18 Aug 2022
Race Date: Sunday, August 7, 2022 – 8:30am
Another Brewhouse. I feel like I get pretty nervous or anxious before Brewhouse most years, almost like a dread. I was probably the least excited for the year’s Brewhouse than ever before. In the back of my mind I thought about bailing on the race altogether. I hadn’t trained, I hadn’t been on my bike or worn swimming goggles since last year’s Brewhouse, and just wanted to crank miles on my stand up paddleboard. Equipment aside, I was almost certainly not in the running to win. That’s always been the goal, and I didn’t deserve it even if that’s how the race would pan out for me. I wasn’t ready for the pain of the sprint tri format, and I absolutely wasn’t ready to get in the damn water to swim. BUT, I got all my things together the night before, and by Sunday morning after I got my pre-race coffee and breakfast sandwich, I was excited. The morning weather was better than expected at least with sun out, but the winds were high and that’d be tough for the swim and bike. Well, I figured, that just makes the run even more enjoyable once it’s just that last leg left.
I got to the race site and immediately picked up my race bag. Easy. Brewhouse is like a family reunion and it was fun to see all my triathlon friends, many of whom I hadn’t seen for a while. I chatted with Kris Nisula, the only person to beat me at Brewhouse Triathlon besides my very first triathlon, which was Brewhouse 2010. He said he was really a cyclist now, had been biking a ton and not running or swimming much. Hmm, that was interesting. It would certainly come down to the run and I knew I had a little latent fitness from Grandma’s weekend about 6 weeks prior. I took a restroom stop, got my body marked, and then did a little bike shakout to make sure it was working well. All good. I put on my running shoes to shake out but got distracted talking to the race timer Brad Pickle. With a half hour until race start, about 8am, I got my wetsuit on and walked over to the lake. It was super choppy. The swim would be terrible. I saw Em and the dogs, which was a sweet treat! I talked with her and was so excited she showed up to spectate.
I pulled off the band-aid, so to speak, and hopped in the water. I had to pee immediately, which is always unfortunate in the wetsuit. Oh well. I swam around in the waves a bit and it felt great. The waves weren’t too bad, actually, and my swim stroke seemed good. I was ready to rip. One buoy had floated a way a bit, so the course was shortened. Excellent. Plus, the race got delayed a bit for some reason… maybe to fix the buoy. There was nobody in the water. Me and a few volunteers. More volunteers came down – a few paddleboards and they were getting tossed around by the waves. The racers came down eventually and before long Matt Evans rallied everyone at the start to stay safe and gave the announcer Ted the three minute go-ahead. My googles seemed to be getting foggy already. I wiped them off one last time right before the 10-second countdown. I wasn’t ready for the thrashing, but “3-2-1” by the announcer, the racers and the spectators watching from the hill. It’s happened whether I’m ready or not! “GO!!” and the thrashing began. I got out into a nice starting spot, but was overtaken quickly. I minute in or so and I was seemingly out by myself and wasn’t getting kicked or punched, but realized quickly that the waves would indeed be a factor. It was hard to breathe. I felt that breathing into the waves, on my left side, was actually better than my unnatural-feeling right side. I almost freaked out a few times with a big mouthful full of water. Then I had to stop. I was getting so battered by the waves and I just couldn’t get a solid breath. I couldn’t see due to foggy goggles, I was panicking. I flipped my goggles up to get oriented and wipe off the fog. Not optimal. But, the buoy was right there and so kept plugging along to sharply round the corner to head home. Immediately I enjoyed much nicer swimming with the wind a little more to my back. The rest of the swim was relatively easy and I felt strong. The first half shook me up a little, though.
I got out of the water and ran, breathless, up the hill and to my bike. Ok, here we go! The worst of it was done really. I knew my biking was not going to be as good as past years simply due to fitness. My bike miles were especially low this year. I got through transition quickly, got my shoes on and it was a matter of keeping my speed on the bike to mitigate the damage. I saw Kris zoom away on his bike while I was in transition, and he’d be only making up time that I would hopefully be able to recoup on the run. But, a 3 mile run course is not a lot of real estate to reel him in. I got blasted by wind right away, as Highway 4 curved and the open water directly adjacent to the road allowed the direct wind to push me to my right. My aero wheels were a sail and I precariously grasped my horns. I did not feel comfortable in the aerobar position with the winds whipping off the lake.
Near the turnaround, I saw someone looking fast way out in front, then Kris and Bettina a minute back, and I turned on Emerson. Ryan passed me unexpectedly. Shoot, let’s go Mike! We turned at about the same time and Ryan showed his strong bike fitness by pedaling right away from me. I just had to keep my speed and get to the run. I passed someone on the right side of the road. Was that the guy way out front? Got a flat? Bummer. I knew Paul Rockwood was pretty close to me but didn’t make a pass or get passed the rest of the ride. I got nervous back alongside Island Lake where there was no wind block. I prepared by sitting up on the horns again. It wasn’t too bad. I saw Em right before the transition and was excited to get off the bike.
The second transition went very smoothly and I felt good a few strides in. I saw what looked like Ryan and Bettina running stride for stride. I couldn’t see Kris or confirm if the younger guy biking way up front was still way up front, or was the one who was sitting in a ditch back at mile 8 of the bike course. I could easily tell I was making up time on Ryan and Bettina. Ryan was clearly running faster, so I passed Bettina first, then Ryan at about mile 1. I didn’t really say anything and kept going. I clocked about 6 minute pace. That would probably be good enough for one of the faster run splits, but was it enough to catch Kris? I couldn’t see him ahead but knew I was able to run faster than him, especially if he said he hadn’t been running much. I finally saw him and we met at the very top of the lollipop stem. He was completing the small loop at the end of the run course and I was starting it. I looked at my watch to preview how far back I was. It gave me a bit of a jolt but I was running pretty much as hard as I could given my relatively poor fitness level.
At the end of the lolly, I figured I was two minutes back. That is impossible. I’d have to run a minute per mile faster than Kris to pass him at the finish line. I took a left back onto County Road 4. A guy running the opposite said I can catch him up above and I look way fresher. OK! Let’s go! I hit 2 miles and tried to crank it up. I still couldn’t see Kris. Mayyybe way up there. Yup, that’s him, let’s go! I finally got to the turn-off into the woods. This is my specialty, I thought to myself. Make it up on the trail section. I pushed hard on the swamp boardwalk. I still couldn’t see Kris. For each step that I didn’t see him, it was less and less likely that I’d pop right out on top of him. Oh well, he won, I told myself. Second is great. The race went good. I’m happy. I kept my cadence into the finishing stretch and then knew definitively I wouldn’t pass him. I also knew I wouldn’t be passed so cruised in and was happy to finish. It was probably my slowest Brewhouse on this course. I chatted with Kris at the finish. Ryan came in not too much later and he had a strong race for third. It was a fun event – I was reminded that Brewhouse is my favorite race of all time.
Shoes: Mizuno Rebellion size 11.5
Bike: Specialized Transition
Wheels: Profile Design 78
18 Aug 2022
Race Day: Friday, July 15, 2022 – 8am
My second year at Big Ole and fourth paddling race of all time started in a frenzy as I didn’t have a strap for my cell phone and 8 o’clock was only minutes away. I frantically searched through my car for the strap on the identical phone drybag given as a racer prize for the ’22 race as was given for at the ’21 version. I got my phone latched on, ran my board to the dock and hopped on. This race was very laid back, however, with 5 or 8 racers of various different types of watercraft and the starting announcements took a bit. Yet, that was straightforward and brief, no questions and so someone yelled “3, 2, 1, GO!”, a speedboat took off in front of us and the handful of paddlers churned up the water off Lake Miltona’s eastern boat launch.
I was really excited for this race – last year was pretty cool and this year ended at Lake Miltona. Well, I thought it ended there, which is the same lake I’ve been visiting for 20 years or so at my parents’ cabin. It actually started on Miltona and I had been reading the map wrong until the day before, after work Thursday night when I made the four-hour drive from Duluth to the cabin and I was hanging out with my mom.
I knew the distance and course would be fun and beneficial for training for the Boundary Waters adventure later on in the summer/early fall. But, I had just come off a wrist-wrecking trip in the BWCA and was kind of worried I was overstressing my hand. I noticed some weird twinging while cleaning the kitchen counter. Em said it was carpal tunnel. But, I noticed something off in my hand and could feel the strain when paddling. I mean, thousands and thousands of strokes adds up when my body hadn’t been trained smartly and sustainably over the course of months and years to take that abuse. But on race day, I paddled across Lake Miltona with a really nice wind – light and mostly at a tailwind – feeling physically and mentally excellent.
Previous year participant with a second-place finish, previous winner, Duluth resident and world-renowned stand up paddleboard person Jared Munch was not on the pre-registration list but showed up, and he and a kayaker pinned left and toward the other side of the lake faster than me from the start, and all the way three miles to the riverway between Lakes Miltona and Ida. My splits looked good right away, and the morning seemed humid with sweat dripping from my brow minutes in.
I had scoped the connection between the two lakes a couple weeks prior over the Fourth of July, but didn’t go beyond a rock and/or metal dam right in from Lake Miltona. I struggled there but quickly got on my board on the other side and enjoyed the current towards Lake Ida. I knew Ida was going to be a nice downwind straight south for about 5 miles, and I was excited to see Jared and the gal up ahead on the river pretty close to me. The waterway was about 20 feet wide and really cool. I saw all types of fish and it was a quick flash of a couple different ecosystems. SO COOL! I approached a culvert at County Road 5 and there were people standing, including my mom cheering me on. I yelled to see if I could make it through and they said he got stuck. Huh?? So I figured I’d portage over the road. I got out and schlepped my board right up onto my hip, motioning with my other hand for a volunteer to move aside. People were doing some minor traffic control and I was able to dash across the road, then lost my footing and my board slammed down to the water, perhaps scraping some concrete. I thought for about less than 0.02 seconds and just jumped in after my board with the spirit of the race burning bright inside. And I was off to Lake Ida.
A few more twists and turns and I got out to the Lake Ida delta. There was a sand bar and it took a little bit to navigate out to the open sea. The wind was a little breezy at maybe 8 miles per hour, but a straight tailwind. A boater with the white volunteer flag pulled up next to me and asked if I knew where to go. Straight across? He pointed and said towards the point. My mom or the boater or someone had said there was a big yellow floating banana to indicate where to go. I scanned the shoreline and figured I had a long way to go before I’d be able to make out the next lake connection. Just aim for the smallest shoreline, I told myself, then kept cranking.
I was making good time on Ida. I flew past a neat sand bar towards the middle of the lake and realized I was definitely on a good trajectory towards the other end. I could see the other two boats in front of me – they had made ground since the river. Shoot. But, I could learn from their mistakes and see where they go in! It looked like they had to backtrack. I saw no bananas but an entry and they disappeared. Jared and the kayaker might be far off, but being able to see them was a nice benefit. When I got closer I saw them clamoring on the left side of a dam structure. We were probably supposed to go on the right side of a dam, but that had a big concrete wall and so I went left despite a NO TRESPASSING sign. I saw a person walking away on the grass towards a house but kept quiet and swiftly clamored onto the riverbank rocks and into the river past the a dam. I hopped back on, especially proud of my quick portage when I saw Jared and the kayaker right up ahead. Sweet. I can use technical speed to my advantage with lots more lake switches to come. I went down a very similar river as was 5 miles back and paddled hard to accompany the current pushing me. The river way was quite winding and you couldn’t see 5 feet ahead without having to turn 90 degrees. Therefore, I lost the two ahead. Plus, the branches were very obscuring. A branch hit my face and stung my lip. I wiped my gloved thumb across the spot that hurt and saw blood. What is a race if you don’t have a little blood, sweat and tears??
Onto another turn and there was a culvert with volunteers. I asked if I had to portage. They said I could fit if I go down. I went on my knees, pushed a few times to orient myself to the tunnel, went down to my stomach and let the current sweep me in. In the dark, I felt the need to use my hands to steer and move forward even faster. The light got brighter, out the other side and Jared and the kayaker were closer than ever. In fact, I caught up! Jared said: “you are right there man!”, and I replied very simply, nah. I wasn’t right there – they were crushing me on the open water paddling and I just happened to be scrappy and swift on the transitions between lakes. Yet, there were many lakes to come. I knew that and it motivated me to say right on Jared’s tail. He wasn’t even paddling hard. What the heck. Onto another lake and I tried to peek my phone while they paddled ahead. I went askew, which is never a good strategy, thinking I had a better track. I was ahead momentarily. But across the small lake – more like a pond, really – and I was still in third place. Another narrower river. Some weeds. Lots of weeds. Big lillypads. I was conscious of weeds. They weren’t sticking. Excellent. A bend, another curve and I lost them. Another right curve, a bigger expanse and the two were ahead by 100 feet or so. At least a minute or two if they stopped dead and I kept thrashing…
I had to acknowledge my phone, the screen saver on which was the course map that I screenshotted and saved, to wayfind. If I would have just trusted Jared and the kayaker’s direction, I would have been right by them and more efficient. I second-guessed them the whole time. Through weedy narrows, to deep narrows, to actual lakes, through low culverts and back onto something between a river, lake and a marsh and I was essentially all by myself. I was starting to get sore at this point, and my paddle stroke was certainly different that hours before. I was about at mile 15 at this point, in between Lake Stony and Taylor Lake, and had been paddling pretty much nonstop except portaging dams or hand paddling through culverts for over three hours. I had only stopped paddling to eat one gel. I was ready to be done. I figured there was one more lake left. Wait, maybe this is the last lake? I don’t know. I knew the course turned from more southerly to more northerly for the last lake or two, and with a prime north wind pushing us all day, the last stretch would be hard. Under a last bridge and the volunteers said it was towards the left on this last lake. Volunteer boaters confirmed it was the last lake – Lake Darling – and the finish was at the big building towards the left. I remembered from last year. That is a sweet sight. Coming at it from the opposite way, in a headwind, firmly in third place with nobody behind me and no way to catch Jared Munch, first place paddleboard finisher and the kayaker he seemed to be glued to the entire time, I had it much easier than last year. Last year, I thought I would get overtaken twice on the last lake. Today, I brought it right in, happy to see 3 and not 4 in the hour slot on my watch. I had one last frustration trying to get into the Arrowwood Beach to run to the finish. I didn’t think that the far left side of the dock was a viable route, and I didn’t want to go all the way around to the right like the year prior. I hit the dock straight on and hippy jumped over it, referencing my old skateboarding trick knowledge and also thinking that I’d probably not be able to make the maneuver and fall in the lake within sight of the finish line. That luckily didn’t happen and I paddled in for third place, super happy with a sub-four hour finish time by quite a bit. My hands, wrist (most importantly) and body felt good afterwards and it was an outstanding course.
10 Jul 2022
Saturday, June 9, 2022 – 9am
I was discouraged at the start line to see so few stand up paddleboards, but excited to try to compete and do by best. I signed up for the Vatten Paddlar 5 Mile paddle race in hopes that it’d be a fun training for the Boundary Waters traverse – a project I had on the docket for later in the summer. Also, I had last year’s win to defend. The day started off very similar to last year except I was kind of late getting down to Barnes, which is about an hour’s drive from Duluth, but that hour does not include dropping my board off at the start line, driving to the finish and taking the shuttle back. But, it all worked out and I warmed up just like last year in a perfectly calm, nice and sunny bay where the race started on Middle Eau Claire Lake. Beautiful country.
I did see a kayak that I recognized, and the owner who I tried to draft off last year. The race organizers gave us 15-minute heads up, 5 minutes, and a one-minute notification, and then a GO out of the blue, which caught me off guard. I thought I started my watch and started paddling. I realized… what was I doing? PADDLE!! GO!! Then started thrashing at the water at a ferocious rate, lifting my head to see the green kayak pull out ahead. Two canoes made their way out front, then the green kayak, and I settled into the fourth position, 30 boats or so behind me. I kept my eye on the stand up paddleboard right behind me as well. The glassy water was fantastic. A gust of wind hit me… there it is! I knew the drill – it is so much more efficient to draft and I paddled hard to get to the kayaker in front of me clipping along at a nice consistent rate. I was on either side of him, and at some points really close. I hope that wasn’t a frustration, but I didn’t care enough. This is a race. I finally got right behind in the sweet spot of the wake and the effect was so tremendous. I could stop paddling! I wondered if he started sandbagging to stick it to me for riding his tail so close. When my watch beeped and I saw 11:30 or so, I knew that wasn’t the case. Now, if I could just stick here the whole race, that’d be great. But, a couple buoys and required turns and I lost him just like that
I tried to focus on what I could control, and one thing I learned looking at photos from the Big Ole 17 mile race last year was that I needed to keep my paddle in the water. I was wasting time and energy with my paddle in the air, and had been practicing keeping my stroke the same but getting the paddle in right away and minimizing the recovery time. I had no idea if that was more or less effective, because it was almost a spitting image from last year. One mile in, same exact position with two tandem canoes and a kayak in front, a beautiful northwoods Wisconsin day in July with the sun beating down on me and sweat beading up.
