Tag Archives: No Frills All Thrills

Thrills, No Frills, And A Wish Fulfilled

The vernal equinox is upon us, and with it came the annual No Frills All Thrills Trail Race at Huron Meadows Metropark. Hard to believe it’s been a year since the memorable 2014 race, with its Iditarod-like conditions.

Hardcore!

Hardcore!

The NFAT is one of my favorite races, in part due to the minimalist approach the organizers take. No shirts, no photographer, not even chip timing, just an 8K or 4K trail run through a pretty metropark. For an early spring run in unpredictable conditions, it attracts a surprising variety of runners of all ages. I even saw a stroller this year. Now that’s hardcore.

Just a couple of weeks ago, with snow still covering southern Michigan, I’d expected something similar to the 2014 race, where snow and ice covered the entire trail 3-4 inches deep. But the recent thaw took care of that. I asked the nice lady at the registration area what the trail was like this year.

“The first half mile is a bit muddy,” she said. “And there’s some snow and ice, but not much. It’s much better than last year.” Which would have been true about any year other than 2014. I replied that last year was one for the ages, and she said. “Yep. The Ice Ages.”

NFAT starting lineYet last year I pulled off once of my best efforts, aided by many runners deciding mid-race to drop to the 4K rather than stick out the full 8K. I wound up in 6th place overall. This year, with the trails mostly clear and runnable, I figured there was no way I would finish in the top 10 again. But I lined up in the front anyway.

As promised, there were some muddy spots, and a few large patches of snow and ice here and there. But most of the trail was in surprisingly good shape, and my Saucony Peregrine trail shoes provided good grip throughout. I got off to a good start and settled in at the rear of the lead pack, about 20 or so. We pulled well away from the rest of the runners, and with no one behind me to worry about, I began to work on those ahead.

The 8K route isn’t a killer but it has its challenges, and my winter workouts and all the hill work in Costa Rica paid off as I caught and passed other runners beginning to tire. And no other runners passed me. I love it when that happens! I crossed the finish line in 36:46 – good for an age group win and 9th place overall. Top 10 again!

Saving the best for last: a nice steep hill 100 yards from the finish line.

Saving the best for last: a nice steep hill 100 yards from the finish line.

Top things I love about this race:

  • The “no frills” as proudly advertised. Low key and straightforward.
  • A trail race in March means the conditions are unpredictable and practically guaranteed to be different from year to year.
  • It’s a good test of my fitness level as I get set for my late spring and summer races.
  • The organizers are very nice people, and so are the other runners. Every year I have a good time chatting with people after the race, and learning about other can’t-miss trail races. This year I found out about the debut Two Hearted Trail Run in the UP in June. (Don’t tell anyone – space is limited and I haven’t signed up yet.)
"No frills" race swag: gloves, chipless bib, and age group award.

“No frills” race swag: gloves, chipless bib, and age group award. (Spibelt is mine – and I highly recommend it.)

Normally, I’d be adding “the post-race goodies” to the list. But the homemade chocolate chip and red velvet cookies of the past few years were missing this year, replaced by boxes of store-bought. Perhaps it’s just as well – a couple more of those red velvet cookies and I’d have proposed to the baker, which probably wouldn’t have gone down too well with my wife.

And now for the big news I promised last time:

Coach Marie has a new baby daughter! Kasey June Morgan was born on March 13. Congratulations to Marie and her husband Rob, who faced difficulties in having a child, but whose patience and optimism saw them through. Kasey doesn’t know it yet, but she’s going to be a runner. Heck, she already has a 100+ support group!

Kasey doesn't know it yet, but she's going to be a runner. Heck, she already has a 100+ support group!

And in other news, I’m signing up for two spring ultras: the Pinckney Trail Marathon Weekend April 25-26, and the Glacier Ridge Trail Ultra (50 miles) in May. And the 100K retry is also on the list – just need to choose the venue. Stay tuned!

Cold Logic: No Frills All Thrills Race Recap

I HAVE FOUND SOMETHING TO APPRECIATE ABOUT THIS WINTER.

(Warning: it’s based on the fact that I ran outdoors all winter, so I’m guessing that many of you will not be nodding your head in agreement.)

Oh, we're all ears, I'm sure.

Oh, we’re all ears. Enlighten us.

Okay, here goes.

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(Remember, I warned you.)

