Monday, July 31, 2006

Running Food: Cinnamon-Raisin Swirl Bread

This turned out really nice, so it is worth sharing. The picture isn't very good, but trust me, the bread is!



A lot of the proportions are based on my Mom's whole-wheat bread recipe, and I just kind of improvised the rest, using elements from a couple other recipes as a guide. I did not use all of the sugar and cinnamon mixture that the recipe calls for. I just gave it a light dusting. Had I added a little more, I am sure it would have made for more distinctive swirls, so perhaps I will add more next time. But it was still very flavorful, not overly sweet, and just darn tasty. I will be having this for breakfast all week, and I can't wait to make it again.

Cinnamon-Raisin Swirl Bread
makes 1 loaf

-1/4 c. milk
-1/2 c. water
-3 T. honey
-2 T. molasses
-1 t. salt
-1 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
-3/4 c. whole-wheat flour
-1 1/2 t. instant yeast
-2 T. butter
-1/2 cup raisins
-1 egg, lightly beaten
-3 T. sugar
-2 t. cinnamon
-Extra butter for the loaf pan and for brushing on top

Mix the milk, water, honey, molasses, and salt together. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add both the flours, yeast, and butter. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients. With the dough hook attachment, knead for 10 minutes or until the dough comes together with a smooth surface. Add the raisins to the dough and knead for another 2 minutes. Allow to rise in a bowl, covered and in a warm place, for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. Prepare the egg wash. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together. Punch down the dough and place on a lightly floured board. Roll into a long rectangle shape about 1/2 inch thick, keeping it no more than 8 inches wide (so it will fit in the pan when you roll it up!).. Brush the top of the dough with egg wash and sprinkle with the sugar and cinnamon mixture (using as little or as much as you like). Roll the dough up like a jelly roll and tuck the ends under. Transfer to an 8 1/2 inch buttered loaf pan, placing the dough seam side down. Brush the top of the loaf with some melted butter. Cover and allow to rise again until doubled in size. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Remove from the loaf pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Slice and enjoy!

Onward to August

I am so sick of talking about the weather! All I know is this; Once again, I went running at 4 AM this morning. It was 85 degrees at that time. I saw a temperature of 102 on my drive home from work this afternoon. That's all I'm saying! Hopefully August will be mild? :)

Today wraps up the month of July, so let's recap: A couple of fun and challenging trail races, some good long runs; my summer is progressing nicely. Checking the odometer, I logged 110.3 miles in July, so I got in some very productive runs in what was a challenging month.

In local running news, this past weekend was the Voyageur Trail Ultra 50 Mile race in Carlton, MN. Here is a neat story from the Duluth News Tribune about the female winner, 44 year-old Rochelle Wirth of Duluth. A former smoker, she took up running 12 years ago and is now setting course records in ultramarathons. Sounds like it was a lot cooler up there than it was down here on Saturday! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Staying indoors and feasting on asphalt (and bread!)

Today is my day off, and the timing could not be better. We are facing record high temperatures nearing 103 today. Tomorrow could be even hotter. Good grief! I made one trip out at about 8 AM to run to the grocery store for a few things, but that was it. I am not venturing too far from the AC today.

Currently I am working on an experimental loaf of bread; a cinnamon-raisin swirl bread. I have never made one of these before, and I sort of combined elements from a couple of recipes, so who knows how this is going to go? It is currently in its second rise (hey, at least it is rising!). If it turns out, I will let you know.

Unrelated to anything, I need to tell you about a new show on The Food Network. Alton Brown of “Good Eats” fame has a new program called ”Feasting on Asphalt.” In a nutshell, Alton is doing a cross-country motorcycle trip from South Carolina to California, avoiding all Interstates, and avoiding all national chain restaurants in a quest to find real “road food,” as he calls it. The first episode was on last night, and it was fantastic. It combines the educational and historical elements of “Good Eats” with the adventure and excitement of Anthony Bourdain’s old show, “A Cook’s Tour.” Check it out if you get a chance.

Stay cool,

Jean

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Running Food - Shredded Pork Tacos

There is no exact recipe to share, once again. But I don’t think you would really need one. This turned out really darned good.



There was nothing hard about making this. Basically I took a 2 1/2 lb pork shoulder, coated it with a spice rub, seared it quickly in a hot skillet to give it a nice crust, and then placed it in a crock pot. I added one 12 oz. bottle of beer and a few crushed cloves of garlic. Nine hours on “low”, and it came out moist and fall-apart tender. Then all you have to do is shred it with a fork, and you are ready to make tacos.

The spice rub was improvised. As noted in my previous post, it contained chili powder, ground ancho chiles, cumin, coriander, cayenne, dried pepper flakes, onion powder, thyme, sage, salt and pepper. The chili powder and ground ancho was probably the biggest component, and the least used would be the sage and cayenne (just a pinch of each). The rest of the spices fell somewhere in the middle, but adding more or less of any one of them isn’t going to screw anything up.

As mentioned, the meat was really moist and tender. It was seasoned gently with all of the spices, and developed a delicious, slightly tangy flavor from being braised in the beer. I got myself some whole-wheat flour tortillas and all the fixings; refried beans, sharp cheddar cheese, salsa, guacamole, chopped tomatoes, red onions, and cilantro.

This really hit the spot!

Enjoy,

Jean

Running with the rabbits on a hot summer morning

I ran at 5:30 this morning, once again to avoid the heat of the day. The temperature was 78 degrees even at that time, and it was really humid and gross. However, the skies were overcast due to a weather system bringing showers to the north of the metro, so that was a blessing.

July must be “rabbit month” in Minnesota. I can’t tell you how many I saw today. There were at least a dozen in the first mile alone, and I completely lost count after that. I am telling you, they are taking over! :)

I ran 9 miles on the trail today and hardly saw a soul. It was relatively comfortable until the last 2 miles when the sun reared its ugly face from behind the clouds, heating things up in a hurry. I drained my 20 oz. water bottle, and by the time I got home, my microfiber running shirt and shorts (the kind that wick moisture away from you and supposedly dry quickly) were absolutely saturated to the point that it looked like I had fallen into a lake. It is going to be a miserable day outside today, so I am glad to be done with the run (and tomorrow is a day off!).

After my run, I showered up and visited the Hopkins Farmers’ Market for some corn and yellow wax beans. Then it was off to do a little grocery shopping.

As I was not really too excited about the prospect of standing in front of a hot stove today, I have thrown some pork shoulder into the crock pot so I can make shredded pork tacos later on. I haven't made any Tex-Mex style food in ages, and it just sounded good. I made a spice rub of chili powder, ground ancho chiles, cumin, coriander, cayenne, dried pepper flakes, onion powder, thyme, sage, salt and pepper, and the roast is now slow-cooking in beer and some smashed garlic cloves. It smells great in here! I will let you know how it turns out.

Stay cool!

Jean

Friday, July 28, 2006

Heat of the moment

I have been complaining about it for the last couple of days, but the heat is on! As the temperature was going to hit 100 today (which it certainly did in my town), I got up at 4 AM to do my run. It was still 75 and humid, even before the sun came up, so I am glad I went out when I did!

My run was a good one, and I felt pretty quick today. What a strange feeling to be the only person out and about in your neighborhood! It was a peaceful morning. Everything is so quiet at that time of day. The sky was clear, so the stars and the streetlights served as my guides. Tomorrow morning I will run early again (well, probably not that early...after all, it is Saturday!) because the weather will be more of the same.

