Tag Archives: marathon

Pre-Ann Arbor Marathon Cleanup Plog!

The Ann Arbor Marathon is Sunday, March 24, and I’ll again be serving as Zero Waste Team captain. Since 2017, when we began the zero waste program at the marathon, we’ve recycled or composted over 97 percent of all race waste!

2018: Less than four pounds of trash, and over 99 percent landfill diversion!

This year we’ll make it an even more environmentally responsible event by doing some cleanup before the race. And if you’re a runner in the area, you could help!

This is an event Ann Arborites, especially runners, should be proud of. It’s an official qualifying race for the Boston Marathon and New York Marathon, and the course runs through some captivating scenery including central campus, Nichols Arboretum, and a long stretch along the Huron River in Gallup Park.

The inaugural Ann Arbor Marathon, June 2012.

Unfortunately, the melting of the winter snow has revealed litter strewn along the roads – an embarrassing amount in some places. This afternoon I ran a loop of the course and observed discarded bottles, cans, paper cups, and even twelve hubcaps. Hardly stuff we want our runners to see, especially those visiting our fair city to be part of a healthy outdoor event!

So this Saturday we’re holding the first ever Ann Arbor Plog-athon!

Glad you asked! “Plog” is the nickname given to an increasingly popular activity of picking up roadside trash during a run. And on Saturday, March 23, some dedicated runners will be out on the marathon course, taking that litter off the streets and putting it where it belongs. And with Zero Waste principles in mind, we’ll recycle or compost as much of it as possible.

Readers, are any of you coming to Ann Arbor to run that weekend? Or do you live in Ann Arbor and want to help make the course condition something we can be proud of? Join us! Details are on the Happy Planet Running page on Facebook. Or email me, and I’ll forward you everything you need to know.

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This is Fun? Damn Right!

A COUPLE OF MILES into last Sunday’s trail marathon, as I wound my way along the Potawatomi Trail, a low roar of excited babble came from across the lake to the right. The guy in front of me glanced in that direction.

“Sounds like the five-milers over there,” he said, referring to the shorter race that took a different path through the woods.

“Yeah,” I replied, “but they’re not having as much fun as we are.”

He agreed. “Got that right!” The morning was sunny and cool, and the Poto was in superb condition. Why settle for a measly five miles when you could run 26.2?

Saturday’s half marathon had been gray and bleak, with the wind off the lake driving most runners to warm places elsewhere for their afterglow. Working Zero Waste afterward, I shivered with the race staff and made liberal use of the heater in the volunteer tent.

No such issues on Sunday, the kind of day you’d want for a marathon, or any kind of run. Despite some fatigue from the half, I had good energy throughout. I finished slower than last year (which I’d run on fresh legs) but as I said, I was having fun.

So what exactly is “fun” about running four-plus hours up and down a trail?

I’m sure every trail runner would answer a bit differently, but “fun” and its synonyms are prevalent in our conversations. When someone says, “I nearly died out there. I couldn’t walk for a week. It was AWESOME,” we nod and make a note to look up that race.

This couple shows the joy on Sunday. (Photo from Frog Prince Studios.)

For me last weekend, enjoyment came with “being present” in the event, where outside thoughts and worries slipped away and my world shrank to the race and the trail. Hard effort, discomfort and pain mixed with runner’s high and feeling of accomplishment. The scary thrill of nearly losing control on steep downhills. Encouraging shouts from volunteers and spectators. Sweat-soaked PB&J and cookies in sticky hands. Exchanges of “Good job!” as I pass and get passed by other runners. A surge of adrenaline cresting the final rise and seeing the finish line, sprinting the final hundred yards, and capping it off with a somersault just for the hell of it.

Cruising along the back half of the loop.

Trail Marathon Weekend remains among my favorite events. I like going to new locations and rarely repeat a trail race, but every year I go to the Poto. It’s local and low-key, with, to me, a “just right” mix of smooth running and difficult climbs and descents. Not overly rocky or rooty either, though there are places that require careful footwork. You can spot them by my face prints in the dirt.

TMW also scratches a particular itch I have to push my limits. You mean I can run both the half on Saturday and the full marathon or 50K on Sunday? And it’s called the “No Wimps” option? You sadists! Where do I sign up? (You can read here about how I graduated to this from the 5-miler.) This year I even ran an “ultra half” which you get by missing a turn and running 14 miles instead of 13.1. (I’m thinking of suggesting this become an official category.)

And the marathon has a special award, the Rogucki Trophy, for the top finisher age 50 and older. Each year the male and female winners get their names and finish times put on the trophy. As the 2017 Rogucki winner, I had a title to defend, which reason would argue for resting on Saturday instead of doing No Wimps. Reason lost. (It usually does with races.)