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Last Saturday, I ran the No Frills All Thrills 8K trail race at Huron Meadows Metropark in Brighton. I run it every year, and it lives up to its billing. No shirts, no photographer, and it’s timed by the gun – no chips on the bibs. But it supports a good cause (Girls on the Run), and whoever baked the post-race chocolate chip and red velvet cookies gets my vote for sainthood.

The metropark trails are challenging in the best of conditions, with some steep climbs and descents built into the course. This year was not the best of conditions. The snow may be gone from the roads, but the trails were still covered in several inches of the stuff, and while some of it had been tamped down, for most of the course we just had to slog through it.

Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

But that’s exactly what I’ve been doing all winter – slogging through the snow. And I was wearing the Hokas, which while not exactly letting me glide along, gave me good traction and kept my feet dry. I liked my chances.

The few...the proud...the nut cases...

The few…the proud…the nut cases…

I got off to a decent start at the back of the leading pack. The trail was mainly ice for the first quarter mile, which meant stepping carefully and trying not to trip over other runners. But when we entered the woods I settled in, and began to pass people one by one as they struggled in the snow. It was hard going, like one of those bad dreams where you’re running really hard and going nowhere. But no one passed me – no one – while I continued to improve my position.

No gold shoes for age group awards this year, but  check out the mug with integrated spoon.

No gold shoes for age group awards this year, but check out the mug with integrated spoon.

I crossed the finish line pretty sure I’d done well. And the initial posted results had me in 12th place overall, out of about 120 total. Quite satisfactory, although I had to settle for second in my age group.

But the story wasn’t over. That night, I logged in to look at the final results – and I’d moved up to 9th place overall. A top 10 finish! Woohoo!

But wait, there’s more…

Tonight I went back to look up my finish time so I could update my race results widget, and saw this!

NFAT 2014 - my race result

According to the race organizer, some of the 8K runners decided to take the detour and just do the 4K – and didn’t tell anyone at the finish line. They think they have everything correct now. Too bad – they way things were going, I’d have won the race by next week!

So there you have it. I rocked out a cold, snowy race for a 6th place overall finish – my best ever – and I owe it all to this winter.

For my next trick, I will explain how the 2012 Dexter tornado led to my current PR in the 5K. Or maybe not. One twisted logic story is enough for now.

Run to Get Happy, Run to Get Fit

“SO WHAT’S THE MOST DEPRESSING SONG you’ve ever heard?” the girl at the coffee shop asked me this morning. Actually, she was in a good mood. She explained how neat it was that listening to sad songs like the blues are actually a way to feel better when you’re down. Running works well, too, I thought.

But if you ask me, things are turning downright positive around here. After what seems like years, the Ann Arbor Ice Age is finally showing signs of ending. The temperatures are rising and the glaciers are in full retreat. Today I saw my actual deck surface for the first time in months.

My deck, January 9.

My deck, January 9.

My deck, today.

My deck, today.

And last night, despite a threat of rain, I went to the PR Fitness run at the local lululemon. To my surprise, only four of us showed up. It was warm – mid-forties – and the sidewalks were clear of ice. What’s not to like? I put on shorts and lightweight shoes and hit the road, and boy, did it feel good.

One of our group was Dan, a new guy who’s just moved to Ann Arbor from Toledo. He’s running to get in shape and to help kick his smoking habit. “In Toledo, everyone smokes,” he said. “But everyone in this town is fit.” He’d only planned to run two miles, but stuck with us a bit longer, and ended up doing close to four. He only had one beef – our route began with quite a bit of uphill rise. “Is this whole route uphill?” he wondered.

Gee, what makes him think everyone in Ann Arbor is a runner?

Gee, what makes him think Ann Arbor is full of runners?

I told him this was his introduction to the Rob Morgan school of running. For those of you who don’t know him, Rob is one of the owners of PR Fitness (his wife, Coach Marie, is the other) and he has a particular knack for choosing running routes with challenging elevation changes. I’m convinced that one day he’ll discover a route that starts and ends at the same location, but will be uphill the whole way. It’s just a matter of time.

Ascending_and_Descending-Escher-Wikipedia

Why does this famous Escher come to mind… (Source: Wikipedia)

Speaking of time – in my previous post, I related that one of my little tribulations with pacing last Sunday’s ShamRock ‘n Roll was the expiration of my watch battery in the middle of the 10K. It had been on its last legs for some time, but finally gave up the ghost. So what to do?

