Saturday, June 27, 2015

Run Detroit!

There are a lot of things I don't like about living in Michigan, but of the few things I do like, most of them have something to do with running. Running along rivers and around lakes in summer, running through showers of falling leaves, and now I can add running in Detroit.

I love urban running. Marathon courses through manicured downtown tourist loops are all well and good, but I actually prefer the grittier sections that take you through the parts of town where the factories are and where pit bulls live in the front yards and old cars are up on blocks and there is no HOA to care whether you cut your lawn or not or whether you do driveway oil changes. Detroit is like the epicenter of ruin porn in America, with its hundreds? thousands? of abandoned buildings, and I have always wanted to run in and around Detroit. One time a few months ago I ran from Royal Oak to downtown Detroit, down Woodward Ave the whole way. It was early enough that hardly anyone was out although I did see a few hookers in Highland Park, and no one at all bothered me. I didn't exactly feel safe -- I never let my guard down -- but I never felt directly threatened, either. Most of the few people I did see were so visibly impaired that they couldn't have run alongside me for a car-length, let alone long enough to catch me and do anything to me. And the streets were so empty you could have run or biked right down the middle of them, ignoring traffic lights, and only had to move a couple times in that whole 13-mile stretch.

I have also run the loop around Belle Isle followed by an out-and-back to Cobo Center, mostly on the Riverwalk but partly on Jefferson. The stretch on Jefferson is not exactly a nice neighborhood but also not a place where you feel like your life is in danger all the time. But still, my knowledge of the geography of Detroit, especially the running geography, is extremely limited, which is why I was so happy to find out about Run Detroit.

Run Detroit is a running store in midtown Detroit. "Midtown Detroit" is another term that I am ashamed to say I did not know the definition of until now. My previous knowledge of Detroit geography was limited to what I could see from the People Mover loop. Midtown Detroit is a part of Detroit that is doing okay. It's not close to Greektown or the Renaissance Center, the tourist places where we train dogs; it's close to Wayne State University and Detroit Institute of the Arts. Literally every business on the street that Run Detroit is on is cool. There is not a single one that would be out of place in the downtown parts of any of the coolest cities in America. I had never been to Run Detroit because I've always gone to the Hanson Running stores. For one, I thought they were closer. (They're not; Run Detroit is actually closer, or at least easier to get to.) Also, they're bigger, but I don't think bigger means better in this case. Run Detroit didn't have a ton of inventory, but what they did have was better, and their prices were definitely better. I haven't really liked Hanson's the last few times I've been there, whether we're talking about the one in Royal Oak or the one in Utica or the one in Lake Orion. Their salespeople were just okay, but didn't seem that interested in helping me find a better shoe or that passionate about running. (And one of them told me it was normal to lose toenails regularly and that changing shoes wasn't going to help with that. Really? I mean, I was too lazy to try on a bunch of different shoes and prove him wrong -- I will just live with losing toenails -- but I don't think it is true that if you lose a lot of toenails it could not possibly have anything to do with your shoes.) So I was totally ready to find a running store that I like better than Hanson's, and I am pretty sure this one is it.

Every weekend they host a 3-mile run, a 6-mile run, and a 10-mile run. The runs aren't supported -- they're so short they don't need to be -- but the store prints up and hands out little pieces of paper with the routes marked on them. They rotate each weekend between the Red Loop, the Green Loop, and the Blue Loop, each of which has a different loop for each of the three different distances. I actually ran the Green Loop a month ago, the one that goes out to Hamtramck and back (I defy anyone who doesn't live here to pronounce that!), and sort of got lost because I was following 6-milers who I thought were 10-milers. Today I was determined not to do that, and memorized the 10-mile Red Loop the night before.

