Race report: Pinckney Trail Half (and general life update)

After far too long a break from doing any kind of trail race – I think it may actually have been in 2012, though I’d have to check – I finally got one under my belt this Saturday at the Pinckney Trail Weekend. I just did the half, but it went way better than I thought it would, actually – especially since the farthest I’ve run this month, and most of last month, is about 8 miles. But I’ve picked up my pace a bit on those short runs, which I think actually helped.

The weather was pretty much perfect for racing – cool (low 40s) and overcast, no rain, not much wind. I ran into one of my friends from high school cross country who said that she was aiming for around 2 hours, so I decided to run with her even though I expected, realistically, to roll in around 2:20 or something. So we got in the “9 min/mi” pace wave – there were waves, which was different from the last trail races I’d done where there were a couple dozen people – but of course the trail was pretty bottlenecked and congested for the first maybe 2-3 miles so those went by at closer to 11 and 10 min/mi, which I wasn’t thrilled about. But of course it eventually thinned out and I began to figure out a decent pace and pick my way up. Roughly the middle has a couple big hills (for Michigan, anyway), and I focused on actually working the hills, powerhiking up and cruising down. (A couple guys behind me were talking about hills and racing, and one of them said something like, “Yeah, people always get to the top and slow down, like, ‘Whew, that was hard!’ and that’s when you’ve gotta pass ’em and fly down the hill. Classic race mentality,” which kind of made me go Ah yes, this is a race, I should think at least a little about that.) After grinding out the middle hilly miles we hit a really nice fast part, still some hills but very runnable with nice flow. I always love that part on my runs out there, it just flies by. At an aid station around maybe mile 10 one of the guys I know from the running scene in Ann Arbor was working and offered me “Gatorade or beer?” I thought he was joking so I said “BEER!” and was handed a Sam Adams IPA. It actually tasted pretty damn good. The last four miles or so went by pretty quick (with the exception of that one last big hill about a mile and a half out). Also, my calves started cramping around mile 11, but I just kept my stride long and ran it out and it was fine. By then, I was really in the groove of things and I felt like I could go all day (with a pace adjustment, of course!). It was like my muscle memory was kicking in from so long ago. I pushed it the last mile and came through in 2:05:59, which I think was actually one of my fastest times on that loop… which just goes to show how big a role mentality plays in running distances (even just a half), and also that I probably wasn’t working hard enough in the past, because I was in way better shape than I am now  😛  I was 14th woman overall and 3rd in my age group. I suspect I could have broken 2h had I not been stuck for the first three miles. Also, my dad came through at 2:00 flat… had I known he was so close, I would have tried to catch him!

I’d forgotten how much I love being out there for hours, just chipping away at the miles for hours, just getting it done… and the feeling of having a strong, steady pace that pays off the more miles there are. I think only one or two people passed me in the last couple miles (mainly on the hills that I would have run had my calves not been spasming). It’s just the best feeling. Doing this race was so good for me. For the last probably two years, my lack of racing or really running far has been messing with me. I’ve felt incomplete, like I lost a big part of who I am. The race this weekend, even though it was just a half, helped me find that lost part. Before, I was doubting my interest in running long – like I wanted to want to run long, but it just wasn’t there yet. Now that desire is back, without a doubt in my mind. I would have signed up for the 50k the next day had my friends and dad not reminded me that I haven’t been running and that my shin would probably just explode. So there’s one in June I have my eye on. I can’t wait. Waking up too early, having that feeling of “Oh god why did I sign up for this, the bed is soooo comfy,” but getting up and putting on your running clothes and meeting at the start line in the early morning, when the air is cool and dew is on the grass and the sun is just peeking up, then your little group trots off into the woods to emerge five, six hours later, tired and triumphant… then laying on the couch under a giant comfy blanket and falling asleep. So good.

So anyway. I’M BACK! I did a shakeout seven yesterday, and my left calf is still sore/tight where it was cramping during the race, but thankfully my shin feels fine.

