Monday, March 28, 2011

Race Report: Kal-Haven 33.5 Mile Trail Race 2011

ORN: 33.5 miles, 7:17:51

Quick Summary

Every marathon has a lesson. This one??

Systems are helpful but raw miles in training are necessary.

A terrific event, which I enjoyed, despite a very difficult final four miles.

The Gory Details

The Race

Kal-Haven Trail Sign

The Kal-Haven Trail Race is in its 20th year. It’s a terrific, local event, put on by local runners, volunteering to help others do something we all enjoy. Compared with big city marathons, it really shines. Simple and straight-forward, the race caters to both long-distance enthusiasts, offering a solo race and a two person relay (17 miles each), as well as less adventurous runners, with a six-person relay (with legs of 3-6 miles each).

And value?? Oh my!! For a mere $30 entry fee, we got a great race, full support, not one but TWO tech shirts (one for finishing, one for entering!)! Race Directors Terry and Julie were very visible at the start and finish, answered my questions via email before the race, understood runners and worked liked crazy. The volunteers were magnificent…I truly felt encouraged and supported. They even provided boiled potatoes and PB&J finger food at the last aid station…just for the solo runners!

The Course
The Kal-Haven trail is part of an extensive network of rail trails in Michigan. It was a marvelous running surface. The flat, gravel surface was smooth, well-drained (despite heavy rains earlier in the week) and visually enjoyable as we spent the full day almost always in wooded areas. In fact, I usually find one or both of my heels to be sore/bruised after a road marathon. The day after this race, my heels were just fine, thank you.

Typical section of Kal-Haven Trail

The race is point to point, originating in Kalamazoo and heading west to South Haven, right on Lake Michigan. I actually discovered it about four years ago when we vacationed in South Haven. I ran its last three miles for a couple of days, enjoyed it and then looked at the map at the trail head. I noted Kal-Haven was 33 miles long and said to myself “Self, that’s a perfect distance for a race. I’ll bet somebody else has thought of this!” When I got home, I googled it and discovered this event. I’ve wanted to run it the past two years but other events interfered. This year was a go.

The Performance

I took advantage the offer of an early start and hit the trail at 7:23am, 37 minutes ahead of the official start. Man, it was cold…the bank thermometer said 16F as I drove in and it felt it. Mercifully, there was hardly any wind and we were sheltered by trees. The sun had not yet fully arisen over our right shoulder and so I was able to enjoy the beauty of the changing light over the frosty new day. My run evolved into a three-act play.

Act One was pure joy. I had no time objective for this race and resolved to simply run comfortably. As usual in a new place and surface, it took me a couple of miles to find some sort of rhythm and a little longer to even feel moderately warmed up. But the rhythm fell into place around mile five or so and I hit the 10 mile mark in 1:47, averaging just under 10:30/mile, using my usual 4/1 run/walk ratio. I ran about 6 of these miles with Amy, a baker from Ann Arbor, who gave me an appreciation for gluten breakdown.

I got to the halfway mark in the bucolic village of Bloomingdale feeling good. As near as I could tell, my midway split was about 3:05, with which I was quite pleased. I refilled the water bottles for the second time and discovered how wonderfully pleasant a Dixie cup of pretzels could be.


Act Two started a bit beyond the half-way point and was a time of comfortable but determined effort. Involuntarily, the mile splits were now in the low 11s. I still felt fine while realizing we still had a long way to go. Yet, as I looked at the elapsed mileage on my Garmin, it was cool to see it flip over 20 and realize I would soon be at the marathon distance. I kept the 4/1 ratio going, stayed hydrated, worked on my fourth banana of the day (I started with 2 and stashed 3 more in Bloomingdale early before the race) and kept moving. I turned on my MP3 player along here as well and the music was a lift.

