Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Minnesota Voyageur 50, 2015

I took the better part of the winter off of running. After finishing only two out of five races in 2014, getting my ass squarely handed to me in both of the hundred-milers I tried, and having a minor mental breakdown in my last race of the season, I needed some time away. I took it and I am glad that I did. I got to rest and get healthy. I got to go through a winter without forcing myself to run when it wasn’t fun. I got to take up CrossFit and become stronger in places that running wouldn’t touch, but that have made me a better runner. I came into Voyageur hungry for distance and missing the community. I’m so glad to be back.

The early forecasts were for rain, which makes The Powerlines that much worse, so I was somewhat relieved to see that it was just going to be hot. I ran a 13:32 in 2014, including a couple of extra miles due to getting lost. With my miles and my CrossFit and my knowledge of the course, I figured I could finish near 12 hours. I fully intend to go sub-12 next year.

Things got very complicated in the last month. We sold a house. We were unable to find a house to buy. We rented a house. My taper involved moving into said rented house the week leading up to the race. Friday morning before Voyageur, we finally saw the house we wanted to buy. We offered. Friday night, after another tremendous pre-race meal at the Duluth Grill, we had our offer accepted. Very exciting. As if it’s not hard enough to go to sleep eight hours early and get up at what is my normal bedtime. Whatever. I got three hours of sleep, which is enough.

The race started. I got in line. A couple of guys passed me. I resented them for thinking that they were going to get anywhere in that conga line. If you’re that fast, start up front. I made mental notes of who they were, so that I could remember to beat them to the finish line. Then I passed a guy. I am such a hypocrite. I’m pretty sure that guy beat me to the finish line. We’re even, Universe.

I drank a Vitargo and dropped my shirt at the Jay Cooke. For a guy who works out and eats well, I sure do have a belly. Maybe I should try doing more sit-ups. Maybe.

I cut it loose on the next from Jay Cooke to Forbay, which is short and very runnable. Also, it was going to get hot later and I wanted to knock out some miles before it did. I came very close to pushing too hard. My Achilles tendons were both a little sore, but I didn’t let them get to me. There would be plenty of time to get loose. They never became an issue.

I cruised through the trail, trying to take note of the layout, better learning the course. I knew I would carry poles through The Powerlines on the way back, but I wanted to see if I should drop them at Peterson’s or Forbay. I decided on Forbay.

I went. I ate and drank and all that, Nutter Butters and GU and ShotBlox and Vitargo. I took my salt. I didn’t eat much of anything from the aid stations.

The Powerlines were wet. I grabbed a tree to keep from sliding down one of them. I had to walk the ridge between Purgatory and the rest because I was a little bloaty. I did not recognize this warning from my body.

I was in really rough shape by the time I got to Seven Bridges. 15 miles into a 50 is too soon to be in rough shape. I took a knee and put my head down and I kind of felt like crying, but 15 miles into a 50 is way too soon to be taking a knee and crying. So I ate and marched.

Some friendly guys came up behind me, but they did not have stomach problems so they passed me. Along I went to Fon du Lac, paying attention to the signs, since this is where I got lost last year. I slowed down my food intake, thinking that my bloating was a result of overeating. My wife is my coach, and she thinks I should eat and drink more than I ever want to eat and drink. I suspect that is how most runner/coach relationships work in the ultra community. I ate some potatoes and watermelon at Fon du Lac and hit the ropes course.

I passed Anjanette for the first time. We would travel near each other for the next 15 miles or so. Everyone likes Anjanette, and Anjanette seems to like everyone. I failed to introduce myself, because sometimes I am an awkward shell of a human being. I still took notes, though. Be nice to people. Tell them they’re doing well. I can’t learn those lessons enough.

The stretch into Beck’s Road was tough for me. I think the bloating was adding up. It was getting tough to each anything between aid stations. I ran the downhills and some flats. The day was getting warm. I passed through the UMTR aid station. I thought I might see familiar faces or say hello to someone or something, but mostly I just looked at dogs. A big thank you from this guy to everyone who brings dogs to ultras. I love looking at your dogs at the aid stations.

The road and trail into Skyline were uneventful. I almost bit it on the trail part, but I didn’t. The Skyline aid station was fine. I think I forgot to get ice for my neck. The road part of the Skyline to Zoo section was long. It’s always long. I wish it was less long. Pavement is so hard. The woman and son with the hose and frozen goodies were the best. I took neither, but the act of offering counted as much as anything. Thank you, strangers.

I dreamed of climbing into the creek, thinking that overheating was the cause of my indigestion. I had considered it since I saw Darryl do it last year. I first remember reading about laying in creeks on Jason’s blog. I realize that it’s an old trick, that Gordy did it the first year of Western States, but those two guys are where I learned it. I couldn’t bring myself to lay down in the creek, but I got in enough to be cooled a little. One guy told me that the aid station was very close. He didn’t know that I’d been thinking about this move for a year. I had dry shoes and socks waiting. Wading was worth the time.

I took a dump at the turn. The day I learn how to do that in the morning before the race is the day I will go from a back-third guy to a solid mid-pack runner. We all have goals. I appreciate the facilities at the turn. I left the station good spirits.

I knew the climb out would be long, and it was. I found myself near another runner who everyone liked, and who liked everyone. Jim. I’d introduce myself 10 miles later.

By the time I got back to Skyline, I was hurting a little. I am happy with myself for recognizing the signs that I was going low on sugar. When I am getting low on calories, I get crabby and negative, and my legs start to feel like I have the flu. My groins, quads, and glutes start aching. I’ve learned the lesson the hard way, but when those things start happening I must eat. Arriving at Beck’s road, I was in trouble. I was hot, hungry, bloated, tired, and still had 20 miles to go. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. I sat. There was a hammock and a cute dog. I marched out. Running was next to impossible.

I got passed by a ton of runners. My mental state was not good. I was done eating and drinking. I thought about making myself throw up, just to start over with the tummy. Bad News City.

Right before Fon du Lac, I found it. I ran like hell. I ran through the aid station. I charged up the hill. When I got to the top, I realized that I couldn’t run flats. I just climbed and my legs felt hella strong, but my tummy said no running. So I marched hard. My hands began to swell considerably. I marched with my hands up. I suspected hyponatremia. I was only slightly worried.

I talked to a man named Bill at Seven Bridges. He was incredible. He gave me solid advice to eat starches and keep on with salt every 30 minutes. I followed his advice, burping and farting my way through The Powerlines. It was very similar to the part in Willy Wonka where they sneak soda and have to get down by releasing gas. Having not run in some time, and having picked up trekking poles, I took the hills with surprisingly little effort. I took some ice and starches, and kept marching.

Into Peterson’s. Out of Peterson’s. Tighten shoes. March flats and downs. Charge hills. Repeat. By the time I got to the pavement, I tried running. Just a little, pathetic shuffle was all I had. I ran a little harder on the dirt, and felt good. I was amping up for the final charge. It was time to go.

“You smell that?” I asked Coach.
“What?” she replied.
“The Barn.”
“I do.”

I don’t think she knows the phrase. When you’re close enough to the finish line that you can sense it, you can “smell the barn”.

I started running like I meant it. My tummy came along for the ride. We passed everyone we could see. That is so much fun.

The final section. The victory lap. The chase. Be a rabbit. Be a hunter. Leave it all out there. I passed so many other runners. It’s certainly not a race between people, back where we are. The difference between finishing 134th and 148th and 159th is nothing. The act of seeing someone ahead of you and knowing that you have enough to catch them before the finish, and pushing yourself to give it everything you have is everything. So I chase, and I finish strong. I almost chased down Jordan. If I hadn’t gotten dizzy and done some hiking in the middle of the section, I could have had a race to the finish with him. That’s all I really want, I think, is a race to the tape. 50 miles, and then see what two people have to give over 100 meters or so. Someday I’ll get that race from someone. It’ll be the best. I finished 45 minutes faster that 2014. It felt awesome. I went sub-13. Without the stomach issues, I go sub-12. I can’t wait for next year.

