Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Volksläufe, Michigan - July 4, 2015

Anyone who has been following this blog for the past 12 months or more will remember this unique running festival that takes place in Michigan every year - I ran the 20K/5K double last year and was excited to sign up again when we discovered that once again I would be in America at the appropriate time. It's always such fun to be in the USA on July 4th and spending the day trying to win the coolest racing swag ever (in the form of enormous German beer steins - which you can then get filled with free beer) is pretty much my ideal situation all-round.

There's Frankenmuth right near the middle of the pic

The Training
The what? I never seem to train specifically for short distances, but somewhat unexpectedly I find myself training pretty hard in the 3 weeks prior to leaving for Detroit. I manage to clock mileage more appropriate for the marathon, though, hitting the mid-90s each week and with some reasonable quality in there as well. Having been off-plan for so long and with Benita busy as an Ambassador for the Gold Coast Marathon (and associated shorter events), we really never came up with much of a strategy for Volksläufe, but after almost 2 years of working together I think B knows when to just let me do my own thing.

Accordingly I make good use of an 8-hour layover in Los Angeles by finding the nearest gym, where I pound my jet lagged brain into shape by running 9 miles on a slightly dodgy treadmill. Thunderstorms in Houston conspire to make this trip probably my longest ever between Wagga and the USA (36 hours door-to-door) but despite arriving in Detroit at 3am (another personal record, this one for the most unsociable arrival time ever) Joel manages to drag me out for a very pleasant 11 mile run late Sunday morning. 96 miles in an 8 day week! Not bad at all.

The Clinton River trail provides quite the contrast to a 24-Hour Fitness treadmill.

Race Weekend
The winters in Michigan are fairly dreadful - I am yet to experience one in person, but I clearly recall a day during the Polar Vortex of 2013/14 when it was colder in Detroit than at either the North or South Pole - so many fun activities that would normally take place outside have evolved to be indoors there. Think golf driving ranges, sporting complexes - and also water parks. In Frankenmuth both the major hotels - the Bavarian Inn and Zehnder's - have indoor splash parks and water slides that operate all year-round; Joel and the kids have never been to Zehnder's before, so everyone is looking forward to a new experience when we head up there on July 3rd.

Stomping up staircases and sliding wildly down dark and twisty tubes all afternoon - or floating feet-up in a lazy river - is probably not the best way to prepare for a major day of racing. But it sure is fun! We finish the day off with a spectacular fireworks display to celebrate July 4th and head back to the hotel happily exhausted.

Silliness and pyrotechnics. Usually not a great combination, but in this case YES!

Saturday morning sees us all up early and heading over to Heritage Park to start the day's activities. As is usual with children around, it takes so long to get organised and settle them in with the babysitter that we only have time for a single mile warm-up run; and after all the travel and waterpark craziness my legs feel wooden and stiff. Uh oh, now I'm really doubting whether I will be able to run any sort of decent pace today. Oh well, all I have to do to win a stein is place in my age group - that shouldn't be out of reach even with how I'm feeling.

Milling around at the start I see last year's winner, Dani, who is now a professional runner with the Hansons Olympic Distance program. She's going for a course record today, or so I'm told - I decide to leave her alone and hopefully catch up later - because there's zero chance I'll be catching up during the race. Hahaha! There are a good few other people around whom I already know and this makes the time pass quickly until it's time to line up....and we're off!

Miles 1-4:  6:25, 6:26, 6:18, 6:20 (pace in min/mile)
As usual the first 400m or so of this race are over grass, and with very little warm-up my legs are not happy at all about having to go fast. It seems like at least 10 women shoot out in front of me and I have to squash down a feeling of panic at this: focus, relax, HAVE FUN, I tell myself firmly. Up we go onto a gravel trail and I'm barely hitting marathon pace, but at this point, whatever.

After the first couple of miles my legs predictably wake up and suddenly things start feeling easier. One of Joel's friends, Dave, pops up alongside me and we chat  briefly but then I spot two women ahead. Assassin mode, activate! I speed up - one of them has greyish hair and could definitely be in my age group - and in doing so leave Dave behind.

That's Dave (1885) and the two shirtless guys who will soon be in front of me...for now.

