Tag Archives: pacing

Veterans Memorial 150, Part 3: Bringing Home the Buckle

Concluding my Veterans Memorial 150 race recap: It’s early Sunday morning on the Pere Marquette Trail, finally cooler after a beastly hot Saturday. I’m running well, but another hot day – and trouble – lie ahead…

The Field Thins Out

I arrived at AS 8 (mile 80) around 1:00 a.m. and eased gratefully into a chair. Ruth was there, which meant she’d dropped. “I’m sorry to see you here,” I said. Awkward as that sounded, she understood, admitting to not feeling well from the start. So she’d switched to aid station volunteer.

Kurt arrived and asked how I was. Fine, I told him, how were the other runners doing? “Lots of them have dropped,” he said, which he’d expected. Dean, who I’d met at Baldwin, had been taken to the emergency room with heatstroke but had recovered.

Other runners taking a break. (From the race’s Facebook page.)

Kurt said my nearest competitor, Rebecca, was about 2-3 hours behind me – a bit too close for my comfort. Heading back out, I picked up my pace to take advantage of the cool night and hopefully extend my lead.

A Ghostly Picnic, the Non-Breakfast, and Running Scared

On to Farwell for a crew stop at their park pavilion – a 4 a.m. “picnic” in misty artificial light in a dark, empty town. It was a bit surreal, even spooky. I can only imagine what any passersby would have thought.

An hour later I arrived at the Moose Lodge (AS 10, mile 92) outside Clare. A pancake breakfast would begin at 7 a.m., but nobody showed up early just for me. (Well!). So my crew made me instant oatmeal. Isn’t it wonderful to have people who care?

We checked in with Kurt and heard some startling news. Out of 32 solo runners who started, only eight were still on track for the entire distance. And there’d been some wildlife excitement on the trail overnight! One runner had spotted a black bear and been literally “scared sh**less.” Another had been so spooked by howling coyotes she’d climbed a tree, where race staff found her and talked her down.

Not the same bear, but you get the idea. (Video from Roscommon Fire Department. Click to see video.)

I’d enjoyed an uneventful night, seeing only deer and being cheered on by a chorus of bullfrogs. Nature soon made up for that. As I ran through Clare, lightning lit up the predawn sky. Hard rain soon hit, and I ducked into the van. I tried to appreciate the extra rest, but wanted to get more miles in before it got hot. So I got back on the trail as soon as it let up a bit.

After an hour of intermittent rain, the clouds broke up and the sun was peeking out when I arrived at Loomis (AS 11, mile 102). My running coach Paul and his wife Colleen were there, ready to begin pacing me. And Charlie, my pal from Body Specs, had taken over crew duties from Joyce and Sue, who went to catch a few hours sleep.

Another long, hot day loomed ahead, but only fifty miles to go!

Paul and I hit the trail. Dave and the crew van in the background. Charlie is behind Paul.

Stage 3: Loomis to Bay City

Pacing, Passing, and Pseudo-Napping

“You’re an hour and a half ahead of my time last year,” Kurt told me at Loomis. “I needed two naps during my race. I recommend you take one.”

I thanked him but declined; I was wide awake and had good energy. And I wanted to keep a good lead over Rebecca, who had just left Clare. Paul and I agreed a nap could wait. But as we approached Coleman (AS 12) it was already hot and I noticed reality blurring briefly –instants of fading out and snapping back. I told Paul maybe it was time.

“Lie down and cover your eyes,” he said. “Part of sleep is shutting off the input we get from our eyes. Even if you don’t fall asleep, this will help.” So at Coleman I lay down in soft grass in the shade with a cold towel over my face. It felt glorious. I remained awake but was relaxed and comfortable. Fifteen minutes of that, plus another five minutes a bit further on, was all I needed for the rest of the race.

On this stretch we caught up to Dick West, who was attempting 100 miles and had started at the 50-mile mark. A longtime ultrarunner, Dick is still out there competing at age 76. We exchanged handshakes and encouragement. (I’ll spare you the suspense: he finished!)

I want to be this guy when I grow up.

Paul and Colleen tag-teamed me until Sanford (AS 14), keeping me at a safe pace and entertained with conversation. (What do runners talk about while running? You have one guess.) It was my first time being paced, and I quickly appreciated its value. The miles were hot and miserable, but company made them pass more easily.

How am I doing? I’m fresh as a daisy. Why do you ask?

On the trail with Colleen.

At Sanford we waved goodbye to Paul and Colleen (who’d brought me a milkshake – aren’t they great?), and Sue and Joyce rejoined us. I was surprised to find Charlie ready to pace. I hadn’t expected him to start until Midland (mile 127, ten miles ahead) and even then I was a bit worried, since he’d never raced more than a half marathon.

“Dude, it’s thirty-two miles to the finish,” I said.

