Tuscobia Winter Ultra 2017

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Tuscobia State Trail, Birchwood

After four months of training, planning and gear accumulating, we finally did the thing–the Tuscobia Winter Ultra 80-mile run (ahem, walk)–a mostly unsupported footrace on the Tuscobia State Trail in northern Wisconsin.

Tailwind, crackers, gum, candies, dehydrated fruit, and more
Endurance event race fuel, didn’t touch several of these treats

Our group (Jen, me, 2 friends, 1 friend’s mom and dad, plus their 3 friends and one of those friend’s sons i.e. BIG group) opted to stay at a hotel in Park Falls so we could skip the early race morning shuttle from Rice Lake and drive ourselves to the start only five minutes away.

Gear Check (Rice Lake)

Jen and I emailed the race directors twice about a couple pieces of our required gear. Even before race weekend, we knew they were the nicest of people and responsive to our questions. Thankfully we took Friday off to finalize our packing and food prep. My nerves didn’t kick in until we were on the road and we both hung out in the car for a few minutes after we arrived, knowing each step toward the gear check building was one step closer to starting this crazy race.

Cory, Jen and others at gear check
Cory and Jen, gear check

Pre-race dinner

Our group decided to make our way toward Park Falls, and stopped at a bar along the way for dinner. The pitchers of Spotted Cow gracing our group’s tables were tempting, but Jen and I opted to hold off on alcohol and instead indulged in a shared glass of lemonade. I felt a draft and kept thinking, “if this lil’ draft is noticeable, how am I going to survive overnight, on a trail, in subzero temps…”

Re-packing

How many sleds can you fit in a modest motel room? Three! At least. Jen, Cory, and I each brought our sleds and gear into the room so we could fall asleep knowing we were set for the race in the morning.

The Start (Park Falls)

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Tuscobia Winter Ultra, fat tire bikes, pulks (sleds), & gear at the start

Unlike most race mornings where I have to stop myself from eating too much breakfast, I barely choked down a homemade peanut butter ball and coffee. I did make sure to down a bottle of Nuun (sugarless electrolyte tablet added to water). We left the hotel around 9am, sleds reloaded, nerves revived despite a surprisingly good night’s sleep.

The school common area was filled with racers and their cheer crews, volunteers, plus 160-mile runners passed out on sleeping pads under the lunch tables. The 160-mile fat tire bikers had taken off earlier Saturday morning, and the 160-mile runners and skiers started early the previous morning.

It felt a little chaotic, but the dominant force was excitement and trying to stay warm until the final minutes before the 10 a.m. start.

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Tuscobia Winter Ultra, Jen, me, & the perfect face masks for sub-0 temps

In below-zero-degree-Fahrenheit weather, the mass of skiers, fat tire bikers, and runners/walkers tethered to sleds gathered in the parking lot a.k.a our start line. The sun was shining and truly felt like a perfect day for this race.

First 30 miles

I was sleepy. Our group mostly stayed together, stopped briefly to eat Uncrustable PB&J sandwiches, and took advantage of a steep hill to ride our sleds down. We chatted, joked, and walked… and walked… and walked some more. It was… fun! Well, aside from my midweight leg layer digging into my hips, but other than that, great. We averaged an 18:00/mile pace. Jess’ family friends cheered for us, enthusiastically!

Tuscobia Winter Ultra 2017, sledding!
Tuscobia Winter Ultra 2017, sledding!

Eventually Jen and I trekked on our own and decided on our first stop, a bar in Winter, WI for a quick dinner and to rest our feet for a bit. The bar space was great, the greasy fries and not-fully cooked chicken strips weren’t ideal. Fortunately, there was plenty of space to sprawl out, warm up, and drink a glass of lemonade, plus the bar was just a minute or two walk from the trail. I also swapped out the batteries in my flashing red LED lights.

After an hour and adding another top layer, we continued on toward Ojibwa, home of the sole checkpoint.

The Checkpoint (~ mile 35)

It was dark, we were getting tired, so for a brief moment we thought, “What if we passed the turn for the checkpoint?!” Yikes. Luckily that really was not possible with how well-marked the turn-off was to the 80-mile race’s only checkpoint. Around 10pm we arrived at the old stone building, filled with incredibly helpful volunteers, soup, hot water, snacks, and heaters. We changed our socks and shoes, added more Vaseline to our feet (blister prevention), gulped down chicken soup and drank some soda (ginger ale to help Jen’s rawish chicken belly and Coca Cola for the caffeine for me). We stayed longer than we originally planned, but it was nice to use a ‘bathroom’ (outhouse) and ‘freshen up.’

