More summer training adventures

Training lately has been going well. I’ve had some quality training sessions on the track and off the track, in multiple states even. And, best of all, I’ve been feeling great.

I think that it’s all in the small details; I drink more water during the day (since moving desks to the office instead of being in the lab), I eat incredibly well thanks to my fantastic spouse, I run consistently 6 days a week, and I feel rested. I even took a nap three days in a row last week. Who does that? Well, professional runners, of course. I am by no means a pro, but I do feel exceptional when I am getting the right balance of intensity and recovery. Did I mention I eat incredibly well?

Backing up a few weeks, Baberaham and I traveled up north over the 4th of July weekend to spend some quality time on trails in the Keweenaw. We hit up the Tech Trails right away, and I hammered out 8 fantastic, fast, and flow-y miles on some of the best single track in the Midwest.

Then it was off to the shores of Eagle River, where we enjoyed one of many perfect sunsets on the sandy beach. We camped, drank whiskey, and caught up with friends we haven’t seen in years. Literally. It was fantastic.

On the 4th, we headed all the way up north to the northernmost town of Michigan, Copper Harbor. The IMBA Epic certified, Silver level Ride center that absolutely does not disappoint. I don’t think I could ever get enough of these trails; well, minus the biting flies, of course. But the flow and the climbs and the descents are just so fantastic, and the views are breathtaking. Seriously:

Photo by Hansi Johnson

After a day full of running (me) and riding (B), we went back to Eagle River for some smoked meats and campfire, but made the better decision to head back to town and stay with our friend, Tim, in “town.” We enjoyed a comfortable pull out couch and slept, a lot. Well, I did. B got up and biked more, and I took a rest day. It did get pretty hot, so I was glad I made the decision.

B made a fun, Game-of-Thrones-ian dinner at our friends’ house, and we we slept like rocks again at Tim’s. On our last full day in the Keweenaw, I got a big breakfast in my belly and headed out to tackle my favorite of workouts: Ripleys.

Mont Ripley is the ski hill in Hancock owned by the University (Michigan Tech), and it makes for a great summer/fall training ground. In college, my teammates and I would tackle the “long” route (mostly under the tutelage of our first coach, Gary) and the guts (under the tutelage of our second coach, Joe). The good thing about the long route, you usually only had to do one. The good thing about the guts, they were over in 3 minutes. Either way, though, they were pain, suffering, and shear VO2-max-inducing awesomesauce. It was hot again, and humid, and I haven’t been doing much in the world of hill work in Saint Louis, so I started out by aiming for getting through three guts. After 2, I decided to take a “break” and hike the long route to the chair lift at the top, so I could take some photos and get oxygen to my brain.

Check out more of these on my Instagram

We spent our last night at The Fitz, which is quite possibly my favorite place on Earth, and had a delicious meal with fantastic whiskey and amazing friends. I am ever grateful for having Mike and Marc in my life. I worked at The Fitz as an undergrad, when Mike and Marc were just out of high school and Mike’s parents owned the place. Now, these guys run the show, and it just keeps getting better and better. We had our one-final-amazing sunset on Lake Superior as we sat at the bar, Marc pouring us the perfect pours of Stagg and Ardbeg and Pulteney…

And when we woke up in our comfortable queen size bed with the sound of waves crashing against the beach outside, we packed up our things and rolled out of town. We were just as sad as the weather to be leaving, but it was time to head back to the real world. Fortunately, the Keweenaw will be there when we are ready to escape next time.

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Winter Adventures – Lookout Mountain

I leave on Tuesday. I know, it has been approaching. This date has been set for several weeks now, but of course, I’ve been putting off packing and I haven’t submitted my dissertation yet. I’m still doing stuff in the lab. I’m not ready, even though I technically am ready.  Everything that’s supposed to say “I’m ready” actually says that I’m ready. But I’m just not.

One reason? I am not ready to leave this beautiful place. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. And I’ve been to a lot of different places, like Montana and New Zealand. And the UP is just different. It’s like a hidden secret, really. To be fair, I really shouldn’t be sharing its awesomeness with you for fear that I might get hunted down by the locals for letting the cat out of the bag.

