Sunday was the Kahtoola Michigan ‘Mountain’ Run (this is Michigan, we don’t have mountains). Its a long post, but I’ll try and break it up with some pictures.
The simplest way to portray how difficult this race is from my pace:
- PoHo 8k (<2 weeks after my break from running) ~ 9:30 min/mi
- Kahtoola ~4.6 mi (after a 60 mile month in Jan) ~ 14:00 min/mi
I woke up around 5a and checked the weather conditions for Clarkston. It was 0° with a chill factor of -10°. So I geared up a little warmer than usual: compression shorts, calf sleeves and shirt base layer; thermal bottoms under my UA cold gear pants; Nike Element 1/2 zip; windbreaker; headband; gloves; bandana around the neck; wool socks; PureGrits with YakTrax and some toe warmers.
Anthony picked me up at 6 and we were off for an hour drive to Clarkston. We arrived at Pine Knob at the same time the Ski Patrol were getting in. It was still dark and they had the snow guns blasting. I briefly met Bob, the guy in charge of Hanson’s Race Management and the circuit. I asked Bob about the possibility of changing mid-race from the 4k to the 8k. He said there shouldn’t be a problem just as long as I tell them after I finish.
The course runs up and down the ski slopes of Pine Knob and around a pond at the bottom. Total elevation gain for one lap is 330′ (and just as much downhill). The majority of the course was on hard-packed, groomed snow (which was torn to shreds by the 2nd lap). The trail that goes around the pond was 6-12 inches of loose snow atop of ice. You could hear the hollow thud of the ice, which makes me believe this trail was more of a frozen creek. By the second lap you could see some people had broken through.
It took a while to get accustomed to the cold air, but you got used to it after a while, just not before the first climb. It was the only climb that I was able to reach (almost) the top without walking. It was the gentlest of the slopes, which made for a nice downhill run. I was able to pick up the speed without too much worry of losing control. After my little sprint, I was next to Anthony, who told me we were no longer friends.
The pond loop is kind of the closest thing you get to in relief. At first the snow is just too deep and you keep sinking in past your ankles. So after you relied on your glutes, hammyies and quads to get you through that climb, you have to call on them again to high-step over the snow. Eventually the trail becomes packed from snowmobiles and you get about a quarter mile of relief (in which you pick up your speed). I used that time to try and get my HR down before the next ski slope.
Slope # 2 is next to the terrain park. Its about the same grade as the first and I until you reach the last 100 feet. Then it shoots up and you have no choice but to find previously made foot-holes and climb on all fours. Once you reach the top, you go around a fence and run into the terrain park, but not before the funnest part of the course. The descent starts at a drop point (used for skiers and boarders to pick up speed for the jumps). Its nearly impossible to run down without hurting yourself, so the course marshal insisted you slide down on your ass. The drop lasts about 100 feet. I built up so much momentum, that there was no pause between sliding and running; its just one continuous motion and a dangerous one. The rest of this descent was steeper than the previous and I had a lot of speed from that drop. Part of me wanted to use it and let the course take me down, but I managed to stay somewhat in control. Completely out of breath, this time there is almost no time to recoup as you almost immediately begin the next climb.
The majority of the last climb isn’t on a ski slope. Its in the woods off by their ♦ course. The trail is about 5 feet wide, covered with leaves atop of a few inches of snow. This was the steepest and longest of the climbs. There is a short lived break when you come out from the woods and find yourself back on the slops right where you slid down before. You pass that area and start to climb again, this time to the top of the highest slope.
I finally reached the top, quads burning a brief view from above and then the final descent. While coming down, I was still contemplating if I will go for the second lap. Its an intermediate level ski slope, nice and wide for skiers to make big zig-zags. I wasn’t interested in zig-zagging. Somewhat in control but losing it with every step. I reached the bunny hill, which was ice at the top and almost lost face. I reeled around and towards the finish where I saw Anthony standing…but stayed to the right.
This is exactly why I only signed up for the Detroit half marathon this year, because I knew if I signed up for the full with the option to drop to the half, I wouldn’t take the option. So here I am passing Anthony, joking that “I’d see him in an hour” and tossing him my sunglasses (all they did was hinder my ability to see the terrain details). I was already one of the last to finish the first half, I was pretty sure I would be the last to finish the second.
I won’t bore you with all that happened the second time around. The snow was no longer groomed. I walked every climb, sometimes backwards to give relief to my lower back. I made two friends though we barely spoke to one another. We were in a race to avoid last place, constantly passing each other. I had the downhill speed, the woman had the uphill and the guy with the Costco brand of YakTracks was continuously adjusting them and making it up. They both made it to the ass-slide before me. I thought the race was over and took out my phone to document my sled-less sledding.
Again, I picked up more momentum than I could handle going downhill. I passed the two of them and led the three of us up the final climb. Once out of the woods, I took some time to catch my breath and the others again put some space between us. Finally making it to the top for the last time, the Ski Patrol were there cheering us on as they ran their drills. The guy wasn’t too far from me and after the first dip, stopped to fix his ‘trax. I decided to just let loose. I stayed off course a bit where it was still groomed and managed to pass the woman before reaching the bunny hill. I remembered to avoid the ice patch this time and came around for the finish. I wasn’t last!
Back inside I saw my dad and his friend. They decided to ski Pine Knob this morning to see if they could catch me finish. I talked with them for a while before they headed out. We stayed for the results and the hopes of maybe some more swag. No shirt, but I did score a Salomon water bottle, some cotton gloves, and a couple Hammer Enduralyte Fizz (Hammer’s version of Nuun).
Final thoughts: this was an awesome challenge. One that I plan to do again next year and break 1:00:00. My final time was 1:04:32 and my GPS said it was 4.61 miles (not quite an 8k).
When I got home, I showered and got ready to take Jack to Sesame Street Live. Afterwards we came home to an already started Super Bowl party where I ate my true inspiration for going the second lap. The party sub. Soon after I crashed in my chair. Who won the game?
Update: Another runner wrote an article for the Port Huron Daily Tribune. You can read his experience here: