Swim to the Moon 5K Recap

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. 

Photo courtesy of Greg Sadler Photography

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.

Photo courtesy of Greg Sadler

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.

Photo courtesy of Greg Sadler Photography

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.

– Janet

Follow me on Instagram @janetboltz and Twitter @reidphotography

Battle of Waterloo: 10-Stage Triathlon Recap

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!

– Janet

Follow me on Instagram @janetboltz and Twitter @reidphotography

Loopty Loop Trail Run Recap

The pandemic kept me from racing for over a year and now I’m making up for lost time. Since I returned to in-person racing in mid-June, I’ve done five races in the last seven weeks! I’m trying to stay smart and listen to my body so I don’t push it too much. In the past it has worked well for me to cut back on hard weekday workouts in the summer and replace them with races during the weekends. Hopefully that method continues to work for me this summer.

The first time I ran the Loopty Loop Trail Run was in 2019. It was my introduction to the ultrarunning environment and I loved it. I ran the 4-hour race that year, which I did again this year, and the event also offered 8-hour and 12-hour runs. It was really inspiring to know that some people covered more than 50 miles. I was training for the Chicago Marathon at that point and had a 16-mile long run on my schedule. I ended up running 19.9 miles that day. My time hadn’t run out yet so I was tempted to run another loop. I thought that would be pressing my luck so I stopped. I found out I could have won the race if I had completed that final loop. I feel like I made the right decision that day but I also told myself I should return to the race the next year and go for the win. I had to wait a couple years to get back to it but my mission remained the same!

Saturday, July 24th was the day of the race. Once again, it took place on the trails at Bloomer Park in Rochester Hills, MI. I struggled with stomach issues for a couple days prior to the race and wondered if I would even make it there. I pushed through a 7-mile run one of those days and it was agonizing. I went to the park the afternoon before the race to get my shirt just in case I didn’t show up the next morning. Luckily I felt a little better when I woke up the morning of the race so I knew I had to give it a shot.

My last few races have had early starts and have been at least an hour’s drive from home. It was a treat to have a race that was only 10 minutes away with a 9:00 start. I finally got to sleep in! 9:00 is pretty late to start a race in the summer, but the 12-hour people started at 7:00 and the 8-hour people started at 7:30. The staggered starts helped keep things from getting too congested.

It rained pretty heavily before I left home but remained dry during my run aside from a moment of drizzle in the early miles. Rain probably would have felt better than what we got. It was in the 70s and very humid at the start. My friend Lisa was there with her husband and we talked in the parking lot for a few minutes before I went over to the pavilion. I stashed my insulated bag with several 21-oz. bottles under a picnic table in case it rained again.

One thing I love about looped courses is the ability to grab my own fresh bottles when I come back to the home base. Cups at aid stations are helpful but it works even better for me to carry my own bottles to make sure I drink what I want when I want. Although running multiple loops of the same course may seem mentally torturous, I’ve found that it actually works pretty well for me. We ran 6.3-mile loops last time and the loop was cut down to a 5K this time. I’m not sure I preferred one over the other because I seemed to be fine with both courses.

When it was time to line up for the start no one moved up to the front. I still feel weird lining up at the front but have learned that I actually belong there for some of these races! I have nerves at some races but I didn’t this time. I just knew it would be a long day and I’d do whatever I could. Time to head off into the woods to see how sloppy the trails were!

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

A few spots were okay but most of the course was pretty messy. The majority of the run was on single-track trails in the woods. Pretty early in the run we hit a stretch that twisted downhill. Between dodging roots, maneuvering a steep decline, and trying not to slide in the mud, it was dicey. There was a guy pretty close behind me and I stepped off to the side and told him to go ahead. I said that I knew I could wipe out at some point but hoped it wouldn’t be in the first five minutes! I came up behind people who were already out there doing the longer races and it got a little tricky trying to pass. Some people were great about moving off to the side and I really appreciated that. At times I just had to settle into a slower pace and be patient until I had a good chance to go around. There were some flat stretches that were wider, but some of those spots had so much water in the middle of the trail that it was best to stick to the edge on either side. There were a couple of super muddy spots where we were lucky to have a narrow stretch for getting around the mess. There was a segment that had us zig-zagging up a hill and I knew that wasn’t going to be fun for consecutive loops. At least it wasn’t muddy!

I came through the first 5K loop in 29:25 and the second in 30:01. It was definitely slower than I had hoped. With all of the mud plus the warm, humid conditions I knew I should lower my expectations. Part of me wondered if there was a possibility I could get to the marathon distance. Nine loops would get me to 27.9 miles. If we crossed the timing mat before the four-hour time expired at 1:00, we could still go out for a final loop that would count. If I got two loops per hour with a little time to spare, maybe I’d be able to squeeze in a ninth loop. It took me 59:26 for the first two loops and 59:48 for the second two loops. I knew I wasn’t building enough of a buffer and I needed to keep my two-loop time under an hour if I stood a chance.

Sometime during the third or fourth loop the guy who went ahead of me at the very beginning came up behind me. I just assumed he was lapping me. I got confused when he didn’t go flying ahead and our paces were kind of similar. Throughout the race there were moments where we kept swapping spots. When we chatted about our goals for the day he said he thought we had the same number of laps so far. I couldn’t understand how, but later I realized that our lap times were pretty close. Maybe I continued straight through the aid station at one point when he stopped, then he caught back up. I always felt bad if he was close behind me because I didn’t want to block him. I think that helped keep me moving faster than I would have gone otherwise. At certain sloppy stretches I’d move aside and let him go ahead. I told him I wasn’t good with the messy, technical spots. He said he was good with those parts and the hills. I said I was good with the flat straightaways! It seems like that’s where I’d end up ahead, then he’d catch up once the surface got iffy again. It probably helped keep both of us going by having someone around running a similar pace.

A couple hours into the race my stomach started to get annoyed. That typically happens as I continue to eat chews and drink my electrolyte drink. Most of the time the annoyance fades and then I’m fine. I questioned stopping at the bathroom after my fourth loop but thought the feeling would fade so I continued on. The feeling didn’t fade and I spent the whole loop just wanting to get back to the bathroom at the pavilion. That fifth loop took 32:12. I knew there was no way I would get a marathon in at that pace so it didn’t matter if I killed some time with a bathroom stop. That ate up a few minutes, plus I managed to jam my knuckle in the bathroom stall door which caused it to bleed. More time off the clock while I stopped to get a Band-Aid from a kind volunteer. Wouldn’t you know it – I didn’t wipe out on the trail the whole day yet I hurt myself in an even dumber way!

I felt a little better after stopping but it killed a chunk of time. By the time I came around after completing six loops it was past noon so it kept getting hotter too. My sixth loop took 38:11. I stopped to swap bottles every two or three loops and usually ran back out on the course pretty quickly after doing so. One of the times I stopped in the pavilion for a cup of cold water. A volunteer told me I should have some pickle juice since it helps with cramping. I knew I could probably use the extra salt so I downed a shot of it and cringed after doing so. Time for another cup of water to get rid of that taste! Sometime around noon a couple volunteers went to the top of the challenging hill and had popsicles for us. I took one the first time but passed the next few times. By then I didn’t really want anything!

