Tag Archives: winter

Turnaround

Yesterday I went out to Chelsea for my assigned tempo run. Being winter in Michigan, it was cold, and I ran the first half uphill into a stiff headwind. It had the makings of a real suck. But the sky was blue and the sun was shining after weeks of miserable gray, and when I turned around and headed back, things felt so much better. All in all, a pretty good run.

And a pretty good analogy, in my mind anyway, of recent happenings in this country.

Now I’m not going to say that the entirety of the last four years was one big suck for me. Quite the contrary. My wife survived cancer, one daughter got married, and our other one got engaged. And I had a number of memorable adventures which I’ve written about previously here.

But on Inauguration Day I felt very much like that tempo run turnaround point. The wind had shifted and the breathing got easier. It had gotten so bad I stopped listening to the news, so I wouldn’t have to hear about the latest crazy-ass thing our then occupant of the Oval Office said or did. Believe what you like about our new commander in chief, but he has a brain and a heart, and cares about more than himself alone. I feel so much better about our country. And, apparently, so does most of the rest of the world.

I hope this gives us all a chance to pause and reflect on where we need to go as a nation, and how we should behave toward each other. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, let’s talk, and I will listen and ask questions. We don’t have to agree, or even like each other, but we need to understand each other so we can all learn and make ourselves and America better.

Burning Man. The ultimate “get along” experience. Everyone should go once.

I run in Michigan winters because it makes me stronger, and helps me achieve my goals. Maybe we had to go through a period of adversity to remind us that democracy cannot be taken for granted, and getting along with each other requires active engagement. I have to hope we emerge stronger as Americans because of it. That remains to be seen, of course.

But for the moment, I’m happy to breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the sunshine.

Not So Frightful! Winter Running

We’re in the middle of one of the coldest winters in recent memory. Walking around outside has not been much fun.

But what about running? Do I still go out there and get the miles in? Maybe even actually do some races?

You bet your balaclava!

Zeeb Road pathway, New Year’s Eve. Temperature around 10 degrees.

In fact, I’ve already completed my first two races of the year: the Bigfoot Snowshoe 5K in Traverse City, and the Winter Switchbacks 5K on the Waterloo trail system. Both are among my favorite events. If you’re interested, last year’s posts can be read here for Bigfoot and here for the Winter Switchbacks. For this post I’ll just share a few photos.

My wife captures me at the Bigfoot finish line. (I finished #14 overall and 1st in my AD.)

Bigfoot: Check out the variety of clothing choices – from very light to traditional winter.

Winter Switchbacks – Charging up to the top on the fourth (and final) loop.

One of the few decently hazardous parts of the Switchbacks course this year. (That’s ice underneath the water and mud.)

Okay, you say, races are one thing. Do you really go outside and run regularly all winter long? Even with snow and ice on the ground?

This photo from a December club run should answer that question. And if you’re wondering what my running coach thinks of this, he’s the one next to me with the ice beard.

Your next question is, I’m guessing, “Are you really comfortable doing that?” No, not always. But over the years I’ve become more cold tolerant. At Bigfoot, I wore just one layer; the wind jacket on top was mainly to keep the snow spray off me. At Winter Switchbacks I wore two light layers, and it should have been just one. Even in slow easy runs I wear shorts if it’s above freezing.

And it’s not just the short stuff. In January 2017 I ran the Yankee Springs Winter Challenge 50K; my post about that can be read here. I planned another winter ultra this year, but that changed when I selected “the big one” – my main goal race for 2018. I’ll announce that, and my training plan for it, in my next post.

I do have limits. If it’s below zero I won’t run alone. And a couple of club runs have been cancelled when wind chills went below -10. So there’s a least a thread of sanity left in us.

But I must stop now; it’s time to go for a run. Good Lord! The sun is shining and it’s over 40 degrees outside.

I may have to run it naked.

Drat That Good Weather! Winter Switchbacks Race Recap

YOU KNOW YOU’RE FLYING when a high school runner steps aside to let you by.

The snow came back to Michigan one day too late for Saturday’s Winter Switchbacks 5K. So we had a reasonably clear and dry trail, much to the disappointment of the race organizers – and me, too.

Not big on frills.

Not big on frills.

