof, this is going to be a bear climbing back up, I thought to myself. I had studied the course map and knew the first miles are ones I’d run again hours later and beyond the second aid station was a large loop with some awesome landscapes. At that point I had no idea how awesome they actually were.

While running to the second aid station, about four miles and 30 minutes into the race, I realized I forgot to put on sunscreen. That would be a major issue. I recalled reading in the race guide that there would be sunscreen at the aid stations. I also had to take a leak, so prepared to do those two items plus eat food, per my race plan to eat at least something at every aid station from there on out. Once I arrived at the aid station, I ate first, filled up my water bottle, peed and yelled about for sunscreen. The volunteer was caught a little off guard because I was the first runner of the day, but eventually pointed me to the medical table where I found a bottle of spray sunscreen. Two sprays onto my two shoulders, then one onto my hand to wipe across my face, and I took off. As I turned my head around from the medical table, I saw my two competitors run right through the aid station. I thought that was pretty surprising, knowing that we were over four miles in, and it was nearly eight to the next aid station.

I took off after them, pushing to catch back up. I passed the gal first and said a brief, “hey”, getting an even more brief reply. I caught up to the guy and passed him, too. I took that chance to say “hey” and got about the same response as the gal. So I was out in front again, ready for a really awesome loop along the canyon rim of the great Colorado River. We were quick to get to Horseshoe Bend, then took a sharp left over a deep crevice in the sandstone around a fence into the desert.

This is a picture from Friday exploring Horseshoe Bend. Where I stood to snap the pic was at the very end of a fence and the spot we initially saw the pink flagging of the race course. Andrew is getting as close to the cliff as he can, with a 1,000 foot sheer drop only a step away!

Andrew, my mom, Kris and I had seen this section the day before, and there didn’t seem to be a trail at all, just markers every ten feet or so. As I ran further and further in, the trail never materialized. I was very glad that the guy behind me had stuck onto my back, and I started chatting. I asked what his name was and where he was from and what other races he was doing this year. Robert from Sacramento. He had an accent of some type. Sacramento accent? He said he ran a lot of trail races and was training for a 100k in a month. Every time I’d angle off course, Robert would correct me by spotting the next pink ribbon. I spotted a few first and redirected him. It was a useful partnership early on in the race having to wayfind.

Along the Colorado River canyon, I noticed I was breathing hard. For some reason, I felt good pushing. I also felt it very difficult to reel back to a pace where it felt easy. Going into the race, I wanted the first ten miles to feel easy. If that happened, I wanted the second 10 or 15 miles to feel like a controlled burn… smooth. Then I’d let it really rip because I’d have gas left in the tank. The final 13 mile stretch was a loop around the Page Rim–flat, hard packed, runnable and fast according to the race guide. The pace Robert and I settled on didn’t feel easy to me. I was running fast and my watch confirmed that. I was breathing heavy. It was kind of tough terrain, a lot of very uneven sandstone formations. Not a ton of sand, which was nice, and meant that every foot strike was solid, but a lot of technicality given that there literally was no trail. I got a bit nervous because a few foot steps caused the sandstone layers to crumble beneath me. Whoops. But how much more careful could I be? There was no trail!

Robert got a bit of a lead on me as we came near the next aid station. I felt good coming in. I also felt a desire to catch back up to him. I didn’t want him to run off on me. How fun would it be if it was him and I on the Page Rim, duking it out on the fast trail? I just gotta get there with juice to run. I stopped pretty quickly at the aid station, ate a bit and filled my water bottle. I saw Robert drop into a gorge, and was excited to myself go down into the very steep descent into a slot canyon. I’d read about this feature and was greatly looking forward to actually running through it. It was a very dicey descent and I slid on my butt. I was getting a bit hot in the beating sun, but once I got to the bottom I could immediately feel a cooling rush and I sprinted off into the sand. Right away, I had to slow my pace because of the hairpin turns. It was like a maze, the curves of the canyon walls so abrupt and narrow that you had to sidestep and turn your shoulders to squeeze through to the next straightaway. The walls, just inches away on either side, were worn smooth by millennia of wind and water. It was incredible. The sand below my feet was deep and soft, and there were plenty of big steps up and down, a perfect distance from one another to make a good running flow impossible. Every now and again I’d see Robert down the hallway but I couldn’t catch him. I said one word to myself over and over: “smooth”. In my mind, I knew I should keep it smooth and controlled, but fast. I felt good, and felt like I had to push it. About a mile later, the canyon widened and we climbed a sandy dune up and out. I looked down back behind me to the slot canyon walls, trying to etch the wonderful memory into my mind permanently. And I was back into the sun. It was an intense sunshine, but luckily the temperature was very favorable, perhaps 50 degrees.

The course then merged onto a sand road, perhaps for the 4×4 machines that took tourists on slot canyon tours. It was slightly downhill, straight, and decent footing although all sand. I saw Robert just up the road. He hadn’t put too much time on me. So I took off to get back to him. I leaned in and let my legs churn. I slowly reeled him in. It was a speedy clip, which was then confirmed by my GPS watch, beeping at me to let me know that I’d just ran mile 14 in 6:52. I caught Robert. I didn’t say a thing, and neither did he. We ran a mile in 6:30. I knew it was a mistake, right then and there. I could immediately feel a suck of energy. Perhaps this was mental, and I let Robert eek past me once again. As slowly as I reeled him in, he put distance on me. A 6:52 mile later and we neared the next aid station. This was the same aid station as the second of the race, meaning we’d completed the first loop and now head back to the start and finish area to complete the second loop of the course, making a sort of figure-8 pattern. I stopped at the aid station and filled up my water bottle. There were other runners everywhere, presumably 50-milers. I wasn’t sweaty but felt a little warm. Perfectly comfortable, really. Some other runners were in long shirts, headbands, headlamps, running rights, jackets, and gloves. I set back off, now onto the uphill sandy grind. I remembered this section on the way down, thinking that it’d be rough to run back up. Perhaps mental, but it sure was really rough. I felt dead all of the sudden. Tired, beat down, slow.

As I struggled to churn my legs uphill, the voices of the other runners unfortunately did not help my cause. Sometimes you can suck energy from the encouragement of passing runners, but not today, not right now. Ugh. It was so hard to run uphill. I made it up and over, though, and was able to cruise through the sandy ups and downs back to the start/finish area. I couldn’t even seen Robert anymore. He had juice. Darn, there goes the epic race I’d thought about. I blew it running sub-7 minute pace. The course branched off from where the 50 milers were coming from at an aid station, which I ran right through. I stopped to pee in the bushes and looked back to see if anyone was around and would perhaps be offended by my public urination. I saw a runner coming up behind me. I finished the business and kept running, now running scared. My legs hurt, they were getting tired, and they felt heavy and slow. My watch beeped for 20 miles, an 8:30 mile, and not quite 3 hours in for the day. I was still on track, but really had to keep it together here. Well, if this gal behind will catch up to me, maybe that will be my epic race. Nope, I was unfortunately too tired. Shut up! Smooth. Smooth. The only mantra I could say was “smooth”. Just one word. Keep it smooth.

We ran towards the finish area, around the parking lot. It was a different feel to be in civilization instead of the remote desert and incredible landscape. The pavement seemed hot. It was perhaps 50 degrees but I felt challenged by the hot sun taking its toll on my energy levels. I was quickly passed by the same girl from the beginning of the race, and she looked strong. We went through more sand, really tough sand. I bombed the downhills with hoards of half marathoners headed the opposite way to their finish. The biggest uphill of the race presented itself, and I could see an aid station from below. The gal in front of me had her hands on her knees and was power hiking up. I did the same, trying to close the gap slightly. When I got to the aid station, I felt dead. It was hard not to stand around for a bit, but I forced myself to quickly eat a pretzel and fill up my water bottle. I wanted to wash it down with Coke but the volunteer wasn’t as speedy as my mind was. It took a while to pour a cup but I wanted to be courteous so I waited. I drank up, it was delicious. Then, took off onto the singletrack.

Just like the race guide advertised, the Page Rim loop was fast. I could rip on it, but my legs were shot. They felt so heavy and slow. I had no spring. It was not smooth. I kept saying that mantra in my mind, though. As I got further onto the Page Rim trail, I could visualize the large mesa on which the city of Page was situated, and how the course ran counter-clockwise around the very edge of it. I looked up to see the gal running hard into the distance. Crap. She was way out. I pushed, my body rebelled. My watch beeped at me, and it was a 7:50 mile. At the next turn, I saw the gal way out, just a tiny object many turns beyond me. Double crap. My next mile was 8:20. It felt terrible. This isn’t fun. My next mile was 9:15. Dead. By now, the girl in front of me was beyond the curve of the mesa and I couldn’t even see her anymore. Robert was way out.

As the mid-morning sun rose higher in the sky, I relished the breeze that washed over me. I didn’t feel good in any regard. Food didn’t sound good, my legs were lifeless meat sticks, I was struggling to stay in the 10-minute mile range. I was solidly in third place, and desperately wanted to finish in that position. So my mission from here on out was to stay consistent and maybe cultivate a second wind of some sort. As the Page Rim trail circled the town, I did mental math to predict how long it would take to get to the opposite side of the loop, to the final aid station, to the finish line. It was a crushingly long time. Keep going, keep moving. My brain went fuzzy and I didn’t have any motivational mantras, just frustration and anger. It wasn’t fun, it was just hard. The views of blue Lake Powell against whitewashed walls were really sweet, but I couldn’t enjoy them. I tried my go-to mantra: “I like the pain”. This is what I live for! It didn’t work that well. It wasn’t a mental game anymore, and I was frustrated about my sub-7 minute mile escapades. I thought to myself in the solitude of the trail. If I’d reeled it back and stayed in my circle, so to speak, would I be able to run under 8 minutes per mile now? That’s a hard question. Too late, anyways, so I just kept pushing, looking behind my shoulder any time I thought I could see a far ways back. There was no sign of followers.

Around mile 29, I was well into hour four. I hit the second to last aid station and felt like if a piece of poop took a crap. I drank some Coke, ate some pretzels and filled my water bottle, which had been drained near empty. The next section ran adjacent to a golf course and was pretty residential. It was a far cry from the inspiring slot canyons and gorges from hours earlier. The trail was still solid, great footing, and relatively flat. I had locked into a 10-minute mile pace and felt that that was a sustainable running clip I could hold all the way in. I just hoped it was enough to stave off any other runners coming up from behind me.

As I made my way along the golf course, past the city library, across a couple busy roads, I started to think about finishing under 5 hours. That was a motivation, and I also sensed the finish line to be near. Well into 30 miles on the day, I could feel reserve energy becoming accessible. For some reason, I absorbed motivation and energy from the half marathon stragglers that I was passing. With each person I interacted with, I felt more and more positive, happy, excited. It was fantastic to get to the last aid station, and I splashed just a bit of water into my bottle and took off, sprinting down the steep sand dune down to the valley to the finish line. My watch read 4:47 and I wondered how long it would take to get to the finish. Was it less than two miles? I’d need to run under 6 minute pace! Gah. I picked it up, using any leg speed I could muster. “I like the pain.” I passed people going both ways, relishing the encouragement and trying to give it back, too. I ran scared–scared that I’d be just over 5 hours. I needed to go under 5 to salvage the race that I messed up so badly. I got to the bottom of a sand dune and felt the wonderful stability of sandstone rock. I sprinted. There was a volunteer in the distance yelling at me to come forth. She told me the finish was right there. My watch said 4:55. I ran up a metal runway, saw my mom and brother yelling, up and over and there was the finish line. Knowing I was safely under 5 hours, I ran it in with a smile on my face.

