Thursday, September 15, 2011

Superior 100 Sawtooth Race Report 2011

Epic everything indeed.

Me, Ben, and Jordan before the start
Sawtooth isn’t a race, it’s a survival contest.  From what I can gather, 102 brave souls toed the line for the 102.6 mile journey from Gooseberry Falls to Lutsen along the Superior Hiking Trail, and from what I know, 61 made it to the finish.  I was one of the fortunate 61.  I spent 34 hours and 35 minutes on that course stride for stride with my fellow runner, first-time 100 finisher, and new good friend Ben Bruce.  We fought to finish this thing from 8am on Friday morning to 6:30pm on Saturday evening and were sweetly rewarded with a finisher buckle and jacket, which are now two of my most valuable physical possessions.  Sawtooth was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and the most pain I’ve ever been in.  I can’t wait to do it again next year.     

So many runners I know made it through to the end and I’m so happy for each of them (Jordan Hanlon, Ben Bruce, Jason LaPlant, Adam Schwartz-Lowe, Brian Woods, Zach Pierce, and Jason Husveth, to name a few).  Others I know fought and missed this time, but I know they’ll be back, and I can’t wait to try this again with them next year.  Even though I finished, this course still got the best of me.  It chewed me up and spit me out over and over again.  I don’t feel like I underestimated it as much as I think it’s impossible to fully appreciate this race until you’ve done it.  All the warnings and race reports and stories you hear won’t fully prepare you for what you’re going to come across.  I wouldn’t have made it without Ben and my pacers (Dad from mile 42.6 to 62.2, Andy from 62.2 to 90, and Alicia from 90 to 102.6) and the rest of my crew (Sarah and Ashley).  Thank you.  I can’t say enough how much it meant to have you there during this struggle.  I don’t know if I could have done it alone, but I never want to find out. 

Elevation Profile
People talk about how hard this course is, but in the back of my mind I always thought, “C’mon, it can’t be that bad.”  I was wrong.  The warning signs are all there.   Superior is a qualifier for Hardrock, for crying out loud!  (I’m registering, by the way.)  That alone should have scared me.  The course gets its name from the elevation profile: It’s as jagged as a Sawtooth.  There’s over 20k feet of elevation gain and another 21k feet of elevation loss, which is nothing to shake your head at, especially in Minnesota, but it’s not the climbing or the descent that makes this course tough, it’s the trail.  This is not a running trail.  This is not single track.  This is a sadistic obstacle course of rocks, boulders, 3+-foot steps and drops, and roots worse than the ropes that NFL running backs train through.  I’m convinced that the best shoes for Sawtooth might be steel-toed hiking boots, and I’m not even slightly kidding. 

Nice, "runnable" trail there, right?
My feet have never hurt as badly than they did during the last 20 miles of this race, and that’s mostly my fault.  I didn’t take care of them like I should have, and then when I finally changed shoes to try and make it better, I ignored them still getting worse.  It got so bad during the last section that I had to try and convince myself that I didn’t have feet, and that the pain I felt wasn’t real.  I wish I could say that strategy worked better than it did, but I can’t.   For the last several hours, each step that wasn’t on flat, even, soft ground (so roughly 95% of my steps) carried with it a pain so severe it made my vision go blurry.  I was just so close to the finish that I couldn’t stop.  Towards the end, I was only concerned with staying conscious, because I could feel myself drifting off.  I had invested too much to not keep moving forward.  They’re just feet, right?  And holy hell the hallucinations were getting bad during those last few sections.  After a while, Ben would say, “Do you see that bridge over there?”  And I’d reply, “Yep!”  But there was no bridge.  You know your mind is slipping when you’re sharing somebody else's hallucinations.  But seriously, I saw imaginary playgrounds, dogs sitting along the trail, bridges, houses that weren’t really there, you name it. 

