December 18, 2010


...has not only been great; it's been about the only way to get around in these parts recently.

We've had a little more snow than usual for December (it is still technically autumn after all) - a little too much for regular running (even with traction), but it's been awesome for skis and snowshoes!

Check out my recent travels through Bredesen Park:

Nine Mile Creek

Bredesen Park Bench

Wood Duck summer house

I also found my Christmas Tree while tromping through the snow! No, I didn't cut it down and drag it home - I left it where it was so that I (and everyone else) can continue to enjoy it year round - hopefully for many years to come. It's the third one from the left:

Wishing you all a winter full of joy and wonder. Hope to see you on the trails!

November 28, 2010

Pederson Benefit

Went out to Afton yesterday for the Pederson Benefit Run with lots of old and new trail running friends. Very heartwarming to see so many people come out to support the Pederson family, who have given so much of themselves to the sport and community over the years!

There was an informal fat ass type of race, which Don spent over 6 hours marking by riding his bike up and down steep snow covered hills. The day started out in the single digits, but gradually warmed up to about 20 degrees for perfect, sunny, running weather :) I was glad I wore my gortex trail running shoes with sport tracks for traction since there was an inch or two of snow on the trails.

That was followed by an awesome pot luck lunch and a silent auction with all kinds of cool stuff! At the end of the day we were able to raise over $5000, which sounds like a lot, but probably doesn't even put a dent in the costs incurred by the flood damage.

If you missed out on the fun, you still have a chance to help out by purchasing a cool looking shirt or making a donation.

October 31, 2010

Surf the Murph 25K 2010

Hard to believe that it's the end of October already, but that just means it's time to run Surf the Murph! This is a fun, low key event where the only awards given are for those who run their given race in costume.

Karen and Wayne ran the full 50 miles in costume.

Since I'd only run about 10 miles total since North Country in August (boring story), I decided that I would just be hiking the 25K this year. Actually, I reasoned that I would do the course at a 100 mile pace, but stop after finishing only 17 :)

Got to the park late enough that I missed all my buddies who were running the 50K or 50 mile since their races had already started, but had a chance to chat with a few folks before we lined up to start our own race shortly after dawn. I quickly realized that I had overdressed - it was already in the low 40's and shaping up to be a beautiful day. Found Mike near the back of the pack - he had a conservative plan too since his ankle is still tweaked - so we both were planning on taking it easy. About 3 minutes in to the race, my Garmin started wigging out. Again. This is something that I've been battling all year, but each time I think I've got it fixed it starts acting up again. I'm trying one final effort of a hard reset before throwing it in the garbage.

Anyhoo, back to the race. Ran with Mike for the first 20 minutes or so before I needed to get my jacket off and fix a shoe lace, so I let Mike go ahead as he blasted down a long steep hill. Soon I was at the North AS and headed south towards some of the steeper hills. This is a fun roller coaster section, wooded and a little rocky, with several short steep hills one right after the other.

By now I had the trail mostly to myself, though Duke came flying past me on his second of 3 loops shortly before I got to the Horse Camp AS. He would go on to repeat his 50 mile win! Shortly after leaving the Horse AS, I started having cramps in my left peroneus muscles and the arch of my foot. WTF? This early cramping non-sense has got to stop. I took an S-Cap and kept hiking on the flatter, open sections that are typical of the south end of the park.

Beautiful day to be out in the woods - I kept stopping just to look around and enjoy the scenery. Soon I was at the festive Natchez AS and lingered a bit to chat with Helen and Lisa. After a very short single track, we were back on the wider trails. The course had been tweaked a little bit this year to add some distance so that the 50 milers would only have to do 3 full loops (last year we had 3 loops plus an additional short loop). One of the new additions was a fairly long section of walking through grass that was taller than I am. Glad I got there after the 50 milers and 50K runners had beaten it down enough so that I could see where to go ;)

More meandering through the open prairies before arriving back at the Horse AS - last stop before the finish. My stomach was feeling "sloshy" so I took another S-Cap in preparation for the fun stuff to come. These last 4+ miles might be my favorite of the whole course since there are gnarly little single track sections to liven things up.

This is where you get to find the blown down trees, get caught up in some prickly ash, and climb a ridiculously steep hill - thankfully it wasn't muddy like last year - before arriving at the top of a hill with a clearing that allows a view of the Minneapolis skyline in the distance.

Nice view of the Minneapolis skyline.

Probably only about a mile to the finish now, but I managed to miss a turn and did a little bonus before figuring it out. Fortunately, I am a little bit familiar with the park and last year's course, so I noticed pretty quickly that I was off track and didn't waste too much time. Before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line in my slowest ever but possibly most fun 25K (which was actually 16.8 miles). The 100 mile pace thing probably wouldn't be too far off (except that I currently have no plans to do a 100 miler). Famous last words.

Fin. Photo courtesy of Jen Pierce.

Hung out for awhile and tried to see as many of my buddies come through the start/finish as possible. It was nice to catch up with folks since I haven't been running much this year and haven't seen many of them all summer. One of the best things about ultra and trail running is the people :)

Many thanks to RD Les & Cindy (who are relocating to Hawaii), Molly the Trail Boss and Future RD, and all of the volunteers who did an incredible job taking care of the runners!

Hope to see you all soon on the trails!

October 22, 2010

Pederson Benefit Run

During the recent floods in southeastern Minnesota, Larry & Colleen suffered a tremendous amount of damage to their home.

