GVSU BIG MEET – 5000M
Allendale, MI – February 9, 2018
152nd – 15:59.54
(written on 1-26-21)
After the North Face 50-mile attempt in Wisconsin, I regained my legs fairly quickly and started training even harder than before. My focus was on TNF California. I continued to make trips up to northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to train and “dirtbag it” for days at a time. I was getting really good at running long hours on rocky, wet, hilly trails, specifically in the Porcupine Mountains. I logged a 120-mile week (still, my highest mileage week ever), run mostly on challenging, hilly trails. However, about 2.5 weeks before TNF California, I developed yet another “stress fracture/reaction” in my tibia. I was deflated, wasting about $1,000 (race fee, plane tickets, travel bookings, etc), as a result.
I caught the injury in its early stages, however, and cut my recovery time in half. Over the years, through unfortunate experience, I learned my lessons. I’d had some practice! I tried not to push through “injury pains”. I took time, reflected, recharged, rehabbed, recovered, and re-planned. I became wiser.
By the beginning of January 2018, I had my eyes set on another 5K attempt. I again signed up for the GVSU Open, hoping to run a solid time. I trained decently for about four or five weeks before the race in February. Again, I stubbornly thought I could run close to 15:00. Throughout this training cycle, I also had signed up for my next big trail race: the competitive and beautiful Chuckanut 50K in Bellingham, Washington, mid-March.
Before the gun went off for the 5K at Grand Valley, I met up with one of my former teammates at the U. of Southern Indiana, Cain Parker, and we ran a few warmup laps around the track together, as snow dumped outside the arena. As runners in my section were called to the starting line, one of the race officials asked me where my race bib was. I NEVER GRABBED IT. I forgot how to “do” track meets!
Once I received a bib, we lined up and the gun blasted away. I stayed near the back of the pack this time around. I wanted to run within myself. I was determined to finish no matter what. Lap after lap went by, and I soon felt the discomfort of 5:00/mi pace. I rarely touched that pace in training (I didn’t train specifically). I hit the first mile in the upper 4:40s. Again, I wasn’t feel fit for a fast 5K. I stuck it out, slowing down drastically over the course of the race. My last laps were pathetically slow, but I was still in pain! I crossed the line, second-to-last, in 15:59, about a minute slower than I hoped. Again, embarrassing.
I made the return trip home and immediately continued my training plan for Chuckanut.
Bellingham, WA – March 17, 2018
26th – 4:21:56
(written on 1-27-21)
Chuckanut was long-awaited. It would be my first time on an airplane, first time on the west coast, and the most competitive field I’d ever competed in. Before my flight from Chicago, I made a 3am stop at work, in Sawyer, to brew a coffee for the drive.
Flying was quite the experience. As we approached the Seattle area, I took an amazing video of Mount Rainier from the window. Shortly after, came the expansive views of the Olympic Mountains to the west and North Cascades to the east. The Puget Sound was also pretty neat to see. Seattle is such a unique geographic city! After landing, I found my luggage, and waited for bus transportation to the rent-a-car facility. For some reason, the rental cars ended up being unforeseeably way too expensive, and I hadn’t thought of a plan B to get to Bellingham, which was two hours north. Ouch!
Tired, hungry, and anxious, I finally found a bus that made it’s last scheduled northbound stop in Bellingham. It was around $100. Whatever. I bought a ticket! The ride to Bellingham included stops and took much longer than anticipated. It was a gorgeous drive, however, and I was really appreciating the moment.
Upon arrival at the Four Points hotel in Bellingham, I walked to the nearest grocery store, which was right across the street in a mini shopping plaza. I wasn’t in search for food, but instead of an outlet to charge my dying phone. I found one outside the store. I was seven miles from my Air BnB destination. At the time, I was ignorant of Uber and Lyft (looking back, I’m not sure why!). I debated walking the entire seven miles with my luggage, getting there well after sunset. I opted out of that idea.
I ended up calling a taxi driver, who got me there by dusk. I was finally at my destination, an immaculate “garden house” that was separate from the owners main place of residence. It’d been the longest day of my life, changing three time zones in the process. It was also the first run I had missed since the beginning of January, which didn’t bother me much. The “hay” was already in “the barn” and I was just so stoked to be in Washington!
