Saturday, August 21, 2021

Marquette Trail 50 DNF

Every ultra is a learning experience. Without a doubt. It is part of the allure of running ultras. You never really know what is going to happen. Every single run is a new adventure. Running 5K's can become predictable as a 20-30 minute run is just short enough it doesn't leave much time for the unexpected. When you're on trail for 6-12 or more hours there is plenty that can happen. Plenty that can go wrong. Plenty that might just go right.

In my racing and running experiences up to this point things have mostly gone well. I've had races that didn't quite go as well as expected but I still finished them and held things together. I hadn't experienced what some would consider the dreaded "DNF", did not finish. I hadn't really come up face to face with a full-on failure. Then again, there are many in the sport who would argue a DNF shouldn't even be considered a failure. For some the only real failure is to not try in the first place. So there is a good discussion to be had about what a DNF means and how one can react to it. At the end of my race report I attempt to dig into this further.

I'm going to break this report down into several sections. Some of you may wish to read just about the race itself and learn a little about the course without being bogged down in too much of my own personal story. If you're this person go to the "Race Notes". Those of you that know me may enjoy reading the personal story and thoughts in the other sections. It is my goal in this to recap my experience for my own recollections down the road. I also wish to share this experience with others who may be looking to either understand it or perhaps attempt something similar themselves someday.

Table of Contents

Travel + Pre-race
Race Gear + Fuel
Race Notes
Anatomy of a DNF
Track + Map

Background + Training

Running the Marquette Trail 50 was supposed to be the next progression step in my ultra journey. I had a pretty good run in the Run Rabbit Run 50 in 2019 as my first big ultra (bigger than 50K). I was happy with the effort despite walking a large portion of the final 13 miles. Marquette here in 2021 was supposed to be the "proof of concept" for my ultra journey, that I could repeat these big efforts and possibly lay the groundwork for something even bigger. I won't hide the fact that my big dream at this time is to shoot for the Leadville 100. With all my family history and time spent in Colorado, particularly in and around Leadville, that suits me as a dream race. I had built in my mind that a solid effort at Marquette could be continuing proof to myself that I might be ready for the next big step.

I had initially passed on Marquette as a first 50 and opted for Run Rabbit Run for reasons I stated in my RRR50 Race Report. Basically I was concerned about the idea a loop course and the possibility of Michigan humidity and warmth. Despite the high elevation of Steamboat Springs, that was a better fit for me. I think I was right. My fears of what could have happened at a race like Marquette ultimately came to fruition in some of the worst ways, but more on that later.

On the small loop by the Dead River

During the pandemic year of 2020 I ended up doing no racing at all. So I had the year to plan out my next big idea for 2021. As I think back on it Marquette was the clear and obvious choice. I couldn't pass up giving it a try after all the good words I'd heard about the course from the various Michigan trail runner groups I follow. Everyone seems to rave about it. I wanted to see for myself. With the 2020 race having been cancelled I was concerned about even getting in with the field mostly being rolled over. I was delighted when word came about they would have like 20 spots open for the 50-miler. I made ready on Black Friday morning to give it my go and I was successful. It was 9 months out from the race but I was ready to roll.

I started my training in March 2021 with a 24-week plan. I was using the 50-mile plan from Krissy Moehl's Running Your First Ultra book. In hindsight, I would have to say it was an excellent plan even though my race results didn't provide the cherry on top. She did an excellent job of explaining 3-week training blocks with rest weeks in between. Each week and even each day had interesting explanations of what you were trying to achieve. It was helpful for me to better understand that every run in training should serve a purpose. The plan also did a fine job of changing things up from week to week to keep training fresh. I was also comfortable with the progression and build-up of miles through the plan only struggling a little bit towards the peak weeks to keep up.