Who are Larry & Colleen?

They are the race director's for the Zumbro 100, Superior Sawtooth 100, Superior 50 Mile, Moose Mountain Marathon, and In Yan Teopa 10 Mile trail runs. They helped found the Upper Midwest Trail Runners club, the Minnesota Trail Run Race Series, the Fab Five Fifties ultra running series, and the Gnarly Bandit ultra running series just to name a few. Many of the trophies awarded at these events are coveted works of wooden art, hand crafted by Larry in his wood shop. They are tireless volunteers who show up to help at most of the other trail runs in the area when they aren't directing one of their own. In other words, if there is something involving trail running in Minnesota or western Wisconsin, the Pederson's have been there to lend a hand.

Many of the local trail runners turned out to help with the clean up in Zumbro Falls and saw the devastating damage first hand. We wondered, what more could we do to help? That's when the idea of the Pederson Benefit Run was born.

When: November 27, 2010
Run starts at 7 or 9 am - your choice
Potluck and silent auction start at 1 pm

What: Trail run to benefit the Pederson's clean up effort starting at 7 or 9 am depending on how far you want to go. The course will follow the Afton 25K trail race map. Distance is anywhere from Zero K to whatever you want. Potluck and silent auction start at 1 pm in the visitor center.

Where: Afton State Park - the start/finish area is near the visitor center.

Who: You! Whether you're a seasoned trail runner or just want to give it a try, here's a perfect opportunity to share the trail with awesome people and help raise money for a great cause at the same time. You can run as little or as much as you like. You can skip the running and just show up for the potluck. If you can't make it to the event, you still have an opportunity to donate to the cause.

For more info about how to register or make a donation, check out the blog or the Facebook page.

September 18, 2010

Ben's 120 Pound Journey

"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step."

This guy is an Iron Man if ever there was one!

September 3, 2010

North Country Trail Marathon

I had originally planned on running the 50 mile when I registered for the North Country Trail Run back in early January, figuring it would be a good way to combine an ultra run on a new (for me) trail with a family visit in Michigan. Unfortunately, my winter taper led to a spring taper and a tweaked achilles, which led to a summer long taper while struggling with endless heat and humidity. Before I knew it, we were in the middle of August and I had managed only one 20+ mile run since running the 50 mile at Surf the Murph last October. Not enough for pulling off a 50. I emailed the RD and asked to switch to the marathon, but never heard anything back. As I was packing and getting ready to leave for the 2 day drive to Manistee, a message went up on the North Country facebook page stating that there would be no further changing of races. Crap. Quickly threw my "ultra stuff" into the car just in case and starting driving south east to get to North Country (that's not a typo).

Got to Manistee late Friday afternoon and headed over to the Big M trail head in the Manistee National Forest for packet pick up. Was able to confirm that I could just run the marathon after all (whew!) and picked up lots of swag: coffee mug, race shirt, polar fleece vest. This would also be the start and finish area for the race, so at least now I knew how to get there.

Woke up to an already warm (low 70's) and very humid morning and got to the start area just before sunrise. Trail and ultra runners are typically a pretty tight bunch, so it seemed very odd to be at a race and not know a single person. But, trail and ultra runners are also a very welcoming bunch, so it was no problem finding people to hang out and chat with. Everyone kept mentioning how difficult the hills are on this 25 mile loop course. It is also a popular mountain bike and cross country ski trail, all single track (my favorite).

The 50 milers took off, and we would be right behind them only 30 minutes later. This didn't make much sense to me: sending a herd of turtles down a narrow single track only 30 minutes before unleashing the hares on the same course probably got a little messy once the faster marathoners caught up to the slower ultra runners. Oh well, another good reason to run the marathon instead.

Before long, we were lined up and ready to go. We did a short little lap around the parking area to spread out a little before heading down the trail. My strategy was to treat this race as if it was a 50 miler: walk the ups, jog the flats and downs. Basically, a nice training run with no expectations of time or pace - just a fun day in the woods. With about 200 of us, we were like a freight train rolling through the woods for awhile. No sense trying to pass anyone - just relax until people get more spread out. I kept waiting for the huge, steep hills that people had warned me about, but they weren't showing up. Just a nice, smooth, somewhat twisty trail with gently rolling hills - kind of like Ice Age without the rocks.

Coming in to Aid Station 1

Since I was running with my Nathan, I cruised through the first 3 aid stations without stopping. Shortly after leaving aid station 3, we encountered the only somewhat steep hill that I remember on the entire course. I had to power walk this one, then realized that I had pretty much been running most of the hills rather than sticking to my plan. This is one of those "trail runners dream" type of trails - just flat out fun to run - and I found myself grinning like a village idiot cruising through the woods.

Shortly afterward, I took my first digger when my calf cramped up and I caught my toe on one of the few roots on the trail. I figured that I'd better pay more attention to fluid intake and S caps, even though I thought I was on target in that regard. Cramping after only 10 or so miles isn't a good thing, even in the shorter marathon race. The hills were neither big nor steep, but they were there and they were starting to catch up to me. Kind of like "death by a thousand razor blades" type of hills.

