Tag Archives: trail

As Nature Intended

Near the end of my Monday workout at Body Specs, one of the trainers and I began talking dirt.

Mud, more correctly.

As I was catching my breath after a particularly strenuous set, she (Rachel) asked me how I got into running. I explained how I’d started with occasional short runs, which eventually led to a half marathon, which started me on the slippery slope to the full marathon and beyond to the land of Ultra.

And *up* the slippery slope, too.

Slippery slopes go both down and up in the land of Ultra!

Rachel said she had no intention of following me down the ultra trail, but she did sign up for a Tough Mudder later this spring. And just as she no plans to start running ultras (which I completely understand) I will not be following her into that kind of event. Chacun à son goût, as they say, but a TM is definitely not to my goût.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Tough Mudder, it’s one of a popular genre of events collectively known as obstacle races. These events combine running with various types of calisthenics and man-made obstacles to climb over, duck under, and crawl through. Here’s a sampling of typical Tough Mudder obstacles, courtesy of the Wikipedia article:

  • Arctic Enema – Participants plunge into a dumpster filled with ice water, dunk underneath a plank that crosses the dumpster, and pull themselves out on other side.
  • Electroshock Therapy – Live wires hang over a field of mud which participants must traverse.
  • Funky Monkey – A set of incline and decline monkey bars over a pit of cold water. The bars are slicked with a mixture of butter and mud.
  • Everest – Participants run up a quarter pipe slicked with mud and grease.


Now I have nothing against getting dirty as part of a run. I’ve run several trail races where rain either before or during the event has turned the course into a slippery, shoe-sucking morass. My first trail 50K was a 6-hour slog following an all-night rain, and at some of the hills were impossible to climb without hand-over-hand grabbing of bushes and trees. I’ve even run through an actual swamp. Below is what happened when I stepped off the log I’d been dancing along.

DWD Hell - Deep in the Mud

I’ve run ultras in the rain, in 95 degrees and high humidity, and as of last month, in the snow. I’ve sweated buckets and frozen my tooshie. I’ve climbed piles of boulders and slid down ravines. I’ve flirted with hypothermia, bonked due to hyponatremia, and been sore everywhere a body can be sore. All with no regrets and every intent to keep doing it as long as I can or want to.

So why, you might reasonably ask, wouldn’t an obstacle race appeal to me? After all, trail race course designers make you run through tall grass, swamps, rivers, and up and down incredibly steep hills. Aren’t those obstacles?

DWD Devils Lake - Heading Down

But there’s a big difference between a muddy trail race and a Tough Mudder. The first is created by Mother Nature and the elements. The second is created by sadists with construction debris and garden hoses. And to me, that makes all the difference.

I like tackling a trail race as Nature intended. When I sign up for a trail race, I have no control over what conditions will be on race day. The trail could be dusty, hard as rock, soaked and slippery, or a paradise of soft pine needles. The uncertainty is part of the experience. It’s expecting the unexpected, as it were.

I may get covered in mud, but it won’t come about by dragging myself under electrified wire or sliding around flaming tires.


Like Spartan Races, which I’ve written about previously, I find the concept fascinating but don’t really have the interest to participate. That said, I have yet to actually attend either a Tough Mudder or Spartan Race, so I won’t be saying “never” just yet.

Best of luck, Rachel!


P.S. For those of you hoping my title might mean the kind of run that, say, one might do at Run Woodstock, I’m sorry to disappoint you. However, you can read a couple of stories about my experience there. Here’s a post from 2012 (my first such experience) and one from 2014. Enjoy!

Do What? I Can’t Imagine. . .

If there’s one thing being a runner is good for (*) it’s getting a sense of perspective.

This morning I was meeting with our company president, an aficionado of the latest and greatest in technology (you can read my “Gadget Man” post here). A message from one of his daughters had appeared on his Apple Watch, and he demonstrated how to finger-scrawl a reply and have it turn into a text message.

Then he looked at me.

“She’s recovering from a slight concussion,” he said. “Her coach told her to go jog an easy mile to see how she feels. That just doesn’t make sense to me. How is a mile an easy jog?”

Before I became a runner I’d have shared his viewpoint. But to me now, I told him, it made perfect sense. An easy mile seemed just right for her purpose. I do exactly that myself as part of my pre-race warmup. But to the non-runner, “one mile” just doesn’t fit with “easy” at any speed.

