Tag Archives: success

2020 Bigfoot 5K: The Snow Must Go On

“SUCCESS” CAN BE AN ELUSIVE BEAST, depending on how you define it.

Last Saturday was the Bigfoot Snowshoe 5K/10K at Timber Ridge Resort in Traverse City. Despite rain all the day before, the race went on as scheduled. I’ve run the 5K every year since 2014. I look forward to it until about three days before, when the “why did you sign up for this AGAIN?” thoughts show up.

Why the ambivalence? Because I much prefer a well-paced ultra to going all out for 3.1 miles. There should be no way I’d want to run in snowshoes. It’s the ultimate cardio workout, and even the 5K is REALLY. HARD. WORK.

Yes, I am as out of breath as I look. More, actually.

But dammit, it’s fun. And easy to learn. I’d never worn snowshoes before my first Bigfoot, and I fell a few times (eight? I forget) but had a good time. So I definitely recommend it for anyone who’s interested.

There are a few differences from regular running, footwear the most obvious. Snowshoes require a wider gait to avoid stepping on yourself and face-planting. And the singletrack gets narrow and thoughtfully runs through parts of the woods where branches poke up out of the snow, perfect for tripping on. On the plus side, good form is enforced because racing snowshoes are hinged in front, so the toe rises last and comes down first..

One key strategy is to establish a position where you can run your pace. Get stuck behind slower runners and you have to pass in the deep ungroomed snow, burning up your energy reserves. Conversely, give way to faster runners when possible so they don’t have to pass in deep snow.

So how do I define “success” at this race? For me it should be the same every year: run the best race I know how, with an age group award a bonus. And so it was until this year, when I became a victim of my own success, so to speak.

As I mentioned, I finished in the top 10 in the 2019 5K. But more significantly, I was second in the Masters category – both exciting and frustrating. What’s the big deal? Trevor, the Masters winner, got a Bigfoot statue trophy. And for second place I got a lovely mug with Hershey’s Kisses as an age group winner.

I could also have gotten a hug from this guy. Others did.

So there’d only been Trevor between me and that trophy. He’d beaten me by over five minutes, so I wouldn’t have caught him even with a JATO strapped on. But I was getting faster, right? Maybe this year I could close the gap, or maybe he wouldn’t show. I was cautiously optimistic.

It had rained all Friday, and Saturday temps were mid-30s (up from 14 below in 2019), so I was concerned about snow quality. The parking lot at the resort was icy and slushy, but on the trails the snow was in surprisingly good shape. I wore just one shirt under my wind jacket, a wise move as I was warm from the start. Some runners were even in shorts and T-shirts.

As usual, I went out hard to get a strong position on the singletrack. Once I got there I caught my breath and ran a strong steady pace. I was well behind the lead pack but I knew I’d have opportunities to gain some ground.

Sure enough, I passed a few runners on the wider tracks, and a few others had snowshoes issues and had to drop back. As we slogged up the monster hill back to the top of the ridge around the two-mile mark, I figured I was in good shape, maybe in the top 10 again.

The second key to a strong time is to stay upright. Falling down is painless (and comical) but it takes time to stand back up and get back on pace. During the toughest part of the course I kept my balance like a pro. Naturally it was on the final leg – wide, flat, well-groomed straightaway – that I tasted snow. Twice. A couple people shouted encouragement as they swept by me.

Then again, I could have fallen at the finish line! (She took it in good humor.)

It turned out not to matter much. I still finished in 30 minutes, 40 seconds, my best time by over a minute! And yet I dropped from #7 in 2019 to #20 this year, and from second place Masters to fifth. The warmer temperatures had brought more runners this year, and the good trail conditions led to faster times across the board.

So was I less successful than last year? Here’s how I’ve decided to handle it: celebrate my new best time, and train to do even better next year. And be grateful I’m healthy and fit, and can be competitive in this race. I shared the Kisses in my newest mug with my wife and friends who’d come to support me and help with race cleanup. They’re the best!

The Masters winner? Yep. Trevor, again. He also improved on 2019 by a minute. Hey, dude, have you considered trying the 10K? I mean, winning the 5K all the time has to be getting tedious…

BONUS: Here are some examples of northern Michigan humor.

