2013 Superior 50KM Trail Race

On May 18, 2013 I completed the Superior 50KM Trail Race on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) along the north shore of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota. A wildly technical course full of rocks, roots and—thanks to our long winter with heavy snowfall accompanied by spring’s late arrival—standing water atop heaps of deep mud. For a mostly average runner like myself there is no conquering such a trail, but there is give and take, highs and lows. There is adventure and an invaluable, rewarding journey. By the end the trail had pummeled the piss out of me and I was left a withered shell of the confident man I was at the start. I was exhausted, sore and bewildered, but not broken nor disappointed, and not at all discouraged. I sit here today intrigued and hungry for more just like the other times I’ve taken on this incredible stretch of wilderness trail.

In summary, the Superior Hiking Trail proved its superiority over this undertrained, soft runner who tried to move swiftly over its face for 31 miles. It reared up, grabbed me by the squishy bits and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed until I relented. Even then, I didn’t entirely stop. I kept going for over seven hours and that was enough for this day.

That’s it, that’s essentially the story. Go away.


The rest is all the extraneous details, cussing and raw emotion, because it’s still fresh with frazzled nerves and aching muscles driving me to improve and get the lead out. The wish to get stronger and overcome weakness is part of the core of my ongoing struggle. Even more so, the inexhaustible urge to push boundaries is alive and well. So don’t tell me I didn’t warn you if you read on, don’t tell me I’m a disrespectful, vulgar, no good something or other, because you’re an adult and so am I. Life is hard and if you pretend it isn’t, choose to stay in climate-controlled environments sipping tea and taking it easy all the time, then that’s your choice, not mine. I’ve got a hell of a lot more to take on. The Superior Hiking Trail has much left to show me, so LET’S GO!

I mean, for shit’s sake! Every one of these good for nothing races on the SHT has brought me to a point of exhaustion and pain where I know deep within I am capable of continuing and yet I mentally weasel out of a strong finish and give up the fight before it’s done. Maybe that’s for the best since I did not want to risk major injury so early in the season, but I’m left wondering what’ll happen if I lean on the throttle a touch more instead of coasting. Will I stumble and fall? Probably. Will I hurt myself seriously? Probably not. I’m not talking about sprinting wildly over the last 7+ miles, I’m talking of not giving up challenging myself just because I’m tired and hurting.

Before giving in and acquiescing to the fatigue, I had a strong run of around 23 miles. For that I am glad. Those 23 miles were almost entirely exhilarating! Those hard 23 miles on that crazy-ass trail will pay dividends soon enough. Throughout the first four and a half hours I kept doing a mental and physical check and coming up with, “feeling good, having a blast!” I knew though, with my current level of fitness and the deteriorating conditions of the trail, it’d be extremely difficult to keep it going so well until the end. However, I held out hope and kept my spirits up while cruising along contentedly through three quarters of the race.

Thing is, I was pleasantly surprised by the condition of the trail on the way out. The course is an out and back and we had been warned the night before and prior to race start that mud was a problem— deep, shoe-sucking mud. I was already intimately familiar with all the elevation change (8400 ft.), endless rocks and roots, twists and turns. It’s a seriously rugged trail! So, when we started out and got through an early muddy section it wasn’t bad at all the rest of those 7.75 miles into the first aid station at Oberg Mountain. I showed up and greeted Elena and Sarah with full smiles, feeling unstoppable. I decided then and there to ride the good feeling while it lasted even though I knew it would not. After a quick stop with some chatting and refueling I headed back onto the trail very much ready for more.

Cruising into the Oberg Mountain Aid station, feeling great!

Cruising into the Oberg Mountain Aid station, feeling great!

"Hi Dad, what are you doing?!"

“Dad, what are you doing!?”

Fun for the whole family!

Fun for the whole family!

Back onto the trail!

Back onto the trail!

Oberg Mountain to the Sawbill Aid Station, again, not a terribly sloppy stretch of trail. Still running strong I was able to navigate the technical difficulties happily and joke around with fellow runners. A mile or so before coming into the aid station we encountered the front runners and hot damn, seeing them fly along the trail faster than I can currently marathon on pavement gave me a huge jolt of FUCK-YEAH-MOTHERFUCKER!, because they were moving with authority and I’ve got mad respect for that level of skill and training.

Coming into the Sawbill Aid Station, I was feeling decent, but the cumulative stress of 13.3 miles on tough trail was starting to take a toll. I was beginning to feel some fatigue, but still had lots left in the tank. I took my time refueling and had a bit more of a break since I knew the climb and descent of Carlton Peak wouldn’t be easy. It’s very steep and technical with lots of boulders to navigate around and over. Plus, with all the rain that’d been falling throughout the morning all that rock was sure to be slick. At this aid station I saw Brian Klug come through and it was inspiring to see him looking strong and focused.

Feeling good, having a blast!

Feeling good, having a blast!

"Dad, why are you still running?"

“Dad, why are you still running?”

Ok, refueled and ready for Carlton Peak!

Ok, refueled and ready for Carlton Peak!

About three quarters of the way up Carlton Peak I passed Shawn Severson coming down. She was looking great and encouraged me saying I was really close to the top. A couple others around there warned of the slipperiness of the wet rock on the summit, but I wasn’t too worried since I was being cautious and patient on the way up. Besides, my only bumble in this section was an uphill stumble where my toe caught a rock and I fell rather gently into the hill. Falling uphill is always recommended in the mountains. At the peak runners were greeted by Minnesota trail-ultrarunning legend Charlie “Chuck” Hubbard in full western regalia. What a sight to see him standing authoritatively on the peak in crappy weather! He stood there and shook hands and gave support to everyone before they turned and headed back down. I grabbed a Chips Ahoy! cookie and took in the fog-shrouded view before beginning my descent. Charlie even apologized for the lack of view on this rainy, cloudy day. I didn’t care, because it felt fantastic to run 15.5 miles across mountainous terrain and to have reached the top of the area looking triumphantly toward Lake Superior. I was pumped and ready to head back down toward the Sawbill Aid Station.

