Monday, May 30, 2011

Conquering the 10Kato

After a 6-month hiatus from road races (an eternity if you love running as much as I do), I finally broke the seal on the 2011 racing season with the 10Kato Memorial Day Run this morning. I'm not sure why I took so much time off from racing, but it's good to be back.

Despite having ran everything from 5K's to marathons in the past, I was actually kind of nervous at the start of 10Kato. Long training runs have been sporadic at best for me this spring (I've been doing a lot more biking than running), and if that wasn't enough, I pulled my groin playing softball last week.

I've spent most of the last few days icing and doing some light stretching with the hopes of healing up enough to run. Honestly, my main goal was to finish race without making the injury worse. Besting my time from two years ago was a distant secondary goal.

At the risk of overlapping content-wise with a column I plan on writing for tomorrow's paper about the race, I'll keep my blog post relatively brief. However, I will say this about the race: I was pleasantly surprised.

Despite struggling with the humidity and actually having to (gasp!) stop and walk a few times in the last couple miles, I finished in 40:48, placed 10th overall and beat my old time by more than 20 seconds. I definitely did not see that happening when a group of volunteers shot me a series of "get moving, you wimp" glares as I walked past them.

I guess this is a sign that I need to get out and do more road races. It obviously wasn't my best run in terms of pacing, but it was a blast nonetheless and I still get a rush when the finish line comes into view.

Congrats to all the other runners and walkers who participated in the race! It was good to see you all out on the trail!

*My coworker Amanda also partook in the 10Kato festivities, completing the 2-mile walk while wearing jeans and makeup (a bold strategy attire-wise). Her blog post on it can be viewed here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

My first scraped knee of the year

Even the most seasoned of cyclists can take a tumble from time to time.

It's kind of unavoidable if you go riding enough. Sometimes there's an unforeseen obstruction in the road that you don't spot until it's too late. Other times, it's a careless motorist that's oblivious to your existence.

In my case, it was the combination of a sharp turn and some unforeseen mud on the bike path near Riverfront Park.

I was trying to get in a quick 10-mile ride on my dinner break on Wednesday and decided to bike the Minnesota River Trail from Sibley Park to the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail changeover. I figured I'd been neglecting that stretch of trail this spring (not without good reason, the downtown trail entrance near my apartment is still closed) and an evening with pleasant weather was as good a time as any to revisit it.

The ride was going wonderfully at first. I was enjoying the river scenery and the stresses of work were melting away like they always tend to do when I'm out biking.

When you ride on a trail enough times, it kind of becomes second nature. You bike through turns a little faster because you know exactly how they bend. You also know where every hill is and what side of the trail to bike on so as to avoid potholes.

Despite my spring-time hiatus, I have that type of familiarity with the Minnesota River Trail. I've ridden on it a countless number of times and the right-hand bend in the trail near the amphitheater in Riverfront Park is one that I'm very well acquainted with.

However, that acquaintance does not include the mud that was caked on the trail. Having not noticed the mud ahead of time (again, I'm almost too familiar with the trail and probably wasn't paying enough attention), I took the turn at a speed I normally would have and the end result was my bike tires giving out from under me.

Pavement, meet leg.

Total damages from the fall: A silver dollar-sized raspberry on my knee (not going to post pictures of it because that would be gross), a scraped-up leg and a busted mp3 player. Not my finest moment on bike.

But as the old saying goes: Failure is not falling down, but refusing to get back up. I've taken my share of falls and had my share of bad luck on a bike over the years, but that doesn't stop me from getting back out there.

I always figure misfortunes are a way of testing your mettle. My response to the latest test? I biked to softball league yesterday and went for a 12-mile ride in the rain today.

My passion for cycling runs deeper than a mere scrape on the knee.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The "running" playlist

Throughout the course of my blogging, I've probably received about five emails from readers asking me about what songs I'd recommend for a 'running' playlist.

I always thought the question was a little odd. After all, everyone has different tastes in music. It also depends on what type of music you enjoy running to. Some people like a slow, steady beat, some like fast-paced, some just like listening to their favorite band.

