Let me just start by saying, the Yankee Springs Trail Run weekend is amazing expression of the West Michigan trail running community. I feel lucky and grateful to live in a place with a great trail running community. I'll be back next year to run or volunteer or both.
You should definitely join me next year! You can run 1, 2, or even 3 races over the weekend; Friday = 10k; Saturday = full-marathon, double-marathon, quad-marathon; Sunday = half-marathon. We didn't camp out at Yankee Springs this year, but likely will next year.
Why so much love for this race? ... YSTR is a super low key, community driven ultra and definitely worth checking out.
The double marathon is 4 loops on a 13.1 mile course for a total distance of 52.4 miles and according to my Suunto 5,436ft in elevation gain. The trail is mostly wooded single track, and as with many of the trails in western Michigan it can be mighty sandy.
I was a little nervous about this race going into it. The last time I was at Yankee Springs was for the 50k on January 2nd, and I hadn't run longer than 10 miles since my first 50 miler 5 weeks before at Indiana Trail 100. However, I was feeling pretty nonchalant about the run for reasons I couldn't quite place.
I woke up the morning of the race feeling rested, but a little bit off, my heart rate was easily 10+ beats higher than normal which wasn't a good sign.
I had picked up my race packet the day before with the family and spent a little bit of time walking through the woods with the kids and exploring lakeside for fish, frogs and other wildlife.
After a low key evening, I went to bed before between 10-11 with a 3:30 AM alarm set to give me time to get ready and out the door in time to make the 45 minute drive down to Yankee Springs. The early AM start really is incentive to camp out next year in the cabins at Yankee Springs.
Everything on site race morning was nice and low key. I arrived, got my drop bag set up at the start/finish line, sat around and listened to the conversations of other runners. As I was walking over to the start/finish line to listen to the pre-race instructions, Jeff Vander Kooi tapped me on the shoulder. About a week before the race Jeff sent me a message saying he was going to be around all weekend and would pace me if I was interested. I've never had a pacer, but thought it was an offer I couldn't refuse, so I happily said yes, looking forward to running some mile with Jeff. Little did I know how amazing he would be and how much he would help me get through the run.
After a few words from Kim Owens we were off and running. To my surprise, no one went out "crazy" fast and I found myself running in about 7th place in a group of about 10-12 runners in the lead pack. On the first loop we ran all the uphills and kept the train moving. I didn't stop at any of the 3 non-start/finish aid stations on the first loop, which allowed me to move from 7th into 3rd place over the course of the first 13.1 miles. I would somehow hold onto this position for the next 39.3 miles (although I would be passed by the ultimate winner and would pass the runner originally out in first). I finished the first loop in just over 2 hours, feeling okay. I knew I probably went out a little too fast, not running my own race.
Jeff was great at the Start/Finish aid station. I was just expecting him to run a loop or two with me at the end, but he took on the responsibility of being my crew too. He had my replacement bottles ready as I rolled through and took care of my every need from water to holding my glasses for me as I wiped off my my face. Unexpected and amazing. Thanks Jeff.
I slowed down a bit for the second loop by hiking up some of the hills and briefly stopping in at the aid stations to get bites of fruit and water. Loop two was pretty uneventful. I think it was during loop two that my quads really started hurting and nearly cramping up. I rolled into the start/finish of loop two with sore and tender quads and legs that felt like lead blocks.
Coming up the hill into the campground area I saw the Mike Pfefferkorn, the RD from the Indiana Trail 100 cheering people on. I didn't get to connect with Mike after I finished and didn't see him again. Like a bit of an ultrarunning ghost, was he really there?! I hope so, or maybe I was in worse shape than I thought.
Even as a relatively shy introvert, I so love the connectedness and generosity of spirit of the ultra community. It just feels like home. I'm so happy I found it now, I just wish I had found it 20 years ago. As I move through life, I've found a couple different "tribes" and the ultra community is one of these that I can now call home as well.
Anyway, I rolled into the start/finish area at the end of loop two happily looking for a bit of a break. In addition to Jeff being there again, my wife and kids were able to make it down to the race in between other family obligations to cheer me on and crew for me for a lap. It was great to see my kids running around and see my wife waiting for me and ready and willing to help.
We've talked about it after the race and it's probably better that she wasn't there for the later stages of the race, she may not have wanted me to continue. Maybe that's why it's not recommended to have family crew for you.
With one marathon down and one more to go, I was at the half way point and to be honest my legs were shot. It was a new feeling for me and I'm not sure exactly what was going on, and I had fleeting thoughts wondering how the hell I was going to finish this race. As I was leaving the aid station and setting out for loop three I heard cheers at the start/finish line and knew that the 4th place runner was just coming in. Gotta get moving. As it turned out. He would pass me before the next aid station and go on to win the race.
