Although it’s hard to say that 2021 was a great year it was better for me than the prior two years so at least that’s something! From a running and triathlon perspective it was pretty awesome and I hit a bunch of new milestones. I ran the most miles I’ve ever run in a year. I ran 50K for the first time and even got a couple extra miles in for 33 total miles. I did a 1/3 Iron-distance triathlon which is the longest one I’ve done. I did a very adventurous 10-leg triathlon. As if all of that isn’t exciting enough, I FINALLY broke 3:34 in the marathon (where I’d been hung up for years) with a time of 3:28:55. Definitely a good year. Here’s a closer look at how the year played out.
As the pandemic raged on, I didn’t do any real races until June. Half of my schedule this year was already set thanks to deferrals from 2020. The Martian Marathon didn’t take place in person this year either so it was the one virtual race I did with a 5K / half marathon combo.
I had planned to run my first 50K in 2020 but it was canceled plus I got injured in the process of training for it. Fortunately my body held up this year and I was able to do the 6-hour Twilight Zone trail race in June. It was warm and humid but I made it through 33 miles in just under six hours. I had never run longer than a marathon so it was exciting to officially get into ultra running territory.
My body recovered so well that I was able to do a sprint triathlon a couple weeks later. I did one sprint in June and one in July.
I was really intrigued by the thought of a 10-leg triathlon and decided to give it a shot. It included segments of swimming across one lake while carrying running gear in a buoy so I could run to another lake, swim across, run again, and so on. I felt VERY accomplished after that race.
I figured if I could get through that race I could manage a 1/3 Iron-distance triathlon. The longest I had done was the Olympic distance so this distance fell between that and a half Ironman. The hills left me feeling pretty wrecked but didn’t completely break me!
In addition to the four triathlons I also swam a 5K. I did the race in 2019 and it was a fun challenge so I knew I had to try it again. My swim training wasn’t very impressive this year thanks to avoiding the pool for half of the year due to pandemic worries. I was slower this time but actually felt better. I’ve already signed up to do it again next August!
Aside from those adventures, I spent most of my time running. I ran a half marathon at the beginning of July and a 4-hour race toward the end of the month where I ran just under 25 miles.
In August I ran a 10-mile race then did my second half marathon of the year in September.
By the middle of the summer I started to train for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon that had been canceled in 2020. It wasn’t much of a surprise when it got canceled this year as well. I decided to try the Vermont City Marathon instead but then that one got canceled too. I was still determined to put all of my training to use for a fall marathon and kept hunting for a replacement. I chose the Indy Monumental Marathon as my third option which turned out to be a wise choice. After aiming to run a 3:30 marathon for at least six years, I was THRILLED that I came in a minute under my goal. With an 11-minute qualifying buffer it also assured me that I would be able to sign up for 2022’s Boston Marathon.
That probably should have been enough for the year but I couldn’t resist the challenge of running back-to-back half marathons on Thanksgiving and the day after. I got through it successfully then took recovery more seriously and didn’t do any races in December.
I accumulated a nice collection of shirts and medals after all of that racing!
As I already mentioned, I ran more miles this year than I’ve ever run – a total of 2,184 miles. For the first half of the year all of those miles helped me “Run the Mitt” – a fun challenge that included checkpoint pins for cities throughout Michigan as I worked toward a total of 1,035 miles. The more I run, the less I do everything else. When I was injured and couldn’t run for a chunk of time in 2020, I biked a ton. I went from 2,500 miles on the bike last year to 943 this year. It’s nice to change things up now and then but I was relieved that I could run more this year because that’s what I enjoy the most. This year I also swam over 86 miles and did 70 strength sessions. I do core/weights workouts in the basement for 45-minutes to an hour and usually have some adorable workout buddies there with me.
All of those miles allowed me to see a lot of great scenery. I love getting to combine my passion for running with my passion for photography. The last few years I’ve made a calendar with pictures I’ve taken while running and biking. Here are the 12 images that made the cut for my 2022 calendar.
I definitely had a lot of great highlights this past year. Looking forward, we’ll see if I finally get to run the Toronto Marathon in 2022. Boston Marathon training officially began during the last week of 2021 so that’s pretty exciting. Boston and Toronto are the main goals for the next year so hopefully this never-ending pandemic doesn’t mess with those plans. I keep thinking that I should try a half Ironman sometime. I don’t know if 2022 will be the year but I’m pretty sure I’ll find plenty of fun challenges that will keep me busy!
Three weeks after running the Indy Monumental Marathon I made the questionable decision to run back-to-back half marathons on Thanksgiving and the day after. It’s not only wise for me to take some time to recover after a marathon but my body often pushes back and won’t let me start back too quickly even if I want to. However, recently it feels like I may have reached a level where my body has gotten used to it. After running 33 miles at the Twilight Zone 6-Hour Run in June I’ve managed to maintain good tolerance for long runs through the summer and fall.
I took a week off after the marathon and was surprised that I didn’t feel rusty at all when I ran again. The Saturday before Thanksgiving I ran 10 miles followed by eight miles the next day to see if I might feel up for trying 13 miles two days in a row later in the week. My body still felt fine so I decided to go ahead and sign up. Why two days in a row? Well, basically because Move-It Fitness offered that challenge and I’m always tempted by these crazy challenges. Once the thought was in my head I knew I’d want to go for it even if it wasn’t the smartest thing to do.
In 2017 I ran the Turkey Trail Trot at Stony Creek Metropark and really enjoyed it. The race takes place on the mountain bike trails that I like to run somewhat regularly. That year I signed up for the 10K Run Eat Run challenge – a 10K on Thanksgiving morning then again on Friday. That year they also had the Leftovers Half Marathon on Saturday. I hadn’t planned to run it but people told me I should come back and I couldn’t resist. This year the race offered 2-mile, 4-mile, 10K, and half marathon races on Thursday and Friday. In order to earn the Run Eat Run medal people had to run the same distance both days. The 10K probably would have been a smarter choice but I’m so drawn to the endurance events now that when the option is there I can’t help but go for it.
Although Detroit’s Turkey Trot may be the biggest draw around this area, I like the idea of only driving 10 minutes away to one of my favorite parks for a low key race where I don’t have to deal with big crowds or parking issues. It was nice to leave after 7:00 for an 8:00 start. The part that wasn’t so nice was that it was around 40° and raining. I told myself I would have gone out to run on my own anyway so it really didn’t matter.
When I did the race in 2017 I believe all of the distances started at the same time so it was especially crowded at the beginning. This time the 10K people lined up five minutes before the half marathon people, and the shorter races started half an hour later. I think that approach worked well.
It looks like 133 people started the 10K wave then 47 of us took off for the half marathon. We had an extra little loop early to add some extra distance before getting back to the same course that the 10K people ran. I’m in the blue jacket in the photo below.
My ultimate goal for these races was not to fall. Between wet leaves, mud, and roots, I knew it could be challenging. I made it through the 10K races fine last time but I wiped out pretty hard during the half marathon. I hoped not to do that this time.
For the most part the trail conditions weren’t too bad. We splashed a little in some areas because of the rain. There was one short stretch early on where the trail was completely covered with leaves. The stretch between miles one and two was the worst. One spot was an unavoidable mud pit! I was able to hop around one of the edges fairly successfully, but there was no good way to avoid either getting muddy, wet, or both. A couple other spots were fairly messy but the area seen below was the worst. It’s all a part of trail running though!
One of my favorite stretches came a couple miles into the race. That trail is called “the pines” and it twists and turns around a bunch of trees. The conditions were pretty good there but I started to catch up with some of the 10K people and sometimes it can be tricky trying to pass on single track trails. It was fine with good communication though. I just let people know I was coming up on their left side so I wouldn’t shock them and risk a collision. That’s the most courteous way to share the trails. A couple people thanked me for letting them know because there were some runners who didn’t.
The course was pretty easy until somewhere around 4.5 miles. That’s when the first climb hit.
That one wasn’t too bad, but I’d say about three more followed before getting back to the start/finish line. The last of the hills was especially harsh.
Then I got to twist and turn through some newer single track trails which are a recent addition for mountain bikers. I hadn’t run those before because I usually figure I should stay out of the way of bikers who could be flying through. That was a fun stretch then I continued through the finish line for a second loop.
The second time through wasn’t as crowded and I was on my own most of the time which made it easy to go my own pace. I knew I was pressing my luck by trying this challenge and I better not push myself. I was not attempting to race at all. Since no one was around, I made a few quick photo stops which helped reinforce my casual approach to the run. When I was nine or 10 miles into the race I could tell that a guy was gaining on me. I started to feel like I was being chased and I really wanted to minimize any pressure so I would keep things easy. Once we got off one stretch of single track, I kind of stepped aside to make sure he could go ahead for the next stretch of single track. Then I felt more relaxed again. The first hill this time around was tough and the hills that followed finally broke me and I walked a little bit. I told myself again that I was taking things easy and time really didn’t matter.
I made it to the finish line in 2:08:27 and most importantly, I made it through without falling! My watch showed somewhere around 13.4-13.5 miles each day so it may have been slightly longer than a half marathon.
I saw later that I had completed the first half in 1:01:55 and the second half in 1:06:31. Being around people at the beginning surely affected my speed during the first loop, then my photo stops and brief walks surely slowed me down during the second loop. In addition, I didn’t do such a good job of avoiding the mud pit the second time through. One of my shoes was soaked and I could hear squishing with each step for the rest of the race.
I collected my medal and stuck around briefly after I finished. They had some bottles of water and some sugar cookies. Not too many post-race treats since we had to leave room for big Thanksgiving meals anyway! I decided to buy a knit cap and a buff was thrown in as a bonus.
I’d spend the rest of the day eating and hoping soreness wouldn’t kick in to tell me it would be too ambitious to try this again a second day.
I seemed to feel good enough when I woke up the next morning and knew that unless something was really tweaked I was bound to return anyway. If I had to I’d even walk a chunk of the course but I would at least get out there and try.
Thanksgiving is supposed to be one of the biggest days for running events in this country. I knew the crowd size would drop on the second day and it definitely did. Across all of the events there were about 470 people on Thursday and 119 on Friday. Not everyone was necessarily back for the Run Eat Run challenge. I talked to one woman who had volunteered at the Detroit Turkey Trot the day before and came to do her own race on Friday. Only 17 people did the half marathon.
Although Friday was colder with some wind and a few snowflakes, it was better than rain! The ground hardened and most of the course wasn’t as sloppy as it had been the day before. One day wasn’t enough for the muddiest spots to suddenly disappear though.
I knew that I had to be careful because it could be a little too ambitious trying to do this again. Once I got to the race I realized my right hamstring was a little annoyed so I really wanted to take it easy. It helped that the crowd was much thinner and we ended up spacing out quite a bit although I was right behind one of the guys for most of the first loop. We caught up to some 10K people once again but only 46 people did that distance on Friday compared to 133 on Thursday.
After walking through some of the hills during the second loop the day before I just assumed it could happen to me this time too. Maybe it helped that I started slower. I ran 1:04:15 for the first loop this time versus 1:01:55 the day before. The first four miles of each loop felt pretty good before the hills began. Even though I was going so slow I probably could have been walking, I was able to power through the second round of the hills a little better on Friday than I had on Thursday. I finished my second loop faster than the first in 1:03:35. My finish time was 2:07:51. That was 36 seconds faster than the day before. If I hadn’t stopped for a few photos the day before my times may have been about the same!
I got another medal that matched the previous day’s, plus a Run Eat Run medal. Thanks to Move-It Fitness for capturing and sharing some photos of the action.
I got some hot chocolate, a granola bar, and some Christmas tree sugar cookies. As a few of us learned our overall/age group placings, we joked about how there was no one to compete with because we were the only ones stupid enough to do it. I had joked with Geneva, the race director, that she inspires me to do these stupid things. She has to go and offer back-to-back half marathons and I can’t resist doing them. I was told that I was the first place woman which was cool, but only four women did the half marathon! Still, I got another buff for my “achievement.”
When I got home I put my medals down to take some photos and it didn’t take long for Rusty to settle on top of them for a nap. I chose to think that he was tired just thinking about what it took to earn those.
It all worked out despite my worries that I was doing too much post-marathon. I know it helps that the trails keep my pace in check. They’re not easy though with those hills! The hamstring that was bothered before the race got through it just fine and isn’t bothering me now. I have a sports massage lined up which will surely bring a lot of problem areas to the surface though! I seem to have escaped unscathed but know that I really ought to take some rest days. I plan to take at least three days off and will likely ease back in after that. I only have a month to go before I’ll begin training for the next marathon!
The Indy Monumental Marathon was my eighth marathon and not to spoil the recap, but it was my best one so far. Apparently age isn’t slowing me down yet!
Although I had a great experience when I ran this race in 2018 I didn’t intend to return this year. I have run so few marathons that I’ve aimed to run a different race each time. The Boston Marathon is an exception if I can get there more than once. My initial plan was to run the Toronto Waterfront Marathon this fall after COVID canceled the 2020 race. Border restrictions were still tight at the beginning of the summer and I knew very well that the race might not happen. Eventually they announced that there would only be a 10K which left me hunting for a new fall marathon. The Vermont City Marathon has been on my list so I signed up for that. No luck – they opted to drop the marathon distance in favor of a half marathon because it wouldn’t require as many medical resources as a marathon. By early September I still didn’t know what marathon I was going to do. I didn’t want to book then potentially cancel another flight, rental car, or hotel room so I wanted to pick a race that was closer to home. I knew a bunch of friends were going to run Indy, it was within driving distance, and I ran a great race there. I decided to break my loose rule about only running different marathons.
The race took place on Saturday, November 6th and I made the 5-hour drive on Friday. I checked into my hotel by Lucas Oil Stadium then walked to the convention center for the expo.
My visit to the expo was pretty brief. I got my packet, browsed some of the merch, then decided I really didn’t need more gear. I already had a hoodie from the 2018 race plus I was adding another official race shirt to my collection. I was tempted by a t-shirt that fans of the TV show Parks & Recreation would appreciate but I opted to just take a picture instead.
Friends were going to dinner at 7:00 so I chose to do my own thing because I didn’t want to eat that late. I wandered around town a little bit, took some pictures, then got a sandwich from Potbelly to eat at the hotel.
I woke up around 6:00 the next morning for an 8:00 start. I had a Mint Condition Picky Bar with some water, got ready, then ate another bar an hour later. The previous night I had spent some time debating what to wear because it would be in the low 30’s to start the race. Fortunately I chose correctly because I wasn’t too hot or cold during the race. The cool morning was perfect for running.
I left the hotel at 7:15 and jogged half a mile to the gear check area so I could have warm clothes waiting for me after the race. I made another bathroom stop first and was thankful that there weren’t any lines around the corner from gear check. I DID end up waiting in line for 10-15 minutes at gear check though. I didn’t expect to waste so much time there and then I found myself following quite a crowd heading to the starting corral.
I found a sign for the B corral which is where I needed to start. Gates lined the corral with no openings in sight. Maybe I had to walk to the very back of the corral to get in but it would have been a whole lot easier if they had openings by each letter. I remembered that had been an issue for me in 2018 as well. I waited to get through one spot where people had yanked the gates open just enough for one person to get through at a time. By that point I only had 5-10 minutes before the race started. I saw a couple of pacers with a 3:30 sign and gathered behind that group. I was aiming to run 3:30 (an 8-minute pace) like I had so many times in the past. I was hung up on a 3:34 PR and hoped the pace group would finally help me get there. I’m glad I heard the pacer explain his plan. He said that the first mile was going to be a little slow. Then they’d run a bunch of miles in the 7:50s. There would be a “hill” by mile 16 and they’d slow down for that. He said he was aiming to run 3:29:30. It sounded like a good plan for me.
Once the race started it took a minute to get moving. I really wanted to rely on the pace group and too many times in the past it hasn’t worked for me. Sometimes the pacers start too fast (or I start too slow) and I lose them right away. Sometimes it’s just too crowded for me to get to them. It was my mission to try to stay close. I was glad one of them kept holding the sign up high enough for me to see him. I worried he’d lower it after a bit and I’d lose him. There were over 9,000 people running together until the half marathon split off a little after the 7-mile mark. The roads were crowded! It had been two years since I’d run a marathon so I hadn’t run in a crowd that big in a long time.
I barely paid attention to any scenery during the early miles because I was so busy watching the ground and the pacers. Considering how congested it was I’m surprised that I ran 8:09 for the first mile. I thought it would have been even slower than that. The second mile was 8:00 right on the dot so I could tell the pacers were doing a good job. Somehow they hadn’t slipped away from me yet but it was a constant worry!
I had a fuel belt with 21 oz. of a Nuun electrolyte drink but I knew I needed to grab water along the way as well. I didn’t have any luck with the first few water stops. Sometimes I was in the middle of the pack and by the time I saw the tables there was no way I could cut over fast enough. I got pretty frustrated and realized I better forget about trying to run tangents. I moved to the outside edge where I figured at least I stood a chance. Even then, sometimes I’d be on one side of the road then the water stop would be on the opposite side! I was thankful it was cold and hoped that would help me from getting too thirsty. I ate my first Clif Blok five or six miles into the race and continued to eat one every 1.25-1.5 miles. Fortunately my stomach was never an issue and I didn’t get too thirsty so it all worked out.
It was pretty crowded until the half marathon runners split. I realized part of the congestion had to do with the pack of people following the pacers. Maybe it was more spaced out away from the group. I kept going with the flow and appreciated how the pack setting worked in my favor. It was easy to maintain a rhythm when everyone else was doing it. I didn’t have to think – I just had to follow! I put all of my faith in the pacers and they were right on target with their plan. My Garmin splits started to stray from the mile markers, probably from weaving so much to get to the water stops and trying to get behind the pacers. Sometimes I had to play catch up when the stops got too congested and the pacers got too far ahead. I knew if I was still behind the pacers I was on track.
Eventually I actually enjoyed some of the scenery like the bright orange trees lining the neighborhood roads. The sky was blue, there was little to no wind, and it was gorgeous. Some parts of the course were familiar since I ran the race in 2018. When we ran past Butler University I paid a little more attention and remembered how I really liked that area last time. There were lots of pretty spots along the course. The course is basically flat but there were a few spots with enough of a decline for me to be thankful that I didn’t have to work as hard to hold the pace. The pacer told us that the “hilly” part would seem like nothing to people who train on real hills. A couple spots required a little extra effort but it wasn’t anything too taxing. Nothing compared to what I’m used to!
Before we hit 20 miles I found myself a few steps ahead of the pace group. I didn’t feel like I was going any faster and I hoped I wasn’t pushing my luck. I knew that it had been pretty easy up to that point because it was so mindless following the pack. When I got ahead of them it was much more spaced out. I figured if they caught back up I’d just fall behind them and keep rolling. I could still hear them behind me for a while. It looks like my pace was just a few seconds faster than it had been with the group. After a few miles of doing that my distance from the group continued to grow. I was grinding a little more but nothing hurt and I was still able to maintain it.
Around 23.5 miles into the race we made a turn onto what felt like the final stretch. We could see the skyscrapers downtown and it seemed like we didn’t have far to go. In reality, that stretch was at least two miles. While it felt good making that “final” push for a bit, eventually it got tough because it lasted so long!
I heard a woman passionately yelling, “I got this! I got this!” I think she was saying it to some spectators she knew. Her mantra got into my head and I told myself the same thing. The 3:30 group was still behind me somewhere so it meant I was on track to really do this. I finally heard a spectator say that we only had two turns left. I knew we had a brief stretch down one road, another straightway, then the turn to the finish. I remembered my friends who told me to have “fun” at the race. This was supposed to be fun! I was going to hit my goal and that DID seem fun. I kept grinding away and grimaced through the last few miles but tried to smile too. I told myself that I was used to this feeling from workouts. I was used to pushing through when it didn’t feel easy but I could still nail that pace. I’m kind of surprised by how “comfortable” I felt for most of the race. By the end I tried to convince myself that I love how I feel when I run. Wasn’t this great? It didn’t really feel like it but I tried to convince myself to add a positive spin.
The spectators were loud and awesome as I got closer to the finish. I truly did smile because I knew that I was really going to do it. My 26th mile was actually the fastest of the race – a 7:40. I’m used to a strong finish when I run half marathons but I usually struggle and my pace falls off by the end of marathons. That didn’t happen this time! I didn’t know what kind of pace I was running at the end but I was giving it my all.
As I rounded the final turn I started to cry. I know that crying while running is not good because it makes me hyperventilate! I couldn’t hold back the emotions of knowing that I had FINALLY done it. I had been aiming for a 3:30 marathon for six years. I had finally proven to myself that the goal really WAS achievable. I was so ecstatic. I saw others crying after I crossed the finish line as well. It can be such an emotional place. I looked at my watch and realized I came in just under 3:29 with a time of 3:28:55. I actually finished a minute UNDER my goal! I waited for the 3:30 pacers to cross the finish line and went over to each of them to express my appreciation. All while still crying tears of joy!
When I saw my splits later I couldn’t believe how consistent they were, especially when broken down into 5K blocks. I give all of the credit to the pacers.
After I stopped my watch I started to get notifications. I had a text from my mom that I answered first, then I ran into my friend Pete. He had run an 8-minute PR and we caught up for a bit. Another friend Michelle finished a few minutes after Pete and she got a PR too. I collected my medal, a knit hat, and stopped for some photo opportunities too.
Eventually I had to load up on the treats like chocolate milk, a Clif Bar, chips, and a chocolate chip cookie. The heat sheet I received at the finish helped but I knew I should go to gear check for my warm clothes too. I was juggling texts from some great friends who had been tracking me then found the table with slices of pizza.
Before I knew it I had to work my way to Weber Grill to meet friends for lunch. It was fun to chat about our races and I think the Impossible burger and fries were a good way for me to refuel. I was stiff when I got up from the table after a couple hours and my legs had gotten achy while sitting there. Things weren’t too bad once I started to walk. I went back to the hotel to clean up and it wasn’t long before I was already thinking about dinner. My eyes felt heavy and my contacts didn’t feel very good so I passed on dinner with friends. Instead, I went out to grab pizza and cheesy bread to enjoy while relaxing in the room. Surprisingly, I didn’t have a post-race headache, blisters, or any other real issues. I even slept reasonably well! I still had the 5-hour drive back home the next day and it felt pretty rough when I got up after sitting so long. As long as I kept moving I felt pretty good. It was a good sign that I didn’t even struggle with the stairs!
Who knows how things would have played out if Toronto or Vermont had worked out but I’m glad I ended up in Indy. I’ve been very happy with most of my marathons but this was the first time I finally performed at the level I had trained for. I ran my first 50K (actually 33 miles) in June and maintained my endurance after that run. I did another race where I completed close to 25 miles, then I did five 20-mile training runs leading up to this marathon. In the past I may have maxed out with three 20-milers. Although my weekly mileage wasn’t higher than any other marathon training segment, I think maintaining that level of endurance made a difference. Like other training segments, I often found myself running 10 seconds faster than my goal pace during targeted workouts. That helped reassure me that I would be fine when I ran a bunch of miles in the 7:50s and didn’t hold steady at 8:00 the whole time.
I can’t believe I got a 5-minute PR and qualified for Boston again with an 11-minute buffer! I couldn’t resist – when registration for Boston opened on Monday morning I had to sign up. It won’t be confirmed until the end of November or early December but I’m pretty sure it will be my next marathon.
I know a lot of people struggle with post-marathon blues. I’ve taken a few moments to question what’s next. I surpassed my goal. Do I keep working to get even faster? If I keep venturing into ultramarathon territory will it make me stronger for marathons? If this is the fastest marathon I ever run am I cool with that? Is it satisfying to simply enjoy the distance by running different races? I honestly haven’t gotten too hung up on these thoughts. I’m still excited about what I achieved and the thought of returning to Boston. I’ve been pushing pretty hard for most of the year so it’s time to give my body a little time to reset and hopefully get rid of a little foot annoyance. In no time I’ll be back to training again!
Sunday, September 26th was the day of one of my favorite local races, the Brooksie Way half marathon in Rochester, MI. I live just off the course and know it well since I run its roads and trails on a regular basis. In addition to that, it was my sixth time running the actual race. A few things were different this time around because of the pandemic. Rather than having the expo inside Oakland University’s rec center with a bunch of vendors, this time packets could be picked up outside on the grounds of the Meadow Brook Amphitheatre. I made the quick stop on my way home from work on Friday afternoon.
One great thing about this race is that I didn’t have to wake up by 4am and drive an hour or more to get there like so many of my other recent races. I still got there somewhat early because I know traffic can be a problem. I’d rather make sure I can park fairly close and kill time by playing on my phone rather than potentially getting stuck on congested roads.
Around 7am I had my second Picky Bar of the morning which is my go-to pre-race food that works for my stomach. Then I headed out for a warm up jog on Oakland University’s campus. When I ran the race in 2019 I did a “warm up” run of seven miles so I could complete a 20-mile marathon training run for the day. This time I was determined to truly give my best effort and RACE. The mile and a half that I ran beforehand was just to loosen my legs. Plus, I know that there is a porta potty out on the 10K course that will have no line versus the ones back on the main grounds. It was also a good excuse for me to check out the incredible sunrise.
The weather was about as ideal as I could hope for. Temps were in the low 70s and the humidity was pretty bad for the 2019 race. That slowed things down and made it a more challenging day. 50° with plenty of clouds made things perfect this year. I was hoping that would result in a fast time for me.
By the time I got back from my jog and grabbed stuff in my car it was almost 7:40 – the time when I was supposed to meet up for a group photo. This was my first opportunity to race as a part of Stellantis’ running team (aka FCA, aka Chrysler) after joining the company in June of 2020. It felt kind of weird not to meet up with the Chevy Running Club that I had been a part of for so many years. I’m so thankful for this new opportunity though where I’m actually a direct hire with benefits instead of being a contractor who was never going to get hired directly. The two companies compete in a corporate challenge every year at this race and I was hoping I could make a good first impression on my new team and run fast enough to help us win the half marathon division. We actually had 40-some people running the various races so obviously not everyone showed up for the photo.
My half brother Bob was doing the 5K and he hopped into our photo since he used to work for Chrysler. Now he’s on GM’s team though, so we’ve essentially swapped spots. It was nice to catch up with him then a couple of other friends once I went to the starting corral. One of the things I like so much about this race is seeing so many familiar faces.
Just like many of the years in the past, the 8:00 start of the race was delayed by 15 minutes because there was traffic on the course. More time to chat with people while I tried not to get too anxious since I wanted to get moving!
I lined up a little behind the 1:40 pacer who must have taken off because I didn’t notice him once the race got going. I think I was actually running splits that would have kept me close to that group but it’s very rare that I find a race where I can actually stick with the pacer. I didn’t really know what my goal time was anyway. I knew that my best Brooksie time was around 1:43 so I wondered if I could get close to that.
My pace was between 7:32-7:35 for the first four miles. I thought maybe that was a little ambitious. I usually start a little slower and speed up as I go. However, when I ran the course several weeks ago during a training run it reminded me that the downhill start can be really beneficial. I ran those miles faster than I normally would during training and I was still fine during the late miles of that run. Usually it’s not ideal to bank time by running fast early to make up for segments where the race gets harder. It could backfire with some major struggles later in the race. I said forget that though and decided to go for it. Because of the nature of this course it doesn’t make sense to try to run at an even pace. I was going to take advantage of the momentum I had going downhill because I knew I wouldn’t be fast no matter what when the uphill segments began.
My friend Carmen had another friend who was running the half marathon and she was kind enough to come out and cheer for us along with some awesome signs. I didn’t know where she’d be so luckily she cheered loud enough to catch my attention around a mile or so into the race.
Shortly after I saw her I also saw my friend Jeff spectating. I didn’t know he’d be out there so it was a fun surprise. I saw a couple other people I knew throughout the course too and it always made me smile. Another bonus for such a hyperlocal race!
I ran the fifth mile in 7:29 and I hoped this approach of running fast early wasn’t going to come back to bite me later. During workouts that pace usually feels pretty challenging but it came naturally during the race. Things just clicked. Afterward I realized maybe I wasn’t getting too far out of control after all. My half marathon PR pace is around 7:35. It might be more ideal to aim for that pace consistently through a race instead of slowly easing into things and having energy for extra fast miles at the end. There are so many ways to approach racing and even after this many I still don’t know if there’s a truly right or wrong way to do it. I guess it’s part of the challenge that keeps things interesting.
