Posts Tagged ‘race report’

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#36 – Running with the (Dog) Pack

23 October 2007

My favorite race of the year is Bailey’s Doggie Dash 5K, a cross-country run for owners and their dogs to benefit the Kent County Parks Foundation. It’s not a large race, usually drawing around 50 participants, but it’s very well organized and one of the best races around where you can run with your dog.

Haven and I first ran the Doggie Dash in 2005 as my first ever organized running event since high school. That year we finished 10th overall in 24:39 and won my age group by virtue of being the only one in my age group (after they pulled out the overall winner, who had tied the course record in 18:17). In 2006 we improved to 5th overall, dropping nearly two minutes off our time with a 22:42 finish and winning the age group, this time a “large” group of four runners. How would Haven and I fare this year?

Just last week I set a post-high-school 5K PR of 20:56 in the Harvest Hustle so I knew I was better prepared to keep up with Haven in this year’s Doggie Dash. But I also had a plan to use canicross tactics – rather than hold Haven’s leash in my hand, I instead tied it to a belt around my waist so Haven could help pull me along. Haven and I trained in this setup for a few weeks before the race to make sure we both felt comfortable. I learned that it was necessary to have some form of shock absorption so I clamped an automobile tie-down bungee between Haven’s harness and the leash – it worked like a dream.

Saturday morning arrived bringing perfect weather – mid 40’s, clear blue sky, and near-peak fall colors that yielded some stunning photos by Amanda. The Doggie Dash sports a Halloween theme with a dog costume contest judged by the local weatherman and registration SWAG handed out in trick-or-treat jack-o-lanterns.

I think Haven remembers previous races – when everyone began lining up for the start this year one guy took off on a warm-up jog and Haven must’ve thought the race had begun. Haven started screaming in anticipation as I tried to calm her down – it was so cute and she was getting lots of smiles from the crowd.

At last it was “Ready, set, GO!” and we were off! The race director pedaled a mountain bike ahead of the lead runner to give his dog something to chase, a very keen idea. Haven bolted full steam ahead and we quickly settled into fifth position. One of the most difficult sections of the course was the beginning because it was downhill and paved – with Haven full of energy dragging me downhill, it was all my legs could do to simply not let me fall flat on my face! My feet and legs took quite a pounding right off the bat.

Next we slogged through a scenic wide-open lawn that was saturated with water and then up a short road to a wooded picnic area. Just before reaching the one-mile marker Haven and I passed two racers who were fading after a quick start. 20 yards ahead was a guy who looked way faster than me but I sped up a bit to keep close to him so that Haven would have someone to chase.

She loved it, almost too much! Whenever we rounded a bend Haven tried to cut the corner inside the course flags – she wanted to intercept the runner we were chasing. I repeatedly had to remind Haven to follow the rules but she didn’t want to hear it. 🙂 Every turn we’d lose 5-10 feet on the guy ahead of us since I’d have slow up to pull Haven outside the marker flags, but then we’d hustle to regain the lost ground.

At the 1 mile mark I was shocked to see 6:20 on my watch! Haven was definitely doing her part and it was fun to still have the leader in sight although I knew it wouldn’t last. Down a slight hill the course turned off into a wooded section of singletrack for a 1/4 mile before heading out and around the beach playground. Here Haven kept trying to stop for a drink in the large puddles of water pooling in the sand. I obliged her at one of them and she tried to lie down in the water to cool off! Sorry Haven but we have to finish the race first!

After the beach we ran along a dirt road and then onto a paved loop that carried us through the park’s campground. We were still close to the #2 runner at the 2 mile mark – our second mile was run at a 6:30 pace! I was getting pretty excited but I also knew that one or both of us were going to hit the wall soon.

