Monday, December 24, 2012

The Barkley

In my last post, the 2013 Race Schedule, I wrote,
"There's a monster of a race that I'm toying with the idea of signing up for, and looking at the remaining lotteries and open registration dates, August and September are still a bit in flux." 
That "monster" is the Barkley. I was being coy, ambiguous on purpose, trying to drop a hint without actually coming out with it, and I don't really know why. This came up with a non-running friend tonight, after telling him about the "race" that "only 13 runners out of about 900 have finished within the 60-hour cutoff," and it prompted me to really try and figure this out.

I think I'm embarrassed, maybe even scared, to admit that I'm applying to this "race." With only 35 entrants per year, who am I to think that I should be selected to run the Barkley?

I say it on this blog all the time, that "I'm still trying to become a runner," and I'm absolutely not kidding. In no way, shape, or form do I have this running thing down pat. All my times are pedestrian, complete middle-of-the-pack times, and I'm learning new things ALL. THE. TIME. For instance, I just recently realized that I hadn't been using my glutes enough in my running to actually get anywhere "quickly." (Watch this fantastic instructional video on natural running by Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, Director of the Natural Running Center.) It's insane how much I'm still probably doing wrong, but hey, I love learning about it.

So, why am I embarrassed about publicly admitting that I'm applying for the Barkley? Because the entrants to the Barkley are, for the most part, complete STUDS (or STUD'ettes), and I'm, well, me.

For example, past entrants of the Barkley include:

  • Brett Maune, current John Muir Trail FKT (Fastest Known Time), current Mount Whitney FKT, current Barkley CR (Course Record) holder, only ever 2-time Barkley finisher
  • Jared Campbell, 5th-ever finisher of Nolan's 14, 7-time Hardrock finisher (5 sub-30 hr finishes, first place 2010)
  • John Fegyveresi, Appalachian Trail, Pacific Coast Trail, Badwater finisher
  • Blake Wood, 17-time Hardrock finisher (first place 1999), 14:51 Rocky Racoon 100M, 2nd-ever Nolan's 14 finisher
  • David Horton, former Appalacian Trail FKT, Transcontinental Crossing, former Long Trail FKT, former Pacific Coast Trail FKT, 4-time Hardrock finisher (first place 1992, 1993), 17-time JFK finisher (first place 1995)
  • Cave Dog Ted Keizer, former Long Trail FKT, current Colorado 14ers speed record, numerous other Mountain speed records
  • Mike Tilden, 3-time Hardrock finisher, Badwater finisher, 1st-ever Nolan's 14 finisher
  • Jim Nelson, finished Nolan's 14 2:09 above 60-hr cutoff
  • Flyin' Brian Robinson, Hardrock finisher, first to hike Appalachian, Continental Divide, and Pacific Crest Trails in same year
  • Andrew Thompson, former Appalachian Trail FKT
  • Johnathan Basham, former Colorado Trail FKT, Long Trail FKT, Hardrock finisher
  • Eric Clifton, 20-time JFK finisher (4-time winner), Badwater winner, 13:16 Rocky Raccoon 100M

And this is just a few! There's more. It's just completely sick.

Now, I don't consider myself in the same universe of athlete as these amazing people. Why on earth should Laz (Barkley's RD) let me into the Barkley? The simple answer is that, based on my bio, he shouldn't. As stated above, I'm a middle-of-the-pack runner. I've never gotten into, let alone finished Western States, HURT, or Hardrock (though not for lack of trying). I've never through-hiked a single trail (though I have a strong desire to take out the Superior Hiking Trail SOON). But I want the Barkley. I want it... badly.

Thoughts of the Barkley haunt my dreams. It’s consumed me. It terrifies me, and because of that, I need to do it. There’s this saying,
"We stopped checking for monsters under our beds when we realized they were inside us." 
The only way to stop this unending unease is to look under the bed and make the nightmare my reality. I'm not afraid of the dark, of the nightmares, of what's hiding under the bed, but maybe I should be.

Bukowski said that,
"We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us."
Consider my applying for the Barkley as doing my best.

I guess I've realized that it's not my job to question whether or not I should be selected to run. My only job is to apply.

Monday, November 19, 2012

2012 Superior 100 Race Report

Yes, it's late, but this is a big one, folks.  Sorry, it’s Superior.    

I know this race.  I catch fleeting glimpses of the course in my mind, like a repeating dream you find yourself having over and over.  I tried to play the whole thing back in my head before the race, recall each aid station, every climb, each descent, but I couldn’t quite piece it together.  When we lined up on race morning, though, it all came flooding back.  The trail déjà vu was strong.  Last year I went into this race having never set foot on the Superior Hiking Trail.  I had no idea what to expect besides epic difficulty.  Each step was new.  This year, I found myself remembering the next climb, the descent following the next ridge, the next runnable section, everything, and this year, I ran. 

Race weekend started Thursday morning with a crazy bunch for Alicia’s blueberry pancakes at our place before having the pleasure of catching a ride north to Two Harbors with hundo-rookie Scott Huston for the pre-race briefing.     

Quite the crew crashed at my friend’s beautiful cabin on Lake Superior just 10-minutes north of the race start, including me, Scott Huston, Jason LaPlant, Misty Schmidt (*all finishers of the race!), and Jason's crew-woman extraordinaire, Amy Scherbring.

Race morning—whoa boy.  I was excited, nervous, and scared, but most of all, I was prepared and ready.  This season had brought me a few successes, but also some pretty gnarly failures (I always take more away from the failures).  I came into this race rested (sleep is bar-none the most important thing leading up to a race), healthy, and tapered.  All that was left was that little battle between me, my expectations, and the trail. 

At the start, Ben Bruce and I ran comfortably, leaving Goosberry Falls with the 80-mile rule in full implementation: "If you’re not going to run it at mile 80, you don’t run it now."  It flows well with my “run the runnable” and “don’t fight the trail” mantras, all of which come down to the notion that you want to move quickly over the easy stuff, the flats and downs, the whole race, and to do that, you need to walk the hills at mile 5 so you can still run the "runnable" at mile 80+.  A few miles into the first section, Christy Nowak and Chris Hanson came up on us and ran through Ben.  By the time they passed me, Ben had fallen off the back, which was sad.  I spent all 103.3 miles last year with Ben and wanted to spend some good miles with him this year, but we each have to run our race (be careful—trying to save someone else’s race can quickly and easily derail your own—know when to cut people loose, which is not always easily done).  The next few bends brought Aaron Buffington, Tony Pierce, and another runner into view, so I made a quick push to grab the tail-end of that group and settled into the train.

As the course started getting a little more technical, Aaron started pulling away, so I made another push to join, with Tony coming along.  The miles brought stories, and we found out that this was Tony's first hundo.  Aaron has a fantastic way of grabbing everyone's life story out on the trail and sharing a lot of his own, a skill possibly only rivaled by his tree-traversing abilities (April Cole get's this joke).    

