Tag Archives: half marathon

If I Can’t Run Your Race, I’ll Make My Own: Ann Arbor Half Marathon

SUPPOSE YOU AND A BUNCH OF YOUR FRIENDS want to run a local marathon, and you sign up for it well in advance. But then the marathon reschedules, and you won’t be in town on the new date.

What would you do?

Well, if you’re this guy here, you create your own race and hold it on the original date.

Meet Troy, who conceived, designed, and conducted the Ann Arbor Trail Half Marathon at Bird Hills Nature Area today. The Ann Arbor Marathon, which was also originally scheduled for today, moved to May this year. Troy’s race wasn’t quite the same, of course. It was on trails instead of road, had no registration, fees, race bibs, or swag, and post-race festivities consisted of music streamed over a phone, and hot cocoa and cookies.

It was a blast.

Bird Hills Nature Area is a hidden gem in the north of Ann Arbor whose trails run through a mix of hilly forest and flat prairie. Troy mapped out a 13.1 mile route and marked it better than many professional trail races, even including distances on his turn arrows. My rough estimate is that about 40 runners braved a cold morning with bitter wind to run the course.

The runners take off into the woods.

My experience was mixed. I’m still recovering from the Land Between the Lakes 50-miler two weeks ago, and that combined with my Saturday club run meant my legs just weren’t all there. So I turned back early for a total of ten miles. It was a good reminder that just perhaps, I’m not (completely) indestructible. I really enjoyed the course, though, and the sunny day, and giving lots of free advice to a young lady (leftmost in photo below) running her first ultra at Trail Marathon Weekend next month.

And my free advice is worth every penny.

Afterward, I asked Troy what his motivation was for creating the trail half. He’s a member of the U-M Triathlon Club, and a bunch of them were looking forward to running the Ann Arbor Marathon. But its new date of May 20 is after the end of the semester, and he’s graduating and moving out of state. So this was how he coped. What a great example of taking lemons and making lemonade.

I don’t blame the marathon organizers for moving the date. The March races have been cold the last several years, and today would have been another miserable experience for race volunteers and spectators. And even while running, it took about three miles for me to thaw out completely. It’s a shame that a May date means many students can’t be part of the marathon, but you can’t satisfy everyone.

So thanks, Troy, for putting this together. It was my pleasure to supply some coffee and to make sure it was a Zero Waste event.

You’d grin like this, too, if you got a gift card for pizza. Yes, you would. Admit it.

P.S. Oh, and where is Troy moving? To San Luis Obispo, which happens to be the site of this year’s U.S. Trail Running Conference, and the home of Race SLO, which puts on some very popular marathons and ultras. I think his running future will be well served there!

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Richmond 13.1: The Other 60 Percent

One week before the Nov. 14 American Family Fitness half marathon in Richmond, I went out for my regular Saturday group run. Since I was tapering, I kept it to ten miles at a moderate pace.

On Sunday I knew I was in trouble.

The run had taken more out of me than usual. I felt drained and weary, and did not bounce back the next day like I normally do. And this was after a week of cutting back. Since I was going to attempt a PR (new best time) in Richmond, this was not good. So – what to do?

Against every instinct, I decided to rest the entire week,  cancelling my Monday gym workout and Aikido class, and skipping the Tuesday night run. A short bike ride on Wednesday was all I allowed myself.

Resting? What a crazy idea!

Resting? What a crazy idea!

Finally, arriving in Richmond on Friday, I felt my energy returning. But was it enough to run 13.1 miles hard and fast? When I got tired, would I have the physical and mental fortitude to keep going and set that PR?

Then I came across an article about Jesse Itzler, an ultrarunner and entrepreneur who’d be considered an overachiever by 99.9 percent of the planet. Not Jesse; he decided he needed to “shake things up,” as he put it. So he hired a Navy SEAL to kick his butt for a month. In the winter.

You can read about that crazy month in his book, Living with a Seal: 31 Days Training With the Toughest Man on the Planetor go here for the CNBC interview. Along with ice water soaks and night runs, the SEAL gave him lots of advice, including this: “When your brain tells you you’re done, you’re only 40 percent done.”

Well, when a Navy SEAL says that, I believe him. Anyone who survives a year of that training, including the infamous Hell Week, ought to know. Could I use this little gem of wisdom to get me through the tough part of the race, when my brain would be strongly suggesting it wasn’t my day and how about we slow the hell down? I hoped so. Even tapping a little of that other 60 percent would be a plus.

Sure, *you* go ahead and tell this guy he's full of it. I dare you.

