Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Band of Runners Trail Camp

I spent last weekend in Virginia at the Band of Runners Trail Camp. It was a mind blowing experience where veterans and gold star families gathered to learn about trail running, trail running skills and get introduced to trail running culture.

But let's back up a second.

This is ultra running superstar Liza Howard:

I first met Liza at the NFECSF a year ago.  I was really impressed by her as a coach very very concerned about how her runner was doing (that she came to surprise pace).  I was also impressed that she knew what Ten Junk Miles was.  She told me about the camp generally and I offered to help in any way I could.

Shortly thereafter I recorded a long run interview with her for Ten Junk Miles: 

(Available on Itunes): LINK TO LIZA INTERVIEW

After this interview I think I had fully drank the Liza Howard Kool-Aide.  This is a special person who really cares about making the world around her a better place.  My kind of people.  I wanted to help the project and Liza in any way I could....so we did some raffles and posts on Facebook to get behind her project so that it could be funded.

Then she invited me to camp.  Seriously?  Me?  The list of mentors included legends of the sport, elite runners and really accomplished people.  I'm none of those and have very little connection to the cause.  But I went anyway.  And so glad I did.

I can't begin to explain to you all what took place.  Imagine vets and gold star family members exploring the trails and trail running life with these legends of the sport.  They learned about stretching, form, nutrition, blister care, trail etiquette, and so much more.  While some had experience and used this to refine their skills and learn more about the sport, still others took their first trail run, their first night run and met their first trail running friends.

I met a lot of new people and made a lot of new friends.  From Joe Prusaitis (for sure my new brother from another mother) to Jamil (Jam Jam) Coury (who didn't challenge me to an eat/run event).  To Liza and her amazing family (especially Ruby) and everyone in between.  I got to go on legend Dave Mackey's first trail run in a long time.  I heard AJW give an inspirational speech.  and I may, just may have been talked into another stupid running event or two (Brian Ricketts will be Whataburger Champion no more).  I want to thank each and every one of the mentors.  It meant a lot to meet you, spend time with you and get to know you.  You're all very special people.  

But most of all.  More than anything.  I got to see first hand how therapeutic trail running can be.  How it can connect us and make us vulnerable.  How our stories and memories can inspire and open up others.  And how being with other trail runners, nature and having a common purpose can form an extremely powerful bond and connection.  When I left I knew I would want to do more to help this cause.  I also wondered what other groups could benefit from the magic of this community.  I already know it works wonders for addicts, trauma survivors.....who else.

The end of the year is coming and I always reflect on what more I can do.  Yes, medals are fine and I like having cool ultrasignup results, but at the end of the day I want to be able to look back and say that I had a positive impact on the world.  Things like this make me hungry for more.  It's not just running and trails.  It's not just finish lines.  It's humanity.  And we can really make a difference if we open our hearts and minds and look around.

Do you want to help?  Even a small donation would make a big difference, so here's a link if you want to donate to the Band of Runners so that future camps can take place: DONATE  If even 10% of the people that read this left $5.00 it would make a HUGE impact.

PS: I also took a class on Wilderness First Aid.  So if you get hurt on the trail, I stumble upon you and I say I have medical training DON'T LAUGH :)

PSS: I'm off to run a 100 mile self supported turkey trot for ALS next week and a 225 mile jog around Texas to see churches the following week.  So if I die, please tell my wife to tell my dog that I loved him.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Run Across Illinois For Mental Health

Just wanted to check in because, as a lot of you may know, I'm currently running across the entire state of Illinois.  I wanted to explain why and let you know how you can help.

Defeat the Stigma is a project that aims to raise awareness and money for issues effecting mental illness.  They have a podcast ("Defeat the Stigma" on Itunes).  They shed light on a whole host of important issues and it is an extremely inspirational project.  You can read about it an learn more at www.defeatthestigma.org.

Julio Salazar is the founder of the Defeat the Stigma Project.  He's also an ultrarunner who decided to run across Minnesota in 2015 to bring attention to this project. (he also snores...I have learned).  Last year he ran across Wisconsin and a few other runners joined him.  This year he's running across Illinois to raise money for NAMI (The National Alliance for Mental Illnesss.  It's roughly 140 miles so the run is broken down to 35 miles a day.  I decided to join him, along with ultrarunners Erica Wagner, Kevin Chem, Cheryl Zwarkowski.  At this point we're halfway there. 

You can follow us at www.defeatthestigma.org.

There's a lot of reasons to run.  This has been one of the best.  We hold signs to dedicate miles to people that died from mental illness or suicide.  We talk to people and groups about mental illness. We've also learned about people that have taken their own life, during the run. We can see the impact first hand.  We see in the faces and eyes of people that they understand.  And we are transformed. It's a great project.  100% of the funds we raise go to NAMI.  Thank you for following g and supporting!!

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.  


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. 


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.


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 :)