The last two loops weren’t great. I think I spent half of the time groaning. I was so hot and I felt pretty miserable. I was on a mission though and I was determined to complete as many loops as the time would allow, even if I walked the last one. I questioned another bathroom stop as I started my final lap but chose to keep pushing through. I regretted that choice pretty quickly. As I ran down one of the hills, the hard landings jostled my stomach and I really wanted to stop again. I tried walking but it didn’t make me feel any better and it meant it would take me even longer to get to a bathroom. I tried to keep running!

I was really thankful that I know the park pretty well. I realized that the course took us past a section where I like to run the stairs for a good workout. There’s a building with a bathroom at the top of the stairs. I had no other bathroom options along the course so I was dying to get to those stairs. I was over four hours into the race at that point and I sure didn’t have the energy to run the stairs this time! What a great way to make a challenging day even harder. I veered off the course, trudged up, made it to the bathroom, then went back down the stairs to join the course right where I had left off. I felt funny about going off the course and I wanted to do things legitimately. It only added to my distance – it sure didn’t benefit my time!

At least that stop helped me survive the rest of the final loop. My slowest loop at that point had been 38:11, and my final loop took 44:07. I finished a total of eight loops to give me 24.8 miles in 4:29:32. Since I had completed a 25K after five loops, I received a keychain for that distance in addition to my medal.

I felt like crap when I finished. I found a picnic table in the pavilion and sat down hoping it would keep me from passing out. A volunteer asked if I needed anything and I noticed cups of Gatorade just out of reach. I asked if I could have one of those since I felt too wrecked to move over enough to grab it myself! I got up to get a towel from my water bottle bag and soaked it in the sink in the bathroom. I used it to try to cool my face and my neck. I think I felt worse after this race than I did when I ran 33 miles last month. That day was warm and humid as well, but I think it was worse this time. One of my weather apps said the real-feel was 90° when I finished.

Eventually I recovered enough to get a couple pieces of pizza and some cake. Then I asked if they were giving any awards for our race and Geneva, the race director, went to get a list of times from the timing company. Sure enough, I won! Nick, who I kept swapping spots with on the course, was the male winner. I was extra psyched when Geneva showed me that I had actually finished five minutes before him. I wasn’t just the top female – I was the overall winner too! Kind of cool! I was thankful that he helped push me out there and was glad he had won as well. We received duffle bags that were embroidered with the name of the race.

Here’s a look at my stats from the race:

The 4-hour race had 34 finishers. The 8-hour race had 30 finishers, with the top male covering 43.4 miles. 92 people were out there for 12 hours and a female covered the most distance with 58.9 miles!

Although the heat drained me and it was a brutal day, I was pretty excited that I won the race just like I had aimed to do! I was happy to finish 24.8 miles in those conditions and improve upon my 19.9 miles from the last time. I’ve never had to waste time with bathroom stops in a race before, but considering how bad I had felt the previous two days, I’m lucky that I even ran the race at all. The whole idea of having to add extra distance by running off the course and up those stairs yet still managing to win kind of cracks me up. It probably just shows that everyone must have struggled through those conditions. Although this technically wasn’t an ultra for me since I didn’t get past the marathon distance, I think it’s another race that shows me that I do pretty well with these long endurance events. Both this race and the Twilight Zone race where I ran over 50K last month were hosted by Move-It Fitness. They have a great community of people between those who are in charge, those who volunteer, and those who participate in the races. I keep seeing a lot of familiar faces at the races and it’s usually a very friendly group of people.

I’ve taken a couple days off after this race to recover. It seems like my body is getting used to the high mileage though. I’ve had a little bit of soreness but I haven’t struggled with the stairs at all and that’s usually an issue once I get this close to the marathon distance. I was only 1.4 miles short of a marathon!

Assuming my body recovers well enough this week, my adventure next weekend is probably going to be my craziest yet – a triathlon with 10 different legs. Run, bike, swim, run, swim, run, swim, run, bike, run. It should be really interesting to see how that goes!

– Janet

Follow me on Instagram @janetboltz and Twitter @reidphotography

Ugly Dog Triathlon Race Recap

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

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

The transition area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Janet

Follow me on Instagram @janetboltz and Twitter @reidphotography

Volksläufe Half Marathon Recap

Holz-Brücke Wooden Bridge

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

A beautiful day to race

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

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

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

People waiting to start the 10K

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frankenmuth Rock Ramp at Cass River

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

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

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

Pushing hard just before the finish

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

The map and info from Garmin
Stats from my watch

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

Stats from the race

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

Posing with my medal
A closer look at the medal

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

The awards ceremony

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

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

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

The Bavarian Inn Lodge

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

The bakery under the Bavarian Inn Restaurant

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

Cupcakes from SugarHigh Bakery

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

– Janet

Follow me on Instagram @janetboltz and Twitter @reidphotography

Tri Goddess Tri Sprint Triathlon Recap

Race season is in full force now! After taking a long break due to COVID it’s great to get back out there. I didn’t know how I would recover from running 33 miles at the Twilight Zone 6-hour run on June 12th so I didn’t want to register for anything too soon after that race. A week later I felt pretty decent after a few runs and was confident enough in my recovery to sign up for the Tri Goddess Tri sprint triathlon on June 27th. After going nearly two years without doing a triathlon I was really anxious to get back to it.

Epic Races hosted this one and I have always enjoyed their events. There were times in the past when I questioned the idea of races that were just for women. I’ve done a few of them now and I totally understand what a great experience they can be. There’s a sense of camaraderie and support that makes them feel extra special. The women-only race seemed like it would be a friendly environment for returning to triathlon.

The race took place on a Sunday morning at Big Portage Lake State Park at the Waterloo Recreation Area in Grass Lake, MI. It’s an hour and a half away so the 7:30 start made it an early morning. I was more concerned about the weather than anything else. It rained so much on Friday night that many areas were flooded, including several highways. There were more storms on Saturday night and tornadoes hit a few areas around the state. I wondered if the lake would be flooded or in good enough shape for swimming. Would there be debris on the roads where we’d be biking? Could more storms hit that morning and mess with our race? The weather was decent enough first thing so all I could do was go and see what happened.

I got to the park around 6:15 and headed to the transition area with my stuff. They had planned for a contact-less packet pickup process because of COVID. Even though restrictions have been lifted, they still carried on with the plans and left canvas bags filled with our stuff at our assigned spots in transition. The women who were around my area were very friendly and we all admitted how rusty we were as we tried to remember things like which direction to hang our bikes on the racks. One woman was doing her first tri and everyone was great about answering any questions she had.

After situating most of my stuff I walked down to check out the beach and figure out how things were set up. “Only” half a mile of swimming suddenly looked more intimidating when I saw how far apart the buoys were!

