Race Date: Saturday, February 8, 2020 – 10:00am

I felt somehow calm at the start line, despite the fact that it was really crazy… I was about to begin a really long ski, a ski race in fact, with many others around me, after less than a month of learning and training!? What else but to go for it? One minute at a time… just don’t fall right away. Don’t make a fool out of yourself, Mike. I talked to myself a bit while the anthem was being sung. Immediately after the national anthem, “BANG”, the gun went off and everyone lurched forward.

Looking back a month, I still can’t believe I have classic skis! A bunch of friendly pressures, little pokes, and the fact that this winter was perfect for it, and next thing I know I had some sweet skis and was headed up the shore towards Grand Marais. Kris helped me break in the skis at Sugarbush ski trails, very nearby Oberg Mountain, and the site of some naps and some sleep-deprived running a few months prior while pacing at Superior Fall 100 Mile. Kris gave me some crucial tips right away, and it was a truly exhilarating little jaunt through some beautiful woods as the sun was setting behind trees and faraway ridges. I was so eager to get back out, and that I did! I was able to roll many km’s on my new skis. Time on the skis was the best method to learn, perhaps paired with watching and trying to analyze classic ski technique of Olypmic 50k championship competitors on Youtube. After two or three outings of about 10k, I stopped getting really sore, but was still very nervous about lining up at Vasa until gutting through 30k at Boulder Lake. That one hurt bad, so I was expecting the gauntlet going 42k in Mora.

When the gun went off on a sunny and cold day in Mora, Minnesota, and everyone lurched forward, there wasn’t much I felt I could control except push forward. There was no way to get into a track so I just kind of double poled with the crowd on the flats. Before even crossing the start line, there was a spare set of skis directly ahead and I was able to open my legs to let them pass between. Phew, OK, that was the first obstacle of the day passed with no issue. Bring it on baby! The next obstacle: a 90-degree left turn. Oof, turning hasn’t been my strong suit in skiing. Neither has going down hills, moving in and out of the tracks, staying upright when the tracks end, or anything requiring technical ability. All I had was fitness. Left turn, done. Nice. I eventually got into some tracks, and felt like I lost time just managing the pack. I was sucking wind though, definitely working hard. Perhaps that was just adrenaline.

The first few kilometers were equally stressful as the first minute. I didn’t know if I should be in the tracks, and once I got into the tracks they’d end or the trail would turn sharply and the tracks deteriorate. Then I’d almost fall and lose my rhythm and potentially block people. Out of the track, I felt slower, and could only double pole. If I tried to kick, I’d nearly topple over. I definitely fell one or two times within the first half hour or hour. I got right back up… it was mentally relieving to see other people falling all over the place. I told myself it was bound to happen, and to just get back up and keep motoring.

There was a decent amount of uphill and downhill, but no crazy downhills. The trail had a lot of twists and turns, but also some nice open and straight sections. Really, the course was great and had a perfect variation of terrain for me. The sun was shining, and I was feeling good pushing pretty hard. I felt strong, but limited by my technical ability and lack of comfort being on skis and having poles attached to my hands. I knew this was a fact as other skiers around me would spread out from me on tight curves and downhills. My watch said 9 miles after what seemed like no time at all, and I figured I’d be at the loop point before long. Nice. Feeling pretty good. I was going back and forth with a couple people that I started to recognize. Then I’d fall down, get all tangled up, not be able to get back up, step on my pole, get super frustrated. Then I’d get passed by a guy I passed long before. Then I’d get stuck behind that guy in the tracks, not knowing if I should pass. After a minute, I’d get sick of sitting back and jumped out of the track, fall back a bit, only to double pole like mad to barely catch up to the person and not even make a pass. Ugh. That scenario replayed itself several times.

I had one gel and a few sips of gatorade on that first loop. Hot gatorade, that was something new! Mmm, very delicious. I finally got to the turnaround. Time to keep trucking. I was definitely in race mode… kind of just “go go go”. I couldn’t exactly monitor my energy stores to see where I was at. I felt pretty good. I also felt like I was getting sore. My right thumb was the most sore of anything. My pole was rubbing weird, or I was gripping weird or something. I didn’t give much time to remedy the situation. I wasn’t really actually sore anywhere else. Maybe abs and back, but I was double poling and feeling good. Kind of a general soreness, but that’s expected after an hour or two of hard exercise. Across the first lake, and I felt fastest by striding. The double pole kick was OK, double poling felt slowest and least efficient, actually, and striding just felt good and sustainable.

Around the bend, over the lake and I remembered to look at my watch for a rough split. It read 1:33. NICE. I was jacked up. If I held this pace, which I felt I totally could, I’d be at sub-3 hours. That’d be crazy! I was thinking 3 hours, or more realistically 3 and a half hours as a finish time. Nice… keep pushin’ Mike. I talked myself up and was feeling really good as I could now envision the finish line. I knew the whole course now, and it wasn’t so bad. There wasn’t really any concerning spots. A few tricky corners, a few little hills, but not too bad. Let’s go baby.

The second lap was immediately kind of different. I felt like I was in no man’s land. This happens to me at every race! There were plenty of skate skiers around, but it was just me and the tracks and all of the classic race seemed to be spread out. That was kind of nice. At least I didn’t have to navigate other skiers. I came across a few people here and there and seemed to be able to get around them with ease. One by one I tried to pick people off. I was super motivated by going under 3 hours and wanted to do so by leaving it all on the race course. Then, each classic skier that I saw ahead was a new goal, a new person to rein in. I ate an exercise waffle I brought, and planned to eat my last gel for a final boost with 10 or 15k to go. The waffle was frustrating to eat as well… dealing with the wrappers was impossible. I need to figure out something else with food. I drank another sip of gatorade at the next station and zoomed on. I fell a couple more times, the last of which being so frustrating as I was feeling in the zone! I felt a sense of urgency, like every second counted. And I couldn’t untangle myself from my self. My legs got all crossed, arms crossed, then I started swearing and getting frustrated. I popped back up and pushed hard to get back in the track. I was pretty much equally double poling, kick double pole and striding. Push and push and push. I skipped the last two aid stations, and kept picking classic skiers off. I felt like I was making really good time, and that jacked me up.

When I zipped through the last aid station, and knew I had about 8k to go. That would go by like nothing, and I knew now was my last chance to try and shave time. No way I would let things slip now! But there were a few moments when I felt completely drained. Like my arms and legs were giving out. It was mental stamina that allowed me to keep pushing. My friend Eric was racing the 50k skate, and before the race as I expressed my fears and concerns, he told me that I knew how to suffer, which was a big component of ski racing.

Striding was definitely the only way to go, and I felt it to be the fastest. Especially on the lake coming in to the finish, all I could do was stride out. I tried to pole a little bit just to see, but just felt so much slower, and it was much more strenuous. I just keep moving forward as well as I could. Kick kick kick. Go go go. I had pretty much been at a threshold effort for nearly three hours. I was ready to be done.

A few skaters came up beside me as I struggled to ascend the last hill. I chose to stride out on the finish stretch into town, way to the left in the tracks. I even told a skate skier next to me that I was done striding, for life. I got a laugh out of him. Oof, yes I was tired out. But I pushed hard after the last turn into the finish line, exactly where we’d started hours ago, hopping out of the tracks and resorting to double poling into the finish. It was brutal. I saw my mom right before the finish, and also saw coolers of drink beyond the finish line. My sights were set. I crossed the line and stopped moving. I was totally beat. Oof is right. I kind of slinked to the ground as my mom caught up me and started talking to me from the sidelines. I couldn’t really hear, I just had to unclip my skiw. My body was almost tremoring from the difficult and sustained effort. That was a shock to the system. I eventually stood up, took my ski poles off and tried to collect my skis and stuff. I felt like my biceps were about to cramp. But I was alive and well! The post-finish endorphins were for sure hitting hard.

My mom had retrieved my dog Diamond, who I’d left in the cold car. I was afraid she’d freeze solid despite my coat and her dog bed, so it was a relief to see her as well. I went straight to the drink coolers. Mmm. I was depleted of calories for sure, and drank some blueberry soup, hot gatorade, ate a bunch of oreo cookies, and had a couple cups of hot cocoa. Oh yeah, that hit the spot. I was dead. What fun. I will definitely be back ski racing. I have a lot to learn, and I can really recoup some free time lost just from bumbling around out there. But on that day, I gave it all I got. And that is what racing is all about!

Garmin Data

Results

Place: 92/192
Time: 2:54:01
Pace: 3:57

Race Day: Friday, April 7, 2017 – 11:59pm

Never in my life have I had such a perfect training block leading up to a race. I guess that is a bold statement to make, but I feel like there is always some sort of question or apprehension, some little nagging injury or training fall-out that makes you question the pending performance. This year, this race, and with race week taper in full force, I was so content with every single mile I had put in and the output of fitness it produced. I was running faster and stronger than ever.

With a second-place finish last year at Zumbro, and no Kurt Keiser (2016 winner and course record holder), no definite slam dunk winner on the start list, I had one thing on my mind. One goal, one mission, a singular reason to toe the line. I wanted to win. Bad. It’s a tough thought to have, and an impossible one to wash out of your mind once it creeps in. As fit as you are, you can’t control who else is on that start line and what sort of shape they are in. Well, if you’re Tonya Harding you have that control, but I don’t own a baton. Either way, I was racing for the top spot.

12 months prior, I ran 8:32 while pacing for 9 hours. I hit just under my goal of 8 hours at Voyageur 50 with less-than-ideal training, and so I figured that 8 hours would be a good benchmark or time to pace off of. Then again, Zumbro is a hard course. The midnight start adds a different level of complexity, but 2:40 each 16.7-mile loop works out so nicely! My plan was to try to hit a tad under 10 minute pace for two loops and then let ‘er rip.

The weather was looking simply perfect for the run. Low 40s and dry for the whole night. I drove from Duluth Friday morning after getting a solid 11 hours of sleep, plus took a nap. It’s such a weird day just milling about, waiting for midnight. I left from Minneapolis around 8:30pm for bluffs country and got there in a breeze, but didn’t have much time to take a nap. I got my packet and hung out around the bustling start/finish/lap area and drank Mountain Dew until the start.

I saw a few friendly faces from last year, Jeff Vander Kooi and Bennett Isabella, and before long the countdown began. Watch on, headlamp on, “GO!”, start watch, start running.

I got swallowed up by a pack of guys, which was perfect. It’s a little freaky starting out the run in the pitch dark and not knowing exactly where the trail goes. This is race is so incredibly marked with reflective ribbons and a clear trail that’d truly be difficult to get lost on, but you don’t remember that in the anxiety-provoking first minute of the race! So we started towards the woods. It is not long before the trail turns onto some technical singletrack that goes up, up, up. It is comical how the first mile or two of the race is so incredibly challenging!

We were trucking pretty well, everyone was on the same page of walking up hills, and we were making good time. Jeff and I were up front and chatting away, which was nice. Bennett chimed in, and I talked to fellow Duluth resident Ryan Braun a bit. With the first aid station in sight, someone sprinted out from the group into the night. We looked around to each other and Jeff even asked, “who was that??”, almost offended that he’d run away like that this early in the race. I was offended because I wanted to win. It is way, way, way too early in a race like this to go after him. So either this guy is the real deal or he’s a clown and will blow up. It’s not like we were going slow, but this guy blasted way out in front and sprinted out of sight.

I made a point to eat something at the first aid station, as was my goal and plan for every aid station. The pretzels were not appetizing whatsoever, and I was the only one in the group to stop. I had to pee so bad, and lost my spot up front after the stops. There was a group of perhaps eight guys in one big pack, and I weeded my way back up. I didn’t recognize half of them, but started talking to TJ Jeannette, who chimed in when he mentioned he was from Duluth. I recognized his name from ‘Superior’, a book I read about the 100 mile race with the same title. We were all chatting away and running well–nice and fast but manageable–so the miles clicked away in the night. I peed at least twice before the third aid station.

For some reason, I felt like I had to break from the pack. I was good on water, and certainly not hungry, so deviated from my plan and skipped the third aid station of four per lap. Jeff was the first one out of the aid station and could have hung with me, but probably saw what I was doing and let me go. I was pushing the pace at that moment anyways, and kind of felt the time for chit chat was over. We hadn’t reeled the other mystery dude in at all, and it was time to focus.

After that third aid station, it’s relatively easy running until the next lap. I was getting a little carried away all alone, running fast and breathing hard. My watch didn’t seem to be splitting every three miles like I set it to, or I couldn’t hear it and was missing it. I was frustrated about that. Either way, my pace was on point for a 2:40 loop and I felt pretty decent. My fueling was going good. Perfect, really. I got some varied feedback from 100 milers and volunteers from the fourth aid station, and the guy in front of me was probably 5-10 minutes ahead. A lot of race left to run, I thought.

The moon was great, the temperature ideal, and trail in pristine condition. I sprinted across the finish line, grabbed some goodies from the finish aid station, got a fresh couple of gels from my stash, and ran out onto my second lap exactly at 2:40. I even said “two more of those and I’ll be all smiles”. I forgot to put my extra batteries in my waterbottle pouch. Do I turn around? No.

It was a bit harder to pace the start of the second lap without the big group to pace. I tried to hit an intensity that was mild but deliberate, especially on the uphills. You don’t want to really run or push it too hard, because that is where you blow up. There are plenty of hills that will destroy you at Zumbro. I had fun running in the night going into the first aid station on lap two, and was feeling spry and energetic. I altered my gel-and-hour plan, which pretty much threw my whole nutrition plan out the window after I’d skipped one aid station already. Oh, well, it’s better than trying to stick to a stupid plan just because, and throwing up or pooping my pants or getting terrible stomach pains.

