Friday, September 12, 2014

Superior Sawtooth 100 - 2014

It's an innocuous enough title, Superior Sawtooth 100, betraying nothing about the event other than its length, and it doesn't even do that properly (it's really 103.3 miles).  Some enlightenment is needed.  The real name of the race is The Superior 100-mile Trail Race and is run entirely on the rugged Superior Hiking Trail.  It has roughly 21,000 feet of climbing, but no individual climbs larger than a few hundred feet, instead substituting hundreds of smaller climbs throughout the entire course.  Those many small climbs give the race a saw-like profile.  It cuts like one too.

I've run this race three times before, in 2010, 2011, and 2012 where I earned a 3rd and two 2nd places.  I skipped last year to run Wasatch, but was back with a mission this year.  It was hard watching the sign up list with two time winner John Horns coming back along with rookie speedster Mike Borst, young enough to be my son, a Badwater 2nd place finisher, and the UROC winner.  I felt good coming into this 2014 edition, having moved to Duluth, MN where I could train on the SHT as well as having a banner year of running.  I'd PR'd in the marathon, 50-mile, 100K, and 100-mile over the last 12 months.  I was well rested, having not raced since Western States at the end of June and had mostly uninterrupted training.  I wasn't going to be any more ready.

On with it...



I headed up the shore Thursday night with my pal Jeff, who was coming up for his second attempt at the 100-mile.  Meeting up at my house after work, we quickly loaded up his car then headed up, stopping for dinner at The Vanilla Bean in Two Harbors.  I didn't want pasta, and preferred low key, so went with a nice salad with chicken breast, good and light.  From there it was a short hop to packet pickup and the pre-race meeting.  I was getting really focused and into my head, so though I had a lot of friends hanging out, I really didn't want to stay too long, anxious to get our camp setup.  We wandered a bit, saying hi to a few folks, got our bags, then sneaked out the back midway through the meeting (sorry John).

Overall it was a very relaxing, pleasant evening.  Dave, Jeff's crew, was there and we had a campfire, then turned in by 10 PM.  Surprisingly, I slept all night, a good omen.

Up at 5:30 I worked on taping my toes along with eating a breakfast of a couple bananas and boiled eggs.  Easy on the stomach.  It was a nice, cool morning, and a little overcast.  Really, pretty perfect for running.  Around 7:00 we headed up to the start where I met up with my day-crew of mom (Vicky), dad (Dennis), and rookie crew brother-in-law Dan.  They took my gear and we walked up to the start.  I talked to a lot of people on the way to check-in, and by the time I got there Cheri was, like, yeah, we have you already.  Grabbing a fresh cup of decaf from the Governor, I spent the rest of the time bouncing around between my crew and various friends.  Soon enough, though, it was time.

Finding my groove


I ditched my coat with the crew, then John Horns and I wormed our way up to the front line.  We'd run numerous times together and both run for TCRC.  I felt none of the usual jitters just before a start, instead feeling serious and businesslike about what was coming.  Storkamp gave a quick reminder about how to follow the trail, then it was 3-2-1, and we ran.  John, Mike, and 3 others moved up fairly quickly while I stayed in a short train with Joe Boler and 'Nick'.  Joe and I chatted away, moving comfortably for several miles before I decided Nick wasn't running down hills like I wanted to and I moved past him and onto my own.  The first two sections, to Split Rock then Beaver Bay, are long, and account for about the first 20 miles of the course.

Going down into Split Rock (1:36), I was surprised to see Horns in the lead followed by four other guys.  I had thought that they were all much farther out ahead.  In fact I had hoped they were out there beating each-other up.  Coming right back out, though, I moved into 5th, passing a guy who seemed to be breathing awful hard for the slow pace we were running.  It was mostly uneventful running, in wonderful weather on the way to Beaver Bay.  I managed to also pick up Eric Clifton in here, who was running without water nor gels, a strategy I can't really endorse.  Otherwise, I tried to keep it slow and steady only to have my stride broken up by a full on face plant in a large mud wallow.  It was a pretty soft landing, but I had mud from head to toe now.  Alas, there were no streams to rinse off in.

By the time I hit Beaver Bay (3:22) and the first crew point, the mud had mostly flaked off.  I hit these aid stations looking serious, always trying to find my crew, which I did, and 30 seconds later was back out on the trail  Beaver Bay is pretty awesome, since all the crews are there, and there is tons of cheering.  The bounce to Silver Bay is fast, and I ran with Horns a bit here, and moved past him, coming into the AS just ahead of him, now in third (4:18).

