Sunday, November 29, 2015

Altra, you're fired

I fired the Altra Superior 2.0 as my trail shoe last week. 

And until they get their problems with the upper's durability fixed, I'm not going back. 

This was my second pair of Superior 2.0's. The first pair failed two weeks before Superior 100 at my 30K birthday run. Both shoes were torn on the inside and outside next to the balls of my feet. The fabric when shredded looked like a flimsy woven tarp with its crinkled threads. No biggy, I thought. Those shoes ended with just under 220 miles on them. They'd had a good go, but the outsole was still in wonderful condition. But for the tears, they had lots of good life still in them. 

I was frustrated and wanted to look elsewhere, but the proximity to Superior 100 and minimal miles between that Saturday and the race in 13 days meant I couldn't adequately ensure that a never-before-raced-in shoe would cut it. Cardinal Rule #1: nothing new on race day. And so I dutifully got a second pair, this time a half-size smaller (to my usual 8.5) with the thought it would minimize side-to-side movement in the toe box and eliminate one potential for lateral stress on the fabric. 

The shoes performed admirably at Superior 100 - no (new) blackened toenails and the soles looked great considering how rugged that course is and how much I walked. But there was a similar hole on the inside of my left shoe, just behind the ball - right in the same spot. It looked like there is stiff backing to the upper just behind where the hold was, like the stiffness is contributing to the tearing of the softer, more pliable fabric that comprises that portion of the toebox. 

I wore pair number two one more time, at the Afton Fat-Ass race last week, and only because we were instructed to wear clothing that could sacrificed to the deer-trail god of the single track. I did as instructed, and made the hole bigger. The shoes were retired with 143 miles on them, ~103 of which was Superior 100 and eight were from the Afton FatAss.

I'm not the first person who has complained about durability that I'm aware of; those that I run with have anecdotes, either of themselves or personally, from these issues. The durability is a major issue, as a failure in-race could mean a DNF for lack of footwear. Runners have been forced to drop because of a shoe failure, and I don't want it to happen to me. 

I'm not broken up about this right now either. The Superior 2.0 had some other non-major issues, mostly related to fit, and so I'm OK looking for something better. The padding around the heel and ankle was the biggest issue, as it was cushy and made it difficult, if not impossible, to really get a good lock on the heel. Ginger Runner had a great review of the shoe, and I agree with his praise and criticisms. Hopefully these issues get fixed if and when they issue version 3.0. 

It's also the off season, and so I'll have plenty of time to test another trail shoe or three in time for the 2016 season. I also usually do plenty of running in dedicated trail shoes in the winter because of the snow conditions here in MN. The City may plow the paved public trail behind my house, but it doesn't - and can't - get everything. 

What will I look for in a new pair of trail kicks? Lots of the same stuff that I did when I first went searching after New Balance discontinued the 1010's.

What that is, I'm not sure right now. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A cross country race?

I ran the Rocky's Run 6K today. It's on the women's course for the Roy Griak Invitational at the U of M's Les Bolstad golf course. The race is fundraiser for the family of Rochelle "Rocky" Racette, who died in 1981 in a car accident. She was damn fast, for lack of a better description. Proceeds from the race fund a scholarship in Rocky's name. Her sisters were on hand today and dolled out baked goods to finishers. 

I ran it on the open invite from John Storkamp. I've never raced the course myself, as I was an alternate (our number eight guy, usually, for a seven-man team) if my memory serve me right one of the years my high school CC team ran there. 

I was an odd trail runner among much thinner, visually sinewy specimens of the human form. As Storkamp, BJ Knight, Steve Quick and myself joked while we were on the light, the four of us had some huge trail runner calves. Everyone else was tall, lanky, and waif-like. I felt grossly out of place. 

I thought on a really good day I could put down a 24:00, which is essentially a 20-minute 5K just extended out another kilometer. That mean going out in a 4:00 first kilometer and about a 6:26 mile, which is what I thought I was capable of knowing that I have had a sub-6:40 tempo/threshold pace from earlier in the 2014-15 running season. That said, I had no predilections about running well. This was a run-like-you-stole-something, an effort that was long enough to require endurance but fast enough that it's going to hurt to push hard. I also thought I could keep the last member of the U's women's team in sight. Sure thing, boss. 

I was tight and sore from this week's all-to-jittery runs, but loosened up plenty in the low 50's weather with 15 mph winds after I put down a solid 4K on the course at an easy jog.

I went out in a 3:57 first kilometer, and felt pretty proud of myself for letting the huge pack go. This was going to hurt, but I didn't want to implode.

But I knew it was going to get harder, and that 240-second per kilometer pace wasn't going to hold. The first mile was 6:35, 2K in 8:20, 3K in 12:45, two miles in just 13:55 ish (meaning I ran a 7:20 second mile?). Things got better consistent after than, and I ran mile three in 7:19 for a 21:12 or so.

It was in this last 1,200 meters that I felt like I had plenty of gas in the tank, and that I could have run another kilometer or three at that pace, but couldn't go much/any faster. As I described it earlier on Twitter, I felt like I was a two-cylinder car that had a 25 gallon gas tank that got 45 mpg at the Indy 500. Low top speed, but the ability to hold that speed for a hell of a long time. I guess I need to do some 1,000 meter repeats (again) in training this year. 

I came in at a 27:06, approximately, about 20 seconds behind the last member of the U's women's team. All in all, it was a damn good day. 

2016 race plans are up in the air. Like many, my schedule will firm up on Dec. 7 when Western States holds its lottery. I put in for the race this year, my first ever entry, and so my one ticket and pitiful chances is only there to help me in years to come. Also on the radar: Zumbro Midnight 50; spring Superior 50K; Bighorn 100 (need a hard rock qualifier); and Superior 100; etc.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

2015 Superior 100: Mechanical redemption

My four attempts at the Superior 100 have now produced to two buckles. After one finish rooted in sheer dumb luck and two ugly DNF's for separate reasons, I am redeemed. Two Thousand Fifteen's race was executed with a mechanical calmness. Buckle now firmly around my waist, the monkeys from 2013 and 2014 are off of my back.

