2016 Minnesota Voyageur 50

logo

After focusing on improving my marathon and 50K times, I was excited to attempt another 50 miler this summer.  I researched several different races in the upper Midwest and finally decided on the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon. According to their website:

“Founded in 1982, the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon is one of the oldest trail ultras in the nation. The race follows a rugged, varied, out-and-back course that takes runners on a journey from Carlton, MN through Jay Cooke State Park and heads northeast over difficult, rough woodland trails to Duluth, MN and back. Enjoy scenic overlooks of Duluth, MN and Lake Superior, the iconic Swinging Bridge over the St. Louis River, and the infamous Power Lines.”

As with the Marquette 50, I used a training plan from “Relentless Forward Progress” but this time I chose one with more weekly mileage.  Since I trained specifically for the Cellcom Marathon in May, I only used the final 8 weeks of the plan to prepare for the Voyageur.  I recovered quickly from the marathon, and was able to hit most of the weekly mileage goals, except the week when we went on vacation. I did have some calf and knee issues towards the end of training, but overall my body felt strong and ready to race.

Weekly training mileage

Weekly training mileage

We decided to camp for the weekend instead of getting a hotel.  It had been a few years since we’ve gone camping, and the whole family was looking forward to it. Jay Cooke State Park was already sold out so we camped at the KOA which was only 1.5 miles from the start of the race.   The forecast for the weekend was low 70s, sunny and beautiful. Great camping and running weather!  We arrived at the campsite around 3:30, set up the tent, started a fire and enjoyed a nice pre-race meal of bean burritos, cantaloupe and s’mores.

IMG_20160729_171031324_HDR

Home for the weekend

I was hoping to get a good night’s sleep, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.  There was a band playing at the nearby Carlton Daze festival, and we could hear them until well after midnight. While I enjoyed the 90’s rock songs, and sang along in my head, I would have preferred a few more hours of sleep.  Luckily I slept well in the days leading into the race so I knew one restless night wouldn’t hurt too much.  After laying awake most of the night I got up at 4:00am, showered, eat a Clif Bar, drank some caffeinated Tailwind Nutrition, dragged the kids out of their sleeping bags, and we headed to the start.

The race starts at 6:00am at Carlton High School.  We arrived to the start area around 5:15 to register and hand off my drop bag.  We hung out inside the school for while because it was about 50 degrees.  Just before 6:00 the race director gave his pre-race speech including a shout out to a couple of runners who ran the first one in 1982 and were running it again this year.

IMG_20160730_060320

Excited for the race to start.

The race starts on the streets of Carlton before heading to the paved Munger Trail, and then onto the Jay Cooke Carlton Trail.  The road and paved section allowed the faster runners to quickly move to the front, and everyone else settled into the pack. The first trail section was full of rocks and roots, and with the mass of people it was slow going until we reached the swinging bridge over the St. Louis River.  This was one of the most scenic parts of the course.  The views of the river were amazing.  The pictures don’t do it justice.  Next time I would love to camp in the park and explore the area.

stlouisriver

Photo courtesy of Endurance Kennels LLC

IMG_20160730_154505

Swinging Bridge over the St. Louis River

IMG_20160730_154113

Another view of the St. Louis River in Jay Cooke State Park.

After the Swinging Bridge we hit the first aid station. There are 8 aid stations along the course, and one at the turnaround. Since it’s an out and back course we would have 17 stops during the 50 miles with no more than 3.4 miles between stations.  Because of this, I decided I only needed to carry one handheld bottle and a small waist pack to carry my nutrition. My nutrition plan was to eat whatever looked good at the aid stations, and mix in some gels and Tailwind between the aid stations. I also planed to take an S-cap hourly since cramping has been an issue in the past.

I had three goals in mind. Finish and have fun, beat my time from Marquette (12:16), and if everything went well I really wanted to break 10 hours. I needed to average 12 minute miles for the entire race to hit 10 hours. I set one of the data fields on my watch to Average Pace, and tried to stay as close to that as possible.

At the first aid station I quickly grabbed a PB&J and headed back out.  The next several miles were mostly flat and pretty smooth so I picked up the pace.  I was running smoothly and enjoying the cool temps.  I kept telling myself “quick light steps, and run tall”. I also really focused on my breathing.

IMG_20160730_082037079

Smooth wooded trails

A little under 11 miles in I came into the Grand Portage aid station feeling good.  I quickly filled my handheld with water and Tailwind, ate some fig bars, and left ready to tackle the hardest section of the course.  The next section includes the two big hills of Purgatory and the famous Power Lines.  Luckily the trail was dry this year which made climbing and descending much easier.  My goal was to power hike up the big climbs, and keeping moving as fast as possible. In past races I’ve hiked/walked the uphills too slowly.  This time I was able to catch or pass many runners on the uphill sections. While the most challenging part of the course, the Power Lines weren’t as difficult as I had feared.  I read many race reports to prepare, and most talked about how difficult this sections was. At the end of the Power Lines I caught up to a small group of runners, and ran with them to the Seven Bridges aid station.