No major issues on the way back to Sawbill, just more fun trail times and lots of encouragement exchanged with runners heading up Carlton. The out and back nature of this course resulted in more contact with others than usual, which was definitely welcome since trail runners are such awesome folk. A quicker refueling stop at the aid station this time and then I was back on the trail toward Oberg.

Hello again, Sawbill!

Hello again, Sawbill!

I come in peace, I go in peace. The trails are my home.

I come in peace, I go in peace. The trails are my home.

Back to the trails I go!

Back to the trails I go!

On the way to Oberg is where it started to get tough, but I was maintaining. Hiking more of what I was gladly running earlier, I hoped to still be moving well for the final stretch. However, when I was within two miles of the aid station I could already tell the death march was coming. The legs were starting to fail.

Relieved to arrive at Oberg, I wanted to be done then and there. I knew I wasn’t going to stop, but a big part of me wanted to lie down and call it a day. The trail had already begun to get sloppy from all the day’s rain and foot traffic. Also, I was yet to come into the section where the huge wave of 25K runners tore through the course already. All I could do was take my time at the aid station and refuel. Thanks to a few minutes of rest, helpful volunteers, Coke and half a peanut butter and M&M sandwich, along with love from Sarah and Elena, the idea of getting back onto the trail began to seem less overwhelming.

This photo captures all the pain and difficulty I was facing.

This photo captures all the pain and difficulty I was facing.

Back into Oberg one last time.

Back into Oberg one last time.

Coke, a peanut butter and M&M sandwich, and encouraging faces got me ready for more.

Coke, a peanut butter and M&M sandwich, and encouraging faces got me ready for more.

There’s not much to say about the final section of trail between Oberg and the finish. It was hard, incredibly hard. On a good day with strong legs it would have been hard, but on this day after constant rain and hundreds of runners making their way across the rugged terrain, what had been soft sections on the way out had turned into wickedly slick, pudding-like mud bogs. It would have been one thing to push and pick my way across those rocks and roots if not for the mud, but dead legs and the lack of reliable footing was too much. So I hiked probably two thirds of this stretch, not just the climbs and tricky descents, but even the mud-laden flat sections were hiked somewhat gingerly. Oh, and I shouldn’t forget the climb up Moose Mountain. Holy hell that son-of-a-bitch is killer on tired legs! My hamstrings almost jumped off and went the other way. The trail goes on and on and the legs burn and burn! Whatever, it’s still a wonderful opportunity, especially in retrospect, to be out on the trail in a self-imposed difficult situation. So I kept moving rather slowly and deliberately until I could hear the Poplar River again, then mustered up the strength to cruise the final mile back to the finish line. Whew, did it ever feel great to cross the line and be able to stop! That was a wild day on the trails.

Finish Time: 7:08:10
Average Pace: 13:47/mile
Place: 110 of 158 runners

Rounding the bend into the finish.

Rounding the bend into the finish.



Uff da!

Uff da!

Of course, after everything is said and done, race performance or lack thereof is quite irrelevant, because of this:

Elena checking out some of the countless rocks on the north shore.

Elena checking out some of the countless rocks on the north shore.

Thanks for all of your support and help leading up to and during this race, Sarah and Elena!

2012 Moose Mountain Marathon

What a difference a year and some familiarity with the Superior Hiking Trail make! Last year, upon reflecting I was rather humiliated by the course and my effort. This year, I feel encouraged and ready to take it on again, NOW! I want more and don’t want to wait another year. Heck, I’m even considering doing the 50-miler next time around. There were a lot of factors that made for a much more enjoyable experience on the SHT, many of which were beyond my own training and control.

As vital as anything else to my improved performance was the weather— around 50 °F at the start with mostly clear skies, clouding over for a couple hours of cool rain in the middle, then becoming partly cloudy with temps at about 60 by the finish. This was fantastic running weather. The rain did add to the technical difficulty, making some of the rocks slick, but fortunately I wasn’t running blazingly fast and putting myself in danger. Plus, while it was raining I was on a portion of the course that allowed me to keep running most of the time and generate enough heat to stay warm. All this cool weather meant I never got close to overheating and cramping was barely an issue. Only once, after about 18 miles when I squatted down to adjust my timing chip’s strap, did I feel a twinge in my left quadriceps as it threatened to cramp. Standing back up and shaking it out allowed me to continue forward without incident.

Going into the race I was somewhat worried, full of reasons I might be in for a brutal day. Despite my concerns I was ready for whatever came, even a major struggle and another outing lasting more than seven hours. With the arrival of my daughter 6 1/2 months ago, finding consistency in training has been a challenge. I’d gotten the bare minimum of miles on my legs, with only one 20-mile trail run prior to the race and only one other outing of at least 3 hours. Living in central Minnesota nothing around here approaches the technical difficulty or hilliness of the SHT. Lots of questions remained concerning what I was capable of.

Then again, I’m a fire-breathing (out the rear), trail-eating, gritty SOB who loves being on trails, even on wild single-track marked by endless rocks, roots, and mountainous incivility. { heh! } I had been on the course the year before, knew what to expect, and had a good idea where I could gain time along with a better strategy for refueling. Plus, I didn’t ultimately give a rat’s ass about my time, I just wanted to have fun and see what I could get done. Overall I had a much more relaxed approach to the race and was comfortably eager to get going and cruise while enjoying the wild scenery. Last year on the other hand, I was ridiculously fired up and, not surprisingly, started much too fast.