Switching gears completely, I don't think I have ever talked about Scott Dunlap's trail running blog before, but it has become one of the internet's most comprehensive trail running resources. Dunlap is an accomplished trail runner and was the overall winner of the 2004 Trail Runner Trophy Series in the marathon and under division. His blog is filled with great information on trail running, race reports, and interviews with some of the truly interesting characters in the trail running world.

Dunlap recently posted his interview with Brian Morrison. You might recall Morrison was the disqualified winner of the Western States 100 because he received assistance from his crew (which possibly saved his life) near the finish line after he collapsed several times. While the disappointment has to be huge, it seems as if Morrison has a good head on his shoulders, is really taking this in stride, and is looking forward to next year's WS100!

Stay cool,

Jean

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Cheaters never win

How disappointing. Just a few days after I was touting the heroics of Floyd Landis in the Tour de France, it has now been reported that he failed a drug test after Stage 17, testing positive for high levels of testosterone. That sucks. Yet another black eye for the sport of cycling!

Thankfully, scandals like this don't seem very prevalent in road and trail running. Chances are the guys winning your local 10k races aren't taking steroids in quantities that could kill a small horse. And a lot of trail racing stars adhere to a very natural, organic lifestyle (Scott Jurek is actually a vegan, and Dean Karnazes is president of an organic food company) so there is no way they would even think of polluting their bodies with that crap.

Additionally, there is hardly anyone that can actually make a living by running in races. There is little money in it (I mean, the winner of the Western States 100 gets a belt buckle, for crying out loud!), and most most of these people have real jobs. Running is their passion, and they do it for love, not riches.

All right, I am stepping down from the soapbox! I'm not running today because it is my day off. It is positively blistering outside, so I am glad! There is the possibility that for the next four days we could hit 100 degrees. I've got some early morning runs planned for Friday and Saturday so I can avoid the heat as much as humanly possible.

Stay cool,

Jean

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Same old story

Another hot day out there today, but it was drier, so at least it was a little more tolerable. About 89 degrees, bright, and sunny. I ran the normal route, taking it pretty easy once again. Same story, different day!

It is pretty obvious that we are in the heart of summer right now. The weather forecast has us in the 90’s for the foreseeable future and approaching the 100’s by the weekend. Looks like I have some early morning running in store for me.

In a follow-up to yesterday's post, Scott Jurek was indeed the Badwater Ultramarathon winner. Sounds like the weather out there was no picnic with 120 degree heat, some rainstorms, and a little bit of flash flooding thrown in there for fun. Man, and I was complaining about 88 and humid yesterday! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Only 130.5 miles to go?!?

Early yesterday evening we just got hammered with rain. Not only was it raining cats and dogs, but I think there were a few other mammals thrown in there as well! :) It came down in sheets, and I could barely see the parking lot. from my window.

Below my deck is a small drainage ditch that collects water from the neighboring condo development, and I have never seen flood like it did yesterday. I took this picture to show how bad it got. The people living below me must have been a little nervous!

”The Lord said to Noah
you're gonna build an arky arky”



More rain was predicted tonight, but it has held off thus far, and I was able to get my run in. I ran the usual 4 1/2 miles today, and it was tough. The temperature was around 88, but the dewpoint was a tropical 71! Ugh! That is just awful stuff to run in, but I hung in there and put in my miles.

And today I only ran 130.5 miles less than Scott Jurek did today (and yesterday for that matter). Just a few short hours ago, he finished the Badwater Ultramarathon (you remember, the 135 mile jog across Death Valley?) in a time of 25 hours, 41 minutes, and 18 seconds. This currently puts the Proctor, MN, native in first place among the men. As there is a staggered start of the race, I think we will have to wait to see if he is declared the winner.

I thought about this on my run today; if I only run my 4 1/2 mile route another 29 times, I could match Jurek! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Monday, July 24, 2006

What did Tiger drink?

I feel really good after my long run yesterday. No stiffness at all. I think I am definitely on the right track with my training.

Today is a day off from running, so I am spending it pondering this; What did Tiger drink?

Admittedly, I have never been the biggest Tiger Woods fan, but I really enjoyed watching him this weekend. He schooled the rest of the field and took home the Claret Jug for the second year in a row at the British Open. Tiger was quite emotional afterwards given the recent loss of his father, and it was very touching to see him show his human side.

I turned to the Golf Channel and watched Tiger's press conference after the Open, and he had a humorous exchange with a reporter. It went as follows:

Q. In light of your emotions at the moment and what you've said regarding your late father, will your celebrations differ in any way or is there anything special you might do given the situation and the circumstances?

TIGER WOODS: This jug will be filled up, I'll tell you that (laughter).

Q. With what?

TIGER WOODS: Beverage of my choice (laughter), and not just once.

I would love to know what he was drinking, and Tiger refused to elaborate. But I am guessing the Claret Jug was not being topped off with Yellow Tail Shiraz, if you know what I am saying! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Running Food - Venison Ragu

Here is my venison ragu from yesterday. I was going to use rigatoni for the pasta, but I discovered I had three packages of whole-wheat spaghetti, so I opted for that instead!



I didn't follow a recipe, but if I had to guess:

-I had probably a pound of venison stew meat that I ran through the meat grinder with about 1/4 pound of pancetta. I browned that up, seasoned it with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning, drained it, and set it aside..

-Then I caramelized one yellow onion, cooking it until very, very brown. I added several cloves of garlic (minced), and a heaping spoonful of tomato paste, stirring for a couple minute. Then I deglazed it with about a cup of red wine.

-I returned the meat to pan and added 4 fresh tomatoes (chopped), 1 cup of beef stock, 1/4 cup of rehydrated porcini mushrooms, an 8 oz. package of crimini mushrooms (sliced), and a sprig of fresh rosemary. I let it simmer away for a few hours until I had a thick, rich meat sauce.

You end up with something similar to a Bolognese-style ragu (minus the carrots, celery, and cream). It was great! The leftovers were even better today, and the stuff freezes very wel also.

The sweet pickles are awesome, too... :)



Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A long run, and a cool hawk

What a gorgeous morning. It was sunny and 65 degrees when I went out for my run. I did a long 11 miler again today, running the trail all the way through Minnetonka Mills and darn near into Deephaven.

I felt really good and ran at a comfortable but steady pace. The run only took me about 1 hour and 35 minutes, which puts me at a sub 2 hour pace for a half marathon, something I hope to accomplish at Des Moines in October. I am feeling good about my training and believe that I am on my way towards achieving that goal!

I saw very few people, but a lot of great wildlife. I can’t possibly describe to you how many cottontail rabbits there were. They are the cutest little things, and it appears they are on the verge of overtaking the squirrel population. There were lots of birds, too. Many, many cardinals, ducks, and great blue herons. And there was one other really interesting sighting.

A little more than two miles into my run, a section of the trail parallels a frontage road. I started to notice a huge debris field of feathers on the shoulder of the road. It looked like a pigeon had exploded.

A few seconds later, I saw what caused the carnage. It was a Cooper’s hawk. He was sitting on top of the pigeon. Obviously, I had just missed witnessing the assault, which must have been spectacular given the amount of feathers that were scattered about.