Aid Station 4

Made it to aid station 4 at the 13.4 mile mark when I realized that my Garmin had decided to take the rest of the weekend off. Oh well, I probably rely on it too much anyway. Now I could just forget about time, pace, distance, etc and enjoy my run. This was where I decided to refill my Nathan, and the aid station volunteers had funny looks on their faces as I pulled out a small baggie filled with white powder (Heed) and another small baggie with capsules containing an off white powder (S caps). Thankfully, I didn't have to explain to law enforcement that I was only going for a long run through the woods ;)

Back on down the trail in the beautiful forest, I noticed occasional thumps as acorns were hitting the ground. Started wondering if I was going to need a helmet - I think the squirrels were having a little game of their own to see how many runners they could hit....LOL. Time seemed to pass quickly and soon I was standing in aid station 5. Another runner was there too, warning about the upcoming monster hills. We headed out about the same time and chatted for a bit before she dropped off. I found the entire trail very runnable, but was still getting twinges in both calves and needed to slow down a bit just to prevent full blown cramping. Passed through aid station 6 and shortly afterward came upon more volunteers lugging coolers of food to aid station 7 located more than 3 miles away. That seemed very inefficient since the aid station they would be staffing was only a mile from the start/finish parking area, but that's what they were directed to do. Things that make ya go, "Hmmmm."

Caught up to a pair of women who had gotten off course and done some bonus miles, but they were still enjoying their day in the woods. We started talking about muscle cramping and one recommended trying coconut water as a remedy. Not coconut milk, but coconut water. I've never heard of it, but it might be worth a try.

Got through the last aid station and let the lone volunteer know that his relief was on the way, then headed down the trail for the short run to the finish. There was a nice, long, gentle downhill that seemed to go on forever (probably closer to 0.75 miles), then we eventually ended up on a two track. I took one last hard digger and left some blood in the forest - still not really sure what the heck tripped me up - but both calves locked up and it took a minute or two before I could continue. Was able to walk the cramps off, but decided to hold off on running until I could smell the finish line. I'm really gonna have to check out coconut water ;)

Finally made the trot across the finish line where we were given finishers medals and a bottle of water, then headed over to the barbecue for a freshly grilled burger and potato salad. I skipped the beer and desserts, but hung out for a little bit on what turned out to be a hotter than expected day (mid-80's and very humid). I'm glad I was able to drop down to the marathon because there's no way I would have pulled off a 50 miler on this day.

Thanks to first year RD Chris and his crew for taking over an established classic race so that the rest of us could have some fun in the woods! North Country is a good size race for a trail event (actually, 3 races: a 50 mile, marathon, and half marathon with a total of 600 runners on single track) and I don't think many people realize the time and energy it takes to pull these things off. The race organizers have already sent out a survey seeking feedback so that they can continue to improve the event in future years. The small army of volunteers were AWESOME! If you're looking for a non-technical trail with twists, turns, and roller coaster hills in a beautiful forest that are a pure joy to run, I highly recommend heading to Big M and running one of the North Country Trail races.

August 7, 2010

Day of Deer

The heat and humidity have really wrecked my running plans this summer - enough that I will most likely be doing only the marathon at North Country at the end of this month. I just haven't been able to log the miles needed to pull off a 50 in three weeks. Seems like any time I went out with the intention of getting 20 or so miles in, I would end up pulling the plug after only 12-13 because I'd be so dehydrated I was cramping. Yesterday finally provided some relief!

I had only one early morning client yesterday, so I did the work thing at the gym and then headed out to Afton with the intention of getting a 20+ mile run in. Success! Two laps of the Africa Loop, Back 40, Northern Hill, and Campground Hill with no other people on the trail and more deer than I could count. Wish I had brought my camera - these photos are from a few years ago.

Saw the first doe and fawn less than a mile into the run while still on the main horse trail just past the ski area. Lots of butterflies in the open prairies up on the Africa Loop and lots of skeeters in the woods, especially the Back 40. Made the mandatory stops at the black berry patches (don't worry, I left some) before heading down to the river and starting the climb up the gravel road. About half way up, a spotted fawn popped out of the woods and stood in the middle of the road just staring my way. After a couple of minutes, there was some commotion in the thick underbrush and at least 3 or 4 other deer started to bolt deeper into the woods. Not the little fawn, he seemed quite content just watching me. A pileated woodpecker briefly joined the party, which seemed to help the fawn decide to go join mom in the woods.

Ran down the Northern Hill (which has become my favorite spot in the park) and then up to the Campground. For some reason, my Garmin went on a lunch break for awhile in this section, so I'm not sure what my actual mileage for the run was - at least 20.88. Refilled the Nathan at the solar powered water pump (which is now working), then visited the black berry patch in the campground before going for another lap.

The second lap was starting to feel hot, especially in the sun up on the Africa Loop. Even so, with the lower humidity I wasn't having any problems with cramping - yay! Paid another visit to the black berry patch and have some scratches to show for it :) Saw some blue birds this time around; they are so striking, just flashes of royal blue when they're flying. Ran back down to the river, back up the gravel road, then past the trail shelter on the way to the Northern Hill. Flushed up a bunch of grouse just past the old homestead, which never seems to happen on a weekend when lots of people are on the trails.

On the way up the Campground Hill, another doe started bounding off the trail and into the woods. A little further up the trail, I looked to the left to see two fawns staring back at me from about 20 feet away. They never did leave, and I just continued on through the campground. Finally got to the bottom of the Campground Hill just as several people were lugging their camping stuff up to the top - I guess the weekend is officially starting! I headed up toward the main horse trail to return to the parking area and just about got run over by three more deer bounding across the trail right in front of me. Pretty cool!

