Running for the Boundary Waters - Phase 2 coming up!
Phase 2 of my Running for the Boundary Waters project is coming up this weekend. The summer and early fall here have been so busy I haven’t had time to really sit down and reflect on it. So forcing my self to do so here, I guess we’ll find out together what I’m thinking.
First thing is looking back on my year of trail running and what I’ve accomplished personally. The easiest being: just the miles logged. In addition to all the training runs, this year I ran both the Arches 50 in January and my first 100 miler, the Superior in September. Between those I ran the Superior Spring 50K and the first phase of the Running for the BW project – the Border Route Trail (BRT). And in September I squeezed in the Ely Marathon and some trails at Lake Tahoe.
Pics: top left: Superior 100; top right: Arches 50; middle left: Superior Spring; middle right: BRT - photo credit Brendan Davis; bottom left: Tahoe Rim Trail; bottom right: Erica and me at Mount Tallac Summit.
Lessons from the BRT: Even though I wasn’t able to complete the full BRT (due to a broken toe and heat exhaustion) I learned a lot about how to run way past comfort level and how to deal with uncertainty. It’s one thing to go into a 50 or 100 mile race knowing you’ll have dedicated support at aid stations every 7-10 miles - not to diminish those or anyone who participates, much less completes those journeys! It’s another thing entirely to be 30 miles into a run by yourself surrounded by Wilderness with only the food and gear you started out with and with literally no way out other than just keep going (with small comfort in knowing my GPS could call for emergency extraction). The BRT experience taught me a lot about nutrition – what my body could keep down after 40 miles and what it wouldn’t allow, how much water, type of hydration mixes, salt/electrolyte supplements, etc. It taught me a lot about exposure to the elements and how to cope and listen to my body. And it taught me how to push through the pain cave – if only just to get to the first road crossing in 43 miles so I could safely stop.
Initially I was sad, even a little ashamed I didn’t finish the BRT. I had hyped it up in my own mind and brought my run into the public view. I’m not doing these just out of a masochistic desire to punish myself on trails that were never actually intended to be run (they’re back country backpacking hiking trails most people take several days if not a week to explore) but to bring awareness of the potential destruction of the Boundary Waters to a new audience. I want trail runners, who more and more as a community are stepping up to protect imperiled landscapes put at risk to extraction and development industries, to learn about the Boundary Waters and the risk it currently faces. Selfishly, we trail runners need vast untrammeled places where we can run for 100 miles just to support our habit. However when a person travels that far by foot, we also gain an appreciation for the land and the surrounding environment and want places like these preserved for future generations. Humanity has done a bang up job leaving its mark almost everywhere we’ve been – it’s time to collectively decide some places should just be left as is.
Back to the BRT. Heat exhaustion (after all it was 91 degrees and 70% humidity that kept me from being able to keep any food down around mile 30) and a broken a toe around mile 17 that through as long as I could eventually cut me short. By the time I got to Loon Lake road on the other side of the Wilderness I was traveling at about a 30 minute mile pace and still had 9 miles to the trail head. It was close to midnight and I was in a state where it was just unsafe to keep moving. I can reflect back on that now, a little more than 3 months later, as a good choice - but it was disappointing in the moment to not finish.
The lessons coming out of that experience however made me stronger and a much better runner. I credit the BRT run with my first 100 mile finish at Superior! Not only did I finish but I beat my own expectations by roughly 3 hours and I didn’t have any GI stress or broken bones and was able to finish strong with a smile. I even recovered well and ran the Ely marathon 2 weeks later. The saying “if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger” very much applies here and what I take away most is how to take defeat and use it to make myself better next time.
All this to say – on Saturday I’m running the Kekekabic Trail (“the Kek”) and how am I feeling now?! Well, what is starting to establish itself as a pattern – the weather is gonna be iffy. Currently it’s looking like we’ll start out at 30 degrees, warming up to a balmy 38 with the potential for rain and snow. I’m not at all looking forward to wet, frozen feet for 40 or so miles and out of consideration for safety, might have to pull the plug based off just that. It’ll literally come down to a game day decision on what the weather is and if I set out or not. Right now I’m thinking – yes, I’m going to do it and am adjusting my gear selection accordingly. I can handle snow (Minnesota pride) and will be bringing toe warmers and extra socks and base layers. But if the rain is too bad, atthose temps we’re looking at potential hypothermia of which I am not a fan.
If it wasn’t for the freezing wet thing, I’m feeling like I’m at the peak of my running career and ready to take on the Kek. It’s another beast of a trail and also a little lesser known than the BRT. I can’t find a gpx file to load onto my Garmin for example. There’s also no entry on the FKT site. So, hey, at least assuming I finish I’ll establish a new record (quoting Homer Simpson: “Default, the two sweetest words in the English language!”)!
Finally, here at the end of this post - if you’ve read this long - I hope you’ll also take action to protect the Boundary Waters. The short and skinny of it is that a Chilean mining giant, Antofagasta – who has no vested interest in American public lands – wants to build a sulfide-ore copper mine at the headwaters of the Boundary Waters. It’ll pollute the Boundary Waters practically forever, destroy the local Wilderness edge economy, alter migration pathways and flyways, release 6 of the top 10 toxins to human health, and for a host of other reasons will be a very bad thing.
Please sign the petition on the “Take Action” page and go one step further – call your Senators and Representative and demand they do what they can to protect the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining. The Capitol switchboard is: (202) 224-3121. Follow the prompts and leave the simple message to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from sulfide-ore copper mining.
Thank you again for following along and joining the fight. A Chilean billionaire and corrupt administration should not have the final say in America’s public lands and in this case specifically the Boundary Waters. We do! Please speak loudly for this quiet place.