And here’s when the trouble started. Jen’s hip flexors were giving her serious trouble that only got worse…

We departed the checkpoint after 11pm and just kept moving. We tried stretching and walking a little slower to ease the increasing pain in Jen’s hips and now, also in her Achilles tendon. Jess and her mom beat us to Radisson (around mile 40), their pre-selected drop-out point. Cory was with them too. Jen could’ve easily dropped at this point, but stubbornly (I would’ve done the same!) decided to keep going.

I wish I had taken a picture of Mars… this farm field in the middle of the night, covered in heaps of perfectly rounded snow mounds. The laser lights looked incredible as they extended beyond a farm building onto the trees and across the trail. We started to get chilly; a sure sign it was time to put on our toasty REI coats. It couldn’t have taken more than two minutes to remove our reflective vests, put on the coats, and re-add the reflective vests–but negative 14 degrees (or maybe it was colder?) has a way of permeating extremities. Our hands were frozen. We had kept them covered at all times with thin gloves, though and re-added our warm mittens, which fit into our big coat pockets to warm our hands back up after several minutes. Arm circles helped warm us up too. Unfortunately, the cold was the easy part. Jen’s hips were in bad shape. She could barely walk, each step looking like she had just stepped off a horse after a trek across the country. I couldn’t offer any solutions, just a few hugs and supportive words as we both knew what was coming…

We didn’t know Jess, her mom, and Cory would be parked at a crossroad near mile 45, but thank goodness they were there waiting to cheer us on. With no other reasonable choice, Jen called it in. I assured her I’d be OK on my own despite it being after 3am. If I got in trouble, and didn’t have cell reception, I’d use the 2-way radio we’d borrowed (in retrospect, awful plan, I didn’t know how to use that thing). She loaded her sled into the SUV, and I continued on, alone.

Alone at night

The hours leading up to sunrise seemed to go by quickly, alone in my own thoughts that didn’t extend beyond the race itself and silly song lyrics that somehow made their way into my head. I stopped briefly to drink cold broth from my thermos. I avoided turning my head to the left or right, because illuminating the woods with my headlamp would’ve almost certainly resulted in being startled by an animal.

Morning pep 

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Tuscobia Winter Ultra 2017, me, somewhere along the trail on Sunday

Suddenly, the sun was rising! At this point, pending any acute injuries, I felt convinced I’d make it to the finish. Jen, Cory, Jess and her mom stopped a couple times to cheer me on. They were amazing in transitioning from racer to cheer crew, and even picked up a guy who was trying without success to dry off his soaking cotton layers inside a sleeping bag and bivvy sack.

One guy I passed poking around in his sled, later zoomed passed me on the back of a snowmobile, his sled and gear towed behind in an even larger towing sled.

I subsisted on homemade peanut butter balls (chia seeds, honey, oats, dark chocolate chips, peanut butter) and Tailwind in my hydration pack (making sure to blow the water out of the hose after each drink to avoid water freezing in the tube). My waist pack was stocked with snacks–gum, ginger candies, Honey Stinger caffeinated chews, chocolate-covered espresso beans–that I nibbled on.

Frost freezing on my eyelashes and face mask
Tuscobia Winter Ultra 2017, it was cold

Somewhere along this long stretch from Couderay to Birchwood (17.5 miles) the lateral side of my right foot started to hurt. But then it’d subside. And come back, only temporarily before subsiding, again. I stopped off to the side to grab my original shoes from a duffel bag on the sled. They were so frozen and hard. I shoved them on anyway. Eventually they softened up, and the carbon Superfeet insert helped ease soreness in both feet.

Ed’s Pit Stop and the LONGEST 17 miles, ever

I made it to Ed’s Pit Stop around 11am on Sunday. The quaint dining area was filled with racers, some looking exhausted, some chattering away. Jess’ mom greeted me and talked, while I wolfed down a surprisingly good pre-made cheeseburger, washed down with a Starbucks sparkling energy juice. It was a great pick-me-up. Plus, I got to see Jen, Jess, and Cory (they had just returned from picking up the cars we parked at the start area).

Tuscobia Winter Ultra 2017, after Birchwood. Bison.
Tuscobia Winter Ultra 2017, after Birchwood. Bison.

