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Friday, January 13, 2017

My Tuscobia 160 Mile Race

Finish Photo - Credit Mary Ehlers

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. From the first time I heard about the Tuscobia Winter Ultras  I knew I had to do it.  I tried and failed, twice.  This year I got it done.

Tuscobia offers a 80 and 160 mile run/bike/ski event in Rice Lake/Park Falls Wisconsin.  The 80 mile runs from Park Falls to Rice Lake.  The 160 is an out and back from Rice Lake to Park Falls, and back.  There are certain gear requirements that result in a "pulk" (sled) being the most effective means to carry your gear.  There is a shelter/aid station at mile 45.  There is another at the turnaround at mile 80 - 35 miles later.  The final shelter is back in the middle 35 miles later, after which it is 45 miles to the end.  You are allowed two drop bags.  One you see twice.  You have 65 hours to complete the race.  In 2016 4 people finished the 160.  This year 14 (out of 30).

Me and my pulk from Arrowhead 135 2016
Both times that I quit I quit for no good reason.  I took very long breaks at the halfway point with a plan of evaluating where I was at when I woke up.  This year I planned to finish.  I also trained to finish, averaging 80 mile running weeks in the forth months leading up to the race.  I also got serious about my diet by eliminating refined sugar and grains in September which resulted in 40 pound weight loss.  I was physically and mentally in the best possible place.  I strongly believed I could finish.

I drove up and stayed the night before the race with a close running friend, Tim Kruse.  Tim is a Frozen Otter finisher, Gnarly Bandit finisher and really, a tough and smart guy.  We had been talking about gear and logistics since fall.  He was ready too.  It was a great ride and really fun to discuss the race.  We planed to start together and hoped to stay together on the course, though we realized that sweat, speed, injury, sleep, etc. could effect things.

Tim at the Ojibwa checkpoint
This race requires you to bring your sled inside the start and the RD's make sure you have each item of required gear, which includes: A zero degree or better sleeping bag; bivy sack, sleeping pad, stove, pot, firestarter, headlamp, 3 flashing red LED lights, a headlamp and 3,000 calories of food.  All of these items must be on your sled the entire race.  If you don't still have them at the finish you aren't going to count.  At the end of the blog I will list the specific items I took with pics.

I expected the race to start in the low negative single digits, get into the double negative digits on Friday night, and generally warm up over the weekend.  So of course at the start is was between -15 and -20 degrees.   We had no idea.  I instantly had a major ice beard.  And we were off. 

Tim and I at Birchwood, mile 20ish

The first half of the race really couldn't have gone smoother.  We locked into a nice 3 mph pace, stayed warm, minimized breaks and really had a nice time.  At mile 45 my friend Chalayne applied some frost strips to protect my cheeks.  It was a cold, double digit negative night.  Tim and I passed a bar right around bar time and decided to capitalize on some red bull and coke. The bartender was surprised we were out in -19.  we were surprised it was -19 ourselves.

What?  It's -19?

When things got rough Tim and I decided to just put our emergency jackets on and walk 2 mph.  That worked really well.  It was much better than stopping.  It really warmed us up and gave us confidence.  We knew that no matter what happened, we had that option.  It was a comfort.

We reached the turnaround at Park Falls at about 11:45. (so 29:45 for 80 miles).  We decided we were leaving at 2:00 p.m.  Tim and I took about an hour nap, then screwed around with gear, changed socks and clothes, applied necessary lubricants, and the like.

Sleeping at mile 80

One observation.  My body hurt exactly the same way it did the last two years.  My feet were hurting and blistered.  I was cold a tired.  This year dropping wasn't a consideration.  We left at 2:15.

The third section is really where shit got real.  The cold, plus sleepy, plus fatigue compounded and slowed us down a bit.  (We later learned that it was the coldest Tuscobia on record with temps mostly in the area of -teens.  At one point Tim decided to just sleep on his sled in the middle of the trail.  As I stood beside him sleeping on his sled snoring in -15 temps I wondered what I was supposed to do.  Leave?  Listen?  I decided it wasn't safe or a good idea, so I woke him up after 15 minutes and told him if he got to the next shelter which was 4 miles away by doing 3 mph again, we could take a 2 hour nap.  I was wrong.  The shelter was 12 miles away (so I was off by 3.5 hours?  Shoot me!).  Tim didn't seem to mind.  We got there at 4:00 am and had a plan to leave again at 6 am.

In the morning I told Tim my plan.  I was going to move at 3 mph and start running the downhills.  If he couldn't keep up I would meet him at the finish.  I didn't want to cut it close and after two failed attempts and a finish in my sight I wasn't taking any chances.

