The drive over to Pinkney is a little foggy, but nothing like two days ago when a tornado set down nearby in Dexter and wiped out ten houses, as well as damaged dozens of others. No one was hurt thankfully, but I'm wondering what the area is like, and if the trail we'll be running will be covered with downed trees. In fact, on that last main road there is a MDOT sign announcing simply that Pinkney-Dexter is closed. Yipes, the whole towns? But I don't see any wreckage and the side road up into the recreation area is open.
I'm early. The weather is, and has been, unusually warm for March in Michigan. Last year at this time I think we had two feet of snow. Now, it's spring, with birds and bugs out and about. My fellow runner from work, Mark, pulls up and says hello. While we're talking, the organizer of this Fat Ass, Lisa, pulls up and informs us that we're all supposed to meet up in the upper parking lot. Which, I didn't even know there was an upper parking lot. Good thing I got here in plenty of time, otherwise I'd be hanging out down here wondering where everyone was.
This is my second “Fat Ass” race, which is only kinda sorta a 'race'. Running Fit, the local running store company, has a Running Fit Ultramarathon Team (RUT for short), a group of hardcore runner in Washtenaw Country, and occasionally one of them organizes a longer race, though I think the Fat Ass concept is a national trend and concept, which I'm all for. There is as small sense of competition, enough to make one run at 'race pace' vs. a usual mellow run speed, though it's more about having other people to run with. This morning we seem to have about twenty people, all of whom have brought some kind of food or drink, ranging from healthy (bananas, salted almonds (my contribution)) to not (doughnuts, Mountain Dew).
I'm a little worried about getting lost. I've run in this area before, for Running Fit's Trail Marathon (and I'll be back in a few weeks to do so again) but I'm just worried about taking a wrong turn at Albequerque, even though Lisa goes over the layout. We're running the larger outer trail, the Potowatami, from which we get the name of this race, since the trail is lovingly known as, and marked as, the “Poto,” thus, “Pot o' Gold,” in keeping with the fact that it's St. Patrick's Day.
There are plenty o' trails in this rec area, but each intersection is numbered, with a map, and arrows pointing to the next trail markers. And, I'd thought that the Poto was about 13.1 miles, so that we'd run it twice, and those who wanted to make it a 50K would simply run an extra smaller loop, but Lisa explains to everyone that actually the Poto is about 14 miles, but can be made longer by adding on an extra side trail, making it 17 miles. So, since this is a RUT group, most people want the 50K, so will run the first loop at 17, then do the 14 miler. Me, I'm not so sure. This is actually my first long run of the year (I don't like running in the cold) so I'm going to just do the marathon option. Or, I guess now it will be 28 miles. Yikes. Well, ok.
I'm wondering if there are others down in the lower parking lot, but no one seems worried about it. I guess it's the Myers-Briggs INJT personality kicking in, wanting to make sure everything is organized precisely so as to help everyone. But, well, everyone here seems to know each other mostly. I live the next county over, just a little too far to take part in the regular long runs.
And, after a group photo, without much ceremony, Lisa says, “Go.” I hang back because, sure enough, Mark and all the other hardcore runners take off, leaving a few of us slowpokes in the dust. Actually I end up fairly quickly with one guy in front of me, and the two of us separate from the others behind us. He's going at a pace that's slightly slower than I'd want to be going, but instead of passing him and going off by myself, I hang back and start slow to pace myself a little. I always tend to start races faster than I normally would, and therefore tend to bog down at the end, though I think I'm going to bog down at the end of this no matter what.
His name, I think, but am not sure, is Rick. Name's are exchanges fairly quickly on these things, with everyone knowing we may separate at any point and not see each other again, and neither of us are regular RUTsters. But, he's interested in going beyond marathons, so when he hears about my experiences last year with my DNF at the Burning River 100M and the two 50 Milers I actually did finish, he picks my brain about what went wrong and right, which I'm happy to oblige. As much of a loner as I am, I now know that talking helps pass the time on these races, and keeps my mind off of, say, how sore my calves are from last weekend, when I really pushed myself.
At the first major intersection we stop to check the map. Basically we're supposed to take a right at every sign, except number 12, which is on the other side of the course. But neither one of us is familiar with the area. While we're looking, a group of three runners catches up to us and one of the women confirms that we go right, she's obviously run this route a lot, so we follow behind them for a while, until we hit some hills and end up passing them.
The trail heads north, following a long swampy lake. Canadian geese are honking away and I can hear some Sandhill Cranes somewhere. No bugs. I do have to say that it's turning into a warm day. I'm carrying my Amphipod water bottle, but I'm thinking it's not going to get me through 14 miles. Hm. The last Fat Ass I was in, a cooler of water was place at the halfway point, but that's not happening this time. Maybe I should have come a little better prepared, like with my bat-utility belt that holds to water bottle. Ah well.
I'm wearing my VFF KSOs, my old pair, still going strong after three years of abuse. I'm just not sure my feet are toughened up enough at this point in the year to get through a whole marathon. I considered doing the first loop bare, but I'm glad I didn't. If the trail were wetter and muddier, I might be able to go as fast as in VFFs, but it's just dry enough, and rocky enough, to make me feel thankful I've got that slab o' rubber there. I'm going to be slow enough, I don't need anything else holding me back.
At the northern most point, just when the trail turns west, we hit “Jurassic Park,” the nickname given to what is a University of Michigan Preserve. It just looks weird: a fifteen foot fence, with barbed wire on top, out in the middle of the woods. They really really don't want people sneaking in. That or they really really don't want any raptors getting out.