Down the spur trail into Split Rock (aid #1), we ran into Matt Aro and Joe Boler coming up the hill, running fantastically conservative races, not getting sucked into the fast pace at the front.  Donny was at the turn, directing traffic.  John Maas was there welcoming people in.  Jordan Langen was snapping pictures.  Vicky Bagelle helped me refill my pack, remarking that I hadn’t drank much that first section—which I thought a bit odd.  No matter.  I felt good, grabbing a few cookies and a banana before hiking back up the spur trail.

Up the trail, though, that water comment really started to bug me. The next section was the longest on the course, and last year I’d run dry about halfway through, nearly crippling my race with early dehydration.  This year was a lot cooler, but still, I thought I’d been drinking pretty well, but there was no arguing that the water level in the open bladder was only a few inches below the top.  I finally figured out—a few miles up the trail—that I’d stuffed the back of the Salomon pack so full that when I opened the bladder to refill, the tension in the pack squeezed the bladder, reducing the capacity from the already-lean 50 ounces to something much less.  For the second year in a row, I had to conserve water on the longest section on the course.  Still, Aaron, Tony, and I moved well, and I took the last sip out of the pack about a mile before Beaver Bay (aid #2).       

This time, I took the bladder out of the pack before filling it.  The good news: I got the full 50-ounces in the bladder.  The bad news: it took forever to get the bladder back into the pack.  I had to have a spectator help, and that wiped out the few minutes I put on Aaron and Tony down the hill into Beaver Bay.  No matter.  We left together, running along the river.  At this point, I was still climbing (hands on knees, Euro-style) a little faster than Tony and Aaron, so I pulled ahead a little and into Silver Bay (aid #3) at mile 25, my first drop bag, ahead of schedule and feeling fine. 

Before the race, I made a pace chart for people to have some idea where I’d be at what times and to help me plan my drop bags (gel, salt, lights, etc.), which was actually rather necessary for this one because I didn’t have a crew until the Cramer Road aid station at mile 77.9.  In the early miles of these things, we tend to run at a somewhat “normal” pace before settling down into the 100-mile slog (“start slow, then taper”), so guessing times isn’t easy, and I couldn’t just use last year’s paces because, frankly, I was going to run more than last year, and faster.  I had been talking some made smack to my buddy Jordan Hanlon leading up to the race that I was going to crush yet another one of his 100-mile times.  Last year, he finished a fantastic race at Superior just a smidge over 30-hours, putting 4+ hours on me after County Road 6, mile 43.5.  Given that, my pace chart had 3 times on it: my “GOAL” pace at 17:30/mi for a 30:07 finish; my “UGH” pace at 20:00/mi, settling at last year’s 34+ hour finish; and a “GODLIKE” pace of 15:00/mi for a 25:49 finish.  Trust me, the “GODLIKE” pace was just for people trying to find me at the beginning.  I figured my best case scenario was an initial “GODLIKE” first few sections that tapered off to “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLL” later in the race.  Though, through Silver Bay at mile 25, I was running comfortably, eating a ton, and holding fast to the 80-mile rule, a slick 45-minutes ahead of my “GODLIKE” pace, though I didn't know it at the time.  Still.. spiffy. 

I knew I was moving well, but I had absolutely no idea what that meant pace-wise.  I’d been running with the Suunto Ambit recently (love it--most of the time) and threw it in the 50-hour mode for the first time during this race—to complete and utter disappointment.  At the first aid station, 9.7 miles in, the watch read a paltry 8 miles, so I couldn’t trust the thing for anything more than time splits—tis-tis Suunto.  Vicky Bagelle was at the aid again (busy woman!), and to my surprise told me that Jeremy Lindquist had come through an hour-and-a-half before me (which, if true, would have been a sub-10:00/mi pace through the first 25 miles of the Superior 100!) and was in 4th place!  I was a little surprised, not because Jeremy CAN’T run that fast, but because he was running that fast during THIS race.  I was hoping he could pull it out, but thought that I might see him later—at the time, I was betting by Sugarloaf.     

I re-upped my gel and salt, grabbed a headlamp, and was off again for the next long section to Tettagouche.   Leaving the aid, Aaron and I lost Tony but picked up Steve Clinton for a spell.  Aaron, true to form, grabbed Steve's life story, which was really a pleasure to take in.  Steve is just another wonderful person out trying to find himself.  He happened to run one hell of a race along the way, too.  We stopped to take Steve’s picture at Bean and Bear Lakes, where Steve’s bud Ben Sorenson came up on the group.  Steve dropped us to run with Ben, and those two sped off putting a little time on Aaron and me into Tettagouche, where we were greeted with the following nightmare.  

Although it was pointed out that with that grip, and left-handed, we shouldn’t have too much to worry about, I still feel comfortable in my initial concerns.  

Tettagouche came and went quick, with Steve Quick remarking that I looked “way too fresh.”  I took that as a good thing, and pushed ahead. 

The section from Tettagouche to County Road 6 takes forever.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s gorgeous, fantastically so, even.  The vistas of Lake Superior and the forest were stunning, but this 8.6 miles is a bear.  Last year, Ben, Jordan, and I witnessed carnage on this section, passing a few people that would never leave the next aid station.  This year, Aaron and I took it easy.  He’d get ahead of me for a spell, then I’d catch up and take a little lead.  Once, I found him perched at the top of a vista—seemed like a good place for a rest.  Wise man.  We sat, letting a few people go by, just enjoying the view before running across Eric Forseth on the hill above Country Road 6 on our way into the aid station. 

Finally, some of my peeps.  My dad, Krista Dierkhising, and Naomi Huston were at the aid station, whooping and hollering on my way in.  Last year, I had to turn on the headlamp a mile or two from the aid station.  This year, I got to the aid station with hours of daylight left, and best of all, I felt fantastic!  I grabbed my drop bag and was changing things out when my dad told me that Jeremy had just left the aid station 10 or so minutes ago.  I was shocked!  He was slowing down a ton, and that lit a little fire under my ass.  I thought that maybe I could catch him before Finland at 51.2, and I was off.

I was hiking the ups at a nice, quick tempo, and running the downs and flats.  After a few miles, the sun dipped below the trees, but I pushed on, trying to get to Finland without grabbing a light out of my pack, moving as fast as I could, faster than the last few sections.  There were a few times that I thought I heard someone coming up behind me, which I thought odd.  I was moving faster than I had been all afternoon.  I shouldn't be getting passed!  But sure enough, about a mile before the aid station, when I finally gave in and and grabbed a light out of my pack, Becky George came running up a hill behind me.  I hitched on, followed, and chatted until she stopped and grab her light and I was able to put some distance on her.  Honestly, I was ecstatic to still be ahead of her at the halfway point.  She's such a strong runner, winning the Zumbro 50 outright in the spring and putting up a 19-hour time at Kettle 100 earlier this year.  Around the next bend, I passed one older runner without a light, then came up on Jeremy, who started to run when he heard me coming, but was moving slow.  I told him to keep it up, snuck by, and hauled it into the aid station where Alicia was waiting.

