Last year I hoped to participate in the Martian Invasion of Races in Dearborn, MI for my first time. The race was going to take place in April and I signed up for the 26K Milky Way Combo – the 5K followed by the half marathon. I deferred when the race couldn’t take place due to COVID, then the race turned virtual this year when it still couldn’t be held in person. We were given a window of May 1-8 to complete the virtual race and I went for it on the first day since I had 22 miles on my 50K training schedule. I typically don’t get too excited about virtual races because they feel uneventful to me, but it turned out to be a good way to break up my long run.
Saturday, May 1st was a great day for the run. I chose to start a little after 7am since I would be out there for several hours. The early start would also help me avoid some of the wind that would pick up gradually throughout the day. It was approaching 40 degrees and sunny with barely any wind to start – perfect running weather for me! I was comfortable in a long sleeve shirt and shorts with gloves for half of the run.
Stony Creek Metropark is one of my favorite spots and it was a great place to stage this adventure. I could run continuously and wouldn’t have to worry about stopping for traffic. Plus, I could park in a spot where I had access to a real bathroom and I could stop at my car between races to swap water bottles.
Between the 5K and half marathon I would rack up 16.2 miles. I could sandwich my races between 2.9 miles to warm up and 2.9 miles to cool down in order to hit my goal of 22 miles for the day. A loop around Stony’s main path is six miles, so the warm up and 5K added up perfectly. I chose to run a counterclockwise loop so I would finish with a flat stretch for the final mile of the race. I completed the warm up, stopped my watch, recorded those miles as one segment, then started fresh for the 5K. I didn’t want to race all-out and potentially ruin my legs for the rest of the run but I wanted to give it a little extra effort. A 7:00 pace is about the fastest I’ve run for a 5K when I’m in peak shape for speed, which I am not right now. I thought it would be nice if I could at least run a little under an 8:00 pace. I haven’t been doing any kind of speedwork and didn’t know what I could manage. I pushed myself and worked hard enough to be really happy with the results. I got faster throughout the run and ran a negative split. I may have thought the virtual experience would feel insignificant, but it lit enough of a fire for me to find that I actually can hit some faster paces than I have lately.
I took a bathroom break, went to the car to swap from water to a sports drink, and took a picture with my 5K medal.
After the brief downtime it was time to start the half marathon. I had no intention of “racing” it or aiming for any kind of pace. It would make up the bulk of my training run and bring me to a total of 19 miles by the end. I didn’t want to do anything risky that would make me want to quit before finishing the full 22 miles. I had mapped a route that would change things up a little rather than just running the 6-mile loop a couple times and then some. This time I went clockwise around the loop and branched off about a mile and a half in to head up the road along the golf course. That took me to the trails where I ran a mostly flat and easy stretch out to a dirt road. Sometimes the dirt roads can be sloppy and filled with potholes. I was thankful to start on a stretch that was smooth and in good shape. Shortly after I left the park I crossed paths with my friend Jeff who was running the opposite direction. That lifted my spirits for a little bit because I haven’t seen him for a while. I turned onto another dirt road that runs along the north side of the main part of the park. There are some rolling hills on the dirt roads that kept things interesting but didn’t beat me up too much. As I approached the end of that road the surface got to be pretty rocky. Whenever cars drove by on that stretch they kicked up a lot of dust which was kind of annoying. I was happy when I reached the entrance back into the park and hit the paved path again. I continued my clockwise loop until I branched off to run up the road to the nature center. That out and back stretch was good for adding a few extra miles. Sometimes that part can be a bit of a grind for me, and I really felt it when I turned around to head back and noticed the wind for the first time that day. It wasn’t too strong but it was enough to make things more challenging for a good chunk of my remaining miles.
I helped break the miles up a little bit by looking forward to food every couple miles. Since I had already run six miles before starting the half marathon, I ate a Clif Shot Blok to start. I used those for a while before switching to mini Honey Stinger Waffles for the rest of the run. The cool temps kept me from getting too thirsty and my 21 oz. bottle with Nuun gave me electrolytes and kept me hydrated. It seems like I usually go through periods during long runs when my stomach gets a little bothered, but fortunately anything I felt faded after a bit.
I ran an effort that felt sustainable and wasn’t aiming for a specific goal but I knew I should finish the half marathon in less than two hours. I thought it would be nice to be around 1:55-1:56 so I was satisfied when I finished in 1:54:25. My pace varied anywhere from 9:10 for one mile, my stretch on the trail, to 8:28, a mile when I had a pretty steep downhill stretch. It seems like an 8:42 pace is my most common sweet spot for long runs, so I was right on track with my 8:43 average for the half. 19.1 miles done! It was time for another stop by the car. Another water bottle swap and a picture with my 13.1 medal.
This time I had to stretch a bit before I got rolling again. I couldn’t raise my right leg very high without cringing and had to spend some time trying to work that out. I just had 2.9 miles to go! It was a rough go for the first few steps but got a little better. I went out 1.5 miles then back on a stretch that is mostly flat. The wind had me feeling cooler to the point that I debated pulling my gloves out again but I survived. I dragged a little more for the final miles and the swearing began, but I still held a decent pace. It was a major win because even though I was feeling justifiably wrecked as I finished 22 miles, nothing really hurt.
Success! I completed two races and a 22-mile training run! I’ve believe I’ve maxed out at 20-mile runs when training for marathons so this was the longest I’ve ever run during training.
I figured I should have some kind of celebration. I’ve been meaning to check out Bakehouse 46 in downtown Rochester for a while. I needed to replenish a lot of calories and eating some donuts and cupcakes seemed like a good way to do so!
I let Butters and Rusty examine my blow-up alien when I got home.
Rusty wasn’t about to let an alien invade his territory. It didn’t take long for him to defeat it with puncture wounds to the head.
Although I’d still really like to run a Martian race in person one of these years, it was actually kind of fun doing the virtual race. A 22-mile long run could have been overwhelming on its own so it was nice to break it up and have a few goals to achieve within the bigger goal. Now the biggest goal still lies ahead of me on June 12th. I’m hoping that my body will continue to cooperate so I can successfully run 50K during the Twilight Zone 6-hour race. Successfully completing this big adventure gives me hope that I will pull it off!