Sunday, September 30, 2012

Brooksie Way Half Marathon; 30th September 2012

This was another race that was getting arranged with the help of my company, Tata Technologies, in much the same way as last years Detroit Free Press Marathon relay team last year. This year the half was the longest was the longest distance under offer, which suited me down to the ground. My son, Gordon, had also started doing longer distances as part of training with his school cross country team, so he wanted to run it with me. This was going to be our first long run together so I was looking forward to it. Gordon also contacted one of his friends, Yu, from his middle school cross country team and he was going to be running with us as well. The plan for this race, what with it being Gordon's first half and his friends first race since the spring, was to finish and still be ambulatory.

Up bright and early at 6am, grab a quick snack and get ready to head out to pick up Gordon and his friend at his friends house and then a 45 minute up to the Oakland University for the race. The field was going be significantly smaller than at Detroit, so getting parked near the start line shouldn't have been a problem. Hmmm, not so much, one lane into the car park meant that what should have been a leisurely drive up, packet pickup and a wander around for 45 minutes before the race, became kind of hectic and rushed, not the best start, but hey, you have to play the hand you are dealt and not necessarily the one you want, right? Work colleagues wanted all the runners from the company team together for a group photo, which we missed, ho hum. Anyway, off to the start and we were ready to rock.

Conditions we absolutely perfect for the race, a little cool, beautiful blue sky. The course, recently voted one of the best fall half marathons in the US, was apparently going to be a little hilly, with a mix or road and trails with plenty aid stations throughout. We lined up near the back of the pack as it was bloody mobbed and we couldn't fit in anywhere else, it did mean that we were going to have to navigate the walkers, etc, but what the hell.

The first four miles went well, although it took a while for the pack to really start spreading out. I could tell that Yu was starting to feel it but didn't want to let on, he just asked if we could take a very short walk after a water station and kept on going from there. The following miles were interspersed with pleasantly wooded trails and rather long nasty hills. Every aid station became a progressively longer walk, but all kudos to Yu, he stuck it out and kept going, even when it became obvious that he was struggling.

Looking at the elevation profile before the race showed that while the first half was mostly downhill, it did mean that the second was obviously going to be uphill, and it was, quite impressively at some points, but we got there and took pleasure looking back down them afterwards. I felt good pretty much the whole race although I did experience some pain in my left inner calf after about 7 miles, which stayed there for the rest of the race, although didn't actually become debilitating  We got a view of the finish line with about 1/4 mile left to go and Gordon flew ahead of me, which I guessed he would as he had plenty left in the tank, I also cranked it up a notch and finished strong.

All in all a fun day, glad we did it.

Race Reflections

  • Beautiful course, nicely varied with trails, hills, etc.
  • Well marshaled 
  • Plenty of aid stations (almost too many, but you can never have too much of a good thing)
  • Lots of enthusiastic spectators
  • Lots of music, even a bagpiper at one point which was very cool
  • Running with my son was very cool
  • Extremely cool medal, very cool translucent inlay, the picture really doesn't do it justice.
  • Perfect weather
  • Parking sucked
  • Post race snacks very fairly under whelming

How Garmin saw it -
How Endomondo saw it -

Myself and Gordon, two generations of McWilliams
half marathon runners, kinda cool
Day glow green long sleeved tech shirt &
a particularly awesome medal

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Dances With Dirt, Hell, Michigan - 22nd September


Going through some of the details for my next 'race', on Saturday. I'm running as part of a 5 man relay team in the 100k 'Dances With Dirt' in Hell, Michigan, an extreme trail run. Each runner runs three legs of between 2.4 & 6.9 miles, I'm running legs # 1 - The Stampede (4.79mi), 6 - This Sucks! (5.75mi) & 11 - Pure Michigan (2.5mi). The disclaimer has the word 'death' in the three times, the info pack, includes phrases like, 'please help the injured', 'decide how to best utilize or torture each runner', 'swamps may need buddy system'. Each leg is graded by what kind of issues you will come across, eg waist deep mud and how much poison ivy you will encounter, ie extreme. I'm a wee bit scared.

The Race

I had been wondering all week quite what I should take with me on this, my first Dances With Dirt. I didn't want to come across as the newbie and end up bringing too much, but the opposite would suck too. After much messing around, the decisions were made on the Friday night. I would bring my waterproof jacket and pants, snacks would be a couple of Milky Way bars, a couple of GU's, some Chomps, a couple of barbecue chicken breasts left over from a mid week dinner and water. I wasn't planning on eating it all, but better to have too much than too little. I also brought a couple of extra shirts, another pair of shorts and a two pairs of socks and a spare pair of running shoes (very old).

