Tag Archives: race

Hills, Hops, and Masks – Racing Safely

I did something this week I haven’t done in a long time.

I ran an actual 5K race. With a real bib, chip timing, and other runners present.

Honest to goodness.

The event was Hills to Hops, held at Robin Hills Farm in Chelsea, put on by RF Events. Normally they’d be busy with summer triathlons, half marathons, and even ultramarathons. But of course nothing is “normal” right now in the world of athletics. Those events have gone virtual this year, but they were still looking for a way to get people together to enjoy an actual factual race. And with modifications to keep people safe, they did just that.

Recently reopened after renovations, Robin Hills Farm offers events including live music, food and drinks, and space for special events. The property includes trails that can be used for hiking or running, sufficiently long to create a 5K loop. So RF Events set up a two-day event, offering a 5K each day, with full chip timing and age group awards.

So, what were some of the modifications made to ensure safety?

  • Each race was limited to 100 runners, as currently required by Michigan
  • Instead of a single mass start, there was a 90-minute window for starting, 5:00-6:30 p.m. You could start at any time during that window.
  • Bibs were hung off a fence. I was sent my bib number via text ahead of time, so I just walked up to the fence, found the bib with my number, and checked the tag to make sure the information was correct. Even had four safety pins with it.
  • A long one-way path to the starting line to avoid people passing each other coming and going.

Note the gorgeous property!

  • The finish line far enough away from the start. And just a couple of water bottles were placed on the table at any one time.
  • No medals at the finish line. They were optional, and had to be ordered ahead of time and be shipped to you. Same with T-shirts.

Safe starting.

Safe finishing.

The course wound through the farm’s property. Some was dirt trail through woods, other parts in a grassy meadow, and it ended with a staggered run back and forth up the rows of the amphitheater and to the top of a hill to the finish. With a slow trickle of runners across the start line, it was never overly crowded.

Everyone there behaved themselves, wearing masks when around other people, and observing good social distancing. (See, folks, it can be done.) The post-race scene was nice, too. Plenty of shady space to hang out in, and the bar was open to get a beer or drink. Live music, too.

One more bonus – with so little stuff handed out, there was very little trash to deal with. I informally collected about 30 bottles and cans for recycling (that is my job, ya know), but there was almost nothing else. Not a viable model for my business, but a lot less frantic activity.

RF Events is planning similar races for the next couple of months. Check out the events here: http://rfevents.com/pop-ups

I’m planning to be there. Join me! This running thing just might catch on, you know.

A Smaller Bigfoot, and Call for BHAG Ideas

I WUZ THIS CLOSE.

All this year I’ve had it in my mind that 2020 was going to feature my first 200-mile race. And I had it picked out: the Bigfoot 200 in August, in Washington State.

I’d already started the process; I told my wife and coach, and lined up a tentative crew with our friends on the West Coast. And as the race requires eight hours of trail work beforehand, I signed up to volunteer with the Friends of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail here in Michigan.

All set! I just needed to wait until registration opened and push the button. Then would begin a year’s worth of training to get ready.

Well, it didn’t happen quite that way.

Registration for the 2020 Bigfoot 200 opened late last month. There was even a substantial “early bird” discount. I went to the website and dutifully went through the course map, runner instructions, disclaimers, and other stuff they want you to read before registering.

This is good advice. Bigfoot is far different from any other ultra I’ve been involved with. For example, the Veterans Memorial 150, while no walk in the park, passes through several towns and has easy crew access most of the way.

Lest you think civilization makes 150 miles easy…

Bigfoot is 200 miles in the middle of nowhere with little or no cell phone service, aid stations averaging over ten miles apart, and only a few locations with crew access. A GPS tracking chip and survival equipment is mandatory for runners, with good reason.

None of that phased me, though. From previous tough ultras I figured I had the physical and mental stamina to get it done. No worries! And yet, as I reached the final signup page, my fingers hesitated. Something wasn’t right. I took a break to ponder what.

