Tag Archives: Running Fit

Must be the Shoes! Bigfoot Snowshoe 5K Recap

“So am I giving you my shoes again this year?” Jeff asked me.

I was at the south Traverse City Running Fit, picking up my Bigfoot Snowshoe Race packet. Jeff is the store manager, and before the 2015 race he’d seen me struggle with the rental shoes. He’d very generously loaned me his own top of the line pair, and in them I’d finished in the top 20.

I wasn’t sure if he was joking, but I told him I was renting again. Jeff shook his head. “Why don’t you just buy a pair?” he said.

Bigfoot 2016 - New Snowshoes

They will pay for themselves in 5 years, after all.

Well, good racing snowshoes start at around $200.00, and I said it didn’t seem worth it for one race per year. Jeff pointed to some shoes on the wall. The store was going to stop carrying them, so they were half off. And I’d get credit for the $20 I’d paid for the rental.

“How about the quality?” I asked.

“Not as good as mine,” Jeff replied, perhaps reflexively. “But way better than the rentals.”

Well, then – deal! I took them back to my hotel room and strapped in my running shoes. This year there would be no numb fingers fumbling with bindings on race morning! When I got to Timber Ridge I just slipped on the pre-strapped snowshoes, tied the laces, and I was good to go.

Ready to rock in my brand new snowshoes!

Ready to rock in my brand new snowshoes!

Race conditions were near ideal; dry, powdery snow and temperature in the low 20s. I wore just one layer, my Brooks Heater Hog, with a windbreaker over it. Some of the racers wore even less. You may start cold, but trust me, you get warm really fast.

After the 10K, the guy in the cowboy hat was down a short sleeve shirt.

After the 10K, the guy in the cowboy hat was down to a short sleeve shirt.

After a quarter-mile warmup I got into the starting queue. The 5K (my race) and the 10K start together. Randy, the race organizer, got on the mike to send us off, telling us that with over 500 runners, he believed it was the largest snowshoe race in the country.

“Did I mention this is hard?” he said. “There’s no such thing as starting out too slowly here.” The winning 5K time at Bigfoot is usually around 26 minutes and top 10K times are around one hour, roughly double what road race winning times would be. Randy’s advice was good for first-timers and the fun runners, but my strategy was just the opposite.

The race begins on wide, groomed trail but then switches to singletrack, squeezing everyone into single file. In 2014, my first year, I started in the middle of the field and quickly found myself in a conga line, where passing requires pushing hard through deep, ungroomed snow. Better to start fast and get ahead of most of the field. So I hit the opening stretch pretty hard.

From 2014. The racer in red is trying to pass people. Not so easy!

From the 2014 race, where I got stuck in the conga line. The racer in red is trying to pass people. Not so easy!

A few hundred yards down the trail, Mandy, one of my friends from Running Fit Events, saw me as I passed her. “How are you doing, Jeff?” she asked.

“Already out of breath,” I told her. But I recovered on the singletrack, and the early effort paid off, as I was able to run my target pace most of the way. It wasn’t a perfect race; I face planted twice (hey, this is hard). But the new snowshoes felt light and stable, allowing me to sprint when needed, and I continued to pick off other runners throughout, including a few right before the finish.

Charging to the finish! Thanks so much to Timber Ridge for this photo!

Charging to the finish! Thanks so much to Timber Ridge for this photo!

My time this year (34:12) was over 90 seconds faster than last year’s result. I improved from 19th place overall to 14th place, and only 30 seconds or so away from cracking the top 10. Must have been the shoes!

The only bummer? I was the sole representative of my running group up there. This must change! It’s too much fun to have it all to myself.

And for anyone who might be considering a snowshoe race? Just do it! No previous experience is required. If you can run, you can showshoe. And it’s a real change of pace, both figuratively and literally.

Yes, even dogs and monsters can snowshoe!

Yes, even dogs and monsters can snowshoe!

Oh, and Mandy won the 10K. Another notch in the belt for, “Iron Mandy.” Congratulations!

P.S. If you’d like to see lots more photos of this event, check out the Timber Ridge Resort Facebook page.

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Gearing Up – Ultras Ahead! And a Trashy Update

My first ultra of 2015 is just a week away, and it’s time to start putting things in order for the big day. Actually, the big weekend, as I’ll be doing the Running Fit Trail Marathon “No Wimps” challenge again – half marathon Saturday, 50K Sunday. No guarantees that I’ll jump into the lake again after finishing, but we’ll see.