There was a bit of distance from the beach back up to the transition area so I walked the path to see what I was in for. We’d run on both pavement and grass on our way up the hill.

I finished getting everything ready in transition and went down to the beach just before the pre-race meeting was due to start at 7:15. We were told that the water was 72° so I chose not to use a wetsuit. It would be warm enough for me. Sometimes I struggle so much to get my legs out of the wetsuit that I fear I’ll just waste a bunch of time in transition. I got in the water and it was cold at first but I knew I would be fine.

Photo courtesy of Greg Sadler Photography

During the meeting on the beach I shivered partially because I was cold after getting out of the water but mostly because of nerves! I always get anxious before triathlons and having a two-year break from doing them didn’t help. People were asked to raise their hands if it was their first triathlon and there was a big cheer for all of the first-timers. Even more impressive was finding out that some people were over 50 years old and doing their first one, and some were even 60+! That was really inspirational and I could feel the welcoming and supportive vibes from the big group of women.

Rain hit for a couple minutes during our meeting but cleared for the rest of the race. The super sprint athletes got to start first so they could get a head start and clear the water before the sprint athletes started. We got to see that it was easiest for them to run through the water for a bit because it was so shallow. At first it seemed like the sprint athletes were going to line up by age group and try to sort our order based on pace while in line. That whole plan didn’t really go anywhere and soon enough I realized it was just a free-for-all and I may as well line up. It was nice that we didn’t have a mass start which can get pretty crazy. Instead, one person went in at a time every three seconds. It helped but there were still plenty of people around!

Photo courtesy of Greg Sadler Photography

I love to swim but I kind of freaked out and my nerves went crazy at the beginning. I’m so used to the routine of the pool. I can see so clearly, I have a set rhythm, and no one is crowding my space. Lake swimming is practically the opposite! I’ve done it enough times that I had assured myself I would be fine but I wasn’t. I was breathing so heavily from the start that I was completely thrown off. I did a little breaststroke to try to calm myself down but it didn’t help much. By the time I got to the first buoy I chilled out a bit and was able to swim more normally. It always got more congested when we had to round the buoys and then it was a little tricky trying to dodge people. I didn’t have any issues with being kicked or having my ankles grabbed, but one woman couldn’t seem to keep a straight line and cut right in front of me which made me stop at one point. I knew it wasn’t intentional though. I was just thankful that I seemed to stay straight enough myself and could see where I needed to go. I thought I’d give a little extra effort during the final stretch back to the beach but the wind created a little more waviness in that direction. Between the swim and the run up to the transition area, it took me 21:21. I always feel like I’ve been through quite an ordeal by the time I finish the swim segment, which is probably evident in the following photo!

Photo courtesy of Greg Sadler Photography

I spent 2:13 in the first transition which included a bit of a jog with my bike to the far opposite corner of the transition area where we had to head out. The bike ride was around 10.7 miles. Rather than using my bike with skinny tires, I brought my mountain bike. There was talk about some potholes during the pre-race Zoom meeting the prior week. That intimidated me enough to look at the street view of the course on Google Maps. It wasn’t bad but I saw enough rough stretches that I thought I would prefer thicker tires. On top of that, with all of the stormy weather I wondered if there would be debris on the road and if we might end up riding in the rain. All of those factors made me decide that I would feel more secure on my mountain bike. I’m pretty insecure on my bike as it is and don’t like getting rattled or worrying that I might get a flat tire. I didn’t have any big expectations for my first race in a couple years. I just wanted to get out there again and didn’t care if my time was a little slower because I used a heavier bike.

Photo courtesy of Greg Sadler Photography

The roads were open to traffic but there wasn’t much out there and no cars came up behind me. I hit 19 mph for a few miles early in the race, probably when I hit downhill portions and had a tailwind! I was thankful for the thicker tires in some spots where the road was kind of rough because the bumps didn’t rattle me at all. I breathed pretty heavily for the whole ride and really pushed. I passed some people and some passed me. As a woman mentioned to me after the race, it was kind of nice not to have any men zipping by on their $15,000 bikes. There were a few speedy women with fancy bikes who came by without warning, but most were good about warning that they were passing on the left. The course had some climbs but nothing too dramatic. For the last few miles of the race I could tell that we had turned into the wind which made things more difficult. I finished the bike segment in 37:52. I averaged around 17 mph which is about the best I usually manage anyway, so I don’t think my mountain bike messed me up too much.

I spent 38 seconds in transition and headed out to run. I was still breathing really hard but I guess that’s how the sprint distance works. The distance is shorter meaning I push the pace more and that’s hard work!

Photo courtesy of Greg Sadler Photography

We had some pavement to start then ran along a road briefly before turning onto a trail.

Photo courtesy of Greg Sadler Photography

Because of all of the rain the trail surface was pretty soft. It was really sloppy with mud in one spot but not too bad in general. There was one area where I slid and reminded myself that I better watch out for slick muddy spots! Most of the trail was single-track and several spots had trees or branches down to jump over or duck under. There were some pretty good uphills and downhills and I kept breathing heavily the entire run. I definitely pushed myself! The run is where I gained back some of the ground I lost during the bike. I’m kind of in the middle of the pack when it comes to my bike speed but I felt really strong during the run.

Photo courtesy of Greg Sadler Photography
Photo courtesy of Greg Sadler Photography

I was pretty out of breath after crossing the finish line! I had pushed really hard and finished what may have been around 2.8 miles in 22:30. I received my medal and a bottle of water then paced around for a few minutes to catch my breath. I had my photo taken then went to check the results.

A volunteer pulled up my info and said I had placed fifth in my age group. Since they give awards five-deep I was able to pick something from the prize table. I chose a buff that I can use as a mask or headband in the winter.

I got a pancake, an egg and cheese wrap, trail mix, and a bar from the food tables. I went back to the beach for a few minutes because the sky had cleared and it looked pretty down there.

While I was on the beach I chatted with a nice woman about our races before heading home. I found the results on my phone and was probably more excited about my 16th place overall finish than being fifth in my age group!

Just like every other triathlon I’ve done, I did fairly decent during the swim, lost quite a bit of ground during the bike and ended up somewhere around the middle of the pack, then I killed it during the run. Knowing how well I do in the run always gives me a little boost.

I really enjoyed this race and it was a great return to doing triathlons. Epic did a great job and it’s a major bonus that we can download so many AWESOME photos from Greg Sadler Photography. As a photographer myself I recognize what an amazing job he and his crew did capturing us during so many different segments of the race. It definitely makes this recap more fun to scroll through.

Now that I’ve gotten back into race mode I can’t wait to do more. I had already signed up for another Epic triathlon next month called the Pretty Dog Triathlon. I had no idea at the time that it actually takes place at the same park and will essentially be the same race! It will be fun to see if I can improve. In the meantime, I’m bound to do another running race or two before then!

