Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tuscobia '11

Tuscobia ‘11 was a bit of an adventure this year. Not so much in terms of physical difficulty or ultra-ness, but more in terms of unsuitable weather and mechanical/logistical problems.

In other words there wasn’t enough snow to ski and my bike fell off of a car. In an attempt to be a good blogger I brought along my camera, but in 115 miles of racing I didn’t take a single photo. Maybe my New Year’s resolution should be to take photos.

On the drive up Thursday the 15th we got a good look at the snow or lack of it. The western end of the trail had none and while it got better the further east we went it still wasn’t covering the grass. I was prepared though. I had brought along my bike along with the two pair of skis I hoped to use.

I had decided to bike the 150 mile race, but at the pre-race meeting I found out that Mark Scotch was planning to ski in spite of the conditions. Not wanting to miss out I quickly changed my mind and prepared to ski. Rumor was that the course was skiable all the way from Park Falls to Birchwood, more than 60 miles of the 75 mile trail. Honestly I didn’t figure I’d be able to ski 150 miles. I hadn’t been on snow and hadn’t been skate skiing in several weeks on account of ice. I would be happy to get 75 miles in.

We started in the dark at 6am and immediately the trail was rough and barely skiable. Mark and I were both doing a lot of double poling and I was doing more than my share of face-plants. I was the slower of us, but I can’t feel to bad about that. I’ve been skate skiing for less than a year. After a few miles the trail smoothed out enough that we could skate. It still wasn’t perfect. The snow covered portion of the trail was often too narrow to get a good stride on and in many places gravel showed through. Whenever I skated onto one of the gravel patches my ski would suddenly stop and I’d fall on my face.

After a while I started to get the hang of skating on the rough trails and occasionally I managed to get into a rhythm for a few hundred yards. I was even starting to get the hang of the (few) steep downhills on the trail. My double poling was inadequate though. I was trying to use too much arm strength and wearing myself out. Before long my arms were jelly and I learned through trial and error how to pole more efficiently, keeping my arms in and doing crunches down the trail.

(photo Roberto Marron)

The trail was getting worse though. Every mile west brought us more gravel and ice and less snow. Eventually there were bare patches all the way across the trail and we were forced to walk.

By the time we got to the first checkpoint at Winter 30 miles in we had had enough. Skiing wasn’t really an option anymore and we didn’t feel like walking 40 more miles only to turn around and do it again. We rested for about an hour and made the call to turn around and ski back to Park Falls. Since both Mark and I had brought bikes along we decided to abandon the 150 mile ski and enter the 75 mile bike race the next day.

(photo Mark Scotch)

We skied back 10 miles to the towns of Loretta and Draper where Anton Oveson stopped and offered us a ride in his car. I was stopping often to rest by that point and the ice on the trail was making it difficult to get a good push-off. We decided to take the ride back to Park Falls and rest up for tomorrow rather than face the rough trail in the dark.

The next morning I loaded my bike onto the back of a car for the drive to the 75 mile start at Rice Lake. I rode the bus with the other racers. About halfway there I got a phone call from Helen Lavin, the race director, that my bike had fallen off of the car. The front tire was destroyed and there was some more minor damage. I figured my race was over, but Helen called around and managed to contact Jason Novak who had dropped out of the 150 mile race. He generously agreed to loan me a wheel and my race was saved.

The rest of the 75 mile racers started while I waited for the replacement wheel to arrive from the other end of the race course. I spent the next two hours at the home of Jim and Liz Broome who own a kennel very near the race start. They generously offered me breakfast, coffee, and conversation while I waited. I was well fed by the time the wheel arrived. That’s one of the things l love about these races. A little adversity always makes for an interesting story and more often than not a good time. I started the race two hours late, but I figured I could still catch a few stragglers.

The first ten or so miles to Birchwood were fast on the bike. There was very little snow on the trail and I was averaging over 10 mph on the Pugsley without really trying. At Birchwood I passed all of the 75 mile runners. I made a slight adjustment to my saddle that made all the difference in terms of comfort and continued on at a good pace. Snow cover increased, but it still wasn’t anywhere near skiable. I was flying along and soon had my jacket unzipped and my gloves off. Biking felt a little like cheating compared to running or skiing.

I caught several bikers and arrived at the Winter checkpoint before dark, much earlier than I expected. After a break for chili I started the final 30 miles. The same 30 miles I had skied the day before. There were a few spots on the trail where my rear tire punched through crust, but by lowering my tire pressure I kept this to a minimum. Aside from some problems with my sleeping bag working loose from my front rack I had an easy time of it. I finished around 10pm and wasn’t tired or sore at all

(photo Chequamegon Canoe Club)

As I sit now, a week and a half later, there is still no snow on the ground and temps are approaching the 40s. Things are not looking good for skiing the Arrowhead, my big goal for the year. Perhaps I’ll be doing more biking this winter.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pugsley Metric and Pre-Tuscobia

Nick and I got out the other weekend (Sunday the 4th) and rode a gravel metric on the Pugsleys. Like a good blogger I took my camera along, but somewhere around halfway I forgot about it and just rode. I have more of a race mindset when it comes to my endurance sports. I just can't seem to tour or sightsee or what have you. Oh well, someday I'll learn to take it easy.

In any case it was pretty icy in the morning and we had to be pretty careful on the way out of town. Once we were on the gravel it was okay with one nasty exception of a B road. We checked out the Chichaqua Bottoms greenbelt, but didn't venture in as it was the first weekend of shotgun season. Apparently we missed the main trail area of the park, but I figure that's just an excuse to go back some other time. We also stopped by Robison's Acres which has great ski potential if we ever get some snow.

The icy B road of death.

Riding at Robison's Acres

Pugsleys in what passes for snow these days.

Next weekend is the Tuscobia Trail Ultra. I'm signed up for the 150 mile ski event, but it looks like there won't be any/much snow. I'm going to take the bike along just in case. It might be a saving grace that I won't be able to ski. I haven't been on snow since last March and going straight into a 150 mile race is rather dumb. I think I'll just take it easy and try to "tour" it.

Friday, December 02, 2011

LHF/Survivor Cross

Two weeks ago I did the Living History Farms Race and afterward rode Survivor Cross. Two races, one on foot, one on bike, same course, same day. Very different races though.

LHF is a crazy race. Lots of people talk about how "tough" it is and how wet and muddy you'll get. That wasn't a big deal. The crazy thing about this race is that there are 8000 people on the same course at the same time. I had been warned to get to the front if I wanted to actually "run" the race. I lined up with the 8 minute mile folks, but when I saw the others lining up next to me (a couple in a tandem cow costume, a guy who admitted to having 30# of bricks in his backpack) I crept up a bit in the starting chute.

I guess I picked the right pace because I felt like I was running about as fast as I could maintain over the seven miles. Actually it was an uncomfortable pace for me since I'm used to running ultras, but I knew that ultra-pace was going to be too slow. I didn't get passed much and I didn't pass a lot of people.

I managed a top 500 finish which may or may not seem impressive. For perspective, I came in in just under an hour and there were still people coming through the finish chute and hour and a half after me. I was also beaten by a guy in a Sponge Bob costume. I'm not sure how I should take that.

As a side note, I guess some folks were upset by some of the costumes on course. All I can say is that if you encourage costumes and offer drink specials at the bar next door you have to expect some overweight guys to run in bikinis. As for me, if I were to run in costume I think I'd go as Anton Krupicka.

Survivor Cross was much smaller with a little over 100 people on course. I was expecting a tough race with many un-ridable sections. I expected to crash and have my bike covered in mud. Thus I brought my single-speed mountain bike. It was geared for climbing though and the 32x18 gearing was far too low for the mostly open course. I was spun out the whole time. The course was very ridable and the few stream crossings were easily managed. I would have been much better off on the cross bike. The worst I got was bashing my lower lip with my handlebars while shouldering the bike.

Both races were fun, but not my style. I doubt if I'll do them again. Too many people and too short.

P.S. Here's a great video of the bike race. Look for me at 4:40 passing on the left in the yellow shorts.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Memories on gravel.

I debated whether or not I should write this post. It's a little off topic for a blog that's about endurance sports, I'm generally not comfortable with expressing emotion, and it's two weeks late. Given all that I still think it's important to share.

On October 30th, while I rode the American Gothic Gravel Invitational, my grandfather died. Honestly I don't think there is any place I would rather have been.

My grandfather and I were never very close. We never did much together like some families do. No good reason really. I think we just led very different lives. He was a farmer who probably never rode a bicycle. By the time he was my age he owned his own farm and had more children than I'll ever have. I have no idea what he made of the life I lead.

The AGGI course passed by several places that he knew well. He farmed 80 acres on Heaton's Valley road. My uncle (his son) lives just off of Duck Pond road. His 85th birthday party was at the bar in Waubeek. Some of the gravel we rode I had been on before, but only on a hayrack or passed by in a canoe. I remember him, well into his 80s at the time, jumping off of the hayrack and running to close a gate at that farm on Heaton's Valley.

I knew he was dying as I rode. I didn't know that it would be that day, but I knew it would be soon. To say that I "dedicated" the ride to him doesn't make much sense, but I was thinking about him the whole time.

