Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Test

Test post; via email. 

-crg

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ankle sprain forces DNF from Superior 100

2014 Superior 100 photo album (captioned with mini race report)

Somewhere around 9 PM a few miles from the Finland aid station, my right ankle became weak and floppy. It hurt on the front of my ankle when I pointed my toes, and the strength to support my weight on that ankle was waning. I was all-but sure I had suffered a high ankle sprain. (If only because I had recently read the linked article).

We had been running very well. The section from County Road 6 to the next aid has some of the longest, flattest, gentlest sections on the entire course and we had run them hard. Everything was going well - food, fuel, salt, pace, everything. I do not recall any specific, acute trauma that did anything to that ankle - no fall, twisting, or misstep. All was normal, and then the pain showed up out of nowhere.

What to do now? We were 48 or so miles into the Superior 100, a rugged 103.3 trail race. It was three-or-so miles to the next aid station (Finland) at mile 51.2. I could still run on perfectly flat and gentle ground, but running on anything else was a no-go. So we marched on.

I had taken a misstep and rolled my left ankle on the Tuesday before the race. That left ankle was supported with a compression sleeve on race morning, and I had been wearing it since Wednesday AM. Together with my pacer, we resolved to get a medical evaluation at Finland, tape the ankle, and continue. Barring that, we would move the compression sleeve over. The left ankle had been giving me no troubles and so I was comfortable with that plan.

We rolled into Finland at 9:50 PM, the party in full swing. I sent my wife to find someone who could tape an ankle. The aid station did not have anyone. They also did not have any athletic tape. The only tape we had was Leukotape, which I use for blister prevention. It has no elasticity and was not something I wanted to tape an ankle with. I also couldn't carry the roll with me should I later change my mind between now and the next time I saw her in 11 miles - my pack was full and my pacer couldn't carry it either. And so we switched the sleeve over and kept rolling. We walked, gingerly, out of the rocky spur trail that had lead to the aid station. I chalked my uncomfortable footing up to the chill that I underwent after sitting in the aid station for 15 minutes eating, drinking, and determining what to do with my foot. I did have a fleece hat and two shirts on. Once we hit the dirt road off of the spurt trail that leads back to the main SHT trail, we were running. All was again perfect with the world.

To Sonju

It lasted about four miles. The section to Sonju is notoriously rough, and it beat my feet into submission during 2013's event. And so we walked and maintained a decent clip. I expected to slow down if only because of the terrain, and we did. Whether the pain returned because of the terrain or not, four miles in I was back to the weak ankle and cringe-inducing steps. Again, how to fix it? I sat down on a rotted-out stump and laced up my right shoe to the top pair of eyelets - those one you never, ever use - and tightened up the laces as taut as I could comfortably manage. The additional lacing through those top eyelets provided additional downward pressure to the front of my ankle and stabilized the whole joint. And we kept moving.

We pulled into Sonju aid station, mile 58.7 at approximately 1:20 PM. Larry Pederson and his daughter were there, as were several runners huddled around the fire. I asked for medical assistance with taping the ankle, and they did not have any. They also lacked tape. I asked for some ibuprofen. No dice (and was later glad they didn't have any).

"You can't drop here," Larry said. Best to keep going to Crosby, they'll likely have medical staff and supplies there because, well, it's Crosby, we agreed. It had taken us 24 minutes per mile to get here, although my brain calculated our pace closer to 20 minutes per mile. That faster pace was sustainable at a walk, and running the math out - remember, it's dangerous to do basic math during a 100 miler - it was also a finishable pace, Larry and I agreed.

To Crosby

And so we hoofed off at 1:24 AM. The 4.2 miles to Crosby is actually closer to 3.66 because you need to get out of the aid station (~0.2 miles) and then once you get to the gravel road, hike up that gentle grade into the aid station (~0.33 miles). It was an easy section. At my erroneous pace guess of 20 minutes per mile, even on my now-supported ankle, we were going to shoot for arriving at around 2:50 AM.

But just like the compression sleeve, the relieve the additional lacing provided did not last and within a mile or two I started to hobble on the ups and down. I shuffled down declines sideways with my feet perpendicular to the trail. When the pain returned my pacer and I concluded that I was not going to run another step. We determined that once we got to Crosby, we were going to get a medical evaluation. If it was safe to continue, i.e. I wasn't running the risk of a serious or permanent injury, we would tape up the ankle or do whatever else was necessary and keep going at our power hike pace. I would hike to Lutsen if necessary.