– Janet

Follow me on Instagram @janetboltz and Twitter @reidphotography

Twilight Zone 6-Hour Endurance Run Race Recap

The medal glows in the dark!

Following the successful completion of a 50K (plus a couple of bonus miles) I can now call myself an ultrarunner! My first attempt at the distance (31 miles) took place at the Twilight Zone 6-Hour Endurance Run at Addison Oaks in Leonard, MI on Saturday, June 12th. I signed up for the event in January 2020. COVID hit plus I got injured in mid-April so it was a bust. In a way, I’ve been training to do this run for two years!

Many people wonder why I’d WANT to do something like this. They don’t like to drive that far. They only run if someone is chasing them. I must be a glutton for punishment. I’ve heard it all. I could half-jokingly say that it’s a good way to run away from my problems. For real though, I’ve run seven marathons and I guess there’s a gradual progression of pushing to see what I’m capable of. In 2010 I found out I could do a 5K so then I tried a 10K. By the next year I was up to a half marathon. A couple years later I was up to the 25K and then a marathon. After a bunch of marathons I was ready to try a 50K. I’ve found that I have a knack for long-distance running and enjoy doing endurance events. I feel empowered and strong when I run and I guess I like to keep chasing that feeling. In 2019 I ran Move-It Fitness‘ Loopty Loop 4-hour trail race. I stopped when I hit almost 20 miles that day but it was my first in-person exposure to the ultrarunning atmosphere. Many people were there to run for eight or 12 hours. It was a laid-back environment with a lot of friendly people and I loved it. Although Twilight Zone didn’t specifically have a 50K race, I thought six hours would be enough time for me to accomplish that goal. It was another Move-It Fitness event so I knew it should be a great experience.

The hooded shirt I received for participating

Like last year, I followed a 16-week training plan from an ultrarunning book by Hal Koerner. For the most part I just aimed to get the mileage in and didn’t do specific speed or tempo workouts. Occasionally I ran a little faster but my main goal was to get through the segment without getting injured. My weekly mileage peaked at 64 miles a couple times which is pretty similar to what I reach while training for a marathon. The longest training run was supposed to be 30 miles but I thought that seemed a little too risky. I chose to max out at 25 miles for my two longest runs. The majority of my weekday runs were 6-8 miles long. I had a few setbacks along the way like a sore IT band that turned into a hamstring problem, then some pains in my left foot. I took a week off at one point and my body cooperated fairly well otherwise. When lower back and hip issues popped up I realized a weekly visit to the chiropractor was necessary to keep me on track. I rarely get massages but went in for three sports massages/torture sessions during training as well. I was willing to do whatever I could to make sure I would be healthy when I got to the starting line.

On the morning of the race I had a Mint Condition Picky Bar at home then ate another when I got to the park a little before 7am. The park is only 15-20 minutes from home so I went there the previous day for the early packet pickup. The race was based out of a pavilion area that was a short walk from the main parking lot. We were able to park even closer in the grass across from the pavilion. A bunch of people set up tents because they were participating in the 12 or 24-hour races. Some had crew/spectators who hung out in the tents and it also gave the athletes a place to rest if they needed it. There was a bag drop area in the pavilion which I used for stashing some extra gear plus my insulated bag with six water bottles. I loved the convenience factor of being able to easily grab a fresh bottle when I needed to.

Home base for the race

I had an hour to kill before the start of the race and was thankful for a building with a real bathroom that had a ton of stalls. No wait and I didn’t have to use a porta potty! I noticed some fog on the lake so I walked over there to take a few pictures. Eventually it was time for the pre-race meeting. The course was a loop that was around 2.55 miles long and people would run clockwise until 8pm, then the course would change direction. We learned where to go if storms should hit. Fortunately the forecast of afternoon storms didn’t materialize but people who were still running at midnight weren’t as lucky. It was in the mid-60’s at 8am with humidity around 80%. Even though it didn’t seem so bad at the beginning, it didn’t take long before it hit me. By 2:00 the temps were in the mid-80s with humidity close to 60%. Conditions were going to be challenging for a long day of running.

A muggy morning by the lake
Fog on the lake

This was my first post-pandemic race and it was nice to feel like things were back to normal. We didn’t have to worry about masking up or anything like that. When it was time to line up in the starting corral most people lingered near the back. Based on my experience at Loopty Loop, I realized I probably belonged somewhere near the front. A lot of people were going to take it easy because they’d be out there so long.

The start / finish chute

I made the right choice because I was within the first five or six people as we found our rhythm on the course. We started on a paved path then branched off into the woods on a single track path that is typically just used by mountain bikers. The path was marked really well so I didn’t have to worry about making any wrong turns. I saw signs saying that the first stretch had two-way traffic and I wasn’t sure how that worked. We got out of that stretch and had a wider path with dirt and rocks before heading back to more single track. We were lucky that most of the race was in the woods where it was shady. Even if I sweated so much my sunscreen became ineffective, at least the shade should help. I made sure to use bug spray as well. I started with sunglasses to help keep bugs out of my eyes but they fogged up quickly because it was so humid. I got frustrated enough to take them off and put them in my running belt, and fortunately I didn’t have any issues with bugs in my eyes.  

Heading toward the woods, photo courtesy of Move-It Fitness
The 2.55-mile loop course

Nearly a mile into the race we ran out of the woods down a wide path and past an open field where I saw my friend Carmen! She had told me that she was going to come but I had estimated when I might hit the marathon distance and figured it might be best to show up in the last couple hours of the race. I was shocked that she was actually there at the beginning! I usually don’t have people offering to spectate in the first place, but I always figure it’s such an inconvenience because they’ll only see me for a few seconds here and there and be bored out of their minds. I couldn’t believe that Carmen was so kind to to do that for me. She even went to the park the weekend before the race to scope out a spot! I knew it was going to be a hot day and hoped she wouldn’t suffer out there. She was prepared with her umbrella for shade and had a bunch of fun and encouraging signs to cycle through.

Carmen trying to stay cool and protected from the sun while spectating
Carmen’s spot for spectating
Some of the signs that Carmen painted for the race

She was there every single time I came around. Sometimes I’d joke with her that maybe she should leave for a few hours and go grab lunch or maybe run some errands…basically do anything else but wait for me for hours. She was such an awesome sport though. She always had a positive response about how she had a sandwich with her, she wasn’t that hot, she had a book, and she was there for the long haul. Not a hint of complaining! Of course it was a great boost to my spirit to know that I’d see her during every loop and it meant a lot to me that she was there.

A photo of me coming out of the woods, courtesy of Carmen

A little over two miles into the race I got back to the point with signs about two-way traffic. It wasn’t really an issue during the first loop but every loop after that had people heading both directions. Even though it was a single track trail it worked out just fine. There was enough room to run in the grass to the side of the dirt path and make sure everyone had enough room. People were good about moving over. When I completed the first loop I was relieved that the course didn’t seem too bad hill-wise. My feelings on that changed with each subsequent loop though! The course was uphill for the first half and downhill for the second half. I REALLY started to feel that uphill climb during the six hours I was out there.