As I reflect on my training as a whole I'm led to target two areas that did not quite fully go as I would have liked. One is an area I struggle with constantly because quite frankly, I don't like it. Strength training. It just doesn't appeal to me in any way shape or form. When people say they can't motivate themselves to run I tell them I get it. While I personally love to run and rarely struggle to get out the door, I have that exact struggle with strength training. It is like it takes every fiber in my being to get motivated to go through some exercises or weights. I tend to develop a basic enough routine that might provide some help to my ultra training yet not be too complicated or burdensome that mentally I will just never do it. I had a number of weeks in this training cycle where the strength training was coming along okay. I was really targeting my quads, glutes, and calves. But in the last month or so pre-race, as often happens, it just completely fell by the wayside.

The other area of my training that concerned me was my taper weeks. My last big long runs came 5 weeks out from the race. They actually went quite well. I made two marathon-length and two 50K long runs in a five week span and I was pleased with all of it. At 4 weeks pre-race I took a rest week and then my plan called for one more 25 mile run 3 weeks out and a 20 mile run 2 weeks out. The 25-mile run turned into a 20 mile hike with lots of elevation. I spent the week hiking in Colorado and on the plus side got in 71 miles which I felt would be a great week for the training and even a start to tapering. My 20 mile run 2 weeks out turned into a mess where I only got in 15 miles. Then finally my last long run a week out was a 10-mile run and it went fairly well but I did notice some kind of a niggle in my quads. It seemed odd for a relatively short run that by mile 10 something felt slightly amiss.

My 2-week-out 20 mile run that turned into 15 was part of an ongoing off and on struggle I had throughout my training. Back in January 2021 my doc put me on a blood pressure medicine as my BP was starting to creep upwards and I had some family history of it. I noticed from the get go that when I would do long runs something felt off. My heart rate would go higher than it should, in winter my fingers would get colder quicker, and sometimes even my eyesight would glaze a bit on the cold days. I spent months of my training trying to understand it all. I would not take the BP med on days before long runs and that seemed to help. Near peak training I stopped taking the med altogether for a month or two as it seemed the training itself was keeping my BP readings in the good range.

In my taper weeks I was set to see my doc again and have a blood test. I decided I should start the BP med again before seeing him so the results would reflect what the med was doing with my body. I think that was a huge mistake. Being off the meds for a month plus put me back in that initial shock period of taking the med again. I had 6 mile runs where my legs would feel off 4 miles in. I finally learned this was because my blood pressure was going way too low due to the combination of the med and the running. After visiting my doc we agreed I would stop the med through race day and then reevaluate afterwards. I did. That seemed to help restore things in the week or so following that appointment. Except for that 20-mile run turned 15 miles. I think my body was still adjusting back to "normal" and things weren't quite there yet. Long story short, I will wonder going forward what affect all of this had ultimately on how the race day transpired.

Travel + Pre-race

My trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula for the Marquette Trail 50 turned into a slightly bigger trip than just the race. My brother and I were looking for another big trail adventure as we had done in previous years. In 2017 we did the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim as an ultralight backpacking adventure over two days. In 2020 we did a 64 mile loop around Teton Crest Trail. This year things came together that we would hike the Greenstone Ridge on Isle Royale going from end to end on the island. With me already heading to the U.P. we made the, possibly, crazy decision to tack this on to the trip. I would run the Marquette 50 on a Saturday and by Sunday afternoon we would be on Isle Royale beginning our hike. Kill two birds with one stone, right?

This would save on travel expenses, it would also provide me with a basic crew member in my brother, and I could show him what an ultra looks like and possibly temp him into this craziness someday. All of this got us up to the U.P. together the day before Marquette. We did packet pickup and setup at the Marquette Tourist Park Campground. It was nice and close to the Forestville Trailhead.

One of many climbs and flags on rock slabs

I talked about race day plans with my brother. With Marquette being a looped race it didn't appear as though I would necessarily need his help anywhere. I would keep a large dropbag at the race start (Forestville) and see it at mile 11 and mile 31. It would allow my brother freedom to enjoy the day and get in some hiking of his own. I told him a few places he could meet me along the way and we settled on him seeing me atop Sugarloaf and offering some encouragement there. Using his hiking prowess he also found the trails to the top of Hogsback and ended up catching me over there as well. He had a good time along the way talking to runners, talking to an assistant race director at Hogsback, and he even bumped into the race leader Michelle Magagna on the way down Sugarloaf. She was flying and had an amazing day! It was a couple weeks after the race that I realized she had placed 11th at Western States this year! Now it makes sense why she blew the Marquette field away. Impressive!

