This past Saturday night I did two things that I have never done before. I ran a race at night, and I ran the 8 mile distance in a race for the first time. Both experiences were good ones. The Ididarun 8 Mile Race and Relay in Linden, MI is one of those wonderful small town, old school races that I just love, with a few twists.
The first twist is that the race is a night run. I had some trepidation about this because during my last time running in the dark (the first few miles of Dances with Dirt Hell were before sunrise), I managed to fall three or four times. The problem with that one was that my light was not bright enough to light the trail adequately because I had cheaped-out and bought a hardware store clip on light. This time I decided to not make the same mistake and actually buy a “big girl” running headlamp. I still cheaped-out, though, and bought the least expensive version they had at Playmakers because I really don’t think running at night is going to be a regular habit for me.
The second twist to the race is the course. It is a hybrid race of road and cross country. Since the race is put on as a fundraiser by the Linden Cross Country teams, this is not surprising. The race is run entirely on the grounds of Linden High School and Middle School, so there is no traffic. That was a nice feature, especially since the run was at night. The course was also unusual in that it was four repeats of a two mile loop for the 8 mile. This worked well for the relay, as each member of the two person teams could run two loops. The relay was a popular option, but at the last minute my relay partner, Ruth, and I decided to go ahead and do the 8 miler to get a longer run in. I liked the loop format more than I thought I would. This year the course was about three quarters road and one quarter cross country as a result of the weather, which brings me to the next topic.
The third twist to the race was the weather. The race name is, obviously, a play on the Iditarod sled race from Anchorage to Nome. This is because the race is in the middle of winter in Michigan, so presumably there would be snow. Not this year! We had a January thaw for the previous several days, with record setting high temperatures on race day. This turned the course into a mud run rather than a snow race, much to the race director’s chagrin. I got a kick out of one of the bling choices at sign-up. It was a glass, with the race logo on it and the words “Let it snow!” This year, that was more a prayer from the race director than a statement of defiance to the elements. In his defense, he told me it was snowing when he ordered the glasses.
I was turned onto this race by my friend Ruth, who I mentioned earlier. I traveled to race with her before, so I knew this would be a good time. She is just one of the most delightful people I know to run with. Jer and I picked her up on Saturday night, and we headed over to Linden. It was a nice drive through beautiful country scenery.
|Ruth and me, pre-race|
We arrived at the race very early, just as they were setting up. The race is low key and old school. There is no online registration, and the cost was a very reasonable $20, even on race day. To keep things simple and not have to deal with sizes, rather than a shirt at sign-up we were given a choice of a polar fleece hat, a drinking glass, or a coffee mug. All were very nice, but since my shelves are already overflowing with glasses and cups that I have collected in the last two years (what is it with MI runners and their drinking vessels?), Ruth and I both went for the hat. It was an excellent choice. It is well made and incredibly cute.
I skipped the warm-up for this race. Eight miles was really as far as I wanted to run. My long run right now is only 10 miles. I figured 8 miles would be enough. I did test out my headlamp on the few trips back and forth between the cars and the restrooms (which, by the way, were in the field house building, which was a nice change from freezing porta-potties – one more reason to love this race). Another reason to love the race was that the race director gave the directions for the race inside the building before going out to the start. Although it was not cold enough to really matter, I still appreciated this. I hate standing on a starting line freezing while trying to listen to instructions.
|The race director with visual aid for pre-race instructions|
(one of the excellent course markers)
The start was as low key as the rest of the race, with a simple voice command. We were off, a bunch of bobbing, bouncing fireflies in the night. The race started on the paved roads through the campus, with gently rolling hills. Footing was good. So far I was liking this race! I made it out to the turnaround where we had been told a volunteer named Kevin was waiting to keep us all on course. We had been told to say hi to Kevin, so I definitely did as I went around. Saying hi to Kevin became a highlight of that part of the race for me. Keep in mind I couldn’t actually “see” Kevin. He was out of the beam of my headlight, but it was comforting to know he was there, leaning on his car and cheering us on as we made the turnaround.
|The race start: (Cell phone cameras are not the best tool|
for night time race photos.)