The course elevation

We came back to the pavilion at the end of each loop and could grab stuff at the aid station if we chose. I had a 21 oz. bottle of water in my running belt to start and was good with that for nearly two hours. I don’t think I made any stops during the first four loops. I think by the fifth loop I realized I probably should have swapped for a fresh bottle sooner. It was hot out and I knew I needed to drink enough. I made a quick stop at my insulated bag and grabbed a bottle that had Nuun endurance powder mixed with water for some carbs and electrolytes. The cold bottle was so refreshing! I made a point of grabbing a new bottle every hour or so after that. I brought six bottles and went through four or five of them during the race.

In addition to my bottles I also carried packages of Clif Bloks with me. I started eating the energy chews six or seven miles into the race. I wasn’t always good about keeping track of time but I aimed to eat one every couple of miles or sooner. Sometimes I was so cautious about watching the roots and rocks that I didn’t think about how it was time to eat again. A couple months ago I decided I should try the margarita flavor which has 3X sodium. I’m a salty sweater and I wanted to make sure I got extra salt into my system. Fortunately the flavor was fine for me – just another fruity gummy like the others I’ve used. An hour and a half into the run my stomach got a little annoyed, as it often does, but I was lucky and it didn’t last very long. My stomach was fine the rest of the run which was a huge relief, especially since I chose to experiment with some of the snacks at the aid station. I think the first thing that tempted me was a chocolate chip cookie. I kept thinking about my salt intake because of the hot day so I tried a few Pringles. My mouth was a little dry for those so I grabbed a cup of water to help. Another time I took a little piece of potato and rolled it on a plate that had salt. I know that’s a popular option for ultrarunners. I had a few bites of watermelon during a couple of other stops. Later in the day I had some peanut M&Ms and I think that was my favorite aid station treat!

The aid station goodies provided by Move-It Fitness

I usually don’t handle the heat and humidity very well but can get through the half marathon distance fairly well. After that things tend to get more difficult. That held true for this race. When I was on the downhill stretch of the course I had a few mile splits that were under a 9:00 pace. Otherwise I was in the 9:00-10:00 range for the most part. I know trails slow things down because of all of the twisting and turning, plus having to dodge rocks and roots. I usually don’t have any kind of pace goals when I run on trails and my goal for the day was just to complete 50K. Mile 15 was the last time I saw anything in the 9:00 range. By mile 16 I saw my first 11:00 split. I was halfway through my quest to 31 miles at that point and the heat and fatigue were starting to affect me more. My split times started to creep up as I took advantage of the aid station. I started to use the pavilion as a little reprieve where I could stop and stretch and make sure I was eating enough. One of the volunteers said if I had a cloth I could dunk it in the icy kiddie pool they were using to keep jugs of water cool. I had brought a hand towel so I took their advice. I could feel how red my face was and the cool, wet towel felt great. The volunteers and race directors always asked how things were going and provided encouragement. Eventually I told them it was getting harder! I kept hitting milestones along the way though. I got through the half marathon point. Then I made it halfway to 50K. I got past the marathon distance so technically I was an ultrarunner! I kept telling them I could do this – I’ve got it. Even as I continued to slow down, I never felt defeated or doubted that I would hit my goal. I was hot and tired but doing pretty well otherwise. Plus, I was surrounded by people who would be out there for 24 hours and that was extremely inspiring.

13 loops required to get to that 50K distance!

I tried to keep running aside from my short breaks at the aid station. Each time I started a fresh loop I dreaded the uphill climb! At times it felt like I was shuffling along more than actually running, but I was still moving. I walked briefly when a strap from my running belt came loose, and several times I decided to visit with Carmen for a few extra seconds. She mostly got to hear me mutter things like “holy crap” when I stopped for breaks.

Sufferfest photo courtesy of Carmen

I knew I had to be careful about shuffling too much and swore several times when I snagged rocks or roots that could have caused me to trip. One of my mantras for the day was to lift my feet. Eventually I ran out of luck and wiped out. Luckily it happened on a flat stretch of dirt and I didn’t really get hurt. My elbow and knee had dirt burns but I didn’t break the skin. A guy in a jester hat was a few seconds behind me and I acknowledged my wipeout as he approached. He said that everyone gets one and I got mine out of the way. He also said that would get my adrenaline flowing!

Both Carmen and someone running the course had this shirt, which was very appropriate

One thing that I really loved about the race was the support and encouragement among the runners. Some people may have been there to compete, but I think most, if not all, were mainly there to achieve personal goals. Some people ran, some walked, some did a mixture of both. People ranged in age from 11 to 76. I had brief conversations with a few people about their goals for the day. I met one of my Twitter running friends for the first time and he was especially amazing. He is going to crew a runner at the Badwater 135 Ultramarathon next month where the temps will be really extreme in Death Valley. He ran a good chunk of this race with multiple layers to help train for the heat. Carmen and I talked to him later in the day when he took a break and he said he was going to go home to shower, attend his daughter’s graduation, then come back to finish the 24-hour race. He ended up completing 65 miles! Some people on the course told me that I was running really well or commented on how I was lapping them. I’d ask how long they were running and everyone said 12 or 24 hours. I informed them that I was “only” out there for six hours. That was nothing compared to them and they were doing great! I started to wonder if anyone else was running for six hours! The two-way traffic part of the course was a fun spot because after running so many loops, I saw the same people multiple times. A few guys always had big smiles on their faces and it was infectious. There were so many nice and inspirational people out there.

Over and over, I kept looping. Aside from battling the uphill stretches, the looped course didn’t bother me. Thankfully there were downhill stretches too. I spent so much time watching the ground that I didn’t get too preoccupied with the idea of running the same route so many times. If anything, it was helpful because I became familiar with certain areas that had roots and knew which spots had better footing. The heat and humidity would be a factor no matter what but I was extremely thankful that we spent most of our time in the woods. There were a few stretches that were out in the open but it usually didn’t take me more than a minute or two before I was back to the shade. Each time I got back to the pavilion area people around the village of tents cheered. As I started each new loop I looked forward to the kid who asked if I wanted to be sprayed by his water cannon. I looked forward to the two-way stretch where I’d often see the guys who were still running strong and we’d exchange encouragement. I looked forward to the stretch where I’d come out of the woods and wave to Carmen to let her know that I was coming. She was the only spectator out on the course and I know plenty of people appreciated her enthusiasm and signs. Although I understand why a looped course might seem hard to battle mentally, I actually really liked it.

