100 training days to the Kettle 100

100 Days run-up to Kettle 100: an ultra runner's journey

Nearly any reward in life requires give. With ultra running that 'give' we put forth is part of the reward. The ability to be able to stand up and place one foot in front of the other for so many miles brings incredible joy through the training that leads to the beloved race days. But it's not all peaches on the trails. There is rain, mud, ice, queasy stomachs and achy muscles and joints. Sometimes the price of great effort is pain, but we know that is part of the package as runners and we deal with it.

I started this training blog on Feb. 23, 2017 - 100 days out from the Kettle 100 trail race, which I will be toeing the line at on June 3. This will be my second try at completing my first 100 mile race. My goal with this blog is to be as descriptive as possible about everything that goes into my training. I will describe training runs, talk about my diet, what I am drinking and even through I am not a big gear person I will give my views on shoes, watches, hydration tools and anything else that I use to assist me on these runs.  

A bit about me - I have been running marathon distances and farther for about 12 years so I have some knowledge of the sport. My marathon, 50K, 50M and 100K times place me about mid-pack. I usually do my training runs solo but I occasionally run with an incredible local group called the Madison Trail Runners. If you are in the area of visiting and want to check out some cool trails and meet some even cooler people, I suggest looking them up. 

Running's a beautiful sport that welcomes all ages and abilities. I hope you enjoy following along on this blog and that it gives you something you can use. Enjoy!  


The Day After

June 6 - You aren't serious

Standing in our kitchen yesterday, still foggy from the events that ended that same morning at the Rice Lake aid station in the Kettle Moraine State Forest, 18 miles short of my 100-mile goal, Sarah told me I didn’t take the whole thing seriously enough.

It was a bold statement but not surprising. Sarah is not one to sugar coat and while I was certainly in a vulnerable state physically with sore leg muscles making it tough to move even a few feet and chaffing in every place imaginable and unmentionable, my mind was open and I understood exactly what she meant.

Just another race

The morning of race day was amazing. The weather was cool and dry and you could feel the energy from fellow runners. I am pretty casual and calm on race mornings. I know people get nervous race mornings and I can definitely understand – a lot of training and preparation goes into these events so it is a big deal. But for whatever reason I stay chill; not taking it too seriously.

I knew there was rain on its way, but I wasn’t sure how much and to be honest it didn’t really concern me. Rain is a good thing for me since I usually run hot on long runs and I’m a big sweater so a cool sprinkle would go far to keeping fluids working in the body rather than as perspiration on the skin.

I got to the Nordic Trailhead starting line at 5 a.m., one hour before the 6 a.m. race start. I pulled my drop bags out of the car and placed them on their respective tarps marked with their aid station destinations: Scuppernong, Bluff and Highway 67. I then went to pick up my timing chip and proceeded to milling around the area where runners were sorting through and making last-minute adjustments to gear, coordinating plans with crew and pacers and taking in those last few minutes of glorious bliss with friends and family before the long journey began.

As I was taking some crowd shots with my phone I looked over to see race co-director Tim Yanacheck giving the pre-race safety briefing. I’ve been to plenty of races before and I had been at this race two years ago so I knew the drill, but I decided I’d better go listen so I casually walked over to hear the end of his talk…something about rain and heat. Good enough – there will be rain; there will be heat, we’re running in the great outdoors after all.

Between my backpack and drop bags I had everything I needed. I had two water bottles which was plenty to get me from one aid station to the next, and assorted calorie boosters including Tailwind, Cliff Bars and granola bars. This was in addition to the insanely well stocked aid station buffet tables replete with every sweet and savory dish you could imagine for such a venue. Boiled potatoes with salt, meat wraps, PBJ, oranges, bananas, watermelon, assorted candies, sodas (including my favorite Coke) and of course water, Tailwind and Heed, and so much more. As the race stretched into the evening soup was added to the aid station menu and I did hear a rumor that there were hamburgers being served.

Easy run to Scuppernong

The first 20 miles was smooth. The trails were easy, conversations with passing runners were enjoyable and the air was cool, but Kettle is known for death by 1,000 cuts, meaning that there are plenty of short climbs that are deceivingly easy but when you join them all together they will eventually wear you down, making them a formidable challenge. So I knew early on to walk the hills, and if the mood struck me and I knew it could be done safely I would bomb down the descents. The only other obstacles that I felt demanded my full attention were the many rocks and roots jutting from the trail that are often camouflaged within the path where they catch a runners’ toes and in some cases send them hurtling to the ground. Luckily for me there were no falls that first 20-something mile stretch. Aside from a bit of gastric distress alleviated by some trail-side yacking and a trip to the outhouse, everything was smooth.

Slip-Slide’s the Way

By the time I reached Scuppernong aid station, at about mile 32, I was feeling good. We did get some good downpours in the last few miles before reaching the aid station, which kept the temps down and the running smooth at this point. There was also some thunder and lightning accompanying the rain, which was a bit concerning as we ran through the open prairie, but as Sarah always says if it’s your time than it was your time.

My pace at this point was a little fast for my liking, at about 11 min. per mile, but I felt good and knew I could and likely would adjust slower as the day evolved. I grabbed my drop bag and replenished both water bottles with Tailwind. I also eyeballed an 8 oz. squeeze pack of almond butter that I figured I would need, but with the stacked buffet tables I decided it wasn’t worth carrying the extra weight and messing with it along the trail. That and a few power bars were left behind in the drop bag as I grabbed some orange quarters and another swig of Coke before setting out for the 30-mile trip back to Nordic where I would begin the evening portion of the journey. Little did I know this was where the interesting portion of the race would begin and where I would realize taking on such undertakings as a 100-miles trail race should be taken seriously.

Another water bottle sacrifice

A few miles out of Scuppernong is where it started. While climbing a mud-covered hill and doing more slipping than climbing I joked to a runner coming from the other way that I was glad the entire course wasn’t like this. She looked at me and said with a very serious and distressed voice that there was more of the same ahead. I didn’t really give her comment much thought. I had come down the same trail she had just traveled and it was fine. What I failed to account for was a basic law of science that says when you add water to dirt it turns into mud. So for the next 30 miles while the rain continued, runners were subjected to shoe-sucking, traction defying, dirty, earthy, stinking mud. You don’t notice it at the time but trying to keep your balance on slick, uneven ground; pulling your foot up when suction is trying to keep it down while at the same time watching out for those pesky tripping rocks takes a lot of energy. And when you do gain some traction and confidence on reasonably dry land and suddenly reach another slick patch your chances of going down increase considerably. This happened to me while following a group of three guys. One minute I’m cruising along and the next thing I know my feet had slipped out from under me. While hurtling to the ground I caught myself with my right hand making a loud slapping sound as the rest of my body struck the muddy earth. The guy in front of me stopped and asked if I was okay. I told him it sounded worse than it was and thanked him for stopping to check on me. He moved on and I decided to walk for a bit. As I took a swig from my water bottle I noticed it spilling all over me. The bottle had exploded as it hit the ground under my weight. Oh well, at least I had another bottle.

I met a lot of people along this stretch. One guy told me about his adventures at Dances With Dirt in Howell, Mich. There was plenty of talk from others in the group we were running with about different races that people had done. I contributed to the conversation sharing my Poto adventures. I also ran into Lucas Henson around this point. I never met him before but knew his name from Strava and Madison Trail Runners. We had a good time talking until we parted ways at either Antique Road or Wilton Lane, two unmanned aid stations just past the Highway 67. Lucas ended up finishing the 100 miles with a rockstar 13 min. mile pace – an amazing accomplishment.

Another product of the storms was the heat and humidity. It was about midday and temps quickly rose well into the 80s with humidity into the 60s or 70s. We were now dripping wet and between bouts of rainstorms there was the hot sun beating down on us as we ran back through the exposed prairie for the next six miles.

Time for soup

The trip back included a stop at Emma Carlin aid station at mile 47. The rain had passed at this point and we were past the prairie but the sun, heat and humidity had all reached their apexes. I grabbed my drop bag and pulled out a can of potato soup and a spoon from my backpack, found some shade behind a telephone pole where I sat and had lunch. I watched as other runners cleaned their mud-caked legs, and changed out of soaking shoes and shorts into dry clothing. I felt good so the need to change into anything dry, even if it was an option, didn’t strike me as important. This was an endurance race – and to endure required embracing discomfort.