Miles 0 – 7.9, Start to Temperance River Aid Station —

After too much standing around waiting and chatting with a few others, the call for the start was given at 8:00 and we headed out. I started with dailymile and fellow trail running friend Chad Walstrom. We ran easily on a gravel road in the middle of the pack for a few hundred yards. Just before turning onto the trail, I saw 100-miler and St. Cloud area running friend Brian Woods. How great to see him about 77 miles into his epic adventure! A short stop with a few words exchanged and then Chad and I jumped onto the trail for our own SHT quality time. Talking while running comfortably for a few minutes and then we came across Brian’s pacer, Dan Cairns, also from St. Cloud, making his way to the Cramer Road Aid Station. Dan reminded me of a good line I had heard from Brian before, “This marathon isn’t a bad one, it’s the three that come before it that are the problem.” Funny to think 26 miles can be the finale of someone’s outing.

Chad and I ran together and among several others for the first couple miles, but after doing some occasional passing and picking up our pace slightly the crowd thinned and we soon found ourselves mostly on our own. With the cool weather and fresh legs it felt easy to pick my way through the tripping hazards and maintain a comfortable pace between 11:00 and 13:00 mpm, for the most part, depending on the trail’s pitch. Most of this section was runnable, with occasional and brief steep climbs/drops along the Temperance River as the trail alternated between following the river’s edge and then shooting back up to the ridgeline. Listening to the river roaring along its rocky bed and crashing into deep pools was invigorating. After 5 or 6 miles and being in front I needed to back off and asked Chad if he wanted to lead, which he gladly did. I followed him around a few bends and let him get farther ahead, stopping to take in a view of Lake Superior at a lookout. Not until after finishing would I see Chad again as he determinedly and quite successfully went after his 6-hour time goal for the race. It was fun sharing those beginning miles with you, Chad!

On the descent into the Temperance River Aid Station I reminded myself that I took a wicked digger here last year, rolling onto my back and sliding a few yards. The fall left me with some abrasions on my back and knees, so this time around I was more cautious, but still moving fast enough to appreciate gravity. Eventually I hit the aid station and was glad to be feeling great, thinking I must be ahead of schedule and ready to refuel then get back on the trail. Sarah and Elena, who were quite surprised to see me so soon, confirmed I was moving faster than anticipated. Plus, as Sarah pointed out, I wasn’t bleeding like last year— I must be doing all right.

Sarah and Elena

Sarah and Elena waiting for my arrival at Temperance River.

Temperance River Aid Station -- 1

Refueling at Temperance River

drinking Coke

Coke, nectar of the trail running gods…with sweat burning my eyes!

back onto the trail

Heading back onto the trail!

Miles 7.9 – 13.6, Temperance River Aid Station to Sawbill/Britton Peak Aid Station —

Back onto the trail I was ready to press on. Remembering from last year there was a nice section along the Temperance River where I was able to find a decent rhythm. Shortly after getting settled into a solid pace I clipped a rock and nearly ate trail. Just a loss of focus there, but the jolt from lunging and saving myself from falling woke my sloppy ass up good and proper. From the near wreck until the climb up Carlton Peak began, I moved well and was having fun. The best part was the roaring river and fact I hadn’t overeaten at the last aid station— the gut was still fully on board with the task underfoot.

Then the climb up Carlton Peak was on! I remembered from last year how it meandered and remained gradual for awhile. Then farther along, I was shown how steep the trail became and how rocky the peak was. In one section a clearing offers views of the rocky peak and I thought, “Oh yeah, I’ve got to get all the way up onto the shoulders of that beast so I can tweak its nose!” Steep, heart-pounding switchbacks and an endless supply of chunky rocks. Legs were still feeling pretty good and I was able to hike quickly. Passed a lady on the way up and we shared encouragement. She’d later catch up and finish the race ahead of me.

The descent from Carlton Peak was nearly as challenging as the climb— terribly technical with jagged switchbacks and numerous boulders to hop from and around. Eventually the rockiness abated and the forest regained its root-ridden grip. Arriving at the aid station after having been on the trail for about 2:55 I knew I was half done, but the toughest climb was yet to come. The second half would surely be harder than the first. Still, my legs felt strong and I was making much better time than in 2011. I reminded myself this was the aid station where I ate and drank way too much last year, causing a major slowdown over the next few miles while my stomach slowly processed the gunk.

The weather continued to be my savior. While not having to battle the heat I had an easier time rehydrating, snacking appropriately, filling my bottles and getting ready for more trail humping before long. Rain had begun at this point and temps were only in the 50’s, so I knew I’d have to move fast enough to generate enough heat in order to stay warm over the next 5.5 miles. I felt like I would be able to do that and turned down the extra shirt Sarah offered. The rain was coming down in buckets before I headed back into the woods. I was eager to taste more SHT and feel the forest as the rain poured from the clouds.

Miles 13.6 – 19.1, Sawbill/Britton Peak Aid Station to Oberg Mountain Aid Station —

Quite a different atmosphere under the trees on the trail as water drips and puddles along the way. Since I was still moving well, the rain was a reprieve from what was beginning to become an exhausting effort. Running on a ridiculously technical trail is as tiring on the mind as the legs for me. Maybe it’s just a lack of practice on such terrain, but the need for attention on every step wears me down. The cool water washed some of my fatigue and sharpened my focus as I persistently moved forward.

Ups and downs abound along this stretch, including Britton Peak and LeVeaux Mountain, but fortunately nothing monstrous. Legs and feet were wearing down and on LeVeaux Mountain I took my only fall of the day. It was on a slight downhill covered with massive roots. I simply made a poor choice trying to step between two roots while moving a bit too carelessly and caught my toe. Catching myself with my hands on the way down jarred the upper back. Getting back up, brushing myself off and moving again allowed the pain to pass and I knew there was no major damage. BE CAREFUL, PETITTO!