Sure, go ahead and tell this guy he’s full of it. I dare you. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Race morning was sunny and about 38 degrees, good conditions for a fast race. I warmed up with a jog of a mile or so, with some short sprints at the end. I felt ready to go and lined up near the front of the first wave to ensure I could get out of the gate and into stride quickly.

Anything under 1:33:49 would be a new personal best.

I’d decided on an unorthodox race strategy. Instead of trying to hold my target pace of 7:00 per mile for as long as possible, I would run sets of two miles at 7:10 and two at 6:50. I hoped the varied pace would keep my mind engaged and provide some recovery time at the slower pace.

The first four miles went exactly to plan – two at around 7:08, then two at 6:50. I didn’t recover as much as I hoped on miles 5 and 6, but I hit the 10K timing mat at 44:00, right on schedule.

Then we entered a park and began about two miles of gently rolling hills. I struggled to hold my pace and was breathing hard. With over six miles left, I felt fatigue set in, and the mental chatter changed accordingly:

Well, looks like a week off wasn’t quite long enough. What did you expect? You ran a 100K not long ago and it takes time to recover. How about we ease off a bit? Just not your day. No big deal, right?

Fortunately, I was prepared for it. I played the trump card.

Hah! We’ve only reached the 40 percent mark. Let’s press on and see what we have left, shall we?

With that, I relaxed, took some deep cleansing breaths, and pushed through the final inclines and out of the park.

Digging into the other 60 percent.

Digging into the other 60 percent.

The remaining five miles were by no means easy, but the worst was behind me. At mile 11, I surged to catch up to a couple of other runners and stuck with them, trying to match their stride and cadence. Together we hit the final half mile, a wide, sprint-inducing downhill packed with loud spectators on both sides. Richmond bills this event as “America’s Friendliest Marathon” and based on what I saw, I can’t disagree.

As we passed the cameras at mile 13, I looked at the finish line clock. 1:32! With a downhill-assisted 6:40 final mile, I finished in 1:32:43, a new personal best by over a minute!

Also taking part - daughter Tori (center) and Jess, her SO, finishing the 8K..

Family fitness! My daughter Tori (center) ran the 8K despite a bum foot. her SO Jess (right) also finished the 8K. Great job, ladies!

And even better, I’m feeling good again. Yesterday I ran ten snowy miles without any trouble, then went home and shoveled my driveway clear – twice. Guess what I was telling myself out there?

Mr. SEAL, wherever you are, thank you very much.

Yesterday's snowfall in Ann Arbor.

Yesterday’s snowfall in Ann Arbor. Thank goodness I have my energy back!

Eyes on the Prize – But What’s the Prize?

A recent posting on the Seeds4Life blog has me thinking.

When You Have One Eye on the Goal, You Have Only One Eye on the Path – Zen Master

Here a student asks the Zen master how long it will take him to achieve enlightenment. The master’s response basically tells the student not to worry about getting there, but to focus on the path.

Zen cat

My first reaction on reading this was something like: Yes, that’s very Zen and all, but it doesn’t make sense for everything. Like running, for example. Goals are what get runners off the couch and out the door, right? We all set goals for ourselves, whether it’s a 5K, a marathon, a trail ultra, or just being able to run a few miles in the fresh air.

Then I remembered my 100K attempts at Run Woodstock, and how I’d set myself up for failure in 2014 by thinking about how much distance I had left rather than where I was and how far I’d come. This year had been different, as I’d reminded myself to focus only on the trail directly ahead of me. By keeping my mind on where I was at the moment and letting the milestones unfold, I kept myself on a mental even keel and finished the race.

Perhaps this is one reason why I prefer trail runs for long distance running. In a road race, you don’t need to look down at the road, and the mile markers are clearly visible. With less mental energy needed, there’s more to worry about how much there is left to go, and how tired you already are.

By contrast, in trail running there is a literal reason for keeping both eyes on the path. You need one eye to watch where your feet land, as there are stones, roots, slippery spots, and sudden elevation changes to deal with. You also need to keep an eye out for the trail markings. Let your mind wander too much and you’ll wind up on your face in the dirt, or off in God-knows-where-land trying to get back on course. (Ask me how I know.)

DWD Devils Lake - Heading Down

Not a good time to put a foot wrong. (Dances with Dirt Devil’s Lake 50K, 2014.)

So how should goals fit into my running? As an important part of my training. But once out there running it, there’s no value in thinking about the finish line except as part of following my race plan. I’m running this pace because I’d planned to run this pace on loops two and three. I’m picking up the pace because I’m on safe, flat gravel road instead of tricky singletrack. I’m easing back because I’m ahead of schedule and don’t want to burn out.