As the sun rose I jogged down the trail to some hip hop ("My Dick" was the name of the song) and really started to make time.  I thought about the past year and all I had been through.  I thought about how some people had given up on me, or I had given up on myself.  I realized that today was the day that I could start turning all of that around.  I realized that I was going to finish.  I did a bathroom stop, re-arranged my sled, changed some layers and did the math.  All I needed to do was 34 minute miles to finish.  I hit the trail and cried tears of joy that I was going to make it.  Then cried a little extra when I realized that I was celebrating something not likely to happen for another 12 hours. :)

The balance of the day I listened to hip hop, Bob Dylan's theme time radio hour, the Packer game, and then for the last couple of hours my thoughts.  I believed that today I proved to myself that I can do anything.  I was proud of myself.  I crossed the finish line 63:21:00 and felt like I had finally realized the person that I can be.  I hope that same person shows up for the Arrowhead 135 at the end of the month.  

Tim finished an hour or so behind me.  Seriously, if it weren't for that guy I don't know if I would have finished.  


Arrowhead Racing Toboggan - Black River Sleds

Mountain Hardware Ghost -40 Bag

Sierra Designs Backcountry Bivy
Thermarest Ultralight Pad
Black diamond distance Z Poles

A shitload of Buffs

Arcteryx Rho Balaclava and Mountain Hardware Balaclava

Shitload of Hats

Special organizer for food built by Kylia Kummer

Mountain Hardware Absolute Zero Mitts

Arcteryx Fission Jacket

Lots of blinkers

Totally useless watches that froze and died.

Safety vest

Compression sack for all the extra jackets and such

injinji thigh-high socks and drymax socks.  Drymax won.

Wool Mitten (not used), Arcteryx windstopper gloves (not used), mountain hardware powerstretch gloves (wore 100% of the time

Arcteryx Phase Glove Liner (wore 100% of the time) Patagonia over-mitt (used about 20%)

The world's oldest and nastiest jar of emergency peanut butter.


Non-NSNG Food sources :)

Goggles (not used)

Esbit Stove and Fuel

Arcteryx Fortrez Hoody - Heavily used
Arcteryx Atom Pants - used 100% with North Face thermal compression underwear and tights.
Hoka One One - Tor Ultra Boot - wore 100%
Arcteryx Styka Hoodie - Used 100%.  changed mid race.

Arcteryx Thorium Jacket - Not used 
Arcteryx Atom Jacket - Not used
Arcteyx Alpha Shell - Used a ton

I also ran with my iphone 5.  I placed a hand warmer in a pices of tissue in a zip lock bag, and then placed that zip lock bag in another ziplock bag with my phone.  I am proud that my phone did not die once during the entire race :)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Trail Running Doesn't Feel the Same - 2016 a Retrospective

I look around sometimes and notice that a lot of the people that used to be a huge part of the trail running community don't come around to the group runs anymore.  In fact, we hardly see any of them anymore.  When i ask I usually hear something like "it just doesn't feel the same anymore" and I wonder what they mean by that.

When I first came to trail running I immediately fell in love with the culture and community.  I was wowed by the fact that people cared more about me reaching my goals than measuring them against their own accomplishments.  People didn't ask my finish times.  At fatass events no one really cared who ran faster or further.  I couldn't believe how quick seasoned veterans were to lend a hand, some advice, crew or pace me, or just ask me to go on a run with them.  They genuinely welcomed me to the community and I felt like that really wanted me to succeed.

In those early days group runs were a place to make new friends, pass along the knowledge we learned and cultivate relationships.  Spending all day on the trial with people and you feel a sense of closeness.  You paced them overnight during their 100 miler.  You crewed them.  You saw them fail. You watched them triumph.

Maybe your life got busier or your priorities changed.  You started just doing group runs just with your close group of friends.  It was easier for this smaller group to just crew and pace each other. You focused on dominating your age group and getting into Western States while taking more intimate trips together.  You didn't have time to slow down and help.  You didn't reach out to the new trail runners.  People just didn't understand that you can't give an entire day to working an aid station.  You did your volunteer hours for the year already....other people can clean up the trails.

And then one day you came around and noticed how things had changed.  All the old people were gone.  It just didn't feel the same.

I think at some point we all come to discover that the trail and ultra "community" gives way more than it takes, but only to those that give back.  Think about it this way....running 100 miles alone with no crew or pacer on inadequate training is hard.  Compare that to having a great crew, inspirational pacer and knowing that you put in all the hard work... it makes it easier.  It also allows others to play a role, learn, build a relationship with you and share in your accomplishment.

Are you leaving the world of trail and ultra running better than it was when you found it?  Do you give more than you take?  Did you pace or crew a stranger this year? Did you extend your hand to a newcomer and make some of those first hard long runs easier for them by giving them company?  Did you work an aid station all day?  Did you help put on a fatass?  Volunteer for a local Race Director? Did you inspire a stranger by believing in them before they could believe in themself?

If you answered no to several of the above it might be time to look in the mirror and admit that it's not trail and ultra running, but you that's changed.  Let's make it a goal in 2017 to give more than we take.