My village

These races are never accomplished alone. Everything takes a village, and 100 milers are no exception. 

My wife deserves top billing for granting me the early mornings, late nights, toddler nap times, and not sleeping in on weekends that have allowed me to get in runs of hours and hours upon end. She hears me chatter, type, and brainstorm. She checks in on me, making sure that I run if I tell her I am going to do so. She plans birthday runs, attends fatass events, and does it all with a supporting smile. 

She had company in this race from one of two best friends from college, a woman who now calls Duluth home. Lauryn kept her company from CR 6 through the rest of the race, and she opened her house to us as base camp for the weekend. 

I had two pacers. Kevin pulled the overnight shift, running/walking/hiking 20-plus miles in eight hours from 9:10 PM at Finland to 5 AM the next morning at Sugarloaf. It was his first time at an ultra and his second trail run ever. He performed admirably. 

Mark finished the 100 last year, and he took over pacing duties when we left Sugarloaf. He was cool, calm, and collected. He always kept me in good spirits. He made sure encouragement came in light, appropriate doses, advised the (faster) runners in the shorter distances to give me a wide berth when they tried to pass. He and Kevin listened incessantly as my watch's timer went off, and each prompted me to plug away on my calories and fluids when it did so. He took care of himself and needed little, if anything, from my crew or the aid stations when we arrived at each oasis.

How it played out

I ran with Rob Henderson from almost the beginning to CR 6. He graciously let me lead for most of those 43 miles. My ultra shuffle is slower than his, we agreed, and it allowed me to run my race and allowed him to take it nice and easy, thereby allowing him (particularly later) to run his. 

On a few occasions, we separated - I tended to be in and out of aid stations faster. I got out of Silver Bay first, and he caught me a few miles in before we got to Bear and Bean Lakes. We left Tettegouche together, and separated at again CR 6 when I was ready to roll and couldn't find/see him. He caught me again shortly before the Sonju aid station with his pacer Peter Schnorbach. And when he and Peter came by just before Sonju, Kevin and I let him go, his natural cadence faster than mine. We performed the same swapping of places after Sonju because we cleared the aid station faster than they did. 

Kevin and I ran functionally solo for the balance of our time together, save a few times we passed a runner or were passed. We plowed down into the Manitou Gorge and marched firmly back up. That wasn't so hard, was it? The issue with Crosby is that the first six-or-so miles is very tough to run consistently, the section as a whole feels longer than its already-long 9.4 miles reveal. Add to that me forgetting - again, for likely the fourth time - that the Caribou River must be crossed before the swamp and birch forests are reached. 

Mark and I did the same, only I started out too jittery when leaving Sugarloaf. The Coca-Cola was setting in, me thinks, and I broke a cardinal rule: nothing new on race day. I took my poles, thinking that they would be helpful as I marched more. I was wrong, if only because they didn't have mud baskets. The trail was full of mud, and pushing down/back on the poles to make effective use of them required more energy that I anticipated. I abandoned them at Cramer Road. 

And with the exception of a few difficult sections - particularly getting up and down Carlton Peak and the slow march the followed it to Sawbill, Oberg, and finally Lutsen, everything went smooth with a cool and cold mechanical precision to it. Minimal drama, just consistently putting one foot in front of the other until I was done. Oh, and eating consistently to the sound of a watch's beeper. I ran continuously and hard in every section, including bounding down the hill into Temperance, and I never experienced muscle soreness or tightness in-race. Any soreness I did have was gone by Tuesday following the event. When I could not run, I was still able to power hike at a good clip. 

I do not know the source of this calmness. I can only chalk it up to experience and attitude. I went into this race with a positive, confident attitude bolstered by adequate rest in the 90 prior days, a solid eve-of relaxation (of Karnazes's account of his first Western States finish and Trason's battle with the Tarahumara at Leadville a la Born to Run plus some single malt to enjoy), and the sole goal of finishing. Solid weather, good training, and excellent company made for a perfect race. 

Mark Smith saved my race

A good pacer can save your race. Mark Smith saved mine on the climb to Carlton Peak.

I knew something was wrong. I was exhausted, hot, dizzy and starting to fritz in and out. I was drinking, eating, and walking. But I was wearing down, withering under the coming heat and blasting sun. I confirmed the same when I spurted water on by back, and perked up briefly while it dried. 

Mark realized my issue and took action. He grabbed his Buff and soaked it in water. Where that water came from, I don't know. He called my name and told me to put it around my neck.

It was too wet, and my mind flashed to the dripping red bandana Matt Patten donated to my cause at Kettle. I would not repeat that experience. Like my mile-48 breakdown at Kettle, my core body temp was too high. But I needed to control it without dousing my shorts or causing collateral damage. And so I squeezed Mark's offering, and brown water flowed out. I put the moist tube of fabric on without comment. I felt like Ian Sharman, only slower and mortal.

This cycle repeated as we slowly humped up, around, and down Carlton Peak. I walked slowly, methodically, head down not saying a word, just alone in my head and what was five feet in front of me. 

But for Mark, I may not have been able to save myself. The death march from Sawbill in to Lutsen would have been uglier than it already was (going to be).

What matters in 100 milers is what goes on between your ears

Ed Sandor's Lesson for 100 Milers put me in the right mind frame for this race. Go read it, right now, especially numbers 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, and 12. How did I apply them? 

I promised my wife that I would be cheerful and smiling the entire day - numbers 7 and 8. And save a brief snap at my wife when she, not knowing my mental status, went against my train of thought - see next item - I was happy, cheerful, and grateful. Even when my head was down and all I could do was walk and push, I was present and could crack a smile if asked. I also learned just how hard and exhausting smiling is when you've been running overnight. 

Each section was a point-to-point run to the next aid station - number 3. I never allowed myself to think about the race in its totality. I talked myself, often out loud, out of thinking about the whole race. I had a minor freak out at Sawbill when my wife said that I had only 15 miles left. "Don't say that!" I snapped. "You're 75 percent done," she replied. "Don't say that. I have 5.6 miles to the next aid," I replied. My wife took my two bottles and walked away to fill them, something she hadn't done all day. 