Cost was certainly a factor: a $900 entry fee and travel, lodging, and meal costs on top of that. Not a showstopper – Burning Man last year cost a similar amount – but still substantial. Plus my crew would be making a multi-day commitment and traveling to locations difficult to access. It’s a lot to ask.

But it came down to basic questions I finally figured out to ask myself. Was I really looking forward to this experience? With all the effort I’d be putting into training, preparation, logistics, and actually running the silly thing, would I enjoy it?

After I finish this race I’ll tell you I enjoyed it.

The answer, to my surprise, was No. I just didn’t feel ready for it. And so I won’t be doing it next year. However, I do plan on being there.

While perusing the website I found out there are some shorter races – the “Littlefoot” series – of various distances up to 100K. The 40-miler, a loop around Mt. St. Helens, particularly appealed to me. I’ve been there and hiked some of the trail. And I can do it in a single day, leaving more time to spend with our friends. Registration doesn’t open for that one until January, but I fully intend to push the button then.

So now I need to choose another BHAG(*) race for next year. I’d like it to be a 100-miler or more, although more then one fellow runner has recommended Comrades Marathon, the infamous 12-hour, 56 miler in South Africa. I welcome reader suggestions!

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(*) BHAG = Big Hairy-A$$ Goal

Ten Years of Racing!: A Celebration, and a Lesson Learned

Last Saturday’s Holiday Hustle in Dexter – a fun and otherwise ordinary end-of-season 5K – was memorable for me. Ten years ago, the 2008 Holiday Hustle was my first-ever official race.

That’s right! A dedicated non-runner until my mid-forties, I’d begun with just a few short runs here and there to supplement bike rides and Aikido training. Then, finding out about the Holiday Hustle just a few miles from my house, I said what the hell and signed up.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Last Saturday I joined the crowd in the starting queue with over a hundred races to my name, from 5Ks to marathons and beyond, including two 100-milers and my (current) longest distance of 150 miles, accomplished last June at the Veterans Memorial. Had anyone predicted this back then, I’d have laughed and said they definitely had the wrong guy. Well, you know what they say about truth and fiction.

So there was definitely something to celebrate and enjoy about this year’s race, and I did, although like any 5K I run, it was a sufferfest for all 3.1 miles. I finished in just under 21 minutes, and claimed second in my age group. On paper, a good solid result, especially because I went right back to work heading up the event’s Zero Waste team. No sense going all out and killing myself over this race, right?

“Santa, I want a worm composting bin for Christmas!”

Except that’s not how I felt.

I wasn’t expecting a PR (personal record) because I’ve trained this year mostly for ultramarathons, and not for short races. And given I set a PR for the 50-mile distance, and got two podium finishes, including a win, I have zero complaints about that.

Third at the Dogwood 12-Hour race in March

1st at the Veterans Memorial 150 in June.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But at any race, competitive runners (at any level) should give themselves the best chance to do well, whatever that means that day. And I didn’t do that at the Holiday Hustle.

How so? First, I didn’t warm up thoroughly, contenting myself with a quick half-mile jog followed by a few strides. To best prepare my body to run hard on a cold day, I should have run at least a mile easy, coupled with dynamic stretches to get fully loose. And I should have lined up much closer to the start than I did, because I knew I’d be weaving around other runners for the first half mile otherwise.

Why did I sabotage my chance at my best effort? I’m really not sure. Perhaps subconsciously I wanted to give myself an “out” if I didn’t run up to my expectations. Which, as I well know after all these races, doesn’t work anyway. Compounding a poor run with poor preparation, or lackadaisical attitude,  doesn’t help. So much better to think, “I didn’t meet my goal, but I gave it my best shot. And that’s all I can ask!”

I can’t do anything to change the result, of course. All I can do is change my attitude going forward. Even a fun holiday race is still a race, and there’s part of me that wants to do it well. So – chalk up a lesson learned. And, Lord willing, there will be plenty more chances to apply it. Ten years is just the start of what I hope are many, many more years of running adventures. And I’ll be sure to share them with you right here. Thanks, as always, for reading!

