Last weekend I was supposed to run the Zane Grey 50 Mile near Payson, Arizona. With nearly 10,000 feet of elevation gain at an average elevation of 6,500 feet, and a course that’s littered with giant rocks, rocks, and more rocks, many people have deemed it one of the toughest 50-mile runs in the country. Living in Phoenix was the perfect opportunity to train for this race. Close proximity to lots of rocky mountain trails and the ability to go check out the course in person ahead of time were ideal for training for this race. Everything was going great until I ended up returning home to Michigan sooner than I’d planned. Not having the funds to fly back to Arizona and rent a car for the weekend, I decided to do the next best thing: run on one of my favorite trails in Michigan as part of one of my favorite events.
Trail Weekend, which is hosted by local running shop/event company Running Fit has long been one of my favorite races. It takes place at the end of April ever year near Ann Arbor, Michigan, mostly on the Potowatomi Trail in the Pinckney Recreation Area. This trail is a favorite for many people in the area including mountain bikers, trail runners, backpackers, and wildlife enthusiasts. Like most trails and areas of Michigan, Poto (as the locals call it) passes near numerous lakes, through forests, and also contains some of the biggest hills in the area, which is to say they take about 4 minutes to power-hike up. They’re definitely not big hills by most people’s standards but the number of hills and the fact that you’re constantly going either up or down is what most people find challenging about it. My favorite part of this trail is the remote feeling and being able to cool off in the lake after a hot summer run.
Trail Weekend consists of a half marathon on Saturday and a 5-miler, marathon, and 50k on Sunday. For the most fun possible, you can sign up for both the half marathon and the 50k, which is what I usually do and this year was no exception. I originally wasn’t sure about signing up for this race since I had done the Glass City Marathon the previous weekend. When my friend asked me to run the half marathon with her as her first official half marathon, how could I say no?
On race day, after about an hour’s drive, we arrived at the park and got our bibs. The weather for the day was typical Michigan spring weather, which is to say it was 35 degrees, gray, and windy. We sat in the car listening to not very pump-up music keeping warm before going to the start line. There seemed to be even more people than I remembered there being in previous years (turns out there were actually fewer people than the last time I did this race, but there were still 580 finishers this year). After making our way through the crowd, we decided to start with
a random group a group that looked about the pace we were planning to run.
After about a minute of running through an open field, we hit the singletrack, and the inevitable standstill that comes with just about every trail race. As we slowly made our way through the first mile, a guy behind us asked “I’ve never run a trail race before. Is it going to be like this the whole time?” I reassured him that it usually spreads out pretty quick, although that didn’t really turn out to be the case on this day. It ended up being at least 4 or 5 miles before we got some breathing room near our spot in the middle of the pack. Except for the bumper to bumper traffic on the trail, things were going really well for the first 6 or so miles. We were keeping a steady pace and we had perfect running conditions. It was around this time, my friend started to get a headache.
About a month ago, on a half marathon distance “training run” in the desert, we discovered that my friend loses an extreme amount of salt. She loses so much salt in fact that I was feeding her S Caps every 30 minutes and she doused all her food in salt for the next few days. She thought in milder (read: cold) temperatures, she wouldn’t need salt pills and hadn’t brought any. Thankfully, I knew better and had packed plenty for the occasion. After I told her I had packed salt pills and she could have as many as she wanted she told me “I’d hug you right now if you weren’t so far away.” After a quick stop for a life-changing salt pill, we were on our way again.
We continued on at a steady pace and around mile 9 we could hear lots of yelling in the distance. There turned out to be a large group of kids (scouts maybe?) who were walking along the trail cheering on runners and giving out liberal amounts of high-fives. After passing through the cheering section, someone (maybe me) said something like “Only 5k to go – piece of cake!” A guy who we had been running near all day warned us not to get too excited as there was a really big hill coming up. I spent the next several minutes trying to think of what hill he could be talking about. As someone who had run this trail at least a hundred times, I thought I would have remembered a hill with that kind of reputation. Turns out, I did remember the hill once I saw it. Usually when I’m on this trail, I’m going downhill though as that is the normal direction for foot traffic. By this time we were around mile 11 and my friend was finally starting to get tired. Barely. She even appeared to be having fun while going up the “monster” hill, although this is probably because I had just said something incredibly funny.
The last couple miles of the course somehow seemed the longest/I think they actually were the longest based on course markings. Just before mile 13 (which was definitely more than 0.1 miles from the finish), we heard some 80’s music blasting from a guy carrying around a giant speaker. I can’t remember what song it was but I’m pretty sure it was one of the songs found in Happy Gilmore, which obviously means it was great.
After we turned off the trail onto the grass field toward the finish, my friend tried to walk up the last (small) hill. “No more walking!” I yelled. “We’re almost there.” Bystanders probably thought I was a mean friend but whatever, you’ve got to run the final stretch.
After crossing the finish line, we walked around for a few minutes and looked for a willing volunteer to take our picture. The wind blowing off the lake and still-gray skies made it not a very hospitable environment to hang out in after finishing a race. There was one guy though who decided to brave the elements even further by wading into the lake. I’ll be the first person to say there’s nothing better than being able to lounge in a lake after a run, but usually I prefer to do that when it’s warmer than 40 degrees outside.
Despite his dip in the lake, he at least seemed to have avoided hypothermia as he managed to hold his hands steady enough to take a great picture of us. Running this race with my friend for her first half marathon (and on a trail no less) made Day 1 of Trail Weekend especially memorable this year. After nearly 16 years of running, sometimes I forget about what it’s like to be new-ish to the sport. Being with friends and helping others to reach their goals are two of my favorite things about running, and I was able to do both on this day. This might have been her first half marathon and first trail race, but it definitely won’t be her last as evidenced by the permanent smile attached to her face and the number of times she said “This is so fun!”.
Stay tuned, Trail Weekend Part 2 coming soon!