Across the Zumbro River bridge, left into the flats, and I started to feel the first signs of fatigue. 20 miles in and that’s expected! I was pretty baffled that I was almost half way through already. Then, I felt bummed. Dang, it’s so fun running out here. Just me and the trail, the beautiful night. The conditions were so ripe that I wanted to keep going. Well, still not at the half way mark yet…

Between the first and third aid stations is hard. The sand couloir section was really terrible, and I got a little frustrated with that and the unrelenting hills. My legs were definitely starting to feel it, and time slowed down. 21 miles. 22 miles. 22.5 miles. 22.6 miles. Gah, just get to half way!! Things could be much, much worse, though, and I was still running well. I figured that I was breathing too heavy on the second part of that first lap and paying for it now.

At the second and perhaps third aid station (as they are the same physical aid station), I talked to my cousin-in-law Dan, who was volunteering once again. He said that the guy in front of me was at least 17 minutes up, and how he sprinted up the steep hill out of aid station two, and how he’s twice my age. Well, CRAP! So the win is unreachable. No way, no how. I did some quick math, but didn’t have to do any calculations to know that either I’d have to speed up quite a bit, or he’d have to slow down a lot, for me to have a chance at this stage in the race. But second place is still great. That’s better than third, and I can still race the clock for the sub-8, which had only been done once in race history, last year when Kurt said the course record at 7:49.

After the third station, I put the crank on. I wanted to get another perfect 2:40 lap, and for that I’d have to run really consistent down Ant Hill and back to the finish. I was breathing really pretty heavy, and blasted through the fourth aid station in a hurry. My legs were pretty weary running the winding singletrack and fast horse trail into the finish line and start of the third lap. My stomach was feeling good, and it was nice to see Ryan Saline at the start of the third lap with my drop bag held open for me to grab away. I quickly snatched the last gels I’d need, kept my half-open bag of caffeinated chews with me, and sprinted off with about 5:21 on the clock. A 2:41 lap is not bad at all! Just one more of those…

I made a point to let ‘er rip right out of the gate. I was pushing up the big first hill and passed a few hundreds and even some 50 milers. There is still plenty of race left to completely explode, I reminded myself, but felt good cresting the peak and looking down at the mini-village of the start/finish area still in the dark of night. I was running hard.

I put the lap on quite a few 50 milers, and we were all exchanging nice words of encouragement. I noticed in the warmth (compared to 2016), the 100 milers were in much better spirits. My pace was really good and I wasn’t giving up a second. However, the pain was nearly overwhelming and I couldn’t help but grunt, especially bombing down the technical descents. I was dreading the stupid sand cooler (as I called it in my mind), but knew once I hit daylight and that third aid station, it was time to really push it.

I saw Dan again when I was coming through the second aid station, and he said it’s a lost cause. This old guy in the lead was still far up–15 minutes or so. I said to him that it’s no matter, and asked that he at least time the person behind me and let me know how comfortable I should be in second when I come back through. I pushed and pushed, daylight came and it was wonderful. That in itself made my pace increase even more. I wanted to just run, and felt my fitness in that. Every hill I’d have to stop and walk, then start running at the top. My hamstrings throbbed on those first few running strides over every hill. Then, my brain told them that this is how it’s gonna be and the pain subsided. Weird how that is…

When I got back to the aid station, they told me Dan left. Well, crap!! I didn’t stick around to chit chat, or eat food or drink, and just ran off. I didn’t care about much except the clock. I wanted to win but that’s out. I wanted under 8 and that’s totally feasible. I had timed out from the fourth aid station to the finish to be around 20 minutes if I’m running well. So that was my goal, to hit that fourth station by at least 7:40. I did not feel good down Ant Hill, but was cruising well on the road below. This is where time is made up, I thought, and was passing other racers like they were standing still. I was breathing really heavy and making strange noises. I saw a photographer ahead and tried to look smooth and strong despite the discomfort.

Photo Credit: Zach Pierce

I hit the last aid station at 7:35 and skipped it. Two in a row! That is risky, but I wasn’t hungry, wasn’t thirsty, and had some water. I knew I needed to eat a bit, so had a couple of chews to blast me off. It worked, and I was really moving on the trail section before the final road stretch. It was a lot longer than I’d remembered on the previous two loops. Finally, the trail snaked down to the gravel road and I knew I was close.

With minutes to spare, I caught a glimpse of the gate, then campers and cars, and then the finish line. I ran up, feeling pretty well. My time was well under my goal of 8, but it was hard not to be bummed about second place once again. It was a hell of a race, though, and truly perfectly executed. What can you say when you believe there is no way to run even a minute faster? It was even harder, though, to see the results and know that Jason won by barely over two minutes. HOW?? He came up to me and congratulated me, but I was in a daze and didn’t get much time to pick his brain.

Photo credit: Julie Ward

Despite a few fleeting thoughts during the race of how running is terrible, immediately after finishing I acknowledged how fun the night run was and my excitement to do it all over again. Weird how that is.

Results

Garmin Data

Race Stats:

Place: 2/148
Time: 7:54:57
Pace: 9:30

Lap 1: 2:38:21
Lap 2: 2:42:27
Lap 3: 2:34:09

Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 11 Gore-Tex size 11
Food: Too much to count/remember

Race Day: Saturday, June 18, 2016 – 7:45am

I counted up the years and found that this was my eighth time in a row competing in a Grandma’s Marathon event. This is where it all began, and I love the race. I love the atmosphere in Duluth over the weekend, too, and look forward to it every single year. I signed up for the Garry Bjorkland Half Marathon 8 years ago, having never done a real running race, and the rest is history!

This year, I had very little by way of goals or aspirations for this race. Since April, my running volume had kind of tapered off, and I actually was focusing more on walking. It seems bizarre, and what really suffered here were long runs. If I’m backpacking every weekend, it makes it very difficult to get those few hours of running in. Eyes on the prize, though, and backpacking is first priority! Unfortunately, as I’d find out at Grandma’s Marathon, hiking doesn’t play in too well to marathon running. It’s probably better than watching TV, but definitely doesn’t translate exactly.

I was really looking forward to the weekend of Grandma’s, because 2016 was the first year in four that I wasn’t going to be working long hours at the race expo. After work on Friday, I’m off scott free! I got my packet on Thursday right as packet pickup opened, and was looking forward to have plenty of friends in town for the big weekend. I wanted to think of a race plan, and decided it might be a good idea just to take it easy and feel like I finished strong instead of the too-familiar slow crumble. I saw my friend Savannah at the expo and she was looking for a pacer for a sub 3:05 or even better: under 3 hours. That’s a respectable time for sure, but would be my slowest marathon of three, and this is coming off good 50 mile and 50k races just a few months prior. I wondered if it’d be possible to instead push hard and go for a marathon PR and pace for a 2:45 or so. If I built up for a fast marathon from April, it’d probably be no problem, but my training had shrunk since April and I had no workouts, longs runs, or races to use as a gauge to what I’m capable of. So I told Savannah we’d meet up at the start line and rock out some 7 minute miles.

Work was dreadfully slow on Friday, but it was great to get back for the weekend and see some friends. We had a pasta dinner potluck and everyone was in good spirits. I felt no pressure, but kept wondering if running slow would be a mistake. Why pass up the chance to have a great race? Then again, who cares? A 3:30 marathon would be fun and easy given my fitness! It is hard to even consider limiting one’s self in the context of a race. It’s hard enough when I’m trying to do a track workout!!

The weather was looking OK for race day. There was a chance for thunderstorms, which really can mean anything. Low winds, the temperature was bound to be higher than I’d like, but I didn’t think it’d be too extreme. As I went to sleep nice and early, I regretted promising to run quite a bit slower than PR pace with Savannah, but figured I’d stick with it and can always kick it up a notch at mile 15 for a sweet negative split.

I arose at 5:15am and saw house guest Carlie leisurely filling up her water bottle at the sink. Her and her husband Grant, as well as my roommate Matt, were all running the half marathon. I became a little confused with my morning sleepiness, but then quickly realized that they were probably running late. Matt came upstairs and I asked him if he was late or what. Nah, he said they have time. I told him the buses were shipping out of the University of Minnesota – Duluth, at 4:45-5:15am! They all three started scurrying around to get their things and got out the door at around 5:25 or so. How stressful! I can’t handle that on race morning! I wondered if they’d make it to the bus…

Meanwhile, my pre-race routine was right on point, and Kyle and Stacie picked me up just like last year. We made the buses with plenty of time to spare, hopped on, next stop Two Harbors. The weather was nice and the sun was out. It was shaping up to be a beautiful morning. The pre-race excitement on the school bus is always so fun. We got out and started walking towards the massive crowd near the starting corrals. The sun was already beating down, even at 7am. I dropped my clothes bag off and headed out to get in line for the porta-potties to complete the pre-race routine. I found Savannah almost immediately and we reviewed the pre-race plans. She said she doesn’t look at splits and told me not to yell them out. Fine! We’d just pace at a manageable speed, although I knew I wanted to hit 7 minute miles for the first five miles to start.

The hour before the race start was spent in porta-potty lines. I luckily got a big squirt of sunscreen and lathered it on my face and shoulders. It was going to be hot unless the clouds really come out in full force. With five minutes to spare, we ran towards the start line, got a nice comfortable spot near the 3:05 pace group. Without much ado, “ERRRRRRRRRRRR” and the start horn sounded. I promptly started my watch, but didn’t move my legs for 15 seconds until the crowd lurched forward. And we’re off.

It was nice to be up front and not have to run around all those people. My legs were feeling great, nice and refreshed, and I was excited to be on the way back to Duluth. Mile one was right on target. At around mile two, Savannah had to  make a bathroom stop. I was confused because we were at the porta-potties not 20 minutes prior! But if ya gotta go, ya gotta go. She said she’d catch up and I never saw her again. On my own! I vowed to keep a 7 minute pace until at least mile five. I got to mile five, saw my boss Dennis, and was right on track.

At this point, I didn’t know what strategy to take. I realized that 7 minute pace felt like a good marathon pace and I wasn’t too confident that I’d be able to go much faster anyways. I tried to ignore the pace and just run at a very easy effort. My new race plan was to kick it down at mile 18, do a few miles, then really give it all up at mile 20 when the real race begins. A marathon is a 10k with a 20 mile warm-up. Each split up to the half marathon mark was pretty well under 7 minutes. 6:33, 6:54, 6:39, and I was feeling good. The sun was definitely coming out, but I hadn’t yet resorted to dumping water on myself. My nutrition plan was right on point, gels on the hours, and I made a point to sip Powerade at every aid station.

I felt the fatigue set it at mile 15 or 16, near Brighton Beach. Luckily, it was a brief wave of tiredness that quickly passed. We bumped out from the Scenic Highway 61 to London Road and I was feeling good and in control once again. I realized I wouldn’t get close to my PR. I would be happy to beat 3 hours at this point, as my pace was feeling pretty automatic but would not be reasonable if I cranked it down at all. We’ll see at mile 20, I thought to myself.

I noticed the heat on London Road, and the sun was definitely coming out. I noticed it in my fellow competitors, as well, as more and more people were walking or hunched over, or spending a long time at aid stations grabbing ice and sponges and water. I was happy to feel like I was managing the heat well, however, and surprised the race was going without a hitch. No stomach issues, legs were feeling decent, really nothing to write home about!

Nearing the end of the Lakeside neighborhood, I felt a wave of fatigue once again. I battled it, and felt faster and better going by the Glensheen Mansion that I ever have in past years. I could see Lemon Drop Hill and was passing people. What a great feeling. I ran up Lemon Drop and knew it was all downhill from here. This is where it gets gritty. Sure enough, I realized I wouldn’t get a break from the pain and suffering of running a marathon despite my relatively conservative pace. Down London Road through the business district, the wheels fell off. It was a quick demise, and I really felt my pace slow down. It was a struggle to hold on, but I knew that this was the part of the race where you gather as much energy as possible from the crowd and from adrenaline and let ‘er rip. Also, I knew I’d get a boost from friends at Super One a mile down and the Duluth Running Co. a half mile past that.

I got passed a few times on the open and exposed London Road business district. I could feel my legs getting really heavy, the pace was slowing, slowing, and the pain. I missed the 3 hour cut and was looking at a Boston Marathon qualifier time 3:05 if I could hold it together. My tank top was pasted to my skin with the water and the sweat and I was taking every opportunity to dump water on myself. Super One was indeed a good boost of energy as I high-fived my friends. Then we turned up 12th Avenue East, the last tiny uphill, and it was the hardest part of the race. I had no energy and told my friend Kris it was really hard. It is once we get back up to Superior Street when the crowds come out. It seems like such a long couple miles to the finish whereas the early miles had just clicked off one by one a few hours prior. Duluth Running Co. was great energy and my pace sped up. Keep it up, I thought to myself. Unfortunately, I wilted very soon after. I was struggling to hang on to my 7 minute pace goal, and my watch was confirming the grim notion that I was running slow. There was a wide array of energy levels in my fellow runners as some people were passing me and others were stopped completely because of the heat and the exhaustion and the pain.

As we passed Fitger’s, I gritted my teeth. It was slow going into Downtown Duluth, and I tried to get a mantra in my head. I told myself it was easy, this was nothing compared to the 50k just a month ago. I had to run 10 miles in worse heat and with worse pain, and now I just have 2 miles left on the easy, flat roads. Easy! Lake Avenue is my favorite part of the course, and I tried to use some of the loud energy to my favor. I knew I’d be able to hold on at this point and just tried to push it as well as I could. My splits had still been decent since Lemon Drop Hill, but things really started going south once we turned onto 5th Avenue West for the final mile. It was rough. The sun was so hot and I was just toast. I could feel the weight of the day on certain painful muscle groups but tried to push it out of my mind. Under the bridge, around the hotel, and that finish line was great to see. I could finally let loose, and can always somehow find a little extra energy on the finish stretch on Canal Park Drive. I made it through the finish right in the meat of 3:04.

