Tag Archives: safety

Veterans Memorial 150, Part 2: Saturday

My ultras this year have followed a pattern; feel stiff and low on energy the day before, sleep well, and wake up feeling fine on race morning. And so it proved with the Veterans Memorial. I got to the starting line Saturday morning fired up and eager to run.

The race officially began at 8 a.m. but Kurt, the race director, gave the “masters category” (50 and older) an option to start at 7:00. An extra hour of cooler temps? No brainer! “Be there at 6:30 for a required safety briefing,” Kurt emailed me.

I dutifully arrived on time and picked up my race bib. Only one other person would start early, a nice lady named Ruth, who left just after 7. I made some gear adjustments and was ready around 7:15. Kurt told me I could start. “What about the safety briefing?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah, safety briefing!” he said. “You are responsible for your own safety, look both ways when you cross a street, watch for traffic, and a headlamp is recommended at night.” Got it! No ten-page disclaimer needed. This is ultrarunning. You’re expected to know the risks involved. I turned to face the rising sun and headed down Ludington Avenue. On the sidewalk. Safer that way.

At the start, ready to begin the adventure!

How I Approached the Race

I split the race into three 50-mile stages, because “thirds” is how ultras seem to work for me. I feel great for the first third, things get interesting in the second, and the final third is struggle, recovery, and (usually) strong finish. I set up crew stops at the aid stations roughly ten miles apart, and additional ones in between. With these in place, I could focus on a few miles at a time instead of how much total running was left.

A couple of small worries nagged at me. To fully rest my legs I’d run very few miles in May, and I hoped I hadn’t lost any conditioning. And my feet had suffered from pain and blistering during my March 50-milers. Were they tough enough to go three times that distance?

The solution to such worries is to let them go, and trust the training. I’d run all winter and raced all spring, and the fine folks at Body Specs had kept my body in tune. Feeling restless on race day was a good sign.

Stage 1: Ludington to Chase (AS 5)

Hey, This is Fun

I soon caught up with Ruth and we chatted a few minutes while we ran. Despite several abdominal surgeries and leg issues, she’d completed 124 miles in last year’s race before having to drop with a physical issue. She was hoping to complete the entire distance this year. Man, if she had the determination to go the whole way, what would be my excuse? My pace was faster than hers, so I wished her good luck and moved on.

Once out of Ludington, I followed back roads toward AS 1 in Scottville. What a relief to switch from heavy, noisy traffic to quiet, shady dirt roads. With a crew stop every few miles, there was no need to carry extra clothes or food, just a handheld water bottle. I was running easy and light, and felt terrific. For those first ten miles there was nowhere else I wanted to be, and nothing else I wanted to be doing. It was that elusive, nirvana-like state that every distance runner hopes for and relishes when it happens.

Look! Race flags! (Actually not, but it was fun to think so.)

The next leg took me into the Huron-Manistee National Forest. When I arrived at AS 2, nothing was there yet except the sign. Thank goodness for my crew! Refueled, I ran several miles deep in the woods along double-wide dirt tracks. Some runners didn’t care for this stretch, but I enjoyed it. Except for the biting flies, which have an annoying habit of following you for a long time. (Hint to runners: Always wear a cap in the woods.)

Trouble Rears Its Hot Head

The heat hit on my way to AS 3 at Bowman Lake. I was back on paved roads in full sun, with the temperature already over 80 degrees. I ran through every shady spot, but I was really looking forward to cold water and a break. Except I couldn’t find the aid station, and my phone was acting up, refusing to dial my wife’s number.

Hot and frustrated, I finally got through and she patiently directed me to the correct spot. After I cooled down and refocused, we prepared for a long afternoon in serious heat. I got slathered in sunscreen. I took a hand towel and soaked it in ice water, then tucked it under my cap. This would keep my head cool and protect my ears from the sun, too. It would prove essential to surviving the heat on both days. The next leg to Baldwin and AS 4, while not exactly comfortable, were bearable.

Chilling out at a crew stop.

Competitive Pressure

I jogged into Baldwin and the head of the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail, the course for the next eighty miles. A gravel path with no shade stretched into the hazy distance. I soaked my head several times with ice water and took salt tablets before leaving the aid station.

It’s not all like this…but much of the early part was. (From the Eye on Michigan website.)