I don't much like the run to Tettegouche.  Nothing against the trail, but this is a warmer part of the day, and the slope of the hills the trail is on catches a lot of sun, so that amplifies it, too.  I'd say it's a longer section, but let's be real, they all feel like longer sections.  I didn't see anyone this section, nor would I until just before Finland.  I'd essentially be running alone for the next 12 hours.  Up, down, left, right, repeat.  On the way I passed a woman backpacking with her dog, which was unleashed and repeatedly jumped on me, which she made no move to correct.  So I'll say it: Mother Fucker!  Some people are ignorant, inconsiderate asses.  Fortunately, when I popped out of the trail right into Tettegouche (6:12), I got some aid station love.  Swapping gear again, I also grabbed some pizza, while pal Ethan gave me a quick shoulder rub.

Not five minutes out of there, I tripped on, I don't know, a worm or something, on otherwise unblemished trail and wound up somersaulting onto the gravel shouting and gasping for breath.  Getting up, I, um did some business in the woods and settled down.  I'd cut my shoulder, knee, and really tore my hand up, which was bleeding quite impressively.  I reminded myself the race doesn't start until at least 50 miles.  Cool your jets and just run easy.  So with my tunes back on, I managed to stay on my feet on the way to County Road 6.  This is a pretty slow chunk of trail, having a fair bit of steep climbing and also being fairly warm out still.  I know it well, though, and know that even when you see the aid station below you, there's still a mile to go.  It is beautiful though, especially running across Sawmill Creek Dome, and the large vistas below it.  Get there I did, though (8:10).

My dad gave me some Aleve to carry with, I grabbed a coke, new gels and headed up to Section 13.  I like this chunk of trail, which is reasonably runnable, minus a short chunk of gnarliness in the middle.  Up until now, I'd say, I wasn't having a lot of fun.  It felt like business, and more work than it should be, at least mentally.  My body was doing well, but I wasn't all fired up to be out there, and hadn't been since the start.  That changed as I approached the spur to the AS and spotted the red shirt of Kyle.  He was done, mentally checked out.  I ran a few steps with him, and he'd already decided to drop.  Passing him, and moving into 2nd changed my day.  Now I was hunting.

Hot pursuit


I amped up even more coming out of the spur to find Amy there to lead me into the AS (9:44), a full 25 minutes faster than I'd ever been there, and on kind of poor trail conditions.  Here I'd say goodbye to dad and Dan as they were going home, and I rigged for the night and quickly changed my shirt.  Amy led me out, and I set off up the trail in pursuit of young Mr. Borst.  Very soon I came upon Kurt Decker and Ian Corless shooting photos.  I shouted, "Kurt, do you smell that?" "Smell what?," he responded.  "Rabbit!" and on I went.  Little did I know, there wouldn't be any site of rabbit for more than 6 hours.

I felt I floated the section to Sonju, enjoying the waning sunlight and the pursuit.  Twisting through green tunnels occasionally broken by clear sky, listening to 80's rock, I hit Larry Pederson's AS (11:23).  I asked how far up Borst was and was told 10 minutes (it was 8).  Ugh, I was told 10 at Finland too (really 12).  10 minutes really seemed to be the default answer.  I grabbed some juicy watermelon and gels and headed out to see the Governor at Crosby.  He had a bet that anyone getting there during daylight would win a pound of coffee.  It'd be close, but no way that was happening today.  At Crosby, would also be Amy and mom.

I got in just after dark (12:17).  Thankfully, Patten had been running a stopwatch from when Borst left and I was now down 6 minutes.  OK, this was getting frustrating.  I'd hoped to have bagged him by now.  Gaining at a rate of 200 meters an hour was going to take a while.  Patten had some good humor for me (I'm Sexy and I Know It), and the ladies quickly had my gear set and I was back out there, and into the dark.  By now I was getting pretty tired of my music, since it's only a 5 hour long play list, but it was better than not having anything.  I was also doing this entire race without a pacer, going pure, as it were.  Actually, I have no problems using pacers, I just wanted to try it without, just like my first time here.