“Yeah,” Charlie said. “Let’s go.”

Crisis Afoot

The miles to Midland were among the hardest I’ve ever done. It was mid-afternoon, the temperature well over 90, with fewer crew stops because they had trouble finding places to meet us. But more troubling were my burning feet. All the hours spent on hot blacktop were taking their toll. By the time we neared the end of the trail, every step was extremely painful.

Charlie’s presence was invaluable. He knew I was struggling, but remained easygoing and relaxed, keeping me moving forward without the need for direct encouragement. We swapped Aikido stories (he’d also trained under Kushida-sensei), pondered the weather, anything to take my mind off the long hot slog.

Finally we reached downtown Midland – and my crew couldn’t locate the aid station. I spotted a bench next to a pretty glockenspiel and collapsed onto it while we called Kurt. He said the station was being set up a mile farther down. Oh, God, another mile of agony, I thought. And how the hell was I going to do 23 more after that? For the first time in the race, I wasn’t sure I could continue.

“We need to do something right here, right now,” I said to my crew, rather plaintively. “I can’t finish the race with my feet feeling like this.”

They sprang into action. An icewater foot bath put out some of the fire. I took two Advil. Charlie checked the bottoms of my feet – nothing cracked or bleeding, just some swelling – and applied some moleskin. I slipped thin foam insoles into my shoes for extra cushioning. I found a large blister and treated it. Finally, a fresh pair of socks. All that done, I stood up and took a few steps.

My feet still hurt, but it was a manageable hurt. Charlie and I walked to the aid station while the crew cleaned up. By the time we got there and checked in, I was physically and emotionally back on track. “We’re gonna finish this puppy,” I said to Charlie. (I may have used a slightly stronger phrase.)

Motivation

From Midland the course wound through an industrial park, then onto Midland Road and due east to Bay City. This road was five lanes wide and busy with traffic, even on Sunday. Sometimes there were sidewalks, and sometimes we had to hug the shoulder. I was grateful again for Charlie being there. I’d expected to be exhausted at this point and running in the dark, but even awake with the sun still up I felt much safer with a pacer.

And as the evening slowly cooled, I was able to run again! We began with jogs of a hundred yards or so, and worked up to half miles. My legs felt surprisingly strong, and running was actually less painful than walking. Charlie even had to rein me in at one point. “No sprinting!” he called out as I pulled away at a blazing ten-minute mile pace.

At 8:00 p.m. we reached the Auburn aid station (mile 135) and I checked on runner status. A few had stopped at Loomis, earning a 100-mile belt buckle. Only four were still on track to run the full 150. “Is Rebecca one of them?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” was the reply. “We expect her to arrive around 9-9:30.”

I couldn’t believe it. My lead had shrunk to an hour, and 45 minutes of that was due to my early start. Charlie looked at me. “We’ve got to win this by at least an hour,” he said. “For moral justification, at least.”

Charlie and I on Midland Road, ready to rock to the finish.

We took off running, and kept up an aggressive pace into Bay City. (11-minute miles never felt so fast.) We reached the final aid station, the Cops and Doughnuts store in downtown Bay City, as darkness fell. In hindsight I should have asked about Rebecca, but I was so anxious to finish the race I didn’t even buy a cookie (or three) to carry me through the final six miles.

The last stretch on Henry Street / State Park Rd. also had heavy traffic. Charlie had on a full light vest, so we were very visible. Still I was grateful when the streams of headlights diminished as we approached the park. And although I was pretty sure Rebecca couldn’t catch us, I kept looking behind me, unable to shake the fear of seeing an approaching headlamp.

Kurt had checked regularly on our progress so he could be at the finish when we arrived. And at 11:20 p.m. Sunday night, the finish line was lit up and he and other staff were there to welcome us in. I jogged across the grass, up a sidewalk, and after 40 hours and six minutes, crossed the finish line. I’d led it (nearly) wire to wire – and won it.

Finish! Kurt hands me my 150-mile belt buckle.

Aftermath

Relief, Disbelief, and Unnecessary Grief

Kurt was amazed. Despite the oppressive conditions, I’d finished over two hours faster than his time last year, and five hours ahead of my original schedule. “How did you handle the heat so well?” he asked.

Past experience mainly, I told him. I’ve run enough hot ultras, and learned the hard way from them, to know what I need to stay cool and keep electrolytes in balance. And a terrific crew and pacers. No way I could have done it without them.

We hung around for an hour, and then got ready to head back to our campground in Empire. I asked Kurt when Rebecca was due to arrive, as I’d hoped to cheer her in. “Oh, we expect her around 3:30,” he said – three more hours away. WTF?

The Auburn aid station had either misunderstood or been misinformed. She hadn’t even left Midland until after 9 p.m. We could have walked it in! I was happy to have finished strong, but I could have been spared a lot of anxiety knowing the actual situation.