The stop at Finland was quick.  I was still moving really well and wanted to keep that up as long as I could.  I refilled the pack, grabbed some Oreos, kissed Alicia goodbye, and took off towards Sonju.  Jeremy was coming in as I was on my way out, and I quickly caught up to Ben Sorenson and his pacer and chatted a bit  before sneaking by.  Becky George caught me quickly after that and I tried to hang with her through the roots to Sonju, but it was nearly impossible.  Her cadence is so quick, she just moves effortlessly through everything with seemingly zero impact--it's pretty amazing to watch, which I tried to do as long as possible.  She left me behind rather quickly, though, as I started to descend into my first real tough point of the night.

Pulling into Sonju was pretty fantastic.  I found a chair, pulled out some Advil, tightened the laces on my shoes, and grabbed a warm cup of soup with Jason Buffington.  It was getting chilly, so I grabbed my jacket and loaded everything back up before deciding that the jacket was too warm.  As I was fiddling with everything, Aaron Buffington and April Cole rolled in to the aid station.  It was fun watching the Buffington-brother interaction (Jason is quite the endurance athlete himself, usually more of a cyclist, but setting the course record at Arrowhead 135 last year on foot).  April was confused seeing me at the aid station, not thinking I was ahead of her (I don't blame her--that girl can motor).  I gladly followed those two out of Sonju en route to Crosby, taking in the conversation.

The next two sections, Sonju to Crosby and Crosby to Sugarloaf, were a hilarious delight!  It was fantastic chatting with Aaron and April--they really made the toughest miles on the course fly by, especially Aaron and me chasing April the last few miles into Sugarloaf.  It was nearly impossible to keep up with her--or at least for slow folk like Buffington and me.

Aaron took off really quick out of Sugarloaf, though, followed shortly by April, as I was finishing up my second cup of soup.  I really wasn't able to take in any sugar at that point, and all I had with me, food-wise, were gels and whatnot, so the aid stations were the only places I was really taking in calories.  The second cup of soup here was necessary, but still not enough.  Just as I was setting foot back on the trail, Alicia and Naomi happened by.  I only had time for a quick hello, telling them that I was getting really tired and had to keep moving.  My stomach was gone.  The bonk was in full effect.

That next section to Cramer Road was a doozy.  The trail wasn't bad, I was just losing it.  It took me a few minutes to catch up to April, but no matter how fast we went, we couldn't seem to get Aaron back in sight.  Then the sleepies started to hit, and I had to let April go.  The rest of the way into Cramer Road I was fighting sleep--even stopping and sitting down on logs or rocks on the side of the trail to catch a few minutes of shut-eye, but nothing seemed to help.  Not music.  Not singing.  Not speeding up.  Not walking.  Nothing.   This is where Ben Sorenson and Steve Clinton flew by me--I wish I could have hooked on, but I had no shot.

Eventually, I made it to Alicia at Cramer Road and she got me a 5-hour energy, a cup of coffee, a cup of soup, a grilled cheese, and a baggy of chips and pretzels to carry with me.  Same as before, though, as soon as I set out from the aid station, I started dozing off while moving again.  I was stumbling over everything, and was just looking for a place to grab a few minutes of rest.

Finally, at sunrise, I started coming around again and was able to make up some time into Temperance.  My only calories in the last section had come from half of a king sized Salted Nut Roll, but still, I was moving well.  I saw Eric Forseth, Alicia, and Alicia Hudelson at the aid station, stopped for a minute for some calories, but took off as soon as I could towards Carlton Peak.

The climb up Carlton was lonely, but quick.  The trip down was a blast.  I even beat Alicia to Sawbill where I got stung by a poor honey bee trying to steal my Salted Nut Roll.  At Sawbill, they told me that I was only 10 minutes back from Ben Sorenson, so I took off as quick as I could.  I could run the flats and downs, but I had nothing on the ups.  Still, about a mile out of Oberg, I caught Ben.  This is where the first marathoners started by, too.

I pulled into Oberg just before the sky opened up and left in a full downpour.  The last section took forever, but I was in such a great mood, it really didn't matter.  I knew I had it in the bag after Temperance--nothing could have stopped me from the finish line at that point.  And unlike last year, there were no massive hallucinations during that last section.  I didn't have to convince myself that I didn't have feet just to keep going.  In that respect, it was calm, quiet.  I didn't have a pacer.  I didn't have anyone to run with.  I was moving as fast as I could through the rain.  Every now and then a marathoner would stroll through, but I didn't have a shot at staying with any of those people.  I just tried to stay patient and positive until Lutsen.

Crossing the finish line was great.  There are no easy sections at this race, just hard and harder.  It's amazingly technical and relentless, beautiful and challenging.  I finished in 22nd place overall in 29:05:46, a time that would have put me in 8th place last year, and much, much faster than my 34:35 suffer-fest in 2011. It was a great run, and I couldn't have been happier.

Looking back, this one was a bit different for me, the closest to self-supported I've done with my crew-person extraordinaire and lovely wife Alicia volunteering at the Finland aid station (mile 51.2) all night.  I saw her there on my way through right after sundown, but not again until a 5-second greeting at Sugarloaf (mile 72.3) as I was heading out.  She saved my bacon later in the race at Sawbill (mile 90.7), finding lunchables at a gas station after my stomach went south and I couldn't stomach anything sweet--the "turkey" and "cheese" (if that's what you call it) were just what I needed.  Aside from that, though, I finished the race with just my drop bags, learning the important lesson to throw in some emergency "real food" in the future, just in case.

I went without a pacer for this race, but I did have the unexpected pleasure of chasing Aaron Buffington for a large majority of the race and hitting the hardest sections of the course (Crosby to Sugarloaf) at night with Aaron and April Cole.

Gear-wise, I was in a tank and shorts for 90% of the race, donning a jacket as I was falling asleep for the Sugarloaf and Cramer Road sections, then again after the sky opened up at Oberg.  My Montrail Mountain Masochists were perfect, as usual, with a pair of Drymax socks.  I didn't take off my shoes even once the entire race, only tightening/adjusting the laces twice, and had no blister or feet issues during the race.  (I've still never lost a toenail and am convinced those that do just wear shoes too small--size up people!)  The Salomon S-Lab 5 pack was spot on, per usual.  For light, I used a Petzl Tikka XP 2 at night, stacked with a Petzle Myo RXP when I was alone for more light.  

Everything epic, indeed.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"So that's what the trail looks like": 2012 Spring Superior 50k

Kettle Moraine 100 is coming in a few short days, so it's time to memorialize what was my 2012 Spring Superior 50k "race" before being on the hook for yet another race report.

The Superior Hiking Trail is majestic.  It's beautiful, it's technical, and unless your name is Chris Lundstrom, it will figuratively and literally bring you to your knees (or face, palms, back, or whatever other body part you decide to sacrifice to the trail gods).  In my case, I barrel-rolled off the trail at the top of Moose Mountain after catching my foot on a root before deciding to slow down for the day.

Spring Superior 50k starts where Sawtooth ends, in Lutsen at Caribou Highlands, and goes out-and-back along the last two sections of Sawtooth to Oberg and Briton Peak before capping out at Carlton Peak.  Although I'd been on nearly all of this course at Sawtooth (the exception being the last quarter mile up to the summit of Carlton Peak), I had practically zero recollection of the trail outside of some working knowledge of the aid stations, which isn't all that shocking given the first trip was at hour 30+ of Sawtooth with the hallucinations in full effect.  