I personally don't go with a playlist while running. For one thing, I like the randomness of putting my mp3 on shuffle. For another, I still haven't figured out how to upload playlists onto the darn thing (I'm technology illiterate, please help me).

However, after the topic was brought up to me recently by a coworker whose wife is getting into running, I started wondering what songs I would put on a hypothetical 'running' playlist.

Here is the list I came up with, but before I go into it, please keep the following in mind:

  • I don't claim to be a music savant by any means. I only have about 1,100 songs in my music library and I'm sure there are an endless number of bands that would contribute nicely to this list. Please do not send me angry emails if I forgot a "crucial" band.
  • That being said, I have a pretty diverse music tastes. I grew up on classic rock and country, rebelled with a Green Day/punk phase in middle school and watched an inordinate amount of BET when my parents weren't home. I also listen to The Current regularly and have recently developed a taste for bluegrass music.
  • The lone exception to my interests is the boy band/pop brand of music. I have a fair amount of Michael Jackson, but there are no Backstreet Boys/N Sync/Britney Spears songs to be found on my mp3 player.
  • I tried to keep my list to 30 songs and limited my choices to songs that are actually on my mp3 player. I guess I'm hoping to actually make this as a playlist if I ever get around to it.
  • There are several bands that I enjoy listening to that got left on this list. Apologies to the Beatles, Nirvana and David Bowie. It's not you, it's me.
  • Fair warning: The language on some of these songs is a little vulgar. I tried not to limit my choices to songs that would be considered "family friendly." So if you have sensitive ears, please do not listen to "100 Miles and Runnin'."

Anyway, here's the list. Feel free to email me with any other suggestions:

Pert Near Sandstone -- I am the Walrus (available on the Minnesota Beatles Project Vol. 2 CD)
The Lost Fingers -- Billie Jean (they do AMAZING acoustic covers of '80's music, by the way)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bike trip destinations: Thunder Restaurant

Distance from downtown Mankato: 15 miles using the Red Jacket Trail. You might be able to shave a few miles if you rode on Highway 66 the whole way, but I wouldn't recommend it (it's a very meandering road with a lot of twists and turns to make it unsafe for cyclists).

Route I took: Like several of my previous rides, the route utilizes the Red Jacket Trail out to Rapidan, where you hang a left at the stop sign in town, follow the road about a mile, take a right onto Highway 66 and follow that into Good Thunder. Once in Good Thunder, take a right on Main Street. The restaurant will be on your left. If you're following my routes from last year, this would be the same way you'd take to the Amboy Cottage Cafe and Green Giant Statue Park, though both of those locations are further away.

General ease/challenge of ride: As I've stated before, rides don't get much easier than the Red Jacket Trail. The trail is well shaded and shielded from most wind, plus the incline out of the river valley (miles 4-6 on the trail) is very gradual and barely even requires you to down shift. However, with the trestle bridge out of commission, riders have to take the Highway 66 detour across the Le Sueur River, which requires going down a steep off ramp followed by biking up an even steeper incline to get back to the trail. After Rapidan, riders are more at the mercy of wind and the draft of vehicles on Highway 66 (I had a 20 mph head wind when I did this trip, not one of my more pleasant rides). On the upside, there aren't any real hills to worry about. Fair warning though: The hill out of Good Thunder on your return trip can be a doozie if you ate too much.

Safety of the ride: Since this is a route I've used on previous posts, I won't bore my readers by being overly-specific on safety. In short, the Red Jacket Trail is extremely safe for cyclists; Highway 66, not so much.

Appeal of the destination: One of the things I've always enjoyed about small-town restaurants is the unique setting they all have. Places like Applebees and Olive Garden are dime-a-dozen to the point where it seems like their menu choices and wall decor came off an assembly line or something. Places like that are meant to shuffle customers in and out as quickly as possible. Nobody stops to look at posters and pictures hanging on the wall at TGIFridays, unless they're either incredibly bored or in a drug-altered state of mind.

That's not the case at the Thunder Restaurant. It's actually encouraged to take some time to look around, as the pictures hanging on the walls all have meaning behind them. Matter of fact, the photos actually serve as a pseudo-history lesson on the town of Good Thunder. There's pictures of everything from old farm equipment to an early 1900s photo of the town's Main Street, giving the restaurant a very local feel.

