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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Winter Ultras - Part 2 - Frozen Otter

Amanda and I near the start

On January 17, 2015, I set out with a few of my fellow Flatlanders to tackle the Frozen Otter Trek, a 64 mile race in the northern Kettle Moraine State Park in Wisconsin.  The race is historically a tough race, with a 25% completion rate.  The race has a set of required gear that must be carried.  There is very minimal support.  Water, Coffee, Hot Cocoa and Ramen every 8 or so miles.  We were also given one hot sausage.  the required gear added a significant burden.  The forecast called for favorable conditions so I brought the absolute minimum.

The race consists of two out and back treks from a lodge in the park.  One is 46ish miles, while the other is 18ish.  To be an official finisher you need to make it to one of the posts and back to the shelter.  The finishers are then ranked by distance covered.  

To be one of the "Frozen Few" you have to make it through the entire course in less than 24 hours. 

The race takes place on mostly single track moderately hilly trails.  My watch got about 5,000 feet of climb in the first 40 miles.  I would guess the total was not more than 7,500 feet.  

Lucky for us, the temperature was very warm for that time of year.  I don't think it got below 20 and I think for quite a bit of the time it was around 30.  Cold wasn't a factor.  I didn't have to use any of my required gear.  The conditions were ideal.

Striking a pose with Mike Mike

That being said, this was no cakewalk.  25 degrees isn't 70.  Moreover, I've never done a 100K.  It's a strange distance.  In this instance having little aid was really challenging.  I found myself craving hot food and desperately craving coke.  I never realized how important it is on long runs/races!  I bonked a bunch.

I started with my friend Amanda Runion.  Our plan was to run the entire race together.  the other two friends we ran with, Mike Mike and chuck Schultz set off on their own.  We did see each other several times throughout the race.  With 9 miles to go Amanda, Chuck and I set out to finish together.

Amanda got cold because Chuck and I were moving so slow.  I mean molasses slow.  I mean like 45 minute mile slow.  Chuck and I have been in several bonk-bunkers before so we made the best of it....hallucinating the final mile with false identifications of the finish, followed by "that's not real" in unison.

In the end Chuck and I finished in 22:14.  I joined the frozen few and my name will be permanently added to the Frozen Few plaque.  Amanda was about a half hour in front of us and Mike was about a half hour behind us.  We all had a blast.  I would do this event again, but I did miss my sled.  I think I would prefer a sled pull event if given a choice.  If I do it again I'll bring a few cokes for sure!

Gear: I nailed the gear on this one.  I wore my Hoka Stinson Trails and did not change shoes at all.  Injinji mid calf hiking socks, shorts (yep, no pants at all), Act'eryx Stryka Hooded Base Layer and Arc'Teryx Gamma Men's Hoodie  Arc'teryx Phase II Liner Gloves, Flatlander Buff.  Black Diamond Headlamp.

Finishers Dog Tags and Buff


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Winter Ultras - Trying Something New

Winter Ultras

Part I - Tuscobia 150

     I decided to kick off 2015 with something new and interesting - Winter Ultras.  I signed up for the Tuscobia 150 Mile race and the Frozen Otter 64 mile trek.  These are two very different races that both had a common element of racing through colder temps in a relatively self-supported manner.  the result was many lessons learned, some success and some failure.

     Tuscobia 150 is part of the Tuscobia Winter Ultras which start in Park Falls, WI.  They are directed by Chris and Helen Scotch.  The races involves foot, ski and bike divisions along the Tuscobia Snowmobile Trail which runs from Park Falls to Rice Lake, WI.  There are three distances, 150 miles, 75 miles and 35 miles.  I chose the 150 because I thought "75 wasn't far enough."

     Tuscobia requires that you carry mandatory gear, including, but not limited to a sleeping bag, bivy sack, stove and fuel, pot, fire starters and a host of other safety items.  Most people carry these items on their sled.  As such, I needed to get a sled for the race.  I chose the Arrowhead Racing Toboggan by Black River Sleds:

     I'll list the specific items I bought on the required gear list before just for reference.  I went cheap on the sleeping bag, spending less than $100.00 for an item that could have cost up to $1,0000.00.  I also decided against taking the plunge and buying a similarly priced jacket for 'when things go wrong.'  Next time I'll probably take the plunge and add these two items to my gear.

     Sadly, we did not get any snow for me to practice with my sled.  As such, I went into the race having never pulled a sled.  I would have really liked to have had more practice.

