Sunday, September 25, 2011

Run Smiley Virtual Run: Baker's Dozen Beer Run, Marshall, MI

This September 24th was the inaugural Baker's Dozen Beer Run, a half marathon fun run in Marshall, Michigan.  The organizers said they wanted to incorporate their favorite Marshall businesses, Louie's Bakery and Dark Horse Brewery.  The "race" started at the Bakery and the finish line was at the Brewery, so it was a very cool concept.  As luck would have it, all my brethren in the Run Smiley Collective were in New York for the New York Barefoot Run and had designated this weekend as our first official "Virtual Run" so I rolled in with my "Run Smiley Participant" bib pinned to my shorts.

I had suggested the event as a low cost ($15 entry) meet-up for the Michigan Chapter of the Barefoot Runners Society, but registration closed pretty early and Colleen and I were the only ones who were able to sign up.  This would prove to be a good thing, which I'll get to in a minute.  I did get to see a few friends from last winter's Beyond Group (Sarah and Lori) though, and found out they would be acting as pacers for a couple of the half marathon pace groups this coming winter.  Turns out Sarah is going to be my half marathon distance partner in the 11:30-12:00 group, so that was pretty cool!

Anyway, at the start I was a little sad none of my barefoot buddies were there, but I got some consolation in the form of a delicious custard filled donut from Louie's.  Everyone thought I was completely nuts for eating the thing minutes before the start of the race, and maybe I was, but I'm a sucker for the things and I have a tendency to use bizarre fuel before long runs.  My breakfast had been a fried egg sandwich with mayo and some chili on a slice of toast, shit on a shingle style, and everyone thought that was nuts too!

Breakfast of Champions!
The run started at 8:00AM and we positioned ourselves near the back of the group.  This would keep me out of the way of the faster folks but force me to pass a lot of people early, and the streets near the starting line were fairly narrow (think single lane boulevard-style roads).  About a half mile in I would meet up with Nikki, who I'd met at the Kalamazoo Marathon back in may where she had been working the Kalamazoo Area Runners tent.  We had to reintroduce ourselves, as we'd both long since forgotten each others names (if we'd actually told each other at the time).  Turns out we were aiming for more or less similar paces and we hung out chit-chatting for a few miles.

The course wound through the neighborhoods on the north side of Marshall before heading out into the country.  As soon as we left city limits we were on chip seal roads, which was something I had assumed would happen but was determined to handle as best I could (and also why I had my bedrocks in my belt, just in case it got too rough).  From mile 2 to 4 the chip seal was manageable and appeared to be relatively old.  If this was the worst I had to deal with I would have no problems.

The marker for mile 3 had the "kick you in the nuts" message of "Almost Done!"  I know it was supposed to be a joke, but the last thing someone with another 10 miles to run wants to see is an "Almost Done!" at mile 3.  I took it for what it was though and jokingly said "What kind of jerk says that?!" and had a big laugh.

At about 3.75 miles in things got a bit ugly for me.  I had been eating some Honey Stingers and dropped the package on the ground, so I took a minute to stop and take a couple pictures, and in doing so lost Nikki and the other couple people we had been pacing with.  Getting back running again it dawned on me that I was about to enter some freshly chip sealed road.  Yeah that sound you heard was the dramatic "dun dun duuuunnnnn"!  I was terrified, but decided to give it a shot and see how bad it was.  It was too early to put the sandals on (it would feel like failure) so I soldiered on wondering what Colleen would think when she reached this area.  I figured something like "I bet Troy didn't like that!" or "I wonder if he put his sandals on?"  I would later find out it was more like "Uh Oh, I bet he just ran through that tearing his feet to shreds."  Fortunately for me it would only last about a quarter mile before we turned onto a smoother road, so I did soldier on through it knowing it would soon be over and hoping there wasn't much more of it over the rest of the course.  I would be disappointed.

Fresh chip seal road!  Egad!

Nikki and the group remained in my sights the whole time, despite slowing my pace somewhat over the chip seal, and when I got the chance, either on grass or once I got back on smooth road, I did my best to persistence-hunt her group and see if I could catch up without burning myself out (I had just finished mile 5 when the chip seal ended).  I finally caught up shortly after the chip seal ended on what would be the first real downhill of the course (up to this point it had all been more or less flat or gently uphill).  I've mentioned before that I've been working on the "No Brakes!" method of running downhills, and apparently I was on my game today.  I caught up to Nikki and the group and went flying past yelling "Heads up! No brakes!"  They'd never catch up with me again, but I spent the rest of the race assuming they would.

I spent the next mile cheering for the crowds and chit-chatting the people I passed.  Conversations were usually short, along the lines of "How're you doing?  Having fun?" and one or two chatted about barefoot running and its potential benefits.  I crossed I-94 around the 6.5 mile mark and made a point to hoot and holler at the cars going by, getting a couple cars to honk and wave, which felt great!  Shortly after clearing the freeway I met up with my friends Sarah and Lori again, who were actually running as part of a relay team.  They gave me some cheers and said one of their team members was right behind me and they'd catch up with me later.  They had 4 members, so every 5k they were handing off and Sarah would be handling their last leg at about 10 miles.