A little farther on came a pleasant series of boardwalks traversing a marshy area. I remember sailing comfortably and having a blast. The boards are rather new here so most of them are stable and the wood wasn’t slippery enough to be problematic. With the boards bowing gently I was able to give my feet and legs an easy time. Eventually popping out of the forest and BOOM!, I’ve arrived at the last aid station with only seven miles to go!

Unfortunately Sarah and I greatly miscalculated my pace and our estimated time of arrival at each aid station was off by a lot, especially the last two. She barely caught me at the Sawbill/Britton Aid Station right before I headed back into the woods and missed me entirely at Oberg. The volunteer tracking runners at Oberg misread his list of runners’ numbers and didn’t spot my “371”. This meant even though I was long gone by the time Sarah arrived, she thought I hadn’t come through. After waiting for three hours she was quite worried and thought I had injured myself on the trail. Of course, I was fine and well on my way toward finishing. Too bad for Sarah though, not a fun time hanging out at an aid station worrying about my sorry ass. She was there for so long I finished the race before she even left that last aid station. Next time I will be sure to have my arrival times at each aid station from previous years noted and we’ll better predict the appearance of my ugly mug.

Regarding the actual stop at the Oberg Aid Station, I didn’t rush knowing the toughest section of trail was coming in those last 7 miles on the way to the finish. I took my time, drank ginger ale, munched some peanut butter and jelly along with pretzels, and got my bottles refilled by some very helpful and enthusiastic volunteers. I even slowly walked the very runnable dirt road leading to the trail hoping I’d catch Sarah before ducking into the woods. The rest here allowed my legs to recover slightly and head toward Moose Mountain with some go juice still in the tank!

Miles 19.1 – 26.2, Oberg Mountain Aid Station to Finish —

The climb up Moose Mountain is a real blast to the nuts after 20 miles and nearly 5 hours on my feet, but I knew I had to man up and deal with it if I wanted a respectable finishing time. I also knew I couldn’t entirely burn myself out on the climb because there’s another surprisingly challenging climb immediately after— Mystery Mountain. I managed to keep moving, sometimes at a decent clip, sometimes slower than molasses in January, but I never got light-headed nor had to sit down like last year. Again, the lack of heat changed everything.

The way up Moose Mountain offers views of the steep trail ahead and then you can’t see any farther, but you eventually hit the point where the trail changes direction and you look some more, realizing it only continues to climb. SON OF A BITCH! Gradually and persistently hiking, heart pounding out of my chest, sweat pouring from the bill of my hat— BANG BISCUIT! Eventually, the trail levels and starts to descend. Of course by then my legs were nearly shot and I was too beat down to move quickly without wrecking, so I took it easy.

After not nearly enough recovery time on the descent, the trail annoyingly starts to wind back and forth and climb again. This is the way up Mystery Mountain. The climb is only about 350 feet in a mile, but after 23 miles it’s a brutal kick to the nickels. Oh well, what could I do!? There’s no going back. The quicker I get it done, the quicker I can begin dropping toward the finish line, sit down, rest and laugh about it all. I wonder why they call it Mystery Mountain. It is entirely shrouded in trees so maybe its presence is a mystery, but for runners of the SHT the real mystery is how such a small mountain can be a cruel sucker-punch to the gut.

Once all significant climbing was over, I began my gradual descent toward the Poplar River. Still some ups and downs before the finish, but nothing overwhelming. Legs were pretty much ruined facing the last three miles, but I just kept doing my best to gut it out, walking the steep and extra gnarly junk and running the rest. I got to the point where I didn’t want to run at all anymore, but I forced myself as the six hour mark was approaching. I thought it’d be neat to beat my time from the previous year by a full hour.

Pushing through the pain and I eventually popped out of the woods onto the gravel road leading to Caribou Highlands Lodge where the finish line awaited. Crossing the line in 6:25:08, I was relieved to be done. With a 58 minute improvement over the 2011 race I felt I had put in a respectable day on the Superior Hiking Trail. Within minutes I was thinking of ways to knock off chunks of time and get under 6 hours next year. NEXT YEAR! We’ll see what I can get myself ready for in 2013.

Finally, I have to thank race director John Storkamp and all the wonderful volunteers. What a big challenge to host a major series of races (the 100 and 50-milers also take place at the same time) on such a remote trail! There isn’t even reliable cellular service much of the way so they have to use ham radios to communicate. Everyone involved pulled it off without a noticeable hitch to runners like me. Each aid station is well-stocked and every volunteer I encountered was tremendously supportive and helpful. The trail is endlessly gorgeous with occasional views toward the magnificent Lake Superior. Basically, it’s the best way I know to spend 6 or 7 hours on trail.

Official Finishing Time: 6:25:08
Place: 84 of 144 marathoners

If you’d like to see more numbers, here’s the Garmin data.

in Grand Marais post-race

Sarah, Elena and I in Grand Marais several hours after the race.

Running Season Dwindles in Fading Autumn Light

Reflecting on the crux of running season coming to a close, despite my wish to hold on until snow covers the ground, brings a mix of appreciation for all that’s happened and slight frustration over missed opportunities. I was able to run more miles than ever before in previous years and to set personal records in all race distances I attempted. Disappointment comes from a recent feeling of having more left in the tank, a wish for one more wicked race to end the season with fireworks. However, I’ve got nothing planned at this point. Any final races will have to be rather spontaneous and attempted without proper training.

I’ve alternated over the last few weeks between feeling relieved to not have to train for specific events anymore and somewhat depressed from lacking one more proving ground on which to pour out my running heart and soul. Being able to run more freely and explore the area has been enjoyable, but without many trails to rip in the immediate area near home, my love for trail running has been only teased, if not slightly thwarted.

