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Friday, February 3, 2017

Arrowhead 135 Race Report - Fueled by Irrational Fears and Junk Food

Earlier this month i finished the Tuscobia 160 Mile ultra. That report was gear-centric. This week i completed the Arrowhead 135 Mile race in International Falls Minnesota.  This report will focus more on the mental and nutritional aspects of winter races.

Photo credit Scott Rokis


Sidenote: I am attempting a "slam" of three races in one year.  Tuscobia 160, Arrowhead 135 and Actif Epica 120 KM.  If you complete the three in one year you are entered into the "Order of the Hrimthurs"  Only three people have ever done all three on foot in one year.  

Background 

Arrowhead is generally referred to as one of the hardest foot races period.  It starts in the "IceBox of America" International Falls, MN. Like Tuscobia, runners (you can bike or ski as well) are unsupported, no crew or pacers. Runners are allowed 1 drop bag of food.  The only other gear you get to have is on your sled (pulk) which you pull behind you.  My sled weighed about 30 pounds.  i had much of the same things i had from Tuscobia.  There is a store you check into at mile 35. A cabin at 70.  A tent on the side of the trail at 110 and very little other than trees, hills and snow in between.  You are given 60 hours to finish.  Usually less than half of the starters finish.

Photo Credit Thomas Woods


Race Plan

My strategy was to try to get to 35 in 10 hours. Get to 70 in 25 hours. And then take it easy the rest of the way, finishing before the cutoff. I was going to run with my friend Tim again at least until halfway unless one of us was holding the other up.  My "reach" goal was to finish in 55 hours, and not be chasing cutoffs.  Last year I quit around mile 50.  Excuse, sheer gutlessness. 

Nutrition

Although I have been eating NSNG (No sugar no grains) I loaded about 10,000 calories on my sled and drop bag of bad food.  Gells/Waffles, Lara Bars, Reeces Cups, Pringles, Trail Mixes, Mixed Nuts and then, just for fun because they weigh nothing, a large bag of cheetoes (regular, not puffs).  My goals to cram 200-500 calories into my mouth per hour, no matter what.  When I wasn't hungry or it made me sick, I ate it anyway saying, out loud, "It's medicine."

The Race

Tim and I started strong and hammered the first section to Gateway.  We were even under 15 minute miles for some of the time and I was impressed with our progress.  It was in the 10's to start reaching the 20s, so warmish and snowing.  The trail was nice and we ran into many old and new friends.  We got to Gateway around 10 hours and I was thrilled.  We took a rather long stop because I had feet issues to cure and I really wanted to eat some warm food while I could.  I had a hot dog, a sloppy joe, chicken tenders and two cokes.  I also bought another bag of cheetoes (puffs), Twinkies (no idea why) and more cokes and a red bull for the sled.  (This is totally grossing me out as I write it).

Over the next 35 mile section something happened to Tim.  He started slowing.  Then he puked.   Like 500 times in a row.  This was bad.  Without food and water this race is impossible.  Dehydration causes cold.  Lack of food causes the sleepies.  I knew we were in trouble.  After several discussions he told me to leave and that he was going to "bivy" (camp on the side of the trail) and try to "unfuck himself."  I didn't think there was a good chance of that by the looks of him and I was sad.  Tim was in the slam with me.  We were really pushing and I thought a couple times that I was going to be holding him back.  This was a big shock.  I became lonely and all in my own head, which is a bad place to be.  I got out my coke and put it within my gortex jacket to thaw it out.  I also got out a large bag of cheetoes.  New nutrition strategy....every 5 miles, 10% of the coke and 10% of the cheetoes and 8 gulps of water.  Why 8?  Who knows?  Things aren't really making sense.  At this point I could hear packs of wolves howling everywhere.  That's interesting.  Creepy.

Ski Pulk - Photo credit Scott Rokis


Also, Tim was worried about a long lake crossing.  The idea of running on a frozen lake probably doesn't scare many people but for some reason it really scared Tim.  I wasn't thinking about whether it scared me because I was going to enjoy scaring and laughing at him.  Now, alone, on my own, going across the frozen lake without a person in sight, seeing all those tracks, and hearing the cracking noises I got really scared.  I called my wife and just asked her to talk to me.  My god.  I was so scared.  It made no sense in retrospect.  :)

I got to Melgeorges (mile 70ish) at 24 hours (ahead of my plan) and people basically laughed at me for being scared of the lake.  I ate a grilled cheese sandwich and some soup, served by Kari's sweet mom :) and changed my socks.  I refilled my coke, which had become a main source of happiness on the trail, stored in my inner pocket and swigged each 10K while I pounded more cheetoes.  My feet were BAD.  But you know what, I knew that was going to happen when I signed up, so I crammed them in my shoes again and pushed off.