So from there I tried to hold steady, and accomplished that. I kept a 20 foot eye on my kayaker friend, and just made more ground on the rest of the field to the point where on curves and narrows in the middle part of the race were enough where I couldn’t see anyone behind me. I was looking to see, and checking on weeds on my fin. I saw one little stringer and it was enough to paddle backwards and shake it off. I confirmed the seaweed dropped off and furiously paddled forward to regain my momentum. I remembered the shallow areas and had a few close calls, seemingly, going over downed trees and sandy shallow areas. Under the first bridge, through the narrow canal with cheering cabin owners and I got to the dam. Just like last year, this is where I’ll clump up with the slower-to-portage kayak and its speedy owner. I saw him hit sand, and kind of just sit there as I approached rapidly. He got out, got the boy scouts situated to help him and was off on the portage as I landed. I yelled that I was coming through, grabbed my board and ran out of the water to land. I passed the kayaker in the woods right after they looked back like “what the heck is he doing”. I sprinted up the hill and over, down the grassy and steep other side and practically belly flopped into the creek in my haste. I jumped onto my board, crimped my toes to keep my left sandal on and jumped right up to start furiously paddling again. The kayak was just entering the other side of the portage as I got my rhythm and speed back. A few more curves, under the second bridge, and I remembered getting stuck in the sand before the last big lake, Lower Eau Claire Lake. Shallower… shallower… paddle hit sand, then my fin abruptly stopped me and I jumped off and awkwardly, slowly tried to shimmy my way through the sand bar. How frustrating. I wondered how the kayak would do through this. I got to the darker, deeper water, and could see chop coming around the bend already. It was slow going, I saw a spectator and yelled “here is the wind!” and took it head on. Rough. It looked calmer around the bend but I figured the last mile and a half here or so would be slower than the couple of miles I’d racked up already. But also, this is where you put your head down and crank. So that’s what I did.
The kayak was making up ground on me. I wanted to beat him. I wanted to be the fastest solo craft. How cool would that be? So that was my carrot – don’t give up your spot. I figured power, efficiency, and navigation would get me there, and to focus on cutting the corners the best I could helped me ignore the pain of nearly an hour of paddling as hard as I could muster. It worked, but I also knew I was going slower than ever. My focus fell back on a speedy stroke recovery. I had my mean face on, my ugly face, and pushed hard. My left shoulder was starting to get very sore, because I had to paddle in a counter-clockwise direction with the wind coming from my left and really didn’t get an opportunity for relief. The waves and wind subsided tremendously as the finish line came to view. I peered back momentarily and saw the kayak operator no closer than ever. I think I had it. Could I go under an hour? I didn’t think so but was unaware exactly where my time was at. So I focused on bringing it in. I was in pain but could manage for just a few more minutes. On the very home stretch I knew I beat the kayak and it was such a relief to stop paddling at the dock, very warm and happy to finish. The timer yelled out my time: 1:04 and some seconds. Huh. I knew my time from last year. 1:04. Same time? One better placement, though! The other finishers trickled in as I paddled to the bay and jumped in. That was the best feeling ever, and a nice follow up feeling was a cold beer in the sun watching other finishers. After an hour, I just couldn’t wait. I talked to the director Pamela, who like everyone at the race was extremely nice and hospitable. She gave me my sweet medal and $50 in gift cards. I mentioned my request for SUPs to be included in the 10-mile distance. It was funny to see every finisher miraculously have an open Busch Light beer can immediately upon finishing. Not only is it a beautiful area, and a fun and well-produced mom-and-pop race, but the bartender covered my brew since they don’t accept credit cards. Therefore, I’ll be back.
Stand Up Paddleboard: Surftech Bark Dominator 14′
10 Jul 2022
Race Day: Saturday, June 18, 2022 – 6am
Another one. This is such a fun race and it was highly anticipated for me. It is crazy to think that this was the first race I really signed up for way back in 2008 (for the 2009 version). I thought many times during my training cycle how I’ve now been running for 14 years, and I don’t think there is a race that I’ve had bigger goals, bigger expectations, and more anticipation for over the years. The Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon is just so epic! I don’t know why the half has been more, how do I say, anticipated, compared to even the full marathon.
This training cycle was interesting. After Wild Duluth last year, I knew I was able to still put together a good training program and race, but I was curious just how diligent I could be after practically two years of pandemic and issues with motivation and mileage. I tried a few times to get going with no real traction, but March came – crunch time – I put together a program of 12 weeks or so and started off. I started around 25 or 30 miles with the plan to increase mileage by a solid 10% percent per week and implement a long run and one or two speed work days per week. I’d be able to spice it up with NMTC Spring Trail Series starting at the end of April and ultimately peak two weeks before the race with a week over 70 miles. That would, to my determination, put me where I’d need to be to break my personal best set at the 2017 version of this race. That would be a stretch, but if I could execute my training plan and stay uninjured, it should work.
Training started off great. I was feeling good, it was feeling easy. By the time I got to NMTC, I found that even 40 to 50 miles per week was decently hard from a time perspective. With weekend stuff, work and other (some self-imposed) obligations, devoting 6 to 10 hours a week to strictly running felt hard. It was also hard, emotionally mainly, to run without the dogs. In their age, they just couldn’t go more than a few miles and degrade to 11:30 minute pace very quickly. Their sprints are a nice 7:15 pace… but being about 10 years old each was taking a toll on the speed and endurance for them. Despite that, I did lots of mileage with them, 3 miles at a time. Workouts were going unbelievably excellent, and long runs were fun. I’d kind of clump together my key workouts, like long run Friday night and Saturday morning speed work. I am not sure if that is optimal but it was almost a time implication more than anything else. NMTC was unfortunately spotty. I missed a few due to traveling, and the finale to plant my garden. Kind of a weak excuse but I felt very pressured to get plants and seeds in the ground!
As I zeroed in to race day, I became pretty skeptical that I’d be able to reach my goal of a PR. Mileage/volume was not a concern, but the sheer foot speed was. I was perhaps 5-10 pounds heavier than my historic race weight… probably that difference from 2017, not to mention 5 years older. But the tempo runs were not encouraging. I felt like 6 minutes was my half marathon effort. Running enough races, I can kind of gauge what the feel of different distances should be. For a half marathon, I want to feel like I’m sprinting BUT comfortable enough where I’m in control and can hold it with ease for one hour. Then, the last 15 minutes is all grit. Well, that feel or effort was not towards the 5:45 pace I was hoping for back in the spring. I dabbled between doing tempo runs and workouts at my half marathon effort or my goal 5:45 pace. Effort-based yielded slow running, and pace-based yielded one mile, then slower, slower, slower and I’d lock in at just under 6 minutes per mile. So, I wondered to myself on a weekly basis a month from race how I’d be able to run 13 of those in a row, when I couldn’t do two in a row during training. Either way, my body was holding up. I was doing tempo runs, speed work on the road and on the track, long runs with two 18 milers and one 20 miler on the road, and enough easy running to match my goal weekly mileage nearly 12 in a row except one down week where I was traveling. I had a really positive peak week, but nearly three weeks of taper. I just didn’t have the energy to get that last big week after a 68 mile week or so. So, I let it slide, neglected the long run and went for two last workouts. I crushed a track workout with 8-800 meter sprints at about 2:15 per interval 2 or 3 weeks out. Then, I remembered my ole pre-Garry Bjorklund workout about one week out on the course. I always said that if I could run 6 miles on course by myself and meet my goal pace and feel in control the whole time, with gas in the tank, then I’d make it on race day. I set out 8 days before the race, on a Friday after work, and once again had one good mile, a few slower ones, then locked in right around 6 minutes per mile. That won’t cut it. My expectations hit the floor. Oh well!
On race day, I was pretty mental. I kept going back and forth – I won’t hit my PR. Wait, I will be able to! My training was perfect! Nah, no way, how could I? Look at 2017! I was in absolutely prime fitness that is not matched. Tony and I did a podcast interview with Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon champion Kara Goucher, and that coupled with Tony’s pre-race shakedown talk really psyched me up. That was the day before the race, Friday, and I went to sleep that day with the confidence that I could in fact do it. I drew up a mile chart wristband, and got to bed a decent hour. I slept like crap that night and woke up extremely early.
Em dropped me off at UMD as dusk came. I got out and walked towards the bus line at Kirby Center, and had never seen a bus line so long. It was pretty extreme. And so I waited, and every 5 minutes the line would lurch forward. I noticed a storage locker looking thing with people putting their drop bags in there. Huh, that’s interesting. Then, when I got to the bins, there was a sign that read: “no bags allowed on the bus, drop off here”. WHAT?!? That is new! Should have read the race guide. I begrudgingly put my warm up shirt and phone in my bag and tied it up tight. I took with my a caffeinated fizzy water and caffeine energy gels and finally got onto the bus. I started getting nervous…. it was maybe 40 minutes from 6. How are we going to get all the way out to the start, evacuate the bus, walk to the start line, most importantly find a toilet, and get my starting spot all in 40 minutes? I was kind of nervous about that the whole bus ride, but told myself that everyone on this bus is in the same boat. Well, on the same bus. And they’re not going to drive any faster no matter how nervous I am or if I make a scene. So, I just need to be focused and diligent at the start line.
Once I got off the bus, I chugged my drink, tossed my one gel wrapper, and put my other gel in my pocket. I stopped in two different toilet lines, and bailed on both. I kept going towards the front, towards the front, and there was luckily a huge toilet bank very near the front, that seemed to be the shortest, actually. But, it was barely over 5 minutes to the race start at this point, and they were announcing the very last race details before the start. Yikes. The line moved right along, and I stayed true and got my spot. Wow, what a relief. I did my business, was pretty disappointed to have no hand sanitizer, but got to the start in perfect timing. Ready to roll. I saw spring NMTC competitor Andrew at the start line. He said he was looking for a 1:15 or lower. I’d probably see him during the race, I thought. Or he’d run away right away, never to be seen again. That’d be fun to run together, though. Although he had a stellar 10k time recently and was generally crushing me at the trail series races. Way faster than me. As fast as the pre-race went up to this point, the final minutes took forever. Finally, I could see the horn guy talking to the announcer, making their plans. Then, the countdown, blaring horns, and the 10 courses of people in front of me sprinted forward, sucking me along.
Ah… it is go time, baby!! I went with the flow of the crowd, and couldn’t help check my watch just to see. 5:30 or so, looks good. The first mile came by in a flash. 5:53. Good… The second mile took no time at all, either. 5:45. Better. I was in a big group of very fast women that seemed to be pacing really well. The matching race kits were encouraging, because I figured they all had a specific plan and would stick to it better as a group. So, if I could hang with this group, and we’re on pace through 5k, I’d be in good shape. I tried to focus on my efficiency and cadence, keeping that high turnover. I was feeling good, and essentially right on track to beat my record by one second a few miles in. I kept chugging.
I could sense the threshold pace and exactly when I was overstepping, and exactly when I was locked in. That was a testament to my consistent training. I made it through the north shore sections feeling pretty good about my body, my time, and the rest of the race. I find this race is easiest to break up in three or four sections: north shore, lakeside, and then the home stretch past Lemon Drop Hill, which is about a 4 mile run to the finish. Halfway, and my pace started slipping. It was very gradual. A few miles just bit off pace, a couple more miles, and handful more seconds off, and then halfway through lakeside, the pain started increasing and I realized it’d be a stretch to meet my goal. Just like that, I was a minute off pace with not a lot of real estate to make it up, and the pain setting in. The miles clicked off so fast that I barely realized how I was slipping. I was checking my watch every mile but a few seconds seems trivial until they add up. I saw Em’s mom Joan right where she said she’d be, at 60th Ave East, and friends Garrett, Rachel, Brent, Angela, Axel and Lily. I missed Axel’s high-five but got a nice sweaty one for Angela and Garrett, and had to chuckle a bit after that. I consciously knew that my friends gave me boosts, and tried to capitalize on that.
At the historically hardest part of the race for me, up to 40th Ave East to Lemon Drop Hill, I actually felt great. Mentally, I was a bit disappointed because I was really trying to hold on to my pace, the pain was getting harder to ignore, but I was more than a minute off pace heading up to Lemon Drop. Nothing to see here, there was plenty of race left. But running some quick math, I’d need four 5:30 miles to close it out compared to my average of 5:50+ on the first 9. That’s a tall order. But up and over Lemon Drop and I let it rip. I ran as hard as I could down London Road on the nice downhill. It was all downhill from here. I could crank. I wasn’t thinking about efficiency, just raw speed and grit. That was perhaps a bad strategy, because my next mile was over 6 minutes. It was terrible. I saw some cheering squads at Duluth Running Co. and straightened my back and picked up my pace. I saw my mom and Em and the dogs, which was a boost, but I couldn’t muster anything. Two strides past, my neighbors Pete, Susan, Clarence and Eleanor were cheering and I yelled “THIS IS WHAT WE WORK FOR!”. That had been my mantra all day, and despite being a little bummed, I kept reminding myself that I worked really hard to get here, and I should finish it off strong. My next mile was even slower, and people started passing me. But, I held on. I kept it going and tried to keep my grimace down through downtown Duluth. I knew it was just a few miles, and even thought the final miles through Duluth seemed so long, I tried to tell myself that it was a brief sprint on to the finish line. But despite feeling like I could have increased my pace in the early miles of the race, at this point I couldn’t accelerate. There was no way to increase my speed by 10 seconds per mile even for a quarter mile.
It had been just perfect, optimal weather all day. Cool, a nice low sun and tailwind. But, that meant turning at the DECC would give me a headwind. I attacked it, and led out a nice pack of people. I wanted to generate some late adrenaline by trying to beat these people. They had more than me, and I got passed. I peeked at my watch, and 1:16 came a went. I tried to bring it home as strong as I could, but just knew my form was crap and the low cadence, hard running style that I had adopted was not at all efficient or fast, really. At the turn under the Lake Ave bridge, I saw Em and my mom and the dogs again and again kind of ignored them. I didn’t know what to say. The final sprint in was a little disheartening. I put in all this time. I was really pretty close and let it slip. I saw 1:17 on the clock. What crap. I sprinted across the finish line and heard very loud yelling and my name. It was Emily, Michaela, Cheryl and Lacey from work. That was cool! I stopped running, stopped my watch and moseyed on over. I think I just muttered “FUUUCK”, and they didn’t say anything, just looked at me like I was a zoo animal from the other side of the barricades that I’d helped banner the day before. I said something broken like “I … can’t” and just walked away. It was a funny interaction in hindsight.
As I walked through the finish chute, I shook my head, hung it down, and was pretty angry. Then, very suddenly, my mood changed. What the hell, Mike?? I just put together a stellar race. I had been able to run just 4 or 6 miles in training at the pace I just ran 13 miles at. I had a super solid race, probably the best paced road race I’ve run. I had zero issues, and was extremely close to a personal best after a perfect training cycle and while 5 years older and a bit heavier. A big goofy smile adorned my face and I reflected on how much fun that race just was. Hell yeah. A person looking very familiar flagged me down and asked if I was Mike Ward. Yep, It was Alex Richardson, a speedy runner that I raced against at the NMTC series. I hadn’t talked to him at all, or seen him before this year. He said he’d lived in Duluth for a little while but just getting back into racing after a college career. He said The Duluth Rundown podcast motivated him to show up to the NMTC runs. Cool! I chatted with Eric Nordgren and it was fun to hear his story… although not an optimal lead-up with covid causing him to miss a big gravel bike race and some vital training time.
I met up with Em, mom and the dogs and continued to reflect on the race. I think they sensed my disappointment but I put it behind me. I felt proud, accomplished, but more motivated than anything. I was motivated to get back to Garry Bjorkland. I was motivated to tweak my training, put more time and effort into conditioning, and give my record a shot. I’m not done with this race.