 

Lighthouse 100 Recap, Part 2: The Long Night of the Sole

When last we left off, I had resumed my attempt to complete the Lighthouse 100 at mile 65 after coming within minutes of dropping out. A wonderful lady named Laura, crewing for another runner, had helped me recover enough to continue and said she’d see me again in 2.5 miles…

I made it the two and a half miles. It was a slog, but I was in good company. The wind was blowing so hard in our faces that running was a futile waste of energy. Laura was waiting for me. “How do you feel?” she asked.

I wasn’t well, but feeling better than I had. The Gatorade had revived me. And the sun and wind, having wreaked their havoc, had high-fived each other and were getting ready to call it a day.

“I think I can do this,” I told her.

“You can do this,” she replied firmly.

And with that, I was on my way again.

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Aid stations 5 and 6 had been pretty quiet, with runners straggling in one or two at a time. AS7 was busy with staff and crew tending to runners taking an extended rest and dealing with injuries and stomach issues. Ultrarunners are generally stoic when asked how they are doing. I heard a couple respond, “Not good,” which meant they were really suffering.

By contrast, I was starting to feel like myself again. I found Laura and thanked her profusely for her assistance, and said I could go on by myself. Then I called my wife to let her know I’d be mostly walking the last thirty miles. I calculated to my surprise that even at walking pace, I still had a shot at finishing in 24 hours. So she could meet me at the lighthouse around 6 a.m., just like we’d originally planned.

Thanks again, Laura!

It was just starting to get dark as I stepped onto the TART trail to begin the remaining ten miles to downtown Traverse City and the turn north up the peninsula.

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When you gotta go, you gotta go. – Common knowledge

It’s amazing how the mind can focus on a single subject, regardless of how one tries to suppress or divert it. Such was my case as I reached the suburbs of Traverse City. I needed to attend to a certain bodily function. Peeing in the woods is standard for ultrarunners, but number two, not so much.

Some runners don’t mind playing “bear in the woods” but I prefer an actual restroom, and I’d forgotten to bring along toilet paper anyway. The race organizers had not arranged for porta-potties because, we’d been told, there were gas stations and other places with toilets along the route. While true, their frequency did not meet expectations. And two factors complicated the issue; it was the middle of the night, and the trail ran along residential and industrial neighborhoods.

For several miles I carried on, hope rising when I saw lights ahead only to face disappointment when their source was either not open, or inappropriate (for example, the Burger King drive-thru). Civilization was everywhere, but – let’s just say the famous Rime of the Ancient Mariner quote came to mind.

Finally the trail reached a road with a Speedway station a few hundred yards away. My physical and mental relief belied description.

The salvation station!

And my stop provided an unexpected benefit, for as I rejoined the trail I met up with five other runners. For the next fifteen miles we walked and jogged together, providing support and companionship very welcome on a dark trail late in the race.

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When you’re going through hell, keep going. – Winston Churchill

“Do anybody else’s feet hurt as much as mine do?” Joe asked.

Our group had just left AS8 (Mile 80) and we had turned north at last, up the Old Mission Peninsula. The night hadn’t lowered the temperature much, but at least the wind was now at our backs.

Our unanimous answer to Joe’s question was, of course, yes. In a 100-mile race, every runner has sore feet by this point. Anyone who says otherwise is, to put it politely, a lying bastard. This was Joe’s first 100, so he was forgiven for thinking he was a weakling when in fact he was anything but.

There is Absolutely Nothing that fully prepares you for your first 100-miler. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve trained or how tough you think you are. It will push you physically and mentally well beyond whatever your limits were before. Just finishing, even five seconds before the cutoff, is an accomplishment well worth celebrating. And if you fall short? No shame. Lick your wounds, learn from it, and git ‘er done next time.

I didn’t know it when I took this photo, but I think this refers to the same Joe.

