2015: Mount Bohemia Trail Running Festival

Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grass and gentians of glacier meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of Nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but Nature’s sources never fail. … The petty discomforts that beset the awkward guest, the unskilled camper, are quickly forgotten, while all that is precious remains. Fears vanish as soon as one is fairly free in the wilderness.

– John Muir, Our National Parks (1901)

It’s not a snowcapped mountain, at least not year-round. Its highest peak, at least on the course, barely reaches 1,500 (yes, fifteen hundred) feet above sea-level with the basecamp stationed less than a thousand feet below the top. And yet this thing is called a mountain? When touching just 2,000 (yes, two thousand) feet has been a Sisyphean task even for the highest peak in the entire state, 1,500 ft doesn’t sound all that bad. Unlike the real mountains elsewhere, this one (with a handful of its siblings/cousins) is right in our own backyard. And quite importantly, it (and each of one its siblings/cousins) offers the same lessons my favorite wilderness prophet talks/writes about in his 1901 book.

Add all these lessons to all that the race director, Bridget Durocher, does for the community as a part and outside of her work with Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, and top it all with the potential for some spectacular fall colors, and result was seeing myself register for the event in mid/late January as soon as the online registration opened. Much like the previous trail running event in August, Swedetown Trail Run, this one happened to be about a month before my next road race of marathon distance. Unlike the last time though, not only I was at least two weeks away from the beginning of tapering period but approaching the end of a fantabulous experiment (more about this later). Timing of all these things would make the runs in this Mount Bohemia Trail Running Festival a part of the experiment and not a race — if competing against my own previous self is ignored — in the general sense of the word. The goals for this event would be quite simple: don’t walk except aid stations, improve the times from past year and don’t come home with an injury that would prematurely end the running season.