Finally made it back to a still empty parking lot and some how didn't seem to get stuck in too much rush hour traffic. Got home to find a $50 check in the mail from USA Track & Field for the prize money I'd won by finishing second in the old woman division at the Afton Trail Race. Great day for running!

Now I'll have to start pondering the rest of the season after North Country: Moose Mountain? Wild Duluth? Surf the Murph?

July 25, 2010

Quick Updates

Afton State Park

Been trying to find out more info about the North Country Trail Run course since the race is only 5 weeks away. There is a surprising lack of beta considering the race has been around for a decade. Like, where the drop bag locations are (I've asked the RD that question 3 times since March - still haven't heard). Or the elevation profile (race reports I've found range from over 10,000 vertical feet to 19,000), but no official word from the race organizers. So, does anyone know where the drop bag locations are or what the elevation profile is like?

Since it seems apparent that my upcoming races are hilly, it makes sense to start doing more concentrated hill work (ie repeats). Had some clients out of town last week, which provided an opportunity to get out to Hyland Hills ski area for an hour Tuesday morning. The humidity has been tough lately, but the legs felt pretty good.

Went out to Afton yesterday with the hope of getting a 20+ miler in on the hills, but I was absolutely starving after a few hours and pulled the plug at 13. The humidity was tough again yesterday too. I also gave Vespa a second try, although this time I was drinking Heed (slightly less concentrated than usual) rather than just plain water. It worked better than last time, but I'm still not sure if I'm sold on it. I've never had bonking problems with my regular routine of gels, coke, Heed, etc so it may not be worth messing with something that already works.

During my run yesterday I saw baby turkeys, a white tail doe who stood still and watched me go by from about 20 feet away without ever leaving, only 2 buzzards (neither of which were circling), and no snakes.

It was kinda weird being out at Afton for 3 hours and NOT seeing a single person that I knew. That's because everyone else was at Voyageur - congrats to those who toed the line or volunteered! Wish I could have been there with you!

I may regret posting this, but the blackberry patches are open for business. The Afton regulars know what I'm talking about ;)

Sorry about having to add comment moderation to this blog, but the Asian spam bots are getting to be ridiculous. Might be time to consider moving to WordPress.

July 6, 2010

Afton 25K 2010

These Afton Trail Races are getting to be a habit! This was the race where I really got hooked on trail running on a 100-degrees-and-ridiculously-humid day just 4 years ago. This year's race would also be hot and humid (low 90's) and my slowest to date. It's still the best party in town during the first weekend of July if you're a trail runner in Minnesota.

I have yet to get through the 25K loop without major cramping during this race (though I can pull off 20+ miles of hill repeats on other days without that problem). This year was no different. I guess you could say that the score thus far is:

Afton Trail Race - 4
Kel - 0

This year's course was tweaked slightly because of some trail closures, but I honestly think the new version is an improvement! The start is the same: run down a gravelly horse trail for almost a mile before climbing up to the Africa Loop (my eyes were already stinging with sweat pouring down my face at this point. Yeah, it was humid!). The "old down" is the "new up", so getting to the turn off takes up almost the first mile. Steve Q was there directing traffic to make sure nobody pulled a Surf the Murph (you know who you are - and I admit I'm guilty too).

As soon as I got up to the Africa Loop, I noticed about a dozen turkey vultures circling. I hate it when that happens, especially this early in a race. Tried to pick up the pace a little to discourage the buzzards, then descended down to the Back 40. Proceeded without stopping through AS 1, did the little ups and downs of the Back Forty, then refilled my hand held at AS 2. Back up to the Africa Loop for more relatively flat, open meadow running past the blackberry bushes; then a descent down a single track path that runs parallel to a creek. A short, easy, flat run back to where Steve was directing traffic, but this time we would run down towards the St. Croix River and AS 3. I decided to top off my hand held here even though I still had about half - this would turn out to be a good decision.

Started the long climb up a runnable gravel road towards more open meadows atop the bluffs. Instead of descending via Nigel's Hill, we were rerouted to the Northern Hill and a magnificent view of the St. Croix River valley (my favorite addition to the course). Thankfully, there was a nice breeze all day long or the open meadow runs would have been unbearably hot!

Heading towards the Northern Hill - Photo courtesy of Matt

The Northern Hill drops out of the meadow and back into the woods with some steep downhill switchbacks, then pops out onto the (dreaded) Rail Trail for a short distance before we do a loop-de-do left turn that takes us under the railroad bridge and up the difficult Campground Hill. I love the smell of the pines near the top of the Campground Hill - makes it very tempting to linger ;)

The top of Campground Hill is an easy exposed run with more awesome views of the river valley, then a deceptively tricky descent back to AS 4. By now, I was starting to have some muscle twinges in my calves and knew I was getting a little dehydrated. Even though I was drinking well and taking S-Caps, I was sweating faster than I could reabsorb fluids. Refilled the hand held, had some orange slices, and was treated to the best tasting popsicle I've ever had! Gave me a good excuse to start the longer portion of the (dreaded) Rail Trail walking so I could eat my popsicle ;)

Finally got to the Meat Grinder, a short but albeit nasty climb back up to the top of the bluff. The new course trimmed a short section of somewhat meaningless trail in this section to make up for the changes earlier, so we were soon headed to the last AS shortly after reaching the top of Meat Grinder. Another refill (with some ice in the bottle this time), more orange slices, and I was off to the snowshoe loop. Nancy and I had been playing leap frog on the trail all day long, and we left this AS at about the same time.