Everything that happened in the race was accepted as it was - number 6. "This just is," I said to myself over and over again. Nothing on-course got to me, even when I banged the crap out of my toe and yelled loud enough the next day's marathoners could hear. It just was. It's sunny and we're exposed. It just is. Deal with it, get over it, keep moving on. 

And when the going got tough and I could barely run, and realized I may have to walk it in, I knew that was enough - number 2. "Only one-hour miles to go," Brian Woods said to me as we refueled at Oberg at 3 PM. 

Lastly, I refused to allow myself to do math - number 12. I never tried to calculate my pace, and I kept splits on my watch only to give myself an idea of how long a section took (or how much likely remained). 

Other amazing performances and random observations

John Mass walked the entire course, and finished in 31:33:XX. Walked. He started way in the back, and was in 209th place at the first aid station. He finished 54th, having moved up steadily all day - and making a big jump of 46 places to 73rd between Finland and Crosby. Of all of the runners there, John may the only one who has the discipline to attempt such a feat and the physical fitness and walking cadence to pull it off. He caught me on the Cross River and we stayed together until he passed me on the climbs toward Temperance. I passed him again while bounding toward the aid station, and he passed me for good on the climb up to Carlton. 


Harry Sloan created the Superior 100, then called Sawtooth 100, in 1991. He modeled it after Western States, where would rack up 12 finishes. He ran this year's Superior 100 well, and sported his silver buckle - how gorgeous they are in person - at the pre-race meeting. He finished in 37:58:32, a mere 88 seconds before the 38-hour cut-off. It was his first finish in what was his first attempt at the course (regardless of iteration). You can't make this stuff up. 


A marathoner passed me on the climb up to Carlton Peak. "Hundred miler? I'll say a Hail Mary for you," she said as she passed. A quarter mile up, she stopped and put her stuff on a bench - likely while she was relieving herself. She passed me again. "Matt? Another Hail Mary!"


I won the "Fastest Matt" division. 


At least two wolves treated Mark and I to their howls at 5:20 AM shortly after we left Sugarloaf. 


I actually saw - noticed? - very few volunteers at aid stations. At most aid stations, I needed to sit down for one reason or another. Early on, it was to handle foot issues. Later, it was just because I needed to get off my feet to more effectively pound calories. And all of this occurred at the chair my crew set up for me. Where did I notice who was volunteering at what aid stations? Lisa Messerer (Wild Knits) drove up the gravel hill toward Crosby as I was marching and running forward. I introduced her to Kevin, told her I was feeling awesome, and most importantly, relayed that I wouldn't need her to scrape me out of an aid station. She was pleased and drove on. 

I also overheard Robyn Reed's voice at Sugarloaf. "Is that Robyn?!?" I yelled. "Yes!" she replied. Nothing more, but I was pumped to get that brief reply. 

And of course, Maria Barton's tiki-bar-inspired aid station that was Crosby was something I was looking forward to all weekend. I told Doug Barton that I was beating him, and he said something appropriately snappy back. 

(Shout-out to Brian Klug here. The dude took third, ran sub-24, and was at Oberg at 1:50 PM when I showed up. He was wearing Luna Sandals and his feet (or just his left foot?) were (was) taped. An outline of red something poked around the tape. In my exhaustion, it looked like a fist-sized blister had been popped, exposing the delicate layers beneath the immediate epidermis. It looked like it hurt but I could not focus on it any more. In reality, I was merely looking at a tattoo.)

Finally, when I ran out of Oberg, Ed Sandor gave me a high-five so hard my hand hurt until I hit the trailhead. The man exudes positivity and happiness, and I was excited to see him when I rolled out. 


I had a semi-elaborate training plan this year, and I more-or-less followed it until Zumbro. Zumbro whalloped my ankle, and it took longer to recover than I expected. I probably began running again too early and I was in great shape for Kettle, but the time between the two races isn't really enough to recover, do some training, and then taper for a 100 miler.

Post-Kettle, my training was spotty: I ran about 48 times over those 90 days and racked up approximately 310 miles. I would have liked to have run more than twice that. I think the result of this lower mileage is that my body had time to recover from running-related issues from Zumbro and Kettle so that Superior could really be run well - even though it sure didn't feel like it at the time. The downside is that I couldn't properly peak or periodize for Superior 100. Whatever it was, hindsight is 20/20.

The end result is that since 10/19/14, I have done the following: 
  • Ran 257 times
  • Ran in 235 out of 327 days
  • Ran about 1,875 miles
  • Ran for 306 hours and 25ish minutes
  • Finished three ultras and DNF'd from a fourth
  • Volunteered at three ultras
Of course there is room for improvement. I'd like to boost the number of running days up in 2015/16 season and get closer to a 1:1 run/day ratio. I also felt that I was gaining a tremendous amount of fitness when I was consistently running 60-plus miles per week. I'd like to get there more often next year. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

I'm ready for Sawtooth, 2015 edition

The body is ready, the mind is willing, and every cell of me is looking forward to the annual reunion of what can best be called a tribe of those persons so crazy they spend hours on their feet suffering, fighting their personal demons, and seeking only a moment of shared catharsis when it is all said and done.

My goal is to finish. Nothing more, nothing less. No time goals - I have them, yes, but won't say or publish them publicly. My wife and her best friend are crewing, and a good friend of mine from high school is taking me through part of the overnight. I may be joined by a second pacer for the last marathon or so, and we'll see what kind of train we can make fro Oberg to the finish. 

My training since Kettle has been spotty at best. June was spent in recovery from Kettle. July and August were for the most part full of work-related stress. The body can only handle so much stress regardless of source: work, running, or family/home. When the cup runs over, bad things happen. Sickness and fatigue sets in, tempers get short, etc. I had a couple weeks of these symptoms caused by preparing for, conducting, and coming down from an out-of-town trial. Then a ramp up and down from a vacation, and then a brief to the court of appeals caused a couple more weeks of the same. Each required me to set my practice on hold for a week or more, and address one specific thing. And the work doesn't stop while in that state - I can't just tell the world to stop calling or emailing me. 

