Joy and Subterfuge: Wicked Halloween Run Recap

I WAS SURROUNDED BY SUPERHEROES, monsters, and even a refrigerator, but what impressed me most was a nine-year-old girl.

Pacing assignments at 7:00 a.m.

Pacing assignments at 7:00 a.m.

Last Sunday I paced the Wicked Halloween 10K, one of the races put on by the Kona Running Company. I enjoy pacing their events for many reasons – the large turnout, the cool shirts, a great location (downtown Plymouth, MI) and the energy of all involved. They are also unusual in providing pacers for 5K and 10K distances, something normally reserved for the half marathon and longer. But I hear compliments for the pacers at every event, so they’re onto something.

They also make a special effort to recognize first-time racers. I normally run the 52-minute pace, but they needed someone for the “1st Time 10K” so I took the sign. The pace would be easy; the tough part was finding first-timers, despite over 1,600 runners lined up behind the starting gate. There are plenty of first-time 5K runners at Kona races, but most 10Kers have already run some before. (Which leads me to wonder: where do people run their first 10K?)

Never mind "first time" - how does anyone run *at all* in those things?

Never mind “first time” – how does anyone run *at all* in those things?

Eventually I found a few near the back, and after congratulations and photos, off we went. But I got distracted looking at the costumes and lost them at some point. After futile attempts to find more first-timers, I declared a few people to be “Honorary 1st Time 10K” and ran behind them holding the sign. They didn’t seem to mind. Heck, they got some extra kudos from the spectators.

Wicked Halloween Run - Bearded Couple

One of the many cheering sections along the way - another nice touch.

One of the many cheering sections along the way – another nice touch.

At the water stop at the halfway mark, I tried again to locate some genuine first-timers. Finally, I found someone. Yes! My life had meaning again! Then I found a couple more – even a dog. And then I came across this young lady.

Wicked Halloween Run - Joyful Running

Kaney was running her first-ever 10K, but watching her I wouldn’t have guessed. Her pace was steady and her form was excellent. And she was obviously really enjoying herself . “This is what running is all about!” I wanted to say to the adults with her. “Having a good time!” And I did say it, actually.

Wicked Halloween Run - Finish.jpgI stayed with them the rest of the way, and got this photo at the finish. Another good event on another beautiful day. And downtown Plymouth is a fun place to wander around afterward, with small-town charm and at least two excellent non-chain coffee shops – the Coffee Bean and Espresso Elevado – easy walking distance from the park.

Looking forward to pacing The Chocolate Run in a few weeks!

Oh, yes, and here’s the refrigerator. This lady is known for her elaborate costumes!

Wicked Halloween Run - Refrigerator Costume

Spectators: Well-Intentioned Lies, and Positive Signs

DEAR RACE SPECTATORS: You’re wonderful. Really, you are. But please be careful what you say.

One of the things I enjoy about running races are the people who come out to watch us and cheer us on. I’ve written before about how encouraging runners are to each other, particularly with ultramarathons, but the folks who gather at the start and finish, and stand along the course clapping and urging us on, uplift and energize us. And the signs posted along the route can be very entertaining. (See below for some examples.)

But just a word of advice, please,  if you watch a race. There are some things people say with the best of intentions, but really don’t help much. One of the biggest offenders, at least according to runners, is the infamous YAT (“You’re Almost There!”). Infamous because veteran runners hear it at just about every race. Problem is, it’s almost never true.

Fellow blogger sarahdudek80 (“Running on Healthy“) posted this about the YAT recently. She points out that mile 20 of a marathon may seem like “almost there” to spectators and people who’ve never run one, but I can assure you that those last few miles can seem like forever.

I’ve also heard YAT at the 2-mile mark of 5K races. I really feel bad for occasional or first-time runners busting their butts who hear that. That final mile is one-third of the race, which can be another 10 to 15 minutes of pain and strain. You’re welcome to lie to me by yelling, “Looking strong!” when I look like crap, but if I can’t see the finish line, don’t tell me I’m almost there.

