The pandemic kept me from racing for over a year and now I’m making up for lost time. Since I returned to in-person racing in mid-June, I’ve done five races in the last seven weeks! I’m trying to stay smart and listen to my body so I don’t push it too much. In the past it has worked well for me to cut back on hard weekday workouts in the summer and replace them with races during the weekends. Hopefully that method continues to work for me this summer.
The first time I ran the Loopty Loop Trail Run was in 2019. It was my introduction to the ultrarunning environment and I loved it. I ran the 4-hour race that year, which I did again this year, and the event also offered 8-hour and 12-hour runs. It was really inspiring to know that some people covered more than 50 miles. I was training for the Chicago Marathon at that point and had a 16-mile long run on my schedule. I ended up running 19.9 miles that day. My time hadn’t run out yet so I was tempted to run another loop. I thought that would be pressing my luck so I stopped. I found out I could have won the race if I had completed that final loop. I feel like I made the right decision that day but I also told myself I should return to the race the next year and go for the win. I had to wait a couple years to get back to it but my mission remained the same!
Saturday, July 24th was the day of the race. Once again, it took place on the trails at Bloomer Park in Rochester Hills, MI. I struggled with stomach issues for a couple days prior to the race and wondered if I would even make it there. I pushed through a 7-mile run one of those days and it was agonizing. I went to the park the afternoon before the race to get my shirt just in case I didn’t show up the next morning. Luckily I felt a little better when I woke up the morning of the race so I knew I had to give it a shot.
My last few races have had early starts and have been at least an hour’s drive from home. It was a treat to have a race that was only 10 minutes away with a 9:00 start. I finally got to sleep in! 9:00 is pretty late to start a race in the summer, but the 12-hour people started at 7:00 and the 8-hour people started at 7:30. The staggered starts helped keep things from getting too congested.
It rained pretty heavily before I left home but remained dry during my run aside from a moment of drizzle in the early miles. Rain probably would have felt better than what we got. It was in the 70s and very humid at the start. My friend Lisa was there with her husband and we talked in the parking lot for a few minutes before I went over to the pavilion. I stashed my insulated bag with several 21-oz. bottles under a picnic table in case it rained again.
One thing I love about looped courses is the ability to grab my own fresh bottles when I come back to the home base. Cups at aid stations are helpful but it works even better for me to carry my own bottles to make sure I drink what I want when I want. Although running multiple loops of the same course may seem mentally torturous, I’ve found that it actually works pretty well for me. We ran 6.3-mile loops last time and the loop was cut down to a 5K this time. I’m not sure I preferred one over the other because I seemed to be fine with both courses.
When it was time to line up for the start no one moved up to the front. I still feel weird lining up at the front but have learned that I actually belong there for some of these races! I have nerves at some races but I didn’t this time. I just knew it would be a long day and I’d do whatever I could. Time to head off into the woods to see how sloppy the trails were!
A few spots were okay but most of the course was pretty messy. The majority of the run was on single-track trails in the woods. Pretty early in the run we hit a stretch that twisted downhill. Between dodging roots, maneuvering a steep decline, and trying not to slide in the mud, it was dicey. There was a guy pretty close behind me and I stepped off to the side and told him to go ahead. I said that I knew I could wipe out at some point but hoped it wouldn’t be in the first five minutes! I came up behind people who were already out there doing the longer races and it got a little tricky trying to pass. Some people were great about moving off to the side and I really appreciated that. At times I just had to settle into a slower pace and be patient until I had a good chance to go around. There were some flat stretches that were wider, but some of those spots had so much water in the middle of the trail that it was best to stick to the edge on either side. There were a couple of super muddy spots where we were lucky to have a narrow stretch for getting around the mess. There was a segment that had us zig-zagging up a hill and I knew that wasn’t going to be fun for consecutive loops. At least it wasn’t muddy!
I came through the first 5K loop in 29:25 and the second in 30:01. It was definitely slower than I had hoped. With all of the mud plus the warm, humid conditions I knew I should lower my expectations. Part of me wondered if there was a possibility I could get to the marathon distance. Nine loops would get me to 27.9 miles. If we crossed the timing mat before the four-hour time expired at 1:00, we could still go out for a final loop that would count. If I got two loops per hour with a little time to spare, maybe I’d be able to squeeze in a ninth loop. It took me 59:26 for the first two loops and 59:48 for the second two loops. I knew I wasn’t building enough of a buffer and I needed to keep my two-loop time under an hour if I stood a chance.
Sometime during the third or fourth loop the guy who went ahead of me at the very beginning came up behind me. I just assumed he was lapping me. I got confused when he didn’t go flying ahead and our paces were kind of similar. Throughout the race there were moments where we kept swapping spots. When we chatted about our goals for the day he said he thought we had the same number of laps so far. I couldn’t understand how, but later I realized that our lap times were pretty close. Maybe I continued straight through the aid station at one point when he stopped, then he caught back up. I always felt bad if he was close behind me because I didn’t want to block him. I think that helped keep me moving faster than I would have gone otherwise. At certain sloppy stretches I’d move aside and let him go ahead. I told him I wasn’t good with the messy, technical spots. He said he was good with those parts and the hills. I said I was good with the flat straightaways! It seems like that’s where I’d end up ahead, then he’d catch up once the surface got iffy again. It probably helped keep both of us going by having someone around running a similar pace.