But the pleasant side of that is once the work that caused the stress is completed, the body rests and relaxes and returns to its state of fitness. I was concerned earlier this month - I've got the draft post to prove it - that my stress was a sign that I hadn't fully recovered, wasn't carrying fitness forward, or that my training since Kettle had been insufficient. One fitness-affirming run changed that, and my confidence has been restored. 

Finally, I turn 30 on Tuesday, and several runners shared a 30K birthday run with me yesterday. I've wanted to do a run like that since about 2010 - one mile or kilometer for every year of age - but with Superior fall races, whether the 50 or 100, has always been too early in the year and my birthday too far from a weekend to really pull it off. This time, the run was held 13 days from the start of the 100 miler, a sufficient time to run an 18.5 gentle trail run. Thanks again to all who came, provided birthday goodies, and shared the trail. You all are the reason this community is a tribe of runners that keeps us all coming back. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Can any other sport do this?

In what other sport is the crowd of spectators larger, and their resulting cheers louder, for the last finisher than any other finisher, including the first? 

And this phenomenon is not unique to Western States, 100 milers in general, ultras, or marathons. It happens at all levels of competition, with supporters, spectators, and loved ones cheering on every finisher, in every race, from junior high track and field to professional races. 

Maybe it it is the party atmosphere that exudes upon the gathering of a tribe of runners. Maybe it is the knowledge that any finisher is a champion (hell, any starter is too - there is no getting to Western States or the start line of any ultra without paying your dues). 

But I've been in Gunhild's spot, or at least close. I finished the 2011 Superior 100 with less than 32 minutes to go before the 38-hour cutoff. Here's what I wrote of one man in the crowd at my finish, where the party was in full swing: 

One man, who had long, black hair and dark skin, was sitting on one of picnic tables. He was absolutely floored that I came in just over 30 minutes under cut off – his implication was that it was absolutely amazing that anyone was still coming in. I took from his wonderment that there was a magical finishing time during which finishing is no longer amazing. 

I have been Gunhild Swanson. We all have, or we all should. It is a humbling experience, and brings a runner closer to the essence of sport. And we should be grateful to those who stuck it out to bring us home, and we should exude love, support, and adoration for every finisher - including the Gunhilds among us.

Monday, June 22, 2015

DNF/RTC from 2015 Kettle 100 - chafing sucks, man

At about 1:45 AM on Sunday, June 7, somewhere near mile 79 or 80, I refused to continue the Kettle Moraine 100.  I turned around and hobbled back to the Highway 12 aid station, intent on returning the timing chip that had been strapped around my ankle for the last 20-or-so hours. This is the story of that decision.

At around 4ish PM the previous day – 10 hours and 49ish miles into the run – the switch that had kept me going for all of the morning and afternoon abruptly shut off. The outage came not long after I had left the Emma Carlin aid station inbound at 75K. The next section should have been a gentle 5K to the next aid, an unmanned table at Horse Camp – a nice 50.5 miles into the race – and another 2.5 miles to the next manned aid station at Bluff Road.

When I arrived at Emma Carlin, I had just come inbound through the meadow, a 7.5-mile-or-so section of wide grass trails which traversed rolling open prairie. Shade was sparse, and I had turned to tactics usually reserved for Afton 50K in July to keeping myself cool. I was dunking my hat at every aid station, using sponges with cool water to wipe down my arms and legs, and filled my hat with ice. Finally, I was also strategically alternating running and walking, four minutes run, one minute walk, in an effort to keep the overall exertion (read: heat production) down. I thought it was doing an excellent job, and when Bill Pomerenke volunteered to rub down my quads with ice at Emma Carlin, I thought it was unnecessary – my thighs weren't sore or beat up on the almost pancake-flat course and while I was sweating (or looking back, at least I thought I was), I was reasonably comfortable under the circumstances. I had been pounding down water, draining a 20-oz bottle between every aid station (about every 35 minutes), and my stomach was still accepting non-acidic food. Nevertheless, I was grateful for the assistance.

But a mile or mile-and-a-half after leaving aid, I shut down. I went into full-on, tunnel-vision, heat exhaustion and could do nothing but plod along, eat, and drink. I recognized that I was in a bad patch, and that I must keep moving. That I stayed aware of my condition was amazing enough.

Several minutes later, Matt Patten came up from behind me just before we hit Horse Camp. Patten saw that I was in a dark place and graciously gave me his bandanna, which his wife had folded in half and sewn 90 percent of the fold to create a pocket for ice cubes. Matt filled it, tied it around my neck, and then we went. He ran. I plodded.

I walked, head down, for what felt like time immemorial. Runners passed me, concerned for my well-being. And I marched on. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

And then I snapped out of it. The switch had turned back on. My core temp had returned to manageable, and I was back in the game.The change was as abrupt as the descent into my current state.

Except now my torso was now cold. And my shirt was soaked. And my shorts were soaked. The now-wet brief of my shorts had begun to chafe and cut into my inner thighs and undercarriage. I recognized the problem. I stopped, rid myself of the bandanna and its wet and icy contents, and channeling Hal Koerner's 2013 UTMB race experience, took an inside-out plastic bag, coated my chafed areas with Vaseline, and used the plastic bag – opening rolled over for protection – as a barrier between me and the cold, slicing shorts. I was proud of myself in the moment. I talked to myself, stating out loud that I had been presented with a problem, had devised a creative solution, was able to continue. I probably looked like a wreck.

At nearly every manned aid station after that, I re-filled the bag with Vaseline. Aid stations workers were generally confused why I was asking for a spoon and Vaseline at the same time. I thought you were going to eat it, one worker said. A large shiny grease-colored stain developed in the middle half my shorts. I was able to get back to the start/finish reasonably well, although I cursed the seven-and-a-half miles of wide, hard-packed ski trail that took me back to the 100K mark, and double cursed them when I power-walked them whilst traversing them a third time after heading out into the darkness. I had spent a good 20 minutes at the start/finish, and Lisa Messerer and Bill Pomerenke stuffed food, old coffee, and other goodies in me as I talked out the day and gathered strength to venture out. (I'd like to thank Ed Sandor for his list of things to think about when running a 100 miler - remember, a brisk walk will get you to the finish, I repeated over and over. Mantras work.)