Shoes: Mizuno Rebellion
Food: 1 Gu Roctane Vanilla Orange
15 Nov 2021
Race Date: Sunday, October 17, 2021 – 9:30am
At the starting line of the Terribly Tough 10k, the very next morning after a solid yet taxing win at Wild Duluth 100k, I was finally sure that I would be able to make the distance. I didn’t know for sure if I’d run the whole way, and I knew I wouldn’t win. The night before, before going to bed, I didn’t think I would even show up. I set my alarm just in case. When I woke up Sunday morning I felt so terrible, I could barely walk. I didn’t think I’d make it to the start line. But, I started rustling, just put on my clothes and Em drove me. After some coffee and just the walking around to get dressed and get to the car and I was feeling tremendously looser. But not running shape. Maybe walking shape. Not up Ely’s Peak though.
After a brief and painful warmup of light jogging, I was ready to go, hatchet in hand. I had asked the race director Andy the evening before if I had to bring the hatchet to the finish line the next day. He immediately responded with an emphatic “YEAH!” but then followed up that I didn’t really need to bring it. He’d have the arrowheads at the finish line for past Ultimate Wildman finishers. So of course I just had to run the 10k with the hatchet. That was probably no advisable. I got a few sideways looks by Andy and Kim, and Em was pretty strongly against me running with the sharp hatchet. I second guessed my decision many times, but clutched it at the start line until the pre-race brief wrapped up and a “3-2-1, GO!” blared over the megaphone.
I sprinted out ahead, but a couple others sped ahead. Yeah, I had absolutely zero response. Oh well, at least I wouldn’t have to suffer. Well, I was suffering. I could see the climb up Ely’s nearing from the sweet, flat, runnable pavement of the Munger Trail and dreaded it. I hopped right up the rocks, a little off balance. I had to use just my left hand for scrambling up the rocks since my right was in use, clenching my hatchet and trying to pay enough attention to not injure myself or others. My heart was pounding right away and I was breathing heavily. Nearly immediately, I tripped and fell, the hatchet somewhat bracing my fall. The incline was so steep, and I was moving forward so slowly, and hunched over so much that I barely fell at all. It was maybe a foot from where my hand naturally was, to the ledge rock that they landed on. Hatchet still intact, I got up and kept going. I had practically nothing to give but just tried to keep it at whatever threshold level I could muster. I tried to keep the legs churning up and up and up. It felt like I had a parachute backpack on. With rocks in it. I noticed people behind me. The two people up ahead, some young speedster guy and Wynn Davis, a regional trail runner with whom I’ve competed in a few races, were out of sight. Wynn is fast on shorter trail races and I pegged him to win. The race was on way up ahead.
At the top of Ely’s Peak I was passed by a tall gentleman who appeared to be wearing cut off jorts. I believe they were running shorts with a unique print, but either way he passed me and I was able to hang on. I asked his name. Kurt. I couldn’t pass him, and didn’t feel like I needed to, and yet hanging onto his tail was easy and I caught my breath up and over Ely’s Peak on the rocky outcroppings on top. There wasn’t anyone behind me. There were a few people out on the trail enjoying the perfect day, and it might have been a concerning scene with Kurt running hard, and me right behind him wielding a hatchet.
We ran together on the technical, rocky section up to Bardon’s Peak. I built up some strength once the running became a bit easier and was really tailing Kurt closely. With some easy running ahead and an opportunity to pass, I took it and surged a bit. It was enough to leave Kurt out of sight. But, it was probably not for long. I would have to keep it up or else Kurt would probably pass me back with no regard. Alone again, I just pushed and pushed. It was an absolutely beautiful morning, and with sweat dripping from my brow I tried to capitalize on any easy running, slightly downhill trail sections. Getting closer to Spirit, I knew it was less just a couple miles – less than two – to the finish from the aid station at Magney. When I got to a little creek crossing with steep embankments on both sides, I knew I was close. But it was the last big climb up from there to the Magney aid station. I saw Kurt behind me, which lit a fire under my butt. My right foot was starting to hurt in the same area as the day before. Right hand turns were becoming excruciating. But besides that I felt good. Pretty strong. No spring in my step, but I could crank pretty good actually. Just like two years before…
I really tried to hammer up the the hill to Magney, and sprinted through the small gathering at the aid station, trying to move my feet as quickly as possible in an attempt to emulate the speed of a fresh runner with the gait of an arthritic shuffler. The shuffle was working. I didn’t see Kurt or anyone else behind me as I passed the cool bridge over Stewart Creek. Nobody ahead, either. They were probably finished. I knew it was just a skip and a jump to the finish line, so I booked it down Skyline. If I just leaned forward, I thought to myself, I’d make third place. Not bad. I hopped back into the woods and leaped and jumped over each root onto the rocky soil leading into Spirit Mountain. I forgot about some of the steep and rocky sections that awaited me. Ugh, I just had nothing. But, I was also very scared and wanted to maintain my third place. With one last bit of energy I surged up a hill by the a very old concrete water diversion structure in the middle of the woods, then back down, up and down a whoop-de-whoop bridge with chicken wire over it, then up and up a slight incline that snaked around mountain bike trails. Nobody biking yet… I just knew Kurt was right there behind me. I could see him.
Sprinting as fast as I possible could over a few longer wooded bridges, I knew I was close. I was excited to get to the catwalk. I was all easy running downhill from here. No more trails. Just one last right hand turn for my foot to endure and then sweet relief. Kurt was behind me. I sprinted with everything I got. He wouldn’t be able to catch me. With the finish sealed, hatchet in hand, I sprinted in. Ahh. No sweet relief, though. My body was wrecked. I was pretty happy with the weekend. A finish was good enough for me. 55 minutes and third place was fine. The success of the weekend was the 100k. With a win at that, all else was fine in the world.
I received an honorary knighting along with the handful of other Ultimate Wildman and Wildwoman finishers, and tied my arrowhead to my hatchet. I don’t know if I’d do the Ultimate Wildman again. It is so grueling! Yet, I’m two for two. It is humanly possible.
Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 13 size 12.5
28 Oct 2021
Race Date: Saturday, October 16, 2021 – 6am
The start line was pretty emotional. I stood there in the dark, probably the only one without sleeves. Kris gave me her jacket and I wore it for a bit, but I really wasn’t any less cold. And she was for sure more cold! As the race director Andy gave pre race announcements, Kris told me to make sure to have fun out there. I was excited. I love nothing more than a long day in the woods. I was nervous. My running mileage on the year, and the past three months, was pretty low comparative to past years of running and racing. I was determined. I really wanted to win this race. There were going to be challengers. I was freezing, and thought I kind of had to poop.
After The Day Across Minnesota bike race, I knew I had a short turnaround. I had signed up for Wild Duluth Ultimate Wildman Challenge before the bike race, and essentially planned it all out with the thoughts that I could slog through Wild Duluth and still have fun. I gave myself a week, then started training right from there. I had a 33 mile week or so, with a long run at 100k goal pace. It was great. Then I built up two more weeks nice and steady to 40. Then I got a cold and a had a down week. I still got in a good effort on the SHT on the weekend. That down week was a little nerve-wracking, because I went right back to a 60 mile week the next, then up to 80+. The whole cycle was full of NMTC Fall Trail Series races, which are probably the best thing for fitness ever, except maybe the long run, especially when one is training for a particularly long race. The training went surprisingly perfect, the climax being back-to-back 20 and 30 miles runs at 4 and 6 hours a piece, respectively. There was a lot of time on technical trail at my 100k goal pace of 12 minutes per mile, which would put me about at 12 hours. The 30 miler in Silver Bay was about the best confidence builder I could ask for, nailing it and feeling good the whole time.
Back to the start line of Wild Duluth, just before 6am in 41 degrees, I remembered that training. I talked to Joe Calaguire a bit about his goals and mine. I asked if Gretchen would go under 12 hours. That was my goal, and she had the pedigree and the season to back up a crazy-fast time like that. He said she was going for the record. I didn’t know what that was. He wanted between 12 and 13. I has hoping for 11:59, and thought that it would be a stretch to get it. I kind of had a race plan in mind. But not a moment too soon, Andy announced he would do a three-second countdown, and proceeded to start the countdown immediately thereafter. With increasing intensity: “three, two, one, GO!”. I took off so fast… I don’t know why. It was fun. It is fun. Someone on the sidelines commented and I heard it all: “you start like I start!”. I knew the somewhat confusing start very well and took off way up front, just like 2019. I felt good. I felt like I was floating. Soak it up, I thought, because it will not feel like this one the way back. Well, maybe when I get back here, but only when I can literally see the finish line. So, up I went into the night towards Enger Tower.
I entered the woods across Superior Street alone. There was lots of dew reflecting off my headlamp’s light. It seemed humid, yet still cold. The air on my arms was definitely chilling me, but it also felt good. The homeless encampment right into the woods was as messy as I’ve seen it, with sleeping bags, clothes, and an industrial dumpster’s worth of trash, spread out all over the woods and literally the trail. You had to dodge the junk just like hopping over rocks and roots. Sheesh. I ran the hills up, feeling like I was keeping a pretty conservative pace. No need to bank time, but I felt so good and was so excited and it was so cold I couldn’t really slow down. I kind of shuffled up a few of the bigger hills. On one of the turns, I looked up to lock eyes with two glowing orbs, then saw the big antlers and couldn’t help yelling “WHOA!”. Then the big buck scurried off and I laughed. A voice behind me asked if I was OK. “Yeah!”.
Up and over Enger Tower and I rang the peace bell for good luck. Zipping around Enger, across Skyline, and down towards the 24th Ave aid station, I was having a lot of fun. I could feel that I’d have to pee soon. There was nobody around me. Nobody right behind me. Everyone behind me… but I had no headlamps or pressure from anyone. As I ran onto the bridge down to 24th Ave West in first place, three miles in and many to go, I thought about how this was panning out to be just like 2019 so far. Hey, not too bad because I won in 2019 and was the defending champion. So, if this is what it takes, I’ll do the race over exactly. And that was true, my training was indicating I was about in the same shape (based on NMTC times and long run performances), and really I figured that if I could roll another 12 hour finish, I would definitely have a shot at winning. But, I was going to race today for the win. Secondarily, I would race for a 12 hour finish. Thirdly, I would race to beat my time from 2019, which was a 11:57 or so. I would do it exactly the same as 2019 by stopping to pee right at Miller Creek. I mean, it’s a nice spot to stop. Surprisingly, there was someone right behind me when I crossed 24th Avenue West, and popped into the woods. I told them I had to pee. “Uh oh”. Then I peeled off to the left, and they told me the trail goes to the right. Then, “oh, nevermind”. They realized why I divulged my personal needs to them. I looked up into the dark night’s sky as I whizzed and wondered how many others would pass me. Hmm. Nobody. Just one this time. The start was uncannily similar. Hopefully not too similar. I remembered what happened on the Brewer Loop, as my stomach rumbled a little bit.
I knew it was 9 miles in to the Highland Getchell aid station, and I was cruising along nicely all on my own. The trail seemed so easy – wide and buffed out. No hills. All runnable. It was giving me everything I needed. Eventually I heard voices behind me, a woman’s timbre. That’s gotta be Gretchen. She is scary. I had done a bit of creeping online, and knew she was having an unbelievable year – two second-place finishes and two highly competitive trail 50-milers, plus some other goodies like FKTs. She was running really well. But maybe, she’s tired from the intense efforts of the year. Either way, she was chatting with someone close behind me. On a couple bends in the trail, I could see them gaining on me. That was probably Joe. I knew they were friends. We all shared a fun run in 2018 as Joe and Gretchen were prepping for Superior 100 Miler, and I was prepping to pace him. My stomach churned a few times and I wondered if I’d have to stop, or if I should, for a quick e-dump in the woods. I really didn’t want to. The sun was coming up, it was getting warmer and felt good, and the dew was burning off from the wooden boardwalks a bit. It was turning out to be a perfect day so far, and I was expecting great conditions for the whole race. I had just a couple more miles to Getchell and kept just chipping away, really eager to get there.
9 miles in and I was feeling really good. I saw Em at the aid station. She asked where I ditched my shirt. I said I didn’t start with hit, essentially threw my headlamp at her and just ran off. I picked a few small items from the aid station – pretzels and coke mainly, then ran right off the portable toilet. I didn’t think there was anyone in there, and knew that Gretchen and at least one other person would pass me up. Oh well. I did what I had to do, and in leaving the toilet I knew it was the right choice. I felt a hundred times better. When I got back onto the trail, I noticed a lot more action at the aid station with people running all over. I saw my new friend Ben Andres running the opposite way. Same deal, probably – pre race jitters and coffee and some early morning jostling of the stomach make for a predictable recipe. I yelled at Em on the way back down to the main trail. “BYE EM!”. She didn’t hear me. Louder: “BYYEE EMM!!!” A few people looked. Not Em. What the heck. Oh well. I wonder where the field was at now. For sure there was one mystery person who passed me over Miller Creek and I haven’t even seen a flash. That was surprising. I’m sure Gretchen and Joe were up ahead. Maybe another person or two, depending on how the pack was shaping up behind me. But, the race was very young, and even though I wanted to race to win, it wouldn’t matter where anyone was until Ely’s Peak on the way back. If someone was out of reach at that point, and I stuck to my 12 hour plan, well, then they are the real deal and I couldn’t beat them no matter what the racing strategy. I wonder if that’d be Gretchen in 30 more miles. Just stick to the plan, roll a bunch of 12 minute miles, I told myself. And that’s what I did.
The miles just clicked off down to the Munger Trail, then back up towards the freeway and Spirit Mountain. I had a bit of buffer and felt comfortable walking up some of the hills around Spirit. I ate a caffeinated gel and was eating really well. I felt way out alone by myself. I didn’t sense anyone behind me, and not really anyone up ahead either. That was fairly normal for a trail race… all the sudden BOOM there is someone 20 feet away. I was making really good time and feeling really good through the east side of Spirit Mountain. I ran on the gravel ski hill access road and knew I had a bit of a buffer on my 5 miles per hour game plan. That’s always nice. I saw Em and the dogs from afar. That made me initially nervous, because I’d be running downhill and she has two maniac dogs. How would she be able to tend to me?? I felt so good, and had a lot of fun bombing down towards the aid station. There were lots of people there, and I was asking questions about who’s who before my arrival. Em said that Gretchen was about 5 minutes up or so, and the guy way up from was looking good. Really good, she said. Hmm, well I told her there is lots of race left. She said he just cruised right up the hill. That was almost motivating to me. Unless this person was really the real deal… I mean we all feel good 15 miles into the race, and sprinting up Spirit Mountain is not always the best play, in my personal opinion. I heard everything I needed to hear, and got my water bottle refilled, drank a bit and ate a bit from the lovely array that Em had schlepped up for me, and took back off.
The miles continued to click off and feel easy up Spirit. I caught and passed a guy, presumably the person running with Gretchen back by Highland Getchell because he mentioned something about her by name. His name was Tony, and I passed him rather quickly near a strange rock and tree formation just up from Skyline Parkway outside of Spirit Mountain. The trail was giving me some easy hills, and good running. I knew the elevation was severe through here, but I continued to bank up lots of time. I zipped into the Magney aid station and saw Adam Schwartz-Lowe and Lisa Byrne. Adam said he heard I started the race fast. Huh, word travels quick I guess. I didn’t think that was that noteworthy… I tried to take some licorice but it was all clumped. The aid station helper helped me, but gave me like 5 pieces. I was hoping for one, but took them all anyways. Plus some coke and pretzels – the magic mixture – and set back off. I was excited to start seeing some 50k runners, and tried to just run conservative. I was feeling good – better than 15 miles in during any of my training long runs. Most of those were around 20 miles. I would have been almost done by now! I didn’t even feel sore or tired. Legs good, everything good. I told myself that it was OK to walk up hills and get closer to 12 minute miles. I was doing mid- and high-11 minute miles, so felt pretty content with that. But, those extra seconds were adding up, and by the time I started seeing 50k runners I was 20 minutes up on my time goal. Sweet!
I saw a fast-looking dude with arm warmers way up, then a couple more sprinkled in while coming down Ely’s Peak. I saw Ryan Soule. I jogged along the Munger Trail feeling a little beat up for the first time of the day really, but generally great. I was looking forward to seeing Em again, and setting off on the crux of the course, the 20 mile middle section. When I got to the station it was kind of buzzing. There were lots of people. Some people came sprinting in like mad, and I recognized all three of them: Chase, Ethan and Bryan. They looked like they were having fun. The intensity on their faces was fun to see. Em told me she was getting VIP Pizza for the next time I was here. Sweet! I ran off after eating a bit, refilling my bottles, and grabbing some extra food for the trip to the turnaround. She asked me what type, and I yelled “Chicken Rueben!!” while running off into the woods.
