Grass Lake Running Adventures

It has been an inconvenient year of running for me. I’ve fought off some injuries and battled back with physical therapy to the point where I was starting to feel stronger than I have in a couple of years. Then I bounced off some rocks and roots on a little trail race a week and a half ago. I listened to my body for a change and took it easy for eights days with no runs over four miles. I noticed during my two-mile run yesterday that it no longer hurt my ribs to take deep breaths. Must mean it’s time to ramp up my training miles!

So after work tonight I decided to try an eight to ten-mile loop run. This loop runs in a rough oval from my house in northern Shoreview to the southern part of the suburb. I left home about an hour before sunset, so I did think to bring a headlamp for the late miles. I thought of a route that would give me about nine and a half miles, but was feeling good when I reached the point where I’d need to turn to make that loop. I knew the next major cross street could add a couple of miles to the loop, so I continued. Of course when I got to that intersection, I realized I could extend it another mile and a half while running around beautiful Grass Lake. Grass Lake is so named because it has some grassy islands that are not well anchored to the lake floor. When the water and winds are high, they sometimes drift part way across the lake surface before settling in a different spot with the next low water.

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Twilight at Grass Lake.

I stopped on the east side of the lake and took a photo of the dim dusky light over the Lake (it wasn’t really as dark as the photo suggests). About a half mile further I crested a hill only to notice the paved pedestrian / bike trail had some standing water covering it. I knew there was a tunnel under a roadway ahead that would necessitate climbing the embankment next to the tunnel to cross over the top of the elevated road and then make my way back to trail on the other side of the road. I’ve had to wade through thigh-high water on other runs after storm drains clogged from heavy rains. This didn’t look too deep.

The path was a little damp.

The path was a little damp.

So I started running into the water with much splashing. I flushed a paddling of ducks. Once knee-high I slowed to a walk. I noticed minnows swimming under my feet. I kept going till it was thigh high. At this point I could see around the corner of the path and the tunnel under the roadway in the distance. The seven or eight foot ceiling had about a foot of air space at the top. There was no access to the embankment to climb to the roadway. I knew if the water was that high, the path on the other side would be hard to reach. I didn’t want to have to back-track to go back the way I had come or that would add more miles than I wanted to run.

Considering my options I knew the path forked here and I could head west instead of north to finish the circuit of the lake. Since my cell phone was in my hip-pack and I thought the water might get even a little deeper, I fastened the hip pack around my neck. I forged on. I knew that asphalt path zigged and zagged, but if I could feel that hard surface of the path under my feet I could keep from sinking deeper off the sloped sides. The water kept creeping up until it was armpit high. More and more of my steps were not hitting underwater asphalt. At this point I realized I would have to start swimming soon. I couldn’t see the point at which the path emerged from the expanded lake around the curves in front of me. My recollection was that there were more high and low spots to the trail ahead and it veered farther from the roadway. Since I wasn’t sure I could keep my cell phone dry, I cut my losses and turned around. Here I had my second avian encounter and scared up a gaggle of 20 geese who didn’t appreciate my company.

Once I extracted myself from the submerged path, I had to remove my shoes and the swampy flotsam accumulated in them. Once put back together, I donned the my headlamp and headed back around the lake in the reverse direction. So I trudged back home with wet clothes and squishy shoes. My mid-range run of eight to ten miles ended up at fifteen. No time like the present to train for my fall races.

Although pretty dark by the time I left the lake, I’m pretty sure the grass islands were floating tonight.

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Seasons

DSC_0084 In the collage of life’s seasons I feel I’m enjoying the robust days of late summer. I know the transition to fall and slumber of winter lay ahead of me some day, but today is not that day. My own mortality comes to mind as it has been a year of loss and too many funerals. After losing my mother in March, my oldest daughter Kate lost her father-in-law in April. Last month we lost a friend.

My wife Anne and I just attended a memorial service for her uncle. Lynn was a retired physician and professor of family practice medicine living in Madison, WI. Lynn’s surviving wife Sally is the younger sister of Anne’s dad George. Anne and her siblings spent much time frolicking with her cousins while growing up. The cousins remain close to this day.

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Uncle Lynn

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George and Sally

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You learn much about a person at a memorial service. Lynn was another member of the vanishing “Greatest Generation”. His was a life of service. Through his career in medicine, his community service, his love of family and strangers, he gave to others. He was a renaissance man who excelled in music and shared that love with many.