I told myself that even if I had to walk I shouldn’t have any issue getting 31 miles done within six hours. I estimated that I might get through a marathon in roughly four hours then have a couple hours to spare for the remaining five miles. HA! I was a little too ambitious with the thought of the 4-hour marathon! Aside from the terrain of the trails slowing me down, the heat and humidity definitely kept me from pulling that off. I think I hit the marathon distance in 4:30-4:40. Eventually I realized that my loop times had increased to half an hour. I might not have much extra time to spare after all. That was extra motivation to keep running however slow my pace might be. Lap 11 is when I peaked with my slowest loop – 33:08. I had probably spent extra time at the aid station. Once I realized I didn’t have as much time as I thought I’d have, I managed to pick up the pace a little bit for my final two loops. In the end I had less than nine minutes to spare. I got it done though! I hit the 50K distance out on the course and by the end of that final loop I had completed 33.15 miles in 5:51:20.

A breakdown of my laps and paces. 2.55-mile loops, 33.15 miles total
With Carmen after the race

I was pretty wiped out for a few minutes and knew I’d be sore later, but I was in pretty good shape after running for nearly six straight hours. Carmen and I took some pictures with all of my hardware after I recovered for a little bit.

Proudly displaying my medal and 50K keychain!
A closer look at my keychain and medal

As I suspected, I was the female winner for my race. The results were posted and I saw that 13 of us did the 6-hour race. I also saw that I had the top time/distance combo out of all the 6-hour participants! That gave my confidence a little extra boost! I received a medal for completing the race, a special keychain for getting through 50K, and a plaque for being the first female.

I came home with a bunch of new hardware!

Pizza arrived so I ate a few pieces of that while chatting with Carmen and some other runners. Before I left I made sure to check in with Geneva, one of the race directors, to tell her how much I appreciated her hard work. Move-It Fitness does an awesome job creating a great race environment. The volunteers and everyone involved are the best. I have such a great time at their events that I know I need to do more of them! I’m signed up for my second Loopty Loop race next month and I’m looking forward to it!

By the time I left it was a beautiful, sunny day that kept getting warmer.

The gray skies from the morning had faded by the time I finished the race

I like looking through the results to see how all of the stats broke down. 129 people participated in the event. Here is more info:

6-hour – 13 total participants – 6 women, 7 men. Top woman & man = 33.1 miles

12-hour am – 28 total participants – 13 women, 15 men. Top woman & man = 51 miles

12-hour pm – 5 total participants – 2 women, 3 men. Top woman = 35.7 miles, top man = 40.8 miles

24-hour – 83 total participants – 32 women, 51 men. Top woman = 81.6 miles, top man = 107.1. Two men ran 100+ miles

The leg soreness was pretty intense for a couple days after the race which led to a couple nights of terrible sleep. Now that I’ve had three days to recover I think I’m starting to round the corner. I was able to sleep last night and handle stairs without too much discomfort. I’ll give my body a well-needed break but know I’ll be anxious to get back to my workout routine soon!

Now that I’ve achieved this goal, what comes next? I always seem to have more races on the horizon so hopefully there won’t be any post-race blues. As I mentioned, I plan to run the 4-hour Loopty Loop race next month, assuming I recover smoothly from this race. Recovery can always be an unknown factor so I don’t want to sign up for anything too soon until I know that I can run without any issues. So far I’ve only committed to one triathlon in mid-July and would like to squeeze some more in this summer. I signed up for a 5K swim in mid-August and need to step up my swimming endurance to prepare for that. I also signed up for the Crim 10-mile race at the end of August. I had to defer the Toronto Marathon last year, and I guess I’ll see if that race happens this October. If so, I’m 18 weeks out from that race now and will likely start training soon. Plenty to keep me busy! For now I’ll give myself a little bit of time to enjoy achieving this goal before moving on to the next one.

– Janet

Follow me on Instagram @janetboltz and on Twitter @reidphotography

Martian Marathon Virtual Race Recap

Last year I hoped to participate in the Martian Invasion of Races in Dearborn, MI for my first time. The race was going to take place in April and I signed up for the 26K Milky Way Combo – the 5K followed by the half marathon. I deferred when the race couldn’t take place due to COVID, then the race turned virtual this year when it still couldn’t be held in person. We were given a window of May 1-8 to complete the virtual race and I went for it on the first day since I had 22 miles on my 50K training schedule. I typically don’t get too excited about virtual races because they feel uneventful to me, but it turned out to be a good way to break up my long run.

Saturday, May 1st was a great day for the run. I chose to start a little after 7am since I would be out there for several hours. The early start would also help me avoid some of the wind that would pick up gradually throughout the day. It was approaching 40 degrees and sunny with barely any wind to start – perfect running weather for me! I was comfortable in a long sleeve shirt and shorts with gloves for half of the run.

Stony Creek Metropark is one of my favorite spots and it was a great place to stage this adventure. I could run continuously and wouldn’t have to worry about stopping for traffic. Plus, I could park in a spot where I had access to a real bathroom and I could stop at my car between races to swap water bottles. 

Between the 5K and half marathon I would rack up 16.2 miles. I could sandwich my races between 2.9 miles to warm up and 2.9 miles to cool down in order to hit my goal of 22 miles for the day. A loop around Stony’s main path is six miles, so the warm up and 5K added up perfectly. I chose to run a counterclockwise loop so I would finish with a flat stretch for the final mile of the race. I completed the warm up, stopped my watch, recorded those miles as one segment, then started fresh for the 5K. I didn’t want to race all-out and potentially ruin my legs for the rest of the run but I wanted to give it a little extra effort. A 7:00 pace is about the fastest I’ve run for a 5K when I’m in peak shape for speed, which I am not right now. I thought it would be nice if I could at least run a little under an 8:00 pace. I haven’t been doing any kind of speedwork and didn’t know what I could manage. I pushed myself and worked hard enough to be really happy with the results. I got faster throughout the run and ran a negative split. I may have thought the virtual experience would feel insignificant, but it lit enough of a fire for me to find that I actually can hit some faster paces than I have lately.

I took a bathroom break, went to the car to swap from water to a sports drink, and took a picture with my 5K medal. 

After the brief downtime it was time to start the half marathon. I had no intention of “racing” it or aiming for any kind of pace. It would make up the bulk of my training run and bring me to a total of 19 miles by the end. I didn’t want to do anything risky that would make me want to quit before finishing the full 22 miles. I had mapped a route that would change things up a little rather than just running the 6-mile loop a couple times and then some. This time I went clockwise around the loop and branched off about a mile and a half in to head up the road along the golf course. That took me to the trails where I ran a mostly flat and easy stretch out to a dirt road. Sometimes the dirt roads can be sloppy and filled with potholes. I was thankful to start on a stretch that was smooth and in good shape. Shortly after I left the park I crossed paths with my friend Jeff who was running the opposite direction. That lifted my spirits for a little bit because I haven’t seen him for a while. I turned onto another dirt road that runs along the north side of the main part of the park. There are some rolling hills on the dirt roads that kept things interesting but didn’t beat me up too much. As I approached the end of that road the surface got to be pretty rocky. Whenever cars drove by on that stretch they kicked up a lot of dust which was kind of annoying. I was happy when I reached the entrance back into the park and hit the paved path again. I continued my clockwise loop until I branched off to run up the road to the nature center. That out and back stretch was good for adding a few extra miles. Sometimes that part can be a bit of a grind for me, and I really felt it when I turned around to head back and noticed the wind for the first time that day. It wasn’t too strong but it was enough to make things more challenging for a good chunk of my remaining miles.