Alicia, Andy, and I set up camp at Temperance River State Park and ran to packet-pickup at Caribou Highlands with the rest of the crew before settling in for the night.

Like all of my races, I didn't have much of a strategy going in, and as the race started, I got excited and found myself following Jeremy pretty quick off the bat up Mystery Mountain.  We were hauling.

A bit of elevation at Superior
Right before the race, I'd taken a gel.  On the way up Mystery, I learned that I apparently forgot to cinch up the front pocket on my Salomon pack, and my baggie of gels had fallen out.  I started to worry and imagine what an early calorie deficit would make me feel like towards the end of the race, so, I pushed a little harder to catch up to Jeremy, who was pulling away from me, and stole a gel from his pack.

A line formed on the trip down Mystery, and Jeremy zoomed by off the side of the trail.  I was content to just stay in line, and did, until the way up Moose, where people started passing.  At the top of Moose I took my spill, rolling off the trail and somehow not hurting myself.  Lying on the ground, looking up at the sky, I decided that, with a 100 mile race in just two short weeks, it might be a good idea to slow down.

And just like that, my mood switched, and I was done racing.  From here on, this was a fantastic, beautifully gorgeous training run for Kettle.

I was so happy to get into Oberg and grab some gels.  The weather was slowly heating up, but it wasn't too warm yet, so I didn't need to refill the pack.  I snagged a few cups of water, an s-cap, 2 gels, and moseyed out towards Carlton with a new pal, BJ Knight, in tow.  

I knew of BJ from facebook, but we'd never met.  It was his first ultra, and he chatted about going out too fast.  I told him I knew the feeling.  All through this next section he hung on to my heels, walking when I walked, running when I ran.  I was holding him back a bit, but that might have been a good thing at the moment.

Before I made it to Briton, the leaders, Sam Jurek (no relation to Scott) and Chris Lundstrom flew by on their way back.  At the time, Sam had a minute or so lead on Chris.  Sam hit a bit of a rough patch later in the race, but at this point was flying.  It was pretty amazing to see the pace the leaders were holding, and I cheered on as many people by names as I could on our way into Briton, where I re-filled my pack about half-way and grabbed a gel before BJ and I jetted out towards Carlton.

The climb up Carlton was fantastic.  The weather was heating up, but the trail was mostly shaded and gorgeously technical, and were were running into most of the people I was running with earlier.  I got to see the women's leaders, Becky George and Christi Nowak, both just flying down from Carlton, and then Jeremy close on their heels.

Todd Rowe was stationed at the old turn-around and was snapping pics of people on the way up the added section to the summit of Carlton.  In prior years, the course had ended prior to the summit of Carlton, but John Storkamp is never quite happy with just the advertised distance.  In all seriousness, the trip up to the top of Carlton was more than worth the extra distance, and I summited just shy of 2:45 and began the trip back.  

The way back down from Carlton to Briton was fun, and I was running into everyone, from Alisha Mayer, to Amy Carolan, Jason Husveth, and on and on and on; everyone just a few short minutes behind me.

Pulling into Briton, I made a quick stop at the facilities.  Antsy to get back on the trail, I made another huge mistake leaving Briton, forgetting (or rather neglecting) to refill my pack before BJ and I headed out towards Oberg.  It wasn't but 5 minutes into that section where I sucked the last drops of water out of my pack.  The day just kept getting hotter, and I didn't have any water for the next  5+ miles.  No worries, I knew just what to do; slow down.    

The 5.5 miles between Briton and Oberg ended up taking forever without water.  It wasn't so much that I needed water that was bugging me, but more that I just didn't have it, if that makes any sense.  With temps now in the mid-80s and sunny, I was warming up, so I didn't feel bad letting BJ go as Erica Lensink passed by.

The Oberg aid station was a welcome sight, and I stayed for a minute, having a few glasses of water, some salt, and a gel before hiking out.  A few more people caught up to me here before the downhill to Rollins Creek, including Amy Carolan.  What a doll!  She's always just so darn pleasant, and she looked really strong as she pulled away.

Most everyone I came across, be it a 25k or 50k runner, was having a great time and enjoying the day.  Don't get me wrong, they weren't having an easy time--the trail was hard, and it was warm--but it was gorgeous, and most had a mindset similar to mine and were loving every second of it.  Crossing Rollins Creek, though, there was a 25k runner down by the water.  I stopped to retie my shoe just a bit up the trail, and he came walking up, just complaining about everything.  "The trails in Minneapolis aren't anything like this."  "I can't believe how hard this is."  This guy was definitely stomping all the fun out of the race, and I got away from him as fast as I could.

A bit later, Jason Husveth came motoring by.  I thought about latching on, but was content with the 100-mile pace I had moving along.  The trail really was gorgeous, and, with a full pack of water and a few gels stashed in my pack, I had not a care in the world, and didn't feel like pushing.  I guess that was my Zen moment, there in the woods, moving at that relaxed pace, smiling, taking it all in.  What a fantastic place to be, to just exist.

It wasn't much further up the trail that I ran back into Jason, who was taking a breather and trying to cool down.  "I'm cooking my kidneys," he said, so I offered to douse him with some water--I had plenty to share.  We chatted a bit about how great it was to be out on a day like this, and I wished him luck before taking off.

Then, a few minutes later, I ran back into Eric Forseth, who was still out, armed with his camera, capturing the day.  I ran up to him, then we walked for a bit, chatting about his day and the people he'd seen.  He told me about Alicia's stumble on the trail as he was snapping pictures of her and Andy.  He said she was still smiling afterwards, though, so she must have been ok.

Eric has such a great attitude!  Even though he didn't get to run the race due to an injury, he was having a blast and enjoying every second of his day.  My kind of folk.  But hey, there was a race going on, and I had to get on my way.

On the climb up Mystery, as I was taking a hands on the knees breather, I heard someone yelling behind me, "Quit slacking, Edward!"  I replied, "Quit telling me what to do, Joy!"  "Can you really tell it's me without looking?" she asked.  "I can feel your presence, Joy."

At trail races, Joy Parker is my doppelganger.  She beat me by one spot at Voyageur last year and we seesawed at Sawtooth and Wild Duluth.  At the latter, she finished one spot behind me.  Here, she was on the hammer and easily ran away from me atop Mystery.  There's going to be a "Parker v. Sandor" cooler of beer at the finish of Voyageur.  Hopefully she saves me one ;)

The run down Mystery was a blast!  I kept it nice and relaxed and popped out on the road at an easy clip, content to bring it home, until I heard someone coming up behind me.  I looked, and sure enough, there was Allison, headphones in and on a mission.  I said, "Damnit Allison, you're going to make me run!"  She told me she was on a 20+ minute negative split on the way back, and she looked determined, so I picked up the pace and tried to pull her along to the finish.    

We crossed the finish in 6:14.  The official time has Allison crossing a second in front of me, which is just fine by me.  The finish and the time means a lot more to her, and I'm happy for her.  She ran a great race.