The next day was Friday, the day before the race. I needed a more efficient way than taxis to buy groceries and pick up my race packet. To my luck, the owners randomly OFFERED me their baby blue old-school convertible car to drive into town, go to the coffee shop, buy groceries, and pickup my packet! I’m not sure how I got so lucky. In hindsight, I think they really were comfortable with me, enjoyed my story and passion for running, and could sense the unfettered “childish” joy I had from living this adventure so far from home. One of the owners even woke up early the next morning and dropped me off at the start line for the race. It was such an unforeseen blessing.
The next morning, a cold ocean breeze chilled our skin as we toed the line. It must’ve been in the low 40s. The gun went off and away we went. I settled into the chase pack about 30sec – 1min behind the front pack of David Laney, Cole Watson, Pat Smyth, etc. I felt strong on the Interurban Trail, clicking off low 6min miles. The first climb towards Fragrance Lake was tough. I had run lots of hills in training, but none lasted 15min continuously. At the top, I recovered and immediately felt strong again. I was already running alone. However, being in “the zone”, I somehow blew right past the turn I was supposed to take. I looped back around Fragrance Lake and then saw oncoming runners. “Am I off course?!” I was in a frantic state.
One of the runners told me to turn around, head back the way I came, and look for the turn onto the Two-Dollar Trail. Immediately, I was in panic mode, losing over a mile in the process. Damn! I settled in, found my turn, and flew down the Two-Dollar Trail. Then came the infamous Cleator Road section, a 3mi dirt road climb (8% grade) to the top of the Ridge. I actually felt decent up this and passed a few runners. I was probably in the top 15 at that point. Next came the technical Ridge trail, a rocky/”ledgy” section that lasted around 30min. I also felt pretty good and skipped across it fairly effortlessly.
After the long, hilly, arduous, wet Lost Lake Trail, I hit the infamous Chinscraper climb (about 0.8mi and 1,000ft of gain) around mile 20. This is where I started to really feel the day’s effort. The eventual women’s champion, Nike’s Keely Henninger, passed me on this climb and I was starting to suffer. Next was a long 3mi dirt road downhill that smashed up my quads and zapped any strength I had left in them.
10K of flat gravel lay ahead of me and the finish. I previously thought I would be able to hammer home, in a respectable finishing time and place. I was wrong. I bonked so hard and even took a few walking breaks. I was passed by maybe ten people over the final handful of miles. It was disheartening! I just wanted to get to the finish line to make the pain stop.
I eventually finished in 4:21:56, good enough for 26th place overall, but about 30min slower than my goal time. I was destroyed. My quads were damaged like never before. After some calories, I finally discovered Uber and used it to get back to my AirBnb. However, I couldn’t be too depressed, considering the whole experience I had just lived, the place I was in, the task I completed. It felt good to shower, indulge in some food, and watch the NCAA March Madness tourney on TV, as my legs throbbed. 31 miles (and 5,000ft of vertical) is a long ways.
The next morning, I caught the early bus from Bellingham to Seattle, hopped aboard my flight, and flew back to Chicago. Upon arrival, it took me quite awhile to find my truck. I eventually found it and realized I had parked in the super expensive parking spot, collecting about $160 total in fees. Icing on the cake.
The main takeaway: I was ready to seriously move somewhere geographically inspiring to live my passion of training in the mountains, uprooting my life in the Midwest.
KAL-HAVEN TRAIL RUN – 33.5MI
Kalamazoo, MI – April 14, 2018
1st – 3:35:33
(written on 1-27-21)
Sometime during the Winter, before the GVSU 5K, I had signed up for the Kal-Haven Trail Run, a 34mi race on a rail trail about 90min north of New Carlisle, spanning from Kalamazoo to South Haven, Michigan. The repetitive, flat, long course inspired me, providing a chance to run a fast ultra.
Meanwhile, back in Sawyer, we planned to close the coffee shop for one week for interior renovations. It was also the week before the race. So, with an abundance of time, I packed up my truck (“Hotel Ranger”) and drove a circle-tour of Lake Michigan, stopping at inspiring places to train along the way. It was April, yet the North Country was holding on to February-like snowpack. I ended up running over 100 miles, putting in tons of snowy vertical gain. I wasn’t training with specificity in mind, but instead for enjoyment and freedom. I felt fit, yet was still anxious to see how I’d perform on the KHT.
The day before the race, I discussed my goals with my dad. For my whole life, my dad has been a “realist” and tells me what I need to hear. He’d been my high school cross country coach, so we had a special relationship. That night, however, he discounted my goals, and told me I would “blow up” and not run to my potential. He didn’t believe in me. I was shocked and slightly furious that he doubted my fitness! I went to bed angry and tucked that feeling into my back pocket.