Life update time! I’m graduating this weekend, which is kind of terrifying but mostly exciting, I guess. The plan is to take a “year off,” which I put in quotes because it’ll be a year of calc and chem classes to prep for grad school, which I will hopefully be attending next fall (2016) for geology. So now I have to focus on narrowing down my fields of interest and finding a professor to work with (in a town with good trails and a good running community, of course!). But I’m pretty excited about that, and very pleased with my decision to go into geology. The work is interesting and I love the people – they like craft beer possibly more than trail runners and climbers, which is saying something. So that’s good.

Ok, time to go pick up graduation tickets and start packing. Blah.

peace love and long-distance running,



“Race” Report: Save the Wildlife 5k

I put it in quotes because (a) it was just a 5k, (b) it was a tiny field, and (c) it was my first race of any sort since December, and my third or fourth run in months. I guess it’s technically a race, but whatever.

I did a little bit of warming up because high school cross country habits kicked in. I kept my sweats on as I ran around for ten minutes or so, did a couple strides. Unfortunately I had decided not to wear my spikes. I should have; it was muddy and it just felt wrong racing a 5k in regular shoes (Brooks PureGrit, now sans tread). Oh well.

I took off towards the front; I didn’t want to get stuck behind a bunch of jogging middle-aged slightly overweight ladies. (I said it was a small race.) My first mile was a little too fast – 7:30 – which is just sad. I didn’t beat myself up too much about the slow pace because this was my first time racing a 5k since high school, so I was totally unaccustomed to the short sprinty nature of it, and I’m totally and 100 percent out of shape. My cardio is kaput. Anyway, within the first mile (probably the first half mile, even) I found myself leading. So that was cool and definitely motivation to work through it.

Mile two, as always in cross country, was the simple matter of Keep Running and Don’t Slow Down. Which, of course, I did; I came through the 2 mile marker at around 15:30. Sloooooow. I realized I was slowing down and made an effort to speed up my turnover, but the third mile involved a lot of heavy breathing. I’d done to myself what I’d done in cross country all too many times – a 7-8-9 min/mi pattern. But whatever – I hadn’t run trails in AGES and this was fun and I was leading.

Then, about half a mile out, I weakened and glanced back. There was a woman maybe 100m behind me. Damn it, now I’d have to try. I held her off until the very end; there was a slight downhill and she got me on that, with .1 mile to go. UGH. I could have won my first race. It would have been cool. But I was running as hard as I could (again, paaatheeetic) and she gained 10 seconds on me by the finish. I would have liked to win, but I am simply not in 5k shape.

But it was a fun little thing – I ran it with my mom, who got first in her age group (yay mom!) – and, most importantly, I ran it without shin pain or knee pain (from that bike crash last Sunday). So… I can start running again.

I’m going to start hacking out a training plan. It’s all going to be pretty variable, since I’m going to have to be acutely aware of any shin pain and judge my actions accordingly, but generally I want to focus on building up a really solid base with more speed than before, then begin building up distance. I want to get my cardio (LUNGS) back into gear, and get my muscles and bones used to running again, before I start doing long stuff. Which pains me to no end, but I know that I’d be an idiot to try to jump back into distance training. So I’ll be doing a few 5 and 10ks, tempo runs, and (gulp) interval workouts. Goals: around 21 5k, get back to being able to do a sub-6 mile, 1:45 half, 3:45 full. All rough.

Cool. I’m off to do abs (at long last, I’ve been so lazy because I’ve been down in the dumps because of a million things) then hit up the cider mill with my family. Oh! And I started writing for the school paper, The Michigan Daily. Here’s my first article. I’ll be mainly covering cross country (and track in the spring).

peace love and running at long last!
a very very happy becca

Race (Volunteer) Report: Dances With Dirt HELL (9/21/13)

After running a little local trail 5k in the morning (I led until the last tenth, when she got me, grr)(but HOORAY FOR RUNNING without shin pain!), I headed over to DWD Hell (MI) to volunteer at one of the ultra aid stations with my mom. The weather was pretty variable in terms of sun/clouds and temperature changes, with a little occasional drizzle in the morning, but generally good. Mid-60s with dropping humidity throughout the day and a decent breeze.