Final tally: +10

12 hours, 44 minutes, 50 seconds

Monday, October 27, 2014

Wild Duluth 100k, 2014

I finished this race. I love this race. My head went to some very dark, strange places in this race. I'm not ready to publish a blog post that includes the details of where my head went on that day, but I'm also not willing to tell the story without them. Thank you for reading.

I can tell you that I got lost a lot and met a porcupine. They are bigger than you might think.

EDIT: July 11, 2015

I got to look at everything I want to do, but know that I should not do, for 19.5 straight hours. My brain did that to me, despite me knowing that it was happening and doing everything I could to redirect my thoughts. It was fucking hell, but I won. I finished the race and did none of those things. I am going back for more this year. The cutoffs are shorter and harsher. I would not have made them either of my first two years. This year I will have to be much faster, and not get lost. I believe that I can finish Wild Duluth 100k in 18 hours or less, and I intend to prove it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Superior 100

I’ve read elsewhere that any time you toe the line in a 100-mile race, you’re doing alright. This was true for me, but it was close. My legs had healed well and felt fantastic after a ten-day break from running, although I did feel a little soft in the middle as a result. I had been fighting what I thought were allergies all week leading up to the race, but Wednesday night I started to entertain the thought that it might be the nasty sinus/upper-respiratory virus that had been going around. On the drive up with the team, my friend/trainer/teammate Tiffany mentioned I sounded exactly like she did at the beginning of her bout with the virus. The panic began to set in. I grabbed some vitamin C drops and orange juice at a gas station and began to freak out a little. So much time, effort, and hope had gone into this race. I just couldn’t be beaten by a stupid cold.

I had been overdoing allergy meds in an attempt to combat what I thought was hayfever, so by the time we got to my hotel in Silver Bay I was lightheaded and a little delirious. I settled in, and my parents came by to get some crewing instructions. I was distracted. My stomach had begun to turn. Not good. The team picked me up for the meeting, which was fantastic. So many runners I’d seen before, either in person or online or both, all in one place for the Super Bowl of Minnesota trail running. After five years of dreaming, I got to be a part of the big one. Holy shit. I couldn’t really talk to anyone, though, because my voice was cooked. Dammit. The meeting was well-run, just like everything at this race. We went out for dinner and then stopped at a grocery store, where I bought tummy meds, zinc drops, and apple cider vinegar (upon recommendation from Tiffany.) I took shots of the apple cider vinegar all through the night, and used it a couple of times in a Neti pot. I don’t believe I would’ve made it to the start line without it. I maybe got five hours of sleep, after getting five the night before. I woke up feeling ok, which was really the best I could ask for.

And then we were lining up for start. Dusty Olson walked past me. I’d have said hello to him, but I really didn’t have a voice. Everything else felt ok, having been saved by the apple cider vinegar. Who knew how long it would last? Whatever. I was about to start a race I’d thought about for years, and that’s all that mattered. The first section was pretty forgettable, other than I ran ahead of Susan Donnelly for several miles. I knew I wouldn’t keep pace for too long, and eventually she did pass me. The trail was not terribly technical, and that’s about all I can remember. When I got to the spur trail to head down to the first aid station, the man chaperoning the corner told me to take the stairs down and the elevator back up. It was funny. Thanks, guy who makes jokes. For real. (Upon further research, it appears as though this funny man was Donald Clark. Thank you for so much more than a laugh, Donald Clark.) The stop was uneventful. I filled my bottles, took a little top-off in the bladder and slammed some potatoes. I took the elevator back to the top and had a chuckle with the man at the corner.

The man checking runner numbers on the way out asked me if anything was wrong with my hand, seeing as I had it wrapped in a buff. I told him it was for my nose. He promised not to shake my hand. More chuckles. I mostly felt really good. I wasn’t running too hard, my breathing was fine, and I didn’t feel fatigued or sick. I was sweating a little more than I thought was normal, especially considering the cool temps and cloudy skies, but I didn’t worry about it. I was in a really good place.

Eventually, I stopped to pee and tie my shoe, and many of the familiar faces passed by me. I fell in behind a woman who struck me as an experienced trail runner. She also struck me as someone who wasn’t terribly interested in conversation, which is something I am always cool with. I did introduce myself and offer to pass if she would prefer, but she said everything was fine, so I stayed put. I was happy to take notes on when to run, when to hike, and how often fuel and water were going in. I noticed myself getting pretty low on water, having misjudged things. I asked if she would drink from any of the sources up here. She said no, but added that if I had to, I wouldn’t get sick until much later. I conserved. We passed a guy who was totally out of it. 17 miles into the race and the guy was done. I made him take a couple of salt pills. We got to Silver Bay in good shape. I thanked my running partner for the lesson in trail running. I think she got a kick out of that.

My parents had a really nice setup for me at the stop. Tiffany was there, too, crewing for my teammate, Meredith. I changed shoes, from New Balance Leadville’s to Brooks PureGrit 3’s. I had not liked the Brooks at really any point since I purchased them, and I figured they would be to flimsy for the Superior Hiking Trail, but they felt really good when I put them on. I also switched to Injinji socks, which I haven’t thought were great since I wore Vibram’s back in 2010-2011, but something about it sounded right. The combination was fantastic. I had zero foot problems the rest of the day, with the exception of a toenail on my right pinkie, which settled down after a trim.

I have zero recollection of the five-mile section from Beaver Bay to Silver Bay. I’m sure it was nice. I remember thinking it wasn’t that bad. The aid station crew at Silver Bay was exceptionally helpful.

The next ten miles had some beautiful views. This is a section of trail I will revisit. There were beautiful sights, overlooking Bean and Bear Lakes, among other bodies of water. Some pretty good climbs, but nothing awful. I took a dump in the woods, which is hilarious to do during a race, because I feel like a sniper. I can see them, but they can’t see me, and I’m doing something dangerous. Ha! What fun we have. I hopped back on the trail and went down the infamous drainpipe, which was precarious in places. I’m glad to have a little background in gym climbing to help with technique. I’m lucky I spent the time taking care of my business in the woods, because my parents were still hauling in items when I got to the aid station. I recognized an aid station worker, which is a cool thing, even if she didn’t know me. (I should really be better at introducing myself. I’m an adult now. From now on, I will introduce myself to people.) A well-known runner left shortly before me, and everyone cheered him on by name as he ran away. My dad thought everyone should know my name as I left, so he yelled to everyone what my name was. The humor of being a 35-year-old man muttering "shut up, dad" was not lost on me.

Off I went. I knew it would get dark, so I took lights and poles. I don’t remember very much about the trail. There was mud and hills and rocks. I knew my wife would be at the next stop, which was a huge boost. I was eating on pace and taking salt every half-hour and everything felt good. There was a lot more up-and-down at the end of the section than I thought there would be, but it was an unknown stretch of the SHT so you just kind of take it as it comes. I got to County Road 6. My wife was there. I drank a Red Bull. I had my calories. I was on pace with food and salt. My body felt good. I had no blisters. I left the aid station with a full head of steam.