Getting to Sugarloaf is a grind. It's nearly 10 miles and some pretty rugged ground  It's usually a little shy of confidence flags, too.  But I knew all this.  The only unexpected thing was that I still hadn't seen Borst.  What was up with this guy, why did he have to pick today to run a smart 100.  I did not want 2nd again.  And I was frankly starting to feel like a nap was a pretty good idea.  It was getting onto 10 PM, my 41-year old bed time.  Finally arriving at Sugarloaf (14:47) after what would be my slowest paced section of the race (15:57), the gals and I did our thing, and I beat it out of there, now only 5 minutes down.  Or was it 10?

Working on the night shift, me and the 'Engine' worked down the short 5.6 technical miles to Cramer (16:12).  It wasn't really that hard, but the miles were taking their tole.  My legs didn't hurt, not at all, but they certainly weren't moving as fast as I'd like them too.  And remember how awesome that nap sounded, well it was even more awesome sounding now.  Fortunately, while it was chilly out, I was moving fast enough that I was totally comfortable in a t-shirt and there were times I still wished I had the singlet back on.  Finally when I got into Cramer just after midnight, I got the best surprise of the last six hours: Borst was there.  He left right away, but we did our thing, and I was right out after him, his light never out of sight.

I was soon running behind him and his pacer, Jacob.  Jacob graciously said he'd run behind us and let us duke it out.  It had taken me over 6 hours to gain 12 minutes, so we were running essentially the same race.  I could have passed Mike, but it would have been at the same slow rate.  We were both gassed.  So we essentially spent the next hour and a half running in silence with Mike leading the way.  The second half of the course had been much muddier so far than the first, with a lot of trees down as well.  We had a grand time looking at trees we had to crawl over, sighing, then lifting our legs over with our hands.  Mostly, though, we danced around the mud, and made our way through the darkness, broken now and then by the bright moon.

The Engine Takes Over


About 10 minutes from Temperence, though, I started feeling my energy rapidly climb upwards.  I was waking up and the legs were getting charged.  I started talking to Mike and he let me know he was falling asleep on his feet.  With about a tenth of a mile to Temperence, he pulled off to go to the bathroom and I bolted.  It was all downhill and I strode out, finally in the lead after 85 miles.  17:56 into the day mom and Amy did a really rapid change of gear and I was rushing off just as Mike came in.  I wanted to get out of his sight, so he couldn't see me at all, hoping it might demoralize him.

I knew this next section really well.  It was the climb up Carlton peak then down into Sawbill.  I hammered this, riding my new-found energy for all it was worth.  Despite the technical climbing and gobs of mud, I managed a 12:16 pace for these 5.5 miles.  I also ended up saying hell with it with the mud and just running through it.  My feet were wet and dirty anyway and I was probably risking a fall trying to dance around it.  Getting to the base of the cliffs was a treat, because I knew it wasn't long to the penultimate AS.  The moon kept setting me off when I'd see it out of the corner of my eye, thinking it was a headlamp, but it was just me, alone in the night.  I strode into Sawbill 19:06 in (3:06 AM).  I was hurried, but laser focused.  The aid station didn't exist, just the trail.  Amy took me to the trail-head and I asked her to wait 10 minutes, so at Oberg they could tell me the gap.

Sawbill to Oberg is normally pretty fast, with a lot of smooth single track.  This year it was deep mud.  I didn't care, I'd given myself completely over to the running.  My legs were pumping like pistons and I went right through all the mud without a care.  It was still pitch black out and the stars were incredible.  Soon enough I was heading down the final hill before the goodly chunk of flat into the aid station.  Oberg has been run by TCRC's Kurt Decker and manned by my TCRC teammates for the last several years and almost as soon as I hit the flats, there was Kurt, headlamp on, to run me in.  That was pretty sweet, he told me that I had over a half hour lead on Borst, and I felt some relief wash over me.  We were both excited about what was looking like a win.  We talked away until we came up to the RV (20:20), 1:14 after leaving Sawbill.  Amy and mom quickly had me on my way.

Kurt ran me up to the trail-head, with Orion shining straight up above us.  He wished me luck, and I was on my own again.  It always gets to me how long this section feels, winding around many times until you begin the first big climb.  I ran what I could, but I could tell that I was really running low on energy.  At least all I had to do was keep moving.  As usual it was climb, run the ridgeline, steep decent to the saddle (which is much longer than you'd think) then finally the switchbacks on up.  Once at the top of the switchbacks, there was immense relief, I knew it was almost over.  A little bit of flat running, then the group campsite.  Hell yeah, so close.  A little farther then the roar of the falls on the Poplar became audible over the music blaring on my iPod.  I looked at my watch, if I could hit the road in 5 minutes I had a shot at sub 22!  I hit the road in 7.  Fortunately it was shorter than I allowed for.  Quickly hauling down the road by myself, I allowed a few private fist pumps and cheers.