A couple hours into the race my stomach started to get annoyed. That typically happens as I continue to eat chews and drink my electrolyte drink. Most of the time the annoyance fades and then I’m fine. I questioned stopping at the bathroom after my fourth loop but thought the feeling would fade so I continued on. The feeling didn’t fade and I spent the whole loop just wanting to get back to the bathroom at the pavilion. That fifth loop took 32:12. I knew there was no way I would get a marathon in at that pace so it didn’t matter if I killed some time with a bathroom stop. That ate up a few minutes, plus I managed to jam my knuckle in the bathroom stall door which caused it to bleed. More time off the clock while I stopped to get a Band-Aid from a kind volunteer. Wouldn’t you know it – I didn’t wipe out on the trail the whole day yet I hurt myself in an even dumber way!
I felt a little better after stopping but it killed a chunk of time. By the time I came around after completing six loops it was past noon so it kept getting hotter too. My sixth loop took 38:11. I stopped to swap bottles every two or three loops and usually ran back out on the course pretty quickly after doing so. One of the times I stopped in the pavilion for a cup of cold water. A volunteer told me I should have some pickle juice since it helps with cramping. I knew I could probably use the extra salt so I downed a shot of it and cringed after doing so. Time for another cup of water to get rid of that taste! Sometime around noon a couple volunteers went to the top of the challenging hill and had popsicles for us. I took one the first time but passed the next few times. By then I didn’t really want anything!
The last two loops weren’t great. I think I spent half of the time groaning. I was so hot and I felt pretty miserable. I was on a mission though and I was determined to complete as many loops as the time would allow, even if I walked the last one. I questioned another bathroom stop as I started my final lap but chose to keep pushing through. I regretted that choice pretty quickly. As I ran down one of the hills, the hard landings jostled my stomach and I really wanted to stop again. I tried walking but it didn’t make me feel any better and it meant it would take me even longer to get to a bathroom. I tried to keep running!
I was really thankful that I know the park pretty well. I realized that the course took us past a section where I like to run the stairs for a good workout. There’s a building with a bathroom at the top of the stairs. I had no other bathroom options along the course so I was dying to get to those stairs. I was over four hours into the race at that point and I sure didn’t have the energy to run the stairs this time! What a great way to make a challenging day even harder. I veered off the course, trudged up, made it to the bathroom, then went back down the stairs to join the course right where I had left off. I felt funny about going off the course and I wanted to do things legitimately. It only added to my distance – it sure didn’t benefit my time!
At least that stop helped me survive the rest of the final loop. My slowest loop at that point had been 38:11, and my final loop took 44:07. I finished a total of eight loops to give me 24.8 miles in 4:29:32. Since I had completed a 25K after five loops, I received a keychain for that distance in addition to my medal.
I felt like crap when I finished. I found a picnic table in the pavilion and sat down hoping it would keep me from passing out. A volunteer asked if I needed anything and I noticed cups of Gatorade just out of reach. I asked if I could have one of those since I felt too wrecked to move over enough to grab it myself! I got up to get a towel from my water bottle bag and soaked it in the sink in the bathroom. I used it to try to cool my face and my neck. I think I felt worse after this race than I did when I ran 33 miles last month. That day was warm and humid as well, but I think it was worse this time. One of my weather apps said the real-feel was 90° when I finished.
Eventually I recovered enough to get a couple pieces of pizza and some cake. Then I asked if they were giving any awards for our race and Geneva, the race director, went to get a list of times from the timing company. Sure enough, I won! Nick, who I kept swapping spots with on the course, was the male winner. I was extra psyched when Geneva showed me that I had actually finished five minutes before him. I wasn’t just the top female – I was the overall winner too! Kind of cool! I was thankful that he helped push me out there and was glad he had won as well. We received duffle bags that were embroidered with the name of the race.
Here’s a look at my stats from the race:
The 4-hour race had 34 finishers. The 8-hour race had 30 finishers, with the top male covering 43.4 miles. 92 people were out there for 12 hours and a female covered the most distance with 58.9 miles!
Although the heat drained me and it was a brutal day, I was pretty excited that I won the race just like I had aimed to do! I was happy to finish 24.8 miles in those conditions and improve upon my 19.9 miles from the last time. I’ve never had to waste time with bathroom stops in a race before, but considering how bad I had felt the previous two days, I’m lucky that I even ran the race at all. The whole idea of having to add extra distance by running off the course and up those stairs yet still managing to win kind of cracks me up. It probably just shows that everyone must have struggled through those conditions. Although this technically wasn’t an ultra for me since I didn’t get past the marathon distance, I think it’s another race that shows me that I do pretty well with these long endurance events. Both this race and the Twilight Zone race where I ran over 50K last month were hosted by Move-It Fitness. They have a great community of people between those who are in charge, those who volunteer, and those who participate in the races. I keep seeing a lot of familiar faces at the races and it’s usually a very friendly group of people.
I’ve taken a couple days off after this race to recover. It seems like my body is getting used to the high mileage though. I’ve had a little bit of soreness but I haven’t struggled with the stairs at all and that’s usually an issue once I get this close to the marathon distance. I was only 1.4 miles short of a marathon!
Assuming my body recovers well enough this week, my adventure next weekend is probably going to be my craziest yet – a triathlon with 10 different legs. Run, bike, swim, run, swim, run, swim, run, bike, run. It should be really interesting to see how that goes!