The trail looks like it goes straight south from here, but this is actually where it gets hillier, and there are many curves as the trail switchbacks up and down. We cross some roads, and some of the places along the route look familiar from the Trail Marathon, though we're actually running it in reverse, or, as some people said, not the “normal” way, which would be clockwise. Since this is a well used mountain bike route, where the bikes all go clockwise, Lisa's thinking, which I agree with, is to run facing them, so we can see them coming, because sometimes those guys come tearing around curves. Strangely though, we come across a group of like nine runners coming the other way, who say they're Fat Assers too. They must have arrived late? That's too bad, I would've liked more people out on the trail running in the same direction, especially since, after we hit trail marker 12, the guy I'm with decides to take off, which is fine, I certainly haven't been gaining speed on this thing. But, that puts me on my own. Which is fine, but I know I'll start zoning out and just running my mellow pace.
But man, I check my watch and I'm at two hours. This is a loooong half marathon, or 14 miles. That, and/or I'm waaaaay out of shape, which could very well be. But still, this trail seems to go on forever. I get to the next major trail intersection, the one where we could opt to add on an extra four miles to make it 17, and there's no way I'm going to do that. Fortunately there's a biker there two. He asks, “Did you just come from 12?”
“Ok, well, I just came from the parking lot.” He points out the trail to take. That was easy and helpful. Glad we could help each other out.
I keep running. And running. Check my watch: Two and a half hours?! Really? For 14 miles? Man, I'm out of shape.
Finally finally finally I come down into the lower parking lot and head up to where all the goodies are stored. No one around. I check the sign-in sign: Only Mark and one other guy have checked in and gone on for loop two. Wow. Really? Does that mean everyone else (because most people have got to be ahead of me) took the 17 mile option? And therefor I'm now ahead of all them? I don't know, but I am going to eat some orange slices and bananas, and pound some water. Also some salty almonds. Mm, salt.
Man, 2:54 for a 14 mile loop? That is pathetic. Should I even attempt the second loop? But, I'm here, nothing else going on today. My big fear is being last, and having to keep Lisa and others waiting around for me, to make sure I haven't died or something. I was thinking that I'd finish my marathon around the same time as some people's 50Ks, but now I'm not so sure. Except no one else seems to be going that fast either, except Mark, damn him.
Well, the good news is that there are plenty o' shortcuts I can take I really really don't feel up to it. And so, after topping off with water, I head out again.
Almost immediately I start wondering if I've taken a wrong turn at ABQ. Stuff just doesn't look familiar, like for example that phone line that been knocked off the poles, I assume by the tornado weather, and is hanging across the trail at head level. How did I not see that before? Weird. Really shows how distracting, in a good way, talking to someone while running can be. But, there's the lake, and the shortcut, which I opt not to take, feeling, if not ok, then determined, at this point. And, here's Jurassic Park! Ok, I'm on the right trail. Hello raptors!
And I'm out of water. Shit. Well, I remember seeing a handpump at a campsite we ran through, but where is it? But, then, out of nowhere, an older gentleman in running gear is walking towards me, and he says, “Hello! Do you need any water? Or a Coke?”
I take a bottle of water and down it in one long chug. He fills up my bottle and offers me a bottle of Coke again. He's one of the people from that other group running the other way. He says he and some others ran the 17 mile loop, and that was enough, but that he'd put a 'stash' of drinks here on the opposite side, just in case, and since he didn't do the second loop, he's got some left over. I love minor miracles. I thank him profusely and run on. Just having this extra water has given me energy. Not sure if it's merely psychological, but I feel good. The calves aren't bothering me. I'm tired, yes, and not moving too fast, but I know I'm going to finish.
And I even run out of water again, but it's right before the campground, so I do stop at the pump, which actually works, with cold water! Yes!
Shortly after, around trail marker 12, two runners catch up to me. It's Lisa, the organizer, and another guy, a friend of her's. Rather than despairing that they may pass me, I actually get some energy, and we all run together. Turns out, they took the short cut, skipping the Jurassic Park section, which will make their second loop around ten miles, combined with the 17 mile loop the first time, that makes still more than a marathon. The guy as a GPS watch, and reveals that the loop I'm running is actually more like 15.5 miles! A ha! So, I'm actually running more like a 50K today. By accident. Well, that explains some things. Doh. Lisa apologizes, but actually I'm ok with it. I kinda like that I was tricked into running longer than I thought I could run.
And man, with the two of them, the last section goes by super quick. Amazing. Before I know it, there's the parking lot. Whew. Check the watch. Man. 6:56. Still an hour longer than I've run 50Ks before, but for March, with not having run more than 15 miles for since last December, I'll take it. I check the sign in list, which is now filled in. There's actually some folks still out on the trail, so I'm not last!
And now begins the gorging: more orange slices, bananas, almonds, and yes, a few doughnut holes, and some fig newtons, and someone made homemade oatmeal cookies. I'm probably eating back all the calories I just burned, but oh well, I feel good. I deserve a reward.
Overall, I almost kind of like these Fat Ass races more than some organized races. One, they're free, but there seems to be more camaraderie. And better food. I highly encourage others to hold these. If I weren't moving soon, I might consider hosting one in the Jackson area. Races are getting so expensive, especially out of town ones, that I just can't justify going to them. Yet, I like races, I run better at them, and become a better runner because of them. Or, looked at another way, they just create more races for people, because I'm fairly certain that everyone who ran this Fat Ass will also be in Running Fit's Trail Marathon, same area, in a few weeks. Having some free races throughout the year helps create more runners period.
Now, the drive back to Jackson, with my leg muscles already starting to tighten....
(I'm fifth from the left, in back)