My kind of vacation

A rare moment of blue sky during our backpacking adventure.

We sure packed in the fun on our week off! It started with a late-night drive to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a long training run for me, a visit from Mr. Green (a PCT friend), an adventurous backpacking trip, and finally, a little bit of relaxing. 

We got done with work later than we’d hoped because of a load of stinkin’ potatoes, but we left northward as soon as we dropped them off, enjoying our lovely new Subaru on a late-night road trip. Five hours later, we arrived in the tiny town of Grand Marais, MI. It was 4am and the few motels were either full or simply closed. We felt weird just hanging around, so we drove an hour to a different town that had a laundromat and got a chore done. 

We drove back to Grand Marais, had some breakfast and found a cheap, nice little hotel room for the night and settled in. I spent the afternoon getting my gear together for my 50-mile training run. I planned to start at 2am, so I was ready to go and in bed around 6pm.

The 50-mile run

I was able to stick to my schedule and got on the trail a little after 2am, which is sort of a miracle. I’m glad, though, because I had some beautiful, cool weather, and ran the trail in the dark making my way by headlamp for the first 4-1/2 hours. It’s an amazing experience being out on the trail when the sky starts to lighten up – it provides such an incredible mood-boost! I really love that part of these crazy long runs.

A quick photo stop – with an eagle and Spray Falls in the background!

I kept a pretty steady pace, and since the Lakeshore Trail is a little flatter than the section of the Ice Age Trail that I’m used to training on, I finished two full hours earlier than I thought I would. In fact, halfway, at 25 miles I was at 6-1/2 hours! I was thrilled!

But here’s the thing. It hurt! I’m totally humbled every time I do one of these in one way or another. I’m proud that I accomplished this goal, and it certainly helps with my self-confidence going into the Frozen Otter, but I was in rough shape afterward. 50 miles is a long frickin’ way (and it actually ended up being 53!), and 15 hours is a long time to push your body past what it’s comfortable doing. And to be honest, my training is far from ideal. I am risking injury every time I take on these long runs because I’m really not properly trained for them. I should be working up my mileage for each one, but as I explained in my last blog entry, I’m trying to get ready for this race the best I can on little time. It’s become a challenge to me this summer that I’ve taken on so whole-heartedly that I’m nearing burnout. But… *sigh* I still love it! The challenge, the running, the experiences, the lessons, and even the pain. All of it. 

So the run itself was pretty great, overall. I just set my eyes on short goals – the next intersection, scenic view, or water stop. I stopped four times to gather and treat water, and three times to poo (and one time I found an open pit toilet! Yay!!). These things take time, but I’m pretty satisfied with how efficient I was when I did have to stop. 

I started feeling pain in my left hip about halfway in, and I couldn’t seem to find a stretch that would alleviate it, so I popped some ibuprofen, hydrated, and ran on. Another pain that was nagging me was where my shoes meet my ankle. I’m training in the lightweight Altra boot I plan to do the Frozen Otter in so that I’m used to them, but I don’t know if they’re the greatest for trail running this far. I stopped a few times to adjust the laces and fit, but by the end I had some nasty bruises. 

Post-run feet bruises.

Other than pushing through that, overall body/muscle pain and general fatigue, I had a wrecked toe with a toenail that WILL fall off at some point, and a bruise with pain and swelling on the top of my left foot. This last one was the most concerning because I didn’t feel it during the run, and I worry about stress fractures – which would be from doing too much too soon. Overuse. My own damn fault. But thankfully it settled down after some RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) treatment, and as I write this, there is no pain. I have yet to run on it, though. That will be the true test. But I currently feel fully recovered from the week. I’d say I’m pretty happy with that. 

The week went on, and the crazy didn’t stop here! 

At the end I had a few tears well up in my eyes because I was so happy to be done. My confused expression really tells the story!

The backpacking adventure 

We spent a couple of days with our good friend, Mr. Green, whom we met on the PCT in 2013 – we rested, we ate good food (he made us the BEST Indian dish!), we went on a few short hikes visiting waterfalls and we played tons of cribbage. It was sad that he had to go home for work before our weekend backpacking trip, but we were happy he made the trip to see us. 

Mr. Green!! Love this guy!

On Thursday night my parents arrived, and we ate pizza and got our backpacking gear organized and ready for our attempt at a three-day trip along the Lakeshore Trail. We woke up early and head out to drop a car off at the end of our planned 30-mile route, then drove to our start point. 

Ready to hike!