(random side note: My grandfather actually grew up in Good Thunder, so I was half-expecting to find a youthful photo of him among the wall decor. No luck)

Beyond wall decorations, the general atmosphere of the restaurant has a small-town feel to it. Aside from myself, the waitress on duty knew the first names of EVERY customer that came in, no small task since the place was filling up fast with dinner patrons by the time I left (I got there around 5:20, beating the rush by a few minutes).

It also wasn't a place operating with a sense of urgency. Lazy country music played in the background, customers chatted it up with each other and the waitress took the time to make actual conversation with people (unlike the usual "I'm trying to act friendly so I can get a good tip" lip service you get at most places). For regular customers, the restaurant isn't just a place to eat. It's also a social meeting ground where they can catch up on each other's daily happenings.

Being a first-timer at the restaurant, I felt a little out of place with the whole social vibe of it. But I guess that makes sense. Nobody knew me at the restaurant, I was by myself, I was wearing biking clothes and I spent much of the time taking notes on my laptop. Considering the fact that Good Thunder is a bit off the beaten trail for cycling routes, I'm guessing they don't see cyclists there on a regular basis.

Food-wise, the restaurant has a surprising amount of variety on their menu. They have a full set of appetizers (mini tacos, mozzarella sticks, cheese curds, etc.) and dinner options that included salads, wraps, steaks, sandwiches, burgers (locals recommended Best Damn Burger) and pizza.
Since it was Mexican Night at the restaurant, I decided to go with the daily theme and ordered the nacho supreme platter. The waitress advised against ordering anything more than the nachos, explaining that it was a sizable dinner on its own. However, since I was famished from the bike ride, I decided to throw in a side of Mexican tater tots (basically regular tater tots with Mexican seasoning). Big mistake.

As the photo at right would indicate, the waitress wasn't lying about the nacho platter's proportions. The photo doesn't even do it justice, it was HUGE. Combine that with the tater tots and a couple glasses of Mountain Dew, and I needed every bit of the 15-mile bike ride (and 5-mile run afterward) to burn off the calories. On the upside, the food was very good and the price was crazy cheap ($12 collectively for the whole meal).

Another appeal in the Thunder Restaurant is that it's only a block away from the town's stunning grain elevator mural paintings. According to an MPR article, the paintings were done by Tacumba Aiken in 1987 and are meant to depict the history of the town and region. The dominant figure in the 40-foot portrait is the town's namesake, the Dakota Indian Good Thunder (on the far right in the photo).

I wouldn't look too hard trying to figure out a storyline or theme to the various images; there isn't any as far as I can tell. Just sit back and enjoy the mural for what it is: An artistic slice of small town Minnesota

New Mankato trail map for all you hiking and and biking junkies

Anybody walking through the hallway near the Life Center at the YMCA might do well to check out the pamphlet bin on the wall. There's more to it these days than the usual road race entry forms and health group musings.

An updated map of all the biking and hiking trails in the Mankato area has been released, courtesy of the Greater Mankato Convention & Visitors Bureau.

On it you'll find some of the newer bike trails in the city, including the Minneopa Trail and the off-street bike paths on Rockford and Thompson Ravine roads, as well as a few on-street bike routes that have been developed in the last few years. This comes in addition to all the usual suspects of Mankato trails (Red Jacket, South Route, Sakatah, Rasmussen Woods) being listed.

Also included is a map of four suggested bike loops in the area, ranging from a Sakatah Singing Hills loop out to the Madison to a Red Jacket loop down to Garden City. Each loop includes a description of the route and has points of interest listed for cyclists to stop at along the way.

For me, the suggested loop part of the map is the real treat. Anybody with a bike and an hour to kill can go do a down-and-back ride on the Red Jacket Trail. But listing a Red Jacket route that goes all the way to Lake Crystal gives cyclists day-trip ideas complete with places to eat (Rapidan Dam Store) and sights to see (Rapidan Dam, Minneopa and Minnemishinoma Falls) along the way.