It wound up being Haven; shortly after the second mile we started losing contact with the guy ahead of us as Haven no longer had the energy to pull my weight. Running is hard when my dog isn’t helping! Haven and I ran side-by-side for the next half mile as her leash was now slack – she was just trotting but I was trying to run as hard as I could. Dogs were born to run; humans, not so much. 🙂

With about half a mile to go as we approached a long hill Haven began to fall behind. Going up the hill we reversed roles as I found myself trying to pull Haven along! I tried yelling “RABBITS!!” to her, a word that usually gets her all spooled up (she LOVES to chase rabbits) but she was to tired to care. Finally at the top of the hill we had just a 1/4 mile to go and I still couldn’t get her to pull even with me.

Even though I knew we were losing time quickly, this wasn’t my race – Haven was every bit a part of this effort and it wouldn’t be fair to speed up and drag her to the finish. I did keep the pace fast enough to maintain some tension – I figured I might as well help her out a bit without pulling so hard as to bunch the harness up around her head.

Finally in the last 100 yard grassy home stretch I tried another “RABBITS!!” but Haven was done, so we maintained our pace to the finish for a very satisfying 3rd place overall. Better yet was our time: 20:17! That was the second-fastest 5K I’ve ever run in my life, even though I had some help. My high school PR was 20:08 and my next-best teenage run was 21:13. Haven is my hero!

Seriously, Haven was the hardest-working dog at the race. Both runners who finished ahead of us had humans that were much more fit than I am while their greyhound-mix dogs were running alongside on a slack leash; i.e. the guys who beat us did so without the canine assistance that I needed. Some other dogs behind us were certainly pulling their owners, but at 195 pounds I was probably the heaviest human cargo to be mushed by any dog. Those greyhounds couldn’t have outrun Haven if I was dragging them down!

Post-race food was great – bagels, cookies, candy and cider for the humans and water and doggie biscuits for the canines. Naturally Haven got to eat first before I took a crack at the goodies as we watched the rest of the field finish with the song “Who Let the Dogs Out” blaring on repeat over the loudspeakers.

After everyone finished we were treated to a demonstration of frisbee dogs by Pawsitive Vybe‘s professional dog trainers Apryl Lea and Ron Sutton.  Spectacular show!  Six dogs (IIRC) displayed their talents and some of them were insanely good leapers and blazing runners.

Following the frisbee demo was the awards ceremony.  Some very nice handmade dog beds were raffled off and for the third year in a row, I didn’t win one.  One guy that did win a bed and a free pair of shoes was Ron Durham who drove all the way from the east side of Michigan.  The reason I mention Ron is because he adopted his golden retriever Kasey thanks to reading my blog!

Despite our 3rd place overall finish Haven and I wound up taking 2nd in my age group as the guy we’d been chasing for two miles is in my bracket.  In fact the overall winner Joel Bierling – who also won in 2005 and 2006 – is in my age group, too.  Men 30-35 were representin’ at the Doggie Dash!

There was no way I could’ve caught either of those fast runners, but in retrospect I probably could’ve helped Haven and I get a faster time if I’d managed Haven’s workload more effectively.  For the first mile there was nothing I could do but hang on for the ride, but mile 1.5 through 2.0 I should’ve quickened my pace a tad to ease the drag on Haven; that way she may have sustained her energy long enough to keep the both of us on the tail of the #2 finisher for another half mile until finally running the last half mile with a slack leash and not having to pull her.

Nevertheless, we ran an awesome race, had a ton of fun, and we’re already looking forward to the 2008 Doggie Dash!

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#35 – Winter is Near at the Harvest Hustle 5K

19 October 2007

Saturday, October 13 was a crisp morning, perfect for the upcoming Harvest Celebration in downtown Lowell. The opening act for the event was the Harvest Hustle 5K and I was signed up to race. 2007 was the 3rd annual running of the 5K and given that the course goes right past my house, I had to take part! Ironically I was completely unaware of the race for its first year, and last year I finally learned of it just two days prior so I merely spectated.