I spent the next mile or so pretty much alone and got passed by the first of the cyclists, who had started at 8:45, somewhere around mile 7.  This section of the course wound through some more country neighborhoods, and there was a really big crowd at the mile 8 aid station.  They were very nice and topped off my water bottle for me.  There were lots of cyclists coming through by now, and the serious ones were long gone and we started seeing the casuals who were there for fun along with some people who had started out running and had stashed their bikes along the course.

It was about this point in the race I realized that I'd had a smile on my face pretty much the whole time.  The crowds had been great and I think I had only passed one person who wasn't out there having a good time (some grumpy old man who didn't even respond when I said Hi! How's it going?").  I had been thanking just about everyone on the sidelines for coming out and cheering at kids who were playing in the yards i passed and was feeling great.  On top of it we had expected cold and cloudy weather with a chance of rain, and the skies were cloudless and the weather was fantastic!  No wonder i couldn't wipe the smile off my face!

I passed Sarah near the 10 mile mark and wandered into the final 5k of the course.  The next mile would be almost as tough as the other fresh chip seal areas, testing my smile a little bit, but I got a lot of kudos from the cyclists through this area, some cheers from an aid station and another round of waves and honks from the cars on I-94 as I crossed back to the south and it kept me going strong.  I would finish the section with a nice long "No Brakes!" downhill section before hitting the city limits and settling into the final mile and a half through town.

There were few runners around me at this point but still a fair number of cyclists.  I spent my time chatting with the police and fire department personnel who were out doing traffic control and after a few twists and turns through some neighborhood streets I found myself hitting the final few hundred feet.  I had to cross some tricky railroad tracks that made me (cynically) wonder if I would pick up some splinters this close to the finish line.  The crowd at the finish line was great and there was a lot of cheering as I crossed the line at 2:18:15.  I was expecting to finish around 2:36, so beating that by 18 minutes was huge!

Nikki and Sarah would finish within a few minutes of me and I spent a couple minutes cooling down and chatting with other finishers.  One woman asked me if I'd run the whole thing barefoot and I said "yeah" and she followed that up with "How are your feet?"  I replied with (thanks to John Yohe, from whom I stole this reply) "Great!  How are yours!" with a big smile on my face.  We had a big laugh and she said she was on a bike so hers were just fine.  After hanging out for a few minutes I remembered Colleen had wanted me to come out and pace her to the finish, so I strapped on my sandals (my feet were a little tired at this point and I was ready to give them a rest) and started walking.

I was expecting her to be running around a 15 minute mile, so I checked the time and guesstimated about where I would meet up with her.  While walking back a lady on a bike stopped me to take my picture, as her daughter runs (or had run) in FiveFingers and she wanted to show her that some one had (been foolish enough) run the race totally barefoot.  I obliged and we chatted for a minute before heading our separate ways.  I stopped to talk to the police officers on the way back and stopped at the last aid station to talk to the volunteers too.  They must have had something to do with the course planning and gave me an interesting bit of trivia: when they finalized the course none of the freshly chip sealed roads had been treated yet.  Those roads were done within the last week!  Inwardly I congratulated myself on handling as much as I did, considering how fresh the treatment had been.

I met up with Colleen at about the mile 12 marker, right on time.  I was impressed that she looked as good as she did.  Having run a 10 miler with her a few weeks ago I expected her to be a little tired and ready to be done, but she was trucking along and still had a positive attitude so I was really glad she was doing so well.  We headed back the way I came, and I talked and talked in an effort to make sure to distract her from the mile she had to go.  Apparently the police had gone home in the last 10 minutes or so, because when I looked for the guys I had used to mark the turns they were gone and I led Colleen down the wrong road.  This proved to be a huge mistake, as the road we had to take to get back on course led to a bunch of tents and whatnot that was setup for some other event (Hispanic Festival, I think), and Colleen thought it was the finish line.  When she learned it wasn't she kind of hit the floor a little bit with a simple "I'm done."

She got going after a minute though, with some semi-gentle prodding from me about how we were only a turn or so away from the finish line.  The damage had been done though and her mood wouldn't really improve until we finished.  The tracks gave her some problems, as the footing wasn't great, but she crossed the line at 3:18:42 and immediately broke into tears.  I totally understood, having gone through the same thing in May when I finished the Kalamazoo Marathon, so I didn't say anything and just attended to my hugging duties (because that's what everyone needs when they finish something like this the first time).

In lieu of medals, we got free pints of beer from Dark Horse, which was excellent beer!  We hung out, drank beer, stretched, took pictures and chatted with other runners for a while.  It was a lot of fun and our only regret was that there weren't donuts at the end because we could have really used one at that point!  It was a great event with great people and I'm hoping to make it back next year!


  1. Dark Horse at the finish line of a race?! This Swedish beer nerd is insanely jealous! But except for that, great stuff. It sounds like you had a ball!

  2. Nice job Troy, way to knock the time down! Same to you Colleen, really nice work. Wish I could have been there with you guys.

  3. Sounds like a great race -- too bad you couldn't join us in NYC, but glad read about some of the far-flung virtual runs! And lord, do I remember breaking down in tears after my first half . . .