I helped break the miles up a little bit by looking forward to food every couple miles. Since I had already run six miles before starting the half marathon, I ate a Clif Shot Blok to start. I used those for a while before switching to mini Honey Stinger Waffles for the rest of the run. The cool temps kept me from getting too thirsty and my 21 oz. bottle with Nuun gave me electrolytes and kept me hydrated. It seems like I usually go through periods during long runs when my stomach gets a little bothered, but fortunately anything I felt faded after a bit.

I ran an effort that felt sustainable and wasn’t aiming for a specific goal but I knew I should finish the half marathon in less than two hours. I thought it would be nice to be around 1:55-1:56 so I was satisfied when I finished in 1:54:25. My pace varied anywhere from 9:10 for one mile, my stretch on the trail, to 8:28, a mile when I had a pretty steep downhill stretch. It seems like an 8:42 pace is my most common sweet spot for long runs, so I was right on track with my 8:43 average for the half. 19.1 miles done! It was time for another stop by the car. Another water bottle swap and a picture with my 13.1 medal. 

This time I had to stretch a bit before I got rolling again. I couldn’t raise my right leg very high without cringing and had to spend some time trying to work that out. I just had 2.9 miles to go! It was a rough go for the first few steps but got a little better. I went out 1.5 miles then back on a stretch that is mostly flat. The wind had me feeling cooler to the point that I debated pulling my gloves out again but I survived. I dragged a little more for the final miles and the swearing began, but I still held a decent pace. It was a major win because even though I was feeling justifiably wrecked as I finished 22 miles, nothing really hurt.

The stats for the whole run. Ignore the elevation – my Garmin is clearly messed up

Success! I completed two races and a 22-mile training run! I’ve believe I’ve maxed out at 20-mile runs when training for marathons so this was the longest I’ve ever run during training.

I figured I should have some kind of celebration. I’ve been meaning to check out Bakehouse 46 in downtown Rochester for a while. I needed to replenish a lot of calories and eating some donuts and cupcakes seemed like a good way to do so! 

I let Butters and Rusty examine my blow-up alien when I got home.

Rusty wasn’t about to let an alien invade his territory. It didn’t take long for him to defeat it with puncture wounds to the head.

Although I’d still really like to run a Martian race in person one of these years, it was actually kind of fun doing the virtual race. A 22-mile long run could have been overwhelming on its own so it was nice to break it up and have a few goals to achieve within the bigger goal. Now the biggest goal still lies ahead of me on June 12th. I’m hoping that my body will continue to cooperate so I can successfully run 50K during the Twilight Zone 6-hour race. Successfully completing this big adventure gives me hope that I will pull it off!

– Janet

Follow me on Instagram @janetboltz and Twitter @reidphotography

2020 Recap

The new normal in 2020

I usually like to write a post looking back at the year to remember all that I’ve accomplished. This year was so awful that I question if I really want to go there. Maybe it’s best just to keep moving without looking back. I decided I should still take the time to celebrate the fact that I simply found a way to survive this year. It’s probably good to document what this crazy year was like and hopefully I’ll be able to look back at this post in the future when things are much better. I usually try to be an optimist so I’m going to concentrate on some of the good things that came from this year. 

This year involved a lot of extremes. In March I was running 50-60 miles per week with my first 50K on the horizon. By April I was injured and then had to cope through three months without running. I wanted to avoid the busy trails during the early days of COVID and spent a lot of time on the isolated dirt roads. I think the angled, uneven surfaces created an issue with my peroneal tendon. The injury led to the longest running layoff I’ve been through.

A great place to run, but I’ve learned to be cautious about running on crowned dirt roads

I get depressed enough whenever an injury keeps me from running during normal times. This time it happened during the early days of lockdown. I was already struggling my way through several big things at once and it became a pretty dark time. I couldn’t go anywhere or do much of anything to keep myself distracted. I couldn’t get that endorphin fix to lift my spirits. I was thankful that at least I have all of the equipment I need to do strength workouts at home so I could do something. I reached my peak pull-up fitness during that time!

I always had company from my best little buddy Romeo when I did strength workouts but lost him just weeks before the COVID lockdown hit. I miss him terribly and really struggled with the thought of having new buddies after him. At the end of September I came across a couple of sweet brothers who were in need of a home and I knew I could help them live their best lives. It turns out most animals like to hang out during workout time, so now Rusty and Butters join me sometimes just like Romeo did.

Romeo was the greatest little buddy
Butters and Rusty have been a bright spot during this awful year

As I coped with being injured, I walked when I could but my tolerance was on and off depending on how my ankle reacted. This year I ended up walking a whole lot more than I usually do. When I started a new job in June I established a walking routine during my lunch break. I’ve been taking advantage of the long, empty hallways in the deserted parts of the building where I feel like I’m mall walking. I regularly climb sets of stairs during those walks too in hopes that it will build muscles that will help me when running hills!

Eventually biking seemed to work well enough without aggravating my ankle. It was a way to get outside and make me feel like I was accomplishing something. The feeling of accomplishment is one thing that really drives me to stay active and it helped lift my mood once I could get moving again. I tried to use biking to fill the running void. As a result, I biked more frequently and rode longer distances than ever. I ventured off to trails I’d never been to across the state for a change of scenery. As I saw what I was capable of I had to keep pushing the limits. Possibly my biggest accomplishment this year was completing a 100-mile ride before the end of the summer. For someone who typically just “gets through” the biking segment of triathlons, it was a nice change to fully embrace biking this summer.

It’s still hard to believe I actually did that!

I’m pretty bummed that my swimming routine suffered so much this year. I was dedicated to swimming at least three days a week until everything shut down due to COVID. I was off for over two months until the lakes warmed up enough in June. With no other place to swim, I did more open water swimming than ever.

I’m thankful that my local metropark has a great place to swim during the summer

By the end of September swimming outside wasn’t an option. The gyms were open again and I went a few times just to swim but the gym’s COVID-limited hours makes it tough for my schedule. Plus, wariness about whether it’s even a good idea to go has kept me away for the most part. I totally neglected swimming again by the end of the year. I’m not happy that I’ve lost all of the swimming fitness I had built up and that I’ll have to restart from scratch. I’ve basically accepted that I’m keeping busy with other activities for now and I’ll get back to swimming again eventually.

