12 Apr 2020
Trip Plan: Bike the Grandma’s Marathon course in reverse, from the finish line to the start line. Drop the bike, change to running gear and run the Grandma’s Marathon course back.
Start Time: Saturday, April 11, 2020 – 6:09am
- Bike: 1:12:55
- Transition: 0:03:00
- Run: 3:29:46
- Total Time: 4:45:41
In the months leading up to this day, I had been training hard for the Zumbro Midnight 50. I was in really good shape to try and beat my other two times running Zumbro, in 2016 and 2017. With the novel coronavirus sweeping the world, Zumbro was canceled along with thousands, if not millions, of other events worldwide. I knew I wanted to do something on this day, not to mention continue training for the thing. As expected, trail conditions in Duluth had been deteriorating and the annual blanket trail closure in city limits was imposed in early April, leaving any training grounds and adventure route options to road or pavement only.
As my passion project website www.duluthadventures.com was taking off very slowly, I was eager to think of another multisport adventure loop to do, if nothing else to pad the website. Then, as I brainstormed a loop that could be done in early April (when trails are closed; my favorite inline skating route, Munger Trail, was mostly covered in snow; water not open, too cold, and/and too dangerous to paddle), a Grandma’s Marathon course blitz was the idea that stuck in my head more and more often. It seemed like such a raw challenge… 26.2 miles on the time trial bike, the speed machine, max aero. Then, run the marathon course that so many people have run in 3 hours or 2:48 (my PR from 2015) or 2:09 on. I became excited about the route, and even posted my thoughts on social media, pondering if 4 hours for the bike-run combination was outrageous. Yep! Outrageous, and the response was more of: “you can do it Mike!”. Yeah right! I felt in great shape for Zumbro, yes, but the speed and fitness that it takes to run a fast marathon is not an easy thing to develop. That takes serious time and dedication. Was I there? Maybe… but what about the bike portion? How much fitness does that take? I thought that 4:30 would not be out of the question, under 4 hours would be extraordinary. Either way, I thought that this loop could be widely attempted, especially once news broke of Grandma’s Marathon 2020 being canceled due to the pandemic. Who would try this feat?
I set the date. Zumbro day, of course. What other day would it be? Then I happened to talk to a news reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He, I think, wanted a story about Duluth Timing and Events and how the business was affected by races being canceled, and what the deal is with all of these races being canceled. Well, I kind of steered the topic to Duluth Adventures. Hey, any way to get the word out and more submissions to the site is my main angle! But he seemed to be interested, especially when I mentioned this Saturday being my day to do the next Duluth Adventure. He seemed to be so interested, in fact, that he requested what time I was planning to start the whole deal so he could send a photographer down! Cool! However, it presented a unique twist in the whole setup of this trip, because just like a race, there now had to be a specific time to start. I had a scheduled meeting for Saturday at noon. So, as that Saturday drew near, I looked at the weather forecast for guidance. Sunday looked bad all around. Saturday morning looked to have a better wind direction for going fast on the bike. The wind was predicted to shift by the afternoon. So either start at 2pm and finish around 6 or 7pm, or starting brutally early (relative to my month-long routine of sleeping until 8 or 9am) and finishing with enough time to get home, eat and recover for the virtual meeting at noon. I chose 6am.
I wouldn’t say I trained specifically for the fast bike-run, but I would say I was in great shape leading into April. I toyed with another aggressive run mileage build-up, which worked in my favor 6 months prior. I dreamt about a 60-70-80-90 four week peak. On the third week, I stalled at 75 miles, then decided to take a down week instead of 90 or 100 miles. Then I totally scrapped the plan and started from scratch. Either way, it was an aggressive build and I made it out unscathed. After that run-up in mid- to late-March, I decided to focus on running faster and cross-training with a myriad of sports. I figured this would help me with any multisport adventure I wanted to try. And I felt confident for a 4:30 outing on the revered Grandma’s course.
The night before, I barely squeezed my shoes into my small hydration vest. My running shorts and second water bottle made the pack bulge. The first bottle would go with me on the bike. I was very paranoid to lock my triathlon bike to a tree near Two Harbors when I wouldn’t be back to retrieve it for several hours, and not willing to leave my expensive aerodynamic race wheels out of sight for any reason! I got stuck on the unsupported style of this excursion, and recruiting my roommate Jack to pick up my bike kind of blurred the lines. I decided the line was that I had to bring everything I needed, so no pick-up from Jack, but I could essentially drop anything I wanted at the Grandma’s start line, my turn-around point, for Jack to take back home. Meh, I figured it was unsupported enough to be called unsupported. At least self-supported.
When I woke up, I almost called it off. Ugh, too early. It was 4:57am, and dark. The photographer had mentioned the sunrise in the email, and I didn’t even consider that I’d be starting in the dark at 6am! But the familiar race day excitement roused me and the doubts and regret washed away quickly to be replaced by excitement and nervous dread. The good nervous dread, though.
I was down to Canal Park pretty much right at 6am, and started to get ready. I saw the News vehicle far away from the start line and didn’t take action. The photographer Tyler texted me, then I saw her run up and introduce herself. She snapped a few pics of me getting ready and pumping my tires up. I was kind of muttering to her… “I guess I’m almost ready here, what else do I need? That’s it I think”, but it was really just muttering to myself, really. It was kind of awkward… do I acknowledge her at all or just act like I am alone like normal? Whatever, time to rip. I put on my aero helmet, locked my car and put the key in the pack, put the pack on, bike shoes on, and rode up to the start line. Watch at zero, I almost went. Wait! I took a look at the time before setting off: 6:09 and maybe 30 seconds. I hit the start button and started cranking in the dawn light of Canal Park towards the photographer kneeling in the empty street. Nobody else in sight.
