Category Archives: Running & Cycling

Milestones, Intentional or Not

I REACHED A MILESTONE IN RUNNING last month that I didn’t find out about until today – just after I achieved a second one.

I wasn’t trying for either; they just happened in the course of things. I guess it’s true – If you just keep going, eventually you will get somewhere. Even if you don’t know it.

Today I logged onto Athlinks, as I do about once per year, to make sure my races from 2016 were properly accounted for. There were a few I needed to claim, so I took care of those. And when I was done, my main page looked like this:

athlinks-100-races-cropped

How about that? When I tramped across the snow-covered finish line last month at Yankee Springs, I completed my hundredth running event. Beginning with the Holiday Hustle in 2008, I’ve crossed the finish line of an official race one hundred times, ranging from 5K to 100 miles and everything in between. And that first race seemed to take place just yesterday. Where the heck did those years in between go?

My first race result. Not bad, but plenty of room for improvement!

My first race result. Not bad, but plenty of room for improvement!

To fend off the hordes of reporters who I’m sure would pester me otherwise, I’ll respond to their expected question here:

“Jeff! How do you FEEL about completing ONE HUNDRED races?”

Actually, I don’t feel much at all. Which is likely due to being wiped out from my gym workout and run today. It was never a goal of mine to complete that number of races – it just happened.

In fact, had you asked me ten years ago if I thought I would accomplish something like this, I’ve had said, “A hundred? I haven’t even done one yet! And who says I want to run races, anyway?”

And yet here I am with three 2017 races already completed and many more on my calendar, including my first Boston Marathon and another 100-miler in June. You really can’t make this stuff up.

And thanks to the training necessary to run those races, today I reached another milestone. When I stepped off the treadmill at Body Specs after a cooldown 5K, it marked the first time ever I’ve run for ten consecutive days. That may sound funny coming from an ultrarunner, but it’s true! The closest I’ve come before was several years ago, when to reach a yearly mileage goal I ran 9 days out of 10 at the end of December.

I began this streak to step up my weekly distance. Last year I got through my spring marathons and ultras, but had some foot issues. As this year’s 100-miler will be on pavement, it’s especially important I toughen them up. And the best way to do that is to run more miles.

I’m being careful, making most runs easy and relatively short, and so far my legs are feeling fine. And I have no problem stopping if something doesn’t feel right. It’s a fun streak to mention, but it’s by no means a vanity thing.

In fact, any prideful thoughts I might have about a running streak was put to rest by this recent news. Ron Hill, at 78, recently ended his world record run streak at – wait for it – 52 years, 39 days. That’s right, he ran every day for over 19,000 consecutive days, competing in three Olympic Games and winning the 1970 Boston Marathon along the way. There’s a milestone worth bragging about. Not that he is. From the Runner’s World article:

“[The streak] doesn’t drive me that much,” he said. “I was more driven by competition when I was younger. I do it because I enjoy it. I try not to think about it.”

ronhill

Image from therunnereclectric.com.

 

So there you go. Ron wasn’t obsessed with setting the record. He just ran, and after a while he set it. Seems like a good example to follow. I will keep on training, and we’ll see where it takes me.

As Nature Intended

Near the end of my Monday workout at Body Specs, one of the trainers and I began talking dirt.

Mud, more correctly.

As I was catching my breath after a particularly strenuous set, she (Rachel) asked me how I got into running. I explained how I’d started with occasional short runs, which eventually led to a half marathon, which started me on the slippery slope to the full marathon and beyond to the land of Ultra.

And *up* the slippery slope, too.

Slippery slopes go both down and up in the land of Ultra!

Rachel said she had no intention of following me down the ultra trail, but she did sign up for a Tough Mudder later this spring. And just as she no plans to start running ultras (which I completely understand) I will not be following her into that kind of event. Chacun à son goût, as they say, but a TM is definitely not to my goût.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Tough Mudder, it’s one of a popular genre of events collectively known as obstacle races. These events combine running with various types of calisthenics and man-made obstacles to climb over, duck under, and crawl through. Here’s a sampling of typical Tough Mudder obstacles, courtesy of the Wikipedia article:

  • Arctic Enema – Participants plunge into a dumpster filled with ice water, dunk underneath a plank that crosses the dumpster, and pull themselves out on other side.
  • Electroshock Therapy – Live wires hang over a field of mud which participants must traverse.
  • Funky Monkey – A set of incline and decline monkey bars over a pit of cold water. The bars are slicked with a mixture of butter and mud.
  • Everest – Participants run up a quarter pipe slicked with mud and grease.

tough-mudder-pipe-crawl

Now I have nothing against getting dirty as part of a run. I’ve run several trail races where rain either before or during the event has turned the course into a slippery, shoe-sucking morass. My first trail 50K was a 6-hour slog following an all-night rain, and at some of the hills were impossible to climb without hand-over-hand grabbing of bushes and trees. I’ve even run through an actual swamp. Below is what happened when I stepped off the log I’d been dancing along.

