Dynex Dux in the Arctic & the gym. PLUS, Five marathons before 30?

Running in Marstrand, on the west coast of Sweden.

Let us call this the official start of my marathon training blog. And my marathon training in earnest. I tried doing this last year a bit, when I had the brazen idea of running a marathon in under three hours. Which I now realize is downright impossible unless I totally change my lifestyle to accommodate it. Which I do not really want to do. But that effort (both the training and the blog), quickly faded. Time to start over.

I want to start this one with something I meant to write about back in January when Mia was at sea on Kinship. I have been a long proponent of Dynex Dux as sailboat rigging after first hearing about it at a seminar Brion Toss gave at the 2009 Annapolis Sailboat Show. That is when I first met Mike Meer, who would later teach me yacht rigging (and hire me at Southbound!), and the first time I saw Dux rigged on a sailboat, the beautifully restored Westsail 32 that Southbound had in the show that year. Toss was very persuasive, and Mia and I soon found ourselves negotiating with John Franta from Colligo Marine. Since then John and us have had a great relationship - we have done two boat shows with him, and continue to give feedback from the field on Colligo's rigging and fittings. 

ANYWAY, (as Chuck Klosterman might write), what does Dux have to do with running? A little. And I will get there in a sec. Legend has it that the material started use as a commercial supply for the Alaskan fishing industry. Jack Molan was there with Franta at that Annapolis boat show. He is the captain of one of those Deadliest Catch crabbing boats, and had used Dux to replace the wire on nets and winches as early as the late 90s. He and Franta, personal friends, then started experimenting with it on their sailboats and the rest is history.

I also heard it was used for dogsledding, as the stuff is so tough the dogs cannot chew through it (the light weight of it being a big plus as well). Last winter I had the ridiculously cool opportunity to be neighbors with Richard Rees, who owns Wild Spirit Bushcraft. Richard started in Wales (I love his accent), but has since moved to Sweden to expand his company into dogsledding, and he occupied the house next door to Mia's family in Dunderbo for a while. Once or twice a week he would come knocking, and I would suit up in my thermals and blue overalls and walk across the yard to help harness up the dogs to the sled. At that point Richard had never actually driven a real sled in real snow. There is surprisingly a big dogsledding club in Wales, but they use sleds with wheels, ala the Jamaican bobsled team in Cool Runnings. So these weekly outings with the dogs were learning experiences for both of us.

At the time, Richard had eight dogs, but we started slow, hooking up only four the first time out. Richard drove the empty sled while I followed along in the four-wheeler. The first leg of our 10k loop around the countryside surrounding Dunderbo was a twisty path through the forest - dogsleds like to go straight in the open, in fields and on frozen lakes, so this was a bit of a challenge, but we got through it. Halfway into the loop we would stop the dogs for a rest and some water, and switch roles. Richard taught me the traditional mushing commands of 'Gee!' (right) and 'Haw!' (left) that the musher must shout out to the lead dog to get them going in the right direction. The huskies are incredibly smart, and the leads are usually females. Avalanche (the snow-white dog who once escaped and killed two of the neighbors chickens) and Kiruna (named for the Arctic city in northern Sweden) were training to be the two leads. 

Getting the sled going is exciting. There is a grappling hook-like anchor that you set to keep the dogs from running wild (all they want to do in life is pull that sled!), and when you are standing on the runners and ready to go, you yank up the anchor and are off in a flash. And it is faster than you might think. Once we got the nerve to hook up all eight dogs at once (a 'real' team sometimes consists of up to 16!), we clocked speeds over 30km per hour on the flats! My only mishap was that first turn into the forest upon leaving the village. I took a hard right with all eight dogs attached. The sled slid sideways and toppled over, sending me into the pine trees on the side of the path and the dogs running through the forest at full speed, now unbound by the weight of me on the sled. Miraculously the sled (a handmade, beautifully crafted piece of artwork) righted itself and made it through the forest unscathed. Richard raced ahead on the 4-wheeler and managed to stop the dogs while I tried to catch up in my heavy boots.

Splicing Dux for the dogsled at Richard's cabin in Sweden.

I tell this story because we indeed used Dynex Dux for the mainline on the sled. I showed it to Richard one night, who was understandably impressed, and we spent an evening sitting in his small cabin in Dunderbo drinking red wind and splicing the line with his handmade knife that Mia's neighbor made out of polished wood and moose horn (I had one made for my dad for his 60th birthday - he refuses to use it, instead hanging it under the mantle by the fireplace at home. He is afraid of losing it).

Last spring Richard packed up and moved north to Åre, where he and his girlfriend Claire now have 36 huskies and a successful winter program leading bushcraft courses and taking people on dogsledding expeditions. Check them out at wildspirit.se.

And onto Dux and marathon training somehow. My friend back home in PA has a gym in an old barn outside Reading. There is not a single machine in the gym - instead he has climbing ropes, kettlebells, Olympic platforms and weighted sleds to push and pull across an astroturf runway. The nylon handles on one of the sleds was coming apart, so I ordered up some Dux from Colligo and spliced up some new ones for Dane. Those sleds provide most of my marathon cross-training now (when I'm home at least), in addition to box jumps and power cleans. So, there you have it - Dux in Alaska, Dux in Sweden, and now Dux in Garage Strength. The myriad uses!

As for my real marathon training, to come full circle…It started in earnest yesterday when I did Day 1 of an 18-week program to get ready for the Vansbro Marathon on July 4 in Sweden. It was only a 3-mile jog, the tip of the iceberg in a program that will ultimately see me run 604 total training miles, including 17 runs over ten miles, and three over 20 miles, leading up to the event. In reality it will be less - I love to cross train, mostly cycling and the aforementioned Garage Strength workouts - and I will be spending a fair bit of time sailing this spring, with two deliveries, an ocean race and a round DelMarVa cruise planned between now and July.

Pulling the sled at Garage Strength, with the new Dux handles I made for Dane.

But that is the fun part. I LOVE to run, and including it on sailing trips makes both activities even more fun. I will get the chance now to train in Ft. Lauderdale en route to the Abacos, where I will catch another run before sailing north on Susie Q. Then I will have the chance to catch a couple of training runs in St. Thomas before bringing Saudade north. We will stop in Bermuda, where I will undoubtedly do some hill runs up Fort George to Bermuda Radio, one of my favorite places on the island. And then running in a new place again when we make landfall in Rhode Island. Exploring a place on foot, at a jogging pace is the best way to see a place, to get the feel for it. The exercise is almost secondary, made all the more interesting because I have a goal to reach.

Vansbro will be my 4th marathon, and it will serve two purposes. One, it puts me one step closer to completing 5 marathons before I turn 30 (it dawned on me in January on my 29th birthday that I had better get my butt moving if that was actually going to happen. Mia is only 27, so she has a bit more leeway). And two, I want to run another PR. Baltimore in October was my fastest time yet at 3:55:00. Vansbro is off road, so it will be a tad slower that if it were on asphalt I expect, so I will not put a number on. I just want to get below 3:55 and a new PR. 

But come fall, and I will have bigger goals in mind. I want to break 3:45:00 when we run the Wine Glass Marathon up in the Finger Lakes region of NY. And ultimately, one of these days I am really going to put the effort in and break "Andy Schell's" record of 3:23:00 that my Finnish friend Emil Fast set in Stockholm last year running under my name (I gave him my place). I need to at least make it legitimate!