It was cold. My fingers became uncomfortably cold within minutes. It was fun to zing around Duluth, but I knew I was losing time by dodging gaping potholes, sand and gravel on the roadway, and navigating the several turns until getting out of town. The sunrise at Brighton Beach was incredible, but I whipped my head around the other way when something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. Oh! The photographer girl. Gah, don’t look right at the camera Mike!! So I put my head back down and cranked towards the Scenic Highway 61.
Once onto the highway, I finally felt like I was going fast and could get comfortable in the aero bars. My stupid aero helmet with the long tail in the back was not conducive with my bulging pack. The helmet was hitting the pack, and to see just a few feet in front of me required my eyes to be looking up as far as I could. That wasn’t a great view, and I was most comfortable by looking down at my front wheel, which was darting back and forth on the white lane line. I had to look up, for the sake of safety, and that pack was definitely a source of frustration the entire ride. However, the miles clicked off fast.
My fingers actually warmed up enough once I got going, but my feet had become very cold. It wasn’t really that uncomfortable, but I could feel the numbness creep in. Otherwise, I was actually a pretty nice temperature. When I took a swig of water, it felt like ice water in my mouth. I though there was actually ice forming at one point. I didn’t want to spend the time to eat or drink, though, and became focused on staying aero and cranking away. I tried to maintain a steady effort, but nothing too crazy. In hindsight, I didn’t push hard enough, and I didn’t have the bike mileage in my legs (or really, in my head), to accurately gauge how much effort I was putting forth. Also, it was too cold to check my 5 mile splits, which I’d hoped were in the 12 minute range. It was too cold and I was too focused on maintaining a good speed, to do anything besides sit in the aero bars and crank away.
My photographer Tyler was taking a ton of pictures. She seemed to meet me at the next sweet view every five miles or so. Oh man, I thought, these photos will be gold on my blog site. What a treat. I didn’t see her after Knife River, and I certainly starting noticing the Grandma’s Marathon mile markers with more anticipation, counting down from five to four to three. Couple more minutes here… I spent excess energy looking up in hopes to see the big clearing of Sonju in the distance, or two cars parked on the side of the road. In what seemed like a very short ride, there it was! I saw the two cars, and it was a relief. I had been a little anxious about what to do if Jack wasn’t there, for whatever reason. I wasn’t spending the time to drink water, let alone try to call or text him on the ride. A few peeks of my watch and I was super jacked about my time. I thought I’d averaged 24 mph or faster on the ride, based on my quick math after a quick glance. WOW.
When I got to Jack and Tyler, I first noticed how numb my feet were. I mean, numb. Can’t feel them. Yikes. I forewarned them both that I was going to get naked now. I tried to strip off my tights and bike shorts, which was reminiscent of a triathlon’s T1, struggling with a wetsuit. My shorts went on quick, then my shoes. It was definitely uncomfortable to deal with my frozen feet! Jack luckily just grabbed my bike and tossed it in his vehicle, so I could readjust my pack setup and prepare to run. I was working with a sense of urgency, and after tossing my additional drop-off items in Jack’s car, lined up at the Grandma’s Marathon start line like an elite runner ready to compete. No starting gun, though, just my own preference on the exact moment when to start. My watch is the starting gun, so when I hit the start button, I jumped off the line.
Oof, my first few strides were the classic jelly legs of transitioning from bike to run. The frozen feet added another element. Gah, that was a weird feeling. Jack sped by and honked his horn. Tyler drove by next, soon out of sight. The frozen feet had transitioned to pins and needles, ouch. However, the sun was rising higher in the sky and I could feel its rays. The rest of my body was the perfect temperature. And it was very quick for the jelly legs feeling to vanish and the feeling of strength to replace. Oooo yeah. Let’s get it.
After only a mile my feet warmed up and I was really the perfect temperature. It was probably 34 degrees… a tough temperature to plan for. I saw Tyler down the road a bit and focused on running as if she wasn’t there as I heard her camera click away. Another mile and I felt a slight jostling in my stomach. Darn. I saw a portable toilet at the Mocha Moose and figured it’d be a good insurance policy to stop. I did, and felt better despite a mid-9 minute mile split. Time to settle in at 7:30, I told myself. And that’s what I did. The miles started to click off. I saw my personal photographer about every mile, it seemed. It was kind of fun to see where my watch was at when I crossed each mile marker. I wasn’t running the tangent of the road, that’s for sure. Tyler jumped out of her car and ran to my side of the road for when I crossed the Mile 4 marker. When I hit mile 6 I thought about how this is kind of like halfway to halfway. 13.1. Wait, that’s like 6.5 miles. When I got to the Mile 7 marker, which was 7.08 on my watch, I said I was halfway to halfway. Nice. My splits were good and I was feeling great. I figured this pace would give me a 1:40 half split, which is a 3:20 marathon. I thought my bike was around 1:10… how long was that transition? I was kind of fumbling around… maybe 5 minutes? I remembered 6:09am. I tried to do math. I figured a 3:20 marathon would be damn close to 4 and a half hours for the whole trip. I can do it.
The miles kept clicking off, and I got tired. Oof, this is going to a long, long day, I told myself. With a handful of miles until halfway still, I remembered the first miles. Those were the golden miles, I told myself. I felt good back then… But I kept trucking along in a great rhythm and fairly consistent mile splits in the 7:30 range. I hadn’t seen Tyler in a long time. That was probably the end of her assignment. Darn. Just me and the road out here. I tried to run the tangents when it looked like a big curve in the road, which was not the least dangerous thing I could have done. The curves always end up being pretty tame, anyways. I was just looking longingly ahead, always. It kind of felt like running the actual marathon, except the water stops are definitely a highlight of each mile. There is energy at each water stop. No extra energy on this day, except the other solo exercises, the animals and nature, and the traffic. Traffic may be an energy suck, actually.
I hit halfway right a tad slower than 1 hour and 40 minutes in. I’d have to dig deep to finish this thing out in a negative split. But I was feeling good. It was kind of the feeling in a 50 miler, like I’d been training for. My body seemed to be self limiting to a pace that was sustainable. I felt tired, yes. My legs were starting to get a little sore, perhaps. But I knew at halfway that I was on track to finish strong. However, my time was not exactly a motivating factor. I seemed to be slipping from 7:30 pace, and to be a little slower than 1:40 for the half was slightly discouraging. Then, upon a second calculation, I would need a 3:10 marathon or so to hit 4:30! I must have been wrong about my bike split and transition… it was hard to find a definite calculation to know how long my bike and transition were, but I could tell that it’d take a big negative split to hit my goal. Oh well… finish ‘er out Mike!
My next target was Brighton Beach. Getting off this stinkin’ highway would be a nice change of scenery. Any change of scenery… and the Lakeside section of the Grandma’s course just makes you feel like you’re into town finally. Thinking back to the ride, the portion getting out of Duluth and onto the Scenic went by in a blip! Plus, mile 20 is always a good milestone to hit in the marathon. So I looked forward to Brighton Beach in an attempt to help time fly by a little bit faster. The miles continued to click off, and I felt another swash of the stomach. Darn. It wasn’t an emergency situation, but the swash was enough of a discomfort to notice my mile splits. I pondered the likelihood of a portable restroom at Brighton Beach, or at one of the rest stops between here and there. Eh, probably not. And then the slightly uneasy swash because an emergency real quick. I felt “the clench”. So I ran off into the woods. Actually, the break was nice on the ole churning leggies. There are only probably 2,500 more portable toilets on this route during a certain weekend in June. Today, one. And no matter how unpleasant the e-dump in the woods was, I ran off feeling much springier and more fresh. In no time, I ran across Lester River and into the Lakeside neighborhood. I was feeling pretty good. Strong, speedy again (well, speedy enough), and in control. Usually during Grandma’s Marathon, or even the Garry Bjorklund Half, Lakeside is a death march. Usually I am hanging on by a thread, having gone out way too hard for the first bunch of miles. That being said, each step through Lakeside today was still tedious.
The next milestone was Glensheen Mansion. Glensheen has always been the toughest part of the course. Maybe it’s simply a landmark to remember the suffering. This time, I was moving well. My mile splits continued to be consistent. Consistent enough, at least, to not feel like I was falling apart. I was excited to run past Glensheen and try Lemon Drop Hill. The hill did reduce me to a shuffle, but I was up and over and on to London Road. I was getting real close, and getting excited. I knew that 4:30 was out of reach, so just focused on finishing strong. Each mental Grandma’s Marathon milestone clicked by: the turn up 12th Ave; crossing DRC, where I remembered all those years passing with many high-fives and a jolt of adrenaline; Fitger’s with the massive crowds at the Mile 24 water station. Today, just another day and I was running on the sidewalk. I probably looked like a maniac, some haggard dude running hard with a backpack and making audible grunts of pain. Oh well. I ran around a car pulling out and down to Michigan. Mile 25 came and went, and it was on to the final push. I was looking at my marathon time now. It’d be close, but a sure lock for 3:30. Around the DECC, past the Blue Bridge and the Irvin, and I could sniff the finish. Yes. However, all the sudden 3:30 was coming up real quick and I knew that I absolutely could not let up. Around by the hotels, across the marker for Mile 26, and my hair stood up on the back of my neck. There it was! That little hit of excitement, that little rush that you get near the finish line of a race… I got it.
Amidst the pain of the finishing stretch, I found it kind of funny that I was running down the middle of Canal Park Drive just like any other marathon day. Nobody was out, no cars, no businesses open… nothing. 11am on a Saturday and just me pushing as hard as I can. This coronavirus is bizarre shit!
I crossed the finish line with 3:29:XX on my watch, and yelled out right away. ARGHH! It was the same yell as one makes directly after finishing a speedy interval on the track, for instance. A smile came onto my face, and I laid down right next to the Grandma’s Marathon Finish Line plaque impressed into the nearby sidewalk.
It was without a doubt a fun trip. I found it incredibly interesting how little I could dip into the pain cave without a bib on. The next day, my legs felt pretty good, similar to any other long training day. The day after a Grandma’s Marathon, I am dead!! That takes many days to walk kind of normal again. It felt like I was pushing to my abilities during this solo effort, but I don’t think it was comparable to a race effort, in hindsight. Perhaps one is simply more risk averse in a non-race, unsupported situation.
My hope is that somebody else tries this route. I would love to hear the story about how they suffered greatly, as I did. Yet, it was all worth it.
28 Sep 2019
Trip Plan: Drive to Superior Hiking Trail Rossini Road Trailhead, run ~38 miles back to my house (.3 miles off the SHT), grab my bike and take a road/gravel route ~36 miles back to my car.
Start Time: Thursday, September 26, 2019 – 7:55am
- Run 7:52:08
- Transition: 0:13:00
- Bike: 2:12:08
This was the second adventure day that I dreamed up early on in the summer. I got the St. Louis River paddling trip in the books months ago, and this intense duathlon idea was looming. I knew I would have to wait until after the NorthShore Inline Marathon (of which I am race director… therefore low sleep, high work hours, no time for cool adventures), and when that wrapped up I was eager to pick a day and go. However, daylight was a serious concern and every day I waited meant a higher chance of being caught in the dark at some point.
With Wild Duluth 100k on the horizon, and training going really well, I questioned something like this. On one hand, what better simulation than 40 miles on the SHT? On the other hand, training is like digging a hole and filling it back up. A tough training effort is a bigger hole and takes more time, sleep, recovery, to fill it back in and get back to “normal”. The Rossini Duathlon would require digging a real deep hole. But I knew I wanted to do it so what the heck??