But the ankle only got worse with each step. By the time we hit the road, I was in a full-on limp on the flat and hard dirt. For a third time, we had reached the question: What to do now? I grimaced as we plodded up into the aid station. For the first time during the race, I did not run to meet my wife. I hobbled.

But there was no medical staff at Crosby. My wife asked the aid station workers for someone who could tape an ankle, and it got to Matt Patten - who was captaining party known as the aid station - who determined that he was going have to be the person, who despite a lack of medical training, upon whom the task would fall. He also lacked the medical supplies to complete the task.

Somehow, a crew member of another runner heard my plight and came over. Jen was a physical therapist and graciously agreed to examine my ankle. With my shoe, sock, and compression sleeve removed, she wrapped her hands around the base of my ankle and squeezed, putting pressure with a single fingertip.

"Does that hurt?" she asked.

I moaned, reared my head and thought I was going to cry. She moved her hands, and squeezed again.

I repeated my wincing, and announced to the world that I was going to throw up. The pain had sent me into shock.

You've definitely strained the ligaments on the outside of your ankle, she explained - likely by rolling it - and you likely pinched a ligament on inside of your ankle at the same time when it rolled. She could tape the ankle up and that would brace it very well, but she was unfamiliar with the Leukotape we had.

Now I have rolled ankles in the middle of races before. During the 2011 Superior 50K, I took a wrong step and a later fall rolled my left ankle. Obviously sprained, I could and did continue to run on it. I sprained the right ankle en route to finishing the Zumbro 100 in April 2012. But none of those affected my ability to maintain forward progress like this injury.

My wife asked the penultimate question. "Does he risk serious or permanent damage if he continues [with a taped-up ankle]?"

Well, she said in a tone that told me I wasn't going to like the news, you're risking a longer recovery from continuing. You're looking at eight to 10 weeks of recovery if you stop now, and longer of you damage it further. You could also tear the ligaments and risk immobilization, she said.

During the hike up and into Crosby, my pacer and also discussed the collateral effects of the sprain on other parts of the body. I would be compensating for the weakness and my gait was noticeably affected. It was all too easy to injure another body part as a result of my altered stride.;

I knew the trail that was coming next, too. I would need to descend over boulders into the Manitou River gorge and then hike up and out of the same. If something went wrong, I was toast and could need professional rescue. And other hard parts of the course remained - the Cross River and the hike up and down the hill prior to the Temperance River and then up to, around, and down Carlton Peak were primarily on my mind.

My pacer looked at me and all-but told me to turn in my number. You don't want to be out six, nine, 12 months because of this, he said. I knew he was right, and I told my crew, Jen, and Matt Patten that I was done. My wife removed my bib and took it to the radio operators and made sure I was properly DNF'd. I thanked Matt Patten, Jen, and sat there for a little while in warm clothes consuming soup and grill-fired pizza. I dragged my right foot as I walked to the car, dazed from the effort and what had just occurred.

Aftermath and evaluation

My injury-forced DNF has left me with an emotional emptiness, like a nagging Monday morning quarterback who has nothing critical to say about the prior day's performance. Just a shrug, a better-luck-next-time.

Why? Because everything went right on this race except that ankle, and everything continued to go well after the ankle injury (except of course the ankle). And even with the ankle injury, I still cannot point to a specific event which caused it. I did not fall, and none of my stumbles over roots or rocks were out of the ordinary. I do not remember rolling my ankle (which is why I thought it was initially a high ankle sprain caused by running down hill), or any specific point on the trail or event that was occurring when and where it first gave out.

So what did go well?

---Weather

How often do you get three perfect days in a row on the North Shore? Almost never, that's when. The days lined up to be mostly sunny, temps in the mid 60's, lows in the low 50's/high 40's and a nice breeze. Zero rain was in the forecast, although we did get about five droplets hit us by a passing cloud en route to Sonju.

It did rain earlier in the week and so the trail was muddy in many spots, but that was manageable. I'd rather have water on the ground than it coming from the sky.

