Tag Archives: RF Events

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.

Advertisements

Let There Be Snow! Bigfoot Snowshoe Race Recap

Yes! There was snow!

And I made the papers! (See below.)

If I’m going to drive four hours to compete in a snowshoe race, it would be a major bummer for there to be no snow. And while Traverse City was patchy in spots, at Timber Ridge Resort there was plenty left on the trails. The Bigfoot 5K/10K race was going to be run regardless, but a muddy trail run just doesn’t seem worthy of the name.

bigfoot-2017-guy-in-costume

For those of you who might contemplate a snowshoe race, I can highly recommend it, even if you have no experience whatever with snowshoes. As the race site puts it, “No training required, just strap ’em on and run!” And my first race in them in 2014 really was just like that, although I did face plant a few times. Rental snowshoes are hit or miss, so I ended up getting my own pair and my times have gotten even better.

This was the warmest, wettest year of my four Bigfoot 5Ks. The previous years were all dry, with temps in the 20s and deep, fresh powder nicely groomed. This year I considered running it in shorts (some people did) and wore just two light layers on top. In a race like this, you get warm really fast.

Heading out for my pre-race warmup.

Me (in yellow vest) heading out for my pre-race warmup. (Didn’t take long in that weather.)

I hoped to beat last year’s finish of 34:12 and maybe even break into the top 10 overall. But having just completed a 50K in the snow two weeks ago, I was a bit worried about how my legs would hold up. On the other hand, it made a 5K, even in snowshoes, seem a bit puny in comparison.

I lined up near the front, close behind the 10K elites attempting to qualify for Nationals. I didn’t want to get in their way, but I needed to get to the singletrack ahead of the mob, as it quickly turns into a conga line. I had to do some fancy dodging in the initial quarter mile, and my quick start left me breathing hard, but once on the singletrack I fell into a rhythm and got down to work. I was in the lead group of 20 or so and held my position, passing several people who got winded or tripped and fell, and despite one fall of my own, nobody passed me.

The course has some of everything – part wide road great for sprinting, and part well groomed trail through the woods. It’s gently rolling overall, with some nice long downhills and a couple of absolutely brutal climbs. All the better! Who wants flat perfection in a snowshoe race? Go run on a track, Usain!

A photo from the 2014 race showing one of the climbs.

A photo from the 2014 race showing one of the less brutal climbs. Notice the snow kicked up by the shoes. They recommend you wear a waterproof layer in front!

My finish was a mix of good and bad news. My wife and two of our camping friends came all the way up to see me race, but after the start they went back into the lodge to warm up. Based on my expected time, they came back out at the 30 minute mark, but I’d already finished! Perhaps due to the wet snow, the course was rerouted a bit, and ended up a quarter mile short. So I crossed the finish line with a net time of 28:55 – what looks like a five-minute PR! Extrapolating to that final quarter mile gives me an adjusted time of right around 32:00, which still represents a substantial improvement and new PR.

Placement-wise, I improved too – from 13th overall last year to 12th overall this year, scoring an age group win and second fastest over 50. Another 30 seconds and I would have made the top ten. Oh, well – next year!

Unfortunately, there are no photos of me in action this year – no race photographer and I was racing – but I wound up in the media in a couple of other ways. My friends picked up a copy of Northern Express, which had an article describing the Bigfoot, with a nice large photo from the 2016 race. And lo & behold, I was in it!

bigfoot-photo-from-northern-express

Then following the race, I was dutifully sorting out recyclables as Zero Waste captain, when I got called over for an interview! A reporter from Traverse Magazine was collecting race stories, and Randy the race director told him he should interview “our Zero Waste guy.” So he did. I’ll keep an eye out for when it appears.

And speaking of Zero Waste, you can read the sustainability report from the race at my new site, Happy Planet Running. (More on this to come.)

Next up – another winter 5K, this time in trail shoes, on the switchbacks in Chelsea. Hope the weather’s lousy!

My “Double Nickel” Promotion

I GOT A PROMOTION TODAY.

Not for anything I did, or didn’t do. No, this was entirely due to three lucky accidents: that I was born, that my parents didn’t kill me when I was a teenager, and that I have lived this long.

You see, I turned 55 today.

And it’s been a good day! I got in 14 miles with my favorite run club, birthday wishes from family and friends, and free ice cream at Coffee House Creamery to go with my Sweetwaters OMG Chocolate Cake. And kisses and a funny/sappy card from my wife. Can’t ask for much more.

Coffee tastes really good after a cold morning run!

Coffee tastes really good after a cold morning run!

But for a competitive runner, turning 55 means one more thing – advancement to a new age group.

What does that mean? Not much, really. While some “senior discounts” kick in at this age, they don’t include race entry fees or running gear prices. There are a couple of minor benefits, such as ten extra minutes on a Boston Marathon qualifying time, and, based on my observation of race results, an improved chance to win age group awards. (Not that I need more pint glasses or spray-painted shoes.)

Final race in the 50-54 age group. Went out with a bang!

Final race in the 50-54 age group. Went out with a bang!

The group I’m leaving (50-54) is a strong one. There were times over the past five years I’ve beaten every runner aged 40-49 and still not been the top Masters finisher. Heck, a 52-year-old won the Bigfoot Snowshoe 5K a few years ago. And there are some age 55+ runners much faster than I am; they inspire me to try to keep improving.