How Runners Are Like Warren Buffet

MY COACH THINKS I’M RICH.

I found this out last week while trying on shoes at Running Lab, where Marie works part time. “These shoes are on sale,” she said, indicating the Brooks Pure Flows I had on, “but that shouldn’t matter to you. You have all the money in the world.”

This may look like a hydration pack, but it's really stuffed with $100 bills. Just in case I need them on a run.

This may look like a hydration pack, but it’s really stuffed with $100 bills. Just in case I need them on a run.

She was ribbing me about the cost of all the races I’m running this year (yes, it does add up) and that I’d dropped $160 on the Hoka One Ones this winter. Hey, they fit and felt good, and they were a big reason I kept up my outside training during the long winter of our discontent. But as I told her, it’s a good thing I have a full-time job.

As it happened, I later came across an article by J.D. Roth, founder of the Get Rich Slowly blog – The 10 Habits of Financially Successful People. Roth identifies valuable traits that he has observed in his wealthier friends and readers, and that, conversely, are lacking in people who are struggling financially.

“Most people (including me) follow a few of these rules but not others,” Roth wrote. “The most successful people I know do all of the things on this list; the least successful people do none of them.”

I couldn’t help notice that the runners I know follow many of the habits. I don’t know how financially successful they may be, but they run with purpose and stick with it, whether it’s to complete a race, lose weight, replace a smoking habit with a healthy one, or just keep fit. That’s being successful in my book.

Here are a few of Roth’s rules, as I see successful runners applying them. I’m paraphrasing his text in places, along with my own thoughts.

They surround themselves with positive people. They prefer to spend time with folks who have can-do attitudes. They don’t waste time listening to why something can’t be done. Instead, they make it happen.

This is the most obvious habit I’ve observed. I’ve never heard any runner say, “There’s no way you could do that.” And Marie has called me crazy when I tell her some of my goals, but has never said I shouldn’t try for them.

Crossing the 50-mile finish line at Run Woodstock last year. No one told me I couldn't do it!

Crossing the 50-mile finish line at Run Woodstock last year. No one told me I couldn’t do it!

They aren’t flummoxed by failure. They know that bad days and bad races are inevitable and to treat them as lessons learned rather than signs of weakness or reasons to give up.

Okay, so as we in the world of quality improvement say, there’s an Opportunity for Improvement (OFI) for me here. I’m working on it.

They manage their time effectively. They recognize that training time is precious. So, they set priorities and pursue them with passion. This means rolling out of bed early on weekend mornings to get a run in, or attending running clinics to improve their form, or getting in laps when they’d rather be watching TV.

They do what’s difficult. They may not look forward to or enjoy every workout (heaven knows I don’t) but they get out the door and get it done. Runners, in my experience, demonstrate the deferred gratification we all say we admire, putting off the available comforts and distractions to put the miles in and obtain the rewards.

They grow and change over time. They adapt. They evolve. They seek knowledge and experience, and they allow the things they learn to mold them.

This is an especially valuable attitude to have as we mature as runners. There comes a time when even with training and a great attitude, we can’t match the results we had when we were younger. But there are many ways to be better runners that have nothing to do with being fast. In the end, fulfillment comes from the running, not the medals.

Now here's someone who must be following ALL the habits.

Now here’s someone who must be following ALL the habits.

So there’s a few habits I’ve noticed. Which good habits do you practice as a runner, or have seen others practice?

United in Running

Running is, at its core, an individual sport. In football eleven players must each execute their assignments to make a play successful. In Aikido, Shite and Uke work together to perform a correct and harmonious technique. Unlike those activities, a runner’s performance is ultimately personal; success depends upon each person’s own goals, training, condition, and state of mind. But runners have, nevertheless, a camaraderie, a spirit of shared community that binds us. We support each other, encourage each other, and we reach out in time of need.

That spirit of community has never been more evident than in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. All over the country, “unity runs” have popped up to show solidarity with Boston and to raise money for care of the victims. Last Wednesday our running group joined a unity run at Kensington Metropark. It was put together on short notice, with no food or water, prizes, or other frills, yet over 1,000 people showed up to run or walk the 4.15 mile route.