Afterwards, we hung out at the finish, cheered people in, relaxed, and told stories of the day before heading back to camp and cleaning up for a cookout at the Storkamp/Husveth/Pierce cabin and then drinks at the Laplant/Carolan cabin.  This really is a great community of people that run these things.

Even after going out on the trail that morning, it was amazing how little I recognized from Sawtooth on the trip back to Lutsen.  That kind of makes me need to run Sawtooth that much more this fall.  I know the Zumbro course like the back of my hand, but the Sawtooth course is still a stranger to me.

But first I've got Kettle, Black Hills, and Voyageur to tackle.  One step at a time.

Friday, May 18, 2012

"None of us really know what we're doing": My 2012 Zumbro 100 Race Report

Goeff Roes, one of the best of the best, published a great article on IRunFar a few weeks back, 100 Mile Intrigue: Embracing the Unknown, where he wrote:
"And herein lies the appeal of the 100-mile distance: none of us really know what we’re doing when it comes to 100 miles, and the aspiring 100 mile runner who has yet to race her first step, has a better chance of figuring out what works best for her than anyone else does."
That's ridiculously encouraging.

I follow a lot of running blogs.  I mean a LOT of running blogs.  I find my self constantly poking and prodding reading as much as I can about what other people, friends and pros, are doing to train for the kind of races that I want to run.  I think that, initially, I was reading so much because I wanted to make sure that I was doing enough to succeed at this type of event, but eventually that evolved into my talking with people and keeping track of them because they became part of my community.  I care about these people.  Some I've met.  Others I haven't (yet).  But the fact remains: these people are part of my life.

A few weeks back, one of my fellow local community members, Matt Lutz, pointed out in his post, (Semi-) Thought Experiment: how much could you run?, that Tony Krupicka put in 1000 miles in the 5 weeks leading up to the 2007 Leadville 100.  That's insane.  Apparently, Tony was coming off an injury, finally got healthy, and had nothing else to do that summer but make a run at Matt Carpenter's seemingly untouchable Leadville CR (15:42 in 2005).  Tony's since come out and said that kind of mileage is unsustainable, and I believe him.  Nonetheless, that relatively short training period helped him put up a 16:14 finish, the second fastest Leadville finish all-time.  (I'm not going to rub salt in Tony's 2009 and 2010 Leadville DNFs chasing Matt's ghost.)

On the other end of the spectrum, there's me.  And herein lies the story of my 2012 Zumbro 100.

2012 Zumbro 100 Race Report

In the 5 weeks leading up to the 2012 Zumbro 100, I ran 184 miles.  Yup, for the record, that's 1 more mile TOTAL throughout my entire 5 weeks leading up to the race than Tony's lowest single week in that same 5 week span.

You may be thinking, "Yeah, so you had a big taper.  I'm sure you ran a lot before that."  Nope.  Didn't do that either.

In the 5 weeks prior, I ran a combined 240 miles.  It only gets worse people.  After the JFK 50 last November, I did very little running through the Goofy Challenge at Disney the first week in January, and I left there with an injury, so then I ran even less.  After the 40-mile weekend at Disney, my weeks went 0, 6, and 17 miles to close out January.  In February, I finally got healthy enough to run again, and went 65, 29, 68, 39, 39, 49, 45, 44, 35, and 11 miles respectively in the 10 weeks leading into Zumbro.  Needless to say, I was a little worried about my base going into the race.   

I did have a few things going for me:  I raced a lot last year, and I think I'm starting to dial in my in-race nutrition, hydration, and gear.  I got one great 40 mile run in on the trails at Afton 8 weeks before the race.  Most of my miles were on trails, and I got a lot of running in on the Zumbro course itself.  Perhaps most importantly, though, the low mileage and huge taper prior to the race let me go into it feeling 100% perfectly healthy, with no aches or pains, and just dying to run.

Last year I showed up the morning of the race, just in time to grab my number, lace up my shoes, and go.  That was a huge mistake I remedied this year.  This go round, we made a party of the whole thing.  I had family and friends from Denver to New Jersey in for the event, not to mention that my Dad, Brother, and Cousin all decided to make Zumbro 2012 their first 100-mile attempts!  We had a campus there, and it was awesome!  The pre-race bbq was great, and we relaxed, hung out, and slowly got ready for the upcoming day.

"This is God.  You have a 100-mile race to start in one hour.  Wake up." bellowed RD extraordinaire John Storkamp over the loudspeakers shortly before 7am on race morning.  The campground was abuzz with runners and crew, taking pictures, catching up, and gathering for the start of lap 1 of the 6 lap course.

From L to R: my cousin Jim Sandor, Jeremy Lindquist, my dad Ed Sandor, me, my
brother Andrew Sandor, and Jason LaPlant, with my cousin TJ, Jim's son, in the front 

Lap 1

The race starts with a couple hundred yards of gravel to a first, short single-track section leading into the courses first gnarly climb.  If you've ever seen the start of a smaller hundo, it's pretty comical.  Everyone typically groups up pre-start for the final instructions from the RD, then, at "Go!" everyone slowly moseys away from the start and up the trail.

Heading out of camp at the start
This year, only one guy, Mike Poland, "raced" away from the start, putting quite a bit of time on everyone right out of the bat, only to drop midway through the race.  Asides from Mike, I ran with the lead group of runners for the first 10 miles.

Lead group with Jason LaPlant behind me, Matt Aro in white, Matt Lutz in green behind
Aro, Joe Boler in black, and Bob Gerenz behind Joe
This was a great group of guys to start the race with.  I spend a large percentage of my weekends with Jason, have run with Joe a bunch of times, met Matt at the course last year, and had chatted with Matt Lutz and read his blog prior to the race.  I was a bit worried because I knew how fast Matt Aro and Joe Boler are, but the pace was relaxed and I was having a good time.  Of this group, Matt Aro had the most experience and the biggest resume, finishing second here last year, third at Sawtooth last fall, and countless other high finishes in this type of race.  Matt Lutz, Jason, and I each had our first hundred mile finishes at Sawtooth last fall.  Joe was still looking for his first hundo finish, but was training like a madman with the likes of John Storkamp, a madman in his own right.  After chatting with Bob, I learned he was out for his first hundred.  (Spoiler alert--those are the first (Bob), second (Aro), and third place (Boler) finishers behind me in the picture above.)

Still feeling good, early on lap 1
We continued as a group into Aid #2 at a little over 7 miles, where a few guys blew right through and headed up this big, long, gradual, sandy uphill, ending with a steep climb up to Picnic Rock.  Everyone in the group climbed faster than I did, so I had no issues stepping aside and letting everyone go.  I really didn't want to push the heart rate up too high.  I caught everyone again on the "Pederson's Plunge," a wicked new downhill section of trail named after the previous RD, Larry Pederson.

We all came in relatively together into Aid #3, where Jason and I stopped for a second at the aid station while everyone else again blew right through.

A second later though, and we were gone.

