This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of running for a charitable organization for the first time ever. In all my years of running, I had never signed up to run a race for any other reason than I personally wanted to run it.
As I’ve mentioned before, I am an ambassador for Still I Run. This is a community that raises awareness for mental health and aims to reduce the stigma around it. As an ambassador, I got to run the Fifth Third Riverbank 25k in Grand Rapids as part of the Still I Run team. The requirements for the team were minimal, each member simply had to raise $100 for Pine Rest‘s Mental Health Services. Since I had never run as part of a team for a charitable organization, I had obviously never fund-raised for one either. That turned out to be a blast! I loved talking to people about Mental Health (good thing I’m a therapist, eh?) and continuing to raise awareness about it. And here I thought fundraising would be the challenging part!
At a past job, I had a boss that used to tell me I should run for charity. She said I was “running for no reason” and that I should “put those miles to good use.” Naturally, the rebel in me violently opposed running for charity as a direct result of this conversation. Running for no reason?! B, please. I run for me, my mental health, and my physical health. As you might expect, this woman was not a runner. Nor did she have any good self-care techniques. Fortunately, I did not let that conversation steer me away from charitable running forever.
The best part is that Still I Run supports and raises awareness for the exact reasons I run in the first place. My mental health is largely dependent on running and I am proud to represent Still I Run. You’ll be seeing me running for charity much more often. As for the Riverbank Run itself? Incredible race. It was extremely well organized, had tremendous crowd support, and was a beautiful course. The only negative thing I can say about this race is that we ran by a very aromatic Burger King at about mile 14. Nothing smells worse than BK at mile 14, but what can you do? Oh, and each runner gets a free beer after the race. Win win win win win win win win.
Wooop! Here I am, on the other side of my first ultra. The Traverse City Trail Running Festival was everything I thought it would be and much more (and by more, I mean more miles. AHEM).
Want to know what I was thinking before and during the race? Then keep reading to enjoy my ultra recap.
2 Days Before the Race
As anyone who has spent time in Northern Michigan this spring knows, we had a ridiculous blizzard in the middle of April that brought feet, literally FEET, of snow. Therefore, I had been slightly nervous about trail conditions. So when I received an email on Thursday that the course had to be revised due to excessive amounts of snow, I was not surprised.
Originally, the course was a 4-loop deal, which each loop coming in at 7.75 miles to complete the 31. Thursday’s email indicated that the loop would be cut down significantly – in fact, it was shortened to become a 5k loop. That meant 10 laps.
“How in the world am I going to keep track of 10 laps?! I’m going to get dizzy!”
The Day Before the Race
Another email arrived. This one was a mix of good and bad news. The snow had melted more than anticipated, and another adjustment was made to the course. Now the course was a 6.7 mile loop, and 50k runners would complete 5 loops. Now for all you mathematicians out there, you’ll notice that 5 loops x 6.7 miles each = 33.5 miles. YUP. That’s longer than a 50k, yo! I only signed up to run 31 miles! I panicked slightly but then got over it. What could I do?
*Insert silent weeping*
I arrived onsite about an hour early. Standard me. It was about 30 degrees with a decent wind. I was cold and anxious to start. Finally, the 50k runners lined up at the start. There were only 10 of us total, and two females including myself.
“Hey, at least I’m guaranteed to place within my age group.”
Lap One: Miles 0-7
I took this lap quite slow. I didn’t know what to expect or if I needed to save excessive energy for any crazy hills. There were flags marking the course, but that didn’t stop me from getting lost at least 2.5 times. Pro tip: Don’t blindly follow the guy in front of you, he may not know where he is going either.
While large chunks of the trail were hard-packed dirt and decent, many areas were not. Sheets of ice and snow covered long stretches and it was nearly impossible to run those sections. I developed a rather attractive “shuffle-slide” to get through them. I’d be happy to demonstrate this technique for you.