As I walked toward the trail, two other runners came in. One was on the relay team, and the other, a fellow named Dean, was running solo. “I was hoping to catch up to you!” he said as we shook hands. I congratulated him and then headed down the trail.

I was a bit disappointed, but not surprised. I hadn’t expected to win the race, and was pretty pleased I’d held onto the lead this long. I checked my watch; just past mile 38. Let me lead until mile 40, I told myself, and picked up my pace a bit. It gave me something to focus on other than the long, hot trail.

When my watch read mile 40, I took a walk break and relaxed. It was a moral victory, but better than nothing! Then I dared to look behind me – and saw nobody. Surprising, but maybe he took a long break.

I’d asked my crew to change from five-mile stops to three miles due to the heat, so I had two stops before AS 5. At the second, Dean’s crew truck was also there – and there was Dean! Where did he come from? Okay, I thought as I headed back out, this is where he passes me for good. After a half mile or so, hearing no approaching footsteps, I looked back – and again, saw nobody.

I got to AS 5 at Chase and took my planned 30-minute break, stretching, foam rolling, eating, and enjoying the time off my feet and out of my shoes. We chatted with Dean’s crew, and kept an eye out for him. But by the time I got up to move on, he hadn’t arrived. We were all a bit concerned, but I had a race to run. One stage complete!

Leaving the Chase aid station. 50 miles done!

Stage 2: Chase to Loomis (AS 10)

There Will a Be a Brief Pause for Nostalgia

On my way to AS 6 at Hersey I passed through Reed City, and had a flashback moment where the Pere Marquette Trail intersected the White Pines Trail. At this spot in 2012, riding my bike from Ann Arbor to our campground in Empire, I’d turned north onto the White Pines, expecting an easy ride and instead getting an ordeal that, fortunately, ended with my safe arrival in Cadillac right at nightfall.

Looking down the White Pines trail. Ah, the memories!

The sun was on its way down this day too, finally. The temperature had cracked 90 degrees, so I walked quite a bit, running only in the shade or if I felt cool enough. This was not according to plan, but in an ultra, conditions dictate and the runner adapts. To use an Aikido analogy, the runner is Uke, who must fit with and follow the situation rather than direct it. So I did. After all, everyone else was running in the same conditions.

Impossible to Get Lost? Just Watch Me

On the way to Evart (AS 7) as it began to get dark, the temperature dropped and a cool breeze sprang up. Rejuvenated, I began running steadily again, enjoying the idea that I had a whole night of good running ahead.

Suddenly I heard footsteps behind me. At mile 68, someone was finally going to pass me. He was a relay runner, as impressed with my distance covered as I was with his pace. Soon he was out of sight. He wasn’t wearing a headlamp and it was getting dark fast, so I worried a bit about him. But this was a well-defined trail. No way to get lost, right?

Then the trail took an odd turn by some industrial buildings – and ended, seemingly – at a road intersection. In the light of my headlamp it looked like it might continue on the other side of the road. To my left was a paved path that also might be the trail, but there was no VM150 sign, and nothing in my turn-by-turn directions about this. After a few moments of indecision I turned left and hoped for some kind of confirmation.

The path ran parallel to the road and passed by an industrial area. There was no sign of the relay runner, or indication I was nearing Evart, or traffic, or anything else for that matter. I was all alone in God knows where.

I called my crew. They weren’t sure where I was either, but the relay crew was with them. Someone headed back along the trail to find me, and just as we worked out I was indeed on the correct path, I spotted him. We jogged into Evart together to applause and my effusive thanks.

Next up: The rest of that first night, what other runners encountered that night, and Sunday dawns wet, hot and humid. How did I, and the other runners, hold up? Read it here soon!

Five Feet to Save Lives

It’s December, and it’s snowing, conditions when I normally put away my bikes for the year and dream about long rides next summer. Yet bikes are on my mind right now due to some recent and ongoing developments that could significantly improve cyclist safety and encourage more people to get on a bike.

The one I’ll talk about here is a proposed “five-foot rule” for passing. It requires a driver to provide at least a five-foot cushion while passing a cyclist on the road. While some drivers do this already (and thank you thank you thank you!) there are many who give less, or don’t move over at all. Those drivers are taking a huge risk.

