Tag Archives: 5K

The Zen of Zero Waste: An Evening at Robin Hills Farm

NOTE: I don’t usually cross-post here what I write about Zero Waste, but I’m making an exception for my experience at Robin Hills Farm. (Plus I *did* run the 5K.) Enjoy!

Happy Planet Running

Organic, sustainable farming is growing in popularity. But how many places do you know who combine farming with education, family activities, and even athletic events? Well, there’s one just north of Chelsea, MI – right in my backyard – doing exactly that.

Robin Hills Farm was just scrubland in 2014 when the land was purchased, but it’s rapidly turning into a cutting-edge operation with diverse farming practices working together. Their focus is on zero – zero net energy, zero waste – using one product of the growing cycle to sustain another part.

When I happened across Robin Hills Farm on Facebook and saw it was hosting a “Zen Triathlon,” I had to find out more. So I emailed them, and not only did they invite me out to show me what they’re doing, they hired me to handle the zero waste activities for the event! So I packed…

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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!

Fail at Hightail, and This Must Be Love

What one thing did I do last Friday night that caused these reactions? See if you can guess.

Race director: “Oh, shit.”

Wife: “Do you want some company?”

Daughter: “Oh, Daaaaad!!!”

Daughter’s fiancee: “Do you have any pictures?”

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Give up? Here’s a hint: For the next week or so, y’all can just call me Lefty.

Yes, I managed to do quite a number on myself at the Hightail to Ale 5K in Detroit Friday night. And I hadn’t even had a beer.

The Hightail to Ale is an RF Events race near the Atwater Brewery in Detroit. It’s been described as a beer party with a 5K thrown in. And if you ever wanted proof that “free beer” is a guaranteed draw, check out this photo of just one wave of the runners who showed up.

Hightail 2016 - Wave Start

I was serving as captain of the Zero Waste team, our new initiative for diverting as much waste as possible away from the landfill. I had a particular motivation for doing ZW at this event; last year the few recycle stations had overflowed and I wound up dragging many bags filled with cans and bottles to the trash dumpster.

Last year - good try, but too few and unmanned.

Last year – good try, but too few and unmanned.

That turned out to be of my motivations for starting the ZW program, so we’d come full circle. Now we had ten Zero Hero tents and a staff of volunteers to change the bags out, sort them, and make sure all the recyclables got recycled.

This year: more stations, checked regularly.

This year: more stations, checked regularly.

Along with the free can of beer at the finish (for those of legal age), Atwater was also selling beer like – well, like cold beer on a warm night – and our Zero Hero tents were soon filling up with empties. We stacked the full bags near the dumpster for final sort and weighing before tossing them in.

Final sort before tossing in the dumpster.

Final sort. Note the dumpster is over the fence; this would have serious unintended consequences. (Although added stupidity was needed.)

As the party began to wind down, I observed that some bags of recyclables were being tossed into the dumpster before they were weighed. I walked around the block to access the dumpster (on the other side of this fence) and climbed in to get an estimate of how much was in there.

Seeing that unclosed bags had spilled cans and bottles all over, I decided to forego trying to weigh it. We’d rely on the report from our hauler instead. That wise decision having been made, I made up for it with a bad one.

The main area was just over the chain-link fence. It would be so much quicker to just jump over that fence instead of walking around the block again! The temptation was too much. I put one hand on the top fence rail to steady myself, and kicked myself over.

Sure, anyone could jump that fence from the dumpster. Right?

Sure, anyone could jump that fence from the dumpster. Right?

As I landed on the other side I knew something really bad had happened. My right wrist had caught on the open wire at the top of the fence, and I had a deep gash in it several inches long and bleeding profusely. I clamped my other hand hard over it and walked to the volunteer area. The first-aid truck had just left, of course, so someone called 911.

By the time the ambulance arrived the bleeding had nearly stopped but they confirmed I’d need stitches. I opted for U-M Hospital in Ann Arbor instead of a Detroit hospital, and the race director, after his initial reaction, drove me there. I arrived at 10 p.m. and got through initial triage fairly quickly. However, all the residents were tied up with major trauma cases so I wound up sitting on a hallway gurney most of the night waiting “to get picked up” (hey, that’s the official term).

My wife texted me several times while I waited, wondering if I’d like some company. Finally it got into my thick head that she actually wanted to get out of her warm bed in the middle of the night to sit with her wounded mate. She arrived around 1:30. I was finally stitched up (13 total) and released at 5:00 a.m. Saturday morning.

And that’s how we spent the first few hours of our 33rd anniversary.

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Followup: I am mending well, and while I cancelled my gym sessions for the week, I’m running and cycling to prep for the Glacier Ridge Trail 50 this weekend.

I also owe another shout-out to the Zero Waste crew and the other Hightail volunteers who made sure the tents all got packed up and the remaining waste put where it belonged. You rock, everybody!

And finally: My wife told our daughter in Richmond what had happened during a phone call on Sunday. Her reaction was predictable. Her fiancee, a medical technician, was the one who asked for photos (professional interest). Whether I sent her any or not I won’t divulge here. But I won’t subject my readers to any. (You’re welcome.)