Life got real when I turned off of the familiar path after leaving Bluff Road and ventured onto the second out-and-back section that was reserved for 100 milers and the persons competing in the 38-mile fun run. The course was now all single track and had a fair amount of roots and rocks, despite being more or less flat after an initial descent. It was Superior-lite.

By now I was wearing both of my shirts, and had been since I left the 100K mark at the start/finish. My fluid intake had stayed reasonably constant, as I was still taking in a fair amount of calories from bars, blocks, and aid stations. My stomach had returned from the mid-afternoon heat, and it was accepting Clif blocks again. Under the circumstances, all felt right with the world. A brisk walk will get you there, I thought, despite knowing that I was slowing down. 

And likely due to the constant and necessary fluid intake, the decreased air temperature and the long-set sun, my fluid output kicked up. With each emptying of my bladder, I had to adjust the Vaseline and bag. Each time, it hurt more and more to replace and reconfigure the bag, and then to get moving again while the bag re-adjusted to its surroundings. After I left Bluff Road for the third time, it was 2.5 miles to the next unmanned aid station, and 4.5 miles to the next manned aid. Seven miles is a little more than an 80 to 90 minutes on fresh legs, but I was moving somewhere in the 20 to 25-minutes per mile time frame. It was a good 50 minutes to that unmanned aid, and another 100 minutes to Highway 12 at mile 78. Woof.

The aid station at Highway 12 looked like a war zone. There were people sitting in chairs, wrapped in blankets. One younger woman was trying to coax one of these sitters, obviously a runner, to consume something. An older woman was doing her best to ask incoming runners what, if anything, they needed. But mostly she looked in shock by the suffering, and had an almost helpless look on her face. There were other aid workers handling what appeared to be organizational issues. Everyone appeared stationary, dazed by what lay before them.

I sat down, got some luke-warm broth and a Coke, and started to shiver. John Storkamp's voice came to me, and I recalled him talking about why runners collapse in races. They're spent. They don't get in calories. Their exhaustion incapacitates their ability to generate body heat. They are moving so slowly that what heat they do generate is insufficient. It's a vicious cycle. Etc.

His words lit a fire under me. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and did something about it. I put on my windshirt and pulled down the sleeves of my stretchy long sleeve shirt. I put my hood up, stood up, and ambled toward the food tables. You have to help yourself, I thought. Bill isn't here, he isn't your crew, you need to take care of yourself. No one is going to do it for you.

I ate peaches at first, and speared each with a plastic fork. No pickles this time, as there were only sweet varieties. Susan Donnelly had appeared, and awed at a (multi?) gallon-sized Tupperware container that was half full of blueberries. I hobbled out, dazed but knowing that only moving would carry me onward, upward, and out of this horrendous funk. I wandered slowly, a little off-step and off-balance, and a woman, likely an aid or rescue worker, asked me if I was OK and as I struggled toward her. I gave her an extremely blunt, truthful answer, and she let me go, realizing the depths of my suffering. I felt like Dean Karnazes when his father comes to him at Robie Point during his first go at Western States. I probably looked like I had been run over by a car, but at least I was on my feet and moving. 

While I was sitting in aid, there was a sign for inbound runners that noted the cut off at the unmanned aid from which I had just come. It said 7:15 AM, a little less than six hours from now. Looking back now, there would no reason to list the outbound cutoff on a sign that was directed to inbound runners headed to the next aid station. The sign was likely in error, if it had even read what I thought it said. And then there may have been no one at that unmanned aid station to enforce the cut off.

But my mind couldn't process this. Math is hard during a race. Regardless of what the sign actually said, what I thought it said influenced my decision making process after I left aid.

I got about a half an hour out – it was maybe around 1:45 AM, likely later – and I had warmed up. My brain had cleared. And I started to do math. I figured I needed to go about a half-marathon – 13.1 miles, or so – from my current location to the turn around, to back to Highway 12, and then the 4.5 miles to the unmanned aid at Duffin Road – in about six hours. I figured I was now traveling somewhere near 25 to 30 minutes per mile, walking slowly, limping and dragging my right foot unintentionally in an effort to avoid the chaffing issues and resulting pain. Running had long since not been an option. I entered a clearing and started up the hill it crossed, and stopped. I put both hands on a nearby tree and leaned over, suffering, and realizing that I wasn't going to make what I thought was the cut off back at Duffin Road. I was only getting slower, the going was harder, and I was in more and more pain with each step. Resistance was futile, so to speak.

And then my mind quit, and I turned around and walked out at a slower pace than from which I came. Outbound runners congratulated me on my effort, reasonably assuming I was inbound and still participating. It was a weird feeling, and I didn't have the heart to correct any of them. Twice I asked runners how far the aid was, and got frustratingly vague answers on each occasion.

Back at aid, I peeled off my ankle strap, found the aid station captain, and dropped. He asked me why.

"It feels like my undercarriage went through a cheese grater," I said, or something similar.

"Can we use that on the official report?" he replied, seemingly amused and aghast at my blunt answer.


And with that, my Kettle experience was done.


Refusing to continue was a correct decision. It was not the correct decision.

I know because at the time I made the decision, I had a clear head on my shoulders and was not suffering from a malaise in brain function. I was not in a deep hole – the exact opposite was true. I had just pulled myself out of said state by getting out of an aid station where I had been shivering. I had put on my windshirt, ate, and got up, got moving, and got warm. To paraphrase Catch-22 – my favorite novel – the concern for one's self in the face of dangers that were real and immediate is the process of a rational mind. I had a rational mind when I decided to turn around.

I know because with the information I had – the pain, swelling, constant issues given my increased urine output, and incorrect cutoff signage (or not) – the cost of continuing would have been extreme. It would have likely ended with blood loss, etc. and long-term healing (think several weeks, if not longer) for the wounds to recover enough where putting on a pair of shorts wouldn't cut or damage scabbed-over skin.