Complications began even before race day – Amanda was going to need our only car to volunteer with Vicky’s Pet Connection to assist at a Feral Cat Trap-In so I had to walk to the race! No big problem since the start was just a half mile away; in fact I jogged there to warm up. I did have to wear pants and a jacket in the chilly 40-degree air, which I left in my SWAG bag under a volunteer’s watchful eye at the registration area. Thanks!

While picking up my race bib I ran into Roger Bonga, a fellow Lowell resident but a much faster one – he’s a talented triathlete that I’ve seen at several 5Ks this year. He jokingly asked me if I was prepared to win; being a small race I was wondering if I could win my age group but as I would later find out, speedy Roger is in my age group… Doh!

By the time we started my hands were already painfully cold, but the rest of me felt pretty loose. The race begins with a half-mile straightaway due east into the rising sun before turning north to head up a steep, 80-foot-elevation hill. How cruel! But how fun, too. I passed three on the hill, the same hill I’ve run repeats on in the past for training. As I crest the hill I’m shocked to see Amanda standing at the corner with a camera! I guess she decided to be a bit late to volunteer so she could take a photo; I obliged her with a smiling wave.

West down the backside of the hill, which isn’t as steep, we then turn north for another long stretch through the old neighborhood of downtown Lowell. My hands were going numb already, but at least my brain and my legs were working. I realized that we were well past a mile – there weren’t any mile markers in this race – and I had no idea how fast I was going. At the end of the north-bound stretch is a small dirt road cul-de-sac for a turn-around. I spotted Roger solidly in third place; I was somewhere around the top 10.

Near this turn-around I was passed by a very young teenager and another guy about my age, and I could hear the breath and footsteps of a woman right on my tail. Heading south now I recalled on the course map that we should be turning west into a cemetery. The two ahead of me run straight, and I ask the lady if we’re supposed to turn. She confidently states that we should continue straight ahead and I figure she’s right; after all, who routes a road race through a cemetery when a neighborhood street runs right alongside?

Back at the next cross street the two ahead of me turn east, but by this point I know that we should be going west. I yell out to those two that they’re going the wrong way and they join the lady and me going the correct direction. I noticed that the volunteers who had been at that intersection directing runners on the way out had since disappeared. Later I learned that one runner went the wrong way and turned his 5K into a 4-miler… no fun.

The teenager, the guy, and the lady all decide it’s time to leave me in their wake. I still had no clue what pace we were holding but I was definitely feeling tired; I had to be close to max speed. The threesome had gained about 20 feet on me as we turned south onto the final long stretch, another half-mile street going due south. There was one more turn to the east but the finish line I knew had to be less than 100 feet after that turn, so finally I knew that there was just half a mile left to go.

I decided to push my luck early; usually I put in a strong finishing kick over the last 200 yards but this time I accelerated with the half mile yet to go and just hoped that I wouldn’t flame out. Within 100 yards I had regained the 20 feet to the threesome; once I pulled even I actually sprinted a bit to put some distance on them in the hopes that I would demoralize them rather than inspire them to hang with me!

Apparently my tactic worked – the sound of their footsteps faded and I was still feeling strong enough for a little kick to the finish. Just before hitting the intersection I went all out and leaned into the turn. Facing the finish line clock I was shocked to see the first two digits read “20”… no way! My previous PR was 21:07 back in March. Reflexively I sprinted the last 20 yards, glancing at the clock to confirm a new personal best of 20:56!!!

The lady finished a few seconds behind me as the first overall female, so I didn’t get “chicked” by anyone this time. When I saw her later walking a cute golden retriever, I went over to say hi to both of them and chatted for a bit. I told Tammy (the woman) and Gracie (the dog) about my plans for running the Bailey’s Doggie Dash 5K on October 20th with my dog Haven, and Tammy sounded quite interested so hopefully I can introduce Haven to Gracie this weekend. 🙂

Post-race food hit the spot: poppyseed muffins and apple cider. After hanging around to watch the rest of the runners and walkers finish, the organizers still hadn’t posted results. A volunteer informed me that they wouldn’t be posting results until later in the week on their website, but I wanted to at least confirm that I’d just run a PR. She agreed to check my time and confirmed the 20:56, but was very secretive about the results sheets, making me turn away while she looked them over. Weird.

