Category Archives: Running & Cycling

Lighthouse 100 Recap, Part 1

I ran the first-ever Lighthouse 100 race last weekend. This is not really a race review, but a series of vignettes about my experience. I’ll give my thoughts on the course and race organization in Part 2. Hope you enjoy!

I sprawled in the driver’s seat of a stranger’s car, air conditioning blowing on my flushed face. Laura, the car’s owner, had given me a cold drink which I sipped while wishing the runner she was crewing for would arrive. She’d agreed to drive me to the next aid station as soon as she refilled his bottles and sent him on his way. “He’s just a few minutes away,” she’d told me.

Outside the car it was over 90 degrees in pitiless sunshine, and a 40 mph wind blew grit in the faces of the runners trudging south along Elk Lake Road.

I was at mile 65 of the inaugural Lighthouse 100 race, and, in my mind, done. Toast. Ready to call it a day.

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Oh, what a beautiful morning! Oh, what a beautiful day, etc. – Oklahoma!

THAT DAY HAD BEGUN on a much more positive note.

We set off from Bayfront Park in Petoskey at 6 a.m., following the Little Traverse Wheelway to Charlevoix and southwest from there to Elk Rapids, Traverse City, and then north up the Old Mission Peninsula to the lighthouse at its tip. Seventy runners crossed the starting line, with until noon Sunday (30 hours) to finish.

The morning was cool with a light breeze and the sun eased through the overcast to light up the bay on our right. I felt great, my pace was easy and light, and everyone was upbeat and chatting about the gorgeous view. This was what I’d signed up for, and life was good.

Eventually the pack stretched out and broke up. I settled into a steady pace and passed time with other runners talking about favorite races, nutrition, the usual stuff. The laid-back attitude and camaraderie are characteristic of ultras, and among the reasons I love them.

For the first forty miles all went according to plan. My left IT band oddly flared up at mile six, but stretching at Aid Station 1 (Mile 10) resolved it. In downtown Charlevoix a bearded fellow in a Run Woodstock T-shirt cheered me on. Then onto back roads and rolling hills, with a short stretch on US-31 to Aid Station 4. I was running strong and breathing easy, on pace to finish well under my target of 24 hours.

Things went downhill from there. And not in the good way.

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“There will be times when you’ll want to quit,” Dave Krupski, the race director, had told us at the pre-race meeting the day before. “But do this first; take a long break, 15 minutes or half hour, and drink some electrolyte fluids. If at the end of that time you decide it’s not your day, then okay. But give yourself time to recover and think about it.”

Well, I’d taken that break; several of them. Given myself time. And I’d thought about it. Nope, it wasn’t my day. But it would soon be over. I just had to wait a few more minutes.

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The Road goes ever on and on, Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can. – Tolkien

The heat and full sun began its work on the US-31 stretch, and I knew there would be more to come, but I wasn’t worried. I’ve run several ultras in hot weather with no problems, and figured I had the process down. Salt tablets every hour. Icewater-soaked cloth under my white sun-reflecting cap. Ease off on pace. Got it.

Naivete, thy name is runner.

Trouble started as I turned (at last) off US-31 back onto country roads, looking forward to cold water at the 45-mile mark. The jug was missing; someone had stolen it. Why, Lord only knows, but obviously he or she had no idea how much it meant to an uncrewed runner on a hot day.

My remaining water was too warm and too little to make it to AS5 (Mile 51), but I’d passed a crew vehicle a half mile back. I retraced and it was fortunately still there. Kevin, the driver, had extra ice and water and was happy to help. Turned out I was not the only other runner he saved that day.

Now the sun began taking its toll, and a nagging stomach issue grew steadily worse. At AS5 I took an extended break to sit, cool off, and re-evaluate. I was #11 overall and it was a bit annoying to watch other runners go by, but I needed the rest and figured I’d catch up. Then a change of shoes, final fluid reload, and back into the fray.

I got to AS6 at mile 60 without trouble, although I was now doing run-walk intervals instead of the steady jog I prefer. And with no interest in food, I didn’t refuel like I should have. Bad move.

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“You are not a bad runner. You are a good runner having a bad moment.” – Pacer to runner, overheard at Run Woodstock during a 100K

I’d pictured Elk Lake Road (miles 60-67) as pretty and meandering, with lots of shade making for an easy stretch. Instead it was straight into a hot south wind, with no shade whatever. I got to mile 65 with just one thought; find that water jug.

Except I didn’t see it. Not where my watch said it should be, nor up ahead.

It was too much. I found a shady swale off the road, lay down, and put my damp cloth over my face. I lay there for a while trying to figure out how I would go on. I did not improve, and eventually I figured if I didn’t get up then, I wouldn’t get up at all. So I staggered to my feet just as another runner came up to me, asking if I was okay.

