Trekking the Trails

With the sun shining brightly and spring in the air, Sunday was the perfect day to hit the trails.

The trails double as the local Cross Country course, and competing comes back to me as I navigate the twists and turns. The course provides a nature escape through maples and pines. It traverses gentle inclines, steep hills, and rugged terrain. I imagine I am flying past the trees and over the roots. The movement is freeing and exhilarating.

Scenic views overlook a pond and a creek bed. The spring brings melting snow amid the chirping of blackbirds. Grass slowly greens and freshens the air. I followed deer tracks along the road.

The course can be as long or as short as you would like to hike as it crosses the road through the park in several places, making a quick jaunt back to your vehicle.

As I ran, I encountered families hiking through the disc golf course, enjoying a fine spring day. Others spread a family picnic through the pavilion and played catch by the playground. Children can capture frogs and minnows in the pond near the play area.
Before I left my husband showed me his mud-caked shoes warning that my brand new shoes would be similarly encrusted after my trek. Even though I sloshed through mushy soil and snow, my shoes were perfectly clean when I returned home. My soul was enriched.
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Keeping it steady

Two of my running girlfriends and I were chosen as Pacers for the Lake Michigan Half Marathon this weekend. The race goes along Muskegon Lake and takes a jaunt along Lake Michigan.

Running this race as a pacer is perfect timing for me. While I would love to do another race, I’m not mentally ready to challenge myself for that level of exertion. Pacing is giving me some time to run easy and think about what went wrong at Bayshore and how to better prepare for the next race. I’m hoping that I can also line up at the start of this race without the emotional anxiety that I experienced at the marathon. There’s no pressure to push myself to a PR or a Boston Qualifier. I get to run with some very cool people  and help them achieve their goals.

 

Being a pacer comes with its own challenges. If everything is going well, I’m not too bad at keeping a consistent pace. As a pacer, I need to keep a consistent pace that is a specific pace. Our assigned group pace is about a minute and a half slower than my average, everyday pace. I shouldn’t have to worry about falling off pace or going too slow and disappointing the runners who are seeking personal bests. I’ll be able to encourage people, chat with other runners, and carry the pace sign.

What I’m struggling with is that slower pace and not getting carried away by the race atmosphere. Sometimes while talking (especially if it is about something irritating) I start pushing harder and suddenly I’m running a minute faster than my normal pace. Once I get into the groove of that pace, it’s difficult to slow down. I don’t want ruin another runner’s race by not sticking to the pace they need.

I’ve tried some treadmill runs at the desired pace so I can get a feel for the turnover rate. I plan to wear my GPS so I can check and correct our pace frequently. Certain conversation topics are off limits.

What tips do you have for being a pacer?

If it were easy, everyone would do it.

Over Memorial Day weekend, I ran the Bayshore Marathon. It promises a flat and fast course along the picturesque Old Mission Peninsula in the Leelanau Bay.

My training had gone pretty well, but I was ready for the race to be over. The months of thinking about my A goals, B goals, and C goals were taking their toll. I needed mental relief.

During May I anxiously watched the weather. A month out, sunny and 80 degrees was predicted. Being a bit of a weather geek, I calmed myself that predictions a month out were never right. It could change a dozen times over the next few weeks. And it did. Temperatures at race time fluctuated between 50 and 70; sky cover moved from clouds to partly sunny to thunderstorms.

 

Then Race Day came. It was 70 degrees and sticky at 7 am. I’m not a hot weather runner, but figured I could stick it out as long as it remained cloudy as the weather app promised. And perhaps, the peninsula would be cooler because it was surrounded by the cool lake water.

But my stomach was churning in anticipation. I hoped that once I started running the nerves would dissipate and I could deal with the temperatures and humidity.

Once we were moving, the nerves eased and it was such a relief, I was almost in tears. I didn’t have to sort over what would happen anymore, I could just run.

 

But the heat and humidity were a factor. By mile 6, I was feeling empty and dizzy. I opted to walk on the theory that going easy now would give me more strength later. Probably a good decision.