PianoI didn’t know Lynn well, but was honored to attend many family gatherings with him over the 27 years that I’ve been married to Anne. I did have the privilege of participating in one of his passions. He accompanied several of us to a Great America theme park so he could ride several wild rides. In learning about his life-long adventures, I think he took on life as a thrill ride in many ways.

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One Lynn’s daughters, Katie, lamented about the example our parent’s generation set for us. It is a high bar to match their achievements. They survived growing up during the depression, the war years and the stresses of rapidly changing times, yet persevered and built successful lives. Not only for themselves, but for their communities. How do we match up to those achievements? I’ve often felt same feeling of inadequacy with the passing of my parents, their siblings and spouses.

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DSC_0104On the way home from Wisconsin today, Anne and I stopped at the Great River Bluffs State Park near Winona, MN. While traversing the pathways and overlooks of the Mississippi River valley I thought about perspective. About the paths we’ve traveled and those yet to explore. We can’t be our parents, but we can set our own example of weathering the storms of loss and getting back up when we trip over the roots of stress. We need to strive to be kind to others while never forgetting to live our own thrill rides. We should relish the changes in the colors from all of our seasonal vantage points.

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Acronym Run

I’ve been away from the office for five days. Like many of us, my work world is ripe with acronyms for many of our work conversations. I must be going through some acronym withdrawal as I started thinking of some as I ran yesterday. I thought I’d share a few.

LSD – Long Slow Distance. This term was coined by famed New Zealand track coach Arthur Lydiard. He was a former Olympic Marathoner who gained more fame in coaching and writing. He steered his distance runners to build their base mileage by running long slow miles and save their speed for shorter workouts and competitions. I think I ingested some LSD as my run today was over the hills and dales of the Lake Michigan sand dunes. Those miles were definitely LSD miles. Of course in my advancing years pretty much all of my miles are slow. Even the shorter runs (SSD?).

TSS – Toddler Sand Shovels. Otherwise known as my shoes. I wore gaiters which prevented some of the sand from gaining entry into my shoes, but still had to stop seven or eight times to dump sand out of my shoes and socks.

OTF – Only Two Faceplants. I only bit the dust twice in during my run today, so I’m calling that a win. Or maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough.

LRSGM – Longest Run Since Grandma’s Marathon. I’ve been fighting off a running injury for the past two and a half months. I took some time off, worked on some physical therapy and only recently began to increase my mileage. I ran 17 miles today, or 7.5 miles further than any  run since Grandma’s Marathon on June 18.

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Map of North Ottawa Dunes trails.

BMB – Butt Muscle Better. My injury was to my piriformis muscle. The ruckus in my rumpus impaired my running in that my runs would get more painful the more miles I ran. Using my butt-head, I still ran two derriere deficient marathons before taking a break. Happily my rear was in a better gear today and seemed to almost feel better the farther I traveled. Not quite as broken as a couple of months ago.

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This is what my rear felt like a couple of months ago.

SZ – Safety Zone. I’m glad I didn’t get shot in the five miles I ran before reaching this part of the trail.

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Warning signs.

MUL – Mouse Under Leaves. This fellow ran across the trail in front of me. He then hid his head under I leaf so I wouldn’t see him. Brilliant! (Unlike to quality of the photo.)

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RHD – Red Hawk Down. This bird swooped down in front of me. He must have been looking for some MUL.

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Red Tailed Hawk

TRN – Trail Running Nirvana. The sand dunes that run for several hundred miles along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Since they were formed 4,000 years ago they are mostly covered with mature forests. This worked out well for me as my run was about 99% shade covered on a warm day.  The paths run along dune ridge tops and in the valleys between the dunes. The curves and vertical changes make it seem like a roller coaster in many places.

ACS – Acronym Craving Satisfied. Now I can get back to vacation for the next five days.

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Fortunes of Traverse Bay

I suffered an injury to my piriformis muscle a couple of weeks ago and had to give up my daily running streak on Tuesday to let my body rest.

I took four days off (zero running) and procured a professional message this week. I rediscovered the benefits of anti-inflamatories for sore muscles. Started to feel better. I thought I night attempt to ease back into running on the fifth day.