You meet a lot of amazing people out on the trials.  One of them is you!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Running from Chicago to Milwaukee for ALS - Never Again Every YEar

2013 - World's Longest Turkey Trot #1

In 2013 my friend Alfredo Pedro Perro wanted to run one last 100 mile race for the year.  I came up with a much worse idea.  "Let's just get a backpack and credit card and run from Chicago to's about 100 miles."  In doing so I created a monster.  You can read about the first Turkey Trot here:

The following year Alfredo was diagnosed with ALS.  

I found a few friends dumb enough to join me once again. This time we flipped the course and ran from Milwaukee to Chicago instead.

In 2015 Alfredo lost his battle with ALS.  So we did it again.  From Chicago to Milwaukee.  Each year I swore I would never do it again.  It's so cold and miserable.  It's so much concrete.  There are long stretches of nothing in the middle of the night.  Bad neighborhoods.  A lack of reliable plumbing.  Bonks.  I mean, if I was going to be 100% honest with you I would say the first two hours are awesome.  After that.  Well, you know.

So of course this year I returned.  Again.  For the fourth "last time" and joined an even larger group of people with questionable decision-making skills and we ran from Milwaukee to Chicago.  Although this time, there were a few differences.

First.  We had a much larger group (12 people) of really crazy folks.  

Rocketts at Wisconsin/Illinois Border

Second, we had about 20 angels who spent the day bringing us almost every possible type of food or drink you can imagine.

Example of random aid station someone unaffiliated with the race set up in their office along the route.
Aid station, hot home made soup, and hugs from MILF's available.
But most importantly, we decided that if we were going to continue to do something this stupid, we should do it for a cause, so we re-named the event the Alfredo Pedro Perro World's Longest Turkey Trot for ALS.  We set and achieved our goal of raising $5,000 for the Les Turner ALS Foundation (which treated Alfredo for his disease free of charge).   If you want to add to the donation please do so here:

The great thing about this event isn't that we actually made it almost 100 miles:

or that people received a buckle, though both those things are cool.

Commemorative Buckle

The amazing thing is how it brought the community together.  People that loved and cared about Alfredo wanted to run, to cheer, to pace, to support.  They set up aid stations over the 100 mile course randomly.  They showed up on the course and ran.  They hugged us and offered whatever they could give to keep us moving and get us to our destination.  People also sent us inspiring messages on social media.  We ran together.  We waited for each other.  We shivered in cars and slept in gas stations to re-group.  No one wanted to win.  No one worried about losing.  The only time concern was to try to finish before the sun set.  In all, it took us roughly 32 hours.  During that time we ran and sang and goofed around.  We made new friendships. We took over a Starbucks

We ate several sit down meals.  We laughed and cried.  And in the end, we had a journey we will never forget. 

And one that I will never do again.  Until next year.  Again.  

Thursday, November 3, 2016


If you are a Cubs fan or a baseball fan and you woke up this morning wondering if that really happened you aren't alone.  It's hard to comprehend things like this and it takes some time to sink in. I've felt this way a few other times in my life.  (the day after my wedding and the two Packers championships).  Some moments are so big that we can't get our head around them.  We can't fit them into the context of our life.  In many ways, our world shifts because of these moments.  Our life history.  Our story.  We will always remember where we were when they happened and who we were with.  They become a part of us.

If you have no interest in the Cubs or baseball you aren't alone either.  You might be troubled by the state of your neighborhood or Facebook feed.  You might complain about people jumping on the bandwagon.  Maybe you just don't get it.

Here's why I think it's important.  

Since 2007/2008 it feels like we've been in a negative spiral.  Financially, socially, politically.  We've been polarized and hopeless.  We aren't making enough money and too many among us are struggling.  We've forgotten how to "just agree to disagree" and we've been outraged by everything.  We've been offending and shouting at each other.  Complaining.  We think things are headed in the wrong direction.  We look into our children's eyes and hardly believe the lies of hope we are telling them, because for many years hopeful moments have been few and far between.  Most of us go to bed each night wishing we could just get a break.

Last night proved that miracles are possible.  Last night proved that there are signs all around us of what is possible.  It verified that little part of your broken heart that still believed that something good can and will happen to us and to the world.  We can look each other in the eye and honestly say that there is hope.

This doesn't mean you don't have work to do.  There will be a hangover.  This feeling won't be forever.  There will be struggles and setbacks.  People will die, you will argue with friends, you may gain weight, Donald Trump might win.  Reality can and will set in at some point.

For our part, we should try to use this moment as a catalyst of hope to make our lives and the world around us a better place.  Do something good for the world.  Call and old friend or relative.  Dust off those running shoes.  Tell someone you love them, or you're sorry.

We're all hoping for something.  Let's play it forward.  Don't let the miracle go to waste.  Be the hope others seek :)