Eagle Creek 15K

After almost two years of trying to heal my plantar fasciitis on and off again, I am finally starting to feel like I can run with little to no pain. Working with an amazing chiropractor Kyle True and massage therapist Leisa Parks, I have a solid daily routine of mobility drills and stretches that seem to be helping. It’s a slow process for sure, but I am up to running about 20 miles per week and feeling pretty strong. That being said, I felt it was time to jump in a race and see where my current fitness was at. I didn’t expect much after only a few months of 10-20 miles of running per week, but with all of the other drills and strengthening exercises and cycling I had been doing, it was time for a test. So with our 12-day old son Hugo, Giesla and I headed to Indianapolis to Eagle Creek for the DINO trail 15K.

Indianapolis had apparently received a lot more rain than we did as the course was extremely muddy.  When I registered for the race, the gentlemen that helped me said the start would be back in ‘the middle of the swamp.’  He pointed to a giant water hole in a field.  I knew my La Sportiva Helios weren’t the best choice of shoe for the day but oh well.  It was a test run nonetheless.

I warmed up a bit and stood at the start line.  There were some fast-looking people around, but I tried to focus on my race plan which was basically just run tempo-ish pace, don’t get caught up in running too fast, and see what happens.  I wanted to stick in the front or second group and challenge myself.  When the gun went off, I watched two guys take off through the mud and water at a pace much faster than I was ready for.  I stuck in the chase pack of about six guys and let my body settle into the difficult pace.  I had not done a single tempo run in a couple of years; so aside from a few fartlek runs, I didn’t really know how long my body would allow me to hang.  But with the past couple of years being strong cycling years, last year including a few hundred milers, I was hoping I had a decent aerobic base.

Less than two miles in, I was already getting uncomfortable with the chase group’s pace.  It felt just a tad too easy.  Not really knowing the 15K distance, I figured I would need to run pretty close to all out since it would take about an hour to finish – ‘all out’ for me is different than most athletes.  I don’t really train my high end much, if ever.  This is a bad thing.  So my aerobic pace and my ‘fast’ paces are pretty close together.  I want to change that this year, starting with this race.  So I increased my pace a bit, passed a few guys, and ran out front of the chase pack for a while.  After about a mile, I was alone in third.  I kept catching glances of the second place guy, a dude in a bandana and crop top, every once in a while.  I went through the finish area with a lap time of 19:27.  Oh sh*t, I thought.  My 5k PR is 19:30, so I either just cooked myself by running way too fast on that lap considering I have two more of them or the lap is short.  Again, I’m new to these shorter distances – my 5k PR is from a 10 mile run during a marathon buildup.  I really have no idea what I’m doing here.

Early on in the second lap, I slowly gained on the crop-top guy in second place.  I couldn’t see first place, so I focused on second.  He looked strong, but since he fell off pace with the first place guy and I caught him by running fairly even splits, I figured he went out a little hard.  I caught up to him and we spent the second lap weaving in and out of all of the 5k runners who started after us.  It was a slippery, muddy mess on the trails and getting worse with the hundreds of runners making laps now.  I noticed that, even as we weaved through the crowd, I would gain some distance on crop-top on the climbs (short and punchy) and he would gain on me on the downhills.  He was also skipping all of the downhill stair sections – so while I tip-toed down and through people on the stairs, he would blast down the side in the dirt and leaves which would put me a solid 50 feet behind him once I popped out of the stairs.  I didn’t know if that was legal or not, but I decided not to do it.  He did it at every one of those sections which was pretty annoying.  I would have to push fairly hard to catch up after each one.  Still, we went through lap 2 together in 19:46.  I was feeling strong and was confident I would be able to push hard through the final lap.

The final lap was the sloppiest.  After all of us 15K runners made a couple of laps and the 5k runners finished, the trail was in rough condition.  The lap area was all pockmarked and looked like a stampede of horses ran through.  I was slipping around all over the place, confirming my poor shoe choice, but crop-top and I kept a decent pace through miles 7 and 8.  On one of the last little climbs, he said “here’s where you got me last lap, go get it!”  But I didn’t want to cook myself on a hill with a mile to go.  I gained a few seconds on him and pushed my pace up just bit.  As we were coming in on the last half mile, my plan was to blast the last hill with everything I had left and then push it through the lap area to the finish.  I knew I would be slower going through all that mud and water, so I needed to gain a bit on him.  As we got to the last hill, I pushed it.  I gained on him just enough and held on through the finish chute in 59:28.  Crop-top came in at 59:32.

My body far exceeded my expectations.  I didn’t expect too much with such minimal running (and lingering ankle/foot issues).  But I was able to really push myself and come through the finish with a solid time.  I am continuing my daily strengthening exercises and being diligent about treating my foot and ankle with care.  I know a lot of my issues are due to poor mechanics and years of running with less-than-optimal form.  Kyle has helped me identify those issues and work on them.  I hope to be able to run more of these short distance races throughout the year.  After many years of long endurance events, these shorter, faster races feel new and challenging.

2nd place runner, 1st place sleeper

2016 Review

After 2015 was a frustrating year of running injuries for me, I focused a bit more on cycling the last several months.  On January 3rd of 2016, the minute that the Lumberjack 100 mountain bike race registration opened, Ted and I signed up.  I knew I would need a lot of time on the bike to get ready for such a race.  We also sent in our postcards (that’s a fun way to register) for the Almanzo 100, a gravel race with a lot of history located in the back country of Minnesota.  I got to work on the bike quickly and started racking up time in the saddle like never before.  I usually end up riding somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 miles ever year; but in 2016, when I crossed the finish line of the Lumberjack 100 in June, I had already ticked over the 2,500 mile mark.  That was all good, and I was riding pretty strong.  But I was also burned out.  I got tired of the early Saturday and Sunday morning long rides.  I rode a hundred miler on my road bike, cross bike, and mountain bike.  And after putting in all of those long training miles, my body needed a break.