Now, you will have to understand this is terribly exciting for me because I have only seen a handful of Cooper's hawks before, and now I was about to get my closest look ever. I stopped running just so I could look at him. I was no more than 20 feet from him. The hawk turned to look at me, but he didn’t move. No way he was going to leave this succulent pigeon! This Cooper’s was an adult male. He had all the markings that you see in the bird books, with the dark cap, the reddish barring on the chest, and even the evil red eyes. An awesome specimen! I gawked for perhaps 30 seconds or so, and then I continued on my way, leaving him to finish his breakfast.

I have a lot on my plate today. I have to finish making my refrigerator pickles (it is a two day, two-step process!), and I am going to make a venison ragu with rigatoni for tonight. In addition, the British Open and Tour de France are going on right now, and NASCAR is later this afternoon. A great day for sports!

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Tonight's dinner - The "Minnesota Platter"

Just had to share, because my entire dinner consisted of locally grown or produced ingredients...



A little bit of farmer-style smoked ring sausage from Schmidts Meat Market in Nicollet, MN, and the corn, yellow wax beans, and the roasted new potatoes all came from the Hopkins Farmers' Market. A true Minnesota meal, and it was delicious!

All for now,

Jean

Off to market!

It was beautiful morning for a run, so cool that I almost got goose-bumps when I emerged from the building. It was about 60 degrees, relatively clear skies with some wispy clouds.

I did 5 miles this morning, once again heading out quite early. It was just me, the cottontail rabbits, and even a raccoon who looked rather surprised to see me! I was even treated to a gorgeous pink sunrise as I approached the pond. We have a great Saturday in store for us.

My run needed to be done early because I had to be somewhere at 7:30 to partake in one of the great joys of summer in Minnesota; that would be the Hopkins Farmers’ Market in downtown Hopkins.

Hopkins is really close to where I live, so it is very convenient. While it is a smaller market, it has a lot of great stuff, and a little bit of everything. I always chuckle when I shop there because it seems like I am the youngest shopper by at least 30 years! I would love to see more and more people my age come out to support these markets and the farmers.

The main reason I go there is for the locally grown produce, which is excellent. I always get sensory overload when I go to things like this because I want to buy a little of everything. All the produce looks so good! So I usually have to do my best to exercise some restraint. Today I loaded up on sweet corn, yellow wax beans, the cutest little red new potatoes, and a bunch of small cucumbers so I can make my Mom’s refrigerator sweet pickle recipe (which will be one of my projects today).

Needless to say, I am really looking forward to dinner tonight! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Friday, July 21, 2006

Miscellaneous ramblings on a day off

I have a day off from running, so here are a few random notes from the world of sports and food:

-Floyd Landis is the MAN! He was all but out of contention in the Tour de France. Two days ago he lost the yellow jersey and slipped from 1st to 11th after a disastrous day in the mountains. Yesterday, with nothing to lose, he broke away from the peloton early and caught the breakaway group all by himself. Floyd eventually dropped them too and ended up not only winning the stage, but he brought himself back into contention! Arguably, this is one of the most legendary solo efforts in Tour history, and it was amazing to watch. He is now in 3rd overall, a mere 30 seconds back, with his strongest event (the individual time trial) coming up on Saturday. He could win this thing! Adding to the drama is the fact that he has a bum hip that will actually require hip-replacement surgery after the season. This might be his last shot to win the Tour. Go get 'em, Floyd!

-I went out for lunch today to the Claddagh Irish Pub in Maple Grove. For a chain restaurant, this place serves up some pretty good chow. I almost always have the fish and chips, so today I opted for something different; the corned beef sandwich topped with Swiss cheese and slaw on marble rye. Good stuff. This place is worth stopping at if you are ever in the northwest metro looking for a bite to eat.

-Earlier this week I talked about NASCAR driver, Kyle Petty. He was on 92 KQRS radio this morning promoting the 2006 Chick-fil-A Kyle Petty Charity Ride. This is an annual cross-country motorcycle ride which has become a fundraiser for the Victory Junction Gang Camp. He is just the greatest guy. (Any of you iTunes-saavy people can listen to the July 21st interview on Podcast if you so desire.)

-I am a fan of Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain was the executive chef at NYC's Brasserie Les Halles, and while he still appears prominently on their web site, I don't think he spends much time there anymore. He has since become a writer and TV host, most currently appearing on the Travel Channel with his food and travel show, "No Reservations." I have read his books, "Kitchen Confidential," "A Cook's Tour," and have made a few recipes out of the "Les Halles Cookbook" with much success (try the boeuf Bourguignon….mmmm!). Irreverent, cantankerous, humorous, and brutally honest, he is an entertaining and knowledgeable character who is fun to read and watch. Anyhow, I just learned that he and his crew were recently filming for "No Reservations" in, of all places, Beirut when everything hit the fan. Yikes! Bourdain posted on a few message board indicating they were OK and offered some insightful commentary on this sad situation. They were trapped for several days but have since been safely evacuated from the country via the USS Nashville. A message from a staffer at the Travel Channel seems to indicate they are planning to use the footage they shot for some special broadcast, which ought to be very compelling.

That is all for now. Tomorrow I will run in the morning, and after that I plan to hit the farmers market for the first time this summer. More to follow!

Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tour de France vs. Emeril Live - A tale of two "athletes"

Last night I was flipping channels between "Emeril Live" on the Food Network and the Tour de France on OLN TV, and I couldn't help but notice a vast difference in the conditioning of the athletes.

I know, "Emeril Live" is a cooking show, and they don't often feature athletes. However, in this particular episode Emeril had three members of the International Federation of Competitive Eating with him in the studio. Emeril was cooking up a variety of hot and spicy dishes, and these guys had a contest to see who could eat them the fastest. Appalling and disgusting, yet oddly intriguing.

So I flip the channel to OLN to see these incredibly fit riders absolutely flying down the French roads. Then I switch over to Emeril to see three out-of-shape guys slamming shot glasses of Emeril's homemade hot sauce. Back to OLN, where the riders are attacking on a mountain climb. Then back to Emeril to watch the competitive eaters cramming oyster po' boys and skewers of Portuguese beef with a spicy "piri-piri" sauce into their mouths. You get the idea.

Why did I say the guys on Emeril were "athletes?" Their words, not mine. One of the competitive eaters actually referred to himself as a "professional athlete!" Astonishing. One cannot help but think that the training involved is much different, and that the Tour de France riders are a little more efficient at processing calories!

Anyhow, on to today's run! It was warm, about 86 degrees, but it was very dry, so it did not feel so oppressive. I ran easier since I put in a good run yesterday. There were lots of birds along the route. Numerous cardinals and goldfinches were out and about, no doubt enjoying what was a pretty pleasant summer day. And when I got home, I noticed that the odometer in my training log just passed the 600 mile mark for the year, so I am pleased with the mileage I have been putting in.

Tonight my only plans are to watch Floyd Landis kick some butt in the Tour. Go Floyd!

Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

You know priorities have changed when...

...you turn down an invitation to a "booze cruise" because you have a race the next morning!

Every summer some of my friends organize a wine cruise on beautiful Lake Minnetonka. It is a heck of a good time with lots of vino, tasty appetizers, and some great camaraderie. Unfortunately for me, this year it fell on the night of Saturday, August 5th, and the Hennepin-Lake Classic 10k is bright and early on the 6th. Ugh! Sorry guys. Someone please enjoy a glass of wine for me! :)

This Wednesday has been a wet one. Thunderstorms rumbled into the metro early this morning. Around 9 AM, it was so dark outside that the streetlights came on! After looking at the radar in the afternoon, I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to run in the rain today.