The remaining trip back to Nordic included a stop at Bluff. I had been here once on the way out and would come back through here two more times - the final time would be when I would pick up Sarah who was pacing me for the final seven miles. At this point I was on pace to meet my goal of a sub-24 hour finish. But signs of what was to come would soon begin to surface.

About a mile from Nordic I met a guy who was doing his first 50 miler. He was feeling the fatigue but in great spirits. As we came to the Nordic finish he sprinted ahead. I held back and watched as be crossed the line. He proceeded to kneel and kiss the finish line carpet to the cheers and laughter of onlookers.

When I came through a little glassy eyed after running all day, I walked over to race co-director Tim Yanacheck (same guy who gave the safety briefing earlier) and asked if the 100 milers went back up to Bluff from there or was there another route we needed to take. He gave me a concerned look like you might see an adult to lost child and asked if I had a pacer going back out with me. I told him my wife would be with me the final seven but that was it. He gave me an okay filled with more concern and proceeded to tell me that I would go back the same way I came through Tamarack, Bluff and then to Confusion Corners where I would make the turn toward Rice Lake aid station – the final out and back of the race.

Enter the darkness

At the Nordic start-finish I changed my shirt and grabbed an extra headlamp as the sun began to set. I also grabbed my backup iPhone so I could listen to music without sucking my regular cellphone dry. Within the first mile out of Nordic I started feeling it - chaffing in the nether regions. It had been building the entire day through the rain and sweat and whatnot, but it was just now beginning to rear its painful self. At first I treated it like any other discomfort experienced with a long run – I gritted my teeth and moved on. But that coupled with fatigue had slowed my pace considerably. Not to worry though, I reassured myself. I had set myself up for success early on with a solid pace.I felt at even 20 minutes per mile, which is walking pace, I could bring it in with time to spare. I moved on for what seemed like way too long. Not recalling what aid station was next but feeling like I was close to the 10 miles that I needed to go to get there, I asked a runner coming the other way how much farther to the turnaround. When he told me 4.5 miles, I said thanks and proceed to indulge in a bit of self-pity. Not only was I not moving at a 20 min. per mile pace I was moving about half that pace with no idea how I could increase my momentum.

Not too long after that I called Sarah who was of course sleeping at 11 p.m. knowing that she had to get up in a few hours to come pace me. I was a bit frustrated with my situation and explained to her that plans had changed and she should come at 6 a.m. rather than the 2 a.m. I had previously anticipated. We hung up and I moved on about another quarter mile where I was pleasantly surprised to stumble on the Highway 12 aid station. Here I stayed for a while. I had some chicken soup, rested my eyes and watched as runners came in to awaiting crews and left with their pacers and everything else they needed for a successful run. I was wondering what people dressed in regular street clothes were doing hanging out at this aid station at 2 a.m. I should have known what they were doing there but I was a bit out of it right then. I sat in the folding chair as I listened to the group across from me who was engrossed in a conversation about running of all things start to cheer as a tall guy with trekking poles and yellow stripped Hokas walked into the aid station followed by his pacer. The whole group surrounded him asking what he needed. He quickly replied with orders for soup and s-caps, which were quickly filled. From there they sat him down and attended to any other needs he had. Not long after his arrival, I decided it was time for me to head out. I slowly got up, grabbed some orange slices and watermelon for the road and got on my way.

There will be crying

The next 4.5 miles to Rice Lake were filled with calculations. I knew I was moving at about a 2.5 mph pace, which I decided would be close but still could get me in under the 30-hour cutoff. There was a chance I could have made it but I reached a point about a half mile out of Rice Lake where I decided it was time for me to drop. After slipping my way up yet another rock-covered, mud-soaked hill and wondering what sadistic SOB decided it was a good idea to cover all these hills with rocks, I called Sarah. She was already on her way. I told her my plan to drop at Rice Lake and she told me not to drop until she got there. The last quarter mile to Rice Lake went on forever. Just before arriving, a man wearing a Superman shirt watching as I limped toward him told me, “I know exactly how you feel and all I did was paced someone.” I smiled and walked the final 50 feet uphill to the aid station where the volunteers cheered my arrival and asked what they could get me. I told them nothing now and thanked them as I walked by and found a seat on a nearby picnic table where I waited for Sarah.

As I waited for her I felt relieved that it was over but then started crying. This had only happened to me once before – in 2005 at my first -ever marathon in Grand Rapid. I was at about mile 18 and I had hit the wall. I saw Sarah in the crowd at one of the water stations, came up to her and started bawling. I told her I can’t do this. She was quick to reassure me I was doing great and I could finish the race, which I did. Now, here I was at mile 82 feeling much the same way I did that day. It’s interesting how testing the boundaries of your physical and mental limits can strip you raw. When Sarah arrived, she did her best to convince me that I had the time and means to finish. We talked about it for a while as I cried and apologized and cried some more before I walked up to one of the aid station volunteers and turned in my timing chip, officially ending my run. It was a tough decision but, even now more than 24 hours later, I think it was the right one, especially after arriving home and assessing the extent of the injuries inflicted. I will spare you the details. You’re welcome.

What’s the Plan?

I learned plenty from this run, but nothing I ever expected to learn. There are limits to what our bodies can do, but I also believe that the mind is the brains of the whole operation so if the brain says we can do something we will do it or die trying. That is the power of being the animals we are. But the other thing the mind can do is plan. There was plenty of things that went wrong at this race that could have been avoided with preparation and planning to include contingency plans. The easiest ones being knowing the race course – what aid stations are coming up and what terrain is to come. Also, respecting the weather. I remember my friend Chris Rozoff posted forecast models in the lead-up of his A-race, Superior 100, last year. His posts received some snide replies saying that he was fixating too much on the weather and that he should not concern himself with what’s to come and have a more take what life gives you approach. I disagree. If you have information that will increase your chances of achieving a goal then why not use it. I had access to that information. I knew it was going to be hot and with a little more digging I would have realized that there would be strong thunderstorms drenching the Kettle Moraine Forest during the day. With this information, I could then anticipate the need to change clothes, including shorts and socks, which I am certain alone would have mitigated enough injury to get me to the finish.

The final thing, and this is something that as an introvert I am still struggling with, is the need for a crew and possibly even a pacer. I am pretty much a solo runner in training and all races I have done to this point. I enjoy time alone on the trail but things get weird in the middle of the woods at 2 a.m. as you move forward listening to the sounds of unfamiliar birds singing and the occasional rustling from whatever varmints are out at that time. But I wasn’t entirely alone out there as I regularly passed fellow runners, some solo like me but most with pacers. Even then, alone on the trail and tired, I wasn’t thinking that having a pacer would have changed anything. But now with a little more than 24 hours of sleep and time to think about it, a pacer might be a smart addition and a crew would be a necessity if I were ever to get serious about this challenge and try it again. I think a crew and pacer would have clued me in that the next stop after Nordic is Tamarack. Even introverts require some motivation, encouragement and guidance from friends.

Although there was plenty of encouragement from fellow runners. The conversations and positive words shared on the trail gave back what the rain, heat and humidity was attempting to suck from our bodies. And there is no way I can say enough about the Kettle 100 staff and volunteers. At any point coming into an aid station, volunteers are not just there waiting to help, they are coming up to you and asking what you need. Some of the best service I have ever received anywhere and did I mention that these people are all VOLUNTEERS. It’s for these reasons I find the trail running community so amazing. The whole idea of the training and preparation that goes into the sport can seem selfish but when you see the people giving back, and helping others achieve their dreams and goals you realize it’s not just about the individual. Just being at one of these events and watching the runners give their all is exciting and inspiring to watch. I love to see people challenge themselves, and whether they are successful in reaching their goals or falling short I have great respect for their spirit to try.

It’s too soon to say whether I will again commit to the training and preparation that comes with a 100-trail race. Everything right now is still very raw mentally and physically. There is plenty of sacrifice that comes from not only me but especially Sarah and my friends and co-workers who have graciously stepped in and helped me out when I am out on training runs and races. But if I do decide to try another race, it will be done with a 100 percent commitment to and respect for the challenge. And yes it will be taken seriously.