I was excited for the next stretches because I’d get to see so many people. That’s always fun. But, it’s arguably the hardest section of the race. I really struggled on a 25 mile training run through this exact section just weeks prior. I was dreading the big hills. I knew I had to take it slow and easy and not worry about whomever was ahead of me or behind me. This is where either I make good decisions and set myself up well, or bad decisions and suffer greatly for many hours, or worse. The worst case scenario would be that I couldn’t respond to opportunities or threats later on in the race.
It was a steady stream of people from Ely’s Peak to Grand Portage, practically. It was fun and the time flew by. I still felt very in-control and was running some pretty dang good splits. Maybe too good. I knew, however, no matter how hard I was running, if I could get back to Ely’s feeling halfway decent, I would be in really good shape for the rest of the race. I’ve raced enough to know that I don’t typically blow up spectacularly, and can generally hang on to a decent pace unless I’ve made some really dumb decisions. Then again, going just a minute too fast per mile for 25 miles really adds up! I felt content with that I seemed to be stuck at 20 minutes above my goal pace of 5 miles per hour. I saw my mom, kept plugging along, and then the field started thinning out a bit. I fell down a couple times trying to run around people, but nothing too serious. One was a little dramatic as I stepped off the trail, ran a few strides in the brush and tripped on a branch right onto my hands and knees as a conga line of people passed me. Then, you see the people in high top hiking boots, big backpacks, people literally on their cell phones, people in heavy jackets or jeans. Nobody running anymore. Then, back to being alone. I wondered where Gretchen and this other person was. At Ely’s it sounded like they were both about 10 minutes up and both running strong. Gretchen must have made ground. She was scary. I figured that if she wins overall, and I can re-pass whoever is up front, I’d still get first place in the Men’s division. This is what I thought about as I bombed down the huge hill, on a historic voyageur’s portage route, to the Grand Portage aid station. I got a sip of coke, an orange and some pretzels, and kept on. My feet felt swift on the flat section along the might St. Louis River. They never have felt good running this stretch, despite being pretty flat. So, I kept them moving. Then, I knew it was a massive hill, then some flat running to the aid station. That would be great, to have enough energy to make some time up before the turnaround, and then I could stop there for a more extended time period and feel good about, and maybe have some juice for the flats on the way back, too. So, I justified a nice calm pace up from Grand Portage.
Up the hill… you know you’re at the top of a hill when you see a bench. I was happy to crank away at a few miles on the wide open horse trails in Jay Cooke State Park. I kind of forgot the undulations within the State Park as the race course went down Gill Creek Trail, way down to the bottom, then all the way back up on switchbacks. Oof. It was starting to get a bit warmer out, but still just a perfect day. I tried to remember to keep eating my exercise food and was feeling pretty good stomach-wise. I knew I was at the top again when we got back to the wide open horse trails. Weaving in and out of the Munger Trail, I was excited to see someone. I knew there were two ahead, when would I see them? I ran faster in anticipation. Too fast… but I was excited. I wanted to close the gap up, and put the hurt on my competitors. I ran some really fast miles, but it was doable. Flat, wide open and straight. I crossed over the dam at Forbay Lake, down a little hill, and ran fast towards Olderberg Point. I knew it was close. I saw Gretchen and tried to keep in mind the time. In a split second, I was at the aid station. Em’s nephew Aiden was in a chair next to an open one, presumably for me. I didn’t care who it was for, I plopped into it and immediately started shoving food in my face. Potato chips, Mountain Dew mystery flavor, and emptied my trash and replenished my stocks. I wanted to sit for a while, but they told me that the guy Even was still at the aid station. Oh great! I didn’t want Gretchen to get too far, so cut it pretty short despite telling myself I could take more time there. Em said she got Sammy’s Pizza after all. I told hear that was great, and that I looked forward to seeing her at Ely’s, and took off. I didn’t see Even and so figured I passed him while he was sitting at the aid station. I did some math and figured I was 8 minutes down from Gretchen. Smooth, even, calm. I just needed to chip away at Gretchen bit by bit until Spirit Mountain. Then, the race really begins.
I was pretty excited, and really put down some fast miles right off from the aid station. Yes, it’s the most runnable parts of the course, but they were maybe a bit too fast. I’d have to take it easy on the large hills from here to Ely’s. I remembered at least three big climbs. The biggest of which just past the Grand Portage aid station, right over the road crossing at 210. I saw Joe next, in third place, but many minutes behind. He was probably not a big threat, but ya never know. Plenty of race left. Then, the 100k’ers trickled in from there, steadily all the way to the climb back up to Beck’s Road. I asked Joe if it was just Gretchen in front of me. He stumbled his words a bit as we passed each other: “oh, erm, ah yeah”. Hmm, I must have passed Even at the aid station then! How far back is he??
I continued to feel really good down Gill’s Creek Trail, and down to the river. I saw someone running up ahead. Is that a guy in the 50k who started really really late? I got closer, and made the pass. They said they wondered when they’d see me. I realized it was Even. I was pretty frustrated, actually, and pushed hard to make a decisive pass. This dude cheating?? Joe said he only saw Gretchen. It would be pretty simple to just take 210 all the way back down from Oldenburg to Grand Portage. What the heck? Well, at least ya know, I told myself. He’s right there. Also right there was the Grand Portage aid station. I was really brief there. I did ask how far up Gretchen was. The gal pouring water said she’s right there. I snapped my neck to the left and focused my gaze down the trail. I didn’t see her, but took off in that direction, excited. I ran down the culvert quickly, hopped up onto Highway 210, and across to the big climb up away from the river. I saw Gretchen walking, hands on knees. I quickly caught up, shuffling up the hill. I relegated to walking as well. I told her she was having a great season. She didn’t really say much on that. I passed her and we wished each other well. I wanted to beat her. I wanted to get first place. I ran ahead at the very top of the hill, hard. Now, just like that I was back in the position of 1. Plus, due to several sub-10 minute miles in the miles near the turnaround, I had added to the buffer on my goal time, and was over 40 minutes up. I had made up some really good ground. Was it a poor move? Up and over the historic voyageur’s route then some easy running and I was starting to feel a little tired. I noticed the desire to walk up hills stronger than ever, and my pace when trudging up was slower than ever. I didn’t have the little spark or jump to make it up hills quickly. I had a rash of slow miles, my slowest of the day, and several more over 12 minutes. Oof. Cmon Mike, keep it up, let’s go. I tried to rally myself a bit. I knew this section was hard, though, and would just have to wait it out for some good running.
I knew I was getting close to the hill up across Beck’s Road to the base of Ely’s, where my faithful crew would be waiting with pizza and other goodies. I had mainly passed everyone else from the race. Literally, everyone else from both the 50k and 100k race had passed me. From the lead 50kers through the very back of the pack, from the leaders of the 100k at the time, and the entire 100k pack at the turnaround, to the leaders again, and the very last walkers of the 100k hours and hours from the turnaround. I figured that I put time on the field after moving into 1st place. But I was also struggling. That section – the middle 20 miles – is very difficult. I went pretty hard in excitement to pass Even and Gretchen. I was ready to sit down for a second.
I ran into the Ely’s aid station, into the sun, with perfect posture and strong, springy legs to look comfortable and in control. I immediately spotted the chair and ran straight to it, while yelling “200!”, my race number, to the HAM radio volunteers. I slumped in the chair, looked at the pizza and didn’t want anything to do with it, and immediately barked to Em to get my waterbottle filled. My right foot was starting to develop a slight twinge on some of the turns. I didn’t think much of it, but requested she bring the hiking poles, pack and backup shoes to the Spirit aid station. One slice of delicious hawaiian pizza from Sammy’s (not so delicious at the time), a refill of random gels and gummis and junk food and I was conceivably ready to split. A chug of a caffienated fizzy beverage, and Even ran right out of the woods, looking springy and fresh and strong and immediately over to his crew over yonder. Yep, time to go, I thought. I sprang out of the chair and tried to go hard onto the Munger Trail.
Every step was a heavy, dull thud across the blacktop and railroad bridge to the base of Ely’s. It would be more painful up the scramble coming soon, I knew. The few hops onto tall rock outcropings right off the paved trail stopped my momentum like a wall. Ugh, it was a continuous mental battle to lift my legs and heaving carcass up the climb. I figured Even was right behind me, but he’ll struggle too, and Gretchen, and if I just make it up Ely’s a little bit faster and with a little more juice at the top, I would have an even bigger advantage. It was slow, but I made it to the top and kept running, able to catch my breath in between hopping over rocks on the way to Bardon’s Peak.
It was definitely race mode, laser focused on getting to Spirit Mountain in first place still. I was telling myself the whole day that if I got to Spirit in first, I’d be able to power hike up the side, run down to Mile 50 and be able to hold on for the last sixth of the race. Now was my chance to prove it. The miles clicked off right where they needed to be. I’d lost a bit of time but was still 30 minutes up from my goal pace for a 12 hour finish. I didn’t delay at the Magney aid station, take a small cup of coke as fast as possible, and a 5-second decision on food from the station table, shoved into my mouth as I shuffled along trying not to spill the sugary drink everywhere. Right down the hatch as fast as possible and the relentless forward motion continued. I knew it was a nice downhill to Spirit and it would be wise to capitalize and get there as soon as possible. But running was hard. My gait was tight and choppy and the pace suffered, but I was able to endlessly remind myself to push a little extra. Go, let’s go, let’s go let’s go Mike.
I did make good time into Spirit and was joined by Em in a much less popular aid station environment from the first time many hours prior. I was happy to see new shoes. The Altras had done me good, but they were for sure hurting my feet. I was excited for my old standby, the Brooks Cascadia, to envelop my feet. They might aggravate my sore big toe, but it will be worth it for a little more rigidity on the sides. My tendons were shot. The hiking poles will help, too, I thought out loud. I shoved a few cake flavored oreos in my vest and took potato chips. I asked Em if she’d wait for the next runner to come in and time it to tell me at Highland Getchell. At that point, I’ll be over 50 miles in, with some pretty easy running to bring it home. I just had to get there. I knew the climb out of Spirit would be a slog, but a slog for everyone. I knew what to expect, I knew how to attack it to bring it in strong. I thought.
Off into the trees again and I was actually excited to power hike for a while. Up and up, along the lovely Knowlton Creek, I didn’t get much walking relief as the gravel road presented itself a must-run opportunity. I used my new hiking poles to launch into a run and shuffled along. Up and up, I had a couple slow miles. 16’s. Slowest of the day, really. With the aid station stop, I had now dented my nice buffer. I just put my head down to the bridge over Knowlton and ran. I ran down the access road to the new switchback re-route of the infamous 168 Steps section of the SHT. I don’t know how many steps it was, but I ran up the switchbacks, poling in stride. I ran at the top, through the beautiful open maple forest in the appealing light of mid- to late-afternoon. I used up my slow miles and had to make it up now. I struggled to get barely below 12 minutes on my next split. I hit mile 50 across Cody Street, on a sad shuffle up some very firm pavement I told myself that I could make way towards a fast mile across the ATV trail by the big power line, before arguably the last real rigorous climb up to the second-to-last aid station at Highland Getchell. I was so curious the time that Emily clocked if she did happen to wait for my chasers at Spirit. I was not making up any ground, but I figured I was at least 20 minutes up on my 12 hour time goal by the time I climbed my way to the energetic Highland aid station, where beautiful Em and the beautiful chair were waiting for me. Em said Even was 4 or 5 minutes down from me. My aunt and uncle Maureen and Tom were there, and they immediately started talking about how they were hiking the same section the day before and they didn’t see my mom. I essentially ignored them, probably looking like a deranged person as I shoveled potato chips in my mouth and messily guzzled various pops from the cooler. I kept my backpack on, probably squishing its contents against the chair, and hurried up, continuing on with my poles. 4 or 5 minutes. That wasn’t enough time. I couldn’t have one slow mile. That would be it! It was to be all 12 or less from here on. Even this mile… it was a short stop and I was off.
I had to hike up out away from Keene Creek right after the aid station, over Skyline Parkway, and into the woods. I used the poles to run. The boardwalks were hazards, but I was able to get into a rhythm and crank. I wasn’t hungry at all. My energy stores seemed good enough. I was mainly running off adrenaline. It felt like extra food could mess the whole thing up, and I could be violently ill. I felt ill in general. Just generally fucked up. But I was able to run. My creaky joints lurched forward every stride, and it was a cohesive unit of churning legs and rotating arms driving the trekking poles in each cycle. I day dreamed about the finish line. If I won, I thought, I’m gonna yell. For sure yell, then run right into Em’s arms and give her a big smooch. She helped me here, she made this possible. She supported me through the training and followed me with everything I need and more at every station. WITH the dogs. She had told me the sad story of Chally having eaten nearly the whole Sammy’s pizza from the back when she arrived back from the Spirit aid station stop. I could only imagine the long and arduous day of crewing while I’m out playing in the woods. I thought of how powerful it is, when the struggle is on, to use gratitude as a strategy to find extra stores of energy. I thought about how grateful I was, and how lucky I could possibly be, to be able to do this. To run all day in the woods, to complete and compete in a 100k trail run. To win Wild Duluth again, and finish the Ultimate Wildman Challenge with two wins, two days in a row. Ooof, how would I run tomorrow? I was absolutely trashing my body. I pushed a little harder, though, because I knew Even was behind me and coming hard for me. He wanted to win. He thought he could win. Gretchen? Who knows. I was less scared of her simply because even if she charged past me, which was not farfetched in my mind, I would still beat Even out for first man. I wanted a new water bottle. The thought of both of them charging me made me run just a little harder over the rock outcropping and past some lingering 50k finishers in the back of the pack, and onto the flat clearing across 27th Avenue West. I was making good time. One last climb to 24th and I could drop the pack, then a climb to Enger, then all downhill. Let’s GO!!
I got the jitters coming into 24th. There were volunteers at the roadway, and I prepared my backpack for a fast unloading. I didn’t even want a waterbottle. I’d be able to shred back home on fumes. I ran across 24th Avenue West and saw my neighbor Clarence holding chips and a gatorade as high as he could over his head, about 3 feet up. I ran towards him, grabbed a face full of chips, took a huge swig, and essentially threw my backpack and trekking poles at Em and ran off, so excited to get back. She had said he was 4 minutes back still. She yelled to get me to take the water but I was already off. I had a smile on my face. But, 4 minutes? I’d have to move.
I shuffled up Skyline over Piedmont, and continued to shuffle up and up towards Enger Tower. I didn’t stop the legs churning, which was kind of the theme of the day, and just was able to get more momentum downhill than up, and the uphills were pretty demanding, and slow. I tried to judge if I was indeed going faster trotting than power hiking, even with poles. Hmm? I figured yes, I was going faster. 4 minutes back only, I thought to myself. I passed some more 50k runners, my second time seeing them all. After crossing over Skyline once again, and entering Enger Park, I heard the Japanese peace bell get run, likely due to much more people in the park compared to when I was last there at 6:10 am. I was so excited to ring it myself. When I got there, I was happy that nobody’s hand was on the peace bell and I was able to weirdly run right up to it and ring it quick, goofy smile on my face, and run off into the horizon.
I sprinted across the edge of the park area to the steep downhill bomb, practically down a couple miles right to the finish. I was so excited that the extreme pounding didn’t phase me. I leaned further forward. With finally nothing in my hands, nothing on my back, nothing left but to lean in and fall into the finish line, I cranked ass. The footwork was immaculate, not a second was wasted and I became increasingly excited with each vertical foot that the elevation I was at decreased. Down, down across 3rd Street, onto an avenue across 1st Street and onto the really messy homeless encampment area, which 50k runners slowly trotting in and residents milling about, probably wondering why there was so much traffic through there this day. Or maybe not. It was a big mess down there. I ran through faster. I sprinted across Superior Street, a very fast mile split flashing across my watch. Second fastest of the day, besides the first mile. A vision flashed across my mind’s eye of me finishing and running straight into Em’s arms and giving her a huge hug. I wanted it now. I looked behind me. Nobody. I ran faster. I couldn’t run any faster. I just relaxed and held my posture high upright and ran it in. I smiled. Into Bayfront, onto the sidewalk and onto the path to the finishing stretch, and it was so fun to see my neighbors and my mom and Em and the dogs along the side of the finish. I crossed, stopped my watch and yelled, just like I had planned out for hours. I ran under some tiedowns under the arch right to Em’s arms like I planned. It was awkward because everyone was looking at me, I felt, and I nearly tripped and took down the blow-up arch. I was so happy. I sat in the chair and told myself that I was NOT going to be able to run the race tomorrow. I wouldn’t be able to make the distance!