The snowshoe loop is my favorite part of the course: narrow single track that can be tight and twisty. It was somewhat overgrown in places, so it could be difficult to see what you were about to step on (rocks, roots, snakes). It was also loaded with poison ivy encroaching upon the path in some places. I was having noticeable problems with cramping by now and would have to slow to a walk even when I had the energy to run.

Finally made it out to the last little bit of trail that parallels the state park road towards the start/finish area. Made the final left hand turn towards the finish chute - the line was probably less than 100 feet away - when both of my legs cramped and I was stopped dead in my tracks. Thought for a minute that I was going to have to lay down and roll across that flippin' finish line, but was finally able to hobble home. My slowest Afton Trail 25K ever, but still a blast seeing everyone out there and sharing a good part of the trail with Nancy and Mike.

Now comes the really funny part!

This year's Afton race was also the first ever USA Track and Field Minnesota Trail Championships. Prize money would be awarded to the first 3 finishers who were also USATF-MN members (this would be a key factor) in the open and masters categories for men and women in both the 25K and 50K races. In fact, RD John mentioned at the start of the race that the prize money would be enough to retire in the Bahamas :)

Those of you who've run with me know that I am slow enough to be in peril of showing up to a race and getting a bib that says "maintenance" instead of a number. I've already told you about the buzzards. So imagine my surprise after spending a few hours at the finish socializing and eating cheeseburgers when one of the USATF reps asked me if I wanted my check sent to the address that was on file with my membership. I was second fastest old woman and scored $50! In reality, I was about 20'th fastest old woman, but only 1 of the 19 in front of me were USATF members. Bahamas, here I come! Hehehe.

Many thanks to John, Alicia, and all of the volunteers that make this event as awesome as it is! And thanks to Nancy and Mike for sharing a good portion of the trail with me during this year's race! Looking forward to spending more time with all of you out on the trails!

June 27, 2010

Playin' In the Dirt

It's been a fun weekend!

The recent torrential rains meant that the local running trails were good and muddy (though not as much as I'd expected) - perfect time to put on the Vibram Five Fingers and head over to Hyland! Did a 6 mile loop, left some foot prints that will probably have some folks scratching their heads, and got dirty enough that I needed to hose off before entering the house. Success :)

Finally got around to planting some flowers this weekend too. Since I got my feet and legs nice and dirty with trail running, I figured I should even things out a bit and get my hands and arms in on the action. Nice to finally have a little color on the patio!

I am in no shape to do any damage at Afton next weekend, but will still plod along the course and visit with old and new friends at the post race bar-b-que. If you've never run a trail race before, this is an awesome event. You'll get spoiled by the aid stations, which put out spreads that are like Thanksgiving feasts. The race shirts are becoming a local legend, and the people are awesome! So is the course, though it will have some minor tweaks this year due to trail closures. Looking forward to being there, even if I embarrass myself running-wise. Hope to see ya there!

June 6, 2010

Hills of Afton

I've been getting out to Afton State Park for some hill training about once per week for the last month. Hoo boy, am I ever out of shape! Unfortunately, there's only one way to fix that ;)

As many of the Afton regulars know, two of our favorite trails are closed this year: Nigel's Hill and Horse Shit Hill (the trail leading up to Africa Loop on the 25K race course). I never knew the name of that hill, and I'm not sure it's official, but Tom & Nancy told me about it this morning and it fits - so Horse Shit Hill it is from now on. This means that the Afton race will have a slightly tweaked course this year - I'm sure we'll be hearing about the official changes on the brand spankin' new Afton Trail Run blog. I ran what I figured would be the new route: up to Africa from the "down" direction, then instead of Nigel's Hill I took the trail at the far north end of the park, which has a stunning view of the St. Croix River valley. Rumor has it that a little loop later in the course will be dropped - I think this new course may actually turn out even better than the regular course!

I've also been experimenting a bit with electrolytes/nutrition/sports drinks. In the past, I've had problems with muscle cramping and never could find a truly reliable strategy. I had been taking one S-cap per hour which sometimes seemed to work and sometimes didn't. I was starting to think that perhaps it wasn't really sodium depletion, but perhaps a magnesium deficiency, so I've been taking 200 mg of magnesium glycinate every day for the last few months. So far, no cramping problems, even when only drinking plain water and not taking any S-caps or any type of electrolytes at all during my runs (which have so far only lasted a few hours). Been sleeping better too!

Today I tried a newish supplement called Vespa, which supposedly encourages your body to rely more on fat metabolism instead of carbs, therefore sparing glycogen and decreasing lactic acid buildup. I drank only water so I could eliminate carbs from the equation to test the "bonk" factor. I have to say, I felt like I was running on fumes trudging up the last hill at Afton today (I only went about 11 miles) - can't really say I'm sold on Vespa, though I've only tried it once. I'll probably stick with my prior strategy of sports drinks and gels for the time being.

Hope you are all enjoying the trails!

May 26, 2010

Dubya Tee Eff?

2010 has been a very odd year thus far.

After basically taking the winter off and then tweaking my Achilles in March, I'd really planned on getting some decent miles in the last couple of months. April was unseasonably warm and things were healing nicely. May started out pretty much the same way.

