On Sunday September 16th was the annual Detroit Zoo Run. The temperatures here in Michigan have gone to instant Fall like temperatures, so the start of the race was in the mid 40’s. I had planned on running this event with Elizabeth as long as I could, then let her go off and not slow here down since I had ran 18 miles the day before. We started at a quick pace with the first mile being about 7:30 minutes per mile. I felt pretty good and we continued on. A little after the 3 mile mark I think we were both feeling tired because there were several instances where we told each other to go ahead and take off. Neither one of us wanted to back down I guess, and we continued to race each other. Mentally I was thinking to pick off the next person, and then the next person so that kept me focused at a fast pace. I know if she would of went faster and took off I would of became lazy and slowed down my pace. With about half a mile left to go Elizabeth started to speed up and get ahead. I tired to keep up but I felt like I had nothing left in the tank. No kick for me at the end? With a tenth of a mile to go I felt some energy come out of no where and I began sprinting towards the finish line. I did have some kick left! I felt like I was flying, passed Elizabeth, about 7 other people and then crossed the finish line. I ended up with my best 10K time yet, another personal record of 46:59. That is an overall pace of 7:33 per mile. Thanks for pushing me and keeping me honest during the race Elizabeth.
This post starts the evening of Friday September 7th as I was preparing for my first 50K event. After tons of research about the event and numerous exchanges of e-mails I had created my list of all the items I should pack for Saturday morning. Besides the normal gym bag packed to the brim with stuff that I may not even use, I have learned the hard way it is better to be prepared than not have something, I also packed a drop bag that would be waiting for me at mile 19 of the event. I was very grateful that for this event they setup our drop bag location immediately after our mud and river crossings. The drop bag was also filled with everything that I may need and hopefully not have to use besides shoes, socks, and a new running shirt to change into. After waking up at 3AM on Saturday morning I met the crew and we headed off to Hell, MI for Dances with Dirt. Upon arrival at the park the misquotes were already out in full force at 5AM, I guess they got up early also to feast on the runners, but one cool thing was that since it was still dark the sky was full or stars. Reminds you of the things you miss when you live in the city. After applying several coats of bug spray, getting ready for the race, and the typical bathroom stops we were lining up to start the event.
With flashlights in hand, since it was still dark, about 250 runners took off for the trails with some of us on our way to become first time ultra marathoners. The pace was slow to start as everyone crowded onto the trails but you could tell that everyone was having a good time. Right away we began giving funny names to roots and plants that tried to trip us up. For example trippies, snarkys, shoe grabbers, and “that one can take off an ankle”. At times you would feel your leg or ankle get cut up but the pain would be ignored as you continued on. I will admit at the end that my left ankle was bruised up and my right calf looked like I lost a fight with a cat but it is all apart of the experience. As we made our way along the route ribbons were placed to guide us along and even “Wrong way moron” signs were hung at places where you may have made a wrong turn to keep you on track. If I recall we only went off course twice but for no more than about a quarter of mile. It was actually not that bad to stay on the course. All you had to do was remember to look for ribbons on the trees to make sure you were going the right way. There were aid stations about every 4 to 6 miles where volunteers filled your water bottles, offered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, plus took down your number to make sure you were staying on course. Our little band took a few minutes at each aid station to get refreshed and then continued on. We were treating this race as an adventure, not as an actual race. Us rookies only wanted to survive and did not worry about placing. I had been warned many times about something called a dirt ladder on the course leg titled “Stripper Pole” and I was not really sure what to expect, but we were finally to it. I have to say a dirt ladder is the best description for this obstacle. This part of the course required you to bear crawl straight up for about 200 feet. If you did not use your hands to pull yourself up you would slide right back down. Once we were at the top I was grateful to get that part over with.
The next challenging leg would be “Styx, the River of Death.” In Greek mythology, "the River Styx" is a river which formed the boundary between Earth and the Underworld, I hope that it would not be that bad. As we slid down the shore into the river we experienced that the river was more mud than water. Every step you prayed that your shoe would not be sucked into the mud. Hence the reason that I re-tied my shoes before the next mud/river crossing. After four times of this madness our shoes and ankles were covered in mud but we knew we would encounter the river one more time before our drop bag location at mile 19. The last encounter with the river was much more pleasant. The water was clear and cool, so it actually felt good on the legs. But the pleasantries were made challenging by the fact that the water was waist high and we had wade up stream. After a quarter mile of navigating the water we had escaped the water and were at our drop bags. Dry socks, dry shoes and a dry shirt never felt so good! After refilling our water bottles and gel packs we were off for the last 12 miles of the event.