It was truly fun to approach the marathon mark. To someone for whom a marathon was itself a mere dream in 2006, the distance of 26.2 remains magical. And here I was again. I found myself smiling and grinning as the display got to 25.5, then 26.0 and then picking out the spot ahead where I imagined the marathon line would be. I hit the lap button as the Garmin ticked to 26.2 and noted later it was a running time of 5:01:59. I let out a whoop and grinned ear to ear (which raises the philosophical question: “If a marathoner whoops in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does he make any noise?”). To still be running comfortably past the marathon distance was a significant psychological lift. I pressed on, though with splits dropping to the lower 12 minute range.

Act Three extended from mile 28 to the finish and was an ever-slowing slog. The wheels gradually came off the wagon. Fatigue set in and the battle began as to how best to keep going. I knew I had done 31 miles in colder weather just 11 weeks ago, which was helpful. I throttled back at mile 27.5 to a 2/1 run/walk ratio and that helped for several miles. Boiled potatoes at an aid station were a treat. But eventually, running just was not going to happen. I pulled the forearms parallel to the ground and “power walked” for about a mile and a half, falling in with Tom for a good bit of that time. We got into the part of the trail I had run before. I knew there was only about 2.5 miles to go but I couldn’t keep up with Tom, so thanked him for the pleasant conversation and sent him on his way.

The last two miles were just plain tough. My legs were done. There was no sharp pain and I found some strange pleasure from that, realizing I likely had no injury. Yet it was as if they had simply gone on strike. The 33rd mile took all of 20 minutes. Yet, it was familiar territory; under I-196, under the Blue Star Highway, a left turn, past some nice houses on the water, up the hill and done. Marathon Distance or higher race #21, done, in an official time of 7:17:51.

Mileage from the race start

Post Race was a true joy. Unlike last year’s Chicago Marathon, (when I also walked the last 3 miles, cramped miserably and was not quite with it for a good hour or more) I really felt fine from the waist up. I was cracking jokes with the time keepers about my slowness, then found race-director Julie who had already noted on her trusty clipboard the fact I needed a ride back to Kalamazoo. She had a volunteer ready and less than five minutes after I walked over the finish line, she had me and others in a car headed back to the start. Wow, that is really impressive organization! Volunteer driver Cristi dropped me off at my car after a delightful conversation all the way back to Kalamazoo. The cooler in my trunk held the much-awaited bottle of chocolate milk (my now-favorite post-race treat). I found a fast-food rest-room in which to change into dry clothes and wash my face, and headed home, listening to a fabulous basketball game with Butler beating Florida. Not Purdue or Notre Dame, but at least Butler is in Indiana!

The Lesson

I’m a systems geek, as those of you who know me are painfully aware. And running has plenty of room for systems. They all worked in this race, from my chart describing what to wear at each temperature to the two watches I wear for pace and time splits to the view on heart-rate monitoring to the electrolyte tabs I put in my water which prevented any cramping to the nutrition I downed before and during the race to the music I loaded on my MP3 player to the KT Tape I put on my left knee which avoided ITB pain to the paper tape on the balls of my feet. And there is more…you get the point.

Yet, as the logician would say, these systems are necessary but not sufficient.

To comfortably finish a race of 33.5 miles, one has to have more miles done in training than I did.

Weekly Miles-6 months up to Kal-Haven 33.5 mile ultra

Here is my chart of weekly mileage for the six months up to and including this race (and, yes, this too is a system, thanks to Running Ahead’s on-line running log). I averaged around 23-25 miles per week. It seems to get me through marathons OK but to do an ultra, I need to amp this up to an average of 40 miles per week.

Do I have the time or inclination to do that? I’m not sure right now. And that’s the lesson. All the clever systems in the world don’t replace a training base appropriate for the race.

Pay the price to reap the reward of striding strong across the finish line. I didn’t do it for this race. So I walked across the finish line instead. To run across, I need to run more.

A useful lesson in a very enjoyable event. Thanks for listening.