Gravel riding is and always has been a bit more personal for me than perhaps it is for many others. I am not a farmer, but to get out and ride past farms and fields gives me a good feeling. It is a connection to the land, to history, and to my family that I wouldn't otherwise have. I had, for several years, intended to ride those roads in Linn County and more like them in Delaware and Dubuque counties, but until that day I hadn't done so. I'm glad I did that day.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

11 Utra-Lessons

Ultracycling legend and probationary DBD member Charlie Farrow has given us bloggers an assignment. Write eleven lessons you've learned from cycling with personal commentary. Well, I'm going to flaunt that assignment and write eleven lessons I've learned from cycling AND running AND skiing.

Lesson 1: Train I used to think that commuting to work and doing the occasional gravel road century was enough. I finished my first Arrowhead 135 with basically no training. I finished the Dirty Kansa 200 with basically no training. Heck, I ran my first marathon with absolutely no training. Skiing the Triple D shocked me out of my complacency. I barely made it through the 18 or so miles of flat terrain. Needless to say, I didn't finish the Arrowhead that year...or the next. The third year I put together a training program. Nothing special, just a guide to what I would do day by day to get myself ready. It worked. Last year I used a slightly modified plan to finish the Arrowhead on foot.

Lesson 2: Sell your rollers. Go outside. Ride in rain, sleet, snow, wind, and darkness. Ride on gravel, mud, snow, and ice. Run through mud and creeks, and over roots and rocks. Ski in the rain and on ice. Your races will be like this. When everybody else stays home or bails at the halfway point you will laugh and know that you've been through worse.

Lesson 3: Eat food, drink water. There are lots of expensive gels, bars, and powders out there. You don't need them. Sure, they probably work, but there are tastier, cheaper options. Fig bars, peanut butter sandwiches, trail mix, pizza, cheese and sausage. Energy drink? Ensure, Carnation Instant Breakfast, and soy milk. Chocolate covered espresso beans can save a race. Eat! Drink! Use them! It is better to stop and pee than stop and pass out.

Lesson 4: You can go farther than you think. In 2009 I skied the Tuscobia trail ultra. 67 miles into this 75 mile race I was suffering from horrible blisters, poorly waxed skis, and weird hallucinations. I had given up on skiing and was walking slowly down the trail. There was no way I was going to finish. I reached a road and powered up my cell phone; no signal. The race director rolled up a few minutes later and I told him I was done and needed a ride in. He said "no." Walking the next eight miles is the toughest thing I've ever done. I made it.

Lesson 5: Know the meaning of "quit." When you are pushing your boundaries and trying new things sometimes you get in over your head. When you feel like there is no choice but to quit ask yourself this: How will I feel in a week about having quit today? If the answer is, "terrible," then keep going. If the answer is, "like I did all I could," then quit. Be honest. You'll know if you're not being honest. Sometimes getting the Myrtle the Turtle award is a step in the right direction.

Lesson 6: The hardest part is getting out the door. Feeling sorry for yourself? Didn't finish that gravel race again? Seriously underestimated a 100 mile run? Ride across town to the coffee shop, run one lap around the park, get up and do something! Chances are you'll end up doing a 30 mile ride or a ten mile run and feel better.

Lesson 7: Savor it. In 2006, at my first Arrowhead, I was exhausted, cold, alone, and riding through a flat boring swamp. I knew I was going to finish, it was just a matter of time. So I stopped got out some food and water and just looked around. I said to myself, "This is why I came here. This is what I want to be doing." I felt great.

Lesson 8: Look out for old guys on crusty mountain bikes. It's not the young guy on the custom titanium rig who is going to win. That old guy is going to beat all the fatbikes to the finish line and set a record doing it.

Lesson 9: Commute. Ride to work every day. Walk if you have a trip to make that's less than a mile. You'll never be out of shape and you'll learn how to dress for the weather. Just remember: commuting miles don't count towards training (see #1).

Lesson 10: Be afraid.
Luke: "I won't fail you. I'm not afraid."
Yoda: "You will be. You will be."
If you're not afraid of the big race then you're overconfident. You will fail. Fear makes you prepare. It makes you train. It makes you learn everything you can. If you are managing your fear then you are on the right track.

Lesson 11: Call me a Sissi. You're not normal. You are doing things nearly everyone considers dumb. You wear tight pants. You will get made fun of when you're out there running in the rain. That's okay. When someone calls you a Sissi smile and tell them, "No, they're tougher than I am."

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Moving on.

Since my disappointing performance at Superior I've turned my focus to the next big race: Arrowhead. It has been my #1 race for a few years now. All other races are somehow just "training races" for the big one in the Northwoods. I'm going to ski it again this year and I'm trying for better than my previous ski time of 54:21. In pursuit of that goal I've been doing a fair bit of roller-skiing.

On Saturday I skied down to Slater on the bike lane along county road R38. Not the best of places, especially on a game day, but the traffic was courteous. I had a mind to go on to the High Trestle Trail and get a few more miles in, but I was already into unknown territory on skis. I wasn't sure how my arms would hold out if I went that far. As it was I was getting pretty worn out by the time I made it back to Ames. Considering how I feel today though I think next time I'll go all the way to Woodward. I managed 22 miles in about 3:15.

(Me in Slater with the skis.)

A few weeks ago I threw my hat in the ring for the White Mountains 100 in Fairbanks Alaska. Unfortunately they have a limited number of spots available and a lottery system for figuring out who is in. I say unfortunately because I am #42 on the wait list. Meaning if 42 people (nearly 2/3 of those signed up) drop out then I'm in. That's not too likely and I'm a bit disappointed, but I'm in good company. Jeff Oatley didn't make it in either.

Now I have to consider if I want to sign up for Susitna or not. It would be less expensive to do, but is less than two weeks after Arrowhead and somehow Anchorage just doesn't appeal to me as much as the interior of Alaska. I'll probably have to do it.

(A little inspirational reading.)

I was more put out than I expected about not getting into the White Mountains so to get over it I went out for a ride on my new bike. Did I mention I got a new bike? Yeah, another one. A Cannondale Flash 29"er. That brings the total up to 8 right now. It's pretty fun, but it's taking some getting used to. I haven't had a bike with suspension for some time now and I've been doing nearly all of my singletrack riding on the 1x1 so having 30 (!) gears now is a bit of a novelty. I was a little worried about it overlapping too much with the 1x1 and Pugsley, but I needn't have worried. It is a very different bike and makes short work of some of the slogs I've put in on those other bikes. I've ridden the Skunk River Greenbelt twice now, once in the dark, and it is a blast on the faster parts of the trail where I can really get moving. Once I get the hang of it it will probably be fun on the more technical parts too.

(If you're interested I have a Cannondale Capo fixed gear, and an older Schwinn Voyageur road bike for sale).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Underestimating 100 Miles

There comes a time in every ultra when the only thing you want to do is quit. I didn't expect that to happen at mile 15 of the Superior 100.

The shirt says, "Rugged, Relentless, Remote" and it is absolutely right. From mile one it was like running an agility ladder. Every step was dodging roots and rocks interspersed with the occasional balance beam or teeter-totter of a bog-bridge. And those bog-bridges were the only flat spots. The trail was always headed steeply up or down. Sometimes it was steep enough down to make you want to turn around and face the hill. So much for the "easier than Arrowhead" run I was expecting.

However the real fault for my failure at Superior lies with me. I was overconfident and under-prepared. By looking at the numbers it seemed like I should have no problem and so I wasn't thinking of the race as it is.

It is a day-and-a-half race and I was mentally prepared for a half-a-day race. In a race like this you have to think through it and plan for the long haul. "How will I feel in the middle of the night and what will I do about it," is a question that has to be remembered in training and at the start line. At AHU I knew I was going to be out there a long time and I was ready to camp or slow way down if I had to. I had no such plans for Superior.

Because I was thinking of it as a half-day or training race I started off far too fast. I was running at 50k pace. Part of the reason for that was starting at the front of the pack. I often make the mistake at short races of starting near the rear. At Superior I made the opposite mistake. I started at the front. No one likes getting passed so I ran at the pace of the people around me. Some of those folks finished. Most didn't. There is a marathoner's saying: Start off slow and then slow down. I forgot that one.

I knew that the aid stations were about 10 miles apart and that didn't worry me, but I am still fairly new to supported runs. I carried just a few gels with me and had no solid food. I expected to eat at the aid stations. 10 miles is too far to go without food, at least if you want to keep running afterwards.

The heat surprised everyone that day. No one expects record highs of 84f on a September day on the North Shore of Superior, but it happened. I, and just about everyone else, ran out of water on the second section of the trail which took us from Split Rock to Beaver Bay. I thought that 2 liters would be enough, but five miles in, 15 miles into the race, I found myself out of food and water, standing atop an exposed granite cliff, overlooking a picturesque lake. All I could think about was how nice and cool that water looked and how great it would be to dive off into the water hundreds of feet below. I didn't, but I suspected that my race was over.

Five miles later as I stumbled into the Beaver Bay aid station I knew I wasn't going to make it, but I resolved to keep going until I couldn't anymore. I was already walking everything. I sat down ate, drank,and recovered a bit. In the next section to Silver Bay I was able to run a little as I belatedly formulated a plan for the night, but it was too little too late. I picked up my drop bag at Silver Bay feeling good, but the nearly 10 miles to Tettegouche humbled me once again.