But it’s a little thing. We runners really appreciate spectators and their efforts at encouraging us. The positive effects we get from them far outweigh the negatives. In that spirit, here are some of my favorite spectator signs that I was able to capture. These are all from races I actually ran, but enjoyed what I saw enough to slow down or stop and snap a picture.

I’ll kick off with my all-time favorite, from the starting area of the 2011 Chicago Marathon, my first 26.2. I think of this slogan all the time when I’m doing a particularly challenging event, and it never fails to pump me up. (The first line reads, “There Will Be a Day When You Can No Longer Do This.”)

Good Sign

Here are a couple from the 2012 Ann Arbor Marathon:

Sign - Kicking Ass-2

Sign - Run Like You Stole Something-2

This is from the 2012 Martian Invasion of Races half marathon. And yes, I did set a PR!

Motivation at final turn-2

This is actually from my 600-mile bike trip, but I’m counting it:

(In someone's yard just a mile from my house.) An auspicious sign! (yes, pun intended)

(In someone’s yard just a mile from my house.) An auspicious sign! (yes, pun intended)

And finally, from the 2014 Dances with Dirt Green Swamp 50K:

Why Do You Run sign

See you out there! And bring signs!

All Dieters, Please Skip This Post

I HAVE BEEN AN ACCESSORY TO AN ABOMINABLE CRIME.

Or, perhaps more appropriately, an abdominal crime.

It began with a call from my daughter in Richmond, asking for advice with a bread pudding recipe. She’s an excellent and innovative cook and I know my way around bread pudding, so I was happy to help. Well, this one is made with Krispy Kreme donuts. I’d never heard of this variant before, but there are several recipes online. Here’s the one my daughter found.

DD bread pudding

The problem? 18 of those god-awful donuts, plus heavy cream (one quart), milk, condensed milk, and a dozen eggs. And whipped cream topping. Just reading it makes me feel like I’ve gained a pound. It’s a recipe with absolutely no redeeming qualities. There is espresso in the topping, though. I suppose you could use decaf.

A more responsible father would have given her advice designed to thoroughly screw DD bread pudding 3up the result, causing her to trash it and never attempt it again. Unfortunately she has me, who can’t help trying to solve a problem. So I advised her to cut back on the heavy cream and to pre-bake the donuts to get them dry like stale bread. The result was by her account a smashing success. So good, that her friend and baking companion expressed her satisfaction on Facebook in obscene terms.

I felt so guilty that I made myself run 12 miles on Saturday morning without any breakfast. (Well, not on purpose. I just didn’t feel like eating before the run.)

In related news, there’s quite a debate out there on whether running on an empty stomach has any benefits – other than the normal benefits of running, that is. I’ve done long training runs both ways and not usually felt any difference. For races, on the other hand, I always make myself eat something beforehand. For short races, I want the energy to be there for running hard; for trail ultras, I need to stay ahead of the energy curve. It took some time to get used to eating on the run, but it’s essential for the 50K and beyond.

By way of penance, here’s a recipe for a low-fat banana bread pudding. I used lowfat milk instead of the fat-free half and half, and added chopped dates as well. It was a hit. (And caramel sauce with a nip of brandy didn’t hurt, either.)

Bread Pudding - small

Fast Sharks and Loose Shoes: Run Scream Run Recap

Y’all can call me Shoelace.

Run Scream Run - Me with GladiatorLast Saturday was Run Scream Run at Wiard’s Orchards in Ypsilanti. RSR is one of those fall races that attract a lot of casual runners and even non-runners, like turkey trots and chocolate runs do. Despite the chill (about 36 degrees before race start) the turnout was large and even the ghouls and witches were in good spirits.

Here are some things about RSR that make it memorable, at least to those who participate.

It’s at a cider mill. Hard to pick a better place for a fall fun race, and you can bring the family, too. Now, Wiard’s is not what you’d call your typical small-town, homey cider mill. No mistake, they are a big time operation. Which is fine – they have a lot of products to offer, and they easily accommodated the 1,700 runners and the other visitors. I have to say, though, that the cider in their refrigerators was pasteurized and had a preservative in it. I can get that kind of cider at Meijer, so I passed on it. The cinnamon donut was excellent, however.