Nevertheless, I had just run a PR despite not knowing my splits and having to conquer a big hill on the course. My other 5Ks this year have all been flatter, yet I ran this one the fastest! I’m just happy to have finally arrived under the 21-minute barrier.

The race was definitely fun – the local setting had some huge appeal, yet the organization left a lot to be desired. First, we started from inside the finishing chute, unnecessarily compressing the field. The roads weren’t closed to traffic, which was fine since nobody was out driving, yet a few runners and I did have to dodge a volunteer driving a gator cart driving in the middle of the street! Come on.

Of course the worst was that there were no volunteers directing traffic at several critical turns. Luckily even though most of the field (including myself) ran around instead of through the cemetery, the distance and terrain were the same so it made no difference. However, one runner missed another un-staffed turn and it wound up costing him an age group win.

After all of the participants had finished, it was another 30 minutes before the overall and age group winners were announced. How could it take them so long in a race with just 50 runners of widely-varying ability? They should’ve been able to post results in real-time as we finished. This race doesn’t use timing chips and has no need to, but I’ve run other races without chips that were scored quickly and easily.

I’ll certainly be back next year; I can’t pass up a race that runs past my house! Hopefully the organizers will work out their kinks and not continue to make rookie mistakes in the fourth running of the race. Once the brief ceremonies were over I had to jog back home, including running up that dang hill again! My legs were pretty beat by the time I staggered up my driveway, but I wasn’t done.

You see, I had to go join Amanda to help volunteer at the Trap-In. She had the car, which means I had to ride my bicycle on race-weary legs! It was brutal. 11 miles into a strong headwind the entire way. To make matters worse I forgot to check my tires and three miles into the ride I decided to add some pressure since the air was pretty low. My stupid portable bike pump broke and let all the air out instead! I had to force the pump onto the valve (it wouldn’t lock and seal) and manhandle some air back into the tires, which ended up being softer than before. A ride that would normally take me 45 minutes at a comfortable pace lasted over an hour. But I made it safe and sound, we raised lots of money for dogs and cats, and I was able to ride in the car at the end of the day.

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#32 – Fun and Frustration at The Bridge Run 5K

15 September 2007

Continuing my quest for a 20-minute 5K, I spent the morning in downtown Grand Rapids to race in The Bridge Run. The event sports both a 5K and a 10-mile run with most of the fast runners racing the longer distance, but that was fine with me. Under clear blue skies and unseasonably cool 45-degree temperatures the 10-milers lined up at 8am for the start of their race. I watched from the sidewalk since the 5K folks started at 8:10 and it was fun to see the speedy runners up close – you know, the ones who can run almost a 5:00 pace for 10 miles!

Soon enough it was 8:10am and I was running due north through downtown. I’m still no expert at pacing myself so I could only hope that I was hitting the 6:30 pace that I was targeting. The entire first mile is a straight shot north along a closed road, so it was a neat experience to run for so long in the same direction without having to navigate any obstacles like curbs, intersections, cars, etc. Unfortunately I never spotted the 1 mile marker so I couldn’t gauge my pace, but I later learned that it was at the turnaround.

Heading south now, the route carried us back along the road a ways before veering west across the 6th Street bridge and then down along the riverfront pathway. The mile 2 marker was at the entrance to the waterfront where I arrived at 13:50, a very disappointing 6:55 pace. I tried to speed up but my body wouldn’t have it – either I can’t run any faster, or the preceding two miles at that pace had ingrained that speed into my system. Shortly after the 2 mile marker an acute side stitch manifested itself and I got that fizzy/weezy feeling in my lungs. I was pushing as hard as I could.

