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.

Having a Fit! Well, Getting One, That Is

“I’m here to have a fit,” I explained to the guy at the door to the bike shop.

And he let me in.

Because I had an appointment to have this fit, after all. An appointment for a professional bike fitting, through Fitmi in Ann Arbor on the second floor of the Sic Transit bike shop. Fittings are private, and by appointment only, both to minimize distractions and for obvious safety reasons these days.

I’d found Fitmi by accident while trying to find a collection box for wine corks, of which I had a quantity from last year’s races to recycle. Fitmi had one, so I took them over. While there I observed Jessica, the owner, fitting someone to his triathlon bike, and I was intrigued enough to schedule the same service for my cross bike, which I use for long rides.

I hadn’t been fitted to the bike since I bought it in 2011, so a refit was overdue. Turns out Jessica used to work at Two Wheel Tango, where I bought the bike for my 600-mile “turning 50 celebration” ride to our campground and back in 2012. So we actually may have met before.

The fitting is not cheap – close to $300.00 – but as I wanted to get back doing long rides again, including “centuries” (100 mile rides) I believed it was worth it. I duly showed up with bike, helmet, and shoes. She set the bike on the stand and I mounted it.

**** Readers, you may insert your own joke here about her saying, “Yes, you fit. That will be $300, please.” ****

After observing me pedal for a bit, she asked me a few questions. “Your form looks good,” she said, “but I wonder if you feel pressure on your hands.” I agreed that on long rides my hands sometimes go numb. She believed that was because my shoulders were too far forward. And my groin sometimes does, too. She said the saddle looked fine, so the height or angle was likely the problem. Then she got out her calipers, measuring tape, and laser, and began the fitting.

During the two-plus hours I was there, she measured and adjusted a lot of stuff, making incremental improvements until we found the ideal settings. Here are the basics:

  • The saddle height was raised and the angle was adjusted. With this done I was once again properly resting on my “sit bones” and my legs extended more fully, giving me more power in the stroke.
  • The front stem was replaced with one that puts my hands higher on the handlebars, reducing the load on my hands and wrists.
  • My shoe cleats were moved slightly to reduce “knee tracking” and keep them more in alignment over the feet throughout the stroke. We could see the improvement using the laser.

Measuring my body position and leg extension.

Jessica making adjustments.

At the end she said things looked much better, and I said they felt better, too. “You now look like you’re in the bike rather than on it,” she said. The idea of the bike and me being a single unit on the ride.

Since the fitting I have ridden over one hundred miles on the bike, including a 50-miler the weekend after. The difference in ride quality was immediately noticeable. My butt got sore, due to lack of time in the saddle, but it hurt in the right places. And my hands and groin didn’t go numb even once. Pretty awesome! Makes me want to be on the bike even more.

You have probably figured out that I recommend a professional fitting to anyone who rides long distances. And if you’re in the Ann Arbor area, or within shouting distance, I’d say give Fitmi a try.

Something New, Something Old, Something Trail, Something Road

I had a classic yin-yang run yesterday.

We went to our campground up north this weekend, and I brought everything needed for my regular Saturday long run. Shirts, shorts, socks, hat, handheld water bottle, gear belt, all that stuff.

Except my road shoes.

As I am not a barefoot runner, this was a problem. Fortunately, I had brought my new trail shoes. So my run would be on trails instead, and I’d get to try them out. There were some offshoots of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail I’d seen before, but had always left to “some other day.” This was the day!

Buying my new shoes had been unusual, even aside from masks and social distancing. Every pair I tried on felt good on my feet. I was out of there in half an hour with new Saucony Kinvaras, a slam dunk given my history with them, and the Topos, which were a surprise as they’d never fit me well before, and I’d tried on just for the hell of it.

I’d left the Kinvaras at home, so trail run it was. But I had a pair of old road shoes in our trailer, so I took them along to the run just in case.

Switching: Yin to yang.

The first half of my 10.5 miles, (the “yin” part) was in brand new shoes on trails I’d never done before, which included dirt, gravel, mowed prairie, and plenty of elevation change. I enjoyed it, and the shoes felt great. but after five miles I was done. I felt sore and sluggish on the long uphill climbs. I’d also had enough of mosquitoes and deerflies chasing the sweaty idiot with no bug repellent on.

So I returned to the car, switched to the shoes I’d once found on top of a trash can, and hit the road, circling Glen Arbor on familiar, fully paved roads, flat as the proverbial pancake. The perfect yang to the first half’s yin. And the distance turned out nearly identical to what I’d done on the trails. Just like I’d planned it, uh-huh, uh-huh. Whether karma or coincidence, I took it as an unequivocal sign to wrap it up and go get coffee

And at the coffee shop there was one more little twist. Normally I match a hot, bitter coffee drink with a sweet pastry. This time I had an iced chai latte (way too sweet) with a savory pastry. Why? Because that’s what my body told me it needed. Hope to God I’m not pregnant.

And speaking of, happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there!

Run 31! That Was Fun, But I’m Done

I don’t know about you all, but I know what I’m doing tomorrow.

Resting.

Yesterday I successfully completed the “Head Goat 50K” challenge set by the imaginative folks at RF Events. All one had to do was run at least one mile each of the 31 days in May, and thus accumulate 31 miles, which as every fanatical trail runner knows is a 50K.

There were just two problems with meeting this seemingly trivial (for me) challenge: a) I’d never run 31 days in a row, and b) miles are like potato chips. It’s just not possible for me to stop at one. And so I set my own goal to average not one mile per day, but five, or 165 total miles for the month.

And, somehow, I pulled it off. After one mile yesterday, May 31, I officially met the challenge. So I ran 13 more as a cooldown / victory lap.

May 31 in Empire, MI, practicing safe social distance running!

Total for May: 179.1 miles. Shortest run: 2 miles. Longest: 14. And since I actually began my run streak on April 30, I also ran today (June 1) to cap things off, for a grand total of 33 consecutive run days, and 190.3 miles total.

So what did I experience and learn?

Physically, most of me feels fine. About halfway through I began to experience a general fatigue. Running slowly was no problem, but my sprints and other speedwork definitely suffered. My knees also began to get sore. I’m not sure why. I’m sure it’s in part to running every day, but I also suspect it’s because I’m not stretching enough after a run. I’ve heard that knee pain doesn’t always originate in the knees. Something else out of balance stresses the ligaments. So I’ve promised myself to get better at that.

And now the streak will end, because although I could continue it, I will not do so.

Why is that, I hear you asking. Aren’t you a crazy ultrarunner? What’s a few miles a day?

Okay, guilty as charged. Running fifty miles or more at a time is something I find oddly fun – every now and then. Doing that every couple of weeks (don’t laugh, some do) would quickly stop being fun. As does running more than a few days per week. Plus I’d like to get back to more formal training for (hopefully) more races ahead.

Not that I’m going to stop moving, of course. My wife and I have already signed up for the RF Events June challenge: “being on the move” for around 1,200 minutes this month. I’m looking forward to some nice long walks and bike rides to help meet that one. With plenty of well-earned rest in there.