I thought about dropping out at Tettegouche, but, thanks to Don Clark and Vicky Begalle egging me on, I started moving again. For a little while my walking pace was good and I as I crossed over the Baptism River I thought I might make it to the 50 mile mark at Finland. But before long the sun set and I was barely stumbling along. Lots of folks started catching up and passing me. I imagined every one of them to be the sweep runners shepherding in the slowest of us. At one point two runners passed me and mentioned that since we had descended quite a bit we must be getting near the County Road 6 aid station. I wasn't so sure. I've learned to be pessimistic about distances on the trail. Sure enough, before long I came to a cliff overlooking the aid station far below. I spent the better part of an hour switchbacking down to the level of the road and aid station. I dropped out as soon as I got there and no amount of cajoling was going to get me up again.

Looking back I can see that I could have gone the next eight miles to Finland, but I had just given up. Sure I would have gotten there slowly and past the cutoff, but it seems to me it would have been the honorable thing to do (if there is honor in trail running).

As far as under-prepared I have always poo-poohed long runs. I figured that long runs were just confidence builders and that really, if you can run 10 miles you can run 100. I'm rethinking that. Sure, fitness wise that might be true, but how else are you going to learn pacing, but from running 20+ miles. I guess it's time to stop being lazy and step it up.

The Superior 100 is in no way harder than Arrowhead, but it is so different that it is hard to compare. Next year I'll know better. I won't underestimate it again.

It was good to see all my ultra-friends (better than the Super-Friends) especially Kurt Neuberger, Matt Long, and Anne Flueckiger who all found me places to sleep when I was tired. It was actually hard for me to leave on Sunday morning. I really wanted to stay up there with the good folks of the Northshore. I'll be up to visit soon.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Rationalizing 100 miles.

The Sawtooth 100 is next weekend and I'm in. It'll be my first 100 mile run/walk and I'm a little bit nervous about it. Sure, I did the Arrowhead 135 on foot but that's a different animal. Regardless that's what I'm comparing it to. Here's how I'm rationalizing the race to myself:

The cutoff for the Sawtooth is 38 hours so to finish I'll have to average at least 2.6 mph.

Compare to my pace at this years Arrowhead:

Keep in mind that the AHU is cold, you're walking on snow, and carrying/dragging 15+ lbs of gear and food. Sawtooth could be cold, but not that cold, the surface should be good if rough at times, and you can carry minimal gear. Superior is likely to be hillier, but I'll deal. The last 20 miles of the AHU I was nearly dragging my left leg and moving very slowly.

Actually, I made it to Crescent at mile 110 in 40 hours:

I don't think I'll have any serious trouble finishing Sawtooth.

Finishing fast is another story. My goal is to finish in 32 hours. I think that's a reasonable pace and compares pretty well to previous finishers who run about my pace.

No use worrying about it now. It's time to just go out and do it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

But you are not a Jedi yet.

So by now you've heard that I got 3rd place at the 24 Hours of Seven Oaks. That sounds impressive. Here's why you shouldn't be impressed:

-I did this on a bike not on foot (just in case you were under some sort of misapprehension).
-I know people who can run farther faster.
-There wasn't a whole lot of competition. Only seven solo riders. (Which means that it could have been you. You should be there next year.)
-4th place had a broken pedal early in the race, had to drive into Ames, buy a new set, and still almost beat me.
-I am barely even sore today. I could have done more.
-I had plenty of time to go out and do another lap, but 4th place conceded and so I didn't.
-I didn't manage my goal of 17 laps/136 miles. I only managed 13 laps/104 miles.
-In the first 12 hours I did 9 laps. In the second 12 I did 4.
-I slept for 3 hours and sat around for the same.

Then again maybe you should:
-I did it on a rigid, single-speed, 26"er. The rest of the field was on suspended, geared, 29"ers
(okay, one guy did have a 26"er).
-This is one of the toughest courses around. Unrelenting hills, 95% singletrack, and virtually no place to rest (unless you want to just stop and lie down).
-I was only one lap behind 2nd place.

So how should you feel about my performance in this race? I don't know. I'm reasonably happy with how I did. It was better than previous years and my best mileage yet. I had a good time. I still feel like I slacked off too much. Decide for yourself when you ride it next year. I'm serious about you coming out and beating me. This race deserves more competition.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Round and round, up and down.

The 24 Hours of Seven Oaks has become something of a tradition for me. Since it's inception in 2003 I've raced in some form or other every year but 2005 (long story, but I'd be happier if I had made it that year too), usually in the solo 24 class. In fact in it's inaugural year I managed a podium finish and won $50. It was my first bike race and I haven't been able to find the magic since.

Every year since then it has been a downhill slide. I go in with good intentions only to lose the will to race around midnight. Some years I have had reasonable excuses, numb hands, broken lights, but most years, I pretty much just give in. Last year I just looked up at the big hill and couldn't will myself to go out there.

I don't quite know why it's that way or why I keep coming back. Some of it has to do with the nature of 24 hour racing. Round and round. It gets boring, and even if you quit halfway through you're still credited with a finish. I'm much happier doing point to point races with a defined distance rather than a defined time. At least it is close, a great course, with great people (though I could live without the thumpin' tunes from the Rassy's tent), and relatively inexpensive.

In any case I'm back. I'm probably better trained than I have been since...ever, even though I haven't been training with this race in mind. I'm riding a known bike that fits me and feels good, even if it is a rigid single-speed. I have lights that work. Even the race time suits me as it starts at 10am this year rather than noon. As for goals, I hope to be on the bike for 18 hours of the 24, get some good night laps in, make it a double metric, and enjoy myself.

(Hmm, maybe those thumpin' tunes could be my motivation to stay out on course. I won't have to hear them if I'm behind the hill in the woods.)

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Afton Trail Run '11

My cardinal rule for ultra runs is: don't get hurt. Its corollary, don't do anything stupid, also has it's place, especially in more extreme conditions, ie. cold, heat, hills, rocks, mud. I've also heard ultras described as eating and drinking contests. That's true too. It's all part of the same thing really, take care of your body and mind and you'll get there.

Last years Afton Trail Run was my first ultra (if you call a 50k an ultra which maybe you shouldn't) and I made some rookie mistakes. I didn't carry any water and instead depended on aid stations. I ran the hills from the start and didn't pace myself well thinking that it was only 5 miles more than a marathon (I had only run two marathons, both paved and very flat). Those rookie mistakes almost cost me a finish when I fell apart ~25 miles in. I like to think I've learned from those mistakes and this year I had my chance to prove it.

Due to the follies of Minnesota's government Afton State Park was closed and the race had to be moved at the last minute to the Afton Alps Ski Area right next door (it also cost me my campsite reservations, but that's another story). The bike trails at the ski area promised to be more rugged and steep than the hiking/ski trails at the park and the heat and humidity were typically high for July. I was going to be smarter than last year and pace myself by walking the hills and stay hydrated by carrying a water bottle.

After a typical understated John Storkamp start I was jogging along with a pretty large pack. It wasn't breaking up as fast as I had hoped and so I picked out someone who I knew was a faster runner than I and made sure not to pass him. Soon enough came some hills and walking, The heat wasn't so bad, but the humidity and morning dew was making the trails and grass slick. I knew I had to be careful.

At the first aid station I filled my bottle halfway figuring that this would be enough to get me the 3.75 miles to the end of the first lap. The relentless wooded switchbacks of the first half gave way to open fields and climbs straight up the ski hill in the second half. The toughest hill of the course was saved for last as the trail led straight from the bottom of the hill to the top and then switchbacked down to the aid station/finish.

After the first lap I found myself out of water and in need of a bathroom. I took care of my needs and set out for a second lap. The day had heated up a lot and many runners looked like they had been out for a swim rather than a run. I caught up to the folks who had passed me during my short break and then, to my surprise, I passed the runners who I had been using as de facto pacers. I was a little nervous about passing someone who beat me by an hour and a half last year, but I knew I wasn't pushing myself. I had run one lap and knew what I was in for.

There was a little standing water on the only flat section of the course and there wasn't much choice but to run through it. That wouldn't have been so bad, but the humidity was so high my shoes and socks stayed wet throughout the course. I was worried that I might have some good blisters by the end of the race, but there wasn't much to be done about it. I made sure to fill my water bottle completely and found that I was still drinking it dry in the relatively short distance between aid stations.

As I was finishing up the second lap a 25k runner who had just passed me went down on the steep grassy downhill. He must have sprained an ankle or something because he was done. He couldn't finish the last hundred yards or so to finish his race and had to be helped down the hill. It was a good reminder to be careful, especially as the race wore on and I became more tired.

I was halfway done and feeling pretty good. The heat and hills were making it tough for everyone and I just had to keep eating, drinking and upright. I started to pass a lot of the slower 25k runners who were on their second lap. A lot of them seemed to be wearing VFFs which got me thinking that reading a book about running and buying the latest fad shoe does not make one a runner. Nothing wrong with running in VFFs exactly, but they aren't magical.

I stubbed a toe on a root, barely managing to stay upright, then a on the next downhill I kicked a rock with the other foot hard enough to knock my insole out of place. That hurt, but no real harm done. I was just getting tired and had forgotten to look where I was going.

As I walked the uphills on the second half of the course I started to pick out places where I'd push it and run on the next and final lap. I was starting to pick up some speed on the downhills as well staying loose and trying to take quick steps to minimize my chances of wiping out.

On the last lap I started to run some of the more gentle uphills and found myself passing quite a few folks. A few passed me as well, but on the whole I was moving up. On the last uphill I passed one guy who was crawling up the hill, which might give you some idea of how steep it was. I cruised on down to the finish and lapped a few 50k runners whom I recognized. I almost missed the finish line and went out for a 5th lap, but stopped myself. I did feel pretty good, I could have done another if I'd had to. My finishing time was 6:45:46, nearly 40 minutes faster than last year and on a much more difficult course.