Could I have done anything else? Likely. I could have taken the plastic bag, tore the side seams out (to make a flat layer of plastic) and put that in the brief of my shorts like a plastic, Vaseline-soaked maxi pad. Would it have worked? I have no idea. Maybe the inner seam would have been an issue, or the edges. I just don't know. But it was something I only came up with on Monday, and something I'll have in my toolkit in case life hits the fan in this manner again. (Tuesday, June 22 edit: while running this morning, I could have found away to dump the shorts and fashion some type of kilt/skirt, perhaps with a plastic bag or by sacrificing my short-sleeve shirt. Dunno - just a random thought that came to me at 5:45 AM.)

What else did I learn? Running a 100 miler sans crew or pacer is damn difficult. You must be self reliant, independent, and capable of dealing with issues on your own. (Conveniently, Outside tweeted about Jenn Shelton's ultrarunning tips, originally published May 1, 2015, shortly after my race as part of its continuous tweet-vomit of previously published articles – see tip number three.) I was helped at two aid stations by Bill and Lisa – once in small part at Emma Carlin inbound, at 75K – and once in a significant way at Nordic, at 100K. At Highway 12, mile 78 outbound, I remember looking around and almost calling out for Bill, but I knew a) he wasn't my crew; b) he wasn't there; and c) that I needed to put my big boy shorts on and get moving.  That all said, no one gets through these races alone. Even taking out Bill and Lisa, I was still helped by runners I ran with, aid workers, and Matt Patten.

I also learned that I can be self-reliant, independent, and capable of dealing with issues on my own. I've run 50 milers solo before. Once I came out my heat exhaustion funk at about mile 52, I recognized I had an issue with chafing and devised a creative solution to address the problem. At other aid stations, I was generally able to fill my bottles, grab sustenance, and get help with items that needed assistance (i.e. soup broth). I needed help significantly at one aid station – 100K – and could have used it at one other aid – mile 78.

The race reminded me of how fickle 100 mile runs inherently are. No runner's finish is guaranteed. So much must go right to get a runner to the finish line, and very little needs to go wrong in order to torpedo the attempt.

I went out at an appropriate pace, although it was tough to gauge because the 100 milers were starting with faster 100K runners and also-faster 100 mile relate teams. How do I know? I was continually being passed by other runners – including other 100 milers – and I was not passing them. I did not start too fast. I also came into the 50K four minutes under my planned time. (I planned on being there between 5:45 and 6:15 into the race, and I got there at 5:41 and left four minutes later.)

Per my wife's suggestion, I will also be bringing a second pair of shorts to keep with my crew. A swap at Bluff Road, inbound at mile 55, likely would have prevented my issues. That said, I had never experience chafing issues with these shorts - now on my second pair - and thought I was sufficiently prepared with my tube of Vanilply. Being wrong hurts.

Would I run it again? Yes. The event well organized for such a large group of runners in numerous races. The tedium of an out-and-back course – I usually prefer point-to-point or loop courses – was mitigated by the sheer number of people around me at any given time. I rarely ran solo for more than a handful of miles at a time, even at night. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lost in the Woods 50K - video

Enjoy - this was a blast.

(link - starting on morning of run)

Sadly, the video was turned off right before I spiked the plastic bag that contained my map, course instructions, and pages. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

No surprises in iRunFar's article of what elites do that mere mortals apparently are not

First, run easy runs easy, run hard runs hard. It's a skill, and harder to learn than my trite tautology suggests. 

Second, pace for elites is relative. They're not only faster than the rest of us at top speed, but they are putting less stress on their bodies when running at the same pace i.e. on uphills. 

Third, running downhill is a skill that can be learned. There is definite technique to it, and it's one of the best ways - particularly with long descents - to make up ground. Not a lot of those here in UMTR's neck of the woods given our penchant for courses with rolling hills and lack of mountains, but the idea is the same. 

Fourth, good form (in this case, arm swings) begets speed. 

Fifth, run with only with what you need. An item is perfect not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. I quiver with this point on gear, as many of require more than a single water bottle to get from aid to aid on longer courses - I'm even hesitant to take my UD AK vest to Sawtooth without taking a third bottle for those 10-mile sections that can take two-plus hours. But again, the principle is the same. iPhones are heavy (and I saw a lot of them at Kettle this weekend, to my shock and surprise, and being used to fiddle with music, messages, making phone calls...) 

Currently working a race report from said my RTC DNF this weekend. These things take time and thought, you know. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Summer musings and mini race reports before Kettle 100

A long note before next week's Kettle 100: 

Overall fitness
I am going into this race likely at my best ultramarathon fitness ever - even topping the lead ups to the 2011 Superior 100 and 2012 Zumbro 100. Since re-starting running from the sprained ankle that prematurely ended last year's Superior 100, I will have put in over 1,400 miles and 210 hours of running in the past eight-or-so months. I've hit new highs for peak mileage in a week (outside of a race week) and in a month, and put in four quality marathon-length runs or longer. One of those runs was a PR for the 50K distance at Afton State Park on the race course, and that was now over two months ago. I've also put down some solid tempo runs, and I'm probably in sufficient shape to run a 3:10-3:15 marathon. Taper is going well (that is, I can feel myself losing fatigue as the training runs get less stressful). 

Zumbro Midnight 50
I went into this race coming off of that 50K PR at Afton. I thought that if conditions were right, I could run somewhere between nine and ten hours. I started out trying to set a nine-hour pace. It ended up being too fast, and my right ankle - the same one that I messed with at Superior last year - hurt again and I struggled through the second and third laps nightly. I finished in about 11:15, good enough for 23rd place of 100 finishers. Not too bad for being in 8th after the first lap and being injured. 

The race was planned to test my overnight running skills, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well it went. My headlamp only needed to hold out for about 5 hours, which is sufficient on its batteries (the 9ish hours at Superior is a little more of a challenge, but hey). 

I also went into the race trying to treat it like Superior in that I should play the aid stations in a similar position to where there are at Superior. Basically, Zumbro's aid stations are anywhere between three and four-ish miles apart, and if I could skip every other one, it would be a good simulation. The test did not go well. New rule: don't skip aid stations, even if you just breeze through and grab-and-go. 