IMG_20160730_131659983_HDR

Power Lines Section

Between Seven Bridges and Fond du Lac aid stations, I ran along with two other guys for several miles.  I settled in behind them and let them set the pace. They were running the race for the second time, and gave me some info about the upcoming sections of the course.  It was nice to talk with someone since I had been mostly running solo. I do all of my training runs by myself so I’m used to it, but during a race it’s good to have the distraction of talking with people.

Around 20 miles in I was just over my pace goal of 12 minute miles and feeling good.  My left ankle was sore, but nothing that prevented me from running normally. This has happened in training, but it never progressed to anything more than annoying.  I started to pick up the pace going up Skyline Drive and had a surge of energy.  I didn’t know how long it would last but I wanted to ride it as long as possible.  At the Skyline aid station (mile 22) we had access to our drop bags.  I had some coke, PB&J, restocked my gels and Tailwind, and took an Ibuprofen.

IMG_20160730_103954461

View from Spirit Mountain.

Right before the turnaround, we ran across the top of the Spirit Mountain ski slopes, and had great views of Superior, Duluth and the St. Louis River.  I reached the turnaround just under 5 hours, and feeling great.  Sarah and kids were planning on meeting me there but I arrived faster than expected so I texted her to tell her to meet me at the next aid station.

voyageur 3

Running back across Spirit Mountain Courtesy of Endurance Kennels LLC

When I reached the Skyline aid station for the second time, I was excited to see my family.  It always gives me a boost seeing them. I grabbed a few things from my drop bag and was off.  I really tried to minimize my time in aid stations which paid off.  The volunteers at all of the aid stations were great!! They would refill my water bottle while I grabbed something quick to eat.  I alternated between PB&J, fig bars, and potatoes dipped in salt.  I also drank Coke or Ginger Ale at most aid stations. Most of the time I walked out of the aid station while eating instead of stopping to eat.

waiting for me to arrive

Waiting at Skyline aid station. Race spectating isn’t very exciting for the kids.

My goal for the second half of the race was to stay under 10 hour pace as long as I could.  I knew if I could get past the Power Lines section around my goal pace, I had some very runable sections left that I could make up some time. My legs felt great all day.  The only issues were my left ankle and my right hamstring .  A few times my hamstring felt like it was about to start cramping which had been a problem for me last summer at the Luna-Tics 50k.  Whenever I felt a cramp coming on I would stretch it out and take another S-Cap.  Luckily the cramps never developed.

voyageur 2

Courtesy of Endurance Kennels LLC

I ran most of the second half of the race alone.  I was able to pass several runners, and was only passed by one guy. The surge of energy I had at mile 20 pretty much stayed with me for the rest of the race.

When I hit the Power Lines for the second time I caught up to and ran with another runner.  He was running his 7th ultra of the year!  We talked about training, and he gave me some info about other races in the area.

Power Lines take 2

Power Lines take 2

Between the Grand Portage and Jay Cooke aid stations I kept gaining on my goal of averaging 12 minute miles. I came into the Jay Cooke aid station around 9 hours which meant I had an hour to run the final 3.4 miles to reach my goal.  When I saw Sarah at mile 28 I told her she should meet me at the Jay Cooke aid station which was the final aid station of the race.  I wanted her and the kids to check out the park.  My phone died so I wasn’t able to give her updates for the last few hours, and since I was well under my goal they hadn’t arrived yet!

IMG_20160730_154042

Waiting for me to come by, but I was already at the finish!

IMG_20160730_155924

I exited the last aid station feeling great.  As long as I stayed upright and didn’t trip and hurt myself I would hit my goal. I ran part of this section with a runner who also was a teacher.  He told me that a few years ago the runner in second place fell and hit his head and needed an ambulance ride.  That gave me extra focus to pick up my feet and take it easy over the rocks and roots.

I finished the race in 9:48:26. Well under my ultimate goal, and almost a two and half hour PR.  I was 60th out of the 271 finishers. I was so happy that I executed my race plan almost perfectly.  I didn’t have any stomach or nutrition issues, no blisters (thank you Injinji socks!!), and no real leg soreness.  My pacing was also spot on. I ran the second half almost 8 minutes faster than the first half. We were blessed with great weather and trail conditions which helped to run a fast time.

After crossing the finish line, I borrowed someone’s phone to text Sarah that I was done.  They were still at the last aid station, and were surprised that I was already finished. I hung out at the finish line to watch some of the runners that I had run with finish.  There was a nice meal in the school cafeteria, but my stomach didn’t feel like eating yet so I just grabbed a protein drink and water.

Now I see why the Minnesota Voyageur is one of the oldest and most revered 50 milers in the Midwest.  The course has a great mix of technical trails, smooth runable sections, and challenging climbs.  It was well marked with ribbons and signs so I never worried about being off course.  The aid stations are close together, well stocked, and have amazing volunteers.

My recovery in the days after the race has been good. Some light quad soreness, and my left ankle was a little swollen, but I was able to go for a six mile recovery run on Wednesday.  I’m also enjoying eating whatever and whenever all week longmto put back some of the weight lost during training.  I’m also starting to plan ahead for my next race.  I’m leaning towards the tBunk Endurance Challenge 50 miler in November which takes place in the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest.

