Archive for July, 2007

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#25 – Michigan Apple Run 5K

14 July 2007

Among other things, west Michigan agriculture is well known for it’s fruit harvest, especially apples, blueberries, and cherries (in the north). In fact my dad grew up on an apple farm and used to train for track and football by running laps around the family orchard. Today, however, I would be running laps around the streets of Sparta, Michigan for the Michigan Apple Run 5K!

Hmm… wet roads, umbrellas, raincoats… Yep, it was a rainy morning! Good for the apple trees, and good enough for a race as well. One cool thing about this race is that dogs and strollers were allowed on the course provided they start at the back of the pack. Due to the weather I noticed how creative parents can be – the strollers all had various baggies, plastic sheets, and other waterproof set-ups to keep the wee ones dry. Speaking of “wee”, before the start I made the obligatory trip to the outhouse:

Nice of Amanda to photograph the event, eh? 🙂 It rained steadily throughout the registration but the volunteers were running a tight ship and nobody had any problems getting their bibs and SWAG bags, which contained apple juice, apple sauce, caramel apples, and even a half-gallon of apple cider!

As if by design, the rain reduced to a light mist just minutes before the national anthem was played as the racers waited at the line for the start. Before the anthem the organizers were playing some fun music: Springsteen and Queen! “Born to Run”, “Glory Days” and “We Will Rock You” were the songs I remembered hearing as I took my place at the start among 900 other runners. Despite not being a huge race, they were nice enough to provide mile-pace posts to help folks figure out how close to the front to line up. As a result the first half mile of the race, while congested, did not require much dodging and traffic maneuvers like so many other 5Ks.

Coming into today I wasn’t sure how well my race would turn out – earlier this week I had badly blistered my feet in an ill-conceived session of barefoot training on a high school track. Most tracks are soft rubber but this one had some spray-on type of protective coat that’s rougher than usual. Tuesday after my speedwork it felt like I was walking on little packets of ketchup and it hurt! Using safety pins from a previous race I drained my blood blisters Wednesday morning and took it easy on them all week (aside from a softball double-header Thursday evening). Before the race I put moleskin on the healing blisters and wound up having zero trouble with them.

I started off a tad easier than usual to gauge my fitness level and ran a 6:55 first mile that felt rather comfortable. Speeding up the pace a bit, I was shocked to see that I ran the second mile in 7:12! It felt like I was running faster but was 17 seconds slower! Perhaps their mile markers weren’t perfectly accurate? Anyway, I maintained my pace for half a mile then kicked it up a notch for the finish, running a 6:56 pace over the final 1.1 miles, good for a 21:45 finish. Amanda turned on the video to capture the nice burst of speed I mustered at the finish – that felt good!

Amazingly five minutes after I crossed the line it began to rain, and this time it came down hard. Amanda and I scurried to the tent to grab some recovery food and stay somewhat dry. While I was nowhere near winning my age group, it’s worth mentioning that those who did won very nifty prizes: a bottle of apple wine and a four-foot tall apple tree! That sure makes me wish I were a fast runner. Oh well, it was still a great race!

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#24 – Climb a Sand Dune

8 July 2007

On 7/7/07 I was one of the few people not getting married that day… Instead I was lucky enough to be invited to the cottage of a family friend, a cottage that is literally adjacent to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore! Growing up in Michigan I’ve been to Sleeping Bear several times over the years yet I could never get used to such amazing landscapes. In my opinion Sleeping Bear Dunes is one of the most spectacular parks in the entire country!

Amanda and I drove the three hours north with my cousin and navigator Ana, who’s been going to this cottage all her life. Sadly my brothers couldn’t make it, but my parents were there along with some aunts, uncles, and cousins. First off I sampled several pieces of raisin spice cake along with countless other snacks that everyone had brought along. Yum!

Then there was some beach frisbee, then floating in Lake Michigan on inner tubes, then hiking down the beach to a small lake, then more floating over the sandbar, then some beach hillbilly golf. Yep, we spent a lot of time on that beach! Amanda has the sunburns to prove it, too.

Being so close to Sleeping Bear, all day I was eying this giant sand bluff with plans to climb it. Legend has it that some years ago my cousin Gabe set the family ascent record at 7.5 minutes while Ana holds the female title at 10 minutes. Both were teenage-fast avid cyclists, but could I keep up?

The bluff rises 450 vertical feet above Lake Michigan; marking our path using Google Earth shows the slant distance to be about 800 feet. As we approached this sand mountain my dad, a civil engineer, explained to me that typical sand has an angle of repose of about 45 degrees. Yeah, that looked about right:

Wow, this wasn’t going to be easy! The ants crawling up the hill formed in to humans as we got close enough to see the action, and crawl was the word of the day – I noticed that everybody who was going up was doing so on all fours!

Off we go! I was able to walk upright for the first two minutes before so much lactic acid built up in my quads that the muscles refused to respond to my commands. I was forced to rest a few seconds before I resumed the ascent, this time using all four limbs like everyone else. The terrain was atrocious! The sand was filled with rocks from pebbles up to softball size and my toes took a beating. Each step I took, my foot slid halfway back down the hill! Progress was frustrating to say the least. While my feet mashed through the sand and rocks my fingers were like pitchforks jabbing into the hillside until they became so tired that I had to walk on my knuckles just like a chimpanzee.