Not only is it great exercise, but it's a great way to explore the community as well. Heck, I might have to use a few of my days off this summer to bike out the routes. They all seem pretty feasible and I'm sure my readers wouldn't mind hearing about them.

Aside from the YMCA, maps are also available at all in-city hotels, the city's intergovernmental center, Flying Penguin Outdoor Sports, and outside the office of the Greater Mankato Convention and Visitors Bureau at the Civic Center.

The map can also be viewed online here.

Friday, May 13, 2011

No trail race for me this weekend (apologies to my readers)

I've always prided myself on being a person who follows through on his committments, particularly when those committments involve time and money I've already invested.

So as you can probably guess, when I register for a road race, that means I'm going to run it. It might be a painful experience (Grandma's Marathon last year and a 5K I once ran on an excruciatingly sore hip come to mind), but I don't back out of races. I figure I've already paid the registration fee for it, so I might as well run the darn thing.

I had every intention of continuing this trend at the 7 @ 7 Trail Run this weekend. I signed up for it over a month ago, put in my fair share of training miles and was really looking forward to racing it it (and wearing the event t-shirt, kudos to whoever designed it, it looks awesome!).

However, due to my ignorance, I didn't realize that the trail run happens to be the same weekend as opener for fishing. And as luck would have it, I actually have the entire weekend off from work (definitely not a regular occurrence).

Now, I'll never admit to being an avid bait fisherman. My tackle box is nearly bare and my fishing rod rarely comes out of the closet in the summertime. Darkhouse spear fishing in the wintertime is my angling passion, and summers for me are mostly spent biking, running and attempting to play tennis.

But fishing opener is the exception to those interests. My dad and my brothers normally head up north for the weekend, and due to my work schedule, I haven't been able to join them for several years. On top of that, my dad is recovering from a recent surgery on his foot and has been looking for every excuse possible to get out of the house. Nobody likes being cooped up, especially someone as outdoors-oriented as my dad is (now you all know where I get it from).

I haven't seen him since his surgery, so I figure a weekend fishing adventure is a good way to catch up and help boost his spirits. It will also be a much-needed relaxing couple of days for myself.

So consequently, I will not be running in the 7 @ 7 race this weekend. The cabin we fish at is too far north and nobody likes to be the person that has to come home early from a weekend getaway. This means that my entry fee is now going to waste, but like the "fish in the sea" analogy for the opposite sex, there are plenty of other road races to run.

I wish nothing but the best of luck to all the runners this weekend, and I hope the weather and the trails cooperate in what looks to be a wonderful inaugural event for Final Stretch and the Greater Mankato Multisport Club.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sakatah and Cannon Valley trails to be linked

Recreational cyclists in Mankato rejoice: There will soon be a trail long enough for even the most hardcore of riders. Heck, it almost stretches into another state!

While searching for Minnesota bike trails the other day, I came across a website for the soon-to-be-built Mill Towns Trail. When completed, Mill Towns will stretch nearly 30 miles from Faribault to Cannon Falls and will link the Sakatah Singing Hills and the Cannon Valley trails.

According to the trail's website, construction has already begun in Northfield, and construction in Faribault is due to begin this summer. However, there is no timetable for the trail's completion as a whole, as construction plans are likely to hampered by state-wide budget restraints.

Regardless of timetable, the Mill Towns Trail is definitely something for southern Minnesota cyclists to get excited about. Not only is it showcasing a wonderful cycling town in Northfield, but a completed Mill Towns Trail means that cyclists would be able to bike all the way from Mankato to Red Wing on bike paths. And if you include Mankato's Minnesota River and Red Jacket trails, that would combine to be roughly 100 miles of non-stop paved trails.

Needless to say, you might want to pack a lunch if you plan to bike the whole thing at once.

Friday, May 6, 2011

National bicycle league shows Mankato some love

It looks like the Mankato area is finally getting the recognition it deserves for it's comprehensive system of bike trails.

According to an article in today's (Saturday) Valley section, Mankato and North Mankato earned honorable mention distinction as a Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. The distinction is based on an evaluation of a community's engineering, education, encouragement and enforcement efforts toward biking. Apple Valley and Rosemont were the other Minnesota communities to earn honorable mention designation.