I made the turn down to Caribou Lodge to find Jarrow standing there cheering.  Around the pool one more time...the line.  Done in 21:58:32!  A huge smile, a big whoop, and a big hug from Amy.  There was nothing like it.  A win always feels good.  A win on home turf even better.  To finally nail this race, running it almost perfectly, not getting first easily, but having to fight for it, made it all the sweeter.

At last, a chair.  I hadn't sat once all day, not having so much as taken a shoe off to shake it out.  Relief.


  • Nathan v-pack
  • 2 x 20 oz water bottles
  • Injinji sox
  • Hoka Mafate Speeds
  • s-caps
  • Always carried 6 gels out of aid stations

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Big Dance - Western States 2014

This year I was privileged to once more run Western States.  I last ran it in 2010, when Tony Kocanda and I were the only Minnesotans to attend.  This year young gun Jordan Hanlon, Joseph Altendahl, and Scott Hoberg would be joining the fun.  I'd get the play the role of grizzled veteran at 41.  Four years ago this was my first 100-mile race.  There wasn't much different for me this year, other than the now 9 100-mile races and slew of others under my belt.  OK, a boatload of more experience coming into it this time.  Gone were the questions of could I make it, now it was just how fast could I bang it out.  (yeah you don't bang out a hundred, maybe grind it out is more accurate).

I had good buddies Bill 'Pom Pom' Pomerenke and 'Mountain Man' Paul Bjork along to crew and pace.  Bill has a lot of experience running, pacing and crewing, having helped me to victory in the Black Hills 100 in 2011.  We wouldn't have to worry about a victory this time.  Paul has one run ultra, and was a rookie to the whole crewing and pacing gig.  But with Bill's experience and the fact that they are both over half a century old, I figured they'd work out well together.  I think our troupe of three had a combined age of 150.  I'm sure Jordan's group of 5 couldn't match that.

We all flew out to Sacramento on the Thursday before the race, dined at In 'n Out, because, well, In 'n Out.  It was good.  Then we motored on up to Squaw Valley to make a couple of the presentations, and get settled in.  Mostly Paul slept.  He did a lot of that.  I guess having a 15 month old kid is a little wearying.  For him staying up all night taking care of a bitchy runner with digestive issues probably seemed pretty easy.

Friday was runner check in and pre-race meetings.  The check-in took a while, with getting weighed, collecting a boatload of swag, and getting lined up with the medical test I volunteered for.  I had opted to help a group of British doctors on a heart study so I got a full 12-lead ECG and an echo cardiogram.  They were looking to prove that what was currently considered an abnormality is perfectly normal in endurance athletes of a certain age (me).  And, yep, I had the abnormality.  I'd also volunteered to wear a heart-rate monitor the whole race for them, though it fell of around 30 miles in.  Jordan and I booked off to the pre-race meeting, where I bumped in to 'Fun Size' Denise Bourassa, whom I first met at HURT, then Ice Age, then Speedgoat all in one year.

Most of the day was pretty laid back for me, just relaxing, while Paul slept and Bill buzzed around in and ADD high like a kid in a candy store.  That evening we enjoyed dinner with Karl Meltzer, his wife Cheryl, and a friend they had along.  Then back for some crewing instructions and bed.  The alarm was set for 3AM and it felt like it was coming quick.


I'd slept pretty well, and already had everything organized, so I had plenty of time.  Breakfast, then down to get my bib, weigh in, and get the HRM for the medical study.  My elders opted to stay in the room and have oatmeal instead of coming down the the check-in.  I quickly got all set up, went to the bathroom again and again and again, then managed to hook up with Jordan, Ed and friends.  Eventually Joseph found us, then Bill.  There was a ton of energy and it wasn't long before Jordan and I shed layers and headed for the queue.  It was in the 40's and pretty windy out, but it didn't really feel all that bad.  Gordy said a few words as the last minute ticked off, then BAM when the shotgun and we started up to the Escarpment.