The first six months of 2016 went by pretty quickly and I learned a lot about myself, training, and bike maintenance.  I wanted to focus on running for the last 6 months, but, like my typical over-eager self, I did not take enough of a break to recover from those 2,500+ miles.  I started running too soon after the Lumberjack and ramped up in mileage too quickly.  My left foot flared up again with plantar fasciitis and general pissiness.  I struggled with running because of my foot; I struggled with riding because of burnout; and I struggled with resting, because I don’t like to rest (even when my body is telling me that’s what it wants).  The last 6 months of 2016 I spent lifting weights and riding a little.  I really started to enjoy weight training, and I also fell in love with stand up paddleboarding.  It is a great workout but is also relaxing.  Giesla and I love going out on our paddleboards with a few beers and snacks and just soaking in the sun all day.

In July, Giesla stopped bringing beer along for herself, because she is pregnant!!!  We are expecting our first (a boy) in late March 2017.  We could not be happier or more excited.  Just as her bump was starting to get noticeably larger, we embarked on a dream trip to Hawaii with Adam and Joni.  Hawaii was our 50th state, and we celebrated with a lot of food and relaxation and an equal amount of hiking and exploring.

With our baby on the way and visiting our 50th state and me being able to check the box of finishing a 100 mile mountain bike race and finally doing the Almanzo with Ted… this has been a huge year!  I am so glad I was able to get a ton of training and some longer races in just before I become a dad.  Training and racing will definitely take a backseat to my new favorite job of being a father, but we want our kid(s) to understand the importance of pushing yourself, learning your body through sport, and relating the experiences of struggle, perseverance, and success in racing to the parallels they have in every day living.

In 2016, I moved 4,159 miles and spent 405 hours training and racing – 725 miles running and hiking and 3,434 miles cycling.  I definitely got stronger and definitely was burned out.  I hope to be smarter and do more with less in 2017.  I think the last 12 months have taught me (again) that I have more than enough stuff going on in my life and that squeezing in more training is not necessarily better.  Some of my best racing seasons have been during (and likely thanks to) some of my most minimal training times.  2017 will bring on all kinds of new adventures.  I’m more than ready.

2016 races below:

Snack time with Ted in tow

Snack time with Ted in tow

My view of the Almanzo 100

My view of the Almanzo 100

Sunrise paddleboarding with Giesla

Sunrise paddleboarding with Giesla

Post-run creek bath, McCormick's Creek

Post-run creek bath, McCormick’s Creek

Sleeping GIant hike, Kauai, Hawaii

Sleeping Giant hike, Kauai, Hawaii

Awa'Awapuhi Hike, Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii

Awa’Awapuhi Hike, Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii

Hawaiian Sunset

Hawaiian Sunset

2016 Gravel Grovel

Damnit. Another year at the Gravel Grovel where I crossed the line running on empty. With sub-par training and a trip to Hawaii two weeks before the race (and no riding in those two weeks), I didn’t expect this year to be a great performance. But with decent weather and a cross bike, I had slightly higher hopes than I should have.

The first year I did this race, I got the flu the day before the start. I did it anyway and shivered the whole day. It was 19 degrees at the start. The second year I didn’t fare too well either. I wasn’t sick this time, but I dressed for a 45 degree dry day. It rained the whole day, and I froze. I was shaking badly by the end and layed in my vehicle unable to use my hands to get out of my wet clothes. Thanks to a thermal camera at work, I now understand that I did permanent damage to my fingers. Oops. This year, my third year, well it was a little different and not that different at all.

After putting in more miles in the first 6 months of 2016 than I have before in a full year, I was burned out. Training for the Almanzo 100 and Lumberjack 100 left me strong in body and weak in mind. After a short break and quickly ramping up running miles for several weeks, my left foot starting screaming (again); same story as last year – plantar fasciitis. I came back too soon. I didn’t take enough time off. I didn’t respect my body after a solid 6 months of long rides.

I started lifting weights, running less, and cycling less. After a few months of this, and two weeks before Gravel Grovel, I shipped off to Hawaii with my wife, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law. We hiked and ate and drank merrily. It was a glorious trip. I knew coming home from warm Hawaii jetlagged, less trained, and tired wouldn’t bode well for a cold, usually sloppy wet bike race on trails and gravel roads. Especially not a 60 mile race.  I had been on a ride over 30 miles only twice since the Lumberjack in June!  Ouch.

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I didn’t think about any of this in the first 30 miles.  I felt pretty good on the bike.  I didn’t feel strong on the sloppy trail sections of Combs Road and Nebo, but I thought I was riding smart.  I was trying not to jack my heart rate up on the climbs.  I would hike up hills that I would otherwise power through.  But by about 35 miles, I knew that any kind of ‘fast’ or ‘healthy’ spin in my legs was fleeting.  Mount Baldy and Buffalo Pike Hill destroyed my legs.  I wasn’t in great cycling shape to begin with, and because my cross bike is a 1X with a 42-tooth chainring. I should have thought about my gearing choice before now. I was hurting.  Wiz Khalifa can’t push big gears with those skinny legs and neither can I.