We hiked 12 miles on the first day, and the weather sure challenged us! We were afraid it would pour rain all day, but it only sprinkled on and off, so that was good. But the wind! It was hard to stop to rest because of it, and a few times when we did – usually to enjoy an overlook – we got blasted in the face with sand. It was crazy! But we still had tons of fun and found everything to smile about! 

So windy! Crazy!

By the time we arrived at camp, Adam’s knees were bothering him pretty bad. He’s got quite a history with his knees, and it’s pretty awesome that he’s out here trying to backpack with me – he’s the best. He also fell on a slippery step a few days prior, which left him with a sore back and even more strain on one knee – and a giant bruise on his butt cheek to show for it. So he was in some pain after those 12 miles. A few shots of my mom’s whiskey helped relax him a bit, and we were all able to enjoy a nice campfire and even one game of cribbage before we passed out in our tents. 

The ol’ junky car, found right alongside the trail. Photo required!

About four miles into Saturday’s hike, Adam let me know he was going to bail at the next road, which was a big campground. We discussed our options, and not wanting to split off for too long from each other, I decided I could trail run (I am seriously a nutter), to where our car was parked – 15 miles away. I could grab the car and come back to rescue the crew. My mom, dad and Adam all took some of my gear to lighten my load, and I took off. Less than five hours later I was pulling up to get them – they had settled into an empty campsite and even started a campfire. We were soon on our way to get some burgers and find a place with walls for the night. 

The drizzly weather provided us with a colorful scene!

The run wasn’t easy, but the toughest part was being alone on the trail again, which didn’t last long, and actually pushed me to “get ‘er done.” It felt really good in the end, though. Earlier I told Adam that I wished there was something I could do to help his knees. When I showed up with the car, he gave me a hug and said, “you’re my hero – and you found a way to help my knees.” It was so sweet, and I did feel a little like a hero. I guess I do get a little bit of a rush out of being a ‘runner,’ too. Guess I was trained for it! Hah!

It’s too bad the trip had to end early… We were all hankerin’ for more backpacking, but stuff happens. And besides! The rest of that night’s weather was kind of horrid, so we may have been better off! The wind was insane and it poured rain the rest of the night. I’m sure we would’ve made the most out of camping, and my dad would’ve gotten a big fire going, but a hotel seemed like a decent alternative…  

…Except that every hotel within a 50-mile radius was booked solid. I think we called them all. It was peak fall colors, it was a Saturday night, and the weather sucked… So we surely weren’t going to be the only ones looking for a room. We ended up with the last thing available in Manistique, 53 miles away. It was an apartment they usually rent out weekly. We took it and enjoyed the shower, beds, beers, more cribbage, and being warm and dry. What a crazy adventure that was! The best part of all of this was that we were all in good company. I mean, I certainly wasn’t complaining – I had three of my favorite people surrounding me! 

My amazing backpacking mom and dad. Love these two to pieces!

The wind-down

My folks stuck around Sunday night, and we let go a little bit. We drank bloody marys, played cribbage, watched the Packers play (and win!), had a few more drinks, and mom and I giggled our heads off as we made late-night baked apples. They were freakin’ delicious, too!

We were really goin’ to town on those apples!

Monday was our last day of vacation and well, we tried to relax, anyway. Most of the day was spent doing laundry, organizing and packing up all of our crap so we’d be ready to hit the road Tuesday morning. (We had to be back to our truck for work Tuesday night.) In between chores, though, we did manage to go out for lunch, I went for an enjoyable slow walk, we played a few more games of cribbage, and in the evening we watched a couple of movies. But we both felt like we needed just one more day. This happens every vacation – we even try to plan in an extra day to wind down, but it ends up getting absorbed into the fun stuff, and before we know it… vacation’s over. Being happily exhausted and being left wanting more means it was a good week. Can’t wait for the next one! 

Tonight I love family and friends. I wish there was more time to do stuff like this with everybody all the time! Life can be so frustratingly fantastic in this way. We are so lucky. 

More pictures! 

Coves is one of my favorite spots on the trail. So pretty in the fall.

RICE and cribbage. The perfect recovery.

Adam backpacking up a big hill. You don’t know how much I love this. :)

My super-stylin’ Injinji compression socks.

The wind kept trying to steal my hat, so I turned it around. Then that little strap thingy was slapping me right in the eyeballs. Not a hat kinda’ day.

LOL! Eyeballs or boobies!? Or mushrooms. You decide! ;)

Fall! So amazing!

Mom and dad working their way down some steep trail steps.