4 Days to Kettle

April 16 - Gratitude and giving is what the trail has in store

I've been looking forward to this and next week for months now and it's not just because I am in taper mode for Kettle. My wife Sarah and I spent the past couple days visiting Texas to celebrate with a couple of exceptional young women who have reached an important life milestone, graduating high school. Our nieces Shannon and Treasure are incredibly talented and focused individuals who have already done and seen so much in their young lives, leaving me little doubt that they will catch and mold into whatever shape they desire the lives they decide to make for themselves. 

Growing up I was always told to keep my mouth shut and listen to your elders. They held the wisdom and you as a young person had no experience so it was best that you sit back and listen to the wise words of those who out ranked you by time on earth. While I am glad that I was taught how to listen at an early age, I did then and do now disagree with that idea that young people bring nothing to the table in the form of wisdom. Having the privilege to be around Treasure, Shannon and Treasure's younger brother Cauvery - who is 16 - I was able to learn and share ideas on a variety to topics. They have lived, seen and experienced so many things in their short lives, and they were excited to share those experiences and stories with us.  The experience reinforced my notion that it isn't how much life you've lived but what you've done with the life you’ve been given. 

As I sit on the plane right now writing this headed from Dallas back to Madison, my mind turns back to the trail, and to next weekend's toeing the line at Kettle. I think about my training and what I need to remember to bring to the race - not only what is needed for the body but for the soul. I put in my first-ever 100 mile week – a week ago Sunday, and have not run a step since. This leaves me slightly concerned that I may lose some of my fitness, but as a wise person once said (and I think this wise person was a young person), better to enter a race under-trained than injured. Which leads me to my next point – I’M INJURY FREE! Yes, unlike my Kettle attempt two years ago, where an IT band injury during training lead to a race day knee injury knocking me out of the race at 100K, this year I come in with no injuries - an incredible confidence booster. I am giving credit for the good health to some intense hill repeat training, and having the foresight to listen to my body and knowing when it was time to back off a bit to avoid fatigue and overdoing it – two big injury contributors.  

I also attribute my good health to experience – not only mine but that of other runners. Much of what I have learned about ultra running has come from runners. And we’re not just talking pace and form here. Former Madison Trail Runners Chief Chris Rozoff - who recently left Madison for a job and to take on the beautiful trails of Colorado - taught me the importance of looking out for and treating with respect everyone who is out on the trail from the front to the back of the pack. Matt Howard, another MTR regular, taught me what true guts look like and that no matter what you have going on in your own life – no matter how tough the challenge, you can still reach out to others and give them a boost with a kind word, encouraging comment or selfless deed while you kick ass on the trails. 

These are just a couple of examples of gratitude and giving that I'm convinced is the norm in the ultra-running community. Just ask and they will give their time, knowledge and everything in their hearts to help you succeed. Not because they expect something in return but because that’s the way it’s done. If you need a pacer for a race, chances are you can jump into a race group page in the area where your race is at, ask if anyone can help and someone will likely step up. And then there are the volunteers - they are usually current and former runners who, with a love for the sport and a love for helping others, will help you achieve amazing life goals. And volunteering isn’t limited to race days either. Trail runners regularly volunteer time building, repairing and improving the trails they run. Without these volunteers, we would not have these beautiful places to run. It’s this energy of giving that inspires me. Never taking for granted everything you have because chances are you have it because of the kindness of those who thought enough to take time to give of themselves. 

So I go into this final week - actually less than a week before Kettle with everything I need. I approach this weekend with incredible gratitude. For my nieces and their families who so kindly invited me to share in their amazing days. And to everyone, young and old, who has taught me so much about this sport and how it goes beyond the physical and into a place where giving back what has so graciously been given to you by so many along the way is the most important thing. I can't wait to get into those out-and-backs where we pass one another, and share encouraging words and gestures that mean so much, especially when things get tough as the miles add up. We will run and walk and climb alongside others who may be on different journeys for different reasons but for a short time we will share the same path, and it’s during this time that we’re able to listen to, motivate, lift up and help one another reach wherever it is we are going. Good luck to everyone this weekend. See you at Kettle.

33 Days to Kettle

May 1 - Hydration

Note from Joe: This entry on hydration is dedicated to the children of Flint who are the innocent victims of that city's ongoing water crisis. I am using my June 3 run at the Kettle 100 to help promote awareness and raise funds for these children. Please consider giving to the 100 Miles and Running for Flint campaign.   

There are plenty of challenges that come with training for a 100 mile race, but nothing has been more challenging for me than hydration.    

Hydration is key to good athletic performance and for some reason it is one of the toughest things for me to manage. During the day I regularly fail to think about the guy later that day who is going to be out on the trails putting in the miles. You would think it easy enough for me to stop at the drinking fountain every time I walk by and take a sip and fill up my water bottle to bring back to my desk to drink through the day. Sometimes I find myself licking my dry lips thinking, hmm, I sure could go for something to drink, only to continue thirstily working on without a drop. 

Thirst can be subtle at times but it's good to listen to those queues - dry mouth, fatigue, headaches, cramps are all signs that you might be dehydrated. You may think your body doesn't need it at the moment but it will need it later when you are out powering up a mountain trail or winding through the woods for hours. And when you are out there after an entire day of ignoring you growing thirst you will feel it. For me it's usually fatigue that comes from nowhere. You feel like someone has zapped you of all your endurance. You can and you should start to replenish lost liquids right then, but know that it takes time for the fluids to infiltrate your body to get you back to proper hydration levels. 

We are always losing some fluids from our bodies no matter what we are doing through the day, but this becomes more prominent when we exercise. When we run we sweat. The more we sweat, the more our blood volume decreases. The more blood volume decreases, the harder the heart has to work to deliver oxygen to working muscles. You feel this in the form of fatigue like I mentioned above. Fortunately there is an easy fix here and it is to drink water. You don't have to drink a ton - and you should limit intake to how much your body needs at that time or do what is called drinking to thirst. Your body will tell you what you need.  

This may all seems like common sense to you, but for whatever reason I spent a good portion of my first few years of marathon training ignorantly dehydrated. Most times I would go out on long runs some as long as 20 miles on hot summer days without a drop of water. Then I would wonder why I was dragging myself those last few miles hardly able to walk back to the house where I would proceed to guzzle a gallon of whatever liquid I could get my hands on. 

So now on any run longer than an hour, I carry a full water bottle. For runs two or more hours, I carry two bottles or use a hydration pack and make sure that my route goes by someplace - a park with a fountain, my house or a store - where I can refill. Carry some cash with you, too. I was going through a small town on a long run on a hot day last summer and had run out of water. I stopped into a bar and asked the bartender if I could fill up my bottle. She pointed to the cooler filled with water bottles and told me it would be $2. Not having the cash I walked out. Fortunately a kind woman next door was out working in her garden and allowed me to use her hose. 

Water is something we can take for granted, but it's the basis of our existence. Please take time to consider its importance in your training and in the importance in the lives of people around you. And if you have the means, please consider giving to the 100 Miles and Running for Flint campaign to bring clean drinking water to children affected by the Flint water crisis.      

48 Days to Kettle

April 16 - Poto Rocks!

Running at Poto was something I had been looking forward to for months. The course is a real challenge with about 8,000 feet of vertical climb and decent over 50 miles, I knew I was in for a tough day, but I don’t think I realized how tough.

I arrived on Friday, the day before my race, to get my camp set up along the start-finish area of the course. I was looking forward to milling around the area and watching the amazing runners who hand already been out there for more than 24 hours, banging out 200 miles – that’s 32,000 feet of total elevation gain and decent. I was amazed to see the times the leaders were logging. Anywhere from two and a half to three hour laps – so somewhere between 3 and 4 mph. I know it doesn’t sound fast but speed is not an expectation in this trail race. In fact an obsession with maintaining a certain speed or finish time at Poto can zap you of energy stores needed for later in the race.

The 200 milers were joined by the 150 milers on Friday at noon so the course got slightly more crowded. Now there were 23 runners spread out over the 10-mile loop. Well, that and a handful of pacers who ran alongside these inspiring athletes. I hung out at the start-finish to watch and cheer on runners coming through. I listened to a group of Poto veterans talking to race Co-director Rich Skocaj explain how they were passing the race directing baton on next year. I felt like I was there witnessing history as Rich talked about how much he enjoyed the race and the people but changing life situations (all good things) made it time to step back. 