Towards the end of the loop, I glanced down at my watch. We had already crossed the 6.7 mile mark and I hadn’t begun lap 2 yet. In fact, the start of lap 2 was at least 1/4 mile away. As I crossed over into lap 2, my watch read 7.03.
“What the hell, man!”
Lap 2: Miles 8-14
I spent quality time on this lap hoping that the GPS on my watch had been off, and this lap would come in at an appropriate 6.7 miles. It did not. I finished lap 2 at 14.06 miles. Shit. This is going to be a 35 mile race.
“I will die. Death is inevitable.”
Lap 3: Miles 15-21
“When I’m halfway through this lap, I’ll be halfway done with this race.”
“Am I fueling frequently enough?”
“Why am I STILL cold??”
Lap 3 was tiresome. I was approaching the 20+ mile mark and still had two laps to go. However, I was loving running on trails for this amount of time. And just as I was thinking about how peaceful the woods were, BOOM. I tripped over a root covered in leaves and fell face first into the dirt. Thankfully, not a human was around to hear the noises that escaped my mouth.
Lap 4: Miles 22-28
“Well I’ve run 22 miles and I still have a half marathon left to go.”
That thought was humbling. Lap 4 brought a bit of mental fatigue. I heard someone in the distance shooting guns for target practice and couldn’t help but think, “It wouldn’t be the worst thing if I got grazed by a bullet right now and didn’t have to finish this race.”
My mental fatigue also had me thinking about not completing lap 5. Lap 4 would bring me to 28 miles. That would be the furthest distance I had ever run and technically, I could still consider that running an ultra marathon since is was longer than 26.2. This thought was fleeting, though. Fortunately, my obsessive need for accomplishment would never let me have a DNF after coming this far.
Lap 5: Miles 29-35
“One.Last.Lap. One.Last.Lap. One.Last.Lap.”
“If I finish this race, I never have to run again.” (LIES, Jennifer, LIES)
Running the last mile of this race, I laughed out loud to myself. “Holy shit, I’m completing a 35-mile trail race on some ridiculously rough trails.” Everything ached and I was exhausted. I had no idea how many people finished ahead of me or how many were still behind me out on the course. I was sweaty but chilled, which is always an uncomfortable sensation, but one any winter runner is familiar with.
I did it. I finished. I ran 35 miles. I am an ultra-marathoner. I need a nap.
To conclude, I loved my first ultra. The horrible trail conditions just added to the badassery of my accomplishment. Will I do another in the future? You betcha.
You’re lying to my face if you tell me you don’t have just a little bit of spring fever right now. As a winter enthusiast, I greatly appreciate all four seasons in our beautiful mitten. Who doesn’t love the beauty of a fresh snow fall and the way it makes road running less impactful on our old knees and bodies? Plus, as someone who sweats more than the average person, the colder air definitely helps to tone down the perspiration.
However, on February 20th, we experienced a sunny, 57 degree day. It was glorious. And it was a great reminder of what it feels like to go outside without being in pain (winter winds are harsh!) and it got me just a wee bit excited for spring.
Not only is spring the beginning of warmer weather and fewer layers, but it is the unofficial start to the race season! A few races that I refuse to miss this spring and summer include:
Traverse City Trail Running Festival – April, 27-28, 2018. This race is a great weekend extravaganza! I’m running the 50k this year for my first ultra, but the 10k relay is so much fun!
Friends of Fishtown 5k – July 21, 2018 – This is a great race! It starts and ends in the heart of Fishtown and the hills in between are sneaky challenging. Pro tip: Get a sandwich from the Village Cheese Shanty after.
Port Oneida Run – August 4, 2018. Choose between the 10k, 5k, and 4 mile race. The 10k is my distance of choice in this race. It is challenging, but takes you on the beach, through the woods, and all over Sleeping Bear’s beauty.
The Dune Dash 4 Mile Race – Date still TBD, but last year it was held in mid-August. I love this race! It starts and ends at the famous Sleeping Bear Dune Climb. Check out my recap here.