Although we were just working the ultra aid, we got to see and in some way experience the beer-powered exuberance that is the DWD relay. It’s a totally different, but equally awesome, vibe than ultras. Vans would pull into the field lot and a group of energetic, fresh runners (who turned more tipsy as the day wore on) piled out and headed to the exchange pole. As their runner came into view, the whooping, jeering, and gleeful raising of bottles commenced. More often than not, the exchange was a brew handoff rather than a hand slap.


It was just such fun to watch. The relay covers 62 miles split up into uneven legs – an ultra distance, but with a team effort that is usually missing in ultras. The camaraderie, the ridiculous costumes which I couldn’t imagine running in, the excitement of tracking your team’s progress for each leg, the pressure on the anchor to kill those last four miles because The Poodle Team is just three minutes ahead…! 

And it was great because although they were all cheering for their teammates and busy with their race, whenever a 50-miler would come through, they’d cheer them on too. “Go ultra!” “50 miles, that’s incredible! Keep it up, buddy!” When some of the hurting runners came though, the relay-ers would shake their heads in awe as each and every 50-miler, no matter how bad they felt, walked, jogged, or ran out of that aid station. It was a fantastic way for two kind of different worlds to collide; although a fair number of the relay runners were also distance guys, there were some relay runners who had never experienced anything more than perhaps a half who got a glimpse of just what the last few miles of a 50 look like.

Which, of course, varies greatly. The field today was smaller than Run Woodstock, so there was never a big rush of runners all coming in at once – maybe three at the station at most. We were at the Bartell station, 4.1 miles from the end – those dreaded last four miles – and most of the people who came through seemed to be in decent spirits, despite the uneven trail and apparently some not-too-clearly-marked turns. The worst offenders/sorriest souls? The 10-mile guy, who didn’t seem too upset at the fact that he’d done about 100k instead of 50M, and the 63-year-old runner who set out to do a 4-mile leg and was out for five hours. The 10-mile guy didn’t seem to mind at all, as he was still making pretty good time. Not sure what became of the five-hour guy (I just know they did eventually track him down).

The hours ticked by and we ticked runners off our sheet. The first guy came through hours ahead of the main group, looking unfazed and fresh; same for the first woman – the first three women, actually. Third place was running her first 50 and looking amazingly strong and chipper at 45.9 miles. There weren’t too many people suffering a lot – a few guys came through with pretty bad stomach issues or cramps, but they all carried on. A few of the runners who got lost were disgruntled, but nothing unreasonable.

Then we got to the last runners. They came through knowing they were nowhere near any of the other runners, the relay runners having long departed. Shadows were starting to lengthen and the temperatures were dropping. Then sun had been covered by clouds for hours. As they came into view, we’d all cheer and clap them into the aid station. These were mainly a stolid bunch, quiet and dedicated to their last few hours on the trail. One kid came in towards the very end, obviously fatigued but determined to finish his first 50 miler. “I’m so close,” he said, breathing hard and eating a pretzel. “I can’t fail now.”

Finally, the last 50-miler arrived. We saw him coming through the field and checked our watches – good, he was still under the cutoff. Once he was closer, we raised our hands and cheered silently – he was deaf. Communication in this situation was surprisingly easy. The tired ultrarunner doesn’t change much person to person. Water? Yes. Yes, please. Anything to eat? Pause; a slow shake of the head. How much farther? Hold up four fingers.

How are you feeling?
Closed eyes for a moment; open them; a sigh and a shrug. Then he shouldered his refilled hydration pack and headed off.

All in all, DWD was a very different experience from Run Woodstock… but it was infectious. I definitely want to do a relay there sometime, or perhaps the 50k. (Not the 50M, I would get so annoyed at that rough terrain.)