I settled back at my tent for a while at the far end of the start-finish to do some writing at the table in front of my tent. I watched as racers appeared from behind a thick grouping of trees and brush along what on any other day served as a frisbee golf course. They came into view – some walking, some with a slow-steady jog and others in all-out runs, but all receiving high-fives and fist bumps from people standing out in the soft green grass applauding the herculean efforts. It was a beautiful weekend to be running in the woods – there was no doubting that. 

As the sun started its decent into the large oak and hills to the west, I took a walk over to my car to charge my watch and phone so I was ready to go in the morning. After everything was charged, clothes were set out and backpack was packed I settled into my sleeping bag. It got cold fast but I had my stocking cap and plenty of padding and cover to insulate me on all sides. 

Five a.m. came fast and I was excited. There are few things that truly get me what I call “Christmas morning excited” but race morning is one of them. I got dressed and headed to the start chute to get some coffee, bananas and whatever else sounded good. It was early and cool but the group’s collective excitement brought warmth as everyone waited anxiously for the 5:45 a.m. safety briefing. Eric Skocaj and Ryan Scoles are the other to co-race directors and I am not sure who is who, but one of them gave the briefing. And it was all good news. The weather forecast for the day was perfect – sunny with temps reaching into the low 70s. The course was mostly dry. This was a pleasant surprise considering how much rain had hit the area in the past few weeks. 

After going over some course changes, aid station locations, rules about littering and a warning not to pick up suspicious rouge socks along the trail, we were ready to go. The 50 and 100 milers lined up, the gun sounded and we were off. 

I won’t go into too many of the course details since I covered much of that in the Hidden Gem blog last year. Being that the race is a loop, you get to see so many different people along the way. There was the guy I met just before the start of my race who was doing the 200 miler. He was about a head taller than my 5 foot 10 with a salt and peppered beard and trekking poles dangling from either hand as he perused the aid station buffet while sipping on what I am guessing was a cup of water. He was walking around as if he was out for an early morning hike and in great spirits considering he had been running for close to 40 hours already.

He kind of shrugged an “I don’t know” when I asked him if he thought that going from having the trail pretty much to himself to sharing it with a couple hundred fresh legged 50 and 100 milers would make a difference for him. “I guess we’ll see,” he said as he walked over to glass the buffet table one more time. 

I saw him a couple times after that coming through the start-finish> He maintained the same steady pace and happily met the enthusiastic banter and cheers of spectators camped out along the 100 yards long grassy stretch that led to the chute and aid station. 

Then it was time. The 50 and 100 milers casually lined up in front of the chute and within a minute the gun cracked as we were headed to our first decent, a medium grade trail rutted by early spring rains. The run started smoothly. I decided a good strategy would be to “run with the mayor,” a phrase made famous in small ultra running circles by British ultra runner, sports journalist and 33 Shake co-founder Warren Pole. What it means is to go out at the tail end of the pack much like the mayor bringing up the rear in a small-town parade.

The day itself was perfect. No rain and cool for the most part. It might have reached low 70s but seeing as much of our travel was under cover of trees it never really became an issue. Within the first few miles my Altras decided to rip out completely. I had the left shoe thoroughly duct taped to seal a growing tear from the sole. But the tape wasn’t enough against the steep descents, which I would frequently ease down sideways to avoid falling. The pressure on the side of the shoe from my weight was too much, breaking the side wide open and pushing out a piece of tape that continued to flap away with every stride for the next two loops. 

Contemplating a shoe change on lap 2, I decided to give my old Montrails a go. They were never my primary running shoes but always served as reliable backups. I also noticed on loop 2 that I had slowed slightly. Impressed with the pace of my first lap I was building confidence that I might finish in the 10th hour, which would be a good time for me. But now I was running about a minute mile slower and these shoes were trashed. They were still functional but my concern was that my foot would slip right through the tear somewhere in the middle of the woods and I would be in bad shape. And since me and Barefoot Ted got nothing in common I figured it best to change shoes. The tootsies is sensitives and I got to have sole between me and the floor.

So when I rolled into my camp at mile 20 I slipped off the war torn, mud caked blue Altras and slipped on the fresh yellow Montrails, grabbed two whole PBJs and a handful of oranges and was out for loop three. 

As I headed through the start-finish, down the rutted hill and into the quiet open field that we loop before coming back toward the start finish and heading out into the woods for good, I was trying to negotiate eating my handfuls of food and drinking from the water bottle that I was also trying to hold without dropping anything. I was to that point in the race where nothing tasted good but I knew that I needed to keep eating and drinking or the bonk would come knocking. I continued the force feeding for the next three miles, but now my attitude was beginning to be challenged. The climbs I did the first two laps that I endured with fresh legs were now looking taller and longer. And I was walking a little more, meaning that 10ish hour finish was slipping away.

This was about the time that I reminded myself why I was out there – it wasn’t to get it done asap but to finish and better yet to enjoy the time. Not everyone can enjoy the beauty of nature under their own power like this. I was out here in the early spring listening to the squirrels rustle through the leaves. I got to cross knee-deep streams and run through mud like a child out exploring. I watched the trail side evolve through the day from brown leaves matted down by recently receded snowpack to beautiful patches of blue flowers reaching up to greet the bright sun’s welcoming warmth. 

The beauty found along this tough trail was a blessing but it was a blessing juxtaposed with a mantra of “f—k me” that continued to emerge in my mind with ever steep incline, and believe me there were many. I noticed this negative voice in my head early on and decided it would not serve me well to allow it to continue. So the subconscious f—k me was gradually replaced with positive mantras like “nice work” and “run strong” along with the “nice jobs” I exchanged with fellow runners along the trail. It’s amazing what a few positive words can do for an attitude. 

One guy who caught up with me after a long climb was especially memorable. He had trekking poles and was moving along happily. His first word to me was a hearty, “hey.” I gave him a hey back and we started to talk along the trail. He was from Canada and he was doing the 200 miler, but he told me he had stopped to sleep the night before and would not likely be able to make the cutoff time, which I think was something like 64 hours. He didn’t seem concerned though as we continued to talk and run. He held this positive aura and with the sincerest tone told me I was looking strong. I don’t know what it is but there are some people who have it in them to motivate others. It’s not that other people didn’t say the same or similar encouraging words but there was something about his delivery or how he looked when he said it that seemed sincere and gave me an energy boost that fueled me for the next few miles. I never got his name so there is no way to know how he did but I would like to think that he made up the time and finished within the cutoff. 

Loops three and four were tough but I knew that once I arrived at loop five, the motivation of knowing that I only needed to finish one more circle in the woods would brighten my spirits and carry me to the end. And it did. Every giant hill climb was the last time and I was excited and proud to have done it and put it behind me. I was moving really slow by this time, walking much of the time – even the flats. I changed shoes yet again before entering the final loop. I went from the Montrails to my zero drop minimalist Merrells. It was a big risk seeing as much of the trail was tough and rocky but it worked well. Having the intimate contact with the round required me to be careful with my steps, which I think made me more conscious with how I ran and may have helped me avoid injuring my knee. This was a concern since a knee injury is what took me out of the Kettle 100 two years ago. 

Overall the race was a success. I came into the fish chute and Rich was there to greet me with my finisher belt buckle. I thanked him for the race and for serving as its director for the past nine years. Race directing is a tough gig. There is little money in it and most do it for the ove of the sport. Poto I imagine is especially tough to direct with the multiple races, starting times, not to mention doing it in April when weather possibilities can include anything from snow to thunderstorms or tornadoes. 

There are so many great races out there and I rarely repeat any one of them. There is something about Poto though. You would not expect something this amazing to come from a place like Pekin, Illinois but there is greatness all over. The people converging on McNaughton Park for this weekend in April are a family. Not everyone knows everyone but they all share a collective love for life that is addicting. So many inspiring people in one place is humbling. I was proud to have witnessed and been a part of it. Best of luck to the new race director and to this race that I love so much. 

Happy trails!

 

62 Days to Kettle

April 2 -Land for the People 

When I think of national parks I think of lands that will be around for us to enjoy forever. It’s something I never questioned, until I listened to the most recent edition of Trail Runner Nation. The guys had Emily Peterson on. Emily is an ultra runner and co-founder of a new organization called Run Wild. Emily and her crew are advocates for protecting the 640 million acres of national heritage that all Americans collectively own and ensuring that those public lands remain public. And it's no mistake that they formed during a time when the future of those lands are being threatened. With the unprecedented cuts to federal agencies charged with protecting and maintaining these lands, the potential of them being turned over to state control is becoming increasingly probable.  