After the turnaround we soon got to the cross country aspect of the course. Again, there were helpful volunteers at this key spot to help us head in the right direction. The race director had made some course changes to their usual course because, as I said, we had had a thaw over the previous week that left all grass and trail muddy at best or under water at worst. As we headed off the pavement, it became squishy pretty fast. In this portion it was not really slippery, just wet. That soon changed as we hit the one really hellacious hill on the course. I am not sure that it was really a hill. I think they were having us climb the face of a bluff. It was that steep (although it was mercifully short). And boy was it muddy!! I did the sensible thing and drew on my ultra training to walk up the hill.
Once over the hill, the next sections were also pretty muddy, through the woods and back out into the fields.
Again I must give kudos to the volunteers in this section who helped us stay on course and avoid some of the worst of the flooding. Soon we were back on the pavement and completing the first loop. I had kept my running under good control through the loop and was pretty pleased to see my time as I went through the start/finish at about 16:40. That was about where I wanted to be.
The second loop went much like the first. I felt good about my pace. I was not being passed by anyone and managed to pass two people on the early part of the second loop. I went through the turnaround, greeted Kevin, and then passed two more people in the trail section. I came through the second loop in 33:??, so was holding a steady pace pretty well. The third loop was a nerve wracking one. The relay exchange was occurring and there were a bunch of guys and one younger girl passing like jack-rabbits, which was a little unnerving in the dark, even with their headlamps as warnings. I was starting to tire a little at this point so was a little grumpy. I apologize for all those uncharitable thoughts to those who passed. J
The third loop through, the cross country section was getting really muddy and slippery. In looking at my splits, the biggest drop-off in pace came in this section. I was able to run through the first time without a lot of slowing. The second time, I had to slow on the woods section. By the third time, even the parts in the field where the footing had been fairly good were starting to be slippery. Since one of my major goals for the race was to finish staying upright, I slowed down some. Still nobody was passing me, so I figured I wasn’t doing any worse than everyone else. I was suffering a bit though. The last part of this loop was the toughest part of the race for me. My legs were starting to tire, and my glutes were sore. That is a great sign (Yes, Dr. Tom, I am activating my glutes!), but still I would rather the soreness wait until after the race.
The final loop I took a little extra time to give Kevin a big hug at the turnaround. That little distraction at the end of the uphill section before the turnaround was a good mental distraction for me. He actually helped my attitude in the race more than he could have imagined. I finished strong. The time was not as good as I had hoped for, but I was pleased because I had run a very even race. I also thought that I had finished pretty high up. Ruth finished just a bit behind me. She also did quite well. I should probably mention here that Ruth is in the 65-69 age group. She finished ahead of many who were much younger than she is. She rocks! In fact, I would like to say that both of us old grannies rocked the race!!
If there is anything runners love as much as running and good bling, it is good food. In this department the Ididarun definitely does not disappoint. The cross country parents created a huge soup, chili, and stew bar. There were like 20 Crock Pots laid out full of steaming hot soups of all varieties, as well as some bread, baked goods, and hot chocolate. It was a feast!!
There was plenty of food for everyone, runners, volunteers, and spectators, which was really nice. The overall awards were also really cool. They were fleece blankets with nature scenes on them. There was one with polar bears on it that I had my eye on, but unfortunately I did not win the master’s division. I was second. Darn!! Maybe next year! I did place first in my age group, as did Ruth, and we received a nice dog tag type necklace with the race logo on it (pictured above).
|Ruth with her award|
All in all, the race was a really good time. In accordance with my Resolution 3 for this year, I would like to comment for just a second on the enchanted element here. It was the spirit of community that was pervasive at this race. This race was a coming together of people to support their excellent high school cross country programs, which have been very successful, no doubt partially because of this type of community support. It was also a community event in the relay aspect. There was a real sense of the magic that can happen when people come together in a spirit of goodwill. Kudos to the race director and the whole community on an event well run.
I will definitely keep this race in mind for my winter calendar. It might be fun to see what this race would be like if it really were a snowy winter in Michigan… or not!