I fell in behind some people. There were now people with pacers. I had no pacer. I tried, but things didn’t work out for me to have one. I think I’m a particular enough person that I’d rather have no pacer than the wrong pacer, and most people are the wrong pacer for me. It was good. I stopped to put on a long-sleeved shirt, pausing my stopwatch in the process. It almost threw me, but I saved it and kept my original time count. If I’d have had to start doing math, I’d have been fucked. My head cannot handle doing math while running, a fact that has been proven repeatedly. No big deal, though. I got behind a guy I ran the final section with in 2013, he finishing the 100 and me the 50. Super-cool to see him again, but I was really feeling it so I passed and never saw him again. I was cruising, marveling at the beauty. It was dark now, and the trip on the boardwalk over the lake was amazing. I was hallucinating a little, and the sky looked like an overpass. I was glad not to fall into the lake. I charged pretty hard. I might have pushed too hard. When I rolled into Finland I was ready for a seat. I had a good hour before the cutoff, so I wasn’t in a hurry. I took care of my things, using the restroom and applying moleskin and lube and eating everything and putting on a jacket. I should not have put on the jacket. The jacket may have cost me the race.

The trail from Finland to Sonju is tough, rooty and rocky and not all that much fun to cross. “Shit pie,” says Julie Moen Berg in one of her race reports. Shit pie is right. I got tired, and then I got sleepy. I was moving slowly. Several runners passed me. One pacer asked me how I was doing, and I told him sleepy. He politely asked me if I wanted some tips. I said yes. He said speed up the pace for 30 seconds, or push up my sleeves/open my jacket/take off my jacket. Considering how difficult that section of trail is, speeding up was not an option for me, so I took off the jacket. It did help, but it was too little, too late. I was beginning to shut down. My ears were beginning to plug. The lack of sleep over the past three nights was catching up. The virus was settling into my sinuses and lungs. I had hours to go to the next aid station. I stopped on a rock and shut off my lights. The sky up there is so wonderful on a clear September night. You don’t see stars like that in the city. I took it in. I appreciated where I was and what I was doing. I tried to rally the troops with some mantras, but to no avail. By the time I got to Sonju, I knew I’d just hike it out to Crosby and call it.

The aid station crew at Sonju was classic. Unforgettable. Larry Pederson made me a pancake. I sat by the fire as the crew made fun of each other. They told me I had to get going. I’ll bet they knew I wasn’t going to finish, but they knew I could get myself to Crosby. There’s a goodness that can only be had by sitting around a fire at 5 a.m. with people who are willingly giving their time and energy to help you do the hardest thing you’ve ever attempted. It’s wonderful and amazing and it’s enough to make a grown man cry. Thank you, volunteers. Thank you.

Two guys left Sonju about ten minutes before I did. I wouldn’t see them again, but I would get to Crosby before they did. When I left Sonju, I gave myself a chance. I had eaten food, drank coffee, and had taken some inspiration from these moments of rest around an open fire. It didn’t take long for the sleeps to return, for my ears to plug, for my lungs to whimper, my eyes to close and my mind to say ok. I would hike it out to 63 miles, and I would be done. Tiffany and Meredith couldn’t be far behind, and I would cheer them on as they passed. As the sun was rising I sat down on a log to eat a gel and take some salt and drink some water. I leaned my head against my poles and shut my eyes. I took a nap on a log for somewhere between five and ten minutes. I got up and slogged on. Eventually, my team caught me and told me they had the same plan. Meredith’s knees had called it a day. I was asleep on my feet. We turned the Superior 100-Mile into the Superior 100k, and while there are no buckles or sweatshirts or crowds cheering, that’s no slouch of a day. It’s a tough trail. We tried. We were passed by the leaders of the 50-mile on our way into Crosby, where we both dropped.

My wife made me be sure of what I was doing. I was sure, but when she looked me in the eyes it hurt like hell. I retired, right there on the spot. I have spent enough time, energy, and money on sport that more often than not leads me to disappointment. I’ll keep running, but nothing more than a 5k or a 10k. Maybe a half. The plan going in was to spend 2015 getting faster anyway, so this wasn’t a huge shock. 30 minutes later, on the drive back to the hotel, we agreed that I would just run 50-milers next year, and maybe not so many. We would go camping and hiking, and I would go golfing once in a while. That felt better than retiring. Balance. My life lost balance this year. Trying to go from zero miles to 103 over the course of five years was bold, but certainly not unprecedented. It was too much for me, though. My life is out of rhythm, and it’s time to correct that. Find a day job. Let running be something that teaches me lessons and enhances my life, not something that keeps me from doing other things that make me happy. Get faster. Run like a child sometimes. Run barefoot again. Enjoy it. Okay.

Thank you, everyone: My wife, my parents, my team, the volunteers and RD who put on this race, my coworkers who cover my shifts, my friends, my chiropractor, my massage therapist, my physical therapist, the people of Minneapolis Improv, to all of the other trail runners out there. This is a wonderful event. How lucky I am to have spent nearly 24 hours covering 63 miles of this beautiful trail on the nicest of September days and nights. I have no regrets. The rest I leave to the poor.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Minnesota Voyageur 50, 2014

This one means the so much to me, for several reasons. I started the race with friends, which is something I have not done before. It was so great to know that I had buddies out there in this with me. I met some new people and unexpectedly ran into some others, people who are trail veterans. I feel lucky to have met them, and I feel a little more like a part of the community, like I belong here. I finished. It's been a while since I finished. I didn't feel prepared coming in. I didn't pack well, I barely knew the course, and I felt pretty overweight (I carry a bit of a belly on my person.) I told my wife earlier in the week that I just didn't feel good about this one.

We drove up in a little traffic Friday evening, finding the check-in roughly 15 minutes before it closed. My wife quickly found us a place to eat in Duluth, and we found it to be a busy diner-type place. There was a wait, but we were just two people and they offered counter service so we decided to sit it out. This was a fantastic decision. You see, we had somewhat randomly chosen to eat at the Duluth Grill, which might be the most amazing place I've ever eaten. I could write an entire post about how great they are. Just amazing. We checked into our hotel, brought in our stuff, and found that the door to the room was not even close to the correct size, but hey, close enough. I slept quite poorly, but whatever.

We got to the start in plenty of time. There was a 10-week-old Australian Shepherd puppy named Oscar right in front of our car. So cute. The owner noticed us eyeing him up, so she let us meet him. THANK YOU FOR LETTING US MEET OSCAR. Checked-in, did pre-race stuff, and met the team. We need a better name than "the team." I guess when I'm referring to Tiffany and Meredith to my wife, I call them "the girls." I guess we could call ourselves "the girls" even though I'm a guy because that's the kind of guy I am. We'll get back to you.

The race start was beautifully low-key. A megaphone, some brief and light-hearted instructions, and some form of go signal. Never change, Voyageur. We took off on streets across a couple of intersections and then a hard right down a bike path, across a bridge and onto some technical trail. I fell into place, expecting to stay there until the first aid station. I was behind a man who was many years my senior, but appeared to be running much stronger than I ever have. He got stung by a bee almost immediately. I was a little worried about that. I eventually ducked by him at a corner, which was stupid. There is no advancing in the first leg of an ultra. Just fall in line. Another couple jumped up a bunch of spots at a creek crossing. That's pointless. If you need to get somewhere at the start, then start forward. Same goes for me. Lesson learned. I was happy to find myself behind a runner wearing Five-Fingers. I can't wear them, myself, anymore, but I do enjoy watching someone else run and pick their way through technical trail in them. I feel like I ran lighter because of that guy. I did no harm. I crossed the swinging bridge, slapping it with both hands, found my wife and took off my shirt. It was not yet 7am, and it was hot out. This would become a theme.