It was pouring rain this morning when I woke up, a wild, windy, wet, chilly grey day that just screamed "Stay in bed! Watch Netflix!" And I so almost did. But then I thought of the chorizo macaroni and cheese and whiskey I had last night, and knew if I stayed in bed I would feel like a big, fat slob, and hate myself, and probably be unmotivated to get any of the other stuff I had to do done today. Besides, I always claim to be able to "Embrace the suck." That means when you KNOW you have to do something that will suck (like bad-weather marathons, or any marathon at elevation or that  is all uphill, or any ultra-marathon at all), the best strategy is simply to get excited about how much it will suck. "I wonder if I'll hallucinate? I wonder if I'll cry? I wonder if this will be the one where I finally throw up? I wonder if I'll actually get a little frostbite and have a cool story for everyone?" It is best to work yourself up into a frenzy of morbid curiosity at the start line so that you're dying for the gun to go off so that you can start finding out whether it will suck epically or just be a drag. So that is what I did with this run.

When I did the Green Loop a month ago, there were probably 50 people in the tiny store and hanging out on the sidewalk in front. The weather was much nicer that day. Today there were maybe 20 people, if that many. Most of them were doing the 6-mile loop, but there were a handful for the 10-mile. I didn't know any of them. We set off for the first mile and a half down Cass. The rain had actually lightened up a little and there was a sweet tail wind. All but the most out-of-it street people had sought shelter elsewhere, and we only had to dodge a few sidewalk sleepers. Most people ran in the road. The roads of Detroit are bad, but the sidewalks are often worse. There is really no reason not to run in the road because there are hardly any cars at all.

I have to say that I like Detroit very much. I like that it is gritty and unpretentious. I feel like if Detroit could talk, it would say something like, "I'm Detroit -- f*** you." I even like the empty high-rises and the abandoned old houses that were obviously really beautiful when they were first built. This route showcased all of those things. Honestly, I fantasize about buying something in Detroit. Like a house or a warehouse or something. I don't know how to renovate anything, couldn't afford it, and know anything I tried to fix would be vandalized immediately, but I still want to own a piece of it. I don't know why. Maybe buy a falling-to-pieces old house and sit inside it and write this blog? Or run a training class for thugs with pitbulls? Or... or...or... so many possibilities. I especially like Detroit in the rain and gloom. That is kind of like the natural look for it in my opinion.

I know where a lot of things are in Detroit -- Wayne State University, the Renaissance Center, Greektown, Mexicantown, Michigan Central Station -- but I totally do not know how to get from any one of those places to any other ones. I don't know at all how the city fits together. These runs are great for that. After running a mile and a half down Cass, we turned right on Michigan, and I realized this is how you get to Corktown on surface streets. (I have driven to Corktown for the Corktown 5K, GPS'ing it and staying on the freeway the whole way, but again, I had no idea of where it actually was in relation to the rest of Detroit.) In Corktown the road is part brick and part paved. I think it is actually less uncomfortable to run on it than to drive on it. We were on Michigan until 16th, where we turned left and suddenly there was Michigan Central Station, Detroit's most-famous, most-iconic ruin, towering over me. When I got to Michigan Central, there was another runner in front of me taking pictures of it. He asked me if I knew what it was, and it was cool to be able to say that I did! He was from China, here in the U.S. for two years. I never did quite understand why. Something about his brother. We didn't talk a lot because we were both busy gasping for breath. I stayed with him the whole rest of the run (six more miles). We ran down Vernor Highway to Mexicantown, another destination I could only reach from the freeway until today. We turned left again at Clark and left again at Fort, where we picked up a headwind in our faces that was just as nasty as the earlier tailwind had been nice.

It felt like we were on Fort forever, though I think it was only a mile and a half. The whole time, I was carrying the piece of paper with the run instructions on them. The paper had gotten wet and was unreadable, and I wanted to throw it away, but there were no trash cans anywhere to be seen. Finally the paper just kind of disintegrated in my hand and I let it fall to the ground. I mean, I felt bad but what was I supposed to do with it? No trash cans on the sidewalk = trash on the ground.