Photo credit: Julie Ward

At the finish line, I immediately dropped to my knees. Bad move, I told myself and the volunteers out loud. It took a while to get back up, and I hobbled around, hoping to get out of the sun. It was a long wait at the finish until Kris came through, in a similar fashion just 70 seconds under 8 hours. But the wait was fun. I changed my clothes, talked to strangers and talked to my mom and brother, hung out (literally) in a hammock, ate a truly delicious Navajo frybread taco, and enjoyed the desert sunshine. What a treat just to chill, the race behind me. I knew it was snowing and blowing and cold back home. That was sweet. I also came to terms with my race. On one hand, it was a dumb move to run so hard so early. I totally felt the shift in my race after three consecutive sub-7 minute miles. Legs instantly shot. I know I lost some time in the struggle around Page Rim. But it’s also kind of fun to know how hard you can push before the wheels fall off. Also, it is good to know how fast you can maintain once the wheels do fall off. On that trail on that day, I could still run 10 minutes per mile on and on and on. But I also wondered how I could train and race differently to keep up a fast clip for a long period of time. It’s a fine line. I later learned that Robert had won, like, 8- 50k trail races in 2018. I also learned that the gal who passed me with authority, named Allison, was a professional triathlete living in Page. Finally, I had put about 35 minutes between the runner behind me, who was also from Minnesota. Therefore, I felt pretty good about the race as a whole. To run under 9 minutes per mile on average, through the desert sand, is good. I am happy. And I believe that this race was indeed a great catapult to the Zumbro 100 Mile less than 5 short weeks away.

Photo credit: Julie Ward

Photo credit: Julie Ward

Garmin Data

Results

Time: 4:57:07
Pace: 8:42
Place: 3/295

Shoes: Saucony Peregrine size 12

Hydration: Nathan 19oz insulated handheld

Race Day: Saturday, October 15, 2016 – 8am

I neglected writing about this race for a long time. It was a bad race. I’ve never fallen apart as badly as Wild Duluth 2016. I was undertrained and figured I could wing it. If you don’t put in the miles and race-specific intensity, you cannot wing it.

I did one two-hour run a week before the race, which was my tune-up. I’d been running pretty consistently, but low volume, since the big thru-hike. Three miles per day and one two-hour run. The only reason I signed up is because I thought I could potentially squeak out a win. I mean, I had extreme volume on my legs from a month prior with hiking 50k per day nine days in a row, but that is slow walking, and I was hoping to run over twice as fast for this race. I scoped out the start list and my game plan was to start really easy, hopefully be in the front pack at least, and then race my own race and hold on.

Race morning went off without a hitch. Mountain Dew, check. Cereal, check. Deuce deuce, check. The day was shaping up to be pretty warm. Overcast but in the 60’s. I was feeling good and ready to rip. Talking to other competitors that I recognized, it seemed like everyone was questionable about what sort of shape they were in. But that’s what everyone always says…

I moseyed around and then the hoard started to congregate towards the start line at Fond du Lac park on the outskirts of Duluth. A few words and “GO!”, we were off. I took off absurdly fast for some reason, and my buddy David Dickey stuck right on my shoulder. That’d be a great race, if we could feed off of each other’s energy and push the pace up front. There were a few guys up front with us, but I was in the lead in the very runnable mountain bike trail through Mission Creek. An older guy zipped in front of us about two miles in, apologizing and citing he though he had to go to the bathroom.

I was feeling good through my first five-mile split in the 45-minute range. Right on track… David fell back after the first aid station and I was by myself. A familiar competitor, Ryan Braun, was back behind me somewhere. I saw him on a few switchbacks, and knew that he was pretty fit. He finished shortly behind me at Voyageur 50 Mile and had finished second at Wild Duluth 50k several times. Perhaps this was his year. By the way, I wondered where that other guy was? Maybe we passed him squatting in the woods.

I felt like I was racing well–not too aggressive but not falling behind–until Braun passed me like I was standing still. I considered chasing him but he was out of sight in no time. Dang. I was passed another time, now in fourth place, coming through the second aid station and heading towards Ely’s Peak. Not where I want to be, but I just told myself to race my own race and it will sort itself out.

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Photo credit: Julie Ward

I pounded it up through Ely’s, and started passing 100k’ers going the other way. That is always a good boost, and I felt good. It was definitely getting warm, though, in a muggy and sticky way. Otherwise, I felt pretty decent coming into mile 10. My next 5-mile split was almost exactly 10 minutes slower. But it’s harder running. I told myself to stick that pace.

I held my own through Spirit Mountain, and once I passed the last 100k stragglers, I felt lonesome out by myself. Nobody else near me, just hanging out in fourth place. Climbing out of Spirit, I felt the urge to walk. I dismissed the thought and just shuffled my way up the hill. The early onset of fatigue and low-volume training was starting to surface. By the time I got to Cody Street, it was really tough to maintain a reasonable pace. My split from mile 15-20 was just shy of one hour. To win, I knew I’d need under 4:45, and that equates to less than 50 minutes per 5 miles for sure. An hour was way too slow and I did not foresee a second wind. I wasn’t walking a whole ton, but my running pace was noticeably slowing. From here, the derailment was swift, but the remainder of the race was long. Very long, painful and drawn out.