Unfortunately I was actually registered to run the Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City, MI on Saturday, the fifth day since I stopped my streak. Prior to my injury I had committed to running with my wife’s niece (Anne Santa Maria) for her first marathon. Probably not the best way to ease back into running. I thought I could at least begin the race and see what would happen. Here is the pre-race picture:

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I felt okay at start and ran with Anne and one of her running club friends, Stephie, for the first eight miles. They were maintaining a great pace for those eight miles. Unfortunately my butt shark bit me at eight miles. I was slowed to a painful walk. I let them know they would do fine as they were running well and told them I was dropping back. Had I seen a sag wagon, I would have dropped out at this point of the race. I took some ibuprofen and walked for a mile. My rump relented a bit, so I was able to resume running at a much slower pace. I overheard a runner behind me commenting on the top half marathon runners racing toward the finish line (our race was an out & back 13 miles, the half marathon runners only had the “back”.) The runner behind me told her friend “Wow! That woman is really ripped. Me, I’m just torn”. I could really identify with her sentiment. I started telling myself that pain is just wimp leaving the body. I hoped I would have an ample supply of the latter for this race. Offsetting the physical pain was the beauty of the course. The race goes out Mission Peninsula which separates the two lobes of Traverse Bay. For just about the entire race you have the beauty of Lake Michigan waters keeping you company.

About this time another marathon runner caught up to me. I could see he was ailing a bit too with a couple of knee bands. I realized it was none other than Marathon Don. Don Kern is the race director of the Grand Rapids Marathon and a few other races. He has completed the 50 state circuit 3x and the seven continents 5x. He held the Guinness Book of World Records for fastest completion of marathons on the seven continents (since bested by another runner). He turned 60 the day before this race and planned on celebrating by running his 300th marathon or longer race at the Bayshore Marathon. I’ve run both his Grand Rapids Marathon (2009) and his Ground Hog Day Marathon (2016). I read his book “And the Adventure Continues” this year. It’s a fun read that I highly recommend.

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Don is well-known in many places, but especially in his home state. He continually received shout-outs of birthday wishes and congratulations on his 300th marathon all along the course. We ran together for a couple of miles until I felt my pace picking up a bit and pulled ahead of him.

Shortly after the half-way turnaround I saw Don was just a bit behind me. I slowed enough for him to catch up and decided I’d run at his pace for a while. It turned out we would run just about the entire second half of the race together. We shared a few running stories and I was able to enjoy the music selection playing from his cell phone. The temperatures rose to what would normally be pretty uncomfortable, but a consistent cloud cover and a strengthening wind off of the water helped keep it tolerable. Don and I stopped briefly at the “official beer stop” of the marathon at mile 23.8. Not sure it was really official, but I toasted his 300th marathon accomplishment with a few sips of beer. Well almost beer as it was only Bud Light. It it obvious that Don loves running. What was also apparent to me was the care that he shows for other runners. Every time we passed a runner that was moving on fumes of despair, Don recognized the signs and offered words of encouragement and motivation to them. There was one woman walking who looked to be close to tears late in the race and Don seemed to say just the right words to her. Before I closed in on the finish line she came running past me with an air of determination. It was great to see.

Even with my sore rear end, I was able to match Don’s pace by employing a very fast power walk or a slow run. Right around mile 25, Don said “it’s party time!” and pulled a gear out of somewhere and I couldn’t match his surge. He had an entourage of supporters waiting at the finish line to celebrate with him. I came in a couple of minutes behind his finish.

I caught up to Don after the finish and got this picture with him. I thought a better sign would have been 398 combined marathon finishes, but then again, it was his day and he has most of them.

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More importantly Anne had persevered through her first marathon in fine form. She of course said she’d wouldn’t do another one. A friend of Anne’s (Liz) and her friend’s mother (Judy) had run the half marathon and were celebrating our finishes with us. I leaned over to the mother and said “Give it a few days. She’ll be talking about the next one.” I was wrong. It only took about three hours. Here is the after picture.

IMG_20160528_132332390The race had a 6 hour cut-off time. I came in at 5:58 which is the slowest road marathon I have ever completed (I have run a couple of slower trail marathons). This is my 98th race of marathon distance or longer completed. While a lousy finishing time, I am actually pretty happy to have the good fortune of a finish considering that I was ready to drop at 8 miles. I’m glad I had enough wimp in me to overcome the pain. Now I think I’ll take some more days off from running.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No I Won’t Quit! Not!

I regretfully move my running streak into retired status as I failed to run for the 1,246th consecutive day yesterday. I made it 1,245 consecutive days, averaging over 5.5 miles per day. My total streak covered 6,962 miles.

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I’ve been fighting off a piriformis injury (a pain in the butt) and tried strategies of cutting way back on my daily mileage, stretching, rolling and visiting a sports medicine clinic to no avail. While attempting to confirm my stubbornness or insanity, I kept expecting my new regimen (keep repeating the same failed experiment and expect different results) would improve things, but with each run I found increased nerve pain. The pain would intensify with distance. I have some races on my calendar that I hope to run this year, so I thought I could try something novel. I’ll take some rest days and see what happens. Haven’t done that for a while.

