Race Date: Sunday, August 4, 2019 – 8:30am

I strolled up to the race venue at beautiful Island Lake outside of Duluth with a bit more than an hour before race time. It was nervewracking to feel late! I felt confident in my abilities to win this race for the 8th time and just wanted to check each item off the list before race start.

Bib pickup, body marking, timing chip pickup. Rack my bike, unload all my stuff, and start putting it together. I took my bike for a spin once my backpack was unloaded, and it was working great. Then I got my shoes on to go for a little spin. I was feeling good and ready to rip my 9th Brewhouse Triathlon sprint course.

Despite feeling super late, I got back to my transition zone area and starting putting on my wetsuit with plenty of time to spare. Nice. I had run through my transition sequences several times in my head and felt good. Caffeine gummies were on my bike seat, water all set… I couldn’t think of anything else so headed down to the water to get acclimated and get the arms warmed up.

I chatted with some familiar faces, found my support crew Emily on top, and took a spin around the swimming area to warm up. All systems go. Before long, the crowd assembled, the PA announcer started beckoning us. The race director Matt Evans told us where to go, big triangle buoys, turn right. Then, the 10 second countdown, GO! And we were off. It was a washing machine start, as always, and I doggy paddled in an attempt to find my slot to swim in. The field spread thin before too long and I was able to swim like normal.

This was my second swim of the year, but I felt comfortable. I was only breathing on one side and kind of pinning to the left. There were swimmers to my right and when I tried to breathe on both sides, a faster method but less oxygen availability, I got some choppy waves in my face. Back to the one side. When I’d sight that first buoy, it’s off to the right. Swimming straight was the battle until the first turn. But I made it to the first buoy seemingly in the second pack of swimmers. There were a few ahead of me and I could see a bigger group further up. I felt good making the turn, right where I expected and wanted to be. The second buoy was close, I made that turn and got my bearings for the home stretch. The field was spread out after the two turns and I wondered if I left some of the others behind, giving me a little surge of confidence. Let’s go!! I fluttered my back legs extra hard in an attempt to get some forward propulsion, and tried to lock in on my bilateral breathing method. I was focusing on putting my head down and practicing good form. When I put my head up to sight, again the swim exit buoy was way to my right and thus I was pinning left. Gah. Oh well, I cranked it in, and exited the water with two other swimmers.

Running into transition, I almost felt like I was going to faint. I don’t know why running into T1 is always such a grind… catching my breath after swimming is a major struggle. I was fumbling around with my wetsuit trying to put it in just the right place below my bike. I felt that my T1 was long. I saw a tall gentleman in a nice bike speeding out on the bike and figured that was who Ryan told me looked to be the main competition, just based on how he looked and his bike. So that’s my target.

Out of transition, I hastily hopped on my bike and pedaled a few strokes over top my shoes. I always have a slow time getting my bike shoes on. Careful, as not to unclip the shoe. Faster, the clock is ticking. I finally got all clicked in, and remembered the caffeine gummis on my seat. Crap! Were they still there? I stood up and touched my seat… no way. Oh well. Time to crank. I got up to speed and passed a few people right away. My legs felt slow and sore, like there was already lactic acid built up. I tried to crank anyways. Push push push I told myself. PUSH! I passed a few people but couldn’t see the lead bike. What can ya do besides put your head down and… yep… CRANK! PUSH!

Before the turn onto Emerson Road just before the turnaround, I saw a very tall gentleman on the bike coming the other way. First place. I figured it was a Canadian. He’d raced against me before and I somehow edged him every year but knew this would be a major challenge. What’s his name…

For the first time all day, I was very fearful of my winning streak of 7 wins in my last 7 starts crumbling. He was way ahead of me. I glanced at my watch and looked at the seconds, trying to figure out by how many minutes he was ahead. At the turnaround I passed last year’s female champion Bettina. I passed her quickly and tried to break away as fast as I could. With the left turn off of Emerson, I glanced back at my watch and knew that I was probably two minutes back at least. Whoosh, that’s a lot to make up. I didn’t feel like I was going fast and my legs still felt kind of sore and just drained. It’s mental, I told myself, and slid forward on my seat to get an aggressive angle on my bike, hoping to find more power somewhere. I saw another gal up front, by the looks, and was really impressed by her biking. Holy crap she is way up there! I was used to being behind the lead motorcycle and here I was in third place. I began to think about the run. I’d have to run really fast to stand a chance, and that’s after closing this bike split out in a very powerful way. I drank a sip of water and tried to capitalize on a downhill.

Across the Island Lake bridge and within sight of the transition area, I was gaining ground on the gal in front of me. I finally caught up to her within mere feet of the dismount line. I dismounted quicker than her and tried to sneak around to her right and onto a little bridge to the transition entrance. At that moment, she swung her leg around her bike and almost karate kicked me in the face. I apologized… poor form on my part to sneak up on her like that. Whoops. I wondered how fast she was on the run… And how far behind I was from the singular person ahead of me now. I sure didn’t see anyone up ahead.

As I sprinted through transition with my bike, I heard the announcer Jerry MacNeil telling the crowd how when I get my running legs on me, it’s my best leg. I hope you’re right, I said to myself. I fumbled again in T2, accidentally clipping my bib number on before putting on my shoes. Gah! I can do that while running! But my bib number belt was clipped, my shoes went on smoothly, and I put a caffeine gummi found on the ground in my mouth. Better late than never. Then I sprinted out the gate, onto the chase.

This was kind of fun, I thought, to be a supposedly fast runner on the chase in the running leg of this triathlon. The past years that I’ve won the Brewhouse Sprint, I’d led off of the bike, and so my mission then was to just hold everyone else off. And being a faster runner, that is somewhat easy to do. But I figured that I was down by several minutes. So if this guy is a halfway decent runner I’d need to run several minutes faster than him?? Knowing the run course has been kind of short, I did the math and figured I’d have to run a minute faster per mile. I looked at my watch, in a dead sprint, to see 6:06 in the pace field. That won’t cut it…

I thought of Jerry’s sentiment. I just gotta get my running legs under me. Push, Mike, push!! I focused on my rhythm, keeping a fast turnover. Nah, that’s not fast enough, just sprint. My labored breathing was OK. I liked to feel that, actually. Put it all out there. You don’t want to lose this race. What will it take? What do you have to give? It’s not worth it, you don’t have what it takes. It was a flurry of emotions and thoughts before the first mile, especially on the straightaway section where I saw nobody in sight. I asked a volunteer how far back I was. A good bit. That’s not encouraging. I pushed to the water station, knowing it’s a quick lollipop on gravel from there, then about a mile back home. I asked those volunteers where he was. They encouragingly said I’d see him in a minute. Like, an actual minute? But I smelled it… I could tell I was reeling him in. And if I didn’t see anyone before the lollipop I’d be in great shape. Well, right as I passed the lollipop, this very tall guy popped out. I barely got a glance at him, choosing instead to glance at my watch to try a calculation. I tried to run as hard as possible around the dirt circle, hoping to at least get him in my sights back on the road. Back to the lollipop intersection and I figured I was more than a minute behind. That’s a lot to make up in a bit more than a mile.

I still had the energy for a pursuit. I really laid it out there back on the road. I thought I saw someone ahead, but there were runners coming at me… it was too hard to tell. I figured this tall guy may falter on the relatively technical off-road half mile section of the run course, and I tried to hammer it. I couldn’t hammer, I just didn’t have the speed. My watch beeped my mile split and it was over 6:00. That just won’t cut it! So at that point, I dealt with the fact that I wasn’t going to win. But that sentiment quickly shifted as I looked over my shoulder. And that fearful sentiment quickly shifted as I saw nobody.

I couldn’t see anyone at the finish line. Tunnel vision. I was very disappointed crossing the line. The legacy is over. Well, how long could I not train for the race and expect to win? That is a joke! I am a joke for even trying all these years. The champion was at the finish and greeted me with a big handshake. He had a great race, and played it well with a monster bike split. I quickly departed the finish area and headed straight to the lake. I barely looked Emily in the eye and I think she understood my frustration and backed off. I took off my jersey and shoes and stomped down to the lake. I slumped into the water, putting my face in and floating on my belly. Gah.

I should have known that my fitness on the run, or lackthereof, would be an issue. I felt fit, but it really makes a difference when I can rip a fast open 5k or 5 mile run. Like under 17 minutes for a 5k. That run speed translates to the bike more than many may give it credit for, and obviously translates to the last leg, too. Good overall fitness, that I’ve derived from paddling and biking and hiking and some running, isn’t enough to actually compete. Legitimate running speed is enough. And that is what I was lacking. My time was good, 1:02 or so, but still slower than when I’m in good running shape where I know I can hit under 60 minutes on this course. Emily greeted me by the lake and tried to cheer me up. It worked, and I couldn’t really be too mad or angry or frustrated. The race actually went good. Maybe a few little flubs, but I think I left it all out there given my abilities at the time of the race start. The champion, Kris Nisula of Thunder Bay, came over to me as I sat at the bench with Em, and I could tell he was happy. I was happy for him! He put on a good race, knowing that he was going up against the defending champ and that I had a strong run. He told me he knew he had to hammer the swim and the bike, and the strategy worked out. Furthermore, he talked about other races he was training for and I knew from meeting him in the past that he was a pretty serious triathlete. He deserves to win, when I think I can just stroll up and compete against him. Kris was great to chat with–a very nice, tall gentleman.

In hindsight, the race was fun. How can you not have fun? Brewhouse Triathlon is a great event at a great venue. If anything, I’m more motivated to train and set the course record. That is my prerogative for 2020. I can’t wait until next year for my favorite race.

GPS Data

Results

Place: 2/181
Time: 1:02:43
Swim: 14:17
Pace: 1:45/100 yd
Bike: 29:21
Speed: 25.3mph
Run: 17:38
Pace: 5:42

Shoes: Saucony Freedom
Bike: Specialized Transition
Wheels: Profile Design 78
Food: Water, one caffeine gummi

Trip Plan: Drive to Chamber’s Grove Park, paddle on St. Louis River out the Aerial Lift Bridge to Leif Erickson Park via Lake Superior. Portage my paddleboard up 7 blocks to the shed at my house. Bike from my house back to my minivan via Skyline Parkway and Mission Creek Boulevard.

Start Time: Friday, August 2, 2019 – 7:44am

GPS Data:

Time:

  • Paddle: 4:33:26
  • Transition 1: 0:03:00
  • Portage: 0:14:12
  • Transition 2: 0:13:00
  • Bike: 1:29:22
  • Total time: 6:33:00

I had been dreaming up this plan for several months, all summer really. And once August hit I realized that the time to execute was dwindling. I checked the weather, checked my calendar, and saw an opening the very next day! Go time.

This idea of a sweet triathlon of paddle-portage-bike festered so much in my mind that I bought a paddleboard on kind of a split-second decision. What started it? I don’t know. But I think I was just staring at the Duluth Outdoor Recreation Map and the loop stuck out to me. I had done some recon on the St. Louis River, which served me very well.

On Friday morning of August 2, I wanted to head out at 7am. I made some oatmeal, made a wrap for lunch, packed some various exercise food like gels and chews and bars, a bladder full of water, and threw it all in a pack and then that into the van. I loaded my life jacket, paddle and paddleboard. The trusy 11’6” Surftech Generator will get me there, I thought to myself. My bike was, in theory, ready to go in the shed, along with my bike shoes and helmet. I had my house key, phone and car key. I was wearing my sandals, all set to go. This was an equipment, intensive trip plan, and the weak link in the chain, no pun intended, was my bike. More on that later…

After the calm morning drive, I put the paddleboard in the water at Chambers Grove Park on the very West end of Duluth at 7:44am. It was later than I’d hoped, and I thought I could maybe finish at Leif Erickson by 1:30 or 2pm. I started paddling smooth and purposefully. I seemed to be moving pretty good, and noticed a few 16 minute miles right away. The water was glassy. It was humid and even a little warm with the sun up, but felt pretty comfortable right away. The miles flew by and I passed landmarks like Boy Scout Landing, and saw the Oliver Bridge up ahead.