Lost in the Woods 50K
This was a 29.4 mi jaunt in the woods near Mankato at Nicollet County's Seven Mile Creek Park. The host lived adjacent to the park, and he ran us up and down deer trails (marked by his pink flags, thankfully) in a Barkley-esque run where we ripped out pages, got them punched once per loop, and there was a single aid station. I ran with the lead group until that group splintered halfway through the second of two laps, and then fought like hell to not get dropped. 

I did, and pushed back in full-on #paincave mode. I moved from fourth to second when Ed Thomas and Farmer John Maas missed the third-to-last book and had to go back for it. I struggled to catch the leader but ended up losing time on him and only finishing up by about three minutes on John. He's fast on those dirt roads, he'll tell you. 

The major difference between Zumbro and Lost was that I went out evenly at a steady pace in the latter. I ran functionally even splits (losing just 90 or so seconds on lap two) and was on pace to run negative splits until I got turned around a little bit en route to the last book (needed to make sure I took the right trail). Pleased I was with the result. 

New shoes
New Balance has discontinued the 1010's, my go-to trail shoe. Its last season was this spring, and so it'll likely be unavailable (or from go-find-it outlet stores, a hassle I didn't want to deal with). 

There was a lot to like about the shoe: it had NB's minimus last (i.e. no insole), had a stiff rock plate, had plenty of tread and a reasonably high stack height for a minimalist shoe, and its upper was basically bombproof. I only had to retire my first paid because I wore slits on each side of the ball of my foot and the forefoot gave me too much play. 

Changing shoes is never a fun experience. We are experiments of one, whether we like it or not. And the 1010 worked for me. 

I considered most manufacturer's minimal options. I tried NB's re-issued 101 and didn't like it because of the narrow toe box and 10 mm drop. I tried their Leadville 1210's, and disapproved for similar reasons I didn't pick it up last time: 8 mm drop; medial post; and when trying them on, it was too cushy. 

I thought this would be a good time to consider Hoka's - their Challenger and Speedgoat look intriguing - but I thought it would be weird to run roads with a minimalist shoe and trails with a maximalist one. 

The leading contender turned out to be Altra's Superior 2.0. It had a lot going for it on paper: zero drop; rock plate, al beit removable (essentially it's a stiff and dense 0.5 mm thick insole) wide toe box; secure heal; designed by trail runners for trail runners; flat treaded bottom (i.e. no exposed holes that a rock had pierce you through) etc. I tried it on and it was cushier than I perhaps would have liked - but that will be worn down with use. I picked up a size 9 (I normally wear 8 to 8.5) to accommodate thick socks and swelling in 100 milers, and with the inserteable rock plate, it fit wonderfully with plenty of room in the toe. They'll be my backup shoes at the 100K mark at Kettle (or in case my 1010's blow out, etc.) and will likely be put into rotation following Kettle in prep for Superior, regardless of whether the 1010's survive Kettle. 

On the same note, that have continued my road shoe, the MT10. I've had two pairs each of versions one and two, and the v3 is the new iteration. We'll see if/how it is different. My current pair of v2's has just under 600 miles on them, and these things usually last about 700-800 miles, so we've got a probably less than a full month of training (meaning sometime into late July given the inevitable recovery post-Kettle).

I don't know what to really think of this race. It has ~18K of cumulative altitude change on a relatively mellow course: for reference, Afton 50K has 9K and Superior has 42K. Lost in the woods had 14K over 29.4 miles.

I'd like to run it "fast," but I don't know what fast means. Matt Patten's  6th place finish in 19:30 a few years ago is sticking in my head as a "dream goal" time, and I think a good first tier time goal would be <24 hours, second tier <22 hours, third tier <20 hours. I think so long as I take the first 50K nice and easy (I have somewhere in the 5:45-6:15 range sticking in my head), the pacing for rest of the run will fall into place. 

But really I want to finish, run evenly, stay uninjured, and everything else is just gravy. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Ultimate Direction Signature AK Vest, v2.0 - initial thoughts

I anticipation for next month's Zumbro Midnight 50 and June's Kettle 100, I added a new race vest to the family: Ultimate Direction's Signature AK Vest, v. 2.0

Why'd I buy this specific vest for these specific races?

I do not like carrying hand bottles during races. Long training runs, even on trails, OK, but during races with the frequent eating (formerly, gels every 30 minutes, now Clif blocks every 10 minutes /w gels every 30) meant that I only had a hand-and-a-half to do so, and gels in particular require two hands. 

And my current race vest, the venerable and trail-tested Nathan #020, isn't well suited to races where aid is so close together and I may need to carry much of my own gear. Yes, I can carry plenty in the pack, but because all of the weight is on the back - and 70-plus oz of water is nothing to sneeze at weight-wise - the pack can pull on you, expending extra energy. 

Hence the AK (now 2.0) comes into play. Bottles and some storage in front, gear in back. Simple.

Here's my initial thoughts after trying it on in-store and running on a treadmill with the pack empty, but bottles in, a 6.3 mi training run on roads, and a 17-plus mile trip around Afton. 

First, the bottles are surprisingly not in my way for running. They did not interfere with my arm swings while testing, but my left arm did occasionally strike the bottom of the left bottle when running on the short test run. I did not have this same problem while running at Afton. 

Second, the vest's hex mesh is surprisingly stiff - much stiffer than the hex-type mesh that is used on my Nathan #020. 

Third, the vest is very hard to initially size by yourself because the two side ladder lock buckles are small, the loose end points backward (meaning you need to chicken-wing your arm to pull it, and even then the stiffness of the strap doesn't feed smoothly at all. This is one feature that needs to be improved on if 3.0 arrives. It could fixed if the strap set was rotated so that the loose end points forward - just as it does on hip belts for hiking backpacks. It's simple to pull forward, very difficult to pull backward. 

This feature concerns because of the item number next. 

Fourth, the pack fits better and tighter when the backpack is fully loaded. It feels snug and less likely to bounce around. Whether the side buckles will require adjustment dependent on how full the backpack is will wait to be seen. If it doesn't, the issue with the buckles becomes a non-issue - one simply dials in the size initially and rarely if necessary, and goes from there. 