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Photo Credit: Julie Ward

Like a ton of bricks, my motivation and energy levels plummeted and I was dead meat. I got passed a few times through Brewer Park after the Highland Getchell aid station. I was really going slow by now, and knew my next split would be over an hour. A slow and painful death, but now was the time that I realized what was happening and my mental state came into play. I knew I wasn’t trained to run fast enough, I was dead meat. Piece of crap. Whatever, it’s still fun, I thought. Just jog it out.

Through the tunnel under Haines Road, I could barely run. I wasn’t that sore, it’s just the terrible feeling of not being able to turn my legs over fast enough. Slowwww. I was passed a few more times into Piedmont, once by a woman who was holding her hand cockeyed. She mentioned how she fell a bunch and thinks she tweaked a nerve or something. Ouch. Then she fell again right in front of me. I couldn’t even hang on to this woman… I got chicked. She got back up and ran past me with the speed of a track star–out of sight in no time. I didn’t even know what place I was in at this point, but was nearing five hours through Lincoln Park. After the last aid station, it’s all easy, I thought.

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Photo Credit: Julie Ward

I took my time at the Duluth Running Co. aid station, and expressed my woes to the familiar faces handing out drinks and snacks. I took off jogging across Piedmont Avenue at a comically slow trot, but picked it up. I told myself to finish somewhat strong… the pain will all be over soon enough. I didn’t feel too beat up, but just had no step, like a car stuck in first gear. It took forever to get to Enger Tower, and I got passed there too. Worse than getting passed repeatedly is that I couldn’t hang on to anyone. They’d pass me with ease and run out of sight in a flash. Am I really going that slow?

I finally got to Enger and then just leaned forward for the straight downhill bomb towards Bayfront Park and the finish line. This was the easy part, finally. Just don’t get passed anymore, I thought. I had nice form coming across I-35, and peeked behind my shoulder just to make sure I didn’t have to bring the pain on some fools behind me. Nobody there, luckily. A short jaunt and I was within striking distance of that stinking finish line after a long, long morning.

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Photo Credit: Mike Wheeler

My watch was well past 5 hours, and it looked like I’d be just about an hour slower than my winning time from 2014. Piece of crap, but what do I expect? I finished and sat right down on the ground.

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Photo Credit: Mike Wheeler

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Photo Credit: Mike Wheeler

Garmin Data

Results

Race stats:

Place: 8/145
Time: 5:30:00
Pace: 11:00

Shoes: Mizuno Hayate size 11

Race Day: Saturday, May 21, 2016

Location: Lutsen, MN

The few days before race day were accepting that the Superior Spring 50k was going to be a hard race. The weeks prior were not ideal training conditions: traveling, vacation, business traveling, rock and roll festivals, heavy drinking, a bad cold, more or less in that order. I was feeling fit as ever, but had nothing to validate it because my running had been pretty sporadic and without any sort of structure. Definitely no four-hour SHT training runs like Wild Duluth a few seasons prior, which seemed to help that race tremendously. But even that was still a hard race.

With mom doing the 25k, I stayed Friday night right in between the start and finish lines at Caribou Highlands Lodge in Lutsen. That was clutch. The plan was to drive up with Jack after work, drop Jack off at a nearby campsite of his choosing, then go to Lutsen, sleep, do the 50k, then meet back up with Jack and fish for a couple days. So that’s what we did! Driving up Highway 61 from Duluth on Friday, it was shaping up to be a perfect weekend.

Competition for the race was looking pretty steep, so my plan was to let ‘er rip, see how the first few miles pan out, but try to race my own race and see where I shake out. The course was an out-and-back southbound on the Superior Hiking Trail from Lutsen to Carlton Peak and back. I’d never been on that section of trail so was excited about that. Times looked pretty fast for the course, which seems crazy given the rugged nature of the Sawtooth Mountains, but I figured I’d pace off of 4 hours flat to finish and see where it gets me. If all goes according to plan, that would get me a solid third place.

As promised by my phone app, Saturday morning was prime weather. Cool, crisp, sunny with scattered clouds, and the green was starting to pop. There was definitely a lot of snow left on Lutsen, but very patchy. I ate a nice buffet breakfast, had some coffee, some Mountain Dew, a few caffeine jelly beans, and a very accessible hotel room bathroom for the morning bid’ness. On the start line feeling good, I was anxious to get the race started. Race director John Storkamp made a funny joke about “coffeine” at some guy’s expense, a few other words and “GO!”, we were off. The videographer on the lead vehicle fell out of the trunk, which was not expected 3 seconds into the race, and pre-race top contender Michael Borst took off right away.

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

The race starts and ends on a half mile of road, and I took the lead of small group as Michael bolted out of sight. We got onto a bit wider of a trail, climbed and climbed, and then entered the signature Superior Hiking Trail singletrack. I was pretty much running by myself already, with Mike way out front and the rest of the racers somewhere behind me. I didn’t turn around and look. 15 minutes in, I saw Michael up front again. I figured I might as well surge to catch him and hang on. Eventually, I was right on his tail. We chatted a bit, and definitely took note of the perfect morning for running. It turns out that the other pre-race contender, who had won this race multiple times, was not racing. Chris Lundstrom is his name, and he allegedly had sick kids according to Michael’s intel. I joked with Mike that it was good for us, but I don’t think he found it very funny!