Vineyard to Bay 15k – September 2, 2018. With a new distance this year! Historically it has been a 25k, 5k, and 25k relay. This is the first year that it is being run as a 15k. I can’t wait to see what the new course brings! My recap of the 25k can be found here.
Don’t fret, friends, spring is near. And pretty soon I’ll be complaining about running in the glaring sun and humidity, ha! What races do you plan to run this spring and summer? Are there any that I didn’t mention that I need to do?
If you want to complete a race that will make you feel like a winter fanatic, look no further than the Betsie Bay Frozen 5k. This is hands down my favorite winter 5k. Only the hearty get out and race on the shores of Lake Michigan in the middle of February – and as it would turn out, there are a lot of hearty Northern Michigan runners.
Runners get shuttled from Frankfort’s Main Street to the top of Elberta’s scenic overlook. If you’re brave enough to turn your face toward the whipping winds of Lake Michigan, you’re in for a fantastic view. Runners then head down the hill and keep along the Betsie Bay, heading right back into Frankfort. Given that this race starts on a downhill and then is 100% flat after, it’s a great race to PR. Finishing fast is extra good in this scenario, because the shores of Lake Michigan are not particularly warm in February.
So I’ve discussed the awesomeness that is the actual race itself, however, the post-race giveaways are absolutely insane. The directors of the race do an incredible job of getting sponsors involved. The community completely backs this event and their support is very clear. Tremendous giveaways include gift cards to local establishments, baskets stocked full with useful and delicious items, as well as local attire that people actually want to wear.
If you’ve never done this race, I insist that you join me on Saturday, February 17th. Dress warm, make the mad dash through Elberta and Frankfort, then celebrate total winter badassery.
Let me tell you about virtual races; they’re weird. Running this virtual race reminded me of the time my friend asked me,
“Why do you pay to run races? Do you realize you can just go outside and run that far for free?”
At the time, I scoffed and tried (and failed) to explain the gloriousness that is race-day. He didn’t understand, as he had never personally experienced it.
However, with a virtual race, I think I would have a more difficult time arguing against his point. I paid $40 to go run alone on the same roads I always run on. I can see why some may think that’s crazy.
Yet, I would not have run 13.1 miles that day if I was not participating in a virtual race. Though it was a rare sunny day, it was cold, windy, and the sun was setting quickly. It was also hunting season and gun shots echoed around me. I’m not currently training for anything (just wait until Mid-December. How’s that for foreshadowing?), so I didn’t need to run 13.1. But this virtual race gave me the push to hit that distance.
I had a goal to run the virtual half in under two hours, thinking that would be a piece of cake. I ran two half marathons in October, finishing both in around 1:52. Considering I was running alone, I figured my ‘race pace’ would not be quite as fast. I ended up finishing the 13.1 miles in 2:06:22. Ah!! Is my normal pace really that much slower than my race pace?! Clearly I need to look into this further.
Yeah, people may judge that I paid $40 to run alone, but people will always find a reason to judge (me, you, anyone else). The people who judge me did not run 13.1 miles after work on a Monday evening, so judge away.
So while it may be crazy to pay money to go run alone, people always say that runners are a special kind of crazy. I’m going to continue to happily embrace that. And though running real races are definitely preferred, I enjoyed my experience running this virtual race. Not to mention, I got a bomb-ass medal. It is literally the biggest medal I have ever received for a race and one of the few interactive medals I have.
What.a.weekend. Believe it or not, we left Leelanau County for the weekend for a camping trip and The Great Turtle Half Marathon on Mackinac Island. It was the maiden voyage of the camper we bought a couple of months ago (aka The Friendship 14!) I have never camped the night before a race, so I was a tad nervous that my usual race-day routine would be thrown off.