After the fast downhill miles on the pavement we hit Clinton River Trail for a little over a mile and the asphalt and crushed stone surfaces didn’t seem to slow me down. I knew that once we turned off the trail things would get harder with the first incline. There’s a quick downhill afterward that takes us through downtown Rochester. I saw Jeff again at that point and told him that the easy part was over. A guy running near me jokingly said, “That’s not very encouraging!” I laughed and said, “Well, it’s true!” I think I’ve crossed paths with him while out running so I’m pretty sure he knew it too.
There was a quick segment on pavement through Rochester Municipal Park before we ran a mile on Paint Creek Trail with crushed limestone. Although the trail seems flat I know that there’s a slight enough incline and I started to slow down a little bit.
Somewhere around seven miles into the race the REAL hills begin with a straight shot up where we switch from the trail to roads. I live right by that first climb and ran it a few days before the race. It didn’t seem so bad then but it’s always a challenge during the race when I’m actually trying to go fast. I just kept talking myself through the tough spots by reminding myself how well I know the course and that I know what to expect. It definitely helped to have people out there encouraging us through the hills. I saw Carmen again which made me smile and she got a picture for me!
Somewhere around nine miles into the race I passed a spectator who was telling each woman what place she was. I think he said that I was the 16th place woman as I went by. I usually care more about how I’m doing in terms of my own personal goal rather than my overall placement but I was gaining ground on the woman in front of me and it was encouraging to think I’d jump to 15th place. It motivated me as I caught a few more women and kept counting myself one place higher. After all, I DID want to place well for the corporate challenge and the more women I passed the better my chances of moving up in my age group. Eventually I didn’t see any women in front of me that I could catch and I just hoped no one was coming up from behind to pass me!
There’s a fairly short stretch on a dirt road and most of the surface was in pretty good shape. It’s still a little hilly though and I was powering through and telling myself that once I got back to the pavement I would have a long stretch where I could fly. It still isn’t totally flat there either though and I grimaced at times as I kept grinding. I had been somewhere just above or below an 8:00 pace for the difficult miles which was actually pretty fast considering how hard it was, but I dropped back down to 7:40s then 7:30s for that straight shot before turning onto the final road. I wondered if I had picked it up too early and if I could actually maintain it. Jeff, who had traveled around to several parts of the course on his bike, was there again. He gave me some encouragement while I was just trying to hang on and I really appreciated him being out there.
When I turned onto the last road that would take us toward the finish I knew I had to keep pushing hard through the end. It was great to see Carmen there for more encouragement and I was excited to tell her I was going to have a PR for the Brooksie course! Then one last grind for the evil uphill finish.
I crossed in 1:40:22 and was pretty thrilled. I had shaved three minutes off my best Brooksie time. On top of that, I was less than a minute slower than my general half marathon PR and I ran that one on a totally flat course. I had no idea I could come close to that time on such a tough course!
I was pretty excited when I saw how well I placed in the race too. This was definitely my strongest Brooksie performance all around. Second in my age group meant I would probably be an asset to my Dodge Chargers team so one of my main goals had been achieved!
I got my medal, water, a granola bar, Rice Krispies Treat, and some chips before leaving the finishing area. I got some warmer clothes then headed over to the Team Challenge tent.
In the past we’ve been spoiled with some great catered meals in the Team Challenge tent but the pandemic spoiled that this year. Instead, we received a ticket for a free serving of mac and cheese from the House of Mac food truck.
I found the team leader from the GM running club and talked to him for a bit. It was my first time seeing him in person in a couple years and I broke the news to him that I had switched to the rival. It was really nice to catch up with him. Then I wanted to talk to the leader of my current team. I had met him the week leading up to the race but really didn’t know anyone else on the team. He talked about the achievements of some of the other members, including a woman who had recently run 200 miles. I definitely want to get to know some of these teammates!
While we were talking one of my running buddies from Instagram came over and introduced himself. Steve and I always seem to post pictures from the same local running spots yet we hadn’t met in person. It was really nice to finally meet him and chat for a while in person.
Later in the day I found a spot on the results page that listed the Team Challenge info. Sure enough, my second place age group finish helped my team come out on top! I’m glad I was able to contribute and be a valuable member of my new team. It’s actually the 11th year in a row that they’ve taken the win for the half marathon.
The following weekend a couple of Brooksie volunteers were back on the Meadow Brook grounds to hand out age group awards. I swung by and received a notebook and key chain. They also had boxes of old shirts for free so I grabbed a bonus one for this year’s race – as if I really need more shirts!
I’m really happy with the results of this year’s race and so thankful that we had perfect weather to help make it possible. I’m still in shock that I got so close to my half marathon PR. It makes me wonder what I might be able to pull off on an easier course right now. After having a couple of fall marathons cancel on me because of the pandemic, I finally decided on the Indy Monumental Marathon in early November. I’m hoping my third choice actually DOES happen. I ran the race in 2018 and my time got me into Boston, so I’m hoping I can capitalize on my current fitness level and pull that off again this year.
Yet another crazy race for me last weekend! I thought I’d be running the 20-mile race at the Med City Marathon in Rochester, MN on Sunday, September 12th. Instead, I ended up squeezing one more triathlon into the season. Gotta be adaptable during COVID-19 times when plans are constantly changing and anything can get canceled at any moment!
I had planned to see a band in Minneapolis over the weekend but it was canceled a few weeks ago due to COVID concerns. Although I had also signed up to run the Med City race while in Minnesota it didn’t seem worth the trip anymore. I wondered if I could find something else to do with the weekend and use the vacation days I had already scheduled. There was a concert I really wanted to see on Saturday near Dayton, OH. Then I saw that another band would be in Cincinnati a couple days before that. This triathlon was on my radar already and it was in Oxford – somewhere between Dayton and Cincinnati. Although I was intimidated when I saw how hilly the bike course was, things were falling in place with the concerts so I knew it would be a perfect chance for me to hit that race. I decided to commit just over a week beforehand.
I’ve thought about trying the half Ironman distance someday. I was intrigued when I came across Zoom Multisport Racing in Ohio because they offer the 1/3 Iron distance at a number of their races. I actually signed up for one a few years ago but opted not to make the trip when they announced that the lake’s E. coli level was high. I was glad that one of their events was finally going to work out for me this time.
Not counting the 10-leg triathlon I did this summer, this would be the longest standard type of triathlon I’ve done. I’ve raced the Olympic distance (1500m swim, 24.8-mile bike, and 6.2-mile run) many times but there aren’t many races that offer a distance between that and a half Ironman. This would be a nice spot in between with a 2000m swim, 34.5-mile bike, and 9.3-mile run.
I knew it wasn’t ideal that I’d only get 4-5 hours of sleep after being out late at a concert the night before but I’ve survived the lack of sleep plenty of times. Hueston Woods State Park doesn’t have many hotel options nearby so I drove nearly an hour to get to the park in the morning. It wasn’t easy leaving by 5:15! When I got to the park and opened my car door I was hit with a wave of bugs. They were so annoying I was almost tempted to turn around and leave! I really hoped they wouldn’t be an issue during the race or it could be miserable. I’m glad I was smart enough to bring my headlamp because most of the park was in the dark, but the bugs swarmed around the light. SUPER annoying. Fortunately the transition area wasn’t as bad and they faded as daylight arrived. The sun didn’t rise until 7:15 so we were in the dark until close to 7:00.
The race company used extra bike racks to help keep people spaced out in transition. It was nice to have the extra space with only two other people on my rack. At one point I saw someone with a wetsuit and wondered if they were legal. We were told in the days leading up to the race that the water was at least 80°. The cutoff for wetsuits is 78° so we probably couldn’t use them. I found a sign that said water was 75° and the race was wetsuit legal! It’s a good thing I had it in the car. With 2000m to swim I knew it would be very helpful.
Here I am looking awfully concerned as I tried to figure out how the swim course would work!
The duathlon started first at 7:00 and the 1/3 Iron distance started 15 minutes later. Our race had a pretty small group and we all started in the water together. I lined up second from the left because it made the most sense to stay close to the buoys and shorten my course. I was surprised by all of the people who would be adding extra distance to their swims by spreading out to the right, but I do understand wanting some space so they wouldn’t get stuck in the crowd.
In order to get to 2000m we swam a smaller 500m loop first and a 750m loop two times after that. We rounded the first buoys right away so there was a little congestion there but things spaced out pretty well after that. My biggest issue was dealing with a couple of guys who got too close to me. One guy was on the inside with the closer path to the next buoy yet he kept straying toward me on the outside. That forced me to swim farther away! I finally stopped for a couple seconds to let him go then swam to his other side. He and another guy continued to stray way off path. If they wanted to make their swim longer it was fine with me as long as they stayed out of my way! I believe one or two of the other race distances may have started while I was in the water but fortunately I didn’t encounter any congestion because of it. I was pretty surprised a few times when people came at me head on though! I stuck to the rectangular path around the buoys and did not expect anyone to be so far off that path that they came right at me!
On one side I enjoyed watching the sun rise and on the other I saw other athletes lining the beach as they waited to start their races. Here’s how things looked as the sun began to rise when one of the other groups prepared to start.
I’m not sure if the loops helped break things up but the swim seemed easy and flew by pretty quickly. I’m sure the wetsuit helped! The temperature was just right and I didn’t encounter any weeds at all. It was nice to feel so comfortable during the swim and I was kind of surprised to see 35-some minutes on my watch when I stood up. It usually takes me closer to 40 minutes to swim that distance in the pool. By the time I got through the grass and up to the transition area my time was 36:33 for the swim segment.