Costumes. While many runners don’t bother to dress up, there are many who do, and some folks really go all out.

Run Scream Run - costumes

Run Scream Run - costumes 3

The guy in the shark pajamas (to the right of Captain America) won the 10K. Dem land sharks move fast!

The guy in the shark pajamas (to the right of Captain America) won the 10K. Land sharks can run 5:30 miles. You have been warned!

Hmmm...some things may actually be too scary for this blog.

Hmmm…some things may actually be too scary for this blog.

The course. Wiard’s has a whole set of haunted attractions, and some of it gets incorporated into the race. The first was a run through the “Fear Barn” – new this year, and a few people were nervous about it. As it turned out, it was very early in the race, and as I was actually running, I was in and out before anything really happened. Biggghh deal!

RSR-Monster 2More interesting is the Haunted Forest, which is a quarter mile or so of dirt path in the woods flanked by decrepit (by design) wooden buildings and inhabited by various nefarious creatures with chain saws and the like. They typically don’t bother the faster runners, but if you’re jogging or walking – watch out!

And they post people in gruesome costumes at various points on the path – part paved, part grass, with many hiding places available. And just as I re-entered the main orchard, a zombie leaped up from the brush and yelled – and I jumped. He got me, all right! But with just a quarter mile to go, the shot of adrenaline was actually welcome.

Oh, and the “shoelace” part? As I got into the starting queue, I noticed that my left shoe seemed loose, and I carefully retied it. So, naturally, it was my right shoe that came untied at the 2-mile mark. At a longer race, I would have stopped and fixed it, but this was a 10K and I was running well and didn’t want to get out of my groove. So I ran the remaining 4.2 miles with shoelaces flapping. Fortunately, the shoe stayed on, and I finished 14th with another age group win.

Me with another famous "Shoelace", Denard Robinson. Except that he's bigger, probably better looking, has lots more hair and runs about seven times faster than I do, the resemblance is remarkable, don't you think?.

Me with UM’s famous “Shoelace”, Denard Robinson. Except that he’s better looking, has lots more hair and runs about seven times faster than I do, the resemblance is uncanny, don’t you think?.

Kind of hard to believe, but I have no more “official” races until the Holiday Hustle on December 13. Just pacing the Kona races and fun stuff until then. The five races in six weeks sure went fast. I’ll let you know if I go stir crazy and sign up for something else!

Also memorable. Seen here: 2014 medal, 2012 age group award, 2014 award.

Also memorable. Seen here: 2014 medal, 2012 age group award (yep, it’s what you think it is), 2014 award.

Grumpy at the Scrumpy, But It Comes Out All Right

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: If you’re going to a place with a lot of people and things to drink, get there early.

Last Sunday was the Scrumpy Skedaddle, the final event in Running Fit’s “Thirsty 3″ series. Like the Hightail to Ale (at the Atwater Brewery in Detroit), and Running Between the Vines (at the Sandhill Crane Vineyards), it was themed on a drink – in this case, cider – and was held at the Almar Orchards near Flint. The entry included a post-race mug of cider (hard or soft) and pancake breakfast.

These guys flip pancakes right from the griddle onto your plate. Never saw them miss!

These guys flipped pancakes right from the griddle onto the plates. Never saw them miss!

The place was packed with 2,200 runners, their families, and other visitors out to enjoy the pancakes, fresh cider and donuts. It was a beautiful, cool fall morning, and the race course wound through part of the orchard. In all, a perfect day and setting for running and enjoying the after-party.

Not all was sunshine and apple blossoms, however. This being the first year of the series, a few hiccups were inevitable. With Hightail, it was an hour-long wait to get the free beer. At Vines, parking was a challenge. At Scrumpy it was long lines for something more personal.

This is from Hightail to Ale, but you get the idea.