Jordan and I mostly did the bottom of the climb together, then he pulled on ahead.  I sidled into a steady pace, eventually matching up with Meghan Arbogast and chatting with her a bit.  The Escarpment was really windy and chilly, to the point my fingers were tingling.  But once we popped the top and started down the single track on the backside, I warmed up quick.  I ran in a train with Meghan for a while trying to dodge past folks where the trail permitted.  The miles were dropping pretty quickly and I was feeling great, and knew I wasn't going out too hard.

It wasn't long before Jordan and I hooked up again, and the trail brought us to Lyon's ridge and Red Star ridge, new turf for me, since last time was a snow course.  I also picked up Denise again, and ran for several hours with her, on and off, up to Devil's Thumb.  Lyon's and Redstar were beautiful with big mountain views of peaks way off in the distance along with wonderful technical trail.  The weather was great and there was a bunch of chatter with various runners all talking about the day and our time hopes.

The aid stations kept coming up quick, and it wasn't long before Robinson Flats came up, and our first crew point.  I hit it in 5:31, a little slower than my hoped for 20-hour pace.  This is a crazy aid station, it's big, and all the crew's are here cheering like crazy.  I came in, got weighed, then boogied out of the AS to where Bill and Paul were.  Quick, sunscreen, gels, s-caps, then motor out for the big climb, and approach to the canyons.  I got out ahead of Jordan here as he changed shoes, and didn't see him for a long time.

Getting in a Groove


Once out of Robinson, it's another 25 miles until crew shows up again, and between there and here are three canyons and the infamous Devil's Thumb climb.  Denise was right behind me as we climbed out of Robinson, hit the peak then started the long decent on fire roads to Miller's Defeat.  Once through there and on a long section of dirt fire-road she dropped me like a rented mule, passing another gal who was up ahead.  It took me another 5 miles to pass the same lady.  My legs were feeling a little tired in here given how much running there is, and pretty much no hills to walk up.  And it felt like it took a lot longer than it did.  Eventually though, there was the Last Chance Aid AS.  I loaded up on ice, then began the approach to Deadwood Canyon.  It was a quick 20 minute drop to the bottom, where I got to wade through the river and cool off before beginning the monstrous 1800 foot climb.

I felt like I was climbing like a boss, and caught Denise on this ascent, and it wasn't much longer before I saw the Devil's Thumb and the AS appeared.  You pretty much just pop over the top of the climb and there it is.  I loaded up again on ice and some gels, while chatting with ex-Minnesotan Joe Uhan.  Just before leaving two volunteers squeezed icy sponges over my head and my legs buckled from the cold shock.  Fortunately it was just a second, and I got a Popsicle and ran downhill.  Denise and I did most of this together with one other guy, chatting a bit on the way down, then she fell off on the climb after the bottom, and I wouldn't see her again until the finish.

I busted out the climb from el Dorado Canyon and made it to the top and Michigan Bluff feeling pretty good in 10:31, 15 minutes off my goal, so not too bad.  Another weigh in to lots of cheering here, grab some stuff from Bill and Paul, then through the last canyon, Volcano, and onto Forest Hill.  This is a pretty uneventful section, and I used it as recovery from the bigger canyons.  As I had the last 20-miles, I kept splashing myself at every trickle of water I came across.  Then, boom, just like that, Bath Road, where Paul was waiting to run me up to Forest Hill.  We chatted on the way up, ran most of it, got weighed in, had a confused pit stop with Bill, then beat it down to Cal Street.


Just Roll With It


Paul and I had a good time cruising down through Cal 1 and 2, picking up a few runners on the way and just rolling along, without pushing it.  I knew this was a 'sucker' section with lots of awesome downsloping, non-technical trail.  A lot of people run it really fast then blow up the last 20 miles.  I ran it fastish, but never at a point where I felt like I was crushing it.  Down here too, I started having stomach issues, with some cramping and nausea, so I got to do the dance of trying to balance s-caps, water, and not throw up.  Other than a couple pit stops, I made it work (perfect no puke record).  Around Cal 3, Paul started fading and eventually fell off (he had a good time recovering at Rucky Chucky with pretty ladies bringing him food on the cot).  With a couple miles to go to the river, Jordan and pacer Steve Moore blew by me and quickly disappeared.  He put up to 18-minutes on me in about 10 miles.

I got to the river with plenty of daylight (one of my pre-race hopes) and crossed it alone, with all the other runners several minutes ahead or behind.  It was a pretty cool experience as the only runner in the water, a lot of crews on the other side cheering, and all the helpful rope handlers standing in the river.  It was cold, but I could feel my temperature dropping and life coming back to me.