Cute mushrooms that don’t look like boobies.

A break in the sky, but not a break in the wind. But so much color and beauty! 

The Frozen Otter – how I’m training

‚ÄčI’m deep into planning my largest training day (50 miles!) for the Frozen Otter – race day is only 3-1/2 months away! We just arrived at the gorgeous Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) for the week, so I’m going to use the Lakeshore Trail here as my training grounds. Adam and I have a 3-day backpacking trip planned with my parents for the weekend, so I’m going to use tomorrow (Tuesday) as my day to complete the 50 miles. Hopefully I’m training and planning well enough to be recovered for the backpacking part of our vacation without too much trouble. I’ll go over a few details as to how I’m preparing for this training run in a little bit. 

But first, since I haven’t said much about it yet, I thought this might be a good time to talk about the training plan I came up with for this crazy race. I mean, 64 miles is a long way to go, and how the heck do you prepare for that!? In addition to the obvious difficulty to train for something like this, being an over-the-road truck driver has made it a little extra tricky. I’m pretty certain my way of training is far from ideal, so I don’t know if it’s a plan I’d recommend. But, well, who knows! Maybe it’ll work! 

If I had the time I did when I was a 9-5er I’d be putting in more weekly miles, stair climbs, and longer workouts – and maybe more general daily movement besides sitting on my rump in front of a steering wheel for 10 hours a day! I’d probably sign up for a few ultrarunning races to get in some training with support/aid stations, enjoy the comeraderie of other crazy-minded folks like myself and immerse myself in the overall race experience that I miss and love so much. These long training runs do get a little lonely… 

So I don’t know if what I’m doing is enough, or the right way, but I think I’m using my time as best I can. It’s been fun and challenging so far, so no matter the outcome, I guess that’s a success, at least! And hopefully the big outcome will be a Frozen Otter finish! 

So how am I actually training? I started back in April. I went on a 20-mile tester hike so I had an idea of where I was at with my endurance fitness. Did I have any left at all? Would it break me? Would I enjoy any of it? Turns out that I DID enjoy it, it didn’t break me (not even close), and I still had a little somethin-somethin left of my endurance muscle memory. 

May quickly rolled around, and as soon as registration opened up for the Frozen Otter I paid my fee and officially signed myself up. Now, along with my stubborn drive was this financial accountability. So here we go! It is so on! 

From there I drew up a plan from that 20-mile base run I did. The basic idea was to run on my days off (usually road runs at a quicker pace), do bodyweight strength workouts on the road while I’m truckin’ (and run when I can), and get one long run/hike on trails each month leading up to the race. These long runs were going to be key – they would be the closest simulation to race day, especially since I could train mostly in the Northern unit of Kettle Moraine where the Frozen Otter is held. These long runs would also keep reminding my legs that they need to stay in shape (I have serious conversations with them on a pretty regular basis. It’s a good relationship), and I’d have a chance to test some gear and fueling strategies. And so far… I’ve learned a ton. 

Oh, and really quick – when I say “running” on these long runs, it’s fastpacking, or hiking/jogging, or jiking. Hogging? It’s basically a combination of jogging and fast hiking. I try to jog most of it, but I hike up the big hills and jog on the straight parts – I basically go as fast as I can (which isn’t super-fast) while keeping my heart rate at a pretty steady level so I can go for a long time. I’m not out there full-on running down the trail at a 9-minute mile. That would be pretty cool, though! 

So the training I’ve already done is the 20-mile tester in April that I mentioned, a 30-miler in May, 32 miles in June where I wiped out about four times, a 20-mile new-pack-test in July that chafed the crap out of my shoulders, a 40-miler on August 1, then a 32/10-mile back-to-back in mid-August when I had some horrible gut issues, and a 40-mile overnight fatigue run in September that was one of the toughest long run/hikes I’ve ever done. 

So dead tired after my overnight 40-miler on no sleep! So satisfying, though.

I’ve tested four different packs, I’ve tried new shoes (with success), all kinds of food, gels, and drinks. I’ve trained on little sleep, and once on no sleep, I’ve fallen several times (once was a downhill tuck & roll that I’m kind of proud of), I’ve run in the daylight and the dark for hours and hours, I’ve talked to myself, got bored, tired, sore, and hopped-up on coffee. I tried distractions like listening to podcasts, music, silence, making up stories in my head and then sharing them with the squirrels… and when all else failed, I just kept going… and going. Each run has been tough, but I always managed to finish the goal I set out for – mentally spent, physically sore, and totally satisfied. There’s just something about wearing myself down like this that I enjoy. It’s so weird. 

