Race Report: 2016 Yankee Springs Winter Challenge

2016 Yankee Springs Winter Challenge 50K

32/64 runners => 6:08:24


Why not start 2016 with a bang?  While most were still hung over from New Year’s (when I went to bed at 11:57pm – just because I couldn’t care less about the ball drop), I ran 30 miles.  Me and almost 340 other runners met in the early morning cold, at Yankee Springs Recreation Area, on the second to run between 10k – 50miles.

I ran the Yankee Springs Winter Challenge 50k.

I’ve hiked the YSRA many times (I even saw the elusive eastern massasauga rattlesnake there once – Michigan’s only venomous snake), but I’ve never run there.  When I hiked there, it’s always been the same 4 mile loop so I didn’t really know what to expect for this two-lap race.


My daughters decorating the most awesome drop bag.

After my typical pre-race meal of PB&J, I headed North and arrived at Yankee Springs, under the cover of darkness, about 7am – an hour or so before the race.  A short walk took me over the lodge where I picked up my number, race gloves and a pretty sweet long sleeve tshirt.

After a quick pit-stop at the port o Jonathans, it was back to the car to hang out and stay warm until time to race.  I double checked my UD SJ vest, pinned my number to my pants, and strapped on my Yaktrax.  Thank goodness I had them along.  The ground was covered under a layer of ice from a recent ice storm.  They proved very beneficial.

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Before the start of the 2016 Yankee Springs Winter Challenge

About 5 minutes prior to the race, I walked across the parking lot, dropped my drop bag, took a quick pre-race picture and took my place at the start line.  I find the start of ultras to be very chill and I love that.  No Metallica.  No pyrotechnics.  No jumping around.  Just a ‘hello’ from the RD, a quick countdown from 10, and we’re off.

I started out the first lap at a pace that felt very slow.  As I’d been running at a low HR for a couple of months, I decided to try to keep it down through the first of two loops.  I wasn’t shooting for zone 3 like my training runs, but definitely trying to keep things in zone 4 – as opposed to my first 50k where I jacked myself into zone 5 4 miles into the race and subsequently blew up.

A couple miles in I caught a gal and just kinda hung behind her for a bit.  She was running pretty much the exact pace I wanted to run.  I didn’t want to pass and force myself to run any faster trying to keep from slowing her down, but I think she didn’t really love having me hanging so close behind either – she felt like she was holding me up.  We chatted a bit about running and family and then about 6 miles in I stopped to remove my jacket and let her roll on.  My jacket – the UD Ultra Jacket, is sweet.  After a few more runs in that, I’ll have a review on here.

At this point I was all alone, where I stayed for the majority of the first lap.

I came up a hill about 8 miles into the race and saw a guy standing with  cooler and a radio in the tree behind him …

Hey, you wanna beer?

Me: Huh?

Yeah – I have a cooler of PBR here.

Me: Are you shittin’ me?

Nope.  I have some fried chicken too.

Me: Well, since you twisted my arm…

(You can read about how I really feel about beer / running here)

But … I figured, what the hell?  It was only about 3 or 4 ounces, what could it hurt?  The first lap – nothing, all was good.  I did pass on the chicken though.

Shortly after that, I rolled into my first aid station (third on the course).  I had a really odd experience.  I could smell the campfire on the way up the hill and shouted something about it smelling wonderful.  I walked up and thanked the folks for being there and they all totally ignored me.  No one said a word.  I don’t know if it’s cause I had my GoPro on, and it freaked them out, or what.  One dude was cutting pickles.  Another was telling him not to slice his thumb off.  And 3 or 4 people were sitting around the campfire ignoring me.

Oh well.  I thanked them nonetheless and rolled on – right into the toughest part of the course.  Terrain-wise, it was cool – hilly and challenging, but it really slowed me down.  I walked most of the up hills and tried to roll through the icy downhills as best as I could.  It was in this section that I started to see the gal I ran with earlier in the race.

I pushed on through this section, still trying to keep my HR under control and came out of this to the last aid station.  The gal I was chasing chose to skip it, but I stopped to refill my bottle.


They were stoked about my camera.

Hey, are we on camera!?

Me: Do you mind?


Me: Cool, I don’t think the last group appreciated it.

I thought I turned it on, but apparently all I got was this picture.  Notice the dude on the right – I thought he was wearing a baby out in the cold.  No – it was a dog.

This stop rejuvenated me and I begin running pretty well after this.  It was also about this time that I decided to shit-can the heart rate running.  I was going to push it into, and through, the second lap.

I caught the gal I’d run with earlier and wished her well.  This was her first ultra and she was going to stop for some traction between laps and I rolled into lap 2 feeling very good.


I stopped to take a picture of lap 2, a couple miles in, and that killed my phone.  It froze up.  Oh well, onwards!

I felt really good the first half of lap 2 and passed quite a few people.  Whatever quite a few people is in an ultra, in the winter.  Probably more than 5, but less than 10.  Not bad in a race of 64 runners though.

At one point I remember seeing an Oreo on the ground.

Damn that looks good!  I thought.

Fortunately for me, a couple miles further and I happened on an aid station – and they had Oreos!  I choked one down (it seemed hard to eat) and it tasted delicious.

I was still feeling good as I ran into the PBR guy again.  I had no intention of stopping – I was running well.  But he asked again.  And … that’s all it took for me to stop.  Now he had a group with him.  I chatted a couple minutes and one of the guys I’d passed snuck by.