I struggled and sweated and pushed myself through the next 15 miles.  At 48 miles, there was a small crowd of hunters that had set up chairs by the gravel road near their camp.  They were cheering and screaming and drinking and having a good time.  It was an awesome sight as hunters and cyclists (especially mountain bikers) aren’t always the best of friends.  I smiled at that.  Two miles later, I bonked hard… the kind of bonk that you feel coming on slowly and are pretty sure you can avoid but then suddenly feel like you could barf at any moment. My legs were tight and weak, and my feet were bricks. I felt like I was fighting my bike. I stopped at Hickory Ridge church to pray. Just kidding. I stopped there to get off of my bike for a minute and eat a half of a Pro Bar. I think my head was slouching and my body probably looked slumped over my bike, because a rider passed me and sincerely asked, “you doing okay?” I mumbled yeahhhh and got back on my bike. Only a few miles to go. I’ll make it.  I should have trained harder.

I crossed the finish line in 4 hours 56 minutes. This race beat me down again. I have finished three times, every single one of them felt like defeat. Gravel Grovel 3; me 0. I keep coming back for retribution but get knocked down. It makes me want a great race that much more. I love this course, I love this race. I’ll be back again for another shot. I am aiming for a sub-4:30.  It might take a few years to get there.  But there’s a good chance I’ll keep coming back.

Lumberjack 100

I really wanted to push myself this year and sign up for something that scared me.  Ted had mentioned doing a 100 mile mountain bike race, so we decided on the Lumberjack 100 in Wellston, Michigan.  As the race sells out quickly, we registered within the first couple of minutes that registration was open – the 450 racer cap was met in just 6 days.  The anxious feelings and long training hours started soon after.

Six months later, we were nervously joking around at the start line.  I calculated that on a perfect day, with no flat tires or mechanicals, I would finish around 10 hours – best case scenario, I thought I might be able to squeeze in under 10 hours.  No matter what, when the race started, I knew it was going to be a long, grueling day in the saddle.  I planned to have to dig deeper than I ever have before, and I was right.

The Lumberjack 100 is a three lap course; each lap consists of 33.3 miles of mostly singletrack with some fire roads and plenty of climbing.  I knew the terrain would be different than what I am used to riding in Indiana.  The trails in the Manistee National Forest are fast, flowy, and smooth ribbons of dirt weaving through stunningly beautiful stands of hardwoods.  A thick canopy overhead and endless ferns covering the forest floor offered plenty of scenery but not enough to take my mind off the daunting length of the race.  The first lap was slowed quite a bit, like most cross country mountain bike races, by the sheer number of riders trying to go from road and doubletrack at the start to singletrack.  It thinned out enough in the first few miles, and I was able to get into somewhat of a rhythm.  Most of lap one, I was trying to learn the course and take in plenty of fluids.  For each lap, I planned to have a 24 ounce bottle of Tailwind in my cage and a 16 ounce bottle of water in my jersey with plenty of real food in my pockets as well.  My cooler at the lap area was stocked with all of my pre-mixed bottles and nutrition needed for the day – I had about 2400 calories in all; I knew I wouldn’t take it all in, but I wanted options for late in the race when my stomach and cravings do weird things.

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Smiling like an obnoxious idiot

Lap one went by in a little over 3 hours and I grabbed fresh bottles and a lap’s worth of bars and gels from my pit area.  Rolling through the pit area gave me extra energy as it was noisy with all the pit crews and supporters, ringing cowbells and screaming at riders.  Then within seconds, it was back into the forest and the eery quiet other than the sound of tires rolling on dirt and rocks.  I wondered how Ted was feeling and where he was in his lap.  I tried to keep my heart rate low up the climbs, but as the temperature was steadily rising, that was becoming a monumental challenge.  As I passed other riders or as others passed me, I tried to give some encouragement.  As the miles ticked by, I kept looking down at my gps waiting to see that 50 mile mark – half way!  I saw 38 miles then 41.6 miles then 43.3 miles.  Damnit it was hot, my legs and breathing were feeling heavier than they should, and I’m not even halfway!  I tried my best to stay in the moment and enjoy the trail, but I really wanted to hit halfway and feel like I was on the return trip.  Although I also knew every mile of trail would have to be repeated one more time on lap 3.

I was feeling confident though overheated.  The last five miles of each lap were rough.  A lot of the climbing was all smashed up in the last bit of the laps, and that is the point that you really just want it to be over.  I struggled at the end of lap 2.  I knew I was fatiguing physically and mentally as I railed a sandy corner onto some doubletrack and ended up sliding out.  It was a simple crash that bruised nothing more than my ego – just enough to make me a little upset with myself for the mistake.  I finished the second lap’s climbing and rolled through the pit area for the last time.  I was hurting for sure, but I reloaded fresh bottles, more nutrition, and then stretched my legs off the bike as I downed a 7.5oz. mini-can of Coke.  The quick hit of far-too-many simple sugars hit my blood like jet fuel and sent me flying out on my last lap.  I have used these mini-cans before in training, and it’s crazy how big of a difference it makes.  The high lasted for a while, but around mile 72 I started to feel some real mental fatigue that slightly worried me.  Having never ridden a mountain bike this long or far, I felt a little uneasy knowing my brain was reacting to stimulus slower.  When you’re bombing down a rocky hill at 23mph with a slow reaction time, things can happen.  I feathered my brakes a bit more on the last lap to be safe.  My eyes automatically checked the miles on my gps more frequently.  Sometime after mile 82, my brain and body went a little off track.  I bonked and started getting really frustrated with everything.  The guy’s hub behind me drove me nuts!  The intermittent squeak in my left pedal annoyed the hell out of me!  The aid station that I thought for sure was at mile 82 wasn’t there!  I needed the aid station badly as I was running low on fluids and was craving salt.  Every turn in the trail, where I didn’t see the aid station, my blood would go up a degree.  COME ON!!  Finally, I got to the aid station, and one of the awesome volunteers refilled my bottle.  I drank half of it, and he filled it up again.  Then I shuffled over to the food.  I ate a handful of combos, a half of a PayDay bar, and a small bag of Doritos – shit I would never eat on a normal day, but I needed salt and calories badly.  The bars I had in my pockets could make me gag.  I was tired of sweet stuff.