The morning of the race my brother dropped me off just down the hill from the trailhead parking lots. They had traffic attendants there guiding folks where to go and only allowing 50-milers with vehicles to actually go up the hill to the parking lots. I walked up to the start area, found the dropbag area and then got into my normal pre-race routine. The start area was easy to navigate and it was abundantly clear where dropbags could go. This was true for the ones staying at Foresthill and the ones being moved to other aid stations.

Race Gear + Fuel

For the Marquette Trail 50 I wore my Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 5.0. I'd been using it for a few months and enjoyed having the bottles up front and the very lightweight nature of the pack. I wore Salomon Speedcross 4 trail runner shoes. I decided to carry just a light amount of my own food, keep more food in my dropbag, and then as appropriate rely on the aid station food along the way. The only food I carried on person was Gu gels, Honey Stinger Chews, and a bag of goldfish crackers for salt and a different texture. I also carried Hammer Endurolytes for salt and electrolyte replacement. At the aid stations I mostly went for the fresh fruit (i.e. watermelon, bananas) and salty foods like chips. The Harlow Lake aid station had fresh bacon which I absolutely indulged upon because, well, bacon. For the most part I felt like the fueling strategy worked and I tried to impress upon myself the need to keep eating. I thought the first 20 miles went well in this regard. When I started to fall apart after that and when the race turned into more of a hike my fueling sorta went out the window.

Race Notes

A new strategy I was hoping to put into play for the Marquette Trail 50 was to completely ignore the watch and my pace. I wanted to play the mental game a bit differently today by not worrying about what the watch said and whether my pace was where I wanted it. I wanted to go completely by feel and just listen to the body. Its hard to say if this strategy worked. I can say that as a whole the first part of the race went slower than expected and I'm not sure yet what that ultimately means or what caused it. I was running pretty conservative by feel wanting to save for later in the race. Yet my body still deteriorated faster than expected. I feel pretty confident that this method of avoiding watching the watch has merit and am likely to try it again on a better day. I hadn't done it much in training and that is probably the better place to give it another go.

The race began with a brief meeting and instructions from the race director and then the national anthem. We were starting at 5:30am so everyone was still with headlamps and would be for the first hour or so of the race. I absolutely love this initial atmosphere waiting for it all to start and watching the little beams of light shining around in the dark. Its even more amazing to see once out on the trails.

One thing that worried me as I awaited the race to start was the already warm temperature. My thermometer said 68 degrees at start and a bit of mugginess was in the air. The forecast was saying upper 70s, possibly 80, for the day which was far warmer than I would have liked. I had hoped at least the overnight would be closer to 60 or even upper 50s. That wasn't in the cards. This would make for an ominous start to a day that would indeed become an issues with the temps.

The race began with a couple of waves asking elites and those competing for top spots to be in the first wave. Every two or so minutes after the first wave was released the next would be sent off. I decided to go in the third wave to try and avoid any hurries and give me the chance to have plenty of people in front to possibly pass. The course begins with a climb on a very wide cross-country ski trail which was basically a double track road. It gains just over 100 feet in 0.6 miles and this is a very-well designed beginning by the race directors. It gave some time to help spread people out on a path that had plenty of space. Once topping out then the course followed another part of the XC ski loop to come back down to Forestville. None of it was too steep so it was all very runnable. I picked up the pace alongside others on the way down. We didn't go through the race start on the return to Forestville but ran through the tree section on the north side of the parking lot to head out to the small loop. This is where the single track began.