As the miles rolled on, 20 miles, 26 miles, I did not feel like I normally do after running those distances on road surfaces. I guess trails are easier on the body. I will admit that my legs were getting weak and the sense of balance was not as strong as it was earlier in the day. Stepping over a simple root or rock became more challenging as the day went on. We pushed on and crossed the finish line and became Ultra Marathoners. For the 31 mile event I finished with a time of 6 hours and 52 minutes. I had planned on finishing between 6 and 7 hours so I was happy with my time. I was even happier that I had survived the adventure and was still standing upright. Crossing the finish line and no trip in the ambulance is always a good day in my book.
As I think back about the event I will admit that I am looking forward to the next 50K and have fully crossed over to the dark side of running. After saying in February of 2007 that I would never run more than 26 miles I have definitely crossed into running territory that I never imagined I would be at. When I first started running with a simple 5K in 2004, I am very shocked and grateful that I have come this far and look forward to what lies ahead on the next turn. I have to give a special thanks to Jeff for introducing me to trail running, and all of his positive peer pressure and support. I hope he knows that he is building a small army of trail runners. Also thanks to Julie and Dave for taking the journey with me on Saturday September 8th. The day that the three of us became Ultra Marathoners.
Warning, this is a very long post as I wanted to capture and share as much as possible about this great event.
Well I have been planning and talking about it for over 8 months and the time has finally arrived. I was on a plane bound for Portland, Oregon to run in the Nike Hood to Coast relay. On the plane I was actually very calm and felt confident that all of the planning our team had done would pay off. It was hard to believe that when we sent in our entry to the lottery of teams in October of 2006 it has taken us all the way to this point of being able to participate in this event. For those of you that are not familiar with the Nike Hood to Coast Relay let me give you some background information. The relay consist of a team of 12 people, split into two separate mini vans, running a total of 197 miles across the state of Oregon. Your team starts at the base of Mt. Hood at about 6000 feet above sea level and finishes at the Pacific Ocean in Seaside, Oregon. Teams start anywhere between 8AM – 5PM on Friday and finish on Saturday. This year was the 26th year this event has been ran and the organization of the event was amazing. By simply reviewing the rules, and maps you could tell the race organizers knew what they were doing. So back to the story. After landing in Portland on Wednesday the plan for the day was to pickup our teams rental vans, and make sure that everyone made it into town. As we all know delays and weather issues tamper with airline flights, so after 4 trips to the airport that day everyone was in town and at our rental house. I have to take this moment to thank our team mate Bill and his generous friend for letting our team use the rental house for two days. It saved everyone a lot of money and gave us a home in Oregon.
Thursday was planned as our team’s preparation day. Shopping for supplies, a short run, and taking all excess luggage that would not be needed during the race to the hotel at Seaside. All team members that were present went for a team breakfast, and then a few of us went off for a run. The five of us that went thought we were only going for a run but Bill, being the great host that he was, surprised all of us by taking us to the Nike World Headquarters for our run. The place was amazing! You could tell that Nike really caters to their employees. After our run Bill had arranged for one of his friends that works there to take us for a tour. We imagined that it would be a short tour, but it turned into over an hour tour of the entire campus. There were many times during the tour that we all wished we could work for Nike. The entire campus has two full sized gyms, a 2.2 mile running path, running track, baseball fields, soccer fields, and Olympic size swimming pools. I know that I am missing a few things but that is what you call employee perks. Every building is themed after a sports start like Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, and Steve Prefontaine to name a few. Each building also has memorabilia from the sports star it was names after. A short run turned into a good trip for a sports lover. The rest of the day Thursday we split up as some of us drove the teams excess luggage to Seaside and the rest went shopping for supplies.
Friday morning I woke up before my alarm like I typically do for big event mornings and was still in awe about what we were all going to be doing for the next two days. Our teams start time was set for 10:30 on Friday morning. After everyone was ready and the vans were loaded up we headed up to Mt. Hood. The scenery was beautiful. After arriving at the Mt. Hood start area we obtained our race packets and went to watch our first runner start. They start 20 teams at a time every 10 minutes to limit course congestions, and introduce each team before you start. The race announcer botched announcing our team by saying Minnesota instead of Michigan, but with 12 people yelling at him he quickly corrected himself. There were teams there from 49 states and countries from all over the world. The race was limited to 1000 teams and in a matter of minutes we would be one of the teams making the trek down the mountain to the Pacific Ocean. The gun went off and our first runner was running down the mountain. Everyone from Van #1 headed down to offer the first runner assistance and head to the first exchange point. With Van #1 being active this meant that Van #2 was down. All of us in Van #2 had about 4 – 5 hours until we had to meet Van #1 to get the timing clipboard from them and send off runner #7. We began decorating our van since all of the vans were decorated in some fun fashion or another. Seeing tons of vans decorated differently added a lot of humor to the event. As we were decorating we ran out of paint so we knew we could but some more at our first van exchange point. We then headed down the mountain and stopped at the first restaurant that looked safe to get a meal, since we knew real meals would be few and far between in the next 29 hours. After eating we headed to the Fred Meyer store that was near the first van exchange point. The Fred Meyer parking lot was one big party. The parking lot was full of vans waiting for their runners, people were decorating their vans and having a good time. After getting more paint and supplies for our van our decorations looked more professional and we all felt like our van fitted in a little bit better.