The next morning, I woke up very early and checked the weather. 40 degrees, rainy, and very windy (this was two days before the extremely harsh weather at the Boston Marathon). Somehow, I didn’t care. I was already in “the zone”. I strapped on my Altra One 2.5 road shoes, grabbed my Ultimate Direction vest, and threw some Tailwind powder into some bottles w/water. I may have brought a gel or two, also, for backup. I had never used liquid nutrition before but I thought it would be easier to consume than gels while running at a faster clip. For some reason, the chains were gone, and I was not anxious. Just focused.
As I drove the 90min to the 10th Street trailhead outside of Kalamazoo, I prepared my mind for the soon-to-be task at hand. Upon arrival, I grabbed my bib and waited in my truck until right before the start. The north wind was already howling and freezing cold rain was slapping the parking lot pavement. I knew of no elite runners in the field, so my goal was simple: start off easy, find a rhythm, and race by feel, running consistent splits. I had zero specific time goals or expectations.
The course record was set a few years prior, by Galen Burrell of Boulder, Colorado, a well-known mountain runner, specifically. In 2015, he ran an astounding time of 3:29:08 for the ~34mi race. Realistically, I didn’t think I could crack that, even on my best day (back then).
The race started and, immediately, a runner named Nick Mockeridge sprinted by all of us and yelled, “See y’all at the finish line!” I looked at a few of the other runners and asked, “You think he’s in the relay?” It turned out, he was in our race. Pretty soon he was out of sight, even on the never-ending forward tunnel vision of the Kal-Haven Trail.
As the miles clicked by, I found myself running side-by-side with an Ironman Triathlete who looked about my age. I soon dropped him and found myself alone in 3rd place. Around mile 18, I closed in on and passed the 2nd place runner, en route to a 5:57 mile. I was starting to feel really good. I had been drinking the Tailwind and it felt like a revelatory discovery for me. My energy and stomach were solid!
Mile after mile clicked by, still with no sight of the first place runner, Nick Mockeridge (I later found out that he was a 2:29 marathoner). I thought, “How the heck have I not caught him, yet?” I knew I was having an amazing race. I just needed to keep the hammer down.
The wind was at howling our right sides for the entire race and the incessant cold rain was coming down in sheets. My long sleeve was soaked and my quads were numb (I wore shorts). The trail, although mostly crushed gravel, was starting to become a little sloppy. Finally, out of nowhere, I could see a little black speck ahead of me in the distance. It was Nick. I was gaining on him. However, we were well past the marathon mark (I split around a 2:45) and had less than 3 miles to-go! I needed to win this. I had to win this.
The voice of my dad rang clear in my head. “You’re not that fit, are you? You’re gonna blow up. You need to adjust your expectations.”
My motivation and pain-tolerance was high. Nick was now very close, probably within a hundred yards by this point. I saw him keel over a few times, hands on knees. He was struggling.
I came up on his shoulder at mile 32, expecting a dogfight to the finish line. My plan was to surge past him, hard, to break his spirit. I did, brushing against his left shoulder as I hammered past. He said, “Nice work.” I didn’t reply.
A few minutes later, I looked back. I had gained a comfortable distance on Nick. I finally realized I had it in the bag! I was psyched, but still in some extreme pain. I let out a huge, “WOOO!” in the tunnel near the end of the trail. As I approached the finish tape, none of the race volunteers were quite ready for me. I don’t think they were expecting a runner so soon.
I stopped my watch, knowing I had just run the best race of my life. 3:35:33! It was the second fastest time in history. My 50K split was 3:16. I was pumped.
The race volunteers actually had me turn around and re-jog through the finishing tape so that they could snap some photos. About two minutes later, Nick Mockeridge crossed the line. Another runner named Nick (Hanson) placed 3rd, in 3:41:46. Sam Skeels (amazing runner from Adrian, MI) finished fourth.
Immediately after grabbing some food, I was treated to a warm spot inside the race organizers’ U-Haul truck. They let me thaw out inside before transporting myself and few others back to the starting area in Kalamazoo.
I finally won a race. It had been awhile.
I called my dad and made sure he knew that he motivated me to push through the pain. I think he was proud of my performance.
Before driving home, I devoured a huge burrito from Chipotle. Also, later that night, I celebrated with a burger and a beer at Redamak’s with the Thompsons.