But I just can’t help it. Last night, I went hiking at my favorite place, Lookout Mountain in Eagle Harbor. It was daylight when we started, and pitch black when we got to the top. I might be the only one that likes the shorter days; I like running in the dark, hiking under the full moon, but there’s something so awesome about the transition of between day and night. There’s also something so surreal about a walk in the woods, when you look away from the path and can’t see through the thick trees. There’s something so awesome (and I mean that in the way that inspires awe) about seeing the world from the top, the world that’s alive in the sense that’s not what we generally think of as being alive; the alive that is the trees, the cold, fresh air, the snow crunching under your feet. Not seeing more than a few houselights across the entire horizon.

And although I don’t really need to tell you why this is my favorite place, since I think it’s pretty obvious, I can show you.

On the way up Lookout Mountain

Descending from the top, with the town of Eagle Harbor in the distance

Stream crossing

 

Who’s idea was this?

I am having a hard time dealing with the idea that students are back in town. Orientation starts this week. Freshmen are moving into the dorms. Undergrads are partying outside their houses with their music blaring and their drunk friends are squealing until the wee hours of the night, waking up their neighbors (…that would be me). Yeaaah, college!!!

I guess I’ve been there, done that. I think my time in grad school has made me even less tolerant of such behavior, and now I just want people to leave my Keweenaw in peace. Alas, I cannot be granted such wishes, so instead I resort to working so hard that regardless of how loud they party, I’m gonna sleep through it.

Last season, I learned how to train for an Ironman. I knew I could survive it, but my training pushed me to race smart and methodical. This season, I have learned how to train independently. Or I guess, am still learning. I’ve done my first solo century, I’ve traveled to every tri I’ve raced this season alone, and I’m becoming pretty good friends with myself. Maybe this has something to do with my anti-social behavior in regards to the kiddies returning to Tech? I’ll drag out a training partner every once in a while (ok, maybe more often than that), but I think my Long-Course Psyche is building up strong. If nothing else, I’m learning to be more prepared (eg. no one is out there at mile 50 when I bonk, so I better have enough food to keep me going).

I’m making choices now that I never thought I’d make before. And I’m not talking about what kind of chamois cream to smear or what flavor EFS to put in my bottle. I am talking about my lifestyle choices, where I would rather go to bed early to get up and ride my bike than stay up late and drink beer. Not that I don’t do that from time to time, either. I guess another thing I’ve learned in the whole process of becoming an endurance athlete is balance. Recovery. Recovering my body, as well as my mind. And I know one great way of recovering my mind: spending time outdoors in the Keweenaw.

. Wash, rinse, and repeat.”]Luckily, I’m learning that diligence pays off too, at least I hope it will. I’ve been working on my swim with a friend who rocks, and she pushes me to get the workout in instead of sandbagging it because I’m bored. Turns out, having someone else there in the pool makes the swim less boring (dare I say, even fun?!).

And I’m having less of a difficult time getting on the trainer now that I’ve found the show Dexter. Whoever said television rots your brain never experienced an easy recovery ride on the Mag.

And last but not least, I’m starting to enjoy the weekend work days all by my lonesome. Who’s idea was this?

I asked myself that question when I turned right in Lake Linden and headed up the Florida Hill at mile 103 on my long ride yesterday. Four miles to Laurium, four miles of hill. But in all honesty, that hill was easier than the previous twenty miles I spent battling the cross winds off Lake Superior from Gay to Trap Rock Valley. And it was calming, having the entire five foot shoulder to myself, hopping onto M203 and just cruising home. Sure, I had a headwind on the downhill where I should have been hitting 45mph. Sure, I wanted to call Babebraham when I got to McLain. But not because I wanted to get a ride 9 miles from home, but because I’d been out for 8hours and I thought he might be worried.

So who’s idea was this? I know I can’t take credit for the scenery, but I can take responsibility for my choices. And I am really grateful I’ve made this choice.

Lake Superior looks like a cloud from the top of a hill on 5 Mile Point Road

The Big Lake

Perfect roads + little traffic = awesome

Eagle Harbor from my room with a view

Life lessons I’ve learned as a Race Director

I have been racing for years, but I’ve never put too much thought in the process behind the race. At least, not until I got the idea of having a long course triathlon in the UP. Since there isn’t one up here in my neck of the woods, I wanted to bring one. But I didn’t know, really, how much work it would really be.

While its fairly straight forward to put on a high school cross-country meet (have clipboard, will travel), its a tad more complicated to put together a half-iron distance triathlon. Obviously. With the Koop just passing, I have had my share of panic attacks and nightmares that woke me up at 2am double-checking that the swim caps are already in. While I didn’t direct the Koop all by myself, I did feel an overwhelming sense of overwhelmingness (?) when I thought about all the things that could go wrong on race day.