I kept running very slowly, a volunteer may have thought I was delirious as she told me I can stop running. I told her that I actually cannot stop because I’d cramp up! I saw Grant and Carlie immediately, extremely happy to see medals around their necks given the frantic morning start. It was nice to sit down, I saw some fellow Duluthian marathoners, dunked my legs in the Big Lake, and drank some chocolate milk.

All in all, the 2016 Grandma’s Marathon was great! It was fun to run a steady race and I felt great in the days after the race. It wasn’t my fastest race, in fact it was my slowest marathon out of three, but the entire weekend was so enjoyable and I was very pleased with my time regardless of what it could have been given a different race strategy. By mile 22 or so, I was giving it all I got anyways, so I’m led to believe that cranking down the pace earlier would have made for a more extreme implosion, especially with the heat! Not to many PR’s were set that day. And with that one done, there are no other races on the docket!

Results

Garmin Data

Race Stats:

Place: 195/7,525
Chip Time: 3:04:14
Pace: 7:02

Shoes: Mizuno Wave Rider size 11
Food: Strawberry Kiwi Honey Stinger Gel, Salted Caramel Gu

Race Day: Saturday, January 16, 2016 – 9:30am

What a weird race! This was a fun way to ring in the 2016 race season. Time to knock the dust off… I felt like I hadn’t close to fast for months and months and I was very curious to whether I’d have any fast fitness. Actually, I started getting nervous! I recently read an article of an older guy named Ned Overend who was tearing up the cycling scene at 60+ years old. His secret was high intensity and cutting out the excessive volume. Crap! I’m doing the opposite! And at 26 years old, not getting any younger.

The excitement was for the frigid cold. I did the 5k and 10k last year, but the temperatures were in the 30s and I wore shorts. Forecasts were for a -7 high, below -15 for the overnight Friday to Saturday low, and that’s air temperature! Wind chill estimates were in the -35 range. Yeah, baby! The FYGBR tagline is “Only The Bold Run The Cold,” and I was excited for some actual cold air for once.

I drove up pretty late on Friday night with Kris and Skeeter. We stayed with Grant and Nick, and Kris and Grant were on timing duty the next day. We were at this nice cottage on Rainy Lake in Ranier, MN, just outside of International Falls. Kris and Grant were up really early, and Nick, Skeeter and I were able to sleep in to the luxurious hour of 8am. We fumbled around and got on the road by 9am or so, and miraculously had plenty of time to get our packets, get dressed up and warm up.

Nick and I did a little warm up jog, and boy, it felt great to open up for once! I wouldn’t say my legs felt super snappy, but it was fun. I could tell my wool cap on my head was going to be too warm, so I took it off before the race started. Even the 15-minute warmup was enough to know that my base layer tee-shirt and thicker poly long-sleeve was going to be sweltering, even in -15 degrees!

We lined up for the 5k, and I saw a bunch of singlets for the Northstar Running group. I asked a guy, complemented him on his sweet Nike Terra Kigers, and he told me that they were a running club out of the Twin Cities. Hm! All these guys looked a bit older, and I figured that Nick and I would go 1-2. I was warm from the pre-jog, and just stood there as everyone else was jumping up and down to stay warm. Then, ka-POW! The guy pulled the gun trigger and we were off.

I started off fast… really fast, and was out front immediately. It wasn’t long before Nick passed me, and not long before he had 10 feet on me, then 50 feet on me, then 30 seconds on me. Just as I suspected… There was a short out-and-back at the one-mile mark, and I had a decent lead on the the 3rd place guy. Yep, just need to keep a sustainable pace. I was feeling nice and toasty, and even had pulled my facemask below my mouth. My lips were feeling a bit numb, but otherwise, good clothing choices so far.

My mile 3, nothing had really changed. Nick was too far up, and the 3rd place person was too far back. I was feeling pretty good about my running, and had a good sense of my exertion level. However, it could be a 6:30 pace for all I know! By now, I was getting too warm. Also, my eyelashes were freezing up and my vision was actually narrowing because of the ice buildup! The course bumped out into this driveway or trail, and we could see the finish line. There were a few people, and I saw Nick finish. When I got to the last little stretch, I could see Grant swing the clock around towards me. 17:30 or so… nice. I finished and high-fived Nick. Then, when I turned back around, I saw the 3rd place guy coming through and volunteers near the trail hurriedly setting up a barricade to block the entrance that I took to get to that last little stretch. The runner was taking a different route to come through the finish the opposite way! Nick and I looked on inquisitively as people started coming in the wrong way. Or, we came in the wrong way. We did cut off maybe 400 meters or so… but would have won and got 2nd regardless. We talked quietly about what would happen. Would we get DQ’ed? Would there be an asterisk next to our names forever? Who knows… we headed in to warm up a bit and prepare for the next race in 40 minutes.

I stripped down immediately once we got inside the community college to avoid getting sweaty. I stripped off the thick poly long sleeve, and traded it for a thin quarter-zip long sleeve tech shirt. Then, we hung out and questioned what would happen in the results. Eventually, Nick and I decided to go back out to get some blood flow to our legs. I lost him, and did a really short and slow jog around the parking lot. It seemed colder! The wind whipped up, and I felt the difference between those mid-layer shirts.

Lining up for the 10k, I was jumping around with the rest of ’em. Grant told me that Nick and I would be disqualified from the 5k. Bummer!! That’s a motivator to race hard for the 10k, I guess. Dang. Mid-jumping jack, the race started primed the gunman for the start, then ka-POW, another gunshot rang through the frigid January air.

Again, I started off fast… even faster this time! I could tell Nick was right behind me for a while, and eventually went in front of me. I felt good. I was running fast, I could tell, but my breathing was under control and it felt like a sustainable pace, even at mile .25. Before the first mile, I was passed by a kid in snowpants, road Aisics, a hoodie under a jacket and a stocking cap with a poof on top. I wondered where he came from. I could see his eyes fixated on Nick up there, and we were evenly spaced at 15 seconds apart before too long. Unless this kid is the real deal, there’s no way Nick would let him catch up. We hit the first mile and I was a solid 3rd place.

Nick was pulling away, but me and this kid stayed about 15 seconds apart. I noticed his apparel again, and really thought about it. A hoodie? Stocking cap?? This kid must be sweltering!! Yes, it’s -30 Fahrenheit with windchill, but we’re running hard, and I know I’m wearing way less clothes than this kid. That is the Achilles heel. If can keep this kid in sight, I have over 4 miles to reel him in as he bakes in the heavy layers.

Just like I planned, I kept the kid in sight, and was slowly making up ground on him. At mile 4, we took a turn, and back on the straights, he was right there. I surged to get right on his tail. Then, I stayed there. I could feel our pace slowed, but I stayed right on his shoulder. Very hypocritical, as I hate when people do that to me, but I was pretty much as close to this kid as possible without running into his legs. I could see ice forming on his stocking cap, tipping me off that he was perspiring from his head, the vapor was evaporating to the outer layer, then freezing. He’s GOT to be hot. And, besides my elbows, I was the ideal temperature! I started formulating a plan: I’d stick on his shoulder for 2 more miles, playing mental games, and then pass him with authority the last .2 for the 2nd place title. However, it only took .2 miles for him to drop back. I wasn’t going to stop my momentum, so I took the lead. Now, he was sticking on my shoulder! Regardless, I wanted to keep it manageable and have enough in the tank to outlast the last half mile if necessary. Luckily, before the last mile marker, I’d built a pretty big lead on the kid. Turning into the home stretch, he was at least 15 seconds out, which was enough of a buffer to feel confident in a 2nd place! I paid extra attention turning in the finish chute, and was assured that I finished correctly! My eyelids felt the weight of icicles on them, and I had to do a quick cool down shuffle.

After the race, I knew my legs were pretty beat up. The 10k was far enough, and given the 5k right before, to feel some muscle soreness. However, I was pretty excited about how the race went! I jogged inside to warm up, and congratulated Nick on his second first place of the day… but the only one that actually counts!

Afterwards, we stayed for awards. Nick won a sweet wooden carving, I got a picture frame age group award and happened to win a 5k entry to another International Falls race later in the summer. Cool! Local Duluth runner Savannah Kent took the female win in both the 5k and 10k, and a bunch of Duluthians regaled in icy stories of the races. We all went to the runner’s reception at the local community center, and it was a jolly time! I-falls puts on a fun event!

Race Results

Race Stats:

Shoes: Nike Terra Kiger 3, size 11

5k (unofficial)*:
Time: 17:28
Pace: 5:37
Place: 2nd place*

*Cut the course, DQ’ed from the race

10k:
Time: 37:40
Pace: 6:04
Place: 2/87

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, I got to the next aid station.

12032903_10207760211065582_3846839841533801702_oPhoto Credit: Shane Olson

12045219_10207760211025581_489617833738560959_oPhoto Credit: Shane Olson

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

12140905_10207764887502490_4339358751197840013_oPhoto Credit: Shane Olson

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

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

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

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

12006601_10207760210985580_5492358411568841816_oPhoto Credit: Shane Olson

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

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

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

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

IMG_2576Photo Credit: Jack Krouse

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

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

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

Results

Race Stats:

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

Race Day: Saturday, October 3, 2015 – 8am

A great way to quell the post-Ironman blues is to register for more races. I had this one in the books for a long time and was looking forward to do some casual training and participate in a fun-time, low key race. Little did I know, the Heck of the North Gravel Cycling Classic would be RAW racing. Pure grit. I didn’t predict that I’d be sucked in to the mix, only to be shot out the back and left alone to bike home with my thoughts and my useless, toasted quads…

The Heck of the North is a 100+ mile gravel bike race in the deep woods north of Duluth. The race starts and finishes a few miles out of town from Two Harbors, MN. The course is made up of mostly gravel roads, but also some pavement and some really gnarly and tough riding. I’m talking about rocky, rocky, bumpy logging access roads, ATV trails, soft snowmobile trails, and perhaps even a bit of singletrack mountain bike trail. The variability of terrain is what makes this race so cool, and also why everyone in Duluth needs a cyclocross bike. I had so much fun going on training rides because you can explore anything you want. Need to connect on the pavement? No sweat, you can haul ass at 24mph. Cut through on mountain bike trails? A little precarious, but it’s do-able. Then the gravel…. oh, the gravel. So fun.

Another super fun part of the race is that the course is a secret. Nobody knows the route until Friday night at packet pickup, when we received cue cards with turn-by-turn instructions. Some of the instructions were comical: turn left at the brown gate with the tall grass onto an unmarked gravel road. Then right onto an unmarked gravel road. Then right onto an unmarked gravel road. Then left onto an unmarked ATV trail.

Nick and his pops, Dave, were both registered to race, and Nick invited me to stay at their hotel in Two Harbors on Friday. Dave is usually the race photographer, so that duty was transferred to his wife Rhonda. We all went out to get pasta after packet pickup with Nick’s grandparents. Then to the hotel. I hadn’t really looked at my bike at all. In fact, it was still pretty dirty from a muddy ride the previous weekend. I had a knapsack full of spare tubes, tools, bike boxes, and sugary exercise food. Once we got to the hotel, I tried to sort everything and plan how I’d like to pack it all on. I seemed to get it all on… about 1,000 calories worth of maltodextrin, two spare tubes, a co2 cartridge and spare pump, plus one bottle of Gatorade. I affixed my number 182 to the front and was pretty much ready to rock for the next morning. The only challenge was water and the cue cards. I had won a weird vest water bladder thingy that was designed for skiing or snowboarding, almost as a midlayer to keep the water from freezing, but had been collecting dust unused. It definitely wouldn’t work for running, but was my primary hydration solution for this bike race. However, I was nervous get too hot or irritated with 2 liters of water on my back in this weird meshy vest. The alternative, carrying another 20oz water bottle on my frame, has its own challenges–running out of water and having to refill and the chance of ejecting the bottle on the inevitably bumpy ride. I attached my second bottle cage to my bicycle and decided to sleep on it. As far as the cue cards, I’d likely have to reference them, but I could also be in the pack the entire time and not need them at all. I figured I’d just throw them in my pants or something… I’d sleep on that, too.

We woke up the next morning at 6am or so. First things first, I went to get coffee and cereal. Lots of Raisin Bran. I had the vest bladder filled up from the night before and tested it out with my race kit. It felt fine, but the water was full of gross hotel tap water. But eh… this will work.

IMG_0060Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I looked down at my cue cards and decided to mount them on the top of my handlebars. With a pen, I punctured each one and laced a twist tie through each top corner of the stack. They were surprisingly well affixed, and I could simply rip the cards away as I progress through the course. OK we have to go because we’re late!!!

Nick and I drove out, following the rest of the Nygaard clan. I got my bike out and rode it down a little rocky hill to a big fire and tent area where people were beginning to congregate. I felt the chill of the morning through my whole core. My fingers were already frozen. Maybe fingerless gloves weren’t the best glove choice… Nevertheless, I didn’t question my choices. It’s bound to warm up. I forgot my sunglasses, though, and had to run back to the van to grab those.

 

IMG_0082Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

After dawdling around for 20 minutes or so, someone started yelling and everyone moved towards the entrance road where the race was to begin. As the race director Jeremy was outlining some race details, a truck came roaring down the road and the bikes spread to the sides of the road like the Red Sea for Moses.

