Loopty Loop Trail Run Recap

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!

I know my form looks terrible in this photo! I think I was about to wave for the camera.

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!

– Janet

Follow me on Instagram @janetboltz and Twitter @reidphotography


Ugly Dog Triathlon Race Recap

On Saturday, July 17th I did my second triathlon of the season. When I signed up for the race I didn’t realize it shared the same course as the Tri Goddess Tri race that I did a few weeks ago. I returned to Big Portage Lake State Park at the Waterloo Recreation Area in Grass Lake, MI once again. It’s hard to compare results from different triathlons because the distances can vary so much from race to race. For example, I did an 800m swim, 10.8-mile bike ride, and 2.8-mile run at this race. Sometimes the bike and run distances are a little longer for a sprint triathlon but it all depends on the location of the race and the best route that can be created. By racing the exact same course I would have a true comparison to see if I could improve.

Another bonus for racing the same course was knowing what to expect. Tri Goddess Tri was a real rust-buster after a couple years off and I felt more at ease this time. It wasn’t fun driving through the rain in the dark for the first hour of my trip, but the rain stopped half an hour before I got there and the rest of the day was clear. It was a relief knowing I wouldn’t have to worry about riding in the rain. However, the mosquitos were terrible! I’m glad I watched a video update from Epic Races a couple days before the race because they told people it would be smart to bring bug spray.

The transition area

The main idea behind the Ugly Dog Triathlon is that it gives people a rare chance to do a triathlon that uses gravel roads for the bike segment. They had a bunch of different race options. People could choose the triathlon, duathlon, or aquathlon with either a 29-mile or 10-mile gravel bike ride. There was also a relay option and the Pretty Dog triathlon, which used the same swim and run courses but had a separate 10.8-mile bike route on the pavement. The largest event was the 29-mile gravel triathlon with 49 people. Pretty Dog followed behind that with 47 people. Somewhere around 150 people participated between all of the events. I opted to do the Pretty Dog because I’m not very secure on the bike and knew I wouldn’t want to worry about losing control on loose stones.

After everything was set in transition I went down to the beach and swam a tiny bit before the pre-race meeting. The water felt good and I was able to swim comfortably. I hoped that would continue during the race since I struggled a bit at Tri Goddess Tri. I guess nerves got to me after not doing a triathlon for a couple years. I was out of breath from the start, I was intimidated by all of the people splashing around, and it probably took me 5-10 minutes to get into a good rhythm. This time I decided to use my wetsuit and knew the buoyancy would help.

Before the race started I saw my buddy Jeff, aka “Detroit Runner,” who was also doing the Pretty Dog. My friend Lisa was there because her husband was doing the 29-mile Ugly Dog duathlon.

The Ugly Dog racers started first and went into the water individually every few seconds. When it was our turn I tried to line up somewhere just in front of the middle of the pack. I walked/ran through the shallow section and realized after a minute that I was breathing too hard. I didn’t want to start the swim totally winded and struggle with breathing problems like I did last time! Fortunately it didn’t mess me up. Once it got deep enough to swim I got into a groove.

I’ve never tried to smile mid-swim before! Great race photos courtesy of Greg Sadler Photography.

I did a good job of staying on course with the buoys and this was one of the rare races when I didn’t do any breaststroke. I usually mix a little in when it gets congested by the buoys, if I get stressed, or if I struggle to spot the next buoy. I kept going smoothly with freestyle the whole time and didn’t have any issues. The wetsuit definitely made things easier. I finished the 800m swim (and run up to the transition area) in 18:05.

This was my first time racing in the sleeveless wetsuit and I loved it. I felt like my shoulders were too restricted in my long sleeve wetsuit. That suit is a bit tighter than I like. I always struggled to get the sleeve over my watch and to get my feet out of it as well. I got a larger size for the sleeveless suit and it was easier to take it off. My first transition supposedly only took 1:11 – much faster than I expected!

I used my mountain bike for Tri Goddess Tri because it had stormed the night before the race, I saw that some of the road surfaces were a bit rough, and I worried that things could be slick if it rained during the race. This time I brought my lighter bike with skinnier tires and figured it would make me go faster. I did okay with the rough patches of the road but at times I wondered if there was enough wind to slow me down because some stretches felt challenging. The ride went well and I finished 10.8 miles in 37:50. I didn’t see any photographers while I was on the bike course. They may have concentrated on the gravel riders at that time.

My second transition took 37 seconds and it was the first time I’ve taken a moment in the middle of a race to spray myself with bug spray. Since a good chunk of the run goes through trails I didn’t want to worry about the mosquitos. 

The first mile of the run had a bit of pavement and I wanted to take advantage of the good footing to run faster but I could only do so much. I wondered if the trails would be sloppy after all of the rain. The surface was soft but I only slid a tiny bit on one patch and that happened to me at Tri Goddess Tri too. Last time there were branches to jump over or to duck under but it was cleaner this time. I managed to catch a few people during the run and finished in 22:45 for somewhere around 2.8 miles. My total time was 1:20:30.