And of course, it was thrown off tremendously. I ate camp food and slept in twelve layers to combat the 40 degree weather of Michigan’s upper peninsula. I didn’t have electricity to charge my phone and feared it would die and I’d have no alarm clock. We didn’t pack breakfast and planned to wing it once arriving on Mackinac Island. As someone who has race-day anxiety, not having my race day routine was harsh.
But to no one’s surprise but my own, everything worked out perfectly. I was happily standing in the sunshine at the race starting line on time. The race went off without a hitch. The cool weather contrasted wonderfully with the sunshine. In fact, I even got too warm in the first two miles.
The race starts and ends at Mission Point Resort. The first two miles head east along the shoreline before heading inward on the island. This is where the hills begin. I wish I could explain the twists and turns that take runners literally all over the island, but it was all I could do to just follow the markings along the course. Instead, I’ll include the map of the race. We ran on trails, past the airport, up hills, down hills, past mansions and beautiful cottages, and along the stunning shoreline of Lake Huron.
It rained off and on throughout the race. I finished wet and cold. But was it ever a beautiful, fun, and challenging race. We celebrated for awhile on the island, then headed back to our campsite for a bonfire, post-race beverages, and even more camp food. This was a glorious weekend. Many components were outside of my comfort zone and that turned out to be the best thing possible.
The 9th annual Zombie Run is quickly approaching. This 5k brings out some of the best costumes, make-up, and props I have ever seen. On the morning of this race, I usually get up extra early to don my best zombie make-up (please note I regularly fail at daily make-up, let alone zomb-ified make-up). As this race starts at 9AM, I cannot even imagine how early some people must get up to to put on their amazing costumes and make-up. Thank you to those that do, because you make this race so much fun.
As for me, I like to dress as various food items and zombify them. In years past, I’ve been a rotten banana, rotten tomato, and Mr. Potato Dead. My favorite costume from last year was 2 young ladies (I’m 85, I can use the term “young ladies”) dressed up as the twins from The Shining. Well done, ladies, well done.
I’ve always been a fan of races that end at breweries. Ending a race at a brewery is the right thing to do and all race directors should take note.
Clearly I love Traverse City’s Zombie Run, but I’m a fan of all themed races in general. I think they are less intimidating, especially for new runners. Never completed a 5k before? Dress up and walk one. There are usually just as many walkers at themed races like the Zombie Run as there are runners. Themed races are traditionally less competitive; people are there for the show, lots of laughs, and comradery.
It is bittersweet that I will not be participating in this year’s Zombie Run. We are traveling north for the Great Turtle Half Marathon on Mackinac Island (watch for a race recap next week!) This is a race I have never done before, so I’m excited to check it out. But it still breaks my heart to be missing out on this year’s Zombie Run. So friends, take photos for me. I will be back next year, likely dressed as whatever food item I can get my hands on.
Phew! Now I know I mentioned in my race preview that the Sleeping Bear Marathon, Half Marathon, & 5k had some hills, but clearly I repressed some of them from last year. The first four miles seem almost like a steady incline. There are some rolling hills in there, but largely runners are ascending during this time.
This may seem terrifying for some, but just remember this is an out-and-back course. Every hill you go up, you get to come back down.
Now, huge thanks to the lady who gave me a tremendous laugh at mile five. We were finally going down a loooooong downhill. It’s a steep one, too. It certainly felt nice to be heading down for a bit. This lady commented out loud how great this downhill was. And then, reality hit her:
“OH NO. We’ll have to run back up this, won’t we?!”
I laughed. “Oh yeah,” I thought to myself.
It was a glorious day for a race (but isn’t everyday?) Yes, we got rained on. Yes, the wind blew our hats off. And yes, the hills gave us quite the challenge. But everyday that I get to head outside and run with a group of people who love the sport as much as I do is a great day. The trees that line the course were just starting to show their vibrant colors. The finish line is on the beach in Empire that showcase bluffs in every direction. I mean, come on.