IMG_0094Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

Next thing I knew, we are starting off. I was kind of far back… perhaps the middle of the pack. I wanted to be in the mix for sure. I was biking faster than ever on the TT bike and I knew I was very aerobically fit and had the endurance to complete a 100 mile bike ride. Then again, I knew that some of the people up front were no joke. Arrowhead finishers, beasts on the mountain bike circuit, and former winners of this race. Pretty much, I’m a tri dweeb and a chump. But I heard a funny piece of advice about how to race the Heck: a local enduro mountain biker Dave Cizmas told me to go with the lead pack until you completely explode. Then, eat a lot of food and just have a fun rest of the day. I went into the race with this mentality. Maybe I could stick with them until the end!

The first 9 miles of the race was a loop back to the start/finish area. It was mostly gravel road. The pack was manageable. It was a little sketchy at times to be so close to so many other people. Especially on the gravel, sometimes you’d hit a rough spot or washerboards and there’s nothing you can do except ride it out. I stayed pretty far to the right side of the road right off the bat. When the gravel turned off into an ATV trail, I realized my hands were so cold I couldn’t feel them. Ouch. A guy behind me was yelling at me. He said that my spare tube that I shoved in between a strap on my flat kit was dragging. I looked down and it was flapping around in the wind. I scooped it up and held onto it. The same guy informed that if the tube got caught in my derailleur, it was be a very bad situation. Yes, that would be bad!!

We did that first loop and I was feeling pretty good. I don’t know where Nick was, but was happy I didn’t get straight up dropped.

IMG_0111Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

IMG_0115Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I didn’t know what this race was going to be like, and things were looking smooth! I stopped to shove this dumb tube into my bike shorts, then got back to it. We crossed a main road, Hwy 2, and got onto a small access-type road. I think it was Alden Grade. Essentially, it was a two-track trail. It was hard to pass people, but everyone was cruising at a pretty good clip. We jetted onto a more standard gravel road and I got an idea of what the main pack was like. It was large. There was probably 50 people all jammed together. It felt like we were going so slow. Why wasn’t anyone making a break? Well, it’s not going to be me! I hung in the pack and was feeling good. Then, I saw Nick come up on my side. Yeah baby, we were in the mix!

After a few more miles, we turned into a really chunky road. The pack quickly split up. This road was clearly a logging access road. There were two divots on either side of the road for tire tracks, and the road was littered with large rocks. Signs of logging activity were all around us–forested land, large stacks of tree trunks, and equipment. Plus the sign that said “logging activity”.  The road was windy, up and down, and pretty technical. I was zinging by guys with flat tires. You’d hit a rock and bounce into the air. I was trying to crank as hard as I could and kept pedaling through the divots and bumps. It was this section that I noticed that my hands were hurting. The frozen fingers had vanished, but I was squeezing so hard on my handlebars. I couldn’t let up, though. A guy in front of me flipped over his handlebars and was down. We were zinging through muddy puddles. This technical section was taking its toll. When I thought that I couldn’t take it any longer, we popped out to another gravel road. This felt like biking on glass compared to the logging road. A pack of the five or so people around me formed and we were off. Quickly, we realized we were going the wrong direction as we passed two or three other cyclists going the other way who had made the same mistake. The group grew to 8 or so, and when we re-passed the logging road, finally on the right path, a group of 4 or 5 latched on as well. And there was Nick, back in the mix! A tandem bike was hauling us along and we were off on a pretty good clip. At this point, we were probably 3 hours in.

A few miles of gravel and we got into the first section of State Trail snowmobile trail. Our nice little pack broke up once again. I was excited about the State Trail sections because I loved training there. Trying to go fast is a different story. The soft grass just saps one’s energy stores. Nick jammed his nuts bad on a culvert. We were making our way along, though, and before long we turned back onto another gravel road. To my surprise, there was the main pack. Everyone was stopped. Some people had their bikes upside down, some were maybe peeing or eating. We rode up to them and this big main pack started up again. It was another 10 miles of gravel and pavement until the half way point.

I was trying to eat a lot of food while in the pack getting strung along. I was feeling pretty good except my hands. I shook my hands out and was doing everything I could to grip softly. All the sudden, it was hard to keep up. I was towards the back of the pack. Then on the back of the pack. Then, the pack dropped me. No, no, no. My worst fear was to be literally left in the dust. Ok, I’ll just keep them in sight and they’ll maybe slow a bit, I thought to myself. A solo guy behind me was gaining ground, and he caught me. He told me that we’d work together and catch the pack. We took turns surging ahead and sure enough, it worked. I burnt a few matches on that one, though. I stayed in the mix and recouped some energy stores. Then, I made a few moves and was up towards the front. Then, I took the lead. It was fun up there! We turned onto Lester River Rd, and it was just this pavement section and what sounded like a little bit of mountain bike trail until the halfway point.

We were cruising in a large pack down towards Lester Park. Then pandemonium. Yelling, people turning, stopping, skids, and I slammed on my brakes. They weren’t stopping me fast enough and I thought I was going to crash hard into a tree. The turn off of the road came up quicker than anyone thought or saw and it was a traffic jam. Luckily, I was towards the front and didn’t get to jammed up. More luckily, I somehow made it onto the trail quickly and without incident. I could hear the chaos from behind me and something told me to just go. I tried to jet through this woodsy singletrack as fast as possible. I’d have the upper hand going into the halfway up front. I could hear cheers ahead, rode down a hill and saw a table with goodies and Rhonda and the Nygaard clan.

IMG_0150Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

IMG_0152Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I chatted to Rhonda for a second and turned around to see Nick coming in. I grabbed some Mountain Dew, threw away some garbage, and grabbed some food to shove in my bike bag. Rhonda took my second tube that had fallen out so long ago, too. Nick said that we’d have to dip out quickly after he filled his bottles. I had to pee, so went ahead to do that in the meantime. I peed in the trees and saw Nick bike away in my peripheral vision. I must have evacuated a liter of pee! It took forever and was a heavy stream.

I hopped back on my bike and started the ascent out of Lester Park. I was feeling tired. This was the first time I really felt fatigue in my legs. There were a few guys up ahead of me and I wanted to get in with them and then rejoin the main pack. Out of Lester and onto some gravel roads, I wasn’t making up any ground. In fact, I was losing ground. I didn’t want to blast myself trying to get up there, so I started just riding at a comfortable speed. It wasn’t fun being alone! The pack is so key.

I was by myself for a long time. The guys in front of me were long out of sight. After a good 45 or 60 minutes, I finally got in with a group. I heard my name “Mike Ward!!!” and was joined from behind by Ross, a Ski Hut mechanic, a coworker of his, Matt, and another guy. Ross had just won the Heck Epic, a two day gravel biking event a few months prior. I was in good company here, I thought to myself. Hopping on the back of their pack, it felt so good. So, so, so nice. I was able to let my legs rest a little bit. I got amped up and took the pull for a while. After a few minutes, I was spent and went to the back. We were together for another 45 minutes or so until another section of State Trail. We made it through just fine, but lost the last guy. Also, I lost a lot of food. Somehow, three Stinger Waffles and a gel were ejected from my bike box on the State Trail.

We didn’t wait for him and kept trucking along. After a few miles of gravel, we bumped onto Pequaywan Lakes Road, a paved road. Still trading pulls, we swallowed up another guy and he latched on. Another few miles and we entered Fox Farm Road, which is pure gravel. I glanced at my cue cards and saw that we’d be on Fox Farm for a good while. Then, it’s a quick 15 miles or so back to the finish. The end is in sight! I was feeling decent, but it didn’t take long to realize that I was falling apart. I’d pull for a minute or two and get spent. When I was on the back, it was so hard to stay on the wheel in front of me. I’d fall of ever so slightly, then have to dip into the hurt tank to get back. I’d fall further and further back and it would hurt more and more to get back with the guys. Then, I gave up. I stopped pedaling and watched the guys ride away. They realized I was off and actually turned around and yelled at me. I told them to go on without me. I was done. This is what Dave was talking about. When you blow up and get dropped, just eat a bunch of food and have a fun day. Except my food fell out. I ate my last few gummis and was completely out of calories. Ok, I could still have a fun day. Except my legs were totally shot and I was out here on damn Fox Farm Road alone. I looked both ways. Behind me was nobody. Ross, Matt, and the other guy rode out of sight. It was like a light switch. A marathon run is like slowly chipping away at your energy stores… falling apart slowly. Today, I hit a point where I was dead. Toast. I couldn’t pick it up at all and had no energy. One minute, OK, next minute, done. I don’t think it was a food thing or really bonking–my legs were simply out of energy. I burned too many matches and was out.

Fox Farm took forever and it was tough. When I turned off onto Laine Road, I was at least in somewhat good spirits. I wanted to just enjoy being out here. It’s OK to pedal an easy gear really slow. I wasn’t going to win. My race was really over at the halfway point. Just finish and have fun, I thought. Soak it in. What else would I want to be doing right now!?! I was about 5 or 6 hours in and at mile 90 or so.

Eventually, the dude we lost on the last State Trail section came speeding up behind me. He was the first person I’d seen since Ross and Matt dropped me. He told me he fell on the State Trail and I could see his face was bloody. He told me that we could work together and get through the remaining miles easier. Yes, I thought, I need to work with this guy. Being alone is terrible. I took the draft for a while. It didn’t last long and it wasn’t very strong. He took his turn and dropped me almost instantly. I sped up, he slowed down and I caught his wheel. A few more minutes of struggling to keep up with him, and I gave up again. Nope. I told him to drop me. Alone again. I turned off onto the State Trail for the final snowmobile section. This was fun and I was in good spirits. I could stand up and just push through the soft and slow grass and it was a welcome relief from the relentless gravel. It was really muddy through there and I thought it was funny go get a fresh coat of mud. I was laughing at myself thinking that the mud was getting old and I needed some new mud. I felt positive because I knew I was close…

The final section was on a gravel road that turned into an ATV/ horse trail. We cross the Knife River with no bridge and it’s just a hop, skip and jump to the finish. I looked at my cue cards and realized it was just a few more miles of pain. I didn’t think those final miles would be so terrible. The terrain was impossible. It was flat but rocky. It jumbled up my already shredded hands. My finger tendons were screaming. My triceps were done holding my torso up over the handlebars, and my quads simply wouldn’t work right. I could get more power by pushing my knee down with my hand. I was mercilessly passed by a few people in this last bit. I was looking down and didn’t even acknowledge them.

It was going on forever. It was pretty mental at this point and I was getting hungry. Not that exercise food sounded good, but it probably would have been beneficial. I was strung along by the idea of going straight to Culvers with a “no limits” approach to ordering food. I daydreamed about what I’d get. Definitely a Butterburger. Definitely ice cream.

Meanwhile, this fricken path wouldn’t end. Did they get the miles wrong? I thought about sitting down on the side for a second, just to recoup. Maybe I’ll walk my bike for a minute, I thought. No! I biked it in. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t fast. It surely wasn’t comfortable. But finally, I saw County Road 2. This was the road we passed way back in the morning after that initial 9 mile loop. I knew the finish was right there. So, I picked it up! I saw a volunteer and started smiling uncontrollably.

IMG_0228Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I saw Rhonda and was so happy to finish. A left turn and I saw the finish line.

IMG_0230Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

IMG_0235Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I was so happy to coast on in, but there was a car exiting blocking the way. Gah… I weaved around and crossed a line of tape in the gravel. A girl ran up to me to get my race number and I confusedly hopped off my bike and stood there. I felt so exhausted in every way. Nick came over the hill and had a very funny mud line from his glasses. I’m not sure how his entire face got caked with mud. Rhonda snapped a few more pictures and I loaded up my bike.

IMG_0246Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I chatted with Nick for a second, but had to hit the road.

IMG_2563Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I spent $17 at Culvers. On the drive back to Duluth, I nearly fell asleep repeatedly. I hit the rumble strips a few times. Just completely tired.

I was very quick to forget how terrible the race was. In fact, the next day, I was jacked up and I want to do another gravel race. There is something weird about endurance events. It’s definitely an addiction. I’m a compulsive biker and runner. An endurance freak. I am who I am.

Results

Race Stats:

Place: 21/145
Time: 7:05:40
Speed: 15.08mph

Bike: Diamondback Haanjo Comp

Food: 1 package of Trolli Britecrawlers, ~1 package of Honey Stinger Chews (Cherry Coke and Cherry Blossom), 1 Bearded Brothers Bar, 1 Honey Stinger Waffle (chocolate), 1 bottle blue Gatorade, ~2L water, some Mountain Dew, a quarter of a peanut butter and banana sandwich, a half a banana, 2 squares of caffeinated dark chocolate

 

Race Day: Sunday, September 13, 2015 – 7am

This is the big one. From when I registered for Ironman Wisconsin in early September 2014, this event and the training and the preparations have been on the forefront of my mind. It’s dominated my life in many ways… mentally, physically, time- and energy-wise. And to cross the finish line made it all worth it!

Training went good. That is a very broad generalization, but to describe at least 7 months of specific day-in, day-out training, “good” is the best way to sum it up! I found it miraculous that I was able to train like that. I can now only imagine the devastation of signing up for an event like this and be mentally in it, only to get injured and have to take a week off. To take a month or multiple months off would be tortuous! Races in 2015 blew my previous results out of the water. That just goes to show that if you put in the time and effort, you’ll see improvement. You can’t fake it, and a high-volume training program is a guaranteed way to get better at triathlons. That was the most fun part of the whole training experience–the early season hours and miles translate into some fast racing. I saw big time improvements.

August wasn’t great, though. I didn’t get any long efforts on the bike, besides one 60 miler and maybe a few two hour rides, which made me a bit worried. Running was consistent, luckily, but five weeks out would be the perfect time to get a few last big workouts in, recover, and then put everything together for race day. Not for me. Work commitments got in the way of training, my energy stores were sapped, and I couldn’t get it in. There is not much to do about that, however, and I made my best effort to train smart in the final weeks before the big show. On race week, I felt healthy, energetic, and lean. Perfect.