It struck me at the Oliver Bridge that I should sit down, maybe eat a bit of food. I took my time at the Oliver Bridge and it was my first real break in paddling for just over an hour. I was quick to get back going, excited to make it to Clough Island. Into the Mud Lake area, I was wading through the weeds, which was really frustrating. I was bogged down by the weeds dragging from my board leash. I tried to get them out, nearly losing my balance by turning around backwards and trying to fish those pesky weeds out with the paddle. It was a useless task and just a waste of time, since the board came to a stop in lilly pads.

I seemed to be going so slow and the frustration was setting in for sure. Through that weedy patch, I made it to more open water and  noticed my fin seemed to be awry. I didn’t have any tracking at all, so one paddle on one side would twist the whole board around, another paddle on the other side would twist it the other way. Ugh. I wondered if I nicked it on a rock or log or something and the whole fin busted off. Probably should check, I thought. I got down on my knees and reached under my board, causing the back to sink into the water. Carefully, very carefully as not to flip the entire paddleboard long-wise…. I felt a huge glob of weeds on the fin. Cripes. I got all the weeds off everything, EVERYTHING! and set my sights on Spirit Island and Clough Island.

The open water was a little daunting, just mentally strenuous to travel through. I felt a bit exhausted despite the wind and waves being with me. They didn’t seem to add anything, but paddling against them would be devastating.I made my way to the slot in Clough Island, but had to sit down beforehand. I was spending a lot more time drinking from my pack, kneeling, eating food, and resting, than I had the first hour. I had to check my phone for the correct path to take, as the correct narrow channel between Clough Island was hard to see and there were multiple options. Once I passed through, it was like night and day from Spirit Lake. The water was still, the breeze was at my back and cooling me down a bit, and it was great to have land on both sides of me. It’d been really sweaty, sticky, hot the whole day. The sun was baking hot, but luckily hidden behind clouds frequently. I was on the other side of Clough Island in no time, excited and nervous to explore sections I’d never seen before. I was making really good time, and thought that I was about halfway through the paddle portion at about 9 miles and 2 and a half hours.

Next stop was the Bong Bridge. It looked close but the cars were tiny. Instantly the landscape changed from remote nature to industry. It was kind of cool: all sorts of piles, machines, metal and wood. The open water was again tough. I thought I changed direction slightly, or the wind had, because I felt like the waves were crossing sideways past me.  I didn’t know exactly where I was to go under the Bong Bridge but just kept paddling to where the most straight line seemed to be and it kept being the right way. Before the Bong Bridge, I could see the Blatnik and Aerial Lift Bridges as well, all three in my line of sight. I saw the line I needed to take…

The Bong Bridge was a mammoth structure, and cool to go under. More industry… a lot of hustle and bustle as I paddled into the late morning on a work day. The cranes and trains were going, and time seemed to go right on by. I kind of got past the frustration and into robot mode. Paddle paddle paddle. I seemed to be moving really good, and I saw a few sub-15 minute miles flash on my watch. It took forever to get close to the Blatnik Bridge, and I was looking back to the Bong Bridge to compare the sizes of the cars and determine how much longer it’d be until going under the next one, then on to a straight shot to the Lift Bridge. When I could clearly see the line to get under the Blatnik, I also spotted a huge freight ship coming straight towards me. It was really cool to see. I knew it was so far off, but I still wondered if I was in its way, in a critically dangerous situation head to head with a 700-foot ship. As it got closer to me, and I got closer to the bridge, it turned and I turned and had a sizable gap between the massive ship.

I noticed the Vista Fleet carting people around in the bay, the big ship honked loudly to its final destination, and I was crossing under the Blatnik Bridge in no time. It seemed like a long ways to get there and make the corner, but it was also very cool because another docked freight ship was right at the corner. I got very near it, paddling right alongside a shipping yard, and my attention was on the industrial area and not on the monotonous nature of paddling and paddling and paddling. And paddling and paddling. GAH. I saw a hefty 14 mile marker beep on my watch.

The bay was getting super choppy, with sea birds seemingly swarming me. I got a bit anxious in this section. The first two bridges were straightforward but the Lift Bridge is something else. What if another freighter comes through?? I got near it. No big ships. The blue bridge had gone up and a charter fishing boat arrived behind me, awaiting the bridge to lift. I just went!

Under the Aerial Lift Bridge and there were tourists everywhere. It doesn’t take a ship coming through the bridge to bring people out to the pier! I paddled out towards the end of the shipping channel, taking in the experience I had thought about many times. I didn’t know what to do… wave to all the people? I could tell they were looking at me. A guy yelled to ask if I was going to Michigan. Maybe, I told him. A lady at the very end of the pier, as I made the turn, congratulated me and said I was brave. Y’all don’t even know what I done done! I didn’t say that… Her friend asked if I fell in yet. I said no, not on purpose, but might jump in because it’s HOT. I laughed, I think they chuckled… I didn’t break my stride. Then I jumped in the cool Lake Superior water. It felt great. I climbed right back on and looked towards the North Shore of Lake Superior to Leif Erickson Park. I thought I spotted it, and set off.

On the big lake, the water was perfect. There were really light roller waves, a very light chop pushing me right towards Leif Erickson. The wind was at my back and it felt good to be soaked in cool Superior water. I noticed my hands were pained. I took a moment to look. No blisters, really. But they felt blistered. My back and shoulders and lower side abs were getting sore. Oof. I couldn’t believe I made the trip. It was a pretty wild endeavor to go that far after not having paddling even close to that distance on a paddleboard. I felt elated coming in to Leif Erickson. There were people on the beach at Leif, and I probably looked strange just coming right ashore and walking off into the park. I didn’t know what to do there either… wave to them? I stopped my watch, clocking about 4 and a half hours and over 17 miles.

I put my hat down and tried to hike the board home as quick as possible. I knew I looked strange. I saw my friend Tina on the opposite corner of Superior Street and she said I looked weird. I said she looked weird. I didn’t mean it… A couple blocks up, I heard someone yell at me and then stop at the stoplight right next to me. “How far do ya got?” “How far do ya got to go still?” I noticed the person… who was it… OH! It was Jared Munch, a local paddler who had recently completed an insane paddleboard trip to the Arctic Ocean from Duluth. I followed along online after seeing him on the news. I said four blocks. He said I could strap it on, motioning towards my board and towards his roof rack. I said no. I also said he was a legend. Then I told him I was paddling then schlepping my board up to my house four blocks away, then biking back to my car. He said it was a triathlon (“paddle, uhhh… portage, and bike!”), and cool, then the light changed and he sped away. I yelled “YOU’RE A LEGEND!” It was cool, and very random, to see an adventure paddleboarder by happenstance as I complete my own adventure paddling excursion.

I stormed home, switching the board between my arms to alleviate my sore hands. My grip was very shaky. I got home and couldn’t be more happy to set the board alongside my shed. I rushed inside, let the dogs out, grabbed my lunch wrap and cold fizzy water, and almost didn’t know what to do. I changed my wet running shorts to bike shorts. Then I started to eat. I ate the wrap in record time as the dogs looked on in confusion. Before long, I started mobilizing for my bike leg. Bike out of the shed, shoes out, board in, paddle in, keys and water and snacks in my bike bag, phone in the bag, shoes on and out the door. I locked up and walked my bike up to the alley.

My rear derailleur had broken weeks prior, and I was too lazy to get it fixed until the day before. That point in time happened to be mere hours after I decided I’d go on the trip the next day! So I went to my local bike shop Ski Hut. They didn’t have the part. Dang. They suggested Continental, another local bike shop. I said I’d just order it from them to be picked up anytime after noon the next day. On my way home, I just needed to call Conti because I couldn’t shake the idea of not going on Skyline the whole way. I was so obsessed because I’d read an article on Duluth’s history of Skyline Parkway on Zenith City Online. They outlined the now defunct Mission Creek Boulevard as one of the early sections of Skyline and home to the original Seven Bridges Road. That met up really close to Chambers Grove Park and also was some cool off-road biking as it was now essentially double-track trail through the woods. I just had to ride the gravel bike! My call to Conti was a success, and they had the part. I rushed down. They had the long cage version, but my 1x front setup wouldn’t be ideal with the long cage. Hmmm. I left empty handed, stopped back into Ski Hut after calling to cancel my order, to re-place my order. Ross was laughing and said it’s OK. Gah, what a debacle. Tri bike was the only option. Unless….. I set up a singlespeed. So, late into the night, I tinkered around in my basement trying to get it to work. I ultimately did, but the chain was absurdly tight and the cranks didn’t turn very well. I felt nervous with the first few pedals on my sketchy setup. But so far so good onto the bike leg. Up to 7th Street, across Mesaba, up a big hill and onto Skyline headed East towards Enger Tower.

The view to my left of what I’d just paddled was great. I felt so accomplished and happy that I was going to get this done, barring a mechanical issue or major accident. It was no time before I was passing Enger Tower, and the singlespeed was working perfectly. I didn’t notice the tight chain when I was pedaling, and the gear ratio was actually really good for the rolling ups and downs mixed with flat. I was having a blast, despite being really hot right away.

I didn’t enjoy starting and stopping, partly because of the tight chain, and was happy to cross Piedmont headed West towards the open road. I cranked past the neighborhoods and got into the more remote countryside section of Skyline. It was a flash before I was climbing up towards the cemetery and Highway 2 intersection. The climb up Thompson Hill was brutal, but I was making really good time. I crossed I-35 without a hitch and got a little jostled past Spirit Mountain on the rough road. Down the other side of Spirit was extreme, and I was scared for my bike and scared for my life screaming down the steep and rough road. The heat of the day was getting to me into the Magney area as the pavement turned to gravel. I drank water, and realized that my one bottle was going to have to be rationed. I climbed up, knowing there was a big downhill ahead. The big hill down to Beck’s Road was paved and much calmer than by Spirit. I knew the intersection of Mission Creek Boulevard was near and I saw the Skyline sign with END ahead. I thought I was on the Voyageur 50 Mile course and took a gander that the road we ran on for that was also the one I was looking for. I had to unclip to go up a little incline, then down and around and across Becks Road like I recall from the map and from Voyageur. On the other side there was a parking lot and gate. The gate had a tiny sign alerting construction along the area and mentioned Mission Creek so I figured I was on the right trail. It was definitely part of the Voyageur course, and I predicted it would make for a very fun biking section if my memory would serve me correctly.

It was rugged and pretty slow going on the Mission Creek Boulevard, but cool to see the bridges that I’d read about and to think about the history of this path I was on. It was fun for sure. My fatigue was nonexistent on the bike but I was definitely hot. All I could think about was root beer and white Gatorade. I’d get that at the gas station, for sure. The Duluth Traverse mountain bike trail criss-crossed with the double-track trail I was on and so I thought about the same trip but on the DT instead of Skyline. Nah, this is better. I got to a crossing of Mission Creek itself and in my haste, went right through the water, totally submerging my left shoe. I kept plugging along, noticeably traveling downhill the whole way, which was nice but a lot of braking. I crossed a few familiar sections of the Superior Hiking Trail and eventually popped out at Highway 210. It was a great ride back down because it was smooth downhill and I didn’t pedal. The wind was through my hair and I knew I was done in once piece and in great time. I rode straight to the landing at Chambers Grove Park that I’d put my paddleboard in hours before, stopped my watch, loaded my bike back into my car and drove home.

