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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.

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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.

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They were stoked about my camera.

Hey, are we on camera!?

Me: Do you mind?

No!

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.

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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

 

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Just about perfect – Grand Rapids Marathon Race Report

My third marathon began Saturday night without much in the way of expectations, other than to have fun – but I try to do that with most things since that’s one of my five rules for life (#3 relax and have fun).  My number one fan helped me prep by mixing up my Tailwind and slopping some peanut butter on slice of bread for my pre-race PBJ.

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Early to bed, and early to rise.  My alarm woke me at 4am and I went through my normal pre-run routine of pulse / weight / water, slipped in to make sure the girls were tucked in and covered up, then shuffled downstairs to gear up for the chilly morning ahead.

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I enjoyed my pre-race PBJ, did some light stretching, double checked my list and then it was North to Grand Rapids.  What a beautiful starry night morning (it just felt like night).  It was cold though – just 28 degrees.  Don’t get me wrong, I live in Michigan and I’ve run for hours in below zero degrees, but I still have my summer blood and 28 seemed cold over the weekend.

45 minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot at the YMCA and walked in to pick up my packet and bib.  1441 – I liked that number.

I spent the next hour, or so, sitting in the jeep – heat blowing, listening to my ‘pre-chill’ mix on Spotify, visualizing the race and making sure I had everything in order.  After that, I did some light jogging and made my way over to the starting chute to stretch.  Here was my one and only big decision – do I run in my jacket?  I’d already shed the pants and was running in shorts.  I decided to keep the jacket on right up until the start and then stuff it in my UD vest.

I positioned myself behind the 3:56 pace group and waited for the race to start.  I was strangely calm – no nerves.  Just calm and ready to run.

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I rolled across the starting line about a minute, or minute and a half, after the ‘gun’ and about 200 yards behind the pace group.

Mile 1 -> Slowest of the race (sweet – I didn’t go out too fast!).  I actually fell further back from the pace group.  Things were crowded and I was enjoying a slow warm up.  I recall a guy taking a selfie of himself about 1/2 mile in and a lady asked me what our split was when we hit mile 1.

Mile 2 -> I sped up during the second mile, but was still pretty far back from my pace group.  I was ok with this – plenty of race to go and I felt good.  Toward the end of the second mile I noticed a couple gals behind me discussing a new house.  After a couple minutes I realized – hey, I know her!

Mile 3 -> Faster yet.  Erin catches me and says ‘hello’ and I respond ‘hey, I thought I heard you back there!’  We run for a bit and I tell her I’m going to drop back.  I’m running quicker than I should be.  She says it looks like I’m walking.  I guess that’s a compliment?  In any case, I feel good, but I didn’t want to run out of steam early.

Miles 4 and 5 -> So much for slowing down.  These are my fastest (along with mile 10) of the race.  I’m feeling good so I figure I might as well try to close the gap with the pace group.  These are the last two miles as we leave downtown toward the Butterworth Park.

Miles 6 thru 9 -> Butterworth Park is crowded.  The trail doesn’t seem quite wide enough for all the runners.  I think the 3:56 group is a popular one and that might’ve been part of the reason for the congestion.  I’m still closing on them.  Somewhere in this stretch I see the guy leading the half coming BLAZING back in the other direction.  If I thought it was crowded going with the flow, he must’ve been pissed trying to win the race in the opposite direction.  I saw Erin again toward the end of this stretch as she broke off to complete the half.  She wished me well and she was running strong.  I knew she’d have a great finish.

Mile 10 -> I finally settle in with the 3:56 pace group with a quick run downhill about half way through this mile.  I’m feeling very good at this point.

Miles 11 and 12 -> Run through Millennium Park with the 3:56 group and again the trails are tight, but I managed.  Once of our pacers had a couple extra waters from an aid station and offered them to the group.  I thought that was nice.  But not as nice as it would’ve been if he had a Two Hearted Ale.  He didn’t.

Mile 13 -> I left the pace group.  Why the hell not!?  I was feeling great!  This will come back to bite me.  It eventually did.

Miles 14 and 15 -> I continued rolling and the miles were still slipping away almost effortlessly.  As this point I started actually believing I could break 4hrs today.  I was well ahead of that pace and still felt very good.

Miles 16 through 18 -> So the feeling good didn’t last long.  Mile 16 started a 7 mile out and back section of the race.  I wouldn’t say I ever truly felt bad, or down, during the race, but this out and back section was definitely the worst part.  It was relatively flat, but we were running on the right side of the road.  I’m normally used to running on the left (against traffic).  The road was crowned opposite to what I’m used to running and it was hurting my left leg.  I did pass one of my work mates heading in the opposite direction.  He was smoking right along.  A while later I passed a few more of my work mates participating in the My Team Triumph charity run.  That helped as well.  I stayed ahead of the 3:56 group during this stretch, but I could hear them closing.

Miles 19 thru 21 -> Trying as hard as I could (keep running, you’re doing great, don’t slow down!) to keep ahead of the pace group, again along this long stretch of out and back with my left leg hurting.  They eventually caught me at mile 21.  We rolled through the aid station together and I declined the pickle juice.  I tried to hang with them, but I fell back.

Mile 22 -> I start trying to do math, yes math!, in my head to see how fast I need to run these last few miles to break 4 hours.  I feel like I’m running out of steam big time.  Other than the first mile, which was intentionally slow, this was my slowest mile.  I feel like I’m crawling along, and the pace group leaving me didn’t help.  It was a 9:17.  Yeah, slow, but in the scheme of things, not too shabby still.

Miles 23 thru 25 -> I’m headed back downtown and through Butterworth Park again.  Plenty of room on the trail this time!  I remember coming up a hill, out of the woods, and into the park.  The sun was shining, I’d just taken a swig of Tailwind and felt a boost and I was rolling! In reality these miles weren’t much faster than the dreaded mile 22, but hey, I felt good now!  

Mile 26 -> Will this ever end!? Ok, it wasn’t really that bad, but that quickly I was back on the other end of the spectrum.  I’d figured out I needed to the last 1.2 in about 14 minutes.  No big deal, but it felt like I was running and going no where.  I kept thinking – this is awesome, I’m going to break four hours.  Followed by – I hope I don’t step in a hole or pull a muscle.  Followed by – am I there yet!?

The final .2 was awesome – folks lining both sides of the streets cheering.  I was passing people left and right.  I saw the finish line and the time started with a ‘3.’  I was home free at this point and rolling fast!

I pumped my fist as I crossed the finish line and yelled.  One of the finish line volunteers grabbed me.  I thought he wanted a hug.  He thought I was about to pass out.  He walked me over to my finishers medal and I met one of the guys from work.  He helped me through the food chute to the worst part of the day …

I grabbed a cup of lemon lime gatorade and chugged it.  Except … it wasn’t lemon lime gatorade.  It was pickle juice.  WTF!!!!?

If I had food in my stomach to vomit, I would’ve vomited.

The grossness didn’t last long though because I was juiced -> 3:56:47!!!  It was a new PR by about 21 minutes.

We headed over to the beer tent and enjoyed a free New Holland IPA and chatted about our days under a beautiful sunny blue sky!

If I had it all to do over again, would I have changed anything?  Perhaps stayed with the pace group a bit longer.  Other than that, it was pretty much about as good as it gets for me with a run!

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Nutrition: 1 PBJ 3hrs prior to the race.  500-600 calories of Tailwind that I sipped each mile.  I supplemented my fluid intake w/water at every aid station.

Pre race meal: Shrimp / Pasta

Splits:

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