Nick, Ryan and I got to Madison on Friday for the race on Sunday. The whole Ironman experience is pretty cool. The bike has to be dropped off this day between these times and you pick up your packet materials between this time and drop your run special needs bag off here at that time and the bike special needs bag here, and so on… There are a lot of details and a few times I felt like a sheep being herded in the right direction, not knowing why or what the line I was standing in was even for. I suppose this sort of organization is necessary for an event of this complexity and size. Regardless, it was nice to get there with two days to kill before the race.

capitol pic

Although we had these seemingly easy 1-2 hour obligations each day (Friday and Saturday), it felt like the chill time was at a minimum and we were constantly running around or prioritizing what to do next. We got it all done, though, and by Saturday night, we were incredibly excited and ready for what the next day had in store.

Race day began at 4:30am. I woke up and poured a coffee cup full of Raisin Bran and skim milk and ate it with a fork. No bowls or spoons. That is what I was working with. Nick grabbed me a coffee and we started getting ready. In 45 minutes, we were all set. It was nice to know that the majority of my equipment was stowed away ready to go and the only big items to carry with me to the start line were for the swim. It’s pretty easy to keep track of the wetsuit and goggles, really. And so we set off!

At Monona Terrace in the darkness, there were people everywhere. First things first, I got body marked. Then, to the bike rack. I put one bottle of water and one bottle of Gatorade on my bike and borrowed a pump from some guy. Then, I went to the bike gear bag transition room and stashed a few more calories with my helmet and socks and sunglasses. At this point, I had lost Ryan and Nick and was by myself. I wandered around looking for a calm bathroom facility with a short line. The porto-pottie did not fit the bill for that, and I found one inside the convention center. After the business was taken care of, I had 45 minutes to burn before the gun went off, so I moseyed to the swim start and mentally prepared for the day ahead. The morning was very calm and orderly, which was exactly what I needed.

At 6:45am, I suited up and got into the water. I did a few strokes and felt good. The water was perfect and I was very comfortable. I got back behind the start line and browsed for a sensible spot to start. The mass start of over 2,000 people is one long line perpendicular to the buoy line. If you start furthest away from the buoy line, you’d theoretically swim a few hundred more yards than someone who starts right next to it, but that is apparently a rough start with faster swimmers crowding the corner. I started in the middle of the start line near a water ski jump. With five minutes to go, I swam up to the front and easily slid into place in the front row. I don’t want to swim around people in this mess! The announcer said some words and before long BOOM! and the cannon shot.

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I started off hard. I wanted to get out in front a little bit. 2.4 miles is plenty of time to get in a good rhythm, I could afford to swim out of my element for two minutes. With my first sighting, there was nobody in front of me and nobody really around me. Nice! I got bashed a little bit, but the first ten minutes was really nice, actually. I quickly got into a rhythm.

The rectangular swim course has one really long stretch on the back side, the two shorter sides, plus the start and finish side. Coming up to the first buoy, known as a major hog-pile where you “moo” like cattle being smooshed through a gate or something, my swim was so far without incident. This is going better than any other race this year, I thought! What a good start! To my surprise, the rest of the swim went equally well–I had plenty of room to swim and could get into a nice stroke pattern for lengthy periods of time. I’d get onto somebody’s feet and then lose them, and jump right onto the next guy’s feet. On the final turn, I didn’t exactly know the fastest route back, and looking for the bee line, felt like I was swerving around a bit. When I exited the water, I hit 1:05 on my watch. That was pretty much right where I wanted to be and I was super pleased with the race so far. The swim didn’t feel too arduous. Long, yes, and I wanted it to be over when my eyes felt like they were bulging out of my sockets from the tight goggles, but I was good to go and excited to start the bike.

I rolled the wetsuit below my waist just in time to get to the wetsuit strippers. Two guys told me to lay down, and I yelled “PEEL ‘EM, BOYS!” In one picosecond, they yelled at me to get up, threw me the wetsuit and I was on my way. Slick. The run to T1 was up a parking ramp helix. It was a little congested and completely lined three-deep with spectators. I tried to cut a corner on the curb and slipped and fell. How embarrassing! I sensed the crowd hush as if I was down for good or something, but I popped back up with a tiny scratch on my hand and kept on my way.

The T1 was a little hectic, but I got my bike gear quickly and was off.

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I hopped on my speed machine and got one foot in the shoe and the other just mashing on top while circling down the helix on the other side of the parking ramp. The start of the bike was a little technical on bike paths and tight turns. I got set up and felt great. I knew it was going to be chilly in the morning with temps just above 50 degrees, but it felt really refreshing out of the swim. Once out onto the open road, I was cranking past people. It was hard to limit at first. The bike course consists of a 16 mile stem out into the country, then two 40 mile loops, then back onto the stem for 112 miles. I passed a lot of the fast swimmers who weren’t going to bike really fast and by mile 30 or so, I felt like I was in a good groove and staying on top of nutrition. My stomach was happy and I was energized.

The Ironman Wisconsin bike course is sweet. I had so much fun on the first loop. There are a ton of screamin’ downhills, and the uphills and plentiful turns keep you engaged. I got with a group of guys and was jarring back and forth. There were a few hills where spectators lined the street and were going crazy. The spectator support is pretty astounding, really! By 50 miles in, I had to pee and felt a little anxious to get to the halfway point. Once there, I grabbed my bike special needs bag, in which I stuffed some tasty goodies. I cracked open the gummi worms and ate a large handful as I was peeing in the porto-pottie. My legs felt decent, and the break was great to stretch my legs and get my muscles in a different position for a second. I stuffed my bike box with as much more snacks as I could fit and was off.

The second loop started off good. I was refueled, didn’t have to pee anymore, and knew what I had in store for the second go-around. I quickly found myself in no-man’s land. There weren’t many people around me, surprisingly, and I was just passing some of the slower people on their first lap. It was here, perhaps mile 60 or so, that I started feeling a little down. My quads were beginning to feel sore and I was definitely uncomfortable in aero position. The neck and back and the area that touches the saddle were all beginning to ache. It felt like the first part of the loop was so flat and without hills and turns, which would typically be great cycling terrain (and was definitely not the case!), but I wanted the hills and turns because then I could sit up and get out of aero. I told myself to soft pedal and take it easy. There is no sense in pushing through the fatigue with 40 miles and a marathon to go. I had to let the fatigue slow me down on the bike or else I’d pay for it big time on the run.

I kept it steady and focused on eating and drinking and staying aero and being efficient for the remainder of the loop. When I saw Dave (Nick’s pops) on the last big hill of the loop, I got a boost of energy. I suddenly felt fresh and smooth for the remaining 25 miles. This was the definition of a second wind–like my brain shut off certain pain sensors or something. I started back onto the 16 mile stem towards Madison and was feeling good physically and feeling good about the race in general. Yes, my legs were pretty sore and my neck was killing, but my time was pretty much right on track. I estimated 5:12 initially, and knew I wouldn’t hit that, but definitely on track for under 10 hours.

I remember distinctly questioning whether or not I’d be able to run. It was hard to visualize actually running. My legs were so burnt out, I really thought I’d walk it in for a 6 hour marathon. I remembered a mantra, “If it’s not positive, it’s negative. Everything has to be positive from here on out.” And so I took it home with that in mind. Of course I’d be able to run, I’ve trained all year for this. There were a few cyclists in the mix, and I simply assessed my stomach situation and tried to finish off my food and Gatorade stash and get to digestion while I was still on the bike.

It was relieving to see Monona Terrace in the distance. I rode up the helix to the top of the parking garage, which felt flat compared to some of the hills on the course. I slipped my feet out of my shoes and mashed them on top, then put one leg over the top tube. My dismount was quick, but felt so weird. First of all, the balls of my feet hurt. I think my bike shoes could use a new insert. Next, the legs were so jelly right away–by far more unstable and wobbly than ever. I had a weird gallop/hobble/run thing going on into the T2 room.

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It was nice to have a simple run bag. The volunteer got my shoes aligned, I slipped them on, grabbed the race number belt and was off. It seemed like the volunteer was surprised by how hasty I was, but c’mon, you need a sense of urgency in transition zone!

Right off the bat, I took a whiz in the plentiful porto-potties right outside of transition. Hue was good. I was worried that my pee would be super dark or something. Anyways, it was another 100 feet to the run start and I split my watch time. Once I got my shoes on, my feet felt fine, and a few strides is all it took to shake the jelly legs. It was almost overwhelming how happy I was to get running and feel normal. Burnt quads were no issue, neck was in a different position, and all of the bike pains were gone. My first mile was around 7 minutes flat and I was on my way with big smiles.

I kept telling myself that my pace should feel easy until mile 16. After mile 16, it can be hard work, but before that it is steady, steady, steady; easy, easy easy. I caught up to a fellow Minnesota triathlete Ross Weinzierl and he said “slow is steady, steady is fast.” Ross kept it steady. I passed him at mile 3 or so, and he ended up at around 10:25. That is steady.

I kept it steady, too, for a long time. The run is two laps, which makes it easy to break up. There are a lot of different views as the run darts all around Madison. That was really cool, and it kept my mind off the grueling task. I was in good spirits for 10 miles and people commented on my smile! I was smiling because it was fun. I felt good and I was so excited to take it home.

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At Mile 13, I saw a few familiar faces and hit the turnaround feeling good. With half to go, I calculated that I needed a 1:45 half marathon to get under 10 hours. My initial high-end predictions of 9:45 were out the window, but 1:45 was just keeping it steady plus a nice little time buffer. I saw Nick soon after that, and he was cruising. Definitely not the super scary 10k speed I’m used seeing chasing me down like at Buffalo Tri earlier this year, but I could tell he was moving along quickly. I had just looked at my watch at the turn and it read 8:15:XX. A quick calculation meant he was only a few minutes back and would be passing me soon. I still felt good, though, and just kept truckin’.

Seemingly all the sudden, I started shutting down. As I write this approximately 24 hours after the fact, I can’t remember exactly what was going on, but I remember being so hungry for real food like a sandwich and just not being able to run fast.

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I had this super slow trot going on and made the executive decision to walk through an aid station at mile 16 or so. This was the first time I had stopped running, and it felt nice to stop for a second. Real nice. It wasn’t necessarily the actual act of walking that felt nice, but the knowledge that I don’t have to start running again quite yet. I grabbed a cup full of pretzels and a cup full of coke. That combination was so good. Just so completely satisfying. I finished it off to the last drop and started running again. Still slow. Still pretty agonizing. I walked through the next three or four aid stations in the same fashion: eat a lot of pretzels and drink a cup of coke, then run again. It was easier to run and huge motivation to just know that if I could run to the next aid station, I’d be able to walk through it and mow down on food and drink tasty coke.

By the time mile 22 came around, I had been passed frivolously by my fellow competitors. I ran through an aid station for once. My stomach felt good despite eating a lot of food that would probably make any runner’s gut churn! But I picked it up. I’m not sure if it was a boost of adrenaline or the conversion of food into energy, but my pace increased, my form improved, and I was back in the mix feeling good. It was as if my brain turned off certain pain sensors. This sensation was very, very similar to my bike experience–a second wind. So for the final 5 miles, I tried to hold it together and take it all in. I recall thinking that I was sure to faint or collapse at the finish line. I wondered what would indeed happen. I thought of all the videos on the internet about Ironman athletes collapsing with 400 meters left and crawling to the finish line, or the swarm of volunteers on deck ready to catch the completely exhausted racers as they leave their last calorie of energy on the course. Then I remembered my mantra and just tried to soak up the crowd and the whole experience and keep plugging along.

I don’t know why a kid cheering for their parent struck a chord with me, but I got pretty emotional at some point and thought about all of the training, the time spent and sacrifice for this dumb event. The emotions flashed through my mind state in the final few miles. Running down State Street towards the Capitol was great. To see the Capital was a sight for sore eyes. I was just outside of 10 hours, but time really didn’t matter at this point. I kicked it in and got some high-fives in the finishing chute.

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At the finish, I did the signature bow-and-arrow finish celebration the volunteers caught me. No, I didn’t collapse or anything, but I definitely put some weight on their shoulders as they shuttled me through the barricades.

To finish was pretty ecstatic. What a feeling. I saw Nick almost immediately. He was sitting on a chair and wolfing down pizza. Our parents were right there, and it felt really wonderful to sit down and relish in the moment of finishing Ironman Wisconsin. 12 months of dedication, 10 hours of pure exercise, and a beautiful 10 minutes of sitting in a chair to soak it all in.

The race went off without a hitch. I mean, things went really perfect. You can get punched in the face right away and caught with a group of flailing swimmers, have big time mechanical issues on the bike, or encounter a whole host of issues during the run. And the transitions are so hectic that you never know what could happen! To have everything go so smooth was incredible. I think that the race was perfectly executed, which is equally as incredible. I slowed down, I had low points, and I was 20 minutes off of my expectations, but I don’t think I could have raced it any differently to go any faster. Training modifications are a different story, and I know I have a sub-9:30 rattling around there somewhere. But it will take another $700, 40 weeks spent training for 20 hours, and fun weekend with the boys to find out! I’m super excited for that next one.