Fast forward to this afternoon’s workout at Body Specs. Another runner trains at the same time I do, and he said he’d heard that 200-mile races were growing in popularity. He told me someone had interviewed a veteran 100-mile runner about this, whose comment was, “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to run that distance.”

This is where I am on the spectrum. A 100-mile race is the most I’ve ever seen myself doing. Double that distance? What for? (**)


And yet for some runners, even 200 miles is just a stepping stone to greater distances. Ultrarunner Dean Karnazes once ran 50 marathons, one in each U.S. state, in 50 consecutive days. And Pete Kostelnick just completed a 42-day, 3,000-mile run across the U.S. from San Francisco to New York, an average of over 72 miles (nearly three marathons) per day. To them, a mile must be like stepping outside to get the mail.

Just going out for a run! Back in a couple months!

Just going out for a run, honey! Back in a couple months!

This kind of perspective comes in handy when I race. I see faster runners pull away, and look at the results of the top finishers, and wish I were more like them. And yet as I’m usually at or near the top of my age group, there must be many other runners wishing they were more like me. And I know people who wish they were able just to run at all. Being aware of this makes it hard to feel sorry for myself when I don’t perform as well as I wanted to.


I know there will always be people faster than I am, stronger, more naturally talented, mentally tougher, more of every quality that makes for a successful runner. No matter how hard I train, or how far I run, I will never match their performance. Well, so what? There are always things to learn and ways to improve, and one can enjoy the experience regardless of the result.

Last Saturday’s Run Vasa 25K was a great example. A cold but beautiful morning on a wide, well-groomed, leaf-strewn trail, with a small group of fellow dirt-loving runners. I was pushing my pace and had blisters on both heels, but there was nowhere else I wanted to be.

About ten miles in, I saw two runners approaching me from ahead. Oh, crap. Was I going the wrong way? “Oh, no,” they said. “We cut the course by accident.” They were basically DQ’d, but both were smiling. Several other people took a wrong turn and ran an extra four miles. No one complained. Stuff happened. They still had fun.

Days like this on trails like this. What it's all about, baby.

Days like this on trails like this. What it’s all about, baby.

Final thought: apart from Pete and Dean, I’m sure every runner has an “I can’t imagine” limit. In 2014 I was part of a webcast featuring Meb Keflezighi, the Olympic marathoner and Boston Marathon winner. When he found out that some in the audience were ultrarunners, he expressed amazement. “I can’t imagine running that kind of distance,” he said, and told us he’d stick to running marathons. Just as well. I don’t need his kind of competition.


(*) [One thing running is good for] – in addition to health, fitness, being outdoors, a great social activity, and others.

(**) [What would it prove?] On the other hand, I used to think a 50K would be the most I would ever run. Until I ran one, and the little voice in my head said, “You could do more…”

Bring on the Mud! Glacier Ridge Trail 50 Recap

I sat at the Glacier Ridge Trail Ultra 50 pre-race dinner in a mixed mood.

“The trails are in great shape,” the race director told us. “And it will be much cooler than last year. There is some rain possible in the morning, though.”

The forecast was for temperatures in the 50s all day long – perfect for a trail ultra, and much more civilized than the 90+ degree heat that had broiled us in 2015. It meant I could worry less about staying hydrated, or having to keep ice bags under my cap.

And yet I couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed. I’d dropped at mile 40 last year, and having tackled the cause (poor electrolyte management) I felt ready for anything this year. So with mild weather and good footing promised, the thought nagged at me that this year’s race wouldn’t pose as much of a challenge.

Boy, was I wrong.

This was on the wall of my bedroom at the B&B. Fortunately it means, "A hundred thousand welcomes" and not "50 mile failure."

This was on the wall of my bedroom at the B&B. Fortunately it means, “A hundred thousand welcomes” and not “50 mile failure.”

Before I hit the messy details, I’d like to say any serious trail lover should give Glacier Ridge a try. The events (30K, 50K, 50 mile) wind through various parts of Moraine State Park in Portersville, PA, with beautiful and well maintained trails. I’d call the course moderate at 7300 feet of elevation gain, with most of the ups and downs in the first ten miles and last ten miles. There are no river crossings like Dances with Dirt, or rope climbs like Voyageur, but challenges abound. And with fewer than 300 runners for all events, it has a homey feel and doesn’t destroy the trails if you’re in the back of the pack.

