We're Green

In a good way. I was thinking tonight that in addition to helping people drive less and supporting local races, I could throw some extra money towards carbon credits or similar offsets for this website. Websites use energy, even the good ones, and we can't just sweep that under the rug. Then I remembered who the host is: GreenGeeks. Green is in the name, and that was one of the reasons I chose them a few years back. From the horse's mouth:

In order to compensate for the polluting power we pull from the grid we purchase wind energy credits for the energy we consume from the grid. In fact we replace, with wind power, 3 times the amount of energy used by our servers, so if we pull 1X of power from the grid we purchase enough wind energy credits to put back into the grid 3X of power having been produced by wind power. Your website hosted with GreenGeeks will be powered by 300% wind energy, making your website's carbon footprint negative!

You can read more here.

Well, that was an easy way to make some small difference in the world! If you'd like to contribute to keeping the site alive (and buying that wind energy), drop some coins in the jar weekly at Gratipay.



I've been on quite a burn of updating race information this week, which always makes me consider the philosophy behind this website. What is NPA, and why is it here?

Simply enough, I like to race, but being torn among multiple time obligations makes it harder than it used to be. The real killer is the full-time job, but it definitely pays better than grad school, so I think I'll keep it for now. The original cause was money: gas prices were high, races were far away, and I was poor. Now it's time: I can't take an entire weekend to travel to a race. I imagine 90% of people are in the same boat.

One question I imagine people have is "why is it a map, not a list?" followed by "why can't I look at dates more easily?" I struggle with the second one more. It's a map because the goal is to minimize the amount of time and money spent traveling (sorry, local visitor and convention bureaus). Maps are easy to understand, and the system on other sites of filtering a list down by selecting a state/city/zip code is just dreadful when we have better tools available. 

The date question? Well, mostly I don't have a good handle on the best way to show dates on a map. I've considered color codes (<1 week, 1-4 weeks, >4 weeks, etc.) but haven't implemented them. If you have an idea, get in touch and let's develop it.

The last bit of philosophy is about the volume of information avaiable on NPA. I've kept it as simple as possible in order to reduce errors. The least amount you should know about a race is when it is, where it is, and where to get more information. Name and description are secondary; and type/category/discipline? That's just extravagance. 


Race Feedback

It's always interesting getting feedback on races. This comic (from Death Bulge) comes to mind every time I get a survey back.



Just Being

I studied abroad in Townsville, QLD, Australia from February to June 2014 (our spring, their fall). I ran a lot while I was there, mostly at night, and managed my highest-mileage week ever (somewhere above 45 miles, a massive amount for someone who still thinks of himself as middle-distance). There were a ton of trails down by the river that ran by the edge of campus and down to the sea, and I would run in the darkness in order to avoid the blistering heat and sun of the day. At the time I was also leaving myself a good three hours after eating before running--something I no longer do (last night I ate dinner and took off 20 minutes later).

The dorm I lived in at James Cook University (West Hall represent) wasn't air conditioned. I'm not sure if it was heated, but I survived into late fall. There was a screened-in porch, some venetian windows, and that was it--so if it was hot outside, you were pretty hot inside. I'd come back from running seven or eight miles, dripping sweat. I think I sweat more during that semester than any time I have before or since. What the dorm did have was a separate common building (meeting space, pool table, TV), and that did have AC. I'd go in there at 11 o'clock at night, crank the AC, and stretch (I used to stretch back then, too.) Once the heat faded and that sore muscle feeling crept in, I could relax and head back to shower.

The memory of running that semester came back to me last night as I ran along the banks of the Red River of the North in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. Running at night has almost been a rule rather than an exception for me. Beyond that semester in Oz, winter practices in college were generally cold, dark, and windy. The darkness can eliminate distractions, and the effort can calm my mind.

I ran up to my back gate, looked at my watch, and realized progress had been made. I sat on the steps and took off my shoes. It's warm enough to do that now, and I think I'm okay with that.

I'm a Father!

In late December, we welcomed our daughter into the world a month early. She's doing great now, and I couldn't be happier, even if I still get super stressed out by not being able to stop her from crying. Protip: that shushing thing really does work, you just need to do it LOUDLY and into her ear.

What does this mean? For my wife, it means getting to run and ride again. For me, it means less racing and more family time. I'm doing what I can to keep everything going between work, home, NPA, and other responsibilities (*cough* ENDracing). The work I do now has more meaning. It's not just about helping people find local races and build stronger endurance sport communities, it's about giving my daughter the chance to join those communities at a younger age than I ever got to.

But only if she wants to, of course.

Consolidating (Your Links May Change)

From the beginning, events on NPA have been posted as individual peices of content, with one copy of each race in the database per year.  I've scaled back from everything that was originally planned, though, and this no longer makes sense.  Taking a cue from Northland Runner, I'm in the process of consolidating events into one page per event, and then updating the dates and locations as needed.  So if you end up here from a link that doesn't work, you can probably still find the event.

For the historians in the group, you'll also be able to see revisions of each event to see what has changed (in this database at least) from year to year.