Shoes: Altra Lone Peak size 12.5, Brooks Cascadia 13 size 12.5
14 Sep 2021
Race Date: Saturday, August 14, 2021 – 12 midnight
The title of this race tells you everything you need to know. A day. Across Minnesota. The subtitle includes: for 240 miles of gravel road racing. I had known about this race from Nick Nygaard, who finished the race at least a couple times with his dad and pal from college Ray Rolling, and Ray’s twin brother Race. Nick told Ryan Saline and I that this year was the last year they’re doing it and we might as well sign up with them, and that the race would fill up really fast. So, without too much deliberation, we did. Ryan and Nick and I had traveled together for Ironman Wisconsin in 2015 so I think Nick was reminiscing of that big trip and big race and it was great to be included in a new big one. After signing up, I immediately thought of how training would pan out. I had over 8 months to figure out and do the training.
Training was all over the board. I started trying to bike a hundred miler each month in May, June, July and maybe August. I pondered investing in a new bike, and found a frameset on the internet via Nick. Building that up took a lot of money and a handful of weeks to just collect each component. Then a week to build. Once I had built up the mostly-carbon Salsa Warbird by the end of June, I was almost scared to ride it! Or at least, ride it hard, like my old bike. I felt kind of scared because I built it myself, and also because it was so expensive and nice and fancy. But, I put miles on it. I had no choice, because of a hot training ride while solo in the Superior National Forest in early June, I crashed by old bike and had to finish my new one up and get right on it.
I got a 92 mile ride in in April with Ryan. It was a great ride – real cold at the beginning but we had a really fun time, I think. Over a month later, behind schedule, I planned another trip by myself in the Superior National Forest. I camped at McDougal Lake Campground and was planning two nights out there in the heart of some lovely gravel roads sprawling in all directions. The forecast was for record high temperatures for early June – in the 100s. With that in mind, I planned out a 60-miler in the morning and then a 40 in the evening. I didn’t think I could, or would want to bike 100 straight through the heat of the day. The first 60 was rough. It felt like a hundred miles, and the last miles were arduous. This was not a great confidence booster, that is 25% of the DAMn ride!! I hung out on the paddleboard for the middle of the day, which was really nice. Then I set out around 4pm with the goal to bike 38 miles to Norway Lake on the edge of the BWCA, and back. I picked some really rough roads and was tired. Luckily it was a little cooler with the sun lower, but still hot, sweaty, dirty. I made it out to a narrow road leading to Norway Lake, and the road got more and more narrow. There were lots of rollers. On one, I couldn’t get up the hill on the singlespeed, or unclip in time, so fell over. That was frustrating but I hopped back on. I was probably 18 miles out at this point. Down another little hill, up another one. The boulders in the road were huge – this would be a terrible road to drive on! Then, down another little hill and BOOM! I’m off. I had two flashes in my mind, one where my back tire is lifting off the ground and I’m being catapulted forward, then the other one where my body smashes against the ground, and my helmet ever gently taps a rock as a final landing. One foot was clipped still, and the other was unclipped and crossed over the other. I was a little dazed for a second. I turned back and saw a big boulder that seemed to be displaced. I got right up. Looked my body up and down and realized that I was OK. PHEW. Yikes. I had some scrapes, I was bleeding on my arm a bit, and really dirty as the sandy, dirty road grime just stuck to my sweaty skin. I essentially yelled “fuck this!” and turned right around and started walking. Forget Norway Lake. I was just over 18 miles in. This will be a long trek home. At the top of the hill I hopped back on my bike and knew something was wrong. My wheel was rubbing along the chain stay – it was crooked somehow. I couldn’t ride it. I hopped off and tried to re-adjust my rear wheel, and was immediately swarmed by mosquitoes and bugs unlike I’ve experienced before. I had to fix the wheel and get it back on. It was obnoxious. I glanced at my legs and could tell there was a thick layer of mosquitoes attached. They were flying into my eyes, my ears, my mouth. I got my wheel back on and it was really night. It worked. I rode down the back side of the hill and left the bugs behind. Then, up the next hill, and when I put any real power into the pedals, the wheel would rub or otherwise have issues. So eventually I just ran up ever hill, and soft-pedaled the downhills and flats. At this rate, I’d be back my midnight… and it was such a challenging ride to get out there. I knew that I could link up with County Road 1, though, and take it back. I had my phone, and plotted it out, and it was only 12 miles back home. Once I got to County 1, it was such a relief. I limped in, essentially, and that was the last time I road the Diamondback Haanjo. I was banged up with some road rash, a few sore spots on my thigh and hip, but the bottom line is that I was very lucky to walk away and ride away from the remote crash site!
Ultimately, throughout the spring and early summer I felt I had logged fairly low average mileage, but was able to ramp it up for over 500 miles in the month of July when it really counts. My main issue was getting out every day. When I did get out, I would do 40 or 6o or 100 miles. I biked to work a fair amount, but definitely not enough as I should have. I got four 90+ mile rides in, which was adequate, and a 127-miler in early July was my longest yet. All on singlespeed. My old bike probably wouldn’t take gears due to a slight bend in the frame by where the derailleur hanger connects. I had kind of decided that doing the DAMn on singlespeed would be pretty badass, and I like riding without gears anyways. So, when I built up the new bike I kept it singlespeed. The 127-miler was at the cabin near Alexandria, MN, in one big loop all by myself, so to finish that was pretty relieving. But, on my two triple-digit rides, both on the new bike, I had knee pain on the left side, on different spots, but that both got progressively worse in the final 10% of the ride. I was pretty concerned going into race weekend with my training volume, left knee pain, and the singlespeed. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to finish.
The plan was for Em and me to drive right to Gary, mull about until the midnight race start, she drives across the state while I bike, and then sleep in Red Wing hopefully after finishing the race. We set off in the afternoon with hopes to arrive in Gary, South Dakota, around nightfall. Em’s car was packed full of my bike, gear, and a bunch of food and drinks. We got to the race start area right at dusk, got my race bib and some fun goodies, and went back to the car to sleep a little bit. It was a nice little nap, just 30 minutes, and my phone was buzzing as my comrades arrived and started setting up. We met everyone and it was fun to see the nervous energy of Nick, Ray, Race, Ryan, and Dave. And, myself. And, our respective crew members. We got an updated crew guidebook that Ryan put together, although I had entered our stops into Emily’s mapping app on her phone. Then, we retired for another half-hour relaxing session in the car. (“Nap” is not a fully accurate description). With a half hour until midnight, I got changed, got my bike tires pumped up and right on cue, the rest of the boys rolled right up. We headed to the start line.
We kind of nervously just stood in the middle of the street in Gary as midnight approached. More riders conglomerated around. We shifted down the street a bit. The pack tightened. We all knew the start was near, and I saw it first. The bright flash of a firework, then “BOOM!”, the explosion a picosecond after. The crowd lurched forward. We were off! Yippee. The scary dark hours were upon us. The whole road was full of riders, and we exited Gary and entered a gravel road. Oh yeah. The road was narrow and loose. Oh jeez. I was gripping my handlebars tightly. I could feel gravel flicking up onto my face right away. I should have put on my glasses right away. The night was cool and clear, perfect conditions really. I couldn’t focus on a single thing except steering – I felt completely engulfed in the moment. It was an exhilarating start to the race.
After just a couple minutes of feeling gravel flick into my face from the hundreds of bikers in front of me, I decided that I ought to put on my clear safety glasses. I glanced down for the shortest time possible to orient my hand to my bike bag, and fumbled trying to open the zipper. I had to look down for a second – I couldn’t stop pedaling, though, because of the massive group of hundreds of bikers behind me! I got my bag open, and searched by feel for my glasses. I finally found them, hopeful that nothing spilled out of the bag, but on removal from the bag I realized they were totally entangled with a charging cord for my electronics. I shook the glasses in frustration, and it actually worked to get my spectacles loose. Nice. Now, to put them on my face without crashing my bike. They went on surprisingly easy, I zipped up my bag and was again hopeful that nothing of high value (which was every item in my bag, really. Why would you carry a low-value item across the state of Minnesota on a bike??) fell out onto the dusty gravel. Nice, time to rock.
With gravel flicking onto my face and shielded eyes, and dust lingering about the air like an explosion’s aftermath, we sped through the night. It felt like we were going fast. The first five miles went by so fast, and the split was really fast. 16:59. Wowie. I felt like I was soft pedaling, just getting sucked along by all these other riders. The single speed was no issue. It was perfect actually, even for the fast speed. I zig zagged with my crew. I’d be behind Race for a while, then we’d get shaken up and I was out front. Then I’d realize that Dave was behind me and had been for a handful of miles. Then Ryan led out a long train of riders motoboating past me on the left while I was in the right line. There seemed to be two wheel ruts on the road that were the best path, and one was generally better than the other. The gravel was different than up outside of Duluth, but definitely not bad.
Eventually, the field seemed to thin out a little bit and we reconvened as a group. Someone yelled to pull over at the next intersection for a pee break. It was perfect timing because I had to go. I wasn’t really drinking water from my bladder… it was so cool and I wasn’t thirsty. I was ready for a bite to eat, though, and I grabbed a Twizzler and it was delicious. I got to stay up on eating. It was hard to do so in that mess of riders. I was pretty jacked up still, and the late night hours made it even more fun. We set back off and were soon consumed my more riders. Everyone was all over the place – a big train would pass us like we were standing still, then we’d just truck past other riders seeming to go so slow. The field was definitely still shaking out in the early miles of this long, long race.
I had been questioned by my outfit choices as the start line, as everyone else was in long sleeves and windbreakers, and I was in a tank top. Not a lot of running singlets at the start line. I felt good then, and I felt good riding. My fingers were maybe the only part cold, but really it was almost a perfect temperature for me. The air was definitely cool against my arms, but it felt really good. Meanwhile, Nick was getting cold. He said it just like that. I think everyone else was doing OK, but Nick mentioned it a couple times, and it made me think to myself that maybe I was a bit chilly as well. We turned onto another farm road – they were all named something in the high hundreds – 475th Avenue and 330th Street or something. When we turned, immediately the gravel changed from rocky with a firm wheel divot, to deep and soft sand. I might have unclipped and pushed a few steps, and Nick zinged up right beside me, his wheel turned sideways in the sand and dug right in, and he went down. As quick as it happened, I rolled by him and he popped right up and remounted his bike. Well, if he was frustrated about being cold before, he’s probably hating life now. He jetted out in front as everyone else struggled through the sand. I hopped right onto his wheel and stayed there for a while. It was nice.
My eyes were kind of irking me a little bit. With the glasses, and the thick dust, and being 2am, and the bright white lights shining in front, and blinky red lights dotting the horizon, and lots of shadows… it was intense. I tried to not think about my eyes freaking out. I tried to just turn my mind of and focus on the line I wanted to take and keeping into Nick’s draft. It was almost a ghostly setting, like what you’d see in a horror movie, in the scene with the graveyard. I don’t think I’m in this photograph, but it’s a good representation of the first four hours of riding.
I was excited to get to our first aid stop – our longest planned segment of the day at 50 miles. I know Nick was frozen and counting down the miles, and I was pretty excited to warm up a bit and recharge my light as well. I had forgotten what the battery lights meant, but there was a type of code (double green, a green and a red, a double red, and red blinking I think?) to denote how much battery life was left. There was some red in there. Red, BAD! I was so nervous I’d have to put on my headlamp over my helmet or under my helmet and it would squeeze my brain and I’d be so uncomfortable. I liked my setup! 43, 47, 49, 50 miles. Gah, I thought it was 50? Someone said it was actually 51. We eventually caught up to Ryan in there and he was by himself. So, we were all back together as we rolled into the aid stop with the three vehicles parked and ready to help us. I saw Emily with the back of her car open and the seat laid out. I told her that I wanted to sit in the car, actually, if that was OK. She was definitely OK with it, luckily, and I felt bad because I knew I was already filthy with dust and it would get everywhere. It probably will get everywhere anyways…
Em cranked the heat and it felt great. I knew I would be cold once I stopped, and I was freezing. I had felt pretty dang good the whole time, but I knew I was getting colder and colder and it would only get colder for the next three hours. I drank pop, ate one and a half donuts, which were so good, and had Emily fiddling with my bike lights. We plugged the front one in as-is, on my bike, and the back one was taken out and plugged in in Em’s car’s USB port. I was nervous that everyone else would be ready to roll and I’d be unprepared, but every time I looked out they were all shuffling about. Nick had put on a puffy winter jacket and stocking cap to warm up. I kind of scoffed at him since it was still above 50 degrees probably, but I was cold myself and had to put on the one long sleeve layer that I brought. Yeesh, good thing it’s not much colder! I would be screwed! I wasn’t too confident that the long sleeve would provide any warmth, really, since it was super thin. But, better than nothing. I was so cold getting back out of the car, and I didn’t stock any foods or drinks with me – just plugged the lights back in and we set back off from the first aid stop. Two more to go.
It seemed like the pack at large had left us as we stopped. The road seemed much lonelier once we set back off, compared to the frantic, dusty, eerie start. Nick had put on pants, jackets, layers. I had my long sleeve on and was pretty cold once we got up to speed and the cold night’s wind was breezing past me. And we just kind of kept trucking away. I was feeling pretty good. I hadn’t drunk hardly any water, or eaten much food, but stocked up at the aid stop. We stayed together as a group really well, and the road conditions were great. The miles flew by until a winding road near the Minnesota River. We were aiming for Morton, a planned self-supported stop around mile 85. The first sign of dawn came to the left on the large bluff opposite of the river. That was nice. We made it through the scary night. It got lighter and lighter and lighter until I flicked off all my lights. I was pretty excited to get into the next stop. I could feel myself getting a little uncomfortable, a little tired out, excited to sit down on anything but my bike seat. I started counting down the miles to 85. I knew we were close, and we zipped down a big paved hill right to a gas station. Oh, that was a lovely sight.
The probably-normally-sleepy gas station in Morton, MN was teeming with dirty cyclists. It was great to stop. I went inside, and the glory of all the gas station food was overwhelming. I went right to the coffee. Then I saw breakfast sandwiches. I had to have one. I got the goods and waited in line to pay, but then second guessed myself. Maybe I should stock up on candy, chocolate, chips, pop, fizzy beverages, ice cream. Oh well, I just got my sandwich and coffee and sat down and ate it. It was nice to sit next to the Holaks from Duluth, fellow competitors, and hear their story. It was funny seeing some of the presumed “regulars” drinking their morning Saturday coffee and then here are all these cyclists walking around in their spandex shorts. It was maybe a 10 minute stop and we got back together as a group and kept biking down the road. On the way out, we somehow saw Emily driving to the gas station! It was like a mirage, we just goofily waved and she waved back.
We rode on the paved road for a bit, feeling rejuvenated from the stop. We started chatting and talking, and I was eager to hit a few milestones – 100 miles and the halfway point around 120 miles, which was about where our next aid stop was planned to meet the crew. The morning mist was heavy on the leaves and bushes as we turned onto a gravel scenic byway. I started drafting on Dave and we made a bit of time on the group. I requested to stop to take a leak and grab some food, and my bike bag zipper got jammed up while I was fiddling around in there. I tried to inspect it as the rest of the crew biked up and stopped. Without holding up for too long, I was able to jam the zipper into place halfway through the bag. I was worried my stuff would fall out – my food, my cell phone with money inside. That would be pretty detrimental if I wouldn’t be able to notice that and bike away. I looked down repeatedly and all looked safe and sound. The boys started chitter chatter about a hill coming up. I was excited, because the chitter chatter before this was all about the hilly final 60 miles, and we haven’t really had any big climbs yet. There was a bit of questioning of me, on how I’d make it up the hill. It was exciting. We turned onto a minimum maintenance road, and I jetted ahead, trying to get some momentum. I could see the deep crevasses where water had cut into the dirt and drained to the Minnesota River now behind us. I could see the boulders and loose sand dotting the areas of packed dirt and gravel, where I aimed my bicycle. I stood up and pushed hard on the pedals, my heart rate skyrocketing. The dirt path curved to the right and I could see the top. I passed another cyclist spinning out, and got to the top, gassed. Nick was behind me, and we pedaled a ways out and I stopped to address my zipper.
One of the guys exclaimed that if the zipper was busted it wouldn’t go back together. I wouldn’t accept that. I kept trying but to no avail. I couldn’t close my bike bag, and we set back off. We seemed to be atop a plateau, now away from the riverbed roads that we were on for the past several hours, since dark. The sun had risen and it started to feel more like the actual daytime. It was about 7:30am at this point and we were in the heart of farm country. There was either corn or soybean fields as far as the eye could see. The roads seemed designed specifically for farm vehicles, and were essentially one-lane, sandy and loose gravel roads. Once we got back going we made good time. It was a nice mix of cyclists sharing the morning with us, some groups passed us and we overtook and passed others. There weren’t too many solo bikers out there – mainly groups clumped up. Some of the roads up here were really sandy and soft, and that killed the momentum immediately. It was sometimes a struggle to turn onto a different road to find that there was just barely one line to take that didn’t involve fishtailing and sliding around like crazy.