I remember thinking how it is nice when the weather conditions have no factor in the outcome of the race. We went down Mystery Mountain, up to a sweet lookout, and then down a really steep hill to the flats. My watch flashed 32 minutes for my first 4-mile split. Perfect. It wasn’t much longer, though, before I let Mikey go. I have got to race my own race, I said to myself, and could definitely feel the speed early in the race. It’s hard to know when you’re pushing to hard in a race like a trail 50k, and just very slightly too hard for two hours is enough to make the following two hours very tough.

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Photo Credit: Jeff Miller

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Photo Credit: Jeff Miller

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Photo Credit: Jeff Miller

I got to the first aid station at 56 minutes or so. Way ahead of schedule, WOW! I was makin’ some good time! Feelin’ good, I filled up my water bottle and took a cup full of gummi bears, and shoved them all in my mouth as I ran out of the aid station. My dad said I was three minutes down. Hm, not bad. Then again, he was with me just 30 minutes ago… It took me a while to chew all of the gummis. There was nobody behind me that I could sense, and I was right where I wanted to be.

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

The next few miles went by pretty fast. It was a runnable section to the next aid station just over five miles away. They clicked by, and I was completely alone besides a few groups of hikers and perhaps a photographer or two. I was right on track at the second aid station, and I ate some pretzels and drank a bit of Coke, and asked for salt pills. There were no salt pills, so I took off. My plan was to eat a gel at 1.5 hours and 3 hours, I’d eaten my first gel not too long ago, so I left the aid station filled up. It was a quick two miles or so up to Carlton Peak, and then turn around and run all the way back to Lutsen. Exiting the aid station, I asked my dad to time how far back the rest of the race was, and he said I was around four minutes down from Mike. I realized running away that I’d see everyone after the turnaround with my own two eyes…

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

The climb up Carlton was rough. I kept thinking that it was nothing compared to Ant Hill at Zumbro, but it was starting to get hot, I was starting to get tired, and was scared to be walking. I saw Mike barreling down the hill and noted the time. The views at Carlton Peak were dramatic, but there was no time to regale in the beauty. I reached the top and confusedly asked what to do… if I just touch the turnaround sign or what. Yep! Ok, off to the bottom.

I looked at my watch again and saw 2:01. A one minute negative split is definitely not out of the question! I wanted to remember 2:01 to see how far back the rest of the pack was. Bombing back down was much easier than climbing up Carlton Peak, and I saw a pack of three guys running together about three minutes back. I had no wiggle room if I wanted to stay in second place. I tried to think of what I should do at the next aid station, and I started to feel the day wearing on me. Too soon! No!

At the far aid station, I refilled my bottle and drank some Heed. Borst was five minutes up, and my dad confirmed that the second pack was three minutes back. I hurried on to the final aid station. This is the meat of the race. The key is to not slow down, or at least slow down as little as possible. I was still running at a decent clip, but holding off the inevitable break-down is my true measure of fitness and mental ‘stremph’.

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

 

It was hot and tough running through the rest of the 50k field towards the first/last aid station. Hills were becoming pretty hard to run up. It must’ve been an easy time running down these, I thought! I tried to remember the intricacies of the trail to recall what elevation challenge was next. It was past the last aid station to the steep hill where Michael left me in the dust. Running was becoming tough to sustain through the smallest uphill bump, and I knew my split was slowing simply from the excessive walking. The heat was searing in the unshaded sun.

My focus had become solely to not get caught. It was terribly nerve-wracking to ponder how close the pack was behind me. They were running together at Carlton Peak, so they’re coming for me. How disheartening would it be to be passed while walking slowly? I finally neared the last aid station and had my bottle filled with the tastiest ice water. I took ice on my head and ate a few pretzels. I made a grave mistake by not drinking as much water, coke and Heed as I could. In a disheveled state, I was in-and-out. My dad gave me the update: I can’t catch Borst. I didn’t really expect to once he ran away from me three hours ago…

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

It was almost 8 miles back to the finish without an aid station. It took me 56 minutes to run this stretch the first time around, and I had a massive hill to look forward to on the return trip. However, I recall climbing much of the first 15 minutes of the race, so it should be a relief to run almost exclusively downhill on the final home stretch. I was slamming my ice water. It was so tasty. I was half gone with my bottle before a mile had passed from the aid station. Poor form. I realized my mistake and longed to be back at the aid station with unlimited drinks. Foolish. But I kept running. I wasn’t necessarily sore, just fatigued. The heat of the day was taking it’s toll on everyone, though, and I was walking past 25k runners on uphills, and blasting past them on the flats and downhills. The rest of the race was a slow degradation of my pace. And of my wellbeing, for that matter!

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Photo Credit: Jeff Miller

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Photo Credit: Jeff Miller

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Photo Credit: Jeff Miller

I expected the large hill up Moose Mountain at any time, and before long, there it was. I walked up the whole thing, and it was actually a welcome relief. I saw my friend Melissa who was stopped. I coaxed her on to walk with me, and she did, but wasn’t doing so hot! She said she might yak. “Don’t yak” was my revolutionary advice as I walked past. Running was rough once I got to the top. I expected of myself to run once we got to the flats… it should be smooth sailing from here. Another downhill, some flats, a grinding uphill with switchbacks up Mystery Mountain, and that’s it! But I was not smooth sailing.