Results

Race Stats:

Place: 37/2387 (2,387 finishers)
Time: 10:07:43
Swim: 1:05:38
Pace: 1:41/100m
T1: 5:29
Bike: 5:18:58
Speed: 21.07mph
T2: 2:35
Run: 3:35:03
Pace: 8:12

Shoes: Saucony Kinvara 5, size 11.5
Bike: Specialized Transition
Wheels: Profile Design 78
Food: Too much to remember… ~5 gels, 2 packets of Honey Stinger Energy Chews, 1.5 Bearded Brothers Bars, 2 Honey Stinger Carmel Waffles, 2 handfuls of Trolli Brite Crawlers, a lot of pretzels, and more…

Race Day: Sunday, August 9, 2015 – 8am

The Green Lake Triathlon is a perennial classic. I love this race and I’ll keep coming back even though it is a trek from Duluth! The course is sweet. Green Lake is super nice and clean, the bike course is smooth, flat and fast, and the run is along the lake. Also, the transition and race site is awesome and there are always great amenities. Like pizza and beer.

Going into the race, I had a pretty weak week of training and was working a lot on Friday and Saturday. Add the 3.5 hour drive on Saturday night and it makes for a less than ideal lead up. Either way, I didn’t have too many expectations with my performance besides that I wanted to win. Bad. Real bad. Based on my fitness this season so far, I figured that I could likely pull it off depending on who showed up. The field of triathletes was spread thin for this particular weekend as Age Group National Championships were in Milwaukee and six other races were scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. Minnesota Tri News pretty much slated me to win, which was a boost of confidence for sure. On the flip side, it is always fun to race, and anybody will put up a better effort if placement is on the line. Reeling someone in or running scared is much more motivating than being way off the front by your self.

Anyways, race morning started off nicely. Mountain Dew, Sports Beans, a little coffee, deuce deuce and I’m ready to roll. I took my bike out for a spin and the mechanicals were working perfectly. Jogging around felt nice. I popped my wetsuit on and went for a few strokes in the lake. My arms definitely felt heavy, but the warmup helped. The lake was perfect temperature and calm. It was windless and in the low 70’s… ideal racing conditions. I peed in my wetsuit with hopes that the added saliency would add to the buoyancy of my wetsuit. I started in the first wave so I hopped back onto the beach and we were ready to rip.

I stood next to Tim Bode, who’s raced with me and Green Lake many times before. He is a beast swimmer and I thought that I could perhaps stick on his heels. I even revealed my plans to do so, and with characteristic Minnesota modesty, told me I’d be able to with no problem and that he’d probably be drafting me!

With a ten second countdown, the horn blared and we were off. The start was much nicer than Chisago and I got out towards the front immediately. I looked up and Tim was right there. I did two more strokes and looked up and he was approximately 50 meters in front of me. WHAT!? Just like that?? I was baffled, but kind of expected that and could only hope to be second out of the water and not too far behind Tim.

The remainder of the swim was nice. I was more or less by myself. I got pretty disoriented at the turnaround and had to completely stop swimming and look up to navigate correctly. I came to the last buoy with a large hoard of short course athletes and brought it home. I made the executive decision to take my wetsuit off in the water again, and I can’t decide whether or not that is faster or more efficient or not at all. I’m actually leaning toward faster, but it is embarrassing to be at the shore fiddling around with my wetsuit and thrashing about. Regardless, I got it off pretty quickly and my transition was very fast.

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With my trusty steed in hand, I ran toward the bike exit and mounted. There was another dude in a slick looking Shiv next to me and we started together. Once my feet were secured to my shoes, I stood up and jetted past him. My game plan was to smash the bike as hard as possible. It’s such a fast course and my biking has been on point lately, so I figured that there is no reason to mess with the formula. However, it is frustrating be seemingly limited by fatigue on the run.

I could feel that I was going really fast on the bike. Unlike the 56 mile ride at Chisago, where I wanted to have an even race and leave a lot for the run, I was mustering out all of the power I could. It was funny to get to the point where I’d go hard for a minute or two on a nice stretch and then be tired. At Chisago, and during training, biking is so constant and it’s rare to get that sort of “can quit right now please” feeling. I passed Bode a few miles in and was in the lead. On the flat sections, I was just tracking with the white line, head down, grinding HARD. I merged with the short course folks, and passing people on beach cruisers made me feel event faster.

I got into T2 feeling pretty beat up, but good nonetheless. My legs definitely felt heavy on the run, but that feeling passed surprisingly quickly. I was going at a pretty nice clip and pretty excited about being able to turn over quickly right out of the gate. At the short course turnaround at 1.5 miles, I was at 9:50 or so, which was 50 seconds slower than I was shooting for. That was frustrating, because I felt like I was going fast and I was definitely breathing hard. I kept pushing and felt really good until the long course turnaround at 3 miles. That split was around 20 minutes. I was hoping to get there a whopping 2 minutes earlier, which was again pretty frustrating. I decided to kick it up a notch for the last half. My turnover felt really good. Passing the other long course athletes was with positive encouragement, and again, I felt that much faster zipping by short course athletes past their turnaround.

I started to really pick it up with a mile to go. Although I was really far off of the course record of 1:41, I figured I’d salvage with under 1:50.

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That last minute surge paid off and I came in right under 1:50. It’s hard to stomach a relatively slow run because I was running faster last year and the year before, but my open run times are light years faster this year! It equalizes, I suppose, because I’ve never biked faster than this year.

As always, Green Lake was a blast. The weather was perfect, and not 45 minutes after I finished a massive thunderstorm rolled through. I hope to get one more race in before Ironman Wisconsin on September 13, but it’s not looking very hopeful with work. All I can really look for is a methodical training block.

Results

Race Stats:

Place: 1/35
Time: 1:49:47
Swim: 19:14
Pace: 1:28
T1: 0:39
Bike: 49:16
Speed: 26.8mph
T2: 0:38
Run: 40:03
Pace: 6:41
Shoes: Mizuno Hitogami size 11
Bike: Specialized Transition
Wheels: Profile Design 78
Food: 20oz red Gatorade

Race Day: Sunday, July 26, 2015 – 8am

The Chisago Lakes Triathlon had a name change this year and now it is called the Toughman Minnesota Triathlon. Now, this name is stupid and I won’t ever wear a shirt that says “Toughman” on the chest. Just dumb. Ironman at least has the history behind the name…

Anyways, I do Chisago every year and it is my annual long course triathlon. This year, however, I had big expectations with my time and performance. I wanted to do top 5, but that was a tall order after seeing the Minnesota Tri News preview. I thought that top 10 would be an awesome goal. I thought that under 4:20 would be a possibility and 4:15 would be the perfect day. Going into race week, I was feeling pretty good. My training has been on point and I was getting really good training in since the big string of races in June. The only glitch was the Park Point 5-miler. I was expecting to have a decent time, but my pace on the hot, hot race day was sluggish. This made me scared for the half marathon at Chisago.

The weather was looking nice and I got a perfect swim in the day before the race while we were picking up the packets. The lake was terribly warm and weedy, though, and that was pretty nasty without a wetsuit! I got to sleep super early and was feeling very fresh by the time I woke up on Sunday.

Chisago is always very competitive, and I was excited to be starting in the elite wave and to be racing with the big dogs up front. Last year, I placed 20th, for instance. My plan for the swim was to find a pair of feet and stick with them. When the gun went off, it was a frenzy. There were lots of arms flailing and legs kicking and I felt so uneasy. A front pack broke away and I was frustrated to be out of reach. There was no way to bridge that gap…

I settled in to a reasonable pace and got near the first turn buoy. I was with a few other dudes on the far stretch and noticed that fellow Duluth-area long course triathlete Jason Crisp was right next to me. Perfect, I thought. I knew he was a decent swimmer and was very consistent, therefore making an ideal candidate to draft off of. I tucked in behind him and stayed for the ride. However, by the second turn buoy onto the home stretch, I felt like I was expending a lot of energy trying to follow his bubbles. We broke off from each other and I just tried to kick it home. It was starting to get steamingly hot inside of my wetsuit and I thought to myself how getting out of my wetsuit in the water would be wise. I could get out of my wetsuit quicker because the water wouldn’t have drained out yet, I could splash some fresh water on myself, and then I wouldn’t have run up that terrible transition hill in my hot, black wetsuit.

When I finally got to shore, I ripped my arms out of the wetsuit and had a major struggle getting it off of my ankles. It was terribly embarrassing because people on the shore could see me flopping about and kicking and athletes on either side were blazing past on their way to the bike.

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After the wetsuit debacle, I had a hasty transition to my bicycle. It was nice to just throw my wetsuit down and grab my speed machine! Onto the bike, I started off aggressive. It’s a little technical on a bike path on the start and I was making some strong bike moves. Once onto the road, I was mixed with short course athletes. This was somewhat troublesome because I felt the need to overtake every person in front of me. It was hard to limit. I did calculations at 30 minutes into the ride and knew I was around mile 13. That puts me at 26mph early into the race. That is dangerous. I told myself to soft pedal and to go easy and to limit my efforts because the final 10 miles were bound to be hard.

The first 30 miles or so are so flat and fast. Every road is perfectly paved and there are no hills. There are quite a few directional changes, however, so if it’s windy it can be challenging. This day brought no wind, which meant that I was cranking. By mile 25, I was right around one hour. Yikes. I was feeling so good and was seemingly abiding by my strategy of having an even race, leaving some juice on the bike course, and going into the run with enough spring in my step to run fast. I got a tip that I was in 3rd place, and that made it hard to slow down. If I’m feeling good, why should I cognitively slow down to a speed that I think is more sustainable?

The course then descends quite a bit to the river valley. We pass the bottom of Wild Mountain and then climb all the way back up. I felt really good on the hill, and it seemed much smaller than before! I kept spinning wonderfully, and was tracking along at 25mph each time that I could make a calculation. At mile 50, my watch said 1:59. Smokin’. I figured that I should slow down a bit, or at least make certain that my legs will feel good onto the run, for the last bit of the course. My legs weren’t feeling terrible. In fact, they were feeling pretty good! The long and hard ride was taking a toll, and I was getting pretty uncomfortable. Just general discomfort. I’d been rolling in the aero position for a long time and my back and neck and taint were starting to feel it. Legs good, though.

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I hopped off the bike still in third place. The bike ride was lonely. I passed one person at mile 40 or 45 and that was the only person I saw after the short course split. Starting the run, I felt good.

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My legs were turning well and I was ready to lay it down. I knew I was in the money for my goal time of 4:19 as long as I could keep my half marathon under 1:30. Easy. That’s slow. I wanted 1:25. 6:15 pace. The first mile was 6:40 or so. The second was 6:15 and the third mile was 6:15. Perfect. Keep rolling.

At mile four, I started feeling pretty crappy. Just a wave of fatigue and I couldn’t push off of my feet. It was mental, though, and I pushed right through it. The meat of the race is right here. My pace was slowing, though. Slowly and surely, and I was struggling to stay under 7 minutes per mile. It was a constant mental game to push through these waves of fatigue. This didn’t feel like the marathon, where you inevitably slow down and feel worse and worse and more tired and stiff and sore. This was just like “body stop running you’re too tired” and then as much mental fortitude that I could muster in order to ignore those signals.

I was all alone. I saw the leader near the top of lollipop section of the run course and he was cruising. Way up there. Still in third, I became curious to where I was at. A guy on a bike said I was running second place down and that fourth was way back and that I was looking really good. Well, I wasn’t feeling good!

On the gravel lollipop section, I missed a water stop and took the gel down straight up. Luckily, a guy had freezing cold water in cups from his driveway, and that was a nice boost. Getting back to the lollipop stem, I was very curious to take stock on who was back there. I saw a few dudes, but nobody that looked to be running me down fast. Little did I know the fourth place runner was on the lollipop section and running me down big time.

By mile 8, I was not feeling good at all. Luckily, my pace was at a constant 7 minutes per mile or just a bit under. I kept chugging along. I felt like there was no way that I was going to catch the second place guy. I wasn’t making up much time. At this point, I just wanted to finish in third. Podium would be sweet! Each corner slowed me down so bad and I’d have to talk myself into getting back into a decent pace. How strenuous.

Then, I had a sense. I looked back and saw fellow Duluth-area long course triathlete Paul Rockwood. Paul is racing Ironman Wisconsin in my age group and has been racing really well this year. He gets faster at Madison every year and deserves to click his ticket to Kona. I think Paul will go under 9:45 or even 9:40. He is a beast runner and was certainly running me down. At mile 11, he caught up and started chatting. He crashed on the bike and was bleeding from his arm and leg. I couldn’t even talk. He then sped ahead out of sight. That’s how fast and strong he was running… he just dropped me like nothing. How many people are behind me? I questioned.

Two more miles and I was at least in fourth. Fourth is solid. I needed to stay in fourth. I can’t get passed twice after being in third place for 60 miles. I had another sense and sure enough, there is someone behind me. I picked it up with a quarter mile left with the great fear of getting passed on the final stretch. Thunder Bay, Ontario resident Jon Balabuck finished seconds behind me.

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I felt pretty good after finishing. Of course, the half ironman takes a toll on one’s body, and compression socks and sitting down felt pretty nice. I was totally jacked up about 4:19 and fourth place completely shattered my expectations. The frustration was with the run. It is frustrating to get off the bike, have a “slowest possible” time in my mind of 1:30, and then run 1:29 and a lot of seconds. Regardless, I thought I could run 4:19 and that’s what I ran.

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Chisago was a perfect tune up for Madison, but I don’t think the hard bike strategy will fly with the full distance triathlon.

Results

Race Stats:

Place: 4/478
Time: 4:19:58
Swim: 31:30
Pace: 1:30
T1: 0:42
Bike: 2:16:53
Speed: 24.4
T2: 0:56
Run: 1:29:54
Pace: 6:55
Shoes: Saucony Kinvara size 11.5
Bike: Specialized Transition
Wheels: Profile Design 78
Food: Bike: Cherry Coke Honey Stingers, 2 gels, ~40oz Gatorade, ~20oz water; Run: 2 gels

Race Day: Saturday, June 20, 2015 – 7:45am

Another Grandma’s weekend is in the books. This is where it all started and Grandma’s and the Gary Bjorkland Half Marathon hold a special place in my heart and my legs. This year, during my second road marathon, I shaved 9 minutes off of my time last year for 2:48. I trained for faster, I can run a road marathon faster, but a huge PR is a huge PR no matter what way you look at it, and I am happy with the results!