I went through my usual battle of trying to get my wetsuit off over my ankles. That wasted a little time in addition to wiping my feet, putting socks and shoes on, stuffing a couple of Picky Bars into my back pocket, etc. By the time I ran out of transition with my bike 3:41 had passed.
Time for the 34.5-mile ride. I knew that the hills would be challenging and I just hoped I could handle them. I don’t feel very secure riding on roads other than at a couple of local metroparks. I typically train on trails that keep me away from traffic and they’re mostly flat. In the week leading up to this race I made a point of adding a few hills to the mix but I knew it was probably too little too late. I also didn’t know if they were significant enough to prepare me for the hills coming in this race. I hoped I could manage well enough because I’d have to ride the same loop around the park four times. I hoped I wouldn’t spend the whole time swearing!
I really appreciated the great job Zoom did with the course. Vehicle traffic could only travel in one lane in one direction around the park while we rode the opposite direction in our own lane. Although I didn’t see a bunch of bikers during my first loop, after that it was clearly necessary to keep one lane reserved for us. Beginners, sprint, Olympic, and 1/3 Iron athletes all used the same loop so it got a little busy in spots. Sometimes there were three people wide as people passed at various paces. It was a big relief to just watch out for other bikes and not worry about cars coming from behind as well. I was annoyed a number of times when people zipped by without announcing themselves. It may not always be necessary, but it’s a common courtesy that is helpful when there are so many people on the road.
There were three climbs throughout the loop that were significant. The first one climbed 110 feet in about half a mile, the second segment was around 123 feet in 0.7 miles, and the third was similar to the first although it felt like the steepest one. I don’t think it translates in photos, but the hills felt long and steep!
The hills around home are shorter and not as steep so I really hadn’t trained properly. I was prepared for the distance part but not the climbing part. I tried to spin along the best I could before getting out of the saddle to crank my way up in a standing position. It made me breathe heavily but that felt like the most productive way for me to climb. One thing that reassured me is that most people seemed to struggle. It wasn’t just me! A number of people even walked their bikes up parts of the hills. After a couple rounds of the hills I realized that I kept swapping spots with the same people. I suspected that being lightweight helped me with the hills a little more, but once I rounded them, the bigger guys built up more momentum and passed me again. As I passed one guy I said I’d see him in a minute and he commented on the game of leapfrog we were playing!
I got through the first loop and didn’t totally dread having to do it three more times so I guess that was good. There were some steep downhill stretches that built up pretty major speed. When I move too fast I worry that I’ll go flying if I hit a bump on a curve. I lost some of that momentum as I cautiously braked part of the time. My watch claims I peaked at 30.5 mph and that was a bit much for me! By the time I got to my third loop the hills became more problematic. As I got out of the saddle to climb my quads started to burn. I didn’t have the energy left to pull that off anymore and would have to take a new approach. I’d spin along for a few seconds and feel like I was going about a mile per hour, get out of the saddle for a few seconds and grind until I couldn’t take it, then get back to spinning. By that point I started to question why we choose to torture ourselves like that!
Somehow I survived the whole ride and finished in 2:14:23. I was SO relieved to be done but wondered how I was going to run 9.3 miles on legs that were totally wrecked! I spent 1:13 in transition before heading out to run.
I had to cover three loops of a 5K course that was basically split into a trail half and a marina half. Soon after heading into the woods there was a climb up a surface with some loose stones. Ugh, more hills! I felt like I was doing more of a hike than a run at times but I tried to keep some semblance of a run going rather than taking any breaks to walk. After climbing that hill there was a paved, flat (yay!) stretch that went out and back. Next came a pretty steep downhill segment that required hopping around potholes in some pretty rough pavement. There was another short out and back part in a parking lot before having to get back up the steep hill. It was so brutal! Once I got out of the woods there was a long stretch of grass along the beach that took us toward the marina.
That was the first time during the day when I began to feel the heat. It may have been in the 70s by then and that part was out in the open with no protection from the sun. There were a few trees around the marina area at least, where we basically ran up and down a couple aisles of the parking lot before heading back to do it all again.
When I first started the run I had a faint hint that my stomach might cramp. I had plenty of water and an electrolyte drink during the ride and also went through two Picky Bars, plus I had a fuel belt with more of an electrolyte drink for the run. I ate a few chews throughout the run that had a little extra sodium as well. Fortunately I didn’t battle any cramps but I was drained enough by the run that I felt like I jogged the whole time and didn’t have an extra gear. I like to step things up during the run because usually it’s the strongest part of my race but I didn’t have it in me. I told myself that this was probably great for marathon training. Running on tired legs was good practice. I was able to give a little bit of effort during the grassy stretch as I approached the finish at the end of my third loop. It took me 1:29:07 to complete 9.3 miles and I finished the race in 4:24:58.
Wow, that was pretty brutal. They had wet towels so I placed one around my neck. I got a bottle of water, a protein bar, granola bar, and some trail mix. I thought I’d pose for a picture by a banner and discovered that my phone had bounced around so much in my waist pack that it locked me out for 45 minutes! There’s a “tap to wake” setting that I should have turned off. I was lucky that someone from Zoom actually offered to grab his phone, take a few pictures, then text them to me. Many thanks to Steven for doing that!
I packed things up in transition and chatted with a few people there. A couple of them were experienced with racing longer distances and confirmed my suspicion that a half Ironman race with a flatter bike course would probably be easier for me than this race was and that I could totally do it.
Even though the race felt pretty bad at times, I’m really glad I did it and I felt very accomplished. This race didn’t offer awards because “everyone is a winner.” Anyone who pushed all the way through certainly was! Still, I checked the results to see how I did and I placed right in the middle of our small group.
I was surprised to see that I was the fourth fastest swimmer! The wetsuit makes a world of a difference for me. Usually the run is my biggest strength but I placed ninth in the run. As usual, the bike was the weakest part of my race and I was 14th out of 18. I’m just thrilled that I managed to get through all of those hills despite my lack of proper training.
Now I’ll finally have to push myself to commit to a half Ironman/70.3 race next year. I’ve known that I should be capable of doing it and this proved that I have it in me. I may also have to travel back to Ohio in the future to do more races with Zoom because they did a great job. I’ll have to scope out some of their other options and see if I can find one with a flatter course! This was a great way to wrap up this year’s triathlon season.
Now it’s back to running-only races with a half marathon on September 26th and a marathon to come sometime after that. Once again, COVID has messed with my plans. Originally I was going to run the Toronto Waterfront Marathon until it downgraded to a 10K this year. I signed up for the Vermont City Marathon instead, but that just downgraded to a half marathon. At this rate I think I’m going to stick with something local so I don’t spend more time booking a bunch of stuff that I just have to cancel. There are plenty of options and COVID can’t cancel all of them! I will find a fall marathon somewhere and put all of my training to use!
This weekend it was time for one of the most legendary races in Michigan – the 44th Crim Festival of Races. It was my fourth time running the race which is a low number compared to most of the runners I know! The race has a club of people who have done the race anywhere from 30-40+ years. People keep returning to this race because it’s always a memorable experience.
My 2020 entry for the race was deferred to this year because of the pandemic and I looked forward to getting back to it. I’m usually in the middle of marathon training when I run this race and that was true once again. It’s a good way to test where I stand in terms of speed and endurance at this point of my training.
It’s been warm and humid a lot lately and things were no different the day of the race. It was due to be in the 70s with humidity close to 100% at the start. At least it would be cloudy the whole time. The 10-Mile runners typically begin at 8:00 and the start was moved an hour earlier due to the conditions. It wasn’t going to be an ideal day for fast times but I actually didn’t worry about it. Because the weather has been so gross for running lately my body has had a chance to adapt. I used to think that I was bad at running in the heat and humidity but recently I’ve realized it’s more of an issue if I’m not used to it. I’ve had some rough race experiences when I’ve trained in cool conditions then the heat and humidity suddenly jumped without time for my body to adapt. I ran in the morning for a week leading up to this race and the conditions were pretty much the same every morning. It was like running in a sauna most of the time and I was always soaked by the time I finished. Although it’s been so gross outside, I haven’t been struggling through the runs. I even ran some miles at marathon pace and survived so I figured I should at least be able to manage that pace for Crim as well.
Around 5:45 I got to the parking lot I’ve always used and started a nearly half mile trek to the starting area. The race usually allows us to get our packets the morning of the race inside a building where there’s a big expo but that was canceled this year. Instead, they had us check in at tables in the parking lot where the post-race festivities would take place. It’s always fun to see how quiet it is first thing in the morning knowing that there will be crowds everywhere just an hour later.
I was happy when I received 1983 for my bib number. I had listened to the song “1983” by the band Neon Trees a couple days earlier so I thought it might give me good vibes. The song ran through my head many times during the race!
I made a trip back to the car to drop off my t-shirt, eat my second Picky Bar of the morning, and to get my stuff ready before heading back to the start for a bathroom stop. The lines were long but I would still have a few minutes to kill before the race started. My friend Lindsay spotted me and we chatted for a little while as we waited for the corral to open. When it did, I tried to hustle through the crowd.
The race originally had safety protocols in place to keep people spread out. They had us sign up for 15-minute rolling blocks of time so everyone wouldn’t go at once. When they shifted things earlier due to the weather, anyone could start the 10-mile race between 7-8am. I was a bit concerned that it meant we’d be back to starting in a large crowd and I’m still pretty wary about that. I was also concerned about getting caught behind slower people and starting slower than I hoped. The race usually puts people in starting corrals based on pace and with no guidelines like that in place I worried that it would be a free-for-all and could get messy. It’s kind of funny that things like that worried me more than the weather!
