Tag Archives: run

Maniac on Singletrack

I HAVE THREE TAKEAWAYS from last weekend’s Singletrack Maniac 50K:

  1. Never assume a water jug is full
  2. You never really know what you’re capable of until you do it
  3. Ultrarunners are the best f**king people on the planet. (I knew that already, so this race was just another confirmation.)

There’s the TL;DR version. For those of you inclined to read on after lists like these, here’s the rest of the story.

Singletrack Maniac takes place in Williamsburg, Virginia, on the trails of beautiful Freedom Park, with start and finish at a nearby middle school. It was a pretty standard atmosphere – well-stocked aid stations, enthusiastic volunteers cheering us on, and runners and families hanging out on the lawn afterward. Which made it all the more remarkable, given we’re still in pandemic mode. (From my perspective, people were protecting themselves appropriately.)

The wisest advice you can give an ultrarunner!

I started out fast to establish a place on the singletrack where I could run at my chosen pace. This meant I was somewhere in the front 20 or so. I decided to push myself a little and ran harder than my standard 50K pace. This meant I was uncomfortable much of the time, but sustainably so. During my time out there I passed a few people and a few passed me, so overall I felt I was in the right place.

The course is a little unusual in that it’s two different trail loops, each run twice. My strategy was to learn from the first time through each loop, and adjust for the second loop accordingly. The first part, held on the A trail system, went well, and I felt strong as I entered the second half of the race on the D&E trails. And as I’d heard from others, this is where things got interesting.

The back loop does not have short, steep climbs and descents like the Potawatomi Trail back home, but it makes up for it with  long, gradual climbs and a lot of gentle rolling terrain with sharp turns, all of which sap your energy without you really feeling it for awhile. It became evident the second time through, when areas I’d run through the first time became walk/run or power hike.

And then came my kick-my-rear-end moment. On this part there’s a creek crossing, and just over the bridge were two tables with water jugs. I was low on water and looking forward to it. I opened my bottle and dumped the remaining contents over my head, as I was warm from the effort and rising temps, even as a little voice in my head warned me not to trust a water jug. Sure enough, it was empty. I had a bad moment or two before I tried the other jug, which fortunately had a little left in it.

Following that episode, I got a second wind and was able to resume fulltime running pace again. Funny how quickly a race “low” can switch to a “high” (and vice versa) but that’s ultrarunning for you. I was a little bummed when two guys I’d seen off and on throughout the race passed me for what I assumed was the last time. They looked way too comfortable.

And yet, as I emerged from the trail at the mile 30 aid station, there they were. I’d caught up somehow! Just one mile to go. But the path back to the road was a long uphill. Staring ahead, I realized how gassed I was.

“See you guys after the finish,” I told them.

They were having none of it. “Come on, man!” they said. “Match pace to the finish!” And we took off together. I kept up with them until one final checkpoint exiting the park. We stopped to show our bibs, and I didn’t have the heart to start running again, so I began walking. They waved at me from ahead. “Come on, man!” they said again. Where else but trail ultras does this happen?

Well, that did it. Turn down a second challenge? Might as well turn in my card. So I dug deep and took off after them. It was godawful hard, but as we reached the top of the hill, I caught up. Still, I figured it wouldn’t be long before they took off Roadrunner style and left me in the dust with my tongue hanging out.

So I redlined it, going all out. Man, did it hurt, but I was not going to jog it in, dammit. I’ll go this hard until I can’t, I told myself. The approach to the finish is a U-shape – run on the road, turn into the school driveway, and run back through the parking lot. This prolonged the agony, but somehow I held it together. Across the line I sprinted, well ahead of the two guys who’d given me the motivation to finish strong.

I went to the refreshment tent and lay down gratefully in the shade. The race director approached. “You won second Masters,” she said, placing my prize down next to me. Second in the 40-and-over age division. How about that? And I’d finished in the top 20 overall. I made sure to thank my colleagues for pushing me.

Me with some fellow top finishers, with our award growlers. Me second from left, my motivators the rightmost two.

Was it worth the ten-hour drive there? Absolutely. And I recommend it for anyone who would like to try out a trail ultra. Gorgeous park, not too many rocks and roots, and great support. And who knows, you just might discover you’re capable of more than you thought, even if you’re an experienced trail runner. Happened to me!

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.