On the other hand, who was really to blame for that anxiety? Charlie said it best during our trek down Midland Road, when I’d pushed too hard and thought I’d hurt my knee. “You lost your focus,” he said after I’d stretched it out. “You were worried about Rebecca instead of running your best race.” Amen. Lesson learned.

I couldn’t sleep on the drive back because someone kept moving my legs and sticking needles into my feet. When we got back to camp I considered going into Empire for breakfast, but decided to attempt a nap in our camper. I was out instantly. Nearly 48 hours after I woke up Saturday morning, my race was over.

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Cocoa Power: Kona Chocolate Run Recap

Just how powerful is chocolate? Witness the following.

Chocolate Run - 10K start

7:00 a.m. in downtown Plymouth, MI. 26 degrees and dull gray sky. Sensible people are still in bed or enjoying breakfast and coffee in a warm location. And yet over 5,200 people are standing outside, shivering in Spandex, gloves, and beanies, waiting to begin a 10K or 5K run.

Yes, today was the Chocolate Run, the final race in the series put on by the Kona Running Company every year. Along with some pretty snazzy gear, runners got a trip to the chocolate tent after their race, where they refueled with chocolate chip cookies, chocolate bread, and pretzels with dipping chocolate, and, of course, a nice cup of hot chocolate.

The half-zip is a nice upgrade over the standard race shirt. And it's cat-approved.

The half-zip is a nice upgrade over the standard race shirt. And it’s cat-approved.

As usual, I volunteered my services as a pacer, which got me the same snazzy gear and chocolate tent visit without feeling like I needed to run my butt off. I was joined by  fellow PR Fitness runners Ray and Melissa for the 10K 50:00 pace. Our group was well represented, including the 6th place overall finishers in both the 10K and 5K, and many of our runners achieving personal best times (a.k.a. PRs). That’s the spirit!

She's run six Ironman triathlons but claimed holding the sign for a couple of miles was "too hard". Hmm....

She’s run six Ironman triathlons but claimed holding the sign for a couple of miles was “too hard”. Hmm….

The course is mainly flat, which makes it good for first-time and casual runners and made sticking to pace easy. It took about a mile and a half to fully warm up, but we had a good time chatting about Melissa’s Ironman experiences.

After the 10K and some chocolate, I took the 8 minute/mile pace sign and went off to the 5K. Thanks to the cold and a half hour wait before the start, I was a bit stiff at the outset, but I was grateful to be running relatively fast. And it was fun yelling at people to pass me in the final few hundred yards.

Chocolate Run - the goodiesA couple of logistical issues from last year were much improved this year. To cut down on crowding during the first mile, the runners were sent out in waves at ten-minute intervals. But the best improvement was the flow through the chocolate tent. Last year there was just a single line, and it got so long that many people gave up and went to the nearby coffee shops for their hot chocolate. This year there were two lines and the goodies were more pre-arranged so people spent less time getting their goodies.

Finally, a trip to Plymouth to pace a race isn’t complete without a good cup of coffee. Plymouth has many choices near Kellogg Park but my favorite is the Plymouth Coffee Bean, where in addition to a good latte they make sweet and savory crepes to order. Life isn’t just about chocolate, you know.

This is all that's left of my crepe when I remembered to take a photo. Yes, it was very good.

This is all that was left of my crepe when I remembered to take a photo. Yes, it was very good.

Joy and Subterfuge: Wicked Halloween Run Recap

I WAS SURROUNDED BY SUPERHEROES, monsters, and even a refrigerator, but what impressed me most was a nine-year-old girl.

Pacing assignments at 7:00 a.m.

Pacing assignments at 7:00 a.m.

Last Sunday I paced the Wicked Halloween 10K, one of the races put on by the Kona Running Company. I enjoy pacing their events for many reasons – the large turnout, the cool shirts, a great location (downtown Plymouth, MI) and the energy of all involved. They are also unusual in providing pacers for 5K and 10K distances, something normally reserved for the half marathon and longer. But I hear compliments for the pacers at every event, so they’re onto something.

They also make a special effort to recognize first-time racers. I normally run the 52-minute pace, but they needed someone for the “1st Time 10K” so I took the sign. The pace would be easy; the tough part was finding first-timers, despite over 1,600 runners lined up behind the starting gate. There are plenty of first-time 5K runners at Kona races, but most 10Kers have already run some before. (Which leads me to wonder: where do people run their first 10K?)

Never mind "first time" - how does anyone run *at all* in those things?

Never mind “first time” – how does anyone run *at all* in those things?

Eventually I found a few near the back, and after congratulations and photos, off we went. But I got distracted looking at the costumes and lost them at some point. After futile attempts to find more first-timers, I declared a few people to be “Honorary 1st Time 10K” and ran behind them holding the sign. They didn’t seem to mind. Heck, they got some extra kudos from the spectators.