Nearly as famous as the Stanley Cup!

So did I successfully defend my Rogucki title this year?

My name added for 2017 (bottom left).

Well, no. Two guys in the 50-54 age group smoked me like a pork butt. The winner finished second overall in 3 hours 35 minutes, a time I wasn’t going to touch even with a month of rest and an IV line of espresso. And that’s just fine with me. Frankly, I was stressing a bit too much about it. With the pressure off, I can enjoy that I won it once, and have that much more fun next year.

And, BTW, our Zero Waste effort rocked again, with reduced overall waste and a 97 percent landfill diversion rate. That’s three straight years of winning that no one can take away!

The Sunday morning Zero Waste crew – a gaggle of Girl Scouts. They did great! I’m wearing my marathon and No Wimps medals. Wooden! Very sustainable!

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.

Breaking News from Mars: Boston Bound!

WELL, THE MARTIANS WENT HOME. It was too cold for them. So Earth is safe for another year.

In other good news – I completed the marathon and qualified for Boston!

dancing Snoopy

Yes, I’m really pleased! But at the end of this post, you’ll see another example of the sense of perspective that seems to accompany the ups and downs of my running life.

Officially, my required qualifying time for Boston 2017 is 3 hours 40 minutes. But faster runners get first crack at registration, so the more I beat that time by, the better my chance to get an actual spot in the race. I wanted to beat my required time by at least 10 minutes, to leave no doubt.

Just one problem: a finish of 3:30:00 would be over 20 minutes faster than my previous best, the 2012 Ann Arbor Marathon. But I’d goofed around and taken pictures at that one. With the hard training I’ve done this winter, I felt confident I could do it. I even set my planned pace to 7:45 per mile instead of the needed 8:00, to give myself some extra cushion.

Like at the Richmond half last year, I divided the race into stages to break up the monotony of the run and give me some mid-race recovery. Each stage I would run three miles at an 8:00 pace, followed by three miles at 7:30. The final 2.2 miles would be at whatever I had left.

I arrived at 6:30 a.m. for the 7:15 start. I warmed up with an easy mile, and after a quick pit stop (no lines – yes!) I was ready to go.

Just before the start. This is the best I would feel until Tuesday.

Just before the start. This is the best I would feel until Tuesday.

Conditions were, shall we say, interesting. I’d been hoping to wear shorts, but with a wind chill under 20 degrees, it was not to be. At one point the sun came out and it seemed to be warming up, but soon after the wind picked up, the clouds came back, and the snow started to fly. I ran through at least three good-sized snow squalls during the race, at times strong enough to barely see ahead. On the other hand, there was no danger of overheating.

The first two stages (miles 1-12) went right according to plan, and I hit the halfway point at just over 1:42:00. At this point a few things conspired to slow me down a bit. First, I was, naturally, starting to get tired and sore. Then I ran uphill into the wind for a couple of miles. At last we turned around and I had the wind at my back. What a difference! I also got a boost when we joined up with the half marathoners for the last six miles. Running with other people does make a difference, especially if you can pass some of them. Just one of those mental things.

When it came time to start the final surge to the 7:30 pace, I couldn’t do it. It took all I had to maintain 8:00. Over the bridges, up the last hill, and then we hit the half-mile downhill to the finish. The last few hundred yards seemed to take forever, and I didn’t have my usual finishing surge, but I got across the finish line, breathing and upright, in 3:26:50.

“That’s Boston, baby,” I said to the race director as we slapped hands in the medal area.

“You’ll remember this race in more ways than one,” he said.

Boy, was he right, although not the way either of us thought. Once again, my lack of attention to myself post-race came back to bite me. I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say I spent quite a bit of time huddled under a blanket by the gas heater in the registration tent, pale and trembling. Finally it dawned on me that I might want to change into the dry clothes I had in my bag two feet away. And I should have tried to eat something right afterward, regardless of how my stomach felt. Next time, next time.

And just in case there was any danger of my getting an unhealthy level of pride in finishing in the cold and snow, I met a guy at the pre-race expo. He’s one of those who felt the need to run a marathon in all 50 states, which he finally completed in Hawaii last year.

“What was the hardest marathon you ran?” I asked him.

He thought for a minute. “That would be Colorado,” he replied. “It started at 7,000 feet, everything over 8,000 feet was in snow, and I had pneumonia. The fever broke the day of the race, and I decided as long as I was there, what the hell.”

I’m not sure which is more crazy – that story, or that he had to think about it first. That’s runners for you, folks.