Summary of training activities since the last race
# Date and time Activity details
Device, Distance, Time, Pace, Speed, Heart Rate, kCal, and Weather Notes (when applicable)
01 2015-09-09 6:02 pm KRG Weekly Run 2015 #34
4.22 mi, 0:44:49, 10:37 min/mile, 5.65 mph, 153 bpm, 499
68 F, 16 mph W, felt like 68 F, 40% humidity; mostly sunny and pleasant
02 2015-09-11 5:07 pm Houghton Quick Run
6.24 mi, 0:49:59, 8:01 min/mile, 7.48 mph, 169 bpm, 670
55 F, 10 mph NW, felt like 55 F, 54% humidity; mostly sunny and pleasant
03 2015-09-12 6:30 am Houghton Quick Run
6.06 mi, 1:05:57, 10:53 min/mile, 5.51 mph, 144 bpm, 704
37 F, 4 mph NW, felt like 37 F, 93% humidity; clear skies, chilly but manageable
04 2015-09-14 6:14 pm Houghton Quick Run
3.16 mi, 0:25:47, 8:10 min/mile, 7.35 mph, 167 bpm, 339
75 F, 0 mph, felt like 75 F, 66% humidity; clear skies, warm, no breeze but comfortable
05 2015-09-15 6:34 pm Houghton Quick Run
6.33 mi, 1:02:20, 9:51 min/mile, 6.09 mph, 149 bpm, 703
86 F, 0 mph, felt like 86 F, 51% humidity; clear skies, warm, no breeze but comfortable
06 2015-09-16 6:04 pm KRG Weekly Run 2015 #35
4.06 mi, 0:45:15, 11:09 min/mile, 5.38 mph, 157 bpm, 532
84 F, 10 mph S, felt like 85 F, 48% humidity; mostly clear, warm but comfortable
07 2015-09-17 6:49 pm Houghton Quick Run
4.55 mi, 0:49:29, 10:53 min/mile, 5.51 mph, 151 bpm, 554
75 F, 7 mph SSW, felt like 75 F, 65% humidity; mostly cloudy warm and humid with a slight breeze on top
08 2015-09-19 8:55 am Houghton Quick Run
4.31 mi, 0:46:32, 10:48 min/mile, 5.56 mph, 149 bpm, 513
55 F, 11 mph NNW, felt like 55 F, 77% humidity; sunny with a gentle breeze
09 2015-09-20 9:41 am Houghton Long Ride
100.01 mi, 7:18:33, 4:23 min/mile, 13.69 mph, 5760
63 F, 9 mph W, felt like 63 F, 52% humidity; mostly sunny, blue skies and very windy
10 2015-09-23 6:02 pm KRG Weekly Run 2015 #36
4.12 mi, 0:46:22, 11:15 min/mile, 5.33 mph, 151 bpm, 493
57 F, 12 mph ESE, felt like 57 F, 82% humidity; cloudy, slight drizzle but comfortable
11 2015-09-24 6:00 pm Houghton Quick Run
6.47 mi, 1:04:58, 10:02 min/mile, 5.98 mph, 153 bpm, 727
59 F, 7 mph E, felt like 57 F, 88% humidity; cloudy, slight drizzle but comfortable
12 2015-09-25 5:32 pm Houghton Quick Run
5.31 mi, 0:44:45, 8:26 min/mile, 7.11 mph, 159 bpm, 535
66 F, 5 mph NNW, felt like 66 F, 73% humidity; sunny, warm and a gentle breeze
13 2015-09-26 7:05 am Houghton Short Run (1/10)
13.20 mi, 2:02:08, 9:15 min/mile, 6.49 mph, 154 bpm, 1356
57 F, 3 mph S, felt like 57 F, 100% humidity; cloudy, foggy and very humid with a hint of breeze
14 2015-09-27 8:15 am Houghton Short Run (2/10)
10.27 mi, 1:37:19, 9:29 min/mile, 6.33 mph, 151 bpm, 1061
57 F, 8 mph SSW, felt like 57 F, 88% humidity; sunny, warm, humid and not much for a breeze
15 2015-09-27 10:30 am Houghton Quick Run
3.01 mi, 0:28:46, 9:33 min/mile, 6.28 mph, 153 bpm, 345
59 F, 10 mph SSW, felt like 59 F, 88% humidity; sunny, warm and not much for a breeze
16 2015-09-28 5:06 pm Houghton Short Run (3/10)
10.08 mi, 1:30:00, 8:56 min/mile, 6.72 mph, 156 bpm, 1089
68 F, 7 mph W, felt like 68 F, 37% humidity; sunny, warm and some breeze
17 2015-09-29 5:35 pm Houghton Short Run (4/10)
13.35 mi, 1:58:05, 8:51 min/mile, 6.78 mph, 154 bpm, 1375
54 F, 5 mph NW, felt like 54 F, 35% humidity; sunny, chilly but pleasant
18 2015-09-30 4:35 pm KRG Weekly Run 2015 #37 (5/10)
13.18 mi, 2:10:12, 9:53 min/mile, 6.07 mph, 150 bpm, 1396
55 F, 8 mph E, felt like 58 F, 51% humidity; sunny, chilly but pleasant
19 2015-10-01 4:04 pm Houghton Short Run (6/10)
10.12 mi, 1:31:45, 9:04 min/mile, 6.62 mph, 157 bpm, 1129
54 F, 10 mph E, felt like 54 F, 47% humidity; sunny, windy at times, chilly but pleasant
20 2015-10-02 4:00 pm Houghton Short Run (7/10)
10.17 mi, 1:38:50, 9:43 min/mile, 6.17 mph, 150 bpm, 1105
54 F, 11 mph E, felt like 54 F, 50% humidity; sunny, windy and chilly but pleasant

During one of the training activities leading up to this festival, #11 in the above table, dear friend Alice talked about and recommended one of the books she happened to be reading: Long Distance — Testing the Limits of Body and Spirit in a Year of Living Strenuously by Bill McKibben. I recalled was reminded by Alice, ever so gracefully, that she had talked about that book once before during our run and I was smart enough to remember the title this time around.

A couple days into reading listening to this book, the author talked about the importance of long runs at a slower pace keeping more than an eye on the heart rate. He also talked about punctuating such runs with a speed burst every 20 minutes or so … so as to not forget how to pick up the pace after running at a lower pace for a considerably longer periods of time. So, I decided to spend the the next 8-10 weeks with one long run per week dedicated to integrating this particular lesson from the book — run long, run slow, watch the heart rate, add a burst every 20 minutes during such long slow run, make detailed notes about what worked and what didn’t, what I remembered to do and what I shouldn’t forget for the next long run, and so on.