We turned right on Rosa Parks, which became Jefferson, and ended up on the Riverwalk, where we waved "Hi" to Canada. We left the Riverwalk at the Detroit Princess Riverboat and ran the rest of the way back up Woodward to Canfield, where we turned and ran back to the store. The wind had picked up by now to bend-trees-in-half strength, and it was nice to be inside looking out at it instead of outside running in it.

I did not get the name of the guy I ran with, but I thanked him and told him without him I would've been slow. He told me he was slow when he ran by himself. We were well under 8:00 pace, and it felt pretty good the whole time. I know if I was by myself I would've been at least a minute a mile slower. This is why group runs are the best!

Also, as soon as I came into the store I got a drink, then walked out to my car and got my wallet, then came back in to buy stuff. Another couple of guys finished their run and came in as I was picking out Gu. "You do the six-mile?" one of them asked me. "Nope, ten," I said casually, whereupon the guy raised his eyebrows and said, "Wow, good job!" That felt pretty darn good. I was not that fast at all and if I was still in Tucson at WOG, half the other runners would have beat me at that pace, but still... it feels good to have a fast-looking, good-looking dude say "Wow" about my running.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Beautiful Run in the Black Hills -- Deadwood-Mickelson Trail Marathon Race Report

Wow, this one was a stunner as far as natural beauty. In fact, I can't say that I've ever seen a prettier course, with the exception of Pikes Peak, but they're really close. I've been in South Dakota for three days and cannot believe how amazing it is out here and how it is that I never knew that South Dakota was so awesome. I wish I could stay another week because I definitely would not run out of things to do here.

Anyway, this was State #26 for me. My mom and sister came out here for vacation and to be spectators, and Thomas and his girlfriend Andrea also came. I think it's State #27 for Thomas. I am going to tie him next month and then pass him in September, and then annihilate him next year. At least that is my plan. We rented a big, beautiful house right in Deadwood. I literally did not know a single thing about Deadwood before coming here. I thought it was just a small town, and had no idea it was a Wild West tourist town like Tombstone, but that's totally what it is. I really need to start researching these things before I arrive.

The day before the race, we were tourists and went to Mt. Rushmore (very cool but somehow not quite as awesome-looking in real life as it is in pictures) and Crazy Horse (a total rip-off to which I shall never return, ever). The Black Hills appeared to be a mountain runner's paradise: innumerable trailheads every couple miles, grand vistas in every direction, perfect mix of brutally steep hills and peaceful valleys. I have never heard anything about the Black Hills other than that Mt. Rushmore is there. Like, no one ever mentioned that they are some of the most beautiful mountains in the country, seriously. The only bad thing was the weather. There have been a lot of severe storms in this part of the country in the last week, one of them resulting in a road closure that added three hours to our drive from Denver on Friday, and there was yet another one on Saturday which also closed roads and caused a four-hour-long downpour along with enough hail to look like it had snowed. The forecast for race day was much better, thankfully, and we just got lucky that the downpour/lightning/hail happened on Saturday and not Sunday.

This is a point-to-point marathon, and race organizers strongly preferred that everyone take the shuttle from the finish line to the start to limit traffic in the tiny town of Rochford where the race started. Thomas and I could have gotten a ride from Mom but we decided to take the shuttle 1) so that they wouldn't have to get up so early, and 2) because we were concerned just in case some of the rain from yesterday had caused road closures we didn't know about. It turned out the roads were all fine.

You can't really even tell that Rochford is a town. The start line area was just a gravel parking lot outside a tiny wooden church with a few Porta-Potties (plenty for the small number of runners, though). It was chilly enough at the start, which is around 5300' elevation, I think, that I was glad I brought a long-sleeved shirt, but it wasn't really cold. Anyway, at a summer race you definitely want to be a little cold at the start or you will roast later. The forecast was for start temps in the 50's, end temps around 70, and a mix of sun and clouds, which was pretty much what we got.