I saw my opening on Thursday. Not really thinking of my Wild Duluth training plan at large, I had Thursday on my mind and worked my week around accordingly. I wanted to make sure I had all my personal life stuff in order (work, chores, dogs). With that in place I was ready to go! The night before was the infamous NMTC Fall Wednesday Night Trail Series race at Brown’s Point in Superior. 8k of steep ups and downs on mostly ski trail. I had an exceptional race after two kind of crappy weeks of getting passed mercilessly, and chalked it up to really focusing on sleep. I’d slept 11 hours a piece Monday and Tuesday. I felt normal soreness Wednesday night and when I woke up Thursday.
I questioned even going… I lamented to Emily and she didn’t really have a good answer. Oh well, stick to the plan, I thought. My hamstrings were the most sore, right up by my butt from holding sub-7 pace on trails for over 4.5 miles. That Wednesday trail race was a tax on the body for sure. I felt late all morning but got out to the coffee shop for various bagels and coffee, and was up to Rossini Road before 8am.
First steps out of the car… sore hamstrings. Crap. I’ll really have to focus on recovering these hamstrings this week, I told myself. I had to be reassuring: after today I have most of my miles in for the week and so plenty of time to do stretches and strength work and foam rolling. But the fear was real. What if I really mess my body up? All this training and planning for Wild Duluth down the drain. What if I can’t finish this run? Jeez, 40 miles is a really long way. What am I thinking? Who can I call to pick me up when I bail? It was a cool 37 degrees according my van’s thermometer, but I felt pretty comfortable in just a short sleeve tech shirt. I neglected to bring poles, and thought about 12 minute pace as a rough target. Despite the negative thoughts right off the bat, I mostly walked up to 12 Mile View in no time, feeling great.
The morning was simply pristine. Perfectly beautiful. A textbook fall day. How fortunate am I to be able to spend this whole lovely day out here? I now remember interviewing Adam Schwartz-Lowe for The Duluth Rundown podcast as he described gratefulness as a mental strategy to keep going during a 100 mile race. That really works. It was pretty hard not to be grateful… I can’t stress enough how overwhelmed I was by the beauty of the fall day!
I was surprised how fast I got to the Big Bend campsite. I remembered hiking home from this campsite in 2016 as I trained for that year’s thru-hike. I also remember during the thru-hike itself getting rained out in the night. I looked at that tent pad that flooded me out years ago. Nobody was camping, I wondered how many people I’d see today. For now, just me and the tweety birds. I wasn’t quite at 5 miles when the first hour struck. Therefore, a bit down on my goal pace. But I was feeling really smooth. The trail was perfect for running. Dry, kind of tacky, not so overgrown as I thought it might be. I was rolling. I hit Fox Farm Road trailhead and was kind of sad to leave the section between there and Rossini. I could run that piece endlessly. It’s just perfect trail running terrain.
On the ridges out of Fox Farm Road, I saw a backpacker. He stopped me, grasping for my name. “You’re… you’re… what’s your name?” I said Mike. He said he was Carl, he helped me out at NorthShore just a couple days back. Then it struck me and it came flooding back. He is Anne Hyopponen’s brother and we chatted a bit. He said that Anne and her husband Dave (who I have raced with many times) told him I’d be out here. Here I am! It was a funny coincidence, and cool to see a fellow lightweight backpacker. He was going from Martin Road all the way north to Canada, testing some gear for the PCT along the way. We crossed paths and were on our way. I looked down at my watch. Cripes, getting further and further down on pace. That is the trouble with an unsupported run… the clock don’t stop, and I need to filter water! I wondered if I’d see another thru-hiker, a gal going for a supported Fastest Known Time. Lacie is the name, she’s going northbound on the trail, and I figured I’d see her. I wonder where?
The miles kept clicking off and I felt good through 10 miles around the Fox Farm Pond campsite. I was working hard to scrape my way back to 12 minutes per mile average, but also keeping it smooth. It was the perfect temperature by this point, and I was focusing on eating food as not to fall behind on that. With a big mouth full of food, I realized my water stores were running low. I knew there was a creek before the Sucker River and aimed for that. I completely ran out of water before getting to the creek crossing and filtering water back into my two flasks. Boy, that makes the pack feel much heavier all the sudden! But on we go…
I ran it out to the North Shore State Trail, where there is a shelter near the Sucker River Bridge. I put my hands up in the air and yelled “Hello Sucker River!!!” as the breeze wafted through my armpits. Mmmm perfect. I was running good, making my way quickly through the terrain. I wondered if I’d see Lacie at the exact same spot I saw the last FKT completer – Austin – just south of the Sucker River campsite. I did see someone, just north of the Sucker River campsite. A gal was walking with perhaps just one trekking pole, nothing on her back, looking fresh like she was on a morning stroll. I wonder if that’s a camper at Sucker just going for the morning wakeup stroll? I barely said hello as I zoomed past through an entanglement of cedar roots adjacent to the Sucker River. It didn’t even strike me until hours later that this was the thru-hiker Lacie! That notion was confirmed much later on when I checked her tracking link. Crap! I wanted to spitball a bit with her, see who she was and her plan and how she was feeling. Oh well.
Hiking away from Sucker, it was time to lock and load. I was feeling a bit fatigued. Not bad, but definitely a feeling of needing to get into a rhythm, zone out and click off these miles. About a marathon left seemed daunting. I wasn’t afraid to walk up hills, and was running very quickly and efficiently on the many flat and slightly downhill sections. Running right on the fringe of 12 minutes per mile on average, I was definitely mindful of my pace and had a sense of urgency. Still, not afraid to walk up the hills. It’s a long day. My hamstrings were still sore with a tight feeling up by my butt. Ugh. They were no worse, though, and my feet, ankles, quads, back, everything else felt golden.
