My latest adventure was three days in a row of racing on the trails at Stony Creek Metropark in Shelby Township, MI. When I went to the Brooksie Way expo in September, there were fliers with a discount code for the Turkey Trail Trot and LeftOvers Half Marathon. I stuck them on the fridge to keep them fresh in my mind. Since I haven’t been training for anything specific lately, I’ve been doing a whole bunch of races just for fun. I’ve been trying to do some races that have been on my radar that I haven’t done before. Although I usually go out for a run on Thanksgiving, I have never done a turkey trot race on the actual holiday. It was time to change that this year!
I thought the “run eat run” challenge sounded like fun, so I signed up to do a 10K on both Thursday and Friday. Move-It Fitness gives people the option to do 2.5 miles, 4 miles, or a 10K on both days. If you do the same distance both days, you get a medal each day plus an additional medal for the challenge. I didn’t care so much about collecting more medals, but I thought it would be something fun and different to do. I went to Tim Horton’s a couple days before the race for the early packet pickup. They requested canned goods to donate to the Rochester Area Neighborhood House, so I took a couple bags with me.
Stony Creek Metropark is only 10 minutes from home, so that made things nice and easy on Thanksgiving morning. The race started at 9:00, and I got there a little after 8:00. There was a pretty big crowd, which makes sense since I’ve read that Thanksgiving is the biggest day of the year for running races.
I thought it was pretty interesting that the announcements and starting line directions were made without a microphone despite the size of the crowd. Trail races seem to be a bit more laid back than road races.
With 158 finishers in the 2.5-mile run, 210 in the 4-mile run, and 153 in the 10K, over 500 people participated. All of the races started at the same time, so they tried to organize people by pace. People aiming to run a 7-minute pace were told to line up at the front, and a woman stood at a spot to represent the cutoff point for that group. It was a chip-timed race, so the clock didn’t start for us until we crossed the line. People running an 8-minute pace went a couple minutes later, and I went with that group. Knowing that the trails are more challenging than roads and knowing that I had another day of racing coming up, I didn’t count on running sub-8 miles like I usually do for the 10K.
The start was a little challenging because people were so close together. Some parts of the trail at the beginning weren’t very wide. After watching one girl wipe out, I realized that I should back off the people in front of me so I had enough room to see the roots and patches of mud up ahead. I also realized that I should watch my footing carefully and look down pretty much the whole time. I run the trails at Stony every now and then, so I know that I need to be careful. It was even more necessary with all of the people around.
It was about 32 degrees at the start of the race, so it was a bit cool and I battled watery eyes for a while. Aside from a small patch in spots, there wasn’t any mud to worry about. There were a lot of leaves on the trails, and sometimes they could hide the roots and rocks underneath. I knew that I should be careful, especially on several downhill stretches where I got some crazy momentum. I kept hoping that I wouldn’t fall!
Apparently they change the direction of the race each year, and this year we went counterclockwise. We hit a stretch called “The Pines” about two miles into the race. I had never run there before and really loved it. The only downside was that it was truly a single-track section and I was right behind three people and their dog. The woman in front of me told me to let her know if I wanted to pass, but I said I was okay. I wasn’t really trying to race and didn’t think it would be a big deal. The trail winds and zig-zags constantly for about a mile, and there are very few spots that are wide enough to try to pass a group. Eventually I got a little frustrated by the slower pace and finally found a spot where I was able to pass. They were totally cool about it, but I didn’t feel like there was an earlier opportunity to pass.
Once I got out of that section, I had a little more space around me for a few miles. Then I came up on the people walking the 4-mile race. I had to be vocal about passing, and everyone seemed to be friendly and willing to move over. There were hills scattered throughout the run, and some of them were kind of tough. However, the earlier hills were nothing in comparison to what came between miles five and six. There was a hill on the way up to the *real* hill, so I was already winded before I got to the worst part of it. Although I didn’t stop to walk, it felt like I was shuffling along slow enough that it could have been considered a walk. That part was brutal. Like most of the uphill stretches, a nice downhill section followed. That made for a speedy finish, and my official time was 53:14.
They had water, bananas and some bite-size candy at the finish. I was surprised by the lack of food, but it WAS Thanksgiving and we’d have plenty of food later, so it was probably for the best.
I saw that I had placed first in my age group, so I asked a woman in charge if they had any age group awards. She said it was just for bragging rights. I was relieved that I didn’t need to stick around since I wanted to get home and get ready for the day.
As if one day of racing wasn’t action-packed enough, I went through the same routine the next day. The race started half an hour later and the crowd was much smaller. 36 people finished the 2.5-mile race, 51 did the 4-mile, and 47 did the 10K. That was 134 people on Friday versus 521 on Thursday. It was a few degrees warmer and the sun was out, so it was a pretty morning.
The race was not chip-timed and we didn’t start in waves, so I got up near the front. I pushed harder during the first mile than I had the previous day because I wanted my space. I didn’t want to get stuck behind anyone in “The Pines” like I had on Thursday, and therefore I expected my time to be faster. Not getting stuck and running faster were my two goals for the day. I didn’t want to start out so fast, but I figured I’d slow down once I had some space. That method worked, and it sure helped that there was a much smaller crowd as well. I still came up on the walkers right around the time when the biggest hills hit, and once again, they were very nice about making room for me to get through. The last hill still sucked, but I toughed my way through it. I flew along to the finish again, with a final time of 52:26. I was almost 50 seconds faster than the prior day, so I was happy. My time was good for first in my age group again, and I was the second female overall thanks to such a small group for the 10K.
The color of my bib signaled that I had raced both days, so I received the additional medal for the challenge.
A woman at the end asked if I was coming back for the half marathon the next day. I said that I hadn’t planned on it and didn’t think I was conditioned for it. I haven’t been running consecutive days very often lately, let alone three days in a row on a challenging course.
In addition to the water, bananas, and candy they’d had on Thursday, on Friday they also had hot chocolate and cookies. I talked to a few other people who asked if I’d be back for the half marathon. I thought the two days in a row had been a good enough challenge, but the more people asked about the half, the more they put the idea into my head. By the time I got home, I decided that I’d sign up and go for it.
I knew that I was crazy as Saturday turned into another day of deja-vu. Back to the same parking lot around 8:30 for a 9:30 start. I picked up my bib and shirt, caught up with my friend Carmen who was (smartly) running just the one day, then I went back to the car to stay warm for a bit.
Saturday was actually pretty nice – around 46 degrees. There were a few moments of light rain before the start, but it was the warmest of the three days. Warm enough for me to go with shorts!
Saturday’s race was not chip-timed either, so I started near the front again. 111 people finished the half so it wasn’t too crowded. I started a little fast again to gain some space. I don’t like the feeling of running right on someone’s heels on the single-track portions, and I don’t want to think that I’m holding someone up behind me either. Once I had some space, I settled down to run a pace that felt more comfortable. I knew I should run as if it was a training run and not try to race – especially in the early miles.
In order to make the course long enough for a half, we branched off on one segment of the trail that we hadn’t run the other days. There was usually someone in front or behind me within the first 4-5 miles, but for a good chunk of the race I was on my own. That made it easy to run along at whatever pace I settled into.
I ran with my own bottle all three days, but utilized the aid stations this time for some water. I knew I wouldn’t place as the top female and didn’t really care about my time, so I always stopped to walk for a brief moment when I got the water. The brutal hill still sucked on the third day, but I got through the first loop of the course feeling pretty good. I was totally on my own as I started the second loop. At some point it began to rain a little bit, but luckily it didn’t last very long. When I got to “The Pines” I decided it was okay to stop and take a couple pictures. No one was coming behind me and my time didn’t matter anyway.
11.75 miles is when things got ugly. As I flew down a hill and rounded a corner, I wiped out. It happened so fast that I don’t know if I tripped over roots, slid on leaves, or just had bad footing. I swore as I went down and was a bit startled as I sat up to assess the damage. I had dirt all over my hands and my left knee, which hurt. I had a little bit of blood on my right hand, but it didn’t seem too bad. A guy I had just passed was coming into view, so I wiped myself off and started to walk. I didn’t really want to walk it in, so I tried to run and felt good enough. I got moving, knowing I could stop at an aid station soon. When the woman there shouted out to ask if I wanted water or Gatorade, I yelled back, “Band-Aids?” They didn’t have Band-Aids, but luckily one of the volunteers had one napkin in his pocket. I poured some water on my hand, wiped it off, and it seemed like the cut was pretty minor. I held the napkin over the cut the rest of the way just in case. I heard the guy call in an injury, and I reassured them that I was fine. The woman told me that someone else had just twisted an ankle. I was thankful that at least I hadn’t done that! She reminded me that I didn’t have far to go, and I carried on. I am extremely thankful for the awesome volunteers who supported this race.
Other than one guy, I hadn’t seen any people for at least five or six miles. While I had stopped for a minute or two, a couple people came along and passed me. I wasn’t concerned with “beating” people, but seeing them helped motivate me to get moving. I gained on them when we got to the last brutal hill. The three of us seemed to take a similar approach of running as much as we could, taking a break to walk, then trying to run again. We swapped places a couple times depending on who was walking or running. Eventually I tried to push myself to keep running, got to the downhill portion, and took off…hoping I wouldn’t wipe out again!
I finished strong with a time of 1:59:06. That was good for 6th female, and 19th out of 111. Although I didn’t have a real goal going into the race, I hoped that I’d finish within two hours. Even with the downtime thanks to the wipeout, I still pulled it off.
Here’s what the elevation looked like for two loops. My Garmin said that there was a total gain of 801 feet.
I went into the tent after the race, where I was thankful that they had hot chocolate and cookies again. I took some time to figure out what I’d done to myself. The blood on my hand was from a few minor scratches. The non-bloody injuries were the ones that hurt more. My knee was covered with dirt and didn’t look bad yet, but I knew it would get worse later. I realized that my right elbow hurt, so I rolled my sleeve up to reveal a scrape there. It wasn’t pretty, but I was hopeful that nothing was too bad.
I went back out and saw Carmen coming into the finish, so I took some pictures and cheered her on.
The top male and female runners received a free Metroparks pass for 2018. They didn’t have any other prizes, so I didn’t stick around too long after the race. After three days of racing, I was ready to get home and rest.
The day after the race, I’m surprised that I’m not more sore. I thought for sure that the uphill climbs and flying down the hills would beat me up. I think running on the softer trail surface really helped. I also think my wipeout injuries are helping to overshadow any soreness from the running. My knee hurt a bit on Saturday, but isn’t too bad now. It hurts if I touch it and I’m sure it will turn into a really ugly bruise in the next few days, but it doesn’t feel like I did anything serious. I have a variety of other scratches and bruises, and my upper right arm hurts and aches as if I got a tetanus shot. I know there’s always a greater risk of injury on trails. I’m just thankful that it happened on the last day with just over a mile left!
Despite finishing bruised and battered, I feel pretty accomplished following this 3-day experience. I’m glad I chatted with other runners who gave me the push to go for it. It seemed like a crazy idea at first to go for all three days, but I knew that others were going to do the same thing, and I reassured myself that I was capable of doing it as well. It gives me a confidence boost that maybe I can consider running a spring marathon – something I’ve been questioning lately. In the meantime, I’m having fun kind of winging it. I still might squeeze in a holiday race or two before the year ends.