the marquette trail 50. a race recap.

the to-do list in my mind is growing to epic proportions. it seems like it is a mile long and that mile is one can’t run – instead, i need to be deliberate and go with care until the light at the end of the tunnel is kind of like distance running. my life right now is certainly like an ultramarathon. and i love that. running the marquette trail 50k reminded me to love it. that was two weekends ago and i’m still busy but loving every second. so, onto the race!so, two fridays ago my friend Angie picked me up at about 9am and we headed north. to the U.P. for those of you not in the midwest, i’m referring to the “Upper Peninsula” (the northern part of the state of michigan). after discussing how we had been confused about the time change that would occur once we left our home state, we had a pleasant drive up with lots of chatting and catching up the way you only do when you actually get a bunch of hours in the car with a friend and nothing but the open road ahead of you.

besides regular conversation, we talked a lot about what we thought the next day’s race might hold. would we be attacked by a cougar? how hard would the course actually be? how long do you think it will take you? what’s your goal? after this race, what’s the plan until the big show?

we talked and talked and laughed and we discussed stopping to buy knives to carry on the run in case of the aforementioned cougar attack and before we knew it we saw the hills or marquette, michigan ahead and lake superior as far as our eyes could see. we had arrived.

we went to packet pickup and got our numbers, then to dinner and before we knew it we were beginning to hunker down to attempt to get some pre-race zzz’s.

the 5am alarm clock came quickly, but i was awake and ready to go before i knew it. the awesome thing about small races is that we drove over and arrived about 20 minutes before the start. the race director did a roll-call and suddenly it was 6:30am and we were off!

once again, i didn’t get to really tell Ang good luck and we got spread out pretty quickly. there was only one place where i might have crossed paths with my friend on the course, but i hoped she knew that i was sending good juju her way all day.

the trails were flat out beautiful! there were times when i thought i was in Narnia or that i was Katniss (from the Hunger Games) just out there in my element. especially through the first 10 miles, i ran with a number of people. there was a group of us that stuck relatively close together, but as i dawdled at the second aid station, the group spread out. i didn’t mind though because i was toying with the idea of making a pit stop to relieve myself and also because when you’re out there in the woods like that there’s a whole lot of wonderful to be taken in when the trails are covered with pine needles just enough that you can barely hear your own feet meeting the ground.

did i mention before how beautiful it all was?

after the second aid station we had a long stretch to go until the next stop and there was a solid segment of trails which were very run-able (i’ll get to the hiking part in a minute). so, i continued to move forward, enjoying the scenery and reminding myself that once i made it to the 3rd aid station i would be just over halfway done.there was a moment in there – maybe a few moments when i reminded myself to take it all in.
that leg was about 7 miles long and included our first major climb. earlier in the race we had a bunch of rocky and rooty terrain to get across so there was some hiking and careful stepping but the next part was where we made our way up Sugarloaf Mountain. it’s a midwestern mountain, no doubt, but we don’t have much elevation like that in Wisconsin, so it was a special treat. actually, the treat was that instead of making our way up the “mountain” through the dirt, we marched up a total of 252 stairs.really, it was a treat and the cherry on top was the view!

first i snapped this.

i snapped a few pictures and then began my trek down, this time back on trails.
the trails led us along Lake Superior with some loose bluffs and a beach below where we were running. there was just one time when i saw a man strolling on the beach with his coffee and three dogs when i thought – i might rather be doing that right now, but i forged ahead.looking down to the lake from up where we were was amazing. lake superior is clear and chilly and much of the bottom is covered with stones. i’m sure there is some geological explanation for this, but i’m no scientist, so i can’t elaborate a lot. when i looked down i could see the beauty of that great lake, even though i was only getting a snapshot of its expanse.soon i caught up with a few others. one, whom we later deemed, “chicago,” because he kept going off course and we needed to get his attention and the other a woman from the madison area. we directed “chicago” back on course once and then he took off. a little later, a man who showed up at the start line in a kilt caught us and before i knew it he was ahead of us too and not long after that my running buddy from madison and i said goodbye, as well.

i’ll say one thing: for being a race of less than 100 people, total (for the 5mi and 50k combined), there was rarely a time when i felt really, really alone out on the trails. i hold those time in complete solitude in very high regard because there’s a sense of connection and respect that comes with being out there doing your thing.

and my mind rarely wandered from the task at hand and even just half a race completed, i felt a rush of peace come over me.

there were a few times when my mind did wander though. i mean, climbing Hogback Mountain, which sometimes required two hands had me occasionally thinking, “what am i doing?” and “how did i get myself into this” and more than once, “i could die up here.” i reminded myself not to look down as i climbed and climbed and there was only one time, when i was near the top of that summit when i thought, “thank god i haven’t seen the movie 127 hours yet!” because all i could think about was if my clumsy feet missed a step i might end up wedged precariously between two rocks. but i also reminded myself of my history of knocking my noggin hard and that a goal of mine for the race was, “NO concussions,” so along i went. up and up and up!!