As the volume of water decreases, there is less weight in the vest to help keep it firmly on your chest. I could feel the vest getting looser as I ran - maybe that is just natural slippage - which was no issue on my 17 mile test run. But the bottles carry fantastically and firmly against my chest. They held solid in the pack, something that is unlike bladders. On a 50K, 50 miler, or 100 miler, we'll see if this becomes an issue. 

Fifth, I will need to adjust how I accustomed to carrying everything I need during a race. I really missed at Afton not having a pocket large enough to hold my Body Glide. On my Nathan #020, it say in a zippered pocket on the left. There is nothing on the front of the best which is large enough -  that also doesn't obstruct the bottles - to hold the BG. I guess I'll need to carry it in my shorts, or high in my pack so I can reach it. 

I can reach things that are high in my pack, for the most part. This is a pleasant surprise, as I needed to take off the #020 if I wanted to get anything from the back. I'll still need to take off the pack to get something that slips down, but hey, I'll take it. 

I also need to figure out where I am going to put empty gels. I normally put them on the outside of a mesh pocket on the front left of the #020, and I'm not there is a comparable pocket on the AK. Perhaps a pocket in my shorts? Not sure what to do here. 


Who knows if I'll use this pack at Superior. I'm a little concerned that its 40-oz capacity is too small for the several lengthy (and traditionally hot) sections of the trail, and I have consumed all of that 70 oz capacity on a couple of occasions through some of those longer sections. Who knows - maybe I'll be fast enough this year that 40 oz to take me from Crosby to Sugarloaf is sufficient. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

On being ill.

Being sick is no fun. Going from 60-plus miles per week to ten is even less fun. Running twice in a week and then stopping because the body needs time to heal is a decision only based on experience. 

I say this because I am in, hopefully, what is the last 24 hours of this year's annual head cold. It started last Tuesday, Jan. 27 with a sore throat and congestion. The sore throat left the following Thursday/Friday following a period of daytime when my voice was a full octave lower. And then the gunk sunk to my lungs and I started a nice productive cough that is still with me, nine-or-so days later. 

I've taken seven zero days in the past 12 days, almost equal to the nine I have taken from just before I got sick back to Oct. 19, 2014. Seven-day and three-week rolling averages are paltry. And I need to once again adjust my peak weekly base mileage, dropping out the two final weeks of base period - current set for 80 miles - and replace them with 70 mile weeks. I'll still probably keep the peak at 80 for in-season training - I see no worry to cycling up to that high mileage a small handful of times throughout out the year. 

The weirdest effect of being sick is that my motivation to run has been all-but nonexistent, like my body is telling me to not go run. For the most part I have listened to it. Morning runs are basically not happening. Evening runs are affected by how I managed through the day. And weekend long runs just didn't work. 

And so it goes. Adjust training goals on the fly without changing racing goals. Just adapt to meet those racing goals. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Pronounce your goal. Plan for it. Work for it. Be accountable to it.

Every Sunday, without fail, I tweet to the world and my FB friends two things: what I did this week in runs, mileage, time, and year-to-date and season-to-date (i.e. since 10.19.14 re-start) stats. Second, I tell them what I'm going to do next week. If I didn't make last week's goal, I state why. 

At the end of every month, I tweet monthly totals: runs, running days, mileage and time - plus year-to-date stats. 

I keep elaborate spreadsheets to track my running progress (and I also use in addition to Google Sheets). Most importantly, I track rolling averages for mileage and duration for the prior seven days and three weeks. My runs and quality workouts are planned for every day from basically November 2014 to the finish line at Lutsen for the 2015 Superior 100. 


I tell the world my weekly results and next week's goals to keep myself accountable, if only to myself.  No one save myself will every get on my back for failing to meet goals. No one save myself will ever make sure I don't overtrain. But being public with a goal lets the world know you stand for something, and posting your results shows them that you're being accountable to those goals, actively working toward those goals, and achieving those goals. 

Each day, I can look to my plan and see what I need to do. In the past, I simply set a weekly total for miles, picked a day for quality workouts, and let the rest sort it out. I ended up missing a lot of quality days and skimping on the daily runs and weekly mileages totals. I still ran well, but far from my peak potential. 

Now, the process is simple. It is planned ahead, perhaps months prior, and adjusted accordingly as the season progresses. I know what I must do, and I then execute on that objective. 

Results and excuses are mutually exclusive. 

Nothing is free, everything is earned, and everything earned must be worked for. And all work toward that which you earn is hard work. Whether it is slow work - easy running must be easy enough such that it is actually recovery - or fast work - it must be fast enough such that you are achieving your training goals - it is hard work. 

State your purpose. Go do the hard work. Be accountable. Achieve your results.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Book review: Hal Koerner's Field Guide to Ultrarunning

Hal Hoerner's Field Guide to Ultrarunning is what you would write if you had a beer with Hal, asked him to tell you everything a runner who is just getting into ultra marathons should know, and just listened and took dictation. The tone is conversational, approachable, heavy on anecdotes and substance but light on details. For example, you will find recommendations for speed work (hill repeats, tempo runs up to an hour duration, and fartleks are all recommended) and weights (light weight, lots of reps) are important, too. But you're not going to find VO2 max tables or detailed speed workouts here. This is not Lore of Running or Daniels's Running Formula - it is a casual, practical explainer of everything one would want to know before training for and toeing the line at their first ultramarathon. 

The relaxed vibe is the text's strength. Hal's matter-of-fact descriptions of topics and explainers what works and what doesn't sets out the basics with casual ease. For example, Hal himself idoes not follow any specific diet and is not burdened by any restrictions on his intake. His diet used to be burritos, bagels, and beer. He simply focuses on carbs before, during, and after runs. "If my meals aren't measuring up to my mileage, I know it from the first step, and this self-awareness helps me stay on top of deficiencies," he writes. As someone who credits his first 50 mile finish to a change in eating habits and has tried to run after eating something less-than-nutritionally optimal, I completely understand the statement. 

Should you get it? Yes.