But no! I managed to catch a break in the action and got to run in cloudy, comfortable 75 degree weather. It was really nice out there, and that enabled me to have a very spirited run. I did my 4 1/2 miles at near race pace, and it felt great. I had not been able to go very hard lately, given all the heat and humidity, so this was a good workout today. An excellent, excellent run.

I'm not sure what is for dinner tonight, but I do know there will be bacon, basil, and tomatoes involved since I still have some left! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Two reasons that bacon, basil, and tomatoes are awesome

I just have to do a quick post to say that I can't imagine a finer combination of ingredients for summer dining than some form of bacon, fresh basil, and fresh tomatoes.

For instance, my last couple of meals...

A bacon, basil, and tomato sandwich, or "BBT"...



...and, a Canadian bacon, basil, and tomato pizza, or "CBBT!" ;-)



I think there will be a lot of these in my summer meal plans!

Jean

A different kind of NASCAR race

Since I have a day off from running today (and because I am tired of discussing the weather), let's talk about NASCAR!

I fully admit that am a NASCAR fan. I know what you are saying. You are saying, "Jean, how can a sophisticated gentleman such as yourself be a NASCAR fan?"

I know, I can't really explain it either.

I think it was partially due to frustration and boredom with watching the pathetic Minnesota Vikings, but I tuned in to NASCAR about 5 years ago and got hooked. Face it, race cars are cool! There is a lot of drama in racing, so it is never boring, and the season-long points race creates a lot of excitement. Watching NASCAR in high-definition is amazing, and the fantasy leagues are a lot of fun as well (I am currently in two different leagues). And it is nice to watch a sport where the athletes aren't constantly getting arrested or accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs. :)

The drivers are pretty entertaining characters, and most of them seem like they are really good guys away from the track. Take Kyle Petty, for instance.

Kyle and his wife, Pattie, started the Victory Junction Gang Camp, a camp in North Carolina for seriously ill children. It provides opportunities for the campers that they might not get to experience otherwise, allowing them to simply be kids and have fun, but in a medically safe environment.

The camp was created in honor of the Petty's son, Adam, who was tragically killed at a race track in New Hampshire several years ago. The NASCAR organization has absolutely embraced this charity and has helped make it quite a success.

Anyhow, the reason I even bring this up is because I just learned today that the Victory Junction Gang Camp is hosting an inaugural half marathon in December. Kyle is an avid runner himself, and he has partnered with John "The Penguin" Bingham to launch this event. The race is to serve as a fundraiser for the camp.

How much fun would this be? Running with Kyle Petty in the heart of NASCAR country to support a worthy cause? I need more money and more vacation time so I can afford to do stuff like this. :)

Until next time,

Jean

A quick update: I just found another recent story related the Petty's and the Victory Junction Gang Camp. This weekend, Pattie made her first trip back to the track that took her son's life. And Tony Stewart made another large pledge to the camp. Click here to read this emotional story. Tony is one of the good guys.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Hot enough for ya?

Wow, quite the weekend for weather!

We had a real mixed bag yesterday. It rained on and off for much of the morning, and was cloudy for most of the afternoon. Then the sun finally came out and heated things up in a big way! My neighborhood had 92 degrees with a heat index of 104! I opened my porch door just to see how bad it was, and it was so stifling that it almost took your breath away. As if that was not enough, this morning's low temperature was 83 degrees!

However, this is nothing to complain about, because things could have been worse! The Star-Tribune recently ran an article about July of 1936, which was Minnesota's most intense heat wave on record. Why, the city of Pipestone alone had 15 straight days of 100 degree readings!

Or, I suppose I could have been in Pierre, South Dakota yesterday. 115 degrees?!?

Anyhow, my run today was warm, as it was my first run in the afternoon since last week! It was 92 degrees, but some drier air has moved in, so it was not nearly as bad. I did my 4 1/2 miles without issue. Slowly, but without issue! Don't get me wrong, it was still plenty hot and generally unpleasant for running. But as I said earlier, things could have been worse!

Tonight's dinner is a summer staple: my famous "BBT" sandwich with some corn on the cob. Mmmmmm....

Oh, and last night's Thai curry shrimp with rice stick noodles was quite delicious, although I am not ready to share a recipe yet. It was a nice, light, spicy, and tasty dish for a hot summer day, but I thought it needed a little more personality. Or perhaps I should just serve it over rice instead so it soaks up more of the sauce? I will work on it. It looks pretty good though, wouldn't you say? :)



Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Cyclists and runners - superior athletes?

If I may get on my soapbox for a second...

Every July I watch the Tour de France, and I will bet I haven’t ridden a bike in 15 years. I am just thoroughly impressed with the endurance of these cyclists, and I think they (along with the elite distance runners) are perhaps the best athletes in the world.

Yet every year, you will hear the talking heads on ESPN and other sports media outlets (writers who cover the mainstream sports like basketball, football, and baseball, I might add) debate whether or not cyclists are really “athletes” because all they do is ride a bike. Their argument is that there is no skill involved.

The same could be said of runners. I mean, all they do is run, right?

One of my favorite stories in recent years was from a May 2005 "Runner’s World" interview with Roger Craig, the former San Francisco 49ers running back from their championship era in the 1980’s.

Craig, now a convert to distance running and marathoning, talked about being invited to go on a 5 mile a run with the team’s orthopedic surgeon. This was during Craig’s playing days when he was at the top of his game. Craig said he ended up having to stop two or three times, and once to throw up!

This is a guy who was a physical specimen, in great shape for playing football, but he was only used to running 100 yards at a time! He wasn't conditioned for the long haul, and I think that says a lot about the shape that the best cyclists and runners are in.

I’m not trying to take anything away from the great athletes that play football, basketball, baseball, or whatever. Clearly, these athletes are very skilled and are great in their respective sports. But cyclists and runners deserve more respect.

Cyclists are not real athletes because all they do is ride a bike? Runners are not real athletes because all they do is run?

Very well. Let's throw some NBA player on a bike for a Tour de France mountain stage, or put him on the starting line of a 10k trail race? Then we will see how these "real athletes" fare. :)

Off the soapbox,

Jean

Running Food: Salmon with Honey-Ginger-Soy Glaze

Last night I made a really tasty dish; a wild Alaskan salmon fillet with a honey-ginger-soy glaze.



There is no real recipe to share, as this was truly improvised. But pretty much all I did was mix up some soy sauce, honey, and rice vinegar. I don’t have exact amounts, I just kept adding and tasting until I felt I had a good balance of salty, sweet, and sour. Then I tossed in a healthy dose of fresh grated ginger and garlic.

I reserved a little of the sauce mixture for a dipping sauce to be used later, but the rest got poured over an 8 oz. fillet of salmon. I marinated the fillet for about a 1/2 hour and then roasted it in a 450 degree oven for 8-9 minutes until just cooked through.

The high heat roasting puts a nice little caramelized glaze on the salmon. Delicious, simple, and not a drop of oil was used, either!

Enjoy,

Jean

The heat is on

We are in the midst of a heck of a heatwave. It was darn near 100 yesterday, and more of the same is predicted for today. There is also a heat advisory, saying that the heat indices could reach 105 later this afternoon. Ugh!

In spite of the heat, the Life Time Fitness Triathlon took place yesterday in Minneapolis. That had to have been an absolute scorcher. Hats off to anyone who completed that race!

