When I decided to run a late September half-marathon I didn’t think there was any risk of it getting canceled due to high temperatures. But that’s what almost happened at this year’s Brooksie Way in Rochester, MI.
Instead of running the Detroit Free Press/Chemical Bank race in October as usual, I entered the Brooksie Way. I had heard it was a scenic but hilly course so that didn’t surprise me. But the unseasonal temps pushing near 90 degrees had the race organizers worried. At the expo on Saturday everyone picking up their race packet was warned the race may be cancelled if the temps were as high as predicted. The plan was to still let people run if they wanted but it wouldn’t be timed, that way people wouldn’t be encouraged to race it hard.
Fortunately Sunday morning was not quite as warm as predicted. So we started at 8:00AM in full sun and high 70s but it was a race. The organizers did a nice job of adding more water stops along the course so we had a station almost every mile.
Knowing the hills would be tough and the heat would add more challenge, I was smart enough not to shoot for a PR. I ran a nice, easy pace and finished in 2:04:30, a 9:31 pace. Good enough for 40th out of the 100 in my age group. And good enough to walk comfortably to the beer tent knowing I ran a smart race for the conditions.
Last year I placed first of the 48 men in my age group at the Cruise in Shoes 5k. It’s a nice, well-organized race that kicks off the Woodward Dream Cruise, a rolling 10 mile celebration of classic cars. My pace of 7:30/mile last year was the best I had run in several years. I was averaging 45 miles a week then as I was training for an October marathon. This year I’m averaging 30 miles a week training for a half Marathon. So, I didn’t expect to race as well in the 5k on Saturday. But when the gun went off I found myself sprinting toward the front to get ahead of the crowd before the first turn about 100 feet from the start line. As we ran past the crowds on Woodward Avenue, I kept that pace and hit the one mile mark at 7:15. Then I had a decision to make. Keep pushing and see how long I could hold that pace. Or, ease up a little and run strong but consistent for the rest of the race. I decided to see if I could hold the pace. The sneaky hills in the next mile slowed the second mile to 7:30 but I made up a little in the last mile. Hitting the finish line at 22:55, a 7:22 pace, I felt good. Although I had seen a guy that calls himself Captain America who wins many local races finish just ahead of me and I knew he was in my age group this year. He’s five years younger than me so we only compete head to head every five years. When they posted results I was surprised that someone else had beaten Captain America and I was third. My 7:22 was my best finish time in many years so I won’t complain about a third place medal. I had bettered myself and at my age that’s accomplishment enough.
Recently, I spent a few days in central Wisconsin attending my niece’s wedding. The wedding was great and it was fun to connect with family gathered from many states. It was also fun to get to run in a different setting than normal. There are no hills near my home just outside Detroit so the rolling hills of dairy land gave me a much different workout. I also have never seen a cow while running near home, but in Wisconsin I passed several farms where anywhere from five to fifteen cows would maintain eye contact with me and slowly move their heads to watch run by until I was out of sight. As I was running those mornings I thought “I could get used to this.” But once I got home and was running along Woodward Avenue being passed by hundreds of cars and passing stores, homes, and businesses I was glad to be back in familiar territory. I enjoy watching the activity in a city as I run. People busy coming and going mostly oblivious to the world around them as I run by.
An occasional change of pace like the hills of Wisconsin is good but I realized that for the most part I prefer cars to cows.
It seems like just a few weeks ago that I was putting on layers of clothes and a hat and gloves to go out on my morning run in single digit temperatures. And this week I’ve been dripping with sweat after running in technical t-shirts and shorts with the temps near 80 degrees. That’s Michigan weather. From one week to the next, or even one day to the next, we can experience all four seasons. I’ve never lived in another state but as I look at the weather reports of hurricanes in the east, tornadoes in the plains, and earthquakes in the west, I think I’ll stay here in the Midwest. Swings of forty or fifty degrees in a few days makes life interesting. I can dress for that weather. Harder to dress for a hurricane.
It was the first race I remember running. The Oak Apple Run in downtown Royal Oak, MI, in the summer of 1977. I didn’t run in high school but my freshman year of college I had started running with some friends from the dorm. So while home for that first summer I heard about this local race and decided to enter. I really don’t remember what my time was or if I even enjoyed the race. But apparently I did because today I ran in the 40th Annual Oak Apple Run and I’ve probably only missed three or four of those forty. And I’m guessing I’ve run at least 250 other races over these last forty years. There have been 5ks, 10ks, 8ks, 5 milers and 10 milers, half marathons and full marathons, races in 90 degree heat and sub-freezing cold, sun, snow, wind and rain, morning races and evening races, local races and out-of-state races, races I’ve won my age group and races I’ve been disappointed with my times.
I’ve collected a lot of race t-shirts from these races. Years ago they were cotton, then more recently they’ve been technical shirts that wick water away to dry faster. Many of the cotton shirts have become rags for cleaning, or were donated to Salvation Army. But one shirt I’ve kept is the one from that first race in 1977. It has yellowed some and shrunk some but I’ve still kept it in the drawer along with the newer, more colorful technical race shirts. It’s a good reminder of what a great run I’ve had these last forty years. Here’s hoping to have forty more!
When I set my 2016 mileage goal of 1,000 miles, I thought it would be a bit of a stretch since I only ran 843 miles in 2015. I had joined an online running group through a site called. http://www.runningahead.com. It’s a virtual league where runners are put into teams based on your predicted mileage and then teams go head to head each week to see which team exceeded their goal by the most miles. Once I had committed to my “team” to run 1,000 miles I knew I was going to do it. I also hadn’t decided to run another full marathon in 2016. So when I made that commitment in the summer, I knew I’d reach 1,000 miles by fall.
Here’s how my weekly mileage looked for 2016. The first half of the year I was fairly consistent at around 20 miles per week. In Michigan, if I can keep my winter running at that level I feel that’s an accomplishment. I only run inside if there’s ice on the roads or temps in the single digits, so last winter I was able to get outside all except a handful of days.
The second half of the year I started following the Hanson’s marathon training plan. Their theory is run hard miles each week but don’t run the typical training runs of 20+ miles. Their plan tops out at 16 miles for the long runs.
I took a few weeks to recover from the Detroit marathon and then worked my way back to close to 20 miles a week but kept on the low side for the balance of the year.
So I closed the year at 1,301 miles. 300 over my goal. Overall, not a bad year.
Now, what about 2017…?
It wasn’t my fastest marathon and it wasn’t my slowest. But the Detroit Free Press Marathon is always a good one. Crossing the Ambassador Bridge into Canada at sunrise, running down Riverside Drive in Windsor lined with cheering families, suffering through the stale air of the underwater tunnel back to the USA, then cruising through historic Corktown, the beautiful homes of Indian Village, and enjoying the views from Belle Isle and the Detroit Riverwalk must be one of the best courses in the USA.
The last time I ran the full marathon here was 2010. That day started great but ended badly. I was overconfident and paid for it at the Wall and limped to the finish with my worst marathon time.
This year I was more cautious at the start but still struggled some after the 20 mile mark. Could have been the unseasonal heat, could have been any number of things but I think it was that I’m six years older and finishing a marathon is really hard! And finishing with a 9:00 minute pace is even harder.
I’m not sure if I’ll run another marathon but if I do, I know it won’t be any easier. But as they say “The race is not always to the swiftest, but to those who keep on running.”