When I took a Running 101 class five years ago, we were all asked to write down a goal for after the class was over, and how we’d reward ourselves for achieving it. The idea was to give us a reason to continue running regularly, and not stop when the class ended. I chose “run a half marathon” and promised myself a new pair of running shoes when I did.

That goal drove my training for five months, until I ran, and finished, the half marathon. Would I have continued running without that goal? Most likely, but I doubt I’d have improved as much without that 13.1 to work toward.

And it was finishing that race that convinced me I was capable of a full marathon, if I set that as my next goal and continued to train. And so on from there. And having completed the 100K, I’ve set a goal of running my first-ever 100-mile ultra next year. You heard it here first! (Actually, my wife and my running coach heard it first, but you’re next.)

You know, a road 13.1 sounds pretty good right about now.

You know, a road 13.1 sounds pretty good right about now.

Now, how about this? If I can agree that the journey is at least as important, if not more important, than the destination, what happens when the journey becomes unpleasant but I still have the goal? My thoughts on that coming up.

DXA2 and Me: Five Years and Still an Item!

Recently I celebrated a special anniversary. Five years ago I ran my first half marathon – the 2010 Dexter-Ann Arbor Run. I’ve run many more since then, on roads and trails, but that first one will always be memorable to me.

Dark, heavy clouds were overhead that day and a storm had knocked a tree down onto the road, delaying the start. But then we were off through downtown Dexter and a crowd of spectators, followed by ten scenic miles along the Huron River and onto Main Street in Ann Arbor, with a soul-sucking uphill climb to the finish line. And I found out what happens to nipples that don’t get taped. (It’s not pretty.)

I was hooked, and I’ve run it every year since. Who says men can’t commit?

Yep, last year was hot.

Yep, last year was hot.

Last year’s race was particularly nasty. It was hot, and the long hard winter meant many people hadn’t acclimated yet. I heard later that several runners passed out. The heat along with a poor hydration strategy caught up with me at mile 8 and ended my streak of faster finish times.

This year I vowed to be better prepared. I hydrated early and brought a handheld water bottle so I wouldn’t be dependent on the aid stations. And with my training runs in Costa Rica this spring, I felt acclimated. Bring on the 85 degrees and broiling sun. I wuz ready!

DXA2 2015 - Starting Line

Obviously, Nature had other plans.

Weather Underground had originally forecast rain on Saturday, with race day fairly clear and warmer. Then it changed its mind and moved the rain to Sunday, with temps around 50. I got an email from the race director – lightning might delay the start, but the race was on!

I wore my triathlon outfit, which is proving more and more versatile. As it’s designed to shed water and dry quickly, it was perfect for the rain. I was wringing water out of my shirt, but the singlet and shorts kept me reasonably dry and warm. For shoes I wore my Kinvara RunShields, which are designed for inclement weather. My feet got wet, of course, but there was no squishing or waterlogged feeling.

Another great boost - the PR Fitness aid station at mile 6. Thanks again!

Another great boost – the PR Fitness aid station at mile 6. Gatorade and friendly faces – what more could you ask for?

I left the handheld behind. With the rain and cool temps I would have no hydration issues. And I ditched the poncho at mile 4, deciding it was better to embrace the rain than fight it. As I’ve said before, one can only get so wet.

My strategy was to stick with the 1:35 pacer, my goal being any time better than that. All went well until mile 8 when despite a double knot, my right shoe came untied. With five miles to go at a strong pace, there was nothing for it but to stop and tie it, my target group disappearing down the road.

I tried but failed to channel my inner Denard.

I tried but failed to channel my inner Denard.

Not again, I thought. And I decided right then that it would not be “not again”. I stepped it up and ran through the next aid station instead of grabbing a drink. Thanks to the rain, I could afford it. Within a half mile I spotted the 1:35 sign again and in another half mile I’d caught up. Around mile 10 I went ahead of them, this time for good.

DXA2 2015 - Finish Area with PacerThe final climb on Main Street was still rough, and I came the closest I’ve ever come to tossing my cookies. But seeing “1:34” on the finish line clock gave me a boost, and I finished in 1:34:39. A new best time for me on that course. Hard to be annoyed at the rain when it does that for you!

Hard to believe it’s been five years since that first half marathon. And next year will be five years since my first full marathon! Like they say, you never forget that first one. And – oops, gotta go. My wife is walking toward me holding a rolling pin. She must want to make me cookies!