Before long, as we surpassed 100 miles, I started thinking about the next aid stop. This would be half-way. I was feeling good – really good. I had concerns about my left knee, that had given me grief once hitting triple digits in my only two triple-digit rides. I could feel a bit of a tinge, especially if I stood up and cranked on the pedals. Maybe it was in my head. Really, it was great to know that my whole body was feeling pretty good. Hands, neck, nether-regions. All good. I figured I’d tape my knee up. Also, take off my shoes, put on sunscreen, and eat some food. I didn’t think I needed a refill yet – but maybe I’d get a top-off of water in my bladder. I still hadn’t drunk much of it and was peeing pretty frequently. I think everyone was feeling pretty good, as well. It sounds like Race maybe was struggling a little bit, or his knee hurt or something. We had a long way to go. The miles clicked away until I knew we were close. I kept looking at my watch. There were crews at every intersection, and eventually, ours came too. It was great to see Em, and she seemed to be in great spirits.
I first taped up my knee. I had to wipe away the dust and dirt first. I took my shoes off, and Em had a platter of food and drinks for me to pick from. Ray and Race’s crew guy came over with a large sack of McDonalds breakfast sandwiches, and those were great. Also, Em had made some coffee on the side of the road. I divulged in a little bit of everything, and took time to relax in the chair. I put on the sunscreen, and pondered what else I’d forgotten. Elizabeth walked over and chit chatted, and I only tuned back in momentarily to make sure I wasn’t holding up the group. I took a leak in the corn fields behind Em’s car, and eventually stumbled back onto my bike and rode around to find everyone else gearing back up to get out. The tape on my knee was pulling at my leg hair uncomfortably. We set back off, and unlike the other couple stops, it was a little bit laborious to get back going. It wasn’t nice to sit back down, and I finally started feeling the miles. I’d ditched my shirt, and it was starting to get warm as the sun rose higher in the sky.
The miles flew by, and the roads seemed to get bigger and wider as we got closer to our next stop, 30 miles away, in Henderson. We criss-crossed a couple paved roads and generally stayed together as a group. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits. The heat was certainly starting to take its toll, and the vets started talking about some big downhill bombs. They didn’t mention the big uphills. We started climbing. Up and down. There were a few big gravel roller coasters. On one of the bigger uphills, I was up ahead. On singlespeed, you can’t really go that slow. Nick started to catch up to me, and I pushed hard to show him that I wanted to beat him up the hill. He got wind of my competitive spirit and shifted down to zoom right past me. I let out a yell of exasperation. I probably shouldn’t be doing that stuff 150 miles into the race.
Up, then back down. Ray was bombing the hill. His bike had broken somehow. He said he back brake wasn’t operating correctly. I couldn’t imagine going down some of these hills without a rear brake. Water was more and more desirable, yet less and less tasty as the water touching my back was lukewarm as I sipped it out of the tube through my backpack. I starting thinking about the tasty things I’d get at the gas station. I thought I’d eat my pizza. Oh, the ice cream! Ice cream sounded so great. And something cold and fizzy. One last bomb, then a couple turns onto paved roads and we were clearly into a town of some sort. A glance at my watch – getting close to 150 miles – it must be Henderson. We planned to stop here for our second self-supported stop. So, after this we’d have one more crew stop at 180 and then another gas station town stop at 210 before bringing it home. We were getting close. I thought that 90 miles is still a really long way, and it was going to be a struggle from here on out, for sure.
It was again almost overwhelming to get into the gas station. It was a pretty small and crammed store, with shelves of merchandise with barely a walking lane between. I had pizza in my bag, and noticed an Icee machine. Oh, I got that for sure. Then I noticed a gummi pizza at the checkout and I walked out. I ate my pizza with the Icee, but ultimately couldn’t finish the cold drink by the time we wanted to leave. Ray’s rear brake looked really messed up as he was fiddling with it. If he pulled the brake lever, it would move the whole caliper backwards. He seemed hopeless on a fix from the field, but surprisingly hopeful to continue on. There were all types of people in the streets of Henderson, all minding their own business and enjoying the perfect summer day. What a nice quaint little town! They said that we had to go up and over that hill, beckoning to the bluffs straight ahead in the distance. We biked through the little main street and then took a sharp right into a small parking lot, then into the woods. What was this? Definitely not gravel. It was a sandy singletrack trail through a creek bed. I figured it was a small detour to get out of Henderson. We had to walk our bikes through a bit of it. I saw Nick mount his bike up ahead. It was rugged terrain. Tall weeds, tree roots. It took almost 15 or 30 minutes to get through. That was rough on the singlespeed, and I was wishing for the nice riding, cool gravel roads of the morning time next to the Minnesota River.
When we climbed the famed bluff back out of Henderson, everyone seemed to be dragging. I got up top and waited for my comrades. It took a while. The next handful of miles were in the baking hot sun, a mix of wide gravel roads and rolling hills. I got going with Dave a bit and we made big time on the group. After a couple turns, we realized we couldn’t see the group. So we eased back and soft-pedaled for a while. The group eventually came back with Nick at the rear. He kind of recommended that we stay closer together as a group. We set back off. It was so easy to get on the tail of someone, usually Dave, and just ride with my head down, staying in the draft, only to look up minutes or hours later to see that we were way off the pack again. So then we’d recognize that, and soft pedal for a while until the group caught up. We passed a few other racers and it was clear that we were getting into the hottest part of the day. The sun was straight up above us beating down, with no shade and hardly a cloud in the sky. The breeze seemed to kick up a little bit, which was great. Endless countryside. We kept pluggin’ away, seemingly playing leap frog over and over and over, except I was never in the back trying to keep up. It was hard. It made me expend less energy, though, and I almost started feeling anxious that the clock was ticking and we were going so slow. The group behind was making their way, and eventually we stopped ahead at a big tree that was providing shade and everyone grouped together. There weren’t many word spoken. We just all took a little break, then got right back to it. Then, the hills came.
In a past Day Across Minnesota event, Race had had a physical meltdown and had to drop from the race. He knew exactly where the spot was and that we were edging closer to it. It was a fun milestone to bike past that. We had some other milestones during the ride – I hit my longest ride hours before at 128 miles. My watch was about 2 miles behind everyone else’s, somehow. We hit Ryan’s longest ride at about 145 or so. Then Race’s somewhere in the Minnesota countryside. He seemed to be struggling once again. I was lucky that my knee was holding up, and actually felt much better with the tape on it. If anything, my right knee was getting a little sore. Perhaps, I should tape that one, I thought.
The thought of getting to 200 miles was daunting and just kind of crazy to think about, and then several hours of riding to get to 240. We were inching our way. The roads we were riding seemed to be dead straight and rolling, so you could plainly see the impending hill climb right ahead, then once atop, the screaming downhill and series of hills beyond. They came one right after another. I got more and more comfortable with the downhills, but still nervously clutched my brake lever as my momentum picked up right after the hill’s crest. It was pretty exhilarating to see big nasty washerboards pass right by as you hit the perfect line down a tear-inducing descent.
My equipment was working out perfectly. I hadn’t adjusted my bike even once, which wasn’t the case with hardly any rides on my previous bike. That was great. The bike bag was still open and flapping in the wind. Nothing had fallen out, to my knowledge, and I was continuously pulling gummis and twizzlers and chex mix out of there to much on. Phone was still there, that was the important one. And, my body was holding up great. There was a point before the final crew checkpoint that I had a realization. I think I was thinking about what to tell Em. I would tell her that I was feeling great. Yeah, I was tired, but just sheer fact that we were closing in on 75% of the race completed, through the night, through the heat of the day, up and down some monster hills in the past couple miles and I was feeling good – that made me feel great. As I cranked up another hill, dedicated to stomping up every hill and not walking my singlespeed bicycle up any of them, I looked back and noticed Dave right there, Nick right there, Ray a bit back, then Ryan and Race way back. The trend continued up and over each hill. It seemed like the hills were taking a toll on those two more than the rest. From biking with Ryan, I knew we was kind of a watt-weenie and would limit his power output on uphills. Even in training rides, he wouldn’t push at all, he’d down shift and spin up any little hill. So, this was normal. Race seemed to be hurting on the uphills, as he told us. He told me at one point he’s not an athlete like us guys, or he’s not built for this type of thing. I was shocked to hear that. We’re out here, nearly 200 miles in. Yeah, you’re cut from a different cloth that most people, dude!! The difference in fitness or grit, or whatever it takes to finish a ridiculous race like this, in any of us compared to the general population is probably 1%! But, it made me realize that we were in this together, and I had to do whatever I could to boost the morale of the group and not focus on my own physical status or how I’m feeling or anxiety to finish the race. I thought about Nick telling me that he thought I would be one, of any of the group, to not stay with the group and go at it alone for the time and for the glory. I had told him that I really considered that, but ultimately, I did promise him that I’d stay with the group. Not for him or anyone else, really, besides myself. I needed the group, and the trust dissolves if I were to go off now, just because I thought I felt good. The group has brought me this far. They’ve provided a draft, and directions. I hadn’t even pulled out my cue cards! So I had to show my squad some respect, and crank away as a unit. At the next hill, I was up and over it and out of sight. What the hell is wrong with me.
Nick had told me that the next checkpoint was typically kind of hard for the crews. In the heat of the day, now they’ve been at it for hours and hours as well, and at this point the boredom starts to set in, and the feeling of “c’mon guys, just go get it done so we can shower and eat and sleep”. I was expecting that, and otherwise really excited to sit down in the shade, take my shoes off and drink some cold beverages. I started planning it all out – I’d drink a lot of gatorade, drink some delicious pink mountain dew, and fill up my bladder one more time with ice cold water. We got to the checkpoint and just like I planned, the first thing I did was tell Em that I was feeling great. Once it came out, I don’t know why I felt the need to profess that to her. She said she was glad, though, and was buzzing around like the bees to my pop. There were terrible bees around where I was sitting. Em grasped the can of pop from my hands and poured a bit across the roadway. She gave it back to me, and said they’d go after that splash now, instead of my pop. Interesting logic…
We had lots of time. As I sat, the updates came in. Dave came over and said that we really can’t be biking ahead like we have been. It was serious. I agreed with him, and said I’d focus on staying with the group. Nick came over and said Ryan was thinking about dropping. He was in rough shape. Hmm, that was a big surprise to me. I thought he was in control. I finally loaded up on some snacks that I thought might be appetizing as we started to gear up to attack the final 60 miles, allegedly the hardest part of the entire course with lots of steep hills. The consensus was that Ryan wouldn’t be coming with us. He had heat exhaustion and was in the AC-blasted car. If he could recover, he’d be behind us. Oof. That was a blow. I wanted to shake him up. I wanted to rally him. I decided that that’d be inappropriate and I just biked away. I told Em I’d see her at the finish line. She was doing so well – chipper, happy, excited. She was going on and on about the dead animals she’d seen on the back country roads getting to these remote checkpoints. I was looking forward to seeing her next more than anything.
We immediately started a slow roll, and the pace never really picked up. There was lots of talk about the impending hilly section after we crossed I-35 then Highway 52 a while later. The hills got pointed out several times, and it was kind of a feeling of anticipation – “we’re almost there – to the hilly part” – for hours. Either way, the end was in sight. We were riding together as a pack and I really didn’t want that to change. Luckily we hadn’t hit any big up and down hills yet so I didn’t feel the need to mash my pedals. I could just tuck in behind one of the boys, get sucked along in the draft and just pedal a few strokes at a high cadence whenever I started falling back slightly. We were kind of feeling goofy when a local landowner erroneously told us that we were on a private drive and to get off. We told ourselves that he was going to have a long night! I wasn’t feeling appetized by any food I had on hand. A handful of cheese-flavored chex mix did the trick. Gels, oh hell no. Gummis, nope. Anything with excess sugar sounded pretty foul. Warm water will have to do. The sun was getting a little more angular and it felt like we were out of the heat of the day, which was nice. It had been really an ideal day for biking. If it wasn’t really hot in the middle of the summer in the middle of Minnesota I’d feel jipped!
We rode through a couple round-a-bouts, through a developed area across Highway 52. Then it was up into a frontage road and up, up, up. Here they were, they said. I just pedaled normally, my normal mash to get to the top. I was the first on to the top of the first hill. Then, many more to go. The world closed in. This area had more trees and houses along the roads, which was a bit of a change from the wide open fields with sparse farm buildings that was pretty similar throughout the entire day. However, up one, down another, up one, down another hill and it opened up to more farm country. Then up and down another hill – a steep hill – and there was a cool little house at the bottom of a creek gorge where they were offering granola bars and water and maybe beers. Then right back up. I would stop at every top of the hill to wait. The last one was huge and we cheered on Race when he got to the top without walking. He made it – we were all still riding well. We didn’t know about Ryan. If he rallied, he was going to have to make up ground. We weren’t that fast but we were moving consistently. We decided that we all had enough supplies and we’d skip the last planned stop at 210 miles.
I kept plugging away and got ahead of the group. I had to stop. We were going at a pretty slow rate, and I was starting to get antsy to finish the race. We were well over 200 miles at this point and just chugging along. I passed a group of two guys. The one was on the side of the road but he said he was OK. At an intersection, I stopped, and the two guys passed me. I waited a few minutes for the rest of my squad. They caught up, and we kept rolling. We had a nice section of road and we clumped together and drafted for a bit. We seemed so close, but we still had hours to ride when I thought about it critically. Dave had mentioned finishing before dark. We crunched the numbers and it was a good goal. I had a sense of urgency, but I couldn’t speak or think for the whole group. The good part was that I felt good, and I was going to finish. It was such a group effort but all to prop up my own personal goal of finishing the race. Kind of selfish… and I wasn’t helping things by leapfrogging and waiting for the group to catch me. We bombed a huge hill and for the first time it felt like dusk was near. The sun was below the tree line. I couldn’t imagine the fear of Ray riding down this winding, massive hill with no back brake. Nick zoomed down with no brakes at all it seemed. Toward the bottom there was a guy getting off the ground. His shirt was bloody. Woof, bad time to crash. Maybe the best time… if that was 200 miles earlier it’d make for a long, long day. We were near that couple for a couple miles, and it sure seemed like we were getting into Red Wing. There was a cool road along a state forest or management area, then right into neighborhoods. We were spread out as a group, and I stopped with Ray on a curb to let everyone catch up. We didn’t wait long, and we agreed that we would be riding in together, side by side. We zinged around the city. There wasn’t a lot of excitement between us as I sensed the bridge to Wisconsin nearing. We turned off a road onto a sidewalk adjacent to a Do Not Enter one way, and onto the bridge. The bridge! The view was astounding. It was the golden hour. We has just hit 20 hours, 8pm. I was almost at 240 miles on my watch, certain that my pals had more logged. I was hoping I’d get there, just for… I don’t know why. Strava? We went down the backside of the bridge and into a park entrance to the finish. I knew it was right there. I hadn’t studied the maps, but new we were there. Yes. I was so excited for a finish line beer. We rode 5 by 5 down the little road next to all sorts of fans and racers. Then, there was a left turn into the finish chute. It was right there! We couldn’t ride 5 abreast, so we just kind of clumped into the finish. It was over.
I barely muttered to the race director that I was a single speed rider. He didn’t hear me. I told him I was singlespeeder. His mind was blown, I’ve never seen someone more excited! He said I was the last one – the 6th singlespeed finisher to get the last gin bottle. Oh, that was so exciting. I was pretty pumped. I took my bike and my gin and my beer aside to the ground and wanted so bad to take off my shoes. My big toe on my right foot had been numb for hours and hours. As I rested, I saw a guy walk up to the finish line. It caught my eye, especially when he pointed at me, then pointed at his friend in a little huddle nearby. They were talking about something, I knew it. I went up there. It turns out, I was the seventh singlespeed finisher, and they missed a guy right before our group finished. I said I’d give the gin back. They said I couldn’t, I had to keep it and they’d get the real 6th place finisher another bottle. It was a little disenchanting.
All in all, it was an incredible experience. It was unlike any other race I’ve ever done, due to the nature of the teamwork that we experienced out there. That was special. I don’t know if I’d do a bike race that long again. 100 milers are maybe a bit more enticing. Weeks later, my big toe is still kind of messed up. It took me a long time to clean my bike off, and even longer to write this story.
