Saturday, July 4, 2015

Girls Gone Michigan

North Country Trail
                  

Almost every summer I go visit my dad and family for a week in Michigan at their house on Gun Lake. The lake is surrounded by Yankee Springs State Recreation Area, which has enough trails to host a trail marathon. The North Country Trail also runs through the park. I only became familiar with the North Country Trail a few years ago, when dad and I were looking for a new trail to run. It passes through 7 states: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota and is the longest of the 11 National Scenic Trails at ~2,800 miles. After discovering and running it a few years ago, I have wanted Susan to come visit Michigan and run it with us. 

Susan, dad and me trying to do a selfie

Susan has become part of our family, so convincing her to come wasn't hard. My step-sister, Gretchen spends the summer at the lake with her 2 sons, Alex (12) and Jake (8). My dad and stepmom being like most grandparents have done a good job of spoiling the boys, so the house and lake are a haven for boys. We knew Susan's son Leif would be right at home. Leif hit it off with Alex and Jake, but especially Jake, who had fun being a big brother to Leif. With built in baby sitting it made it easy for us to sneak off for a few trail runs with Dad and Gretchen. 

After our rainy run with Gretchen
We ended up running around 35 miles while Susan was visiting. We got lost the first day, ran in the rain twice, laughed at the Michigan "hills", and got too many mosquitoes bites to count. 

Gretchen's new tattoo
We also got the chance to drink some good Michigan beers, check out the food scene in Grand Rapids, help Gretchen design her new tattoo and spend time just hanging out at the lake. I sure hope Susan and Leif visiting becomes an annual tradition. 


One of the trails in the park

Dad photobombing me
Stop, watch for oncoming runners
North Country Trail marker

North Country Trail Log



We had to sign the trail log




Scenery changes

Scenery changes again
Leif and Jake

Running shirt at Founders Brewing

One of many wooded foot paths in the park

Trail markers on the North Country Trail






Thursday, July 2, 2015

Peterson Ridge Rumble

Susan, Ann, and the Three Sisters-- thank you, fellow runner for taking this!

The Peterson Ridge Rumble is an odd race. The two distances-- 20 and 40 miles-- don't follow most race lengths, and it's on a Sunday. It starts and ends in the small, high-desert town of Sisters but is neither at altitude nor has much climbing-- only 3,000 ft compared to Miwok's 11,800 ft. In addition, dogs are welcome on the shorter route.

This would be a great race to step between 50k and 50 miles, but that didn't work out for us last year. This year, Peterson took place three weeks before Miwok 100k, so we used it as our last and longest training run.

A rainbow leads to Sisters

A day or two before Peterson, we got the news that Miwok's cutoff would be 90 minutes shorter than in previous years-- enough so that if I ran the time the registration site (UltraSignup) had predicted for me, I wouldn't make it. This had Ann and I anxious (to put it mildly) so for the first time ever I created a pace chart.

Not just any pace chart. I really worked on this thing. I calculated the minutes per mile we would need to run for each of the 40 miles-- including 5 minutes per aid station (for 6 aid stations)-- to complete the race in 8 hours (my predicted time) and 7:30 (Ann's predicted time). Because we were also suddenly, keenly aware that with 10 aid stations over 100k, our casual enjoyment of refreshments and banter with volunteers was not going to fly at Miwok. So for the first time ever, we resolved to move quickly through aid stations.

View of the Three Sisters and the scrubby pine forest below the ridge

We drove down the night before with our friend David and we all stayed at the Best Western in Sisters, not far from the start. Ann had prepared an amazing pre-race dinner for us that we ate in our room, after running out for a beer to enjoy with the meal. We settled in, got our things ready for the morning, and had a nice early bedtime.

Waiting for the race to start

We chose the early start at 7am, just so we could finish earlier and then start the three-hour drive home. What we didn't quite expect was how cold it was: 27 degrees and frosty! We drove up to the Sisters Middle School, parked, and got our race numbers before heading to the start across the street. It was a small, informal gathering of about twenty people in the frigid, pale morning light. Everyone was chatting and I was distracted from what the race director had to say.