I felt a little out of body at the aid station – I was looking around at all the other racers who were hurting like me.  All of us just standing there; some eating, some drinking, but all were kind of staring blankly ahead.  My thoughts were very clear, but I knew I looked like a zombie just like everyone else.  I knew my face and neck and arms were crusted with salty sweat and Doritos crumbs and dirt.  I slowly threw a leg over my bike once more and headed toward the finish.  It was going to be a slog, but I felt six months of training behind me pushing me toward the finish like a weak tailwind.  I started to feel some life back in my legs after the buffet at the aid station and was moving pretty well on the flats.  The hills were still rough, but after 85 miles of riding, I was okay with that.  I just really wanted that finish line.

The signs for “8 miles left,” “7 miles left,” etc. were taunting me.  It felt like they were ten miles apart.  I knew once I hit that “5 miles left” section, the climbing would begin and I would suffer all the way to the end.  It was extremely challenging.  Every hill I got to, there would be someone walking their bike up, silently encouraging me to do the same.  But I knew riding would be much faster, if not more painful.  I would find my easiest gear, and just stare at my heart rate the whole way up.  My heart rate refused to climb above 150bpm; a sure sign I was dehydrated or exhausted or both.  Long, gradual hills and short, punchy ones all felt the same – painful, frustratingly slow, and never-ending.  “4 miles left.”  Hill, hill, hill.  “3 miles left.”  SHUT UP.  I surprisingly had enough leg strength to climb every hill.  Watching my mileage creep up into the high 90s and still being able to climb and pop up over roots and rocks was a confidence boost.  Too bad my heart didn’t care.  As I rode past one guy walking up a hill, he mumbled something with the word “good” in it.  I mumbled something with the letters “thks” back to him.

Ready for some Magic Eyes

Totally exhausted

Finally the “1 mile left” sign appeared in my crusty vision.  The last mile was pretty fast, and I could hear the crowd and music at the finish.  It pulled me in, and I crossed the line in 9 hours and 58 minutes.  No energy was left to think about anything.  I stopped my watch, laid my bike down in the grass, and just sat there.  I was in a daze.  I stared blankly down at the dirt on my leg.  Strangely, only the center part of my vision was clear – I could only focus a very tiny part of my vision.  The dirt on my leg was extra detailed while everything around it was blurry and moving outward like quicksand.  I felt like I was looking at a Magic Eyes book.  No matter where I looked, I was seeing through a tunnel.  Weird.  I figured I was dehydrated and needed calories.  I stood up and shuffled back to the pit area – Ted took my bike, put a t-shirt he had soaked in the cooler around my neck, and gave me a bunch of water.  Ted, like a lot of the other 450 racers, had bailed after two laps.  The unseasonably hot day had gotten the best of a lot of racers.  The Lumberjack 100 was the hardest endurance event I have competed in.  I learned more over the past 6 months of training, and especially the ten hours it took me to finish the race, than I could have imagined.  I am so happy to have this race behind me, but I’m also looking forward to whatever comes next.
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Almanzo 100: Wind and Gravel and Wind

Standing in line for a porta-potty, I was shivering uncontrollably.  It was 37°F and extremely windy.  The weather forecast for Spring Valley, MN slowly changed over the preceding days – wind increased up to 30mph gusts and temperature slowly dropped.  Ted and I didn’t pack well for a cold, windy day.  He forgot his knee warmers and ended up cutting arm warmers to fit over his legs.  I just had thin knee warmers.

Talking to native Minnesotans and looking around, everyone had full length tights and windproof jackets.  That seemed smart.  I felt relatively unprepared and slightly stupid.  There wasn’t much I could do at this point.  With about 20 minutes before the starting gun, Ted and I took off down the road for a warmup.  Ten minutes later, we were at the start line, somehow feeling a lot colder than when we started our ‘warmup.’  The wind was pushing us sideways.  We took a quick picture at the start and then heard the gun.  We rolled out slowly with the giant group of cyclists (somewhere around 1000 registered), trying to stay upright in the wind.  I was preparing myself mentally for a long, tough day.  The Almanzo 100 is called “the granddaddy of all gravel races” for a reason, and we had about 100 miles to figure out why.

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Pee and food stop. We did not wash our hands

At about five miles in, the pack seemed to be spreading out which was good and bad.  It was great to have a little more room and not feel so cramped and tight in a crowded group; but it was bad because the wind felt even stronger without anyone around helping to block it.  As we sped past a goat pasture, all the goats ran after us making a lot of noise.  Ted referred back to this ‘goat stampede’ several times throughout the day.  The first hour seemed to go by fairly quickly.  I pulled out my first of many Honey Stinger waffles, one of my favorite ride fuels.  They are great on the bike energy thanks to having 7 grams of slow burning fat per waffle.  (They are also excellent with a cup of coffee on any morning!)

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Smiling real big

It did not take long for Ted and I to wax lyrical over the scenery and the gravel roads.  Minnesota is a beautiful state with lots to offer anyone who loves nature and the outdoors.  But the gravel roads and farm country we were riding through were quintessential Midwest perfection.  On top of ridges, we could see miles and miles of deep green pastures, well manicured fields, and pristine wood barns.  My eyes continuously scanned the endless gravel roads spanning off in the distance like white ribbons.  Though sometimes deep, the hard-packed gravel and dirt was buttery smooth and fast under our tires.  It was almost enough to take our minds off of that relentless wind.  Almost.