And for many runners it’s the first time they’ve run through the night. This can be intimidating and for some, claustrophobic. It’s hard to see very far, nothing looks familiar, and every noise is amplified (was that a raccoon, or a mountain lion?). Distances stretch out; one mile can seem like five. And even on clearly marked routes, an uneasiness sits in the back of the mind. Am I lost? How come I haven’t seen other runners? Where’s that damn aid station?

I usually enjoy night running, even solo, but I was very grateful for the company this time. I think we all were. For we all kept going, despite the pain, the lack of anything interesting to see, and that we still had many miles to go. We bitched and moaned, but we kept putting one foot in front of the other. Misery not only loves company, it needed company at that point. We broke up as the aid station approached, but we’d given each other the support we needed to get through the worst part.

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All good things must come to an end.  – Wait, how does this apply here?

“You’re flirting with the top 10,” Dave the race director told me as I settled into a chair at the mile 91 aid station.

“Are you kidding me?” I said. “I melted down back there.” And so had everyone else, apparently. Only two runners had finished under 20 hours, and only a few more were ahead of me. My energy had returned around mile 85 and I’d been able to start running again. I’d passed a few people and was ahead of the group I’d been walking with.

“To hell with the top ten,” I said. “I’ve been looking forward to this chair for eleven miles, and I’m sitting in it a while.” And I did, chatting with the race staff and sipping iced Vernors. Almost heaven at that point.

When I finally stood up and jogged out of the aid station, an amazing thing had happened. The stomach trouble I’d had since early on was gone, my legs felt good, and I was full of energy. To top it off, there was a long downhill stretch ahead. Go time!

I went from a jog into a full steady run and held it. The course continued on downhill and then onto a gently curving road with hardly any intersections or residences. No one was visible either ahead or behind, adding spookiness to the dark, lonely Smokey Hollow Road – which sounded enough like “Sleepy Hollow” to do the trick.

Light finally appeared in the sky, and I emerged onto an open road and one of the final turns. I was almost home! But oops – the turn-by-turn directions I was carrying were wrong, indicating a right turn where going straight was correct. I spent 10-15 frustrating minutes figuring this out, but finally I saw the mile 95 water jug up ahead and just past that, the final turn onto US 27 leading straight to the lighthouse.

I covered the final miles in good time, and with no one around me, could enjoy them with no competitive pressures. I got to the lighthouse and crossed the finish line in 23 hours 53 minutes. And there was Joe! Sore feet and all, he’d finished the race and beaten me by over a half hour.

Even with the wrong turn mixup, I’d achieved my original goal of under 24 hours, and even won the male Masters division! Of course, the real accomplishment was finishing, given how close I’d come to dropping. Being able to come back from such a low point and finish strong tapped into a reserve I hadn’t known was there. What a great takeaway from the experience.

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I’ll wrap up with a brief race review. Based on my story you might not believe this, but I’m going to recommend the Lighthouse 100 to my fellow ultrarunners. As with the first edition of any race it had challenges, but this event has the potential to become a classic.

The course is well marked and has some beautiful sections. The long stretches on US-31 and Elk Lake Road were hot and miserable, and I hope they can find alternative routes. Aid stations were okay, but did not have as much substantial food as other ultras I’ve run, and that plus the ten-mile separations were tough on the uncrewed runners.

I give the race director and his staff full marks for effort and attitude. They were on the course the entire time we were and remained supportive and upbeat. There was also a lot of communication and opportunities to ask questions before the race. They wanted very much to provide a great experience. The weather threw a monkey wrench into the works, but they had no control over that, of course.

Some changes for next year have already been announced. The biggest is the reversal of the course, a great idea that will allow running the Old Mission Peninsula in daylight and to finish in Petoskey, where it’s a quick trip to your hotel or a restaurant instead of a long shuttle ride back. And by popular demand, porta-potties will be at the aid stations.

I think next year’s Lighthouse races will be much improved and definitely worth considering for ultrarunners who enjoy, or want to check out, northern Michigan..

Thanks for reading!