DWD Hell - Deep in the Mud

I’ve run ultras in the rain, in 95 degrees and high humidity, and as of last month, in the snow. I’ve sweated buckets and frozen my tooshie. I’ve climbed piles of boulders and slid down ravines. I’ve flirted with hypothermia, bonked due to hyponatremia, and been sore everywhere a body can be sore. All with no regrets and every intent to keep doing it as long as I can or want to.

So why, you might reasonably ask, wouldn’t an obstacle race appeal to me? After all, trail race course designers make you run through tall grass, swamps, rivers, and up and down incredibly steep hills. Aren’t those obstacles?

DWD Devils Lake - Heading Down

But there’s a big difference between a muddy trail race and a Tough Mudder. The first is created by Mother Nature and the elements. The second is created by sadists with construction debris and garden hoses. And to me, that makes all the difference.

I like tackling a trail race as Nature intended. When I sign up for a trail race, I have no control over what conditions will be on race day. The trail could be dusty, hard as rock, soaked and slippery, or a paradise of soft pine needles. The uncertainty is part of the experience. It’s expecting the unexpected, as it were.

I may get covered in mud, but it won’t come about by dragging myself under electrified wire or sliding around flaming tires.

tough-mudder-burning-tires

Like Spartan Races, which I’ve written about previously, I find the concept fascinating but don’t really have the interest to participate. That said, I have yet to actually attend either a Tough Mudder or Spartan Race, so I won’t be saying “never” just yet.

Best of luck, Rachel!

===================================

P.S. For those of you hoping my title might mean the kind of run that, say, one might do at Run Woodstock, I’m sorry to disappoint you. However, you can read a couple of stories about my experience there. Here’s a post from 2012 (my first such experience) and one from 2014. Enjoy!

Drat That Good Weather! Winter Switchbacks Race Recap

YOU KNOW YOU’RE FLYING when a high school runner steps aside to let you by.

The snow came back to Michigan one day too late for Saturday’s Winter Switchbacks 5K. So we had a reasonably clear and dry trail, much to the disappointment of the race organizers – and me, too.

Not big on frills.

Not big on frills.

The Switchback Runs take place in the middle of winter and summer to make sure conditions are as miserable as possible. And as if ascending those brutal switchbacks four times in three miles isn’t bad enough, fallen logs and bramble piles mysteriously appear on the trail to keep you hopping – or, in some cases, tripping.

winter-switchbacks-2017-runners-charging-uphill-cropped

Yet while the race is advertised as, “stuff that will make a mule puke,” it’s actually a family-friendly, laid-back event. It’s put on by local high school running coaches, with proceeds going to support the teams. It’s mainly comprised of high school runners and their siblings, plus a few well-salted trail nuts like yours truly who enjoy something like this.

Coach Eric fires up the pack before the start.

Coach Eric (left, in shorts and blue hat) fires up the pack before the start.

I’ve run the winter 5K four times now, and there’s always been something memorable about it –  either plenty of snow and ice and cold temps, or like last year, an encounter with fox hunters in full regalia and a stampede of hounds.

Tally ho!

Tally ho! Just after the 2016 race.

This year not much was out of the ordinary, except we had a much smaller group of runners – about 40 total. But the race went on, and the group that was there hit the trail for all it was worth.

I’d been fantasizing about being first to the top in loop one, with reality setting in when I began climbing. Cardio-wise I felt okay, but this being my third race this month, the accumulated leg fatigue meant I had no push. Last year I was able to run the entire distance, including all four climbs. This time I couldn’t even make the first ascent without slowing to a walk in a couple spots.

I charge uphill with all -- my -- huuh huuh huuh -- might.

I charge uphill with all — my — huuh huuh huuh — might.