Once I got to the bottom of Mystery, perhaps 3 miles to the finish, I really did not feel good. Running was a monumental task. Running fast was not in the cards. Thinking back to the easy feeling of zinging 8 minute miles through the morning mist seemed ridiculous at this point. How? I looked back when I could and made a promise that when I get to the top of Mystery, I’d drink the rest of my water and run the whole rest of the way to the finish without walking. I kept that in mind during the rough walk all the way up Mystery. It was a struggle, but more so mentally as I accepted that I’d get passed in the last mile. There’s no way I’ve held anyone off with my 25 minute pace. I finally got to the top of the hill and realized my water was completely gone anyways. Nice, so much for the last sip. It probably evaporated. The heat was brutal. It was probably 72 degrees, but living next to Lake Superior does nothing for my heat tolerance. I had to fulfill my promise to myself to run the whole way home. Luckily, the downhills were doable. I was probably bashing my legs with poor, fatigued running form on the rocky and rugged slopes, but did not care at all. I yelled. The 25k runners looked back. Just a grunt of pain here, nothing to see! I was VERY eager to get off of the SHT and on to the ATV trail. Just a quick lil’ jaunt and it’s the home stretch onto the pavement. Over the Poplar River, and I could see cars.

I had to walk on the road. Only for a moment. I kept running. I felt like I was going to faint. I was really lightheaded and knew I was pretty well dehydrated. I wondered what would happen when I finish. As long as I don’t faint or poop my pants, I’m fine. The finish stretch was a glorious sight, and I gritted my teeth to bring it home. I heard someone yell “how about a smile?”, and cracked a small grin. I came into the finish and felt like hell. No celebration, just straight to a folding chair. My watch read 4:23, which means I ran over 20 minutes slower on the second half. I drank a couple of cups of water, and several cups of iced tea, several lemonades, and several Arnold Palmers. Iced tea and lemonade at the finish… genius. I was able to hold off my adversaries, and they probably were having a rough second half as well. Meanwhile, I think Michael Borst sped up the second half, and had a fantastic finish a few minutes under 4 hours.

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

What a great race. It wasn’t well executed, my training was not on par with what I’d like, but the race itself was fantastic. Out and back has its own character from a point-to-point, and that section of the Superior Hiking Trail made for a great race. How does one climb Carlton Peak and run back to Lutsen, but after 85 miles of running, as in Superior Fall? That is beyond me…

Second place was a good feeling, and I got an award for the Open category. Meanwhile, mom won the Grandmasters division in the 25k. Bringin’ home the hardware!

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Photo Credit: Jim Ward

After more iced tea, a shower and burger and beer, I met back up with Jack and we stayed overnight at the Superior National Forest campsite way up on the Poplar River. We went fishing and I got one small fish, presumably a brook trout, thanks to some kid who found worms at his family’s adjacent campsite. What a fantastic weekend up north.

Garmin Data

Results

Race Stats:

Shoes: Mizuno Hayate size 11
Handheld: Nathan insulated 18oz
Food: Gu Salted Carmel gel, Honey Stinger Ginsting gel, 1 pack Honey Stinger Cherry Coke chews. Aid station: gummi bears, pretzels, two salt pills, Coke, Heed, water

Time: 4:23:06
Pace: 8:29
Place: 2/177

Race Day: Saturday, October 17, 2015 – 8am

Time for the pain. The Superior Hiking Trail brings the pain every time. It isn’t very runable, so why not try to run 31 miles as fast you can on it? I love this very fun race, though, and couldn’t resist registering for it to defend my title.

However, I knew the whole time that I wasn’t going to put in the necessary training to feel super confident. Leading up to race day, I was banking on pure “residual fitness” to put me up near the front of the race. Not only was I neglecting long runs, I did several four-hour runs on hard terrain to prepare for last year’s race, but my day-to-day running mileage dropped off after Ironman. Yeah, I was running fast for a 20 minute race, but I definitely didn’t have a ton of confidence to maintain a decent pace for 4+ hours running. Nevertheless, race week came and my strategy and mindset was to race to win.

Looking at the start list, I didn’t see any major contenders besides a local dude Jakob Wartman who is pretty fast. In fact, in my opinion, we are very evenly matched. I think it’s a toss up head-to-head for any given running race, and we’ve raced head-to-head a few times (mostly at NMTC trail races). My opinion was confirmed on race morning when we both laid out our respective goals to run between 4:30 and 4:40. I had some intel, though, regarding the fact that Jakob is a new dad, and that the large responsibility of a child is likely eating in to some quality training time! Regardless, I was really excited to duke it out. Nobody else would content with us all alone up front, and the one who races the smartest race will prevail. I forecasted some raw racing ahead.

Anyways, I picked up my packet on Friday and negotiated a clutch car ride to the start line on Saturday morning with my good friend Kris. I had some cereal and some coffee and Kris and I hit the road at 7am. It was super chilly that morning, which made it nice to sit in Kris’s toasty warm car until the last minute. Plus, it was nice to joke around and talk and stuff right before the race. I chugged the rest of my Mountain Dew, shed a bunch of clothes and made my way to the start.

I saw Jakob and looked around for anyone else who appeared fast. It’s pretty hard to tell with a long trail race… it’s not an easy equation like at a 5k, where the guy wearing running shorts with the shortest inseam will probably win. No leads today.

It was certainly cold on the start line, but the sun was out and it was surely going to be a fine day to run. Everyone lined up and GO! We were off. There was a quarter mile road run to the trail, then trail for 98% of the rest of the race, Superior Hiking Trail for 85% of it. I started out fast to get a nice position on the trail. Also, I wanted to send a message. I was way out front right off the bat. I could hear Jakob sprinting to get up to me and he got right on my side. He mentioned something about it being really cold. The open air rushing past my face was numbing. Next, we popped onto the trail and I stayed in front. The first five miles is on windy singletrack mountain bike trail, and right off the bat, we had a lot of separation from the rest of the group. On the switchbacks, I could see that there wasn’t anyone else back there. Just as I suspected. Ok, so there isn’t some no-name ringer pushing the pace. Just Jakob and I. Perfect.