Race Day: Saturday, August 7, 2016 – 8:30am

I went in to Brewhouse Tri with big expectations. I had the expectation to win. It’s easy to say you have no expectations, but this was not the case. It’s easy to say you have no expectations when there is no reason that you should have them, such as not swimming and signing up for a triathlon, which involves swimming. Or letting my tri bike literally get dusty from no use, when the race involves riding a tri bike. Nevertheless, I went out to Brewhouse with the goal to win. Time was irrelevant.

This was my sixth time racing the Brewhouse Sprint, and I was competing for my fifth win. The caveat was my severe lack of specific training. This seems to be a common theme lately, but seemed to play out OK with Voyageur just one week prior. I hadn’t swam a stroke or sat on my tri bike, for all intents and purposes, for nearly 11 months. I knew I had good run fitness, and I knew I had decent biking fitness from biking to work every day. Is 6 miles a day enough? I rarely push it… my commute is at a very leisurely pace. How far back on the swim will I be? I had some major questions on how the day would pan out.

The morning drive to beautiful Island Lake outside of Duluth confirmed my notions that the day would be ideal for a triathlon. I got to the transition area and saw plenty of familiar faces to who I had to explain being off the grid and spending my time hiking. It was good to be back schmoozing with the awesome triathlon community in Duluth.

The bike warmup was on point, and I didn’t spend too much time running. I had a pre-race Mountain Dew and was ready to rock. My transition area seemed so much more compact and easy than I remember. A testament to the backpacker ‘less is more’ mentality? Perhaps. I suited up in my wetsuit and did a few strokes. They felt fine, but even a minute was enough to feel the tension and soreness in my shoulders. Not good.

I found myself antsy for the race to begin. Before long, Matt Evans came out of nowhere to instruct us on what buoys to turn at and to come back to. In a flash, the goggles went on and the 10-second countdown began. “GO!” and the hectic start commenced. Nothing like a triathlon start… Hands, feet, faces, bodies everywhere.

I felt fine right away, but definitely noticed my lack of swim fitness. I was used to pulling away from people at the drop of a hat, er, swim cap, and now people were swimming away from me. I tried to get on someone’s feet, but it was only for a short while. The first buoy wasn’t too terribly far off, and I felt good rounding the first and second markers. My shoulders were burning and they felt like wet noodles dragging through the water, but I was halfway done and still swimming as strong as a non-training fool like me could go. I took it all the way in until my fingers scraped on the bottom of the lake floor.

I knew I had some ground to make up while I was in T2. Not to belittle my fellow athletes, but I was not used to being down off the swim. My transition was hasty, it took me a bit to get my shoes set, but then I took off hard on the bicycle.

The Brewhouse bike course is fast. I cranked right out of the gate and got up to speed quickly, passing a few people in the process. I was gaining on others quickly and passed them like they were stopped with a kickstand up. I peeked at my watch to get a reading of 30MPH, and I knew I was on the right track. I figured that I could hold a decent run pace regardless of how hard I push on the bike. At that moment, I knew to achieve my goal, I’d have to put it all on the line on the bike. And so I cranked away. Every person I passed, I looked ahead to hopefully catch the lead motorcycle. The legs were feeling fine, but I was breathing really heavily. No time to catch my breath, I thought. A few more people, and I saw the leaders near the one turn on the course. He was just a few minutes ahead of me, so I made the 180-degree turn and had my sights focused to that motorcycle like a track dog to the fake rabbit.

The next few people were slower to pass. It took a while to reel them in, and it was a slow pass. I was happy to get past my tri buddy Lee Brown, because I knew he’d be a contender. He’s had a few second-place finishes at the race and I knew he was hungry for a local win with his new tri bike. A minute later, I caught the leader, with time to pad until T2. I made an effort to put more time on my fellow competitors, and hopped off my bike in a hurry, sprinting for my running shoes.

The second transition was speedy, and I was off. I wondered how my legs would feel without doing a single brick workout on the year, and they felt like jelly. The feeling of running in a triathlon is pretty terrible. It’s like you have a parachute on, or ankle weights. You just can’t get that speedy pickup. I was breathing heavy out of the gate, and took a peek behind my shoulder to gauge how this guy was running. He was close. I figured I’d be able to pick up a little speed once my legs get used to the switch-up, but three miles isn’t much real estate. In that case, I tried to focus on my cadence.

By the turnaround, I couldn’t see anyone. By the time I had a clear view behind me, back on County Road 4, there was nobody in sight and I knew I had it. I picked up my pace for good measure, and just because I could, and my notions were confirmed as the athletes going the other way told me it was mine. They popped us into the woods, and I was cruising on by on a wooden bridge. Sweet. The last half mile was on a trail, and you could just smell the Northwoods pines. The sound of the crushed gravel underfoot made it a treat for the senses.

I held up my five fingers on the finishing chute, and brought it in a few seconds past an hour, far off of the course record. To my surprise, Lee Brown came waltzing in before I could bat an eye. I somehow held him off with a big bike, giving me five wins for this race. The Brewhouse Sprint Tri is a spectacular event.

Garmin Data

Results

Race Stats:

Place: 1/204
Time: 1:00:34
Swim: 13:36
Pace: 1:40/100 yd
Bike: 28:13
Speed: 26.4mph
Run: 17:21
Pace: 5:36

Shoes: Mizuno Hitogami size 11
Bike: Specialized Transition
Wheels: Profile Design 78
Food: Water

Race Day: July 30, 2016 6am

I had a whole host of questions and doubts in my mind going into the revered Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile. A race with such history and such talent every year, coupled with my severe lack of focused training, made me question and doubt my ability to hold together a good race. I looked at my stats, and I’d ran triple the mileage in March compared to July (150 miles versus 50 miles), but had a big increase in steps logged (295,000 in March versus over 450,000 in July), for what it’s worth. I knew the course was really runable, but I had the fitness to walk endlessly. 50 miles slows you down, sure, but I should run the whole thing, and believe it or not, running is always the best training for a running race. Imagine that!

I had no expectations going into the race, with the goal simply to have fun and enjoy myself. I can’t not have a time in mind, and I was thinking 8 hours is realistic. Under 10 is a slam dunk, even if I crash and burn, so to speak. I did some math and aimed to stick 6 miles per hour, or 10 minute miles right out of the gate. I was feeling good and ready to race the night before, and set my alarm nice an early for the next day.

I woke up at 4:45 on Saturday, in the dark, awaiting the sun to shine on what was forecasted to be a perfect day. I drove myself to Carlton High School to get my packet, I was lucky enough to get some sunscreen from Jarrow of Austin-Jarrow, despite his competitor’s jersey on my back! I saw some friendly faces, and there was some great positive energy in the wee morning hours.

We congregated in the street, there were a few words said, then GO! And we were off. I had to laugh immediately as Michael Borst and Dusty Olson set off in a dead sprint to take the lead ten seconds into the race. I was recommended to jockey for a decent spot while the course was really wide, soon to shrink to technical single track, as not to get caught behind slowskis. I did have a good spot as we turned right into the woods for a long day on the trails.

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Photo Credit: Tone Coughlin

I was with Jakob Wartman right off the bat. I raced against him at Wild Duluth last fall, and he seemed unsure of his abilities at this race, too. He said he was in 15:40 5k shape, which is insane fast, but hadn’t been doing much long stuff. We chatted on some really rooty and uneven trail, talked strategy and about the course.

In a flash, we were crossing the iconic St. Louis River bridge and already at the first aid station.

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Photo Credit: Tone Coughlin

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Photo Credit: Tone Coughlin

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Photo Credit: Tone Coughlin

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Photo Credit: Tone Coughlin

We started running on ski trails and Jakob tried to pee while running. It didn’t work. The morning was beautiful, although extremely humid, the temperature was low and almost chilly in scant clothing. I took some more caffeine via Coca Cola at the second aid station. Jakob seemed worried about our pace and told me about his last Voyageur race where he went through the halfway at 3:15 or 3:30 or something, and really struggled the last half. I thought we were running pretty conservatively and it felt so easy. Jakob sped up…

We bumped out to the paved Munger Trail and I’d caught back up to Jakob after he stopped to pee. Another guy was right there, too, and we chatted with him. Garrett was from Madison, WI, and studying post-grad physical therapy or exercise science or something. I joked how he knows the exact tendons and muscles that are getting sore throughout the race. I stopped at the Duluth Running Co. aid station on the Munger Trail, and it was nice to know there were friendly faces at the station. Here, I drank a cup of Coke mixed with ginger ale, and a shot of pickle juice. Running away, I had major regrets as I felt the fluids mix together inside my belly like a witch’s brew.

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Photo Credit: Tone Coughlin

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Photo Credit: Tone Coughlin

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Photo Credit: Tone Coughlin

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Photo Credit: Tone Coughlin

We spread out in the trails nearby Mission Creek. Jakob was way out front, I wouldn’t see him for a long time. Garrett and I switched positions a few times. I was more or less running by myself. The aid stations were spread out really nicely, and I could chug my water and spray it on myself right before the next one. I was still feeling good just clicking off the sections: Mission Creek, Skyline, Magney Park. When we got to the Magney trails, I ran with Garrett a bit more and we considered our energy levels. We were both getting a bit tired, but feeling good. It was swampy on this section, but nice and shaded.

Through Skyline once more into Spirit Mountain, I went ahead of Garrett because he noticed I was going faster on the downhills. Soon after, it hit me and I started scanning the side of the trail. It’s an unmistakable feeling in any life situation and I knew then and there–I had to take an emergency dump. No, no, no. I wondered if this would happen, and sure enough, it’s coming. And quickly! I know I can’t fight it, so just hopped right into the woods and wished Garrett farewell. As I squatted, I saw the first place runner Michael Borst sprint past in the other direction. I also saw, like 4 people pass me. What?! I didn’t realize it was that tight. So I made it as brief as possible and hopped back onto the trail. Runners were exposed in the sun at the top of Spirit Mountain. I had fun seeing how the top was panning out. A minute back was Jake Hegge, 45 seconds behind that was Erik Elmstrand, who I jog with from time to time, right in the mix. Not a minute back was ageless wonder Kurt Keiser, who smoked the Zumbro 50 Mile course record earlier this year, where I came in second. It was shaping up to be a tight race!

We then turn down into the woods and it’s down, down, down to the zoo. I was surprised to see Jakob sprinting up the hill like it was a 5k workout. And that after the talks of starting out too fast!? But he looked fresh. High intensity paying off, I guess. I didn’t dawdle at the aid station, and was able to pass a few people, like Garrett as he changed his socks.

The grind back up to Spirit Mountain was hard. It took a lot out of me as I strongly considered walking. I decided I had to run up it, despite the high possibility of dipping too deep into the tank. A little overexertion, spread out for many hours, and mean a terrible last few hours of walking/hobbling. It was a great feeling to get back to the top of Spirit, and I was actually feeling OK after all. I knew that was the biggest uphill, really, and all just backwards from here. Garrett had passed me again on the uphill, and we were right together once again. He took off, and I wouldn’t see him for a long time.

It was pretty tough getting back to Magney. The uphill, running across Spirit was OK, and I started feeling pretty run down on Skyline. I ate a gel and kept plugging away. It was nice to see the high-density of runners going the other way. I had a second wind in Magney in the shade and the swampy conditions. It didn’t seem so bad this time around. I caught up to another guy in cutoff jorts, but passed him with ease.