Along with all the stress of trying to execute an awesome race, Ive learned (and am still learning) a lot about what goes into these things. Before, I had an idea, but I never really knew the depth and length of the lists involved in putting on a successful and huge event. It really is putting a lot of it all into perspective. And not to mention, worrying about appeasing triathletes (uhm, hello?! We are a finicky, demanding, and needy bunch) didn’t make it any easier.

It’s interesting, really- the things that we take for granted as athletes.  I can’t help but grin ear to ear when I think about all the cool things involved in this long course tri. So without further adieu, here’s my translation of life lessons that were reiterated to me while directing my first ever triathlon, the Kuparisaari Tri, this past Sunday.

Communication is key. No one (in real life) can read minds. So if you need something done, you need to ask for it. Not only that, but other people don’t take kindly to being surprised. Communication started with local officials and businesses back in October when we decided to put on this race. Where could we have the swim? What would make a good bike loop? Can we even use the roads we want to? The Coast Guard was there, as was an ambulance, and this required planning and communication from both ends to know who needed to be where and at what time.

The most important means of communication, our live race updates, could not have been so painless without the help of KD8FPN and friends, and the Keweenaw County Repeater Association. The Ham Radio folks were stationed at nearly a dozen locations to relay information about the live race back to race headquarters, which was a huge deal since cell phone coverage is nil across most of the race course. The radio folks seriously saved our race from being a flop, in so many ways. Without them, I am not sure how painful race day would have been.

Perseverance pays off. Between you and me, there were a lot of behind-the-scenes situations that may have exploded in our faces. For example, we ran dangerously low on water at one of the bike aid stations, we nearly ran out of cups on the run course. The buoys didn’t get out for the swim course until the morning of the race. But the athletes weren’t aware, and/or didn’t care, and we at least made it appear that everything went off without a hitch. In reality, it really did; no one was injured, no one got into any serious accidents. There were no broken bones Smith Fisheries Road descent and no one needed an IV after the race. The race crew did a great job of defining a problem and immediately establishing a way to remedy it, so the athletes were none the wiser.

Money doesn’t grow on trees. There are a bajillion costs tied into making a successful race. Seriously. Aside from all the things that the athletes get to take with them (in the Koop, we gave out medallions: $5, shirts: $15, swim caps: $3, age group awards: $5-10 depending on the placing), there’s also things that the athlete might not realize. Timing costs about $8 per athlete. The swim buoys are around $100 each (for the cheapest ones!), water jugs are about $20 each (and there’s usually two at every aid station) and water/food for around the course really adds up. Plus, there’s the PortaJohn or two (or five)? That’s $100 a pooper. Renting tables (and chairs too) for aid stations and the finish area cost about ten bucks a piece, which isn’t a lot, but that adds up, too. For sanctioning, we had to pay for registration to USAT ($150), plus pay for permits for land use around the race area. There’s always something good that comes out of offering the volunteers a (tangible) gift to take with them, too, so for the Koop, I wanted to treat our volunteers well. I offered a race shirt or visor and pasties and coffee for them. A hungry volunteer is an unhappy volunteer. I’m not sure who told me that, maybe it was my mother? Anyway, turns out that the coffee and pasties (and shirts!) were a huge hit! The biggest point of the matter is, things don’t just come together, there is a lot of penny-pinching and renting and borrowing involved, especially with a first-year, small scale event.

There are some really incredible people in this world. Dare I say that the Keweenaw is home to many of them? There were plenty of people that let us borrow their services for free (whether it be their time, their loot, their sleep, or their energy, or all of the above). Luckily, we had some awesome sponsors (The Bike Shop, Downwind Sports, and Cross Country Sports) that donated swag for us to give away to athletes as prizes, and Churning Rapids Trails, Portage Health and The Keweenaw Co-Op donated food and gear for us to use for free, too. We didn’t have to pay for photography, because some awesome friends (Juskuz and xmatic) volunteered their services for free. We had two extraordinary bike aid stations, sponsored by Team UP and Northwoods Endurance, and the groups didn’t need any guidance, they just stepped up to the task and held down the fort.