I was able to get closer to the start than I expected so pacing wasn’t an issue at all.
The route was a little different for the first couple miles due to construction. I didn’t notice too much because it’s usually the time when I’m just trying to settle into a good rhythm. I did miss running through the Flint campus of the University of Michigan though because in the past I’ve always gotten fired up when the marching band plays my fight song!
I saw plenty of familiar faces throughout the day which is one thing that’s always special about this race. So many of the serious local runners do this race. I was around a couple of guys for half the race who kept greeting people they knew and the best part was when one of the guys spotted one of his old teachers. He told him that he’d had him 40 years ago. The teacher asked what his name was and said, “Oh yeah!!” That made me laugh.
All of the usual folks in the community were out supporting the runners. The woman on the mini trampoline was bouncing around despite the heat. I always look forward to the guy who sings karaoke at the end of his driveway and he made me smile yet again. There was a donut table a couple miles into the race which may have been nice had I been walking, but I wasn’t going to take that risk while running! People had sprinklers going for us and I ducked through a few of them. I heard one of the marching bands play Toto’s “Africa,” and despite the heat, I actually got chills a couple times when I heard songs that must have triggered emotions. I was amused by people in front of a house who were drinking while standing in a baby pool where Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” was playing. I ran by during some very appropriate lyrics:
I heard “200 degrees” and thought about how it pretty much felt that way! People cheered for us and told us not to stop, to keep going. Sometimes those kinds of things are especially meaningful when it’s a bit of a struggle to keep pushing.
I saw a runner down at one point with an ambulance approaching. That reminded me of something Lindsay said while we were talking before the race. She mentioned how she had dealt with heat exhaustion during a recent workout. I wanted to push myself during the race but NOT to the point of having a heat stroke. Even if I felt like I should give it everything I had, I better keep things under control so I didn’t get myself into trouble. As usual, I ran with my fuel belt that had a 21 oz. bottle with an electrolyte drink. That was enough to keep me hydrated and I actually didn’t need any of the water stops. I ate a couple of chews during the race too that had extra sodium.
Pushing the pace in the heat and humidity wasn’t easy but somehow I actually stayed pretty steady. The infamous Bradley Hills section did slow me down halfway through the race though. I told myself that I’m used to running hills and it wouldn’t be a big deal, but as I started up the first hill it felt a whole lot steeper! I powered through and when I recovered enough I ended up back at the same steady pace again. I usually like to pick up my pace for the last few miles but this time I didn’t do that until I had a mile left. Again, I didn’t want to overheat. I had to watch my footing on the uneven bricks leading to the finish but flew through that final stretch. Although I felt pretty miserable after pushing through those conditions for 10 miles, it also felt amazing being able to pick up the pace so much for such a strong finish. My smile was 100% forced just for the sake of the cameras though!
1:18:37 was almost three minutes slower than my PR from 2019 but we also had cooler and more ideal conditions that day. I was very content with these results. I keep aiming to run a marathon at an 8:00 pace (which I haven’t managed yet) and I would have been happy if I had maintained that for 10 miles. Going under that pace while it was so gross out left me satisfied.
I didn’t pay too much attention to my watch while I was running so I hadn’t realized just how consistent most of my splits were until after the race. Aside from warming up through the first mile, slowing down on the Bradley Hills, and flying for the last mile, somehow I guess I locked into a certain zone!
I also looked at my heart rate info and saw that I had clearly pushed pretty hard. Had I done much more I may have been pressing my luck.
After the finish line I received my medal and volunteers had cold, wet paper towels for us which was really helpful. I saw a guy at one point during the race who had body paint. Some of it was sweating off onto his shorts. I came across his photo while browsing through the official race photos and had to compare the before and after shots. It totally cracked me up and it paints a pretty clear picture about how sweaty it was out there!
I got a jug of chocolate milk and a Chewy granola bar then went to see what kind of food they had in the post-race area. There was a tent for beer or a soft drink, but the only options for food were a couple of food trucks.
In the past they had pizza but I guess that was another thing cut because of the pandemic. I didn’t really want what the trucks had so I went back to grab a popsicle. I didn’t hang out too long after the race and went to the car where I had another Picky Bar. I wanted to get something special after my solid race and maybe donuts were on my mind since they had them on the course. I detoured on the way home so I could hit a place called DK Donuts & Burgers in Oxford that my brother had recommended.
It was a good way to treat myself! I came home feeling really happy about how the race had gone. Of course it would have been nice to get closer to my PR time but that wasn’t realistic on a day with a heat advisory. Just going under marathon pace was an accomplishment for me. My marathon training plan has me run up to 10 miles at that pace a time or two and since I’ve already done it a couple times this summer I hope it’s a good sign for my fitness right now. Plus, now I realized that I CAN run well in the heat and humidity and being able to train in those conditions makes a world of a difference. When it cools down I should be even stronger!
I’ve been going big this summer with ambitious events. It was pretty intense doing both my first 50K and a 10-leg adventure-style triathlon. Swimming a 5K this past weekend is right up there. Although I did Swim to the Moon once a couple years ago, it was still intimidating and quite an undertaking. I had trained properly for the other big events but I knew I didn’t do enough to prepare for this one.
I took a lot of time off of swimming due to the pandemic. Gym hours were limited for quite a while so I couldn’t swim before work like I usually do. Even when the hours went back to normal, I didn’t feel comfortable going to the gym very often until I was fully vaccinated. I finally got back to my swim routine in May and basically had to rebuild from scratch. I resumed my routine of swimming 2,000m a few mornings a week but only did a handful of slightly longer swims. Training for a 50K in mid-June was the first priority, then I jumped into marathon training right after that. I also found myself racing most weekends which didn’t give me many chances to do longer swims during the weekends. Racing and marathon training were similar distractions leading up to 2019’s Swim to the Moon but at least I swam 3,200m a couple times, which I didn’t do this time.
I can give a bunch of excuses but the bottom line is that I didn’t train like I should have. My entry was deferred from 2020 and even though I wasn’t fully prepared, I knew I had to go for it. If things got ugly maybe I’d just have to mix in some breaststroke to get through it. I was confident I could at least finish.
On Sunday, August 15th I went to the Pinckney Recreation Area in Gregory, MI, which is a little northwest of Ann Arbor. I’ve been getting up too early too often lately and it caught up with me a bit during the drive when I left at 5am. No worries about falling asleep behind the wheel but I was uncomfortable and the hour and 20 minutes just dragged. I figured I’d wake up more when I hit the water!
The sun was just barely coming up when I got to Halfmoon Lake. I loved looking at the steam above the water as the sun rose. The water was calm and said to be around 78 degrees while the air was more like 60 degrees. I hung out near the beach and watched the 10K swimmers start around 6:40. Their swim was an out and back while the 5K was a point-to-point swim.
I have a hard enough time sighting the buoys in normal conditions. I can only imagine what it’s like through the fog!
After the 10K race began I caught a shuttle bus with other 5K swimmers where we all masked up because the pandemic has gotten problematic again. We were dropped off at Patterson Lake Beach where we would start our swim back to Halfmoon Lake. We had a number of porta-potties available and a picnic area near the beach where we lingered as we waited for the start.
I am thankful that they allowed us to have drop bags that they bused back to the start. It was a little chilly and it was helpful to wear warmer clothes until we were ready to go. We waited until the first couple 10K swimmers arrived and turned around before the 5K “speedsters” started our race. People who expected to finish in 1:10-1:30 were asked to line up next, and gradually other times were announced. With so many people gathered at the beach it was hard to know where to place myself since we went off one-by-one every few seconds. The race took me 1:50 in 2019 so I knew I would let plenty of people go ahead of me. Around 8:15 I finally headed out.
Despite looking at a map of our route and scoping out the buoys from shore, I was still a little confused about what direction to go beyond the first couple buoys. I didn’t know exactly when I should veer off after I got to the second one. Enough people were ahead of me so I could kind of follow them, but people were pretty spread out and it was hard to know who was following the ideal path and who was straying off-course. Eventually I settled in. Then it was usually a matter of getting to the next buoy and trying to spot the next one to aim for after that. Like many of the people, this time I used a small dry bag/swim buoy that was tethered to my waist. It didn’t bother me at all and it helped keep me visible – in case our bright yellow swim caps weren’t enough! I had my phone, keys, license, extra goggles, etc. in the buoy. The race encouraged the use of them and it made it easy to avoid running into people.
There are always bound to be a few moments when people get too close for comfort. One woman kept veering my direction which was pushing me further away from the best path to the buoy. I got annoyed enough to stop, let her go by, then I swam to her other side. It kept her out of my space and I was back on track with where I wanted to go.
Early in the race we went through a short tunnel. It’s a narrow spot that could get congested since some of the 10K swimmers are still going the opposite direction of the 5K swimmers. In 2019 I remember that it was a slower spot but this time there was a decent current there that moved us along pretty good. I only wish the current had lasted longer!
The water felt fine at 78 degrees but I had goosebumps at times. I’m sure the cool air temperature played a role in that. I’d rather err on the side of being a little cool rather than being too warm. Otherwise it was a perfect day to be out there. Greg Sadler Photography did a great job documenting the day, although I failed to mug for the camera and wasn’t especially photogenic!