Out of Magney ski trails, I knew it was a nice downhill on the road, but I didn’t think it would thrash my quads. I tried to be economical with running downhill, but I was just bashing my quads with every step. The jorts guy caught back up to me, and he told me we used to train together. I got a look at the guy’s face, and realized it was Marc Malinoski, a tri bro from right when I started in the triathlon game. He was training for Ironman in 2012 or 2013 or so, and I was such a newbie back then. So it was kind of cool to catch up and talk as a way to distract from the arduous task of running. I stopped only briefly at the aid station at Becks, and left Marc. It didn’t take long for him to catch up, but then I felt the familiar feeling of my stomach turning over.

Twice in a race… terrible. I wasn’t timing my stops or anything, but knew that if I didn’t pull off into the woods I’d pay for it. Marc said he saw me stop at Spirit, too… sorry bro. And so I pulled off once more. With a handful of the plentiful and large-leafed thimbleberry leaves I let ‘er rip. Just so unpleasant, taking a dump in the woods. I think the thimbleberry leaves were a bad choice, and realized my butt has been babied by Charmin for years.

Back onto the trail, I ran by myself through the steeps through Mission Creek. On the ropes section, I saw my long lost friend Garrett. I think he was doing pretty rough, because I passed him, and quickly out of sight. I went through the Mission Creek/Fond du Lac aid station and started slowing big time. My legs were heavy, and I couldn’t run up even the smallest incline. I foresaw the downward spiral in my mind’s eye, but somehow pulled through to get to the wider piece of trail, just as Garrett found his second wind and passed me just as easily. Out of sight, I didn’t think I’d see him again. I wondered where Marc went. I was all by myself and didn’t want to think about who else was behind me. The wheels were falling off.

I got to the DRC aid station once again, and Tina Nelson had a huge dollop of Vaseline on her hands asking me where I’m chafing. Do you count leaf-related abrasions as chafing? I told her nowhere… my filter kicking in as I almost blurted “taint”. I stopped for a good moment at this aid station and loaded up on tasty blue Powerade. I didn’t think… couldn’t think of food. I wasn’t hungry and wondered if I’d pay for that later. I told everyone the wheels are falling off. They told me to keep them on.

Into the powerlines, I had my third wind. It was perfect timing, and getting a chance to walk up some steeps reenergized me big time. It was painful to slog down the other side, but it was enough of a difference with the muscles you use, in this very steep up-and-down section, compared to trying to run 8 minute miles on flat, tame trails. I saw Marc once again, and he wasn’t doing so hot, no pun intended, in the summer heat of the exposed powerlines. I was luckily feeling just fine, but definitely spraying water on my face more and more. I soaked it up on Purgatory, the last section of the steep up-and-downs of the powerlines, and knew that it was a jog of 10 miles or so to the finish. I was pretty much right on my 8 hour goal, and maybe 12 place or so. I wondered who else I could pass, and so thought of my long lost friend Garrett. Into the woods and down a big hill to a creek bottom, then back up the other side and I saw him once again.

Garrett was walking up the hill and seemed to be in pain. Sure enough, he said he wasn’t doing well as his quadriceps were cramping. That sounds like the worst pain. But the constant pounding of downhill running is enough to do it to ‘ya! I passed him, wondering if we were in 10th and 11th place. I used it as motivation–whatever I could scrape up mentally at this stage in the race–to run. We got to the ski trails in Jay Cooke State Park, where the miles were just clicking away 6 hours prior. I realized this was the part of the race where mantras are the only thing to pull me through. My mantra was “keep the wheels on, Mike”. Keep the wheels on, keep the wheels on, and I kept working. This was probably my favorite part of the race. I don’t know what is so gratifying about being so tired that your mind tells you to stop. The signals from every muscle and tendon are saying they’re done, but you just keep working ’em. It’s all mental. I was feeling surprisingly well, and could feel my speed pick up to a nice consistent rate on these flat and runable trails. Even a small hill was enough to nearly derail my efforts, though.

I eagerly anticipated the next aid station, and was checking my watch’s mileage counter way too often. By the time I got to Forbay Lake, I figured I was decently ahead of both Garrett and Marc, both struggling the last time I’d seen them. I asked the volunteers at Forbay Lake what place I was in, and they said 11th. I joked how I wanted to get top 10, and then was promptly notified that 10th place was 10 minutes ahead. A few 5 minute miles, I muttered… Joke of the year…

I kept chugging along, craning my neck when I could to scope for any quickly closing runner behind me. Nothing. I sprinted across the crowded swinging bridge, and figured my adrenaline would carry me through the last really technical section of this long, long race. My legs were killing me, so hot and tired, and I hadn’t been eating. I wasn’t hungry, but knew I was in quite the calorie deficit. I saw some tourists on the trail, stepping carefully over rocks and roots, as I notified I was right behind them, and then cruised over the technical trail with relative ease. I seemed to surprise the couple, who yelled “I’m impressed!!”, but I really surprised myself and felt pretty cool. THIS would be the section to bend my ankle in half. Then again, my tendons were that of an overstretched rubber band. They’re probably bending in half every step as it was.

I started swearing at the roots. It was tough going through here, and I couldn’t help but yell bad words when I’d get to a precarious jumble of sharp rocks and oddly shaped roots. The adrenaline kicked in, especially when I started to calculate the last few miles of the race. If my GPS mileage held true, I’d be VERY close to going under 8 hours. Now, that is my motivator.

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Photo Credit: Tone Coughlin

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Photo Credit: Tone Coughlin

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Photo Credit: Tone Coughlin

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Photo Credit: Tone Coughlin

I was overly excited to see the bridge across to the Munger Trail. 2 minutes to 8 hours. How far do we run on the Munger? I saw Carlton, and recognized the turn-off as my watch clicked to the 59’s. I saw the finish line from afar, looked down to see 7:59:15. I gritted my teeth and picked it up hard. I was not going to jog in in for an 8:00:15. The all out sprint was terribly painful, and in hindsight, embarrassing as the spectators looked at the sheer pain plastered on my squinched face. The clock confirmed I had a few seconds to spare as I crossed the line and stopped my watch at 7:59:45.

“Sub 8”, I muttered as I hobbled to the grass, climbed onto my hands and knees and panted like a dog. Nobody said anything, but I noticed my friends Jakob, Erik and Chris Rubesch relaxing in the shade. I felt like crying as I realized the scope of the accomplishment. I somehow kept my wheels on to bring in a stellar time of under 8 hours, definitely smashing my expectations. The deep field was really crazy, as four people, including Jakob, who had a truly incredible race, went under 7 hours. My time would have yielded a top 10 or even a top 5 finish in any other year’s race.

Looking back, the Voyageur was an awesome race. I definitely achieved my goal of having fun and enjoying myself, and I’m afraid that I like the 50 mile distance too much. ‘More miles, more fun’ seems to be the theme. I ought to look at a 100k or 100 miler in that case!

Results

Garmin Data

Race Stats:

Place: 11/271
Time: 7:59:45
Pace: 9:45

Shoes: Mizuno Hayate size 11
Food: Too much to name

Hike Date: June 4-5, 2016

Trail: Superior Hiking Trail

Trip Plan: 2 days, 50 miles, park at Ely’s Peak, hike home and then back the next day.

Day 1 – Drive south to Ely’s Peak/123rd Avenue trailhead, hike home (near Bagley Nature Center)(27 miles)

Day 2 – From home, run to Enger Tower and hike back to the car (23 miles)

Stats:

  • Total Miles: 50.44 miles
  • Total Time: 13:06

Weather:

Duluth Weather June 4

Trip Synopsis:

Day 1 – Saturday, June 4, 2016

Garmin Data:

On a foggy, dreary and chilly Saturday morning, I laid in my bed, dog Diamond by my side, and was hoping to do anything besides go outside and hike for an untold amount of hours. Eventually, I got my ass out of bed, much to Dimey’s delight and we went hiking.

Rewind a few days, and the weather forecast for the upcoming weekend was again rain. What a bummer. When Thursday came around, I had no plan for the weekend, but did have a looming appointment scheduled on my calendar that read “50 Miles”. I kept thinking to myself, “don’t want to camp in the rain, don’t want to camp in the rain, don’t want to hike in the rain.” I fell asleep on Thursday with nothing packed, no provisions, no plan to go backpacking the next evening. All day on Friday, I gave this trip more thought, while frequently checking the meteorology reports. It’s kind of a cop out, but it would be much easier to mentally commit the miles if I could sleep in my own bed and eat whatever I wanted after a long day on the trail in the rain.

So I put the plans in motion. I decided I could drive towards the southern section of the trail. My house is nearly a half mile from the SHT in Bagley Park on the University of Minnesota-Duluth campus. 40 or 45 miles south from there is the southern terminus of the Superior Hiking Trail (currently at Wild Valley Road), and 250 or so miles north is the northern terminus at 270 Degree Overlook. I’d never been to the newly completed 6 mile extension south from Jay Cooke State Park to the new southern terminus, and this would be a good opportunity to check it out. I did some calculations, and figured it’d be around 40 miles or perhaps a few more to park at the southern terminus and hike all the way home to a trail split in Bagley Park, then another half mile home from there. If I could do that on Saturday, then somehow get another 20 miles in–maybe get a taxi to a choice trailhead–back to the car, I’d be in business.

Fast forward to Saturday morning. I set my alarm on Friday night and we awoke at 6am. This is Diamond’s breakfast time and I had no choice to get up and feed the beast. It surely looked rainy out, and had been raining for 15 hours prior. Nice. I reset my alarm for 6:38am. That came and went. Next thing I know, it’s 9am and still very foggy, and my motivation at an all time low. I somehow came to terms with what I wanted to do and we got the hell out of the house. Map in hand on the freeway, I did some calculations and figured 40 miles at 3 miles per hour puts us at 13 hours and change. We’d maybe hit the southern terminus and park by 10am, which puts us at 11pm to arrive back at the house. Nope. No way. That’s stupid! I thought about Palkie Road on the north side of Jay Cooke. Nah, still too far. What about Ely’s Peak? That will work. I figured it was 25 miles or so, which is about 8 hours of hiking, and puts us at a cool 8pm arrival time back at the house. A good, long day, and then we can just hike right on back the next morning, getting the perfect 50 miles in! Boom.

So we parked in the fog and got to hiking. I didn’t track my gear, no gear list, no plan for this one. I ate a large breakfast a few hours earlier, took rain pants and my rain jacket, a lot of snacks and a 2L water bladder full. The rain had luckily subsided and it looked like we’d maybe get sprinkled on, maybe a thunderstorm, but it no surefire drenching rain like Friday had brought. Diamond didn’t even bring her pack at all, I packed a baggie of a few treats.

We started off walkin’, and I immediately got nervous because all I was thinking of was how I parked directly in front of a sign that said “NO PARKING 10PM-6AM”. Eh, who will be in the lot past 10 anyways? Well, police officers, for one. Oh, well. It started sprinkling, and we didn’t see anyone for a long time.

A few hours in, I pulled out the rain jacket as it started to rain enough to make my shirt wet. I was pretty warm already and regretted taking so many clothes. I had a bamboo short sleeve and a long sleeve tech tee with basketball shorts. The short sleeve was off quickly, and it actually wasn’t too bad with the rain gear on. Meanwhile, Diamond was getting drenched. Maybe three hours in, we stopped for lunch and sat down on a very wet bench alongside Keene Creek. I had a large burrito that was full of just peanut butter and jelly. FULL of peanut butter and jelly. It was too much… I gave a small bit to Diamond and started walking again with the last bit in my hand. The jelly was sticky and too much peanut butter was kind of gross. The thing weighed a half pound!