Up the next climb to the scenic overlook was the last time I saw Bob, Matt Aro, and Joe until Matt and Joe lapped me on my lap 5.  Bob must have come and gone while I was in an aid station or at the start finish, because he never went by me on the trail.  I'm just not strong enough to climb fast without getting wrecked, and keeping from getting wrecked early in a hundred mile race is key.  Jason got ahead of me up that climb to scenic overlook, and I was alone for a bit before catching up to him before Ant hill.  We stayed together until Aid #4, but I took off before he did and finished lap 1 with enough time to grab a minute in the facilities at the campground before leaving for lap 2 with Jason.

Laps 2 and 3

"We're on a sub-19 hour pace!  We need to slow down,"  I told Jason as we left for lap 2.  We'd both gone out a little quick.  I felt great, but was nervous about the time.  My goal was to run the runnable, not get the heart rate up too high at any point, and not trash the quads on the downhills.  I lost Jason on the climb out of the start of lap 2 and was alone for the next long while, from about mile 18 until mile 42, where 16 year old Logan Polfuss passed me on a steep little climb up to Coulee Trail before Aid #2 on lap 3.  I'd left for lap 2 with my hiking poles, but ditched them at Aid #2 on lap 2 because they were just more of a hindrance than a help moving as fast as I was on those trails.  If I were moving a little slower, I'd have kept them out.  The rest of Laps 2 and 3 were pretty uneventful, aside from a new little switchback they added on Pederson's Plunge between my laps 2 and 3.  My aid station plan was to keep it quick, grab some gels, and go, and that was working well, but the monotony of the loops was really starting to get to me.  I got in and finished lap 3 just as the sun was going down.  50 miles down in a little less than 12 hours.

Lap 4

Finally, a pacer.  I got into camp and both Jordan Hanlon and Ben Bruce were there ready to pace me!  I didn't think Jeremy had a pacer, so asked Jordan to wait and go with Jeremy when he came around.  I later found out that Jeremy had not one, but several pacers lined up.  My cousin Jim, however, had none, and Jordan went out with him for lap 4.

Ben and I left camp just as a few people were coming in.  I'm not sure exactly who they were, but I imagine it was one or both of Jason or Jeremy, which lit a mini-fire under my ass.  I was focused to keep moving as quick as I could, and I set Ben in front of me and told him to keep running.  The darkness was actually a welcome relief.  I'd been on those trails so many times that day and the weeks leading up to the race, that not being able to see where I was actually helped me along.  I got to stare at Ben's feet and let him pull me along, running a bit slower, but more than the previous laps.  It was actually kind of neat, a little eye-opening, when the realization came that I was walking some parts of the trail during the day because they looked like a hill, when in all actuality, they weren't that bad to run.  I really think that if you take it easy and shorten the stride, running up moderate hills can actually be easier than power-hiking them.

Running with Ben was great.  We hadn't really seen too much of each other since our 34-hour Sawtooth adventure last fall.  On the trail is really the only place I know the guy, so we got to talk about all things running and life related.  It was really great having him to chat with.  Also, having Ben there allowed me to change my aid station strategy.  I didn't even have to go into the aids anymore!  I just told Ben to grab me 2-3 gels, depending on the length of the leg, and blew right past nearly every one.  It was fantastic!

Coming down Pederson's Plunge before Aid #3, the lightening was getting pretty bad.  A strong storm was coming, and I was praying that it didn't hit us.  Finally, about a half mile out from Aid #3, the rain started coming, and we ran hard trying to make it to the cover of the aid station before getting completely soaked.  Finally under the cover of the tarp, the hail started.  The rain and hail was coming down hard.  While we were waiting, Joe Boler came through to Aid #2 on his lap 5!  He was a machine!  In from the rain, grabbed a gel, then back out.  Joe and I were running different races.  He was fighting for a win.  I was hoping for a good finish.  All-told, Ben and I probably spent 20 minutes at that aid station waiting for the rain to let up a bit, making this my slowest lap of the race.

After the hill leaving Aid #4, a pair of runners caught up to us.  I was surprised to see Matt Lutz and his pacer, and mistakenly thought that Matt was on lap 5 and in first place, but when I asked, he told me that he was on the same lap I was.  I honestly didn't think I was in front of him, as I hadn't seen him since the scenic overlook on lap 1.  Ben and I let Matt and his pacer go up a small hill, but passed him again for good down the next decline, and headed in to camp, where my lovely wife Alicia was sleeping in a chair and a sleeping bag, waiting to help out if we needed anything.  Yep, she's pretty wonderful.  I changed socks, contemplated a change in clothes, refilled the pack, and headed back out for lap 5.

Lap 5

Ben and I got lapped by Matt Aro at the top of the first overlook leaving the campground.  He looked fantastic.  At the time, I thought he was in first place.  Only later did I find out that Bob Gerenz had somehow gotten by me before that, probably while I was changing socks.  Still, I thought Ben and I were only in camp for 5 minutes or so, and I don't remember anyone going by.

This loop was pretty uneventful until the downhill into Aid #2.  Holy hell had the rain and the 50-mile runners made that a massive slip-n-slide.  There was literally nothing to do but grab trees on your controlled fall down the hill.  It was here that I was uber glad to have cycling gloves on.  The mud and footing were awful, but we survived and kept on keeping on.

At Aid #3, I came across Andy, and he was not looking too hot.  I was afraid to even talk to him.  At least he had Allison with him, which was good.  I stayed only long enough to empty my shoe and hit the trail.  At the top of the scenic overlook, Joe Boler came flying by on a mission.  I told him where Matt had passed me, which seemed like hours ago (probably because it was).

The most surprising part, though, was that I was still moving really well.  We zipped down Ant Hill, and my gravity-aided prance down Paddy's let me reel in 16-year-old Logan Polfuss (albiet, only for a few miles).  We hit the gravel road hard into Aid #4, where I skipped the aid station, again sending Ben in for gels.  As I was moving up the hill, I heard my dad yell out!  He was moving, and seemed in good spirits, but I told him I was sorry, that I couldn't stop or slow down and had to keep pressing.  I felt bad, but I had a race to finish.

Midway through this lap, Ben's calf/achilles started acting up--probably from the combination of the gnarly footing and slow pace.  Ben was in the middle of a marathon training session (which he crushed on the way to a 7-minute 2:48 PR at Lake Wobegon in May!), and I didn't want to injure him for his race.  As we came into the campground from loop 5, the sun was coming up, and I told him to stay.  Alicia took care of me at camp, emptying garbage and kicking me out, and I was on my way out for lap 6, alone.

Lap 6

I left for lap 6 with the sun coming up and my spirits high.  I was still running, and that was fantastic.  A few miles into the lap, though, the wheels started falling off.  I was still running, but I couldn't stay awake!  Any hiking brought with it near unconsciousness.  I finally got to aid #1 and grabbed some coffee, doing anything I could to wake up.

After burning my mouth on some fantastic Matthew Patten coffee, I saw Krista at the aid station, and then Jeremy, who looked like death, sitting next to the TCRC RV.  He was at his aid #4 of lap 5, and I immediately felt horrible for him.  Just like my brother, I avoided talking to him like the plague.  I think my avoidance of them was more for my gain than theirs.  I just needed to keep a positive outlook heading back to the trail, and I didn't want even the thought of anyone suffering entering my mind.  I had enough demons of my own to fight out there without worrying about anyone elses, especially after 22 hours on the trail.  So I said goodbye to Jeremy and Krista and headed back out.