By the time I got to Heron Pond campsite with just a mile to get to Normanna Road, I was moving really good. This section is just so easy to run. I leaned forward, kept those legs churning and let my momentum and gravity do the work. I hit some fast miles coming into my estimated half way point at Normanna Road. Excellent. I didn’t know how to think about the remaining sections with many miles on snowmobile trail. Carl said he was happy that his shoes finally dried out. Would it really be that muddy and wet? When I took a right hand turn and passed over the French River bridge, I got a little taste of what was to come. Well I can certainly churn out fast miles on this stuff, I told myself. There just isn’t the steep inclines on the snowmobile trail like there is on the singletrack sections. And even those steep inclines are nothing compared to the other 250 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail. The anomaly of the SHT is between Duluth and Two Harbors where the trail cuts inland. I, however, love these sections and don’t think they get the love and respect they deserve.
Anyways, I saw plenty of 11’s flash on my watch as I cranked up and down the snowmobile sections, southbound to the Lester River. I told myself that if I could run in to the Lester bridge, up the ups and all, I’d be able to sit at the banks of the Lester and eat all the food I could and drink all the water I could and sit all I like. It was hard, though. I started getting the insurmountable fatigue… where you know there is nothing you can do to mitigate the pain and agony. Well, except stop running. There were plenty of instances where I made audible groans and grunts. Sometimes I’d step on a root or rock wrong and twist my ankle. OUCH! I’d yell. Or just simply a wave of pain… a dunk in the hurt tank. But it gets absorbed somehow. Yep, the final 15 miles would be a struggle. I wondered if this was too much? But I was feeling pretty good overall. The fatigue was starting to show itself in certain spots like my ankles, the bottoms of my feet, still in my hamstrings, quads were starting to feel it, the back liked to stretch out on the uphills… yep, I was feeling it. But I was motivated to finish strong and look back at my overall pace with contentment. So I kept running. There was very little walking, only when absolutely necessary, leading up to the Lester River. I was so sick of itchy plants on my legs. Even though I could move good on the snomo trails, this section sucks. I tried to tell myself it was a unique section, cool trails that are underutilized. But the bottom line is that the snowmobile trail sections go on forever!
I was so happy to get to Lismore Road. I felt like I was really dragging ass at this point. I had no lift. I don’t think I could have run under a 9 minute pace if my life depended on it. But I could run 10:30 pace on the flat road endlessly. I saw a few backpackers through the previous section. The sun was high in the sky and I was sweating. I again ran out of water having not collected any since before the Sucker River. I wasn’t really hungry and probably wasn’t eating enough food, but would catch back up at Lester by eating all my pizza. I felt so stupid even bringing it. These two massive slices had been up against my back for hours and hours. I could have subsisted on exercise food until the transition zone at home, and then ate pizza. Instead I carried along these heavy pizza slices for hours and hours and miles without taking a nibble.
I was so happy to see the shelter at Lester River. I crossed the bridge, scoping out a good spot to collect water. I went under the bridge, filled my bottles, chugged a lot of water, took everything out of my pack to kind of reorganize, and ate one of two slices of pizza. I couldn’t eat the other one. I also looked at my handy distance calculator to see where I was at. Home looked to be about 12 miles away. That seemed like nothing. And that excited me. I rested at Lester just like I told myself I could.
The legs were slow going getting up from the riverside rock I was sitting on. I told myself I could walk it out for a while, to digest and get the wheels back turning, but looking at my watch I understood that I had fallen way behind on my pace. 5 miles per hour/12 minutes per mile was utterly out the window. Oh well. It didn’t seem like I was sitting for that long but 10 minutes goes by in a snap when you are dead tired. It was business as usual from here, run whenever possible and walk when I have to. I was definitely able to keep pace with some 10 minute miles, many 11 minute miles, and some 12’s. Every now and again I’d need to walk up a hill. There weren’t many, but some miles in the 13 and 14 range. I didn’t even bat an eye at those…. but the 10’s jacked me up. Let’s go!
Before long I was back onto the snowmobile trail, across Prindle Road, Billy’s Bar came and went, UMD Farm a blink of the eye and I knew I was moving real good. I got to Martin Road in no time at all. Yes. The worst is over, all downhill to get home… I made a mistake right across Martin Road and thought the trail went into the ditch. I was in a swamp and said “forget this!” and backtracked to the road. I then realized the road was the correct route indeed. Stupid. On the road and gravel parking lot, I probably looked like a senior citizen. I was hunched over, probably had the lean going on, creaky old legs somehow churning forward. It was survival mode for sure. The relatively fast snowmobile trail miles seemed to have taken their toll, but probably not any more or less than the 20 miles on singletrack to start the day off. I knew I’d finish this baby up well under 8 hours. It was my goal now to get home, do what I need to do to set off on the bike, and actually start biking by 4pm, about 8 hours from when I started off this morning. I planned out what I’d do: let the dogs out, drink a lot of water mixed with powdered exercise drink mix, maybe use the restroom, feed the dogs a scoop, repack my pack. Should I wear the pack on the bike? Hmm. I still had about two hours to figure that one out.
I hit a wall in the Amity sections. It’s just so rugged… I had to sit down. Not good. I realized at this point that I didn’t have anything left for the bike at all. I still had 5 miles to go, one hour left, a couple tough hills in Hartley, and a huge 36 mile ride on my modified singlespeed gravel bike. How would I do that? It seemed impossibly daunting. Maybe I’d just skip it… No, how could I do that? I’ve come this far. This whole deal is about the adventure duathlon. No way I wouldn’t set off on the bike. But seriously, how would I be able to do the bike? I was dead tired. I dragged my throbbing legs to Vermilion Road and forced them to rotate in a rhythmic motion once again. Just like a steam train getting it’s rotors going, start slow and eventually they’ll be moving ’round and ’round. On the gravel road, I got up to speed and was pleasantly surprised by my ability to roll. The technical trail and uphills were killing me but I could hang on the flat road. Just like a steam engine… legs go ’round and ’round and ’round.