And now, a few photos:

he stripper team exchange: “Get me on the ass, man!” (They didn’t realize there was a 1.5 year old in our tent… oh well)

nother quality exchange. Why stand up when you can fall on the ground?

 little blood never hurt anyone.

ust… oh my. The Porn Star team (turns out, I know one of those guys).

For any DWD runners: I have more photos of individual runners which I’ll put on Facebook a little later.

And I’ll do a separate post for my little 5k. Wish I’d been wearing my spikes.

peace love and – at last – running,

Run Woodstock (Volunteer) Report

Since I didn’t get to run at Run Woodstock this year, I figured that I might as well volunteer at one of the ultra aid stations. I know that I’m always grateful to see a smiling face in the middle of long races, and I wanted to be that face for everyone in the lowest, toughest miles.

I got to the race around 8 to watch my parents finish the 5M and half, respectively, and hung around the finish for a while before I had to check in for volunteering. I could watch finish lines for hours. Everyone from the winner of the half and the first 100-miler to come through to people finishing the 5M in two hours, looking incredibly proud and pleased with themselves – just seeing everyone’s reaction to crossing that line, meeting their friends and family… everyone gets that same feeling of accomplishment no matter how long or short the race, how fast or slow their time. That’s one of the beautiful things about running: it’s so incredibly close and personal to everyone, but at the same time, everyone watching the finish feels connected to each and every other runner no matter what level. We’ve all been there, the good races and the bad. And the downright terrible. It’s that shared experience that helps make races, especially fairly large (for trail) ones like Run Woodstock, so special.

After watching a steady stream of runners for about an hour, I donned my bright red tie-dye ROADIE shirt and drove off into the woods to my aid station. It was right around lunchtime and the 50k, 50M, and 100s were in full swing – and they were hungry (that would change later in the day), so I jumped right into the hectic swing of things, churning out PBJ squares and cutting bananas like nobody’s business. Most of the runners were still relatively fresh and, for the most part, took a minute or two to grab food and replenish fluids, then headed back down the trail and into the green forest. In the down time, as we restocked the table, I got to know the people I was working with, trail runners and fastpackers and a triathaloner. We talked about racing and plantar fasciitis and fastpacking, as well as some of the less savory aspects of distance running. That’s another thing about runners – the age difference doesn’t matter. 20-year-olds can befriend 40, 50, and 60 year-olds, no problem. We’re all just runners anyway, it doesn’t change that much.

After a couple hours, the next wave of runners came through. These were the 50k stragglers, the 50 milers, and the ever-plodding 100-milers. This time, they were looking more worn-down and trail-weary. It was hot and humid and it was getting to them. This, oddly enough, was the part I was most looking forward to. I knew where they were and I wanted so badly to help them through it. I asked everyone how they were doing, how they were holding up, if they were having fun. (I only got one “Great!” response, and it was from a 100-miler on the middle of his 5th loop.) I tried to share my positivity and happiness without being gratingly cheery, since that can easily do more harm than good on a suffering runner. I think the best way to go about this part is through a few little stories.