     The pre-race meeting took place outside, on bales of hay in the cold.  The RD's checked my sled to make sure I had all of the required gear, gave us a short speech and sent us off to bed.  The race started at 6:00 a.m. in Park Falls.  It was about 10 degrees and snowing pretty heavily.  The scene was beautiful.  Imagine a wide path with pine trees thickly coated in snow.  I immediately felt extremely sharp pains in my calfs from running with a sled for the first time.  I thought I was in serious trouble.  I pushed on for an hour and then made my first stop for food and water.  I accidentally spilled water in my sled, which required me to take several items out and shake off.  I was frustrated and a little worried about the fact that this much was going wrong so early.

     Well, the great thing about a 150 mile race with only two (2) aid stations (basically to be used every 50k or so on the out and back course) is that you have a lot of time to work things out and settle in.  That's exactly what happened.  My calf stopped hurting.  My gear got organized.  And I got in the zone.  this is not to say that I didn't have more aches, pains and complications.  My back began to hurt quite a bit from pulling a 50+ pound sled for the first time.  I also had some really sharp foot and knee pains that mysteriously came and went.  I was able to ignore all of this and continue moving forward.  The lesson I learned was that these things were all temporary, and that if I continued on they would fade away.  With the exception of the back pain, they all did.  My goal was to get to each 50K checkpoint in under 12 hours.  I reached the first checkpoint in around 9.5 hours, which made me happy.  I put some hot foot in my body and got back on the trail.

     The second leg is where shit got real.  Very real.  within the first ten miles after the checkpoint I ran into another runner, Mitchell Rossman, who lured me to the town of Raddison with the promise of red hot cheeseburgers (you aren't allowed crew or pacers but if you happen upon an open local establishment you are free to enter and do whatever you want).  I was easily convinced.  The only problem was, it was closed.  Not so with the bar next door, which was having $1 cheeseburger night.  Inside I found my closest friend in the race, Aaron Ehlers eating a pizza and calling it a day (he was beat up from the North Face 50 a week earlier).  I ate a few cheeseburgers and talked Aaron back into the race.  He is an experienced winter camper, a great runner and a fun guy.  Something told me I would need him.  And I did.

     The temperature dropped at night into the negative double digits.  so i found myself on the trail, wearing everything I could and unable to get warm.  It was -10.  I had 22 miles to go to the next checkpoint.  at 3 miles an hour that another 7ish hours in negative temps (which got into the -16's at a few points).  I got scared.  Really scared.  Aaron was talking about just saying screw it and jumping in the sleeping bag.  I was facing the prospect of either joining him (which scared the shit out of me) or running on alone in those conditions.  Neither sounded good.  So I did something I'm not very proud of....I begged him to keep running with me.

     Thankfully it worked.  We froze our asses off and made it to the next checkpoint (Birchwood) at 3:30 a,.m.  I was still 2.5 hours ahead of schedule, so I decided to take a two and a half hour nap before heading back out.  I woke up at 6:00 a.m. and it was still -15.  The idea of moving slowly at that temp after sleeping (i.e. slowly) was not in the slightest bit attractive.  My back hurt.  My feet hurt.  I wimped out.  After snoozing a few more times and waking up to the same kind of temperatures I pulled the plug.  I was glad for the experience of making it to 100K+ in those conditions.  I learned a lot.  I decided that I needed a little more experience before I could tackle what I was facing that morning.  Another failure.  Another lesson learned.

     Sue Lucas ended up winning in around 48 hours.  So impressive.  of the 18 starters 6 finished.  Next year I plan to be among them.


Arrowhead Racing Tobbagan - Black River Sleds
Sierra Designs P.A.W. Bivy
Thermarest Z Lite Sleeping Pad
Slumberjack Lattitude -20 Sleeping Bag
Esbit CS585HA 3-Piece Lightweight Camping Cook Set for Use with Solid Fuel Tablets
GSI Outdoors Halulite 1.1-Liter Boiler
Arc'Teryx Atom LT Hoody
Arc'Teryx Gamma Hybrid Men's Hoody SL
Arc'Teryx Phase Liner Gloves
Arc'Teryx Venta LT Gloves
Arc'Teryx Stryka Men's Hoody
Arc'Teryx RHO AR Balaclava
Arc'Teryx Thorium AR Jacket

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Belly Flops

"A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. 
The real mistake is to stop trying."
B.F. Skinner

Zoe Summits Hope Pass

     I'm dubbing 2014 the "Year of the Belly Flop" for me.  Not only was 2014 filled with injuries, I DNF'ed every distance except the 50K.  (Potawatomi 150, Bear/Sawtooth 100, San Juan Solstice 50 mile and Las Vegas Marathon (though this is a long story).  I did more crying and quitting than usual. Poor Dovi had his mileage cut by almost 1/2 (from 1250 in 2013 to around 800 in 2014).  I also parted ways with several good friends and my former running group New Leaf.  

