Category Archives: Running and Cycling

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.

Hills, Hops, and Masks – Racing Safely

I did something this week I haven’t done in a long time.

I ran an actual 5K race. With a real bib, chip timing, and other runners present.

Honest to goodness.

The event was Hills to Hops, held at Robin Hills Farm in Chelsea, put on by RF Events. Normally they’d be busy with summer triathlons, half marathons, and even ultramarathons. But of course nothing is “normal” right now in the world of athletics. Those events have gone virtual this year, but they were still looking for a way to get people together to enjoy an actual factual race. And with modifications to keep people safe, they did just that.

Recently reopened after renovations, Robin Hills Farm offers events including live music, food and drinks, and space for special events. The property includes trails that can be used for hiking or running, sufficiently long to create a 5K loop. So RF Events set up a two-day event, offering a 5K each day, with full chip timing and age group awards.

So, what were some of the modifications made to ensure safety?

  • Each race was limited to 100 runners, as currently required by Michigan
  • Instead of a single mass start, there was a 90-minute window for starting, 5:00-6:30 p.m. You could start at any time during that window.
  • Bibs were hung off a fence. I was sent my bib number via text ahead of time, so I just walked up to the fence, found the bib with my number, and checked the tag to make sure the information was correct. Even had four safety pins with it.
  • A long one-way path to the starting line to avoid people passing each other coming and going.

Note the gorgeous property!

  • The finish line far enough away from the start. And just a couple of water bottles were placed on the table at any one time.
  • No medals at the finish line. They were optional, and had to be ordered ahead of time and be shipped to you. Same with T-shirts.

Safe starting.

Safe finishing.

The course wound through the farm’s property. Some was dirt trail through woods, other parts in a grassy meadow, and it ended with a staggered run back and forth up the rows of the amphitheater and to the top of a hill to the finish. With a slow trickle of runners across the start line, it was never overly crowded.

Everyone there behaved themselves, wearing masks when around other people, and observing good social distancing. (See, folks, it can be done.) The post-race scene was nice, too. Plenty of shady space to hang out in, and the bar was open to get a beer or drink. Live music, too.

One more bonus – with so little stuff handed out, there was very little trash to deal with. I informally collected about 30 bottles and cans for recycling (that is my job, ya know), but there was almost nothing else. Not a viable model for my business, but a lot less frantic activity.

RF Events is planning similar races for the next couple of months. Check out the events here: http://rfevents.com/pop-ups

I’m planning to be there. Join me! This running thing just might catch on, you know.