The Switchback Runs take place in the middle of winter and summer to make sure conditions are as miserable as possible. And as if ascending those brutal switchbacks four times in three miles isn’t bad enough, fallen logs and bramble piles mysteriously appear on the trail to keep you hopping – or, in some cases, tripping.

winter-switchbacks-2017-runners-charging-uphill-cropped

Yet while the race is advertised as, “stuff that will make a mule puke,” it’s actually a family-friendly, laid-back event. It’s put on by local high school running coaches, with proceeds going to support the teams. It’s mainly comprised of high school runners and their siblings, plus a few well-salted trail nuts like yours truly who enjoy something like this.

Coach Eric fires up the pack before the start.

Coach Eric (left, in shorts and blue hat) fires up the pack before the start.

I’ve run the winter 5K four times now, and there’s always been something memorable about it –  either plenty of snow and ice and cold temps, or like last year, an encounter with fox hunters in full regalia and a stampede of hounds.

Tally ho!

Tally ho! Just after the 2016 race.

This year not much was out of the ordinary, except we had a much smaller group of runners – about 40 total. But the race went on, and the group that was there hit the trail for all it was worth.

I’d been fantasizing about being first to the top in loop one, with reality setting in when I began climbing. Cardio-wise I felt okay, but this being my third race this month, the accumulated leg fatigue meant I had no push. Last year I was able to run the entire distance, including all four climbs. This time I couldn’t even make the first ascent without slowing to a walk in a couple spots.

I charge uphill with all -- my -- huuh huuh huuh -- might.

I charge uphill with all — my — huuh huuh huuh — might.

Oh, well, there was still a race to finish. I stuck with it and little by little I began to improve. By the third loop I was feeling much stronger and began to pass people. On the final leg even a couple of the high schoolers stepped aside for me, and I finished in the top ten again. My time of 24:47 even beat last year’s time by over a minute, tired legs and all! I must have really rocked the downhill and flat parts.

By the way, the winner finished in a mind-boggling 17:30, which is a fast time even for a flat 5K. I sense a scholarship in his future.

Yeah, it was like that.

Yeah, it was like that.

Now a little break from racing, with my next scheduled event at the end of February. On the other hand, that gives Skip & Co. at Body Specs free rein, which they took full advantage of today. Quick, where’s that list of February races?

Winter Warriors: Yankee Springs Winter Challenge Recap

4:45 a.m. on a January Saturday is when sensible people are nestled snug in warm beds. I was outside in single-degree temps, trudging through 100 yards of snow toward frigid vault toilets.

It was my own fault. I’d signed up for the Yankee Springs Winter Challenge 50K, and the Long Lake Outdoor Center has no indoor plumbing. Or bed linens. Or running water. “I wonder why I’m doing this,” I said to the lady at the Outdoor Center when I called for information.

“You are a winter warrior,” she replied firmly.

Geared up and ready to hit the snowy trail!

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers (and sisters)!

What a great answer! But why did I sign up for a winter ultramarathon? Well, I’ve run many ultras (this was #15 for me), and plenty of times in the snow, but never the two together. So why not try it? Plus it seemed like a fitting way to kick off 2017, my self-defined year for doing oddball athletic stuff.

I spent Friday night in a 20-bunk cabin instead of a hotel. The advantages were an easy walk to the start, a warm place to keep extra clothes, and the camaraderie of fellow runners, some of whom brought water and were happy to share. (Have I mentioned before how awesome trail runners are?)

Carbo-loading at Walldorff Provisions in Hastings Friday night.

Carbo-loading at Walldorff Provisions in Hastings Friday night.

For having to get up before 5 a.m., I was surprisingly awake and energized for the 8:00 a.m. 50K start. I would run two 25K loops, so there was a chance to make adjustments at the halfway point, which was really helpful on a day like this.

For those of you interested in such things, in the next few paragraphs I will share my gear selections and race strategy for this event. If you’re not, but would like to know how it turned out, you can, “skip a bit, Brother.”

Gear Selection

Shoes were my Pearl Izumi EM N2 Trail. The course was wide singletrack, packed snow with just a little fresh powder. I had great traction throughout. I brought my old Hokas as backups or to deal with deep powder, but I wore the Izumis the entire way.

Socks were my Xmas present Darn Tough Endurance. They got a bit wet but not enough to need to change them, and they did a good job keeping my feet from sliding around, which can lead to blisters. Feet were never cold, either.

For the body I wore a Merino wool base layer with my Heater Hog over that [*] and a light wind jacket on top. Standard winter tights for the legs. Core was always warm, although arms were a bit too sweaty and got cold toward the end of the first loop, so I changed to fresh shirts for the second.