Soon after Keene Creek, we went past Magney-Snively and the rain had subsided. We were on Skyline Boulevard for a half mile road section, and I saw two ladies putting up signs. They joked how it is such a nice day. Actually, it really was! I told them how there are no bugs and I can’t complain! I think it was a unique perspective they hadn’t considered. They were putting up signs for a horse ride. We went back down into the woods, and I quickly realized that my tee shirt sketchily shoved into my hydration pack had slipped out. Crap! I started walking back and decided it was stupid to do so. This is motivation to come back tomorrow no matter what.

I started getting a bit tired, but Diamond was still tugging on my waist. We were maybe 4 or 5 hours in. I think that is the threshold where the body starts to give out a little bit. It’s mostly the feet, knees, and general fatigue. The questions arise in one’s mind why one is doing this. It was so foggy and any overlook was just grey. That was kind of nice, because you can see Enger Tower from so far away, which is a little frustrating to know that’s how far you have to walk. Crossing Cody Street was kind of dull because it seems like its just half way. Luckily, the walk to Enger went really quickly and next thing we were there! I looked at my watch to get an idea how far we’d want to hike tomorrow, and we’d hiked 18 miles.

Ever since Keene Creek and the lunch stop, by stomach wasn’t feeling right. It was definitely the peanut butter. My stomach probably wouldn’t feel great if I ate a stick of butter or a cup of oil or a large slice of lard, either. Fat is very calorie dense and therefore good for backpacking with such a favorable calorie to weight ratio. However, you can’t just eat fat with out paying for it! I paid for it when I had to stop, then realize I needed to take an emergency dump. No way I’d make it another 10 miles turtle-walking and clenching by butt. It was coming now! I ran Diamond off the trail as quickly as possible and did what I needed to do. Then we kept walking.

It was nice to get to Enger Tower. The day hadn’t broken at all, and it was still drizzling and cloudy and foggy. We descended into the Duluth City, and started running. No sense slow-walking on the flat, paved path through Canal Park. People were everywhere trying to enjoy their Saturday despite the crummy weather, and Diamond and I probably looked like weirdos running with a big, overstuffed hydration pack and caked in mud. We stopped at the very corner of Lake Superior and went down to the lake. I was hoping Diamond would wash off a little bit and drink water, but neither of us really wanted to go into the waves. We sat at a bench and ate the majority of the remaining food. The home stretch is one big climb back home. So we ran the rest of the Lakewalk until the Superior Hiking Trail turns onto 14th Avenue East in the middle of Duluth. We walked up the steep hill, and kept hiking once we got into Chester Creek. It was good to know that neither Diamond or I had slowed down much at all during the long day. Going light helps a lot! Bagley was next, and we were home before long at all. We’d made a really fast hike that day, and celebrated with a lot of food. Pizza it is. I went to bed relatively early and set my alarm for 6am again.

Day 2 – Sunday, June 5, 2016

Garmin Data:

I actually woke up early on Sunday and Diamond and I both seemed to be fit to walk another big day, which was great. I felt really good, so ate breakfast and we hit the trail without much dawdling at all. The plan today was to run to Enger Tower from home. No sense in hiking all the way down to Canal Park just to be on the Lakewalk and then hike the huge climb up to Enger. This would cut off at least an hour, too. So we jogged to Enger Tower in the beautiful morning sun. It was a much different day with abundant sunshine and warmth. I wondered if this was good or bad, as we both seem to prefer cool weather versus hot heat. A quick half hour and we hit the Superior Hiking Trail and slowed it down to a walk. There was a chance for thunderstorms around 1pm, but did not pack any clothes this time. Just a long sleeve tech tee, basketball shorts, and nothing much else. Also, I didn’t bring any peanut butter today! We packed a similar stock of snacks, but figured I’d be able to hike all the way back without lunch. Starting before 7am helps with that.

There were more people on the trail on the sunny Sunday morning, and we passed (and got passed) by several runners. I could see my muddy footprints in a few spots, but the trail was already drying out quite substantially. The hike back was going fast, and we were in Piedmont before long, soon to pass under I-35, and in the prairie-like section along the freeway. It was nice to actually have a view! In the exposed sections leading to Spirit Mountain, time slowed down. It was getting warm, and the miles were taking their toll. I saw some friends running up a tough climb just outside of Spirit Mountain, and that seemed to break up the walking nicely. We zinged past Spirit Mountain and were nearing Magney-Snively when I found my shirt! Nice! Someone had hung it over a post or stump and I shoved it tightly in my pack.

Walking on Skyline, I found the SHT sign to get back into the singletrack and thought it was funny that there were two arrows pointing different directions. I followed the trail down. Down, down, down, and thought I’d maybe misread the sign and taken the wrong trail. So I kept my eyes peeled for the blue blaze. No blazes. Hmm… I figured it was an interconnected system of trails here and I could catch onto a trail. No, no, we stopped and I grabbed my phone to hopefully orient myself. I looked up the hill, and it was a sheer climb to get back onto the trail. Screw it, we can get back to the car one way or another, it doesn’t matter if we aren’t on the SHT. We kept walking down, down, down, and ultimately met up with the DWP, an old railroad grade that parallels the Munger Trail. Well, we parked right at the Munger Trail so would probably get to where we need to be soon enough. And this is easy walking. Easy, boring walking, though. Flat gravel. So Diamond and I walked on the flat gravel for a few miles. It was getting hot, and poor Diamond had no creeks to drink from. Finally, we went through the dark tunnel under Ely’s Peak and I knew we were close. I got a little turned around looking for the right trail, but soon enough, we crossed some train tracks and got to the car as the clouds rolled in.

What a hike! It didn’t go exactly to plan with the DWP debacle, but Diamond and I both seemed to be in great shape. Yeah, we were tired, but no injuries, no major implosions, and I think we could have gone a few more miles if necessary. With food on our minds, we drove home just as it started sprinkling. Then, on the freeway, and all out torrential downpour slowed my speed on the freeway to just 40 MPH! We got done at the right time!

It wasn’t purist backpacking, but I think this sort of hiking is great for testing the limits and really building some strength and stamina for both Diamond and I. However, I am eagerly looking forward for a few weeks to do another two-nighter.

As a training plan, I’m looking to be able to hike 80 miles in a weekend with relative ease. To build up to 80 miles in a weekend and then do a few of those should get me into good enough shape to hopefully pull 40 miles day after day. Then again, that is a long, long weekend of hiking! Luckily it’s getting fun.

Hike Date: May 28-30, 2016

Trail: Superior Hiking Trail

Trip Plan: 2 nights, not well planned at all. Park at Sugar Loaf Road lot and yo-yo with a long middle day Sunday.

Day 1 – Hike north from Sugar Loaf (~10 miles)

Day 2 – Hike south from a campsite, past the car, and continue south (~30 miles)

Day 3 – Hike north from a campsite to the car (10-25 miles)

Stats:

  • Total Miles: 46
  • Total Time: 30:18
  • Time Hiking: 14:51
  • Time At Camp: 15:27

Gear and Food: 5-28-16

Weather:

Schroeder weather 5-28

Trip Synopsis:

Day 1 – Saturday, May 28, 2016

Garmin Data:

As Diamond and I drove up Sugar Loaf Road into the fog and mist, I was happy it wasn’t raining, like the forecast suggested. Once we got out of the car, I realized that the parking lot was pretty muddy. It then dawned on me that the trail is probably quite muddy. In fact, I could see water on the trail 50 feet away!

Rewind 5 days, and everyone at the ol’ office was really excited for the long Memorial Day weekend. The forecast for rain was set in stone, so to speak, as Friday drew near. My initial plan for the weekend was to take Friday off of work, and try to roll big miles–120 by utilizing Thursday night and all the way through Monday. I realized far out that it was probably not my best use of time off, and so I figured I’d still have 3 full days of hiking, plus any mileage I could get on Friday after work. With rain for four days straight, I was rethinking my plan quickly. I ultimately decided on Thursday night that I would not go out until Saturday at the very least, if at all.

Luckily, by Friday, the meteorologists were predicting less rain and more of a dreary, foggy and cloudy weekend. That is OK! I made the plan to go out on Saturday at my convenience. No rush as to let the rain clear out. On Friday night, I became completely absorbed in a down top quilt DIY project (which is another blog post for another day), and I didn’t get in gear until the afternoon. With no plan in place, I figured Sugar Loaf Road would be a great place to park for a yo-yo- style hike. Up the first day, down past the car for the big second day, then back up to the car. I knew I wanted to try to rake up 30 miles on Sunday, so the other two days just have to add up to 30.

So we parked and got out, and I thought of the mud and water… a thought that hadn’t crossed my mind yet. Diamond and I set off, and what a good feeling to be on the trail! In 15 minutes, however, my socks were wet. Oh well, they won’t be getting much drier from here! We were heading north, and I figured we had at least 4 or 5 hours before it got too late to hike and set up camp and such. Given my 3 MPH target, that translates to 12 to 15 miles. Unfortunately, there were no campsites in that range. The last site that would be plausible to hit was North Cross River at ~11 miles. Beyond that, I’d have to hike up and over Carlton Peak, one of the biggest climbs on the SHT if I’m not mistaken, and another 5 miles or so. I was looking at 20 or so miles, and that wasn’t possible. Back to Cross River I guess! In the winter, that was an awesome campsite, but it seems ridiculous to camp at the same site twice with all of those option!
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I saw one girl backpacking with her dog almost right away, and then didn’t see anyone else until another solo hiker along the Cross River. We’d done this whole section not 5 months previous, but in the wintertime (see link above), and it was just as stunning in the summertime.

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The variety in terrain in just 8 miles is incredible, from following bubbling cricks to swampy pond areas, to large forests, to the powerful Cross River, you get a great mix. The trail got more and more saturated as we went, to the climax near Dyer’s Creek where the Superior Hiking Trail had a stream of water literally flowing right down the direct center. I think it was technically the west branch of Dyer’s Creek. After that, mud over my shoes. Dimey was truckin’ right through.

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We were feeling good past Cook County Road 1 and into the woods. The Tower Overlook was really pretty boring because of the dense fog. Every overlook or break in the trees brought the same grey view. No bugs was nice, though.

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The section beside Boney’s Meadow went quickly, and we crossed of Fredenburg Creek soon enough, and jetted right past the campsite there. Another few minutes and we were already at the Cross River. What a roaring, energetic river! Just hearing it and watching the water rush down towards Lake Superior was energizing to me.

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The rocks and boardwalks were very slick, and I was happy to keep my feet below me. Just as I was expecting, we descended a rocky hill into the Cross River Campsites. In the interest of staying at a different campsite, I scoped out South Cross River, but opted to hike another 50 feet to the North Cross River. Diamond was not fatigued at all and was running around like a nut when I unleashed her. I set up camp quickly and had a nice meal of dehydrated refried beans and rice and cheese and chips. Before it was dark, we were huddled in the damp tent, everything damp. I had high hopes that my socks and shoes and pants would dry out completely by the morning.

Day 2 – Sunday, May 29, 2016

Garmin Data:

The day started off very early. What time, I do not know. It was light, and Diamond was looking for her food. I leashed her and we got the food from her pack in the tree. She ate in the tent and then both dozed off. When we woke up next, I actually checked the clock and it was 7:30 or so. Time to go! I let the beast out of the tent, and was sad to see that everything was still very wet. To top it off, there were slugs everywhere. Pretty simple to flick ’em into , but to see slugs dragging their slimy butts all over my stuff was nasty at 7am. We got packed up and ready to go quickly, and Diamond finally slowly walked over to me to I could slide on her soaking wet and muddy doggie pack. Sorry!