First such run didn’t take too long to come about (#13 in the above table). Though the prevailing high humidity ensured that it didn’t go nearly as long as I had originally intended, I did what I thought I should be doing: went slow enough to keep the heart rate in check, included a burst every once in a while, and heeded to the body and weather conditions to end the run. I also made notes about these things for the following run. As per the plan made earlier that week, I went over to the Vendlinski residence to watch a college football game. While Andi‘s beloved Wolverines dressed in maize and blue were taking the descendants/disciples of Brigham Young to school in The Big House, she brought up the concept/practice of and the potential for doing a 10 in 10. I admitted that I hadn’t heard of such a thing and didn’t really know what it meant.

A little schooling of my own followed, and I learned that it meant a run of 10 miles (or longer) for 10 consecutive days. Schooling also came with a favorable yes to both my concerns [(a) can I count today’s run as the first one in this 10 for 10? (b) can I break up the 10 mile run per day into multiple runs of shorter lengths?] and a fair reminder that I should end my pursuit should I experience a pain or an injury. With the history of such things having always done more good to me than expected, it was a no brainer to put my body through this newest and by far the toughest, at least on paper, experiment. Since the experiment hasn’t yet been completed (one more day to go), I will save detailing the results as part of a subsequent post-race report. However, I was quite happy to see the body as well as the mind adapt well to the experiment so far and the experiment had no negative impact — in terms of fatigue or injury, mind or body or a combination thereof — on weekend’s festivities.

The eve of the event weekend ended on a much calmer note and included a quick trip to see dear friends Katy and Henry. And the race day morning, for day #1, came at an expected pace. The seemingly never ending repair of the Houghton-Hancock Lift Bridge and its often unannounced closures for lengthy periods of time (as well as potential road closures as a result of an ill-conceived event in Houghton) called for leaving town much earlier than usual. The drive up north was smooth and uneventful — with checkin, packet pickup and exchange of pleasantries with fellow participants and friends completed upon arrival, there was about an hour left for the pre-race meeting. And for the first time that I can remember, I made a conscious effort to nap in the back of my car and give my body a little more rest.

Pre-race meeting as well as the 5k started on time. Starting slow and pacing myself better (thanks to repeated lessons from many a friends over the past year) with many a friendly faces — Bev, Cheryl, Cindy, John, Kate and Paul, and Anne and Melissa from Marquette — played a vital role in the negative splits. A year’s worth of training on varied terrain, one recent training run up and down Mont Ripley, and institutional knowledge about the course from yesteryear made me look and feel a lot smarter. This, in turn, gave my feet quite a bit of confidence and ensured the miles went by much quicker than yesteryear as well. And before I could realize, the course that hugs the Little Red Riding Hood had brought me face to face with the lovely (I do mean it) Big Bad Wolf. This Big Bad Wolf isn’t something one would/could easily get through without realizing and my first encounter with it was no different (neither would the remaining three over the weekend). When I did get through and crossed the finish line, leg #1 of the festival was behind me but with plenty left in the tank.

3.23 mi, 0:32:19, 10:00 min/mile, 6.00 mph, 159 bpm
Splits: (1) 11:01, (2) 10:08, (3) 8:28, (4) 2:41
Garmin Forerunner 620 and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress

A timely advice from dear friend, Chris Schwartz, a day or two earlier about paying better attention to nutrition and resting well (read: not doing any monkey business) between events came in quite handy. I consumed some protein bars and fluids, and retired to the backseat of my car for yet another ~40 minute nap. I missed the pre-race meeting (I was still napping) but the 10 started on time. Starting slow and pacing myself better would remain a theme and the number of familiar faces grew quite a bit for leg #2: Amanda, Anika, Christine, Cindy, Jessie, Kate, Paul and Shannon.

The course was slightly modified compared to 2014: the usually humbling Little Red Riding Hood came with a topping of an Ugly Ducking before taking on the very humbling Pinocchio. Taking the top off of Pinocchio offered some respite but didn’t take much from the glorious view — especially for those 10k participants who weren’t participating in the half marathon the next day. Rest of the course remained the same — leaving the Little Red Riding Hood on occasion to snake through Tortoise/Hare and Mad Hatter before bringing up the Big Bad Wolf prior to crossing the finish line. For the second consecutive leg, the miles seemed to go by much quicker and required much less effort to do so (a little extra motivation that shall remain unmentioned didn’t hurt either) leaving still plenty in the tank for day #2.

