Wednesday, February 20, 2013

One Year Review

Welcome to In Search of Badass, toddler style! It's hard to believe that one year has passed since I started this blog, and the last 12 months have been awesome, not without ups and downs, but nonetheless full of adventure, fun, and contemplation.

As January rolled in and the new year started, it was hard not to notice the myriad year-in-reviews and top (insert number here) lists scattering the interwebs. It's always fun to look back and sum up our time on this planet by highlighting the key events, and although it might be a cliché thing to do, I always enjoy it. My life is always so full that I tend to forget a lot, and being reminded of what happened in the previous year helps me gain a better perspective on time and how quickly or slowly it passes. As I mentioned in my last post, I'm also a list person, thus concise chronological lists fit my ordered, logical brain. In any case, I thought I'd take a moment to recap the last twelve months of my own life since I started this blog, and evaluate my progress toward the reason this blog exists in the first place - being awesome at life and a total badass. Should you need a refresher on the definition I'm using for said evaluation, check out one of my early posts here.

After my return to coaching Nordic skiing from a two-year break, I had the chance to up my volume of running, seeing as we had a freakishly warm winter, with not a single ski meet on real snow. It gave me the chance to run a ton, experimenting with my new Merrel Trail Gloves. I was already in race fever, having signed up for both the Earth Day Half Marathon in St. Cloud and the Superior Trail Races 25km in late May, and it was only February!

The running was shaping up nicely, and I was enjoying the long runs on the weekends. One of the small joys was discovering one of these on a Saturday long run adventure in new territory.

If I could choose just one word to represent this month, it would be motivation. I was blogging pretty much once a week, my brain was entertaining and analyzing a million ideas, and I was experimenting with my running a ton (hydration options, nutrition, form), not to metion getting psyched for the half marathon. I had my first ever truly barefoot run, and although it was short, it was thoroughly uplifting (but COLD!). This month also brought what will probably remain as one of my worst runs ever, followed by one of the best. I've actually been itching to do a repeat of that 12-miler to my parents' house sometime soon, but for now, I'll need to wait until the ice melts along the sidewalks.

April was a big month. Although my one-post-a-week goal for this blog fell completely off the wagon, it did so for a reason. I was just way too busy! Training took the front seat, along with a few other things.

The month started with my spring break, for which I headed up north to Ely where my wife was doing an externship rotation for vet school at the clinic there. I spent my days between writing curriculum at the quaint little coffee shop on Main St. and running the trails at the Ely Nordic Center, an awesome collection of wooded trails, complete with dilapidated ski jump. I had a monster hill workout up and down that one! We also acquired the newest member to our family, an Alaskan husky from bloodlines of two champion mushing kennels. Skijoring harness and harness for Dart were purchased the very next day.

Poison Dart Frog aka Dart
Earth Day Half Marathon, St. Cloud, MN. The time had finally arrived. Anna and I headed north to St. Cloud for the race, only to be greeted by 40 degrees and rain on race morning. Despite the apparent crappy weather, I had a blast, and was overjoyed that I was able to complete what was at that point the longest running race of my life, and more importantly that I was able to do it in my Five Fingers. Huge triumph! I also managed to surpass my goal of 8min/mi pace, coming in at 1:39:00, a 7:34 pace. Unfortunately, cramming my feet into my narrow tennis shoes afterward for the long drive home seriously exacerbated the stress on the feet, and I ended up with a nagging foot injury for the next several weeks.

To round out the month, the Monday after the race brought a visit from new friend Mountain and his girlfriend Cherry as they circumnavigated the US on an epic road trip. Mountain is the guy behind the Primal Professional barefoot dress shoe, and it was cool to finally meet him in person and talk shoes, training, Paleo living, and more. I also had the pleasure of showing them the wonders of the Midwest a little bit.

Monkeying around at Midwest Mountaineering's bouldering cave.
Off the beaten path at Minnehaha Falls.
Post-Earth Day Half, my foot was utterly messed up and I couldn't run. Diagnosis from the doc was inconclusive and the treatment was simply to avoid running for 4-6 weeks. With the Superior Trail Race 25km only three weeks away, I took two weeks off and started running again on the third. Thanks to advice from Dr. OOJ DPT, I decided to experiment with the notion that sometimes you NEED to run to work out the pain, and it worked beautifully.

Superior Trail Races 25km. I couldn't have asked for a more perfect trail race experience! Enjoying the company of my wife and fellow troublemaker Sam Jurek, we had a blast heading up to Caribou Highlands resort for the weekend, and the race itself was almost magical. I didn't quite reach my goal time for the race, but considering that it was my first trail race on truly rugged terrain, I'm happy with my performance and am even more stoked about the 50km this year!