I took off before noon, eager to finish the remaining 17 miles. Traveling around 3 mph meant that even with less than 20 miles to go, I still had several hours before finishing. I only encountered a 160-mile racer and two fat tire bikers along this stretch. It felt endless, particularly as my right foot was hurting with increased frequency (luckily, still subsiding in pain in equal frequency) and I was confused about the mileage remaining on the Tuscobia State Trail and then on the Wild Rivers State Trail. It must’ve been a couple hours later that Jen, Jess, and Cory were just ahead, cheering me on again. That helped, a lot. Then I started feeling anxious knowing I wasn’t going to finish before dark, and started feeling bad for anyone from our group waiting for at the end. I couldn’t move fast enough! Really, I couldn’t. Not any faster than a 17:00/mile pace, and more often a 20:00/mile pace. But I kept moving. And took a photo of some bison.

Cold hands and the Finish (Rice Lake)

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Tuscobia Winter Ultra 2017, nearing the finish

Probably around 5pm on Sunday I started to feel chilly. I stopped to put on that cozy REI coat, unfortunately not taking care to make sure my hands stayed warm throughout the finagling. My hands felt rock hard, but I was lucky they eventually warmed up sans frostbite.

A half hour or so later I saw flashing red lights ahead, unsure if that was a biker that had passed me or the finish line marker. But then I saw the silhouettes of my Tuscobia companions and I picked up the pace.

31 hours and 30 minutes after starting, I was so happy to be greeted by my race companions–Jen, Cory, Jess and her parents–at the finish. One of the race directors congratulated me and took my photo under the ‘finisher’s’ Tuscobia Winter Ultra banner. I ate two slices of pizza, lay on the floor, recorded one more Facebook Live video thanking friends and family for posting encouraging comments I read a couple times during the race, and pet the unofficial race dog that had followed random racers for hours.

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Tuscobia Winter Ultra 2017, I finished!

Of the 146 racers that started (80-mile and 160-mile runners, bikers, and skiers), 86 racers finished. I feel proud to be among the finishers. I also feel SUPER proud of Jen for completing OVER HALF the race. As someone who was commonly skeptical of her own abilities, she pushed through discomfort, reaching far beyond her comfort zone into brand new territory and completed SO MANY miles beyond what she’d ever done in the past. We both wish she had finished. But that doesn’t take away all that she accomplished.

Looking ahead

Jen and I have talked about a few things we’d do differently next time, gear tweaks, major training changes… in other words, it’s not out of the question that we’d find ourselves on the Tuscobia Winter Ultra start line, at least once more…

Big shoutouts to our Tuscobia race group (including racers and cheer crew), the volunteers, the race directors, the team at Fleet Feet Marathon Sports (an awesome place for buying gear and working a side gig), Lyn Lake Chiropractic (they generously sponsored a few of my care appointments leading up to the race) and friends & family for their support!


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Tuscobia Winter Ultra 2017, Jen, me, & our sleds

THE GEAR

Footwear

I debated back and forth between water-resistant running shoes, short gaiters, tall gaiters, a boot-esque running shoe, and more. Ultimately, I semi-randomly ordered a pair of shoes that worked out for the absolute best (Gore-Tex trail shoe, modest heel-to-toe drop). And unlike a few other items I experimented with on race day, I did wear these A LOT beforehand to get fully acquainted. I’ve done well with zero-drop (i.e. Altra Lone Peak) for long running efforts, but I’ve noticed they don’t work as well for me in long walking efforts.

  • Vaseline
  • Primary socks: FITS Sock Expedition socks (thick and wool)
  • Secondary socks: FITS Medium Hiker Crew (wool)
  • Primary shoe: North Face Ultra Endurance GTX with a carbon Superfeet insert
  • Secondary shoe: Altra Lone Peak Neoshell
  • Yaktrax RUN (didn’t need ’em)

Apparel

Wool and synthetic-blend layers were KEY in staying warm and dry.

  • Lightweight wool tights, form-fitting fleece tights mid-layer, wind-resistant Saucony Siberius running pants (men’s version, because pockets)
  • Mizuno wool long-sleeve baselayer with a Saucony light fleece long-sleeve on top
  • REI quarter-zip fleece pullover (added warmth Saturday evening)
  • North Face windproof jacket (love the chest pocket, loose fit, zippered hand pockets and hood)
  • Featherweight Mizuno running jacket (added warmth later in the race)
  • REI Stratocloud Hoodie Jacket (added warmth late Saturday evening and Sunday evening) – I LOVE this coat; Jen and I refer to them as our sleeping bag coats. Even more perfect with the chest media pocket, deep inside pockets, and cozy hood.
  • Gator Sport fleece-lined face protector (kept our faces warm, easy to breathe out of)

Required

  • 0-degree sleeping bag
  • sleeping pad
  • bivvy sack
  • camp stove
  • stove fuel
  • firestarter
  • 1 pint pot
  • 3,000 calories
  • 3 flashing red LED lights
  • headlamp
  • extra batteries
  • reflective material

The Good Stuff

Not required, but we found this stuff to be essential.