Head: a balaclava with a knit cap over it. This combo kept the wind out of my ears and the cold off my face. Some people wore buffs but they got moist from breath and then froze. The balaclava retained less moisture and dried out quickly so I could pull it back over my mouth when needed.

Hands: I wore my warmest gloves, but my hands always somehow get both cold and sweaty, so I changed to a fresh pair after the first loop. I brought hand warmers just in case but didn’t resort to them. Just clenched my fists inside the gloves.

Food and Hydration

I ate my usual breakfast of a banana and Clif bar an hour before the start. At the aid stations I ate mostly trail mix and bananas. My usual favorites of orange sections and PB&J froze early on, but I got down a few. I brought Gu but never used it.

I drank less than usual. The water in my bottles got so cold I didn’t drink more than a little at a time. At the aid stations where they had soup or warmer water I drank more. But my “fluids check” that occurred every 90 minutes or so was clear, so I was adequately hydrated.

Let's see...do I want frozen bananas, frozen potato chips, frozen olives - or just a Coke slushie?

Let’s see…do I want frozen bananas, frozen potato chips, frozen olives – or just a Coke slushie?

For electrolytes, I took two S-Cap salt tablets every 90 minutes. Usually I take them every hour, but figured I was sweating less. I supplemented with Gatorade and salty soup. I had no digestive problems or nausea, so it seems to have worked fine.

Race Strategy

I elected to run my standard 50K pace – faster than conversation pace but not hard breathing. I was able to run the entire way, with just a few power hikes on the steeper climbs. Toward the end of the second loop I pushed my pace to ensure a sub-6 hour finish. It was uncomfortable but not painful. My lungs seemed to handle the low temps just fine.

As I finished my first loop I noticed my cold arms and a hot spot in my left foot. In addition, my gloves had frozen. So I sacrificed about 15 minutes to change clothes and tape toes. On a warmer day I might have let these go, but Saturday was no time to fool around. The temps never got above 15 degrees, and the wind chill was most likely below zero. Safety had to come first.

===  End nerdy runner stuff  ===

So how did I do?

If I'm dumb enough to be here at the starting line, I suppose I'll have to run it!

If I’m dumb enough to be here at the starting line, I suppose I’ll have to run it!

I finished the first 25K in just under 2:40. Due to the aforementioned issues, I began my second loop around the 2:53 mark. I still hoped to finish around 5:30, but it was not to be. As many runners confirmed, the second loop seemed much harder than the first, perhaps because it got colder instead of warmer. Running in the snow also takes more effort than on dirt, so the extra fatigue added up.

The last few miles seemed to stretch on and on, with more hills than I remembered from my first loop. When it began to feel like a Twilight Zone episode, I lost it a little mentally, and the woods heard a few colorful phrases. But finally the road to the finish line appeared, and all was good again.

I ran the second loop in 2:57. finishing just under 5:51. This was good for second in my age group and #11 overall. Not too bad for my first winter ultra! And I remembered to have fun out there. Being “in the moment” even once or twice, and grateful to be healthy and fit, really puts minor discomforts into perspective.

Swag: Finisher's snow globe and age group gloves + gift certificate.

Swag: Finisher’s snow globe and age group gloves + gift certificate. Worth six hours of running on brutally cold trails? You bet!

Lessons learned for next time:

  • Maybe wear a sleeveless wind vest rather than a full jacket.
  • See if I can find a way to keep my water bottles warmer.
  • Bring water for brushing teeth and stuff the night before.

Overall grades:

  • Race organization: A. First-class job all around, from registration to the great fire at the start/finish to the aid stations to the post-race chili.
  • Course: A. Starkly beautiful. Mostly wide singletrack with a minimum of roots and rocks to worry about. Total elevation gain was about 3,000 feet, mainly from rolling hills. Only a couple of steeper climbs, and no issues with traction.
  • Lodging: B. Cabins were comfortable enough but the trek to the outdoor toilets sucked.

Bottom line: If you’re interested in trying out a winter race, Yankee Springs is an excellent choice. I might even go back next year!

P.S. In addition to the 50K, there are 10K and 25K options if you’re not up for an ultra. There’s also a 50-miler, but since you start at 6:00 a.m. and likely finish in the dark too, you’ve got to be really nuts. (I’m not saying anything those folks don’t already know.)

[*] – Unfortunately, the Heater Hog is no longer available, but you can likely find something similar out there.