This is from Hightail to Ale, but you get the idea.

With just about every race I run, certain bodily functions go into overdrive before the start. It doesn’t matter what I eat or drink, or whatever else I do prior to leaving the house; when I get to a race location, I need to use the facilities. Sometimes there are proper restrooms, but more often it means using the porta-potties, and close to race time the lines can be long. And this time they were very long. As in football field long.

My need was rather urgent, so there was no other option. Running a 5K with my legs squeezed tight would have been somewhat awkward. As I eased into line, someone on the race staff I know walked by.

“Hi, Jeff,” she said. “How’s it going?”

“Fine,” I said, “except that these lines are too damn long.”

Scrumpy - StartShe showed me a line that was actually moving pretty fast, and I managed to hold it together until a unit freed up. All was well after that, and I got to the starting line just before the gun. Despite almost no warmup, I managed a sixth-place finish and an age group win by several minutes. I got my finishers mug and filled it with Almar’s amazing hard cider. Life was good!

Until I wandered over to the staff tent to ask where the awards were. “I can walk you over there,” someone said, “but are you going to bitch at me?”

Oh, crap.

Back in that line, I hadn’t meant to be mean – I was just venting my frustration in the midst of a crise biologique. But it must have sounded different to the poor race staff. My temporary annoyance had probably been echoed by many other people, and the staff had likely taken a lot of sh** over it. I apologized; it had never been my intent to hurt anyone’s feelings.

Other than that little incident, the event was terrific. The house cider, J. K. Scrumpy’s Farmhouse, is made with organic apples, and has a light, sweet taste with just enough tang in it. I don’t drink much alcohol, and hard cider is usually too dry for me. But I really like this stuff. And it’s even better on tap. Can’t wait for next year!

Check out the swag! Clockwise from bottle: age group winner glass, finisher's mason jar mug, medal / bottle opener, metal hanger for the Thirsty 3 medals, shirt. (Okay, I bought the bottle.)

Check out the swag! Clockwise from bottle: age group winner glass, finisher’s mason jar mug, medal / bottle opener, metal hanger for the Thirsty 3 medals, shirt. (Okay, I bought the bottle.)

And Running Fit Events has already said they’ll run the Thirsty Three in 2015. I’ll be there, and anyone who’s into these kind of events should check them out. These guys do a first-class job, and the glitches will be fixed. (For my part, I’ll be sure to get there earlier.)

As for the race staff – I made up a little gift for them by way of apology. If you’d like to see it, they posted it on the Scrumpy Skedaddle Facebook page. Or you can see it here. Here’s a hint – if people give you sh**, grow roses, I always say. Actually, I just made that up.

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“Scrumpy,” by the way, is a type of cider originally made in England, but is now the general term for cider made in small quantities using traditional methods.

Fall Running, Timely Rain, and a Few Other Things I’m Thankful For

Thank goodness it’s raining in Empire, and that I volunteered.

More on what "Scrumpy" is after the race.

More on what “Scrumpy” is after the race.

I’m signed up to run the Scrumpy Skedaddle 5K this weekend, and I’d gotten it into my head that it was Saturday morning, likely because most of my races have been on Saturdays. Then I showed up to help with Friday registration and found out the race is Sunday, when I was going to be up north closing down our campsite. But with the rain in Empire, we put that off a week. So instead of a thoroughly messed-up weekend, I can do a final tuneup run on Saturday with the best running club in existence and then have a blast at the race on Sunday.

So that’s one of the things I’m thankful for this weekend. Here are a few more.

Run Vasa - finishThanks to Mother Nature for providing a perfect morning for running the Vasa Pathway 25K in Traverse City last week. It was a small race – about 200 overall, and only 48 doing the full 25K – and light on frills; cotton T-shirt, no finisher medals, and a single aid station. All fine with me. It was a low-key race on a cool, clear morning, on a wide groomed trail cutting through woods just starting to turn color. Really, really, enjoyed it.