The beauty of this course never fails to fill me up with tremendous joy and appreciation for this region. I will return to this race next year.
And don’t forget, every year the Empire Hops Festival takes place immediately following the race. If you didn’t know, drinking beer is my favorite post-race activity. Hope to see you all at both events next year. Cheers!
Phew. Holy cow, you guys. This is one tough race. There is a 5k and 7-mile distance, I ran the 7-miler. Both races are the same price, how crazy is that?! Why wouldn’t you sign up for the longer distance and get more bang for your buck? Anywho, this is an insane and beautiful race.
The race started at Ciccone Vineyards promptly at 9AM. Both the 5k runners and the 7-mile runners started at the same time. This was new for me, as normally different distances start at different times. It was a very crowded start, as all runners were corraled through three rows of grapes in the vineyard. Don’t count on a fast start, but people spread out pretty quickly over the first mile.
Immediately after the first mile, the 5k runners and 7-milers split off in different directions. For the 7-mile course, runners are greeted with rolling hills – literally the whole time. Ok mayyyyybe there were a few straight shots, but all I can remember are the hills. The course was a little slippery, as the grass was still wet from the morning dew. There were plenty of muddy areas that added to the slipperiness as well.
After running through the vineyards of Ciccone, runners head to the vineyards of Black Star Farms. The views along the whole course are amazing. You run through rows of vineyards, past pumpkin patches, past howling beagles (my favorite part), and by overlooks of the bay.
This course challenged me more than I expected it to. I plan to tackle my first ultra this spring. It’s a 50k on trails and this 7-miler showed me how much trail work I need to do before I’m ready for that ultra. I’m just happy I realized this now so I can adjust my training accordingly.
At the end of the course, runners get to jump in pits of grapes to “stomp” them into wine. Duh. My running shoes are still wet and may forever smell likes grapes. This is definitely an upgrade though, as my running shoes were not the best smelling things before this race.
It has happened. I printed my first lie. In my Vineyard to Bay 25k race preview, I excitedly told you guys that Brengman Brothers was open prior to the race for runners to use the bathrooms. This was not the case this year (Guys, I promise it was in years past). However, the port-a-potties were available and many runners took advantage of the dense woods nearby.
There, I got that lie off my chest. Now to get into the good stuff. The 4th annual Vineyard to Bay 25k was a tremendous success. It rained briefly prior to the start, but everything cleared up as runners took their place at the starting line. The day remained overcast and a little chilly, not traditional August weather but absolutely perfect for running. There was no one present to perform the National Anthem, so everyone endearingly sang it prior to starting.
As I previously mentioned, my husband and I did the 25k relay this year. I was held in suspense all week as my husband decided between running the 15k or the 10k. He decided to run the 15k, which is the first leg of the relay. It is also the much hillier portion of the race. The exchange point took place halfway down Hilltop Road, directly after runners ascended some ridiculous hills.
The race finished at Waterwheel Park. Runners then gathered at the beach for fantastic post-race food including watermelon, dried cherries, and Stonehouse Bread with peanut butter. The awards ceremony took place at the beach as well and top age group finishers each got a bottle of Black Star Farms wine (best race award ever). After the awards were given out, an amazing raffle was held. Almost every runner went home with something. The raffle prizes included more bottles of wine, gift cards to Dick’s Pour House or the VI Grill, and so much more. My husband walked away with a Suttons Bay Bikes t-shirt and a gift card for a bicycle tune-up.
This race has it all. It takes you past open water, through fields, up hills with stunning views of the bay, and onto the famous M22. It is well organized and stocked with great volunteers at aid stations. Oh, and the medals created by Sporck Tile Art are bomb, per usual. This may be my favorite race of the year (can anyone actually pick just one favorite race?!)
I’m already looking forward to the 5th annual Vineyard to Bay 25k. Hopefully you all will join us and support this great race. And now, we move onto fall racing season. What’s on your race calendar?