Jakob took the lead for a while, and we split the time up front until the first aid station at mile 5 or so. We were definitely going pretty fast. I knew I was going to push it a little, and when I was in tow behind Jakob, I wasn’t going to give an inch for a second. At the first aid station, I ditched my headband, long sleeve, and gloves. I didn’t grab any food or water since I had my stocked handheld waterbottle, and I took a decent lead while Jakob was refueling. He was quite quick to catch back up, though.

I noticed that I was gaining some time on the uphills, but Jakob would catch right back up on downhills and flats. So I would jet up the hills pretty fast to try and break him. Stick with me, I was thinking, because I can endure! The next aid station was at mile 11 or so, and right after that is a rugged climb up Ely’s Peak. I formulated a plan to ditch Jakob on that tough uphill and run alone to the win. I’d do a super quick water fill at the second aid station for a small head start. Nobody will see me the whole rest of the race!

Meanwhile, as I was plotting to win the race, we were joined by another guy who I didn’t recognize. He didn’t make a move, just latched on the back, and I continued to lead the race. How did this guy come out of nowhere?! It was like the extra body behind was pushing me even faster, so I was really blasting through the technical woods above the Fond du Lac neighborhood and Mission Creek. Two fast runners were following my every step.

When we got to the second aid station, I was still in the lead and still had the two guys in tow. Just as I planned, I did a fast water fill and jetted. I was sprinting. There was a small gravel trail that wraps around the base of Ely’s Peak to get to the rocky uphill trail. I was pushing super hard to get to the climb out of sight. I saw John Storkamp going the other way in first place for the 100k. I couldn’t mutter much in terms of encouragement because I was breathing too hard. Then, I began the climb. I was already tired but told myself that this was my chance to make a big break, which would demoralize everyone behind me. The climb was tough. My breathing was labored and I was going hard. I didn’t feel like I was going much faster than if I knocked it down a notch, though, but I kept pushing. I saw the top of Ely’s, ran past it, and tried to keep pushing hard. Unfortunately, I was pretty spent and couldn’t go very fast on the flats. Plus, this section of the race is a lot of exposed rock and is tough to run really fast on. I could tell I was running a tiny bit softer than in the woods when we were in a pack.

Almost to Bardon Peak, my two competitors caught up to me. How could this happen, I thought? I blasted myself trying to make a gap, just to get caught in fifteen minutes! Did I slow down that much in five minutes since I got past Ely’s Peak? How frustrating… Nevertheless, I took the pull once again. We got into more runable woods, and I noticed again that I couldn’t find that spring in my step. It was mile 14 or so and I was getting a little tired. OK, that is normal, though. He who wins is the one who slows down the least. We were blasting through the woods back there and unless this other guy is the real deal, we’re bound to slow down a little over time. Or is Jakob super fit? He’s got a very fast road marathon time. Maybe I’m toast from the first half. I ate a gel to stave off these negative thoughts. It helped, temporarily, but all of the sudden Jakob darted past me and took off. I wasn’t willing to sprint. He can go ahead. I’ll race a steady race and catch him eventually. The guy behind me told me he was going after him. They quickly escaped from my sight. My race plan deteriorated.

I ran alone until the Magney-Snively aid station at mile 15.3. I was good for food so just ran right through, knowing the Spirit Mountain aid station was only two miles away. There’s a nice uphill from the bottom of Spirit Mountain, which means I’d get another chance to test my climbing skills. These fools ran their gas tanks down and won’t be able to hold me off. I’ll catch ’em before that, even. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling good. I was feeling bad. My legs hurt. I was tired. I ate food to quell these terrible thoughts. It didn’t work, I’m toast. No! He who wins is the one who slows down the least. I just need to keep chugging along and it will pay off.

Anxiously, I began to ask the slower 100k racers how far back I was. A few minutes back, they’d say. Two minutes is no cause for concern. By the time I got to the bottom of Spirit, I got an update from a local bike and ski enthusiast Nikolai that they were indeed together about two minutes up. I filled up at the Spirit Mountain aid station with water and a quarter of a PB&J and some M&M’s. That tasted good. Now up the hill. Unlike Ely’s Peak, climbing up Spirit is a pure grinder. Not super steep or rocky like Ely’s, but just relentless elevation gain. A few minutes later, I saw Nikolai again on his bike. He informed me that the two split up and one of them was suffering. Suffering, I thought! That gave me just enough incentive to power hike quickly (as opposed to slowly, which was my strong preference at that point), up a brutal set of wooden steps. I ran down the back side of a river, across a bridge and I saw Jakob standing there. He was next to some spectating running buddies (and newlyweds!) Chris and Andrea. I was confused and didn’t really say anything right off the bat, but kept running. They didn’t say anything right away, either, and I finally muttered out a question about how the guy up front was looking. He was five minutes or so up and running strong. Jakob had just dropped out.

I ran past. Ok, this is good, this is good. No Jakob… Second place. No, this is bad. This other dude broke Jakob down and he’s the real deal. I realized that my mind was getting the best of me and I needed to zone out for a second and just run. I was definitely getting slow at this point. I remember that this was where things fell apart last year. The trail gets close to the freeway and it’s kind of exposed. It feels so far out but it’s past half way. Last year, it was all pain from here on out. I tried to estimate how long until the next aid station because that would be a good way to micromanage the rest of the race. Just make it to the next aid station, but don’t slow down. That is easy.