Thursday, March 24, 2011

Trail race set for this Saturday

ORN:  Rest day

You know you are a runner who lives in Indiana when you can utilize a race to make sense of a negative basketball event.  

When the NCAA Brackets came out a couple of weeks ago, a wonderful possibility quickly appeared to me.  If the seeds held, my own Purdue Boilermakers would play my family favorite Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Sweet Sixteen.  Very cool!!  I promptly plunked the necessary choices to make this happen by my prognostication.

But, last weekend, I began to investigate and faced a conundrum.  The Sweet Sixteen games are played on both Thursday night and on Friday night and the potential Purdue-ND game would be played late Friday evening.  And I was already signed up for an early start in  the Kal-Haven 33.5 Mile Trail Race on Saturday morning.  

Do you see the dilemma??  I had to stay up and watch such a crucial game.  Yet I also had to get up at oh-dark-thirty the next morning to run 7+ hours in the woods the next day.  Oh no!!!

All of this was predicated, of course, on Purdue winning two games last weekend.  No problem with St. Peters, but VCU proved to be too much for our local lads.  And, as the Boilermaker defense became more and more porous in the 2nd half, I half-smiled, consoling myself that I was increasing my chances of getting a good nights sleep before the ultra.  I then went to bed, waking up in the morning to learn the Irish had lost later the same evening, removing any need to watch hoops till midnight this Friday. 

I'll drive to Michigan Friday afternoon, get up early, stash bananas at the mid point of the course, take an early start at 7am Saturday morning and see how it goes on the rail trail, point to point race.  It's gonna be cold, likely just 20F at the start.  I had hoped for more warmth by late March, but I guess not.  If this all works, it will be my longest single run ever.  

I'll post updates on Friday on FB, with photos and a blog post later.  I'll persevere. 


Saturday, March 19, 2011

On Blogging

ORN:  5.2 miles total, with 3 x 1 mile repeats, average 7:47

I've been blogging for a long time, with my first post in 2002 on my still-existent professional blog.  This running blog emerged in late 2004 with, surprise, surprise, a race report on what was then my longest run ever, a whopping 12 mile trail run.  I like to write and, even more, enjoy reading what others have to say on areas of interst.  Blogging is real, personal, and bypasses the professional editing that tends to water down useful ideas.  

Yet, blogging has really faded.  I lamented this in my reflections on 2010.  I've also wondered just what to do with blogging.  Do I just give up and force all my thinking into two sentences on FB updates that scroll by in a matter of hours?   Surely there's a better approach but I couldn't give voice to it.  Then I read this post from Seth Godin, one of the clearest thinkers on marketing out there.  I copy here in its entirety.   

Bring me stuff that's dead, please


from Seth's Blog by Seth Godin

100+ people liked this

RSS is dead. Blogs are dead. The web is dead.


Dead means that they are no longer interesting to the drive-by technorati. Dead means that the curiosity factor has been satisfied, that people have gotten the joke.

These people rarely do anything of much value, though.

Great music wasn't created by the first people to grab an electric guitar or a synthesizer. Great snowboarding moves didn't come from the guy who invented the snowboard... No one thinks Gutenberg was a great author, and some of the best books will be written long after books are truly dead.

Only when an innovation is dead can the real work begin. That's when people who are seeking leverage get to work, when we can focus on what we're saying, not how (or where) we're saying it.

The drive-by technorati are well-informed, curious and always probing. They're also hiding... hiding from the real work of creating work that matters, connections with impact and art that lasts. I love to hear about the next big thing, but I'm far more interested in what you're doing with the old big thing.



Blogging is much more than showing off my miles.  It's far more an exchange of ideas, observations, mulling, plans.  A way to connect.  And if that's now for a more select audience, fine.  If you are reading this, THANK YOU!   To read a blog is to listen.  To post a FB update is merely to talk.  And I think we can stand for more listening than talking.  

Persevere...and keep blogging!