---Nutrition

I went into the race planning on relying almost entirely on Clif blocks while taking a gel once per hour, salt tabs every 30 minutes, and taking two 225-calorie bars (made from this cookie recipe, which I have used in cookie form at prior ultras) at each aid station, and then consuming bananas, other fruit, HEED, Coke, ginger ale, and PB&J sandwiches at aid stations. My watch was set to a 10 minute timer so I could take a block, and everything was based off of that. My world was confined to 10 minute increments, and I had the timer field showing all the time on my watch. I only looked at the time elapsed (or the actual time) at aid stations, but never in between. I can do anything for 10 minutes.

In the end, I consumed 12 tubes of blocks (2,400 calories), four gels (400 calories), several bars, and other goodies at aid stations. I probably easily cleared 5,000 calories and felt great the entire time. When my brain did start to fritz out while walking to Sonju and then Crosby aid stations, I was easily able to recognize it, take a salt tab and get some calories in, and keep going.

Gels did not work so great because they were so sweet (I had a couple of ones from Clif), but they were a good pick-me-up when I knew I was low on sugar. Mix with some water and take it slowly and all was fine. As the race was progressing, my plan for them was to keep a couple on me to get me through any low-glucose-induced rough patches.

Fluids also went well, and was able to drink to thirst without worrying about draining my supply.

---Footwear

I went to New Balance 1010v2's for additional support and protection in this race. And they worked. My feet did not get pounded to a pulp, although I did end up jamming my big toe on my right foot and will lose the nail on my right big toe again. I don't think this is so much of a shoe issue as it is my own tendency to use that foot as my initial stepping-off foot, i.e. it bears the brunt of any contact. The shoes themselves also held up very well, and only one lug became partially detached my the aggressive trail. I'd wear them again.

Other issues with my feet I am chalking up to the loss of form caused by the ankle sprain. 

---Pace 

I planned to take the pace slow an comfortable. Apparently my reputation - earned or not - of blowing up in races precedes me, and there are a few people who have scrapped my butt out of an aid station and pushed me to the finish. I chalk most of these prior errors up to plain inexperience, and I was going change that rep at this race.

I hope I have. I arrived at Split Rock, mile 9.7, at approximately 10:10 AM. I had run with a group of people, the leader of which was taking the pace gently and making sure to walk and go slow over technical sections. The transition was quick, and later I shortly caught up with T.J. Jeannette as we walked out of the aid.

T.J. and I ran to Beaver Bay together, again, going nice and slowly. We let a few groups go and T.J. kindly let me lead. We pulled into Beaver Bay, strong and comfortable, at 12:30. The exchange was quick, and T.J. later caught up to me after I stopped to urinate. We hit the dirt road and he left me, but I kept going slowly.

Somewhere prior to Silver Bay Kevin Langton caught me and I told him we were going to hit Silver Bay at 1:45. I had been running 15 minute miles comfortably, and he gave me a Woo! as he passed. I hit Silver Bay right on time, 1:45 PM. I had passed Kevin during the transition, and he would later catch up to me just prior to the Drain Pipe in Tettegouche.

Next was Tettegouche, a 9.9 mile section. That 15-minute pace would mean 2.5 hours on a generally difficult section. I pulled into the aid station at 4:30 PM, a 2:45 split for 16.5 minute miles. I was pleased, as I was still running very well and not slowing noticeably on the flats or down. I still had plenty of legs on the ups.

I did forget to grab something solid to eat at Tettegouche, and by the time I realized it I had made sure I wolfed down half of a bar. The climb from Highway 1 past Tettegouche to Inspiration Point is slow and shallow, but it also is not runnable. I had my first bad patch here, and I fought through it with a gel and determination. I hit County Road 6 at 7:10 PM, again comfortably running everything runnable after I fought through the low spell. The section was done at about an 18:12 pace and I was in over 20 minutes ahead of where I had been been in the past. Of course things then went south after mile 48 en route to Finland with the ankle injury, but we did the next 7.7 miles in 2:20 (18:18 pace). Even after the ankle injury I was consistently moving at 24 minutes per mile for 12 miles.

Had it not been for the ankle injury, I have no doubt that I would have finished.

Could I have finished, and if so, what would it have required?

I doubt it. Looking back, it would have required the ankle to be evaluated and taped at Finland. I could have also taped it myself at Finland. I also think poles would have helped, although I made the conscious decision while packing for this year's race not to bring them because I felt I had relied on them too much with too little gain at last year's event. And even then, it was a big unknown.