I hear the calling of far off wilderness trails punctuated with mountains, valleys, crags, twists and turns. As of yet this is a call I cannot fully answer. I’ve absolutely realized trail running is what I love most. I’m cool with road running and racing on occasion, but if I don’t get some regular trail runs in my routine I gradually start to feel physically and emotionally beat down. Trail running is truly a rejuvenating endeavor, one which I have to find ways to continue and intensify.

This is why, for the first time in a public forum, I am now announcing that next year I plan to run a 50K as my initial steps into the world of ultramarathons. The distance doesn’t worry me since it’ll only be about 5 miles more than the marathon’s 26.2, a distance I gladly took on twice this year. What will be most challenging is the terrain that most ultras take place on— thoroughly challenging trails, often in the middle of nowhere, with all sorts of elevation change and uneven footing.

Ultras could possibly be a natural fit since another realization was solidly reiterated this year— I am not an elite runner, I am not running to win any races. I’m on the verge of being competitive in my age group in many races, but even that doesn’t excite me all that much compared to a solid run with friends in the woods or a race on trails. Therefore, maybe running long and at a moderate pace is what I’m after. I owe it to myself to give more serious trail running a real go.

My two favorite races of the year were the Walker North Country Marathon, which featured big chunks through the Chippewa National Forest, and the Big Woods Half Marathon, which was almost entirely in Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park. If I consider each as a trail marathon and a trail half marathon, then they were both personal records. The only other trail marathon I’ve done was the Equinox Marathon, which almost completely defeated and soured me on marathon running when I took on the course back in ’07 and ’08. I had never attempted a half-marathon on trails before and Big Woods was an exhilarating good time! With that race I was only about 5 minutes off my current PR for any half marathon. In Walker, where I went out too fast and pushed way too hard through the trails, I nearly bonked and struggled to finish, but the first 17-miles featured some of the most stimulating and satisfying running I’ve experienced in my entire life. I wouldn’t change the experience for anything; I learned a ton about my propensity to outpace my limits for a long race and about my love of long runs in the wilderness.

Let’s look at some numbers:

Total miles run so far this year: 1138
Highest monthly mileage: 174 (May)
Highest weekly mileage: 51 (5/24 to 5/30)


  • Earth Day Half Marathon (4/17): 1:40:11 (avg. pace: 7:39 mpm) (PR!)
  • SCSU on the Move 5K (4/29): 20:24 (avg. pace: 6:34 mpm) (PR!)
  • Ripley Rock ‘n Run 10K (5/22): 43:45 (avg. pace: 7:04 mpm) (PR!)
  • Lake Placid Marathon (6/13): 3:58:14 (avg. pace: 9:05 mpm) (PR!)
  • Sheels 5K (7/17): 21:52 (avg. pace: 7:00 mpm) (very hot morning)
  • Walker North Country Marathon (9/18): 4:26:42 (avg. pace: 10:05 mpm)
  • Big Woods Half Marathon (10/16): 1:45:01 (avg. pace: 8:00 mpm)

In the end I’m content with all I’ve endured through running and racing this year. I’m especially glad to have made some new running friends, for having connected with the local running club, the St. Cloud River Runners, and for having joined the community of awesome runners on dailymile. Most of all I’m eager to continue and more thoroughly engage myself with all that running has become for me— challenging, rewarding, exhausting, invigorating, thought-provoking, mind-numbing, humbling, inspiring, and most of all: wildly gratifying!

Thanks to all who supported and encouraged my running throughout the year!

2010 Big Woods Run Half Marathon

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to run my fourth and definitely most enjoyable half marathon. A group of us went down the night before so we wouldn’t have to do the 2+ hour drive the morning of the race. All together it was Sarah and myself, running friends Shannon and Eddah with her son Morcelli. We all stayed in Northfield, MN the night before where we were able to enjoy the town for a few hours and carbo-load.

Sarah & I on the Froggy Bottom's deck a bowl of pasta bigger than my head

The race started at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Fairibault, MN and most of the course was through Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park. Weather was perfect for racing— sunny and clear with temps at the start in the upper 40s, warming to around 60 by the finish. Besides the 1.3 miles between the church and the park and another short stretch of pavement, the rest was on trails in the park. In total there were maybe 3 miles of pavement, the trails featured packed dirt, gravel, and a thick carpet of leaves. Going in, since I hadn’t run a trail half marathon before, I decided my goal would be between 1:45 and 1:50. Settling on a goal time was hard since my half PR on a mostly flat road course was set back in May at 1:40:11. I know I’m more fit than I was then, but still, shooting for a PR on a challenging trail course was probably unreasonable. Not knowing the trails, I figured 1:45 was decent goal.

warming up game face
Warming up and getting my game face on.

After warming up and milling around for awhile, we were finally ready to RUN! For me the most excruciating times are those final 10 or 15 minutes right before race start. I remarked to Sarah somewhere in that time, “Oy, I don’t know how I’m feeling.” I was a tightly wound mix of nerves and potential energy. Anymore waiting and I may have lost my mind…or my breakfast! Sarah gave me some good, long hugs which helped me settle down. She knows just what I need and her tender hugs are yet another reason why she is the ultimate race support person. Unfortunately for her, this was not a good race to watch as she saw us at the start and finish, but was not able to see us otherwise. Most of the race was within the park and inaccessible by vehicle.

The mass start mixed half marathoners in with 10K runners and there was no breakdown according to pace groups. I did my best to get in close enough to the front so I wouldn’t be held up by walkers and joggers. Once starting out we took off on the gravel road and then headed left onto pavement. From there it was only a little over a mile before reaching the trails. Shannon started somewhere ahead of me and I caught her just as we went into the trail. I almost let out a crazed shout of, “WE’RE IN IT NOW, SHANNON!” I held back as the crowd was still somewhat thick and I didn’t want to startle anyone.

trotting along, finding my groove the stream of runners
Cruising on pavement towards the trails.