How bad did I want to quit?

     I didn't re-qualify for Hardrock.  I didn't finish a 100 mile race.  My pants grew tighter.  My hip hurt.  I became more bald and more grey.  2014 didn't turn out the way I wanted it to.

     That being said, it wasn't a total loss.  My friends often prevailed where I didn't:

     We also set up a small running group called Flatlanders.  It's growth hasn't shocked me.  It was built on a few very simple principles.  No money, no bitching, keep running and help one another.  I'm proud to be part of that group.

Trail Work

Lakefront 50/50 Aid Station

     OK, I know, I did some stuff too.  I ran the Comrades, Sean O Brien 50, 100 at Potawatomi, a PR marathon, the Gnome 50K, to name a few.  I climbed some mountains

Mt. Elbert

I made some new friends.  I volunteered.  I paced.  I crewed.  We laughed and cried.  We ran from Milwaukee to Chicago.  We put on some great fatasses (re-taste, krispy kreme, salichia) and we helped a few people reach their goals.  

Vicki - first 50 mile!

     Also, Dovi completed his first Ultra at McNotAgain 30.  He even beat me (by a nose).

     I'm convinced that you learn a hell of a lot more from failure than success.  I learned how to be OK with being injured.  I made some good decisions.  I learned how to cheer for the success of others while experiencing failure.  In short, I learned to make the best of it.

     2015 will be very different.  

     My main running and training partner Alfredo has been diagnosed with ALS.  This year I will think about him often.  My wife has laminated pictures of him to take with me on all of my races so we can continue to run together.  I will remember that he is suffering more than I.  and that my suffering has been self-inflicted by choice, for sport.  I won't take another run for granted.  When times are tough I will draw on him for strength.  

     Don't get me wrong.  I know for CERTAIN that there will be more belly flops.  I don't think Alfredo would have it any other way.  With that being said, I am off to tackle the next thing....Tuscobia 150.  This will be a long run n the snow carrying my gear on a sled (named Alfredo) which I drag.  I have no idea what I'm doing.  Things are about to get interesting.

    Please keep Alfredo and his family in your thoughts and prayers and have a great holiday!!!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

World's Longest Turkey Trot II - a/k/a the "Bonkfest"

It was 3 a.m. and after 3 hours of no food or water, running into a headwind at about 25 degrees.  Katerina Claiborne, Tony Cesario and I found ourselves eating on the floor of the first gas station we passed in what seemed like an eternity.  Katerina was shoveling munchos into her mouth like her life depended on it. I reasoned with them: "Listen, I'll support you guys in whatever you decide, but I've done this before, I'm bonked and miserable and we were re-routed so we can't really do what we set out to do.  A bed sounds real good.  It's getting colder, we're moving slower, we're all dehydrated and this isn't any fun.  We have about 15 hours to go.  Then again, it'd be nice to finish.  You decide."  I tried to lay out our options as diplomatically as I could.  I would have bet you every dollar to my name that we were done for the night.  I was done.

The second annual World's Longest Turkey Trot took a reverse route this year - Milwaukee to Chicago.  The distance was approximately 95 miles.  Three basically insane people decided to take part this year (up a full person from last year).  The event was self-supported.  (Last year we had a dedicated crew person for the last 60 miles - this year we weren't so lucky).  We ran mostly on roads, jumping from inattentive cars to the shoulder of country roads.  We almost got hit by a car on a bridge (this was before the whole "please run me over" sentiment kicked in so it left us breathless).   At one point the police instructed us to get into the car and bypass a section of the route due to two (2) shootings taking place along the route while we were running.   

We did have some pacers in the night (Susan and Brian Smock) who entertained us with their stories and shenanigans...

but for the most part, it was a cold suffer-fest on rock hard concrete.  Leading up to the bottom at the gas station I would say we had fun about 20% of the time, and suffered for 30% of the time. Oh, the other 50% of the time (13 hours total over the event) was spent in restaurants eating, with wet clothes hanging everywhere and electronics charging wherever we could find space.

No.  We're finishing.  Katerina said.  It broke my heart.  I was so ready for bed.  But she had a point.  You see, we aren't particularly fast (most of the time) but we have a reputation for doing really hard things, and often times finishing them.  The Turkey Trot isn't about the running.  No one really cares how long it takes.  There's no medal or buckle at the end.  The only reward you get (other than the bizarre look on people's faces when you explain what you are doing) takes place when you look back and say "Did that really happen?"  

