Category Archives: Running and Cycling

Truth, or Trail Lore?

As a trail and ultra runner I’ve had my share of unusual experiences, and heard a bunch more, because we love to share our stories. And I suspect that we fall prey to Fisherman Syndrome – the temptation to stretch the story a little each time. The hills keep getting a little higher, the creeks deeper, and the bears bigger.

You think you’re good at discerning truth from fiction? Have a go at the questions below. Which of these things really happened to me, and which did I make up or “exaggerate” a tad? Have fun!

  1. Complete the sentence I actually overheard: “Never stand between a runner and …”
    1. His carbs
    2. The finish line
    3. Coffee
    4. An oncoming vehicle
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  2. Which of the following did I experience at the Burning Man 50K? (Hint: there may be more than one correct answer.)
    1. Sunrise over the playa
    2. Losing a toenail
    3. Being offered whiskey by spectators
    4. Running with a naked woman
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  3. I was looking for my drop bag at an aid station at the Kettle Moraine 100. What was the actual advice a volunteer gave me?
    1. “We have them sorted by bib number.”
    2. “Sorry, some of them haven’t arrived yet.”
    3. “Are you sure you’re at the right event?”
    4. “Take any one you like, they all got the same shit in ‘em.”
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  4. How many of the following happened to me at the 2014 Green Swamp 50K in Florida?
    1. Face planted four times on a pancake-flat course
    2. Stepped on a snake
    3. Was saved from getting lost by someone who did get lost
    4. Flew home that afternoon to run a 5K the next day
      .
  5. Which of the events related to Run Woodstock freaked me out the most?
    1. My first “natural run”
    2. Being chased by baby raccoons on a training run
    3. Headlamp failing in the woods in the middle of the night
    4. Seeing the following sign at midnight on a high chainlink fence just off the trail:

Ready? Answers below.

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Are you sure you’re ready?

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Okay, here we go.

 

Answer to #1: “Never stand between a runner and his carbs.”

It was after a race, and there were slices of cake on the food table. Someone was blocking me from the piece I wanted, and I sort of lunged around him to get it. I apologized, which triggered the remark from a spectator. Note that I think the other three choices are also sound advice.

This will do for starters.

Answer to #2: All of them.

During the first loop I felt a sharp pain in my left food. At the water stop I took off my shoe and sock. The problem was my big toe. As I peeled off the tape, the toenail came off with it. No big deal. And there was no more pain! And sunrise over the playa was absolutely amazing. Well worth getting up at 5 a.m.

I did run with a naked woman for a while (and she finished ahead of me – oh, the shame). Spectators offered many interesting things to us, including whiskey and mystery liquids. You can read all about it in this previous post.

Answer to #3: Choice (d) – “Take any one you like…”

There were lots of drop bags at this station. My mind keeps stretching the number and the area, but here’s an actual photo of some of them. Fortunately I did find my actual bag without too much trouble. I don’t remember if they were sorted by bib number. It would make sense, come to think of it.

Answer to #4: Choices (c) and (d)

Out in the middle of nowhere, I was happily running along when a woman approached from the opposite direction. “No,” she said, “wrong way. I just found out.” Sure enough, a few hundred yards back was a turn we’d missed. Good thing, or I might still be out there.

And 2014 was the year I’d set a goal to run every race put on by RF Events. Green Swamp was a Saturday in Florida, and Shamrocks & Shenanigans was the following day back in Ann Arbor. So I flew home the same day, and ran Shamrocks the next day. The staff still talks about it.

The other two answers are close. I didn’t step on a snake, but I almost did. And I actually face planted six times on a pancake-flat course. Pesky alligators.

Answer to #5: Choice (b) – yep, the baby raccoons!

I wasn’t afraid so much of them, but of Mama, who must’ve been somewhere nearby. So I booked the hell out of there.

Headlamp failing is certainly cause for concern, but I wasn’t worried. First, an aid station was just up the trail with my drop bag, in which was a spare headlamp. Second, I always carry two light sources at night, so I had a small flashlight as backup. Be smart out there!

As for the zombie warning sign? I wasn’t freaked out at all. I put it there! I set it up around midnight and removed it before sunrise. Only the 100-mile and 100K runners got to “hallucinate” that sign!

And my first “natural run”? It was somewhat uncomfortable at first, but after a few minutes it’s just people with no clothes on. And running, which is always good. You can read about it in this previous post here. And if you infer that by “my first” means I’ve done others since? You infer correctly, dear reader. Try it sometime!

Do you have any funny, strange, or freaky running experiences you’d like to share? Post away!

The Long and the Short of Running

A couple Januarys ago I had breakfast with my running coach, going over my planned race schedule. It would follow a pattern I’d established, of a target race in late May or June (100-miler or more), with shorter ultras in the spring to leapfrog up to it. So we mapped out a 50K and a couple of 50-milers. “Now we can plug in your shorter races,” he said.

And by shorter races, we were including marathons.

Even at the time we laughed about it, imagining what a standard recreational runner (or any non-runner) would be thinking if they’d overheard us. But that’s how I think of it. There are ultras and there are non-ultras; there’s a clear line. By definition, a marathon is not an ultramarathon. (Unless you get lost. I once asked a race director if I could get credit for an “ultra-half” for running 14 miles on a 13.1 course.)

This attitude has some funny characteristics. For example, every April there’s a trail marathon in my area. (Present-year disclaimer, etc.) Anyway, I work it as part of my zero waste events gig. And before I get down and dirty with that, I run the marathon.

Thing is, there’s also a 50K option, which means you run an extra five-mile loop following your 26.2. And for me, those five miles mean the difference between a fun “short race” and an “ultra” which on those trails is, well, hard. As in automatic bonk afterward, while I can finish the marathon and get right to sorting Gu wrappers out of the water bottle bins.

