Equipped with a hydration pack on his back, a couple of candy bars, his audiobook library, three layers of clothing and ball of coconut oil in a ziplock bag, Craig Simonson set out running.
He began at the Canadian border, and this weekend, after just 15 days, his 500-mile solo run across the state will end at the Wisconsin border at La Crosse.
"I've never ran remotely this far before," he said Thursday at Burnsville High School after 12 days and 325 miles run behind him.
Simonson's run is his way of participating in The Epilepsy Foundation's Athletes vs. Epilepsy campaign, a partnership that formed through Simonson's Epsom salt company.
"It's been really exciting to try something new," he said.
Simonson grew up in Savage and attended M.W. Savage Elementary and Eagle Ridge Middle School before graduating from Burnsville in 2009.
A little over a year ago, Simonson launched Savasana Epsom, an salt company with products meant to help muscle recovery. That's when The Epilepsy Foundation reached out and Simonson began learning about the muscle soreness that people with epilepsy experience.
"Everything we were doing was in alignment with their organization," he said.
He began looking for a grassroots way to develop his company's brand and raise awareness and money for epilepsy research.
"I hadn't seen anyone that had ran from the top of the state to the bottom of the state," he said.
Simonson began "ultra running" a few years ago and said it's a perfect fit because he's not a particularly fast runner.
He said over the past week he's averaged around 30 miles each day, oftentimes trudging through snowy ditches to avoid dangerous patches of icy roadways.
Each night, he finds a spot to stay, usually through Airbnb, and takes a bath with his salts.
For Simonson, Thursday's visit brought reunions with past teachers and an opportunity to speak with students about nutrition and the quirky realities of running 500 miles.
"I'm so excited to see Craig today at the high school and hear him talk to the students," said Wendy Drugge, Simonson's former high school math teacher. "The reason why I always remembered Craig is that he was always the most positive student. Whenever anything was slightly difficult or frustrating, Craig just learned he needed to work harder, and that's why I think he's so successful at what he is doing now."
Simonson also spoke to students in Matt Deutsch's culinary class and refueled with some high-protein snacks the students prepared for him.
"You don't understand how much food is fuel until you are actually doing something like this," Simonson told the students.
Sleep, water and eating more greens are the foundation, he said, but he doesn't follow any specific diet in his everyday life. He reassured students that he does occasionally order pizza, and his favorite food is mashed potatoes and gravy.
But while he's running, he said nutrition is a "huge science equation" for his muscles. He has even used a spreadsheets to identify how much of each nutrient he needs per hour based on outdoor temperatures and his current weight.
While the weather hasn't been ideal, Simonson said he knew the run would be the best way to kick off the year, and he plans on more ultra runs in the future.
And in case you're wondering, the farthest he has ever run at once is 100 miles in 32 hours.