I started the race in Montrail Mountain Masochists because hell, if it’s good enough for Geoff Roes, it’s good enough for me.  I think I bailed on these guys too soon, and am really wishing I hadn’t.   Somewhere early in the AM on the second day I put on my Salomon XR Crossmax Neutral shoes, which now even sounds silly.  I ditched a beefy, proven mountain shoe for a hybrid trail/road shoe.  I’m shaking my head at myself as I write that.  I thought I’d spent enough time in them to form a decent opinion, and really thought they’d be perfect for what was basically a power-hike by the time they went on, but the last several days carving calluses off my feet to try and empty the blisters stuck way, way below the surface says otherwise.  I wish Salomon made their top-of-the-line shoes (the S-Lab 4 or even the Fellcross) in a size 14, but they don’t, and I reached and it didn’t work out.  So much for Salomon’s on my feet.  There are so many fantastic shoes out there that I can’t try because they don’t make a size 14.  Hoka, Salomon (the S-Lab 4 or Fellcross), and La Sportiva (CrossLite 2.0) are all guilty with at least some of their models.  Maybe INOV8 is the way to go?  I’ll have to look into that.  My best bet might be back in the MT101s as long as my feet can hold up before lacing up the Mountain Masochists. 

Despite being on my shit list for making awesome shoes that don’t come in my size, I can’t be too mad at Salomon, because they make some really fantastic gear.  I was sporting their shorts and their fancy Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 hydration pack, and that pack is amazing.  I think I singlehandedly sold 4 or 5 of them just by having it on for the race.  People kept asking me what and how it was, and let me tell you, it was great.  It is bar none the best piece of equipment I’ve ever owned.  I first looked at this pack before Ice Age in May but decided it was too expensive.  I was wrong.  It’s worth every dime.  Now the hard part is actually finding one in stock (hint, check out the store at  Bryon Powell even graciously agreed to overnight the pack to me when he got stateside from UTMB, and he got it to me by noon the day before the race, mere hours before I had to drive north.  That saved my ass.  Without it, I probably would have tried to run with two handhelds, and I’m not sure I would have made it to the second aid station with any less water than I had.  It got way too hot way too fast on Friday, and that hurt a lot of people. 

I also ran with poles for the first time, and they really saved my ass.  I didn’t grab them until it got dark, and I might grab them sooner next year.  I barely stumbled the last 60 miles, and that’s largely because I had, at minimum, 3 points of contact on the ground nearly the entire time.  And climbing, which is the weakest part of my running, was so much easier with the poles.  Maybe most importantly, they really saved my back.  During this race, you are literally looking at your feet or no more than 3 feet ahead of you the entire time.  Poles let me take some of that stress off my back and shoulders.  After a while, my right elbow got sore, but still, the poles helped so much more than they hurt, and I imagine the hurt is only because this was the first time I’d used them for more than an hour, and I had them in my hands at Sawtooth for over 20!  There’s really no practical way to train for that.  In short, Black Diamond Z-poles are amazing (and also available at

Tough race? A bit.

As for the race, it was pretty damn neat.  I’m working on a more detailed section-by-section report, but there’s too much work to do at the moment.  Next week!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

I leave for Sawtooth tomorrow.  You have no idea how excited I am to say that.

So I haven't posted on this thing they call a blog since May, the week before Ice Age to be exact.  I'm sorry about that, but not for you.  For me.  I started this at the beginning of the year to journal this epic adventure towards 100 miles, and somewhere along the line, I lost steam, which is sad.  You see, the thing I wanted more than anything was to not lose the details of this journey, this adventure.  But life got busy, and this part of the adventure was put aside.  The saddest part is that I have lost details, lost memories, and I won't get them back.

I'm going to try and do better.

In brief, Ice Age went very, very well.  I finished my first 50 mile race in 10:07, meeting the qualifying time to register for Western States in 2012.  The weekend after Ice Age was the Fargo Marathon, which was my dad's first!  I like to think I helped push him to a 4:27 finish, a whole 11 minutes better than my first marathon and 1 minute better than my brother's first.  After Fargo, I got to do a little running in Telluride, Ouray, and Leadville during a trip out west for my sister's wedding in June, and then snuck back down to sea level to run a 3:43 at Grandma's Marathon.  I had a scheduling conflict for Afton this year, but ran Voyageur on a very, very hot day in July, finishing in 11:23 on a day where over a third of the field dropped.  Then, a few weeks ago, Andrew (brother), Jordan Hanlon (friend), Greg Smock (coworker), and I stunk up my suburban for 196 miles in 28 hours at Ragnar, where I got to haul in 52 or so miles at an 8:40 pace.  