I got into Hartley and struggled on the singletrack once again. Ugh, so hard. I decided to eat my second piece of pizza while hiking up the steeps in Hartley Park. It was not an appetizing slice and my stomach wasn’t feeling great. I tried to eat it all but just couldn’t chew the crust. I slammed most of the huge slice but out of frustration chucked the other bits into the woods. Not the best example of Leave No Trace but I was not going to uncrumple my plastic wrap and rewrap a half slice of old crusty pizza just to throw it in the trash at my house. Enjoy the ‘za, animals of Hartley.
I was elated to get to Hartley Road. The hardest was behind me, I told myself. I cruised on the wide and buffed out trail leading to Arrowhead Road. Up into Bagley and the running felt good. Bagley is a gem of Duluth… the wide and soft trail is such a treat to run. And I was running good for being well over 35 miles for the day. I was still about a mile, 12 minutes or so, off of 5mph average. When I got to the big hill in Bagley, it almost stopped me in my tracks. I arched my back, and tried to maintain a speedy cadence of power hiking. I didn’t have it. My stumps, formerly legs, could barely churn forward. I had to audibly voice my disdain with the trail conditions. “BRUTAL,” I muttered, exasperated. “This hill is brutal.” Once to the top, no time to dilly dally, get those legs moving again. I ran down the backside, ran through the parking lot, and ran through UMD towards Chester Park, my home trail. I was nearing one mile to go and my watch was over 37 miles.
Perhaps it was adrenaline, but I ran quickly through Chester. I hit a sub-10 minute mile. This had to have been my fastest one. Crazy. I ran past a couple off-leash dogs and it made me fume a bit. I wasn’t in a great mood at this point. Tired. The next dog ran beside me and I yelled at the dog and it’s owner. The guy asked me if I wanted to go. Umm what?? We had a yelling match, he told me to chill, told me who cares, I said it’s illegal, I said he’s being disrespectful to me. No way to come to a mutual understanding. I ran away. Hips forward, legs churning, I made it to the bottom of Chester, up the steps to 6th Street and over to my house in no time.
I almost collapsed out of exhaustion. My feet were so tender as I putzed around, putting my plan in action. Dogs out, drink the drink, put the stuff away, get the thingy. My brain was foggy. I sat down to put on my bike shoes and yelped in pain as hip tweaked in a direction I wasn’t used to. My legs had been doing the exact same motion for nearly 8 hours and that’s all they knew by now. It was rough. I again questioned how I would complete this adventure, but went through the motions to complete the task. I hobbled up the back steps with my bike, ready to take off. I barely was able to mount my bike but realized when my butt hit the seat that I still had my running shorts on. No way I’m doing 35+ miles in these short shorts. I set out my bike shorts many hours ago but forgot to put them on. ARGH! It was almost too much to handle, but I set my bike down, went back inside and changed my shorts. The dogs were mad at me for leaving, just like that, and I apologized profusely. I think that was it… what else would I need? Last chance… I ended up taking my vest, now refilled with water. Snacks accessible, some in my bike bag, phone in my bike bag for pictures, I was ready to roll for sure this time.
I started up 11th Avenue, a very steep grade. Just perfect. My legs were fatigued for sure, and it hurt to put pressure on my feet as well as pressure on my butt. Once I got off of the avenue to the flat street, it was a sweet relief. Coasting felt great. The wind in my face, the zero impact. Ohhh, beautiful. This was going to happen. I tried to break up the remainder of the ride, the remainder of the epic adventure duathlon, into manageable chunks. Once I get out of town, up this huge damn hill, onto Jean Duluth Road I’d be smooth sailing. Then it’s an intimidating stretch from the end of Jean Duluth Road up to Fox Farm Road. Once I hit Fox Farm, it’s some fun gravel about 10 miles to Two Harbors Road. When I get to Two Harbors Road I am home free. I can gut it out from there, I don’t care what condition I’m in. I had it all planned out. The biggest threat was probably not my body or nutrition or fatigue, but a mechanical issue with my bike. I was concerned about the front skewer holding my wheel in. It sounded loose. I’d tightened it up before heading out, but it seemed loose again. I could just hear it… like the front wheel was moving around ever so slightly in its fork. Plus, I was riding the makeshift singlespeed setup. I had purchased a new chain and rear derailleur but forgot about the cable. Out of frustration, I just said I’d rock the singlespeed. Maybe permanently. Riding on 8th Street, I was holding good speed and the gear I did have seemed to be the perfect one. If I could make it up 11th Avenue out from my house, and get up to 22 miles per hour on 8th Street, I’d be good to go.
As I made my way to Jean Duluth Road, the starting and stopping and thinking involved with riding with traffic was frustrating. It was great to get to the open road of Jean Duluth. Just stay off to the side, don’t get hit, crank away and this thing will all be over soon, I told myself. I felt really pretty good once I hit Glenwood, Martin Road, Stokke’s and the soccer fields, Billy’s Bar, Breeze Inn, then up some hills getting way out of town. The hills were tough with the single speed. The downhills were glorious and I didn’t feel pressured to try and get speed, I would just coast. And I could get going at a nice clip on the flats.