"No Wimps, Baby!" - 2014

“No Wimps, Baby!” – 2014.

I’ve done the prep work; from now until race day it’s rest and maintain, backing off on distance just a tad and slowing the pace way down. Today, for example, I cut down my long run from 16 miles to 11, and ran easy the entire way. I’m also working in some bike rides, which keep the legs moving without overstressing the knees.

But the tricky part of ultras for me isn’t sore legs, but other factors that cause discomfort. It’s these things more than fatigue that put me at risk of not running as well as I hope to. So I will be making a couple of adjustments at the Trail Marathon. If all goes well I can carry them over to my Glacier Ridge 50 miler, and onto my next 100K attempt later this year.

Lubrication. Chafing is a big problem when I go past 50K, and was one of the things that contributed to my DNF at my 100K attempt last year. Let’s just say that no man wants to experience skin rubbed raw where mine was. Two mainstays of ultrarunners, Vaseline and Body Glide, don’t work well enough for me. Skip at Body Specs recommended Cramer’s Skin Lube, and I just ordered some. That plus compression shorts instead of regular shorts should help a lot.

There are times... (Source: http://www.nzdoctor.co.nz/in-print/2010/april-2010/21-april-2010/too-hot-to-handle.aspx)

There are times…
(Source: nzdoctor.co.nz)

Electrolytes. When I’m on the trail I sweat a lot. An awful lot. From learning the hard way I know I have to keep my salt level up. Until now I’ve been relying on salt-dipped potatoes at the aid stations, which work really well for me – but they don’t always have salt at every station. So salt tabs seem like a logical thing to bring along.

Stomach relief. So far I’ve been fortunate in that eating during an ultramarathon doesn’t bother me. But you never know. And this article explains why runners can get an upset stomach. So I will be packing a roll of antacids, just in case.

Followup: Race Trash and what’s being done about it

This is from the Berlin Marathon, but quite typical. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

This is from the Berlin Marathon, but quite typical. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

A couple of posts ago I talked about the amount of trash generated during a typical race, and the efforts made by some events to cut down on that waste. On Sunday I will be part of the “Green Team” at the Gazelle Girl half marathon in Grand Rapids – a race that last year produced one 6-lb. bag of trash. Everything else was recycled or composted. I’m going there to find out how they do this, and I’ll share what I learned with you next week.

And before I go, I want to give a big shout-out to the 21 PR Fitness runners who are going to toe the line at the Boston Marathon on Monday. Go get ’em, guys!

PR Fitness - Boston Marathon runners 2015

 

 

2015 Super 5K: 26 and Done

RIDDLE OF THE DAY: What causes schools to close, leads to massive traffic accidents, requires huge trucks and tons of salt to control, but has absolutely no effect on runners?

Meme - Late for Run - Snow

Sunday morning was the 2015 Running Fit Super 5K, and over 1,500 unstoppable runners showed up – because, after all, what else would they do on Sunday morning before the Super Bowl? While they’re all badass, especially the ten runners aged 70 and over, I think the baddest were the 20 who took over an hour to finish. That’s a long time to slog through slush and cold for a medal, pint glass, and a hot dog or two.

Super 5K starting line

The snow had already been falling a while when I pulled out of my driveway and headed to Novi. I gave myself extra drive time and arrived early enough to get my race bib and warm up (somewhat). Thankfully, the venue had changed from the Novi Civic Center to the high school, avoiding the frostbite-inducing quarter mile march of previous years to the starting line.

Super 5K - Me at start

The consecutive streak ends at 26! My bib number was an unintended tribute, I guess.

As the roads had not been fully cleared. I wore my Saucony Peregrine trail shoes for extra traction. Others wore Yaktrax or put sheet metal screws in the soles. While snowy and windy, the temperature was in the low 20s, positively tropical compared to the last four years, so my Heater Hog and a light wind vest kept me plenty warm, once I got going.

The race starts down a main road and tucks into a private subdivision about a half mile in. Although it’s a loop, it seemed like twice as much uphill as downhill, especially in the second half. This actually helped my cause, as I passed a lot of people losing steam on the long, slow rises. I was breathing pretty hard myself, but all that trail running pays off in races like this.

I finished a minute faster than last year, which was in deeper snow. I managed third in my age group, but once again, like in Bigfoot, I beat everyone in the age group below mine. “I wish I were 49 again,” I said to a friend. “I’d be winning my age group!” Maybe I’ll have to start lying about my age. On the other hand, the finishers over 70 got the most applause.