What's next?

Very simple. Recover, and recover well. Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevation. I'll be back next year.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Superior cometh

In 10 days, the wheels roll north to Two Harbors and then Lutsen for Superior for my favorite running weekend of the year.

I am ready, despite my YTD mileage - which will be ~625 since May 1 as of race morning, which includes a pitiful June - being a good 150-175 miles short of where I would like it to be. But the long runs have given me confidence. I ran a solid slow-and-easy pair of loops at Afton ten days ago, coming in at 3:01 and 3:09 for a 6:10 solo 50K. Together with my 5:27 50K race at Afton, I have had 11 solid long runs this summer time, including one six-hour, 20-mile jaunt in the mountains of Breckridge, CO (Main Street elevation of 9,600', with peaks just under 13K).

I am changing up a couple of things from last year's race to better ensure a finish in these fickle things known as 100 milers. First, I am switching up my fueling to increase my caloric intake to something closer to a semi-arbitrary 300 calories per hour. I know that 200 calories of gels per hour, plus aid stations, is insufficient. And my stomach bailed on gels at Afton in the heat somewhere around mile 20, and so that gives me pause to not rely on them entirely. The plan will be to move to Clif Blocks, one every 10 minutes on a timer with gels taken every hour on the half-hour. Timing the gels will be easy because when there are three and zero blocks left in their six-pack tube, a gel goes in. That will get me to 300 calories per hour right there (blocks are 33 calories each; gels are 90-100), and that plus real food at aid stations with something to take with will put as much hay in the barn as possible on race day.

Second, I went to a beefier shoe after my feet were beaten into submission last year. As much as I love the New Balance 110's, they are really a racing flat designed for less rugged courses and shorter races. Although NB is re-tooling them into the 110v2's (and curiously NB has them listed on their website as "cushioning" shoes...), I went with the 1010v2's earlier in the year and have run all but one of my trail runs in them. Preliminary results are that there is a lot of cushioning and room to stretch as feel swell, and the the tread is designed to tackle most anything. My feet have not been sore after any of my long runs (only Afton and Breckridge had any real gnarliness to them - running at Elm Creek is more of a 10-mile track loop on compacted dirt with no hills steep enough to require a walk), and so I am confident in my ability to keep the soles of my feet intact to Lutsen. The race will hurt, no doubt - there are gaps in the lugs where something could hit my arch or the rockplate hard - but the suffered will be greatly minimized.

Third, my entire family is coming. This will exponentially increase the experience level of my crew, as my wife will he acting as Field Marshall to make things go smoothly. This will be her first time at Superior since 2009, my first ill-fated, inexperienced attempt at a 50 miler. My parents are coming up to watch the little guy, and one of my wife's best friends is coming to keep her company in the woods during this mad excursion. Pacing me on the overnight is a partner at my wife's office, a 3:05 marathoner who has run with me several times, is very talkative and easy going, and will be good company through the overnight. He is more than stoked to be pulling that shift, and was blown away simply by running a loop with me at Afton. Superior is on another level my friend - prepare to be amazed.

Fourth, this is my third go-around at this race while I seek a second buckle (and a new sweatshirt!). I know the trail well and am determined to play the experienced racer. I will go out calm and cool, keeping a steady pace throughout Friday while managing the afternoon heat for the first third, running as smoothly through the overnight for the second third, and pouring on the gas to push through the sunrise and on to Lutsen for the final third of the race. I'll minimize my time in aid stations to keep the downtime to a minimum. Mentally, I am much stronger and ready to grunt myself to the finish ahead of cutoffs, damn the time, than I have been in the past.

The goal? As always, I want to finish above all else. I would love to run 32-34 hours, and anything less than 30 hours would juts be amazing. I believe I am capable of such a time, but everything has to go right, weather included. Cool and calm, overcast, and a warm night. Come into Finland at about 10 PM and just hammer the overnight while not flagging dramatically in the morning. But I'd like to finish, to cheer and whoop and holler across the timing strips, the cathartic release palpable to all present. I'd take that.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Afton 2014: three years of calf cramps

Afton 2014 was an exercise in running comfortably. I had no expectations other than finishing, and intended to use the event as a training run for Sawtooth more than anything. I thought on a great day, I could run sub-5 hours. But I also understood that was an unrealistic expectation. a 5:30 finish was much more reasonable.