Finally the finishing stretch came into view – it was about 100 yards of brick-paved street with barricades just like a big race despite there being just 700 runners combined in the two races. Stepping on to the bricks I accelerated into a finishing kick and noticed that I was gaining ground rapidly on the guy a hundred feet ahead of me. Involuntarily my legs flew into a full sprint (yes, I’m competitive) and I passed him just ten feet from the finish line. While that final kick was satisfying, seeing the clock read 21:33 was very disappointing.

For the time being I tried not to worry and focused on the food – a post race spread of 100% organic sustenance! I ate half an orange, an energy bar, two fruit-leather-type strips, an organic soda, and some water and enjoyed every bite and every sip. Organic food always seems to sit well with my stomach and taste buds! I didn’t have much time to enjoy it though as the elite 10-mile runners were due to finish soon and I wanted to grab my camera from the car to get some photos. I wound up jogging the half mile to and from the parking lot and made it to the corner of the home stretch just as the race winner, 2001 Michigan Runner of the Year Kyle Baker, cruised past. I hurriedly yanked the camera out of its case and managed to snap a shot just after Baker crossed the line as the #2 runner pulled into view.

I hung out at the finish for a while watching a couple co-workers finish the 10-miler while I chatted with another acquaintance. After a while I wandered around the food tents just taking in the crisp, sunny morning and watching more runners. Then my frustration set in as I thought about my race. In March I ran a 21:07 5K but since then have run four races at 21:26, 21:37, 21:45, and now today 21:33. I was hoping that today’s cooler weather would help, but apparently such speed was not in the cards for me. Once they posted the results I was even more vexed – I just missed winning my age group by 10 seconds! It’s not very often that I have a chance to win anything in a running race and this one had certainly been within reach.

Well, I tried. I have to wonder, though: 1) Couldn’t I have run 10 seconds faster? 2) Will I ever approach 21 minutes again? 3) Will I ever reach my 20 minute goal? 4) Did running a marathon a month ago slow me down? Hopefully all those can be answered with “yes”. In the meantime, it looks like I’ll be doing more speedwork…

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#29 – Fallsburg Trail Marathon

19 August 2007

Although I’ve been focusing on shorter races this year, I couldn’t pass up the chance to run a trail marathon in my backyard! The Fallsburg Marathon uses the same roads and trails that I train on, including the two covered bridges of my “explore the countryside” trek in April. In fact that countryside 16-miler was my longest run of the year until two weeks ago when I decided I better gauge my fitness for the marathon by doing another 16 mile run. I decided I was fit enough to finish a trail marathon, but definitely not with a fast time – I estimated a finish time of between 5 and 6 hours.

Runners feeling fresh and having fun at the start of the Fallsburg Marathon.

The weather couldn’t have been better! It was sunny and 55 degrees at the start, warming to an overcast 70 degrees later in the afternoon. The Fallsburg Marathon started and finished at Fallasburg Park (yes, they’re spelled differently and no, I don’t know why!) It was a rather small event despite offering three race distances – marathon, half-marathon, and an 8K with about 20-40 runners in each event – but nobody was complaining about the low turnout. In fact, I thought it was more enjoyable with its laid-back and extra-friendly atmosphere. Most runners were local and I was probably the most local of them all, but a few runners were from out of state – I met representatives of Wisconsin, Kansas, and even California!

 

Crossing the Flat River – the field in the background was the home stretch before the finish.

The SWAG was pretty sweet, too – as a full marathon runner I received a t-shirt, a hooded pullover sweatshirt, and instead of a traditional finisher’s medal I was handed a bath towel printed with the words “Fallsburg Marathon Finisher” – very cool! The 8K race was dubbed the “Wimpy” to poke fun at the runners who declined to go 13.1 or 26.2 but the 8K’ers got the coolest t-shirt, featuring Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons.

Crossing the Fallasburg Covered Bridge – this was the second loop, thus no other runners nearby.

Within the first 1/4 mile all racers found themselves crossing the Fallasburg Covered Bridge and then staring at a long climb on the paved road. At mile 2.5 was the first aid station which also served as the turn-around for the 8K runners – for them it was almost all uphill for the first half and then downhill on the return. It wasn’t until mile 4 that pavement gave way to dirt road for the next three miles.

Descending a long hill enroute to crossing the Flat River.

This dirt road section was quite flat until just after crossing White’s Covered Bridge, where a towering hill loomed in front of us. I chose to walk up it and was able to keep pace with most of those were maintained a running stride.

Crossing the White’s Covered Bridge just before tackling a major climb.

Once at the top the hills didn’t stop – the surface switched to pavement again for a little over a mile but there were two large hills to tackle during that stretch. Lots of runners were surprised by the terrain; I kept hearing comments such as “I thought Michigan was flat!”

The unusually large rolling hills of rural west Michigan!

Finally after 8+ miles of running we finally turned off-road onto the trails! I had maintained a very constant 10:00 pace over the first 7 miles and it started slipping to an 11:00 pace by mile 10, which I held through the trail section and into the start/finish where I crossed the 13.1 mile mark in 2:19, good for a 10:37 first half pace. That was about what I expected; however what I hadn’t expected was that my heart rate was about 150-160 during that time. I should’ve been at 150 or below, ideally 140, at such a slow pace; in fact I’ve done some training runs at a 9:00 pace where I maintained a 150 HR, so I was a bit concerned.

An example of the beautiful trails that were part of the marathon course.

The concern was apparent at mile 14 when Amanda did a video interview of me running while she drove alongside in the car. I can be heard saying “I’m kinda tired” after warning Amanda to watch out for the mailbox that she almost hit! Filming and driving simultaneously can be difficult! Amanda had a busy day herself as she met me on the course at least a dozen times to snap some photos and even serve as my support crew when necessary.

Cruising along the North Country Trail about three hours into the race.

Just before mile 15 I hit the trails again, this time the section North Country Trail that I’ve run dozens of times in the past, especially with my dogs. It would’ve been fun to have had the dogs to keep me company but as it was, the next three miles went by rather quickly thanks to my familiarity with the trail. I was definitely slower, keeping an 11:00-12:00 pace (by running a 10:00 pace and taking occasional walking breaks) through mile 18.

Walking for a bit to recover some energy for the stomach and the legs.

However, I was feeling very fatigued so I decided to walk the entire mile between 18 and 19 – it helped, but not as much as I’d hoped and I was beginning to really struggle. I ran a bit after mile 19 but my stomach felt nauseous and my legs were extremely painful, probably due to the swelling of being on my feet for so long. I staggered for a couple miles and saw my hopes of a sub-5:00 marathon disappear, and soon again a 5:15 finish became unrealistic. Miles 21-23 were the worst as I was unable to drink much and my legs began to stiffen up.

Feeling pretty crappy as I shuffle along.

Around mile 24 I decided on another extended recovery walk and this time it did wonders for me! I jogged down that very first hill I’d climbed some five hours earlier and before embarking on the last 1.2 miles of trail, I was greeted by some barking – Haven and Beacon! During our earlier rendez-vous Amanda and I arranged for her to pick up the dogs and when I met Amanda at mile 25 I traded my water bottle for a leash that had Haven attached to it!

The volunteers did a great job marking the trail with chalk dust.

Excitedly she dragged me down the trail and her “assistance” felt pretty good! As soon as we were far enough from the road I let her off leash to go sprint the trails and wade in the river. I’d recovered enough to maintain a 10:00 pace over the last 1.2 miles and even managed to pass a runner in the last half mile. I put Haven back on the leash – she may have towed me the first time, but I had to do the pulling across the finish line as Haven tried to socialize with spectators, Amanda and Beacon among them. We crossed the line in 5:31, “good” for 19th out of 22 marathon runners. At least I wasn’t last!

Crossing the finish line with Haven in tow!

Boy was I worn out but there was still plenty of food left – it reminded me of a picnic, with hot dogs, grilled chicken, watermelon, pop, water, popsicles and even a cake! I chilled for a while with Amanda and the dogs, snacking on some of the grub and thanking the race director and the volunteers. What a fun day! I was really looking forward to spending the rest of the evening on the sofa!

It felt great to get an epic long run under my belt for this year. Clearly I was under-trained but I knew that going in; however, I was surprised at the effect. I’m not sure why my heart rate was so high, but my stomach and legs weren’t used to having to function for so long under so much stress, and that’s just what a long run is supposed to prepare you for.

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#28 – The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

11 August 2007

Deep in the heart of central Michigan farm country is Sleepy Hollow State Park, a splendid network of trails surrounding Lake Ovid. A hundred or so scantily-clad folks congregated here this morning, drawn here by The Legend. The legend of Ichabod Crane? The headless horseman? How about a trail run?

Why yes, these people were runners, searching not for a lost head (although some would argue otherwise!) but rather a win, a personal best, or just an enjoyable run through the woods. I joined the crowd at the start line despite waking up late (6:00 am) for the one-hour drive, showing up with 15 minutes to spare. The Legend is actually two races: a 5-mile trail run and a 10-miler that begins ten minutes later. This race is hosted by Running Fit, the same company that organized the Road Ends trail run that I ran earlier this spring.

I was tempted to run the 10 mile edition since it scenically circumnavigates Lake Ovid but with the Fallsburg Marathon coming up next weekend I didn’t want to overdo it. My goal today was simply a 40-minute 5-miler, just as I’d done at Road Ends. Things started off pretty well as my first mile passed by in a surprisingly fast (for me) 7:14 and although I was feeling good, I knew that this was a bit too quick. Sure enough, mile 2 arrived at a perfect 8:00 pace and I concentrated on maintaining my rhythm on the winding dirt trails.

Compared to the hilly and rocky trails of Road Ends, the trails here at The Legend were much flatter (with one big hill) and features countless sharp turns and exposed tree roots. In fact I did stumble twice but managed to stay upright. My face also took a couple blows from overhanging tree branches and I had to duck dozens of others – I noticed that my shorter competitors did not require such maneuvering! My lower back is a bit sore now, presumably from all of the bending to duck the attacking leaves.

But that is what makes trail running so much fun! Mile 3 went by at a 8:07 pace but I was feeling very fatigued at this point. I never figured out why – perhaps the poor night’s sleep, or running five miles yesterday, or starting out too fast, or maybe the heat of a warm, humid morning? All of the above? Well it doesn’t matter during the race – no excuses – and by this time I was getting passed quite regularly, about a dozen times in all. I knew I’d slowed down a bit, but was appalled to see mile 4 arrive at a 8:50 pace!

What a downer. I was going to need a sub-8:00 final mile to break 40 minutes and I was still feeling like crap. It’s frustrating… I tried to speed up and I just couldn’t. Coming down the home stretch I did my best to turn on a finishing kick but that last mile proved to be too slow and I crossed the line at 40:20.

Results aren’t online yet but they were posted at the race – I finished 25th overall, 21st male, and 4th in my age group. I think there were about 50 runners in the 5 mile. The overall winner was Ian Forsyth, a former Michigan Runner of the Year who dominates most races he enters, and he finished in 27+ minutes! A 5:31 pace! I don’t think I can even run one mile at that speed!

Despite missing my time goal, it was still a great race. The trails were a ton of fun and there was a great spread of post-race food. Better yet, not only was my wife Amanda there but also my newlywed brother Ryan and his wife Megan, plus her mom Sue and her little dachshund Mini. I actually had a cheering section! Megan grew up in the area and used to work at Sleepy Hollow during high school. We had fun chatting in the shade as we watched the finishers from both races cross the finish line and occasionally indulged Mini with a bite or two of some of the food. 🙂

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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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#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.)