Once out of the water I did a quick shoe and sock change, which was well worth it.  And I rigged for night running, my favorite time of these big races.

Stop, Hammer time!


Suffice to say, as night descended, and I had cooled off from the river, I put the hammer down.  I felt good.  My head wasn't screwed up, I had energy, and the stomach was squared away.  It wasn't long before I caught and passed Kaci Lickteig for good (I almost got her at Cal 3).  In barely an hour out from Green Gate we were at Auburn Lakes and quickly on the way to Brown's bar.  Bill and I chatted a bit, but I think I was pretty quiet for a lot of it, just focusing on running well.  In another hour we were at Brown's Bar, run by stud Hal Koerner.  I said a quick hey to him, then we started up the infinite climb to Highway 49, where Paul would be.

This is the second to last climb, and it's no fun.  It is pretty rocky, and a lot of it is just too steep for me to run.  You aren't, but it feels like you lose a lot of time on it.  The reality, Bill and I did the 3.6 miles in 51 minutes.  And this was the first point of the day I got under 20-hour pace.  Paul was waiting up at the AS and got me set.  We would have been out quick, but Pom Pom, had panic attack about his headlamp and decided to change his batteries.  I was addled enough I waited around for him, when I should have gone out and had him catch up.  Our one time on Ultralive TV too, and it was changing batteries.  Alas.  Only 6.7 miles to the finish, and I was feeling pretty darn good.

After 49 was some easy meadows for a mile or so followed by the long downhill into No Hands Bridge.  Bill was talking about stopping and fixing his lamp, but I was focused on running through, with about an hour of running I wasn't stopping for anything.  Busting down the long downhill was super dusty from a runner in front of me, and it was like running in fog, with the headlamp beams reflecting back off of the dust.  That made me want to go faster and pass so I could see.  We didn't stop at No Hands, which had the big screen and loud music going, but just blew on through across the bridge.  Only 5K left.

With just about half a mile of flat we turned up and began a lot of steep climbing up to Robie Point.  There was a runner behind us, but we pulled away and soon had the trail to ourselves.  It felt like the climb wasn't going to end, but just like that we popped out near the gate, and Robie Point.  There was cheers and offers of aid, but with 1.3 miles left I just wanted to finish.

I could see a couple of groups ahead of us, and I tried to run as much as possible, but ended up walking a good chunk.  Between power walking and some jogging I passed one guy from Croatia and was closing on another group.  That's when I recognized the familiar green tank top of Jordan.  Holy cow, I thought he'd have been done by now given the gap he had.  That's when I had the less than stellar idea to race to the finish.  I dropped my pack and headlamp for Bill and Paul, who had just showed up, and shouted to Jordan something to the effect of 'let's do this'.  I gapped him a bit, but he and his crew were in hot pursuit.  He shouted back 'We're on the roads now!"  He'd kill me in a road race.  It wasn't long before my side started aching, and I though this is stupid, but machismo made me keep pressing.  A few turns and I could see the gate to the track.  Tropical John announced me and said a few things, and I ran around alone.  It wasn't until the turn that I looked and saw Jordan just entering the track.

I felt like I was floating around the turn and the final stretch, knowing I'd had a heck of a day.  I crossed the line in 19:44:25, a PR by over two hours, and bettered my first 100 here by over four.   It wasn't a flawless race, but I'd put together a good one, evenly paced and well executed.  It was a joy to have my tenth 100-miler right where I had my first successful 100-miler.  And all four of us Minnesotans finished, with three silver buckles and bronze by Joseph, who probably shouldn't even have been running.

Hell of a day.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Ice Age 2014

I came into this race feeling pretty lethargic, Boston Marathon three weeks ago had taken quite a bit out of me and I really wasn't bouncing back quickly.  My last two short runs in the taper had felt leaden and a sad predictor on what was to come.  By all accounts I ran a decent race compared to the field, but not what my current fitness would have allowed me to run had I been fully rested.  I ended up running a 7:24:39, which was a 5 minute PR, nothing really to complain about, but I sure feel like I could have run closer to 7 hours.