The morning looked like it was going to be pretty dank and bleak, the forecast was for storms and general nastiness. I got up, as planned at 5am'ish, got changed, made sure I had all my crap and decided that I may as well head out. I was meeting the rest of the team at a carpool parking lot about 30 minutes away, I knew I'd be a little early, but what the hell, just more time to get into the zone. Once I found the lot, no mean feat for me, it turned out to be extremely busy, just as well I decided to come early as I got one of the last spots, I guess it is a popular meeting area for competitors. A few minutes after I arrived, Jason, the team captain and guy responsible for asking me to take part in this event, pulled up in his van, I met the rest of the team and then were off. 

First Leg (The Stampede) - 4.75 miles; 284ft elevation; 44:38

Still totally unsure about how this whole thing was going to go down, it became time to take off the jacket and pants get ready to rock. I joined the pack at the starting line, about 2/3 of the way down. The rain had stopped for the moment, it was about 48F, so conditions not too bad. The gun went off and away we went. The race was a faster start than any I have run in before, probably due to everyone wanting to avoid the logjam at the back when we hit trails, by creating a logjam at the front. We quickly ran across a field toward the woods, the trail quickly narrowed and the hills started.

The trails were steep, full of exposed roots but dry. There were a few opportunities to pass people and some took them to pass me while I took some to pass other people. One solid place to pass people was on the uphills, I made a conscious decision to run the uphills. You tend to find, especially on the hills, that the really exposed root are in the middle of the trail, so some would walk around the outside, allowing me to use these roots as steps to help me get past fast.

Unfortunately, around mile 4, I started feeling a little pain in my left Achilles tendon, but kept on going knowing that I would be done in under a mile anyway, and would then have a few hours to try and rest up.

Coming from a road running background, I found it very tiring having to constantly look where I was placing my feet, due to the increased chances of rolling my ankle with ever step.

Elevation profile for 'The Stampede'

Second Leg (This Sucks!) - 5.53 miles; 196ft elevation; 58:36

After everyone had finished their first legs,it was time for me to start my second leg. I was starting at one of the local campgrounds and this was going to be the leg with the dreaded mud. One of my teammates told me not to wear my good trail running shoes and just wear the piece of crap alternate shoes that I brought with me, just in case. he also suggested that I tie them tight and consider double knotting them, just in case, all I could think of was, how bad could it really be.

The leg started by running through the campground for about 1/8 mile and then quickly up and into the forest and more of the same as my first leg, only more so. The Achilles tendon pain came back, almost immediately, but what the hell, I had to keep on going. The hills were steeper, the trails were much tighter with less opportunities to pass people, although when I called 'on your left', people would try and find a gap so they could let you past. There were more exposed tree roots and this time we also had low overhanging branches to contend with, it is a wonder more people didn't fall. After a few minutes on the trail, some Ultras were running in the opposite direction on the trail, and they were flying, after ~20 miles of extreme trails. At one point I fell in behind a couple of other runners that were doing about a 9:30 pace and followed them for a while, which I think helped me quite a bit.

At one point we took a sharp right turn, into some very dense forest away from a more established trail, I heard some voices not too far out and whaddya know, we were at the mud. The trail started getting muddy very fast until we came across a a river that had quite a few very messy people attempting to wade across. The water was a couple of feet deep, followed by another foot or so of extreme mud, very sticky and very nasty. I traveled through the 1/2 mile or so of nasty horrible, sometimes waist deep mud, with the same group, helping each other out along the way.

After the mud we had a mile or so of a 'rails to trails', gravel path and then a run down the side of the road toward a local school. This gave an opportunity to try and get some of the mud off the shoes, but not too much. The school had baths in which to try and clean up and baskets to dump your shoes into, which I duly did.

Elevation profile for 'This Sucks!'

Third Leg (Xodus) - 2.68 miles; 146ft elevation; 28:47

My third and last leg of the day was going to be very similar to my first leg only a little shorter with a little bit of a difference. More hills, more roots, more loose rocks, with a wee bit of marshland thrown in for good measure.
Elevation profile for 'Exodus'


Leg Planned Time Actual Time Difference
1 49:47 44:38 -4:51
6 1:06:27 58:36 -7:51
11 35:16 28:47 -6:29

General Observations

I loved it, I loved trail running, I loved being out in the woods, I loved the challenge of it, I loved finally having an altitude graph from my Garmin that was actually worth looking at.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Bird-In-Hand 5k & Half Marathon

So Bren read the article about the Amish runners in Runners World a few months ago and suggested that I try it. Bren doesn't generally suggest runs, she more, kind of, puts up with them, but I had a feeling that this would be one she would be interested in. You see Bren, is fascinated by the Amish people and their way of life & this run, taking place in the heart of the Amish in south eastern Pennsylvania, would suit us both. It was going be quite a short, rushed weekend, but it was going to be worth it. There was also an option of going for the Fire Company challenge, ie run in both the 5k & the half, so I like a fool went for it.