The first 1.3 miles, being slightly downhill for much of it and on pavement, were easy to cruise through at a good clip. Plus, I had some adrenaline to burn off. Still, I felt it was a comfortable start and I didn’t get caught up in anything wild early on. After turning into the trails I had no problem keeping myself a bit below goal pace and decided to go with it for awhile, figuring I better roll along while the terrain was manageable. Splits for miles 1-3 were: 7:45, 7:42, and 7:46.

Early on in the woods the trail featured gentle rolling hills, soft curves and a packed dirt surface. I thought to myself that if the trails kept like this most of the way then my goal should be achievable and a PR (1:40:11) is not even out of the question. Keeping aware that I was not familiar with the park, I thought I’d continue to run hard, but be sure to keep it out of the red as I knew there could be some more challenging sections ahead. My heart rate was settling between about 168 and 172 and my legs felt light and fast. Splits for miles 4 and 5 were 7:54 and 7:57. I was feeling I had found my groove and wasn’t struggling to keep my pace at or below the goal pace of 8:00 mpm.

Even during the mostly smooth running of those early trail miles, I was aware the thick carpet of leaves on the trail could become an issue later on. Fortunately, everything was dry so there wasn’t much slippage, but the leaves were covering lots of divots and roots along the way. It wasn’t a problem while I was still mentally sharp and running strong, but I knew the hidden obstacles might try to pull me down when fatigued. Even in the first few miles there was one slight ankle roll as I stepped awkwardly into a divot and the left ankle buckled to the outside. Fortunately, I have rather flexible ankles and all I got from that first near mishap was a mild twinge of pain and a wake-up call.

Kudos to Shannon for this shot of a stream crossing mid-race.

Around mile 6 we came to our first real hilly section. There was an intense downhill featuring several log water bars that needed to be carefully hopped over. Even those were partially covered by leaves and not always easy to pick out. After flying downhill the trail leveled out, wound around and began to climb. Looking ahead and up, up, up, I decided it was a good time to walk and refuel. I had my first couple Shot Bloks and walked for about a hundred yards up the first part of the hill. As I sipped water from my handheld to wash it all down, I gladly allowed several runners to burn by me up the hill. My heart rate gradually eased down and I got through the steepest part of the climb. Then I began to run again feeling refreshed and ready for more. Splits for miles 6 and 7 were 8:42 and 8:48.

Somewhere in the middle of the race I had 3 more near ankle rolls within about 12 steps. A narrow trench was hidden by leaf cover and after the third misstep I finally smartened up and jumped to the other side of the trail. Amazing I didn’t go down in this section or hurt myself. This was the case all day as I was able to run an aggressive pace and get away with close calls. There were at least two other times where the bottom of my shoes’ lugs glanced across the tops of tree roots, but I didn’t catch enough tread to take a dive.

Miles 8 and 9 provided some easier terrain and no major hills, so I was able to bring my pace back down and start thinking about what it would take to meet my goal. I was beginning to crunch numbers and thought maybe a PR was in reach, but once again, I did not quite know what was waiting ahead on the remaining trail. I told myself I’d continue to run hard, but somewhat cautiously until 5K was left and then I could bust rump if I had anything left in the tank. Splits for 8 and 9 were 8:11 and 8:00.

Between miles 9 and 10 we encountered another deep valley. Leading in was a huge descent and then, like before, a few curves along the bottom before a steep ascent up the other side. Again, I took this as an opportunity to refuel and ate a couple more Shot Bloks. Walking and sipping water for a bit I let some runners pass before feeling confident the steeper parts were behind me and I could resume running strong without killing myself through the rest of the climb. I felt like I timed it right and reached the apex without letting my heart rate get too terribly high. My split for this mile was 9:19— slowest mile of the day, but the climb was steep and I was starting to tire.

The final three miles featured more rolling hills and soft curves before exiting the trails. Back on pavement I had less than 1.5 miles to go and knew 1:45 was within reach. After rounding the corner onto the last long stretch of pavement I got passed by a guy who had been nipping at my heels for a few miles. He gave me a “Great race!” and I responded with “You too, we’re almost there!” He said, “I like the trails a lot more than this.” I ended our chit-chat with “Me too, this stuff hurts after all that trail!” Then he ran on and I told myself to hang with him in an attempt to finish in a flurry. Our last mile vacillated between 6:50 and 7:30 as we tore up the road. I was able to pass him with about a quarter mile to go. Splits for the last 3 miles were 8:00, 8:21 and 7:18. Looking back at my Garmin I saw my heart rate reached 184 in that last mile, so I was definitely pushing.

around the final curve
Rounding the last turn into the finish.
almost there after the race
My finish and the three of us together after our successful half marathons.

The Numbers:
Official Time: 1:45:01
Avg. Pace: 8:00 mpm
Overall Placing: 66 out of 375
Division Placing: 14 out of 49
Placement Among Males: 60 out of 207

» The rest of the photos can be found here.
» Shannon’s photos are here.

2010 Lake Placid Marathon, The Full Story

Today marks ten days since the marathon and the first time I’ve had a chance to sit down and write out the whole story of what went down during the race. More than anything else, it was an enjoyable experience that left me feeling good about this year’s training thus far and encouraged about my abilities and long-term running goals. Still, it was a marathon and wasn’t without difficulty. For the first time running this distance I did not bonk and actually met my time goal— 4 hours for this race. I finished in 3:58:14, which is an improvement by 1 hour, 11 minutes, and 42 seconds over my previous best in the 2008 Equinox Marathon.