Almost immediately, I hit that sleepy stage again.  The only way to stay awake was to run, so I ran.  I was actually moving pretty quick until the big uphill on Walnut Coulee before aid #2.  I had to take a couple hands on the knees breaks to get the heart rate to come down up that thing, when Becky George came hiking up the hill behind me in first place of the 50.  She looked fantastic, and we chatted for a minute up the rest of the hill before she took off down the hill into aid #2.  I was in awe of the way she pranced down the trail, wondering if I ever had that energy, even at the beginning.  The good news, though, was that I was awake and heading into aid #2.

As fast as the energy comes, it goes.  I made it up to Picnic Rock, down Pederson's Plunge, and was dying in the sand before aid #3 when, again, I heard someone behind me.  I looked back to see Kevin Martin running up the trail in sweat pants and a jacket, which was a bit odd until he told me that Logan Polfuss was right behind him.  Sure enough, Logan came running around the corner.  The kid that looked like death a mere few miles back down Paddy's had got his second wind and was moving very, very well.  I wish I could have hung on with him, but I had no shot.  It was challenging enough to stay awake, let alone hitch on and go with him.  I stepped to the side, told him he looked great, and watched him run off around the bend.

Alone again and hiking, I was drifting off and just trying to make it to aid #3 when all of a sudden Jordan comes running up the trail at a sub-6 clip!  My cousin had dropped after his 4th lap, and Alicia asked Jordan to come find me.  What a lifesaver!  Jordan finally let me know what time it was, and I finally became aware of how well I was actually doing!  Just having him with me snapped me back into consciousness.  Calculating splits, I made the decision to hike most of the closing 7 miles in, with Joseph Altendahl and Pam Nielsen in 2nd and 3rd in the 50, respectively, passing by at some point that lap.  I think I gave up on running because it didn't really matter, especially after I let Logan go.  If I had any time goal coming into the race, it was 30 hours, so an 11 minute average or a 17 minute average wasn't going to make any difference at that point.  Either way it was 26 hours and change, so Jordan and I chatted and hiked all the way in.

26:49:06, 7th place!

The feeling of accomplishment and finally being able
to stop after finishing a hundo is like nothing else

Finally Finished

My 59-year-old dad made it 80 miles before catching a ride back to the start in his first 100-mile race, and my brother made it 84 miles, a full 5 laps, before being timed-out.  Both of those guys made it so much farther than I did last year, but they really took a beating.  Looking back, it makes me feel that much sillier for dropping when and where I did.  I was in relatively decent shape when I called it after 3 20-mile laps last year, but oh well.  You live, you learn.

There's no secret formula for these races, folks.  I trained less than I had for any prior race, yet ran my best race because I came in healthy, with a score to settle, and confident that I could do the distance.  The most important thing is knowing in your head that you can do it and managing the little things that can derail your race like nutrition and gear.  The long and short of it is that you should do whatever makes you confident that you can finish, because you can.

Karl Meltzer has a saying that "100 miles is not that far."  I don't think he means the distance so much as he's focusing on the attitude that he can do that distance.  With the right mental outlook, and enough base (that's a shout out to Wes), anyone who can finish a marathon can finish a hundred mile race, you just have to believe in yourself, because you are better than you think you are.

Overall, the race was fantastic.  At the finish, I heard tales of the sprint finish between Bob and Matt.  Over 100 miles, they were separated by only 2 seconds, which is amazing!  And the legend of Joe Boler thundering towards the finish in 3rd place a mere 12 minutes later is really inspiring.  What a way to finish your first hundred mile race!  All three of those guys came in under the previous course record, and the course was tougher than last year!  Jason LaPlant finished his second hundred in as many tries, and Jeremy Lindquist made it into the hundred mile club on his first attempt, finishing right after Jason.  The most inspiring thing, though, was seeing Anjanette Arnold sprinting across the campground and finishing within 10 seconds of cutoff before breaking down in tears of joy.  That was ridiculously inspiring.

My trail running community is a great group of folks.  I stayed up at the finish as long as I could before having to grab a few hours of sleep before cracking the kegs and celebrating my 30th birthday at camp that night.  There's too many people to thank and mention, but you all know who you are.  Zumbro is a great race put on by a great RD with fantastic volunteers and a great group of runners.  Everyone is so laid back and care free, it's almost like the group motto is "don't sweat the small stuff."  Maybe that's what these races really teach you.  They really put the rest of life into perspective.  So much of what we do and the things we worry about during our normal day-to-day ultimately don't matter, and nothing teaches you that better than reflecting on your priorities at mile 80 of a hundred mile race.  Looking around, at that campground out in the middle of nowhere, everything that is truly important to me in life was there: my beautiful wife, my dogs, my family, and my good friends.

I really do love these things.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Goals and Expectations

Between the massive taper to Zumbro, the race itself, and now the recovery, I'm feeling a little lost.  

Looking back, I felt some of the same stuff last fall after JFK in November.  That race went fantastically well for me.  I ran the entire 50 miles as hard as I could and put up, what was for me, a great time.  I left with the air out of my sails, though, and at the time, chalked it up to just being sad that the season was over.

Like JFK, Zumbro went really, really well for me.  I ran through mile 91, which was a lot farther than I thought I could have, and I probably could have done even more!  The finish felt fantastic, but now, like last fall after JFK, I'm wondering what else I can really do?

I found this article on post race depression on the blog, "The Running World According to Dean", and it seems rather spot on.  I think I started running ultras with the goal of just running and finishing well.  The problem is that I kind of am.  The whole thing sounds silly to me, that running well could make me not feel great about my running, but I think that might be the case.  Failing to meet your goals can initially be a let-down, but it can also really fuel your desire, focus, and determination to be better!  Meeting your goals, on the other hand, although initially rewarding, can really leave you with a void.

In the past, I never wanted to set lofty goals or expectations to my running because I didn't ever want to be disappointed with my results, but now, I think I might have to start.  I feel like I'm missing something, and I want it back.

I have to add or change something, I just don't know what.

Has anyone experienced anything similar?  If so, how'd you get your mojo back?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sadistic Asphalt Sprints & Such

I started this post in October, right after TC, but didn't finish before Chicago.  Then, after Chicago, I started writing a bit more, but Wild Duluth happened.  Then, after Wild Duluth, Surf the Murph and JFK happened, and I got so far behind that I just sort of gave up.

For what it's worth, here's what I had back in October, and I'm going to at least give it a shot at putting up my 2012 race schedule and maybe even writing a thing or two.

From October...

So LOTS has happened since my last race post (Sawtooth).  I started drafting the below right after TC (which I killed, btw!) on October 2, but since then have run Chicago on October 9 with my beautiful wife, Wild Duluth 100k on October 15, and I scaled back a 50 mile race at Surf the Murph today, October 29, after missing a flag and getting in some bonus miles (you don't even have to pay extra for them!) on the first lap and turned it into a nice 36 mile training run for JFK 50 coming up on November 19.  So, first the marathons, then the trail race.