Splits

splits

Garmin Data

Gear

Shoes

Topo MT-2

Socks

Injinji Run 2.0 Original Weight

Shorts

Brooks Infiniti II Notch Shorts

Shirt

C9 Sleeveless T

Hydration

Nathan QuickDraw Plus

Waistpack

Ultimate Direction Jurek Essential

2015 Year in Review

2015 was another successful year of running.  I was able to run injury free all year, set PRs in the marathon and 50k distances, and ran more miles then ever before.

Races

Stats

  • Distance: 1637.6 miles
    • Average of 136.5 miles a month / 31.5 miles a week
  • Time: 264h 12m
  • Elevation Gain: 49,518 ft
  • Number of Runs: 216
  • Average distance: 7.58 miles

Monthly Mileage

2015 Monthly Mileage

Shoes Used

New Balance Minimus Zero v2

Merrell Bare Access Trail

Merrell Bare Access 3

Plans for 2016

I plan on running the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon in May, the Voyageur 50 Mile in July, and yet to be determined fall race.

Fall Back Blast 50k

After a poor performance in the heat and humidity at the Luna-Tics Trail Series 50k earlier this summer, I was looking forward to a fall race in cooler temperatures.  Since I felt my fitness wasn’t the main issue with my poor race, I followed the same training plan that I used this summer.  I like the way it’s structured, and it fit’s into my schedule well.

I was also very excited that my wife would be running that 25k event as her first trail race. With two young children, we don’t get to race or train together very often.  Unfortunately, there was a staggered start so we weren’t able to run with one another, but it was nice to enjoy the pre and post race with her.

The race takes place in Lowes Creek County Park in Eau Claire, and is organized by the Chippewa Off-Road Bike Association.  The course is a 7.75 mile loop consisting mostly of very runnable single-track.

12241063_10153773639797490_9065856696662832008_o

My plan for the race was to run the first three laps at a steady pace, and then hope to push it hard the final lap. I settled into a nice 10:00-10:30 pace for the first few miles. While I didn’t wear a heart rate strap, I knew that effort was in the 120-130 bpm range and very sustainable.  It was tempting to go out faster because I was feeling good, but I wanted to make sure I could have a strong finish.

The race has one aid station just past the half-way point, and then again at the start/finish area.  Since it was cool (32° at the start), I knew I didn’t need a lot of water so I used one handheld water bottle.  I also took some S-Caps with me to avoid cramping issues that did me in the summer.  My nutrition plan was to eat my trusty vanilla Clif-Shot gels every 3-4 miles, which worked out well.  The only thing I took at the aid stations was a mini cup of M&Ms on the third loop.

12185427_10153773639882490_7651567099932938887_o

I was happy that I was able to execute my plan well.  My lap splits were very consistent, and I felt very strong on the final lap.

Split 1 > 1:18:02.880
Split 2 > 1:21:57.394
Split 3 > 1:26:40.373
Split 4 > 1:22:17.807

Looking back, I think I was too conservative. Since my last few races had strong starts and poor finishes, I had some self-doubt that I could run an entire long race at a faster pace.  This race was a great confidence boost.  I set a 50k PR by over an hour, but I know I can run faster with continued training and more speed work.

IMG_20151107_132856291

About to cross the finish line.

The race was very well organized with a great low-key atmosphere.  The course was well marked, the volunteers were friendly and it was inexpensive.  Instead of medals, we received a “bear bell” since there is a bear that has been seen in the park.

IMG_20151108_164723640

Swag bag included a race shirt, bear bell and the spiciest mustard I’ve ever had.

Gear Used

Shoes

Merrell Bare Access Trail

Running Tights

Pearl Izumi

Socks

Injinji RUN 2.0

Watch

Garmin Fenix 2

Nutrition

7 Vanilla Clif Shot Gels

M&Ms at aid stations

Garmin Data

The Fenix 2 had a difficult time with the winding nature of the course.  From looking at other peoples’ data, the actual distance was 31 miles.

Luna-Tics Trail Series 50k

Every race with its corresponding training is a learning experience.  What I will learn the most from this race is that if the forecast is for 90° and humid, it’s best to have some salt/electrolyte replacement.

We drove down the day before the race and had dinner with some friends who live in the area before settling in for the night.  As usual, I only got a few hours of actual sleep. When I woke up, I checked the weather and saw that there was a big line of thunderstorms heading our way.

We arrived about a half hour early to check in and pick up my packet. We hung out in the van to stay dry until the storm passed. Because of the thunderstorms, the race was delayed by about 40 minutes.  The race is small and very low key, which I like.  The race series has several distances to choose from. The shortest race is a 5k and the longest is a 50k. There were 136 total runners, with 22 people running the 50k. The race director describes the race as

This is an out and back race that begins and ends at Sunburst Ski Area in Kewaskum, Wisconsin. All races will cover the same course. The course is almost exclusively single track covering a variety of terrain with climbs, descents, open prairie and dense forest.  Runners will experience some of the most challenging and scenic landscape that Wisconsin has to offer.”