  • pStyle (a super simple stand-to-pee device I commonly describe as a water slide…)
  • REI microfiber towel in lieu of tissues or handkerchiefs (SO SOFT on the nose)
  • Ziploc baggies with the slider closure (so much easier with frozen or mitten-clad hands) for snacks
  • Hand-warmers and more hand-warmers
  • Mountainsmith Drift Waistpack – swapped out our padded tool belts for these to store snacks, lights, and attach our pulk system; perfect size, fit and durability
  • Insulated thermos (not essential because we had hydration bladders, but liquids stayed liquid-y)
  • Camelbak with insulted hose, filled with Tailwind and worn over baselayer (didn’t freeze!)
  • Lithium AAA batteries
  • A sled.

Tuscobia Winter Ultra 2017, sunset
Tuscobia Winter Ultra 2017, sunset

2016 Reflections/2017 Goals

Earlier last month I had the opportunity to draft my 2016 running reflections and 2017 goals for the final Fleet Feet Marathon Sports newsletter of 2016. The lengthiest of the bunch (slightly embarrassingly so), here’s what I wrote:

2016 was the year I dove into ultra running. Dubbed Ultra Birthday, I ran 30 miles on January 30 to celebrate my 30th birthday. The best part, aside from finishing my first run over 26.2 and this birthday falling on a Saturday, was enjoying the company of family and friends throughout the run down the Greenway and (several times) around Harriet, Calhoun, and Isles. I got lucky the temps happened to be in the 30s that day. In April I trudged through the intense Zumbro 50-miler, with a starting temp of 17 degrees. Then, I racked up several shorter race finishes, mostly on trails… Stigma Breakers 5K at the Whitetail Wood Regional Park, a road 5K in my hometown since I was visiting my parents, a couple of the Endless Summer Trail Run Series races, the Midnight Owl 15K in New Hampshire (again, visiting family) with my sister, the supremely muddy St. Paul Trail Half Marathon, all four Salomon Autumn Trail Series races at Hyland Park with my partner, a half marathon back in my hometown, the Surly Trail Loppet Half Marathon (a week after the hometown road half… ouch), and the Twin Cities 10 Mile.

My goal for 2017 is to balance running with strength—continuing a twice-weekly body weight/free weight routine, a regular dose of hot yoga, and keeping nagging ailments in check with acupuncture and stretching/foam rolling. Race-wise, I’ll start the year off with my most brutal race yet—the Tuscobia Winter Ultra 80-mile run in January with my partner and two friends. I also have my sights set on the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler in Wisconsin and the Salomon Autumn Trail Series, again. So, another year of mixed distances, but more structured in timing and training. Plus, reading more runner memoirs and posting on This is How I Run.

I think the only thing I missed in that recap is my plan to volunteer at a few local races and for an organization like Girls on the Run.

The #1 goal is to be grateful for what I accomplish in running this year. With each finish in 2016, the excitement quickly faded into expecting more from myself or maybe more accurately, regret that I hadn’t done more training, preparation, anything really, to make the moment one I could be proud of. The thing is, I did do the thing. And isn’t that the point? To take action, test limits, and then do it all over again, maybe a little differently because of the lessons learned in the successes and failures?

Jen and I are charging into 2017 with our first ever winter ultra–the Tuscobia Winter Ultra 80-mile run–on Jan. 7 and that will be one HUGE test in appreciating more than just the finish line. I’m already proud of our consistent training, lessons learned, thoughtfully packed sleds, careful gear selection, and even for our excitement (bottled with plenty of nerves) going into the race. Here’s to hopefully crossing the finish line in under 37 hours and to the little victories along the way that provide the means to make that possible.

30 miles on the Luce Line

Luce Line Trail
Luce Line State Trail, 2016

Following a lazy, lazy Thanksgiving holiday — sure, we hauled tires for an hour one day and went for an easy 3-mile walk another day, but nothing within the realm of a full training load — we haphazardly decided on going 30 miles this past Saturday, with a 12-15 mile walk on Sunday.