I did my run this morning (8 miles today) while it was still tolerable. To my surprise, it was cloudy and raining early on (I don’t believe that was predicted?). The temperature at that time was 81 with a dewpoint of 68, so the clouds and rain definitely helped. I don’t think I could have done 8 miles if the sun was out, so that was appreciated.

Very few people out and about this morning, probably for good reason. It was still a bit of a struggle, but on my long runs I always carry a water bottle with me so I can keep well hydrated. And the berry-flavored Propel really hit the spot out there on the trail today, let me tell you!

Today I will stay near the AC. No problem though, because there are lots of sports on today, I need to make some pizza dough for the week, and I will be attempting a Thai curry shrimp dish later this evening. I will let you know if it is any good!

Stay cool,

Jean

Friday, July 14, 2006

Weather patterns, running meteorologists, and bunny rabbits

In looking back at my running journal from last year, we had the same kind of weather exactly one year ago. The 2005 Lumberjack Days 10-Miler in Stillwater happened on July 23rd. That entire week leading up to the race was miserable with temperature in the 90's every day. The day of the race, the heat index reached a staggering 110 by the afternoon. Thankfully, it was overcast and 80 degrees during the race, so it wasn't as oppressive as it could have been. But later in the day, the windows in my apartment fogged up because of the unbelievable heat and humidity!

'Tis the season, I guess. The weather forecast for the weekend is just completely awful. We could see our first true 100 degree reading in the Cities since 1995. And the local meteorologists have whipped themselves into a frenzy over the possibility of triple digit temperatures on both Saturday and Sunday.

Speaking of local meteorologists…

He has been talked about here before, but I need to mention KARE 11's Sven Sundgaard again. He is a big time runner who is training for the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon this October. In his latest blog entry, Sven waxes poetic about running. And I couldn't agree more with his assessment of treadmills.

Anyhow, I digress. On to my run!

Once again I got up early and did my 4 1/2 miles in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. We did have some thunderstorms move through the metro last night, which cooled things off slightly and kept me busy trying to dodge puddles in the low light conditions! It was about 66 degrees, still very muggy, but really quite nice compared to the alternative of running in the afternoon. I have felt really good on my morning runs, and the scab on my knee is almost completely healed over from the tumble I took in Michigan, so my flexibility is pretty much back to normal. As with yesterday, there was barely a sign of life except for the five different cottontail rabbits who ran like crazy when they saw me. There were bunnies everywhere! Apparently they are early risers, too. :)

OK, I've rambled long enough! Tomorrow is a day off from running, and I plan to enjoy sleeping in and staying close to an air conditioner!

Stay cool,

Jean

KTRF Recap from Race Director

You are probably sick to death of hearing about the Keweenaw Trail Running Festival! But today, I (along with the other runners) received a very nice e-mail from the race director today, along with a little follow-up and recap from the events. I thought I would pass along some interesting facts and tidbits:

Natural surroundings

The trails that we ran on for the 10k race were located on beautiful lands owned by the Michigan Nature Association, an organization that is works to purchase, preserve, and protect natural areas in Michigan. Also, the Lookout Mountain location that hosted the hill climb is on a tract of land owned by The Nature Conservancy. The more I have learned about the Keweenaw Peninsula, the more I am becoming impressed with the conservation efforts going on there.

Trail runners are pranksters, too!

I don't believe I ever explained this in any of my earlier posts, but the trail was marked with little red flags so you knew you were on the course. All you had to do was keep following the little red flags and you would be OK. Well, the race director told us we had a prankster in our midst! Somebody changed the course flags at the 5.5 mile mark. This effectively rerouted the runners and added an extra 230 meters (approximately 1/7th of a mile) to the 10k course! No wonder I was so tired… :)

Taking out the trash

The KTRF motto is "Supporting the Health and Humanity of the Planet." For the entire weekend, the races and runners generated only one small garbage bag of trash. All of the banana peels from the post-race refreshment table were composted. The cups from the water stop were made of corn-based PLA, a biodegradable material that composts completely in about 80 days. If you have been to a typical race before, you see how much trash is generated (even at the smaller events). To have three races and only one bag of trash is absolutely remarkable.

Jean

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Early to bed, early to run

So, what were you doing at 4:15 this morning?

Me? I went running!

I have become a notoriously early riser and I'm frequently at work before 6 AM. Because of that, I do most of my running after work since I usually get home at a decent hour. However, given the fact that low 90's were predicted again today, I decided to get up even earlier and run when it is cool.

Even at that time, it was still fairly warm at 72 degrees with a dewpoint not too far behind that. Really muggy and soupy outside! But it was more pleasant than doing it in the afternoon when it would be 20 degrees hotter.

There are very few signs of life at that hour. No traffic, no pedestrians, no nothing. With the exception of the cottontail rabbit I so rudely awakened, there was nothing else going on in my 4 1/2 miles.

Looks like we are in for a sweltering weekend, too. The National Weather Service in the Twin Cities has already issued an "Excessive Heat Watch" for the Saturday and Sunday, saying we could have heat indicies near 105. Yuck! I feel sorry for anyone running in a race this weekend.

Speaking of races, I have my next race all set. I am entered in the Hennepin-Lake Classic 10k on Sunday, August 6th. I have never run this one before, but this is a race that my dentist told me about (she is an accomplished road racer!) and she said it is a good one. It is a smaller race (around 500 runners last year), and all you do is go two laps around Lake Calhoun. This is another one of those races that brings out all the heavy hitters from the local running scene, so I expect I will finish pretty far down in the standings. But I don't care, because the course is flat, and flat is beautiful!

Oh, and that pizza I had last night? Molto bene! ;-)



Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Next race?

Today is an off day of running for me. I am glad, because it is really hot, somewhere in the low 90's. The problem it that it is not going to get much cooler for the rest of this week, so I will have to run in the heat at some point! I think it is safe to say I will be taking it pretty easy and using some common sense when I do.

I feel a little strange because I only have one race on the calendar right now! That is the Des Moines IMT Half Marathon in October! I am kind of dissapointed because I wanted to do the Lumberjack Days 10-Miler in Stillwater, MN, next weekend. I really enjoyed that race last year. It was a fun and scenic course, and your finished right on the waterfront under the famous lift bridge.

After doing two races already this month, I think it would be wise to wait until August to race again. But which race? I don't know yet!

There are certainly lots to choose from. All I know is I have to set something up soon because I want to do a couple of more events before Des Moines. I will ponder this over a homemade Italian sausage pizza tonight! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A hot one, and some good chips

Wow, another warm one today. 83 and pretty windy. And it is only going to get hotter this week, too. They are calling for upper 90's by the weekend! I will have to do my weekend running very early to avoid the stifling heat.

Again, I took it pretty easy today, but I ran better than yesterday. The scar on my knee is healing quickly (bacitracin zinc ointment is good stuff!), so my knee is getting more flexible. I ran my typical 4 1/2 miles, and had a pretty decent run. I even got to play "Good Samaritan" and gave a lost and confused young lady directions to get back on the Interstate, so my work is finished today!