ICE AGE TRAIL 50MI
LaGrange, WI – May 12, 2018
DNF – dropped @~27mi
(written on 3-24-21)
After the “high” of the Kal-Haven wore off, I was right back into full-on training mode, preparing for another attempt at the Ice Age Trail 50. I had signed up for Ice Age a few months prior, so I knew it was going to be somewhat difficult to recover quickly from Kal-Haven and put in a few weeks of specific Ice Age training. Nevertheless, my body was responding well and I began to feel much more confident that I would avenge my previous attempt (2016)!
About two weeks before the race, I was doing a speed-climbing session on the Thompson’s basement treadmill, and on the last rep, I felt some seriously sharp twinges in my right foot. I immediately shut off the treadmill and went home. The pain didn’t subside and I ended up taking 18 days off from running (I sprinkled in a few solid rides on the bike). My motivation waned. In my mind, it was starting to feel like Ice Age would be put on hold, once again.
During my short recovery time, I managed to buy a ticket to see Kevin Morby play a live set at the High Noon Saloon in Madison, Wisconsin. Kevin is such a uniquely talented musician and his music transcends and overcomes any stress/anxiety I have in my life. It ended up being a night to remember. I went alone, and I enjoyed every second of it. I drank way too many Bell’s Two-Hearted Ales and woke up the next morning unbelievable sick and still slightly intoxicated. If anything, it cured the blues I was feeling about my current injury.
Meanwhile, my dad had already signed up to race Ice Age (his first 50-miler), also, and planned on making the trip with my mom and Greg and Sarah Thompson. I didn’t give up complete hope of joining them, however. Two days before the race, I did a 1-mile “test jog” down the road near my parents’ house, and my foot cooperated, surprisingly. That night, I began to scheme a plan: work on Friday, then drive to Wisconsin and surprise my family at dinner! I planned to at least start the race.
The morning of the race was cold and gray. My goals of winning hadn’t left my mind, completely, however. My plan was to run the first 9-mile Nordic trail loop with my dad, in the 7-7:30/mi pace range, and slowly move up throughout the race, picking off runner by runner. I had no clue how my foot/fitness would manifest itself.
My foot responded well. Upon entering the single-track Ice Age Trail section, I found myself running alone. I wasn’t running quickly and didn’t feel sharp or strong. After doubling back on the IAT, my motivation began to dissipate and I became mentally fragile, making up excuses of foot pain and hip issues. I planned to drop out, although still being in the top five. I eclipsed the 27-mile mark and made my exit to the nearest county road via a side trail by Lake LaGrange (I had previous knowledge of the IAT and surrounding county roads). I was at least five miles from my crew at the Duffin Road aid station. After a few miles of walking, I flagged down a car. They picked me up and drove me to my destination. Ugh.
Although disappointed in myself, I maintained a decent attitude and really enjoyed crewing for my dad and encouraging him throughout the rest of his effort. It was a struggle for him, but we kept him going and he ended up finishing in the 9-hour range. It took all of his effort to keep going, despite walking much of the last 15 miles. Running 50 miles on hilly trails is very hard!
After heading back home to Indiana, I spent the ensuing days planning my next training block. When failing to meet a goal, I usually learn a lot in the process. My motivation ratchets up a notch and I develop more effective ways to train.
However, running 27 miles at Ice Age with a foot-compensation ended up messing up my right hip. My foot injury seemed to be healed but this newly-developed hip issue stayed with me for seven weeks! I rode my bike, in the meantime.
NORTH FACE ENDURANCE CHALLENGE – 50K
Eagle, WI – September 15, 2018
1st – 3:42:50
(written on 3-24-21)
After a two-week visit to the Adirondacks with the Thompson’s, I began to feel healthy again. Over those two weeks, I put in a good amount of training. Most of it was vertical training on technical mountain trails, however, I also snuck in a few solid bike rides. My hip was cooperating and my focus turned towards Wisconsin’s North Face 50K in mid-September. The fire was lit again.
Throughout the summer, I also nailed down the details of my move to the Adirondacks. I was all set to leave the midwest sometime early in November. Leaving Infusco Coffee, familiarity, stability, and comfort was an inevitable sacrifice.
During the build-up to North Face, I put in about six weeks of solid training, feeling fitter and fitter each day. In late August, about two weeks before my race, I randomly met a girl named Hannah at the St. Joseph Farmer’s Market. She was selling organic produce for Granor Farm and I was selling coffee for Infusco. Somehow, I mustered up the courage to ask her out and, eventually, she decided to come with me to spectate my race in Wisconsin. It was the start of a life journey.