The basic plan was to go out relaxed, hang back and not get tangled up in the downhill start or get worked up expending energy on uphills or pounding downhills with impunity. My quads post-race, with only a slight twinging on my left sartorius, show that I followed the plan.

I came through the first loop in 2:26, essentially right where I wanted to be. Fueling and fluid intake had been good, as I had generally set (and followed) my watch's 25-minute timer for regular intake. I knew the second loop would be exponentially harder - it always it. Add to the fatigue the excessive heat and a majority of runnable sections and it's a recipe for disaster.

This was the third time I have run Afton: 2011, 2012, and 2014. During the 2011 event, held at Afton Alps due to the MN state government shutdown, I fell when my right calf cramped badly midstride. The race left my with a golf ball sized knot of continually contracted calf muscles for several days after the race. I suffered a similar fate in the 2012 event. I was twinging with cramps on the straightaway leading up to Meat Grinder, and then I was reduced to the ground during the Snowshoe loop and likely killed my chances of running sub-5 hours. Again, I had knots in my right calf from where the cramping occurred.

This year was different in that I never had a full-on cramp that immobilized me. I did have occasional cramping on that straight away and the final loop, but it was always manageable and controllable with water and salt tabs. But the post-race knot was as worse as ever, and hung around until the Friday after the race.

My stomach failed me just after the first aid station on the second loop. I couldn't stomach another gel, and I went to Coke and ginger ale at every aid station after that. The sugar high kicked in to perk up my senses and I never felt taxed for calories for the remainder of the race despite not ingesting any other solid food until after I crossed the line.

Now eight days post-race, I feel back to 100 percent and ran a decent 16.6 mile long run this morning. Of course the way our saw slow and sloggish, but a 5 AM start does that to a body. I should have done the lunge matrix, but decided against it. As a result, the run back was significantly faster (and were the way out should have been).

Next on the docket is a 20-mile run every weekend from here to Sawtooth. I have no races scheduled until Sawtooth, but I will be in Breckenridge, CO at the end of this month for a family wedding (and will run in the mountains every chance I get) and two weeks later will be running 50K on the Superior Hiking Trail. I will be doing the overnight section with my pacer so he is familiar with it and I get to experience it outside of a race and on fresh legs. I'd like to bang it out in under six hours of easy running, so we'll see how that goes. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

(A belated) 2013 Sawtooth/Superior 100 race report



DNF stands for “did not finish.” It also stands for “did not fail.”

It was just before 2 PM on Saturday, and the Temperance River Aid station was chock full of runners. 50 milers had started to come through, and I had been passed by more than my fair share. En route to this oasis by the river, I had been seen the first 20 or so runners throwing down in a race half the distance of mine. It was odd how much distance was between each runner, far more than I had ever seen at the front of that event. Everyone was by themselves, slogging along in the relentless afternoon heat. 

Me? I was about to all-but collapse in Bill Pomerenke’s arms as I hobbled into the aid an incoherent mess. My 1,000 yard stare looked for my crew, but all I could do was raise my eyes the to height of Bill’s chest. "What do you need?" Bill said. I was ready to cry. I said nothing, instead mumbling something and waving my hands horizontal in front of me like I was done or that I was refusing what he was offering.

Bill ushered me over to a chair in the shade of the aid station’s canopy. I fell into the canvas seat as I let my body ease up. I rolled my head back to the headrest, then leaned forward. Head in hands, tears coming to eyes.

Bring me water, Bill asked the station workers. You need to get your core temperature down, he told me. Bill handed me a Dixie cup of water. I grabbed it gingerly in my hand without looking up and took a sip. And sobbed. All the while, Bill tried to get information out of me and my pacer. How much had he been drinking, eating, taking salt? he asked.

The section to Temperance has routinely, regardless of race distance, been the hardest section for me. Once you hit the Cascade River, the root- and rock-lined single track wends forever and by that point you’re still a few miles from hitting aid. And between that river bottom and the next, you’ve got to make it up and down the largest climb and descent on the entire course. That elevation change is exposed, dry, deceptive and relentless. I had taken it and its river route gingerly, carefully taking baby steps while holding firm to my poles and just trying to keep moving forward.