There was apparently a turn just after our aid station that could be confusing to a tired mind; we got four or five runners come back through just an hour and a half or so after they’d left, and then we’d hear the dreaded words: “I took a wrong turn.” It was roughly a six-mile detour. Now, six miles on their own is nothing. Six miles in the middle of an ultra is an entirely different story, and one that changes vastly from person to person. Several of those unfortunates, who were still feeling strong, shrugged it off as an extra six miles and carried on. A couple were feeling a bit defeated by the fact that they’d wasted the time and energy, but carried on.
The last one to make the wrong turn, however, had already been struggling through her last lap of the 50k when she’d come through earlier. She didn’t want to keep going, but with some water and gentle urging, she walked away from the aid station to finish the remaining 8.5 miles – or so she thought. A little under two hours later, she stumbled out of the narrow, bushy singletrack into the opening of our station, dropped her pack, laid her hands on her knees and starting sobbing, just sobbing, so hard that is wracked her body. Her struggle, her pain, her utter despair was so apparent. We all felt it. It ripped right though everyone there, runners and volunteers alike. The lowest of low points. And I didn’t know what to do; I struggled to keep my own eyes from tearing up. We refilled her pack and got her a chair but she didn’t want to sit, couldn’t. She just sobbed. I don’t remember her exact words, but they were devoid of hope. Utter defeat. She didn’t want food, she didn’t want ice, she just wanted to be done. Out of the woods. But it was so far away…
And yet, after a few minutes, her breath calmed and she stood a little taller. Without saying anything, she donned her pack, took a single pretzel, and walked slowly down the hill into the woods.
That is the spirit of running. Tenacity and toughness don’t come close to touching it. It’s so much more. The sheer will it takes to finish a terrible race, to push through the lowest imaginable points and cross that line, dammit. Because no matter how dark it seems, the finish line is always still out there, waiting for you, beckoning through whatever pain and doubt you’re going through.

Another runner who stands out is a guy, a 100-miler, who was sitting in one of our chairs. He was hurting pretty badly, but he was going to finish. It was either his 5th or final lap. His wife had come out to meet up with him, and she had brought their two young kids – which is nice, but it was evident that they had no idea of what their father was doing. They knew that “Daddy is running 100 miles!,” but being five years old, they had no idea what that entailed. They ran around the open area and picked up sticks and yelled and laughed while their mom spoke in a low, gentle, encouraging voice to their dad. “Come over and say hi to daddy,” she called a minute later. They ran over and grabbed his legs. A visible grimace instantly appeared on his face. “Don’t grab daddy’s legs right now. Don’t touch daddy.” They backed away, still happy as… well, happy as five year olds who had no idea what running 100 miles is like. After a few minutes, he stood up, said goodbye to his wife, and jogged off into the woods. His kids didn’t notice that he’d left.

I offered whiskey to some of the runners who seemed to be in good spirits. They liked that. (Too bad I didn’t actually have any.)

One of the things that struck me the most was the vast difference in how the 100-milers were faring at certain points of the race. I know that there are a lot of factors that go into how someone feels – training, previous injuries or issues, stomach things, etc. – but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. We got the full spectrum, from men and women still feeling strong, steady, and fairly upbeat on their last lap, through the runners who were feeling “Okay, considering…” (most of them), to the few towards the end who you could tell at a glance were in a complete daze, taking a long time to respond, faint voices, unfocused eyes. Surprisingly, I saw very few 100-milers who were feeling totally dismal; most of them had a “Keep calm (sane) and carry on” sort of attitude, which is good to have, obviously. Just an interesting note.

One last guy who stood out was a 100M virgin. It was his last lap, with 8.5 miles to the finish. He was going to make it under the cutoff unless something went terribly wrong (which, you know… you never know). He was going along at his own pace, enjoying the ride as much as he could. Racing against himself, he said. That’s all that matters. He was clearheaded and happy. He was the most reasonable runner I’d seen in the last lap. He sat for a few minutes, eating and drinking a bit, chatting with us, then said, “Well, I guess it’s time to finish this.” Got up and jogged down the trail. I was so happy for him, the fact that his first 100 was going so well and looked like it would be a good experience overall. I hope to be like him when I’m at 92 miles.

Oh, speaking of 92 miles – there was a woman doing her first 100 as well. She too was on her last lap, sitting down and trying to wrap her head around the fact that she was in single digits… and the fact that she had 8.5 between her and the finish. I said, “Well, it’s just eight and a half. Compare that to the 92 miles behind you and it’s nothing!” She just shook her head and said, “92 miles… wow. I can’t even think about that. I can’t believe it.” People surprise themselves in running, and it is good.