We made the trip to Wisconsin, driving separately. After dinner at Rushing Waters in Palmyra, WI, the night before the race, Hannah and I set up camp at a small campground in Whitewater. I slept in my truck and she slept in a tent.
The next morning (race day), I awoke and made us some pour over coffee and oatmeal. The weather called for high heat and humidity. My nerves began to settle in. I wanted to impress this girl and run a fast time.
After making our way to the Ottawa Lake starting area, Hannah broke off from me and left me alone to get my mind ready for battle. I did manage a successful bathroom session before the race, which cured some nervous energy! Phew.
The gun went off and I immediately found myself alone in the lead. My goal was to run a consistent race, win, and hopefully break 3:40. Most of the hills were in the second half, and I knew this.
After a hard face-plant before the initial Piper Road crossing, I settled into a solid groove. However, I soon began to feel the day’s effort, and around mile 19, I stopped running.
The sun, heat, and humidity hit me like a ton of bricks. I had a sizeable lead at this point. I didn’t panic, however. After about a minute of walking, I gulped down some liquid and slurped down a gel. Boom. Magic. I started running again, knowing only ten+ miles lay between me and the finish.
The sandy, hilly horse trails were difficult. For much of the next 10K, I swayed between 7:00-8:00/mi pace. I kept momentum and checked the clock. I knew I had to run very strong all the way to the finish if I wanted to break 3:40.
I stopped at one aid station around mile 27, had one of the younger boys fill my bottle with water, patted him on the head, and was off and running. I started to feel really solid again, and was running relatively quickly. Passing by some oncoming runners, I was flying. I opened up my stride and took the last downhill hard, right into the highway crossing.
The last 3/4mi was a victory trot. I was running in the low 6s, however I was just happy to be finishing. It was so hot! I crossed the line in 3:42 (8th fastest performance of all-time), winning by about 20min. I was pretty happy.
The North Face start/finish area was full of positive energy! There were tents everywhere, music, and an announcer. Hannah was there to greet me with a loving hug, and after changing clothes at my truck, we enjoyed a few Sierra Nevada Pale Ales, complementary of Coree Woltering, our new friend.
During the awards ceremony, I somehow got roped into “crowdsurfing” right into the sea of people in front of the podium stage. Coree snapped a good photo of this, and, to this day, I laugh when I see it.
Soon after, Hannah and I went back to the campground in Whitewater to take a nap in the tent. I was smelly, dirty, and sweaty. It was a good feeling. I didn’t want this feeling to end.
A few hours later, I had to depart on my own, due to work obligations the next day in Sawyer. Unbeknownst to me, Hannah stayed an extra night and ran the 10K the next morning! I thought, “That girl is special.”
A few days went by, and my attention turned towards a race distance I was scared to commit to: the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon.
INDIANAPOLIS MONUMENTAL MARATHON
Indianapolis, IN – November 3, 2018
21st – 2:31:47
(written on 4-21-21)
I knew one day I would train for and run a fast road marathon, but I didn’t think it would be in 2018. Sometime during the week after North Face, I sat down at the kitchen table with a pencil and a notebook. I was sketching out the details of my upcoming training and goals. I had nothing planned until the 2019 Chuckanut 50K in Washington, and soon, a crazy idea entered my brain.
In my mind, I realistically thought I could run 2:32:59 for a marathon, if I were to soon race one. It was sort of an arbitrary time. However, after many years of running, I knew my body and fitness level very well. Sub-2:33 requires an average of 5:50/mi pace for 26.2 miles. The thought of holding that consistent pace scared me enough into pulling the trigger and, totally out of character, I signed up for Indy that very night. I I looked up at my dad, and said, “I just did something that scares the crap outta me…”
Looking ahead, I only had about five full weeks of training until the race on November 3rd. Somehow, I roped Hannah into signing up for the Half-Marathon. I created a training plan for her and myself, and boom, I was back to the Grind! First thing was first, I needed to adapt to the rigors of pavement running. I transitioned my Long Runs to flattish roads and included a weekly tempo run. Being sort of naive to true marathon training, I still believed in what I was doing and thought it would be sufficient to reach my goal of 2:32:59.
A few weeks went by and training was going well. I developed a road rhythm with solid cadence and was enjoying the challenge of the specific pace work. The week before the marathon, however, I decided to ditch the specificity of the Indiana roads for the wild trails of Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. My heart yearned to make one last trip up there before my move to the Adirondacks. This was the only time I could make it work.
That week, I threw caution to the wind and ran 114 miles on root-infested, rocky, muddy trails with lots of elevation change. It filled a void in my soul.