Five feet may seem excessive to you as a driver, but to us cyclists it can make all the difference. Even if it looks like we’re in control, all it takes is a pothole or patch of loose gravel to make a tire slip and suddenly we’re right in front of you. Even a minor distraction can cause a cyclist to drift into the road. Is giving us some more room and slowing down for a few seconds really going to ruin your day? Not doing so has a good chance of ruining the day, and more, for both of us.

Ghost bike indicating a cyclist was killed here. Way too many of these.

“Ghost bike” indicating a cyclist was killed here. Way too many of these.

At the November meeting of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition  they mentioned this rule was under consideration by the Michigan Legislature and asked us to write our congressional representatives in support. I did, and was pleasantly surprised to receive this response from the office of Gretchen Driskell (GretchenDriskell@house.mi.gov):

Thank you for contacting my office to advocate for legislation to better protect vulnerable roadway users. I appreciate hearing from you on this critical issue.  

As a Michigander and a bicyclist myself, I was deeply saddened by the tragedy in Kalamazoo earlier this year. I believe it is incumbent upon my fellow state legislators and me to enact legislation that prioritizes the public safety and helps prevent such awful occurrences in the future, and I agree that Senate Bills 1029 and 1030 and House Bills 5002-5004 are meaningful steps toward this end.  

Senate Bills 1029 and 1030 were introduced on June 9, 2016, and are awaiting a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. House Bills 5002-5004 were introduced on October 20, 2015, and are awaiting action in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. I encourage you to contact the committee chairs to urge them to bring these bills up for a vote, and I’ve included their contact information below for your convenience.

Even better, my hometown is not waiting for the state to get its act together. The Ann Arbor News reports that the City Council has approved a local ordinance adopting the five-foot passing rule for both pedestrians and cyclists. It takes effect in January. Under the ordinance, drivers can be ticketed and fined $100 for violating the five-foot minimum passing cushion. And the initial “if conditions allow” language was removed, which means if conditions don’t allow for five feet, the driver must wait until they do.

It’s not a perfect rule. It’s hard to enforce unless drivers are caught in the act. And there will be a learning curve just like with the new crosswalks, which I still see drivers ignoring. But it’s a start.

It’s sad to think that it sometimes takes an event like in Kalamazoo, with five cyclists killed and four injured, to get traction on improving bike safety. But I will not complain about the progress being made, and I hope this rule, along with other proposed measures like increased bicycle awareness in driver’s ed classes, are passed and implemented soon.

I’ll be writing about some other bicycle-friendly proposed legislation later. In the meantime, I encourage my Michigan cyclist readers to let the legislature hear your voices as well. Write to Rep. Driskell at her email address. And the committee chairs mentioned in the email are as follows:

Senator Rick Jones, Committee Chair
Senate Judiciary Committee
(517) 373-3447

Representative Peter Pettalia, Committee Chair
House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee
(517) 373-0833

How Not to Reduce Bicycle Accidents

THE MICHIGAN LEGISLATURE, IN ITS WISDOM, believes it has found a way to boost bicycle safety. All that’s needed is two simple changes to existing laws.

Bicycle Turn Signals

The second method makes it clear I’m not waving at you, you see…

The first proposed change allows a cyclist to signal a right turn by extending the right arm, rather than upturning the left arm at a right angle. It passed the Michigan House unanimously.

The second change (so-called “vulnerable roadway user” legislation) increases the penalties – fines and/or jail time – for injuring or killing a cyclist when driving a motor vehicle. It’s expected to pass with strong bipartisan support.

Well, bravo. It’s nice to know our elected officials can agree on something. If only I thought it was actually worthwhile.

As someone who cycles more than 1,000 miles per year, and occasionally does multi-day trips of 200 miles or more, I think I have a pretty good idea of what could improve my safety when riding. And despite endorsement of the two proposed changes from the League of Michigan Bicyclists, I cannot share in the optimism.

MDOT Work Zone Crash Statistics 2008-2012Does increasing penalties reduce accident frequency? There is a precedent we can check. In 1996, Michigan doubled penalties for traffic violations in work zones. According to data from the Michigan Department of Transportation, reported accidents in work zones increased from around 3,000 per year in the early 1990s to over 6,000 ten years later, and while that rate has dropped recently (see chart), the average remains about 5,000 accidents per year. Doesn’t look like much of a preventive effect there.