Thanks to my body for taking on the crazy challenge I dreamed up this year to do every event on the Running Fit calendar, including a snowshoe race, three triathlons (for which I had to relearn how to swim), and six ultramarathons, when I’d run a total of two before this year. I did them all without serious injury and with just three short events left, I’m feeling stronger than ever. Amazing.

Me with all my Dances with Dirt medals after finishing DWD Hell. (Why does my neck hurt?)

Me with all my Dances with Dirt medals after finishing DWD Hell. (Why does my neck hurt?)

With most of my running group training for fall marathons, it feels odd (but good) that mine are already done, and I can just enjoy myself. Not for too long, though. Coach has promised to get me going on speedwork for those shorter races!

And thanks to the Lord for creating apples and cider, pumpkins, fall colors, and all the wonderful things about autumn that keeps me living in Michigan. And football, of course.

So many more things in my life to be thankful for, but I just had to get those out. Do you share my passionate love for all things fall? What else are you thankful for, running-wise or otherwise? I’d love to hear from you.

Oh, and last but not least, I’d like to thank the Kansas City Royals for that terrific come-from-behind win Tuesday night. Not that I want them to win the World Series (go Tigers!) but I was designing my new blog business card during the game, and the extra innings gave me the momentum to finish. I sent in the order just as they scored the winning run. Here’s what they look like. Hope to be handing them out soon!

RBT business card - front side

Front side.

RBT business card - back side

Back side.

Down and Dirty: Dances with Dirt Hell 50K Recap

NIGHT AND DAY. That’s the best way to describe the difference between my experience at Run Woodstock earlier this month and the Dances with Dirt – Hell 50K last Saturday.

He's not really a bad guy once you get to know him.

He’s really not a bad guy once you get to know him.

Cool and dry where Woodstock was hot and wet, it was a perfect day for a long trail run. With no danger of bonking, I ran strong from start to finish and felt great the whole time. But every one of the four Dances with Dirt races this year had its particular challenges, and the Hell race was no exception.

As this was the 20th anniversary of the run, they promised to “pull out all the stops” – and they delivered. Here’s a sample of what the 50K and 50 mile runners went through.

I avoided this by walking over some logs. But just as I was congratulating my cleverness - well, see below.

I avoided this by walking over some logs. But just as I was congratulating my cleverness – well, see below.

There wasn’t much mud, but what was there was spectacular. The reason you can’t see my legs in the photo below is that they’re completely submerged. Fortunately, the runner in the photo above helped pull me out.

DWD Hell - Deep in the Mud

There were only a couple of water crossings – but one was a downriver wade of a quarter mile.

DWD Hell - Wading Downriver 2

And there were some hills:

DWD Hell - Blurry Hill ClimbAs you can see from the runner’s shoe, we are climbing an almost vertical slope. I wish this photo had come out more clearly – but then again, it’s got kind of a neat impressionist look, don’t you think?

And there was some bushwhacking into parts unknown. The blue paint is the “trail” marking.

DWD Hell - Bushwhacking

But it all paid off with a finish in the top 20 overall. And I got a special belt buckle for completing all four DWD events this year!

DWD Belt Buckle Group

My strong finish was helped by some gear adjustments based on what I’d learned from my failed 100K attempt.

To tackle the chafing problem, I wore my triathlon shorts. I’d never run more than a 5K in them, so I was violating the rule of “don’t try new stuff in a race” – but since triathlon gear is designed for marathons (the Ironman running distance), I figured I was safe. And it worked! No chafing, and they dried out quickly after that long river wade.

I wore the same shoes as for Woodstock, but wore thinner socks and applied a bit more tape around the toes. I also rubbed Gold Bond Friction Defense over my feet. The result: no blistering, even though my trip through the mud meant running 10 more miles in soaked shoes.

With the usual well-stocked aid stations there was no shortage of food and water. All the same I sucked down a couple more Gu than usual, which I think helped keep my energy level up. Something to consider for future ultras.

Wow, Coke really is available everywhere.

Wow, Coke really is available everywhere.

Next up: 25K this Saturday on the Vasa trail in Traverse City.