Tuesday, August 26, 2014

North Country & Wine Trail Halfs

This past weekend I ran in back to back half marathons.  On Saturday I ran the North Country Trail Run in Manistee, MI.  I then headed downstate and participated in the Wine Country Trail Half in Baroda, MI.  The two-fer weekend means I'm doubling up my race recap.

My adventure began on Friday, and it really was an adventure.  With construction, detours, and re-routes it took me about 7 hours to finally make it up to Cadillac and my hotel about 20 minutes away from the race site.  It was too late to pick up my packet so I checked into my hotel and read for a bit before getting some sleep.  I headed to the race site early the next morning since Erica tipped me off that parking was difficult and I also needed to get my packet.  The packet involved a lot more swag than most races.  They were commemorating the 15th anniversary of the race so all runners got a tech tee, polo, sweatshirt, running hat, and pint glass.  I went back to my car and got ready then wandered around the race site a bit waiting for my race to begin.

The fire pit
The post race party
Marathoners passing through the start area after a loop
There were a record number of participants in the half this year so the director broke things into 2 waves.  He set the cutoff point at an 8:50 min/mile pace.  I didn't know whether this meant on the roads or trails so I waited for the 2nd wave.  roughly 10 minutes or so after the first wave left I started my journey.  We first went on a mini loop before doubling back through the start area and up to the hills.  Yes there were hills, lots of them.  I paced myself conservatively in the early going and was running strong.  I was determined to run more uphill than I did at Devil's Lake last month and succeeded for the most part.  The course was scenic and a lot less technical than that last trail run.  I enjoyed myself and chatted with others along the way.

Perfectly flat course
Deer in headlights
The second half of the race got tougher.  There was a section that was like running up and down a roller coaster track with all the hills.  I thought for sure I'd wreck my quads before my half on Sunday.  The final obstacle was a huge hill with a great view from the top and then a loooooooong downhill that I somehow managed to stop myself midway down since my shoe came untied.  We then came back to base camp and the finishing chute was line with flags representing where all the runners came from.

That red dot is a runner far downhill
33 states and not sure how many countries
After the race was done all the runners got a plate of food - burger, potatoes, chips, corn, and pie.  There was also a beverage for each runner - pop, Gatorade, or beer.  Each additional drink was just a buck.  I stuck around a bit and they soon posted unofficial results.... I placed 2nd in my age group!  At the time only 2 people in my age group had finished so I stuck around a bit longer to confirm.  I had indeed placed 2nd and so waited for the awards ceremony and got a piece of wood with the race logo branded into it as an award.  I already got a huge medal for finishing the race.
I do it in the woods or idiot in the woods, either fits
The next part of my adventure involved driving 3 hours downstate to Benton Harbor to meet up with Maggie and company.  We had rented a place on AirBnB for the weekend.  I dropped off my stuff in my room aka the sun porch and then jumped in the pool to cool off the legs and hopefully save what was left of them for the next day.  The group of us then had a pot luck dinner and played a game of Cards Against Humanity.  I had a couple of beers supplemented with Gatorade.  I went to bed a little later than I should of and was up early again the next morning.  Out of the household it was just Erin and I that were running.  We headed over to Baroda and got lost trying to find the start line after parking.  We eventually found it and picked up our packets.  While waiting for the port o potty we spotted Erica.  She congratulated me on my finish the day before and asked how I was doing.  While waiting for the race to begin Anne found me and her husband and his friend followed shortly.  Bob asked how I thought I was going to do and stated my goal was to beat Saturday's time.  He thought for sure that I had it.  The weather was slightly warm and very humid so I had no clue.

Soon we were lined up and off we went.  Bob and his friend were off and darting between runners.  I stayed conservative and picked my spots for passing to keep from zig zagging all over.  My first 2 miles were on the very conservative side and also pretty much all uphill. I soon settle into a rhythm and kept things at an easy effort to start. I had conversations with fellow runners along the way.  Soon I found myself really chugging along and decided to just go with it since my heart rate was still on track for an easy effort.  One girl I was passing made it very obvious she wanted to chat with me so I relented and ran with her talking up a storm for about a mile.  It soon became obvious that she couldn't keep up with my pace even with me doing most the talking.  She said I was looking stronger than her and that I should just keep going and so off I went.

Not quite as bad as the trails
I had some bad luck at the aid stations and seemed to get the cups with barely anything in them.  Oh well, I was doing fine and wasn't parched.  I just needed enough at mile 8 to wash down my Accel-gel.  At mile 10 I was surprised with an ice cold wet towel.  This was fantastic.  I wiped myself down, but realized I could keep myself even cooler by stick the towel in my hat and draping it down the back of my neck.  This worked exactly as planned and I stayed perfectly cool for the rest of the race.  It was like renewed vigor since I really picked up the pace after this.  It probably also helped that the last 2 miles were downhill, but I ran them in 8:03 and 7:56 respectively.  The last 0.1 was at a 6:32 pace.  I flew into the finish even with it being the end of 26.2 miles in a little over a day.  I was proud of what I accomplished and even smoked my time from the day before.  I only finished 5th in my AG this time behind Bob and his friend finishing 3rd and 4th.  The post race celebration featured all you could drink beer and wine.

So how did my weekend stack up?  Saturday on the trails was a 2:11:57 which is pretty snazzy if you consider trail pace is 1-2 minutes slower per mile than your road pace.  Then there are the hills to consider as well.  Sunday's time was a shocking 1:54:29, even with an average effort level lower than what I raced at on Saturday.  My weekend total was 4:06:26 which puts me close to my marathon goal of breaking 4 hours.  I feel a lot more confident that I can reach that goal now considering that I ran both of these races on the conservative side and they are a lot tougher than the roads of Chicago.  I also don't plan on driving 7 hours before the marathon to stiffen myself up.


  1. That trail time is fantastic. With all of those hills, and everything I've heard about that race, WOW. Awesome job!

  2. Awesome! Congrats on two great races!!! Can't wait to see you kick ass at the marathon.

  3. Wow, congrats on finishing both races!!! Great swag from the first race. Oh so much good food too.