The Small Loop - Miles 1-11

We hit the small loop taking it counterclockwise. I can remember really enjoying the trail of headlamps in here. There was a reasonable pace with everyone but it was crowded. The first 1+ mile on the ski trail spread things about some but not enough to avoid eventual crowding. Though crowded, the pace was close enough to my liking that I didn't do much passing in the first couple miles. Things were working fairly well til just before mile 3 as we began to near the Three Lakes Overlook. The trail became increasing technical in here with some rocky ups and downs and the crowd in front of me really slowed up. For the better part of a half mile I was bottle-necked and struggling to find an opportunity to move on by. I felt very comfortable on the rocky terrain from my Colorado background and was really ready to tackle it with some speed. It wasn't until close to a mile past the Three Lakes that I was able to open things up again. From this point on I don't think I struggled with any sort of crowding again. I had reached a point where things thinned and I would only encounter a runner at a time the rest of the way. That helps a ton. I was feeling pretty good nearing mile 5 and the dam area and was impressed with some of the beautiful sights in here including a waterfall. I wish I had pulled the phone out for a picture.

The first aid station came around mile 6 at the wooden covered bridge. It was a basic station and I grabbed some Gu and refilled my water bottles. I was carrying two 500 mL bottles and made it a point to be drinking enough to empty them before each station and then refill. After the aid station the trail continued to wind along the course of the Dead River which looked more like a small lake here. With some abrupt left turns the course started its winding path back to Forestville on a double track forest road which lasted a bit. I can remember in here a guy passing me up and moving well on the road. When we regained the forest trail I passed him back. It was interesting to see how we moved at different speeds depending on the terrain. I did well with the technical but came up a bit slower on the open paths. As a whole I was probably targeting 11-12 minute miles on the easier terrain hoping to average under 14 minute miles for the whole.

From mile 7 and the next four miles back to Forestville the course was slowly gaining. It was somewhere around mile 9 or 10 that I was really starting to notice something off with my quads. A bit of tightness had creeped in similar to the odd tightness I had felt on my 10-miler a week prior. It was not a normal feeling for all of the previous longer runs I had done up through training. I couldn't explain it.

Typical U.P. beauty in the forests

I made it back to the Forestville Aid/Start at 2:26 in. Not great, but not horribly bad. It was conservative to be sure. It was at a 13:37 pace overall which meant I surely wasn't over doing it but I also was certainly not banking time for a bonk later. I was doing the math in my head and figure if I can keep close to that reasonable pace and do each of the 20 mile loops in 4.5 hours I would be pretty happy with the finish. Even if they were 5 hour laps that would be a 12:26 total and still beat my previous 50 mile time. This math was all encouraging.

I spent just 2.5 minutes at Forestville grabbing aid station food and also a few items from my dropbag. I planned to carry a small battery pack with a cable to charge my watch in this section. While I was already pretty sweaty I decided a change of shirt wasn't worth it as the sweat would overcome it pretty fast. Thankfully there was no chafing happening so far with the sweat. I had put on squirrel's nut butter in the key areas and that would prove to work well for the day. I followed the course out the north side of the Forestville trailhead area to start into the big 20 mile loop.

The Big Loop (Counterclockwise) - Miles 11-31

The big loop wrapped around the small Forestville campground and then shoots north towards a trail junction. This initial out-and-back section is about 1.7 miles long and by the end of a full race you would get to do it four times, twice in each direction. The race put tons of clear signage at the junction letting runners know to turn right the first time around to do the big loop counterclockwise.

One of the big hill views

There were a number of ups and downs in this beautiful forest terrain early in the big loop. The legs were still holding together for me pretty well and I kept moving. It was in here I could really begin to notice the temps starting to climb. For the small loop the temp hovered right around 70 degrees. But now as the morning progressed I could see things moving to the mid-70s.