A few months ago, I wanted to prioritize my race schedule to get a better perspective on things. That’s the type-A triathlete shining through, I guess! Ironman Madison is first priority, of course, then Chisago half-iron, then Grandma’s, then Buffalo, then scattered smaller races and anything else I can jump into. With two triathlons in front of Grandma’s, I think I maybe skewed my training program a little more bike heavy than run heavy. In the months leading up to Grandma’s, I think I slowly tapered off of running compared to the volume I was putting in in March and April and did a little more biking and swimming. Also, I feel like I edged back from “frinjury” (my hybrid word for being on the fringe of injury), and wanted to feel healthy on the run over being that much more fit. Compared to my training partner Nick, either he got faster or I plateaued off a little bit. Trail racing in early May, anyways, I was a bit closer to him than the early June races. Plateau? Who knows. But looking at the logs, my long runs were spotty and weekly volume was slightly down. Also, I put an emphasis on early season tris… Grandma’s was the third weekend of racing in a row. Did that have any negative effect on my energy levels for a marathon? Hard to say.

I tried a different training plan after reading an article on the internet. Renato Canova trains his elite athletes by having them run real long and fast – “specific endurance”. I thought that this may be a fun, albeit perhaps a little risky, method of training, so I adopted a training program. Based off of last year’s training, I figured if I could do my daily hour jog, plus two hour long run every week, plus speed work in the form of NMTC Wednesday trail race series, then doing four “Canova workouts” would put me on track for a massive PR. Doing some estimation, I figured that I could run a 2:43 if I nailed four Canova workouts, spaced around a month apart, in increasing distances, all at 6:15 pace (race pace for a 2:43). In February, 12 miles at 6:15 pace. In March, 15 miles at 6:15 pace. In April, 18 miles, and in May, I’d do 21 miles at goal pace. Each workout went pretty well. Besides the very first 12 miler, which was right on pace and pretty much perfect, each Canova workout had some minor flubs (off pace slightly, had to poop, dropped out a half mile, bumped the 21 down to 20 miles). However, I recovered from each workout pretty well and felt good about my effort. I felt confident that each Canova workout was setting me up perfectly for a 2:43.

Grandma’s weekend is always hectic. Duluth Running Co. is always super busy, and in the past, it’s all hands on deck at the marathon expo, which we staff from 5-9pm plus all day setup on Thursday, then around 9am-10pm on Friday. Standing all day on the concrete floor is not the best pre-race ritual. It’s always very draining and stressful! This year, though, we put more into the store, and I was at the shop. The hours weren’t much different, but it was a little more laid back and I didn’t feel as drained by the end.

On race morning, I woke up and did the ritual. Mountain Dew, a little foam rolling, a bit of cereal and got everything together. The weather was looking dicey. Thunderstorms, swirling winds, and the occasional downpour was forecasted. It was cloudy as Kyle, Stacie, Nick and I left for the University of Minnesota-Duluth to take the bus out to Two Harbors.

We were joking around on the bus and everybody was ready to race. When we arrived, it was raining. I had a garbage bag on my body and a plastic bag on my head. After dropping my drop bag off, we all stood in line for the bathrooms for a long time. It got very nerve-wracking when with 5 minutes until race time, we were still in line. With about 2 minutes until 7:45, I got my chance and did my business as hastily as possible. Then, I hopped a snow fence and ran in the ditch to get near the front. I started the race in between the 3:15 and 3:05 pace groups… not ideal, but Nick preaches to go slow the first two miles. I wanted to hit 6:15 every single mile.

Weaving through people, I hit my first mile at 6:51. Ok, time to crank it up, I thought. Luckily, while making my way through the crowds, I hit miles 2 and 3 at 6:15 on the nose for each one. Just hold that pace and I’ll be in the cut! Clicking off miles, I was pretty much on track at the 10k mark. My pace was around 6:18 on average, so I went under goal pace for a few and almost equalized the slow first mile. Also, I was feeling good and fresh and had good form. I remember thinking that it was good that I got that 10k done first, and now it’s just 20 more miles to go.

I think it was mile 9 that was a little slow. I don’t know why, but I came in a bit behind after clicking off some great miles up the shore. Onto mile 10, I felt a fart coming on and knew that I could definitely poop. My worst fear, as I had some pooping issues on a lot of long runs and a few of my Canova workouts even. Maybe that’s a diet thing… Either way, I saw a toilet ahead and decided that I could probably poop fast at this point and that if it was empty, I’d go for it. It was, and I did. It was a quick poop, but resulted in a second slower mile in a row. I think I set my poop PR, too, with a sub 60 second dumper.

At mile 10, I calculated that I needed to be at 1:02:30 or so. My watch read 1:04:04 as I split it. I can make it up, though, I thought. All it takes is a few 6:10 minute miles and I’ll be back on track… plenty of real estate. Going into the half, I was over two minutes off.

After the half mark, I got into a nice groove and started to really micromanage the race. Once I get into Lakeside past Brighton Beach, that’s when the race really gets good, I thought. I was clicking off some good fast miles and next thing I know I can see the merger onto London Road. At this point, perhaps mile 18 or 19, I was feeling a little bit sore. Things were starting to crop up, but I felt strong regardless. I know my calves were getting yoked, but my feet were feeling OK and my big muscles like hamstrings a quads were firing off just fine. After I passed Lester River, I started feeling pretty run down. The mental game was kicking in despite a lot more screaming fans. I had to really focus on getting to mile 20, because I knew Angela and a few friends were there watching. After passing 57th Avenue, there was no mile marker. It must be 47th Avenue, I thought. So I was counting the blocks as they went by. 10 blocks later, and I heard a cheering squad and saw the 20th mile marker. It was a huge boost seeing them, but I didn’t know what to do, so I flashed a quick smile and kept running.

IMG_2294Photo credit: Angela Gilbertson

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Lakeside, and specifically running past Lakeshore old folks home and Glensheen, has historically been where I start really feeling bad and falling apart. Lakeshore went by with no problems, and then it’s a long straightaway where you can see Lemondrop hill looming in the distance. I was starting to get really tight at this point. Running was becoming labored and I could feel my form deteriorate. Glensheen went by with no problem, but I could feel my pace slip a bit as people passed me. I went slow up Lemondrop, but recovered somewhat quickly and knew that it was all downhill to the finish. Time to wrap it up!

Duluth Running Co. is the best boost because there is always a booming crowd cheering my actual name. That helps. Running down London Road, my mental state was not good. I wasn’t pushing at all and my pace was slipping for sure. I could feel it, too, but didn’t feel like pushing. I scooted up the avenue to Superior Street and ran towards Duluth Running Co. with nice form. You get that hair-stands-on-the-back-of-your-neck feel with the screams and the yells, and that helped for sure. Bring it home, bring it home. My legs hurt. My left one was seizing up, I thought the IT band would flare up, it didn’t really, but I could feel everything being strained to the max.

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My right side felt OK, but definitely hurt! I was taking Powerade at every station because I thought I’d cramp up. At Fitgers, mile 24 I believe, I took a little too much Powerade and it sloshed down my throat into my stomach. I could feel it jostling around with my three gels and I got the feeling of throwing up. If I burped, I’d yak. I slowed my pace to avoid embarrassingly throwing up on Superior Street. All of Superior Street was pure pain. I wasn’t even running that hard, but just felt like if I pushed it, I’d probably yak. The feeling subsided at mile 25 as we turned onto 5th Avenue West. I burped and it felt good. So I jetted around some people and ran hard down the avenue and over the bridge.

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Just bring it home… I looked at my watch and was feeling pretty good about the time, but I never realize how long it takes from the Aquarium. The wind seemed howling right when you turn by the Bay, but it wasn’t bad. I tried to push it and keep my stride nice and strong, but I definitely wasn’t running too fast.

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I brought it home on the home stretch… thought I heard my name a few times but kept my eyes focused on the finish line.

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Right when I finished, I did my celebration thing and did a few weird jog strides and kept walking. 2:48:15 was the final chip time.

One year of training yielded a marathon time nine minutes faster, which is awesome. I was less than 5 minutes off of my goal time… around 11 second per mile. The race went pretty much as good as it could have. I don’t think I left much out on the course. A few seconds per mile here and there and maybe I’d be walking down Superior Street. Hard to know. All I’m thinking about now is what sort of a training block should I construct to have the fastest half-ironman time I possibly can. I’ll do Grandma’s Marathon once again next year if I can help it. I think I can run under 2:40.

Results

Watch splits:

1- 6:51
2- 6:15
3- 6:15
4- 6:17
5- 6:09
6- 6:11
7- 6:39
8- 5:52
9- 6:37
10- 6:52
11- 6:20
12- 6:11
13-
14- 12:53
15- 6:08
16- 6:16
17- 6:20
18- 6:30
19- 5:59
20- 6:22
21- 6:31
22- 6:28
23- 6:39
24- 6:39
25- 6:48
26- 8:02

Race Stats:

Place: 167/6075
Time: 2:48:15
Pace: 6:26

 

Shoes: Saucony Kinvara 5 size 11.5

Food: Honey Stinger Strawberry Kiwi (Mile 7), Gu Roctane Blueberry Pom (Mile 14 or 15), Hammer Gel Tropical (Mile 22 or 23??)

Race Day: Sunday, June 14, 2015 – 7am

Lead up to the Capitol City Sprint was pretty basic. I had a strong run week with a lot of intensity, which was good, but I am feeling it now. Especially with Grandma’s Marathon in five days, the plan is to take it really easy in order to feel as fresh as possible on race day. Either way, despite not a lot of volume, it was good to get some relatively hard running in this last week as a little mental boost for Grandma’s.

I put a little less weight on performing at Capitol City just because it was a sprint race and Buffalo was more of a “where am I at” triathlon tester. I already knew kind of where I was at going into Capitol City, and frankly, Grandmas is more on my mind at this point. So the setup and prep was a little less hectic… I wasn’t as stressed out with having all my gear and just generally less stressed.

On race day, I realized that this was a deep field. According to Minnesota Tri News, I knew it was going to be deep, but it hit me on Sunday morning when I saw a few fast runners setting up in transition. Nothing is scarier than a strong runner. I felt really strong and good to go on race morning. I set up transition and went for a little jog. Then, I warmed up on the bike with a time-restricted spin out on the course. It sure was bumpy! Finally, I got into my wetsuit because I wanted to make a point to get a solid swim warmup in, especially because the swim was so short. The water was the perfect temperature and I got a nice swim warmup in. I was ready to go! Little did I know how frantic the swim would ultimately be.

The distances were 500 meters on the swim, 13.3 miles on the bike, then 3.1 miles on the run. I think the run was a little short, however. So, literally a sprint. I was expecting to push a 5k effort for an hour straight. I had little to no race strategy, just crank it out as hard as possible. A small inkling in my mind said to save a little on the bike, but I decided that it was sprint and to go for it all. Also, I had done two run-off-the-bike workouts that week and felt like my muscle memory was coming around and I could hold a decent clip for the 5k. On that Tuesday, Nick and I ran a 5:40 mile (then two easy miles) off of a hard 15 mile ride. That gave me some confidence for sure.

After a quick pre-race meeting, we gathered towards the beach.

IMG_2269Photo credit: Julie Ward

I grouped with a bunch of other Helix-wearing swimmers… the elite pack no doubt. The pre race nerves… and everyone feels it. I was about think about jockeying for position up front and then 6! 5! 4! and the countdown started. Totally caught off guard, I threw my goggles quickly with perfect time to click the start of my watch. And we were off…

A line of guys were in front of me. I thought about dolphin diving to get out in front but there were too many people. I simply waded in the water as people in front of me swam at the same speed forward. Well, I suppose I should dive in, I thought. I dove forward into a sea of flailing bodies. It was congested. People were slapping at my feet, I was hitting people’s hands, I was entangled with someone next to me, break free and hit the person on the other side. How uncontrolled… I tried to look ahead and just swim with the pack like a mindless ocean flounder or something. I was running into people all the way to the first buoy. After that first turn, it seemed to thin out a little bit, so I tried to get into a strong groove. The second buoy was much less hectic, and I wanted to bring it home strong. I focused on engaging my pecs and back muscles.

After a seemingly crummy swim, I exited right behind Brian Sames, a solid bike-runner. This is where I expect to be, I thought to myself.

IMG_2277Photo credit: Halie Higgins

In transition, the wetsuit dismount seemed sloppy and slow. I popped two Shot Bloks into my mouth and took off. The bike mount went well and I started cranking. Brian and a few other guys were taking off, and I’ve been really liking the feeling of roping people in on the bike. I passed Brian and aimed for a dude in orange. Pushing hard, I was coming up on him but definitely didn’t have a super strong surge to pass. Finally, I torched a match or two and passed him. No need, I just wanted to be in front… I later met the guy, Bennett Isabella, who is a solid triathlete, winning a few races already this year, and hot on the du scene. I knew he had raced and Olympic triathlon at Liberty the day before, however, so figured his legs were a bit yoked. A few seconds later, he passed me back. No, I thought, this is a sprint and I need to go all in on the bike or else.

IMG_2268Photo credit: Julie Ward

And that’s how the rest of the bike played out. I passed Bennett and neared the turnaround. I saw a big pack of guys a minute or so up, and Matt Payne was already way up there.

