Sunday, June 9, 2019

Veterans Memorial 150

Meme posted on FB by Sandy Junk shortly before the race

Veterans Memorial 150

First off, Michigan is a beautiful place, especially when you get to see it up close and personal. Secondly, Kurt Adams and his volunteers put on a very fine race.

Sherrie and I had decided weeks before to run this together. I have big goals, but having just finished a six-day less than two weeks before, I know I will be in poor shape to run this competitively. Still, we commit to each other to take the race seriously, and go for the best result possible.

The forecast has called for overcast skies, rain, and cool temps, but I think the weather people are batting about .001 this year. It's very humid as we leave Lake Michigan (Ludington) and head east into some beautiful countryside, so country, we soon find ourselves on gravel roads! We pass by asparagus farms being harvested by migrants, ranches raising weird-looking animals we soon learn are elk(s?), and land that is unfit for any kind of farming, and perhaps more beautiful because of it.

As we journey from the start to the first aid station, the RD drives by offering us water, which we declind. After that first aid station (12.6 miles), where I drink some wonderful warm tea and eat a few grapes, we head towards the next aid station, again declining water when a volunteer drove by with a gallon jug in his hand.  Unmanned water stops had been advertised on the webpage, so we think that we'll just wait until we arrive at one and refill there.  Soon after, the sun is shining – overcast skies, eh? - and the temps are climbing – cool temps, eh? - and we are beginning to wonder how our water supply is going to hold out until the Barothy aid station (26.8 miles).  We finally figure out that those water stops are mobile units!  Pretty unexpected but pretty coo! Still, Lesson #1 we learn the hard way – Never turn down a chance to top off your water bottles!

It is great seeing the IT gang at Barothy: Mike, Steve, and Pat are there seeing to all our requests, though this early in the race, we don't have many. Still, familiar faces offer a special kind of encouragement and motivation. Seeing Nick drive up as we leave is an added bonus.

Cindy, Szu-ying Huang, Mike Pfefferkorn, Jenniffer Jordan, Nick Brandt, Sandy Junk, Pat McQuinn, Steve Carr
(Photo by Kurt Adams)

Sherrie and I have run a lot training miles together, and we've worked out this weird run-walk thing where one of us points to a tree, mailbox, crack in the road, or whatever, and say “what do you say we run to there?” and when we get there we start to walk until one of us says it's time to run again. It works well for us here on this gently rolling terrain, and we maintain a sub-12min/mile pace for much of the early going.

During this stretch, I encounter a runner I know by name from an email list that I used to frequent. He has run this race before, and tells us that last year temps reached 90°F and the heat index topped 100°. He also comments on how he is feeling the effects of the sun as it radiates off of the pavement. I hadn't noticed this, but I begin to seek shade along the road whenever possible, though it is becoming more scarce. (Andrew, it was great meeting you in person!)

At the third aid station (38.2 miles), I really began to appreciate how much our crew (Jenniffer Jordan and Sandy Junk) are spoiling me. The chicken/avacado wrap and ice-cold beverage far surpassed anything I would have been treated to at the aid station, though this shouldn't be taken as a slight towards the volunteers and what they were providing for the runners. I've seldom had anyone to crew me at races like this, and never have I experienced this level of support. Spoiled is much too mild a word. I decide to change shoes for the next stint, another advantage of having a crew - if the switch doesn't prove a good choice, I can always switch back.

(Photo by Sandy Junk)

Forgive me for channeling my inner-Everett (O Brother, How Art Thou), but I'm a S-Cap man. Unfortunately, I didn't bring any along, so back at Barothy, when I asked the IT guys if they had any S-Caps,  Jenniffer quickly responded that said she had some Enduralytes. I kind of turned up my nose, but thankfully, better judgment prevailed, and I took a small baggie of them with me. As the temps rise and we continue to sweat, we occasionally force one down. This is a hint of things to come, but we don't know that yet.  By Baldwin (44.7 miles), it is mid-afternoon and we were feeling the effects of the full sun. My buddy has already dropped and is suffering far more than he let on.  We were are moving at a decent pace,, but we are doing a lot more walking than running. Anyone who's spent time on the roads or trails with Sherrie knows that her walk is faster than a lot of peoples' run, so we really aren't falling too far behind the little goal sheet (one of the best works of fiction ever!) that we had conjured up before the race.

We leave the roads after Baldwin and head out on the Pere Marquette State Trail, a wonderful rail to trail path we will be on for the next forty-four miles. The sun is now behind us, cooking us from behind. The next aid station is nearly eleven miles away. There is no opportunity for the volunteers to top off our water bottles any more. Fortunately, we come across a fellow-runner's crew at a cross-roads and they give us some of their water, but by the time we reach Chase (55.6 miles), we are toast. This is our Valley Forge.