I had definitely put more into the race than I had since the Arrowhead and that was a pretty good feeling. My legs hurt all over and it was difficult to walk for several days after. I think that's a good sign. When I have a bad race I tend not to be sore afterwards. It seems to mean that I didn't go as fast as I could have for some reason.

All in all a great weekend. I saw more folks puke at a race than I have since High School cross country and there is a trophy for the finisher with the longest beard. I'll see if I can't get that award next year.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Killer Bees

A ride/run/race isn't worth mentioning if everything goes perfectly. Two weeks ago I did two gravel metric centuries, but everything went well, so that's that. Yesterday though was a different story.

A group of us from Skunk River Cycles went down to Newton for the Renegade Gravel Race. It was originally supposed to be a team race with five person teams, but due to popular demand a solo division was created. As a consequence only two teams showed us and one other and the other didn't have five members, only four. I think that counts as some sort of moral victory on our part.

The weather forecast played a part in the low turnout too. 60% chance of thunderstorms. Well, we didn't get the thunder, but we got plenty of rain.

We hadn't had much experience working as a team and so we couldn't take advantage of team tactics (drafting mostly) as much as we would have liked. After the field thinned out we were able to make a paceline for 15-20 miles, but due to differences in skill and strength it was tough to hold it together. After the checkpoint in Kellog we mostly didn't bother.

It rained pretty steadily for most of the race, but we had a good group of people and there wasn't any complaining. I flatted about 45 miles in and told the rest of the team to go on. Fixing a flat in the rain was about as fun as you'd expect, but really not that big a deal. I did have trouble locating the cause of the flat and that bothered me, for several miles afterward I was constantly checking to make sure I wasn't losing pressure. I caught up to the team a few miles later as they contemplated the B road.

The roads were just fine, at least until we got to that one B road on the course. There was some discussion about killer B roads and my destroyed derailleur problems of earlier this year. We opted to be (B? bee?)cautious and walk if anything looked sketchy. It looked pretty sketchy. We weren't cautious enough. Less than 100 yards into the road Stephen's rear derailleur self-destructed. Well, I'd been through that before and luckily it was another Surly Cross Check so we had the option to single-speed. It took me longer than I would have liked to single-speed it, and we were on our way, walking.

Only later would we realize that this was the very same B road that destroyed my hopes at this year's Trans-Iowa. It looks different in the light, but it might still be evil.

Once we managed to push/pull/carry our bikes down a mile of sticky Iowa clay we cleaned our bikes and got back on. We had to stop a few times to adjust the chainline and gear on the kludged single-speed, but eventually we found a gear that worked and Stephen was able to finish the race.

We rolled up to the finish in last place, but we made it. Working with a team is certainly a different dynamic. With a little practice and one fewer wet B road we could do pretty well.

Photos C/O Wrecked'em Racing

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Getting the X-Wing out of the swamp.

Those of you who know me know that I am a very habitual person. I tend to do the same things every day, eat the same things, go the same places. Recently I abandoned one of my usual haunts (several reasons) and it has been taking a toll on me. For the past week I haven't been eating well, I've been sleeping too much, and generally not been doing to well.

It all kind of came to a head this weekend when I found that I didn't have any reason to get out of bed on Saturday. I laid on the couch-that-hurts-my-back all day and read a schlocky fantasy novel even though I knew it would hurt my back and make me feel generally like crud. And it did. I felt like crud and my back hurt.

Today (Sunday) I did the same thing until I finished the novel and found that now I really didn't have anything to do. Of course I knew that I should be doing something. I had wanted to roller-ski on Saturday and run on Sunday, but I just couldn't find the motivation to do it. Finally at about 2 in the afternoon on Sunday I got out of the house, got some coffee and some internet and felt better.

We'll see if this lifestyle change is going to be worth the trouble or if I should just go back to old habits. At least I'm reading a better book now.

I did make it out to Ada Hayden and roller-skied today. It didn't go quite as I had planned though. I found that I couldn't skate like I had wanted to. I had always used the skis for classic technique and now I found that the skis really wanted to trip me up when I tried to skate. I'm not sure exactly what the problem was. It could be that I have the bindings mounted too far forward, or that I have floppy combi boots, or soft flexors. It could just be bad technique.

So I double-poled around the lake for 20k or so. I haven't double poled that much since attempting the Arrowhead in '08. I quit at 70 miles that year and couldn't lift my arms for days afterwards.

Since I've been doing some upper body strength work I think I did better than I might have otherwise. It was tough work, but I managed to be faster than all the runners, though slower than the bikers and skaters. By February I hope to be faster than at least half of the bikers.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I could rant more, but I won't.

I got a chance last weekend to practice my get-up-and-do-it philosophy of my previous blog post. Saturday I had to get up early (for me, 6:30) and provide support for the NABR ride. While I didn't do much in the way of physical activity (I drove around the course, fixed a few bikes, and picked up a crash victim) I did get a taste of what cycling is for some folks.

Don't get me wrong, most of the folks out there were riding, having a good time, and being responsible cyclists, but there were a number who didn't do any of those. Bike riding for them was an excuse to drink (a lot), complain about almost everything cycling related, and act like it was a "hard ride".

I have a lot more respect for the person who goes out on their decade old hybrid, does the 12 mile loop and finishes exhausted than the person who goes out on their '11 carbon & Dura-Ace race machine, does half of the the 42 mile loop, and then has to be picked up at the VFW because they're too drunk to continue. I guess everyone has their own way of having fun.

I was also surprised that there were at least three fairly serious crashes (as far as I know not alcohol related). I hardly ever see anyone crash on a gravel ride, but on clean dry pavement people still managed to go down. Two of the crash victims ended up in the ER with likely concussions. Luckily those folks were wearing helmets. However after the ride one person still had the gall to argue that helmets don't do any good and said you'd never catch him wearing one.

But enough complaining on my part. I had a good time helping out and seeing a lot of people whose bikes I fix enjoying those bikes.

Afterward, since it was such a nice day, I got out and practiced my in-line skating. I got a few miles in and gained a little more confidence on the skates. It's tough, but enjoyable learning a new skill and I hope my work pays off come winter when I get on the skis.

Sunday I got up at 5:30 after four hours of sleep to run the TIMTAM 50k. There was a pretty small turnout for this virtually unadvertised race, but who can complain about a nice low key race like this for $10 within two miles of home. The course is pretty flat and I was hoping to PR in both the Marathon and 50k. I don't know if I managed it in the Marathon as I don't know what my split was, but I did manage it in the 50k. I didn't have much trouble (as expected), but I did have to dig down a little bit when I wanted to walk about 25 miles in.

Recovery was good too. I'm back to 100% after just two days as I had hoped. All in line with my summer fitness goals. I want to be able to run a 50k or ride 150 miles of gravel without seriously tapering or hurting afterwards. Ultimately I'd like to expand this goal to include skating or roller-skiing, but I don't know what an appropriate distance is yet.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


In light of some recent blog posts you may be wondering (I know I am) what effect my mental attitude had on my performance at Trans Iowa. I think that I did the best I could given my fitness on race day. I left it all on the course, but I was beat when I made it to the first checkpoint and I doubt I could have made it faster that day. My attitude was good on race day. I'm okay with how I did that day.

On the other hand, my attitude was crap for the two months preceding the race. That is where I failed. Because I had a poor attitude I didn't train as I should have. Many of my post-work workouts didn't happen and I slept in more weekends than I rode. My training was so lax that T.I., at ~60 miles of gravel and 30 of pavement, was still my longest ride of the year. I should have had multiple gravel centuries in, but I couldn't stomach the thought of 8-10 hours of riding on my days off. I'm not okay with that.

I'm not a big believer in The Power of Positive Thinking. Some days I just don't have it and I think that's okay. I do know the meaning of "quit" and I think I'm better for it. If you think that you can be positive all the time you're going to be in for a big surprise halfway through an endurance race.

That said the most important thing, whether training or racing, is to, no matter how you feel about it, act like you're going to do it. If you don't feel like getting up and going that's okay, but you'll have to do it anyway. Actually I think that this is one of the best sorts of training.

I remember someone saying to me once that a race was "90% mental" and it was probably true, but you don't train the mind for a race by sitting down and meditating. You train it by getting up and doing physical training even when you don't want to.

For more on mental toughness during a race check Guitar Ted's blog posts of a few months back. There's some good stuff there if I do say so myself:
Mental Toughness
Mental Toughness II

Sunday, April 24, 2011

T.I.7: A short recap for a short race.

"A committee is a life form with six or more legs and no brain."
Robert A. Heinlein

Well, T.I 7 didn't go as planned. I knew my fitness wasn't tops. A broken bike and lack of willpower to train on less than perfect days saw to that. Still I hoped I'd manage to pull it off though the same sort of determination that saw me through Arrowhead this year. Unfortunately there's no comparison between the AHU and TI. Determination might have seen me through to the end of a 322 mile gravel ride, but not Trans Iowa.

The first problem I noticed was on the ride from the hotel to the start. I couldn't read my bike computer in the dark. The digits were too faint. Without knowing how far I had gone it would be difficult to navigate.