The ride was going smooth as I hit 5 miles in about 20 minutes, and 15 miles in an hour with ease. I took it slow and easy on Normanna Road past the SHT parking lot, on the way up to Fox Farm Road. I didn’t want a motorist to put an end to my trip, and felt uneasy on the very small shoulder with vehicles zinging by me. I tried to sit up a bit and pay attention. As I shifted my position, I realized that no position was comfortable at all. I’d stand up to stretch, my feet would scream. The clip and pedal dug into the ball of my right foot exactly where I smashed it 200,000 times today on the trail. My butt was sore on the exact spot I needed to sit on. My back needed to stretch out. I was probably three inches shorter after impacts of the long day on foot. Then my triceps, shoulders and arms gave out. I couldn’t hold myself up on the bike. What I would do for some aero bars so I could just rest on my elbows… They weren’t in pain. But I had no aerobars so my triceps will have to do!
I was certain Fox Farm Road was right around the corner on several occasions. Around the next corner, and I could finally see it. Is that it? I saw a vehicle with a huge cloud of dust behind it and knew that was the gravel. I didn’t recognize the foreshadowing of the huge dust cloud. I was grateful for the change of scenery and surface as I got onto the gravel of Fox Farm Road. This road is just fun to travel on. Lots of logging activity, you feel like you’re really out there. I suppose that’s because you are really out there! The gravel road was one step away from pavement and very hard. Not very rocky or loose at all. I could crank just as fast as on the pavement, so that’s what I did.
I heard a vehicle come from behind me, and was disappointed in the dust cloud trailing it. Dust got in my eyes and my mouth, and I could barely see where I was going. Don’t fall, don’t fall, I told myself. I probably should keep eating, I said, so grabbed the blueberry waffle and scarfed it down. That tasted good. As I was chewing, another sound from behind me. This one was a massive dump truck. Oh, great. The cloud was especially large, but I used my eyelashes as a filter and kept my mouth closed. Not so bad. Keep cranking. I was moving good along Fox Farm Road and eager to get to the end. As fun as this road is to travel along, it goes on forever. I started getting anxious, bored, ready to be done. I could summon the leg strength to push hard, but it definitely hurt to do so. I few times I lost my momentum by just coasting. Too tired. What a waste. A few more cars passed. The sun disappeared and clouds moved in. It was still a perfect temperature out, and I did make sure to regale in the stunning scenery of Fox Farm Road. A few more turns in the road, a few more straightaways, a fun little downhill and I passed the Fox Farm Road trailhead on the Superior Hiking Trail. I told myself that I was close to the end now. By the time it took me to think that thought, there it was. My brain wasn’t working at 100% capacity. I remembered distinctly the route, as it’s easy to get lost in these backroads. Left on Two Harbors Road, left on Laine Road, left on Rossini Road. I took the Two Harbors Road. Just that turn gave me a little jolt of energy, as this was the point that I’d thought about all day being the home stretch. Nothing could stop me now.
I didn’t fully realize the grind ahead, though. I made good time on Two Harbors Road as it seemed to be mostly downhill. The bike was holding up… my trusty machine. Beautiful. I still had water and felt full. Well, full enough. Laine Road came quickly and I had a few miles of pavement before getting onto the gravel again. I didn’t realize while driving this morning, but Laine Road was all uphill. A vehicle passed me, and I watched it disappear in the distance, motoring up a huge hill on the horizon. I have to go up THAT?? So I pushed and pushed on the pedals, trying to get some momentum a mile out from this looming hill. I had to stand on my tender feet to crest the bump. I knew I was close and the pain had all but subsided… just survival now. I hit two hours on the bike, over 30 miles in. I was very pleased with my speed thus far. I’d thought many hours earlier of my lack of bike miles in the previous month. It turns out that was not an issue. And I cranked away.
Atop the massive hill on Laine Road, I finally was able to peer down the other side and felt relieved to see a downhill slope. I rode it out, happy with coasting on the firm gravel.
I kept on pedaling, ’round and ’round, and was feeling pretty positive at this point. Wow, I’m definitely going to do it. I didn’t think it’d happen. Well, I kind of knew it’d happen but there was definitely the element of fear and uncertainty as I drove this same road over 10 hours ago. I saw the signs up ahead denoting Rossini Road. I took a left. Another little uphill and 90 degree right hand bend in the road and I knew I was very close. With excitement, I rode it in with the remaining energy I had left. It was almost like my brain knew we were close and stopped sending the signals of STOP, DON’T PROCEED, SEEK HELP that had been firing for hours. That is the pain cave for ya. I caught a glimpse of the SHT trailhead sign first and a smile lit up my face. I made a smooth turn into the lot and rode right up to my van, placing my hand on the back and stopping my watch. Another vehicle had joined me in the parking lot, which kind of surprised me. I sat down on the ground for the photo opp, and to rest. Done!
Driving home, I told myself to yell. I gave a big yell: “YESS! WOOO HOOO!” That felt good.
18 May 2015
Race Day: Sunday, May 17, 2015 – 8am
This is the first mulitsport race of the season, and it would validate whether or not the training is paying off how I expect it to. Having never done a duathlon before, I was curious how run-bike-run format would treat my legs.
It is hard to replicate a race atmosphere in training, and you can’t know how much harder you’ll push in a race versus alone in training. Leading up to the race, it was a steady build of consistent volume on the bike, and a somewhat steady high-volume run program from week to week. Since February, I’d been doing a lot of running, sometimes up to 12 hours a week, and the bike was more and more since that same time, peaking at almost 10 hours the week before Gear West. All of that volume really gave me some confidence go faster. Also, high volume training makes one so strong. Not in the typical sense (I don’t think I could bench press the bar), but strong enough to dig a big hole, be able to recover and still go fast. For instance, a few times in training, I’d feel so beat down, but then go for a long bike ride and just be dead, and THEN go for a run after. The next day we’d do a two-hour jog first thing in the morning, and 15 miles in the books like that. Boom, easy. That type of strong. Not a lot of sessions have been really that high of intensity, but the consistent volume pays dividends, that is for sure. Key word consistent… I haven’t had an exercise week less than 10 combined hours swim, bike, run since February.