Bill summoned bags of ice and workers rubbed them over my back and held one under my armpits. My running companion’s parents assisted with this process, and his father modestly declined with a southern drawl to place the ice near the femoral arteries in my groin. My head was still in my hands. I kept sobbing. Step one was lowering my core temperature, and we were well on our way to inducing some chills.

And then they started in on the food. Orange slices times two. Watermelon, a slice so perfectly cut like an oversized Scrabble piece. Banana. Grilled cheese. Two pb&j's. Soup times two, the first with an extra bouillon cube. At least four salt tabs.

With hot soup in hand, I started to shiver. Here I was, 80 degrees out in the shade, and I was trembling. Slightly at first, then more violently. Always uncontrollable. Bill brought me a blanket and a medical-type person (nurse?) come over to check me out. Should they take my core temperature? The worker said no, it wasn’t necessary – persons exerting themselves to exhaustion often shiver when they stop because they’ve used up all of their fuel and the only thing keeping them warm – the exercise – has now stopped.

I kept consuming the soup, sipping at first and then by the spoon and pourful. It was extra salty. That it didn’t taste repulsive was a sign to me that I was deficient on NaCl. On any other day or in any other race, I probably would have spit it out or vomited.

I gradually came around. It started in steps. First I was able to lift my head up. When I came in, I could only look as high as someone’s knees while sitting. Then my eyes could rise to someone’s waist as the inflow of calories started to take effect. Then to the workers’ shoulders. Finally I could look them in the eye. Joni, my pacer for the last loop of Zumbro 2012, was there. Eric, who also paced that last loop, was running the marathon that day and had recently pulled into the aid station.

Then I started talking. Words came individually at first, but clearly. Then in complete sentences. "What's wrong with your body," the medical staff (maybe a nurse?) asked.

My feet are sore – pounded to a pulp, really – and I have dead quad, I responded. Every time I took a step my thighs wanted to collapse out from underneath me. She asked me if I had ever had dead quad before under circumstances where I ate something and it went away. I told her no, but that I was willing to try, if only to believe I could be revived. By this point I had been shoveling in everything they had given me. Would solid food cure my quads?

At this point I want to thank Ian Torrence for his article on Troubleshooting on the Run and especially Western States director Craig Thornley for the section on Troubleshooting in his article on preparing for Western States. Instead of looking at my feet and quads as a problem that could not be overcome, I looked for a solution. It is a mindest I am convinced is necessary to get through a 100 miler.

“But what are we going to do about my feet?” I asked her. She suggested a fresh change of socks. The only pair I had left in my bag were some ankle-high cushy running socks that I had never worn with these narrow shoes. My MT 110’s, long expanded with my swollen feet, would be stretched further. The hell with it, we’re going to try.

I eased off a sock, and tried to rub some dirt out from between my toes. Ever so gingerly, I rolled the clean cotton on and loosened the laces on my MT110’s to accommodate the extra bulk. Repeat. Tight fit, I thought. My pinkie toes were jammed into my fourth toes and my arches were a wee bit wide for their narrow accommodations. But it had to do. It was my solution. If it didn’t work, my feet would be numb soon enough not to care.

By this point, I had spent nearly 50 minutes in the aid station and was now coherent enough to congratulate Misty Swanson nee Schmidt on her nuptials after the Spring superior races, and to correct her when she confused Kevin’s wife and parents for mine.

And then I rose and turned around. My quads, previously destroyed, felt thrashed but springy. I gave commands about gels and could reasonably calculate how many I would need for the next section up, around, and down Carlton Peak. I made sure I had enough salt tabs. I had never felt so successful doing basic math. I asked about headlamps, and got Bill’s when mine came up AWOL. I changed shirts to my bright green Mankato Multisport.

I lept out of my stance. “122 out!” I shouted. “Hundred miler!” Bill and the rest of the aid station crew cheered. I was running again, motivated and determined. It was all that mattered.

“You’re fucking amazing,” my pacer Russ said as we bounded toward Lake Superior adjacent to the river.
I would never feel that good again for the remainder of the day.

Mistake One and through the night.

I arrived at Temperance in my sorry state because I made two mistakes. One of these was a minor pre-race error which requires the benefit of experience and hindsight. It alone would not torpedo a race or prevent a finish. The second was a critical error of focus, a rookie-type mistake for which I should have known better. In contrast to mistake number one, it could independently torpedo a race and prevent a finish. And worse yet, it aggravated the effects of mistake one and made them much more significant.