It was wet and foggy as we rolled out of Grinnell, but there was no wind and the gravel was reasonably fast. I always seem to start myself off towards the back of the pack and then have to work my way back up to the front. I did it again and found myself stuck in no man's land between a group of singlespeeders and the large lead pack. I decided to bridge up and take advantage of the big group, but it took a little bit out of me to get up there. I wouldn't be able to race like that all day and all night.

There was a course detour that took us a mile north, and then a mile west, but we had been warned about it.

Then, about ten miles in we came to a stop. Ahead was a B road and no one seemed to know what to do. Someone mentioned that we hadn't found our turn at 110th Ave, but since I couldn't easily see my mileage and hadn't been paying attention to the cue sheets I had nothing to contribute to the decision. Somebody started down the B road I followed and then everyone else. It had to be the right way. This was Trans Iowa and it lead down a B road. Of course.

The B road was unridable, but the ditches weren't too bad and we made our way mostly walking. As B roads go it wasn't too bad. It felt a lot like bike pushing at Arrowhead. At the end of the level B we stopped again at an intersection with a paved road. Again, nobody seemed to know what to do. So we kept riding.

One mile further on it became clear to someone that we were on the wrong road. Our left turn on 92nd Ave had appeared about 5 miles too soon and led down a dead end. After some discussion the group turned around and headed back the way we had come. We ran into a lot of riders who were slower and luckier than the rest of us. They only did the B road and not the extra mile out and back we had done. We turned south on the pavement, where the group started to break up, and after a mile east on gravel we were back on course though I was a bit behind.

The whole B road experience had been off course. Including the on-course detour the lead group had done approximately 6 miles extra. I wasn't that worried, I was still reasonably close to the front and nobody appeared to be in any hurry. It was early.

Soon the sun rose and it was looking like it would be a beautiful day. A few miles south and the course turned back to the east near Newton. I was now on my own. I could see a few riders up ahead of me, and none behind, but the lead group was gone. With the sun there was now a strong wind out of the west. We were headed straight into it and I didn't have anybody near to help out. I crouched down into the drops and geared down.

I knew I wasn't making good time and the hills were really taking it out of me as well. I was pedaling downhill and then grinding up the next one in my lowest gear. I was 25 miles or so in and knew that making the cutoff at 9:15 would be a close thing.

Over the next few hours I passed a few riders with mechanicals or who had just had enough. Some folks were walking the hills only 1/10 of the way through the race. A bad sign. With about five miles to go the course finally turned back to the east, with the wind. I threw the bike into the big chainring and pushed as hard as I could to try and make it before the cutoff. I didn't think I could make it, but I knew that if I didn't try I'd regret it.

With only about three miles to go I turned down a road that I thought was on course. There was a broken course marker lying in the middle of the intersection but I wasn't sure whether to go left or straight on. I chose left, then after a couple hundred yards I changed my mind and headed back the other way. A half mile down that road I realized that that was wrong. I had had it right the first time. A couple of other riders caught me and we took the correct road. Half a mile down we ran into another rider coming back towards us. He was even more confused than we were.

I pushed it as hard as I could the last two miles into the town of Baxter, but I was pretty sure I'd be about five minutes too late. I was hoping my bike computer was off by a few minutes. At the checkpoint there was a large group of riders, including some folks I thought would be in contention for a win. The CP volunteer told me he had some good news and bad news. The bad news was that I had indeed missed the time cutoff, the good news was that I was done.

Last November when I signed up for Trans Iowa I said that if I were to do it again I'd have to go all in. I would have to set a training schedule and stick to it if I wanted to have a chance to finish. I did a pretty good job of it too up until I broke my race bike on a B road. After that I didn't feel like riding any of my other bikes for mileage and instead I went running, made excuses, and slept in on the weekends. That more than anything contributed to my failure. I should have done more riding at night to check my light and computer setup and riding in a group would have made me more confident in staying with the front pack at the beginning. I should also have learned by now that I need to be self-sufficient for navigation and I can't count on others to do it for me.

Will I be back next year? I'm not sure. It is hard for me to focus on a race of this magnitude so soon after Arrowhead. Shifting from a ski or run focus to a bike focus is tougher than it might seem. It is hard to have two "A" races only three months apart. On the other hand I did have fun at Trans Iowa this year. My past two experiences were somewhat miserable and I was expecting more of the same at this one, but I had a good time at the "meat up." I have a desire to finish this thing again and maybe I will.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Trans Iowa Dread

I said that last year was the last year. I'd never do it again. But I wasn't able to make it last year. A little regret at having failed before, a little peer pressure, a little hope to just finish it and have it behind me. I'm going back to Trans Iowa.

The weather has been rainy (and snowy) the past week. There is no chance the roads will be in good shape. I was out sick for a day last week. A friend of mine thinks I have pneumonia. I haven't trained properly since March. I am riding a bike with less than 100 miles on it. I am giving up Easter weekend with family to be there.

I dread Trans Iowa. I don't look forward to seeing the people. I don't look forward to seeing the bikes. I just look forward to having it over and done. By Sunday afternoon it will be over for better or worse. Probably worse.

I don't want to do this race again next year. I hope I don't have to.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Bike of Theseus

Those of you who have been following on Facebook know that my Surly Cross-Check has been giving me some trouble lately. Enough trouble that it's now time to get myself a new Cross-Check.

The trouble started about a month ago when I did some riding down in Page County with a friend. It was supposed to be a Trans-Iowa training weekend so we were looking at 100 miles on Saturday and 62 on Sunday. Saturday started out well enough, but due to a "train the way you fight" ethic we ran into some trouble. Since the Trans-Iowa would include some B (aka. minimum maintenance, aka. dirt) roads we'd be including some in the training ride. I should have known better than to try B roads after rain, in early March, but I went along with the plan. The problem looked like this:

The problem wasn't that guy. He's okay, but you can see the problem. He's not riding that bike, he's carrying it, and look at those feet.

Well, we did a lot of walking and by the time we were 30 miles into our 100 mile ride we'd been out for five hours. I did the math, it didn't look good. Just as we decided to make it a metric rather than a full century my drivetrain decided to give way. The rear derailleur pulled straight out of the dropout and the dropout itself was bent in about 45 degrees. The B road mud was just too much for it. I rigged up this to get home:

But the troubles weren't over. We took a shortcut back to home base and while we were walking yet another B road my shoelace decided to break. Unfortunately my shoes have a BOA system and fixing a broken lace isn't so easy as it ought to be. Luckily I had a spare tube along so I did this:

Pretty clever if you ask me and it worked well too. Twenty miles later we were home.

Part II

At first I thought the frame was toast, but after some judicious bending, a dropout saver insert, a new chain, and a derailleur (upgraded to Ultegra) I thought I had it licked. Fast forward to last weekend.

Same route planner, same plan, lots of B roads. Closer to home though; Story County. On the final B road of the day 30+ miles into the ride my cranks ground to a familiar halt. The derailleur hadn't pulled out this time, but the hanger was bent a good 45 degrees again. Once again B road mud had done me in. I hadn't even gotten the new Ultegra derailleur paid for (it looks like it might be okay). Once again I single-speeded it (it took me much less time, a benefit of practice) and rode the 30+ miles back home.

This time I think the hanger is done. I could probably bend it back, but it wouldn't be the same. The place where I had drilled out the hanger to accept the dropout saver insert is ovalized and won't go back to round. I don't trust it anyway. I could have the dropout replaced, and I might someday, but it would be fairly expensive to have that done and then repaint the frame. The best option is to buy a new frame and swap the parts over. Until then the old Spree Green Surly will be a single-speed. The new one should be here later this week and look like this:

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Fame: CIRREM 2011

I wasn't going to write anything about regarding CIRREM last weekend because it didn't seem to be that big a deal. After thinking about it a bit though it does deserve some attention or at least I can't seem to get parts of it out of my head. Not so much the riding or course, which was fine, but other people's comments surrounding the event.

First off, it had snowed a bit the night before the race and was about ten degrees colder than expected. I was happy because I figured it would scare off the riff-raff. Even so 101 riders toed the line at the Cumming Tap.

I was getting a lot of congratulations on my Arrowhead a Trois achievement from those who knew about it. I'm still a little uncomfortable with that, but I tried to be nice even if it was nine AM and I wasn't quite awake yet. I really didn't want to talk, I just wanted to start the ride.

Apparently though word hadn't gotten through to everyone. As I was filling up my Camelbak in the bathroom with hot tap water I had a guy tell me that cold water was better as it wouldn't freeze as fast. I wanted to tell him that the Mpemba effect was a myth and that this was the exact same way I'd used the Camelbak at Arrowhead, where it was 55 degrees colder, without any problems. Not to mention that the water wouldn't freeze even if I used it wrong, only the hose would. It just wasn't that cold. Instead I said, "Nope." I guess that was a little too terse as he replied with something like, "Okay, tough guy," or something like that. I didn't feel like arguing that early in the morning.

I started out the ride somewhere near the back, I didn't want to fight in the main pack for the first mile or so. The roads had about an inch of snow on them and I didn't want to be part of a pile-up if things were slippery. I'd wait for things to spread out a bit and catch up. That was a poor tactic as it turned out. The roads were good and the front pack charged out fast. In the first few miles I picked off almost everyone between me and that front group, but there was no way I was going to catch them, though I probably could have stuck with them.

As I was passing a group one of them said, "Do you know who that is? That's Matt Maxwell." I didn't stick around to hear the conversation. I mean, who doesn't like compliments, but this is ridiculous.