“I can’t find the water jug,” I said.

He pointed ahead. “It’s right there. Can’t you see it?” I couldn’t. We walked back to the road, and finally I spotted it just over a small rise. Once there I rinsed my face and drank, but I didn’t feel any better.

Then I saw a line of crew vehicles on the other side of the road, I chose one at random and asked the driver if I could sit in her car for a few minutes. She immediately and kindly agreed, and got me an iced cup of Coke to sip. After a few minutes she asked how I was doing.

“I think I’m done,” I said, and asked if she would drive me to AS7 where I could drop. Another 35 miles in these conditions, feeling the way I did, was just not something I could deal with. There was no shame in that. As Dave had said, sometimes it just isn’t your day.

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Get up! Get back on your feet. You’re the one they can’t beat, and you know it. – Styx

Laura’s runner arrived at last. I heard her fill his bottles, say she was proud of him. Then on he went down the road. Laura cleared the front passenger seat for me, then came around to the driver’s side.

I opened the door and stretched out my left leg. It seized up in a calf cramp, which I stretched out only to get a shin cramp. With a grimace and apology, I planted that leg on the ground at last, then the other, emerged from the car, and stood straight. For a moment we just stood there looking at each other.

“You’re going to try to keep going,” she said. She sounded impressed with a strong hint of disbelief.

She was right. Somehow I had recovered just enough to give it one more shot. No way I could run, but I could try to walk it. Heck, every other runner was walking this section of road too.

“I’ll see you at Hawley Road,” she said, indicating it on her map. “That’s two and a half miles.” She mixed some Gatorade and filled one of my bottles with it.

I thanked her, went back out onto the road, turned into that furnace-like wind, and began walking.

How far did I get? What other challenges did I have on my attempt to get through the damn race? What’s all-night running like? All will be revealed in Part 2. Please stay tuned! And thanks for reading!

Quirkiness Postponed

OH, WHAT A QUIRKY YEAR I’D PLANNED. But as Burns says about “best laid plans” it looks like my “year of doing quirky stuff” has been postponed.

This has nothing to do with Robert Burns, but I just couldn’t help it.

My schedule for 2017 originally included some out of the ordinary events. Nothing totally nuts, like skiing off Everest, just stuff I normally do with a twist or two added. And yet one by one, they had to come off this year’s calendar. Here for your reading amusement are some of the things that didn’t work out.

The Great New York Running Exposition

This is a 100-mile footrace, of which there are many these days. What makes this one special is that it takes place entirely within New York City. Think of it as a 24-hour sightseeing trip on foot.

With a strict limit on the number of runners, I made a note in my planner for the day registration opened. But I didn’t check my planner until late that day. Oops! Went to the website, and – sold out. I put my name on the waitlist and hoped for the best.

But as I was commiserating with my running coach, he told me about a brand new ultra in northern Michigan. Did a quick search and came up with the Lighthouse 100 – Petoskey through Traverse City and up to the lighthouse on the Old Mission Peninsula. Signed up right then!

In sort of mixed news, I recently got an email from the TGNY race director. A spot had opened up! I had to decline, as Lighthouse and TGNY are only one week apart, but told him I’d be trying again next year. And I’ll know what 100 miles on pavement feels like.

Burning Man – Black Rock City, NV

This was going to be my highlight for the year – a trip to the planet’s largest and most famous self-expression festival, with a 50K thrown in. My daughter Rachel, who knows several “Burners,” was dumbfounded, which by itself was worth it. Not often I can surprise her.

Registering is a multi-stage process, and I dutifully followed each step – until the day came to buy tickets. I did remember this time, but got caught in a meeting. Still, I got to the website less than an hour after the window opened. And guess what?

There are a couple more ways to get in at “last-minute” or exchange sales, but I decided not to try. Burning Man, with its emphasis on self-sufficiency in the desert, is not a place to make plans at the last minute, or just to wing it. So, next year.

Beat the Blerch” Marathon in Seattle

I thought this might be a fun family activity. Two identical marathons, one Saturday and one Sunday, with cake at aid stations, couches along the way, and featuring The Oatmeal, one of Rachel’s favorite comics. Plus there was plenty of time to sign up.

So what happened? A new job for my daughter which severely limits her time off for a while. Plus it’s a long way to Seattle, and an expensive place to visit. So that too got put on the “back burner.”

The WNBR – Portland, OR

What is the WNBR, you may ask? It’s a bike ride. Just that, an ordinary group bike ride through Portland on a fine June evening. Its purpose is to promote bicycle safety and awareness, which are so important given the number of vehicle-bicycle accidents each year. It also protests all the emissions we produce from fossil-fuel burning transportation. Stuff we can all get behind, right?