After 14 minutes I finally made it to the top! In retrospect I probably could’ve made it in 12 had I not burned out my quads by walking upright in the beginning. I can see why my cyclist cousins were so fast – you really need strong thighs! My lungs were fine but my quad muscles were operating above their lactate threshold the entire climb. Ana arrived to the summit in 15:45, then her sister Adrienne in 16:30. The three of us sat down (“collapsed” might be a better word!) to recover and take in the incredible view of Lake Michigan stretching to the horizon in front of us.

Finally we had company – Uncle Andy arrived at 25 minutes followed by his young daughter and her friend who impressed everyone with a 26-minute climb. My dad made it to the top in 31 minutes – not bad for a guy pushing 60 years old! He rides his bike a lot and that really helped him – he said that his lungs were the limiting factor, not his legs. Andy’s young son arrived at 35 minutes, toting his snowboard all the way! Last but not least, Aunts Therese and Kathy dragged themselves up in 36 minutes. Everyone made it!

Most folks on the hill had driven to the overlook at the summit and decided to hike down, then were forced to suffer the ascent just to get back to their car! Either that or walk a 7-mile detour. Luckily for us we wanted to do the climb, then got to enjoy the easy descent. Young Issac tried his snowboard but found it to be much easier on snow than sand. However, Ana and Adrienne had a fun technique of skiing down the hill that worked pretty well:

I opted for a straight run, but it was more like a high-stepping march, lifting my knees as fast as I could to keep my feet from dragging behind my body – I had no desire to taste the sand! Unfortunately Uncle Andy performed one somersault on the way down, but he said it wasn’t bad because his sunglasses didn’t fall off. 🙂

After maintaining an effort that was close to what my 5K pace feels like for 14 minutes just to reach the top, I ran down that same hill in just one minute! What a blast that was. It really did feel kinda like downhill skiing, but unless you’re as fit as sky-runner Matt Carpenter you only get one hard-earned “lift ticket” to the top!

My feet were very sore during the walk back to the cottage, but being able to splash them through the cool surf of Lake Michigan helped soothe the pain. Best of all, back at the cottage it was time to eat! Now that was a meal well earned. I can’t wait to go back someday and conquer the Sleeping Bear bluff again!

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#23 – Two Races in One Day

1 July 2007

Many running events host multiple races at the same time, e.g. a 5K and 10K taking place simultaneously. When registering we’re forced to choose which distance suits us best for that particular weekend. The Reeds Lake Run, however, offers a twist on the usual 5K or 10K option: runners can do both!

Intrigued, I signed up for both races and then had to figure out a plan. The 5K starts at 8:00am and the 10K at 8:45am – both start and finish lines are close to each other. I decided to run the 5K as hard as I could, then run a relaxed 10K just to see how my body handles back-to-back racing.

Perfect weather dawned over the course as my wife and I walked through the host downtown of East Grand Rapids prior to the race. Temperatures were in the mid-60’s under a sunny sky as Amanda took up a position to photograph the start:

Right off the bat there seemed to be a lack of energy in my system; I can’t explain why and before the race I was reminding myself that this feeling could be deceiving. Unfortunately, the body doesn’t lie. I clocked a 6:45 first mile and two facts were foreboding: 1) I’ve run faster first miles in a 5K, and 2) I felt as exhausted at mile 1 as I usually feel at mile 2! It was going to be twice the suffering just to finish, knowing that my time wouldn’t be what I’d hoped for. Somehow I talked myself to continue pushing hard, hoping for a second wind.

No such luck. Practically staggering across the finish line, I glanced at my watch to see that I’d finished in 21:37, the second-slowest of my four 5Ks thus far this year. As you can see in the image above, I was really desperate for oxygen at the finish! Looking at that photo at least everyone else is in pain, too. 🙂

Not nearly as much in pain were the race winners:

Wow are they fast! They had half an hour to recover for the 10K (the winner of the 5K wound up winning the 10K! Unreal.) while I had just 23 minutes. I walked to the food table and drank a cup of Gatorade and chatted briefly with Amanda before heading off for the start of the 10K. Clearly I’m feeling much better by the time the horn sounded for this second race:

The enjoyment of the first two miles of the 10K was such a contrast to the suffering of the 5K! I ran a 9:30 first mile and a 9:00 second mile, not by intention; I was just “going for a run” and happened to notice that was my pace. Since I’ve never run a race before without trying to run my fastest, this was a new experience. I was able to look around and take in the surroundings – the mid-morning sun over Reeds Lake, runners chatting with their buddies, spectators sitting on their lawns as we ran past their driveways.

Speaking of spectators, the residents of East Grand Rapids do a great job. One house had set up their own aid station; a couple folks were holding their garden hose at the ready in case any runner wanted a shower (I took them up on the offer both times!); a high school rock band was performing in a driveway! My memory has some vague memories of these things from the 5K, but I wasn’t able to really enjoy or appreciate them until I ran the 10K.

Running two races was an experiment for me and around mile 5 I began to realize one of the effects: my legs started to feel numb! Not tingly, but I was having trouble commanding them to move any faster or slower – it’s as though the control system for my leg muscles simply crashed. Somehow they continued to function on autopilot until the finish, when my ego was threatened.

Amanda had told me beforehand that she planned to record a video of me at the finish. Cruising down the home stretch I spotted Amanda in the distance when I heard three young women behind me start to encourage each other: “C’mon, let’s pass some people!” “Let’s sprint, go go GO!” Afraid that Amanda’s video would show me getting passed by three gals at the finish, I found the adrenaline necessary to accelerate into a sprint of my own and carry it across the line; the women were safely well behind. 🙂

(You can see the resulting video on my personal blog.)