6.06 mi, 1:00:30, 9:59 min/mile, 6.01 mph, 165 bpm
Splits: (1) 11:27, (2) 9:49, (3) 9:35, (4) 10:23, (5) 9:09, (6) 9:34, (7) 0:32
Garmin Forerunner 620 and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress

The uneventful drive home after legs #1 and #2 was punctuated with a pit stop in The Fitz for lunch with Bev and Paul Mann. A quick nap made way to a mile long jog to keep the 10 in 10 experiment alive. Heeding to the intuition, seeded and nurtured by the collective wisdom of my friends, I called it a night quite early into the night. Knowing that there wouldn’t be any unannounced bridge closures, I slept in a little more, and the race day morning, for day #2, came at an expected pace as well. The drive up north, for the second consecutive day, was smooth and uneventful as well.

Pre-race meeting as well as the half marathon started on time. Much like the previous two legs, I started slow and paced myself at least through first few miles with many dear friends: AJ, Bryant, Cindy, Ian, John, JR, Kate, Kelsae, Paul and Simon. The course, with the aforementioned modifications for 10k, remained about the same as last year and did in fact go all the way to the top. With miles passing yet again much faster, I found myself at about the 9 mile mark shortly after 90 minutes. Institutional knowledge about the course, acquired during last year’s festival and studying it as meticulously as I could to remember it well, came in quite handy yet again. Knowing that it was mostly downhill or flat from that point, I thought of picking up the pace my implementing one of the lessons learned from the still ongoing 10 in 10 experiment. It did pay off quite well: the pace did see a spike, helped me relax quite a bit and regroup myself just in time for the final encounter with the Big Bad Wolf. And when I did cross the finish line, I was quite satisfied with the overall effort for the weekend and felt like the tank wasn’t completely empty. I, for one, would believe that I could have run harder but my ever so thoughtful friends, once again, convinced me that it was more an indication of conditioning and signs of things to come.

12.21 mi, 2:07:29, 10:26 min/mile, 5.75 mph, 157 bpm
Splits: (1) 10:40, (2) 10:01, (3) 9:02, (4) 11:55, (5) 13:29, (6) 9:06, (7) 11:06, (8) 10:17, (9) 10:53, (10) 8:56, (11) 8:41, (12) 10:06, (13) 3:16
Garmin Forerunner 620 and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress

Along with the aforementioned lessons detailed by John Muir, running in the wilderness and especially through the mountains brought in a few additional ones: (a) Unless one goes into such an event with a planned running buddy to stick with, it is quite common to find oneself running by grand lonesome for extended periods of time. With no one to watch and police either the thought process or the actions resulting therefrom, it isn’t too difficult to let the mind wander off to the dark side, yield to temptations, and attempt taking a shortcut or two. Running in general and trail running in particular is a really good test of self-discipline and honor system; (b) The trails in this neck of the woods around this time of the year were extremely pretty, and a treat to the mind, body and soul. It’s quite the privilege to have the opportunity to run them. Often much of the sunshine doesn’t penetrate the dense canopy on either side of much of the course. There’s only so much one can look outside before starting to look inside in search of answers to some long-standing questions. Connectile dysfunction suffered by our electronic devices, coupled with the associated loneliness, during such runs will ensure that answers, if any, will come from inside rather than Wikipedia or StackOverflow; (c) As much as one would like to train as if it’s a real race, it is quite difficult to simulate the race day environment for testing purposes. Timing of the 10 in 10 experiment and being at the tail end of it for this weekend certainly provided a real platform to put the lessons into practice, and gain some confidence for remainder of the running season.