Now Sawtooth.  

I'm giddy.  I'm excited.  I can't wait to scream off into the night and fight and claw my way to the finish.  I really can't.  

I went into my first 100 attempt at Zumbro in April undertrained and with the mindset that I really didn't think I was going to finish.  I learned the hard way that there is no better way to not finish a race than to let your mind be ok with something less than the whole.  I had 6 weeks coming off injury to train for Zumbro.  Originally, I hadn't planned on running, instead merely pacing 60 miles for my brother.  But Andy got a job a few months before the start and his running took a backseat to the rest of his life, and when he pulled out, I thought, "Why not?  I can always stop at 100k."  And that's what happened.  I pulled out at 100k.  

But not this time.  This time, I'm ready.  This time, 100k is not enough.  This time I'm going to finish this beast.  Unless they pull me off the course, kicking and screaming, these two legs are traveling the Superior Hiking Trail north from Gooseberry Falls to Lutsen, and it's going to be epic.     

I ran across a Charles Bukowski poem the other day called The Laughing Heart that sums up life as I want to live it better than anything else I've ever seen.

Your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
Be on the watch.
There are ways out.
There is a light somewhere.
It may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
Be on the watch.
The gods will offer you chances.
Know them.
Take them.
You can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
And the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
Your life is your life.
Know it while you have it.
You are marvelous.
The gods wait to delight
in you.

This is one of those chances, and I'm taking it.  I'm going to beat death in life this time.  I am marvelous.

I'll make sure and get a race report for this one.   

Monday, April 18, 2011

Zumbro Race Report

I haven't worn my Zumbro shirt yet.  I think it's mainly because I don't feel like I earned it.  Is it prudent to write "DNF" across the top?  I might do that.  At least then I can wear the shirt and not feel like I'm lying.  Maybe I'll write, "DNF 2011,"  so when I finish next year I can add, "Finisher 2012," and still wear it after that, too.

So it's difficult to pack for 100-mile race when you have zero idea of what a 100-mile race will be like.  I looked at everyone's race checklists and tried to sort out the stuff I'd need, but of course I found myself running around like a crazy person on Thursday night before the race trying to pack and figure it all out.  After setting 6 alarms for 5:00am, I finally got to bed at midnight.  Not the optimal night prior to a 100-mile race planning, I know.

The next morning was a little better.  Got up and ate 2 packets of oatmeal, loaded the car, and headed south.  Alicia grabbed the dogs and headed south shortly thereafter in the truck.  Made it to the campground by 7:15 to check in and fill my Nathan's vest, change shoes (out of the NB Minimus Trail and into the NB MT101--a lifesaving move at Zumbro), and hit the head one last time before RD John Storkamp gathered everyone for the pre-race meeting.

Jordan Hanlon and me at the pre-race meeting, second before the start!

It was chilly before the start, and I made the rookie mistake of being hugely overdressed.  In the picture above, I had on shorts (good call), a base t-shirt (still fine), a long-sleeved wool shirt (too much--left it at aid station #2/3), a jacket (which is surprisingly warm--also too much), a hat (didn't need it right away, ended up strapping it to the vest on lap #1 and then losing it at the beginning of lap #2, only noticing when I went to grab it when I was sweating my ass off after aid station #1 on lap #2), sunglasses (leave them in the car for trail runs through the woods), and the Nathan's vest (too much in such a well-supported race--two handhelds would have been ideal).  Jordan was better dressed than I was, and ditched the hat, gloves, and glasses at aid station #1.  Adam in the Salamon calf and arm sleeves behind us nailed it.  Meh, next time.