I bet you’re wondering why I am concerned with the states taking control of lands within their boundaries. Wouldn’t the state have an even stronger interest than the feds in DC in preserving lands in their backyard? Yes, I think they would for the most part. California does an outstanding job managing its state public lands. And there are plenty of other states that are very conscious of the importance of maintaining and preserving them for future generations to enjoy. 

But love of the land in not the issue here. It’s protecting those lands so they are around for future generations to enjoy. Moving the management of public lands from federal to state oversight, removes the federal regulations that were put in place to protect those lands. So when a state takes control of  public land that land no longer falls under federal protection. The state can sell it to a private company, be it mining, lumber or some other company that can then close off the land and use it for the purposes of their business.  

An NPR story earlier this year discussed the issue as it pertained to the vast federal lands in Wyoming and how a transfer of these rights might play out. They explained that one of the biggest questions surrounding this is whether a rural state like Wyoming with a small budget could afford to manage all this land. The concern is that cash-strapped states would be forced to sell these lands. This would not only place the land in a vulnerable position ripe for resource extraction and pollution, but it could endanger access to trail runners, bikers and hikers, hunters, fishermen or anyone else who enjoys U.S. public lands.

This is just clipping the edge of an enormous conversation - one that represents more than 640 million acres of our country, nearly the size of Alaska, Texas and California combined. And it's a conversation that I would like to continue having as I would like to see this country looking ahead for future generations and less in the moment.

So how's the training?

Much of my weekend was spent less on the trails and more keeping up on the happenings in the Tennessee hill country. The last that I heard, John Kelly and Gary Robbins were on loop 4 at Barkley. 

I am in a mini taper as I prepare for Potawatomi Trail Run next weekend. I guess you would call Poto a training race in preparation for Kettle but any ultra should be taken seriously and Poto is a seriously tough course. Fun but tough. I can’t wait and I understand that this is the final year that Eric, Rich, and Ryan will be directing the race. They didn’t share any information beyond that so more information to come there.

I’ve been averaging about 45-mile weeks since November with the past few weeks in the run-up averaging around 60 miles. I have added hill training into my workouts for the first time ever, which I think has been a big boost to my strength. I can’t wait to see if it pays off this weekend. Poto has a good amount of elevation, believe it or not. 

I am injury free, which is very encouraging. I’m not certain if it is the shoes but the zero drop might be playing a part. My Altras have about 800 miles on them and they look like someone put them through a tree shredder, but they are still functional and I plan to wear them next Saturday with hopes that they will survive into Kettle. If they do I will have them bronzed.

70 Days to Kettle

March 25 - Imagine the Perfect Trail 

"The power of imagination makes us infinite."

John Muir

Today was spent on a treadmill for three hours. Three hours running in place might be considered torture to some but your mind's eye can set you free from the track and place you on the trail of your dreams. 

I spent a lot of time dreaming about running in places I have never been. I love imagining that I am the editor of a community newspaper in some small town nestled in the Rockies or along the PCT. I spend part of the day doing journalism things and the rest of the time is devoted to exploring the trails and gathering content from those adventures later shared in the feature column, "Found Along the Trail."

Dreaming about trail runs I've never done is almost as fun as getting out there and doing the real thing. Our lives limit most of us to running the trails near to home, which in my case isn't a bad thing since there are plenty of amazing trails within a short driving distance of where I live in south-central Wisconsin. But that doesn't stop me from dreaming about trail runs that fall outside of my current sphere.

I love following posts from runners out West. They share images of mountain views with every vivid color you can imagine shooting out into all corners of the frame. I think how incredible it would be to run down South Kaibab Trail to the Colorado and huff my way up to the North rim. 

When I was in my twenties I lived in New Mexico. It was only for a few months but it was some of the most memorable times of my life. My roommates both enjoyed the outdoors and we would go on hikes in the nearby Sandia Mountains and to other nearby ranges. I wasn't running at the time and the climbs coupled with the altitude would drain me but the love of the scenery and the fresh air, which for some reason does seem fresher out West, was enough to make exhaustion a worthwhile side-effect. Hiking from the valley where it was sunny and 70 up switchbacks to the top of the snow covered Sandia Peaks in a matter of minutes was magic to a sheltered Midwestern boy. You hear about the wide-open spaces out West, but until you experience it you can't really understand it.    

I dream about what it would be like to run along Lake Tahoe or the Canadian Rockies. Not just for the views but for the life encountered. Everything seems different when you go West.  It's bigger and more perilous. Veer off a trail in Wisconsin and you might fall into a swamp or farmer's field, but do the same thing along a mountain trail in Colorado or Utah and that might be the last step you take. It's not jut the terrain either - animals are increasingly treacherous as you head West. There is the occasional report of an illusive cougar roaming through Wisconsin or Minnesota, but for the most part the the most threatening thing we have here is the occasional rabid raccoon. Go West and you have rattle snakes, mountain lions, brown bear and grizzlies - sights that I could go without on the trail, but at the same time these are among the things that make the West so attractive to me.

To me it's the idea that the West is still wild. There are still places you can go that civilization has not trampled into a fine dust. I was looking at Zion trail runs coming up on April 8 and was thinking how cool it would be to join this race. Reality is that I am already signed up for the Potawatomi Trail 50 miler that weekend and since I have still not mastered cloning myself it looks like I will be in Pekin, Illinois that weekend, which is totally fine since Poto is an amazing race.  

So the dreams continue and those dreams will become reality over time. My goal going forward is to begin scheduling one race every year west of the Mississippi. This is not to say that there isn't amazing trails east of the Mississippi and along the east coast because there are. As trail running continues to grow in popularity we are opening our eyes to more and more amazing country. Right now my gaze is to the West. It's where my soul has decided to put down stakes and make camp so I will make my way there and continue my dream. What trails do you dream of.  

 


75 Days to Kettle

March 20 - I need a new training scheduler

It's been a few days (about 10) since I last made an entry. Training has been on point but my recording has obviously been off point. Today was a quick and easy 2 miler after a 10 and 22 miler on Friday and Saturday. I think I must have been drinking when I created my training schedule because it is insanely heavy for being more than 2 months out from Kettle. The way it was set up I would have been putting in close to 80 mile weeks and that is way too much for me at any point in my training. If I was an elite, it would be different but I'm not and doing crazy stuff like that will get me injured really fast.

So I took advantage of the situation and started taking Sundays off, which has been a nice break. I get to do more writing, spend time with my wife and catch up on work around the house.

I am going to be at Poto in a few weeks for the 50 miler. It will be an excellent training run and barring any injuries from that challenging course I will be launching a fundraising campaign tied to the Kettle event with all proceeds going to an incredibly worthy cause. So please stay tuned for that announcement in the second week of April.

Everything is good with training so far. I'm healthy and I feel decent. I feel a little slower than past years and I do get a little fatigued on the longer runs at about mile 20. That's a little concerning but I am thinking it might have something to do with training in the cold, rain and snow, which can wear you down. No complaints though - we run in whatever Mother Nature gives us, but I prefer she give us sunny and 55. And it's getting there. Today is the first day of spring and the weather is already starting to improve.

Nutrition may also be a factor. The past couple years I was more fat adapted, meaning that my body was able to find energy by efficiently burning the body's fat stores rather than relying on quick carbs that leave you more susceptible to bonks. Today was especially tough. Me and Lou the dog went to the park to do some laps. According to Strava, I ran 2 miles but it felt like 10. The sloggy feeling I suspect came from a combination of increased pollen in the air screwing with my allergies and the fact that I still after more than a decade of distance running have not figured out the art of proper hydration. So I spent much of the day today between the water fountain, my desk and the restroom. Now I just need to keep those fluid levels up and I should be good. 

The Altras are getting pretty ratty. They have about 600 miles on them and from what I hear from most people that is about the top end of what I should be getting out of them. But they just look rough. They still run well so I am going to pushing them. I just got a new pair of wireless Bose earbuds that are amazing. I ended up getting the extended warranty, which is always a wide idea for me with expensive headphones because I tend to rag them out.  

That's all I have for now. Time for some sleep. I will work on being more consistent with my entries. Enjoy!

 


84 Days to Kettle  

March 11 - Shoes connection getting us there

After every run I walk into the house through our garage door and head downstairs where I take off my stinky running clothes and throw them on the the laundry room floor. My running shoes - a pair of Altra Lone Peaks - are thrown into a corner of the basement where they sit until I come to get them for the next run.