Black Hills Climbing Trip. Back for the 13th annual climbing trip, the gang and I set out once again for a weekend of climbing, community, and camping in the Black Hills, a tradition that is near and dear to my heart, and one that I will not compromise on. It's the one time of year that I can count on seeing my best friend Rob and gather our little climbing community together for some quality time. The weather wasn't altogether agreeable, but we did get some sweet climbs in, including two on my bucket list: the Conn Route near Sylvan Lake, and Waves in the Rushmore area, the latter on which I led the second pitch with not enough quickdraws. Oops!

A helluva start to the weekend. Is there a lake near here?

The view from atop the Conn Route. Don't let the sunshine fool you, it was windy and COLD!

Repelling off of Waves.
Summer started off very well. Anna and I took her brother and his family, including their 5-year-old to Interstate State Park in WI for some climbing. It was a blast hooking the little guy up on the approach climb and letting him go. Hopefully he'll maintain the desire to climb!

In my mind, he needed some extra challenge, so I added it ex post facto.

I also did some solid running again, quite a bit of it totally barefoot, although the pavement was getting hotter by the day, and I did burn my feet a few times. I also made my own huarache sandals from shoe remnants I had lying around, which I meant to blog about, but never got to it. Perhaps in the future yet. Stay tuned.

Ze Vaterland. After school got out, I headed once again to Rottweil, Germany with my students on the exchange my colleague and I started in 2005. It was a total blast as always, mainly due to my awesome German counterpart who is constantly on the go and providing adventures for me. The adventure highlight was definitely climbing for the first time in Germany on real rock! A friend of my colleague and his son are avid climbers, so they took me up into the Schwabische Alb for an afternoon.
Max leading the first route.
The route I led - a slanty, slippery 5.9+ with few bolts.
The one big negative of the trip was due to a poor decision I made to play some pick-up soccer with my colleague and his friends. The game was fun, and I even scored two goals, but deciding to play in my Trail Gloves was a bad idea. They were too flimsy for all the sharp lateral movement changes, and one of the guys - a German-sized man - stepped right on my foot with his cleats, which put me out of running for the rest of the summer, and quashed my plans to run the Superior Trail Races Marathon in Sept. Lesson learned.

Wyoming Trip. Two days after arriving home from Germany, Anna and I left on a road trip out west for my dear friend Jen's wedding at an outdoor chapel in the mountains, which was altogether breathtaking and inspiring. On the way, we stopped in to Custer State Park in the Black Hills to camp and enjoy one of my favorite places on earth. We didn't get much time to climb, but we did manage to get on the spelunking tour at Jewel Cave National Monument, the second largest cave in the world. The tour is four hours long, 30 stories underground, and travels about 1/4 mile, starting in a room with a 50-foot ceiling and squeezing the cavers through its tightest spot - a mere 8" x 24". This was my fourth time on the tour, and it never gets dull.

The "brain drain" in all its chest-scraping glory.
The following two weeks was the largest single chunk of time that I was at home throughout the entire summer. I spent it trying to heal my foot while simultaneously training for a mountaineering trip to Colorado in August.

Colorado 14er Trip. After a long five years of not bagging any 14ers, my former college roommate Bret, his high school best friend Steve, and I took to the rock once again for my third go at summiting some of the 14,000ft peaks in Colorado. Bret and Steve are on the quest to do all 53 of them in their lifetime and have succeeded in almost as many as their current age (mid-thirties). I just like going with to enjoy the challenge and the amazing scenery. This particular iteration brought us to Long's Peak on the Front Range in Rocky Mountain National Park down to Mt. of the Holy Cross in the Sawatch Range and finally to Mt. Sherman in the Mosquito Range near Leadville. I'm not sure whose idea it was to start with Long's and its 14-mile round trip with 5,100ft of elevation gain, followed by 11.5 miles and 5,600ft of gain the next day on Holy Cross, but it was enough to kill our original plan of doing Tabaguache and Shavano the following day.

Long's was incredible. We stayed with my wife's aunt and uncle in Estes Park in their guest apartment high up on one of the mountains outside of town. It's truly an amazing place, and the perfect staging point before our long day ahead. After about 4 hours of sleep, we got up at 2am and headed to the trailhead.
The view from the deck, with Long's on the left.
On trail by around 3:30am, we started through the woods with headlamps, passing through the various ecological zones until we left the trees and vegetation behind for a kingdom of rock. I'll let the pictures do the talking from here.
Chasm Lake junction at 11,500 at dawn.
The long boulder field with a view of the infamous North Wall.
This mountain - and all 14ers - don't f' around.
Bret and Steve in front of the Keyhole, where things get interesting.