Then … I ran out of gas.  I don’t think it was the PBR, but I think it was just stopping again so soon when I felt like I was running well.  I never really got back into the groove.

I skipped the oddball aid station from lap 1 and powered forward.

With about 5 miles to go I passed a guy sitting down.  I chatted a minute, he wasn’t feeling well, but he started moving so I moved along.

I continued to slow down and finally Alex (the guy who was sitting earlier) caught me.  He wasn’t feeling well and I was gassed so we kept each other company for the last 4 miles in.  Alex – if you’re reading this, nice to meet you!

Post race there was chili and beer – how can you go wrong!?  Well, you can go wrong by leaving your ID in the car and being too lazy to go get it.  So for me, it was just chili.

Over the course of the race I drank about 5 16oz bottles of Tailwind.  This followed my typical hydration strategy pretty closely and seemed to work out well.

In the end, even though I believe it is hard to compare ultras because of the varied terrain, it was a 50k PR for me by a long shot.  So I guess I’ll take that.

This wasn’t an A race for me, but rather something to keep me training through the fall / early winter.  I enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it to folks!

Aside from my new UD jacket, I received a Patagonia Air Hoody for Christmas.  I know you’re not supposed to wear something new in a race, but I did.  And it was awesome.  I love how the hood keeps the neck warm and when up can be pulled up over the face.  I’d highly recommend it.

As I mentioned earlier, I was wearing my GoPro.  That was a first for me and here’s a short video compilation from the race …

If you want to see my Strava data, you can find it here.  Otherwise, here are the just the splits:

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2016 Yankee Springs Winter Challenge splits


15 thoughts on “Race Report: 2016 Yankee Springs Winter Challenge

  1. 50in50marathonquest

    Cool race report, not sure I could contemplate an ultra anytime soon but I’ll never say never…video was great too! Wifey just got a go-Pro for Christmas and one day we might figure out how to use it! Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. darkskyrunner Post author

      Thanks so much! There was a time back in 2013 where I didn’t think I’d be able to complete a half marathon, but over time I kept slowing pushing my distance. I’ve never been fast, so I pushed myself by running further!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. neveradullbling

    Awesome ultra! What a great story! I have a ton of questions about your GoPro video, which was fabulous! What software did you use to make the video? Did you use a head mount? I just got one and I don’t have a clue how to make the video come to life like you did! I’m running the Maui Oceanfront Half next week, and I really want to be able to put something together like you did! By the way… amazing you ran that in so much snow and ice! Wow!


    1. darkskyrunner Post author

      Thank you!

      This was my first time running w/the GoPro. I have a hand mount called the ‘Go Pole’ that’s supposed to be for Scuba diving and floats. That slide down in one of the pockets of my hydration vest. It didn’t feel too bad while running, but the video seemed a bit bouncier than I liked.

      I also have a head strap mount and that’s probably what I should’ve worn, but I didn’t bring it – thinking I’d have my headlamp on at the beginning of the race..

      As for the software, I used iMovie on our Mac. I used it to smooth out some of the bouncing and added the transitions between clips / slow motion/title screen. Youtube also smoothed out the bouncing a bit too.

      I believe GoPro comes w/editing software, or you can download it (I’m pretty sure free). I’ve used it in the past too and it’s pretty good. I’m just used to iMovie.

      Have fun w/your half marathon in Hawaii, that’ll be beautiful!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. janerunswild

    Thanks for your recap and CONGRATS on a great race! Incredible! Looks like it was well-run despite the slim crowds and activity at the start. Do you always hydrate with tailwind? You are inspiring me to run an ultra! Congrats again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. darkskyrunner Post author

      Thank you! At this point, if I run more than an hour, yes it’s Tailwind. If I’m running less than an hour it’s water. I used to hydrate with GU brew and use GU gels, but I always felt like I was trying to choke down the gels and the GU Brew, because it is a tablet that dissolves, alway seemed just a tad fizzy which doesn’t sit well wit me. I found Tailwind about a year ago and it handles my fluid / calories / electrolytes all in one. It’s a little trickier in a marathon because you don’t really want to slow down and mix again. I have some other details on how I hydrate here -> https://darkskyrunner.com/2015/12/30/fueling-and-hydration/

      If you decide to run an ultra, enjoy! It’s much different than a marathon or half, very mellow and relaxed from my experiences. And the scenery is usually pretty good too!


    1. darkskyrunner Post author

      Good luck with your training and let me know if you have any questions along the way. I enjoy reading other’s running experiences too – helps keep me motivated this time of year!


  4. Rebecca Royy

    Nice job on your ultra…and in the cold too! Nice steady splits too. You got a bit slower at the end-which looks like my Boston Marathon end. 9:30 – 10 splits until the last 4. Which were more like 15 minutes!


  5. David Nowaczewski

    Well done on the report, and the race. I should’ve found you at the start and we could’ve chatted for a bit. Next time! I’ll keep an eye on the blog in case we end up at the same race again. I am aiming for Marquette as well (50M).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. kyrapaterson

    Nicely done! I enjoyed watching your video, but you didn’t show the food at the aid station long enough. 😉 I was curious if there was hot food (other than that random guy with the chicken!) for runners. I have no interest running an ultra but enjoy reading about yours!


    1. darkskyrunner Post author

      Thank you! Curiously enough, the fried chicken was cold, but there was hot food – I saw potatoes, grilled cheese and soup. There maybe been more, but aside from the Oreo and PBR I stuck to my tailwind.


  7. Pingback: Ultrarunning: not always run through the woods drinking PBR | darkskyrunner

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