I know some people get bummed out about reaching a “milestone year” such as 30, 40, 50, or whatever. Not here. My “year of being 50” was a celebration of events such as a 600-mile bike trip and first 50K ultra, and “my year of 55” will be celebrated in the same spirit.

First 50K at 50. How to top that at 55? We shall see!

First 50K at 50. How to top that at 55? We shall see!

Like how? In addition to my first Boston Marathon, I’ve got some off-the-wall things on the calendar:

  • An ultra in the snow (likely) in January;
  • A 100-mile race that takes place entirely in New York City;
  • A 50K in the Nevada desert in August (at the Burning Man festival)
  • A special bike event in Portland this summer (details later)

As well as more Aikido, bike rides, and strength workouts at Body Specs. Skip just sent me an email promising a “special birthday workout”. I can hardly wait for Monday. Yeah.

And there will be more of the “Zero Waste” sustainable events work I’ve done this year with RF Events. We achieved some amazing results this year! In fact, I’m about to launch a new website dedicated to that topic. I’ll let you know when it goes live.

And, of course, this blog will continue. I hope to keep it going as long as I have stories to tell, And I also hope you’ll continue to read enjoy them! Hearing from readers is always heartwarming. You rock!

Fail at Hightail, and This Must Be Love

What one thing did I do last Friday night that caused these reactions? See if you can guess.

Race director: “Oh, shit.”

Wife: “Do you want some company?”

Daughter: “Oh, Daaaaad!!!”

Daughter’s fiancee: “Do you have any pictures?”

==========================================

Give up? Here’s a hint: For the next week or so, y’all can just call me Lefty.

Yes, I managed to do quite a number on myself at the Hightail to Ale 5K in Detroit Friday night. And I hadn’t even had a beer.

The Hightail to Ale is an RF Events race near the Atwater Brewery in Detroit. It’s been described as a beer party with a 5K thrown in. And if you ever wanted proof that “free beer” is a guaranteed draw, check out this photo of just one wave of the runners who showed up.

Hightail 2016 - Wave Start

I was serving as captain of the Zero Waste team, our new initiative for diverting as much waste as possible away from the landfill. I had a particular motivation for doing ZW at this event; last year the few recycle stations had overflowed and I wound up dragging many bags filled with cans and bottles to the trash dumpster.

Last year - good try, but too few and unmanned.

Last year – good try, but too few and unmanned.

That turned out to be of my motivations for starting the ZW program, so we’d come full circle. Now we had ten Zero Hero tents and a staff of volunteers to change the bags out, sort them, and make sure all the recyclables got recycled.

This year: more stations, checked regularly.

This year: more stations, checked regularly.

Along with the free can of beer at the finish (for those of legal age), Atwater was also selling beer like – well, like cold beer on a warm night – and our Zero Hero tents were soon filling up with empties. We stacked the full bags near the dumpster for final sort and weighing before tossing them in.

Final sort before tossing in the dumpster.

Final sort. Note the dumpster is over the fence; this would have serious unintended consequences. (Although added stupidity was needed.)

As the party began to wind down, I observed that some bags of recyclables were being tossed into the dumpster before they were weighed. I walked around the block to access the dumpster (on the other side of this fence) and climbed in to get an estimate of how much was in there.

Seeing that unclosed bags had spilled cans and bottles all over, I decided to forego trying to weigh it. We’d rely on the report from our hauler instead. That wise decision having been made, I made up for it with a bad one.

The main area was just over the chain-link fence. It would be so much quicker to just jump over that fence instead of walking around the block again! The temptation was too much. I put one hand on the top fence rail to steady myself, and kicked myself over.

Sure, anyone could jump that fence from the dumpster. Right?

Sure, anyone could jump that fence from the dumpster. Right?

As I landed on the other side I knew something really bad had happened. My right wrist had caught on the open wire at the top of the fence, and I had a deep gash in it several inches long and bleeding profusely. I clamped my other hand hard over it and walked to the volunteer area. The first-aid truck had just left, of course, so someone called 911.

By the time the ambulance arrived the bleeding had nearly stopped but they confirmed I’d need stitches. I opted for U-M Hospital in Ann Arbor instead of a Detroit hospital, and the race director, after his initial reaction, drove me there. I arrived at 10 p.m. and got through initial triage fairly quickly. However, all the residents were tied up with major trauma cases so I wound up sitting on a hallway gurney most of the night waiting “to get picked up” (hey, that’s the official term).

My wife texted me several times while I waited, wondering if I’d like some company. Finally it got into my thick head that she actually wanted to get out of her warm bed in the middle of the night to sit with her wounded mate. She arrived around 1:30. I was finally stitched up (13 total) and released at 5:00 a.m. Saturday morning.

And that’s how we spent the first few hours of our 33rd anniversary.

=========================

Followup: I am mending well, and while I cancelled my gym sessions for the week, I’m running and cycling to prep for the Glacier Ridge Trail 50 this weekend.

I also owe another shout-out to the Zero Waste crew and the other Hightail volunteers who made sure the tents all got packed up and the remaining waste put where it belonged. You rock, everybody!

And finally: My wife told our daughter in Richmond what had happened during a phone call on Sunday. Her reaction was predictable. Her fiancee, a medical technician, was the one who asked for photos (professional interest). Whether I sent her any or not I won’t divulge here. But I won’t subject my readers to any. (You’re welcome.)