I received my medal then went to check out the food. They had some puppy chow from Ugly Dog Distillery so I took a bag of that. They had a couple kinds of wraps – one with peanut butter and one with egg and cheese. Both of those were good and I got a couple of pancakes too. I found Lisa and hung out with her for the next hour or two. During that time I saw that I was first in my age group so I collected my award and Lisa took a picture for me. The glass and whiskey came from Ugly Dog Distillery too.

I left the race with quite a collection of stuff. The black things are toe warmers. Once it gets cold enough to need them I usually don’t ride my bike outside, but I guess it could be a handy thing to have if I ever brave the cold.

As Lisa and I hung out we watched for her husband. He was doing the 29-mile gravel ride so it took quite a bit longer than my race. It turned into a beautiful day and I loved watching an adorable puppy while we waited. One of the race photographers enjoyed it too and I knew I’d have to look for those photos when they were posted!

After Lisa’s husband got back from his ride and headed out to the trails, I said goodbye and went home. Then I took more time to analyze how I did in this race versus Tri Goddess Tri.

I shaved four minutes off of my time! Most of that came from the swim. Using the wetsuit surely helped. It also made a big difference that I swam comfortably the whole time and didn’t struggle with nerves, breathing, and feeling totally thrown off. My swim segment was over three minutes faster than last time. It looks like the other minute I saved came during my first transition. I was surprised by that because I had assumed I wasted some time taking the wetsuit off and I didn’t use one at the last race. I guess a slight difference between the races is that the transition area was much larger at Tri Goddess Tri. I had to run a lot farther to exit with my bike last time so maybe that added some extra time. 

You would think that a lighter bike with skinnier tires would make me a lot faster than I had been on my mountain bike. According to the results I came in two seconds faster this time. I swear I seem to have a certain zone I hit when I’m on the bike and I guess it didn’t matter what bike I used. I couldn’t believe I didn’t go faster!

My second transition was one second faster this time. It’s funny that I was within three seconds of the time from the last race between the bike segment and the second transition. My consistency can be pretty crazy! The one thing I did slower this time was the run – I was 15 seconds slower. It’s fun to see how much I improved even it if was mostly because of the swim. I had been so disappointed that I struggled with it last time. I knew I was capable of more and I’m glad I proved that in this race.

Now that I’ve done a couple triathlons this season I feel like I’m on a roll. I hope to do at least one more this summer. A post-race email from Epic Races put a crazy thought in my head. They have a Battle of Waterloo race in a couple weeks that will be based out of the same park. That race is not a conventional triathlon though. It involves 10 different legs and starts with a run, then bike, then a swim, a run to another lake for a swim, etc. When I’ve thought about this race in the past the logistics of trying to carry shoes and other stuff while swimming seemed overwhelming and I didn’t have the right equipment. I’ve thought through the logistics a bit more and I might feel adventurous enough to try it. In the meantime, I have the Loopty Loop 4-hour run next weekend. I’m keeping busy this summer. :)

– Janet

Follow me on Instagram @janetboltz and Twitter @reidphotography

Volksläufe Half Marathon Recap

Holz-Brücke Wooden Bridge

On Saturday, July 3rd I ran the half marathon at Volksläufe (German for “the people’s race”) in Frankenmuth, MI. Frankenmuth is a fun little town an hour north of me known as Michigan’s “Little Bavaria.” Volksläufe has taken place on or around the 4th of July for over 40 years. Somehow I had never run this legendary race even though it has been on my to-do list for years. Too many times I was on the verge of signing up but decided against it when I saw the steamy forecast. After a week of hot, stormy days, we caught a break just in time for this race. I couldn’t resist signing up when I saw that it would be around 60° in the morning!

A beautiful day to race

In the past the race has started at 8am but hot temperatures in 2019 pushed the start an hour earlier. Luckily they kept the 7am start this year. The earlier and the cooler the better! I’ve been training through plenty of hot, humid days recently so it was amazing to feel cold while walking around before the race began.

The front of the race t-shirt
The back of the race t-shirt

The race usually offers a 5K, 10K, and 20K. This year there was a half marathon instead of the 20K. It’s been three weeks since I ran 33 miles and although my recovery has gone smoothly, I hoped I wasn’t being too ambitious by signing up for a half marathon.

People waiting to start the 10K

The 10K started at 7:00 followed by the half marathon at 7:10. I didn’t want to start at the front so I lingered a little bit behind the starting line but not many people came to fill that gap. Sure enough, a whole bunch of people passed me once we started. Oh well! We ran on the grass for a minute or two then a rocky path took us to the road. From there we headed out to some peaceful country roads. I was almost tempted to stop for a photo because it looked so pretty with sun rays shining through the clouds over the corn fields. It was pretty cloudy for most of the race which was a good thing since the race route doesn’t have much shade. I’ve heard that it can be a really tough race on a hot, sunny day.