05 Aug 2021
Race Date: Sunday, August 1, 2021 – 8am
In the water of the first Brewhouse Triathlon in about 24 months, my last time at the race losing for the first time in 7 years or so and having not trained for triathlon hardly at all in the meantime, I was really nervous. I knew exactly what to do, but the fitness level was lacking and I didn’t want to be in the mix. I like to be up front at Brewhouse Triathlon short course, not in the mix. I like to win. But the bottom line was, I don’t deserve it.
Leading up to Brewhouse, my running volume was probably consistently lower the past six consecutive months, than almost any other single month in the previous 8 years! And slow running, too. I hadn’t swam more than a 500 yards since Brewhouse 2019, but my biking was extraordinary, especially in the month leading up to Brewhouse. I biked over 500 miles in July, but literally all gravel single speed miles. I had major concerns about my tri bike – namely the pedal, which had fallen off months earlier after seizing up, and literally the day before in a practice ride. It seemed to be spinning freely, and worked well in the morning, but was highly questionable.
I arrived in the morning, my van loaded with two bikes and all my tri gear. I set up at the start and saw Em loitering about. It was so great to see her and know she’d be watching the whole race and seeing me finish. It was like a weight lifted off my shoulder, actually. I anxiously paced about, setting my stuff up, trying to remember the morning routine. Dump, bike, run, get body marked? No, body marking, test the bike, dump, jog a bit. Well the decision was made for me and I saw Ryan on the way to the portable toilet area. Check that off the list. Feeling good, I rode a mile and the bike was working great. That was a relief. Yep, it felt fast, but I was unsure of the monster MPH readings that I know I’d put up in prior years. My quads seemed even a little stiff from a 60 mile gravel ride the day before. I knew the bike was the key today. I ran a bit then made sure everything was in order, put on my wetsuit and hung out by the lake.
I had lost Em but found her on the bluff by the shoreline. It was nice to get a pre-race shakedown with her as Matt Evans got married to Shelly with Rod Raymond enthusiastically yelling into the microphone and people cheering.
Once I got into the water, I felt pretty good swimming a few strokes, actually. I peed in my wetsuit, which is always kind of icky. But I’m led to believe that it helps with buoyancy. I tried to channel my countrymen USA Olympians after studying swimming the night before on primetime broadcast. Bent elbow, generate power from the hips, stay streamline with head down. Yep, it’s all in the muscle memory. I swam around and back to shore and people started congregating in the water. I wanted to get onto someone’s heels right away. They’d pull me along. That’d help right away. When you see Matt Evans in the water you know it’s about to be go time. I faintly heard the countdown from 10 start, and I think it was Paul Rockwood who asked “oh, are we going already?”. We could all hear “3! 2! 1! GO!!” and it was a free for all. I got a fairly good jump but was overtaken by churning bodies everywhere. I could feel my heart rate skyrocket and I was about out of breath after just a few front crawl strokes. Plus the splashing was sending water all up into my gasping mouth. It was terrible.
I avoided getting kicked, and eventually the crowd kind of thinned out. It seemed like a huge group sped off in front of me and I was left in the wake with a few stragglers. I tried to keep a good line and found myself off to the left a little bit. That’s what you get for never open water swimming…
The first buoy seemed like it took forever. The second one was an eternity. Once I got to the first one, I was pretty hopeless about the swim portion. I was dead already. I just kept a rhythm, and by the second buoy, felt really good actually. I felt like I was making good time, kind of out by myself where I liked to be. Maybe there wasn’t that big of a group, or they kind of spread apart. I seemed to be in the front end of the start wave, although I knew that probably wasn’t true. As I turned, trying to stay efficient but not get punched in the face, I thought about just staying calm and relaxed until I knew I was close on the home stretch.
My goggles worked well, the water seemed to be decently calm for swimming, and I was feeling really good getting to the second turn buoy. Bing bing bing, and I was on the home stretch. I focused again on form and keeping a strong stroke. I focused my legs and pushed home, sighting every now again to be surprisingly on course the whole time. Feeling good about my swim, I tried to put on the afterburners once I got past the last buoy and into the swimming area. I didn’t have any power whatsoever, but felt it was a good swim. Furthermore, swim was about done without a scratch. Now, onto the big daddy. Time to crank.
I was able to run pretty well into T1, and even remembered to eat my caffeinated gummis instead of sitting on them like in 2019. It was quick onto my bike and I had a major sense of urgency. The suspense was killing me – how fast can I bike into first place? It was smooth into my bike shoes and I somewhat precariously smashed up to full speed without the concerning pedal falling off. I stopped one pedal stroke to see if the pedal was still on. Yep. I knew it was a tailwind, but was pleasantly surprised to see 27 mph on my watch once I felt up to speed. Keep it up, Mikey. I drank a bit of water over the Island Lake bridge and past Boondocks restaurant. I passed a few people feeling like a speed monster. Reeling people in is so fun. I couldn’t see the motorcycle up ahead, but had a long way to go. No way my swimming is even in the same echelon as some of those. There are good swim-bikers that exist! But might as well try to bank time while I have a nice tailwind, I thought. I knew I had extreme endurance on the bike. So push it.
When I turned to Emerson, I still hadn’t seen the leaders. Shortly thereafter, I saw two cyclists, one with a disc wheel. They were decently ahead, actually. I’d catch them. I cranked and cranked into the wind. My mph dropped. I didn’t make ground. I got into T2 after losing my shoe. Someone yelled “you lost your shoe!”. I was so mad at those shoes, I didn’t even look. It was at my bike after the finish, though.
I tried to transition as quickly as possible, because Ryan and Benjamin put a gentleman’s bet on T2 time and I was confident. I had an issue with my shoe heel folding over as I smooshed my foot inside without elastic laces. Oh well. I sprinted towards the swim exit and knew it was up to the run to seal the deal. Who was up ahead? At the run exit, Emily was standing right there and yelled that she was a minute back. Must be Shyanne. MN Tri News had pegged myself and Shyanne McGregor, local beast triathlete, as winners. That article was the only confidence I had. Now, starting the run, I thought I could run her down. I saw her. I thought there was someone else biking up ahead of me? Maybe I passed them in transition. I don’t know. I just need to run, and run fast. I had major doubts that I’d be able to fend anyone else off. Especially with the likes of Paul Rockwood and Benjamin Welch closing hard. I wasn’t confident in their training, though, but I knew for sure that I couldn’t be confident in my training! So I just focused on hunting down the lone runner ahead. I was hoping to go under 6 minutes per mile. My first mile was over by a handful of seconds. Yeesh, not what I want! Up the hill on County Road 4 past the outdoorsman’s club, I reeled her in a little more and a little more, and I knew I’d catch her. But I was also running very sloppily. My form was crap, I had no endurance and no speed. I could tell I was making traction at the water stop to turn into the boat landing at the run half-way, because when I turned I saw Shyanne running back toward me, then a left where a volunteer was beckoning her. The volunteer pointed me right, and I went, knowing that that way was opposite from every other year that Brewhouse Triathlon has been at Island Lake. Typically we go straight, clockwise to the boat launch parking lot, around the bend, then a right hand turn, and a left to complete the lollipop loop. This year, a volunteer was pointing a different way, and Shyanne had taken a small wrong turn by what it looked like. I finally caught her around the loop portion, and she got confused when the dirt trail went under a low-pass tree out to the main lot. She didn’t fully know exactly which track to take, and I passed her and showed her the way. I felt kind of bad that she clearly wasn’t dead certain on the exactly route to take, but it was a change from previous years and I was a little nervous that I didn’t take the right route! No, there was pretty much the one way, and so I trucked on back towards the water stop.
Before I turned back onto the main road, I saw Paul Rockwood running smoothly onto the gravel. He would be pursuing me. Who else was on the loop? Hopefully no fast runners. Hopefully not Benjamin. I looked back, and Shyanne was in close pursuit. Would she close on me after my kersplosion? Well, don’t kersplode, MIKE!
I didn’t care about the grimace. I channeled the 2020 Olympic Triathlon champ from Norway who gritted his way to gold looking like he was in immense pain. I tried to push as hard as possible. I was so happy to get to the trail, but it was immediately more grueling than the road. I tried to sprint down the boardwalk, and felt like I might vomit if I kept up the painful pace. Don’t vomit, I said in my head. Off to the other side, and I just felt pooped. My form was so spread out and inefficient, I was probably running 7 minutes per mile pace over the rocks and pinecones. I could sniff the win, but just needed to hold on. Once I got out to the grassy picnic area, I was so happy to be done soon. I peeked over my shoulder and knew that nobody was there and I was safe. I thought about the Olympic triathlon champ looking over his shoulder 5 times, then walking in the last few steps. I let it up just a tiny bit to make sure I didn’t yak on the timing mats, but saw 1:05 on the clock and sprinted through the finish, leaning for style.
I crumped over on the ground, totally spent. God, that was terrible. All that effort for slow, arduous, inefficient pace. It was a relief, and an honor and joy to reclaim the Brewhouse Short Course Triathlon title, and to know that I still had the fitness to pull it off. Something is working! Shyanne had a crazy fast race and finished right behind me. Paul was not far back either. Between the finish and awards, I biked 30 miles on gravel on the singlespeed machine. It was grueling. I made a vow to practice triathlon and pull a fast Park Point 5 Miler before the 2022 version.
Shoes: Mizuno Wave Rider
Bike: Specialized Transition
Wheels: Profile Design 78
Food: Bike: 3 Clif Bloks, couple sips of water
05 Aug 2021
Race Date: July 16, 2021 – 8am
I was excited to try my shot at a second paddleboard race in as many weeks. I wondered how much differently pacing would play into a race of 17 miles versus 5. My upper back had stopped being sore a mere day earlier, and I was paddling at an all-out effort to maintain about 5 miles per hour at Vatten Paddlar. That effort seemed unsustainable for over an hour. I was hoping for under four hours this day.
In previous years, and regularly scheduled for this year was a finish line on the lake of my parents’ cabin – Lake Miltona. The start line is just minutes away from the cabin and so when I heard about the race it was a no-brainer to register. I like to think I like long stuff better so I signed up for the 26 mile race event through many lakes. Due to low water the distance was downgraded to 17 miles, and I was OK with that. It was so nice to stay at the cabin the night before, and I made the long drive from Duluth to Miltona the night before, had a nice big breakfast in the morning and drove to the start line relatively late in the morning. (Relative to some other races when you’re up at the crack of dawn).
I saw local Duluth resident Jared Munch, who has some serious SUP accolades, including paddling trips of hundreds and thousands of miles (well, over one thousand miles). He had won the race in the past, and after looking at past years’ results, knew a past winner Craig Stolen was also signed up. Past winning times were at a 5mph average at least, and I couldn’t hold that for 5 miles one weekend before so didn’t have incredible confidence on pulling off another win. But I knew that I could utilize faster paddlers’ wakes to my definite advantage! And Jared told me about that key to the race beforehand as we were preparing.
It was a short time at the starting area, which was nice. I sunscreened up, got my pack and lifejacket all set up, and used the porta-potty at the boat launch. I had no issues putting my board in the water and warming up a bit. I tried my sandals instead of shoes this time, and wanted to try fingerless gloves just to avoid blisters. I didn’t know if that would be comfortable or not. I was fiddling with my stuff and one glove went in the water. Great! One wet glove. Gah. I second guessed my footwear, but didn’t want to set them on the deck unstrapped. What the heck am I doing out here? I was so tired the weekend before after 5 miles, how was I going to triple that plus a couple?
Other boats were circling around the small bay where the race was to start, and at 8 it was clear that the race would start late because not everyone was in the water. What the heck?? I’m here. Anyone? Anyone? There was a brief pre-race briefing, and I learned that there were no buoys at this race, as opposed to buoys lining the course a weekend before, and that the maps were pretty critical to completing the full course. The course was straightforward, but it certainly relied on map-reading and orienting yourself to the land features. Luckily, I felt like I had pretty good experience in that with just a couple Boundary Waters trips under my belt. I tried to study the maps as we neared the start time, and the organizers audibly agreed that 8:10am would be the race start. With a 10 second countdown, the line of boats heard “GO!” and churned up the bay by paddling out towards the opposite shore. A big, sleek solo outrigger canoe took off way fast, with Craig right behind drafting, and Jared somehow caught off guard and paddling hard to get on the draft. They were far to the left, and just took off way too fast. They were immediately gone and I was pretty bummed right away that I missed the draft. It was going to be a long, long day.
The weather was looking really good. A decent wind of 10mph by noon from the south. The first many miles of the race were headed north, affording a nice tailwind for the majority of the race. But, that means we’d have a headwind for the final 6 or 7 miles of the race, and the wind was only set to pick up throughout the day. I glanced at my watch and I appeared to be moving pretty fast right away. 17 miles, I told myself. Long long day. I had studied the little course map as much as I could to start, but wanted to make sure I was going where I was supposed to. Each of the lakes seemed fairly short, and the course fairly simple to follow. Also, I had a group of three up ahead cranking. I did see them going into the first tunnel from Lake Victoria to Lake Geneva. I was dripping sweat already. There were a couple dudes near the culvert with a cooler offering bottled water. I declined and paddled right through.
It was a bit shallow on the Lake Geneva side of the culvert but I got through no problem. The rower and two speedy paddleboarders had made up big time and they were nearly out of sight. I drank some water from my bladder hose, peeked at the map – straight ahead across the lake – and paddled away. Yep, it was gonna be a long day, I thought. I looked behind my shoulder after a paddle stroke and I saw two other paddleboard racers pretty much right there. Gah. My stroke slowed, power decreased slightly. I was gonna draft them.
Trying to keep a smooth, efficient rhythm and I heard right behind me: “you wanna draft?”. I yelled YES and stopped for one second. I was able to lock in with two older guys on 14′ boards. I recognized one of the boards in the pre-race meeting, the announcer talking about the prize drawing at the end and how this person won it and was back to compete in the race with the board he won. Cool board! He was cranking. The other guy had a more racy-looking one. Narrow, sleek and fast. It was nice to draft for a little bit. We chatted a little. Then, I started falling back. Gah, WHY. This was supposed to be easier! I had to get back in the draft. Ahh.. got back right behind the guy in the white board. Nope, fell right back. I HAD to surge if I wanted to avoid losing two more paddlers and being left in no mans land. I surged, and surged hard. It was no avail. They pulled away. Whatttt the heck. What am I doing out here doing fricken SUP races. The carbon kayak-like craft pulling those two fast dudes was way up ahead, out of sight. I was in the middle of Lake Geneva. Struggling. I stopped the aggressive surge and just kept paddling. Something must be wrong, and so I looked back. The leash was out of the water, but there was a huge clump of weeds dragging behind my craft. Typical! How long has this been going on? It must have been before the first culvert where it was a little mucky with weeds and shallow. I stopped, back-pedaled and tried to fish the weeds out. Accelerating quickly from backwards, I hoped to juke the weeds off as one big clump. A clump floated away, so I figured that did the trick. I paddled off, checked back and seemed to be clear.
Wow, just that acknowledgement that it was the weeds slowing me down gave me a bolt of energy. Plus, the brief break of relentless paddling. I felt like I was going faster… The shore was getting closer faster, and I seemed to be making time on my two pals right up ahead. Sure enough, I caught up before the end of Lake Le Homme Dieu. It wasn’t as hilarious of a story to them as it was in my head. They went through the culvert first, and I saw my mom on the road over top. Sweet, that would be nice for some energy potential future tunnels.
Onto Lake Carlos, I felt like I was cruising. I dropped the two older racers, and was chasing the three ahead of me. It was probably no contest at this point, but ya never know, and it’s an out-and-back so we would see everyone anyways. I paddled tight to a point, where there was a boat pointing towards the docks at Lake Carlos State Park where the turn-around buoy is. I saw the gal in the sleek boat just cranking ass way out ahead. She was making real good time. And, I figured, right against the wind. Yeesh. I got closer to shore, and it seemed to be getting a little wavier. It had been perfectly calm on the water with an ever-light tail breeze. In the first place for paddleboards was who I thought was past winner Craig Stolen not too far from the canoe racer, and Jared Munch not too far back from him. I was still a ways from shore, and the two guys behind me were a bit back. The guy in the orange board, the won board, was closer, and the master blaster on the white board was a bit back from there. I started planning my turn-around. Might as well eat a bit of food then. Might as well now, because the waves were pushing me to shore and I could see the buoy pretty close, through a bundle of weeds sticking out of the water. I saw my mom on the dock. I got onto my knees, grabbed a bag of chips off the front of my vest, seemingly fumbling about, just shoving the food into my mouth as quick as possible, a bit more, then shoved the baggie back into the front of my vest. I drank water immediately, then started trying to turn at the buoy. I got pushed to shore a bit, but righted myself and paddled away into the straight-on headwind.