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Showing off my super beefy legs

That damn wind would not stop and would not slow down.  It would hold steady enough to force you to lean into the wind, then it would let up just enough to throw you to the side a bit, and finally gust up to 30mph and push you the other way.  It was horrendous.  I hate riding in the wind, but I had never experienced anything like this.  Riding in a line of cyclists, I noticed how everyone was leaning a certain degree to the left, trying to counter its stronghold.  It was actually better to be riding into a headwind, because it didn’t require any auxiliary muscles to stabilize your position.  A headwind just meant putting your head down and grinding through it.  The crosswinds were worse – my quad on whichever side the wind was blowing from would fatigue and ache from holding me up against the lean into the wind.  It was crazy.

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Smoothest roads

Twenty miles went by.  Then thirty miles were behind us.  A quick stop at the first aid station to take in more food.  Then forty and fifty miles done.  Ted and I both felt pretty good until sometime after the fifty mile mark.  We were straight into a headwind for a while, and I momentarily looked back and could barely see Ted.  Uh oh.  I slowed up a bit and waited for him.  He said he was fine; he was just feeling a little slower because of the wind.  I told him we should latch on to a group that had just passed us; we pushed a bit to catch up and as soon as we got on their wheels, the wind seemed to disappear.  It was a much needed respite, if for no other reason, just to have a few minutes of quiet.  I turned around again, and Ted was off the back.  Uh oh again.  I slowed up and we lost the group ahead.  He said he just wanted to ride his own pace.

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Head down, either weeping or just staying low in the wind

For a long time, we rode this way – fifteen minutes of solo riding, then I would stop and wait for Ted to catch up.  I didn’t mind.  He didn’t mind.  We have talked about doing Almanzo for almost as many years as we have known each other, so we were definitely going to finish together.  It was too windy to hear the person next to you talk anyway.  So we would chat each time we stopped and there were always a bunch of “Did you see that…” and “This route is so beautiful…”  Somewhere around mile 60, there was an amazing aid station.  It was a huge party stocked with any kind of food you could want – potatoes, bacon, M&Ms, hot dogs, beer, water, peanut butter filled pretzels, rice cakes, Cheez-Its, and the list goes on.  It was amazing.  I was craving salt, so I ate some baked potato chunks (in salt) and roughly five pounds of Cheez-Its.  Ted nabbed a hot dog.  We topped off our bottles and off we went.

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That’s a big ass sky

Time went quickly and slowly for the rest of the race.  Five miles seemed to take an hour.  But then I would blink and my Garmin would jump ten or fifteen miles.  I was trying to stay in the moment and out of the wind at the same time; that’s a hard task to accomplish.  At mile 81, at a major road crossing, I met two women in an F-150 waiting to cheer for their husbands.  They were from Kansas and were super nice.  We talked for a bit, and when Ted rolled up, they offered him a hug.  We knew we would be done soon enough, so he skipped the hug and we took off, knowing there was a huge hill at mile 91.  The next ten miles were all headwind.  When I reached the hill, the guy next to me said, “Moment of truth.”  Then we rounded a corner and I saw it.  I didn’t think it looked that big or steep, but everyone on it was walking their bikes.  I pedaled my way up without much trouble.  At the top, I got out of the wind behind some trees, ate the rest of my ProBar (thanks, Duane!), and waited for Ted.  A few minutes later, he rolled up and said “Sorry I’m riding like a Grandpa.  Let’s just finish this thing.”

So we did.  The last several miles were awesome.  We were about to finish something we had talked about doing for years.  We rolled across the finish.  There was no finisher’s medal or buffet waiting for us at the end.. just a spot in the grass where we could sit for a few minutes.  It was all I wanted.  We stared off into the distance for a while and didn’t say anything, too tired to think of anything to say.  Then we got back on our bikes and pedaled to the car.  We ate cold pizza in silence.  No wind or anything else interrupted us.

101.30 miles.  7:48 ride time; 8:36 total.

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“Just two slender cowboys” – Ted

Death March 2016

The Death March is a seriously fun bike race.  Some people might even call it more of a scavenger hunt than a race.  My partner Eric and I were not going to take it particularly serious – we planned on riding a comfortable and sustainable pace throughout the day.  It would be more of a training ride than anything else.  Most teams map out which checkpoints/cemeteries they want to hit prior to the race start.  Eric and I figured we would wing it – about five minutes from the start, we pulled out his map and pointed at some spots.  That was about the extent of our planning.  Since we had a decent amount of rain, we figured a lot of teams wouldn’t be going for Elkinsville or Callahan since both require quite a bit of singletrack trail to get to them.  We would slightly regret this decision by the end of the day.

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The race started, and we went right with most of the pack.  We immediately flip-flopped on our decision to go for the Gil Gal cemetery checkpoint like we had discussed.  We decided to skip it and just hit Hawkins instead.  Less than a half mile down the road, Eric’s tire was rubbing his frame quite loudly.  I almost couldn’t hear it, because I was laughing so hard.  We were only a couple minutes into the day, and we had already changed our route and now were stopping to fix a mechanical issue.  We were hardly ‘racing,’ and that was just fine with us.  We rolled pretty well for the next hour, picking off three quick checkpoints before heading to the fire tower and climbing it for our fourth checkpoint.

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From the fire tower, we cruised Tower Ridge until it runs into West County Road 1000 North.  A quick 4 miles of paved road and we were in Houston collecting the Houston and Lutes cemeteries.  Back to some gravel climbing and we nabbed Hanner and Cornett.  Then we took Hickory Ridge Trail 21, so much fun in the mud on a cross bike!  Five miles of gravel road and we were at Hickory Grove Church, checkpoint 8.  Despite the rain, the gravel roads were quick – and our day seemed to be close to over.  Neither Eric or myself felt challenged.  Oops.  We probably should have gone for a few more checkpoints farther out.  Oh well, at this point, we had less than six miles to the finish.  We hit it pretty hard on this fast section of gravel, averaging almost 19mph for the last 5 miles.  We obviously hadn’t pushed ourselves very hard.  But the beer at the finish line was calling us home.