Thank god my wife brought some bug spray that I forgot to bring. On loop two I had a horse fly (or something) buzzing about my head for the last eight miles. In general the bugs weren't too bad, but this one just wouldn't let me go. Every time I passed a 100 mile runner that loop, I selfishly hoped that damn fly would stay with the other runner, but no such luck. Thanks Kelly for the bug spray, it made loops 3 and 4 much more bearable, at least from the bugs.
Jeff was in his running gear this time and ran out of the starting area with me, but turned around when we got to the trailhead. I was on my own again. I think stopped to pee off the trail shortly after Jeff turned back and I think I was pretty dehydrated. Not much coming out and what did was getting darker. I think too much nutrition and not enough water.
A couple miles later I heard a bike behind me. I thought it odd that I bike would be on the trails today during the races, but you never know. (Jeff and I would later get passed by a biker who said "have a nice hike" which is enough to make one run a little faster.) I turned around to see Jeff riding behind me who said, "run your race, don't mind me, I'll pass you when I can." Soon enough Jeff passed me and I was alone again, running along as best I could while my body was quickly saying "no."
I finally rolled into the first aid station of loop three and Jeff was standing there ready to run. My quads were screaming and I was overheating (I think because I was dehydrated), but I was happy to see Jeff and have him running with me for the rest of the race.
To be honest, the rest of the race (haha about 22 miles) is a bit of a blur. It was running as much as I could, walking up the hills and sometimes on the flats (as sad as I am to say that). One step in front of the other, right? That's how you keep moving forward.
A couple miles after Jeff and I were running together we passed several 100 mile runners and then we passed the guy that had been running the double in first place. He seem in good spirits, but was walking along the trail. This meant I was back in 3rd place. He would DNF at some point in the future and still not exactly sure why or what happened.
I wasn't feeling well. I was cycling through feelings of needing to puke, needing to pee, and needing to poop, and sometimes all three at the same time. What?! Lucky for Jeff I didn't puke (despite a couple running dry-heaves) or shit myself on the trail, hahaha. Despite my feeling like shit, I felt like I was keeping relatively good spirits along the trail. (Again, you might want to ask Jeff how accurate this is. He may tell you a different story.)
We finally rolled into the start/finish of loop 3 after about 3 hours. I was still in third. The way my body was feeling, there was no chance of catching 1st or 2nd, but could I hold onto 3rd. (Jeff might be able to provide some more objective insight into how I was doing.)
Wash, rinse, repeat. Loop 4 was more of the same. Slow going, running as much as I felt I could. Stopping at all the aid stations. Hoping no one was catching me. Trying to keep moving forward. Another, 13.1 miles and about 3 hours of trying to finish. I was cycling through feeling like I needed to pee, poop, or vomit, none of which really happened. There were brief moments were I felt I could "run" again, but it all mostly felt like crawling. Jeff was kind a gracious and kept me moving. It would have been a much different and lonelier second half if I had been on my own.
In the end I crossed the finish line in just over 10 hours, which was on the very slow end of my anticipated window of hoping to finish between 8-10 hours. And somehow through all of that I was able to hold onto 3rd place and 1st place masters. I was happy to be done and grateful for all the help along the way from my family, Jeff, and all the race volunteers that made it possible.
Yankee Springs Trail Run is a great low key race that I would highly recommend to others.
After the race, I headed over to the main cabin for some food and local beer and to say "hi" to more friends volunteering at the race. The low key vibe continued after the race with 50 mile finishers getting a hat and patch instead of a finishers medal, which I appreciated. As well as a pint glass to sample the local beers they had on tap.
I was pretty sore after the race and it was a couple days before I was going up and down stairs without having to use the railing for support. At the time of writing this it's two weeks after the race and I'm starting to get my weekly milage back up and needing to get out and start nailing my long runs on the weekend to prepare better for North Country 50M at the end of the summer.
All in all, it was a rough day and not the race I was hoping for, but as usually those harder days can teach us more. I learned:
- I need to run my own race, and not go out racing from the starting gun.
- Don't back off my weekly miles and long runs too soon before a race. While I didn't back off the miles by design this time (it just sorta happened) I definitely saw (and felt) the consequences.
- I should be doing more race specific miles closer to the race, which is also what I've been reading in Jason Koop's latest book Training Essentials for Ultrarunning.
- Figure out a way to get more real food and more water in me particularly on hot runs.
- Being chased is stressful and I'd much prefer being the hunter than the hunted.
- Running relaxed and finishing strong/hard is way more fun than running hard early and doing everything possible to hold onto the second half of the run.
- Be open to opportunities and say yes when they present themselves even if it makes you a little nervous.