The time had finally arrived and our vans first runner was soon going to be handed the bracelet and our van would then be active. At the exchange point we met up with our teammates in Van #1 and then watched our runner #7 take off. Thus began the “hurry up lets go” mode for our van. Since our entire van was all rookies to the Hood to Coast relay we were learning quickly what we needed to do to be successful. After stopping for our runner to provide water we then headed off to the next exchange point and began a pattern that became second nature after a few exchanges. Arrive at the exchange – Someone keeping time – Check – Everyone out of the van – Next runner ready? – Does the next runner need anything? – Off to the exchange – Watch the exchange – Is the runner that just finished okay? – Check – Give the runner a few minutes to change – Everyone in the van and off to the next exchange. It sounds crazy but after awhile it was not that big of a deal. As I look back I do not recall anyone taking headcount or getting left behind Perhaps our great van drivers were taking attendance and we never knew it. Even latter on in the wee hours of Saturday morning for some reason you knew you should try to sleep but at each exchange you wanted to get out of the van and see the next runner off. I remember stopping at one of the exchanges after running my second leg. Everyone got out of the van and I was going to stay in the van and try to sleep. Well that lasted about three minutes as I pulled myself out of the van and headed over to the exchange point. It was like you did not want to miss a single minute of what was going on even though you knew you needed to sleep. My first leg was about 7 miles of generally flat streets, and old rail trail that was a mixture of asphalt and gravel. I ran this leg hard and averaged a pace of about 7:40 per mile. It started around 5:30PM on Friday. On my leg I passed five people right in the beginning and a funny thing is that I passed the same five people on my remaining legs also. I guess that means our team was keeping a good pace with those five other teams.
After our vans first set of legs we met Van #1 at the van exchange point and then treated our van to a real meal at a Red Robin. Real food tastes so good when you have been livening on Power Bars, Gels and Bananas. After eating we headed over to our next van exchange point and figured we had about four hours to rest and try to get clean before our van was back in action. There was a camp ground setup where we could park, get some snacks and sleep if we wanted to. I was planning on leaving this part out but I have to include it due to the pure comedy in the subject. At most events you dread going to use a porta-john due the lines, smell and the pure grossness in general. Well at the Nike Hood to Coast Relay my hat goes off to the company that manages the port-johns that were used. The company was called Honey Bucket, the name is a joke in itself. At each exchange there were plenty of Honey Buckets and you never waited in line more than five minutes. Plus there were the cleanest port-johns that I have ever seen and even smelled like bubble gum. Rumor has it that they have plenty of maintenance trucks servicing them thought the event. I know a few of you may be thinking that I may have been losing it at the time due to the lack of sleep but please ask anyone that was there. So anyways the reason I told you about the Honey Buckets was to tell you this part of the story. We were at the camp ground, some people were sleeping, others were talking, and I simply wanted to feel a little clean. So I took a flashlight, some baby wipes, and a change of clothes and headed for an open Honey Bucket. Now I know that this cleaning ritual that would soon be performed by a majority of my team mates is not anything close to a real shower, but after you stepped out you felt like a million bucks. I made sure to brag to everyone in my van how good it felt and that they needed to try it. I guess new cleaning methods are in order when you do not have access to a shower. Well as quickly as we thought we has lots of time to rest we were now down to about an hour before our van was active and our first runner was off for our second set of legs. Knowing that sleep would not be an option I took advantage of a cold caffeinated beverage that was being sold at the campground and made sure to buy some for my teammates. The caffeinated beverage drinkers were quickly kicked out of the van because we were keeping some people awake. Once again the things you do to stay awake shown through.