What makes this quirky? Well, it being a warm evening and all, most people don’t wear a lot of clothing. In fact, many wear nothing at all. Here’s a (more or less) SFW photo. (There’s lots more on the Internet should you care to do further research.)

WNBR stands for “World Naked Bike Ride” if you hadn’t figured it out already. And Portland is just one of these rides all over the world.

And just so you know, I didn’t go searching for this. I became aware of the WNBR from a Portland native, who basically dared me to do it. So it’s a matter of pride.

And yet fate intervened, in this case my new business, which is doing very well. In fact, I was asked to manage an event that weekend back here in Michigan. Adding to that, the friends we’d planned to visit there were invited on a tubing trip that week. Again, there’s always next year.

But I’ve gotten in at least one quirky thing recently. My daughter Tori got married over the weekend. It was a Harry Potter themed wedding – and look who crashed the rehearsal. One more glorious opportunity to surprise my kids!

Dirty German 50: Ve Vill Run in Ze Rain, Und You Vill Like It

Last Sunday dawned bright and beautiful in Philadelphia. I went out for breakfast on a sunny, cool morning perfect for the trail race I’d come here for, the Dirty German 50-miler in nearby Pennypack Park.

Too bad the race had been the day before.

Steady rain had been forecast for all day Saturday, and for once Nature let the weathermen be right. While they were pounding Bloody Marys in celebration, several hundred trail runners were lining up for what promised to be a long, chilly, muddy slogfest.

It surpassed all expectations.

I’d been drawn to the Dirty German from previous year photos showing happy runners in lederhosen on a bright sunny day, being served by handsome St. Pauli Girls. After a wet, muddy Glacier Ridge 50 the year before, I was ready for something a bit flatter under more pleasant conditions. It was indeed flatter, but pleasant? Not so much.

But I’d paid the money and showed up, and the race was on. And right on time at 7:30 a.m., off we went. Our shoes soaked through in the first big puddle, so that was out of the way and we ran through them with abandon. Not that there was any choice; the course was already flooding and it got steadily worse throughout the day.

See the water gushing in from the river on the left! Thanks Kevin Minteer for this photo.

My main concern wasn’t a winning time, but just staying in the race. That meant keeping warm, primarily. My triathlon shorts were perfect, shedding water rather than soaking it up. Over a singlet and long-sleeved shirt I wore a plastic rain wrap, which retained sweat but kept the wind and rain off. My hands did get cold and numb, leaving me unable to retie a shoelace that had come loose. An aid station volunteer cheerfully helped me with that.

I also made to sure to keep well fueled. The aid stations had standard PB&J, potatoes, fruit, and candy, but the hot grilled cheese sandwiches really made my day! Adequate hydration wasn’t an issue, of course. Salt tablets every two hours kept my electrolytes in balance.

The wonderful folks at the aid stations made things as cheery as possible. But even they had to deal with conditions. The first one was at an underpass. On the second loop, the underpass had flooded, and they had to move uphill. On the third loop, we were diverted around the underpass and had to slide down a muddy slope to reach the station, then climb back up to get on the course again.

Flooded underpass at miles 4 & 12 of the loop. (Thanks to April Arnold for this photo.)

Unsurprisingly, many 50-milers called it a day before finishing; I saw a few hanging out at aid stations, waiting for a ride back to the start. The 50K (two loops) and the 25K (one loop) suffered less, but still had their share of drops. But I was feeling okay; there was no physical reason for me to quit. I just had to remain mentally focused and deal patiently with increasingly flooded paths and sticky, slippery trail.

Halfway through loop 2. Only 25 miles to go!

Knowing the course would get less runnable, I ran the first loop in 2:50, faster than plan, and started the third at the 6:05 mark, close to my original goal of a nine-hour finish. But it was not to be; the singletrack was like chocolate pudding (albeit much less tasty), and combined with normal race fatigue I had a 3:45 final loop and a finish time of 9:50, good for 17th out of 76 starters.

Turns out my age group (50-59) was the toughest out there, with 6 out of 7 finishing the race. I was third in my group and won this cool German weather house as a prize. It’s even made in Germany!

If the woman is out, it’s dry. Since it’s inside, looks accurate to me!

Only one small beef. The finish area was very light on food choices. Sausage and sauerkraut just didn’t appeal to me after ten hours of running. And there was only water to drink. No beer at a German-themed event? Seriously? So it wasn’t long before I hobbled out of there to a hot shower and dry clothes. Rather anticlimactic, but it just wasn’t the day for an extended post-race party.

What really encourages me about this race was that  I never felt the urge to quit, and stayed patient and on a mental even keel throughout. In that regard it was an excellent checkout run for the Lighthouse 100 next month. Hoping for better weather at that one, though!

Trail Marathon: Chasing Ghosts

April 30 was a cold, gray day on the Potawatomi Trail – and the ghosts were out.