Wagon re-hitched with PVC pipe (thanks to Jen’s handy work and mighty drill) and gear packed up Friday night, we took off Saturday morning for the start of the Luce Line State Trail in Plymouth. We were both in… moods of sorts, meaning neither of us was really game to start this hike that we knew would last all morning and afternoon into the evening (that’s a terrible way to get going, obviously). Tack on a still wobbly wagon (guess it’s meant to use with a handle) and groups of runners (hey there, dose of envy) looking dubiously at our 4-wheeled companion, we had a rough start.

Fortunately, we still had 29.75 miles to work it out.

It’s funny how the simple act of placing one foot in front of the other, over… and over… and over again can clear up a tough mental patch. We both settled into an acceptable pace and enjoyable conversation. We stayed hydrated, ate homemade energy balls and daydreamed about that burger and fries we planned on grabbing post-all day walk.

Although the crushed limestone Luce Line State Trail starts in a populated suburb, each side of the trail lined with big houses, eventually you make your way into rural Minnesota, complete with cows, horses and sheep. We saw a llama farm, but sadly no llamas. We also saw a cat, but it had no interest in us and ran off before we could even try to coax it for a pet or two. I had high hopes of spotting a coffee shop off to the north or south as we crossed each intersection, but instead settled for our insulated jug of hot water and ginger tea. Snacks were top notch, specifically honing in on the savory side i.e. crackers and plantain chips. The homemade energy balls were filling, fatty and not too sweet i.e. perfection.

Moving ahead to mile 14, Jen and I debated back and forth about which mileage tracker to use–my watch or the posted wooden mile markers. I was all for taking a photo with mile marker 15; however, we opted to turn around before that point, when my watch hit 15.00 (I’m the one who will do circles around the car or apartment building to get that extra fraction of a mile for an even .00 or .50, while Jen begrudgingly follows me or simply sits in the car waiting for me to finish up our days’s trek).

So, those first 15 miles weren’t bad. At 16, I somewhat sarcastically commented how happy I was that our car was parked 14 miles away. And then suddenly–an hour+ later–we approached mile 20. Time to pull out the earbuds for the first time in all of our training for some podcast listening and a brief stretch (focusing on the hip flexors and lower back).

While I found my second wind (partially due to being free of wagon pulling for the day after completing my three shares of 5 mile sessions), Jen’s enthusiasm was in decline mode at mile 25. Fully immersed in an episode of Ten Junk Miles and the bit of path I could see lit by our headlamps, I didn’t realize the pain settling into Jen’s feet.

“Fast” forward to miles 26/27, as we make our way out of a tunnel and up a tiny hill, I turn around to ask Jen if she’s doing OK and realize NOPE, not OK. For an ultra distance newbie, she’s prepared for the discomfort that comes with ultra territory, but at this point she’s experiencing intense foot pain, maybe blisters? Maybe flesh-eating-walking-way-too-much-in-one-day-and-newish-shoes-disease? Who knows!

Fortunately, I, 1) bypassed hard-ass mode with ‘don’t worry/you’re doing great/I’m proud of you/just take it one step at a time and don’t even think twice about the upcoming (EIGHTY MILE) distance mode’ and 2) she toughed it out and kept moving despite each painful step, plus 3) I took the wagon back for the last mile.

I also talked her through our three race day goals:

  1. Cross the START line
  2. Walk as far as we possibly can
  3. Cross the finish line

In other words, we have an excellent chance of accomplishing 2 out of 3 goals. Not bad for our first ultra together and her first ultra, ever.

Recovery, part 1: Delicious homemade soup (even in pain, Jen willingly whipped up one awesome dinner), hot epsom salt bath, early bed time

Recovery, part 2: We skipped the second long walk, but still mustered up 5 miles on Sunday around Lake of the Isles. Jen’s feet are doing well (no blisters, ‘just’ intense burning for a full day). My left foot has hurt unrelentingly for the past few days. The joys and mysteries of endurance training.

Next up: This Saturday and Sunday we’ll fit in tire pulling and long walks before and after a myriad of weekend plans.