And I fail to see how increased penalties for hitting a cyclist is going to reduce the frequency of motor vehicle-bicycle accidents. It isn’t fear of financial loss or jail time that makes me an attentive driver, it’s the thought that my inattention could cause me to hurt or kill someone. You cannot legislate that attitude. Better training and awareness might help, but I didn’t see those provisions in the bills.

I know there are people who believe, despite Michigan’s share-the-road laws, that bicycles don’t belong on roads. I’m not mainly worried about them when I’m biking, nor the people who think it’s fun to honk their horn as they pass, or roll down the window and bark like a dog. At least they know I’m there. What worries me are the people who don’t.

And on that note – a recent crackdown on ‘distracted drivers’ in the Chicago area resulted in 135 tickets issued, mostly for texting while driving, despite warnings posted on electronic signs that an anti-texting operation was in progress. Perhaps they were too busy looking at their phones to read the signs.

091002c-Distracted Driver-CagleCartoons

Jeff Parker | Florida Today | Licensed from CagleCartoons.com

Hey, Michigan Legislature: you want to increase road safety for cyclists? How about more bike lanes or wider paved shoulders? Better yet, how about more multi-purpose trails so we don’t need to ride in the road? What? Yes, I’m aware that costs money. And I understand that changing a couple of trivial laws is easy, costs little, and makes it look like you’re doing something useful with your time and our taxes.

Yes, once I can stick my right arm out I will feel so much safer. Would it be appropriate to show my appreciation by extending my longest finger as well?

A Good Cause for a Wet Ride

I WAS BACK ON THE TRICROSS SATURDAY MORNING for the “Ride for Amy” event at Island Lake Recreation Area. It was around 40 degrees and overcast, so I took along some rain gear and extra clothes. Good thing.

Despite the less than ideal weather, turnout was good. According to Eva, one of the organizers, around 300 people had registered for the event, and there were many last-minute arrivals. I didn’t see anyone I knew; Saturday morning is a regular PR Fitness run downtown, and I think the word got out rather late that the event was actually a run as well as a ride (I chose to ride). There was no set distance; you could do as little or as much as you liked. The point was you were there supporting Amy.

We heard the very good news from Amy’s sister that Amy’s condition is improving. A candidate for state representative also spoke briefly. He asked how many cyclists in the crowd had ever been hit by a car, and I was surprised by how many people raised their hands. When he then asked how many people were afraid to ride on the roads, most people raised their hands (including me). He told us he supported the complete street program, making roads more accessible to other forms of transportation by adding bike lanes and pedestrian crosswalks. (Of course, “vote for me” was his unspoken but strongly implied message.)

Yep, these days the kids can come along, too.

It began to rain as we headed out, and I was cold from the wait, so I considered stopping at my car and adding another shirt. But something Amy’s sister said stuck in my mind as she thanked us for coming: “Yes, it’s a bit cold out there, but it’s nothing compared to what Amy is going through.” I decided that some minor discomfort during the ride would help me relate to Amy’s struggle and appreciate my own health and fitness that much more. So I rode on.

The ride course took the park’s two-lane road from one end to the other and back, a total distance of just over 10 miles. Given the conditions, I wore my bright yellow jacket and turned on my rear flasher. As a cyclist, there is no such thing as “too visible”. Yet I was surprised and disappointed to see several instances of what I consider a lack of common sense. Some riders wore dark clothing or were not wearing helmets. I also saw people riding more than two abreast, despite cars on the road behind them. Cyclists have a right to the road in Michigan, but they do not own it. Safety on the roads is a shared responsibility; both cyclists and drivers need to do their best to avoid preventable accidents.

I completed one loop and called it quits, deciding I’d done my part and it was time to get dry and warm. I checked out the auction room, full of gift certificates and gear to bid on (all proceeds going to support Amy). Then I checked out the incredible goodies in the food tent while listening to the triathletes discuss the triumphs and challenges of the various Ironman events they’d completed. Only fitting, given that Amy had been training for the biggest Ironman of them all – the World Championship in Hawaii, which took place today.

Everyone in the photo has done at least one Ironman triathlon (2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride, capped off with a marathon).

Given the turn in the weather and Daylight Savings Time ending soon, this may well have been my last bike ride of the year. Not exactly a picturesque fall color tour, but it was for a good cause.