The roads weren't too bad in spite of appearances. The inch of snow along with some fresh gravel made things a little interesting, but, at least for the first half it was easy going. I used the big ring more than I think I ever have on a gravel ride.

The only problem was my glasses freezing up. I'm not sure if it was mist in the air, snow kicked up by the tires, or breath condensing on them, but after a few miles I was struggling to see out of one eye. Riding without glasses was out of the question. I can't tell a car from a tree without them. I kept scraping at them to keep them clear enough, but it wasn't ideal.

At the halfway checkpoint I put my glasses inside my jacket for a few minutes to thaw and ate a cookie since I hadn't had breakfast. The glasses stayed thawed for all of a mile and ten miles down the road I was feeling a bonk coming on. I took a short break to eat some fig bars I had with me, but unfortunately I lost my riding companions, the Mables on a tandem, and had to start navigating by myself. I tried to follow tire tracks, as I didn't want to dig the cue sheet out of my pocket, and ended up making a wrong turn and climbing two steep hills before figuring out my mistake.

I rode the last few miles with Steve Cannon, organizer of the Winter Race Series. My right toes were numb, but okay, and I really hadn't eaten or drunk enough. My time of 5:08 for the 63 miles wasn't bad, but the detour and icy glasses probably cost me ten minutes or so.

After the ride I got a lot of "dude, awesome beard" comments at the bar. I sat down with a cyclist who I didn't recognize but who said he was also from Ames. We talked about riding around town, working at bike shops, and exchanged first names, but it wasn't until the next day I figured out that I am already Facebook friends with him. I think that says something about Facebook. I wonder if he knew the whole time and was just humoring me.

Another group was talking about how 'epic' the ride was. I don't know if my perceptions have changed, but it doesn't seem like a metric century is epic material anymore. At least not unless the weather is truly horrible. Maybe if it had been windy or we had had more snow I could agree to and epic label.

The Arrowhead congratulations and beard comments were a little too much so I went to talk with some folks I actually knew. Mark Stevenson told me that some of the advice I had given on mental training/tricks worked for him on the ride. I'm glad that not all of my advice has been bad. In talking with Steve Cannon I found out that he's a fairly accomplished ultra-runner which was cool to find out.

Crowded social scenes just aren't me and I hope I wasn't too much of a jerk to anyone and this blog post isn't too humble/pridefull. I do like talking about the Arrowhead and other races I've done and plan to do, but I don't quite feel deserving of the accolades. There are so many other folks out there who are so much better at this than me. Like these guys.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Truckin': Arrowhead 2011

The Arrowhead 135 has been my favorite race now for 6 years. Ever since first biking the race in 2006 I've come back every year. It's an obsession of sorts. But it wouldn't be the obsession that it is if I were coming back to the exact same race every year. I need it to be something different, something new, every time. Now weather provides different in spades up at the Arrowhead 135, cold and colder, snow and snowier, and I should be content with that, but I'm not. That's why coming in to this year's Arrowhead, the 7th annual, I had biked and skied and now I was running it.

Running is too strong a term. Most of us walk as running would be too tiring and too sweaty in the snow and cold. Many of us say we're going to do it "on foot" or something similar. It's the pedestrian class.

I was as nervous as I've ever been going into this years race. As nervous as last year when I felt I might actually finish on skis. When there's no chance of finishing I'm not nervous. When there's no question of finishing I'm not nervous. This year I knew I had trained as hard as ever (not very hard by most folk's standards) and the goal was within reach, but I wasn't sure. It looked like it was going to be the toughest race I'd ever entered. I was hoping for an easy year.

From the start at Kerry Arena I set a good pace. I wouldn't run, but just walk as fast as I felt comfortable. I don't know exactly how fast it was, but I'd guess I was approaching four miles per hour. Temperatures weren't too bad and I wasn't having any trouble keeping warm. Even my feet, which I was a little nervous about since I hadn't tested my footwear in temps colder than -10f, were comfortable.

There's not much to say about the first 35 miles of the course. It's pretty flat and easy. The snow was well packed down and even after a groomer went through it was pretty solid. The pack thinned out a lot and it didn't really feel like there were over 100 participants in the race.

Just before dark I made it to Gateway, the first checkpoint. I had visions of being in and out quickly so I brought in everything I thought I needed and made all my purchases immediately. Soup, hot dog, Monster energy drink, coffee. I ate, changed my socks (the first pair already had a hole in the heel), used the bathroom, and refilled my Camelbak and bottles. I got in and out about as fast as I could, but I later found out that I spent an hour at the store. It's all too easy to waste time at a warm checkpoint.

Back out on the trail I finished my coffee and continued my fast walk pace. So far I hadn't had any troubles with hamstrings or heels, both places I thought might be problems. Time passed and I made it to the Ash River shelter. I stopped in the somewhat hidden shelter and ate a pop-tart and rested my legs for a minute. I was feeling pretty good. As I left I noticed that there was a tent set up just beyond the shelter and they had a nice fire going. I figured it must be some causal "touring" cyclists, but it turned out to be the folks from EWS, the skipulk people. They had hot chocolate and if I had known it I could have rested in the tent, but it's probably for the best that I didn't know. I had been plenty comfortable in the shelter without heat. After downing a cup of hot chocolate I was on my way. I had another nine miles to my stopping point for the night, Black Duck shelter.

There were only a few people camped out at Black Duck. Fewer than in previous years. I could see Mike Stattelman's skis and a Salsa Mukluk leaned up against the shelter. The cyclist was sleeping inside the shelter and I figured there was room for one more. I used just my sleeping bag and pad and skipped the bivy sack. Unfortunately I had forgotten a pee bottle and knew I'd be getting up a few times in the night. Taking off my shoes would be a bit of a chore in the cold conditions so I merely stuck my feet into the sleeping bag's stuff sack rather than unlace them. I slept pretty well, all things considered, and only had some minor problems with chilly feet. I heard Mike get up to leave and Lisa Paulos catch up and pass me, but I reasoned, it's a long race and I needed my rest. After my third time getting up to pee it was time to go. I had slept about three hours. The cyclist was still snoring away.

The first thing I noticed after getting moving was that it was cold. I know I'm good to at least -20f with what I was wearing and so it had to be colder than that. I wouldn't find out until I arrived at Melgeorge's that it hit -35f that night. I put on my down jacket and army surplus over-mitts, both of which I had never used in anger before. In fact I had almost ditched the mittens at the last minute, I'm glad I didn't.

My pace was still good though I was starting to get a twinge from my right hamstring. I passed several runners just after the shelter and I was glad to have slept. I find that if I sleep for a few hours I can make better time on the first night than if I go straight through. Passing those runners only confirmed it. By the time the sun came out I was through the worst of the hills and only had a few miles left to Melgeorge's. I was still suffering from cold hands however. Every so often I would have to stop using my poles and make fists to warm my numb fingers. My fingers always came through though so it wasn't too bad.

I caught up with Mike Stattelman and Lisa Paulos on Elephant lake, just before Melgeorge's. Mike had carried his skis at least half the distance from Gateway. It was just too cold to get any glide. I know how awful it is for me to walk any distance in ski boots and figured he was done. Lisa was suffering from cold hands too and from chatting with her I could tell the long night and cold had taken a lot out of her. I was hoping she'd recover and keep going, but it wasn't to be.

I was relieved to be at Melgeorge's and glad to know I was halfway done. I stripped off my outer layers, shoes and socks. I had one blister on my right heel, but nothing too worrying. My feet were a little swollen and starting to get leathery. Nothing to worry about as I've been there before. I greedily ate some soup and a grilled cheese then went up to the loft for a nap. I didn't want to sleep long, but any time I could rest in a warm place I felt I had to take advantage of it. It couldn't have been longer than twenty minutes or so and I decided it was time to get going. I changed socks, refilled my water and restocked my food from my drop bag. I had, as usual, massively overestimated how much I would eat, but better that than underestimating.
Figuring that if it had hit -35f during the night it wouldn't be all that warm during the day I dressed for sub zero conditions and headed out the door. Mike, to my surprise, was heading out as well. I figured he'd catch and pass me during the warmer daytime conditions, but it never did warm up enough for efficient skating. He dropped out at Crescent just before the cutoff.

I had spent about two hours at Melgeorge's and that seemed about right. Rest had again done me good and I was once again truckin'. Speaking of truckin', this was the first time during the race that the image of Mr. Natural truckin' came to me and it was to help/haunt me to the finish. After Elephant Lake there are a few huge hills and then quite a few miles of flat. I formed a paceline with Carles Conil and another runner whose name escapes me.

Somewhere near the Elephant Lake access road I spotted something crossing the trail ahead of us. It looked like two large black dogs with white tails. Wolves? I had been noticing recent tracks in the trail since before Gateway, but this was the first I had seen anything. I alerted the others, but they hadn't seen anything and the wolves were gone. Perhaps it was just snow in the trees. I hope not.

Shortly after crossing the road Carles and the other runner picked up the pace and I couldn't hang with them. My hamstring was getting worse. Still, I didn't take many breaks and I overtook Carles a few times before we arrived at Myrtle Lake shelter. I sat down inside the shelter just to be "inside" for a while. It seemed warm with the sun shining on me and ate a pop-tart. Carles sat down outside and Marcio Villar caught up to us. Marcio shared some peanut butter crackers with us and we moved on.