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We crossed the finish line with about 44 miles and 3 hours of ride time on the day – not terrible, but a lot less than we figured we would hit.  Talking to others at the finish later on, we learned that a lot of teams actually did go for the checkpoints with a lot more trail.  We should have done the same.  Maybe next year we will plan a bit more ahead of time – either way, the Death March is always a great day on the bike.  And you really cannot beat the gravel roads in and around the Deam Wilderness.  Eric and I will likely be back.  Next time, we will plan a little better I think.

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2016 Ferdy Flyer 10K

The Ferdy Flyer Trail 10K is easily one of my favorite races of the past two years – and I don’t particularly enjoy shorter races.  I’m much more comfortable getting really uncomfortable on longer runs, but this 10K is so much fun and has so much character.  It also happens to take place in my favorite park on some of my favorite trails in the state.

This year would be a little different though.  First, last year I was training for several running events, so I had a lot of running miles in legs.  Lots of trail running miles.  This year, I have been training for a couple of 100 mile bike races.  So my training has been much different.  Second, I ended up catching Giesla last year with only about a half mile left in the race – she had a 9 minute head start on me thanks to the Ferdy Flyer’s unique, top secret, head start time algorithm.  This year, she had a 12 minute head start on me.  I knew it would be real tough to catch her.  She is in great running shape too – I could catch her on a bike but running might be different.

After Giesla started, I stood around and talked with Kade.  After eight or so minutes, I could see Giesla’s pink jacket across the lake on the trail.  She looked strong and effortless.  I looked down at my skinny cycling legs.  A few minutes later, my age group started and I concentrated on keeping a steady pace and low-ish heart rate.  The heart rate part is harder to control, especially since this 10K has a little over 900 feet of climbing.  The trails at the Ferdinand State Forest are so challenging, but the beauty of the park sometimes takes your mind away.  Luckily on this day, I was able to run while taking in the scenery and keeping my mind busy.  I passed a few people here and there and tried to offer encouraging words, though I probably sounded more like I was just choking.

I never did catch Giesla – she beat me by about 7 minutes, which means I gained about five minutes on her.  She was about to open a beer when I crossed the finish line.  Giesla ended up first with an official time of 36:44 (53:29 on course), and I was second with 43:58 (46:28 on course).  It was such a fun course – and when you get to sample St. Benedict’s Brew Works at the finish, that’s just fine too!  I hope to be back for this race every year.

2015 Rundown

2015 was similar to 2014 for me.  What I planned to do and what I did were very different things.  I planned a year of running races and had hopes of completing a few more 50ks and my first 50 miler.  But my body had a different idea.  Or at least, I did not execute that plan very well.  The first several months were smooth and I continued to build up my run volume.  I was feeling great on the trails and training was going as planned.  After a couple of shorter distance races, I finally got to the Dances with Dirt 50K.  The race went fairly well aside from me getting lost and losing a bit of time.  No big deal though.  I ended up second to my friend Ted.  It was a great race, and I was extremely happy with the result.  I gave my body a few days of rest and started back into training.. but my foot was tight.  So I took it pretty easy, but every time I ran, my foot seemed to get tighter.  And then it started to ache a little in the morning.  And then I blinked and it was full blown plantar fasciitis.  It hurt like hell!  I went from being able to run with just a slight ache and a little tightness to NO RUNNING.  A week turned into a month which turned into a couple of months.

And so it goes.  Injuries are never fun.  But I know I don’t do enough strength work.  I usually put all of my time into only running or only cycling.  So with plantar fasciitis lingering and being unable to run any distance, I got back on the bike.  I also started a pretty regular strength routine.  For some reason, this time around, I immediately started enjoying lifting weights and doing pull-ups.  I spent a few months healing my foot (no running), riding on the roads and trails, and lifting weights.  I basically wanted to be in shape to explore the Alps while Giesla and I and our parents traveled through Europe.  We visited Switzerland, France, and Italy – I did some biking, we ran as much as we could, and we hiked often.  It was amazing (click here for my Sunski blog feature).

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On the Hardergrat Trail above Interlaken, Switzerland

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Rest Stop

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Exploring the Swiss Gravel Roads

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Hiking Break in the Clouds

Once back in the States, I jumped into the 14K at the Honest Abe trail races at Lincoln State Park and finished 1st.  Giesla and I both walked away with cool hand-made trophies – and I also walked away with an inflamed IT band.  So with a freshly healed plantar, I abused myself a different way.  The IT band issues cleared up with a regimen of only cycling for about a month.  Running and I have not been getting along.  I rode a giant loop in the middle of nowhere, Indiana with my friends Jeff and Ted in honor of Ted’s bacheloretteness.  He was going to get married, so we celebrated with the Ted Continental.  Then Giesla and I celebrated our wedding anniversary with a quick weekend trip to Asheville, North Carolina.  We drank a lot of beer and rode bikes.

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The Ted Continental at Mile Who Knows

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After climbing Elk Mountain Scenic Highway, Asheville, NC

Next up, Ted and I signed up for the Gravel Grovel.  We spent a lot of time in the Deam Wilderness and even got in a few group rides.  I really enjoyed all the bike training – and I got a new cross bike!  I bought a Fuji Cross 1.3, and it fits me perfectly.  Due to the muddy and wet conditions prior to the Gravel Grovel, I ended up riding my mountain bike.  It was the right choice.  The race conditions were insane – super cold, windy, and constantly raining.  I did not dress appropriately, because I thought the rain was going to stop.  I was dangerously cold by the end of the Gravel Grovel, but I learned a lot of lessons.  I hope to come back to this race in the future for some vengeance.