The first mile is on a bike path, then switches to singletrack until mile 21, where you begin the Swamp Run segment on gravel roads and dirt fire roads. This part is very runnable. At mile 30 you endure a brutal climb up to a pipe holding a telephone book, tear out a page, and head back the same way to mile 40. The final ten miles are the first ten miles in reverse, so you cover the toughest terrain twice.

At the starting line.

At the starting line, ready and determined to finish this one!

The race started at 6:30 a.m. I took the first section easy, resisting the urge to run the inclines even as people passed me. After all, I was practicing for Kettle Moraine, where I’d have to apply the same discipline. And I figured I’d catch many people later on (and did).

The rain started just before I arrived at the Route 528 aid station at mile 10. I had a rain shell in my drop bag, so after pulling that out I was on my way through the Jennings nature area. The trails flatten out a bit in this section and there wasn’t much mud at this point, so I cruised along enjoying the cooler temperatures.

Back at Route 528 at mile 21, I caught up with a young guy named C.J. who was running his first 50-miler. His rookie-ness was evidenced by two things; he’d started out relatively fast, and he had no water bottle, which would have meant certain death last year (*) and was risky even in cool wet weather.

C.J. hits the singletrack. I figured I'd see him later (and did).

C.J. hits the singletrack. I figured I’d see him later (and did).

I had an extra bottle in my drop bag, so I loaned it to him. This earned me some effusive (and rather embarrassing) praise from the aid station captain, but to me it was no big deal; this is what trail runners do. Last year three runners walked three miles with me to the aid station when I melted down at mile 37, giving up better finish times to help a struggling runner they didn’t know. Loaning a water bottle was at least a down payment on karma payback.

There were several friendly water stops, but not enough for me to run without a bottle.

There were several friendly water stops, but not enough that I’d try to run without a bottle.

Swamp Run gave runners a different challenge this year. Instead of broiling heat, it presented an increasingly muddy and slippery trail, helped out by more rain. But with no nausea, and abandoning any attempts at avoiding the mud, I was back at the Route 528 station at mile 40 just past the 8-hour mark. I felt good and figured I had a shot at a 10:30 finish, maybe even 10:15.

Two things became immediately evident as I headed up the first big hill of the final segment. First, I wasn’t going to finish anywhere near 10:15. There was no longer any solid footing on the trail, and the downhills were equally or more treacherous than the climbs. One slip could spell disaster. I was able to practice my mud-boarding skills a bit (**), but even that was too risky given the rocks and roots sticking up out of the mud. So it became a routine of slog my way up and care-ful-ly pick my way down.

Second, I realized there was no way I could have finished in 2015 given how I’d felt back then. At best I would have crawled my way back to the aid station after a few hundred yards. It made me feel better that I’d made the right decision back then.

Around mile 48 I began to hear the traffic noise that signaled I was near the end. In past ultras I’ve struggled with impatience at these points, getting angry at a trail that never seems to end. So I applied the technique I used at last year’s Run Woodstock 100K. I let go the thoughts of where I was, and focused only on the path in front of me.

With my mind calm, I was able to relax and enjoy the final miles. Soon enough came the final road crossing and final descent, and there was the bike path. That last mile also seemed to go on forever, but I was too happy to care.

Those final ten miles took three hours, but I crossed the finish line in 11:08:09, easily beating my goal of 12 hours. And I had energy left over, just what I was hoping for. Overall it was a great dress rehearsal for the Kettle Moraine 100, and the DNF monkey was off my back!

Finished! Yeah, baby!

Got it done!

As for C.J.? Unfortunately, he did not finish. Neither did Dan, whom I sat next to at the fireplace after the race. At age 69 he is still running trail ultras. “I ran my first ultra in 1977,” he told me. In 1977 I was in high school and while as a caddie I walked long distances, would never have believed I’d be a trail runner someday.

“I was born in 1977,” a runner with us said. There’s perspective for you.


(*) Okay, I’m being a bit melodramatic. But I can guarantee anyone who ran short of water last year felt like death. Ask me how I know.

(**) Mud-boarding is where you pretend you are on a snowboard and the mud is powder. It worked perhaps too well out there.

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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