Aside from simply finishing, one of my main goals for the day was to avoid cramps. I nearly made it to the finish in 2019 when I had a major cramp in my calf. It was agonizing and I had to tread water until it faded. I realized how important hydration was and knew dehydration had caused the issue. Last time I’m not sure if I missed the first aid station or if I just chose to skip it, but this time I made a point of stopping at both aid stations. The first aid station was a mile into the race and was on a raised surface. Since it wasn’t shallow enough to stand I hung on with one hand and drank a couple cups of water with the other. My legs started to drift under the platform and I scratched my right knee on it. I was thankful that the 2-mile aid station was in a shallow spot where I could stand. I had one cup of water there and two cups of Gatorade. That must have been enough because I didn’t cramp at all! Last time I also got pretty hungry by the end and hoped I could avoid that this time. I had a Clif Bar at home, a Picky Bar while I was driving, and a second Picky Bar just over an hour before the race. That combo seemed to work as well. I also had some of an electrolyte drink in a bottle leading up to the start.
Despite my lack of training for the distance I felt surprisingly good. After a while I noticed that my hands and wrists were stiff from swimming continuously for so long. I formed fists a few times to try to loosen them up and could really feel it then. Luckily it didn’t bother me too much. At times it felt like the swim was dragging on for so long and I wondered how much I had left. It was pretty much a straight shot for the last mile in Halfmoon Lake but I couldn’t see the finish. I kept trying to track the big orange buoys or the crowd of people ahead of me when I couldn’t see the next buoy. Eventually I got to a point where I saw people in different colored swim caps swimming the opposite direction. People could swim a half mile or 1.2 miles and it must have been some of those swimmers. I kept looking for the big blue Epic Races finishing arch!
Somehow I was able to keep swimming strong even at the end. I tried to put a little more power in my stroke and kept hoping a cramp wouldn’t hit.
Eva Solomon (the race director) made a point of saying that we should try to smile for our finishing photos. Finish line photos for running races usually look fun and exciting and the swim photos…don’t. Many of us look pretty wiped out as we trudge out of the water, half wobbling after standing up when we’ve been in a horizontal position for so long. I tried my best not to look like a disaster. Keeping my goggles on to hide my raccoon eyes was a very conscious decision! I didn’t know where the finishing photos would be so I’m glad I happened to spot Greg Sadler who gave me a thumbs up. That made me smile for a couple of his photos! This is my fourth race with Epic Races this summer and Greg Sadler and his team have always done an amazing job. I don’t especially like swimsuit photos but he did the best he could based on what he had to work with!
Goal achieved – I finished and I didn’t cramp! Once again I had made it through the three lakes.
I finished the race in 1:57:43. I had finished in 1:50:00 last time so I was a little bummed about that.
I reminded myself that it was quite an accomplishment to even complete this race. I shouldn’t have huge expectations considering how I had barely done half the distance during training. If I want to do better, I have to train smarter. Although I often place fairly well during running events, running is clearly more of a strength for me than swimming. I was never a fast swimmer as a kid which is what led me to quit the swim team by the end of middle school. It was all about competition and my times were not competitive so why do it? Despite my initial disappointment in my time at this race, I told myself that I approach swimming with a new perspective as an adult. Now it’s more about how it makes me feel strong and gives me a personal sense of accomplishment. I DID feel accomplished.
Epic Races always has great post-race food. I had some pancakes, mac and cheese, an egg and cheese wrap, and a peanut butter and granola wrap. They also had an ice cream cooler where I got an ice cream sandwich, then a bomb pop later before I hit the road.
Somewhere around 500-600 people participated between all of the events. One of the most impressive feats of the day had to be a guy who swam butterfly. I heard the announcer say a guy was approaching the finish who swam butterfly the whole time. The real kicker? He did the 10K! Amazing.
The day after the race my neck and obliques are a little sore from rotating to breathe and I have some general arm soreness. Between that and my slower time hopefully I will be motivated to train properly and improve next year. I definitely want to keep returning to this race. It’s very likely that I’ll be doing a bunch of races and training for another marathon next year too but I really need to find a way to squeeze some longer swims into my training schedule. For now I’ll be satisfied that I successfully pulled this off and that I felt pretty good while doing so.
I’ve been keeping busy with races this summer and thought my first 50K would be the craziest thing on the schedule. Then I did the Battle of Waterloo on Saturday, July 31st. The name comes from the park where most of it takes place, which is the Waterloo Recreation Area. It sprawls across Grass Lake and Chelsea, MI. I would consider this 10-leg triathlon to be an adventure race. It covers 42 miles with a 1.5-mile run, 20.5-mile bike, 0.45-mile swim, 4-mile run, 0.25-mile swim, 3.4-mile run, 0.7-mile swim, 3.3-mile run, 5.8-mile bike, and a 1.4-mile run. Got all that? In order to cover all of that distance, athletes need to carry swim and run gear with them. To think that I used to get hung up on the logistics and gear required for a normal triathlon. Now that seems like nothing!
I’ve debated signing up for this race in the past but the logistics were overwhelming and lack of correct gear kept me away. After I did the Ugly Dog Triathlon with Epic Races a few weeks ago I received an email reminder that the Battle of Waterloo was coming up. I realized I might actually be ready to try it. Last year I got my first dry bag/swim buoy to carry things while I swim at the lake. It tethers around my waist and I use it for my phone, keys, a little towel, and sandals. That bag wouldn’t be big enough for running shoes and I didn’t know how I’d carry it with me on the bike and while running if I did this event. It got me thinking and with a Google search I found that some buoys are bigger and come with backpack straps. If I had something like that I might be able to work through the logistical worries. I decided to order the buoy and sign up for the race!
I got the buoy the Tuesday before the race and knew I better try it out. I did a run/swim/run/swim workout at Stony Creek Metropark. As I started my run to the first lake I had to stop immediately because the bag was bouncing too much. I needed to tighten straps and inflate it to make it fit more securely. I made it to the first lake and it took me a good five minutes to transition from my running gear to swim gear. I had to deflate the bag enough to squeeze a bunch of stuff inside. Take the backpack straps off and put them in the bag. Take the waist tether out of the bag and attach it to the outside. Put socks, running shoes, sunglasses, hat, and handheld bottle in the bag. Get my swim cap and goggles out. Roll it up, clip it shut, and inflate it so it would float. I did a quick swim then had another slow transition back to running gear. During the second run the straps rubbed my shoulders and I knew I’d have to do something about that. Aside from the little annoyances, I realized it could work and it was actually kind of fun. I decided to try wrapping the straps with a pair of my running arm sleeves, which are essentially socks without the foot part. I pinned them on and although it looked silly, I hoped at least it would keep my shoulders from getting chafed.
Epic Races posted a couple of videos on their Facebook page. They had a pre-race Zoom meeting where I learned that Garmin watches only let you program five activities at a time. That was something I’ve never thought about. You mean Garmin didn’t think people might do a triathlon with 10 activities? In order to track myself I’d have to split it into two different segments. I also watched a video that demonstrated a swim through reeds and lily pads in one of the lakes. Had I known that was involved I’m not sure I would have signed up! However, they showed that it’s doable so certainly I could do it too. What was I getting myself into?
I got all of my race gear laid out the night before the race. Add my bike, a couple more bottles, and a few other things and I realized it didn’t look as overwhelming as I thought.
After doing both Tri Goddess Tri and the Ugly Dog Triathlon at Big Portage Lake State Park in recent weeks, I was getting to be very familiar with the hour and a half drive out to the area. I got to the park about an hour before the transition would close at 7:15. We really lucked out that it had cooled down, the humidity was low, the mosquitoes weren’t quite as bad, and it was a beautiful summer day for this crazy race.
71 people finished the “full battle” and 42 people did “half the battle.” We all started the run at once. I knew that the race was going to start with a course through single track trails that I had run for the other races. Always worrying about logistics, I wondered if it would be too congested. I started pretty close to the front and was relieved that people naturally began to space out based on their pace as we ran through wider stretches and up a slight hill to get to the trails. Once again, I was very appreciative that Epic Races uses Greg Sadler Photography who provided all of these great race photos!
There were a few moments when I passed someone or people passed me but it all worked out pretty well. Although the race didn’t track each individual segment because they would have needed way too many timing mats, I used my watch to keep track of my times. I got through the 1.5-mile run in 13:26. I ran to my bike, put my helmet and backpack on, then ran to the spot where we could start the ride.
20.5 miles didn’t seem too bad since Olympic triathlons have bike segments that are a few miles longer than that. Some of the course was the same as my last couple triathlons there so I knew I could expect a few rough spots on the roads. It seemed a whole lot worse than just a few spots though. It seemed like I spent the majority of the ride bouncing and rattling around on the road. I wished I had my mountain bike instead.
At one point I wanted to dodge a rough spot ahead but someone was coming behind me. It figures – I hit that rough patch and one of my water bottles went flying. I pulled over and ran back to get it. A little later I got rattled enough to launch my bottle again! Apparently I needed to bend that bottle cage for a more secure grip because it must have loosened. I’m already a bit slow on the bike so running back to collect my bottle didn’t help.
I tried to stay positive by telling myself I was just taking a nice ride to get to the beach for a swim. Once I got through this segment I’d spend the next six parts of the race either swimming or running. I finished the bike ride in 1:11:04. That averaged out to a little above 17 mph which is about my usual. We had a transition area where we racked our bikes and left our helmets. Then I ran down the road to get to the water. I wanted to say beach but there wasn’t one!
I knew from my trial workout that I was going to be slow with transitions. I was there to enjoy the challenge and told myself that I could take my good old time. I was just looking to finish and not trying to win the race. I swapped my gear on the grass and got in for a 0.45-mile swim across Clear Lake. I hit my watch which tracked a 6:07 transition. At least my first one was the slowest one of the day! To be fair, my watch makes it look like running from the bike area to the water was close to a quarter mile.