Hands-down, we could not have had this race without the volunteers and local businesses. For the Koop, our volunteers and sponsors were AMAZING! Some of our biggest support came from The Bear Belly Bar and Grill, who made nearly 200 pasties for the athletes and workers, and scavenged for cups for the finish area when we were bombed out and depleted.  Without Cathy and Troy and family, the volunteers would be eating coffee beans off the table instead of drinking fresh brewed coffee from cups. The family and staff at The Lac La Belle Lodge worked their buns off helping out all day on Sunday, and I am forever indebted to them. And they did it, all day, with a smile on their face. They even said (dare I repeat?) that they had FUN!

Without our volunteers, spread out across the course, the world would be cold and empty and our race courses would be barren and dry. People showed up, offering their awesome services for nothing (aside from the best spectator spots ever), and just did what needed to be done. People were shifted from one job to another, some stood out at the aid stations for hours just waiting for the last of the athletes to come by.

Grin and bear it. Most of our athletes were really happy, excited that such a big race could be found in the quiet Keweenaw Peninsula. But there were some that just did not seem to enjoy their time up here. They didn’t get enough swag in their race packet, they didn’t like the awards, they didn’t understand why the race was so expensive (in my defense, early registration was $95 online, which is the cheapest half iron distance tri I have ever seen). What could I say? Could I do anything to defend myself from their insults? We put a lot of hard work into the race, the weekend, the event; was I just going to sit back and take it? You bet. It’s not my place to cry about it, nor is it my place to tell an athlete that they are wrong. In their opinion, they didn’t get enough. So whenever the race would get criticized, I was getting criticized, but I would just bite my tongue, nod my head, and grin and bear it.

There is a lot of power in the words “Thank You”. The behind-the-scenes-craziness of race directing is overwhelming, to say the least. but there always seems to be someone there that comes to the rescue. Every time I turned around, someone was there to help me complete a task that I didn’t think know I wouldn’t be able to do by myself, like put up the 20×30 foot tent, or help get the buoys in the water. It blows my mind how helpful and selfless people can be; athletes were helping set up the finish area the day before their big race, community members were spending their Sunday of leisure running errands and carrying gear from point A to point B.

The other side of this: When athletes came up to me post-race and said thank you, for putting on the race, inviting them up, showing them my favorite part of the UP. That was it. That was all I could ever have asked for. People were happy (generally speaking) with the race. Sure, there are tweaks and things we can improve, but our athletes enjoyed themselves. Practically everyone crossed the line with a smile on their face. When I look through the race photos, I see happy faces, smiling faces, joy, excitement (and yes, a little bit of pain, but hey, it was a long course tri! What do you expect). In the end, it was a very rewarding day.

Note: The kind of pasties I’m taking about are a Yooper thing. It’s a food, a Cornish meal-in-a-pastry-shell that is best eaten with ketchup. Meat, potatoes/rutabaga, and onions. mmm… if only they were gluten free.

The blueberry queen

Yesterday afternoon, I went blueberry picking at the Gierke Blueberry Farm in Chassell. I was on a mission to pick a shitton of blueberries, enough blueberries to (dare I say it) last me through the year. This is a big feat, because I 1) LOVE blueberries and 2) have a problem with stopping when I eat them.

I picked and picked, and picked some more. I found a few jackpot bushes, and felt gluttonous about halfway through but could.not.stop.picking. By the time my friends dragged me away, I was 17.5lbs of blueberries richer.

What will I do with all these blueberries, you ask? What won’t I do. Muffins. Cobbler. Ice cream. Oatmeal. A bloggy-friend sent me a recipe for Zippy-Fast Blueberry Crisp (via microwave) and I am psyched to try it. But my favorite thing to do with blueberries is just eat them raw and plain.

Today, they’ll be fueling me right on a long ride through the Keweenaw (I had creamy grits with 1/2c blueberries for brekky). Chances are good that I will stop along the road somewhere and find another blueberry (or raspberry. or thimbleberry) bush to steal from.

Fresh tastes of summer

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love the UP.

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t think I could ever live for an extended period of time in a place that doesn’t have four seasons. I also really love the fruit and wildlife of the temperate areas, where several weeks out of the year include foraging for fresh berries and eating more than you throw in your bucket for later.

I am blessed to have a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) from a local farmer. He has somehow acquired the green thumbs that I obviously do not have. Along with his CSA partners (like me!), he sells his pickins’ to local markets. Marg even had some of his spinach and mixed greens for her wedding dinner. Every week, I get a bag or three of vegetables in my cooler, ready to eat (after I rinse them off in my greens spinner, of course). Last year, the weather was poor for growing and I ate my lifetime supply of spinach (or so I thought at the time). This year, the sun and rain ratio must be superb, because I’ve been eating beans and peas and courgettes to my big heart’s content.