Kensington unity runners.

Kensington unity runners.

Kensington unity runners.

Most of the time I ran among people I didn’t know, and yet I felt a tangible connection with them, our shared experiences and love of the sport bringing us together. Individually, we were just running. Together, we were sending the unmistakable message that we are a community, and we take care of our own.

The spirit also manifests in less dramatic but equally powerful ways. When I first joined a local running group I felt welcome right away, and the coach assigned someone to run with me in case I had trouble or got lost on the route. Groups are amazing. At the end of a run? Congratulations all round, especially with new people. You get asked what upcoming races you’re training for, or what your next goal is. After a while you don’t have to force yourself to roll out of bed and go downtown on a rainy Saturday morning. You just do, because you know the group will be there.

PR Fitness at the unity run. Center, Coach Rob holds our newest member (soon to turn 1 year old).

PR Fitness at the unity run. Center, Coach Rob holds our newest member (soon to be the terror of the preschool circuit).

It shows in racing, too. Did you complete the race, even if you had to crawl across the finish line? Congratulations, here’s your medal. Hit your goal time? High five, good job. Missed out on the cool age group award? No shame, try again next year. You have enough coffee mugs anyway.

Paradoxically, perhaps it’s because running is so personal that runners form such a tight sense of community. Because we each have our own definition of success, when someone else succeeds, it isn’t at our expense. Rather than one winner and many losers, we all win. Do you run? Congratulations, you’re a runner. One of us.

Randy Step (center, orange gloves) fires up the unity run crowd.

Community in evidence: Randy Step (center, orange gloves) fires up the crowd.

Every Run is a Victory

“SO WHERE DID YOU PLACE AT SHAMROCKS LAST WEEK?” my friend Larry asked during Wednesday night’s PR Fitness group run. He was referring to the Shamrocks & Shenanigans 5K in Ann Arbor on March 10.

“Second,” I said. “The first place guy ran under 19:00. There’s a couple people in my age group who are just really fast.” I sighed. “I’ve got to get better yet.”

Larry chuckled. “Now here’s a guy who finished second,” he said, “complaining about not winning.”

And I thought, Oh, no – I’ve become that guy.

Must...beat...the kid...

Must…beat…the kid…

Just two years ago, all I wanted was to snag one award – just one – in any race. If someone had griped to me back then about finishing second, I would have let him know (nicely, I hope) that some of us would be more than satisfied with that, and to be thankful he was healthy and fit, and strong enough to finish in the top tier of his group.

On my 50th birthday at the 2011 Holiday Hustle, I got my first award (a Christmas ornament, which I promptly dropped). Since then I’ve placed in the top 5 of my age group regularly, even winning several times. Now here I was beefing about finishing second in a large race. Did I now have to be in the awards group to feel like I ran a good race? Or finish first to feel happy? Heaven help me if it ever comes to that.

Sure, I’m competitive by nature, and finishing in the awards group feels good. But winning a race also depends on the weather, the terrain, and who else shows up (or more accurately, who doesn’t show up). And if we’re not elite runners, who really cares about how many races we’ve won? Spouses and kids, to a point. Fellow runners, good for a high five or two. Non-runners? Fuggetaboutit.

Serious Runners

Some serious runners at Shamrocks & Shenanigans.

More than anything, a race is a test of ourselves – a measure of our physical and mental fortitude, our discipline to stick out a hard run to the end. Improving as a runner, and as a human being, is really what counts. And that can come at any pace.

Last night reminded me of why I run races. Since I’m not in it for money or fame, I am free to set my own goals and to decide what “success” and “winning” mean. Isn’t that why we enjoy running – because it gives us that freedom? How blessed and fortunate we are to have that kind of opportunity. Every run, short or long, is a victory.

P.S. Now that I’m sufficiently grateful for being able to run, here’s what I got for finishing second at Shamrocks.

Unlike many awards, this is something I can actually use. Woohoo!

Unlike many awards, this is something I can actually use. Woohoo!