Today I looked down at them lying on the cold concrete and was shocked at what I saw. I just bought them last November and they already looked like they had been worn by a wild gorilla for the past 17 years. The dark blue material on the sides was frayed to a white fuzzy texture reminiscent of the hair on one of those girl you see on the split end shampoo commercials. Just south of the fraying on one shoe, the material was already separating from the sole. I slowed this rip by lining the shoe's inside walls with duct tape, which has been a success.

In all fairness to Altra, I have consistently brutalize these shoes over the past few months with long runs over pavement, gravel and dirt, and miles of hill repeat training on rutted trails mostly covered in ankle deep snow. In total the shoes have logged about 600 miles so far.

The expected lifespan of shoes is a popular debate in running circles, and there are about as many opinions as there are shoe brands. They are what ties us to the earth and unless you are Barefoot Ted or of his ilk you probably have some type of rubber separation between you and the trail. I recently posed the shoe life expectancy question on Facebook and received some interesting replies. The answers were all over the place with the average coming out to about 700 miles.

What struck me though - and this is why I enjoy engaging with the running community - were the stories that people shared about their shoes and how they tied in with their love of running and life in general. One guy talked about how he still has AND STILL USES every pair of running shoes he ever owned back to the 1970s. He shared a photo of Nike Eagles that he said he used strictly for racing.

Others talked about keeping special pairs of running shoes that held good memories or shoes they wore at a milestone race. The shoes may be past their prime but discarding them would be like cutting ties with an old friend who you share so much life with.

Shoes are a necessary accessory allowing us to continue on our journey to explore new places. With their help we can run into remote areas inaccessible by anything other than our ability to put one foot in front of the other. This simple motion allows us to view the majesty of giant mountain peaks and smell the flowers, trees and other plants that dare grow in these harsh altitudes. We can explore the wooded trails of the upper Midwest that challenge our endurance with their deceivingly tough rolling drumlins. We smell plants coming to life in early spring and feel the warmth of a sun as its presence in the sky grows longer and stronger with spring's creep into summer. We meditate and find solitude in these places that few have the privilege to see, feel, hear or smell.

Even if the shoes lying on the cold basement floor look old, worn and ready for the recycle bin, I know that they still wear as well as the first day I bought them. And as long as I take care of them and continue to tape them up, I expect that they will get me through the next 84 days and through the rolling hills at Kettle in June.

Today's long training run was sunny but cold. It's high points included the happy chirps of a giant flock of black birds enjoying the bright sunlight. I'm still working on negative splits for the long runs. I think it's tougher when it's cold because you want to get moving fast in the beginning so you end up flagging in the later miles because you went out too hard. There is also something about it being cold that requires more energy from your body to stay warm, which takes away from overall performance. Times are edging better than past weeks, which is likely a combination of conditioning and less snow to trudge through.

Hydration is an ongoing thing as I know I should be taking in more fluids in the run-up to training but thinking and doing have yet to sync. Nutrition is going well. Not much has changed with what I am taking in - almond butter on whole great wheat toast, one banana and a glass of lime juice for breakfast; a turkey sandwich and bowl of black bean soup for lunch; and dinner today was pizza! (three-quarters of one 16 inch)

 

88 Days to Kettle  

March 6 and 7 - Wherever the wind blows - running with adversity

Strong winds blowing at your back can give you confidence on a run. Powerful gusts pushing you forward make moving feel effortless at times. But what about when it's time to turn around and face the wind head-on.That wind-at-your-back feeling turns into a wind in your face and your one-time friend has turned on you. Or is it that you turned on it?

I took my dog Louie out for a sort of tempo run at a local dog park today. It's a little more than a half mile around so Louie goes and does his thing mingling with his friends as I run in circles. The good thing is that the insanely strong winds were only smacking me in the face for a minute or so before I was headed in the other direction running with the jet stream.

The gusty winds we have had in Wisconsin the past few days have made running a challenge and got me thinking about how we face adversity. Running an ultra comes with a range of experiences that it takes some a lifetime to come by. There are the happy times when we tackle a long, hard stretch before entering an aid station where friends, family and other smiling faces are there to cheer us on and help us - that's easy. We love it and we take energy from that to move ahead.

But what about the lows, when that wind is pounding you in the face. When your legs are shot and you feel your heart sink at the sight of the next hill. And not just because of the climb you are about to endure but because of the inevitable decent that will further destroy your already shredded quads.

Then there's the fatigue. Sure you were fine at mile 27, running along with others on the trail having fun, joking and sharing stories about past races. But now at mile 38 you are questioning your sanity for even registering for this race from hell and have vowed that you will never be so sick in the head to again sign up for something that would inflict so much pain and suffering.

They say that you only remember the good stuff - the times when life is happy and everyone is healthy and doing well. So what happens to the hard times? Do we forget them because they were too tough so by erasing them from our thoughts they never happened? Or do we actually remember the times when we struggle because as it's also been said it's the tough times and hard fights in life that make us stronger.

Let's take it a step further and ask whether those "bad experiences" are really bad. Can we look at dealing with a family member or close friends battling cancer and maybe not look at them and feel sorry but rather celebrate the fight in them and their courage for facing the disease. Or maybe you or I are the one who is sick. How do we face it. Are we scared? Do we get angry. Do we get depressed? You bet we do. But can we find good to come out of the pain? You bet we can.

My mom is an excellent example of the power of finding the good that comes in the midst of great adversity. She is my hero for a lot of reasons, but most of all for her incredible strength. First of all she put up with a bull-headed husband and three equally bull-headed boys and worked her butt off raising them during the day while working second shift at a warehouse.

That on its own is incredible to me but it's the challenge she faces at age 86 fighting dementia for about five years that has me in awe. She lives in an assisted living home and she has her good days and bad days. I talk to her on the phone nearly every day and our conversations are relegated to the limited scope of topics that her mind has allowed her to recall, including trips to the casino, going out for cheeseburgers and anything that happened prior to about 1970. But it's what she says when I ask her how she is doing that always floors me. It is always something to the effect of, "I have no complaints. I have everything I need." There are no "woe is me's" or "why me" moments from someone who has every right. But then I wonder, and I think this is what she is thinking too is, why would she do that anyway? What good what it do? Why not find the positive during tough times - not only to lift up yourself but to lift those around you. It's inspiring to those around her and that inspiration can snowball. 

So how about that situation back at mile 38 - we're tired, it's cold, the legs aren't happy with the massive climb coming up and we're questioning why we're out in this God forsaken place all by ourselves when we could be at home all warm and dry and relaxed. But the fact is that we are here at this moment so why not take another look at the entire picture. This "God forsaken" place is actually quite beautiful. There are big trees covering rolling hills for as far as you can see. The sun is warm on our backs and for a late winter day it's been quite pleasant. The snow that fell earlier covers the ground and is marked everywhere on the trail with fresh tracks, reminding us that we are not alone on this journey. We are experiencing pains that is unlike anything we have ever felt, but feeling this let's us know we can feel and that we're alive and able to experience that moment. To be able to run 100 miles, 10 miles or one mile is a blessing and to be able to experience this life is a gift.

I try to keep these things and the people I know - some of them runners, who have faced great adversity with incredible courage and grace - in mind as I train. It's a gift to have the physical means to do what we do, just as it is a gift to be here in this life. Don't get me wrong, I am still out there bitching and complaining and questioning on training runs. There is always going to be doubt creep. So maybe we isolate one negative thought at a time. Maybe it's the deep snow covering the trail that is frustrating us because it is wearing us out prematurely. Maybe we take that frustration and turn it into a positive by thinking that the extra effort put into running through this snow is making us stronger and will pay rewards at our next race.

There are always opportunities to learn and improve in our journeys. I hope your journey is filled with joy.   


91 Days to Kettle  

March 4 - I Hear Voices

Part of improving in this sport for me is a better understanding the voices in my head.

The one thing I have always enjoyed about ultra running is that it was something that I never took very seriously and always did strictly for fun. So if I did not finish a training run or stopped running in the middle of a run it wasn't a big deal. I loved the "no pressure" aspect of it. I loved being detached from any obligations or expectations. If only I knew what my laissez-faire attitude was keeping me from

During today's run, a little past halfway through, I started to get that pang of doubt that distance runners face from time to time. For me it usually starts as a quiet voice saying, "Hey you're feeling pretty good right now but you're going to start feeling pretty shitty soon."