IMG_2276Photo credit: Halie Higgins

I eventually passed Josh Blankenheim (deja vu), but could see him behind me the rest of the way. On the last home stretch, I know I made up time on this big bike pack up front, and came into T2 essentially on the tail end of the group. I thought that a speedy transition would put me in a good position for the run.

IMG_2273Photo credit: Halie Higgins

I threw my bike down and switched to the run really fast. I could see three guys in front of me, and I passed two of them within a minute. I recognized Kevin O’Connor ahead of me, and he was running strong. I wondered if I was going to be able to reel him in, but I knew that he raced Liberty Olympic the day before as well, and hoped his legs were yoked, too! With added motivation to run fast, I could tell I was making time on Kevin. Eventually, I made the pass, but he stayed close. With a mile to go, I looked over my shoulder and saw two guys. It better not be Josh, I nervously pondered, but I knew it was. Who else would it be? Is there anyone else running me down? Can I hold these guys off? I was tired, but tried to pick up the leg speed. I was running with a long loping stride and tried to pick up the cadence, but it was too tiring. So I opted for the loping giraffe stride.

Sure enough, Josh came up right on my left shoulder. I said it – “Deja vu” – and when he put a body length in front of me, I responded. He was breathing really heavily, and I tried to control my breathing in hopes that it would be a mental discouragement. We ran side by side for a minute or two, then he made another body length break. I let it go. One body length became 10 feet with the blink of an eye, and Josh ran me down for a second week in a row, but this time within sight of the finish line. It wasn’t a sprint finish by any means, he had it in the bag. I got a dose of reality when I heard footsteps and saw people behind me. Hold on for third, I thought, and I picked it up for the finish line.

IMG_2267Photo credit: Julie Ward

IMG_2271Photo credit: Julie Ward

Josh finish four seconds in front of me, yet his run was over 20 seconds faster than mine. Matt Payne came in two minutes faster than Josh, and behind me was a large pack of dudes. 8 people behind me finished within about two minutes of me. That’s a sprint race for you, I guess!

Of course, I congratulated Josh and we joked about the extreme similarities to how Buffalo played out. The race for second and third literally couldn’t have been more similar. Regardless of the crushing overtaking with a half mile or so to go, I was super pleased with third place and didn’t really expect to finish ahead of some of these other guys. And, the race itself was spectacular! The bike course was awesome, run was nice and challenging, and there were some delicious post race morsels.

I realized that racing on the weekends, with taking it easy the day before and race day as well as travel and stuff, I don’t have nearly the same weekly volume, because I can get some nice long workouts in instead of all of the auxiliary race-related time spent. My next triathlon on deck is Chisago Lakes long course. I hope to get some quality long workouts in before then. But of course, only after Grandma’s Marathon!

Results

Race Stats:

Place: 3/110
Time: 57:15
Swim: 8:00
Pace: 1:27
T1: 0:54
Bike: 31:09
Speed: 25.6
T2: 0:25
Run: 16:46
Pace: 5:23

Shoes: Mizuno Hitogami size 11
Bike: Specialized Transition
Wheels: Profile Design 78 back, Mavic training wheel front
Food: Two Shot Bloks, water on the bike

Race Day: Sunday, June 7, 2015 – 9am

You never know what is going to happen on the first triathlon of the year. Preparing for a tri is so stressful. Compared to a running race, there is so much more equipment to pack and so many more opportunities for mistakes during the race. That pre-race stress, however, makes the feeling of executing the perfect race just that much better. I executed a nearly perfect race in Buffalo.

After Gear West, I wanted to start swimming more, and got into the North Shore Swim Club MWF swims. Instead of doing 1,500 sloppy meters by myself, I started doing 3.5-5k of quality pool swimming and was feeling good. Week to week, I don’t think I’ve every swim Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, though, and it was easy to skip! On Tuesday of race week, we did a cold open water swim at Pike Lake near Duluth, and it was cold. Really cold. We did maybe 6oo meters of swimming… about 5 minutes out and back. The way back wasn’t terrible, but my face hurt bad right away. Needless to say, it wasn’t really a quality swim workout. So I was a little iffy with my swim fitness, despite the expectation that the big pool yardage (even though only one or two days a week) will pay off.

I had a killer chunk of biking since Gear West, where I was already super pleased where I was at with my duathlon bike split. Also, I bought race wheels and some fast tires. I’ve caught a lot of flak for racing with Gatorskin tires, which are apparently very slow! I was super excited to let it rip on the bike, and I knew it would be hard to limit my effort level.

I’d been feeling a little beat up on the run. Quality running was spotty and I wasn’t pleased with the volume and consistency of my running leading up to Buffalo. I left my dog Diamond at my parent’s house after Gear West. Is that a coincidence that my running wasn’t on point? I think not! On the other hand, there were a few workouts that I did in preparation for Grandma’s Marathon that were major confidence boosters and fast. Fast for a marathon… I think that my half ironman run pace should be pretty close to my marathon pace. 10k off the bike is a different story, and I wanted to run pretty fast off the bike.

There were a lot of Duluthians racing Buffalo and a lot of friendly faces in transition. That makes it fun! I wanted to contend for the win, which would net $300 and chip away a chunk on my credit card from those new race wheels, but Buffalo is historically really competitive and a few fast dudes signed up last minute. There were a lot of other mulitsport races in the Twin Cities that weekend, though, and that spreads out the speedy dudes a bit instead of being condensed into the one weekend race. Time wise, I predicted a 24 minute swim, one hour bike, and 36 minute 10k, plus a minute a piece for the transition. That would put me at 2:02 on the nose. I learned that the bike was bit short and the transitions were pretty long, so it would equalize and I’d do a bit less on the bike and bit more in T1 and T2.

Race morning was pretty ideal, but a bit warm. The roads were dry and the wind was a little blustery off the lake riding the first mile of the bike course to warm up. After setting up transition, I did a little ride, then popped my running shoes on and tried to loosen everything up. The body was feeling good and I was ready to rip. With a half hour to go, I slid into my wetsuit and started to warm up in the water. My stroke felt OK and I was excited that the water temperature was really nice. The reported temperature of 68 was balmy!

I registered in the elite category and we had the first wave.

Buffalo TriPhoto credit: Dave Nygaard

We lined up on the beach to start the 1.5k swim and when the crowd countdown got to one and then “GO!”, we sprinted into the water.

Buffalo Tri-2Photo credit: Dave Nygaard

I tried to do a few dolphin dives to start and then get into my stroke. I was breathing on my left side only and trying to jockey for a position up front. I tried to sight ahead and thought I saw a guy jetting HARD out front. I figured that it must be Dylan, a collegiate swimmer from Bozeman, MT, who was pegged by Jerry at Minnesota Tri News to win it all. I liked that the buoys were on the left and I continued to breath on one side only in order to drop my racing heart rate and get into a fast but comfortable pace.

The rest of the swim was uneventful. There were people around me the whole time, which was relieving to know I was falling far behind or going off course too bad. I knew there were some fast swimmers in the elite wave, and if I could stay with a few of them I’d be in mint condition. After turning the last buoy for the straight-line home, I got lost in the glare of the morning sun. I poked by head high out of the water a few times and would get run into from behind. Someone was right on my heels for sure. Me and a group of swimmers took it home and I exited the swim with three or four other guys. I hit someone in the back trying to a dolphin dive out of the water, and probably looked like an idiot! I felt like one putting on the clothesline… oops.

Buffalo Tri-5Photo credit: Dave Nygaard

On the beach, I ripped by arms out of the wetsuit. I noticed that Nick was right there with me. I was surprised he had such a good swim, but glad! This was shaping up to be a good race. I peeped my watch and saw 24 and change. Right on the money.

Buffalo Tri-6Photo credit: Dave Nygaard

IMG_2255Photo credit: Julie Ward

I may have taken an illegal shortcut in the transition by taking the bee line through the sprint bike racks, which saved me approximately 1 second. I should have listened to the race meeting instead of running! I had a faster transition than Nick because I didn’t see him until the bike turnaround, but was clipping in at the same time as Brooks Grossinger. I got going a bit faster than him and he never passed me.

Buffalo Tri-8Photo credit: Dave Nygaard

Onto the bike, it was time to crank. My legs felt like sausages. It’s surprising how you don’t feel very fresh starting the bike after just swimming, even though that’s probably not quite the same muscle groups. After two miles, I passed an elite woman. A few miles later, I reeled in another guy, who I found out later to be Josh Blankenheim, a fellow Duluthian. I was riding good, but felt like I was burning matches. There were windy spots and some rolling hills, and I definitely pushed to the point where my legs were burning on more than a few occasions. I stood up on a few hills. On an out-and-back stretch, I saw Dylan, who was approximately six minutes ahead of me. That wraps up his win! Not far after that, I surprisingly reeled in Jake Cooley. I felt fast zooming past the sprint course athletes on the last five miles, and took it home hard. Jake was pretty close behind me and we entered transition pretty much together.

Buffalo Tri-14Photo credit: Dave Nygaard

IMG_2258Photo credit: Julie Ward

I was anxious starting the make-or-break run. At this point, it was me and Dylan. He was at least six minutes up. Fat chance that he’s running slower than 7 minutes per mile! I tried to take it out hard and wanted to stick 5:45 pace. When I hit the first mile, I hit the split on my watch and it was under 6 minutes. Perfect. Running off the bike is a bizarre sensation. I can’t get the same spring in my step and my stride feels labored. I tried to focus on my form and fluid motions. I remember thinking about an excerpt I read from Craig Alexander the day before, who said that the best Ironman runners had a very robotic form. So I tried to be robotic. 30 seconds later, it was too tiring and I resorted to running like an prison escapee.

At around mile 1.5, the 1ok course continued and the sprinters turned around. I almost toasted a woman while trying to grab a water. I took Gatorade and poured water on my face. I don’t think anyone was close behind me at this point, but I knew they were coming. There’s no way that Nick isn’t charging hard, and I wasn’t feeling very fast. At mile two, I split the time and saw a slow mile. It was perhaps 6:20 or 6:30, and way off pace for a 36 minute 10k. Could I crank down and go sub-sixes? Do I conserve my energy until the turnaround? How much gas is left in the tank??

After the sprint turnaround, it was a lonely road out to the turnaround at around mile 3. I started hearing footsteps and before I knew it, I was passed. I recognized the race kit from the guy I passed earlier on the bike, who I ultimately found out to be Josh. Ouch, what a crushing blow. I figured that I could maybe stick with him, but decided to race my own race. If I have what it takes, I’ll catch back up. I’d rather get 3rd place than push too hard now, wither and die for 6th place. Nick and Brooks out-ran me on both 5ks at Gear West, and I know they are right behind Josh.

Dylan came cruising past me once I neared the turnaround, and I didn’t even bother to calculate his margin. He was way too far up. Josh was putting time on me for sure, and I was deathly terrified to turn around and see who was behind me. I did it anyways, and there was a decent gap. I saw Larry Hosch next, who had a faster split than me on the run last time we raced at Green Lake Tri in 2013. He was coming for me and the $100 3rd place price purse. Maybe a minute back, Nick was just cruising. He looked like a Olympic 5k’er making the last lap on the track. Super powerful looking… how scary. Brooks was back there, too. The goal was to hold them all off. I cranked it down.

Every other split I took had a six in it. Not good… Once I could see the sprint turnaround, I had lost Josh already. He was too far up. At this point, I was giving it all I had. I started to get into the mental zone that I figured would push me past my preconceived limits. This is where the anger comes into play. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the anger. I told myself that this is all I do and if I didn’t get 3rd place I’d be a nobody and my life would be for nothing. This probably isn’t the most positive mindset to have, but it seemed to work OK. I know I was making a really ugly face and my form was painfully sloppy. There was an uphill grind for the last mile until we turned onto the finishing chute, and I was weaving throughout the sprint athletes. I couldn’t run a second per mile faster, and I was at a dismal six minute per mile pace. I tried to get the anger. Looking behind me, all I saw was a swarm of runners. I couldn’t tell if anyone was charging up on my rear, so I kept it up. They could be right behind me, I thought!

Turning the last corner, I slipped around some sprint athletes and bombed down the bike path into the finish line.

Buffalo Tri-17Photo credit: Dave Nygaard

IMG_2257Photo credit: Julie Ward

I remembered to stop my watch and it read just a tad under 2:01. The grinding 10k was enough to hold on for 3rd place and $100! I saw my overtaker Josh at the finish line and we chatted for a second. A minute back, Nick ran in for 4th place.

Buffalo Tri-37Photo credit: Dave Nygaard

Buffalo Tri was a super fun race. The Duluth contingent killed it, with Elaine Nelson winning the women’s race, three of the top four overall and the three fastest run splits from Duluth. Everyone was in good spirits.

IMG_2252Photo credit: Tiffany Kari

I feel like my race at Buffalo was perfectly executed. My run isn’t as fast as I thought, but the big bike split strategy actually paid off. I think that more brick workouts could tie together the new bike speed and improved run, where as I felt a little bit of a disconnect there during Buffalo.

I recovered fast and I’m feeling good for a few more races in June: Capitol City Sprint triathlon and Grandma’s Marathon.

Results

Race Stats:

Place: 3/267
Time: 2:00:47
Swim: 24:48
Swim pace: 1:31 per 100yd
T1: 1:22
Bike: 56:11
Bike speed: 24.7mph
T2: 0:40
Run: 37:48
Run pace: 6:05

 

Shoes: Saucony Kinvara 5 size 11.5
Bike: Specialized Transition
Wheels: Profile Design 78 clincher back, Roval ~40 clincher back (thanks Paul!)
Food: Cherry Cola Honey Stingers and Salted Watermelon Gu (on the bike)

 


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