The first two miles of the race were on the road that went through Rochford, and then we got on the Mickelson Trail and stayed there for the rest of the race. The Mickelson Trail is a 109-mile long rail-trail that starts in the southern part of South Dakota and ends in Deadwood. Running surface is crushed limestone and gravel, which was wonderful underfoot. The first 14 miles are described as "a grind" in most race reviews because there is an uphill grade around 3% most of the way. At first I was a little short of breath which I think was due to the altitude or the climb or the headwind (okay, "head breeze" is more accurate), but then I got used to it and did all right for quite a while. I would agree with the "grind" description. It was never intolerable, but it got more and more noticeable the longer it went on. Thank goodness for the beautiful views to distract me! Because of all the rain on Saturday, all the little brooks were running in the meadows, and most of the course had at least some shade from pine trees. I managed to run the entire uphill grade. (I ran with Thomas for maybe the first four miles, and then he started to feel bad and dropped back, and never really had a good time on the course, I don't think. There was puking involved. Glad I missed it.)

Once we got to Mile 14, the descent began. Miles 14-18 were glorious -- smooth surface, perfect grade for running freely, lots of shade, not too steep, just really nice recovery miles. After the Mile 18 relay exchange, though, I suddenly got tired. I had been doing pretty well considering the early climb; I was at 2:43 at Mile 18, but suddenly I started to feel hot and queasy. I slowed to a walk and ate some Tums and managed to run again after a while. I ran (slowly) to Mile 20 where my time was 3:02. I simultaneously knew I could be under 4 hours because I knew 100% of the remaining course was downhill, and knew I wouldn't be under 4 hours because of how I felt. I was really surprisingly nauseous, in a way I haven't been in a while. Who knows why. The humidity was 94% at the start line though it did not feel that bad at all. My skin was dry the whole time, not sweaty like it was in Vermont. I didn't feel like I was sweating but I must have been. I had taken my third GU at Mile 18 and knew I could not get another one down. I'd been drinking at every aid station, which I never do, but this time I had to because I felt parched, like the way I used to feel when I first moved to Arizona.

Every runner I talked to between 20 and 26 was complaining about being dehydrated even though all of us were drinking every time we had a chance. The downhills were steep enough that my knees started to hurt. Once I passed Mile 23 (at 3:32) I suddenly felt so sick I thought I was going to puke whether I wanted to or not. (I didn't want to. I have not puked since 1999. I have TRIED to puke during other marathons and been unsuccessful, but I don't try anymore because I no longer care that much about my time in marathons. I would always rather walk it in than suffer the indignity of puking on-course.) So I walked almost 2 whole miles. The scenery just got more grand, with towering cliffs and mountain slopes covered with fallen trees, but absolutely no shade on this section. I forgot to mention that there was a creek or river running alongside the trail almost the whole way. It was full of lovely, bubbling, fresh, clear water and the thought of jumping into it and immersing my whole overheated body became an obsession over the last few miles, so much so that I thought the desire might overwhelm my rational brain and I might just do it. (I didn't. But I did feel compelled to mention it to every runner who passed me or who I passed, all of whom were locked up in their own pain caves and unable to care too much about mine.)

I was able to run again after one more shot of Powerade around Mile 24, and managed to jog the rest of the easy downhill into town. I was feeling all right at the finish line, which surprised me considering how sick I had felt for the last six miles. I am so thankful for whoever discovered and popularized the idea of chocolate milk being the perfect recovery food. It is. I can always tolerate it no matter how I feel, at times when I absolutely could not tolerate any real food. I chugged my chocolate milk, then went back to the finish line to watch Thomas finish (and point out gleefully that he was chicked in the last 50 yards of the finish chute). Neither one of us got good times but I am satisfied with my time. This was a stunningly beautiful course, but definitely not an easy one.

I think I have five weeks until my next marathon, Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, which by all accounts is a bitch of a marathon that will make this one look like a jog in the park. I can't wait.