Quick Specs

Total Time: 10 hours, 45 minutes

Footwear: Altra Lone Peak 2.0 neoshell

Food List:

  • Late July organic crackers (fancy Ritz)
  • Back to Nature crispy cheddar crackers
  • Plantain chips
  • Wild Ginger Harvest bulk trail mix (dark chocolate chips, dried ginger, almonds)
  • Beef jerky
  • Ginger tea
  • 2x jugs hot water
  • 2x bladders with Tailwind
  • Homemade beef, spinach, cheddar cheese tortilla wrap
  • Homemade no-bake energy balls (Whole Foods crunchy PB, Wedge bulk oats & ground flax seed, dark chocolate chips, local honey, real vanilla)

Testing 1, 2, 3

Four people, a dog, two wagons on the a trail
Lunch break on the Tuscobia State Trail

A weekend away for a dry run on the Tuscobia Winter Ultra course couldn’t have come at a better time–just days post-2016 presidential election. Add in the company of good friends, spouse, and no cell service for a much needed, albeit quite temporary, reprieve from the increasing uneasiness accompanying the results.

I take that back; Jen and I acknowledged the risk of four women venturing to rural Wisconsin post-election. I can’t get over that there was even the need to be appreciative that we didn’t encounter any trouble. I suppose it helped we stuck to an empty campground and a mostly desolate trail… only one confederate flag strewn across a pickup truck crossed our path. As someone who falls into the realm of gender non-conforming and a skin tone whose origin is often left up to viewer discretion, the recent increase in hate crimes left me with a valid concern, but like I said, no harm done beyond heightened awareness.

Back to the trail…

Camp set-up

Tuscobia State Trail sign
Passing through another town, Tuscobia State Trail

After a pre-sunrise departure from Minneapolis, we set up our tent with a 35-degree overnight forecast in mind. Similar approach to dressing for the weather: Layers. We lined the tent with a space blanket, grandmother-made sheep’s wool quilt, inexpensive plush mattress pad (that yellow-ish foamy kind), sleeping pads, and finally, cozy zero-degree sleeping bags.

Day 1 – 20 miles

We (four humans, one German Shepard and one chihuahua) set off on the Tuscobia Trail toward Birchwood, fully loaded with two heavy duty garden wagons and one little Burly for the chihuahua. Since we hadn’t yet pulled a wagon in training, Jen and I opted to switch off every couple hours hauling our new wagon and trying out an ancient (yet quite effective) pair of ski poles that worked well as trekking poles. We lucked out with another gorgeous fall day, around 50 degrees and sunshine.

Jen, Cory, and Jess pulling wagons and hiking up hill
Trekking up one of few inclines, Tuscobia State Trail

The trail, a mix of sand and gravel meant for ATV’s, was a welcome mindless switch from our other long walk endeavors. No maps or trail markers to watch for, no distance or route decisions to be made, just keep moving forward on the seemingly endless trail (spoiler: it does end at 74 miles in Rice Lake).

The goal was to keep a 3-mile an hour walking pace (20-minute miles), and despite quick breaks for snacks, water for the dogs, re-adjusting wagon set-ups, and a 40-minute lunch break, we averaged an overall 25-minute per mile pace.

To pass the time, we chatted, sang (some of us sang, not me, I don’t sing for the best interest of everyone), walked ahead in silence, and occasionally noted that with each step we were that much closer to the tator tot hot dish awaiting us back at camp. Exhaustion, aching feet, and antsiness crept in, but not one of us complained. We simply kept moving forward.

Mishaps

Elizabeth pulling a sled and using trekking poles
First time pulling a sled and using trekking poles

While rope is suggested for rigging up our sleds in the race, rigid poles work better for controlling a wagon in training. Jen and I learned that the hard, wobbly-front-tires way.

Don’t stick a nice winter hat in your little pants pocket expecting it to stay there. It will fall out and you’ll realize it two miles down the trail. On the bright side, you’ll get a gear-free, bonus run in to find said hat while your training mates hang out near a local gas station and bear witness to the aforementioned confederate flag. (Don’t worry, I found my hat.)

Day 2 – 12 miles

We headed the opposite direction of day one with two major highlights: no wagons and only six miles out and back to easily cover in four hours. Compared to Saturday, the miles flew by and we ate lunch while in motion.

The Gear

Two pairs of Altra Lone Peaks
A pair of Lone Peaks with a side of Lone Peaks

Apparel

  • Altra Lone Peak neoshell (zero-drop trail shoe)
  • Merino wool socks
  • Long boxer briefs without too many seams
  • Adventure pants (quick drying active-wear pants with pockets)
  • Lightweight merino wool long sleeve
  • Heavier weight 1/4 zip running pullover layer
  • Light zippered jacket with a hood
  • Lightweight gloves
  • Winter hat