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The night before, I’d done a bit of brainstorming, and thought I could do an out-and-back quick to Carlton Peak, past the car until Dime and I were tired. That way, it would be a nice and short walk to the car on Monday. The goal was 30 miles. The weather had not changed whatsoever, and it was still foggy, damp and dreary. We set off feeling good. I ate my breakfast bars quickly and before long, were on top of Temperance River, awaiting the long decent to that deep gorge. Diamond was keeping a good pace and was pulling my hips with every step.
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Down the large hill–not looking forward to going back up that thing–and we were alongside Temperance River. The mud was out today! Maybe it was the time of year or the recent rain, but that river was raging! The waterfalls were incredible, and it was hard to keep walking with so many great overlooks to the deep gorge that the Temperance has carved. We started seeing people now that Diamond and I were in the state park.

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We crossed the bridge, went up the opposite side of Temperance River, next stop Carlton Peak. I did some quick math and realized that we’d be at 12 miles or so when we get back to the Cross River, plus 11 miles back to the car, which meant that our Monday was going to be puny! I was kind of bummed that I didn’t plan it out better, but didn’t want to turn around or anything. I wanted to get up to Carlton, and really, the short day on Monday wasn’t the worst thing in the world. It would be very nice to get back into civilization at a reasonable hour.

It was slow going up to Carlton, but worth it for the sweet view. At this elevation, we were slightly above the fog, and could see it crawling between peaks and valleys in every direction. The big Lake was completely obscured, but I saw the slightest break in the clouds to the north, and hoped it would clear out so we could dry everything out at camp. But that was another good 24 miles away. For now, we eat. My shirt was soaked in the back.

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The climb down from Carlton Peak was worse. Everything was slippery. Then it started raining. I judged when I should put on my rain jacket by how wet my shirt looked. In the sprinkles, there was no indication that water was falling. By now, I could see the raindrops. It sounded like the rain was coming down harder up above the trees, so I put on the sweltering rain jacket. What a relief, though, as the rain did indeed get worse. I had the hood up, and before long, Diamond was soaking wet and trying to shake off every 15 minutes to no avail. My pants were soaked besides behind my knees. There were day hikers here and there, and everyone was in the same boat… wet.

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By the time we started climbing back towards the Cross River, it was still rainy. The climb wasn’t as bad as I’d expected after the grueling Carlton Peak, and I started counting worms. There were worms all over the trail, and Dime would step on ’em and they’d squirm and shrivel up. I got to 38 or so and figured that counting worms was a stupid game. It was hard to think of hiking for many, many more miles when we got back to Cross at around noon, but kept hiking anyways. The day was still dreary as ever, and we stopped for lunch at the Ledge campsite on the Cross River. I let Dime off for a bit and she was doing circles in the dirt. You’re not tired?!?!? I yelled at her.

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Before long, we’d done 8 more miles and was back at the Dyer’s Creek mud pit. By now, the day had completely changed and it was sunny. It was short lived, however, and the sky would turn grey quickly and sprinkle a bit, then clear out. This happened a few times during the afternoon. I had the idea of dropping out heavy on my mind. I figured that if my pants were completely dry by the car, I’d keep going. If not, we’re done. When we got to the car, I didn’t stop, didn’t think of anything except to keep walking. We barely looked at that ol’ rusty Subaru!

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There was a campsite atop Horseshoe Ridge, and the sign near my car said Horseshoe was 6.1 miles away. That seemed like the ticket, as Dime had dropped back and wouldn’t hike in front of me, and I was becoming very tired. The site beyond that was perhaps another five miles. Another hour or two… nah. Right past the car, we entered into a pine forest. I told the forest that I liked pine forests. I was in good spirits despite the fatigue. Just to push past the car and NOT drop out was plenty to be happy about.

Through the pine forest, we came to a great section traversing the hills high above the big Lake Superior. Everything had cleared out, and it was really nice to have some scenery to break things up. We were walking through some nice and easy meadows, and seemingly out of the mud. The Caribou River came and went pretty quickly, and I saw some signs of other hikers on the trail for once. The map said it’s a huge climb for about 3 miles up, up, up to Horseshoe Ridge and our campsite for the night. Up and up, then mud. It was slow going, and this part of the trail did not seem very well maintained. Trees were encroaching on the trail, and mud.

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We climbed up a steep hill to be rewarded by a fantastic view from Horseshoe Ridge. It must be close. I saw a through hiker who was taking a break, passed a crick, and there we were! I noticed we were sharing a campsite with another group, but nobody was in sight. I saw a tent and trekking poles. We took our backpacks off, and Diamond ran right to the tent and jumped! She must have seen its inhabitants and was spooked. Crap, now I have to make sure that she doesn’t terrorize these people. She’s taken my shoes off into the woods and I can forgive her, but that would be terribly embarrassing to have to go find someone’s old muddy boot that Diamond is swinging around in circles. Why she wasn’t tired, I don’t understand.

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I took off the boots, set everything up, and walked barefoot back to that crick for water. Bad move, as it was really rocky. I made the freeze dried lasagna and it was delicious. By 8pm or so, we were in the tent with bugs surrounding the entire exterior. I opted for no rain fly, and we slept under the starts. The DIY down quilt I’d made just a few days ago was very warm and seemed perfectly dry. Before long, it was dark, and we were out. A muddy dude and a really muddy dog crammed into a tent.

Day 3 – Monday, May 30, 2016

Garmin Data:

Diamond woke up early in the morning as we both heard rustling from our neighbors. I remembered to bring her food into the tent this time and she ate it in seconds flat. We laid back down to bed, and woke up an untold number of minutes later. A beautiful morning with the sun shining, I flicked a few slugs off my stuff and packed up quickly. Knowing that it was either downhill, or nice scenic hiking, and that we only had 6 miles to go, morale was high. I shrieked “MORNIN’!!” out upon Horseshoe Ridge. It was a blur before we hit Caribou River, and we really enjoyed the final section to the car.

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Unlike the last few days, it was hot, even early in the morning. The sun really makes a difference. By the time we got to the car, Diamond was panting and drank a lot water. I switched out my clothes and we set off. It was a nice short hike on the last day, for better or worse, but overall a great weekend. The inclement weather really did not play too much of a part. We slept great, and it was nice to have the cool, bug-free hiking weather, even if that meant fog and drizzle. There really isn’t much to say about mud and wetness, as that is just part of summertime on the trail. When is the next trip?!?

Hike Date: January 1st – 3rd, 2016

Trail: Superior Hiking Trail

Trip Plan: 3 nights, ~50 miles, park at Lake County Demonstration Forest
Day 1 – Hike North to Silver Creek campsite (15 miles)
Day 2 – Hike South past Demo Forest parking lot spur to Big Bend Campsite (25 miles)
Day 3 – Hike North to Lake County Demonstration Forest

Gear: 1-1-16

1/1/16GramsOuncesPoundsTotal OZTotal LBS
First Aid21.521.34
First Aid Kit31611.150.70
Reflective blanket
3/4 full hand sani (2 oz)
6 band aids
2 large gauze pads
small roll athletic tape
Iodine
Iodine taste tabs
Chap stick
4 AA batteries
15 matches
In a quart baggie
Quick Kit331.160.07
Full size Bic
Book of Matches
3 band-aids
In a quart baggie
Energizer lamp light combo2619.210.58
Multitool
Kitchen20.101.26
Red fuel canister9.50.59
Msr Stove40.25
Blue Spork100.350.02
Kettle1776.240.39
Clothes26.811.68
3 socks1445.080.32
1 boxer
Long Underwear1675.890.37
Dark Blue Wool Sweater31511.110.69
TNF Thermoball jacket
Fleece Hood1344.730.30
Work Gloves
Leather Choppers
Comfort Items13.210.83
Pack towel3.40.21
Composition Book w/ pen2789.810.61
Sleeping170.1810.64
Triple pad: al ccf, 2/3 ccf, Gander self inflator117341.382.59
TNF Cat's Meow and compression sack45.22.82
Fly Creek UL 1 tent99835.202.20
Bag liner12.050.75
Diamond's Bag36.352.27
251.8115.74

Trip Synopsis:

Day One – January 1st, 2016:

A new year is here, and what better way to spend the first three days than backpacking? The more I think about a Superior Hiking Trail through-hike, the more amped up I get. Therefore, I’m pretty dedicated on training myself as best possible to hike big miles day after day. Yeah, triathlons are very fun. Also, to be able to run really fast is great. However, I’m putting everything on the wayside (including, largely, my social life!) to best prepare myself for long distance backpacking. Long and slow, baby! I think it’s kind of funny talking to my running buddies… “nope, I’m going for the slow and long training approach this year. Really slow, like walking.”

Anyways, I knew I had a three-day weekend for the New Year, and started planning routes a bit out. I wanted to do a yo-yo style where I could just park in one spot and sandwich a big day between two shorter ones. Also, I wasn’t really getting any takers to come with for the whole trip, except my roommate Jack wanted to get out there for a night. Truth be told, a winter multi-day trip is pretty intimidating. I wanted to do one last year and didn’t get to it, and was super excited to face a whole different set of challenges. So without the ability to go point-to-point, I planned a 30-mile trip from the Demo Forest outside of Two Harbors, MN. Then, I started thinking…. I can do more. 25 miles in a day is possible, but it would take all day, sun up to sundown. I have to go out on a limb here, I have to put myself through the same rigors of Ironman training but for backpacking. I mentally prepared for some big miles, and decided that this is definitely the way to go.

Looking at my gear, I decided that the best bet for water would be a mid-layer water bladder carrier worn backwards on my chest. I used that for the Heck of the North bike race and it worked great. I can fill up using an empty 1-gallon jug and iodine purification tablets. Melting snow is slow and uses a lot of fuel and can result in nasty tasting water. Not that iodine is delicious… because it’s not, but I figured I can melt snow if push comes to shove, too. I got food that would probably not freeze, and the real mystery was pb&j sandwiches for lunch. As long as they’re not rock hard, they’d be edible. My last real concern was Diamond. Would she be able to haul ass for 8+hours a day? How much abuse can her teats sustain before they freeze off?? I’d just picked up a really nice dog jacket, though, and thought that would really increase her comfort levels at camp.

So on Friday, New Year’s Day, I loaded up the car and got ready to head out. I told Jack “I’d be there” in regards to meeting up on Saturday night at the Big Bend campsite. We were kind of slow getting going, and we left maybe an hour later than I was shooting for. It was no issue, though, and I was simply hoping to get to the first camp at Silver Creek before 4. If we can hike 3 MPH, that would be easy.

I thought I was going to get stuck at the hardly-plowed Demo Forest parking lot. I found a spot without getting stuck, but pondered the terrible situation of hiking 50 miles, then not being able to leave the lot, stuck in a rut all by myself!

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We set off walking at around 10am and headed north out of the 1.2-mile spur trail from the lot. I decided to use snowshoes, cloth gaiters and lightweight trail runners. With the multiple pairs of socks, I knew I’d be able to have dry socks at night and to start the day, but I also knew that there’s probably no way around stone-cold frozen shoes in the mornings. The snowshoes were pretty clutch because there was a decent amount of powder on the ground, I’d say 8-12 inches, and I was breaking trail right off the spur trail.

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I quickly noticed that the heavy snow had bent any weak limb in towards the ground with the aid of gravity. In sections of bramble or tight tree-lined corridors, the trail would be nearly entirely blocked. I could shake away the snow and the trees would spring back to their vertical stature, but to be shaking snow off and lifting trees many times each mile made for slow going and cold hands. And when the wind blew, or if I slightly nudged a branch, or perhaps an earth tremor occurred, I’d be at the risk of a cold dump of snow down the back of my neck. On the flip side, Diamond was having a blast.