Unrelated to anything, I have to put in a plug for my new favorite chips: When I started running, I began to purchase baked tortilla and potato chips exclusively to cut some fat from my diet. I am now making an exception to this rule after trying the new Old Dutch Restaurante Style Guacamole Strips! These are rectangle-shaped tortilla chips coated with guacamole flavoring, and they are awesome with salsa. The chips are of the "full fat" variety, but hey, I figure I'm allowed a few indulgences, right? Anyhow, I am telling everyone about them in hopes that they catch on so Old Dutch will never quit making them. Please, by all means, give them a try! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Media coverage of last week's races

A couple of news items from the world wide web:

First, out of Grand Marais we have the Cook County News-Herald's coverage of the Jan Horak "Tofte Trek" 10k Wilderness Run. It is a short article with a couple of small thumbnail photos, as well as the top three finishers in each division.

Second, I found a couple of items in the Daily Mining Gazette out of Houghton, MI. One article is from before the Keweenaw Trail Running Festival and contains some general information about the events, along with a few quotes from the race director. Also, the same newspaper showed a picture from the hill climb race on Saturday evening (I was home and on my couch by the time that one started!).

In case the WS100 isn't crazy enough for you…

We are just a couple of weeks away from the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135 mile run through Death Valley to the top of Mt. Whitney in California! They bill it as "the world's toughest footrace." With 130 degree temperatures and 13,000 feet of vertical climbing, who could argue?

Wow, and I was whining about 474 feet of vertical in my last race?!? ;-)

The only reason I bring this up is because the heavy favorite is a native Minnesotan! Scott Jurek, now a Seattle resident, hails from Proctor, MN, a town just outside of Duluth. He is one of the greatest ultramarathoner in the world today, if not the greatest, and he has chalked up some amazing accomplishments. Prior to this year, Jurek won 7 consecutive Western States 100's (he skipped this year's race to focus solely on Badwater). He is also the defending champion at last year's Badwater Ultramarathon, winning it in his first attempt and setting a new course record of 24 hours and 36 minutes.

I read that Jurek hopes to break his old record and finish Badwater in under 24 hours (good grief!). Here is wishing him luck!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Leveling off

How nice was it today to be able to run on flat, level ground? Very nice! I didn’t even care that it was hotter than Dutch love outside at 83 degrees with a bit of humidity. It was great to get back on a even surface!

I ran very easy today. For one, I felt like complete garbage yesterday. I think the whole week caught up to me, and I don’t think I ate enough on my way home Saturday to rebuild my energy stores. And, the scab on my knee is in a precarious spot, so I feel it every time I bend my knee. It is healing, but that was another good reason to go slow today.

Surprisingly, I felt good today. I got some good rest and feel like I am almost back to my normal self. I ran my 4 1/2 miler today without issue.

One completely unrelated bird note; I saw an Eastern phoebe make the coolest maneuver today. These birds are flycatchers, and I saw this little bird dive from a tree and hover in one place about two inches over the grass, eventually snagging a bug. It is hard to describe, but it was quite an awesome sight to see.

All right, I think I am finally done updating my blog for today! Time for a glass of wine... :)

Until next time,

Jean

July 2006 - Index of Trip Notes

July 1-6, 2006 - Trip Notes from the North Shore, MN

RACE REPORT - 2006 Jan Horak “Tofte Trek” 10k Wilderness Run

All God’s creatures

July 7-8, 2006 - Trip Notes from Copper Harbor, MI

Off to “Yooper” Country!

RACE REPORT - 2006 KTRF 10k Trail Race

Back to the flatlands

KTRF Recap from Race Director

Back to the flatlands

With the race completed, it was time to make the 400+ mile journey home. In an effort to do a little more sightseeing, I took Highway 26 west of Copper Harbor to see the north coast of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

The road follows the lakeshore and offers stunning views. To my surprise, there does not appear to be an overabundance of development here. There were only a handful of luxury homes and condos that I saw. In fact, most of the homes seemed modest at best, some of which were quite old and were located right on the lake with prime views of Superior. It just seemed strange. Perhaps the Keweenaw Peninsula is resisting development? Whatever the case, it is kind of refreshing to see that not every place in America that is pretty has to be turned into a housing subdivision.

Also, I am astonished at the lack of traffic in the U.P. Is there anyone up here? I had this whole scenic drive practically to myself and saw no more than a handful of cars in the 20 miles or so. On a Saturday morning, even! Not that I was complaining. This enabled me to stop and gawk all I wanted, and allowed me to pretend I was Tony Stewart practicing my cornering on the curvy roads. :)

Lake Superior has always scared me, even to this day. I think it is a downright frightening body of water, not so much because of the size, but more because of its lore and the mystique surrounding it. The winds coming out of the northwest were strong, the waves were large, and the skies were getting gray and ominous. Lake Superior had a sinister look this day. A couple of enormous ore boats were out on the horizon in the shipping lanes, both battling the winds as they headed towards Duluth. I thought of the Edmund Fitzgerald. What a terrifying lake.

Ore boat on Lake Superior



I stopped for a picture at Great Sand Bay near Eagle River. What a view! This area is essentially a sand dune that has been formed from centuries of winds off of Lake Superior. In fact, the wind was almost knocking me down as I tried to snap the photo. Just up the road (and true to form), sand was drifting over the road in an effort to increase the dune's size. Can you imagine what must this place must look like in a snow storm?

Great Sand Bay, and a frothing Lake Superior



With the Keweenaw Peninsula behind me, I headed into Houghton. Starving, I made a quick stop at McDonald's for the #2 value meal (two cheeseburgers, fries, diet Coke…man, I don't think food from the Golden Arches has ever tasted this good!). Then I was back on the road and soon it began to rain. Correction; soon it began to pour!

It rained hard from Houghton all the way to the Wisconsin border, so hard in some areas that I had to slow down to around 45 MPH. This was really unfortunate, because I went through Watersmeet, MI, which I did not realize until I got there that it was the Home of the Nimrods! Sports fans might recall that ESPN did an advertising campaign a couple of years ago featuring this small Michigan high school. It garnered them a lot of national attention for their unusual mascot name. I can't tell you how badly I wanted to stop and take a picture of the school, which had "Home of the Nimrods" written in huge letters on the side of the building. But it was raining so hard I could barely see. Another time, hopefully!

I headed south towards Rhinelander and eventually outdrove the rain. From Rhinelander, I hopped on US Highway 8. As with my Green Bay trip, I avoided all freeways to see a little bit of the countryside. Not that I had much of a choice. There are very few freeways in this neck of the woods!

Highway 8 was a rather desolate stretch of road in western Wisconsin, so desolate that there is barely an incorporated town, much less a gas station. I was getting a little nervous.

About 50 miles west of Rhinelander, I stumbled into this little village called Prentice that had a BP truck stop. This was a strange and seedy little town, with lots of strange and seedy people out and about. We were definitely in rural America here! After I fueled up, I was waiting to turn back onto the road, and someone who looked suspiciously like Larry the Cable Guy (but with fewer teeth) was slowly driving by in his pickup truck, staring at me and my little foreign car. I couldn't wait to get out of Prentice.

Back on the road and a safe distance from what was potentially "Deliverance" country, I drove through Tony, WI, home of Wisconsin walk-on All-American football player, Jim Leonhard! I know, I had never heard of him either, but this town of 105 people had a huge billboard announcing this, as well as a street named after him, so I thought it was worth noting.

Eventually I made it to the flatlands of Wisconsin farm country, crossed the Minnesota border, and then back home to the apartment. This day I spent 8 1/2 hours in the car. From my parents' place to Copper Harbor and back to the Cities was 775 miles. A total of 234 songs played on my iPod during the journey.

I had quite an adventure last week. Trips like this really invigorate me, spark my wanderlust, and make me want to visit other areas. Which state should I run in next? Only time will tell.