Jenniffer and Sandy are no longer spoiling us; they are saving our race! Sherrie climbs (with "help"-lol) into the back of her car, and I lay down beneath the rear bumper. I don't sleep much, and I'm chilled, but it feels good to be off of my feet. The rest of our time here is really Sherrie's story to tell, but I have to say that having a crew who knows you well certainly has its advantages. They know just what Sherrie needs and how to motivate her to do what she needs to do. Also, the mac 'n cheese from the aid station hits the spot! We spend (invest) 45 minutes or more, every second essential, to rest, hydrate and eat. Lesson #2 – Temperatures are relative. Even though we both ran at Holston River the summer before, where temps touched 90°, this was the warmest day yet of a new spring/summer, and our bodies havn't adjusted. This is probably the biggest reason so many people will end up dropping. Taking time to recover adequately instead of going back out still half-baked is the right move. Our crew make sure we are ready before letting us go. Tough love indeed...but just what we need!

It is dark when we set back out. It is nearly ten miles to Hersey (66 miles), and that takes us almost three hours!  Off and one we wonder if we will fall asleep on our feet!  I get a text from Jenniffer informing me that they have no way of meeting us with additional fluid, but at one crossroad we see two jugs of water and we text that information back to her.  They are able to park and get some well-deserved sleep while we continue trudging through the night.  When we reach Hersey, a volunteer invites us to take a nap on some comfortable cots.  Just when I begin to fear I will get too cold to sleep, another volunteer appears with blankets!  A good thirty-minute nap, some coffee, and a few calories later, we hit the trail.  It's another 10 miles to Evart (76.2 miles), and we arrive there around 4am.  We take a much shorter nap, me in the front seat of the car, before heading back out.  Day two is about to make its appearance.

I find a cap on the trail, a nice white one, so I pick it up and put it in my pocket. We're still doing more walking than running, and some of that walking is more of a stagger, even in the daylight, but when one of us is tired, the other seems able to carry on, so thus we continue. When we run locally, there's usually little silence, mostly because I can chatter non-stop and Sherrie doesn't seem to mind my blathering, but we aren't talking much now, and we both comment on it.  I guess us not talking is something to talk about - lol.  We are struggling, but neither of us is going to utter the “d” word, no way! Lesson #4 – when you decide to run a long race with someone, pick someone you don't want to let down. That sense of commitment will keep you moving and squelch a lot of negative talk that can cascade into a DNF.

We get to see the entire IT gang at Coal Tower (89.8 miles), and what a delight! Nick gets me some coffee and Pat lets me borrow a short-sleeved shirt. (Remember that weather forecast? I had taken it seriously and packed two or three long-sleeved shirts. Joke's on me!) I am also developing a problem on the top of my left foot – a nerve or something is getting pinched. This is race-threatening, and I am afraid of the the pain working it's way up my shin like it did a year ago in Hungary during a six-day. All I could think to do is to take the laces out near the sensitive spot.  I reject the idea of taping it, it just didn't seem like that right fix, even though I have no other ideas. Despite the irritation, we leave in great spirits and headed towards Clare, the hundred-mile mark.

Before reaching Clare (100 miles; 11:10am), we see a three male turkeys trying to impress a small group of females. Instead of ducking into the woods along the trail, they keep moving on ahead of us. They entertain us for quite a while. I also decide to try treating my foot by changing out of a thick pair of socks and into a very thin pair I had purchase many years before, hardly ever worn, and for some reason had decided to pack for this race. Having a crew allows you such luxuries, I guess.

It works! No more problems, not even a hint of what I was feeling before!! Lesson #5 – trust your insights, if you're fortunate enough to be given them! I consider my packing these socks a Divine intervention. Whether it was or not, it was fortuitous to say the least, and a game-saver.

After a brief stint back on the highway, we join another bike trail, but this one provides a bit more shade. It's already the afternoon of day two, and we've had perhaps ninety minutes of sleep, tops. Probably less. We take another nap at Loomis (107.7 miles; 2pm) before heading on to Coleman (113 miles;4pm). Jenniffer “ran” with us to North Bradley (118.4 miles) and then Sandy joined us to Sanford (124.1 miles). I'm not going to say that Sherrie and I are tired of each other's company, we really aren't, but the conversation sure picks up when these two take turns joining us.