I’ve got a few long runs left before January: 

October – 50 miles 
The biggun’ is my October run. Tomorrow’s 50-miler, in Pictured Rocks. This is the bad boy I’m planning for now. It’s the longest run of my training plan, and I hope to finish in 16 or 17 hours. Yeesh. I’m feeling intimidated just writing that down. That’s a long freakin’ time to be so active – running and pounding on my feet and legs, pumping my arms, breathing, sweating, heart-thumping… Also, I’ve been working out some gut issues that I’ve been having on my long runs, so I’m hoping less hard-to-digest food and better hydration will be the ticket. 

To plan for this, I first figured out miles, start and end points. The Lakeshore Trail is 42 miles long, so I added in a loop during the middle of the run to add on about 10 miles. 

Then I planned for water. There’s a lot of places to get water on this trail, so I’m not worried about a lack of it, but I picked some spots to hopefully maximize my time getting it. The water will need to be treated in three of my four planned stops, so that takes a little extra time. I’ll be doing these 50 miles 100% self-supported, so I hope to be as efficient with these breaks as I can be, and I guess planning them out is the best start. 

Next I came up with a fueling plan. I’ve been constantly experimenting with this since I started, but this time I’m trying Huma gels (Chia seed-based energy) alternated with real foods which are sweet or salty, depending on whatever my tummy is wanting when it’s time to consume fuel. These foods are things like string cheese, an Epic bar (meat bar), Bearded Bros energy bar, macadamia nuts, Snickers bites, an Ocho dark chocolate bar, Combos, Phat Fudge, Pastrami & cheese rollups, and dill pickle chips. It’s a mix, but that’s the idea. I had a loss of appetite a couple of times during training – and it SUCKS. So I’ve stretched out the variety to help with this… I hope! 

For liquid fuel, I’ll carry a 2-liter bladder for plain water, and two 16-oz. bottles. One will be for either Pedialyte or Tailwind drink mixes, which I’ll alternate between. The other will be for cold coffee mixed with chia seeds. 

I also planned for what I’m calling “on-trail maintenance.” I’ll be taking a salt tablet every hour and alternating ibuprofen and naproxsen sodium every 2-3 hours to help with pain and inflammation (the alternating is to keep the tummy happy). The pain killers and salt tabs usually fall away from my plan once I’m out there and I end up taking way less than planned, but I’ll be armed with them if I feel they’re needed or if I’m struggling. 

And finally, recovery. I’m going to eat, sleep, eat, bathe in Epsom salt and sport my sweet new hot pink compression Injinji socks. I also hope to get in a small hike or walk in the couple of days following this training run to keep the blood flowing. I don’t know. I’m not very good at recovery yet, to be honest. The focus has been so much on just the race part… So I guess I need to put more thought into this. It’s important, too. 

The winning pack by Out There USA.

November – 45 miles/20 miles (back-to-back) 
I hope to complete this one in the Kettle Moraine, sort of simulating the actual race. Start at Mauthe Lake and go north to the turnaround, then back south. Then the next day, head south to that turnaround and back. It should hurt real good. 

December – 32 miles 
I might do more miles, or I might split this into a couple shorter runs, depending on weather, how much cold training I have in, and if there’s winter gear that I still need to try out. 

January 14 – 64 miles/RACE DAY! 
The plan is to finish 64 miles! I wonder what the weather will say about that!? It’ll be a major deciding factor! 

Any other racers out there reading this? Any suggestions? Questions? Let me know. Not sure I’ll ever figure this thing out… Which is kind of why I’m doing it again. I completed it in 2010 in 21 hours and 49 minutes, so you think I’d know what to do. Nope. It’s like I’m still a super-newbie. That’s how it feels, anyway. There’s always new things to learn, and it’s a totally different race every year. I have no clue what to expect. 

Overall it’s pretty addicting. And crazy. And I can’t quite explain it. But I love it. All of it. 

Tonight I love string cheese. I think it’s the one real food that my stomach hasn’t denied at one point or another on all my training runs so far. Thanks, string cheese. You’re the best. 

The horrible neck chafe from one of the packs I sent back. Too bad, because everything else about it was great.

Chia seeds mixed in with coffee. Or rocket fuel.

The Ultraspire Titan pack. I love this pack so much, but it’s just a wee to small on the capacity-side to use in the Frozen Otter. I’m keeping it, though. So comfy!