My husband met me at mile 11 and walked with me for a bit. I was ready to quit, but he made it sound like I could finish. Time goals jumped in the bay as I focused on the turnaround. At 13.1 miles, it would be a new race. I could forget about the miserable first half and start over.

 

Well, I was completely soaked, so I shed my tank top (sorry onlookers!) and forced myself to keep going. Somehow spots on my sports bra were still dry. I ran and walked. It probably would have been easier to keep running. Each time I switched, my stomach cramped for a few seconds.

While the sun stayed hidden, the heat was affecting more people. More people took walking breaks. We played leapfrog as we switched. I chatted with a man who tore his IT band. He was still walking, claiming the hot and humid weather was his favorite racing weather, proving I wasn’t the craziest one out there.

The spectators were awesome. Many people came to their front yards to cheer. Some had make shift water (or beer) stations. Some played music (although that made me feel old since I didn’t recognize many of the pop songs.) And there was one guy in a too-small wool sweater, a crazy wig, ringing a cowbell. Thank you all for giving me something to smile about.

Throughout the race, I contemplated whether this was my last marathon. Five is a nice number. I’ve run two that were reasonably tough, two that induced tears, and one that was spectacular. Maybe this wasn’t my distance.

I gritted my teeth and pushed through the last mile. After I crossed the finish line, I gratefully kicked off my shoes, happy to not have to run for a few days.

Despite it being a brutal experience, I have some take-aways:
-I need to find better gluten-free ways to carb load.
-I need to do more strength/cross training workouts.
-I need to keep my head in the race. I lost that battle too early.
-Body glide rules! Despite sweating half my bodyweight, I didn’t have any chaffing and only one small blister.
-I got to run with my college roommate for a bit which was really cool.
-It probably isn’t my last marathon. I’m considering a fall one–late fall when there’s no chance of it being 70-plus degrees (although we are talking about Michigan where anything can happen).
What have you learned from a tough race?

Inspiring Running Friends – Jodi South

Please welcome fellow Michigan runner, Jodi South

1. Favorite shoes (please include a picture):

I don’t really have a favorite shoe. I have found New Balance and Nike work well for me. I don’t spend a fortune on running shoes but I do replace them about every 4 months. I still have the silver pair of Nikes I wore in my first Boston marathon in 2010.

2. Favorite race/distance/Bucket-list race:

My favorite race distance is a 25K. More than a 1/2 marathon but not as brutal as a full. My 3 Bostons are the highlight of racing for me. My favorite race was the T-Rex 10 Mile Trail race I ran the last 4th of July and plan to do again. The trail was rigorous and entailed going over, under, across, through rocks, trees, creeks, steep hills you name it. It was very fun and adventurous. Bucket List: Great Turtle 1/2 Marathon on Mackinaw Island, Yellow Stone 1/2 Marathon, Ragnar Relay to name a few.

3. Trails, streets, or treadmill:

I do the majority of my running on the street. A true street runner. But I also love trails and feel trail racing calling out to me….I see more trail races in my future. It’s extremely rare for me to utilize the treadmill for a run.

4. Why did you start running?

I’ve been running for over 20 years. Running is just natural for me. I’ve always been into health and fitness and nothing gives me the workout that running does. Some people have coffee…I run. I feel most alive and free when I run. Running helps me work through stress, keep things in perspective, it’s my time to think, pray or just enjoy music and nature. When I don’t run my day feels “off”. I was born to run.

5. What keeps you motivated?

Keeping motivated is never a problem, I wake up…I run. Different races motivate different types of training and long runs. People tell me my running inspires them so that too provides motivation, it’s a cycle…I motivate you, you motivate me. I consider all who support me to be part of my team as their support pushes me even beyond what I push myself. It’s important to me to help others be fit, I believe in them and I want to help them to believe in themselves. I like the feeling of being healthy and fit and keeping the level of fitness I’ve achieved also motivates me. I hope to help people find a healthy balance for themselves as I truly believe fitness brings and maintains quality to life. #Be fit. #Be healthy. Be happy.

Inspiring Runner Friends – Tom Francis

Please welcome Tom Francis as he shares some of his running motivations!