A nap at Loomis AS
(Photo by Vincent G C Annica)
Jenniffer ready to boogie, as always!
(Photo by Sandy Junk)

How can you not enjoy spending a few miles with a personality as bodacious as Sandy's?
(Photo by Jenniffer Jordan)

We rejoin the roads shortly after Sanford and headed towards Midland. The day is fading, and there is no sidewak on our side of the highway. Along the way we pass a house that is being built or remodeled, and there is a outhouse outside. We've already learned Lesson #6 – never pass up a facility, especially in the city.

We don't dare crossing to the wrong side of the road for fear of missing the next turn sign – turn signs are always on the left side of the road – and this seems an eternal stretch where we doubt both  ourselves and the turn sheet that had been provided. Also, much of traffic refuses to move over for us, so we have to climb up the curbing into the grass and then back down several times. Ouch!! I decide that once we make it to the next stop light, which seems like it is taking us forever to reach, we will double check the directions. That intersection proves the be the road we are seeking.  Oh we of little faith...

We see our crew for the last time at the Midland Soccer Club (133.8 miles; 10pm) and the volunteer gives me thorough directions for the rest of the course. Naturally, I will remember little to none of them, but I eat some of the best chicken-noodle soup ever and enjoy hearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd song as we gather up strength for the last sixteen miles.

The route is pretty much as I remember it described. Sherrie and I both think we see a large old building with lots of windows on the opposite side of the road, but which turns out to be a bunch of trees. It won't be our only hallucination.

At the intersection of Waldo Rd, a lady comes running out of her house wanting to know if we are part of a group and if we are running for a cause.  Just as she begins telling us that she and her husband are also military vets, we see the volunteer from the Soccer club come behind us and take out the turn sign. I try reminding him that there is another runner still behind us, but he assures me that that is no longer the case. Hmph...we're dead last. LOL. As we walk Waldo Rd, there is very little berm and a deep ditch with a lot of stagnant water. Again, some of the traffic doen't want to give us much room.  Sherrie asks me if I want the DFL award and I answer the question with a question: Do you want the DFL award? She does! That decides our portion of the finishing order!

 The turn sheet says we have one mile to go on this road before turning back east, but it's wrong. We doubt ourselves some more, and I wonder out loud if the volunteer already removed that turn sign, but we keep moving forward. I don't remember having seen any other roads we could have turned east on yet. When we finally find our turn (Letts Rd), the volunteer is there, and though he has pulled the sign, he has been waiting for us.  Nice of him to be so patient.   

The miles to Willard (140.2 miles; 12:30am) go slow, but right before we reached town, a deer saunters across the road. One of the volunteers sees it too, so it really did happen. They are really nice to us there, as everyone has been everywhere, but we don't stick around long. We want this to be over!

Between here and the finish (150.4 miles), we get encouraged by a group of young men in a pick-up truck, who then put the hammer down, only to get pulled over a few hundred yards later by a sheriff.  We come upon a closed convenience store and McDonald's, and here, for the first time, I use my Google Maps to check our location. It isn't bad news, we aren't off course, but it isn't good news either.  We have much further to go than we think!  My legs are rubbery, but Sherrie turns her frustration and disappointment into forward motion and I have little choice but to follow suit. She can't be DFL is she finishes ahead of me - lol.  Within a mile, another vehicle drives up, but there are more than encouraging words! . John and Tiffany Kravec have just left the finish line pavilion, and John gives us precise directions and distance to the finish. We take off "running,"  though are running pace at this point is laughable, John and Tiffany then turn around, drove a few hundred yards up ahead of us, and wait, and then repeat that sequence until we reached the finish!

John and Tiffany Kravec at the start.
(Photo by Sandy Junk)

We finish 6th and 7th - Sherrie gets her DFL, and then learns that she's first female!!  (26 runners had committed to attempting the 150.)  We finished in 43.5 hours, well under the 52-hour deadline.  

Final thoughts:

Mu lowest point would either be late that first afternoon when the heat was getting to us, or the last ten miles that never seemed to end. However, having a lot of confidence in each other's abilities to finish, despite the adversities, helped. We also had a fantastic crew that knew just what to do and when to do it.

Once again I experienced how much fun it is to run an event and just enjoy the course and the people I was with along the way. That doesn't happen often enough for me. Having a crew was a wonderful luxury. I never carry a cell phone with me when I run, but for this race it came in handy, as I could text ahead any special needs or wants we might have.

I have no idea what I'd do different next time, other than not running a six-day event less than two weeks before.

As I said, Michigan is a beautiful state, and this event is a great way to get a close-up look at a small section of it. If you have the opportunity, do it!

Sandy, Sherrie, some old geezer, and Jenniffer
(Photo by John Kravec)

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