On May 8 while many of my friends were at Ice Age, I headed out to Afton for the first time this year (saw John P for the first time in awhile). Running on flat trails was going well and it was time to test the Achilles on hills. You never really know for sure if an Achilles injury is fully healed until you get some vertical miles in. Ran the Africa Loop and the Back 40 in mid-30 temps with a rain/snow mix. WTF? We haven't had any snow all of March and April, and now it decides to snow? I'd hoped to also get in Nigel's Hill and Campground Hill, but wasn't dressed appropriately for the "spring" weather. Cut it short at about 7 miles.

On May 16, I went back out to Afton while most of my friends were running Superior (saw Tom sans Nancy). One of the best things about running at Afton is I always see someone I know. Anyhoo, the plan was for a few loops of Nigel's & Campground Hills to get the aforementioned vertical miles in. Holy crap, it was humid! I felt very overheated after just one loop and pulled the plug early - only got about 6ish miles. WTF? Last week it was snowing and now I feel like I'm at Badwater.

Last Sunday I ended up at Hyland for what I hoped would finally be some double digit miles. Nope! The heat and humidity had me melting to the point of feeling sick to my stomach - done after only 6 miles. WTF? Done after six at Hyland?

This isn't exactly primo ultra training folks. I'm not even sure I dare sign up for the 10 miler at Chester Woods in 2 weeks - they might need a calendar instead of a watch to get my time. I'm glad I only committed to the 25K at Afton, and I'm thinking that the 50 miler at North Country is going to be an epic suffering session unless I can get things turned around in a hurry.

I've got a 4 day weekend coming up - not sure where I'll be running yet.

May 1, 2010

Hyland Barefoot Run & Hangin' With Raptors

Finally decided to head out to Hyland Lake to attempt the 2010 Trail Mix course this morning, but realized that I had forgotten the map (thanks for posting it Jeremy) and hadn't uploaded the course to my Garmin. In fact, the ol' Garmin has been acting up lately - freezing on runs, shutting itself off, etc. I'm still trying to decide whether to plunk down $150 for another 305 or wait until the newer 310X drops significantly in price.

Anyhoo, as I was approaching the park I started to notice signs that said "Event." Uh oh. "Events" usually mean the park is crazy busy and you can't always find parking. As I was pulling in, the kid staffing the booth near the entrance said that there would be a raptor release later in the morning and afternoon. Sweet! I've been to several releases by the MN Raptor Center, and it's something I never get tired of watching. I had gotten there early enough that I parked at my usual spot near Jan's Place with the other few cars - the crowds hadn't arrived yet :)

Since I was wearing my VFF's and the raptor event was going to start in an hour, I decided to run the 3.5 mile south loop and see how the Achilles felt. As it turns out, the Achilles is 100% healed - now I am just ridiculously slow and out of shape. Sure enough, I haven't lost my touch for attracting buzzards.

The trails are in excellent condition - no mud what-so-ever. Trees are pretty much leafed out and the tom turkeys are on the prowl for mates. Got back to Jan's Place just as the park staff and Raptor Center crew were setting up and getting the education birds out of their crates. I almost had them all to myself for a little while!

Female and Male Kestrel

Great Horned Owl

Bald Eagles

Turkey Vulture


As it turned out, the release would not happen for another couple of hours and I was starving, so I bailed before they got around to that part. Perhaps I'll catch another one in the fall :)

Awesome day to be out on the trails!

April 17, 2010

Recent Spectating and Pain Free Running

One thing that I've been reminded of with my Achilles tendon tweaking is that the older I get, the longer it takes to heal. Apparently, this trend continues as we age. One of my 100 year old exercise class participants recently told me, "I just don't bounce back like I did when I was 85." Point taken.

Last weekend, I ended up heading down to Zumbro River Bottoms to support several ultra buddies who were participating in the second running of the Zumbro 100 mile trail race. Since the course was a little different this year (and even "sportier" than last year since Larry took out the flat part), I really wanted to get out on the trail to check it out. I also didn't want to do anything stupid that would set me back, since my Achilles tendon still didn't like uphills. Ended up just hiking from the start/finish area to AS 1/4 for about 6 miles of very pretty trail.

Zumbro River from Pine Trail Overlook

Got to visit with Jen who was manning the AS and Donny who had started sweeping the course. Alicia was also there and we got to see a few runners come through on their last loop before heading back to watch the finish. The weather for that weekend was absolutely perfect - it was tough to maintain the discipline to not run and re-tweak my Achilles! Everything was feeling great after the hike, though it did get a little stiff and sore later that evening. Not painful, just tender. My calf also felt like it was on the verge of cramping, but never really did lock up. I decided that my game plan worked perfectly: I stressed it enough to keep it rehabbing without overdoing it.

Today I ended up at Hyland Lake on another perfect day to support my buddies who were running at Trail Mix. Since the parking area gets ridiculously crowded for this race, I didn't get out there until after 11 am when most of the 25K runners had left. The rehab had been going well since Zumbro, so I decided that I would take a stab at running in the Vibram Five Fingers for the first time in 6 weeks. Hyland is the perfect place to try since the trails are soft, flat, and non-technical.

Saw a few familiar faces in the finish area: Eve and Kim had already finished first and second for the women's 50K. Decided to head down the trail in the reverse direction to see if I could find anyone I knew. Les was on his way in to finish his 3'rd lap, Shelly wasn't far behind. Did a little running on the Lake Trail and it felt wonderful! Got almost as far as the AS that intersects Lake and Hill trail junction when Wayne came along. I ended up running back to the start/finish area with him - still pain free running :)))

Decided that I would head over to the ski hill to catch another section of the course, but.... the course had been changed and there was no ski hill section. Went up and over the ski hill to get back into the park, but didn't see any sign of the course in that area. Ended up calling it a day after running about 3 barefoot miles..... 3 pain free barefoot miles....and heading home.

Time to get back to increasing miles, but still not do anything stupid by trying to do too much, too soon. Will probably decide at the last minute whether to head out to Afton with the gang tomorrow (50K fat ass starts at 8, picnic at 3), or go back to Hyland and try to figure out what this year's Trail Mix course was. I don't suppose anyone who ran Trail Mix captured the course on their Garmin and would like to share?

See you on the trails!

April 4, 2010

Back Into the Dirt

The tweaked Achilles tendon is still not 100%, but very close. Walking and strength training are completely asymptomatic, but running..... still a little tender, especially on uphills. I'd only been doing short runs on the asphalt path near my home, but today I decided to get back onto the soft dirt trails and see how things went.

Headed out to Hyland, which is close to home and relatively flat. What a perfect day for a trail run! Sunny, little wind, no bugs, and the trails are in excellent condition! You would be hard pressed to even find a damp spot - very unlike Hyland in early April.

I parked at Jan's Place and headed towards the north end of the park, trying to remember what the Trail Mix course was (they have changed some of the trails since I last ran that race a couple years ago). I opted to skip the steep hill near the turn around point in the course as well as the ski hill (still a few patches of snow present) since hills are still bugging my tendon. This short cut would also give me the option of heading back to my car for about a 3 miler if things weren't going well. Thankfully, things were feeling pretty good as long as I didn't press on the uphills, so I did the rest of the loop to the south end of the park. Ended up with about 6 miles, which is more than I've run in what seems like forever - and so far the Achilles is still feeling pretty good :)

Felt great to get out there and play in the dirt again, and I think the softer surface probably helped a bit. Looking forward to seeing my trail running buddies again soon!

March 27, 2010

Starting Over

Remember during our last episode when I mentioned that transitioning to longer mileage while running barefoot was taking longer than I'd hoped, but I was trying to be patient and not do anything stupid?

After a few months of consistent, gradual increases in easy barefoot miles on an indoor track, I decided that it was time to add in some "speed" intervals. This particular indoor track is very small - 16 laps/mile, which means that the corners are pretty tight. My plan was to run just a few half mile repeats after an easy warm-up and see how things felt the next day. The first couple repeats went just swell, but as soon as I took my first step on the third, my right achilles tendon had other ideas. Apparently, it doesn't like tight corners on a repetitive basis. Crap.

Next day my tendon was absolutely on fire! I figured that at least I know what to do to treat it and that it was most likely just the sheath surrounding the tendon rather than the tendon itself... and that it would take about 3 weeks to heal. Things seemed to be progressing as planned, and it even felt good enough for a test earlier this week. Until I took the first running step. No go. Back to foam rolling the calves, eccentric only calf strengthening exercises for gastroc and soleus, trying not to over do it too much during the six exercise classes that I teach every week at the nursing home, etc.

This morning was 3 weeks + 1 day after the initial tweak. Instead of heading out to Afton and pounding hills with the gang, I opted for an easy 2 mile run around Bredesen park near my home to see how things went. Felt pretty darn good! I am optimistic that I can start adding miles again, but will have to go slow since I ran low barefoot miles all winter. Again: be patient. Don't do anything stupid.

Which brings up my 2010 running plans:

Instead of the time and expense of heading up to Lutsen for the spring Superior races, I'm going to stick around town and will probably run the Two Rivers Shuffle fat ass with Shawn and crew. Distance to be determined depending on how things go, but definitely not the full 50.

Kettle Moraine 100K is out for this year for a variety of reasons, but I'd really like to run it in the near future (2011?).

Since I won't be running Kettle, I'm pondering the 50K at Afton instead of the 25K, even though the heat and humidity of Afton in July can be overpowering. It would be 8 weeks before my 50 miler at North Country in Michigan, and it's close to home so I can save $. And I may actually get a legal parking spot at the park this year since the 50K starts an hour before the 25K ;)

I hope to run Surf the Murph again in late fall, but won't decide on which distance until after North Country.

See you on the trails!

February 24, 2010

February Update

It's been awhile.

Haven't been doing any trail running, but have been doing lots of short barefoot runs on an indoor track. Only ran in shoes twice this month! Feels great, but is taking longer than I'd hoped to transition to longer mileage. Trying to be patient and not do anything stupid ;)

With the shorter mileage, I've also managed to put on a few pounds over the last 4 months since I've continued to eat as if I were still hammering out 20+ mile runs every weekend. Peri-menopause doesn't help in that regard either.

Been trying to eat healthier, as in more natural foods and in better combinations (ie veggies, good fats, protein, and carbs at every meal). This all came to mind after watching Food, Inc.and then listening to a dietician from Nutritional Weight and Wellness give a presentation. Even "good" carbs break down to sugar and result in insulin spikes when eaten alone, which in turn can affect blood cholesterol levels, inflammation, sleep quality, yadayadayada. Trader Joe's has an awesome natural peanut butter with roasted flax seeds (the almond butter with flax is pretty good too), and I've found a few local places that sell free range/grass fed meat, organic eggs, etc. Also found some awesome wheat berry and quinoa recipes :)

I've been enjoying watching the Olympics, though I seem to hear the results before I get to see the events, which kind of spoils it. I used to participate in alpine ski racing (the major source of my current knee problems), so those events are my favorite.