The next section was wide, grassy ski trails, much like the first 9-mile section of Ice Age. This kind of terrain is very tempting to push the pace on, but I learned my lesson in May. I walked every uphill. One guy stopped to ask me if I was okay, which is such a great part of trail culture. He understood my explanation, told me he was going to be stupid and push, and went on ahead. I took it really easy, enjoying the misty morning light and just passively taking in what seemed good. Right near the end of the section, I got in front of a woman who had chosen to blast music from her phone, rather than use an earbud or two. I found that to be pretty offensive. Maybe I'm alone in that opinion, but it seems like that's a jerk move on the trails. Roads, maybe. Trails, be quiet. I am but one man.

I did a poor job prepping my wife for the course, mostly because I did a poor job of prepping myself for the course, mostly because the course has changed so much over the past few years, but also because I do such a poor job of not psyching myself out when I know the course that I chose to run this one pretty ignorant. Point being, I thought I would see my wife in three miles, but instead it was seven. She drove around for a long time looking for the stop before someone told her what was what. I am sorry, my wife. I now owe you an even one million favors.

This section was fun to run. There was a long stretch of flat, paved stuff that had enough grass next to it that you could choose, and then it got into some nice downhill single-track. A veteran a few places up mentioned how rough it was on the way back, a fact I noted but did not fret. I stayed put, firmly planted in my feet. We found the aid station in good time, going easy and doing no harm. I was right behind my teammate Tiffany. I wondered if the next section was the infamous Powerlines. Tiffany asked around and confirmed that it was. Cool, I thought. Let's see this.

Up and down and up. Pretty steep and loose and a little slick. Not fun, but not horrible. I got a kick out of the two photographers positioned to get people in mid-struggle. As a big fan of street photography, I respect their attention to honesty. I kind of thought that was it for the nasty hills when we entered the woods, but then we left the woods and I got the joke. The powerlines are exposed and steep and up and down. Tough stuff, but not impossible. I made it to the next aid station just fine, noting that the race didn't really start until I went back through that. I didn't freak out about it, but I adjusted my mindset. I would be taking poles with on the way back, if I hadn't already picked them up.

The next section was short, two miles. About halfway was a hard right turn. When I got to that intersection, I looked down that turn and saw several large trees across the path. I figured that meant the trail was closed. I opted to go straight on the Superior Hiking Trail, as is my instinct from the fall races. A woman I had passed was right behind me. We moved quickly and climbed some stairs and we covered some ground, but then we came to a part of the trail that looked untouched. I asked her when it was that she last saw an orange flag. We discussed, and decided to head back to the intersection. On our way there, we picked up two others who had missed the turn. We got straightened out and found the aid station quickly enough. Probably went an extra 1.5 miles because of the error, but I didn't for a second let that get to me. Whatever. We were fine for time. In and out of the aid station and on to the next.

There were ropes, because the trail was steep and narrow. That's cool. I've done some rock climbing. Up and on. Over some rivers. The leaders coming back, running like water, smiling and stopping to splash water on their faces. We have fun. The four of us who were once lost trekked on. Nick was running his first 50, Meredith her third, me on my fifth attempt at the distance for what would be my third finish, and Misty on what I think was her fifth round of the Voyageur, alone. When I find myself on the trail engaged in conversation with vets, I try not to make it obvious how much I am taking notes. I try to be cool, but I am not cool. I am noting everything from how you greet other runners to how you step across rivers to what food you are carrying in your pack to how you tie your shoes. The stuff I don't know is infinite and my time is limited. Also, I would like to make more trail friends, so I'm trying to take note of all these things and be personable and also run. How lucky I am to have these be my challenges.

Aid station. Heat is starting to claim victims. I notice it, but I keep ice on the neck and water in the bottles and salt in the salt container and go. Get out of here. Go. Uphill on roads. Exposed. Look back, see notable trail veteran on opposite side of the road, hiking in the shade. OF COURSE. Cross road, also hike in shade. PLAY IT COOL, RUN FINGERS THROUGH HAIR. Not really. Road ends, trail starts. Nice trail. Downhill. Not hard. Nothing's hard. Aid station.

Long hike and run on road. Dip down onto trail. Run through Mud Man Mud Run Cargo Net Water Slide Game Sport. Overwhelm them with positivity. "Nice Job." and repeat. Down the hill. Gonna see this again soon. Cross Tiffany, Meredith close behind. "the girls" are in full force. Add extra half-mile to use restroom. Had to be done. Worth the time. Refuel. Change shoes. Velcro missing, Krazy Glue dry, whatever. The gaiters were fine. More bandages to cover pack chafing. Go.

Uphill. Back through Mud Run, down road, and through aid station. Uphill, against gentle upslope. Start picking off runners. Meet up with veteran, who has caught me after soaking briefly in creek near the zoo. I follow him closely into Beck's Road station. I won't see him again until the finish. Going. Won't see wife for five miles, just to make sure we meet before Powerlines. Burn through next section, passing more runners. Rappel down ropes and across river. Chug uphill for two miles. Not hard. Nothing's hard. My arm starts to chafe against my ribs. Relube. Grab trekking poles. Powerlines.

Hard, but not impossible. Easier on the way back in. Aid station. Ice in water. Ice in Vitargo bottle. Ice for neck. Relube. Uphill. Pass more runners. On paved path, just before aid station, find a female runner assisting a younger, male runner. A woman has stopped on her bike, allowing the young man to use her phone. He is out of it. No water, food, or salt. The female runner gives him a gel. I give him water and food. He talks to his crew, they are on the way. I convince him to walk toward station. He is feeling better. Meredith catches us. Male runner's friend approaches. I pass him off, and I run. I can taste it now. I make good time into station, grab some ice for the neck, see my wife. I hear a familiar voice, and turn to see a familiar face. A local legend is manning this station. I am so happy to see this guy. I barely know him, having run with him a little at Wild Duluth last fall (and totally failed to play it cool,) but he's one of those people who just has a great energy to him. So it kicked ass to see him there. I left my poles. There were some dark clouds rolling in, but I didn't get my new rain jacket. My wife said they were just shade clouds. I don't know why I believed her, but it would be of no consequence.

Out of that aid station was a big downhill. I started my momentum and didn't stop until the finish. I started passing what seemed like all kinds of people. I passed Barefoot Guy. (Hats off to you, Barefoot Guy.) I saw Misty on the other side of the ski loop. I started noting the mantras that got me through the day. "Don't give up. Don't ever give up." and "You are not here for a Facebook post. You are not here for a mug. You are not here for a buckle. You are not here for a picture. You are here to find out what you have when you have nothing left, so give what you've got, buddy."are two of the three big ones. You can refer to the Wild Duluth post if you would like to know the third. I cried some. I flew.

I spent very little time in the last aid station. I grabbed my jacket. I clapped and ran. I had all the legs. I passed everyone I saw, save for a young man in a day-glo Run For Africa shirt. He finished just stronger than I did, but I made him look. He was half my age. I'll take it. The skies opened up on us. I put on the jacket, even though I probably didn't need it. Everything was wonderful. High-five. Hugs. A mug. "the girls" all finished. Photo. Cold shower. Lasagna. Short ride home with a gallon of V8. Pizza. Bed. Pizza. Bed. Back to work.

I can't thank the volunteers and race organizers enough. This doesn't happen without you. I need to thank my wife. None of this happens without you, not one minute of it. I'd like to thank the girls. Running with friends is so great. I had no idea until this race. I'd like to thank the veterans. Thank you for establishing such a great community and tradition. If you ever see me looking cool, don't believe it, because it's bullshit. I'm taking notes so that I can be a better part of the community. I love you all, so very much.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Black Hills 100, 2014

This was my first attempt at 100 miles. I got my ass handed to me by the Centennial Trail, my stupid brain, and literally my ass.