Until next time,

Jean

RACE REPORT - 2006 KTRF 10k Trail Race

The Keweenaw Trail Running Festival is a two day celebration of running and working to create a healthier environment. All of the food and drink was organic, everything was recyclable if it wasn't compostable, and there was no waste of any kind. And (obviously), all of the races are conducted on trails.

There are a total of three races at this event; a 10k and a 5.8k hill climb on Saturday, and a 25k on Sunday. I was only doing the 10k, but a number of the runners I talked to were actually doing all three events. Yikes!

We were bussed from the lodge to the start of the race, which was at Fort Wilkins State Park, just east of Copper Harbor. This was an actual fort that was built in 1844, apparently to offer some protection to the area during the beginning of the copper mining boom. It is located on an inland lake, and there are all kinds of old preserved barracks, buildings, and even some cannons. The American flag flying over the fort only had 26 stars as well! It was an interesting park in a gorgeous location with lots of interpretive signs to explain the history. And the race starts right in the courtyard.

This race crowd was similar to that of the Tofte Trek; quite relaxed and carefree. The horn sounded, there was a lot of hooting and hollering from the excited participants as we got underway.

The course runs from the State Park through the woods and back to the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. The first mile and a half was a bit of a tease with flat conditions as we trekked around Lake Fanny Hooe. I was running at a comfortable 8:15 minute per mile pace and feeling pretty good. But then the hills started.

The course quickly turned into an up-and-down single track with some difficult terrain. Lots of rocks, roots, loose gravel, and even a small stream crossing. It became hard to catch your breath because the downhill stretches were not that long before we had to start ascending once again.

Midway through the 2 mile stretch, a lady running in front of me wiped out. I stopped to see if she was OK. She had a big scrape on her shoulder, but she told me she was fine, so we both continued onward. And just so this poor woman didn't feel alone, I did something I have never done in a race before; I tripped and fell, too!

At the 3 mile mark, I was running down a short hill. I never saw what got me, be it a rock or a root, but I ate it big time. Running downhill, you might assume that the ground gave out from under me and I slid on my backside. Not the case here! Going for style points, I fell face forward, landed on my stomach, and slid to the bottom of the hill.

My right knee and elbow took the brunt of the fall, and thankfully it was mostly loose gravel in this location, so the landing was soft (relatively speaking, or course). I received a couple of nice raspberries and scrapes that drew a little blood, and I even got dirt on my bib number that was pinned on the front of my shirt. It was an impressive effort, if I do say so myself. I have friends who give an award on the annual ski trip to the person with the best crash. My wipeout would have been a contender, I am convinced! :)

An acute case of "trail rash!"



A few well-chosen expletives later, I dusted myself off and continued on my way. However, any rhythm I had was gone at this point. It was slow going now. My race had became a matter of survival, as the course was going mostly uphill from here on out. Some of the hills were so steep that I, and most of those still around me, had to walk them.

At long last, the lodge was in sight. There was a volunteer/race official near the crest of the hill saying to everyone, "200 yards, and then take a hard left!" I thought this was the finish. We turned per his instructions and even crossed over a mat (which I thought was the timing mat), so I stopped running, as did a few others.

Then another race official shouted over to us that this was not the finish! We still had to do a quick out-and-back down the fairway of the golf course, which was about another half a mile. What the hell? What was this mat doing there? One of runners next to me was really pissed and started yelling back to the race officials for causing this confusion. And why was that joker down the hill telling us we only had 200 yards to go? Whatever. I was too exhausted to care and started running again.

I crossed the finish line in 1 hour, 00 minutes, and 27 seconds, a time which rivaled the 2005 Tofte Trek for my slowest race ever. Never have I been so tired and spent! I think I have learned my lesson about running multiple races in the same week. Not that I could have done much better on this terrain, but I was not well rested, and my legs certainly were not fresh, so I will chalk that up to experience.

In spite of my accident and the really slow time, I didn't fare all that badly. Of the 212 runners, I finished 117th, so I was solidly in a the middle of the pack, and I can take comfort in the fact that a whole lot of runners were suffering worse than me (and plenty of others were dirty and bruised, too)! And now that I have had time to reflect upon it, I am much happier with my performance, because it was a great exercise in overcoming adversity and sticking with it when the going got tough.

A humorous part about this experience is that the KTRF is a Trail Runner Trophy Series race, which is a season long points competition. By virtue of finishing, I get some points towards the 2006 championship trophy. I will let you know if I am in contention when the series standings are posted! ;-)

With this race under my belt, I have now run races in 4 different states. And I got a couple of good scrapes, and a few championship points, to help me remember my Michigan experience!

One quick addendum; I just reviewed the course profile for the KTRF 10k race. The course had an elevation gain of 474 feet with an average grade of 6 degrees. The total climbing distance was 3.74 miles (so, about 60% of the race was uphill). I am feeling better about my time now!

Off to "Yooper" Country!

On Friday, I left my folks' place. I always feel a great pang of sadness when I go, because I have to say goodbye to the family and leave the North Shore, my favorite place on earth. But my return to the metro would be delayed as I hung a left in Duluth and headed for the U.P. The destination was Copper Harbor, MI, for the Keweenaw Trail Running Festival.

I had never been to Michigan before, and the drive through the southern U.P. was beautiful, kind of like northern Minnesota on steroids; a lot of the same trees, but a few more hills!

As you get to Houghton, you start to notice a change. Lots of depressed, boarded up mining towns with homes that haven't seen a coat of paint in 30 years or more, and barely a sign of commerce or industry. Kind of sad. You get the impression that life is harsh here.

Adding to that harshness would be the winters. "Yooper" (U.P. locals refer to themselves as "Yoopers") country receives a ridiculous amount of snow, largely due to geography and the "lake effect" snow that comes off of Lake Superior. Get a strong northwest wind here in January and you are measuring snow not in inches, but rather in feet. We are talking about a couple of hundred inches every winter on average. In fact, they have even erected a giant measuring stick of sorts at a roadside rest stop on Highway 41 to illustrate and track how much snow they get. Crazy!

Fire up the snow blower!



As you get closer to Copper Harbor, the old mining towns disappear and you begin to enter God's country. The road slows to 45 MPH and winds through the forests and hills. The trees form a canopy over the road, and you can barely see the sky. It is quite impressive.

I stayed at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, a resort just above Copper Harbor. This was a rustic and locally historic facility, complete with a golf course, restaurant, and a bar. A really pretty location, and they were also the host of the KTRF races, so I was glad to be staying on site.

A picture of the main lodge



I envisioned it being kind of like Grand Marais, MN, but Copper Harbor is much smaller. There are a few resorts and really old hotels, a handful of restaurants, and some tacky gift shops. The sidestreets are dirt roads, and there are no sidewalks, either. My guess is if you weren't into hiking, biking, boating, or sightseeing, you wouldn't find a lot to do here.

I ate dinner at the Tamarack Inn, a small, family-style restaurant. Eerily, I was the only diner in the restaurant early on a Friday night, and the two waitresses working were so bored that they spent most of their time talking to me! According to them, it is really hit or miss as to how busy Copper Harbor gets. Very strange. Why wouldn't this scenic area be just jam packed with people every weekend?