Chris Rubesch and I drove down on Friday, picking up his main squeeze Andrea from Eau Claire.  She was super kind and drove everything from then on so Chris and I could nap.  It was a pretty easy trip and we ended up camping in Horseriders Camp ground, sharing a site with a couple of ladies that were racing their horses the next day.  We got lucky they offered us a site, since this campground is only for people who have horses.

An early rising at 4:30 got us to the start shortly after 5, and gave us plenty of time to ready our kits and enjoy catching up with some friends before the national anthem.  Andrea was going to drive around and cheer on Chris, then meet us at the finish.  Jeff Mallach gave a quick pre-race rundown which was followed by the national anthem.  Immediately where was a quick 10 second countdown while Chris and raced to get into the queue, just off the front.  Then, boom, we were off.

It was a quick start around the Nordic Loop with a lot of people really cranking it out right away.  I did a pretty good job of holding back, but probably still ran faster than I should have.  As it was I popped my headphones, turned on the tunes, and let the engine do it's thing.  Running nice an steady the entire loop, finally coming through the starting area again with throngs of people cheering, then out onto the main course.

The leg out to Rice Lake went pretty well, and I was moving nicely, though I was starting to get strong hints that this was not going to be the best day.  I wasn't sore, but the legs just didn't have the pop that they should have.  I cruised through most of the aid-stations, just stopping for water or to ditch garbage.  In fact, this race I probably did my best A.S. transitions, spending no time other than what was absolutely necessary.

Right behind me at Rice Lake was Kaci, and I ran with her for a few miles back towards confusion corner.  She was running a very steady pace, though, while I was very steadily declining.  By then, over 20 miles into it, there was no question I was going to run even close to 7 hours.  My initial plan to run an 8 min/mile average to 30 miles, then accept a pretty decent slowdown.  I think I was already behind that plan at 20.

So I ground it out the last 30 miles  I maybe spent 5 minutes in that 'I can quit and be just fine with it' zone before telling myself to suck it up.  Heading back to Confusion Corner then onto Horse Riders, it started getting pretty hot (this year had one of the lowest finishing rates).  I felt I managed it pretty well, just drinking more, and pouring water on myself once in a while.  I don't think I passed anyone the entire way to the turnaround at Emma Carlin, though I did get dropped by the second and third place women.

I remember, just like two years ago, that once turning around at Emma Carlin, it was a huge relief.  Only 9 miles to go, and none of it really hard.  Plus, now, I'd get to see everyone else coming back and have some company.  So I forged on, and once I hit Margaritaville, I filled up my bottle one last time, then kicked it as hard as I could for the finish.  I actually didn't feel too bad once done, just tired.  My stomach was in good shape, and I was able to eat right away.  Chris' dad was awesome, grabbing me food and water and just generally being a good guy.

So, I'm satisfied to get a PR out of this, but it was a lot of work for 5 minutes.  Basically, it just came down to the fact that I wasn't recovered from Boston.  And Boston was an 'A' race for me, while Ice Age wasn't, so there you go.

Jeff Mallach puts on a good race, and there are loads of great volunteers out on the course.  It's pretty much impossible to get lost, and the post race BBQ and drinks are some of the best in the ultra world.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

2013 Wild Duluth 100k

I went into the 2013 edition of the 100k, the fifth, with few expectations for a good day.  I was in the process of moving from Minneapolis to Duluth and had weeks of stress and sleepless nights leading up to race day.  I’d had a pretty good year of running so I wasn’t concerned about knocking out another solid race, but just run casually and enjoy a day on the trail.

The 6AM start was dark, early, and cold.  Rousting myself at 4 and heading down to the start wasn’t making me particularly happy, but once I connected with friends at the pre-race briefing everything was good.  After Andy gave us the low down on the course, we all headed out into the cold and dark to toe the line and start the real fun.  I landed in the first row with Chris, Ethan, Christi and a few others.  After just a few minutes we were off.  It was a big pack of lights circling Bayfront before heading up the ramp over the highway, crossing Superior Street and onto the single-track of the Superior Hiking Trail.

We are really lucky to be able to run on 30 miles of trail, in the woods, in the middle of an urban environment.  And run we did.  We quickly had things sorted out with Chris Rubesch and two others charging off the front followed by a group of myself, Christi, Ethan, Bob Gerenz and a couple others.  We cruised up the hill to Enger Tower, a good 1.5 miles of uphill, and rang the peace bell as we went by.  We were all chatting it up, and Ethan and I had largely the same plan of running easy and seeing where it took us.  Now the thing with Ethan and I is that prior to this race, we’d run three other races together and our combined time difference was less than 10 minutes.  So we can run together pretty well.