I was still reeling a little from a DNF at Ice Age in May, but more so from the injuries and subsequent undertraining that hurt me at Ice Age. My back/hip was going in-and-out, and I was never able to do anything close to respectable training. I headed out the Sturgis with a wing and a prayer, and I got what I paid for. I knew going in that a finish was unlikely, and that I should do as much as I could to learn the most in what miles I could get. I did learn some lessons, but they were hard-fought.

I travelled out on Thursday, picking up my sister from the airport on my way out of town and heading to Sioux Falls, where I would trade my sister for my dad. My dad drove us to Wall, where we took some photos at the tourist trap to appease my mother. Everything was fine. There was a huge thunderstorm that night, dropping large amounts of rain. This would become a theme. On the way to the race meeting on Friday, we drove through another thunderstorm that dropped large amounts of rain. This was now a theme. That night, my wife arrived late, getting a ride from the airport with friends. It sounded like more of an adventure than anyone had hoped it would be. I got sleep and woke early. It rained the entire way to the start: THEME.

It did quit raining just before the start. I managed to get into a UMTR photo, in an effort to maybe make some friends. No dice, but whatever. It might have helped to say some words. Next time. I started in the back of the pack, as was my intention. We got our feet wet right out of the gate, while crossing under the first road. I stopped to adjust some things, applauding myself for the patience. I was taking it easy, but the trail was absolutely soaked. Everything was sloppy, muddy, sticky soup. Every step involved putting a foot down, stabilizing, and then fighting to remove the foot from the slop. I stayed pretty positive and stuck to the plan, eating a ton and drinking. I remembered all of the trail from running the 50 in 2013.

I don't remember too many people or events between the start and the Elk Creek Aid Station, as was kind of my plan. I didn't want to wake up too quickly; I just wanted to ease into it and surprise myself with the mileage. At Elk Creek I changed shoes and picked up my trekking poles. Sitting down cost me, not from a mental aspect, but from sitting on damp ground and getting my butt wet. It took a while, but it would cost me.

The downhill out of Elk Creek was really wet, and I'm glad I had my poles. Those things have saved me so many times, and this would not be the last. On the way to the creek, we crossed paths with a mountain biker who was struggling to lug her bike back up the hill to the aid station. It seemed that the mud was tougher on the bikers than the runners. We crossed Elk Creek five times. It was amazing and fun and refreshing. I really felt like I was having an adventure. The climb out of the basin was tough, on account of the slick mud, but I had the poles and a pretty good attitude. I met a couple of guys, one of whom mentioned that mud like this would suck the life out of you. I tried to put distance between us. I get negative well enough on my own. I did not need help going low.

I made it into Crooked Tree just fine. The day was heating up, and this was a no-crew station, but I was ok. I got water and snacks, and then we heard thunder and it started to rain. I threw on a cheap plastic poncho my dad gave me the night before and took off. I knew the climb ahead would be tough, and it was just as I had expected. The mud was slick and the climb was pretty relentless. Once I got to the top, I knew it would still be some time before I made the descent to Dalton Lake. Along the ridge, I passed a biker who was really upset. He was pushing his bike and cursing the race directors for not having an alternate route for muddy conditions. He was still hollering and I passed out of earshot. I have no time for the negative.

Working my way down to Dalton Lake, I began to consider the difficulty of going back up 70+ miles into the race. This is my worst habit: trying to run where my feet are not. If I can stay present, be only where my feet are, then I can do great things. If I try to get ahead of myself, worry about things I cannot control, everything gets to be too much and I do not reach my goals. I am forever learning this lesson.

The Dalton aid station was great. I ate a bunch of the provided food, sat down in a chair and took care of my feet, drank Vitargo and ginger ale, laughed with friends and family, used the vault toilet for all it was worth and headed back out. I was in good shape. I crossed the 100k turnaround sign. I made it into some of the trickier trail, which was technical ATV trail to begin with, but was made much harder my muddy, rain-filled gouges. It was a tough section. I thought about going back through it in the dark. That's not the kind of thinking that will get me to the end of a race. The last chunk of that section, running into Nemo, was next to a two-lane highway. It was a little nerve-wracking to run, but I made it to the aid station, which was kind of cute. I had a nice stop, changed shoes, refueled and went on down the road.

Not long into this stretch, the leader came back at me. The people who win these races are phenomenal athletes, and it is amazing to watch them run. Kudos to them. Most of this trail was not too difficult. It seemed longer than I thought it should, I crossed with three guys on motorcycles, and it ended with a massive climb. I thought about going back down that climb on tired knees because I have a bad habit of thinking ahead, but we all know this by now. It's a theme: my brain rains. By the time I rolled into Pilot Knob, I was getting a little weary, but I still felt strong. I was offered a bunch of really awesome food at the aid station, cooked food that you can never expect from an aid station, but all of it was just a little off. I eat a mostly vegan diet, so even though cheese quesadillas sound amazing, I just can't trust my tummy with them. I was still laughing and having a blast through the stop. The sun was going down and the rain was all gone and things looked good. Seven runnable miles to the turn. Out I went, in good spirits.

After about a mile of easygoing grass trail, there was a climb. I took it strong, and when I reached the top I was done. I was just flat-out gassed. In retrospect, I should have realized that my elevation was reaching significant levels, near or at 6,000 feet above sea level. I did not take that into account, and I went super fucking low. I started hiking slowly on stuff I thought I should have been running, making that seven miles last forever. Some of the trail was fairly treacherous, just barely edged into the sides of big, steep hills. The sun went down, and I hadn't thought to bring a light. I was in a bad place, marching slowly and getting lower. My brain began to pour.

By the time I finally marched into Silver City, I did not want to go another step. 50 miles was a good day, especially in those conditions. But my dad had travelled all this way to pace me, to run through the night with his only son. He had undoubtedly put in countless hours worrying about doing this right, so much so that he became a little paralyzed by the whole ordeal. A good friend of mine from high school just happened to have flown into the area that day, visiting his parents, who had relocated since we graduated. My wife was there. She had flown in Friday night and would fly out Monday morning, get in the car, and go to work. My mom and youngest sister were there. And I was a pile. My butt had begun to chafe. Sitting down on damp ground at Elk Creek had begun to cost me. I went inside and had some soup and got some words of encouragement. One of the guys I ran to Crooked Tree with had dropped, and was having a great time sitting in a sleeping bag. One of the wonderful volunteers asked me which holiday was coming up. I answered the 4th of July, which was correct, but I considered saying Christmas, just to get pulled. I didn't want to revisit everything I'd just seen. It was 10pm and I'd been moving in tough conditions since 6am. I had seen enough for one goddamn day. But they came. They all came. I had to go.

So I went. My dad and I went. I immediately thanked him. I told him I appreciated him doing this. I was more or less in silent tears by then. The downpour in my brain had leaked out onto my face. I got a push from that. Crying makes me breathe. So I go. We charged uphill at a good clip. I wasn't going to do much running, but I could hike quickly. My dad dropped his hat. It was not a big deal. He went to get it and I took a leak. We marched on. I stepped on a branch. My dad asked me if I knew what I just did. I replied that I did not. He said I stepped on a bunny. I asked if it was dead. He said it was now. That made me sick. "That sucks. That sucks. I'm sorry that happened." I will never forget saying those exact words. We stopped the bunny with our headlamps and I crushed it with my shoe and that's disgusting and I did it and nothing will ever change that. We marched on. My dad kept trying to get me to eat, but I wouldn't. Eventually I forced down some Swiss Cake Rolls. Too little, too late. My butt was in full chafe. I stopped and greased it up, but again, too little, too late.

