Tag Archives: RF Events

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!

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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.

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!