Once we had no choice but to finish we made the best of it.  We even had a few more pacers along the way (Jen DeSalvo and Julie Bane).

In all, we finished in 34 hours.  We ran roughly 85 miles.  We ate three breakfasts, a pizza, a fancy burger, some amazing soup and almost 30 peanut butter cups.  We mostly carried all of our own gear.

My Strava data, with many, many fails, can be found here:

Now that I've done this trot in both directions I'm prepared to crew it next year.  So watch my FB/Twitter if you are interested.  Trust me, it is MUCH easier when crewed.

Things I learned: concrete sucks.  Hydration is trickier in the cold.  Aid stations and crews are worth their weight in gold.  I have the best friends in the world.

There is something uniquely difficult about goals without rewards.  They really make you dig deep.  Without the possibility of an award, a PR or a crowd at the finish you find yourself with only one reason to continue.  Because you said it out loud.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Making the Best of It

"You know what Scott, I think you could bounce back from this on the next section" said the great Errol "Rocket" Jones at the mile 29 aid station of the Bear 100.  I had already dropped from the race and told my friend Amanda to go one without me.  I wasn't in any real pain, but I knew it wasn't my day.  I had been getting over a tendonosis in my hip for several months.  I had run 20 miles once in three months.  My mileage was down, my weight was up and my fitness was at a low I hadn't experienced in a while.

Don't get me wrong.  I was having fun.  The Bear 100 starts in Logan Utah and almost immediately climbs to somewhere near Jupiter.

It's a Hardrock 100 qualifier.  It's a graduate level course.  For someone like me (i.e. a painstakingly mediocre flatlander who spends little time climbing, descending, or at altitude) just finishing this course while actually in shape would be tough.  The Bear is, well, a bear.

As I have indicated in the past, it is really hard to deal with limitations.  This is especially so in a sport where pain is sometimes to be ignored.  In my case, I knew I was going to have to deal with the fact that I would not complete a Western States Qualifier and I would, again, be resigned to cheering for others.

"It's a very gentle downhill, the perfect stretch to see if you can bounce back.  I only turned back because I puked."  The Rocket is from Chicago so I have always been fond of his writing.  He's a legend.  He is a co-RD of the race and has done it 16 times.  If anyone knows, it's him.  I took his advice, saddled up, let the HAM radio guys know I was "un-dropping" and got back into the race with a new vigor.

Oh, one more thing about the Rocket.  He's a total fucking liar.  No gentle downhill.  No easy trail.  Just up up up in the blazing sun.  The only part of that section that I enjoyed was seeing his puke spot on the side of the road and thinking "serves you right."  :)

So I trudged onward.  Reluctantly.  To mile 36.

At that point I knew I was only kidding myself.  But something dawned on me.  It was beautiful.  I wasn't in severe pain.  And you know what?  there really wasn't anyplace in the world I would have rather been.  So I made the best of it.

At mile 36 I considered dropping, but then decided to run until the sun set.  So I took off.   About a mile down the trail I stopped.  I wondered what the hell I was doing.  I was kidding myself.  So I turned back to the aid station to drop.  Halfway back I stopped and started criticizing my decision.  this continued for about a half hour, until I started criticizing myself about spending so much time criticizing myself.  Eventually I decided to just call it quits.  I headed back to 36 and dropped.  Again.

It's really hard to make these decisions.  It's even harder when you're injured.  As I packed my bag in shame my friend Amanda came rocketing into the aid station in tears.  She missed the turn, ran six extra miles, and was now in danger of missing the cutoff.  I asked her if she needed me to jog a bit with her and she said yes.  So I un-dropped.  Again.  As a consequence three things happened: 1) I got to give her a little more support in hopes of her making it to the finish; 2) I got to run until the sun set;

and 3) I found an injured Haley Pollack and got to keep her company while she limped in to 45 in the dark.

Two of the Flatlanders finished this amazing race.  I was glad I could be there to support them both.  I'll be back for more next year.  Hopefully making the best of it again.

Monday, September 8, 2014

What kind of ultra runner do I want to be?

I handed my timing chip to the AS captain at mile 20 with a smile on my face.  I knew finishing would be impossible and continuing to 50 would be improbable.  I looked out on the scenic Superior (Sawtooth) Trail 100 course and wondered: what's happened to me?

I started the year by running the Frozen Gnome 50K and Sean O' Brien 50 milers as training runs for POT150 (which I DNF'ed at mile 100).  I PR'ed in the marathon, and then things went downhill.