Wagon

  • 400 lb. capacity yardwork wagon
  • Attachment set-up: $17 padded tool belt, two carabiners, thin rope looped through the axel meant for the wagon handle
  • Snacks: Lone Grazer cheese curds, turkey sticks, dark chocolate chips, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, homemade banana walnut muffins, beef jerky
  • Lunch: Homemade beef, spinach, cheddar cheese tortilla wrap; apple; Pirate’s Booty (a luxurious slightly salty co-op treat)
  • Extra trail shoes
  • Extra socks
  • Rope
  • Knife

Backpack

  • Bladder filled with H20 plus Tailwind
  • Red LED lights
  • Headlamp
  • Reflective vest
  • Pocket knife
  • Water bottle
  • Portable USB charger
  • Phone
  • GPS watch attached to one of the straps with a carabiner

What’s Next

Elizabeth and Jen, on a bridge with sun shining on a creek
Training partners for life <3, Tuscobia State Trail

Logging so many miles boosted our confidence. Sure, 20 miles wasn’t easy (to me it felt more tiring than running 20 miles, but I’ve also never done a long run pulling a wagon), but we pushed through it and only have to tack on another 60 miles in two months (breathe in, breathe out, on repeat!). Jen and I are feeling on track with training, but also re-realized the importance of pulling weight at our waists, so we’ll be breaking out the old car tires for a weekly longish walk.

Experiencing the boredom, fatigue and hiking from daylight to sundown provided critical physical, and likely more importantly, mental training. I don’t know that I’ve ever said this before, but… I’m eagerly awaiting snow so we can practice hauling our gear on sleds.

In it for the long haul

Fall colors over the Mississippi River in Minnesota
Mississippi River, October 2016

We’re five weeks into training for our next big adventure together—the Tuscobia Winter Ultra 80 mile run. Yes, 80 miles. In the winter. In Wisconsin. Pulling a sled filled with gear. It’s going to be awesome!

While our training plan is varied in activities—hot yoga, body and free weight strength training, rock climbing, tire pulls, hill repeats—we’ve zeroed in on the long walk. Realistically, we won’t be running too much on the Tuscobia Trail. We’ll be traveling at an average of three miles per hour, hauling our sleds, avoiding frost bite and debilitating pain. Therefore, increasing the time we can walk in one-go is critical to our success. At least, that’s what we think is the case.

The Long Walks

Week 1 – Mississippi River

Jen standing on a swing under a metal bridge
Swinging near the Mississippi

Jen made us a plate of hearty french toast (the BEST bread you can get in Minneapolis, locally milled) complete with seeds, fresh eggs, and Vermont maple syrup (an awesome wedding gift). Then off we went for a 12-mile walk through Minneapolis along West River Pkwy. The neat thing about this route is the option to go off road and walk along the river, complete with structures to climb and dirt to trudge through until we hit Minnehaha Parkway, another beautiful pedestrian and bike trail through Minneapolis. Tried out a 1-mile run at mile nine and learned walking does in fact tire out the legs.

Quick stats: 12 miles | 3:56:07

Week 2 – No long walk

Two weeks in and already skipping out on training? Not exactly. I had registered for the Twin Cities 10 mile and worked a nine-hour shift at the expo the previous day—a LONG day despite no walking. Jen squeezed in an 11-mile bike ride to cheer me on at the race.

Week 3 – Lebanon Hills

Elizabeth and Jen at Lebanon Hills
Lebanon Hills, me and Jen

A beautiful, not too populated set of trails only 20 minutes away from Minneapolis led us through our first official trail hike and a view of peak Minnesota fall colors. As a little incentive, we each picked up a donut from Glam Doll Donuts (OK, I got TWO) for a mid-walk treat. Here’s where I start jotting down random Tuscobia thoughts in a Notes app since these long walk conversations tend to find their way back to their original purpose (race prep). The list is filled with food picks for the race, of course.

Quick stats: 14.25 miles | 4:40:34

Week 4 – Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun + Fort Snelling

Airplane
Up close with the planes above Fort Snelling

Saturday, Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun… A route that I’ve run many times before, so high probability of boredom setting in early on. But, toss in a time constraint and flat terrain for a fun and fast-paced walk on another gorgeous fall day in Minnesota. Bonus: bacon and cheese croissant and a chai from Sparrow Cafe post-speedy-ish walk.

Sunday, Fort Snelling… We’ve walked through Fort Snelling once before together and somehow I had forgotten how CLOSE the planes get near the main entrance of the park. Whew. A short drive from home (or light rail ride), and although it’s woodsy, it doesn’t quite have that out-of-the-city feel i.e planes and people-a-plenty. We added in a 10-minute run that didn’t feel awful after a few walking miles. Progress.