The best thing about eating fresh in a UP fashion is the availability of these great foods. Sure, they are seasonal. Don’t expect to find good quality strawberries at the market in March (because they have to travel how far?!). But during the summer months, you can either pay $5 for a pint of fresh raspberries (handpicked, of course, at the roadside stand), or you can go exploring in the woods and find your own. The blueberry bushes are everywhere, and the thimbleberries are beginning to turn as red as rubies. Buy a jar of thimbleberry jam from a jam pot up here, and you’d second guess their value as jewels themselves.

So when the growing season is here, I dive right in. Sure, I still spend head to the grocery store, but bypass the produce aisles and shoot straight for the frozen meats and gluten free grains. I even get  eggs from a local farm for a few bucks a dozen.

Here’s a little taste (from a visual perspective) of the scrumptious UP:

wild blueberries

fresh picked raspberries from my CSA

Here’s one of the easiests recipes that I used, inspired by Marg’s bridal gathering at The Tea Room in Houghton:

Veggie Salad

5 courgettes (small ones)
4 carrots
1 pickling cuke
2 roma tomatoes
1/2 cup Italian dressing (I use Kraft’s Tuscan Italian)

Chop/slice vegetables into 1/4in thick slices. Place into bowl. Toss with dressing. Add 1 can of garbonzo beans if you want! (I hate chick peas, but I strangely love them in this salad!)

veggie salad

Wisconsin-raised buffalo gluten free spaghetti (extra sauce!) with Reggiano

A Day in Da Harbor

This weekend is special. Not just because it’s Memorial Day weekend, but also because:

  1. a friend is in town
  2. it’s one-week-until Rev3 Quassy
  3. the weather is amazing

Baberaham has been geeked all week about our friend that is now in town, because for him, that means sharing funny stories, endless hours of mountain biking, and barbecue. Yesterday, we made breakfast the best way we know how- with local groceries (including nitrite free bacon and farm fresh eggs) and a boatload of coffee. We then threw the bikes in the back of the pickup (me with my roadie and B & friend with their mountain bikes) and made the trek to Copper Harbor for some glorious outdoor fun.

With just a week before my early season A race, I wanted to get some juice flowin’ and test my legs on some hills. What better way than to venture up Brockway Mountain?

Overlooking Eagle Harbor

Brockway has some of the best views in the whole Keweenaw of Lake Superior and the surrounding landscape. The roads aren’t in fabulous condition, but that’s part of the allure. And it’s definitely argued which side is more difficult to go up.

I rolled along M26 to the south entrance of Brockway, along the shoreline that provided a cool breeze. The Lake was calm and glassy, and the occasional car that passed me was driving slow and cautiously – another reason why I love riding in the UP. I rode up the south side, because I wanted a good warmup and wanted to transition into my mile repeats (running) quickly. I was shooting to get a few climbs in, but my legs were still feeling gassed and I decided to hold back a little.

On the up, I did a lot of standing, which is an amazing feeling. I feel fast and in control, and my road bike (Jamis Xenith Race) is easy to maneuver, light, twitchy, and aggressive. I had my gearing dialed in well, and I hit it perfectly when to up shift, down shift, stand up, sit down. My front wheel didn’t leave the ground once (which for me means I wasn’t pulling on my handlebars too hard). It was a perfect climb.

The disheartening part of Brockway, especially coming from the south side, is that the climb never seems to end. Turn a bend, still going. Turn another, keeps climbing. But I was ready, mentally, to handle that and I almost felt disappointed when I got to the top. Almost. My legs were not disappointed, and my quads and hips burned.

Once I got to the top, I lollygagged for a few minutes. My legs felt alright, and I debated doing another. I was thirsty and the temperature was higher on top of the hill than at the shoreline. It was time for the descent.

Copper Harbor

Copper Harbor was fairly quiet, considering it is a holiday weekend… but I am guessing it’s much busier today with the Bike the Keweenaw festivities taking place up there. It definitely wasn’t busy enough to scare this girl-

After my mile repeats, I basked (baked?) in the sun for a bit while waiting for the boys to get back to the truck. At that point, their legs were tiring but they wanted to keep riding, so I shuttled them up to the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge where many of the IMBA Epic mountain bike trails start. Gravity was a friend yesterday.