Really, this should come as no surprise to any of the regular cyclists in Mankato. The city is loaded with bike trails and city legislatures have made a concentrated effort to make cycling a viable form of in-town transportation.

Probably the biggest reason I ever got into health & fitness writing was my discovery of all the great bike trails Mankato had to offer when I moved here three years ago.

I've always enjoyed riding my bike, but it used to be more a product of necessity than anything else. Either I needed it to train for triathlons, or I needed it to get to work when I didn't have a car in college. St. Cloud doesn't have much for recreational trails, so recreational biking was never really a big part of my life.

But that all changed after my first ride on the Red Jacket Trail. Biking is now an everyday passion of mine, and as readers of my blog can attest, I can't shut up about it.

Three things have always stuck out to me about Mankato's biking culture:

  • Its great mix of recreational and commuter trails. The Red Jacket/Minneopa/Sakatah trails offer a lot of great scenery for recreational riders, but Mankato's trails go beyond mere leisure. You can pretty much get anywhere in town on bike trails, whether it's River Hills Mall, MSU campus or the downtown bars and restaurants.
  • The connectivity of its trails. Almost all the trails in Mankato link up in some way or another, making it possible to commute from opposite ends of town without having to bike through much traffic. If you're a fan of longer rides, it also gives you the chance to get creative with loops (here is a 25-mile loop I did a couple weeks ago).
  • The constant efforts by city legislatures to improve and expand on existing trails. Since I moved here, the Minneopa Trail has been completed and Riverfront Park has been revived as a potential transportation hub. But city administrators aren't stopping there. Plans are in place for trail construction on Madison Avenue and North Mankato is looking to expand it's trail system as well.

At present, Minneapolis and Rochester are the only cities in Minnesota that have been fully recognized as bike-friendly. Minneapolis has a silver rating and Rochester a bronze. Call me a homer, but I think our little city in the river valley is well on its way to joining them.

Bravo, Mankato.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Return of the summer bike trip series

After an April we'd all like to forget weather-wise, I figure my readership could use a little pick-me-up that involves warmer temperatures on the horizon.

Well, here it goes: Back by popular demand is the summer bike trip series.

Over the next few months, I'll be doing occasional entries about destinations in the Mankato area that can be reached on two wheels and a set of pedals (and hopefully with minimal flat tires). Unlike typical training rides, these trips won't be about the speed that one can complete them in. Rather, they will about the appeal of their destinations and the adventure it takes to get there.

It seems like this got a lot of good responses from people last summer. Perhaps others share my cycling-crazed belief that life is simply more exciting on a bicycle.

Similar to last year, I will post a route map of each trip and write about the ease/challenge of the ride, the safety of the ride and the appeal of the destination. Also similar to last year, I will post any trips submitted to me by other riders. Just e-mail your suggestions, photos and maps to

Here are a few guidelines if you're going to suggest a trip:

  • The destination should be a place that has some appeal to it. Maybe it's a restaurant with good food. Or a state park with some cool hiking trails and viewpoints. Or perhaps it's a historical landmark with an intriguing story behind it. Whatever the case, it should be a place you want to stop and hang out at for awhile.
  • Extending the previous guideline further, it should be a place that can be enjoyed by people beyond yourself. Your grandparents' house may be an enjoyable visit for you, but it means little to me (unless of course they're making cookies, then it's somewhat enjoyable).
  • It has to be a destination that a person can bike to and make it back to Mankato in a day. The bike trips are meant to be more of a "fun stuff to do on your day off"-type activity. I enjoy visiting the North Shore area of Minnesota as much as the anyone, but unless you're Lance Armstrong, you're not biking there and back in a day.
  • On the flip side, it also has to be a destination with some degree of difficulty to reach. Reasonable guideline: If it takes you less than 15 minutes to walk there, it's not a challenge.
  • The route should be relatively safe for cyclists. Roads are pretty much unavoidable if you're going to bike to another town. However, there's a big differencTe between biking on a low-traffic country road with wide shoulders than bracing for the constant flow of cars on Highway 169.

Here's a recap of the bike trips I did last summer: