I give full credit to my friend Lisa for getting me on board with this race. I told her to feel free to share info about any good races she sees and she certainly has done so. She shared a link to Move It Fitness’ Loopty Loop trail run a month before the race. People could sign up to run a 6.3-mile loop at Bloomer Park (in Rochester Hills, MI) for 4, 8, or 12 hours, or whenever they chose to stop. Lisa pointed out that they would have pizza and cake which immediately got our attention. One of their other races in June nearly drew us there for the same reason but we didn’t make that one. An easy way to attract me to a race is to offer good post-race food!
Loopty Loop hadn’t been on my radar because I thought I would either do a triathlon or swim/run race that weekend. Saving money has been a higher priority lately (but not enough to keep me away from racing altogether) and both of those races were far enough away to need a hotel. I would only get 3-6 miles of running out of those races and I had 16 miles on my training schedule for October’s Chicago Marathon. Loopty Loop would only be a few miles from home. I wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel, plus it would keep me on track with my running mileage. Lisa and I debated signing up until a week before the race. That’s when I had a 10-mile long run and decided to do part of the run at Bloomer to help me make a decision. Just after I left the park I saw Lori from Move It Fitness wearing this year’s Loopty Loop shirt. I figured it was a sign that I should go for it and Lisa and I finally committed to the race.
Since the park is so close to home, I stopped by the early packet pickup on Friday afternoon to get my bib and shirt.
Saturday, July 27th was the day of the race. The 12-hour runners started at 7am while people running 4 or 8 hours started at 8am. The race started and finished at the Hilltop Shelter where there was a pavilion with picnic tables and bathrooms. Although I wasn’t running an ultra (any distance that’s longer than a marathon) plenty of people were. It was a new atmosphere for me. Some people set up tents since they would be there all day. Some runners had support crews hanging out with them and the tents also provided a good place to swap gear or rest in between loops.
Everyone gathered on a sidewalk a few minutes before the start for a pre-race meeting. If there was a minute left before your time would run out you could still start another loop and have it count. In addition, there was a “one more mile” loop you could add at the end if you wanted more distance but not a full 6.3-mile loop. As we prepared to start our race, it was exciting to see a couple of the 12-hour runners come through as they completed their first loops. I’m sure they appreciated having such a large cheering squad!
It seemed like there was a really friendly, laid back vibe all around. Most people didn’t seem too concerned about starting near the front of the group. Since there was plenty of space and I was a little worried about the narrow trails getting congested, I figured it was wise to start ahead of the crowd.
As we took off into the woods there were a few stretches that were wide enough for people to pass fairly easily. However, most of the course was made up of flat, single track dirt trails. Within the first mile or so I passed a person or two and some passed me, but I was holding my own and it seemed like I had started in the appropriate spot. It was kind of cool to know that I was doing well, but I kept in mind that plenty of people were going to be running much further than I was going to and I’m sure they planned to take it easy. Right from the beginning I had the thought that maybe this would be the day I discovered a new kind of event that I would really enjoy.
My breathing was a bit heavy for the first couple miles and I knew I should be careful. I didn’t want to get out of control too early. I only ran a couple miles that were faster than a 9:00 pace during this race and the first mile was one of them. Running on trails is completely different from running on roads. I don’t have any kind of goal pace like I do on the roads because there are so many twists, turns, climbs, and trip hazards. I just wanted to make sure I was running comfortably and that my breathing wasn’t too labored.
Aside from the fact that we were running multiple loops, this race was named appropriately because of all of the loopy turns we made along the way.
One woman passed me in the first mile or two and remained within my sight for a while. Sometimes I lost her in all of the twists and turns and I reminded myself that I needed to pay attention. It’s easy to mindlessly follow someone else during a race. When I couldn’t see her, I needed to make sure I was paying attention to the turns. The course was marked really well with flags and signs but I still had to make sure I wasn’t so lost in my own little world that I’d miss a turn.
I didn’t take any pictures while running the race, but here are a few glimpses of the trails from my run there a week earlier.
It was in the low 70s when our race started and my face was dripping for much of the first loop. I realized later that it stopped at some point. The humidity probably broke as the morning went on and it was actually a pretty nice morning for running. It really helped that nearly the whole course was in the shade.
The woman who was ahead of me gained enough distance that I was on my own for a bit. Eventually a couple of faster guys came along and I moved aside at an aid station so they could go ahead while I stopped for a few seconds to drink a cup of water. It was nice to have other people around and have someone to follow again. I made it through the first loop in 58:56. I had guessed that it might take around an hour per loop and I was right on track.
One great thing about running loops was having access to a bag drop area. After completing the first loop I ran just off the main path to my insulated bag with ice, swapped my half-empty bottle of GU Brew for a fresh cold bottle, then I took off again. 6.3 miles wasn’t enough for me to finish a full 21 oz bottle but it was nice to know that I wouldn’t run out if a grabbed a new bottle. I realized that the woman and the guys who had been immediately ahead of me took longer stops, so I was off on my own. I thought maybe there was the chance I was actually the lead female!
Although I came across some people to pass during the first loop who were probably doing the 12-hour race, it happened a lot more during the following loops. Some people were walking and some were jogging at a slower pace. Most people were really helpful and moved off to the side if they heard me coming so there would be enough room to pass. I usually tried to give people a heads up and ask if it was okay for me to come along and pass them on the left. I was very thankful and encouraging to the people I saw. I figured we were all doing something challenging and it’s nice to have that sense of camaraderie and know that we’re rooting for each other.
One thing I always worry about while running on trails is the risk of wiping out. I’ve done it a couple times and it’s no fun. I managed to come away from this race without hurting myself, but I did have one really close call when I nailed a root with my foot and thought for sure that I was going down. Somehow I managed to save myself but it got my adrenaline flowing for a few minutes. I kept telling myself over and over to pay attention and lift my feet. Still, I dragged my feet across some other roots and was lucky I didn’t fall when I took some awkward steps over a fallen tree.
Most of the course was flat aside from a couple of hills. Nothing too crazy, but one hill was a decent climb with some twists and it felt more challenging with each loop. It’s probably for the best that we weren’t warned about those hills ahead of time!
I had stopped for water at one aid station during the first loop and made a point of stopping at two of them during the following loops. I had plenty of GU Brew in my bottle but it was good to change it up and get some water too. I stopped for maybe 5-10 seconds to drink and made sure I threw the cups in the garbage boxes they had provided. It wasn’t like a road race where I could toss the cup to the side of the road and someone would come sweep it up. No garbage left behind on the trails! There were some treats for people to eat at the aid stations as well, but for my shorter distance I was fine with the Clif Shot Bloks in my pockets. I’m sure the food was helpful for the ultrarunners.
I came through my second loop with a split of 59:50 – only about a minute slower than my first one. I was pretty consistent if you account for my bottle swaps, water stops, and dodging a few more people the second time around. I still felt strong as I started my third loop. I kept toying with the idea of continuing for a fourth loop. I had a feeling that I was the lead woman for the 4-hour race and was pretty excited about that. I was feeling good and was really happy with how my run was going. Going into the race I told myself that I was there to do a long run. I wasn’t there to race. If I felt fine for two loops, I’d continue for a third and maybe go for the extra mile at the end. That would bring me to nearly 20 miles, which would already be four miles longer than my scheduled long run. I knew that it would require four loops to win the race, but I also knew that pushing to 25.2 miles would be a bad idea. I haven’t been battling any injuries lately and I’d like to keep it that way. Still…the thought was tempting. Toward the end of the third loop I could feel that my lower back was getting a little annoyed and knew I shouldn’t do anything stupid.
I finished my third loop in 1:01:24 and let a volunteer know that I was going out for the “one more mile” loop. I felt strong enough that I figured I’d fly through that. Then I realized that the mile loop was probably more challenging than any part of the main loop! There were some stretches with rocks and steep climbs that made me curse parts of the trail. I still finished strong and somehow I squeaked in with an 8:59 mile at the end.
I received a medal and chose a pair of finisher’s sunglasses.
Then I saw Lisa, who had done two loops and the extra mile. She’d had a good run as well and had been hanging out near the finish for a bit. I also got to meet Jessica in person for the first time – a friend from Instagram who does some awesome ultrarunning. She was going for five loops and was taking a break in between.
Lisa and I talked about our races and were very thankful to dig into the awesome cake. I was starving!
Towne Square Pizza arrived 20 minutes after I finished and it was delicious. I had several pieces and downed a couple bottles of water as well.
Lisa and I hung out for a while until I decided it was probably time to head home. I assumed I wouldn’t win anything since I didn’t do four loops, but thought I’d still stop to ask about the results. They told me that I was currently the top female until the others came in from their fourth loops. They confirmed that I probably wouldn’t get an award and was safe to leave, but if that changed they’d let me know. I let Geneva and Lori from Move It Fitness know how much I had enjoyed the race. The course was well-marked and easy to follow and I loved the whole experience.
I was pretty happy when I saw the official results the next day. My final time was 3:09:10 for 19.9 miles, which was an average pace of 9:30. Everyone who finished ahead of me completed four loops for a distance of 25.2 miles.
I was pretty curious how all of the numbers broke down in terms of participants and how far they ran. The 4-hour race had 55 finishers, the 8-hour had 22 finishers, and the 12-hour had 126. That was a total of 203 finishers. The 8-hour and 12-hour races were almost evenly split between men and women participants, but there were quite a few more women in the 4-hour race versus men.
In terms of distances covered:
4-hour – the top female ran 25.2, male ran 31.5
8-hour – the top female ran 37.8, male ran 50.4
12-hour – the top female ran 51.4, male ran 56.7
It’s pretty impressive to see how far so many people ran. There aren’t a ton of ultramarathons available around the area so I suppose this was a good opportunity for ultrarunners.
I said that maybe this day would be the day I’d discover a new kind of running event to love, and that was definitely the case. I really enjoyed this race. I’ve always said that I’m not prepared to consider an ultramarathon until I feel like I’ve mastered the marathon a bit more. I was solid through nearly 20 miles but I usually tend to hit some kind of wall soon after that distance. The whole atmosphere of this race was laid back and it was nice that I didn’t have expectations for my pace. I think this race should automatically go on my calendar for next year and hopefully I can aim for higher goals. Maybe I can prepare myself to go for four loops. Or maybe I’ll even be crazy enough to consider running longer? I’m not sure, but this event reaffirmed that I really enjoy endurance running. Many thanks to Lisa for informing me about this great race!