"The Narrows" linking the 600' vertical slog of "the trough" and the last pitch to the summit.
The final 300' of slick Class 3, known as "the Homestretch."
After bonking at the keyhole and barely making it to the summit, I learned my lesson; fuel early and fuel often. It was scary coming down the Homestretch with shaky legs, but altogether an awesome summit and the highlight of the trip.

Since this post is already beyond long, I'll share just a few shots of Holy Cross and Sherman, and will consider writing a separate post on this trip, even though it was half a year ago.

Mt. of the Holy Cross, before the weather got real sketchy.
Quick summit pick before hauling ass down in 20-30mph gusts!
After two long and exhausting days of climbing, sandwiching a terrible night of camping, we checked in to the Leadville Super 8 for the night, before our last - and easiest - climb. We happened to roll in the same weekend as the Leadville 100 bike race, which was super cool. The place was hopping, and it was cool to feel the energy. I in particular was imagining how it might feel the very next weekend when the ultra would be held. Good timing, indeed.
Most densely packed bag EVER, and what comes from shopping at lower altitude.
Almost at the summit of Sherman, climbing from below right.
The new summit pose. "If you crotch it, you OWN it!"
So long, Colorado, and thanks for all the mean fun.

Family Vacation, Lake Wisconsin. Four days after getting home from Colorado, Anna and I took off for Wisconsin to hang with her family for a week. Her parents rented a cabin on Lake Wisconsin, and it was a great way to spend some quality time with cool people, coupled with plenty of time outside in the sunshine. We brought our two kayaks and Anna's homemade canoe, and they got a ton of love. I did my first long solo paddle from the north arm of the lake down and around to the railroad bridge near the Merrimac ferry, totaling around 11 miles. It would have been a bit easier had I not been on a schedule to get back for dinner! Altogether a solid solo quest battling the wind in open water for the first half.

Labor Day in the BWCA. Before returning to work, Anna and I took a long weekend to the Boundary Waters for a canoe trip. Putting in at Baker Lake out of Tofte, we made a leisurely trip out of the five days, mainly because we put in on a very long, narrow chain of lakes without too many options, unless we wanted to suffer through a 300 rod portage in either of two possible directions to get to bigger waters, but with as many people as were out there, we didn't feel the need to chance portaging and paddling all day just to find no vacancy in any of the campsites. Being used to hauling ass on all my canoe and kayak trips, it was a little disconcerting at first to just stay put and take day trips, but it ended up being a blast. It was Dart's first canoe trip and she was a champ in the boat, and we did plenty of swimming. I also spotted my first wild otter!

Best idea ever! Brown ale in a Nalgene, available at Fitger's Brewhouse in Duluth. (Glass is prohibited in the BWCA)

In regard to adventure and general badassery, September was pretty quiet. One week after the BWCA, I headed right back to the same place as a volunteer for the Superior Trail Races fall series, which I had intended to run before I got injured in Germany. I worked at the Sawbill/Britton Peak AS with the Immerfall family, who have been volunteering at that aid station for as long as the race has been in existence. It was a very quick trip, but a fun and valuable experience watching the first 100-milers come through around 2am Saturday and then the 50-milers and marathoners later in the day. Altogether I spent about 17 hours there with a three-hour nap at around 4am. I had a blast, learned a ton, and if for some odd reason I'm not running it this fall, I'll be there again helping out.

September finally included a more normalized running regimen after recovering from the "Fußball incident" in Germany, which led to one of my top 3 runs ever while camping in WI over the first weekend of October with my college friends. The sun was out, the temps were cold, but this 10-miler was pristine, calming, and simultaneously invigorating as I cruised along the country roads through rolling valleys and stunning scenery, complete with quaint little farms, some gravel road to challenge the Five Fingers, and a ridiculously long climb at the end of the run. Paradise!

Monster Dash Half Marathon. Anna, her brother, her friend from vet school, and I rallied together to run the race that Anna and I have been meaning to do for at least two years. I hadn't had all that much time to train since recovering, but it was enough, and I was motivated, particularly because the route is gorgeous, familiar, and mostly downhill. The people (read: costume) watching was key, bringing everything from a full-on spartan complete with sword and shield to a guy carrying a shower ring with curtain over his head for the duration of the race. We kept it simple with a big letter P on our shirts and me with some black make-up on one eye; the girls were chick peas and I - you guessed it - was a black-eyed pea. The race went really well. It took my feet the first mile or two to regain feeling after going numb in the 30-degree morning before the start, but everything warmed up nicely, and I managed a PR at 1:37:18. Although it was a ton of fun, it solidified the fact that I have no more desire to race on roads anymore. Trails are where it's at! It was worth the sweet swag though.

No major events to speak of this month. I was running a ton and ski season started. I thoroughly enjoyed the dry-land training with the Apple Valley runner boys as we rolled through Lebanon Hills. I was feeling really fit and was almost reluctant to get on snow.