Eventually, I crossed Cody Street for a quick quarter mile on roads to connect the trail. I saw a woman parked and clearly spectating so figured I’d get an update. She said the guy was up front by ten minutes but he had stopped and was walking for a little bit. Enough said, I thought, now is the time to pounce. I had a short-lived surge of pure running but quickly reverted back to a quick shuffle. I was getting progressively more sore and could feel different muscle groups sending out their pain signals.

Finally, I got to the next aid station.

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12045219_10207760211025581_489617833738560959_oPhoto Credit: Shane Olson

I was passing some of the slower half-marathoners, and some were giving me feedback on where I was at–still about five minutes back or so. I saw some friendly faces at the Highland-Getchell aid station and listed to some feedback while I ate pretzels and drank coke.

12140905_10207764887502490_4339358751197840013_oPhoto Credit: Shane Olson

This guy up ahead of me apparently had stopped for a while at the aid station and said he was sick of rocks and his feet hurt. Yes, I thought, he burnt up his matches. It’s not realistic to blast past him. I need to keep consistent and slowly reel him in. That is the way to win, because I’m sore and he’s sore. He will slow down more than me. Hearing that intel motivated me more than ever, and I picked up the pace for a good mile or so. I could catch him. I was asking every half marathoner that I passed where the guy in the blue was at. Much to my chagrin, I wasn’t making up time. I was losing time. I inevitably slowed down. I can’t let myself slow down. Resist the temptation to walk, I told myself.

But I was definitely power-hiking up bigger hills and even slowed to a walk on a few sections that were flat and runable. I was just too tired to run. Oh, well, I’ll settle for second. This guy is the real deal. I heard that he was fifteen minutes ahead of me and running really fast. Even if I was running at a good clip, he’d be in the lead. Too bad, but hey, you can’t control when someone who is on a different echelon of running fitness registers for the race. Second place is good, anyways.

I was getting close to the last aid station and had quit asking people about the race progress. I’m in a solid second. I doubt I’ll get passed. I’ve settled into a nice pace. I know I’m not making time on this guy ahead of me and if he’s going to die, he would have died already. He ran a smart race! All I can do now is chug along as not to get passed in the final five miles. I can stop and have a nice break at the last aid station where I know there are friends, and waltz it in for second place. I was really sore at this point, but feeling pretty good. I definitely was not feeling fast, though, but that is OK. After the last aid station, it’s a little jaunt up to Enger Tower, then all downhill from there.

I popped out of the woods and heard my name from the crowd of faithful volunteers at the aid station.

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I quickly realized the urgency of the situation and finally made out that the mystery kid in first place was currently still at the aid station! It took me a second to comprehend the situation, but all I needed to hear was “GO, GO, GO!!!” to pick up my step. Then, I saw the guy in blue with my own two eyes and it was on. I jetted through the aid station. He was standing still, but started moving immediately, and I was right on his tail. My initial thought was that I was going to win. There is no way that this guy has juice left if I’ve finally caught him. I’ve been chugging along for hours by myself. This guy lost a ton of time to me in the last few miles and he must be toast.

We were sprinting across the Skyline Boulevard bridge over Piedmont Avenue towards Enger Tower. He was running fast. I noticed his long, gangly legs and loping stride, and I felt like a kindergartner putting so much effort into running a 10 minute mile for the pace test in gym class. He was pulling away already. I couldn’t respond. No matter. His feet hurt and he was sick of rocks. If I can keep him in sight until Enger, the race is on. I could pass him on the rocky downhill. In the time it took my mind to process these strategy formulations, he was out of sight. I had nothing. I was pushing so hard but not going fast. I would slowly overtake half marathoners, and then they would stick with me for a while. And I was in the middle of the pack of the half marathon race… ladies with large hydration packs would stick with me as I slowly passed. No offense to ladies with large hydration packs on… but not good for my situation.

I put in a few surges, especially once I passed the large bell at Enger. I bolted downhill and nervously spared one brain cell of concentration at a time to peer ahead and look for blue. No blue, now look down. I would catch him on the road… no matter.

Once I exited the woods once and for all, I could see a ways down the race course. The last mile or so is all pavement–a bridge across I35, then paved path to the finish. No blue was in sight. No matter, he got lost in the woods I think! Wow, that is bad luck! I was staying surprisingly optimistic that I was to win the race despite my miserable status of pain and fatigue. I only saw half marathoners, who I roped in one-by-one on the last bike path section. Onto the finish chute, I ran it in, very excited to be done.

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Obviously, Ryan, the new champion, did not get lost. He won the race and gave it one hell of a go. I chatted with him a bit after the race, then ate some soup to recoup. My muscled were jacked up.

I think that if I ran a bit smarter in the first 13 miles, I would have had more energy during the meat of the race. Then again, you’re going to get tired over 50 kilometers regardless, so you might as well create a buffer right away when you’re fresh. Also, I was not about to let these guys blast past me right off the bat. I’ll never know how to race a 50k wisely, because I can’t limit myself at the beginning, and it’s a long freaking race. But I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had objected to walk all those times. What would have happened if I saved a few matches in the matchbook, using them up at Enger Tower versus Ely’s Peak? Would Ryan still run away from me at mile 28? As I left the race site, another Ryan, Braun, cruised into the finish line a mere two minutes after me. Well, I didn’t have second place wrapped up as tightly as I thought!

Upon finishing the Wild Duluth 50k, I quickly realized that this is the first time in a long time, perhaps years, that I’m not currently registered for any races. And that is a nice feeling.

Results

Race Stats:

Shoes: Nike Terra Kiger 3 size 11
Handheld: Nathan insulated 18oz
Food: Nearly 2 packs of Honey Stinger Chews (Cherry Cola and Orange Blossom), one Maple Bacon Gu gel

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


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