Our van’s second set of legs were all going to be dark legs which meant that headlamps and reflective vests were mandatory. Plus we knew a few of these legs would be some of the hardest that our team would face. But I am very proud to say that no one was freaking out or overly nervous about what may lie ahead for them. Our vans first runner started her leg after 1:00AM on Saturday morning and our van was back in action. The legs were very dark except for the light from the vans, and most of them were very dusty. It was kind or surreal to see in the distance lots of little lights from the headlamps making their way down the road. Even identifying your own team’s runner when they were on the opposite side of the road was difficult due to the darkness that us city dwellers were not use to. My second leg started around 3:30AM on Saturday morning. It was a flat leg of 5 miles over some rough dirt roads. I actually felt bad because everyone else’s legs were very hilly compared to my leg for this set of legs. Right when I started I realized that seeing more then 5 feet in front of you was a struggle unless vans were passing you on your right hand side. So I decided to simply run as hard as I could and prayed that I would not fall on my face. At one point during the leg I looked to my left into the woods and all I was a bunch or glowing eyes looking back at me! Perhaps that is the real reason I ran fast on this leg. Even though the leg was very dusty, had a rough surface, and very dark I have to admit that it was my favorite leg of the three that I ran for the event. There was something very surreal about running hard, having no idea where you were, and not being able to see that far ahead of you that made it very fun. I finished that leg with about a 7:20 per mile pace.
After we met up with Van #1 our van was down again and it was off to another camp ground that was setup for us near our next exchange point. It was daylight now so I knew there was still no way that I would be able to sleep. I think I averaged a little over an hour sleeping in the van while we were driving but it was not solid sleep. At the camp ground it was discovered that our team has made a rookie mistake or I was the victim of a prankster in our van. We had only bought white garbage bags for our van. Everyone had their own bag which was for dirty clothes and there was suppose to be one bag for only garbage. Well come to find out someone has been using my dirty clothes bag for garbage also. It turned out to not be that bad as there had only stuck a couple of empty water bottles and some used baby wipes in the bag. Trying to find the correct white bag in the dark would not be easy for anyone. Oh, that is what the flashlights are for! So at the last down time for our van some of us slept, obtained some food they were selling in an effort to get some real food in us, and everyone attempted to get clean again.
The time had quickly come once again and soon our van was going to be back in action for our last set of legs. Congestion of vans on the course had now really began to stack up since we were getting closer to the finish at Seaside, Oregon. Plus the faster teams were now catching up to the rest of us and some teams were slowing down. This congestion meant that we had to now have the next runner and whoever was keeping time in our van, jump out of the van early and walk about a mile to the next exchange point so that our runner would not beat us there. We saw earlier in the race how frustrating it was for a few runners that beat their vans to the exchange point and had to wait for them to arrive. We did not want that happening to anyone on our team. After all that we went through, each team member in our van approached their final leg determined to do well and even ran it as hard as they could. It was great to see the team give all they had left on their last legs for the event. The time has come and we were driving to my last exchange point where I would begin my last leg of the event. The leg was about 8 miles, hilly, I had been lucky enough to not experience any hills yet, and the temperature was quickly rising so I knew this would be my hardest leg of the event. As the vans began to back up we jumped out and walked to the exchange point. As I began to run my last leg which started around 12 noon on Saturday, I once again passed the same five people that I had passed on my previous legs. After a first couple fast miles and the heat affecting me, my pace drastically slowed down. I pushed as hard as I could and was very grateful to have my water bottle refilled by another team that was waiting for their runner around the 5 mile mark. I finished the leg with about an 8:30 per mile pace. Much slower than my previous two legs.
After watching our last runner take off for the team’s final leg we headed to Seaside to meet up with Van #1 at the finish line. The finish area was one big party. Lots of vendors, and teams waiting for their last runner to show up. The finish area was very organized and an announcer would announce your teams name when you runner was getting close. Then the entire team would line up in a finish chute, wait for your last runner, and the whole team would finish together as a team across the finish line. It was a very cool way to finish the event. After we crossed the finish line we all received our medals and a team photo was taken. Our team’s final time was 30:09:18 with an average team per mile pace of 9:11 for 197 miles across the state or Oregon. Overall I have to say that the event was an awesome adventure and organized very well. The race organizers did a fantastic job and the there were tons of very helpful volunteers on the course. From keeping traffic and runners safe at exchange points to telling runners where to turn at 3 AM, we are all very grateful for the course volunteers. Before closing I want to first thank the Lord above for keeping all of us safe and injury free. Next I want to thank my entire team for making the event one of the most memorable events that I have done. Thank you Jamme, Mary, Trisha, Pam, Bill, Kelly, Sally, Brent, Mike, Evie, and Angie. All of us pulled together and made a really fun team. Of course I can not forget our van drivers Jen and Lynette. Theses ladies had to put up with 12 smelly, cranky, and at times acting like school children runners for over 30 hours in two separate mini vans. Even though they never ran, more than a mile, they were both vital team members that helped us all be successful. Thanks again to everyone and hopefully we can all run through Oregon again next year.
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- Dances with Dirt – Gnaw Bone
- Marathon Number Nine
- Welcoming Spring with Some PR’s
- Paging Spring…..Hello?
- Can Winter Please be Over
- Dashing Through the Snow
- Turkeys and Colder Temps
- Fall Updates