Around mile 14 the course begins to climb a hill I didn't quite know about. Ahead of time I had studied the maps and even seen the names of the four big hills which you get to do each twice. There was Sugarloaf, Bareback, Top of the World, and Hogback. But right at the moment where I figured the course would be heading downhill to the road crossing to hit Sugarloaf we went up. It was perhaps a 150 foot climb so not big but it got us into the rocks and the trees went away. On the plus side every time the trees cleared out with the rocky tops of these hills you could get some great windy breezes. This felt excellent. The course was well marked with cairns and markers otherwise it would have been surprisingly easy to lose. Even with the marker flags you still had to pay close attention at times.

Lake Superior shoreline was gorgeous

After a quick descent we made it to the highway crossing where the race did have a number of volunteers to assist runners in watching traffic and crossing. They did not shut the highway down so you had to wait for an opening. The Sugarloaf aid station was on the other side in the grass by the small paved parking lot. I did my usual fill-up and then was on my way on the wide tourist trail up Sugarloaf. My brother and I had hiked this the day prior so I knew what to expect. Its a tough climb and quite a number of stairs to hit. I power hiked it all to get to the top. Its about a 300 foot steep climb. At the top of Sugarloaf I ran into my brother who was there taking pictures and he snapped a video of me.

He ended up hiking along with me along the steep descent on the north side of Sugarloaf talking about the various hiking options he might get into for the afternoon. He was having a great time. I remember telling him when we finally parted that I was actually doing fairly well and pleased with how things were going. Other than the odd tightness in my calves my overall energy was going great.

After the descent from Sugarloaf the course hits the Lake Superior shore for over 3.5 miles. Its a really pretty section. Going through the Wetmore Landing beach area I was still moving fairly well. As the course rounded out near Little Presque Isle Point I was starting to notice my quads acting up more. I was mixing more little walk breaks in than I would like and I could tell my overall pace was starting to suffer a bit. As I looked in hindsight I was already averaging slower than 14 minute miles overall which illustrates how the day as a whole was just not going right.

At the 18-mile mark I said to myself my legs felt like I'd gone 38 miles. I was beginning to worry about the overall picture for the day and wondering how it would go. Was it just an oddity in my quads to blame? Was it the increasing warmth of the day? I probably allowed a bit too much worry to creep in. I kept things well enough as the course left Lake Michigan and then the longer than expected stretch to get to the first Harlow Lake aid station. I ran out of water before hitting the aid station and noticed the temps had topped 80 degrees. It seems my decline was somewhat coinciding with the 80 degree temp but hard to say how much that was a direct correlation just yet.

Difficult terrain on Hogsback

It was Harlow Lake where they had some fresh bacon cooked up and I grabbed more and more of it. Mixed in with the sweetness of the watermelon made for an awesome combo. Not long after the Harlow Lake station was the climb up Bareback. I think I could definitely say in here was where I really lost it. I walked the whole climb and it was a tough one. Even on the downside I was beginning to lose my motivation to run. It wasn't a whole body fatigue but just that sensation in my legs where they didn't want to go anymore. I've had moments like this in training here and there where it just isn't fun anymore. I usually tell myself when that happens just walk. I was at mile 23 and still too early in the race for this all too happen. I was really bummed. I felt like my whole training cycle went great and I had wonderful, even justifiable, expectations for the day and it seemed like it was starting to unravel. I figured this moment might come at some point but I wanted to be well past mile 40, not mile 23. I was coming to grips with the fact that the heat of the day was going to be a factor. I was also having my eyes opened to the reality that this is a tough course. Silly me thinking a course in Michigan wouldn't match up to a mountain course like I did with Run Rabbit Run 50. The combo of the technical terrain and the four big hills is no joke on this course.

By the time I had wrapped around to the second Harlow Lake (Old Railroad Grade) aid station I knew I was in trouble. I have to mention, however, there were some absolutely amazing volunteers at this station. One came up to me and offered me a white rag-like towel that was damp with ice water to put around my neck in the station. I was so impressed that the race was thinking of this and doing it and it felt great. It was here I realized how hot I had become. The air temp was 83 degrees and I'm pretty sure despite my best efforts, I was in initial stage dehydration. I was too warm and having trouble cooling.