So what were the mistakes? Mistake one was shoe choice. I wore my New Balance MT 110’s, the second pair I had gone through. They were untested by me in any ultramarathon and so I really had no idea how they would perform as the race ground on. I had been extremely impressed with them on trails, and they are basically mountain racing flats with very aggressive tread and a rockplate under the forefoot. They were much more protective than my old Asics Hyerspeeds that carried me to Lutsen in 2011, and more protective than the MT 10’s that I beat up and wore through Zumbro in 2012.

But they weren’t enough. Everything had gone perfectly – absolutely perfectly under the circumstances – until about mile 55 and Sonju Lake area. I had come through Finland at 10:30 PM, had been eating and drinking well on the run despite the heat and managing to put down real, solid food at aid stations. After that, I had run hard through the forested single track that was the start of the 50 mile race.

And then my feet got chewed up. I ran through a section that was solid knobby rocks and came out of it feeling like someone took the multi-pyramided side of a metal meat tenderizer and banged the soles of my feet repeatedly. I started running tenderly and gingerly, wincing at every step. Add to that a little bit of sore quads and life becomes a plodding mess. It took me 2.5 hours to go from Finland to Sonju.

I spent another 30 minutes in the aid station recognizing my plight and doing everything I could fix myself. My world fell apart at the Sonju aid station in 2011, and I wasn’t about to allow it again. I had arrived in much better shape and spirits this year. One volunteer recognized me from my sufferfest, and I ran into Scott Mark again. This time, I was much more coherent and on my game, but my troubles really started in earnest here again. My appetite was down even though I was eating, and the quad soreness and foot tenderness that would eventually finish me started here.

I walked most of the four miles to Crosby, and was slightly incoherent when I arrived. I didn’t recognize Russ or his voice even though he was standing next to my crew, Lisa. I ate three pieces of quesadilla. Coke and ginger ale had lost its flavor, and I spent another 30 minutes trying to bring myself back. It was 3:30 AM, and I was rolling out. I took my poles and headed into the depths.

My gingerly walking continued as I descended into and out of the Manitou River, and leaned heavily on my poles. The sun gradually started to peek its head out and I crawled on as fast as I could, yearning for the last few miles of the section where it’s flat running and I have burned the sunny side of my calves hiking. Those came and went, and so with it the sufferfest of finishing the overnight.

And then I made mistake two and destroyed any chance of finishing. I just didn’t know it yet. Discovering the irreversible error would take several more hours.

Mistake two.

I had gone into this race planning to do it sans crew if necessary. As such, I had put together a handful of drop bags to be sent to key locations. For example, County Road Six – where I planned to and did enter the night – I stowed a long sleeve shirt, hat, gloves, headband and some gear to make sure I got through the darkness. I would not endure a hypothermic shiver walk again. Sugar Loaf Road, the aid station at the end of the Crosby-Manitou section, is where my race started to end. It was also a planned gear stop, complete with post-overnight clothes.

Mistake two was hardly consuming any food or non-water beverages at Sugar Loaf. Although my appetite had waned at the prior two aids, I chalked that up to exhaustion and normal circadian rhythm. Now it was bright, not-a-cloud-in-the-sky sunny, and I hardly mustered anything in my stomach.

And it wasn’t even for lack of trying. At Sugarloaf, I changed socks and shirts, and I spent an exorbitant amount of time popping and taping heel blisters. I was focused, in a get-it-done mode and basically failed to eat much more than a little soup (I think?), a chunk of a banana, and a sip or three of Coke in my hurry. That’s it. That was breakfast. And I packed up with gels and water and went on my way toward Kramer Road.

I managed the route to Kramer Road well enough, and I was still well under cutoffs when I arrived at the next aid. I had left Sugarloaf at about 8 AM, a full 3.5 hours under cutoff and about 2.5 hours earlier than 2011 and was well under cutoff at Kramer. And Russ started to come with me, pulling pacing duties for the last marathon.

Looking back, I didn’t sit at Kramer and I think I ate standing at the aid station tables. Did I eat enough? I don’t think so, but I know I did try to get solid food in me there. Did I continue mistake two? Maybe. I was just hurried, unfocused.