So after the last runners were off the course (we waited for one hypothetical 50-miler who, we found out, had been taken off the course earlier), I drove back to the main staging area and checked out. The music was still going, campfires were burning, runners were massaging tired, aching legs… all in all, the perfect post-race atmosphere. I plan to spend the whole weekend there next year. This was my first volunteering experience at a race, and it was – although it’s a cliche, and I really don’t want this post to be about me – rewarding. It was such a great way to be involved in the race and in the running community without actually running. Maybe it’s just because I’m super empathetic, but it was a really emotional day for me too, and I feel reconnected to running just through watching these amazing runners do what they do and getting to help them in some small way.

peace love and running,

PS. I just signed up to volunteer at DWD Hell… will I see you out there?

Race Report: Bigfoot 50k

Camille and me finishing the Bigfoot 50k on Dec. 1. Salt Fork State Park, Cambridge, OH. Time of 6:15. Smiling as we cross the line – says something about the kind of day we had.

So happy! It was such a good run – surprisingly.

We drove out Friday night and stayed at the lodge right in the park, it was SO convenient and nice. The race started at 8 am, and it was in the high 30s and sunny when we started. The race was three 10.6-mile loops; this was the second time I’ve run that course, and I really like it. Yeah, there are a couple killer hills, but in between that is either nice rolling hills, pretty flat, or (my personal favorite) really awesome downhill.

The first half hour or so was pretty rough on my respiratory system; having been sick all week was not conducive to this level of activity. Surprisingly quickly, though, my sinuses cleared out (mainly onto my compression sleeves and the trail) and my actual run began. The rest of the first loop fairly flew by; I came in at just under two hours. My roommate Camille who was also running (her first ultra!) had been ahead of me, but I caught up with her for a mile or so after the aid station. The second loop went by really quickly as well, and I was feeling REALLY good, especially for not having run in basically a week, having been sick for a week, and not having really trained for this. It was a nice sunny day on the trails, and I got to talk to a lot of different people throughout the race. I maintained a steady pace for the first two loops, running exactly the same amount of time except for one and a half minutes spent at an aid station refilling my pack and retying my shoes. Which was good. The third loop was, of course, a bit tougher to maintain – I slowed down about 15 minutes, definitely just from walking up the last couple hilly sections. Those bastards. But that’s the great thing about the last loop of a race – every time you hit a nasty hill, just think, “HA! This is the last time I have to go up this ever again! Until next year!” My voice was basically shot by halfway through the third loop, I suspect from a combination of talking to people and breathing through my mouth almost entirely. But about three miles out from the finish, during my favorite wonderful gorgeous downhill section, I caught a glimpse of who else but my wonderful roommate on the trail ahead of me! I hoarsely said her name and she somehow heard me, turning around just as I fell for the second time (the first was earlier in the race – I landed on a rock directly on my right shin). But anyway, I caught up to her; she’d been having a pretty rough and painful last loop, and she was dead, but then apparently I gave her energy and we had a pretty solid last two miles or so and ran up the last hill to cross the finish line together at 6:15.  🙂

All in all, it was a pretty great run. It was my slowest 50k time but I don’t care at all: I was sick and undertrained and I had a damn good day of running that reminded me just how much I love running for hours and hours on end (as well as fancy downhill footwork done well and quickly – so satisfying!).

We had to drive four and a half hours back home, but we both semi-napped the whole way and ate a lot a lot of food, as was our right. Then I had to work the next day. Ugh. But…

YAY RUNNING! And I’m so proud of Camille for her first ultra! I’m so excited to run many many more with her  🙂

peace love and running,

PS. Sorry I haven’t posted in ages – I started a second job and started climbing more regularly, and haven’t been training super religiously… so that combination hasn’t been super conducive to me posting. I’ll get back into it once this crazy semester ends… almost there… That being said, YAY CLIMBING! Climbing is great. I finally got shoes (La Sportiva Mythos, love them) and a chalk bag so I can boulder to my heart’s content. My future plans for racing include a 50 somewhere in March-ish, maybe another 50k here or there, and – dun dun DUN – Bryce Canyon 100 on May 31.