The first section of the course was about a 3 mile loop around the ski area.  We then headed out on the Ice Age Trail. For about the first 10 miles, I loosely ran with a group of three other runners. I was feeling good and the pace was right where I wanted it to be.  My plan was to push the pace a little during the first part of the race, because I knew the temps were going to continue to rise and I wanted to run as much as possible while it was a little cooler.  We eventually started to spread out, and I ran the rest of the race in solitude.

IMG_20150718_091901465

Beautiful single track on the Ice Age Trail

My pace started to slow a little during the next 10 miles, but I was still feeling decent.  The temps were starting to rise and the humidity was oppressive.  My nutrition plan was to drink water and eat Gu Chomps and/or some Clif shots every 30 minutes.  That worked well in the beginning, but my stomach started to get worse as the race went along. I think it didn’t like the humidity, so I wasn’t able to eat as much as I wanted to. I switched to Heed at one aid station, but that didn’t sit well so I switched back to water. While I ate enough calories, I started to fall behind on electrolytes due to the massive amount of sweating.

During about the last 10 miles I started to get hamstring cramps in both legs.  While I was still eating regularly, I wasn’t getting enough salt and that would be my downfall.  You know it’s bad when you start to crave salt while running.  The aid stations had some pretzels and chips, but they weren’t salty enough.  I would run for a little section before the cramps got worse, then I would walk for a few minutes.  I had to alternate running and walking for the last couple of hours.

IMG_20150718_121840797

I ended up finishing in 6:33, which was good for 10th place out of 22 finishers. The positive part is that since I had to walk so much at the end, I wasn’t really sore the next few days. I feel my training had properly prepared me for the distance; I did a poor job handling the heat and humidity which is a silly mistake since the forecast for the week leading up to the race called for hot and humid.  I’ve never had cramping issues before so it wasn’t something I even planned for. I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much in my entire life.  When I got home I weighed myself and found that I had lost over 4 pounds, even after eating and drinking on the 90 minute drive back.

Next up is the Fall Back Blast on November 7. I’m looking forward to a fall race with cooler temps!

Gear Used

Shoes

Merrell Bare Access Trail

Shorts

Brooks Infiniti II Notch Shorts

Socks

Injinji RUN 2.0 Original Weight No-Show

Watch

Garmin Fenix 2

Nutrition

3 Vanilla Clif Shot Gels

3 Citrus Clif Shot Gels

2 Black Cherry Gu Chomp packs

Pretzels and chips at aid stations

Garmin Data

2015 Cellcom Green Bay Marathon

My main goal for the spring was to train for a faster road marathon PR.  I chose the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon because it’s local and I enjoyed the race last year.  The course starts on Lombardi Avenue and goes through Ashwaubenon, De Pere, Allouez and Green Bay.  The biggest highlight for many is a lap around Lambeau right before the finish line.  In typical Wisconsin fashion, your bib has tickets for free beer and brats.

For this race I used Hal Higdon’s Advanced 1 Training Plan.  I opted to skip the Monday runs, but otherwise stayed pretty true to the plan. The biggest change from last year, when I was focusing on just running more miles, was to add consistent speed work into my training. I really enjoyed the three types of speed work in the training plan; tempo runs, intervals and hill repeats.

My goal for the race was to be in the 3:30’s, and my training runs had me on pace for that time.  The weather this winter and spring was better than most years, but most of my training runs were still in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.  The weather for the race was windy, warmer and much more humid than it’s been all spring.  At the start of the race it was 62 degrees with 83% humidity and just got warmer as the race went along.

DSC_1113

The first 22 miles went according to plan.  I tried to stay around 8:10-8:15 per mile while walking through each water station.  Things were going well but then the humidity started to take it’s toll and I struggled the final 4+ miles. I finished in 3:44:46 which was good for 198th out of 1281 finishers.  Looking back at last year’s results, the times were much slower this year due to the warmer temps and humidity so I’m not too upset that I missed my goal time.  I guess this means that I’ll just need to do it again next year and continue to push myself with speed work.

DSC_1120

Now I’ll shift my focus to trail running and the Luna-Tics Trail 50K in July.  I will continue with the speed work and am aiming for a 50k PR.

Garmin Data

Gear Used

Shoes

Merrell Bare Access 3

Shorts

Brooks Infiniti II Notch Shorts

Shirt

Tek Gear Sleeveless Performance Tee

Socks

Injinji RUN 2.0 Lightweight No-Show – NuWool

Watch

Garmin Fenix 2

Nutrition

3 Vanilla Clif Shot Gels

1 Tri-berry Gu

2014 Year in Review

2014 has been an amazing running year for me. Below are some highlights and stats for the year.

Highlights

  • Marquette Trail 50 – First 50 mile race and one of my all time most memorable moments
  • Marathon PR at the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon
  • Ran injury free for the entire year

Stats

  • 1561 miles
    • Average of 130 miles a month / 30 miles a week
  • Total elevation gain of 21,486 ft
  • Number of runs: 206
  • Average distance: 7.58 miles

Monthly Mileage

Shoes Used

Merrell Road Gloves 2

Merrell Bare Access Ultra

Merrell Bare Access 3

Merrell Ascend Gloves

Plans for 2015

I’d like to improve upon my PR’s by adding more dedicated speed work into my training. The last few years I’ve been focusing on adding mileage but I haven’t done much speed work.  I’m going to start by training to run a fast road marathon, so this spring I’ll be focusing on the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon in May,  I will also plan on running a summer 50k and a fall 50 miler, but haven’t decided which ones yet.