Quick stats: Sat. – 7 miles | 1:53:24 and Sun. – 13 miles | 3:43:10

Week 5 – Banning State Park

Banning State Park
Banning State Park, rugged terrain section

We felt like a couple of klutzes, tripping over little rocks and slogging through hundreds (thousands?) of crinkly leaves. I had a head cold and we both “sprinted” several repeats tethered to a car tire the previous day. We didn’t know how exhausted our legs were until we hit the relatively uninteresting trail. We learned two things though: Our boredom finally subsided, so maybe this training thing is working our brains too and Banning State Park is awesome after you get through the first few less-than-stimulating miles. Lunch by the river, rugged terrain, and a steep hill made for an impressive trek only an hour and a half outside the city.

Quick Stats: 15 miles | 6:17:36

So what’s up next? Well, more long walks, more twice-a-week strength training sessions at home, a switch from weekly hot yoga to indoor rock climbing, and a camping adventure on the Tuscobia Trail where we’ll pull an all-terrain wagon and test our anticipated race day nutrition.

We’re definitely in it for the long haul.

Salomon Autumn Trail Series 2016

Small plant and goat stuffed animal
I won a little plant (1st in age group), and a little goat (raffle)

A race series for the average runner, featuring the speedy and the inspiring. I’ll self-place myself somewhere in the middle, just out there on the trails of Hyland Lake Park, enjoying the crisp temps and racing vibes.

This is my second year running the complete Salomon Autumn Trail Series–four Wednesday evening races ranging from 3.5 to 4.2 miles–and not-particularly-long-story a little shorter, I ran better this year.

By better I mean, finishing 3 of 4 races faster than last year, faster overall time, and taking 1st in my age group versus 2nd last year in the series.

2016: Total time = 2:00:51, 1st in my age group (F3039)

2015: Total time = 2:03:24, 2nd in my age group (F2029)

The biggest change in training was less about the frequency, and more about the distance and type of training–a couple longer races leading up to the series plus a few more weekly hill repeat sessions. Also, new shoes! Specifically, the Nike Terra Kiger 3, an awesome trail shoe for racing. I think another helpful piece was reminding myself with every step that I needed to push through the discomfort of the pace and keep going. Always keep going.

Aside from earning the cutest little plant for placing in my group, the other highlight of the series occurred after race #3 when a fellow racer told me I looked strong and relaxed. All the more empowering since I was feeling the fatigue of having run a 1/2 marathon the previous weekend.

Salomon-tweet.png
Run tweets.

Although I’m planning to limit the number of races I do in 2017, I definitely plan to include all four Salomon Autumn Trail Series races.

Twin Cities 10 Mile

Medtronic Twin Cities 10 mile finish line
Finishing the Twin Cities 10 mile! Found myself (sporting the black compression calf sleeves) in the Kare 11 finish line video.

The week leading up to the Medtronic TC 10 Mile I was feeling some marathon envy. Between the road closure signs, the energy at the expo, and social media buzz around the Chicago Marathon and Twin Cities Marathon, 10 miles didn’t sound like nearly enough for a crisp fall morning on the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Me and Hannah post-race
Me and Hannah post-race!

In the end, thank goodness I only registered for the 10 mile! Another 16 miles would’ve demolished me after spending nine hours on my feet the previous day working at the marathon expo. Also, that detail of training for a marathon was conspicuously missing from my fitness.

I didn’t have a goal time going into the race (any time would be a PR since I’ve never run a 10 mile race), but I was happy with a sub-1:30 time. Granted the first woman crossed the finish in 52 minutes and 49 seconds… so. much. speed! I also glanced back at my Discover Whitewater Series half marathon time, which was slightly faster. With that said, here are the five best highlights of the race:

Five TC 10-mile highlights

8:45 per mile, 2372 out of 9203 overall, 1046 out of 5987 females, 200 out of 1033 females 30-34
2372nd place out of 9203 runners…
  1. Walked to the start. Convenient downtown location (at least by foot, bike or public transit)
  2. Met up with a friend at the start and awesome knowing we were running the same race; plus, brunch afterward
  3. Run hard, done in under two hours, get same food as the marathoners (chips, bread, broth, fruit)
  4. Spectators. The “Worst parade ever!” signs are getting old but I laughed out loud at a “If Trump can run, so can you” sign and another one later on “If Trump can still run, so can you”
  5. Cool temps and fall colors

This likely marks my last race of the year, unless I opt into running a local turkey trot. Gobble, gobble.