Flags leading up one of the 
hill climbs

As I began to get ready to leave the aid station the same woman offered to take my rag and would have it ready for when I returned for the second time around the big loop. This began what would be a moment of truth for me. I had been weighing the big picture and whether I would be finishing this race. As she asked about my cold rag I began to come to grips with the reality of the day. I told her I wouldn't be making it back around for the second lap. I had to vocalize to somebody else that I was pretty sure I wouldn't be finishing today. It wasn't an easy thing to do, and yet as she encouraged me I spoke with certainty about it.

From the Harlow Lake ORG station I was mostly walking. In a way it all became a blur as I mentally just set in motion the desire to get back to Forestville as quickly as I could in whatever way I could. I hardly remember the climb up and over Top of the World. I do remember in here some of the leaders coming through. In fact I was surprised when the first return runner I saw was actually the female lead who was winning the overall race. In here I tried to text my brother to let him know I would be stopping early at Forestville. I wasn't sure if the text went through. And it didn't matter.

A pleasant surprise came as the course began its turn south towards Hogback and it just so happened I saw my brother ahead on the trail. He had figured out the trails into Hogback and then decided to come off the north side to see if he could find me and he did. I was pretty much just power hiking when he found me so it worked out for us to keep moving together. He told me about his days adventures and the fun discussions he'd been having with other spectators on Sugarloaf and then Hogsback. The climb to Hogsback was lengthy and a solid 500 foot gain. Not sure where else in Michigan you can hit a hill like this. It gained in steepness as you continued onward. Despite my running struggles my climbing legs actually worked well. A number of people who had passed me in the flats before Hogsback I began to pass on the climb. The strength and energy were still tucked inside even though the legs just didn't want to run. The last 100 feet climb to the summit were in a mix of rocks with light scrambling and a need to follow the markers and flags carefully. We continued to pass people.

Coming off Hogsback summit

On Hogsback summit there were a number of people hanging out and a couple of guys playing music. It seemed a light party and unofficial aid station. We spent a moment grabbing a few pictures and catching our breath from the climb and then made our way down. A few more light scrambles marked the way down but the descent on the south side was shorter than the north side's climb. I've hardly seen scrambling like this outside of Colorado and certainly nowhere else in Michigan. Hogsback was awesome.

When we hit the two-way junction my brother and I parted ways. He had the car at Sugarloaf and so headed over there. I made my way on the final miles to Forestville. I pushed myself hard to run most of these last two miles. I wanted to save some dignity for the day and use up what was left. Out of a small bit of pride I also wanted to stay ahead of a number of the runners I had passed on the climb over Hogsback.

When I finally passed around the Forestville campground and near the start/finish they had a volunteer at the line recording bib numbers. I stopped by her and informed her I would not be continuing and she noted that for the race officials. And that was it. I did 50 today, just not the 50 miles I wanted. I could at least hang my hat on a difficult 50 kilometer effort. I could hear a couple other runners debating whether to go back out for the second 20-mile loop. There were also nice aid station volunteers beginning to inform runners of the approaching cut off times. I hadn't even realized I could be getting close to that. I was less than 10 minutes ahead. of the cut off.

One of the steep downclimbs off Hogsback
Anatomy of a DNF

A couple weeks before the race, I remember listening to an episode of the Trail Runner Nation podcast in which they were discussing Andy Jones-Wilkins first DNF. They called it "Anatomy of a DNF". AJW had finished dozens and dozens of ultras without ever having a DNF. Until he finally did. I didn't make it dozens before having my first slip up. It was more like 3 ultra races and a couple more ultra-length runs in training before finally cutting one short. In that podcast though they had a fascinating discussion picking apart what happened for AJW that led up to his first DNF and what takeaways would be helpful in learning from it.

As all runners do, when I finished the race up today I immediately began trying to understand what had happened. Even when races go well there is always an analysis and an autopsy seeking to understand how things went. The terms failure and success are very arbitrary in running as the ultimate goals are also very arbitrary and vary from runner to runner and race to race. It is all part of what makes runners who they are. We love the challenge, the thought, the analysis, the nerd-time and all.