 

 

 

 

 

Lapham Peak Trail Marathon

This is a race report for the 2012 Lapham Peak Trail Marathon that I wrote in 2012 on a different blog. Re-posted August 2014.

On Saturday, I ran my first marathon in the Lapham Peak Trail Marathon. In addition to the marathon, there was a half marathon and 10k. I was looking for a late summer/early fall race and I knew that I wanted to do a trail race. After searching around, I decided to run this one at the beginning of July. Since then, I started training by doing long runs in Baird’s Creek to prepare myself. Training was going really well as I gradually increased my long runs up to 21 miles two weeks before the marathon.

I debated over which shoes to wear, and as Sarah can attest I’m sort of obsessed with shoes. I had an old pair of Merrell Trail Gloves that I used when on the trails. Early in the summer, I also bought a pair of Altra Samsons, which are nice on roads and on easy trails, but didn’t offer much traction on technical trails. Then about a month before the race I got a great deal on a pair of Vivobarefoot Bretho Trails. I used the shoes on my last two long runs in Baird’s Creek and loved the feel and traction they offered.

The race was the weekend after the first week of school and in retrospect that may have not been the best choice. I was a little stressed from the start of school and didn’t get a good night’s sleep during the week leading up to it.

The race was four loops of the 6.5 mile black loop with a one time climb up the tower overlooking the park to get to 26.2 miles. The website description of the course was, “The black loop has some rolling hills along with a few very steep short hills and three longer hill climbs; there are flat spots as well.”

I would say that the description greatly understated the difficulty of the trail. My training runs didn’t fully prepare me for the challenge that the course would present. Many people described it as one of the toughest marathons in southern Wisconsin and one of the toughest races they’ve run.

Heading back down another hill after seeing the family.

Heading back down another hill after seeing the family.

My goal was to run the flats at a pace around 8:45-9:00, walk the hill climbs, and run as fast as I safely could on the downhills. I was lucky to run most of the first two loops with a guy that had the same goal time. We had nice conversations about training, family and other miscellaneous topics. He was running 12 marathons this year, including another one the following week. As a first time marathoner, it was good to get some info from a veteran. I’m not used to running with someone and the distraction of talking was a nice change of pace.

The first two loops felt great. I stuck to my plan and felt strong. I finished the first half in 2:08 and was right on pace for my goal of 4:30. During the third loop I started to develop a pain on the inside of my right knee. I think I was too aggressive on the downhills and paid the price. I was able to run most of the flats and downhills, but my overall pace was much slower.

The pain continued and I was forced to walk/slowly “run” the entire fourth loop. In addition to the knee pain, I started to cramp because I wasn’t able to eat or drink as much as I needed to due to some stomach issues that I had to deal with. During my training runs, my strategy was to drink water with HEED for the first 6-8 miles, then switch to plain water and eat a couple GU packets every half hour and then finish with GU Chomps every mile for the last 6-8 miles. That plan was great during my training runs, but my body didn’t cooperate on race day. My stomach was off as a soon as I woke up and I had no desire to eat anything all day.

DSC_0198My training had gone so well so I was disappointed that the race didn’t go as planned, but I enjoyed the challenges that came with the race. When I found out that only two runners finished under 4 hours and that I ended up finishing 25 out of 40, I felt a little better about my performance. I finished second in my age group and since the overall winner was in my age group, I ended up getting the first place medal in the 30-34 age group!

It was a very well organized race, especially for being the first year. There were four aid stations on the 6.5 mile loop which were well stocked with drinks and food. The course was well marked and the volunteers were very helpful and supportive. I would highly recommend it for someone looking for a challenging trail race. Overall the race was a great experience. I had fun and learned some things that I hope will help in future races.

Marquette Trail 50

Marquette Trail 50 Race Report

“I hate running. It’s boring and hurts my knees.”

That sums up my thoughts on running up until four years ago.  I couldn’t understand why people liked to run, and I had no interest in it.  My wife had been running for years, and I was starting to get more out of shape than I was happy with, so I decided that I need to do something.

In 2010, I decided that I would train for a sprint triathlon.  That way I would only have to run a couple days a week and could spend my other training time swimming and cycling.  I chose the Oshkosh Tri because it was in August, and that would give me most of the summer to train. 

I started out by running two miles. It wasn’t fun, and my knees didn’t like it.  That summer I ran a few days a week with my longest run being 5 miles. Running became easier and slightly more enjoyable.  The triathlon went well, and the run was my best part.

I decided that I would run a couple 5Ks that fall, and then in 2011 I ran two 10Ks with the second one being a trail race.  Training for and running the trail race was when I fell in love with running.  From there I was hooked.  I started reading books, articles and race reviews and was fascinated by the world of trail running.  I continued increasing my weekly mileage and the length of my long runs.