obligatory self-shot…before Hogsback (i think)

i paused for a few minutes at the top. i paused to catch my breath. i paused to turn around and take some quick pictures with my phone and realized even then that my photos wouldn’t do justice to what i’d just done. i paused to take it all in.

the view, atop Hogsback.

and then i paused because i looked down and realized that i was about to head back down the other side of that little mountain just as i had come up. making my way over exposed bedrock instead of trails. taking my time to get my footing and calculate my next move. and a few times, scooting down on my butt.

there was no other way and just after i began my descent, another madisonian who had been a little ways behind me showed up above and said, “hey, how’d you get down there?” and i responded, “well first i pooped my pants a little and then i slid down.” i was joking about the pooping, and we both had a laugh and then we continued on – downwards!

but once i descended it was kind of like the homestretch. all i remember is down and down and down. it was still hard – at least mentally. ok, physically, too. my quads and IT bands were sore from the downhills, actually, but i knew what i had to do. get to the  next aid station.
between the descent from the top of hogsback to the end, i remember a few things. i remember those chocolate pretzel cookies at one of the aid stations. i stuffed one of those in my face. i stopped off in some tall grass in a corner to relieve myself…again. of of my running buddies had caught up with me again and shouted, “whatcha doing over there?” and then, “that’s a good spot.” i agreed, as i was also hoping i wasn’t squatting in poison ivy. and then i continued on once again.

another view from Hogsback. Lake Superior in the far background. exposed bedrock to be climbed down in the foreground.

next, my primary thought and goal was to make it, as quickly as possible, to the next aid station. to the last aid station before the end.
this was also the spot where 50 milers had to turn around to go back up Sugarloaf and Hogsback…AGAIN!
the aid station was also staffed by the cross country team from Northern Michigan University and i thought it was really cute. these young girls kept telling all of us how awesome they thought we were while their coach kept telling them to actually help the runners coming into the stop. i thanked them and said “good luck” to my 50 mile friends and headed toward the finish.
the last 5ish miles weren’t too rough. actually, the course was relatively easy compared to the last 20-some miles. i told myself to think about picking up my feet, to keep moving with purpose and to think about finishing strong. with a few miles to go – probably 2 or so, it began to rain. i was glad i was nearly finished. i was glad for the break in the early afternoon weather. the rain felt nice.
i ran on and on and made it my goal to make sure i finished under 8 hours. mostly because i figured it wouldn’t take me longer than that to begin with.
soon i began to recognize sights from the earliest part of the day. i hurdled (hopped over) some downed trees.
i crossed the railroad tracks.
and i came upon the bridge and the dam that i had seen when we first left the start line.
almost home. almost done. i could hear the finish line. i could almost see it. i ran my heart out and before i knew it, i had arrived.
my first 50k! two adorable and enthusiastic little girls handed me a can koozie and a towel. i promptly sat down, but before i did, i grabbed some peanut butter newman o’s (my favorite packaged cookie – for sure) and a cup of chocolate milk and THAT was my first real post-race food.
and i’ll tell you…winning combination!
i sat through a beer, estimating where and when my friend was and when she might be done. i was also sitting with chicago’s friend and a woman, Carol, whom i had run with early on and we chatted and cheered on finishers. not too long after, I saw Angie’s yellow shirt and purple-ish had come around the corner near the bridge!!!


we were so excited because i had been talking about my friend. i was so glad to see her rounding that bend. we cheered and i snapped a picture of her and the buddy she had gained out there. it was great so see her come in, too, with a smile on her face. and also, just minutes before it began to really pour. the rain opened up a few minutes after Angie finished.
we sat around for a bit and then it really started to downpour so we quickly headed out. we finished our evening with hot showers, burgers, a few beers at Ore Dock Brewery (a brewery started by some friends of mine) and then bed!
it was an awesome weekend. from the company to the running to the scenery to the post-race festivities. it was all awesome.
what i wanted to say about this race – about the race – is that they have an awesomely gutsy race director who planned a really tough course. and he warned us. and he was also unapologetic about the toughness, too. the volunteers at packet pickup and especially at the aid stations and the finish line were GREAT. i mean, they were top-notch!!!
and the other thing i wanted to mention was a giant THANK YOU to my friend Angie for finding this race and for convincing me to do it with her. i would have never signed up for this on my own and i am indescribably grateful to have a friend who somehow gets me to push my comfort zone without me really feeling pushed. i honestly wound never, ever have signed up for this race on my own but i’m glad, i am proud, i am so happy that i did it.
when it all comes down to it – i like to race for the experience. it doesn’t matter so much if i am fast or slow or have a hard or easy day, but i love to be challenged and i love to do things i wouldn’t have done on my own. i’m so lucky. and i’m incredibly grateful, too!

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