Headed up Hope Pass at LT100
It has been a very tough summer.  I've been recovering from an injury which has derailed many of my running plans.  I felt a bit of back pain after Comrades.  I think that I altered my gait to compensate for it and I ran.  I ran too much while injured.  As a consequence, I caused another injury.

After seeing a few doctors, including a sports ortho I have figured out that I have tendonosis in my gluteus minimus and medius muscles.  It sucks.

I had planned to do three 100 milers this summer/fall - AC100, Superior Trail 100 and Bear 100.  I was forced to DNS AC100 (which is one of my dream races) and scale back my plans for Superior to trying to get to the halfway point.  Basically, when I get to about 15 or so miles it starts to hurt.  Bad. To make matters worse, I haven't been able to train as much, and of course I still been eating as much, so I have gained weight.  It's a spiral.

Starting the Leadville International Beer Mile

I was lucky to have attended Leadville Trail 100, crew Andy Kumeda to a finish and summit a couple of peaks.  I didn't meet my Superior goal.  I dropped at 20 miles and crewed my friends Tony Cesario and Mike Wolkowicz to their first finish.  While doing so I had a little time on my hands to reflect, plan and philosophize.

I decided that I need to start acting like the kind of ultra runner I want to be.  The problem is figuring out what that is.  I know there's a few kinds of runners I won't ever be.  The elite runner, the competitive runner and, let's face it, the fast runner.

At the Mt. Elbert Summit

I know there are a few runners I don't want to be: the selfish runner, the whining runner, the runner that can't handle hard races or the runner that makes excuses for themself.

I already have the cheeseburger runner down and the overweight runner down.  In fact, I might be the patron saint of both types of runners.  I know I am also the guy that helps everyone else.  I love being that guy and being known for being that guy.  But somehow it isn't enough.

Dovi and Me at the Krispy Kreme Challenege

After the frozen gnome a group of us went out for dinner.  I recall hearing my friend Blair Piotrowski whisper something to his son at the table.  It was something like: "See that guy over there....he might not look like much, but he can do really hard things."  I think that's EXACTLY the runner I want to be again.  To do that I have to get healthy and go back on my eating plan.  It's going to suck and take some time.  It might mean forgetting about some near term goals and looking to some long term ones.  I have to do PT.  I might end up stretching or having a foam roller applied to me.  Things may change.  I may change.

One thing's for sure.  I'm not going to let it get me down and I'm not going to give up.  This is all just part of the process.

Next up: Bear 100.  9/27/14.  My plan: run until someone tells me I can no longer proceed.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Re-Taste of Chicago II - 2014

The Starters

On July 27, 2014, I put on the second annual Re-Taste of Chicago fatass (ultra)marathon.  The event was inspired last year by Jimmy Dean Freeman's 5000 calorie LA Marathon Route Run.  The event basically follows the route of the Chicago Marathon (OK, it's closer to 30 miles - sue me), but throws in 9 REQUIRED eating stops.  Here is a video from last year:

Billy Goat - Eat an entire Cheezeborger!

Stop Two - Chicago Style Dog or Cheese Fries

The rules are simple: run the entire route, eat all of the food, do not throw up.  You puke, you DNF.  You fail to eat the food, DNF.  Last year 12 started and 4 finished.
Stop 3 - Ann Sather - Eat a Cinnamon Bun

This year every single person finished and ate everything, inlcuding the fact that I threw in two undisclosed stops: a half of an italian beef sandwich and (at mile 29) a cup of (bad) Chili with cheese and raw onions, and a (PBR) beer.  I should mention it was 90 degrees all day!

Stop 4 - Lou Malnatti's - Eat a Piece of Chicago Style Pizza (thick crust)

Stop 5 - Greektown - Baklava!!
Stop 6 - Mario's Italian Ice (Mario is second from the left)

Bonus half on Italian beer sandwich with your Italian ice
Stop 7 - Commales Tacos - Eat a chicken taco

Stop 8 - Egg Roll - ENORMOUS

Stop 9 - Spicy Fried Chicken!!

Undisclosed Chili and Beer Stop - Mile 29

A piece of Cake must be eaten to be an official finisher
Winner - Aaron Braunstein!!
With everyone finishing I guess next year I will have to raise my game!!!  Special thanks to the volunteers, without which this wouldn't have happened: Kylia Kummer, Eric Skocaj, Siamak Moustoufi, Vicki Brassil, Amanda Runnion, Whitney Richman and Jen DeSalvo!!