That’s the short and skinny, now the details…

Sarah and I stayed the night before at my mother’s place in Wilmington, which is about a 15 minute drive from Lake Placid. She and Tony hooked us up with a great pasta feast the night before that loaded me up on carbs and had me ready to run far and fast. Uncle Frank and Aunt Sue also joined us for pasta and we had a nice time eating and relaxing together while Neko and Darwin, Mom and Tony’s dog, played like crazy. I got to bed early that night and woke up feeling refreshed and ready to go the next morning. After a bagel with peanut butter and some oatmeal and fruit, I was raring to go.

Having Mom, who’s been living in the area for a number of years, there to get us to the race start was helpful. She knew the best route and exactly where to park. We arrived with plenty of time for last minute porta-potty stops, warming up and stretching. Mom was a big help to Sarah all day with logistics as they cheered from various points of the course. Uncle Frank was also out and about throughout the race cheering me on and taking photos. Aunt Sue joined him by the end to help me across the finish line.

Sarah and I before the start.

I got myself to the starting line and found a spot about fifty feet behind the front row. There were tons of people lined up, 2,500 in all including the half marathoners who shared the first loop of the two loop course with the runners doing the entire 26.2 miles. After some encouragement by a medalist from a member of the most recent Winter Olympic U.S. bobsledding team and some other pre-race hoopla, we were ready to go. The gun, or horn as it were, finally sounded and we took off and I inched my way through the crowd and across the actual starting line. We were packed in tight and it was slow going for the first quarter of a mile, which was fine, because I was planning on starting slowly anyway.

The crowd gradually dispersed and I was able to settle into a comfortable stride within a mile. With no pacers during this race I had to rely entirely on my GPS to keep my pace in check. With my goal pace being around 9:00 minutes per mile, I thought I’d let myself run a bit slower than that until I had enough space to really find my groove. I still started a little fast thanks to the adrenaline and energy of the crowd, but I wasn’t worried about it as I reeled myself back in to near goal pace within a couple miles.

Highlights in the first few miles included gorgeous views as we circled around Mirror Lake and a crazy guy with a lot of energy shouting about how he was hoping they had Jack & Cokes at the first aid station. I was feeling great during the first quarter of the race, strong and relaxed.

I reached an aid station after about 4.5 miles and, for the first time ever, struggled to open a package of Shot Bloks. My sweaty fingers prevented me from getting a firm grip on the package and I couldn’t tear it open for the life of me. As I got frustrated the simple task of tearing the plastic got harder. Eventually my teeth, fingernails, and anger proved to be unstoppable and I tore into the package and fed myself the first two margarita flavored Shot Bloks of the day. I calmed myself afterwards, realizing the 20-30 second break was probably a good thing.

Chewing my first Shot Bloks of the day.

Chewing my first Shot Bloks of the day.

After the shot blok fiasco I passed Sarah and Mom for the first time since leaving them behind at the start. Their cow bells and cheers propelled me forward. Then I had my first experience of the decent sized hill that began just past the Horse Show Grounds, where Sarah and Mom were hanging out, and ended at the left turn onto River Road. Even though we had driven much of the course the previous afternoon, I hadn’t noticed how big of a hill this was. Fortunately my first time on the hill was on the way down and I made a mental note of how this might be a challenge the two times I have to run back up it.

River Road was a good sized out and back section, which the marathoners ran twice— the first time was about 5.5 miles and the second iteration went farther, covering around 8 miles. My first time on River Road went smoothly and I was still feeling top notch. Running comfortably, not pushing too hard and not going too easy, I just cruised along between 8:50 and 9:00 per mile beside the river and keeping myself in check over the rolling hills. I took short walking breaks through the aid stations and drank a few swallows of either water or Gatorade. For the most part I drank Gatorade at the aid stations, that is, until the last 6 miles when nausea hit me.

At about mile 7 I passed Joe Mashaw, a friend from high school, for the first time. He was cranking along and looking real strong. I knew he was running, but we didn’t find each other before the start like we had hoped. I saw him right away as he was returning after the turn around on River Road and was about a mile ahead of me. We shouted encouragement at each other and I felt revitalized. Seeing an old friend for the first time in years brought back cross country and track memories and made me want to take off after him. I held back though, knowing his goal was 3:30 and I wasn’t quite ready to run that race. I settled back into my pace and continued on. I was glad to reach the turn around and have the first half of loop #1 behind me.

After about an hour and fifteen minutes of running, between 8 and 9 miles into the marathon, I took my first electrolyte pill with water. I was determined to ward off cramps at all costs. Between the margarita Shot Bloks, Gatorade, and a couple electrolyte pills I figured I would be set. Turns out this worked and I did not have any leg cramping, but I did have nausea during the last 6 miles which was probably caused by taking in too much sugar.

After finishing up River Road for the first time I turned back onto Highway 73 in front of the Olympic Ski Jumps and made my way up the hill there for the first time. I was feeling quite good still, so I ran it, but I ran it easily. My heart rate only climbed into the mid 160’s, so I was definitely keeping myself under control. Past the hill I was back to the Horse Show Grounds where I saw Frank, Sarah and Mom again. Their cheers and excitement kept my spirits high. This is also where I told Sarah that the next time I pass her at this spot, in about 3 miles, I’d be ready for a new package of Shot Bloks and my iPod. I also asked Sarah to start the tear into the packaging for me. I was determined to not have to fight with plastic anymore that day!

Around mile 12 near the aid station where the half marathoners veered left towards the finish line, my mind and body finally began to acknowledge the truth of 26.2 miles. It’s not like I had been tricking myself into believing I was out to do anything less that day, but seeing the half marathoners go one way and a much smaller group of runners turn around and continue with the second loop made it real. I was about half way into the marathon and suddenly I began to see signs of fatigue. No longer was it effortless to continue my goal pace, now the hard work was beginning and it was time to test my training.