I had a really nice swim across Clear Lake aside from dealing with technical issues. I decided to lengthen my waist tether after my practice workout because the buoy was hanging a little too close to me. Well, lengthening it made it long enough to drift back to my feet. That made kicking a challenge and my left hip got annoyed. On top of that I realized I didn’t add extra air to the bag when I closed it. It had been inflated a good amount from my bike ride, but still. It may have created a little extra drag. There were a couple of things I’d need to adjust for my next swim. At least I had a few chances to learn and adjust along the way.
The swim took around 17:50 and my transition out of swim gear and into run gear took about 3:39. A little faster! Aid stations were available before and after each swim. There were extra aid stations in the middle of most of the run courses as well. Sometimes I’d stop for a cup of Gatorade or water, but I had my handheld bottle with an electrolyte drink and some chews so sometimes I’d just keep going. One of my biggest concerns was staying hydrated so I wouldn’t cramp during the swim so I tried to be smart about getting enough fluids. I ate a Picky Bar about an hour into the race while I was on the bike to get some extra calories, plus I finished a 21 oz. bottle with my electrolyte drink then too.
The next run was supposed to be around four miles. Most of the runs took us through trails and part of this one was shared with horses. A volunteer reminded us to be on the lookout, but fortunately it was just us running through there. I only had to watch out for sand, roots, and rocks. I’m not sure if it was actually four miles because 31:26 would have been a little fast for me to cover that on trails. A 4:13 transition time and then it was time to swim across Mill Lake.
Mill Lake was the one shown in the Facebook live video with the lily pads. It turns out lily pads weren’t the only thing to worry about. Almost immediately I found that the weeds were thick throughout most of the lake. I kept snagging them with my arms when I tried to swim freestyle. I got tangled in them and it made it hard to have a decent stroke. I wasn’t grossed out by them but I WAS annoyed! There was a volunteer in a kayak and I was struggling along slowly enough that I was able to chat with her as I tried to figure out how to maneuver through. A couple other swimmers were around me battling their way through as well. Eventually I tried some breaststroke and it seemed to be my best bet. Rather than stroking down through the water, my arms were just under the surface and I was able to glide through a little more easily. It never felt like I got a decent swim going but at least that segment was only a quarter mile long. The lily pads did make things interesting too. By the time I approached the shore I was feeling very grateful that my mom and dad made me take swim lessons and be a part of the swim team for much of my childhood. I didn’t always want to do it but it sure made me a good swimmer. I felt secure enough in the water even as I got tangled up. Another tricky part about these lakes was the footing getting in and out of the water. The bottom wasn’t always a nice sandy surface. Once I finally got out of the weeds I still had to navigate the rocky bottom that wasn’t especially easy to get through. When I hit my watch on the shore it said that segment took 11:43.
At that point the five-segment limit on my watch ran out. I had to wait for it to save that activity and I started a new one. The new one didn’t start with a transition time so it was recorded as part of my run time. My watch didn’t show any running pace for about 4:50 so I assume that’s how long it took for me to get rolling again. The aid station had bug spray and I decided I’d try some. My arm stung and I realized I had gotten a scratch from the weeds!
The run took us past some cabins in the woods and along the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. Again, I’m not sure if it was actually 3.4 miles because it took me 29:57 for that segment, minus five minutes for the transition at the beginning. That pace would have been a little fast for me on trails, but who knows – maybe I was faster than I realized? I knew the run was my strength so I tried to push the best I could. I kept passing the same people during the run segments. That’s when I was fastest but they’d make up the time and get ahead of me again during the transitions! I was often annoyed by my bag bouncing despite tightening the straps as much as I could. Sometimes I held the straps together with one of my hands to help minimize it. Either way it was doable even if it was a little annoying. 4:37 for my next transition then it was time to do the final swim.
Crooked Lake was the longest swim of the day at 0.7 miles. A few of the people in transition weren’t looking forward to that length. I was just looking forward to a nice swim minus the weeds of the last lake! I was also hoping that I wouldn’t cramp. I’d felt pretty decent so far but knew that some of the inclines on the trail runs had worked my muscles pretty good. I’ve had calf cramps in the water before and that was one of my biggest worries for the day. Since it was a fairly long swim there were more buoys to sight along the way. Sometimes it took me a moment or two to make sure I was headed in the right direction but I could usually tell based on the people ahead of me as well.
It was a much nicer lake than the last one and I enjoyed the swim. I spent part of the time reflecting on what a cool experience this was. Getting to run, bike, and swim was my ideal way to spend a beautiful summer day. I don’t get many chances to swim across a pretty lake like that so I soaked it in. And I didn’t cramp! The water got a little colder as I approached the shore but it was still reasonable. I finished the swim and my walk in to the beach in 28:53.
I’m not in the following picture but it shows what the transition area was like. We often started and finished at random little spots, not big beach areas. Volunteers set up chairs for people to change into their shoes and sometimes there were picnic tables too. I found myself a little more wobbly after swimming longer this time so it helped to sit at the table as I swapped my gear. It took me a bit longer with a transition time of 5:37.
It was time for our last longer run of 3.3 miles. A good chunk of the run was on dirt roads and there was a decent climb early on before going through a gravel pit. Right now it’s the only way to get around a closed segment of the road. It definitely gave us an interesting change of scenery. Greg Sadler took some cool photos there!
I’m glad he set up in the spot he did for the photos because right after I passed him and rounded a corner, my smile disappeared and I swore. “Are you kidding me?!” There was a pretty nasty hill on the way out of the gravel pit. It just seemed cruel after having done so much already by that point! At least one more tough hill came on the dirt road too and I had a few moments where I decided to walk. We ended up on a main (paved) road for a stretch before we got back to our bikes. The roads were open to traffic which is why it’s smart to run against the flow of traffic – I could see them coming and jump into the grass. Still, when a cop car came FLYING around a corner with the siren blaring it was a bit unsettling. The run took 33:18 and then I got to the transition area with my bike for the ride back to Big Portage Lake State Park. That was a quick transition in 1:37.
The final bike ride was only 5.8 miles. That was a huge relief after I’d hated so much of the 20.5-mile ride earlier. The final ride reminded me that sometimes I actually DO like riding my bike. The road was smooth and I got to see some horses as I rode past a place with stables. It was probably around noon by then so I was more concerned about sharing the road with traffic. I tried to stay aware and hoped that my big orange buoy made me extra visible! I was in a good mood as I rode back into the park. I was almost done with the race and I was still doing just fine! Only 20:21 for that bike ride where I averaged around 16.5 mph.
I had a quick transition of 1:09 as I ran my bike back to the rack, took my helmet and backpack off, put my race bib on, and grabbed a hat. The race announcer had a long day of trying to find enough to say as people gradually trickled in, and he had fun with my last name of Boltz, commenting on how I was going to “bolt” out of there for my final run.
The last run was essentially the same as the first one and 1.4 miles long. It was definitely more enjoyable getting to run without that buoy! There was one woman way ahead of me who was a really strong runner. I had seen her power up the hills on the dirt roads that were such a struggle for me so I knew I wasn’t going to catch her. I was basically on my own for the final run and feeling good knowing that I had pulled this off. I picked up the pace a little bit at the finish line and finished the run in 13:07. I was extra motivated to push at the end because I saw that the clock was just under five hours. I didn’t know what to expect but had wondered if it might take me 4.5-5 hours to finish the race. I was suddenly motivated to get under that 5-hour mark!
It was kind of cool to see that I did well despite my leisurely transitions and no expectations! Winning my age group meant I got a cool glass and coaster.
I was excited to check out the food table once I recovered for a few minutes. I got a cup of trail mix, a peanut butter and granola wrap, an egg and cheese wrap, and mac and cheese to start. I had a couple pancakes after that plus an ice cream sandwich. I burned over 2,000 calories so I knew I needed to eat a lot and they had good options.
In general I actually felt pretty good. For five hours of racing (maybe more like 4.5 minus my transitions) it didn’t beat me up that much. I ran 4.5 hours last weekend in the heat and humidity and that totally drained me. The weather sure worked in our favor for this race and I think it made a big difference breaking the activities into smaller chunks. I may have run close to half a marathon but it was no more than 3-4 miles at a time so it didn’t feel like that much to me. For something that appeared to be really ambitious and intimidating, I felt really proud that I successfully completed it.
I can’t help but think about things I could tweak. I might use my mountain bike for the sake of not feeling so rattled during that first ride. I don’t go a whole lot faster with my skinnier tires – it’s like I have one mode when I’m on the bike no matter what bike it is. I’d rather be comfortable and possibly sacrifice a little speed. One trick some people use is tucking their shoes in their jerseys and they swim with them. I’m not sure if I’m up for wet shoes unless I get a specific kind made for that. There are a lot of swimrun events in Europe so I could learn more about what shoes they use. There may be other ways to make things quicker and easier. I wasted a bunch of time trying to clip and unclip the backpack straps. The bouncing bag was pretty annoying. Maybe I consider some other kind of pack made for running that I could put in the buoy during swims. Then I wouldn’t waste time with the straps. Maybe I get a buoy that’s big enough for my shoes and just hold it during my runs and sling it around my shoulder when I bike. I may go through the race photos to compare the different methods people used. Either way, it’s a good sign that I’m already thinking about doing it again! Epic Races has been holding this race every other year. I guess I’ll see if they reach a point where they hold it every year. I’d go! I’m really thankful for them hosting such a complicated race and for doing such an awesome job making it run so smoothly. I enjoyed testing myself and although it may sound crazy and torturous to some, I had a blast!
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!
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 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 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. :)
Hello & Welcome!! I'm Kecia...a wife, a dog mom to 1 chocolate and 2 black labradors, a triathlete, a yogi, a lover of fitness and outdoor adventures. Come with me on my journey as I push my limits and cross new finish lines!!