If you need to update an event and you don't have access, post a new one and I can consolidate them manually.  I'm in the process of making this easier to do so bad links don't end up on Twitter.

Questions and comments: As always, please email me at matt@northernplainsathletics.com or tweet at @nplainsathletes.

Race Report: Maah Daah Hey 100

I was 20 miles in before I crashed. I didn't hurt myself much--a nasty scrape across my chest from the end of my handlebar, figure that one out--but I took it down a notch after that. No need to ride absolutely everything if Joe was choosing not to, and walking some sections was a nice break.

We rolled into the first aid station (checkpoint, really, since the time cutoff applied there, but labeled as an aid station) with 45 minutes or so to spare. We were getting tired and it was warming up, only 25 miles into the race. The first few miles were spent in a grand parade of herky-jerky singletrack, among people who had chosen the back of the pack at the start and realized that it would be some time before they wouldn't be held back by those ahead.

After a flat tire (torn sidewall on my part), we were pretty much the last two people on the second 25 miles of the course.  Keep drinking, keep moving.  Stop in the shade when you get too hot.  Get up and move again.  Lack of training took its toll.  I think we were an hour past the cutoff at aid station two and the end of our race.

I can't capture all the beauty of the trail and the dedication of Nick Ybarra and his crew of workers.  The Maah Daah Hey lives up to its reputation, and so does this race.  I'll be back again someday to finish.

Four Complaints About Racing Where You Are

Photo from a local race, by Wes Peck.

Starting a map-based race calendar (even typing that feels weird) brings up a lot of questions from people who are used to finding races the old way.  Here are a few complains, and my rebuttals:

I'm too badass for the races near me.

I get it--you're a badass, and you don't want to waste your time.  You travel far and pay big money to do races against other badasses.  How did those races attract all those badasses?  For the most part (well, for grassroots races I enjoy), it's because some badass took a chance and entered it, even knowing he or she would win.  If you're a badass, you most likely know other badasses from racing them, repeatedly, at your regular badass races (which also happen to be far away).  Take a chance on your local race and raise the bar--invite your badass friends to stay at your place (you get to sleep in your own bed), then get up and race.  You're adding to the local sport, and that's a good thing.

I'm not good enough for the races near me.

So you're a new athlete, or a "slow" athlete--or maybe you really are slow, by all measures (and I'm okay with that if you are).  If you like racing for the sake of racing, doing something "above and beyond" what you're used to is a great, fantastic way to get pumped beforehand and then go out and test yourself.  Before you ran a mile, you'd never run a mile before.  Use a nearby race as a way to try something new without having to shell out for the privilege.

The races near me are too expensive.

I struggle with this one, because it's become a problem in the last several years.  Races that used to cost $15 and included food and prizes now cost $40 (or $100) and include food, prizes, a band at the finish, a fancy shirt, and a bunch of other stuff.  I've outgrown wanting all that other stuff, but it's okay if you like it--there are plenty of races out there that will gladly take your money and give you stuff in return, then tack on a race.  

Local competition (meaning other, cheaper nearby races) ought to be the answer, but sometimes that's not possible (or else you wouldn't be asking this question).  You may have to travel if you want to race on a certain date and can't find anything local, but the key here is to tell the race why you aren't entering.  Race directors tend to only get positive feedback, and only then from people who actually did the race.  If you would do it "except it costs too much," drop them a line and tell them so (nicely).  It's only through this type of feedback that RD's can learn that most of those pint glasses end up being donated to Goodwill at the end of the year.

There aren't any races where I live.

A lot of times, there just isn't a race that's local, or near enough to be called local.  The best way to fix this?  Put on a race!  Work with local clubs (running, cycling, whatever you have) to get something going.  Maybe your local government will even chip in some money if it brings people to town.  It will take some work, but you can start with informal events and go from there.

Good luck folks!


Race Registrations are Live

Photo by Wes Peck, used with permission.

It's early, but Northern Plains Athletics is officially hosting online race registration for Bikecicle 2015.  If you're in the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks area in February, you should check it out.

Some details and history: Although this is a first for NPA, I've been running online event registration for two organizations since January of 2013: ENDracing and Ground Up Adventures (including GUP subdivisions Northern Heights Rock Gym and Boathouse on the Red).  This isn't necessarily to brag or even try to sell you on using NPA for online registration--just to reassure you that I know what I'm doing.  That being said, these are all in addition to a "regular" job--and so handling (many) additional race registrations at this time would detract from the quality of service I'm able to provide.  

I'm providing online registration for Bikecicle as a way to help out the Northern Star Cycling Club, and because I think some of the other online registrations end up charging more than small events want to handle.  Doing this as a hobby, I don't have to worry about overhead as much, so I can charge a little less.

Race Report: ENDracing Double Feature

Auralee is a runner who lives in Grand Forks, ND.

END-TOMBED: 12 hour mountain bike race at Turtle River State Park. Do as many loops around a 10 mile course that you can in the 12 hour time limit.

END-TRAILS: 12 hour trail run at Turtle River State Park. Do as many loops around a 6.2 mile course that you can in the 12 hour time limit.