Wicked Halloween Run - Bearded Couple

One of the many cheering sections along the way - another nice touch.

One of the many cheering sections along the way – another nice touch.

At the water stop at the halfway mark, I tried again to locate some genuine first-timers. Finally, I found someone. Yes! My life had meaning again! Then I found a couple more – even a dog. And then I came across this young lady.

Wicked Halloween Run - Joyful Running

Kaney was running her first-ever 10K, but watching her I wouldn’t have guessed. Her pace was steady and her form was excellent. And she was obviously really enjoying herself . “This is what running is all about!” I wanted to say to the adults with her. “Having a good time!” And I did say it, actually.

Wicked Halloween Run - Finish.jpgI stayed with them the rest of the way, and got this photo at the finish. Another good event on another beautiful day. And downtown Plymouth is a fun place to wander around afterward, with small-town charm and at least two excellent non-chain coffee shops – the Coffee Bean and Espresso Elevado – easy walking distance from the park.

Looking forward to pacing The Chocolate Run in a few weeks!

Oh, yes, and here’s the refrigerator. This lady is known for her elaborate costumes!

Wicked Halloween Run - Refrigerator Costume

Smoking, and the Bandit

Wow, what a week. Seven days, four running events. I’m going to recap today’s events here and save the other two for a bit later – just cuz I wanna.

1. Smoking (the good kind)

The day kicked off with the Flirt with Dirt 5K, a trail run in Lakeshore Park in Novi. Regular readers know how much I love me a trail run, but this was actually my first-ever 5K on a trail. My strategy was basically the same as for any 5K – run like hell – and after all the half marathons and 50K races this year, I was looking forward to letting it all hang out from start to finish. (So to speak – this was not a natural run.)

Start of the 10K race.

Start of the 10K race.

At the FinishI lined up at the front, literally “toeing the line” and got into the front group right from the start. The course had been advertised as “an ungroomed bike trail” but it was in terrific shape. There were sharp turns but it was wide enough to run comfortably, with fewer roots and stones than my other trail runs. So I kept up my pace, and to my surprise, nobody passed me, or even seriously challenged me. I charged up the final hill and over the finish line in 4th place overall – my third top 10 finish (all on trail runs) and best finish ever in a race.

I just had time to get my award and take a few quick photos, and then it was down the road to Northville and the Kona Run.

2. Forced Into Banditry

I’m a regular pacer for the Kona series of races, and thought it would be a good challenge to run the trail 5K and then pace the Kona 5K. I’d cleared it beforehand with Larry, the organizer. But when I got to the starting line, the pacer bibs and signs were nowhere to be found. Turned out Larry had relocated to the finish area, and there wasn’t time to go find him.

1st Time 5K - 2So, Plan B; I became an unofficial photographer and “race cheerleader”, and took photos of people who were running their first-ever 5K, along with high fives and encouragement. Then I ran in the second wave, with no bib, and took more photos. In running, this is known as being a “bandit.”

Bandits are generally harmless, unless they’re deliberately cheating in a competitive race – for example, by wearing someone else’s bib and essentially impersonating that person. But many in the running community consider banditing uncool, the attitude being that if you’re going to run an official event, you should pay for it.

Read more: Why Running Bandits are Bastards

The price of banditry - getting splashed by little girls.

The price of banditry – getting splashed by little girls.

But some bandits have more noble motives. Perhaps the most famous bandit is Kathrine Switzer, who ran the 1967 Boston Marathon when women weren’t allowed to participate. Actually, she did register (as “K.V. Switzer”) and ran with a bib, although it was nearly torn off by Jock Semple, the race manager, when he saw her on the course. Read Kathrine’s account of the event at this link – it’s a good read.

In my case, Larry had no problem with what I did. He even gave me one of the pacer shirts at the finish line. But next time I’ll get specifics on where he’ll be.

3. Like Fish, The Best Photo is the One That Got Away

But perhaps the most memorable event of the day took place at the cafe where I was enjoying a post-race latte and scone. I happened to be sitting outside near the road, and a car pulled up next to me and stopped. And the driver starting speaking to me in French!

Oui, Monsieur, il faut parler francais quand on est a un cafe.

Hanging out with fellow runners Hunter and Katie. Malheureusement, ils ne parlent pas francais.

“You’re outside at a French cafe,” he said. “You should be speaking French!”

Turns out he was a D-Day veteran, and seventy years ago this weekend he was in Normandy. I wish I’d gotten his photo, but there wasn’t time – he was blocking traffic. So I settled for thanking him for his service, and exchanging a few phrases in French.

Next up: a recap of the week’s other events, and looking ahead to the Liberty Festival in Canton and the Uncle Sam Slam.