Other people helpfully suggested a new watch, but I love my Garmin Forerunner 305. It’s an oldie but a goodie, with a nice big display and features I know how to use. But the battery is not easily switched out. It requires taking the watch apart, clipping off the old battery, and soldering in a new one.

My running watch and definitely un-smartphone. Yes, I am a caveman!

My running watch and definitely un-smartphone. Yes, I am a caveman!

Fortunately, I could turn to the fount of all wisdom – the World Wide Web (which is celebrating its 25th birthday this year), and found a terrific video that shows how to replace the 305 battery, step by step. I could buy a replacement 305 battery online, too, but there’s a better option – the iPod Mini battery. It’s the same size, has the same voltage, but twice the capacity. And it’s cheaper. Sold!

The toughest part turned out to be getting the watch apart, which involved about an hour of gently working the tight seam all the way around the watch face to break the adhesive. Replacing the battery was fairly easy, even with my barbaric soldering skills, and I put it back together and charged it up. So far I’ve put over four hours of use on it, with plenty of charge left.

Next up – Saturday’s No Frills All Thrills 8K trail run in Brighton. They tell me “the trail will be groomed.” I’ll settle for ice-free, which would be an improvement over last year. Hoping to defend my age group title, and earn the matching gold shoe!

2013 race finish. What am I supposed to do with one shoe - and spray-painted to boot?

2013 race finish. What am I supposed to do with one shoe – and spray-painted to boot?

Wonder Woman and Ultra Man

SUPERHEROES LIVE AMONG US, particularly in the running community. They aren’t usually noticed because they don’t get (or seek) a lot of publicity. The challenges they undertake are generally personal, and it’s easy to mistake them for ordinary mortals.

Mission accomplished! 50K completed, Sept. 2012

Mission accomplished! 50K completed, Sept. 2012

When I’d planned my 2012 year-long celebration of turning 50, with its associated events and challenges, I’d assumed (rather naively) that it was, if not unique, at least uncommon. But when I talk to fellow runners, amazing stories pop up everywhere.

For example, here are two people I met at recent races who have either completed, or in the middle of, some pretty awesome stuff.

Sharry

Shamrock ‘n’ Roll 10K, March 17

SharryI happened across “Irish Wonder Woman” after the race and just had to know what motivated her to run on a cold morning in this costume. “I’m turning 40 this year,” she said, “and I’m going to run 40 races to celebrate.” The Shamrock ‘n’ Roll 10K was race number eight since January 1.

Running three or four races per month is far from easy. In addition to the expense (entry fees range from $25 to over $100, plus travel), she’ll have to avoid serious injury and maintain the mental focus to run her best throughout the year. (The 20 races I ran last year were quite enough for me.)

Looks like we will meet again at the Martian Invasion of Races in April (me, half marathon, her, 10K) and Dexter-Ann Arbor in June. Her races range from 5K to half marathons, and at least one virtual race, something I will write about in more detail shortly.

To find out more about her, see her blog, “Sharry Runs 40 in 2013“. (Anyone who gives me a nice shout-out in her blog sure gets a plug from me!)

Ron

No Frills All Thrills 8K Trail Race, March 23

RonSay it’s your 50th birthday and you want to run an ultramarathon to celebrate, but there aren’t any nearby races that day. What to do? Create your own race, of course. That’s what this guy did, setting up and completing a 50-mile run on the Island Lake trails. He had a support vehicle and several friends ran part of the route with him, but otherwise did it by himself, with no water stops or spectators. Not even a fancy finisher’s medal.

So how did it go?

“Well,” he said, “At mile seven I got run over by some mountain bikers.”

Literally. They came around a corner and knocked him flat. “But I was unhurt, so I carried on.” Then around mile 18 his IT band flared up – bad enough that, “I wouldn’t normally have run on it.” But that day, “I swallowed a few ibuprofen, put some KT tape on my leg, and a few miles later, it was fine.” Other than that, it was uneventful.

Ron and Me - Age Group Winners

We took first and second in the 50-54 age group. Not exactly Olympic medals, but this was the “no frills” race.

Oh, and he biked over 2,500 miles last year, and ran for about 1,500. How I managed to finish ahead of him in the trail run I’m not really sure. But he says he’s going to come after me next year. Bring it on!