I am hereby referring to marathons as "Sadistic Asphalt Sprints".

I'm not trying to make a statement about the TC marathon or Chicago so much as marathons in general.  Everyone is just in such a hurry and so much pain during marathons, or any road race, that it just takes some of the fun out of what I know as "running".  Not to mention that no matter how nice the TC and Chicago courses are, the streets and houses and and city and cars can't come close to comparing to the beauty of a trail race, where, if you're lucky, you don't even have to run on anything that resembles a road.  There really is no better running than a peaceful, scenic piece of singletrack.  But to top it off, during a trail race, I never feel like I'm out there competing against the other runners, but rather that somehow we're in this shared journey to the finish together.  In a marathon, the runners have more of a "every man/woman for him/herself" mentality.  One of the most beautiful things about trail running is the sense of community felt between the runners, the crew, the volunteers, the trail.. really, everything and everyone involved.  You don't see people talking too much during a marathon, whereas it's as constant as can be during an ultra.

Steve Quick summed it up really well, saying "If they could find some way to combine the marathon spectators with trails, it'd be a perfect world."  Indeed it would, Steve.  The crowd at TC and Chicago is really, really great.  The energy at both of these races was much better than at Grandmas in June (even though Grandmas is a great race).  I do wish there was some way to harness that energy for trail races.    

Dad, Andy (spectating this year), and Me before TC
For me, my first TC Marathon went great!  I killed it as much as I could have hoped to kill it.  I started at the back of corral 2 with my dad, making this the third race of the year we've started together.  In May, I pulled him along at Fargo for his first marathon finish, just like my brother pulled me along for mine the year prior.  In July, we started Voyageur 50 together, but I left him right before the Jay Cooke aid station and didn't get to see him again until after I turned around.  This one was even more brief.  We slowly walked with the rest of the runners from the back of corral 2 towards the starting line, and when we crossed, I was gone.  I had business to tend to.  I thought I could reach for a 3:30 marathon.

Starting out, the road was tight.  I was weaving in and out trying to keep my splits low.  I got a little worried when my first mile chimed off at 8:17.  It wasn't that I wasn't running fast enough, I just couldn't get through the damn crowd.  Luckily, things opened up on Hennepin Ave. and I got to push a bit.  From there things were a blur.  I was passing waves and waves of runners, even taking to the sidewalk when there was no path through the crowds on the street (not sure if that officially DQs me, but hell, I don't really care).

Ridiculous!  I love it!
Right away, in the first 3 miles, I actually ran into a few familiar faces, finding triathlete and virgin marathoner Brian Behrendt on Hennepin Ave (who, unknown to a lot of people, was carrying an engagement ring for his beautiful, now fiance, Carissa, in the pocket on his shoe at the time!), seeing someone who reminded me of an old high school classmate on Douglas Ave (who turned out to be my old high school classmate Katy Berquam, now Katy or Katherine Vrieze .. small world), Sadly, these were the only runners I recognized, but I saw a ton of familiar spectators.  Thanks to everyone who came out!

4:24!  Not too bad for an old guy!
Well, I was able to hold a pace in the 7:40's or below until mile 18, where I started tapering off, climbing above 8:00 on mile 20, actually walking up a "hill" during mile 21, and just barely holding on to finish with a 7:59 overall pace and a 3:28:47 finish, a 15-minute PR!  I knew I was going to hit the wall somewhere.  I really haven't done enough "marathon" training to know what pace I should be running, or even what I'm capable of, but damn it's fun to find the ends of where you're at!  This was a fantastic run, and I even got to hang around at the finish to watch my Dad finish his second marathon with a new PR of 4:24!

Fast forward a week, and Alicia and I took off to Chicago for her first ever marathon!  She got to run the TC 10 the week before as a nice little warm up, but this was going to be one hell of an adventure!  Even though it was Chicago, and I'd never ran it before, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to run with her and take pictures throughout.  She really did get sick of my endless pointing and shooting of the camera every mile, but I got some great shots of her powering along.

Before the start
One of the fantastic things about Chicago is that we were able to grab a hotel literally across the street from the start line, which made race morning such a breeze.  We didn't leave our room until 15 minutes before the start, and then just walked into the gates and as far up as we could.

Alicia in her "Superhero" outfit!
Wow do they know how to pack them in at the start.

There's no "waves" at Chicago (like Disney, which gives each corral it's own firework-aided start), just one big slow walk once the gun goes off.  Our walk to the start took over 20 minutes, but seemed even longer.  The crowds were amazing throughout, though.  There was never a spot without cheering spectators.  If you feed off a crowd, this is the race for you.

"F---ing golden" indeed

Thrilled to be done!
Big smiles for her first marathon!

Long story short... Alicia had a great first marathon, and I had a blast chasing her around for it.  I can't wait for her next one.
The rest of October brought Wild Duluth 100k in Duluth, and Surf the Murph 50-mile, which I turned into a 38-mile 50k after a wrong turn on lap 1 of 3 and decided to save the legs for JFK 50 mile with my cousin Jim 2-weeks later.  

Below are some pics of Wild Duluth, which I clocked at 15:59.  If I find more time to write about it, I will, but for now just know that this is a fantastically challenging 100k.  If you've run Voyageur 50, please remember that this is nothing like that.  Here, we all start in the dark, and all of us mortals finish in the dark.  It's a long day out there on the trails.  I was ready to give up after mile 40 or so, and literally the only thing that kept me going was there only being 3 miles until the next aid station.  The mental aspect of it getting dark again was really getting me, that and the mental stress of knowing that I had to go another 15 or 20 miles before the finish, but it all got extremely manageable when I just broke it down to making it to the next aid station.  Just 3 more miles.  In fact, I'm thinking that, from now on, I might just have lap distance between aid stations as a display, that and total running time so I know when to force myself to eat.  This just highlights the fact that as you tire, your mental grit goes long before the physical.  Your body can go a lot farther than your brain thinks it can, and that's partly because we turn off the brain long before the body quits.  

Sunrise over Duluth

Nice, smooth trail
Gorgeous singletrack
Yes, this is the race course
Seems easy enough, right?
I'm just happy to be here

Surf the Murph followed Wild Duluth, and JFK followed Surf the Murph, and that closed my 2011.  2012 started with the Goofy Challenge at Disney again, where I ran a 1:38 half and a 3:42 full--making some mistakes during the marathon, including no salt and no calories during the full ("i'm an ultrarunner" arrogance blowing up on me) a day after a decent effort at the half.  But still, I was in the top 4% of Goofy finishers, so I'm happy.  Unfortunately, I left Disney injured, and that slightly set me back for my Zumbro 100 training.

At Zumbro, though, I'm going to avenge my DNF from last year.  I don't know how fast it's going to be, but I know I'll finish.  First goal is to finish.  Second goal is sub-30 hours.  Third goal is to be healthy enough to run by the following Thursday.  It's a long year, and this is not a fast 100 mile race.  I'll save any attempt at speed for the "easier" 100s, which this year, might only be Kettle.  

In any case, I'm going to try and put up a 2012 race schedule, and maybe even write a thing or two in the near future.  In the meantime, see you out there.