UNDEAD HALL OF FAME: Complete 100 miles on the mountain bike and then run 50 miles the next day within the time limit.

Day 1

I went out at a relatively easy pace for the 1/2 mile loop run before reaching the bikes; I stayed with the mid pack runners and let the other experienced mountain bikers sprint ahead. Once I reached my bike I clipped on my helmet and slipped my running shoes into the strapped pedals on an Ellsworth Evolve 29er mountain bike. The beginning of the course began near the river on loose sand, single track, and a few twisting turns. It continued onto some more open trail with a few gentle rolling hills and enough room for bikers to pass alongside me.

The next part of the course for me was one of the harder sections; single track with several climbs and descents with not much room for error; there were several tree trunks I needed to stay clear of and keep the bike on the narrow trail to avoid falling down a hill. My first lap I did my best to figure out what speed was safe enough for me to maneuver my way through without crashing into anything or making any of the riders behind me upset for going too slow. I did brush my handlebars against a few trees and slipped out of my pedals a few times, but by the middle of the day I think I figured it out and made less mistakes. There was one steep hill on an old road the led up to a grassy open pasture; whenever I'd reach the hill my quads, which were already burning from the single track section, got another blast of pain on the way up.

Photo by Wes Peck.

Eventually as the day wore on, the lactic acid or whatever it was that caused the pain didn't seem to bother me as much. As bad as this sounds, I actually was grinning from ear to ear during the beginning laps, relishing in the speed and scenery flying by - I was having a blast! After the pasture I went down the hill and continued on some more single track. This led to a section of the park on road, gravel, and then bumpy single track in the woods. This section was another challenging part as the day wore on, mostly because I always needed to stand and pump the pedals hard, which is challenging on tired legs, and when I'd try to sit in the saddle it made for a sore ride.

After the bumps there was a descent towards a river crossing onto a very narrow bridge with no sides. I think this part of the course was the most scary for me - I kept thinking I was going to fall off the bridge and into the river, so I was extra alert and did everything possible to keep the bike steady. This never got easy for me, but I managed to stay on the bridge and not go into the water on all 10 laps. The course continued on some more road with a hill, then grassy trail, and down a rough windy bike path descent with one sharp turn that knocked me out of my pedals a few times leading back up again. From there it was on the road again through the camp ground and a few grassy trail sections before coming to the end of the loop.

I stopped after each lap only for a few minutes to grab something to eat from my car or go to the bathroom in the lodge before taking off again. There were a few other women doing the race that were much more experienced in mountain biking than me, and I didn't see much of them since they were always ahead of me. I finished my 10 laps I think near 6pm and didn't have to bike in the dark at all. Originally my goal was to just do 100 miles and be done for the weekend; I didn't intend to run 50 miles the next day, but Andy and Tammy convinced me to give it a shot.

Day 2

My legs had a different kind of soreness to them in the morning - mostly around my quads and knees and it felt uncomfortable to walk some, but I could still manage to do a slow jog. I heard that I may get saddle sores, but I was out of my saddle so much during the bike course the day before that I didn't feel very sore on my seat.

I chatted a bit with Lisa Thompson, another woman going for the Undead-Hall-of-Fame goal who had completed 11 laps the previous day about how she felt, mountain biking, and just other random stuff on the first lap of the run course. It was fun to meet someone who was just as adventurous and driven as me to complete the race. She had run a 50 miler before and other ultra race distances, so I was listening in on any advice she had to share. We ran the first lap mostly together before I decided to pick up the pace just slightly faster than her. The run course was almost identical to the bike course except for a different section of single track which I had run previously on other visits to the park. The challenging part of the course was the beginning single track for me; I had to walk and shuffle/jog my way through as the day continued on very sore muscles. Some things that kept me going were mantras others have shared with me and just being able to push past pain. I was enjoying the day - the temperature was comfortable and running in the woods kept the wind minimal.

Photo by Wes Peck.

Lap 7 was the hardest for me - my energy just shut down and I had to walk for several minutes before trying to shuffle/jog before I eventually started to feel better towards the end of the lap and be able to run again. I crossed paths with Lisa on a part of the course where we see other racers, and I thought she was close behind me (which I eventually found out she wasn't), but this gave me some extra motivation to pick up the pace and kick it in on my last lap around. I think my last lap I was my strongest and I gave everything I had. I don't know what my time was since my Garmin lost reception at mile 20, but I finished before it was dark again, and this time was able to enjoy eating the free meal given to racers. I had a great time visiting with other runners and hearing about their race experiences.

I did enjoy both events, but it was the hardest thing I have ever done. When I got home on Sunday, I exclaimed to my husband, “That was harder than giving birth, and I did that naturally!” The races gave me the opportunity to figure out what I was made of and how far I could push myself – and I think I reached that limit. ENDracing is extraordinary and something that makes living in North Dakota a bonus. I've never biked/run so far in my life and would probably never have discovered this if it wasn't for these types of unique races. Thank you for everyone who volunteered and organized the event.