The past almost three and a half years have been quite the adventure and I believe the daily running actually helped keep me healthy and recover from my escapades. During this run I’ve hit a few fun milestones. I finished more than 41 marathon or longer races over the 41 months of the streak. This included my 50th state marathon and completing a 100 mile race. More memorable than the races are the challenges of running every day like running while sick, being short of time, traveling, or running the day after a long race. I’ve also run through some other injuries, but none took me down. I’ve run outside in -39f wind chills in Minnesota and in 105f heat at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I even ran through dormant volcanic craters on the island of Maui. I’ve gotten lost and found my way. I’ve fallen and got back up.

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Running through the volcanic craters on Haleakala, Maui, HI in January 2015.

Run along the Tonto Trail Inside the Grand Canyon

Run along the Tonto Trail Inside the Grand Canyon, May 2015

I say retired because I fully intend to pick up my streaking again once my body gives me permission. This streak was actually my 11th attempt at streak running. My previous ten streaks lasted between 2 (after returning from Hawaii to the MN winter) and 130 days. Now I have a new high mark to aim for in my next attempt. Until yesterday I kept telling myself “No I won’t quit!” Hopefully backing off will allow me to take up the stubborn mantle again not too far down the road.

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Chippewa 50k

I’ve lacked motivation to run long training runs recently. Granted I’ve fought off some minor injuries over the past six months, but am planning to keep up my distance running as long as my legs don’t fall off. To do so I know I can’t just run races. I actually have to train a bit too. Since my last marathon six weeks ago, my longest run was just over 13 miles. Not necessarily high quality miles either. I’ve averaged roughly a marathon or longer race per month for the last 43 months, but part of that was from chasing my 50 state marathon goal (completed in January 2015) and actually doing decent training miles. For some reason I keep getting older and slower as the years slip past. I don’t know why I thought I’d keep getting younger and faster, but the laws of time and cell death rule.

This week in a weak moment of brilliance I thought the best way to get in some long training miles would be to sign up for a race. I have marathons on my calendar for both May and June. A few days ago I signed up for a race. Not a marathon, but a 50k. Nothing like running 31 miles to train for some 26 mile races. If my legs recently felt dead after 13 mile runs, I’m sure they’d feel great for 31.

To shorten the drive to the start at the Chippewa Moraine Interpretative Center near New Auburn, WI, I drove as far as Eau Claire, WI on Friday night. A friend lives in the Twin Cities, but teaches at UW – Eau Claire. (He and a few other professors share a small apartment for times they want to avoid the 90 minute commute home to the Twin Cities.) Thus I had the vacant crash pad in which to sleep before a short drive to the race early on Saturday.

On my drive east I listened to a tribute anthology of Prince music on the radio. While I drove east along the hilly and curvy highway approaching Menomonie, WI, I noticed the full moon rising and surfing the hills of the horizon. Due to particles in the atmosphere it loomed large and orange. As the road dropped into valleys, the moon would disappear. Then rise in tandem to the next elevation lift of the interstate. At one point the road flattened and the moon was poised to the right of the road ahead. In an instant I saw a parallel shooting star along the left side of the road. Coincidentally a minute later my mind focused on the immediate lyrics playing to Prince’s song “Call My Name”.

“I’ve never seen the moon look so lovely
As the night I saw it with you”

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Orange Full Moon.

The music and celestial entertainment made for a nice drive.

Ice Age Trail

Ice Age Trail

After an early drive on Saturday morning I got to the interpretive Center, which sits high on a hill that was created from the sand, gravel and rocks deposited by melting glaciers. The Ice Age Trail meanders through much of Wisconsin and this location serves as one access point to that trail. The race runs an out and back section along this trail.

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Runners milling about the visitor center.

After my pre-race preparation, greetings with a few friends, and a couple of pictures we were off and running. Since I wasn’t intending to push my pace, but merely wanting to finish, I lined up near the rear of the herd of runners. My strategy for ultra races (longer than marathon distance) is generally to walk the steep uphills and run the flat and downhill sections. The rolling terrain includes 4600 feet of elevation change (according to my GPS watch, not necessarily accurate) over the 50 kilometers, so I would have ample walking breaks.

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Jordan in full trail battle gear.