John sent us out right after the pre-race talk, and right away I wanted to run!  Mistake.  I didn't feel like I was pushing.  I was chatting with Jordan and we were walking up any hill taller than me.  I felt fine, but looking back, it was too much.  I ran the downhills the entire lap.  I love downhills.  Jordan pegged the term, "controlled falling," which is perfect!  But by the end, my right foot started hurting from the abuse.  I simply wasn't prepared for this much rock.  I don't know if I can run the NB MT101 here, even with the rock plate.  Just thank the lord I didn't stay in the NB Minimus Trail shoes.  I imagine that would have been disastrous.  Definitely not enough protection under the forefoot.

I ran with Jordan until Aid #2, about 10 miles in.  We were cruising.  I think we came into Aid #3 in second and third place (two front-runners took a wrong turn early and ended up back at the start).  After Aid #2 you run a short section through a lot of sand, then up, up, and up a pretty long hill with really soft footing.  That's where I said goodbye to Jordan.  I can't climb with that 130-pound burst of energy.  Gravity aids me in the downhills, and he's nice enough to wait for me on the straights, but up hills, I have zero shot at hanging with him.  I lost a few places in the 4 miles between Aid #2 and #3, but I was still moving really well and had zero notions of being towards the front anyway.  I was just trying to run comfortably.  Silly rookie mistake.  After Aid #3 though, the shit hit the fan.

I came in, refilled the Nathan's vest (which was already starting to become a pain in the ass--the thing takes too long to fill up, it's really heavy when completely full, and it takes a second to get the air out of so it doesn't slosh), and was off again through the woods alone.  Somewhere along the line, I thought, "Gee, haven't seen a flag for a bit," looked around, saw one off in the distance, and ran to it.  I followed the trail for a bit, but then it started looking familiar and I realized the flags were on the wrong side of the trail.  Yep, I was running back towards Aid #1 on the trail between Aid #1 and #2.  I cursed, turned around, and ran back towards Aid #2/3.  All told, I probably lost a mile or maybe a bit more.  Silly mistake.  Got back on the trail and headed up the epic climb out of Aid #3 with a fellow rookie (who also climbed better than I did).  At the top of that climb, I met Zach Pierce and his camera, and he took a few great pictures of me.  Thanks Zach!

Really a great view of the Zumbro River Valley
Shortly after that climb out of Aid #3, I got very familiar with a lovely little part of the course called Ant Hill.  I was hyper-conscious of trail markers after being off course earlier, so after heading down this epic hill and seeing a big tree across the trail, I started getting nervous that I was lost again.  This tree was perfect chainsaw material, but it wasn't touched or marked and I didn't see any tracks around it.  At the time, there were still only a few people in front of me.  Later, the path around was obvious, but on Lap #1, I had no idea.  I stood for a minute listening for other runners.  Nothing.  So I made the silly conservative decision to trek back up the biggest downhill on the course to the last marker and see if I'd ventured off again.  The only thing worse than venturing off course is thinking that you did and double-backing.  Ugh.  Anyway, I finished Lap #1 in the 4 1/2 hour range and felt really good about that, all things considered.

Lap #2 was hot.  I figured out that I lost my hat at Aid #1 on Lap #2, and doubled that mistake by not filling the Nathan's vest before embarking to Aid #2, misreading and misremembering the distance to Aid #3 as 3+ miles instead of the 6+ it actually is.  On the hottest part of the day, I ran out of water, which really slowed my progress.  Also, the heat of the day had turned a nice runnable portion of the course into wet and muck, and I was trying to keep my feet dry.  I graciously got a drink of water from one of the other runners who passed me on the big climb over the hill to Aid #2.  The rest of Lap #2 was pretty vanilla, and I finished in the 5 1/2 hour range.  Still feeling decent, though.

Lap #3 was headlamp time, and my dad packed up to go out with me.  I didn't know how much he was going to run with me, but I told him it wasn't really running at this point anyway.  I was really slowing down.

Alicia and me at Aid #1, Lap #3
When we finally turned on the headlamps between Aid #1 and #2, I started getting a little motion sick at the bobbing of the light, but that eventually worked itself out.  Lap #3 was a slow one, and when dad and I finished it in 7 hours, I called it a race.