Me (far right) after a measly ol’ marathon.

And after those five extra miles on the trail.

Why? Who knows? It has to be mainly mental, although you’d think someone who’s run multiple 100s wouldn’t feel that little extra. Heck, I even pitch 50Ks to skeptical folks as “just a marathon with a five-mile cooldown.” But there we are.

I’m sure none of this makes any sense to runners who’ve never run this kind of distance. This morning my run group included someone training for her first marathon. Like most folks in her situation, she did a half first, and was now trying to wrap her head around getting from 13.1 miles to double that distance. It ain’t easy. I was there once.

The good news is once you’ve done it, the second is easier. The bad news is, you just might talk yourself into an ultra. Then you’re really screwed. Trust me. I’m there now.

At least I would be, but my local fall ultras were cancelled, and I still don’t trust airplanes yet. So I’ll have to content myself with shorter races until things improve. Maybe I can find a marathon around somewhere.

Volunteering: Pride Goeth Before

Philosophical question for you all: If a guy falls off his bike in the woods, and there’s no one around to see it, does it still hurt?

The answer in my case is, yes.

I’ve been enjoying my new role this year as a volunteer Ambassador for the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail (SBHT), which runs along the National Lakeshore from Empire to Glen Arbor, then northeast though the Port Oneida Historic District. The current total length is 22 miles, with one more five-mile segment to go, which will reach the end of the National Lakeshore property near the Good Harbor Trail.

Being an Ambassador means traveling the SBHT on foot or by bike in a fancy orange vest, picking up litter, checking trail conditions, and answering questions from people on the trail. I get to choose my hours and which parts of the trail I want to cover.

On the job at the Dune Climb.

I’ve done this many times this summer, and believe me, I’m worth every penny they pay me. Which is none. I haven’t even found a penny on the trail yet, so this is truly a labor of love.

I make up for this by giving people at least one incorrect piece of information every time I’m out there. Like last weekend, when I told someone the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive was still closed – only to find they’d opened it for three days behind my back. Why don’t they TELL ME these things?

Not that I’m complaining. I’m out on the trail anyway when I go up north, so why not get some volunteering done at the same time?

And thus I found myself cruising the section near the Dune Climb one afternoon, and passed by a bright red piece of plastic I took to be trash. I slowed down and put my bike into a tight left turn to go back and fetch said trash. But I’d unclipped only my right foot, and thus when I began to tip too much during the turn, my still clipped-in left foot was unable to save me.

What followed was that helpless feeling I’ve written about before – you know you’re going down and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. I suffered bruises to my left elbow, left hip, and ego, not necessarily in that order. Otherwise intact, I remounted and continued the ride. So no lasting harm done.

And the red trash? Actually a marker flag. Probably a utility indicator. So I left it there, and it remains there still. Fool me once and all that.

Other than the occasional unfortunate incident, I’m having a great time. The trail is beautiful and a great way to get in a long ride without getting on M109 and M22, both of which can feature heavy, fast-moving traffic, including logging trucks and other such monstrosities. And stopping in Glen Arbor for coffee and/or ice cream is a great way to take a break from my hot, sweaty, trail labors.

And for those of you wondering how I’m recovering from said fall? Just fine, thank you. In fact, this morning I tripped during my morning run and bruised elbow and hip on my right side. I suppose it was inevitable – the karma was achieving balance.

P.S. This time I was with other people. And it also hurt. Just another data point.

Streaking Again!

It’s August, and still no big races to be had for the foreseeable future. There are two ways a stir-crazy endurance athlete like me can handle the situation: (#1) drown my sorrows with chocolate, (#2) take on another 31-day streak of at least one mile per day.

Since they’re not mutually exclusive, I’m doing both.

The chocolate? Just about any good brand will do, but my current drug of choice is Endangered Species bars. Heavens, they’re tasty. And ten percent of net profits go to save wildlife, so I’m being socially responsible too. Win-win, if you ask me.

As for the streaking part: the May challenge from RF Events was to do at least one mile per day of whatever motion was fancied to get there. My wife chose the sensible approach of walking the mile (or more). Me being Samurai Ultrarunner, I chose to run. And one measly mile? Puh-lease. If it isn’t at least five, it’s not a real run.

The net result was 179 running miles over 33 days. And a sore lower body. It wasn’t the total miles – I once ran close to that distance all at once – but the cumulative fatigue of running every day. Rest really *does* matter.

So for this month, I’m mixing it up. Some running, some cycling, and even some walking. Skip at Body Specs said there was hope for me after all. And then he put me through the wringer. (Gotta train the rest of the body, too.)

One highlight of the August streak so far was a bike ride from our campground in Empire to Lake Leelenau, where one of my favorite bakeries (9 Bean Rows) is located. This year they’ve added outdoor dining and thin-crust pizza.

40 miles on a hot day to get here. Worth it.

I took care of an entire artichoke pizza and almond croissant. The round trip was 81 miles, so I burned it off, but those first few miles on the return leg with an entire pizza in my stomach was a tad sketchy. Worth it, though.

I have to admit that it’s a little harder to get out the door sometimes, given the heat we’ve been having. One way to tackle that is to run early, as I did Wednesday morning, with the added bonus of a new coffee shop right down the street from where we finish; Drip House at the corner of Stadium and Main, right across from Michigan Stadium.

This morning I had a goat cheese and olive pastry, and something called a Military Drip, which has espresso, and matcha, and cocoa powder in it. A lot going on there. Sorry, no pictures. I polished those off quick. Maybe next week.