Tag Archives: trail marathon

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.

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Zero Waste: Adding 3 More “Rs” to Running

Some of my faithful readers know that I have a strong interest in sustainable practices. For those of you who didn’t – well, I have this strong interest in sustainable practices.

Reduce Reuse RecycleThat means, basically, that I support and encourage the three “Rs” of managing waste. I’m also firmly in favor of renewable energy sources and organic farming. This was once considered fringe, “hippie” stuff, but it’s rapidly becoming mainstream, and hopefully will be standard practice before long.

So I’m thrilled to tell you that this year I’m helping bring sustainable practices to another activity that I love – the world of running.

I run, pace, and/or volunteer at over twenty events every year, and it bothers me how much waste they generate and send to landfills. That includes a lot of recyclable cans, bottles, and cardboard, and food waste (banana peels, half-eaten muffins, etc.)  that could be composted.

Trash from a small event last year. All of it went to the landfill.

Trash from a small event last year. All of it went to the landfill.

I figured there had to be a better way, and in my research I came across the Council for Responsible Sport and their certification program that recognizes waste reduction and redirection.

Gazelle Girl 2015 - 3,000 runners, and this is all that went to the landfill.

Gazelle Girl 2015 – 3,000 runners, and this is all that went to the landfill.

After volunteering at an annual women’s race in Grand Rapids that applies the CRS standards to achieve nearly zero waste (read my 2015 post about that here), I knew I wanted to bring what they did to the Ann Arbor area. So I approached my favorite running events company, showed them what was possible, and made my pitch to help them do the same.

To what may be their everlasting regret, they accepted. And so RF Events “Team ZW” was formed.

Saturday's ZW crew - ready to rock that trash! Yours truly on far right.

Saturday’s ZW crew – ready to rock that trash! Yours truly on far right.

To get things going, we obtained a small grant from the Can’d Aid Foundation’s #CrushitCrusade, and used it to obtain training and waste disposal tents from ZeroHero, a company that specializes in sustainable waste management for events all over the country. We scheduled Trail Marathon Weekend, April 23-24, as our inaugural Zero Waste event. We recruited volunteers, deployed the tents, and hoped for the best.

Stylin' it on the trail!

Stylin’ it on the trail!

The results were better than I could have hoped for. Of the nearly 500 pounds of total waste we collected over the weekend, less than 50 went to the landfill. Everything else was recycled, composted, or will be sent to TerraCycle for “upcycling” into new plastic products. And we got several positive comments from the runners. “Those are the coolest tents EVER!” I heard one of them say. (Oh, wait, that was me. But I’m sure many other runners were thinking it.)

So if you’re going to a Running Fit race this year, look for the green shirts and the coolest tents ever, and know that we’re doing our best to make the sport we love better than ever!

Below are more ZW photos from Trail Marathon. Enjoy!

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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

 

 

More Than Living

Last Friday I was working the registration table for the Trail Marathon Weekend, and a runner came up to get his bib whose last name matched a friend of mine I’ll call Alan. I hadn’t seen him in several years, but I’d been receiving annual Christmas greetings which included his latest adventures.

This runner was not Alan – too tall and too much hair – but perhaps he was family. I handed him his race bib and asked if he happened to be related to Alan. “Yes,” he said. “Cousin.”

“Great!” I said, pleased that I’d hit pay dirt. “Next time you see him, please tell him I said hello.”

Alan’s cousin was quiet for a moment. Then he said, “He’s actually passed.”

Well, that changed the mood pretty quickly.

Alan’s cousin said it had happened recently, a brief, sudden illness. I believed him, of course, but it still didn’t seem real to me. Later on I did a Google search and found Alan’s online obituary. He’d been only a few years older than I, active, running his company and raising a teenage son, and now he was gone.

During the Trail Marathon events I thought about how Alan had actively experienced life and encouraged others to do so. He’d taught team development all over the world and founded a company dedicated to safe, healthy weight loss and sleep improvement. He’d helped me grow personally and professionally; it was an unavoidable consequence of knowing him. And he was fascinated with “off the wall” stuff. For example, he’d attended Tom Brown Jr.’s tracker school, which, he told me, really raised his awareness about what was going on around him, and, conversely, taught him how to avoid being noticed if he wanted.

How do you choose to experience life?

Do you, like me, sometimes get so caught up in daily routines and activities that you lose the awareness that you are alive – living – and forget to be grateful for that gift?

Some people race cars, or jump out of planes, or live in caves, to regain touch with that sense of “alive-ness”. Running is one activity that does it for me. Last weekend I raced a total of 44 miles over 7 1/2 hours through the Pinckney-Potawatomi Trails. It was uncomfortable a good deal of the time, and painful at some, and yet I was there of my own volition, pushing through the discomfort and challenging my limits, and very much aware of my presence in the world at that moment. That’s one thing that Alan, among others, has helped me to do. Rest in peace, my friend.

And the races? Yes, I lived to tell the tale – a tale of ups and downs, dirt, rocks, and roots, a windy lake, and some remarkable fellow runners. All of which will be posted when the last of the photos come in. Stay tuned.