So that conversations runs through my head for a while and eventually goes away or at least quiets down. Then maybe a few more miles down the road the voice pops up again, except now it's a little more pronounced and assertive:

"You're still out here? It's too damn cold. You should be someplace warm and dry. And did you notice how tired you are? What's that pain? Man your side really hurts. And what about those feet? Are you sure you're not damaging something? What's that sound? Is that your stomach grumbling? Looks like you're going to blow chunks soon."

This talk usually lasts a little longer. When I first started running about 15 years ago, the voice was strong and very convincing. I didn't have much to say to it because I didn't know the voice and since it seemed much more knowledgeable about running than me, I didn't feel like I had that much to add to the conversation. And like I said, I didn't take running all that seriously so I didn't really care. So I listened, bought into what I thought the voice was selling and started falling out of runs when things got tough. Sometimes that meant walking the last 10 miles of a training run because my stomach felt like it was going to explode or even calling my wife to come pick me up because I knew my legs were going to implode from the pain and disappear out from under me.

But the 'plosions' never occurred, and as my running experience evolved from year to year I picked up knowledge, became more engaged in my training and became more serious about the sport. I learned how to train smarter and gained confidence from that knowledge. The voice was still there for those long runs and the message was always following the same sequence starting with that quiet "hey, you got miles to go. I think you're in for some pain." followed by a progressively louder negative tone of doubt. Although now I knew a little about running and training so I started to talk back. When I heard the whispers, I said, "thanks for saying something," taking it as a reminder that my body needed attention. I would then do check-ins on the body, saying to myself, How is my nourishment? If the answer was that I needed to eat something I would pull out a granola bar, or GU or whatever else I brought on the run. I would also check my pace to make sure I was not moving too fast for the miles I needed to go that day. I started giving respect to those miles, the trail I was on and what my body was doing to get me through those miles.

Some might call the voices negative speak, but I looked at it as my primitive self sending out reminders that you need something - be it food, water or an adjustment in pace to sustain the duration of that activity. Once I understood this I was able to tap into a well that allowed me to do more than I could previously

Today's run took me a step further in my journey of understanding that voice, this amazing sport and possibly life in general. Aside from understanding the body and its needs while moving on the trail is understanding our place on the trail. I touched on it above, explaining the need to respect the trail, but allow me to explain further.

As ultrarunners we go out in extreme weather and train for hours. Subjecting ourselves extreme conditions and tough workouts are parts of the sport and we accept these elements. But there is a difference between enduring and embracing. To this point I have endured. When it's 10 below zero, my first thought isn't always, "Hey, I sure can't wait to put on 10 layers of clothes and head out for a three hour run." This has not been part of my mindset, but why not? Shouldn't it? Couldn't it? What if it was?

When I was out on the trail today and the voice crept up behind me and started yapping in my ear, rather than just going through the regular body check-ins, I started thinking about what brought me out there. Rather than question why I was out there I started listing the reasons that brought me to running in the first place.

I thought about how much I was looking forward to the Poto and Kettle trail runs coming up in a few weeks and about how the training I was putting in here would make the experience that much more enjoyable. I thought about the book I was listening to during this run "Ruby," and appreciating that I was allowed this time to listen to such an outstanding piece of literature. I thought about how this time out moving my body benefits my health and allows me to do everything that I want to do in life. The fact that I was able to be out on this beautiful trail in the first place and experience all the wildlife - including a cool salamander trail crossing I caught on video - and landscape of this part of the country was a gift. How lucky am I to have this experience. This is where the voice meant to deliver me. Where I take it from here is up to me and I can't wait to see it. Happy Saturday!


92 Days to Kettle

March 3 - A trip to McCarthy

I got in an hour after work with some tempo work mixed with some elevation. I know that as I go forward that I will need to increase the hill repeats. Even though Kettle is not known for its big climbs and descents, there are plenty of small hills that will kill you slowly if you do not respect them and fail to prepare. 


93 Days to Kettle  

March 2 - Rest

I took an unscheduled rest day to get some things done after work that needed getting done. But I did do a little bit of training. I did a little weight training in the morning and when i say a little I mean maybe five minutes worth. Baby steps. Food included two pieces of whole grain wheat toast with almond butter mixed with chia and flax and blueberries and a glass of lime juice. Lunch was leftover couscous and tuna. Dinner was a salmon fillet, more couscous and asparagus. 


94 Days to Kettle  

March 1 - Treadmills, dumbbells and other cross-training things

There are times when I just want to stay inside and sweat a lot, and what better place to sweat than at the YMCA. The beautiful thing about an hour treadmill workout at the gym is that there is plenty to look at. So many people to watch - there is never a dull moment.

From where I was in the back facing the windows I was able to see the reflection into the area with all the free weights. Men and women doing all types of dumbbell flies, curls and rows. It made me think about how ultrarunning veteran Jeff Browning described his workout regimen - a mixture of running, bicycling and weight training. Browning said that he noticed when he got into ultrarunning that he started losing muscle. To correct this issue of diminishing muscle tissues, Browning, in a Competitor Magazine interview, explained how he consistently mixes in strength training and time on his bike to build muscles not directly challenged through running. Building efficiency into the process is essential and part of that for Browning is incorporating workouts into the day through bike commutes to a from work. Weight training is something he did regularly when he was younger so weaving daily workouts into the day is now a natural part of the routine. Plus, having a variety of workouts going on throughout the week keeps the training fresh.

Browning caught my attention because well first of all he's an incredible ambassador to the sport, but I also noticed a lot of the same things I had experienced regarding muscle loss were things he was talking about. I had dropped 50 pounds in about three years of training, which I was trying to do but in the process what I didn't realize or think about was that some of that weight was muscle. After listening to Jeff and others who have experienced similar circumstances, I recently started to incorporate weight training into my schedule.

It's tough right now - the weight training - because it's new and like anything new you need to get used to the routine. But I know it will eventually be like running - a second-nature part of my life that I love. And it will pay rewards. Just like anything else in life - when you are well rounded in every aspect that makes up that whole you will excel. 


95 Days to Kettle  

February 28 - With 97 days left he rested

It was a rest day, but I did get a haircut so I do feel sleeker.

96 Days to Kettle

February 27 - The Nays Have it Good

One of the benefits of running trails in Wisconsin is the live action scenery that pops up on the running routes. The cows along Pierceville Road look at you with indifference wondering why this crazy human is running by talking to them. Run to the opposite side of Pierceville and there is a farm with dozens of lively alpacas that will run along the fence following you as you go by. My guess is that they are actually calling me names in an attempt to pick a fight because there is also a white sheepdog camouflaged among heard that makes its presence known if you come too close.

Along the Glacial Drumlin Trail east of London there was a small buffalo farm. It's an awesome sight, but the beasts seemed so out of place in Wisconsin. I keep thinking - shouldn't they be in Glacial National Park? - but I don't question for too long and imagine I'm at Glacier enjoying the view of them grazing on the hillside.

Farmhouse dogs are one of the more common sights along the road routes. Most are content with barking from a distance to let you know they are there. But there is the occasional pup that likes to sneak up behind you and say hi. Not a bad thing but when you are in your running trance it can be startling to suddenly notice you've picked up a furry pacer running at your side.

Then there are the wild ones - squirrels, ducks, geese, cranes, deer, raccoons and opossums that bring life to the trails. Seeing a deer on the trail is exciting. You feel like the luckiest person in the world for being in the right place and you can't wait to tell someone about it. Cranes are a calming distraction, listening to their low croaking calls and watching their giant wings catch air as they take off.

Of all the animals I see on runs it is the horses that bring the most joy. They become friends that you look forward to visit with briefly as you come and go. There are plenty to run into on pretty much any of the courses that I run. The thing about horses is that they come in all personality types. There are the stoic ones that kind like the cows give you that "get off my lawn, kid, you bother me" look as you go by. Then there are the young ones that see you coming and like the alpacas want to run along and challenge you to a race. There are also the curious ones that see you before you see them and they keep a steady eye fixed until you are out of sight. 