We left home on the Friday morning, pretty much as soon as the kids got on their school buses. I suspected that I had bitten off more than I could chew and that we weren't going to manage to make the start of the 5k, bur we made good time and headed straight to the packet pickup area. I had already gotten changed in the car on the way over, so no messing around there. We parked right across the road from the area, but it was very busy. I was picking up for both races, but that was no hassle and everythting went very smoothly, if a little slowly.

Packet pickup line, not as bad as it looked
They were also having hot air balloon take offs in the field next to the expo area which gave us something to look at while in line.

As idyllic as it looked

The expo was quite small but had some cool stuff to browse, fresh Amish made food, a couple of stalls selling running shirts, shoes, etc, the new latest magic runners snake oil. As 6:15pm rolled around it was time to see the kids one mile race. We decided that it would be cool to watch as we had seen lots of little Amish kids with their numbers on, getting ready to run the race, boys in their long pants, with suspenders (braces) and little girls in their long plain dresses and aprons, many with either trendy running shoes or just barefoot. See below for a video of them towards the end of the race. Sometimes the embedded video doesn't show, can also be seen at

In with the new and out with the old

So I almost broke one of the cardinal rules of racing - 'nothing new on race day', ie race day is not the day to try anything out of your usual routine. My old New Balance MT10's were really starting to show their age and the many miles I have put on them, so it was time to go with something new, after much deliberation, I opted for the Skechers GoRun Ride, as worn by elite marathon runner Meb Keflezighi, but I'm sure he could wear anything and still kick my @rse. I ran two miles in them the day before the 5k, so no rules broken.

The 5k

The 5k was scheduled to start at 6:30pm,but I guess they were just totally overwhelmed by the number of people running the race and parking/ packet pickup was an issue for them. It was a beautiful location to stand a wait, so wait we did as there really wasn't much else that we could do, right. The sun was starting to go down, but with the continuing balloon launches, it did provide with a couple of nice photo opportunities.

Sometimes the smartphone can take a good snap
The race started about 10 minutes late, which wasn't too bad considering. While it was getting a little cooler, ~80F, it wasn't getting any less humid, I looked around at the many Amish people in the same race, boys, girls, men and women, none of them dressed down in any way, their only concession being the latest pair of running shoes, I wondered how hot they must be feeling.

And then we were off... I, rather inexplicably, managed to set a new 1 mile PR (7:29) and a Cooper (2.5km) on this one, with the hills and the mass of people, I was very surprised. Around mile two, the humidity and the hills, really started taking its toll and I hit the wall. I was ready to walk by the time I got to mile three but managed to drag myself over the line. I was in a pack of about four of five at the end and didn't have to energy to try and beat them to the finish line. I was just plain glad to be done and with a slight twinge in my Achilles tendon, not really looking forward to what the morning was going to bring.

Official results - 105/ 510 overall, 5/ 16 in my age group

Half Marathon

Up bright and early after sleeping like crap on an air mattress in a small tent, no snacks or drinks to speak of and it was time to head over for the start of the half marathon. Not my best ever pre race preparations, let me tell you. Once there we did manage to get some fresh sugar coated donuts before the race, but I don't recall Runners World ever saying how awesome these things are for your stomach either. But anyway, the time had come to get to the starting line and get this thing going. It wasn't as humid as yesterday, but it was early, confidence was not particularly high.

There was a field of just over 1,000 people in the race, which I guess is what happens when you get a story in Runners World. So, not unsurprisingly, the first couple miles were extremely congested, but thinned out eventually. The race meandered through the local Amish farming communities, growing mostly corn, beans and some tobacco. The hills were never ending, there were lots of spectators who would cheerfully shout that around the next corner was a nice downhill, not knowing that an bitter Scotsman merely thinks, that another downhill means that there is another uphill somewhere else.

There were a couple of times on the course where you could see quite far ahead, which can be a little demoralising, but it does change to being able to see quite far behind, which does make you feel a whole lot better. At one point an idiot in a 18-wheeler flew down the right hand lane of the two lane road we were running on. He was obviously pissed about the runners and proceeded to reverse into a farm driveway, ignoring the protests of the runners.