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I was making my way along and actually feeling pretty cold. Diamond’s sleeping bag and mat didn’t stay on her pack for one second, so I was carrying it in my hands as a warmer. I could already feel my feet soaking wet, but luckily not cold at all. I got to a section where it looked like a cross country skier made their way through. That must have been rough… all of the sticks and bramble were tough enough for my little running snowshoes. I couldn’t imaging getting through that thick with long, cumbersome skis on.

I was thinking about when I could stop for lunch and put on a layer. I knew there were a few campsites before the next trail head on Reeves Road and County Road 2 near Two Harbors. That would be a good spot perhaps halfway through the first day. I figured I was 4 or 5 miles in when I got lost. It had happened once or twice already, where Diamond and I got off track in the homogenous landscape–brown trees blanketed in white as far as the eye could see–to feel lost in it was dizzying. So we turned around and found the last blue blaze, then looked ahead. Never mind, we were on the right track after all! We kept trucking. Except it wasn’t the right way… there is no way that was the trail. So we stopped and looked around. I was squinting for a blue blaze on any tree. None! So we backtracked once again. I tried to coax Diamond into leading us to the correct bearing using her trail instincts. Once again, we were bushwhacking. I thought there was huge tree blocking the real trail, we hiked around it, but no nothing! Lost! I felt really panicked for a second. My feet were freezing, hands freezing, this is stupid! What am I doing? Ok, get back on track here. What can we do? There were a few options in my mind: hike back to that last blaze AGAIN and try something different, or keep going forward from here with no compass and no idea where on the map we actually are, or scrap this whole dumb trip. We’d already wasted at least a half hour just walking in circles in this small area in the woods in the middle of nowhere. Yep, we’re going back. I anger-walked back to that stupid last hash. I took one more glance around to see if I could come up with any other ideas on where to go. A straight-shot trajectory puts us right into a pine branch. Maybe that’s the right way, but today it is not. We’re going back. So I continued with the anger-walking and we backtracked. My chronograph said 2:15 or so.

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The walking was much, much easier back through my own tracks. We were making pretty good time given the knowledge that in a few miles we’d be back in the car with the heat blasting. While hiking back to the car, defeated, I thought about staying overnight at a shelter near the Demonstration Forest parking lot. We could still meet Jack. Nah… this is over, we need to recoup. Plus it’s cold out. I figured Jack and I could come up with a totally new route for the next night.

We got back to the car in a flash, perhaps an hour and half or so. Luckily, the Subaru started up with no issue and we got out lickety split. We hungrily stopped at Culver’s in Two Harbors and then Diamond and I embarrassingly headed back to Duluth. It wasn’t very nice to explain to my roommates that I bailed after, like, 1/10th of the journey, and I also posted a valiant exclamation on Facebook about this trip. But alas, we were back. I figured we trekked between 6-10 miles all said and done, which is still 3 hours and 40 minutes of great practice!

Later that night, I talked with Jack and we decided it could work to park one car at Reeves Road and County Road 2, the other car back at the Demo Forest, and do the 11-mile section from the opposite way I was going the day before, camping at the Stewart River campsite right in the middle. This would be great because we would come to where got lost from the other direction, which would be nice to at least know where I went wrong! Jack and I didn’t make a solid commitment until right before bed, and aimed to get on the road by 9:45, stop at the gear shop to get Jack a closed cell foam sleeping pad, and be off by around 10:02 AM.

Day Two – January 2, 2016:

The next morning, we were a little slow to get off. Jack and I drove in separate cars to the Minnesota Surplus in downtown Duluth. When I parked and walked in, Jack was already hurriedly walking out, pad in hand, and said he forgot to go into work! He had to do a few simple work duties, and it would only take 15 minutes or so. We ended up caravaning up north by 10:40 or so.

The plan was to leave Jack’s car at the Demo Forest, drive up with my car to Reeves Road, and hike back to Jack’s car. Jack got terribly stuck in the Demo Forest parking lot and we both got pretty wet and worked up and frustrated getting the car out. Eventually we did, though, and were off in the Subaru. The Reeves Road lot was not plowed and we uneasily parked my car right on the side of County Road 2. Neither of us knew the laws on that and figured that I bike to work anyways! It’s not a huge deal if my car gets towed away. Jack smashed two sandwiches while we were getting ready, we saddled up, locked up, and set off.

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We hiked a quarter mile of snowmobile trail right off the bat, then got into the woods. I recalled my experience with the droopy, snowy trees, and we both got big dumps of snow down our backs pretty quick into the trip. The day was beautiful, however, and it was hard to be in bad spirits! It was great to be back on the trail, warm and ready to get to camp!

I made a few substitutions to my pack over the night at home. I took out a bunch of the snacks, my two pb&j’s and threw Diamond’s sleeping bag into my pack. I may have made a few switch-a-roos with clothes and such, and I packed on two beers, too. A fitting brew for the journey is Bent Paddles Harness Winter IPA. Also, I ditched the snowshoes and trail runners for waterproof hiking boots. I was curious to see what would work better.

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It was tough going, and we realized we were walking pretty slow about an hour in. We passed the first campsite and hiked through some hilly country, up and up and then alongside creek ravines. It reminded me of the mountains out west. The sun was shining and we were doing good. I was surprised Jack was hauling ass with me since he had a 52 pound pack and I had only about 28 pounds on me.

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Jack soon realized his inner legs were chafing pretty bad. He was wearing running tights–nothing else. I was wearing bamboo boxers, running tights, and rain pants over it everything and was getting warm. Also, I threw on a running windbreaker this time, and it made all the difference. Warm legs, yes, but I could regulate easily and for all intents and purposes, perfectly comfortable.

Neither of us brought a map this time. The hike out was 5.9 miles, and we through we’d be doing 3 MPH. At 2 hours in, we definitely weren’t going that fast. Also, both of us were feeling ready to get to camp and relax for a second. It was a textbook trudge through the snow. We made a bunch of wrong turns, but would quickly realize and get back on track. It was so clutch to have someone else besides Diamond to consult with, because again, we were breaking the trail and it wasn’t a very clear path.

Evenutally, I broke away from Jack. Not intentially, but I got into a rhythm, looked back to see nothing, and just kept going. At least he could see my tracks! I didn’t think we’d get separated or go the wrong way or anything. Every now and again, I would hear a shriek. I’d stop, and notice the complete silence of the windless winter day. Stopped, all I could hear was the white noise of my brain’s electrical circuitry. I yelled back, “WHAT?!??”, and nothing. So I kept going, and it happened three other times! At this point, I was just excited to get to camp, so Diamond and I were trucking.

Finally, I saw the Stewart River. There was a big bridge and the river was not the crick I’d envisioned. It was open in some spots, and the ice formations were cool. I knew the campsite was right over the bridge, and we hooked a right off the bridge to find it. My spirits got a boost, I yelled out that we were at the Stewart River but with no reply. I couldn’t find the campsite, though! I was trudging around, and went back to the bridge. I saw the hash to the left, and had to blast past a huge brambly bush covered in snow to get to the trail. There were so many sticks in the way, but a few footsteps away was the campsite. Nice! My watch chronograph said 3:08 or so. I started clearing away and packing down snow and looking for what I needed to find first, a good place to set up my tent and some easy firewood.

My plan was to cook some lunch right away. Since breakfast, I’d just been munching on chocolate and snacks. I boiled some water and tried out my zip-lock cheese noodles and mashed potatoes. It was an experimental recipe. Jack trudged in just a few minutes after me.

Getting camp set up was a low point. Jack immediately went into survival mode because he was chafed, cold and wet. I tried to do my own thing while he frustratingly set up the tent in his hiking garb. It went up and I got a fire lit somehow. He took forever to change in his tent, and I was checking on my food and the fire and trying to set up my tent. Meanwhile, Diamond was terrorizing me by running around like a maniac through camp and barking really loudly. I yelled, “aren’t you tired?!??” I got frustrated when a gust of wind threatened to lift my tent back to St. Louis County, which is when the fire went out. CRAP! This is stupid… there is now way I would be able to hike 25 miles and then set up camp in the dark. I would have been a frozen stiff!

Jack walked out of his tent with a huge parka and a smile back on his grill. He looked like an arctic explorer and very warm and comfortable for once. It sounded like his loins were pretty chafed up from the repeated friction, but I’m sure it was nice to simply get that huge pack off. I got my tent pitched decently well, and then focused my entire world on warming my hands back up! I looked at the small indent in the snow where the tiny twig fire burned out, and check on my noodles. They were freezing cold and crunchy hard. Ok, I guess snow as an insulator doesn’t work in this situation!

I munched on a few handfuls of nuts, and we decided to really go hard on getting some firewood before anything else. The sun was starting to fall behind the ridge line of our gully campsite and we’d definitely need a lot of quality firewood if we wanted to be comfortable outside of our sleeping bags.

We found a tree that was definitely dead, and had a bunch of lodged logs stuck up there. We worked on pulling some down, and within no time had a really big pile of good dead wood. We got the fire back going again, and it was roaring soon enough. I put my noodles into my kettle and shoved that over the fire to heat up. Also, I added my bag of instant potatoes to soak up some of the water. Now things were starting to look up. Before long, we had a roaring fire, food on the stove, and we were finally warm and somewhat dry. And it was dark.

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We ate, which was another warming agent. Despite the snow and the cold, it was sure good to be out in the wilderness. We both kind of questioned our sanity and whether we’d ever do this again. Probably not… The first had burned a big hole in the ground and it took a bit of blowing to get oxygen to the bottom where the coals lay. But we had a lot of dry sticks and could keep it bright and hot with a quick minute of fire maintenance. Just getting up and moving was a chore… once you found a nice dry spot where all your stuff was perfectly placed around you–flashlight, big gloves, food–it was a bummer to have to get up!

Diamond was anxiously barking and stealing my stuff to bring into the woods. Also, she would dig into the snow and circle around and try to lay down, but then realize that it’s all snow and nothing is warm. I tried to bring her into my arms or on the foam pad between my legs, but then have to get up and she’d run away. Eventually, I threw her in the tent, unraveled my sleeping bag and hers, and got everything set up. I wondered how we would be comfortable in the one-man ultralight tent. But she was certainly comfortable, because we didn’t hear a peep the rest of the night!

It was a great night. The campsite was really cool. We could hear a strong wind high up in the trees, but we were in a valley right next to the river and there was hardly a breeze at our surface level. The flowing river added another ambiance on top of a crackling winter fire. Yep, this is fun even despite my wet feet inside these boots that are beginning to freeze solid. It’s risky to get my nice gloves wet, but worth it to be enjoying natures bounties! Or this mentality is my brain’s way of convincing itself I made the right decision. Winter camping is a lesson in cognitive dissonance.

A few hours went by and I made my second dinner, freeze dried lasagna. Backpacking meals are so easy, it’s no wonder why they’re more expensive. Calorie for calorie, and considering ease of use, they’re probably equally expensive! Also, Jack boiled some water for me to fill up my water bladder. Getting water from the river was a bit sketchy. The hot water was really warm on my chest as I hadn’t taken off my reverse chest water pouch.

When every rock in the fire pit was eventually exposed and the fire waned to an orange glow of the embers, we went to bed. It was 9 PM or so. I hit the headlamp, shuffled some things between the tent and backpack and bench, careful to avoid dropping anything heavy! It would be a bummer to have to come out repeatedly in the spring to look for a tool lost in the snow.

Diamond was pretty sound asleep, which made it hard to scoot around and find a comfortable position for myself. She’s a lug. Also, she made a huge indent in the snow. I guess just stomping around and setting up my tent didn’t do much to compress the powder beneath. I started peeling off layers, and decided to keep my water bladder on, but pretty much took everything else off. I had my long underwear and socks nearby, but decided to go no socks and just boxers for now! My feet were wet and this would hopefully give them a chance to dry. It would be very hard to sleep with freezing wet feet, but they actually felt fine getting into the sleeping bag and liner. I wrote my thoughts for the night, and me and Dimey shuffled around to get into a good position to sleep in. The ultralight tent was surprisingly accommodating! It was going to be nice to get some shuteye.