Trail Marathon is the original and oldest race put on by RF Events, celebrating its 32nd running on April 29-30. “It’s so old,” says RF Events owner Randy Step, “that it doesn’t even have a fancy name. It’s just ‘Trail Marathon.’”

I ran the 5-mile race here for several years, gasping all the way and marveling at the signs that said, “MARATHON MILE 13” and such. How was it possible to run even a half marathon on these crazy trails? And a full marathon or 50K? Inconceivable! That is, until a pivotal conversation led me to find out in 2014 that it wasn’t only possible, it was fun. I’ve run the marathon or 50K there ever since.

2014, after finishing the 50K. No wimps, baby!

But it wasn’t until last year that I found out about the Rogucki trophy. Named after the late local running legend John “Road Kill” Rogucki, the top marathon finishers each year (male and female) age 50 and older get their names and times on the trophy.

Isn’t that worth running a marathon for? I thought you’d agree!

Well, there was something cool to shoot for! But in 2016, I was preoccupied with getting our Zero Waste program off to a good start. So I ran a solid 4:20 but didn’t focus on trying to win. I was happy with my time, until I discovered I’d finished second in the Rogucki by just five minutes.

Well, that settled my plans for 2017 – I would run the marathon again. And this time I’d mean it.

With last winter’s hard training, I figured I’d be in peak shape for Trail Marathon. It was just two weeks after Boston, but I lined up Sunday morning feeling confident I could give the race my best effort.

My plan was to run the first loop in under two hours, then hold steady in the second, with an overall finish around 4:10. Nowhere near the 50+ record time, (Randy said Rogucki had run it in three hours) but a winning time in many past years.

I started with the front runners to establish a position early. The leaders soon disappeared, but I settled in at the pace I wanted. Despite the cold weather, I heated up fast; at the first aid station I peeled all my top layers off. I’ve never run a race shirtless before, let alone in 45 degrees, but here you go:

Near the end of the first loop I was still among the top marathoners and hadn’t seen anyone else near my age. I powered up the hills between miles 11-12 feeling good. If I could sustain the pace, I liked my chances. I tried to imagine Rogucki’s spirit running with me. Or was I too slow even for his ghost?

Then someone in gray hair and a gray-white beard passed me. Not a sudden burst of speed pass; his pace was steady and strong. Past me, up the hill, and down the trail, the distance between us steadily widening.

Oh, sh**.

Well, what to do? Step it up and try to stick with him, or stay on plan and let him go? With over half the race left, a faster pace risked burning out. But it looked like my shot at a Rogucki win was rapidly fading into the distance with the back of this guy’s shirt.

I made the decision; I would run my race, not his. And who knew? Perhaps he’d get tired near the end, or tweak an ankle (which I do NOT wish on anyone, but it happens). And if he won, well, more power to him. There was always next year.

I finished the first half in 1:58, right on plan. Then things went downhill (not the good kind). I struggled up the inclines, and my legs were sluggish. Maybe it was too much to expect, so soon after Boston? My spirits picked up when I spied my opponent up ahead, only to fall hard when I realized it wasn’t him and likely wouldn’t ever catch him.

But that turned out to be the low point. I relaxed and focused on keeping my cadence up despite fatigue. I caught a second wind and fell into a rhythm that carried me through the remaining miles. At Boston, the final four miles were agony; here, they weren’t easy, but I was able to enjoy them. The rain held off, I was on my favorite trails, and running strong. Couldn’t ask for more!

Why yes, I AM having fun. Can’t you tell? (From 2013)

I crossed the finish line eighth overall in 4:08, beating my goal time and improving last year’s time by 12 minutes. Success by all measures – except one. And as I walked through the finish chute, there was my worthy opponent, stretching by a picnic table. He’d finished seventh overall, just ahead of me.

By five minutes.

I walked up to him and congratulated him on his great race. “Thanks,” he said. “This was my first marathon.” Yep – his first ever, and on these trails! We figured that on the road, his performance would translate to about a 3:15 finish. He looked puzzled when I mentioned the Rogucki, so I took a mental deep breath and asked how old he was.

“I’m 40,” he said. So he wasn’t even eligible for the trophy for another ten years! The gray hair had fooled me completely. I went over to the display of results, and there it was:

It was funny, but I felt relief more than pleasure. Not from winning, but that I’d stayed disciplined and stuck with my plan. If I’d tried to chase him down, I might have cost myself an excellent result – and the win – for a nonexistent competitor. For a phantom.

And if he’d been over 50 after all? Well then, so what? So much of winning a race is outside one’s control – the weather, the trail conditions, and above all, who shows up and who doesn’t. What really matters is that I ran the strongest, smartest race I could that day. That’s at least as gratifying as my name on the trophy. Not that I’ll refuse it.