As I have written in the past, the section to Temperance is my least favorite in the entire course. It’s 7.1 miles split into three sections – wooded single track (simple), rocky, up-and-down river running (very hard), and exposed climbing out of the Cross River and down to the Temperance River (adding insult to injury). About halfway through the Cross River section, I started to falter hard. My steps got shorter, my mind got fogged and out of focus, and everything became infinitely more difficult. It was like I was watching myself from a bird’s eye view, watching me walk at a snail’s pace, and be completely unable to do anything about it. I ran out of gels, drank lots of water by my perception (but not enough), ran out of salt tabs, etc. It was complete exhaustion. The Fuel Tank read empty, and the effects of Mistake Two were rearing their head.

But I go into these races with a simple rule, a basic mindset. I leave the course under three conditions: I finish; I suffer a serious medical injury that physically prevents me from continuing; or I miss a time cut off. I do not quit. And that’s what kept me going, even if I was confused that there was a 1:30 PM cutoff at Temperance and I had thought I missed that (there isn’t a cutoff, but aid closes at 4 PM).

Endgame

The running high from Temperance River lasted a while, but not too long. Once we started in on anything with a moderate incline on the north side of the river, I started walking what I could probably could have run with a smidge more effort.

The hike up to Carlton Peak has three or so good climbs, and every time I have come at it from the south, I look up and all I see is the tops of trees. Are we at the top yet? And every time, I have to think, “No, we’re not – Carlton Peak is a huge boulder that comes out of the middle of nowhere.” Like other landmarks, it just appears.

I fully expected to hike around the Peak and then start running when we hit the board walks, which is what I was capable of doing – running at mile 89 into a mile 90 aid station. Cut off was 5:30. We rolled in about at 5:17, and Matt Long in his Grim Sweeper’s shirt was sitting there with two of his crew.

“This is the easiest section,” he said, referring to the trip to Oberg. I knew he was right. It’s 5.6 miles of rolling hills, with one decent climb and nothing too technical.

“You’ve got 13 minutes to get out of here,” the Grim Sweeper said. I asked him for some slack in jest, but he and I knew the cut offs were hard this year, especially at the end of the race. In 2011, we got into Carlton/Britton Peak aid station at 4:45 PM, a full 45 minutes under cut off, and hit Oberg at 6:30 PM an 1:45 later. Here I would have to hit that pace and then have no cushion to get to Lutsen by 10 PM. It was going to be close.

And so we rolled out after I pounded down some soup broth and potatoes. Running what I could, walking what I couldn’t. We had taken food with us again to make sure that if things started to go south we could attempt a rebound.

But the pains in my quads and feet came back, slowly at first and then it became debilitating. Nowhere near the sufferfest of Temperance, but also not even close to the pace I needed to maintain. It was deadquad, and my feet were too tenderized to land on what pounding my quads could put on them. When John Taylor passed me, I knew I was in deep trouble. And then I looked back and saw two fistfuls of orange flags. Sweeps. Game over.

Or so my brain thought. I picked up the march but the problems continued. Pain kept me from running, and my faulty memory – I couldn’t place where in the sequence Leveaux Mountain came around – gave me a false senses of hope. All I could think about was watching Christi Nowak take a digger and scrape up her side in the 2011 Spring 50K. I knew where that occurred was close, but I needed to get there. Patches of the trail were flashing back to me, but I was unable to connect the dots.

I started running hard when I saw the beaver ponds, thinking that I was getting close – more like about three quarters of the slow slog through. Once I realized I wasn’t even close, I backed off, and we kept walking. My watch read 7 PM, and I was done. All that was left to do was get out of there.

And that was the cruel irony of the situation. Ultras are not races where leaving the race is easy. Aid stations are often the only access points to the trail from which to exit the course, and missing a time cut off is the cruelest of ways to leave. You must finish the section to get out, but you can’t go on when you get there.
I timed out at mile 95 at Oberg Mountain when I rolled into the vast parking lot at 7:45 PM, a mere 45 minutes tardy. Only Matt Long and the TCRC RV remained. Everyone else was gone.

On the drive back to Lutsen, I was happy and had no feelings of regret. By this time I had long reconciled with myself over the race. Did I make any mistakes? Yes. Having made those mistakes, did I do everything in my power to finish? Yes. Did I leave anything on the course? No. Any lack of production was not for a lack of effort. I did not quit, as much as I wanted to be done with it while trudging to Temperance. I did not finish, but I did not fail in putting all of my effort into finishing.