As the year came to a close, I slightly increased my lifting and strength workouts.  I also started to ride my Fuji Cross exclusively – it’s much heavier than my road bike and only has one gear up front, a 42 tooth chainring.  That’s not terribly large for most people, but I am built like Wiz Khalifa, and hitting the Bloomington hills with a 42T is great strength training for me.  In December, I turned 30 years old, so I decided to start challenging myself a bit more.  I never have been great at sitting still, so the older I get, the more I feel like I need to move so I don’t rot.  Or something like that.  After my birthday, I started a pull-up challenge: 100 pull-ups per day for 30 days.  I learned a lot of lessons doing that.  And got a lot stronger in that short time.

2016 will be full of challenges.  I am going to make sure of that.  I finished my 100 pull-ups/30 day challenge (with a few rest days).  Ted and I signed up for two 100 mile races: the Almanzo and The Lumberjack 100, both in Spring/Summer 2016.  And I plan to keep moving a lot.  I want to ride more than I ever have in one year; I want to run and remain healthy; and I want to lift weights, do loads of pull-ups, and get stronger.  And of course, I will eat more vegetables.  Cheers to 2016!

2015 Gravel Grovel: Cold, Wet, Spectacular

The Gravel Grovel is a 60 mile bike race on the gravel roads and mountain bike trails of the Hoosier National Forest.  It is rugged and challenging.  My friend Ted and I completed the event in 2012 – it was much colder that year (19 degrees at the start) and I came down with the flu less than 24 hours before the race, but we finished in 5 hours and 16 minutes.  I remember that race well.  It was a tough day.  Being sick and cold, I really just wanted to survive and finish.  This year, I was in much better shape, I was not ill, and the temperature was a cool 39 degrees at the start.  So how was it that this day quickly became one of the hardest I have ever had on a bike?

After 24 hours of rain, the course was extremely saturated.  I checked the weather diligently leading up to the time I left home, and every source showed the rain stopping around 10am.  With a solid breakfast and just the right amount of hot coffee, I met Ted at the start/finish and we picked up our race packets.  We were cold at the start but knew we would be heating up quickly.  Out of 241 registered, the start was about 150 riders strong.  The paved leadout section quickly dispersed the pack, and Ted and I stuck around somewhere in the middle to warm up.  With a steady spitting rain, I was getting wetter and colder but my body was warming up.  I thought I would be fine most of the day with a light wind jacket.  Ted and I yo-yoed back and forth for the first 10 miles until we reached Combs Road – a somewhat double track mountain bike trail.  I was on my Scott Scale 930 mountain bike with 2in tires, and Ted was perched on his Surly Long Haul cross bike.  So I had the advantage on the muddy, slippery trail section, and we said our goodbyes.  I was feeling pretty decent and passing people on cross bikes.  I hit the major climb and descent with good speed and got back onto some gravel.  I chatted with a few guys and we joked about the sun coming out.  The sun was never going to come out and we knew it; there was only rain and gray skies.

The next five-ish miles hurt me.  It was nothing but mud, and I struggled to get into a rhythm.  Creek crossings, deep puddles, and leg zapping muck covered this trail section.  It seemed like the choice was to ride through muddy water of questionable depth or jump over to the mud that would suck energy and momentum out of my legs.  I was fighting myself through this section and felt the effort by the time I got off the trail and back onto the gravel road.  On gravel, a mountain bike is much slower than a cross bike and I watched waves of crossers pass me.  On the 3 mile section of Nebo Ridge trail, I passed a few back.  And then out of the trails, on Berry Ridge Road, they passed me again.  It was at this point in the race, barely 25 miles in, that I realized a few things.  First, it was raining pretty damn hard, and I was absolutely soaked; on every down stroke, I could feel water squeeze out of my sock and drain through my shoe.  Second, I couldn’t see very well, because my glasses and face were constantly being sprayed by mud and gravel road spray.  Third, I was really cold.  I’m not talking about the kind of cold where you run from your car into your office cold; I’m talking about the fell-in-a-lake-in-December kind of cold.  My gloves were perfect for 39 degrees but terrible for a soaking wet 39 degrees.  It quickly registered that my gear choice was inadequate – and I wasn’t even halfway.  Luckily, I was smiling too.  I was still having fun.

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In to Houston and up one of the major climbs of the day, I warmed a little.  But my hands were so cold it was becoming difficult to shift.  Coming down that long descent, my hands became near useless claws.  I’m sure I could have cracked my gloves in half.  It was almost at that point where I wished it was just a little colder so the rain would turn to snow or ice.  It felt like every drop of rain was soaking into my baselayer and sucking my body heat away from me.  There wasn’t much I could do but spin my legs, smile through my muddy teeth, and hope I could warm up again somehow.  Coming through mile 37 and back onto some singletrack, my hands were damn near useless.  They felt like stumps attached to my handlebars.  I shifted as little as possible and every bump  in the trail sent a painful throb through my forearms.  As I hit the Polk Patch climb, it felt better to get onto familiar roads.  I kept my mind busy thinking of previous rides through this section in warm weather.  I was trying to drink while on the gravel sections and realized at 40 miles in that I had not drank a full bottle yet.  I wouldn’t finish even a single 24 ounce bottle through the entire race – a sure sign that I’m an idiot, if I had any doubts.