So up over Enger, and through the Piedmont aid station I went without stopping.  It was cool and kind of humid and somewhere past Piedmont it started raining a bit, with some snow mixed in.  Not exactly the prime conditions I was hoping for, and if the rain kept up there was going to be a lot of carnage.  There was nothing to do but run, since I didn’t even put a spare pair of socks in my drop bags.   Fortunately it only spat for a couple hours then stayed dry the rest of the day.  It wasn’t long before Ethan and I separated and moved into 4th and 5th with the others out of sight ahead of us.  So we ran with each other, pushing trail under our feet while the hours ticked away.  We did play touch and go with Artur from Canada for a while, but he was huffing and puffing whenever he went by us.

Still in our same places we came into the Munger A.S. to see the third place guy leaving.  Mmmm, rabbit!  Ethan and I turned it around quickly (thanks UMTR volunteers) and set to chase.  After a mile or so we roped the young lad in while going up a hill.  He said he came to run for a podium spot.  I don’t think it worked out real well.  I was still feeling really good, though Ethan was unfortunately feeling the love.  On the way to E. Palkie A.S. I lost contact with him behind me.  I kept expecting him to show up, but it wouldn’t happen.  In this same section I saw Sean, the number 2 guy and spent a couple of miles slowly roping him in, passing him for good right before the aid station and the 7 miles of road it ushered in.  I grabbed a snack quick, and started on the flat hard stuff and making time to the turnaround.

Banging out some fast miles I finally saw Chris headed back, a full 22 minutes ahead of me.  I wouldn’t worry about that, remember, I was just here for a fun day on the trail.  After that I didn’t see anyone until I hit the turnaround and headed back.  I bumped into Marcus on the trail, pointing me to the cutoff and the turnaround aid.  I hit it at 5:35 into my day.  Not too, shabby, and I was feeling great!  Now, I told myself, I could race if I wanted to.  I grabbed my gels from my drop bag, then turned and burned.  Time to get home.

I had a lot of fun the first 10 miles running back, since I got to see everyone else in the race.  First up were Sean, Ethan, then Christi, Artur, and Bob McGrath.  Periodically was the other 40 or so runners.  Most looked pretty good and like they were going to make it, but there were a few moving awful slowly and probably in danger of missing the 50k cutoff.  In a change from my usual experience, I was smiling and happy the whole way back, not like it wasn’t work, but I never got into a funk.

I felt like I had the hammer down pretty good, even down the muddy hills and stairs leading back to Munger Trail and Ely’s Peak.  By the time I got close to Munger, all the other runners were behind me, and I wouldn’t see anyone for a long time.  I made short work again of all the aid stations, spending just a few seconds at each.  Hit it and quit it is the way to do it.   I do most of my training alone, so running alone on the way back wasn’t a problem.  I just cranked up the iPod and pushed as hard as I could.  I also spent a bit of time looking over my shoulder.

It felt good to broach the top of Ely’s, which was the hardest climb remaining.  Todd Rowe was up there snapping photos and gave a shout.  And so it was back through Magney, Spirit and Highland/Getchell.  No crashes, no bonks, just steady running in the sunshine.  By the time I got to Highland, though I was ready for it to be over.   Chris was far enough ahead, I didn’t have to even think about catching him, but I had no idea how close third place was.   In here I started picking up more rabbits, 50k runners!  I caught the venerable Rick Bothwell and ice cream loving Wayne Nelson, along with a couple of others.

I knew exactly how far I had to go once I hit Lincoln Park and the climb to Piedmont.  I ditched my coat with my parents, who had come to watch the finish, and punched it.  I really like this last 5k and try to save energy for it, particularly to have the legs to crush the downhills.  Back past Twin Ponds and up to Enger again, then bombing the long downhill back to Bayfront.  Coming across the bridge again, my folks were there and I was giving it my all, nailing the last mile in about 6:30 and crossing the finish line 11:35:31 for second place and first masters.  Not too bad for a day for which I had no expectations.

Chris Rubesch took first with 11:01:43 and Bob McGrath was third in 12:12:26 (I hope I run like him when I’m 50).  Christi Nowak walked with the women’s win in 12:17:03, followed by Julie Librizzi in 15:05:32, and Annie Beherend in 15:39:36.