I started running with my friend Jordan in the early miles. Jordan is graduating from the University of St. Thomas in a month and although young, has already completed eight or nine 100 miles races. He traveled with me last August to the Black Hills where I ran my only 100 mile race to date. Just a few weeks ago he attempted to run three 100 mile races over three consecutive weekends. He completed over 200 miles in those attempts. This 50k would just be a “fun” run for him.

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Janet stopping for a picture.

Before the first mile was up we caught up to my friend Janet. I would end up running most of the race with Janet. About a mile and three-quarters into the race my incessant yapping got the best of me and I tripped over a root and went down fairly hard. Skinned my knee, but was otherwise okay. Jordan had been just behind me and employed the strategy of “pass the weak, hurdle the dead.” He stayed ahead of me for the rest of the race and beat me to the finish by twenty minutes or so. At the next aid station I realized I was carrying a few sticks from the course with me from my fall.

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Sticks in my watch.

The weather and trail conditions were the best I’ve seen in the four years of running this race. It was in the low 40’s at the start and rose into the mid 60’s by the finish. As the day warmed, clouds moved in to blunt the heat. Winds were mostly gentle with a few higher gusts. Aside from a few muddy spots, the trails were perfectly dry. Leaf detritus from last autumn only covered some of the rocks and roots. As I ran past my friend and erstwhile race director Jeff, I gave him a hard time about not drying out those last few muddy spots on the course for us.

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Race director Jeff keeping tabs on the runners.

This race course travels through beautiful country. Over hill and dale, it traverses ridge lines and pot hole lakes. The early spring foliage is sparse so the views are unimpeded. Aside from a few gnats late in the race, the insects are not defending their territory yet. Several small bridges of varying structural integrity assist runners across damp spots along the way.

I decided to try to set a good pace for Janet for as long as I could and mostly stayed just ahead of her for the first half of the race. After the half-way turnaround, it became obvious that Janet was setting the pace for me. Either that or she kept trying to drop me and I wouldn’t give up.

At the last aid station with three miles to go, I needed to have the bladder of my hydration pack refilled with water. Janet took the opportunity to leave me in her dust. She beat me to the finish by three or four minutes. My intentions to pace her for the race thus turned into her pacing me, or rather schooling me on how to run tenaciously to the finish. Darn! Chicked again in a race!

I pulled into the finish at 7:56 on the clock, or about twenty minutes slower than I was last year on this course when I was much younger (where is the sarcasm font when you need it) and in better shape. I was able to recover and caught up with Janet and Jordan. I hung out with friends for a bit after the race before starting the drive home.

Probably not the best training strategy for future race preparation, but at least I got a long run completed. One day I will not be able to continue running and racing. Until then I’m going to seize the available opportunities. One foot in front of the other. Repeat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For Red and Blue

We used to get released from school an hour early every Tuesday from Bryant Junior High. This wasn’t a big deal for most classes, as each class was merely shortened by about ten minutes to fit the shorter day. It did create a problem for gym class as there wasn’t enough time for preparation, participation and showering in the short period. Instead the class would repair to a sort of student lounge for a “study hall”. A few students actually studied, but most of us just hung around, listened to the radio, read, played games or just talked. The gym teacher Mr. Cross was a former football player (and served as football coach). His imposing figure may have contributed to our good behavior during this period. I recall being on the periphery of a conversation in which someone compared Michael Jackson of the Jackson Five to one of my class mates. If my addled memory is correct, my classmate took some umbrage to this comparison.

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Several months later I attended the school talent contest in the school auditorium. The students displayed their talents (or lack of talent) as they performed each act. For the last act, my classmate from gym class came on stage and proceeded to play a half-dozen band instruments and then pulled out an electric guitar. He nailed every one of those instruments, especially the guitar. Off to the side of the stage stood the school band teacher. He had a slight, but very wise smile on his face. He recognized the gift that was Prince Rodgers Nelson. Prince did win the contest.

After high school I never saw Prince again, except on the big or small screen. About a decade after graduation, I did bump into his brother Duane in a Seven-Eleven store in the old neighborhood and had a brief chat. I lament never making it to one of his performances in the years that followed. I always assumed I would randomly bump into him one day around the Twin Cities. To much of the world, Prince owned the color purple. Had I met up with him, I would have regaled him with a couple of different colors. I think I could have raised a smile from him by singing a verse from the Minneapolis Central High School fight song. (Of course upon hearing my singing voice he probably would have called security.) After today I’ll never get the chance to find out.

For Red and Blue, we’ll sing anew
Our song of loyalty
And follow you, dear Red and Blue
With faith to victory.

RIP Prince

 

 

 

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