Spotty was the snow and skiing, but consistent enough so that we didn't need to travel to fake snow. Anna and I had our first chance to skijor as well, she taking Dart and I taking her brother's golden retriever. It was a blast, and soooo fast! I could get used to not doing all the work.

On the Friday before Christmas, I skipped out on practice to head to River Falls and join up with Joe and Sam for a mini-WS reunion. Starting with a headlamp trail run along the Kinnikinnick river in the snow, we covered all necessary topics, with the conversation flowing as swiftly as the running. Definitely one of the top runs for the books, and it was the perfect thing to induce proper hunger for the porketta that Joe's mom left for us. I swear I must have eaten at least 3 pounds of meat for dinner, washing it down with a fine selection of brews shared in tasting style. It was here when Joe enlightened me to the notion of "the meat sweats." The evening continued at Junior's bar with more beer and even deeper conversation, concluded with a late night pizza and viewing of Goonies. A stellar way to start the holiday break. There is an indescribable feeling of camaraderie with those two guys, and it's the type of relationship everyone should have in their life.

Post-Christmas brought me back up north for the annual winter ski trip with the team. We stayed at a camp near Grand Rapids, but ended up driving to Giant's Ridge each day due to a lack of snow. I can't remember a ski trip that I enjoyed more over all the years I've coached. It was more relaxed, the skiing was solid despite meager snow, and I was feeling strong. I put in a good 50-60km over the four sessions we had.

Skiing, skiing, and more skiing! Coaching dominates my life for three months every winter, and January is the heart of it. Unfortunately, as the race season heats up, the less skiing I get to do, but I managed my fair share. Perhaps it's because both months start with J, but I started planning for June and "the Big Juan" as Joe puts it. I'm already excited to head back to CA to see arguably the most storied ultra in the US, particularly with Joe starting as M9!


That brings us to the present. Ski season is done and I'm gearing up for both running and climbing again. I'm really gonna enjoy being part time and having my work day end at 1:35pm. In the meantime, I need to get over the cold I have at the moment, which hit me the day after the state Nordic ski meet last week. Perfect timing indeed, and perhaps a sign that I need a week off.

Now that I've detailed the year, let's take a look and evaluate, shall we?

In my third ever post, I listed off some of my goals. I'll relay them here once again:
  1. Be able to climb some 5.11's in the gym before the Black Hills trip Memorial Day weekend
  2. Run a steady 8min/mi pace at the half marathon (that may be adjusted later)
  3. Finish the trail race in 2:30 or under (average 10min/mi pace)
  4. Have fun! This includes my training.
  5. Use all of this as an excuse to eat lots of delicious food and drink more beer 
Check, check, nope, check, and (especially) check!  The only goal I didn't meet was my time for the 25km, but had I gone back to those goals before the race, I would have changed that, and probably would have thrown it out altogether, seeing as it was my first trail race and I truly had no idea what to expect. My time was, however, quite acceptable to me, and now I have an idea of what to expect from the course, which is a better trade, in my opinion.

So, have I become more badass? I've certainly had a much busier year than many in the past, and my motivation and action have increased dramatically. Whether it's discovering a new love of running or having this blog as a task master, I've done more, felt more successful, and had a ton of fun along the way. I'm also picking up steam, with the Superior Trail 50km on the docket this May - my farthest distance ever, along with the annual Black Hills climbing trip, a potential 25km in April, and the whole summer off to play! The wife will also be moving to Ely for a year-long position starting in April, meaning I'll be spending plenty of time up there in the woods and on the water. Just for funzies though, let's look at the qualities of badass as set forth in my early posts and evaluate accordingly:
  1. Intelligent - Well, I don't think intelligence changes, but I believe I've gained some wisdom and have engaged in more active contemplation, with this blog as proof of the latter.
  2. Technically proficient - My running form has improved dramatically since last year, and I've gotten faster to boot. My body is also adapting nicely.
  3. Driven by challenge - Having run only 5-milers at the farthest, I did two half marathons and a trail 25km, with a 50km set for spring. Does that count?
  4. Daring - Putting myself out there and signing up for races is an improvement, but I can definitely find room for improvement here, whether it be in athletic, social, or professional settings. I tend not to take risks unless they have a high chance for success. I need to fail more.
  5. Grit - I haven't reached my limits of pain and suffering yet, so I don't feel this can truly be evaluated except to say that I don't rate myself high on this one. Work for the future.
  6. Concern for others and world - See here and you be the judge. I must also express my utmost thanks to all of the amazing people in my life. They are the true motivation and inspiration for me, and I hope I serve them and the rest of humanity with honor and grace.
Whew! Does anyone else feel like they need a shower? If you've made it this far, thanks for reading, and I'll definitely give you points for number 3 above. Until next time, and feel free to leave a comment.

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