In 2012, I ran a road half-marathon in the spring (Cellcom Green Bay) and then a trail marathon in the fall (Lapham Peak) . Both races didn’t go as well as planned, and my training was inconsistent and undisciplined.  Those poor performances were motivation to be more focused in my training.   In 2013, I decided that I wanted to run an ultra.  I started training for the Surf the Murph 50k.  During my training I also completed my second marathon, the Minocqua No Frills Marathon.

Both races were good experiences and I wanted to continue to go further.  In addition to the peace and serenity that trail running provides, I became fascinated with exploring what I was capable of when I was willing to push myself beyond my comfort zone. T.S. Eliot summed it up perfectly when he said,

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

Another strong motivation for me to continue pushing my running was our daughter who has an undiagnosed disorder and is unable to walk unassisted.  Seeing how hard she has to work to try and walk made me realize how much I took for granted my own health and provides more than enough motivation to keep going.

All of this lead my to sign up for the Marquette Trail 50.  I had read some reviews and race recaps and it looked like a great course and fun event.  I started training in late February for the August race.  Whereas my training in the past had been inconsistent and without a clear plan, this time I followed a detailed training plan that I found in the book Relentless Forward Progress by Bryon Powell.  I found the book to be very useful, and I agreed with his overall running philosophy. The training schedule also seemed like a good fit for my life schedule.

We had an exceptionally long and cold winter this year in Northeast Wisconsin, which made training difficult at times since we don’t have a treadmill and all my running is outdoors.  My training went amazingly well.  I think in the 25 weeks of training, I only missed a handful of runs and hit most of the weekly mileage.

Weekly Mileage

Weekly Training Mileage

 

I luckily didn’t have any major injuries or setbacks during the training. I continued to feel stronger and stronger as the weeks went along.  My longest training run was 31 miles with a couple 25 mile runs as well.  I also ran the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon in May and set a PR, which gave me confidence that my training was working.

It’s Finally Race Weekend!

We drove up the Marquette the day before the race for packet pickup and to check out the city.  My wife and I had never been to Marquette, and we were impressed with what a beautiful city it is. It snows way too much to live there, but it’s nice to visit in the summer. 

The night before was filled with the normal nervous energy mixed in with stress that comes along with the uncertainty of what was going to happen the next day. I’ve spent the last 25 weeks training and focusing on this race; what happens if it doesn’t go well??

Getting my gear ready

Getting my gear ready

I tried to get as much sleep as possible, but with the 5:30am (Eastern time zone) start time I knew it wasn’t going to be much.

The alarm went off at 4:00, but I was already awake.  A quick shower to fully wake up, a cup of coffee and a Clif Bar and we were ready to drive to the trailhead.  I can’t thank Sarah enough for all of the support she has provided me during my training and during the last 12 years of marriage.  Training for an ultra can be disruptive to family life and she’s be great in encouraging me and supporting my running habit.

We arrived about 45 minutes before the start of the race.  The moments before a race is a fun time to people watch.  In addition to the 50 mile run, there is also a 50k run with the same start time.  Talking to people from different backgrounds all with different experience levels is a great learning experience.  There were many first-timers as well as old vets that have been around the world of ultra running for a long time.

As sort of a “gear junkie” this was also a great time to check out what gear people were using.  I’m mostly interested in the different shoe choices but found it interesting all the different types of hydration systems people had.  I decided to go with one handheld water bottle and a smaller waistpack to hold my phone and some gels.  I could also store a few gels in my shorts, and since the aid stations were spaced closely together, I didn’t feel I need to carry much with me.  The longest segment was 7.1 miles and most were in the 4-6  miles range. Other people seemed to have enough to last them the entire day without needing aid stations.

The shoe choices are always fascinating to me and they ranged from a guy in sandals to several people wearing Hokas.  I think the most common shoe brand that I spotted was Salomon followed by Brooks.  I’m a zero drop guy and run mostly in Merrell shoes.  For this race I decided to start out with the Merrell Ascend Glove and had a pair of Merrell Bare Access Ultra’s in my drop bag for some additional cushioning in the final stages of the race.

For GPS tracking purposes I started with my Garmin 220, but it only has a ten hour battery, and I’m not that fast so I borrowed my wife’s Garmin 305 and put it in my drop bag that I could access at mile 40 and use for the final couple of hours.

10565230_717896314938971_3651499678820922848_n

Photo courtesy of Staci K Photography – used with permission

Andrew the race director gave his pre-race briefing, and we all lined up ready to start our adventure.  The race is small with a 200 runner limit between the two races.  The 50k race ended up having 86 runners and the 50 mile had 75.  The race started and we were off into the darkness of the early morning.

Forestville Pole Barn – Dead River Steel Grate Bridge
Miles 0-5

The first part of the race is wide open on some of the roads around the trailhead and was mostly downhill which was a great way to ease into the race.  We then moved onto the trail system, which was mostly single track and would be for the majority of the remainder of the race. I luckily got behind some people who were going slower than I wanted to go and there wasn’t room to pass.  This was perfect because this forced me to go slower than I usually do.