It seemed all too soon and the sun was setting again. I geared up for another cold night, and put over-sized wool socks over my shoes then fixed them in place with Yaktrax. I also put on my down jacket and army mitts. Soon though my hands were getting cold and numb. It was a lot colder than I had expected. I started to panic a little bit. Luckily, Lynn Saari, who had dropped out, had talked me into taking a couple of chemical hand warmers at Melgeorge's. Now I was glad to have them. I opened them up and dropped them into my over-mitts and after a few minutes of faster paced walking I felt much better. Disaster averted.

I had forgotten just how many rolling hills there are in the second half of the course. I kept hoping to spot the Elbow Lake shelter, but it wasn't showing up. I was starting to hope that I had missed it, but I knew it wasn't possible. There are several distinctive landmarks, a trail junction and a bridge, just after it and I hadn't passed those. Now nothing was tasting right and I was starting to tire. I was getting a cotton mouth sort of feeling and I think I had slightly frostbitten the inside of my mouth with all the frozen food I was eating. Even though nothing tasted good, my stomach and my mind were both telling me to eat more and so I did.

Finally I arrived at the shelter. I hear that this is a very pretty place with a nice view of the lake, but I've never taken advantage of it. In '06 I didn't even see it on the bike and in '10 and this year it was dark and I didn't have time to stop. Carles was there though, just getting up from a nap. He mentioned that his favorite part of camping is just getting all the gear out. I wish I could have agreed, but when I get the gear out all I can seem to think about is how hard it will be to put it all away again. I kept moving and passed Marcio who was just settling down for a nap beside the trail. I asked him how he was doing and he said he was tired and cold. He asked whether or not he should take off his shoes before putting his feet inside the sleeping bag. I shrugged and said it didn't matter. If we had shared a common language I could have told him what I had done earlier with the stuff sack, but it seemed too hard to try to communicate that to him.

Finally I was into the real hills. Up and down without a break. My hamstring ached on the uphills and my knee ached on the downhills. I was feeling okay, but I had to use my walking poles like crutches to climb every slope. I realized I was slowing down a lot and knew it was time for a rest. I started looking for a place to lay out my sleeping bag, but I was a little picky. I wanted a spot packed down by a snowmobile, but off trail, and on top of a hill. I figured that'd be the warmest spot on this cold night. I kept saying to myself that I'd find it on the next hill and so several hills later I found something like what I wanted.

A snowmobile had pulled off the trail, but the spot was very unevenly packed down. Some spots were hard as rock and some very soft. I kicked at the snow to even it out a little, but I didn't try very hard. I set out my walking poles to mark the spot, laid out my pad and bag, then used my sled to block the entrance to my campsite. I didn't want any snowmobiliers running me over. I lay down at an angle somewhat like a recliner chair, but with a hole to my right that I'd roll into if I wasn't careful. It should have been uncomfortable, but I fell right to sleep. I woke myself up a few times snoring and found that I had rolled into that hole, but I didn't mind. I was warm and sleep felt great. After the third or fourth time waking up at the sound of my own snoring I decided, once again, that this was a race and I'd better get moving. I had slept for about an hour.

As I was packing up Carles came up the hill looking good and passed me once again. Marcio was just behind him, but moving slowly and not looking so good. I asked if he was okay and he responded, "muito frio." I know that much Portugese and asked him, as best I could, if he needed anything and suggested he try getting in his sleeping bag. "No. Drop. Snowmobile." he responded and I told him if I saw any snowmobiles I'd send them to him.

It was cold, and I had to pull my hands into fists around the heaters in my mittens from time to time. I could only do that on flat spots however as I still needed the poles to walk up and down hills. There were no flat spots. It was all hills.

Marcio caught up with me some time later. At first I figured I must be really slowing down, but I asked him how he was doing and he responded, "Maravilha," which I took to mean, "It's a miracle." He was warm once again and feeling strong. I'm glad no snowmobiles had passed us during that time.

We must be getting close to Wakemup hill (the last one), I thought. I started looking for it around every bend in the trail. I caught up with one runner who was melting snow for water. He had run out. I was thankful that I had increased my water load from 3 liters to 4 at the last minute. By insulating the water bottles with my sleeping pad I was able to keep them from freezing even in the cold temperatures we were experiencing.

Marcio and I passed a couple of trail junctions and I felt that I knew where we were. I told him in my Sesame Street Spanish that we had "tres kilometers" to go to the checkpoint at Crescent. He took off running at that, but I was wrong. Soon I passed Rick Wagar, another runner, who had a GPS and informed me that we had six miles to go to the checkpoint. I should have said, "diez kilometers."

Eventually we really did arrive at Wakemup hill and I was relieved to see it. I hobbled up to the top without taking a break (I had to take two breaks when I had biked) and then grimaced through the pain in my knee on the way back down. The trail wound it's way to the Crescent bar and last checkpoint.

I had hoped to make it to the Crescent by 3AM so I could get something like a good night's sleep before sunrise, but it was now 5AM. I'd still be able to sleep, but not much more than a nap. Carles was warming up by the fire as I got in and he informed me that runner Scott Myers had measured -42 on the trail. I figured he must have his units wrong so I asked if he meant Fahrenheit or Celsius. "It doesn't matter," he said, "it's the same." And so it is.

I ordered a pizza from the bar and ate the whole thing. I wanted more, but instead I laid down on the floor and right to sleep. Some time later I was nudged awake by one of the volunteers and told my hour was up. Apparently we were limited to only one hour of sleep in the Crescent checkpoint. I think it had only been about forty-five minutes, but I wasn't going to quibble. I was grateful to be warm and rested and I'm not sure I was really supposed to be sleeping on the floor anyway.

As I left the eastern horizon was just beginning to lighten. John Taylor was coming in as I was leaving. He isn't fast, but keeps moving and doesn't sleep the whole time. Amazing, no wonder he sees such crazy stuff on the trail. Marcio and Rick passed me shortly thereafter and I was on my own for the last twenty miles or so.

The long, straight, flat sections that typify the last miles of the Arrowhead Trail didn't seem to bother me. At least I was done with the hills. I got to the Cook turnoff and knew I had about 16 miles left to go. That felt good, but after thinking about it I still had at least 5 hours left on the trail and more like 7. Not such an encouraging thought. Still, I thought, there's nothing to do but keep walking. So I did.

Eventually the day warmed up a little and I traded my down coat and army mitts for a fleece vest and lobster mitts. I usually only use the vest and lobster mitts in sub-zero temps, so I know it couldn't have been too warm.

As I reached the last shelter it was time to deal with a problem that had been plaguing me for some time. I had been happily breaking wind since early in the race, but now by breaking wind I risked more than a minor stench in my shorts. Things were getting serious and I was expecting an outhouse at the shelter to deal with the problem. I was disappointed then that there was no such facility. I'd have to deal with this in the open. So I did.

Now that I was almost done the "truckin'" theme started to come back to me. Now not only was I thinking of Mr. Natural, but the Grateful Dead song "Truckin'" was getting stuck in my head. I'm no deadhead, but it wasn't too bad a song to be stuck with. "What a long strange trip it's been," seemed pretty appropriate lyrics.

I was tired and really slowing down. I was almost dragging my left leg down the trail and now I was using my poles like crutches much of the time. I wanted to bivy and sleep for a little while, but with the finish so close I wouldn't let myself. I arrived at the turnoff to the Casino and knew I was in the home stretch. I met Lisa Paulos, out for a walk, on the trail. I couldn't imagine just being out for a walk at that moment. Wasn't she tired from walking 70 miles? I was hurting a lot and no longer having any fun, but I was going to make it. I just kept truckin'.

Finally there was the finish line and Arrowhead banner across the trail. Apparently someone had gotten word to the finish that I was coming in and Nick, Caitlin, and Matt Long were there to meet me. I finished in 56:01 and not a minute too soon. I nearly swore never to run a race again. I think I did say I wouldn't do the Arrowhead on foot again.

Now, a week later, I am a little bit disappointed to have it behind me. It feels like it was too short. I wish it weren't over. Still, my leg is pretty messed up. I'm just now able to walk without a significant limp. I'm still in some pain though and having trouble sleeping because of it, but that'll get better.

Next year? I think I'm going to ski.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Busy Weekend

This past weekend I ran the Triple D and skied the Cumming Winter World Championships (aka. Iowa Winter Race #2). Triple D was to be my last race before the big one at Arrowhead and since it was "just" a training race I figured it wouldn't hurt to do a little ski event the day before.

I haven't been skiing much this winter so this was only my third time on skis and the first on this particular pair ever. I wasn't sure what to expect for the course or competition. It turned out to be about 10 skiers and approximately 5k of out and back on the Great Western Trail. There was about 4 inches of snow over asphalt bike path. Not ideal, but I don't think I've ever skied in ideal conditions. I started at the middle of the pack and pretty quickly moved up to the front. Once I took the lead I never gave it up. One woman followed me pretty close to the turnaround, but then I dropped her and put about a minute between us by the finish. It's my first contested win in a ski race and for that I'm happy, but I don't imagine that my competition was much. Hopefully I can make it to race #3 in the series and defend my title (such as it is).

After the ski race I had to book it back to Ames, pick up a car, pack my sled, and drive to Dubuque to give a seminar on winter racing with Lance Andre. I arrived a little late, but that didn't turn out to be a big deal. The seminar went well and several people commented that I had done a nice job. I'd say there were about 25 people there, most of them racing the Triple D the next day. For the most part we went over the mandatory gear for Arrowhead and Susitna. I don't mind talking in front of crowds about stuff I know something about so it was no trouble, but I was worried that there were people taking notes about the things that I said. No one should take anything I have to say on any subject that seriously.