That is why I was so desperate to go out hard on the bike at Gear West and see how I could hold on for the second run. I had been testing my vastly improved run speed on a few different occasions, but didn’t know where my bike speed was at. I expected to go a little faster, but I really knew that the bike and run volume would help me not die. I’ve had at least a few races where I push a little, tiny bit too hard on the bike or the run or both, and in turn, my pace on the run is majorly compromised. I think that with high volume training, that “flux room” to push a little, tiny bit too hard is widened significantly, and the amount that I will inevitably slow down on the run is significantly less.
I had a few goals going into Gear West. I wanted to crack top 5. That is a tough goal, however, because you never know who will show and what sort of shape they’re in (especially with the early season races). My second goal was 1:17. My training partners Nick and Ryan and I had a beer bet. Whoever guesses closest to their actual time gets free beer. My guess was 1:17 – 17 minute run, 40 minute bike, 18 minute run, and two 1 minute transitions.
I had been nursing a little knee injury that cropped up a week and half ago, but it was feeling good on race morning and I had been running on it still without too much trouble. Race morning was wet. Real wet. We racked up our bikes, dinked around a bit, and then a sudden downpour that would have been categorized as a flash flood in certain geographies screamed through. I scurried inside to simply wait it out until the start gun at 8am. A few minutes later, Nick and I warmed up a bit, and the rain had luckily subsided. The bike was ready to go and I was feeling good jogging around. Most of all, the adrenaline was pumping hard through by blood vessels. I was ready to race.
We lined up and I looked around at the dudes at the start. I recognized some, and thought that top five would be a long shot and the rest of the top 10 is a crapshoot how people will place. “GO!” through the megaphone meant that we should start running now.
A few guys took off FAST. Nick and Brian Sames were behind me for some reason, but pulled out ahead pretty quickly. A pack of 8 dudes started to pull away pretty quick. I didn’t feel like I needed to hang, so I sat in my spot.
The run course was twisty and turny, grassy and soggy and wet, and really slippery. My race flats were probably not the best shoe option, but they were fast enough on the gravel and road portions that it made up for the slipping and sliding. The front pack with Nick and Patrick Parish leading was pretty far up, and I was running with eventual second place Matt Payne and some other guys. I was definitely breathing pretty heavy but I felt like I made up some time on the technical trail parts. Matt pulled away at the T1 chute and I left transition with him and Dan Hedgecock.
Getting on the bike was quick and flawless. Perfect. I cracked a big ol’ smile once I started pedaling. I remember thinking that this is it! Payne pulled away pretty damn quick and was accelerating into the downhill turns, whereas I was in my horns with my fingers on the brakes. The rain made me very timid and I didn’t want to slip out going 16mph. (Let alone 25mph!)
After five minutes, I got my bearings under me and felt more in control of my bicycle. I could see some guys ahead of me, which was motivating. A quick glance over my shoulder and there was nobody to be seen. Weird, I thought, that Dan hasn’t zoomed past me. I passed Nick while crushing it up the first big uphill. There’s one match I just burnt, I thought. After that, I didn’t have any contact with other athletes for the remaining 14 miles.
That ride was a power ride. I was crushing it up the hills, staying in aero position and spinning a high cadence on the uphill stretches, and generating some very powerful full circles on the flats. I tried to stay as aero as possible. I slowed down a lot to eat a gel, but it was worth it, I think. I burned a lot of matches on that ride, which was exactly what I should have done, in retrospect. Cranking up a hill to the point where the quads burn and the legs are in pain made me think whether that was a match I just burnt and if I’d pay for it on the run. I could see someone farther ahead the whole time, which helped me to bike faster–a constant goal or something to look towards. I ultimately realized it was Brian Sames up there.
Coming off the bike, I was right where I wanted to be for my time, and could have been in 5th place according to my premonitions. I slipped my running shoes on and was surprised by the jelly legs feeling. It was almost funny, like laugh out loud funny.
I tried to get a good cadence right off the bat, but it felt like I was running on wooden stilts. It was then when I saw Brian running away from me. He’s a stud runner and I knew that I wouldn’t pass him. Were there any other slow runners ahead that I could reel in? Probably not, I needed to fend off the fast runners like Dan and Nick. That became my motivator–don’t get caught!
After 5 minutes, my legs felt back to normal and I just tried to hold a sustainable but uncomfortably fast pace. I was pretty much by my own self, so it was a little harder to pace and race without another runner nearby. I nervously tried to catch a glance behind me at any given chance. 10 minutes in, I knew the finishing order was set. I wasn’t catching Brian or anyone else, and I was safe unless I broke both of my legs in the slippery mud and had to crawl home. Now it was about the time goal.
I slipped up the big hill on the run and my quads felt like beef jerky, but ran hard the last half mile to the finishing chute. I glanced at my watch, 1:16:57 or so. Perfect. I hauled ass in and realized that I was in 5th place with a time of 1:17:13. Perfect!
What a great first race of the season, good for fifth place overall and second in my age group. This certainly validated my training efforts, and I am excited to refine my training even more. The big volume base gives me plenty of options for refinement and it is all paying off now. The Gear West Duathlon was meticulously produced by Final Stretch Events, despite probably the worst weather possible. (During the race and after, the wind was wreaking havoc on the arches and fencing and awnings and everything). Next up is a solid training block leading up to Buffalo Olympic, Capitol City sprint, then funneling right into Grandma’s Marathon.
Shoes: Mizuno Hitogami size 11
Bike: Specialized Transition
Food: One Salted Carmel Gu on the bike