I was beaten. My dad was sympathetic. He said we could make the 5am cutoff at the pace we were going. I said I couldn't think about 5am. By the time we rolled into the aid station, it was over. I was doing damage to myself with every step, and I was not going to finish the race. The real goal for all of this is Superior 100, to finish that race and to have my name in the drawing for the Western States 100, if only this one time. My wife asked me what I needed, and I shook my head. She knew it was coming. There was no argument. We approached the volunteers. They asked what I needed. "31 is done for the day." That fucking sucked to say, but I knew it was the right decision. I was not going to finish that race, and so I needed to keep training. I was back on the trail by Thursday. I made the right call.

I learned from this race, more than anything, that my number one mental priority is to be only where I am. I can only run where my feet are. I have considered this idea for years, but if I am to get to the end of the Superior 100, my brain will have to fall in line. Just relax, be where you are, accept the pain, and keep moving. This is all I can do.

Ice Age 50, 2014

I was excited to enter this race. It is historic, prestigious, and it's status as an automatic entry into the Western States ensures a fantastic field and national attention. Not that any of it applies to me directly, but it's fun to be a part of something of this magnitude. I made sure to enter online as soon as it was available. I got in, and started scheduling my training plan. Right about then is where everything got messed up.

I threw out my back/hip early in the long, harsh winter of 2013/2014. I tried to run through it. I made it worse. I saw my chiropractor, my massage therapist, my acupuncturist, and finally a Western doctor and physical therapist. Most of the training was a joke. I couldn't really run. Something was pinched in my back and hip, which caused my gait to change, which caused most of the muscles and whatnot from my lower back to my right shin to be a mess. The IT band was especially awful. About a week prior to the race, I finally got the crack I needed from my lower back/pelvis, and the healing began, but by then it was too late. I was undertrained beyond repair, but still hopeful of a finish and appreciative of the opportunity to start the race.

The course setup is unique, in that it begins with nine miles of groomed ski trail that has a little up-and-down and a gentle surface. Looking at the strict 12-hour cutoff and a weather forecast that promised afternoon heat, I chose to try to make up time against the clock on the loop. This was a bad decision. I came into the start/finish at 1:34, having just run ten-minute miles. I was already feeling it a little, but not enough to really back off. I knew the toughest trail was on the first out-and-back, and my plan was to push it up to then, which I did. It didn't take long for other runners to start picking me off. That's a bad sign at mile 12. It means you pushed too hard early, and that shit will get you.

There are a lot of aid stations on the course, which is great. It means you shouldn't have to carry that much along the way, but I carried a ton of water anyway. My UD PB pack probably had an average of 3 pounds of water in it at all times. That was too much. Aid stations can also eat up time if you're not careful about getting in and out quickly. I did some loafing. By the time I made the turn at 22 miles, I was starting to hurt. I was able to take a dump at the turn, which helped ease a tummy that had been angry all morning, which allowed me to put in more calories. There were some good things happening. I motored on.

At the 30-mile stop, I took a knee. The heat was really starting to eat at me. The humidity was pretty high. There was no wind. The long, harsh winter had kept the trees from forming leaves. The sun was beating down. Low 80's really isn't that bad for running if you're trained for it, but I had run in nothing even close to that in over 8 months. I was getting my ass kicked. To pile on, crew access became very sparse in the second half of the race. I wouldn't see my wife from 30 to 40, and then not again until 50. I had a drop bag at 37, but I would need to get myself there.

And then the trail got hard. There is a bluff everyone seems to know. I had seen it on elevation maps, but it didn't look that big. It sure seemed big. I got to zombie-walking. I was really dizzy. I fought the urge to do the math, but I was starting to accept defeat. I couldn't run and I couldn't keep pace. I crawled into 37. I looked around for my drop bag, but I was struggling to find it. I heard another runner, who appeared to be messing with a broken hydration pack, yell out, "I can't see color." It was pretty much just carnage at that aid station. Everyone was dropping upon arrival. I found my bag and sat down on the ground in the shade of the tent. I drank some hot Vitargo and then I had some hot Tailwind. It was horrible, but I started feeling better. I joined a conversation with someone I'd met online, a local ultra vet. He was dropping. I wanted to drop, too, but I made a deal with my wife a long time ago that I would never again drop from a race without speaking to her first. She couldn't be at that particular aid station, though, so I knew I'd have to go on. My new friend said to me, "You're not going to make any progress by sitting there." I told him that I appreciated that very much, and then I stood up and staggered back out to the trail. Before I left, though, I put my drop bag in the return to start pile. I wasn't coming back here today. I was done.

I tried shuffling along the last three miles, but I couldn't. My feet were shredded and bruised. The moleskin I put under the balls of my feet to start every race had moved. The sweeper passed me going out, and then he passed me going back. It was ok. The fact that I stood up and went out for these last three miles was my victory for the day. I gave more when I had nothing left and no tangible reason to go on. It was no small victory.

I didn't beat myself up too badly for not finishing Ice Age. I had a good idea of what I was up against before the race started. Looking back at the race from three months later, I was woefully undertrained. I wasn't making that up. I was not acclimated to the heat of the day. There wasn't much I could do about either of those things. The third thing that cost me a finish was strategy. I went out too hard, which was an amateur move. I learned from that mistake, and that's all I can do about that. Despite a DNF, my time was not wasted. I'm glad I took a stab at Ice Age.

Monday, October 21, 2013

2013 Wild Duluth 100k

Welp, this one hurt. I went really low a couple of times. My wife wouldn't let me quit, so I didn't quit. The official race cutoff is 18 hours. I finished, by my estimate, in 18:59, but I finished. I moved my body forward for 62 miles, most of which were fairly tough trail. I wanted to quit, as I have in the past, but I didn't quit. I kept going, and I made it. I could not have done this alone.

The weather forecast for the race was accurate: chilly with rain and snow in the morning, cool and partly cloudy with a few showers in the afternoon, and brisk with clear skies and a full moon at night. I own more than adequate equipment to handle the conditions, but I hadn't used it since April or May, so it was a bit of a guessing game as far as what to be wearing. I have the most difficulty knowing which clothes to wear on my torso, because once I build a layer of sweat I immediately get chilly.

We got a hotel room, which was crazy-expensive because of leaf season and MEA weekend, but it did allow us to watch a Wal-Mart semi get stuck in a cul-de-sac.

We got to sleep around 10, but the room temp was tricky to control, so I woke up at midnight all sweaty and shit. I got back to sleep around 2, after messing with the thermostat, and slept until 4:30. I had everything pretty well laid out, leaving myself minor prep before leaving the hotel at 5:20am. We got to Bayfront Park without incident, checking in and lining up. It was chilly and damp, but nothing horrible. Totally runnable.

SECTION 1 (3.1): We headed out on a path underneath 35N, between the lanes, which is a funny place to be on a trail run. A slight incline and a bridge took us over the highway and into the woods, up a steep hill and across a number of city highways. This was my favorite start to a race, because there was no talking. Maybe it was the incline or maybe it was the weather, but no one around me was making small talk. It was so peaceful and a great way to ease into the adventure. I managed to turn my head a few times and caught a few glimpses of the fantastic views of Duluth's shore in the morning dark. At the top of the first climb is Enger Tower and the Ohara Peace Bell. I didn't know that the bell was there, but a guy right behind me noted that no one was ringing the peace bell right before we heard it ring, and then everyone in my group rang it. It's a deep, bellowing ring which was a really nice thing to do. (I normally will try to touch a trail marking at the beginning of a race, a practice I borrow from the Jewish mezuzah as a way to pause and acknowledge the great fortune I have to live this life. It's also something I try to do when taking the stage for improv. How lucky I am to be here and doing these things.) The subsequent downhill was brief with nice, smooth trail. We came out at a major road, crossed a bridge and did some quick upper-body wardrobe changes with my wife, losing some unnecessary warmth and weight.

