RIDDLE FOR YOU: What goes up four times, but comes down only three times?
ANSWER: The Winter Switchbacks, an evil little 5K on the trails near Chelsea, MI.
The writeup makes it seem like the worst race ever
Truth is, it’s mainly cross-country runners from the nearby high schools, and also a fair number of veteran trail runners. About 60 runners showed up, including kids as young as three (!) giving the bill hill a try. The race is put on by Eric and Mike, who coach the Chelsea teams.
That said, it is a “no frills” event. The entry fee is only $5.00, which goes to support the cross-country teams. There’s no bottled water, no porta-potties, no race bibs, and no finisher’s medals – you know, all the stuff you get for free at a $40.00 event.
The race is named for its singular feature, a climb up a very steep hill accomplished by weaving back and forth in a gradual climb, just like what trains do to get up steep inclines. The race begins at the low point of the loop, with the finish during the fourth loop at the top of the switchbacks.
Race day conditions were too good for Eric’s likings. Last year there was a fair amount of snow on the trails, and the roads were iced over and slippery. With practically no snow or ice this year and temps on the warmer side, the worst he could do was toss some large branches and logs across the trail (which he blamed on “localized winds”). I saw a few slips, but as far as I know there weren’t any “agony of defeat” spills.
With all the hill running and ultras I’ve run in the last few years, I figured I was in good enough shape to run the inclines without too much trouble. Reality slapped me upside the head the minute I hit the switchbacks the first time. I’d run this race last year, but had forgotten how much of a lung-draining, life-sucking grind it is up that thing. I was able to recover on the downhills, though, and actually ran the final lap faster than the others.
What’s really annoying is that it doesn’t look all that hard when going uphill. You need to look down from the top and watch the runners behind you gasping and slogging their way along to really appreciate what you’ve just done.
The winning time was just over 22 minutes, but glory is all you get for winning! There were only two awards: the first to the top on the first loop (but you have to finish to claim the prize) and the “Ouch” award for the person with the most spectacular fall.
My time of 25:56 was good for 8th place, and I admit to some self-pride about beating many of the cross-country runners. Coach Rob of PR Fitness may be “hill happy” when it comes to our group routes, but the payoff is undeniable. And I’m getting to the point now where I see hills as opportunities, not obstacles; in races I pass many people on them. So I think I’ll be back next year. Hopefully there will be subzero temperatures and whiteout conditions!
P.S. I earned an award for running the entire way. I don’t put a whole lot of stuff on my car’s bumper, but this one went on for sure.
P.P.S. There is a summer version of this race, and I was told that some runners can finish it in under 17 minutes. Now that is practically superhuman.
BONUS PHOTO: I didn’t see any puking mules, but there may have been some foxes puking from exhaustion! Check out the fox hunters!