Strong sun, tall trees

"People get lost on this course?" I butted in, worried. "Oh yes," replied a women next to the original lost-utterer, "I've gotten lost before and this is my sixth time." I tried to memorize that woman's face and clothing because I figured she knew what she was doing, even if she had gotten lost a few times. That would be handy later.

The director finished speaking and sent us off. The first section was a dirt trail alongside a gravel road, then back on the gravel road, then back out on the dirt trail. The little loop back and repeat right at the beginning was mentally tough. As we continued on along the gravel road headed the other way, we were excited to turn off the road and head onto the real trail. Only we heard a ruckus behind us, and turned to realize that other runners were alerting us (and the two people we had followed) that we were going the wrong way.

Ann on the trail

Back on track, we finally got off the road and onto the trail. There was one small, rocky hill with uneven footing where we had to slow to a walk. Then we got to the first aid station (7.1 miles). We didn't need much, and it was only 3 miles to the next, so we took off pretty quickly-- under our 5 minute allotment.

It was warming up by now, and the regular-start runners started to overtake us as the front-runners started to come back past us the other way. At aid station 3 (14.8 miles) we had drop bags with a change of tops. We had planned to change into new long-sleeve half-zip shirts, but the sun was so strong in the thin forest and exposed dirt that we decided to just wear our tshirt (Susan) and tank top (Ann).

Open, flat, fast trail in the high desert

Our pace felt great and we were on a roll. We were moving fast through the aid stations, and then we got to number 5 (22.5 miles). We followed the trail and came out perpendicular on a gravel road. We crossed the road to continue the trail, and came to a split in the trail. That's when we realized that there were no signs. Every other turn had been so well marked that we were worried. We turned back a ways and saw another running coming. "This is the wrong way!" we shouted to him. He just looked at us for a moment and kept going.

We came to another runner headed our wrong way, and partnered with him to try to find our way back to the course. None of us could figure out where we had gone off the route, but as we crossed the gravel road again, we saw runners further down it. We decided to head in their direction.

Gorgeous mountain views

Most of them were on the leaders of the 20 mile race, and we saw Yassine of Animal Athletics. I felt a bit panicked about having missed part of the course and sped up, but Ann reassured me that the extra running we had done off the route would make up for the part we might've missed.

Then we turned off, up to the final part of the course. There was one hill that felt very long and dusty, where I ran out of water since I didn't want to waste time filling up my hydration pack too early at aid station 5. Just over the top was aid station 6 (28.5 miles) with the best, most helpful and friendly volunteers and homemade pierogies. Ann and I decided right there that pierogies were the perfect running food: carb heavy and not messy when hand-held.

The Three Sisters


From there it was mostly downhill, and I was having a blast on lots of caffeine. Aid station 7 (35 miles) had espresso Trail Butter that just about made my day. I did a dance of caffeinated joy (this is why I ;normally drink decaf) while waiting for Ann. Then we hauled ass to the finish.
Susan posing on the trail

Ann pointed out that we had run the entire race except for two short spots, and how this was the first time we had really run 40 entire miles. Usually there are steep climbs interspersed in our races and route, so we get lots of walking breaks, so this was unusual. She said she missed the walking and was tired, but as we got to the school track for the final, single lap, she sped up and zoomed just ahead of me for a triumphant finish.

Our time was just over 7 hours-- a half hour faster than Ann's projected time and almost an hour faster than mine. I felt great and we were happy to see David there waiting for us. He had completely killed it. We made burritos from the finish line food, enjoyed eating and relaxing in the grass, and then went to Angeline's bakery for some delicious vegan treats for the road.

Susan, David and Ann at the finish


What a fantastic event! Now we know why everyone raves about it. This is definitely one I'd like to do again and push myself to see how fast I can be on this idyllic course.

Treats afterwards at Angeline's in Sisters