SECTION 2 (5.7): It sprinkled and sleeted. The trail was still cutting through the city. I passed a few people. I caught up with a local ultra veteran. We ran together for a while. I tried to pick his brain as much as I could without making it like I was writing a report for my 5th grade social studies class. I got some really useful info, and I saw him stop and appreciate the tremendous views of Duluth in this section, which I did, as well. It's worth the few seconds. I need to start carrying a small, convenient camera. The section was mostly runnable, crossing under a major road under construction through a tunnel. I think I turned my lights off at 8am, two hours into the race. John blew through the aid station, while I stopped to change clothes and stay as comfortable as possible.  

SECTION 3 (4.5): To get to this section, you had to jump a guard rail, which threw off a guy right in front of me. (I passed the guy, who unintentionally cut some trail and got by me, and then I passed him back.) This was the last section that was really in Duluth. The trail spit us out onto a road for a couple hundred yards and then through a parking lot and over a major highway. There was a roadside motel right there, the name of which escapes me, but whose sign would really set a mood on the return trip. The section was really slick, which I knew could only get more with 250+ runners heading over it before I'd see it again. The trail also ran next to the highway for quite a distance, a fact which was lost on me. I did take note of one final crossing underneath the major road, which was creepy in the daylight. I came to the next aid station, thinking I was supposed to have already seen my crew, so that was weird. The volunteers at the aid station didn't have a ton of info, but they did have a dog with a frisbee, so that was cool. I ran a few hundred yards farther and came across the lodge and my wife. I changed out of my tights and headed up the ski hill.

SECTION 4 (2.5): This section was rocky, short, and mostly uphill. I crossed back and forth with John and another guy, who appeared to be shooting for total self-sufficiency with a gigantic red backpack full of stuff. I came to the road at a bridge that was not well-marked. There were hot pink flags, but I don't trust flags of a different color than what is advertised. Another runner and I kind of stood together at a bridge, confused, when the RD pulled up in his pickup and pointed us on, saying that the way was marked in orange. Maybe he's colorblind. I don't know him. We quickly came to the aid station, where I began to become well aware of the race's lack of ginger ale. (Race Directors: please stock ginger ale at all of your aid stations.) 

SECTION 5 (4.3): This section led me to cross paths with the majority of the 50k runners, most of whom were quite friendly and courteous. Those who weren't friendly were courteous. Nobody was a jerk. Things got really rocky along a ridgeline, and the climbing came in really helpful with the footing. There were some incredible views of the foliage. This was tough and slow, but pleasant. The aid station was nice. They had a stash of ginger ale and boiled potatoes with salt, both of which are the best. The next section was 7.5 miles, so I stocked up on water and gels. I had been keeping up with my water and drinking a Vitargo at every stop and having a Vespa at this one (every 15 miles.) I had been reluctantly gutting down Vanilla Bean GU, though the air temp was low enough that the GU was thick and awful. I have a hard time taking down gel when it's cold enough that the GU pops when you first start taking it.

SECTION 6 (7.5): This section came in three parts. The first third was mostly uphill and along a ridge. It was nice running, and the birch trees were so thick that it looked like the sky was all grey behind them, even though it was mostly clear by now. The second third ran along a lake and was nice running. The last third crossed a road and went uphill, and was not great running. The trail was wide and flat. I started going low, which is something I often do around that mileage. By the time I got to the aid station, I was pretty worn. I think I was getting low on caffeine. I had forgotten to buy Clif Double Expresso gels, which I use to maintain normal caffeine levels during long runs. The crew gave me my first Red Bull of the day, in addition to Vitargo and a bottle of ginger ale from the store. She could tell I was crashing, and pointed to the flat, paved section ahead and said it was like that for 3.5 miles.

SECTION 7 (3.5): This was rough. It was flat and paved, but that can be pretty grueling in the middle of a run where I'm in the rhythm of ups-and-downs. I did some work on the pavement and some next to it on the grass. I got a good look at the group of runners in front of me, many of whom had familiar faces. I was far enough back that they were beginning to give me the look that says, "You gonna make it, buddy?" I didn't know at that point. I told myself that this thing didn't really start until the 50k turnaround, but I was getting really low. By the time I picked my way through the rocks near the aid station, I was hurting something fierce. I had some Vitargo, which was really starting to taste bitter. The stuff is sickly sweet, so the bitter flavor really threw me. I still can't figure that out. Anyhow, I was hurting and I knew the hard stuff still coming. I forgot one of my main mantras: You can only run where your feet are. I was 8 hours in, and the cutoff was 9 hours, so I felt good about that. It also felt good to mention to my wife that it was time to start considering when to pick up lights and trekking poles. I turned around and prepared for the 3.5 mile flat grind back to the last/next aid station.

SECTION 8 (3.5): It didn't take me long to start sizing up the runners I crossed. Anyone behind me was certainly suspect to the same look I had gotten by the runners ahead of me. Most of the runners I saw from here forward would not make it to the finish. A few of them already knew it, and they were hurting. I've been there, and that's a tough place to be. You tell everyone they're doing a great job, because they are. They're out there to begin with, and that's something most people simply won't do. I got a bit of a burst from having made the turn, from knowing I could now turn to certain mantras that only make sense when you're getting closer to the edge. The one I was really waiting on was something of a toast I've been repeating to myself for a year or so:

To life lived,
To the pursuit of happiness,
To childlike wonder; to furious amazement,
And to the undying hope that tomorrow could somehow be better than today.

It's a little cheesy, but it helps me appreciate what I'm doing rather than resent the pain and exhaustion. Let me know if you want me to say it and your wedding or funeral or whatever. I'm game. Or you can borrow it on your own. Or you can make fun of me for being a weenus. I don't care.

I got back to the aid station, where I changed some more clothes, drank a Red Bull and Vitargo. The Vitargo was sticky, and I cleaned my hands with an ice cube. I dried my hand on a towel, which was soft enough to mention. The act of saying how soft the towel was made me realize that the good running vibes were still out there to be had, and that was a huge boost. A runner was wrapped in a blanket, wearing a hat that still had a price tag on it. He didn't have it together. The trail had beaten him and he was getting a ride. I was perking up, drinking another Red Bull and downing a Vespa.

SECTION 9 (7.5): This direction, the trail was downhill to start and flat across the middle next to the lake. One of the Gnarly Bandit runners passed me near the lake. I think she passed me in every race I ran this year. The latter third of the section was pretty uphill, and the 7.5 miles were adding up. An unshaven hiker sat next to a tree, red Leki poles leaned against it, eating what appeared to be banana chips. I got into the aid station in good shape, choosing not to change shoes and socks until I hit the following aid station because that one had the last cutoff and I wanted to make sure I had the time to spare. I ate Pringles, which were tasty. I put on lights and took off with my trekking poles.

SECTION 10 (4.3): This was rocky, as expected. I was really, really happy to have the trekking poles. They are a new addition to my equipment options, an early birthday gift from my in-laws, and they were much appreciated. The views were as beautiful this time as they were the first. I plugged along pretty well, peeing quite a bit, but everything was clear and there were no signs of blood, so I didn't worry about the frequency. I plugged along, turning on the lights about halfway through. I got to the aid station with 40 minutes to spare before the 8pm cutoff, so I changed shoes, socks and the moleskin pads on the balls of my feet. The next section was only 2.5 miles, so I only took down half a Vitargo. The gels were getting really hard to gut down, especially since my hands were now occupied by poles and I couldn't put a gel in my glove to soften it as is my wont. This did not bode well for the future.

SECTION 11 (2.5): I expected this to be more difficult than it was. I remembered this being quite technical, with rocks and roots aplenty. There was a haunted house/Halloween activity going on somewhere nearby, and I could hear kids screaming and spooky sounds the entire way. I also heard the alarm horn go off on a car that sounded like mine, and I began to get a dose of my distaste for running through the woods alone at night. I got through quickly enough, drank the other half of the Vitargo, re-lubed some stuff, and took off.