The next morning I ran the Triple D. I've skied the race three times so it was fun to do something a little different. Since it was my last training race before Arrowhead I decided to run the whole thing without walking and see whether or not it would be feasible to run some of the AHU course. I was a little overdressed for the day and had to unzip my jersey and remove my gloves and hat from time to time. Conditions were exceptionally good with a hard trail and temperatures in the teens, the best of any Triple D thus far. While I didn't have any trouble running the 22 miles or so I was more sore than I wanted to be, probably in part because of the ski race the day before. I opted not to do the extra miles for a marathon or 50k. No need to hurt myself before the big race. I concluded that running at AHU probably wouldn't happen for me. There's just no way I can run any significant distance and still have it in me to do the whole 135 miles.

So, can I finish the Arrowhead in two weeks time? I honestly don't know. I think I probably can if all goes well, but there are a lot of variables. I'll be cutting it pretty close to the 60 hour time limit in any case.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Tuscobia 2010

This years Tuscobia didn't get off to a great start for me. First, I had broken the zipper on last years sled making it pretty much useless. I had to scramble and put together another one the night before we left. Second, I had forgotten my hiking poles at home and had to borrow some from Tim's (the race director) parents. They were 145cm, which would have been great for skiing, but I was walking and would rather have had 125cm poles. Finally, I had been fighting a cold for almost a week and while it had seemed to be improving, I lost my voice the night before the race. All of which had me thinking: when is enough enough and can I just quit now, before I start?

Of course I didn't quit, but it was tempting. Last year's race had been such an ordeal that I had hallucinations, could barely walk for a week afterward, and seriously considered biking the Arrowhead rather than skiing as I had planned. Hopefully this year wouldn't be as bad.

The start in Rice Lake wasn't bad. Temperatures were fairly warm and the trail was reasonably solid. For about the first half mile I was keeping pace with all the other run/walkers pretty well. Then of course, some folks started to run. I was pretty sure that if I took off running I wouldn't be able to complete the 75 mile race, at least not in the snow, so I kept up my walk. I promised myself that if I could I would start running after the halfway point, mile 38. By that point I figured I would know how I was doing and could wear myself out without too much worry.

For a while I leapfrogged with the only two skiers, Anne and Leah, but once they found their stride they passed me and kept going. I found myself going about the same pace as Darryl Saari and two other guys who were working together. I was pleased that I was keeping pace with Darryl, but I knew it was temporary. I knew that he could keep moving at a good pace when I slowed down or stopped, hopefully that would be a long way off.

We passed by the 150 mile racers a few miles in including Roberto Marron who I had run with at Wild Duluth in October. He told me not to go too fast so he could walk with me after the turn-around. He was jogging along at a steady pace so I figured he'd catch up to me at some point. He didn't, but did finish the 150 which is an amazing accomplishment, especially for his first winter race.

I was on my planned pace of 3mph when I arrived at the first checkpoint at mile 12 in Birchwood. I had hoped to sit down for a few minutes, but the other racers seemed to be getting in and out without pausing and I was feeling good enough to follow suite. After refilling my Camelbak with Carnation Instant Breakfast I was on my way.

The toughest thing about the Tuscobia isn't physical. The terrain and weather are pretty mild, but mentally it is a real challenge. For me it is mentally tougher than the Arrowhead 135. The trail is almost perfectly flat and quite straight. There are no hills to break up your progress into manageable chunks and the scenery never seems to change, just trees converging in the distance. At Arrowhead I can focus on making it to the top of the next hill or around the next corner. That doesn't happen at Tuscobia. To make it worse there are markers every mile that tell you exactly how far you have to go. It might seem like that would make it easier, but it just serves to frustrate when it seems to take forever to go one mile. The mile markers also don't let me zone out and just walk. I'm never pleasantly surprised that the miles have gone by quickly and I'm further than I thought.

Dark seemed to come all too soon. I had hoped to be further along, but I was stubbornly keeping my 3mph pace. I could only hope that time would seem to pass more quickly in the night as it sometimes does. I turned on my headlamp, and used it to help me find the most solid part of the somehow softening trail. I passed by a bar at Couderay where I saw a runner's sled parked by the front door. I wondered who it was and started to think that I could use a bathroom and maybe some water. Still though, I kept moving. A few miles further I came into the town of Radisson and saw Leah and Anne, the skiers, getting underway again after stopping at a convenience store. It seemed like a good idea to me as well and I summoned the courage to go all the way across the street (it seemed like a long way out of my way, but wasn't really). After using the bathroom and refilling my Camelbak I drank an energy drink for a mental boost, physically I was fine, and started off again. It turned out that the sled at the bar belonged to Lynn Saari who caught up to me as I was leaving the store. She passed me by as I loaded up and started moving again.

Just after leaving town the trail joined a road for a couple of miles and I finally reached the halfway point of 38 miles. I had been using this point as a carrot for quite a while and promised myself that I would start running when I got there. Now that I was there I gave it a shot. I ran to the next mile marker and while it seemed a lot faster than previous miles I just felt too tired to run much further. Disappointed, I started walking again. Again, I tried not to think too far ahead and focused on just getting to the next checkpoint in Winter at mile 46. Somehow I just kept walking and counted down the miles until town.

By the time I made it to Winter I was ready for a break. I my cold was starting to catch up with me and I was starting to cough more and have a runny nose. I hadn't sat down since the start of the race fifteen hours earlier. Lynn Saari was leaving as I arrived and the skiers were setting up their sleeping bags and resolved to sleep until dawn and then continue. I knew I didn't want to stay that long, but figured that three hours would do me good. After sitting down and having some soup I tried to lay down to nap, but I couldn't seem to manage it at first. John Taylor and a couple of other runners came and went and three more runners including the pair working together dropped at the checkpoint while I was there. Jan Roe who was staffing the checkpoint left me in charge for a while while she drove the dropped runners back to Park Falls. With a little quiet I was able to get a some rest. I slept fitfully for about an hour and a half inside the checkpoint while my cough worsened. Making things worse it seemed far too warm, I had to strip down to my underwear to keep from sweating, and there were weird programs on TV (which I didn't think to turn off) about serial killers and unsolved murders. Not the most restful situation. By the time Jan returned, even though my cold was getting worse, I was ready to get out of there.

At that point I was pretty sure I was the last 75 mile runner on the trail. I was surprised that Roberto, who was running the 150 hadn't caught me yet and I hoped he hadn't dropped. I told myself the good news that I only had 30 miles to go, but I knew that the bad news was that I had at least 10 hours left on the trail.

A few miles down the road I had one of those weird experiences that seem to happen in the middle of the night in races like this. Just as I arrived at a road crossing a jeep pulled up and stopped. I tried to wave him through, but rather than moving on a man got out and asked me, "Have you seen a little girl out here with two little boys?" I wasn't expecting that at 4am. I told him I hadn't and he replied, "Okay, just curious," and drove off. He didn't seem worried or any thing. Curious indeed.

I saw lights ahead and wondered who I was catching up to. It was a biker just packing up after camping. He started off just as I passed him and I figured I wouldn't see him again. It was a long slow slog to the towns of Loretta and Draper, the next landmark. This was where I started to have real trouble last year and couldn't ski any more. This year I was doing better in spite of everything and was still walking though I had to concentrate to keep my speed up. After passing through the towns the trail entered a spruce bog where I had had hallucinations last year, but this year I seemed to be better rested and in less pain.

As the sun rose I thought for a second that I was hallucinating again. There seemed to be a bike leaning up against a sign up the trail. No way of course, it must be a log or something, but it was. The same biker I had passed earlier in the night was camped out again. He must have been having some trouble like I had had the year before.

I finally made it to the spot, eight miles from the finish, where I had tried to quit last year, but couldn't get phone service. At this point my cough was getting worse, doubling me over a few times, my left hamstring was starting to act up, and worst of all my gloves were covered in ice from wiping my nose so often. Nothing worse than trying to wipe your nose with ice. Still it wasn't as bad as last year and I kept going.

About six miles out I had another run in with a local. A guy in Carhartts and Sorels was walking down the trail toward me. No snowmachine in sight. I said hello. He looked at me and said, "You're not from around here, are you?" I guess it shows.

Finally, with about two miles to go I saw a cyclist coming towards me. Nick, who had finished the 150 mile race on his bike the night before was coming out to look for me. I was happy to have somebody to walk with me and finally felt like I was going to make it. I picked up my pace a little and we also met Jan Roe again who was out on skis checking on the racers. I walked the rest of the way in with Nick and was relieved to have the Tuscobia behind me for another year.

Now, with barely four weeks to go until the Arrowhead, I still have some lingering questions that walking the Tuscobia didn't answer for me. While my hamstring injury doesn't seem to be serious, I'm over it already, how much worse could it get? Will it be a problem in the nearly twice as long AHU? Did the too long poles have anything to do with it? While I didn't have serious blisters like last year I did have some moderate ones on my heels that became a bit of a nuisance. Can I get my shoes/feet broken in before the big race or will I be fighting blisters there too? My finishing time of 29:06, while faster than I skied it last year, isn't too impressive. At that pace it'll be a close thing to finish the Arrowhead in under 60 hours. Could I have gone faster with shorter poles or could I have run more than I thought I could? How much did my cold affect me? Hopefully I can get the answers to these questions in the next few weeks and finish the big race this year.