The next section was the scary lonely hilly section.  I didn't see any people the entire time, it was snowing in my face and the hills were crazy, extra crazy with a 30 pound sled on your back.  Then there was the sledding down the hills which I was adamantly opposed to prior to this race.  Now I was sledding everything with reckless abandon.  Taking chances.  At many points completely unaware of my path.  I started to have a little fun in between the hills that I hated.  These hills weren't extreme by any means, but with the sled, over and over.  At some point I just decided that it was never going to end, it was going to be hill after hill and, well, whatever.  I turned into a cheetoe eating coke drinking zombie.

Photo credit - Eric Bloomquist


Those Twinkies came into play around mile 100.  They were slightly frozen.  I haven't had a Twinkie in a very long time.  They were, glorious.

I hit the last checkpoint at Ski Pulk (mile 110) around 11:00.  My plan was to leave by midnight so I would have 19 hours to go 22ish miles.  I would finally feel like the race is in the bag and I will finish.  I took off my wet shoes and tried to dry my socks and nothing was helping.  In fact, my feet felt like frozen blocks of ice and my shoes were freezing up.  I was really scared I was going to get frostbite.  Eric and Tim saw me at Ski Pulk and got me moving.  I actually left before midnight.  My feet and shoes warmed up a bit once I got moving but I was worried because everything was wet and the temps were dropping to below zero and this seemed like the perfect cocktail for frostbite.

Sidenote: I know nothing about frostbite.  I've never had it, never read about it.  I really have just seen scary pictures.  On a scale of 1-10 my knowledge of frostbite was equal to my knowledge of frozen lakes.  0.

Photo Credit Burgess Eberhardt

So pulled my last coke and bag of Cheetos (if something is working and you are eating why change, right?) and all I can think about is frostbite.  Over and over again.  So I called my wife and she googled it.  We decided I could change my socks, but that might do little with the wet shoes.  At the end of the day I came to the decision that my best course of action was to start running.  To get to the finish ASAP and then they would take off my boots and my feet would be black and blue and I'd need an ambulance to the hospital, but I'd still be in the slam so whatever, right?

Sidenote: I didn't sleep during this race at all.  I took a 5 hour energy and two caffeine pills.  I hallucinated most of the last 24 hours but after Tuscobia I was used to that. My initial reaction to everything, real or imagined was "that's not real."

So I cranked up the tunes (hip hop) and did the Cheeto/coke thing running every other song.  I was scared, miserable and in a complete state of panic.  All I though about over those last 15 miles was frostbite.  I pushed as hard as I could.



Sidenote: I did the first half in 24:01; the second half in 24:09.  Weird!!

When I finally finished I wasn't happy.  I just needed to know if I had frostbite.  I didn't, of course.  Just some really gross blisters.  It was all irrational.  Maybe my mind needed an excuse to make me run.  Maybe I did.  Maybe I just had more in the tank and needed an excuse to use it.  Or maybe I'm a wack job crazy person junk food addict.  Either way, at 7:13 I crossed the finish line to finish in 48:09:00 in 13th place.

There is so much more I could say and so many stories to tell and people to thank.  But I need to thank the Kruegers, Sue Lucas, Tim Kruse, Eric Bloomquist and most of all my wife Kylia who took my phone calls and never once accused me of being insane.

I guess anything is possible.

https://www.strava.com/activities/853309921

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.  

Gear

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.

Hydroflasks

Non-NSNG Food sources :)

Goggles (not used)

Esbit Stove and Fuel

Pot
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 Milwaukee...it's about 100 miles."  In doing so I created a monster.  You can read about the first Turkey Trot here: http://urbanultra.blogspot.com/2013/11/worlds-longest-turkey-trot.html.


The following year Alfredo was diagnosed with ALS.  



I found a few friends dumb enough to join me once again.  http://urbanultra.blogspot.com/2014/12/worlds-longest-turkey-trot-ii-aka.html 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:

 https://www.strava.com/activities/787407688

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.