Splits and Δ splits analysis
Mile mark Metrics (0 -- mile mark) Δ split Metrics (between successive mile marks)
03.11 00:31:41, 10:11 min/mile, 5.89 mph 00.00 -- 03.11 00:31:41, 10:11 min/mile, 5.89 mph
06.21 01:06:58, 10:47 min/mile, 5.56 mph 03.11 -- 06.21 00:35:17, 11:23 min/mile, 5.27 mph
10.00 01:45:58, 10:36 min/mile, 5.66 mph 06.21 -- 10.00 00:39:00, 10:17 min/mile, 5.83 mph
12.13 02:07:29, 10:31 min/mile, 5.71 mph 10.00 -- 12.13 00:21:31, 10:06 min/mile, 5.94 mph

I am happy to have come out achieving every one of the intended goals I had for this event. An even better and more satisfying result, in spite of improving the overall time from last year by 50+ minutes, was that I didn’t make it back to the podium. It’s a good indication of the improved quality of the participants hailing from Kansas, Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin, and all throughout Michigan. While the previously mentioned ill-conceived event in Houghton certainly took away some potential participants in 5k and 10k on Saturday, number of participants for triple threat was nearly quadrupled (four completed in 2014 and 15 in 2015).

Personal goals for the event (in order of importance)
## Goal Result
01 Run the entire course, except for aid stations Yes
02 Finish the 5k under 0:32:30 (10:29 min/mile, 5.72 mph) Yes; 0:32:19 (10:00 min/mile, 6.00 mph)
  Improve the 5k time from 2014 (0:38:20) Yes; 0:32:19
03 Finish 10k under 1:05:00 (10:29 min/mile, 5.72 mph) Yes; 1:00:29 (9:59 min/mile, 6.01 mph)
  Improve the 10k time from 2014 (1:13:20) Yes; 1:00:29
04 Finish the half marathon under 2:15:00 (10:18 min/mile, 5.83 mph) Yes; 2:07:27 (10:27 min/mile, 5.74 mph)
  Improve the half marathon time (and current PR for trail half marathon) from 2014:
2:40:42 (4.89 mph mph, 12:16 min/mile)
Yes; 2:07:27
05 Improve the overall time from 2014 (4:32:31) Yes (3:40:15)

I didn’t carry my phone or other photo capturing device with me on the run but friends (Amanda, Anika, Bridget, Christine, John, John and Shannon) kindly shared their photographs. My writing might make this event seem like attending a series of long sermons delivered in monotone but the images shared by my friends (and some more from yours truly) will certifiably prove that it is indeed a fun event — in the real and every sense of the word. It took a while to arrange all the photographs with different naming conventions in chronological sequence, and the script I wrote to accomplish it is on GitHub for reference.

Drive home after leg #3, as on day #1 after legs #1 and #2, was smooth and uneventful, and included a pit stop in The Fitz for lunch with Christine and Stephen Handler. I haven’t done nearly as many trail half marathons as I have of the road kind so far but to measure the improvement in performance (or lack thereof), the plot below includes all trail runs of half marathon distance or longer. I should be happy with the progress but should seek help and find ways to get better before the 2016 trail running season rolls along. The two remaining running races for the season, one about a month away and another about two weeks after that, are both of the road kind. With this event in the rear view mirror (and more importantly, without any injury or much fatigue), the focus needs to shift back to the road: improving the speed, endurance, and core strength along the way.

This event doesn’t feature the easiest of courses but their color, charm, serenity and tranquility make every single step and surrounding views quite a rewarding experience. It is organized by someone that genuinely cares for the wellbeing of the community and the event participants (as demonstrated by the fact that race director makes one demonstrate a physical activity to even earn a free raffle prize). It is indeed held in, in the words my dear friend Mark, the ultra pure part of Pure Michigan. Whether one believes in transcendental/transformative experiences or just getting a hard physical workout in the wilderness or looking for yet another valid excuse to visit the Yoop, this could be the event for this time of the year. And as if that weren’t sufficient, the race director has hinted a very high probability of confirmed the addition of ultra marathon to the festivities in 2016!

Thanks be to

the rejections and opportunities life has brought my way, event folks (organizers, sponsors, volunteers, timers, law enforcement officials, photographers, fellow participants and spectators), and the family of good friends in and outside of my community for all the unexpected, undeserved and unrewarded acts of constant encouragement as well as offerings of constructive criticism to improve myself as an athlete and a person. I am eternally grateful to all those who let me train with them, who shared their invaluable tips with me, who helped keep my mind, body and soul in good health, who helped me stay the course during the training cycle, who continued to teach me the value of work-life balance, and who cheered me on from home or along the course.

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