Never a dull moment on the trail and roads as you can see. Even my hill repeats today at McCarthy Park had some equine company. The run itself was good. Weather was nice - mid-40s. No snow on the ground but there was some mud that made for slick spots along the trail. I wore a pair of zero drop minimalist Merrells rather than my regular Altras. I noticed the impact with the ground more in the Merrell than the ultras that I'm guessing had to do with the lack of padding in the Merrell. Overall good training and the hill work is definitely paying off as I am feeling less fatigued at the end the run from when I started hill repeats back in mid-January.


97 Days to Kettle

February 26 - Are We Selfish?

My plan this weekend was to get all of my running done on Friday so I could enjoy time with Sarah, do some writing and catch up on some cleanup jobs around the house. It may sound like common sense to most responsible people who understand that if there are chores to be done they take priority over all else and self-indulging things like going for a long run come secondary, but commons sense doesn't always come easy to ultrarunners.

While listening to the latest TRN podcast during an hour run to Piereceville Road, the boys broached the subject of selfishness in ultrarunners as a sideline to the broader subject of vulnerability (an interesting subject I plan to talk about later). They asked the question: "Are ultrarunners selfish with all the time they put into themselves with their sport and in doing so affecting the lives of family members, friends and others around them?" The discussion was brief interjection to the vulnerability topic, but what stuck with me about it was the argument made by AJW, an ultrarunning veteran of 20+ years who is married with two teenage boys. He said that it may be an imposition on loved ones and friends but it would be worse if he didn't get out for those runs because he would be a very unpleasant person to be around if he were laying on the couch all weekend.

This made me think about all the time I had put into training in the past. It made me think of the training I did for my first 50 miler. It was my first ultra so I wanted to be ready. At the height of my training in the six weeks leading up to the race, I was putting in about 18 hours of training per week with about eight to 12 of those hours on the weekend. Sarah was very supportive of the training but I knew it was a lot to take sometimes and for good reason. She was constantly adjusting her already busy schedule to accommodate my running schedule.

Honestly, I didn't see it at first. I didn't think that my getting home from work during the week and being out on the trails all morning and part of the afternoon on the weekends was somehow affecting her. I can look back on it now and see how selfish it was, but at the time I had blinders on. 

Training is a bit different today. For one thing I don't put in that same number of training hours that I did for that first ultra. I found that all those hours on the road weren't necessary to reach my goals. I still schedule long runs on the weekends but I leave room to adjust. I tend to get a little obsessive at times so I try to be conscious of that and build balance into my schedule when I see I might be going a bit overboard with all the training. By coordinating with other life priorities, I give proper weight to every part of my life. So sometimes that run is top priority but other times getting out to chisel ice off the driveway, clean the chicken coup or shoo the mice out of the hot tub (another story for another time) take precedent. 

Today's run was a great way to wrap up the weekend and enjoy a beautiful sunset. The days are getting longer and even though we are enjoying some unseasonable warm temps in Wisconsin, I am looking forward to spring, and some great training run opportunities and races.


98 Days to Kettle  

February 25 - A Zero Can be Beneficial

Yes, today is a scheduled run day. Just a second, let me check...yep, 3 hour run today. It didn't happen today, but adjusting today's number to zero was planned that way, or let's say I made adjustments.

This is pretty common for me&I create a workout schedule at the beginning of the season and allow for adjustments that accommodate life. I have runs planned for every Saturday and Sunday, but I enjoy having a day off during the weekend where there is no running involved so what I sometimes do is double up on another workout or spread the miles from one workout over other runs through the week. So yesterday, I did my regular run plus my Saturday run, so rather than one hour, I ran four.

It was a low-impact day&Sarah and I went to a coffee shop to study and write. Well, Sarah studied (she's working on her master's degree thesis) and I worked on some writing. Allowing your body rest is an important part of training. Giving muscles down time allows them to mend, so the next time you do go out and impact, stretch, bend and challenge those muscles for hours they are ready for the challenge. It is also good for the mind, well at least my mind. I find that it helps me to have a day or two off from training each week to reflect on the training I have done, and think about what is working and how I might doing things differently to improve.

The day's diet - Food for the day included eggs, sausage and mixed greens for breakfast, refried beans, white rice and mixed veggies (bell peppers, onions, garlic) in a flour tortilla (aka - burrito) for lunch and leftovers of the aforementioned for dinner.


99 Days to Kettle  

February 24 - Lose Yourself

Look, if you had one shot or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment would you capture it or just let it slip?

The intro to Eminem's 'Lose Yourself' played a part in today's training run along the Glacial Drumlin Trail. I enjoy listening to podcasts while running and one of my favorites is Trail Runner Nation, a show revolving around - you guessed it - trail running, and hosted by two very talented guys named Scott Warr and Don Freeman. The guys had one of their regular guests, Andy Jones-Wilkins, on to talk about chasing flow, a topic derived from the book "Flow" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

I haven't read the book, but what I got from the podcast tells me that flow is a place you reach when everything sort of gels and comes to you with ease when executing an action. Wilkins used the example of a musician getting into a kind of unconscious rhythm of music play that happens with flawless ease.

For runners it was described as a sort of Zen place or possibly an out-of-body experience where the becomes detached form the body and is carried along for the journey down the trail. No pain, no discomfort, no worries...flow. The way they described it made me think of the Eminem song and how he described losing himself during rap battles. It also made me look forward to hearing the song in my shuffle of tunes that I regularly go to for an extra boost on my longer runs. I continued listening to the podcast as I contniued down the trail, occasionally looking down to see the film of ice on the front of my jacket growing wider. It was misting rain and 32 degrees when I started. The temperature had dropped a few degrees five miles in and there was icy film forming on the trees, giving them a white, shiny sheen.

I cautiously made my way over a bridge spanning Koshkonong Creek when Freeman made reference to Lose Yourself and its parallels with flow. He described it well, saying that the miles we put in over time allow us to find and lose ourselves. He actually caught himself off guard with the statement and the conversation contniued on without further explanation, but it made sense. I interpreted it as being the act of reaching that place where noise of daily life falls away for that moment and we live in a type of bubble where the only thing matters or even exists in your mind is you and that section of trail you are about to step on.  It's a feeling that I may have flirted with occasionally. I have had runners highs when I felt like I could go on for miles and other times where I felt weightless and out of my body while running - although that was often the product of delerium when it was 90 degrees, 100 percent humidity and I had been out of water for two hours. But I have never experienced a genuine state of flow.

Overall today's run was good. I kept a steady pace up to the last three miles when I hit a bit of a bonk. It might have been nutrition, but it was more likely more to do with being trained properly for the longer distance and dehydration.

I had the traditional almond butter with chia and flax on whole grain wheat bread for breakfast and three chicken tacos with guacamole, onions, cilantro, lettuce and tomatoes in flour tortillas. I brought two granola and a fig bar on the trail. Again, my downfall was hydration. I drank two water bottles on the trail, but it's the hydration leading up to a long training run that is important for me. I work in an office during the day so it's not like I am getting thirsty and unless I am consciously thinking about filling my water bottle it ain't happening. So it's about retraining the mind to always be hydrating. I don't have to overdo it but respect that person that is going to need to be properly hydrated and nourished later that day when they are traveling down the trail.


100 Days to Kettle 

February 23 -  Here we go. There is 100 days to go, and I am beginning with a rest day. I schedule one rest day a week and that always falls on Thursday for me. It's usually a long day at work so it works well. I usually spend the afternoon writing and catching up on things I've neglected around the house.

We are coming off of a stretch of about four or five days of record high temperatures so the training has been nice. Fewer layers mean joints are less restricted by the material, and you can really stretch out the muscles with a faster pace when you don't have black ice patches to negotiate. Yesterday was a one hour tempo run down an old railroad track turned trail nearby called Glacial Drumlin. It extends from where I live here in Cottage Grove to Waukesha near Milwaukee. It's flat and gravel so there is no technical terrain to speak of. I frequently use it for my long runs and tempo runs to stretch out the muscles and work on speed. Overall it was a good run yesterday. I ran about six miles and didn't have any issues. My mile splits were consistent - within about 20 seconds of one and other. 

My diet stays pretty consistent - I had two pieces of whole grain toast with almond butter mixed with flax and chia seed for breakfast and a half glass of skim milk. I actually missed lunch (I know - how dare me) and had a big salad with balsamic vinegar and a turkey and cheese sandwich on a croissant for dinner. Water intake was below par - probably two full Camelback water bottles. Of all the things I need to work on, my diet and hydration are the ones where I suffer the most. Well that is enough for today. Enjoy. Winter is making a comeback!