Super 5K finish line

Super 5K finish line 2

The post-race food was junkier than average, by design due to the Super Bowl tie-in. 9:30 a.m. is too early for me to eat a hot dog, but I broke down and had some of the meatballs – and went back for seconds. Dang, they were good. Turned out I needed those calories, as I spent the rest of Sunday, and Monday morning, shoveling my driveway.

This was a bittersweet race for me. It marks the end of 26 consecutive Running Fit events, starting with the 2013 Holiday Hustle through every event in 2014 and the first two events of 2015. Due to other commitments, I won’t be at the Dances with Dirt Green Swamp and Shamrocks & Shenanigans races next month. Ah, well – looking forward to the Pi Day run with my daughter on March 14!

At least this streak continues! Me with fellow PR Fitness racing fiend Michael.

At least this streak continues! Post-race with fellow PR Fitness racing fiend Michael.

Big Feet, Cold Hands, Hot Shoes

“HERE’S THE WORLD’S MOST PROLIFIC RUNNER,” I heard over the loudspeaker as I charged across the finish line. As much charge as I could muster wearing snowshoes, but I tried my best to make it look good.

Saturday was the Bigfoot Snowshoe 5K race in Traverse City. One year ago here I began my quest to run every Running Fit event in 2014. Now one year later I was getting public props for continuing the streak. It’s fun to be notorious!

Me with Bigfoot Costume Guy - 2015Course conditions were good, with plenty of snow on the trails at Timber Ridge. The temperature was about 20 degrees but with a bitter wind, so it was damn chilly in the starting queue. My fingers were already numb from putting on my snowshoes and stayed cold throughout the race, even in heavy gloves. Took my feet over an hour to fully recover afterward, too. But hey, it was a fun time. Right?

Racing snowshoes come in several types of length, width, and style, but they all have an anchor at the toe and a floating heel. You slip your running shoes into the bindings and use a rubber strap around the heel. The running form is slightly wider so you don’t hit your ankles, and there is more knee lift. And snow flies everywhere from your shoes and those ahead of you, so wearing a waterproof outer layer is a really good idea.

The super snowshoes I wore for the race. See below for how I got them.  Also notice the ice balls on the socks!

The super snowshoes I wore for the race. See below for how I got them. Also notice the ice balls on the socks!

A good set of racing snowshoes starts at around $200, so like many racers I rented some and picked them up at the resort on race morning. Last year I really liked the pair I got. This year I was handed a set with odd bindings that came loose during a test run. I went back in to see if a different model was available.

The race director, also named Jeff, was standing near the shoe table. “Having a problem?” he asked me as I made the exchange. “Let me know if those don’t work for you. I have a pair you could use.” I thanked him but figured the second pair would work. They laced up just fine, but out in the deep snow the toe on my right shoe dug under the rim and locked up. That was a recipe for a multitude of face plants in a race.

Jeff noticed my trouble and beckoned me over to his van, where he pulled out a sleek red pair with sneakers already locked in. “These are the fastest shoes in the West,” he said. The shoes were a size larger than mine but fit fine with my heavy socks. I had no time to try them out; the race was about to start. I got in line a minute before the gun. But here I was, wearing the race director’s top-notch snowshoes. Incredible!

For me, the toughest part of a 5K is the first half mile – it takes that long for my body to catch up aerobically. In snowshoes, I’m going nowhere near as fast as a road race, but the effort has the same effect. Last year I started near the back and ended up behind a lot of walkers. This year I started farther up and was able to go as fast as I wanted, and after the first mile I felt good and began passing other racers in earnest.

On the trail (actually from 2014, but it was pretty much the same).

On the trail (actually from 2014, but it was pretty much the same this year).

I crossed the finish line in 35:40, over seven minutes faster than last year. (It helps to not get lost and climb an extra hill.) I had hopes of winning my age group but settled for third, and #17 overall (out of 417). The 50-54 group is tough – the top three (including me) beat all but three of the 40-49 racers, and most of the 30-39 too. And a 55-year old came in second overall. Just wait until next year!

I thanked Jeff profusely for helping me out and being so generous with his best snowshoes. A box of homemade truffles just might be headed his way. (Don’t tell him.)

In the men's room at the resort. I'm not sure why it appealed to me so much. Frozen brain, maybe.

In the men’s room at the resort. I’m not sure why it appealed to me so much. Frozen brain, maybe.