I've heard debate amongst runners as to whether a DNF should be looked at as a failure. I've heard good arguments for both sides. For me, this day at Marquette, I see it as a failure. A failure because I did not set out to do what I did today. It doesn't make me a failure but that particular day's effort and race did not add up to what I wanted. The real question becomes, why.

Beautiful miles along Lake Superior

As I've weighed what happened that day I've boiled things down to three key factors that I've targeted to try and explain it. The first (1) element was the odd tightness in my quads. Something went wrong quicker than it should have and I wish I knew exactly why. Was it the oddities in the weeks of taper? Was it all the ups and downs I went through with BP meds and my legs being a little off? Was it some other unknown factor? All I know is during training I ran two different 50K's and whatever was beginning to happen in my legs at Marquette by mile 8, and then really bad by mile 18, didn't happen in those longer efforts. Even the power hiking over the last 10+ miles was uncomfortable in my quads. I'd never fully had that sensation before and I've done some very lengthy days hiking. I can usually hike forever but with the way my quads felt this day it was a different story. Even when I walked in most of the last 13 miles at RRR50 my legs didn't quite feel like this. Maybe this just wasn't my day.

The second (2) element was the heat. While this is just downright annoying to have a bad weather day it is also something you can't get too upset about as it is entirely out of your control. I had done a fair amount of running in warm temps in training and most of my running was in humidity but couple the warming heat with the difficulty of the course and my quads and it was a recipe for a bad day. During the race I heard runners talking about Marquette 50 two years ago and said it was raining and in the 50s. I'm pretty sure given my style, I would have chosen that over 83 and sunny.

The third (3) element was my plans to hike Isle Royale over the 2 1/2 days following the day. Here's the thing, I am not blaming my DNF on these plans. I had enough going wrong otherwise to cast any blame here. But it was a factor in my mind as I weighed whether I wanted to go out for the 2nd 20-mile lap. The thought process looked like this: I could have forced myself out for those last 20 miles. Its even possible I could have pushed myself and walked it in. But at what cost? If I could finish 5 minutes before the cutoff and get all 50 miles today would I or could I have? Perhaps. But I would have wrecked my legs and ultimately wrecked the fun I had planned on Isle Royale with my brother. What I was weighing in my mind is how much is a finish worth when you look at possibly walking in the last 30 miles of a 50-miler? On this particular day, it wasn't worth it for me. I wanted to save my legs. I believe this is why many runners say a DNF isn't always a failure. Some of the learning a runner makes in a career is knowing how to live and fight another day. I feel that was the right choice for me. And given that my legs came out feeling pretty good the following day putting up almost 14 miles of hiking on Isle Royale (and 44 miles over the next 43 hours) I think I made the right choice indeed. Today's effort was a failure in its own right, but I salvaged some sort of consolation victory by being able to enjoy great hiking in the days that followed.

So what's next? I don't have a race on the calendar yet and really don't know what my next step will be. My wife and I are expecting another baby in January (4 1/2 months from now) which means I might take 2022 as a light running year. What really challenges me is how I mentioned previously that Marquette Trail 50 was a litmus test of whether I could really handle 50 miles and possibly be ready to attempt 100 miles. It would seem this was a humbling life experience telling me to pump the brakes. So that's what I have to wrestle with as I look ahead to the next adventure. I guess the one clear answer I have is that I do want a next adventure. Whether its another 50-mile ultra or bigger. Or whether I push for more big hiking days in the mountains I'm definitely all in on finding big days with long miles on the trails. And I'm pretty sure, I will need to come back to Marquette for another go at this amazing race.


Total Miles: 31.42 (according to my Garmin)
Total Elevation Gain: 2,905 ft. (Garmin)
Total Calories Burned: 4,194
Total Time: 8:22:01
Low Elevation: 604 ft. (Lake Superior shore)
High Elevation: 1,171 ft. (Hogback summit)

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