I made it back to the Horse Show Grounds where this time we had to do a one mile loop through the grounds themselves. Not a big deal, except that we were suddenly running on some chunky gravel. My minimalist running shoes didn’t offer much protection and a few of those rocks brought pain to my feet— no major concern, just enough to remind me that running isn’t always typified by sunshine and butterflies. I got myself to Sarah and Mom where I washed down another electrolyte pill, took a short break, grabbed my next shot blok package and my iPod and took off again. At this point I had covered 15 miles and was still on track for a sub 4 hour marathon, but I knew the hard work was ahead of me. I knew there would be periods of difficulty and I’d have to push to stay on track and reach my goal.

Restocking with Shot Bloks and getting the iPod ready.

Restocking with Shot Bloks and getting the iPod ready.

And so I headed out leaving Sarah and Mom, knowing I wouldn’t see them again until the finish. I headed down the hill towards River Road, ready to take on my last out and back along windy, rolling hills. By now the sun was threatening to come out as the cloud cover had momentarily thinned and the temps were warm enough to leave me feeling hot and wanting to drink more than my stomach could handle. The weather had been great all day, starting out cloudy and in the low 60’s with no wind. Temps only climbed to the low 70’s and the sun did mostly stay behind the clouds, so weather was on my side for the race.

On River Road between miles 16 and 17, keeping my pace around 9:00/mile began to be a bit of a challenge. My body was wanting to slow down, but I wasn’t going to give in without a fight. I knew I had some wiggle room with pace as my average for the first half was around 8:55/mile, but I certainly didn’t have enough time for lollygagging, so I did my best to keep it in the low 9’s per mile.

On the way out River Road that last time I began to pass a number of people I had been running near over the first half. I did my best to encourage them with good cheer, because I knew how I was starting to feel and imagined they might be having struggles of their own. I also know how great it is to hear encouraging words from fellow runners, so hopefully my remarks were helpful. On this iteration of the River Road out and back we were going the whole length of the road, which was about an 8-mile round trip. After passing the aid station where the turn around was located during loop #1, I began to yearn for the final turn around so that I could truly feel like I was on the way to the finish. Eventually, at mile 19.4, I reached that turn around aid station where I refueled and took a couple minute walking break.

Getting going again and back up to speed was tough. I was 20 miles into the marathon and my legs were starting to lose their get up and go. Still though, I knew I was on my way to breaking 4 hours if I could only maintain some semblance of running over the last 6 miles. And that’s what I did, I kept cranking along near my goal pace and walked only through the aid stations while drinking a little water. I kept to water over the last several miles as nausea had set in and I was afraid of hurling during the final push to the finish line. Must be my stomach was over-saturated with sugar from too much of the Gatorade and Shot Blok combo, at least that’s my best guess concerning the nausea.

Secretly I had been hoping to start kicking around mile 24 and to finish in a flurry, but miles 24-25 were typified by painful fatigue and ongoing nausea. I ran through the last aid station deciding it’s best to continue to focus on keeping my forward momentum going and trying to keep running smooth. According to my GPS I didn’t have much time to spare, I had to keep pushing to the finish if I was going to come in under 4 hours.

Then I hit an unexpected hill at about mile 25. The day before we drove most of the course, but not this horrible stretch. I had only read about the challenging hill on the way to the finish line. Calling the hill “challenging” was an understatement. This hill would have been challenging on fresher legs 10 miles earlier. After running 25+ miles it was downright brutal, but upward I ran. I did walk briefly on the steepest piece of road before the final two turns leading up to the Olympic Speedskating Oval, but this was mainly to catch my breath and bring my heart rate back down to a reasonable level before the homestretch.

Fighting through the final climb to the Speedskating Oval.

Fighting through the final climb to the Speedskating Oval.

Those two final steep pieces felt like a last mountain switchback on a tremendous climb, but instead of arriving on the mountaintop I came out on the flat quarter mile that is the Speedskating Oval. Once I was done with the hill and on the flat I poured it on and rounded the corner to see about 3:58 on the clock. What a relief! I sprinted to the finish with all I had left, crossing the line with a clock time of 3:58:26. Official finishing time was 3:58:14. Overall I’m pleased, this being my 3rd attempt at running a marathon and the first time without a wicked mountain in the middle and tough trails throughout.



Immediately following the finish I wanted to barf, so I wandered around cautiously and caught my breath. After a few minutes of not running the nausea began to subside and was replaced by elation and relief. Running 26.2 miles hard ain’t no joke! Meeting my time goal and knowing I ran a reasonably smart race and felt decent most of the way was quite rewarding. I am now more encouraged about running than I’ve been in awhile and am looking forward to whatever comes next.

Glad to be done, but feeling like blowing triumphant chunks!

Glad to be done, but feeling like blowing triumphant chunks!

What is next remains to be decided. I certainly hope to take on another marathon this summer or fall. Maybe I’ll pursue a Boston Qualifier over the next year or so. Maybe I’ll take on an ultramarathon before long. Whatever I decide to pursue, I’m going to go after it with gusto and have fun along the way.

Joe and I sharing a laugh and reflecting.

Joe and I sharing a laugh and reflecting.

Now, 10 days from the Lake Placid Marathon my legs have fully recovered and the only residual soreness is in the top of my right foot. Hopefully that’s just bruising and the pain goes away soon, because I am eager to start training again. Until I’m healed I will be searching for the next marathon. Bring it! WOOHOO to running!

The Numbers:
Official finishing time: 3:58:14
Age Group Placing (30-39): 30th out of 66
Overall Placing: 118th out of 382 total marathoners
Average Pace Per Mile: 9:06
Average Heart Rate: 159 bpm
Maximum Heart Rate: 179 bpm
Total Calories Burned: 3649