I was a bit thrown off because I ended up running by myself pretty early in the race. A big pack of people took off and there was a huge gap. I felt like I was out there on my own watching everyone so far in front of me and I’m not used to that. Usually I can get into a groove with a pack of others who are running a similar pace. That’s one of the fun parts of racing – running with a big group of people. It felt like I was out there doing my own solo long run because there weren’t any spectators either. Even though I knew there had to be people behind me it felt like I was at the back. It was a little bit of a mental game and I had to reassure myself that there may just be a bunch of fast people. Maybe some took off too fast and I’d catch them later? I had to keep doing my own thing and not worry about it. Four miles into the race I finally had a few scattered people around.

I was surprised by surface of the roads for most of the race. They were really crappy! They were a bit cambered so I had to make sure I didn’t run on too much of an angle. I’m really cautious about that after cambered dirt roads created a lengthy tendon injury last year. The camber wasn’t too big of an issue but I constantly had to watch where I was going because of patches and uneven spots all over the roads. I took a screen capture from Google Maps to give an example.

A Google Maps street view that shows the pretty corn fields and terrible road surface

I felt kind of slow during my first mile of the race. Sometimes I get swept up in the momentum and start too fast but I guess my body wasn’t up for that. I ran 8:22 for the first mile which actually isn’t that “slow” for me these days. I kind of hoped I could aim for goal marathon pace though, which is around 8:00 pace. Once I got past that warm up mile I managed to hit 8:00 a couple times but was actually faster than that otherwise. I’ve barely run that fast for a single mile in recent weeks, let alone for 13 miles. I’ve been more focused on endurance than pace lately and hoped I wouldn’t crash at some point because I was getting too ambitious. Somehow I kept it up though!

Seven miles into the race we hit a stretch of freshly-paved road. After watching every step for the prior hour it felt amazing to finally be able to run so smoothly! We crossed a cool old bridge around nine miles into the race. Ten miles into the race we hit some rolling hills. The race had been pretty flat up until that point. I kept grinding and they didn’t beat me up too much. Eventually we got to some more suburban areas and had a few spectators cheering for us. I still had enough energy left that I started to speed up a little bit when I had a couple miles left. It was fun when we got back toward the main part of town and saw stuff like this rocky part of the Cass River.

Frankenmuth Rock Ramp at Cass River

During the last couple miles we also started to mix with people from the 5K and 10K. It required a little bit of dodging to get around walkers at times. It was fun getting to run through the covered bridge with less than a mile to go.

We got to run through the Holz-Brücke Wooden Bridge
A picture of me coming out of the bridge

I’d managed to keep my pace in the 7:50s pretty consistently for most of the race. When I started to push at the end I got down to 7:46 for the twelfth mile, then somehow I managed 7:19 for the last full mile! Maybe I had more in me than I realized and could have pushed a little more earlier. Still, it’s fun to finish with such a strong kick.

Pushing hard just before the finish

1:44:03 was my official time and I was pretty excited about it. My PR is just under 1:40 so I wasn’t close to that, but I felt really proud about running a pace that I haven’t been training for at all and somehow maintaining it for the whole race.

The map and info from Garmin
Stats from my watch

I was satisfied enough with my solid time, but it was a bonus to see that I had won my age group and was the ninth woman overall!

Stats from the race

It took a few minutes to recover then I headed to the food table where I got some chocolate milk, water, and a granola bar. I knew that probably wasn’t enough food so I went back to my car to get a jacket and a Honey Stinger protein waffle.

Posing with my medal
A closer look at the medal

I had to wait an hour for the awards ceremony to start and it took a while to get through all of the 10K people before getting to the half marathon. It was fun to see the winners though because this race drew a lot of local runners who I knew and a bunch of them collected awards.

The awards ceremony

Although I hadn’t run the race before I was very aware of the awesome steins that are given out as awards. The overall winners get really huge ones. My first place age group award was super cool. It’s something fun and unique to add to my collection of running prizes.

Posing with my prize
A closer look at the stein
The other side of the stein

Once I got my award I figured I should take advantage of my time in Frankenmuth and explore a little bit while I was there. It turned into a beautiful morning!

The Bavarian Inn Lodge

I knew that I wanted to hit the bakery under the Bavarian Inn Restaurant because I’ve been there several times and they have some great treats. Time to refuel and reward myself for a good race with some goodies!

The bakery under the Bavarian Inn Restaurant

I stopped by a couple other shops including the SugarHigh Bakery. I may have overdone it with the sugary stuff but I couldn’t resist.

Cupcakes from SugarHigh Bakery

It was a successful race and I’m so glad I finally got around to doing this one. I had a lot of fun and I understand why it’s such a long-running, legendary race around this area. I’m excited that I came away with a stein of my own and it was fun to spend a little bit of time in Frankenmuth. It also gave my confidence a boost because I’ve just started training for an October marathon and feel like I’m well ahead of my training plan now that I’ve already covered half the distance at my goal pace. Hopefully I can keep it up and strive for another Boston-qualifying time this fall.

– Janet

Follow me on Instagram @janetboltz and Twitter @reidphotography