I dozed off pretty quickly. Like any overnighter in the woods, I wonder if I really slept at all. Sure enough, the morning light was there in no time. The night was actually super comfortable. Diamond didn’t really peep, and seemed warm the whole time. I was even sweaty during the night, and woke up to take my legs out of the bag liner! I could feel a very wavy contour under my body where my hips protruded into the snow, but my divot actually felt nice! I was joking with Jack that sleeping on snow is like a memory foam mattress–it conforms to your body, but then freezes solid!

Day 3 – January 3, 2016

I fed Diamond from in the tent at around 6 AM. She ate from where she was sitting and we went back to bed until 8 or so.

When I got up, it was a beautiful morning with a dusting of fresh snow. I was kind of anxious and worried that I’d be so cold with no dry clothes left, but once I got situated and moving, it was just my feet in the frozen solid boots that were cold. Also, I couldn’t really use the gaiters as they were completely hardened frozen, so every wrong step packed more snow into those frozen boots. I boiled some water to make coffee, and started munching a bit to engage my digestive system and get some more blood flowing. Jack got up too, and we contemplated making a fire. I decided to take some pictures instead.

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We thought we could be back on the trail in an hour or so, and started packing up shop. Half of my gear was frozen solid.

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Jack lent me his gaiters, which I initially lent him from home, and he stuck with the plastic bags on his feet. Finally, we were ready to rock, a bit behind schedule. Diamond’s gear was very icy, and I felt bad putting it over hear face! Jack’s pack was huge… to see everything go back into it reminded me.

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We both had the feeling that this was going to be a tough hike out, but it was reassuring to know that once we got to the point I bailed the day before, it would be pretty smooth sailing. Jack said his chafed legs were feeling pretty rough, but we suited up, gave our farewells to the campsite, and headed up the big hill out of the Stewart River valley towards Jack’s car 5.1 miles away at the Demonstration Forest parking lot.

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The theme was just keep hiking, and we’ll be out soon enough. We motorboated through the first few miles, and it was nice to see my snowshoe prints about 55 minutes into our hike home.

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We kept pushing, and seeing the spur trail to the Demo Forest was great. We stopped for a rest not too long after.

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1.2 miles later, I saw a familiar rock, and we turned out of the narrow single track to the Demo Forest parking lot. Then, we saw Jack’s car. I got the moment on camera as we neared the car, and took our packs off for good.

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We got to my car at Reeves Road, and it was doin’ fine! I still don’t know the laws for parking on a road like that… but no harm no foul. We were talking food and decided to go to Culver’s. When in Rome, as they say. The food was great, and we felt good about the trip being in civilization and certain safety.

There are a few tweaks I can make clothing-wise to cut down. Also, there are always creature comforts to make the camping better, but I am already excited to the next opportunity to go backpacking in the snow and the cold! Why it’s fun, I’m still not sure. Or maybe it’s not fun at all. I just don’t know. Regardless, we’ll be back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fitgers2Pic credit: Gregg Robertson

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

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

Results

Race Stats:

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

Hike date: Saturday, December 6 – Sunday, December 7, 2014
Location: Superior Hiking Trail (Normanna Road Parking Lot to Fox Farm Pond Campsite)
Distance: 8.5 miles out and back

“As I sit in my sleeping bag with 5 shirts on, Diamond shivers behind me where my head will ultimately lay for the night.” – trail journal.

Ever since I first became suddenly enamored with backpacking, hiking and camping late summer 2013, I’ve wanted to try camping in the winter. It just seems like the hearty Minnesotan thing to do. Obviously, one cannot just pack up and hike out. This winter, I finally amassed the necessary gear to safely make a winter excursion. Keeping a keen eye on the forecast, December 6th was looking like the perfect weekend to dip my toes in the winter backpacking game.

I knew I had to work Saturday morning until noon or so, and the rest of the weekend would be wide open. The forecast was calling for sunshine in the mid- to high-20’s and nights in the teens. With a 20-degree sleeping bag plus a warm bag liner, that temperature range was perfect. Any warmer and the snow gets sloppy and everything’s wet. Initially, my biggest concern was daylight, since the sun sets at around 4:20pm in early December in the northern reaches of Minnesota. That limits my hike time substantially compared to September, where I could hike until 7pm and still have plenty of light to set up camp.

I hit the road around noon and got to the Normanna Road Parking Lot, which is on the outskirts of Duluth due north, around 12:30pm. I had a thirty pound pack, snowshoes and trekking poles. Most of my clothes were packed away because it was pretty warm and I didn’t want to get all sweaty hiking out. Latched to my waist was Diamond, who was carrying a 5 point pack with her sleeping pad and food.

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I figured that the third campsite northbound from the trailhead was between 7 and 9 miles away, and we could make it before it gets too late to gather enough wood and set up camp in the light. The hike in was truly beautiful–I caught myself bellowing to Diamond, “BEAUTIFUL! JUST BEAUTIFUL!”. As well, the hike was pretty easy going, not too much up and down. We were going through forests, across recently forested land and along the scenic Sucker River. I probably switch this opinion with every change of the season, but I think winter is my favorite time of year to be out in the woods.

I thought the first campsite was around 1.5 miles in, and we reached it after 30 minutes. I was pleased with 3 miles per hour and we kept trucking. There was about 4 inches of snow on the ground, so the snowshoes weren’t necessary to float on the powder and I would have been pleasantly snow-free without them. They were very clutch, however, on the uphills and downhills when I could really utilize the crampons. So I was happy about having those babies strapped on my feet, but the trekking poles were a different story. I had never tried using trekking poles, and I doubt I really will use them again except perhaps during a long multi-day trip where my legs could potentially give out. The poles got in the way and were cumbersome, but handy for poking Diamond in the butt from time to time.

In the trees behind a small bluff, it appeared as if the sun was setting at 2:20pm. I got a little anxious to get to the site at this point, maybe two hours in, especially because we hadn’t been to the second campsite (the Sucker River campsite, which I had stayed at before). I knew our campsite was right past a spur trail to the Sucker River Trailhead, which was a half hour or so past the Sucker River campsite. After passing the spur trail, my spirit was lifted and we were excited to arrive at our destination. Well, I guess I can’t speak for Diamond because she is always excited when we’re on the trail!

Almost immediately after the spur trail intersection, there was a big sign describing the strategic logging operations in the area (cutting down old, decrepit trees to make way for a young, healthy forest) that overlooked a vast, frozen beaver pond. Our campsite was called Fox Farm Pond campsite, so I kept a sharp eye out and figured we were very close. We circled the beaver the campsite trailpost was on the opposite side.

It was a short hike off of the main trail to get to the fire pit and tent pads, which were pretty close to a landing onto the beaver pond. It was 3:30pm–the hike in took almost exactly three hours. After plotting the route ‘ex post facto’, our hike was 8.5 miles, which comes to 2.83 miles per hour. Not a bad pace.

Below is a picture looking back onto our campsite’s spur to the main trail.

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What an awesome site for winter camping! I let Diamond off the leash and we explored a bit looking for firewood. It was intriguing to walk across the frozen pond to the beaver den, on which Diamond was climbing and digging her nose into and investigating like a caged beast let loose. I gathered some prime pieces of firewood by snapping off dead, barren trees from their icy foundation in the middle of the beaver pond; prime firewood inaccessible during any other season.

After gathering enough wood to last for at least 3 hours, I set up camp. Below, I snapped a picture while facing the beaver pond. Note the dead, barren trees sticking out of the pond’s icy surface.

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I started with a fire. I had a lighter and used a punky piece of bark as a base. I found some dry, peeling birch bark and used a ploofed-out cattail for tinder. I carefully sorted my kindling in order to capitalize on a hot flame from the quick-burning birch bark. The cattail nearly exploded! I had a roaring fire in no time. With the tent set up and my snacks on hand, I felt a little overwhelmed with how the sun was nearly below the horizon. Night was certainly setting in.

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I put a garbage bag over Diamond’s small square of foam sleeping pad and settled next to the fire. My shoes and socks started steaming like a huge pot of vigorously boiling water. I took my shoes off and realized that my merino wool socks were soaking wet. I changed to a dry pair and put my shoes back on only to find out that my soaking wet shoes left me with another pair of soaking wet socks. An ember landed on my technical wind layer, burning a small hole into it and I noticed it was pitch black. Diamond was barking at me and I started to question my life’s choices. Why was I out here? My basement is dry and warm and I can sit on a couch.

After eating a bunch of snacks, and attempting, with no avail, to dry some of my wet items and melt snow for the dog, I figured we could go into the tent. She was shivering and trying to move snow out of the way to curl up in the leaves. I gathered some of my items and retired to the tent for the night. Once in the tent, Diamond went straight for my sleeping bag. I guess a 2×2′ foam pad isn’t as attractive as a big puffy sleeping bag. I put my stove an arm’s reach outside of the tent’s zipper and boiled two cups of water for my freeze-dried chili. I started to write in my trail journal as the food was cooking and began to feel pretty cramped and claustrophobic with Diamond hogging my sleeping bag. I couldn’t organize all of my crap. Having a lot of gear is nice, but sometimes is overwhelming! More benefit for going minimalist, I guess.

Once I scarfed down the chili, I wrapped up my journal entry and laid down to sleep. That is easier than trying to get comfy enough to read and write. I turned my lamp off at 8pm. It seemed like I didn’t even sleep, although I think it was more like sleep for an hour, wake up, go back to sleep for two hours, and repeat until 7am the next morning.

I let Diamond out of the tent in the morning to go pee and of course, she wants to play or run around like a nut or something. She was wining as I was rolling up my pad and bag. I stuck my head out and saw her with my shoe, frozen solid, swinging it around in a circle like a bucking bronco. Nice.

I quickly packed up and we hit the trail. I felt good despite the crappy sleep and rock hard ice shoes. I told Diamond that we should really try and push it and hike out fast. It was a beautiful morning, but perhaps a bit colder and windier. Either way, the hike out was equally stunning with Diamond and I completely immersed in the white, quiet and solitary landscape. On a small overlap section with the North Shore State Trail (a snowmobile trail that intersects the Superior Hiking Trail countless times), I came across a couple of fat bikers eating breakfast. They looked like they were on a bike overnighter. We arrived back at the car, 100 feet after passing a girl and her dog who asked about hunters. She was the only person I saw on the Superior Hiking Trail the whole weekend! No hunters, no nobody, except those bikers. We made it back after almost exactly three hours again.

For next time, we need to find out a comfortable sleeping arrangement. I may experiment with making a light and packable dog bed, or just purchase a cheap sleeping bag that I can cut in half and sew back together. Also, I need to figure out how to melt snow. My melted snow tasted like a burnt stick. Either way, the two-day excursion was extremely enjoyable and I’m looking forward to the next one!

Key Gear:

  • The North Face Cat’s Meow 20-degree synthetic sleeping bag
  • Eureka! 2-person tent
  • The North Face Banchee 65 backpack
  • MSR Pocket Rocket stove
  • Dion Snowshoes
  • Hand-knit merino wool hat
  • Mizuno Wave Kazan trail runners
  • Gander Mountain self-inflating sleeping pad
  • Closed-cell foam sleeping pad

Race Day: October 18, 2014 — 8am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Results

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

Race Day: August 2, 2014 – 8:30am

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1256

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

nickbrewhouse

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

Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PP5m

Results

Race Stats:

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


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