On Sunday, September 25 there was a bit of a void because my favorite local half marathon would have taken place. Unfortunately, last year’s 14th running of the Brooksie Way half marathon was the final one. Part of the course came within half a mile of where I live so it was truly my hometown race and I was really bummed to learn that it would exist no more.
When I heard that Oakland University’s cross country/track and field programs planned to host a 5K/10K event on the campus that same weekend I made sure to hold the date. I always did the half marathon but Brooksie also offered 5K and 10K races that took place around the campus. I was extremely thankful that OU planned to keep the tradition going in some form so I wanted to be there to support it, especially with proceeds going to benefit the cross country/track and field teams.
The tricky part was that a 5K or 10K would be too short for what I really needed to run the day of the race. I was supposed to do my final 20-mile training run for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon that day. At some point it hit me that maybe I could actually run the Brooksie half marathon course on my own then run the 10K race afterward. I’ve added extra mileage before races in the past, like in 2019 when I ran seven miles prior to Brooksie to get a total of 20 miles. This would just be a *bit* more extreme! Luckily the 9:30 am start time would give me time to work with prior to the race.
I went to the school the day before the race to pick up my packet and was thankful for the option. That would be one less thing for me to squeeze into race morning. Then I just had to hope I could actually follow through with this crazy plan. One major wrench that had been thrown into the mix was coming down with COVID just 11 days before this race. I took five days off of running while I was sick and missed a half marathon I had signed up for in Detroit. I was convinced that I had gotten through the worst of it when I just had some lingering congestion and my resting heart rate had returned to normal. The day after my first run I had some tightness in my chest and my resting heart rate jumped. I took a day off of running then successfully ran a hard workout the next day. Chest tightness and a higher resting heart rate returned. I felt fine while I ran but I started to worry that running might affect my recovery. I was supposed to be at my final peak for marathon training and I really didn’t want to miss that important 20-miler. I hoped I wasn’t pressing my luck.
I decided to go for it and started my adventure from OU’s campus around 6:45 on Sunday morning. The race would start near the outdoor track which was a little further into campus than the usual starting spot for the Brooksie half marathon. That meant I would get somewhere around 14 miles which should take a couple hours. It was still dark and there was some light rain as I set out with my headlamp. I needed the headlamp for a few miles before it got light enough to stash it away.
By no means was I attempting to “race” the Brooksie course. I knew I might be pressing my luck by aiming for 20 miles so soon after having COVID. I tried to take it easy and ended up doing my typical long run kind of pace. Despite the gray, rainy morning, I enjoyed the scenery.
As I covered the course I thought about certain landmarks such as where bands would have been playing, where an unofficial beer table would have been set up, and where the high school kids cheered extra loud with just over a mile to go. I have many fond memories from the multiple years I ran the race and I’m going to miss it!
The rain let up, returned for a bit, then stopped again before I finished my pre-race run. I just hoped I wouldn’t freeze once I stopped since it was in the 50s and I was wet. Once I got back to the campus I saw a few scattered people doing warm up runs. I kept going until I reached the track area with 14.3 miles. When I added the 10K I’d end up with 20.5 miles for the day.
After a bathroom stop I went to the car to crank the heat. I ate a Picky Bar and changed to a dry shirt while I stayed warm. I decided to head out 15 minutes before the race would start. I felt awkward trying to walk so I wondered if I’d even be able to run! I definitely stiffened up while I sat in the car. The race would start on the road by the upper fields so I did a couple laps on the turf to get my legs moving again and to try to stay warm. The rain had cleared out and it would be perfect for racing.
The 5K and 10K runners ran together for the first loop so there was a good crowd to start – over 400 people. When I hit the first mile with a pace of 7:21, I thought maybe my legs had more in them than I expected. I should have known better. I’ve run around Oakland’s campus a lot and I know how challenging it is. We had a downhill stretch for that first mile which gave me good momentum, but once we started to climb I definitely couldn’t maintain that momentum. There was no way I’d pull off my typical 10K race pace. I told myself that I could consider this a “fast finish” long run in hopes that I would at least end up faster than I went during the earlier 14 miles.
Even though I was not fond of the hills I recognized what a great course it was. Oakland has a really nice campus and we got to see many of the scenic highlights. During the first loop we went past the rec center, down a hill by the lower fields where they play soccer, baseball, and softball, past the athletic dome, on a dirt path that took us over to the historic Meadow Brook Hall, past the golf course, by the main entrance to the amphitheater, then back to the track. I have run around the campus many times over the years and have taken a bunch of photos. The photos that follow are from those runs rather than from race day.
The 5K runners turned off to finish on the track while the 10K runners continued for a second loop. The route changed a little bit for the second loop and we went around Bear Lake and by the clock tower before going back toward the rec center and down by the dome.
Instead of running around the mansion we stayed on the road that surrounds the president’s house, then followed the main drive toward the track for the finish.
I was very impressed by the number of student volunteers who kept us on the correct path at every possible intersection while also cheering for the runners. Sometimes first-year races can be a little iffy and have issues that need to be worked out. Heck, I did a race earlier this summer that has existed for years and still ended up making a wrong turn where they didn’t mark the course! I knew I could count on Oakland’s running program to do a great job and they really did. It was a nice surprise to be greeted with a fist bump from head coach Paul Rice after crossing the finish line. It made me think of the Grand Rapids Marathon where race director Don Kern greets each finisher. It was a nice touch.
Although I would normally give everything I had left for a fast finish on the track, after 20.5 miles and all of those hills I didn’t have any extra effort left to give! My official time was 49:13. That’s on the slow side for me but I still averaged 7:55 per mile which is around my marathon pace. I considered that a solid finish for a day with 20+ miles.
After chatting with someone I knew I wandered past the various tents and stopped for a photo with Grizz.
I got a granola bar and some fruit chews at the finish line, but I knew the Little Donut Factory food truck was there and that’s what I REALLY wanted.
This was a tough race and I know it would not be a PR course for me even if I came in with fresh legs. I still enjoyed it and it was nice to break up my long run by using the race for a portion of the miles. I will miss the Brooksie Way but it will be great if Oakland establishes a new tradition. Here’s how my day looked at the end:
I was glad my body held up for 20 miles to give me that boost of confidence as I get closer to marathon day. I knew I was pressing my luck and it did catch up with me later. My sleep that night was awful and the next day I was pretty sore from all of the hills. I think I have mostly recovered from COVID at this point, but a few little things have lingered enough for me to be cautious about doing hard workouts. I’m glad I still have a couple weeks to go and I think I should still be in good shape for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. In the meantime, I have one more race to squeeze in with the Ann Arbor half marathon this coming weekend!