I ordered a pasty at the restaurant (pronounced "pass-tee"). This is a U.P. specialty food item that was made popular by the local miners back in the day. It is basically meat, gravy, and root vegetables stuffed inside of a pastry crust. Think of it as one of those frozen, microwavable "Hot Pockets," only much better. The pasty was quite tasty and filling. It, along with some fries, split pea soup, and the salad bar, truly hit the spot after a long day of travel. The meal only set me back $12.

Playing the tourist in Copper Harbor



After a little more sightseeing in the harbor, I retired to bar at the lodge for a quick nightcap to unwind before bedtime. This place has the old "supper club" feel to it, and they serve classic drinks from the 70's like Brandy Alexanders and Pink Squirrels (good grief, when is the last time you have seen those on a menu?). I did not partake in any of the specialty drinks, but I do know for a fact that a glass of beer costs a mere $2! :)

Tomorrow would be my 10k race. What would I be getting myself into?

Sunday, July 9, 2006

All God's creatures

I spent much of the 4th of July week up at Mom and Dad’s place on the North Shore. It was a good time as always, with lots of food, fun, and of course, wildlife.

We took daily hikes, and even went to Oberg Mountain one day to enjoy lots of birds and spectacular views. There too many things to talk about, so I will settle on three topics!

Butterflies, butterflies, everywhere

Picture of a White Admiral



One of the joys of being outside in the summer is seeing all of the “flying flowers!” The butterflies, that is. My parents have a wildflower garden in their yard, which attracts these beautiful insects, and they are also prevalent along our hiking routes.

A beautiful Great Spangled Fritillary



This time of year, the Great Spangled Fritillaries and the Atlantis Fritillaries are out in full force, as are the White Admirals and the tiny little Harris’ Checkerspots. Gorgeous creatures!

Oh, deer!

While on one of our hikes, we encountered something strange. While Mom and Dad were preoccupied with a butterfly or a flower or something, I looked down the trail about 20 yards from us and saw a buck. So I said, “Hi, deer!”

This made Mom and Dad look too, and here we all were face to face with this beautiful deer with his velvety summer antlers growing.

Dad is a photographer, so he was scrambling to get his camera ready in hopes of getting a few shots. To our surprise, the deer didn’t run.

Mom and Dad with “Bucky”



In fact, he even came a little bit closer. Dad started talking to him and he stood there, happily munching away on his moose maple leaves, not threatened by us at all. Dad was able to take all the pictures he wanted!

Even stranger, as we decided to leave him be, he started to follow us a little ways, eventually turning back up into the woods. This was a really odd thing, as deer are usually so skittish, especially in the summer. Perhaps he recognized Dad (since he is out in the woods all the time!), or maybe he just liked us. Who knows? But what a rare treat to see him so close in his natural surroundings like that!

Feathered heroes

Most of the time people don’t look twice when they see the common Chipping Sparrow. After this week, the Chipping Sparrow should command an awful lot of respect in the bird and animal kingdom.

On Wednesday, my sister-in-law, Blythe, drove up to the house. I was out in the yard, and she emerged from her car, clutching something in her hand, and said, “I need help!”

Blythe had rescued a baby bird from the middle of the highway. His entire family had been wiped out by a passing car, but he was unscathed and the lone survivor.

Dad came outside and we took a look at the little guy. He was a cute little nondescript fledgling songbird, and Dad figured he was a baby sparrow of some kind.

We were trying to think of what we could do to help this little bird, what we could feed him, who we could call, etc. But as it turned out, help came from a surprising source.

The little bird was hopping around in the grass and peeping away. Within minutes, a Chipping Sparrow landed in a nearby branch. This bird had clearly heard the baby’s call.

We all decided to back away to see what would happen, and what occurred next was one of the most rare, precious, and wonderful things I have ever seen.

The Chipping Sparrow came down to the baby and ended up leading him into the woods. I was looking through my binoculars and saw the sparrow cramming food into the mouth of the hungry youngster. We had just witnessed an adoption! The two continued off into the woods together.

How amazing! This mother Chipping Sparrow heard a cry for help, dropped everything, and came to the rescue of this little bird with no questions asked. By the way, this whole ordeal, from the time Blythe arrived until the baby bird went into the woods with his new mom, took perhaps 5 minutes at the most.

The next day while Dad and I were hiking, we encountered a mother Chipping Sparrow feeding a solitary young one. Of course, we have absolutely no way of knowing for sure, but I wanted to believe that was the little guy that Blythe rescued.

I feel as if I am in Disney cartoon when I visit Mom and Dad; butterflies all over the place, deer just hanging out, birds adopting other birds, squirrels chasing each other, and there is a mother fox that comes to take a nap on the hillside near the house. What a special place!

RACE REPORT - 2006 Jan Horak "Tofte Trek"

On July 4th, I ran in the Jan Horak “Tofte Trek” 10k Wilderness Run in Tofte, MN.

The race is headquartered at the Birch Grove School in Tofte, and is the kickoff to the town’s annual 4th of July celebration. This is the "second annual" race, but it is in its 27th year, because last year they named the race after Jan Horak in honor of his 25 years of service as the race director (so he finally gets to run in this race to see the monster he has created!).

Run entirely on trails at the base of Carlton Peak, the Tofte Trek has a reputation for being a brutally difficult race, and also for being rather muddy. Last year, both of those things were certainly true.

There were a few less runners this year than last for some reason (135 according to the local paper), but that did not detract from the fun at all. I enjoy races like this because the crowd is really loose. Nobody is there to set a personal record or anything. They are just there to have a good time (and to perhaps have a few brewskis at the beer garden later!).

At the starting line (check out the glare coming off of my bald head!)



The race starts, and immediately you begin to go uphill. The course consists mostly of single-track trails, and you keep going uphill for the first half of the race! Let me tell you, this is slow going, and it is very steep in some spots. You really begin to wonder if you are ever going to start going back downhill!

Whereas last year there was a lot of mud, this summer has been fairly dry up in the north country. There was only a little bit of mud in some of the swampy areas, so the course was a lot faster this time around.

Eventually you do reach the top, and you are able to make up some time on the descent. There are some tricky boards on some of the trails, and some loose gravel as you make your way down. And, the section of trail that was knee-deep in water last year was only muddy this time around, so you could blast right through it.

Sucking air near the finish!



Make no mistake about it, the race was hard! This is still one of the most difficult races I have ever done. But I was able to take advantage of the better conditions and shaved more than 8 minutes off of last year’s time, finishing in 52:11. I think I finished something like 6th or 7th in my age group. Hey, what chance do I have when I am in the same division as the winner, Greg Hexum of Duluth, who was written about in Trail Runner Magazine last year?

Trading stories with other runners



I even had a cheering section waiting for me at the finish, consisting of Mom and Dad, as well as our good friends, Marland and Nancy, which was a lot of fun! It is always nice to have some support, and they were all able to get some great pictures, too. That is, when the lens cap is open, right Mom? :)

It was a great race, and a gorgeous day. The evening was capped off with smoked Polish sausages with all the fixings, and a little bit of beer. Not a bad way to spend the 4th!

Saturday, July 8, 2006

I'm baaaaack!

Hi everyone!

I have returned from a most excellent week of vacation. What have I been up to?



Well, I ran in two races in two different states, put over 1000 miles on my car, did a whole bunch of hiking, saw lots of birds and animals, ate extremely well, and I am still standing (although with a few scrapes and bruises), But the stories will have to wait until tomorrow, because I am a tired dude this evening! Trip (there is a pun in there somewhere...you will understand later!) and race reports to follow.

More tomorrow,

Jean

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