In the last 1/2 mile I got fed up having been passed a few times in the previous mile I decided that I would try and finish strong. There was one guy a few yards ahead, so I increased my stride and went for it. I passed him, made the turn into the field heading towards the finish line, looked back and I was clear. Crossed the line ~2:06, got my medal, plenty of snacks and focused on not dying.

It really was beautiful scenery to run through, I came to the realisation during this race that what I really don't like is running uphill, or downhill.

My official results, emailed to me, no less, kind of a nice touch;
Bib #:  300
Gun Time:  2:07:38.9 ( 9:41/mile)
Chip Time:  2:06:46.2
Overall Place:   430/1069
Age Group Place:  30/52 (Male 45 to 49)

The 5k & half marathon finish line
with obligatory Amish family

The much coveted award
Post race reflections/ how I learned to love the road apples

One of the many benefits of running in an area where many people travel in a horse and buggy is the opportunity to step in/on road apples. Between the guys that put on this race and another race in the same area, the Garden Spot Village Marathon, they decided that if you do both races, in the same calendar year, you will qualify for the Road Apple Award, in either 2D or 3D. The 3D version comes with real road apples stuck on the front, a must for any office or basement wall. I suspect I'm going to go for this...

Good Points
  • Fantastic aid stations and plenty of them, one even had mango sorbet to eat while running.
  • Random coolers containing ziploc bags of ice
  • Well sign posted and marshalled
  • Location, location, location, absolutely stunning
  • Lots of porta potties at the start, not waiting, ever
  • Lots of porta potties on the course

Bad points
  • No GU stations
  • The medal I received looked like I should be able to remove the outside and eat the chocolate inside, I saw other antique silver looking ones that looked way better. I suspect that they were overwhelmed and ran out of their original choice, I'll cut them some slack there.
  • The idiot in the eighteen wheeler that really didn't like runners, obviously nothing the organizers could do about that.

The original Runners World article, well worth a read -,7120,s6-243-297--14236-0,00.html

Cool news report about the Amish runners -

Official results -

As the Garmin saw it;

Race shirts; for the 5k, half marathon &
the firefighters challenge (on the back it says
'I ran the Amish Country 5k & Half Marathon)
Medal, like I said, the antique silver one was much nicer

Vella Shpringa - Gotta Run

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Milford Labor Day 10km, Milford, MI - 1st September 2012

This is the first race that I have done in back to back years. I knew pretty much what it was going to be like and what I was going to have to do.

Packet pickup was a breeze, but the expo was non-existent, apart from someone handing out free pizza vouchers. I got packets for both myself and Chris (, as we were going to be carpooling in the morning, there was no point in both of us heading out there the night before.

The following morning rolled around and it was looking to be perfect conditions, when I had run the race last year it was extremely hot and humid, this one seemed a lot more pleasant. I wasn't hoping for anything too much from this race, just wanting to run it non-stop and under 1 hour, apart from that nothing special.

Cool, one color tech shirt
We were called to the starting line and I decided that I should switch one my GPS. A wee aside, my trusty Garmin Forerunner 405, decided to die horribly on me a couple of days before the race. I have had some issues before, most notable during the Festival of Races half marathon in Mount Clemens, when it hung then rebooted on me. This timel, I went to grab it from my car, as usual, before my lunch time run and it just kept on rebooting. I had resigned myself to buying a new one, but on the advice of my buddy, Stuart, I thought I'd give Garmin a call. They offered to send me newly reconditioned device for $40, which is waaay less then I planned on spending, so great stuff. So I had a watch for my race, a colleague let me borrow his Garmin 210. Let me just say that the 210 is infuriating, not only did it take a while to acquire satellites, it also kept detecting multiple heart rate monitors, during acquisition, which I had to acknowledge, very annoying. I ended up starting my watch a good 0.15 miles into the race, but at least I had something.

The race started and we got off. I done so much farting about with my watch I forgot to wish Chris, all the best, but what the hell, we were off and running. A first mile of 8:18 was as good a start as I could have hoped for, followed with an 8:16, set me up quite nicely for the himalayas. Miles 3 and 4 were going to be the nastiest on the course and didn't disappoint. Last year, it was around 2.5 miles in that I started walking and I walked on and off for the rest of the race, this year, I wanted to run all of it, which I managed. The rest of the course rolled up and down with one rather nasty hill about 1/2 mile before the end. I felt good and apart from getting over taken by three people just before the end, I was very happy with my performance.

I came in at 54:09, which is about 7 minutes less than last year. I was 57/175, 8/18 in my age group and 43/88 of all males, all in all, a performance that I am proud of.

Post race, there were plenty snacks, free beer and a burger/ grilled chicken for the runners, all in all, a great day.

How Endomondo saw it -