1. Favorite shoes:

Newton is my favorite racing shoe.

2. Favorite race/distance/Bucket-list race:

5/3 River Bank Run is a 25k in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Spectators form a gauntlet at the six mile turn and line the finishing blocks. It’s pretty cool. My favorite distance is a 10k. You can make up for a bad mile and the distance is not that popular any more. Moab Trail Marathon is currently at the top of my bucket list.

3. Trails, streets, or treadmill:

I prefer trails to roads but in northern Indiana trails are rather tame.

4. Why did you start running?

When I first started running it was all about finding out how fast that I could go relative to other people. After several decades of not running, it became about getting back outside and feeling the the changing seasons.

5. What keeps you motivated?

Motivation comes from my friends from college that run. Surprising I am also driven by FaceBook groups. Before I down my first cup of coffee I find out that I’m losing ground to people I’ve never met. So I find myself adding mileage to catch up. Understanding that I’m lucky to still be running with friends keeps me on the roads.

Hurt the Dirt Half Marathon

I did both this weekend. Separately and together which is what happens when you race on a trail tired.

I’m at the peak mileage weeks for my marathon training, so I was going into this race tired. I rearranged workouts so that I had a day off before the race, but after putting many 50-65 mile weeks my body wasn’t as ready as I hoped to tackle the treachery of a trail race.

When I’m tired on a trail run, I fall… spectacularly. Or at least it feels that way in my head. This one was a pretty hard thud on my left shoulder that didn’t bruise nearly as much as I thought it would. I’m probably lucky I didn’t fall more.

 

Hurt the Dirt is at the Luton Park in Rockford Michigan. They offered a full marathon, which was four loops around the course, for the irreconcilably crazy; a half marathon, for those of us who haven’t fully embraced our crazy, and a quarter marathon, whose participants were looking smarter by the mile.

It’s trail race which  I haven’t done since college and even those were wider pathways which allowed room to pass without sliding down the side of the hill or clipping a tree. The ground was soft and the course was shaded and cool; all pluses in my book. Except for a brief mile or so, the trail consisted of ups, downs, and hairpin turns. None of the ups were especially steep or long, but they were frequent. The hair pin turns meant that you could often see other participants in the race if you dared to lift your eyes from the trail in front of you.

Tracey, from my running group, and I ran together for most of the race, which was great. She was brave enough to look around and could see a few of the other runners from our group and cheer them on. That was one of the best things about the race, being there with my running group. We could help each other prepare, we could cheer each other on, and we could commiserate about the scratches and bruises (I wasn’t the only one who got a closer inspection of the dirt.).

After a tough run, I had one more surprise… first in my age group. I guess all the other runners my age had better things to do Saturday morning.

Inspiring Runner Friends – Noel Shafer

Today, I get to share a bit about another runner friend who inspires me. Noel’s got a great running streak going as you’ll see below. How many days do you think he can go?

1. Favorite shoes Brooks Ghost

Brooks Ghosts

2. Favorite race/distance/Bucket-list race:

Don’t really have a favorite distance.. 5k to Marathon and have done a 50k.. I like always doing a different distance to not get in a rut

3. Trails, streets, or treadmill:

Streak runner (876 days) all outdoor miles.. mainly streets, but have done some trail races

4. Why did you start running?

1 started back running when I started coaching cross country. I ran about 200-300 miles during the season with my kids (five years). Then wanted to really get into shape. Started running throughout the year in Jan of 2013. Lost 50 pounds and got into the best shape of my life. Started to get faster and then started to love racing and challenging myself.

5. What keeps you motivated?

Running has made me big goal setter. Once I got into shape, I was getting faster. Started to run a lot of races, and challenged myself to see exactly how good I can become. When I started at 45 years old, I thought that I was too old to run real fast. I didn’t take long to keep crushing my goals and I would have to create bigger goals to go after. Now at 48, I just love running and training to be the best that I can be.

I love training, but racing so much more. Every weekend is race weekend for me. After getting in 50 and 55 races the last two year, and may get 80 this year. I love rewarding myself for a hard week’s training with a race (or more) on the weekend!!