The next several miles were exacerbated by more creek crossings and road spray making me even colder.  I creeped up the climb to Hickory Ridge Trail 20 and reluctantly dropped into the muddy singletrack, struggling with my frozen hands the whole way.  Halfway through that section, I saw a black and yellow Team Adventures jacket in front of me!  I knew it was my teammate Eric, and I paced myself to catch him.  When I came up behind him, I jokingly yelled “Coming at you, get the **** out of the way!”  Eric did not know it was me and he sketchily dove off the side of the trail, sliding to a stop.  I felt so bad that I did that.  I apologized a hundred times and we rode our way out of that last trail section together.  At the aid station on tower ridge, I tore into a bag of Doritos.  I didn’t plan on stopping at any aid stations and I had plenty of Honey Stinger waffles, but salty Doritos just sounded so good.  Still feeling bad for almost crashing him, I fed Eric some Doritos too.. and some mud from my gloves.  We rode for a bit together, but I just couldn’t overcome the uncontrollable shaking of my limbs.  I was damn cold and trembling so much, I could not put any power into the pedals.  I didn’t want to slow Eric down either; I knew he was trying to finish in under 5 hours.  Alone and trying to figure out my ‘shakes,’ I ambled along over the next 7 miles with simply finishing on my mind.

Finally reaching the defunct bridge less than a half mile from the finish, I slowly lifted my bike and then myself over the bridge barriers.  I mounted my bike one more time and crept to the finish, all in slow motion.  I hit the last creek crossing and jumped off my bike.  I walked through the creek and, slightly beaten, across the finish –  a reasonable resemblance for my race.  I finished in 5 hours and 1 minute.  Feeling a bit dejected and a lot frozen, I trudged to my car.  I started the engine, blasted the heat, and laid in the back trying to get my helmet and shoes off.  It took twenty minutes for my hands to be useful again.  I shoved an entire pack of Honey Stinger Energy Chews in my mouth.  It was heaven.

It was 24 hours later before I got all the feeling back in my fingers – at the same time, I wanted to get out on my bike again.

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Honest Abe Trail 14K

Training since the Gnaw Bone 50K has been frustrating!  I was being smart about getting back into training slowly after the 50K but somehow ended up with plantar fasciitis that spiraled out of control quickly.  It started with a stiff left foot and quickly became horrendous within a couple of days.  I iced it, rolled it, stood on a golf ball, did all of the strengthening exercises, and almost hired a witch doctor to rub it.  None of that seemed to help.  I could run only once or twice every week.  What I could do everyday though was get out of bed with some serious pain in my foot that lasted about thirty minutes.  That’s it.  Plantar fasciitis is an immensely frustrating injury – but it’s known mostly for being extremely hard to heal.  So with that, I was off of my feet and back on the bike.  This is somewhat like giving up Skittles and eating Starbursts.  Both running and cycling bring me so much joy.  So the trade off is never really a difficult one.

A common problem I have with cycling is that I can get really fit cardiovascularly but then when I can run again, I run too hard.  This was the case for the Honest Abe Trail 14K.  I had wanted to do the marathon, but because of my foot issue, I opted for the 14K which Giesla was doing as well.  I had only been running 4ish miles per week for a couple of months trying to heal my foot, so I figured I shouldn’t run too hard.  I wanted to go out at a reasonable pace and see how it went.

The race started on a paved hill and cut into the woods on a gravel two track trail.  I tucked in behind the first handful of runners and immediately felt like I was running too hard.  Oh well, it’s just the start.  Settle down in a little bit.  But I didn’t.  I just completely ignored all of that.  The fourth place guy dropped back a bit.  Then a half mile later, the third place guy started dropping back.  I thought he seemed to be breathing hard too.  So I figured he was running a bit too hard as well.  So it was just me and a girl that I learned later is Alyson Kern.  We ran together, pushing each other, for pretty much the entire race.  Mile 2, mile 3, mile 4, mile 5, mile 6.  I couldn’t shake her, and she seemed to surge out of every corner and at the top of every hill.  With the little running I had been doing, my legs were screaming at me to slow down, though my lungs were fine thanks to all the cycling.  I kept getting some sharp twinges in my left knee too.  It was confusing, so I ignored it.  I figured it would come back to bite me, but in the heat of a race, sometimes you just ignore the signs you should pay attention to and it’s always a terrible idea.  On a particularly steep and long climb, I pushed hard until about 50 feet from the top.  I felt like I could puke, so I slowed my pace to a walk.  Alyson did the same.  When we reached the top, we were side by side again and followed along the ridge for a while.  When the long, sweeping downhill came, I let loose and figured I should try to get a gap.  I’m not a great downhill runner, but I went for it anyway.  Somehow I gapped her and was able to hold my pace for a while.  When I reached the lake and crossed over the dam, I looked back and she seemed closer than I expected.  Her form looked good too, and I thought I was in trouble.  About a mile later, I crossed the finished line in 1st in 1:02:07.

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It felt great to be done, and almost immediately, my left knee was giving me hell.  I stood around the finish and stretched and talked to the others finishing.  Giesla came in at 1:10:30, 6th overall and 2nd female.  We both had great races and enjoyed talking to the race director Beau Wendholt.  He puts on the Ferdy Flyer 10K and Honest Abe 14K and marathon – wonderfully-directed, environmentally friendly, very laid back races.  I highly recommend them both.  The volunteers are amazing and the courses are challenging.  My knee and leg gave me what I deserved for running so hard on such little training.  I should have known better than to run hard on cycling legs, but I got a good month’s worth of IT band syndrome out of it.  I am now running zero days every week and cut back significantly on cycling too.  Along with IT band syndrome, I also landed a sweet, handmade glass chili pepper for 1st place – and so did Giesla for 2nd female!  (Handmade glass from Zimmerman Art Glass, Corydon, IN)

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