It was over 10 miles in at this point, over half over and I was feeling pretty good. Good pace, muscles good, grip still good. I didn’t think I could make big time on Jared or Craig. They looked comfortable enough and that was just a really big gap. I could hold off the people behind me, and just see how the time would pan out to be. The wind was pretty rough, but I thought it’d benefit me. It was kind of a fun change up. Everyone’s paddling into the wind, if I can just slice through with greater efficiency, I can make up even more time on the field. Just keep cranking. The guy in the orange board made up a bit of time, and he was right there. He had earlier said he was slow in the waves. It was wavy, and a bit tippy every now and again. Not necessarily easy paddling. We were babied on the first majority of the race. But he was right there. He practically caught up to me! But we weaved headed back to the point where a volunteer boat was anchored. I would shake him in the shallows of the point, in the weeds. My board seemed to be in good shape, without weeds in the back. I was checking, and I weaved through the islands of reeds to the open middle part of Lake Carlos and back to the final culvert.
The corner I was passing through, with islands made out of reeds, offered a brief reprieve from the wind. I passed right through it. There seemed to be another jut-out ahead that I aimed for. It was a little arduous. I couldn’t stop for one second without the waves pushing my board to the side. I had to paddle on one side, and if I tried for relief on the other side I’d turn so quickly. I didn’t care about the slow rate, but noticed my mile splits were the slowest of the race so far, by far. I had put a little time on the guys behind me. They were both pretty close to each other, but I had a bit of a gap now. I couldn’t see Jared ahead.
I turned the corner that I had been aiming for and it was really shallow. I paddled hard, confident in my line, and luckily I didn’t hit the bottom. It was close, though. I saw the culvert right at the end of the bay, straight on pretty much along the northern shore. A peek behind and just like that, like a rubber band, he was right back behind me paddling furiously. I couldn’t shake this dude! I wanted at least bronze! I pushed hard toward the final lake, eating some gummi frogs for a last jolt of energy. I got close to the last culvert over a road and there were lots of people – several on the road, plus an angler in the water with waders, and my mom. I didn’t have much to say – I essentially grunted. I was tired. These waves were tough. I had to let it all out for third place, and knew this lake was pretty short, just along the right side to the finish. I was so excited to paddle on my left, if all we had to do was kind of bend around the right shoreline.
When I got to the final lake, it was a nasty cross-wind and I realized I had to paddle on the right to stay on track. My shoulder was killing me. My form seemed to be deteriorating, and I was using different methods to get forward propulsion, like long, deep, powerful strokes, then I’d be doing rigid, choppy, but very rapid paddle strokes. It was all painful. There were a few boaters and I didn’t want them to look at me struggle. I had to put time on this guy behind me, we were both aware of where the finish line was at, and he was strong right behind me, steady. I saw a big building and thought the finish was around there. I just put my head down and cranked away. I thought I got into some weeds too close to shore. I looked back. He was there, but pretty far back. I couldn’t stop. That would be the only way to lose. I saw docks further to the left, and a couple kayaks. That must be the finish. My shoulder was so sore from paddling on my right side. I had to push as hard as possible. It would be over soon. I happened to barely have a peek on my watch in between violent paddle strokes, and noticed I was beyond four hours. Jeez. The finish line became close enough to see exactly how I had to skirt around a batch of reeds, then in between two docks to the beach, then run across the finish line. I paddled it home, feeling so ragged. I pushed my boat onto the sand, hearing it scrape, then jumped off with the leash still attached and ran my board over the finish line. Oof. It was over. I stopped my watch, then barely dragged my board off the finish line to where others were lined up, and almost clumped to the ground.
Due to goose poop, I stayed upright. My mom was there, asking me questions and if I wanted a ride. I couldn’t make a decision, or form coherent sentences, so essentially she left to get groceries and I slowly recovered from an all-out intense effort to capture third place in the stand-up paddleboard division. In a cooler there was water, and in a grocery bag beef jerky and other various snacks for racers. That was pretty tasty. I took the shuttle back to the start line, got my van, drove it back to Lake Darling, stopped on the way at a gas station. I got chocolate milk, 1919 root beer, and a white gatorade and it was all so good. Back to the resort, I hauled my board back to the parking lot and strapped it on. I hit lengthy road construction on the 5-mile drive back to the cabin, and by the time I was back I was so exhausted I didn’t make it to awards! The 17-mile effort was intense, but the format of paddleboard racing is addictively intense and I’m so excited to do at least the two next season, as well as various other paddleboard route attempts.
Watercraft: 14′ Bark Dominator
25 Jul 2021
Race Date: July 10, 2021 – 9am
The Vatten Paddlar was the first race I’d lined up for in about a year, and the second in 18 months. And my first paddling race! Needless to say, I was excited for a real race: to compete and push myself and get a finish line flood of the brain chemicals I like.
The morning started by picking up some drive-through breakfast at the coffee shop and hitting the freeway. I was planning to make the hour or so drive to northwestern Wisconsin, to the start line and drop my board, to the finish line to catch the shuttle, and shuttle back to the start. I was right on time, with ample time, despite being a little stressed until I got the start line. The first person I saw was the person I bought my new racing-style paddleboard from: John Mundahl from Herbster, Wisconsin. That was nice to know at least someone, which I didn’t really expect, and to talk about the board and paddling a little bit. I dropped my board and paddle near the launch by other crafts, in a bush, and went off to the start line. I wouldn’t really feel comfortable until I was back to the start line, even though that was hours away.
It was a 15 minute drive to the finish, and I caught the shuttle easily with a couple other paddlers and our nice driver. John shared the back seat with me and I did enjoy talking even more about paddling. It is fairly foreign to me still, and it’s honestly hard to find specific information about paddling, really especially stand up paddleboarding, on the internet. We got back to the start line with an hour at least until the start time at 9. I kind of dawdled around, did a fairly normal pre-race routine no matter what the sport, and got pretty excited pinning a bib to my jersey once again.
I think I was the only one to perform a warm up – I wanted to get into the water with a little bit of time to make sure my setup was on lock. I didn’t know if that was part of the rules. I had found an extensive rules document on the website the night before and was glad I had. Stay between the buoys and shore, no cheating. Eventually as we got within 10 minutes of the race start, the boats all piled in at once. I saw the couple other SUP competitors, and there were certainly a few other 14′ racing boards. My board’s former owner John was in a fast-looking canoe with his wife. The morning was just taking forever as we neared the start. A line of watercraft stayed behind the dock, “GO!” and we were off.
I didn’t look around me, but just paddled furiously right out of the gate to get ahead of everyone. I was wondering if I would regret pushing really hard right away, but I pushed hard right away anyways, and it kind of shook out with two canoes up ahead, a guy in a kayak in front of me, and the two paddleboards behind me. I knew that drafting was going to be very beneficial, and the kayak in front of me seemed to be a perfect option – just fast enough where I maybe couldn’t do that speed alone, but not too fast where I kill myself. I had to surge to get in the draft once I had the first fear of losing him. I took a peek behind me and saw a SUP paddler pretty close behind me as well.
When I got into the draft zone of the kayak, I almost hit him in the back of his craft! The stern. I could feel the draft immediately, and sucked right in. Ahh. But I didn’t have a good stroke. The stand up stroke is definitely different than a two-sided paddle stroke of a kayak, and I would kind of catch-up then fall-behind with each stroke as he had paddles in the water for pretty much double the amount of the time. I was dripping sweat a mile in on the beautiful Middle Eau Claire Lake, and maybe hit my fastest mile ever on a stand up paddleboard as my watch beeped for the first split in 11:40.
Training was spotty up to race day. I had a few 5-10 mile paddles on the new board, and that is about it… Dinking around at the beach or at the cabin, mile here, mile there, but nothing in any semblance of race training. I was going on pure general fitness to keep me in the mix here. And that lack of specific training maybe showed as I wiped the sweat away and skipped a stroke and the kayaker in front of me slowly pulled away from me. The SUP guy was pretty close behind me. I tried to tabulate the number of minutes as I crossed a cabin dock and rounded a corner. I was maybe a couple minutes in front, in first place in the small, small SUP division.
Looking at the race map beforehand, I had kind of broken the race into three parts – the first lake, the connector and the second lake. I knew there was a portage, and that was essentially into the home stretch. That’s what I had in mind as I suffered, trying to eek out every bit of power in my paddle stroke, track the board efficiently, and not lose time. I never realized how much you slow down if you don’t stay constantly paddling, until now, as I had someone behind me seemingly always paddling.
The course was beautifully marked with buoys well within eyesight every time. I was excited to see a river form on the southwest side of the lake and hopefully make up some time on the portage. I already knew I’d run it. The weather was absolutely perfect, despite the sun beating down and seemingly high humidity. I didn’t bring water – and figured I could go without water for an hour. I seemed to be on track for an hour as my watch showed a second split a little bit slower. The race was mostly west and southwest, and the wind was very calm out of the northeast. It was nearly a mile where the kayaker in front of me and the stand up behind me were equidistant to myself. As we entered a winding river-like waterway connecting Middle to Lower Eau Claire Lakes, we all broke up a little. The kayaker kind of took off, and I somewhat inadvertently cut the corner through some weeds. I knew that weeds in the fin would slow me down, but I could also inspect and remove weeds at the portage if I needed. The racer behind me took a wide turn around the weeds. Did I break the rules? Does he think I did? I was slightly concerned for a second, but oh well, no buoys and that wasn’t in the rules! Either way, I put the most distance on the field in the race so far. I pressed hard through a fun winding canal to the portage. There were a bunch of people, the Boy Scouts as it was told, at the sandy landing helping out. I didn’t take the help as I hopped right into the water with my shoes and all, grabbed my board and ran as fast as I could, hoping to catch the kayaker and get a draft in. I did catch him getting into his watercraft, and I tossed mine in right behind. I tried to get going as fast as possible, but the kayak pressed on with equal urgency and despite an intense surge I couldn’t close the gap. I looked behind and saw nobody. Under a railroad trestle, through another narrow channel, and I unfortunately got lodged on a sandbar. I quick jumped off and splashed around until I could push off to deeper water, and I hopped back on a furiously paddled away.
Onto the final lake, I knew it was a mile or so around the far shore to the finish. I just followed the buoys and tried to crank as hard as I could without stopping. I seemed to make up time on the kayaker as I grunted with each stroke. I was starting to feel the burn in my shoulders and wanted sweet relief from paddling so bad. But I wasn’t there yet. A quick glance at my watch and I knew I wouldn’t go under an hour. Oh well, I had so much time on the paddlers behind me I knew I’d at least win. That revelation made me slow down a little bit, as I continued to curve around the west side of the lake into a bay. I saw more people on the water then the finish line. Nice. I looked down and saw blood streaming down my leg. What the heck? It must have been a scab I ripped open on the foam decking when I hit the sandbar and had to jump off and back on the board. I washed it off with water quick, then finished up the race. Oof. I was so beat at the finish line, and my shoulders were dead. It was really nice to stop.
I talked with a few of the competitors, and one was going to the Big Ole race the next weekend. I left quickly, though, to get back to Duluth before noon. First, I took a cookie and grapes. Those were very delicious. The race was incredible – well produced and that is really important for a first timer to feel comfortable. It was different experience than I had before on a paddleboard. The thrill of racing… is great.
Pace: 12:36 minutes/mile
Watercraft: 14′ Bark Dominator
27 Feb 2020
Race Date: Saturday, February 22, 2020 – 9am
There was excitement at the start line for the four hour loop race. I don’t think many people had done a fixed time winter trail run before. It was my birthday. I think that might have been a first for me, too, racing on my birthday. Either way, from the first step after the “GO!” through a bullhorn, my brain was in a different mode. Well, different from the mindset of: seek and destroy. I had been on a winning rip and earlier in the week, earlier in the month, earlier in the year, I thought I could win. I also looked forward to duking it out with Chris Rubesch, with whom I have duked it out with many, many times. And every time it is gritty and so fun. I saw Matt Eidenschink before the start and discovered he’d registered the night before. Ooo, that was a curveball! Matt is a freak.
So when we took off, plenty of testosterone out of the gate, the pack jammed up the first hill and onto the singletrack, and we were moving fast. The first mile was under 7:30 with plenty of people surrounding me. We hit an intersection and I saw an arrow pointing back at us. So I stopped, got pushed in the back, and Chris ran off. I yelled that we’re running the wrong way and the pack immediately turned toward the arrow and back to the correct trail. Chris caught up and was definitely frustrated. I wondered why that arrow was there… the trail must have to come from that way or else why would it be pointing at us? Nobody seemed to be too interested in pondering. We spread out a bit on a snowmobile trail. Still fast. Matt and Chris ran ahead. The pack shifted. Back onto windy singletrack. How long would it take until we memorize the route? I think Ben had said that… The first lap was about 2.8 miles or so, and low 20-something minutes. Yeah… probably not accurate. So at the lap zone, I yelled to the race director Andy asking what we do at the gazebo. He didn’t understand. GAZEBO! I fell behind in this conversation and the pack definitely left me this time. Oh well. So I took the chance to take a pee. And just like that, one loop done, I was definitely in no man’s land once again. I didn’t see a single person around while on my pee break in the middle of the woods.
Now by myself, I settled into a nice pace. My effort seemed pretty even, but definitely slow. I wondered if I’d catch up to Chris and the rest of them. I wondered if I could do 31 miles, an even 50k, 10 laps on the dot, on my 31st birthday. It was such a nice day. Perfect trail, hard packed, fast. The sun was out, warm but not uncomfortable. I ate a gel after an hour. The laps clicked off. Two, three, four. It was pretty quick, though, that my question regarding 31 miles was answered. I fell off that pace after that first lap. I would need five laps by two hours, halfway. No way. My laps were coming in around 30 minutes. That’s pretty slow, I thought. Maybe a bit under… I thought I remembered my goal of a marathon and how I’d have to go 27 minutes per lap. Maybe I didn’t remember that right. I kept trucking, robot-like.
I couldn’t see anyone who was in front of me but plenty of people behind me. It was kind of fun, a little frustrating to pass many others on the course. The trail was holding up great. But there were plenty of twists and turns and I hadn’t seen anyone ahead in a long time. I figured people would start dropping back and I could duke it out with Chris and Matt. I figured Matt was up there, and Chris kind of knows what he’s doing. He is a master pacer, and I tend to explode, so I kind of discounted seeing those dudes. Bleh. Ah, oh well. Then I was passed. Leslie has been on a bigger rip than I, with a long string of wins at the winter series. She passed me with ease and left me in the dust. I couldn’t hang with her for one second. That blew the wind out of me, and I went into survival mode.
Luckily the body was holding up well, so no harm done. I made excuses why I was running slow. I had a weird week. I wasn’t running as much, I took that big break. Camping in the woods. Blah blah. All that did was justify me running slower and slower, and I did definitely slow down in the last couple of loops. I figured that I could do two more loops within the 4 hour limit. I did the second to last loop, then went right back out at about 3:25. That left 35 minutes to get back or the last loop wouldn’t count. If I crank a bit, I could get my marathon goal. Wait, no fricken way. 8 laps is less than 25 miles! Gah. That last lap was an anxious one. I didn’t feel comfortable the whole time. The reality was, the previous laps were at a lower limit of pain. One’s body is going to feel pretty run down after several hours of trail running regardless. The lack of comfort on that last loop was more so with the anxiety of not making the time. I didn’t want to push really hard unless I had to. I wanted to keep some in the tank. But I could also keep going… so I kept my foot on the gas for sure. When I finished that eighth loop with a few minutes to go, I headed straight back out for the 0.5 mile loop with mile markers every tenth of a mile. I painstakingly made it up and on to the top of the sledding hill. I thought I heard Andy counting down but it was kind of muffled. I headed towards the downhill and heard the siren, for sure. I spotted the .4 mile marker ahead. So that means .3 was my last one. I ran it in even though the race was over, totally exhausted, and reported .3 miles. Oof. It was hard to tell what place I was in, but it was at least 5th. Dang. But the day was great, the trail was excellent, the camaraderie was wonderful, and the effort was certainly a positive gain in fitness. What better thing to do on one’s birthday?
Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 12 size 12.5
Gear: Handheld water bottle 19oz
Food: 1 gel, 1 package gummis, bunch of oreos, licorice, pretzels, coke
10 Feb 2020
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!