Still not sure what races I'll be doing this year - the column on the right side of the page will most likely change. Probably at the last minute in many cases. North Country 50 mile is the only race I've officially entered at this point, and I'll combine that with a family visit.

Can't wait for spring!

January 23, 2010

Black Bears Continued...

OK, I found some of the old pictures from the black bear den excursions that I mentioned in my last post. Keep in mind, this was almost 20 years ago and the photo prints have faded/degraded somewhat. Now I am the one who has faded and degraded ;)

The study bears all wore radio collars, so we were able to locate them by using a tracking antenna. Here we are, trudging through the North Woods behind one of Lynn's assistants who is holding the antenna.

Peering into 395's den after some snow had been cleared from the opening. Her den was like a small underground cave, maybe 8 feet long and a few feet deep.

Here I am entering the den - hanging upside down with two guys holding my ankles. Many people ask if it smelled bad. No, it smelled like dirt. During hibernation, bears do not eat, drink, urinate, or defecate - and hibernation in northern Minnesota typically lasts from October until mid-April - about 6 months! Their physiology is actually quite fascinating! Most other mammals would die of dehydration or renal failure after only a week or two without water. Bears will lose approximately 25% (as much as 40% for a lactating sow) of their body weight during hibernation, but seem to retain muscle and bone mass, so it's all fat loss. They give birth and nurse their cubs during this time as well. Try doing THAT while you're"sleeping" :)

This particular bear, 395, had two cubs even though she was 21 years old at the time (that's an old bear)! For reference, Lily the Internet Sensation is 3. We got the cubs out first and promptly got them inside our jackets to keep them warm. Cubs are typically born in mid to late January and are practically hairless, weighing less than a pound. This excursion took place in mid-March, so the cubs were approximately 2 month old fuzz balls and weighed about 3 pounds.

Cute little buggers, aren't they? Their eyes were just starting to open. Check out the claws on the front feet!

And the little pink feet on the hind legs!

After the cubs were taken care of, it was time to get Mama out of the den. Since she was sedated throughout this entire process, she was limp as a rag, weighed about as much as the average human male, and you already saw the den opening. Not an easy job!

Once she was out, she got a thorough check up: weighed, blood drawn, breast milk sample taken, teeth checked and measured, pads of feet checked (they shed the outer layers of skin during hibernation), brand spankin' new radio collar put on, etc.

The sedative makes their eyes twitch back and forth - kind of eerie. Soon our job was finished and it was time to carefully put the bear family back where they belonged and say goodbye. The entire experience was one of the most fulfilling of my life and gave me a new found appreciation for black bears. Thanks for letting me tag along, Lynn!

Dr. Lynn Rogers, March 1991

January 22, 2010

Black Bears

In March of 1991, I had the privilege of visiting (and entering) occupied black bear dens in northeastern Minnesota with a bear researcher named Dr. Lynn Rogers. It was an awesome experience: cross country skiing, snow shoeing, snowmobiling, and good ol' fashioned bushwacking through thigh deep snow just to get to the dens. The study bears all had radio collars, and Lynn's assistants had a tracking antena, which is how we knew where they were.

I remember one of the dens being in a small hidden cave in the ground somewhere between Ely and Isabella. Two guys held me by my ankles while I hung awkwardly upside down, wiggling between rocks to get into the den. The bear was called "395" and she had 2 cubs, a male and female, both of which weighed about 3 pounds (cubs are typically born in January and weigh less than a pound at birth). Their front feet were about the size of silver dollars and their claws made them stick to my ragg wool sweater like velcro. We got the cubs out first and put them inside our coats to keep them warm while we wrestled Mama Bear out of the den (she was sedated through this entire process). She was weighed, had blood drawn, had a breast milk sample taken, teeth checked and canines measured, checked to see if she had shed the pads of her feet, changed out her radio collar, etc. The cubs were also weighed, gender and identifying features noted, pictures taken. They bawled at first, sounding almost like human infants. Little pink feet and noses, their eyes were just starting to open (I really need to go find the pictures). Finally, Mama was gently lowered back into her den and her cubs were returned to her.

Dr. Rogers is still doing his black bear research in the Ely area, and this winter his team installed a camera into one of the bear dens. Late this morning, Lily the Black Bear gave birth to her first cub. You can watch it here:

January 18, 2010

Winter Blues

OK, so winter isn't my favorite time of year for running. I don't like running on ice or in sub-zero temps, and the hamster wheel drives me stone. cold. insane. I've chosen to do more short runs on an indoor track while upping my barefoot miles, strength training, and I keep meaning to get to a yoga class but haven't pulled it off yet. I've also been working on getting my shoulders fixed up (tendinitis on both sides from teaching 6 theraband classes per week at a nursing home). That's finally healing up, and I just started more aggressive upper body strength exercises this past week :)

Speaking of the nursing home, one of my 98 year old exercise participants told me last week what he wants engraved on his headstone when his last day finally arrives:

"The pills didn't work."

The more I think about that one, the funnier it gets.

Still unsure of my 2010 race plans - there will probably be more "seat of the pants" last minute decisions and/or fat ass runs this year, mainly because of financial concerns and my current lack of training miles (haven't done a double digit mile run since Surf the Murph).

This weekend I will attend either the MDRA annual meeting to score some free pizza, or the NSCA Winter Strength & Conditioning Clinic to get some CEU's for one of my certifications.

Hope to get out on the trails soon!