SECTION 12 (4.5): I knew this section was going to be slick, and it was. However, I forgot just how technical it was, in addition to the muddy spots. This is the section where the trail kicked me in the teeth for two straight hours; this is where I got really low. I stumbled a lot, and the poles saved me from bad falls on countless occasions. One time, I tripped on a rock going down a muddy hill, did a pirouette, launched myself against a chain link fence and held on for a second, only to release the fence and find myself falling again. I eventually stabbed the poles into the mud and steadied myself, and that was when I became aware that I was getting a little loose in the head. My knees were really starting to scream, especially going downhill. I was starting to see flashes of things that weren't there. I got really dark. Much of this area ran next to a highway, something I failed to notice on the way out, so I kept wondering if I had missed a turn. The trail was pretty sparsely marked, which I let frustrate me. I knew a few landmarks, and I wasn't coming to them. I was hurting. Eventually I crossed back under the highway bridge, and that was an eerie place to be. I didn't like being there alone. I crossed over the highway, through the parking lot and past the motel, whose sign gave the scene a very horror-filmy feel to it. I began running trail through the city, and I liked that very little. I didn't want to meet anyone who might be on the trail. 

By the time I got to the guard rail crossing and associated aid station, I was ready to be done. I hated it right then. I was tired of being there, of moving my body forward, of trying. I knew I wouldn't make the official cutoff time of 18 hours, and that was deflating. I was weak and dizzy and in significant pain. I had loosened my shoes twice already to account for swelling in my feet. I began to think about how long I had been out there and how much longer I would have to remain out there. I thought about the 5.7 miles of trail that was in the next section, and then about the 3.1 after that. I felt bad for making the volunteers stay. I was a trail zombie.

And this is where my wife does her finest work. I am a difficult, incorrigible person, and she knows exactly how to handle that in a way that puts me back on the trail, moving myself forward. She took a few pictures of me crossing the highway. I couldn't bear to look at the camera. She didn't ask me how I was doing because she knew how I was doing and she didn't need to hear the answer and she didn't want to give me an opportunity to put the words out of my mouth. Instead, she asked me one, simple question, "What do you need?" I said, "Vitargo." She gave it to me and I drank it. I asked if they were going to let me go and she said yes. She took a photo of me drinking Vitargo, and I asked her to stop taking photos of me now and said she could take more at the next stop. And on I went, thanking the volunteers. Those people make this stuff possible, and that means the world to me.

SECTION 13 (5.7): The Vitargo set in quickly enough, which was nice, because a little energy was a nice balance to the increasing hallucinations. I don't really remember very much. I kept a decent pace up, trying to run as much as I could, but usually getting a few hundred feet in before I tripped and slowed down to the shuffle that came to define my last 20 miles of this race. I slogged on. I saw the Enger Tower and the bridge at Canal Park. I could see where I was going, and I think that made it harder. But on I went, and I made it to the last aid station at midnight, which was the official cutoff. They were more than happy to let me continue, and I found out there were runners behind me. I wasn't holding up the show, which was good info.

My wife had procured some veggie broth in a coffee mug, and it was incredible. I thought of trying to take it with me. I understand that races aren't obligated to cater to vegetarians, but that was awesome enough to keep on hand in the future of our own volition. So good.

On my way out, a younger male volunteer steered me in the correct direction. I thanked him profusely for being there, telling him that this meant the world to me, and he sent me on my way.

SECTION 14 (3.1): This was the Victory Lap. When heading out on the last section of a race like this, the party starts. I'm always a little extra careful to not get hurt, but it's hard not to start the celebration. I motored along, pulling over to pee for what seemed like the 1,000th time. Except I didn't pull over. I caught myself about halfway through just standing there in the middle of the trail, peeing directly onto the trail. I caught myself and went where I was supposed to, then going back and kicking around and putting some leaves over the top, but I knew I was cooked in the head. I started seeing little Jack Skellington heads popping up along the sides of the trail as I ran. I saw a tiny T-Rex that was just a weed. I saw human silhouettes in the distance. I kind of lost my shit, and then I came upon a runner and his pacer. The runner was visibly hurting, but was in tremendous spirits, and the pacer was excellent. They were telling stories and laughing and having fun. The pacer talked to me about passing so his runner would recognize that I was there. I got to the top of the hill slightly before they did and rang the Peace Bell once, quietly, and moved on. They got up there and rang it four or five times and hooted and hollered and had a blast. Someday I want that to be what it's like with my pacer(s): just buddies having a blast on the trail. (Also, I need pacers. Please consider being my pacer.)

I came across a local, probably just a guy walking home from the bar on a Saturday night. He scared me. I think I scared him. I passed a tent pitched in the woods, not far from the highway. I could hear bottles clanking inside. I moved by as quickly as I could. I heard some heated conversation in a parking lot. I hustled. I crossed 35N on the bridge and down the ramp at a good clip. When I got to the bottom, I started hiking on the paved path. I looked at my watch and figured I had 8 minutes to come in under 19 hours. I ran with what I had. I hurt. I made the turn down the final straightaway. It was nearly 1am, and there were two people at the finish line: my wife and the Race Director. It was a beautiful moment for me. 

I was thoroughly beaten down. I didn't have many more steps in me. I have my work cut out for me at next year's Black Hills 100 (mile). In that moment, however, when I was pushing myself to finish under some silly number just for the sake of finishing in an arbitrary time while my wife and a one stranger cheer me on, in that moment it all makes sense. I am running these races because I can now and I won't be able to forever. There will come a time when this will no longer be an option. I used to be scared to hell of my transience, and I used to let that fear of dying keep me from taking risks. I let that fear of living and dying drive me to drink as much as I could as often as I could. And then five years prior to the day that I finished my first 100k, I had my last drink. I chose to live, and to live in celebration of my impermanence. I am not going to be here for very long, and not long after I am gone I will be forgotten. I don't believe in an afterlife, at least in the Judeo-Christian sense in which I was raised; I do not believe that my consciousness will continue to exist after my body dies. Hooray! I am free to live without the pressure of all eternity, and I have chosen to find that liberating rather than oppressive.

There are so many people to thank. 

My wife, first and foremost, who is nothing short of the finest crew chief on the course. Your support through this arduous and often expensive hobby is incredible and appreciated. I cannot imagine doing this without you. Thank you.

To the volunteers: you deserve the credit here. These races do not happen without you, plain and simple. I appreciate what you do for us. Thank you.

To my friends and family: thank you for supporting me and asking me about what I'm doing. During this race, I stopped and thought of every text and well-wish I got prior to the race, and that was a wonderful series of thoughts. Thank you.

To the wonderful people of HUGE Theater and the Brave New Workshop Student Union. You have shown me on a frequent basis how to be positive and how to be kind. I'm still a work in progress, but I am learning. I don't think I would be finishing these races if you hadn't taught me how to find ways to say yes, how to find ways to channel positivity. I don't think I would have learned how to enjoy myself. I didn't start finishing races until I let go of the idea of complete control, but when I did I started laughing and playing and getting to the end. I am a little behind right now with the improv and the day-to-day laughing, but I am heading in the right direction, and that is a credit to the improv community in the Twin Cities right now. I have such great teachers and examples of how to live well, and you have helped me in so many ways that have nothing to do with being on stage. Thank you.

And thank you to the trail running community. What wonderful people I have met in my three years on the trails. You have been kind to me, and as a result I have tried to return that kindness. You have helped me to the ends of races. You have taught me a great deal about the value of companionship. I look forward to continuing to meet you guys. Thank you.