Initially I was sad that I couldn’t race this year. I had big plans to do my first 50K. I was excited to do some triathlons and was looking forward to going to Toronto for a marathon in the fall. As race after race got canceled I began to accept that this year was going to be a bust and figured next year will be a do-over year. I didn’t really grieve the fact that I couldn’t race because there was nothing we could do about it. Once I got injured I knew I probably couldn’t have done most of the races anyway. I love the environment of races but I don’t need them to stay motivated. I’m going to stay active no matter what because it makes me feel strong and accomplished. Later in the year some races found ways to hold in-person events safely but it wasn’t appealing to me at all. I was content just doing my own thing. Even though the races had safe protocols in place I had no desire to risk being around other people. The thought of having someone breathing near me at any point during a race stressed me out enough to not even consider racing as an option.

My very small collection of shirts and medals from a year of no real racing

I went from the most races I’ve ever done in 2019 to basically no real races this year. I only participated in one in-person event this year. Dave’s Running in Toledo hosted a March Mayhem training run where I ran almost 16 miles. Although it was not a race, the marked course, aid stations, and post-run treats made it feel similar to a race. Otherwise, I ran two virtual half marathons. It was the first time I ever participated in a virtual event and only did so because I had already signed up for the events. I gave one a hard effort and was actually fairly close to my PR. The other just felt like an uneventful training run. I also took part in the Run United Virtual Marathon in September and October to raise money for the United Way. That was the first running event I could do through my new company. They did a great job of keeping us connected and I felt like a part of a team that was doing something good. Otherwise, virtual racing doesn’t really appeal to me. I had signed up for a whole bunch of races this year and deferred as many of the races as I could. Now a lot of my schedule is pre-determined for 2021…if we can get back to normal.

Pictures from the few running events I did participate in this year

Here’s a look at some stats for the year:

  • I swam a little over 51 miles
  • I biked 2,500 miles
  • I ran 1,320 miles
  • I had 126 weight/strength sessions (usually around 45 minutes to an hour long)
  • I did two virtual half marathons and one month-long virtual marathon challenge

COVID led to the least amount of swimming I’ve done in several years. Only 51 miles versus 131 miles last year. Being injured for a few months dropped my running mileage quite a bit too. I was around 500 miles lower than the last couple years. Because my swimming and running volume was reduced, I had to keep busy somehow and made up for it with biking and strength workouts. 2,500 miles on the bike is huge for me. In comparison I only rode 523 miles last year! 1,960 miles was my previous high in 2017 – another year when I dealt with injury. It’s a given that if my bike mileage is high it’s probably because my running mileage is low! 126 strength workouts may have been a new high for me too. For several months I also did a 5-day a week pull-up workout. Although swimming, running, and racing were reduced this year, I found other ways to keep active.

While I’d like to come up with some hopes and goals for next year, after this year I’m still in the mindset of taking things as they come. If I don’t feel like it’s safe or worth the risk, I have no reservations about continuing to pass on racing for a while. I still hope I’ll get another shot at running 50K for the first time. Hopefully by June things will be safe enough to do so. I also hope that I’m not held back by any lingering ankle issues and that my body will cooperate. Hopefully October is far enough away that Americans will be welcome in Canada once again and I’ll get to run the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. 

I thought 2019 was one of the hardest years of my life but 2020 sure didn’t get much better. Even though this was a major bummer of a year, I survived and at least that’s something. There were a few saving graces this year. I’m still going to hold on to some shred of hope that next year will be better and I don’t continue my streak of nasty years!

– Janet

Follow me on Instagram @janetboltz and Twitter @reidphotography

Wrapping up the Run United Virtual Marathon

I decided to get creative and have a little fun for the “finish line” photo we were asked to submit

From September 16th through today I’ve participated in the United Way’s Run United Virtual Marathon. I signed up because FCA (my employer) does a lot of work with the United Way, and Team Jeep put out the call for people to participate. It was the first running event I could join since starting at the company in June. The goal was to raise money to help bridge the “digital divide” by providing students in Detroit with laptops and internet access.

I was thrilled to see how successful this event was. Initially people were a little skeptical about attempting a virtual event and asking for money during the pandemic but we blew past all expectations. As I write this, over $173,000 has been raised with Team Jeep contributing nearly $133,000 of that total. That’s enough to equip 869 Detroit students with the technology they need!

What Team Jeep has done is pretty amazing and I’m thrilled to be a part of the team. We accounted for 51% of the participants in the event! Even though we may have logged our miles individually, the team leaders combined with the United Way and made it feel like we were doing something really important together. We had weekly video meetings that provided updates, advice, and encouragement. It definitely helped elevate the level of excitement.

Throughout the past month I ended up logging 125 miles. I got pretty close to covering the marathon distance five times! Not bad considering how injury kept me from running for much of the spring and summer. I’ve increased my mileage gradually and realized that my long runs were building enough that I *might* be able to aim for the half marathon distance by the end of this event. Prior to the pandemic (and the injury) the plan was to run the Toronto Waterfront Marathon this day. Even though all of the plans changed, I’m glad I had something to aim for.

At 9:00 this morning there was a celebration on Zoom to cover all of our achievements and to pump everyone up for one final run. I headed out into some light rain and hoped my body would cooperate for 13.1 miles. I mapped a route that provided some great fall scenery along the way. I started out down Paint Creek Trail in Rochester Hills, passed Van Hoosen Farm, then went to Stony Creek Metropark.

Beautiful colors near Van Hoosen Farm in Rochester Hills, MI

While I was at Stony Creek Metropark I came across a number of people who were running their own virtual marathons. The Detroit Free Press Marathon would have taken place today so a lot of people were running that virtual event. On the cool morning with some rain, virtual event runners made up the majority of the people I saw!

Turkeys are a common sight at Stony

I felt some tweakiness from my ankle halfway through my run. I took a little break for some photos and fortunately the issue faded and I was fine for the rest of the run. I ran a couple miles on the paved path, went past the golf course, then ran a little stretch of the mountain bike trails. The fall colors were beautiful and it reminded me why fall marathon season is so special.

Pretty trees lining the road by Stony’s golf course

Stony’s mountain bike trails are stunning this time of year

I stopped for a moment to enjoy the colorful leaves

A dirt road outside Stony Creek Metropark

I ran a short stretch on a dirt road outside of Stony and headed back toward Paint Creek Trail. When I had about a mile to go I admired a Jeep Gladiator that was pulling out of a drive across the street. I received a honk and a thumbs up thanks to my Jeep shirt! That made me smile and gave me an extra boost for the last bit of my run.

I achieved my goal and completed a half marathon! Covering the distance was enough for me and I didn’t view this as a virtual “race” or anything. I still completed it in a decent time and it was just nice to feel even more accomplished at the end of this event by hitting that milestone – a distance I haven’t covered since April.

With so much negativity and nastiness constantly dominating the news it was nice to be a part of something that was all about positivity, encouragement, and helping those in need. This is all about the kids in Detroit and it’s exciting to know that we’ve helped so many. A HUGE thank you to the friends and family who made donations. You’ve helped make a big difference for those who need our support. If there is anyone who is interested, you can still give here:


Thanks to those who followed/supported my adventure for the past month!

– Janet

Follow me on Instagram @janetboltz and Twitter @reidphotography