I toweled off, changed clothes, grabbed some food, and crawled into the tent for some well needed sleep.  I was beat.  Nature's call pulled me out of bed in the morning, and I welcomed the stumble to the bathroom with a quick dry-heave before laying back down for a bit.  Eventually, I got up and ate breakfast with Bob and Kathy.  Bob's a coworker who came down to camp for the night!  And I hung out until Jordan and his pacer, Ben, finished in 29 hours and change.

Great job guys!
So, tips for next time.  Don't overdress!  Don't carry excess weight!  Eat, eat, and eat!  Make sure your feet can take the downhills in the shoes you're wearing.  And have fun!  Know that when you hit that low point in the dead of night that you'll get a second wind in the morning, and that laps #3 and #4 are the worst.  I was kicking myself for quitting after seeing everyone finish so strong.

Anyways, 100k 6 weeks off an injury isn't too bad.  I'll make a shot at Sawtooth in September, and I'll be back for Zumbro next year.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Goofy Reflections

The Disney Marathon is crowded!  Nearly 22,000 runners finished Saturday morning's 2011 Disney Half Marathon, with a lot of the course being narrower than a single lane of traffic.  Sunday's Marathon, with 13,500 finishers, seemed spacious in comparison!  But it is still very neat to run through the Disney theme parks with all of the Disney characters out along the course available for pictures and such.

That's me, on the monorail at 4AM Eastern on Sunday morning, en route to the start. The Eastern part matters when you're a Central Standard guy like me.

The most impressive part of the Disney Marathon event, though, is the number of runners that do both the half and full marathons, what Disney affectionately refer to as "the Goofy Challenge."  Over one third of the full marathon finishers, 4,600 of them, finished both the half and the full marathons on Saturday and Sunday!  Pretty impressive.

I had the pleasure of running on Saturday morning with my beautiful wife, who PR'ed the half by more than 30 minutes!  And on Sunday, my cousin Jim surprised me by sneaking back with the slower guys in Corral C to run with me!  The poor guy had to drag me like an anchor for 26.2 miles.  It wasn't the fastest, strongest, nor prettiest 26.2 I've ever run, but it was pretty special just because I really didn't know if I was going to make it.

I left November thinking that the Goofy wasn't going to be a big deal at all after putting up consistent 40-70 mile weeks and tagging long runs of 32.5 and 35 miles.  But then December kicked my ass.  My left patella started giving me fits, not tracking correctly--not letting me run at all without severe pain and swelling.  But, I got the green light from the ortho the Wed before the marathon when she told me that I probably wouldn't do any permanent damage running on it over the weekend, just prolong the recovery.  The best part was that, both days, the pain dulled after the first hour or so.  I'm thinking the body finally said, "well, he's not listening to us telling him to stop, so turn off the pain."  Every step up to that point had me thinking I should drop.  Brutal.  But it's tough to drop when you've raised money for such a worthwhile cause, Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy for this race in honor of my cousin Aidan who turned 11 yesterday!

My right leg was carrying the bulk of the load both days.  On mile 12 of the half my right quad gave me a twinge going up an incline (because there are no hills at Disney, only inclines, according to the race staff--I wish I could roll my eyes via text).  Then, the next day I started worrying on mile 9 of the marathon when it started feeling really tired.  By mile 12, she started cramping.  I was just over 2:00 at the half, but 4:00 was out of sight for the full in the shape I was in.  Jim pulled me through, though, keeping the walking to a minimum, and I finished with a painful 4:18 with a hitch in my giddy up the day after a half.  I felt guilty slowing him down any more than I absolutely had to.  The poor guy ran a 3:42 just a few weeks ago in Las Vegas!  No matter how guilty I felt, though, it was fantastic to have him there.

C'mon. If you've ever run a long distance, you know how good it feels to finally be off of your feet.

Anyway, the left knee still feels like it has a fever, and the pain is still there, but it's actually a little better than it was before the 40-mile weekend.  I'm actually excited to get out next Saturday and see how she reacts.  If there's any shot of the Zumbro 100 in April I've gotta be able to put miles on her, and lots of them, soon.