Photo courtesy of Staci K Photography - used with permission

Photo courtesy of Staci K Photography – used with permission

The first five miles went by quickly, and we came to the first aid station just as the sun was starting to rise for the day.  While it was cool, mid-50s, it was humid and I needed a refill. I topped of my water bottle, grabbed a few fig bars and was off.  My nutrition plan for the day was to drink a combination of water and water mixed with Clif hydration mix, eat Clif Shots between aid stations and then eat real food at the aid stations. This has worked well in training and my stomach hasn’t been an issue during training.  I would sometimes run soon after eating to force my stomach into adapting how to process food while running. Of course I’ve never run for more than 7 hours so time would tell if this strategy would work all day.

Dead River Steel Grate Bridge – Forestville Pole Barn
Miles 5-10.6

The next segment was 5.6 miles and would take us back to the start/finish area.  There were a few technical areas during this part which were made easier by the fact that the sun was now out and we could turn off our headlamps.  I had some good conversations with the other runners around me, many of whom I would see off and on for the rest of the day.

We made our way back to the Forestville Pole Barn where Sarah was waiting.  It was great to see her at the aid stations.  It’s always nice to get an extra shot of motivation.  I got rid of my headlamp, restocked my gel supplies, filled up my water bottle, gave Sarah a kiss and headed out for the big loop.

IMG_20140816_074858253_HDR

10 miles down – only 40 more to go!

Forestville Pole Barn – Sugarloaf Mountain Parking Lot
Miles 10.6-14.6

Bees! That sums up this section of the course.  Many of us were stung during this section.  I ended up being stung twice, which apparently was getting off easy.  I heard of people being stung 5-6 times.  It was definitely an adrenaline boost and extra motivation to run a little quicker.  Other than the bees, nothing too eventful here.  Some minor hip pain, but nothing too serious.  It happens occasionally and usually goes away during the run.  My nutrition and hydration plan continued to be working well. I was eating gels every 30 minutes or so and then eating fig bars, PB&J sandwiches and some potatoes at the aid stations.

Sugarloaf Mountain Parking Lot – Harlow Lake 1st Bridge
Miles 14.6-21.7

Shortly after the aid station, we climbed up Sugarloaf Mountain.  The climb was a mixture of stairs and technical trails.

Trail leading up Sugarloaf

Trail leading up Sugarloaf

Once we got to the top we were rewarded with beautiful views of Lake Superior, Marquette and the surrounding areas. Most of the runners took time to soak up the views and the fresh lake breeze.  One of the great things about trail running is that you have time to stop and enjoy the scenery.

View from atop Sugarloaf with Marquette off in the distance

The trail heading down the back side of Sugarloaf

The trail heading down the back side of Sugarloaf

After descending the back side of Sugarloaf, we ran a long section along Lake Superior.  This section was the most runnable part of the course with great views of the lake.  The trail was wide, smooth and was a good chance to run for a good stretch.

Photo courtesy of Staci K Photography - used with permission

Photo courtesy of Staci K Photography – used with permission

This was also the longest section between aid stations at 7.1 miles.  I ran out of water with a little over a mile left, but luckily it’s wasn’t a hot day so it wasn’t a big deal.

The Harlow Lake aid station was the first time we got to our drop bags.  I switched socks, changed to the Merrell Bare Access Ultra shoes, reapplied some Body Glide, restocked my gel supply, and ate a PB&J sandwich and potatoes.

I was a little over five hours into the race and was feeling good.  The only issue was that I had stubbed my right big toe on some roots and rocks.  Nothing too bad, just minor discomfort at this point.

Harlow Lake 1st Bridge – Harlow Lake Railroad Grade
Miles 21.7-25.2

The most memorable part of this section was the climb up Bareback, which was rocky but not very steep.  I had a good conversation with another runner from Green Bay.  It’s always nice to meet another trail runner for Northeast Wisconsin.

This was also the shortest section between aid stations at only 3.5 miles.

Climbing up Bareback

Climbing up Bareback

 

Harlow Lake Railroad Grade – Forestville Pole Barn
Miles 25.2-30.7

Hogback!!  The defining and most memorable part of the entire run were the climbs up and down Hogback.  Before we got to Hogback we had to run over Top-of-the-World.  The combination of these two climbs made this the slowest and most difficult section of entire race, but also the most enjoyable.

This is also the first time I saw the front of the pack 50 milers running the big loop in reverse. I was amazed how easy they were running and the fact that they were more than two hours ahead of me at this point.

The climb up Hogback was rockier and steeper than I imagined and I had to use both hands, which was difficult at times since I was using a handheld water bottle.  Once we came to the top the difficult climb was more than worth it.  We were treated to an amazing view that overlooked much of the course.

Panoramic view atop Hogback

Panoramic view atop Hogback

Catching my breath

Catching my breath

Forestville Pole Barn – Harlow Lake Railroad Grade
Miles 30.7-36.2

“31 miles down, only 20 miles left.”  This was my thought when I reached the start/finish area.  Once we reached the Forestville Pole Barn, the 50k runners were done and the remaining 50 milers had to go back and do the big loop in reverse.  Mentally this was a major checkpoint.  If I could make it to the 50k mark feeling good, then I was confident I could finish. My stomach was good, knees were good, and most importantly I was mentally doing well.  The only issue I had was that my right big toe was still hurting, but with the adrenaline it wasn’t anything that prevented me from running.  I knew that I had plenty of time, and I could almost walk the remaining 20 miles and still beat the cutoff.

I tried not to take too long at the aid stations because I knew if I stopped running it would be harder to start up again.  I refilled my bottle, drank some Coke, got some gels from my drop bag, ate some fig bars and potatoes and had a brief chat with Sarah.

Refueling - 50k mark

Refueling – 50k mark

What?  We have to turn around and go right back up Hogback?  This time we would be climbing up Hogback first and then Top-of-the-World.  Since we were going in reverse I saw many runners on their way to the 50k turnaround.  This was a nice change of pace since for most of the race I ran alone.  With fewer than 150 runners on the course there were long sections where I didn’t see anyone.  It’s amazing all the things your mind goes through when you are out in the woods running for hours and hours.  I brought along an mp3 player but never used it.  I tried to stay in the moment and soak in all the sights, sounds, feelings, thoughts etc. that I was experiencing.

Harlow Lake Railroad Grade – Harlow Lake 1st Bridge
Miles 36.2-39.7

A short easy section going over Bareback and back to the Harlow Lake aid station.  I passed a few runners that looked like they were hurting.  I was still feeling physically and mentally strong.  My goal for the reverse big loop was to pass more runners than passed me.  So far so good.  I was only passed once and I passed at least three runners. The Harlow Lake aid station would be the last time I would have access to my drop bag. I switched watches since I was already over 9 hours and the Garmin 220 has a ten hour battery.  I switched over to Sarah’s Garmin 305 for the final 11 miles.  I also emptied out my shoes, restocked my gel supply, had some Coke and ate a PB&J.

Knowing that the next section was the easy runnable part along Lake Superior was good for my confidence.  My legs were feeling ok, some quad soreness, but I knew I could run most of the next section at a decent pace.  I knew that I had to make the next 7.1 miles with my one water bottle so I had a few extra cups of water before I left.

Heading into Harlow Lake

Heading into Harlow Lake

Harlow Lake 1st Bridge – Sugarloaf Mountain Parking Lot
Miles 39.7-46.8

During the first part along the lake I ran with a guy from Grand Rapids, MI and it was nice to have a conversation with someone. While I like being alone with my thoughts, it is nice to have the distraction of talking to another runner to make the time go by a little quicker.  We ran together for a few miles before he took off and went ahead. 

Near the end of this segment we needed to climb back up and down Sugarloaf.  The climb up had a few stairs, but was mostly technical single track.  When I reached the top I took a very brief break to check out the view before I headed back down knowing that I was almost to the finish.

I reached the Sugarloaf Mountain Parking lot and knew that I only had a little more than four miles left. I saw Sarah one more time, refilled my bottle, had some Coke and fig bars and was off.

Sugarloaf Mountain Parking Lot – Forestville Pole Barn
Miles 46.8-51.1

It’s hard to describe the feelings that I experienced during the last four plus miles of the race.  The energy that I had during the final miles was incredible. I ran faster than I had since the beginning of the race many hours before and had the highest runners high I’ve ever experienced.  All of the negative thoughts that I had of not finishing, or getting injured or having a miserable experience went away.  I had worked hard for six months and the finish line was finally here.

Finished!

Finished!

Overall the race was a great experience.  The course was beautiful and had a wonderful mix of smooth runnable sections, technical singletrack, challenging climbs and rocky descents. The course was marked extremely well  with ribbons and flags making it very easy to stay on course. The aid stations were well stocked and placed close enough together that I didn’t need to carry much with me.  All of the volunteers were very helpful and encouraging.  I would highly recommend running the Marquette Trail 50 if you are an ultrarunner in the upper Midwest, and I cannot wait to run it again in the coming years.

Thank you so much to my beautiful wife Sarah for her wonderful support and motivation during my months of training and during the race.  It was great to see her at the aid stations and helped me get to the next one knowing she would be there.

Happy to be done, and ready to relax

Happy to be done, and ready to relax

Running Splits

I set my watch to have laps of 2.5 miles because this worked out to be a good reminder of when I needed to eat again. Below are the splits for the laps from Strava. 

Lap Data

Lap Data

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile

 

Gear Used

Shoes

Merrell Ascend Gloves (first 21 miles)

Merrell Bare Access Ultra (final 30 miles)

Socks

Smartwool Micro Toe Socks  (first 21 miles)

Icebreaker Multisport Ultra Lite Micro (final 30 miles)

Shorts

Brooks Infiniti II Notch Shorts – best shorts ever!

Shirt

Tek Gear Sleeveless Performance Tee – cheap and comfortable

Hydration

Nathan QuickDraw Plus

Waistpack

Ultimate Direction Jurek Essential

Watch

Garmin Forerunner 220 (first 40 miles)

Garmin Forerunner 305 (final 11 miles)