Oh, well, there was still a race to finish. I stuck with it and little by little I began to improve. By the third loop I was feeling much stronger and began to pass people. On the final leg even a couple of the high schoolers stepped aside for me, and I finished in the top ten again. My time of 24:47 even beat last year’s time by over a minute, tired legs and all! I must have really rocked the downhill and flat parts.

By the way, the winner finished in a mind-boggling 17:30, which is a fast time even for a flat 5K. I sense a scholarship in his future.

Yeah, it was like that.

Yeah, it was like that.

Now a little break from racing, with my next scheduled event at the end of February. On the other hand, that gives Skip & Co. at Body Specs free rein, which they took full advantage of today. Quick, where’s that list of February races?

Let There Be Snow! Bigfoot Snowshoe Race Recap

Yes! There was snow!

And I made the papers! (See below.)

If I’m going to drive four hours to compete in a snowshoe race, it would be a major bummer for there to be no snow. And while Traverse City was patchy in spots, at Timber Ridge Resort there was plenty left on the trails. The Bigfoot 5K/10K race was going to be run regardless, but a muddy trail run just doesn’t seem worthy of the name.

bigfoot-2017-guy-in-costume

For those of you who might contemplate a snowshoe race, I can highly recommend it, even if you have no experience whatever with snowshoes. As the race site puts it, “No training required, just strap ’em on and run!” And my first race in them in 2014 really was just like that, although I did face plant a few times. Rental snowshoes are hit or miss, so I ended up getting my own pair and my times have gotten even better.

This was the warmest, wettest year of my four Bigfoot 5Ks. The previous years were all dry, with temps in the 20s and deep, fresh powder nicely groomed. This year I considered running it in shorts (some people did) and wore just two light layers on top. In a race like this, you get warm really fast.

Heading out for my pre-race warmup.

Me (in yellow vest) heading out for my pre-race warmup. (Didn’t take long in that weather.)

I hoped to beat last year’s finish of 34:12 and maybe even break into the top 10 overall. But having just completed a 50K in the snow two weeks ago, I was a bit worried about how my legs would hold up. On the other hand, it made a 5K, even in snowshoes, seem a bit puny in comparison.

I lined up near the front, close behind the 10K elites attempting to qualify for Nationals. I didn’t want to get in their way, but I needed to get to the singletrack ahead of the mob, as it quickly turns into a conga line. I had to do some fancy dodging in the initial quarter mile, and my quick start left me breathing hard, but once on the singletrack I fell into a rhythm and got down to work. I was in the lead group of 20 or so and held my position, passing several people who got winded or tripped and fell, and despite one fall of my own, nobody passed me.

The course has some of everything – part wide road great for sprinting, and part well groomed trail through the woods. It’s gently rolling overall, with some nice long downhills and a couple of absolutely brutal climbs. All the better! Who wants flat perfection in a snowshoe race? Go run on a track, Usain!

A photo from the 2014 race showing one of the climbs.

A photo from the 2014 race showing one of the less brutal climbs. Notice the snow kicked up by the shoes. They recommend you wear a waterproof layer in front!

My finish was a mix of good and bad news. My wife and two of our camping friends came all the way up to see me race, but after the start they went back into the lodge to warm up. Based on my expected time, they came back out at the 30 minute mark, but I’d already finished! Perhaps due to the wet snow, the course was rerouted a bit, and ended up a quarter mile short. So I crossed the finish line with a net time of 28:55 – what looks like a five-minute PR! Extrapolating to that final quarter mile gives me an adjusted time of right around 32:00, which still represents a substantial improvement and new PR.

Placement-wise, I improved too – from 13th overall last year to 12th overall this year, scoring an age group win and second fastest over 50. Another 30 seconds and I would have made the top ten. Oh, well – next year!

Unfortunately, there are no photos of me in action this year – no race photographer and I was racing – but I wound up in the media in a couple of other ways. My friends picked up a copy of Northern Express, which had an article describing the Bigfoot, with a nice large photo from the 2016 race. And lo & behold, I was in it!

bigfoot-photo-from-northern-express

Then following the race, I was dutifully sorting out recyclables as Zero Waste captain, when I got called over for an interview! A reporter from Traverse Magazine was collecting race stories, and Randy the race director told him he should interview “our Zero Waste guy.” So he did. I’ll keep an eye out for when it appears.

And speaking of Zero Waste, you can read the sustainability report from the race at my new site, Happy Planet Running. (More on this to come.)

Next up – another winter 5K, this time in trail shoes, on the switchbacks in Chelsea. Hope the weather’s lousy!