Miles 5-8: 6:14, 6:25, 6:32, 6:21

Mile 5 is my fastest on account of my irrepressible competitive nature; I've now picked off all the women I can see at this point and I'm fairly certain that only Dani is ahead - way, way ahead. I slow down only slightly as we pass through a slightly bizarre refreshments station that is set up as a 1950's diner. There are boards advertising ice-cream - are they really passing out ice-cream?? Briefly I consider if ice-cream would be good at this point, before realising that it most definitely wouldn't,

Because I've just remembered that after mile 6 things are going to get hilly - and of course my pace takes a hit in mile 7 as we round the corner to head back into town and hit the first of a series of rolling hills. Press on, you're more than halfway there, I tell myself, and am rewarded for my efforts with something that often happens for me late in races: I start overtaking guys who are fading fast. Ooh, I love this part!

Miles 9-12.4: 6:36, 6:21, 6:31, 6:15, and 6:04 pace to the finish

During mile 9 there's a straight stretch and I realise I am gradually catching up to a posse of blokes who have all been slightly ahead of me since passing by during mile 2 or 3. There are 3 of them running abreast: two without shirts and one wearing blue. I didn't expect to be able to catch them really but when mile 10 starts suddenly here I am, hot on their heels! I can't be bothered detouring to run around them so I wait for an opportunity and then surge past by inserting myself neatly between two of them.

I chirp out a cheery "Good morning!" as I zip through the small gap, and the reaction is hilarious: they do a massive collective double-take and one gasps out "Where did YOU come from??" The only possible answer - although a fairly cheeky one - is "Behind you!" so that's what I say and we all burst out laughing. They, like several of the other men I've just passed, speculate that I must be the leading female runner, but I quickly set them straight. They sweetly tell me "Great job!" as I put my head down and go.

The final miles are through downtown Frankenmuth - many sights are familiar from last year - and by this stage I'm quite ready to be done. I've got enough left to speed up the final mile and then a touch more for the last bit (helpfully it is mostly downhill) before finally I'm dashing across the grass towards the finish. I hear Joel yelling at me from the river side and the announcer calling my name: he sees "Wagga Wagga", takes a guess and announces "Rachel Glasson, our 2nd female, from Ontario!" But I don't even hear that part because I'm too busy hitting my watch and gasping for air.

Finish time: 1:19:19 (6:22 pace)

Placement: 2nd OA female, 1st in AG (F45-49)

Red-faced and happy but I'm not from Ontario

There's not a lot of time until we have to get ready for the 5K - I know from experience that a decent showing here might easily get me another AG win and a stein to match - and I also know that the first mile is going to suck. Somewhat reluctantly I allow myself to be marched over and lined up, and before I have a chance to whine too much, the starter's gun goes off again and I press my unwilling legs into action again.

Mile 1: 6:37
It's a bloody good thing that this race is only 3 miles long, because there's pretty much nothing that I enjoy about this first mile. Joel has gone ahead somewhere and even assassin mode isn't keeping me happy at this point. Gah, whose idea was this again? Oh, mine? Right. I officially hate myself.

Mile 2: 6:32
Ok, well this is a decent pace I suppose, and I'm not *actually* dying yet, so keeping it up for another mile shouldn't be too difficult. I catch a few more women and can see at least 2 more ahead; one looks like a contender for my AG although of course I myself look nothing like I belong in it.....let's just get that straight.

Mile 3, final 0.15: 6:28, 6:05 pace to finish
There are a few spectators along this final mile who know me and later every single one of them will tell me that I looked extremely unimpressed at this point. The AG rival (who is wearing pink) has given me some trouble but I've finally caught her as we swoop down the hill towards the park, so that's good, but I just want to be DONE.

Still running but sporting a king-sized frown
I know I've put a fair bit more effort into this 5K than I did into last year's, and I can only hope this will be rewarded with a nice stein, because there's no real reason I'd be doing it otherwise! I charge across the grass (my legs have finally warmed up, which is pretty funny really) and through the finish to where my sweaty, grinning husband is waiting. As usual he's beaten me but I don't care in the slightest - I'm just very happy to be done. Well, almost. There's still the kids' 2K run in half an hour....

Finish time: 20:42 (6:39 pace)

Placement: 11th OA female, 1st in AG (F45-49)

There's no time to reflect because the kids' fun run is almost upon us: we march over as a group and pair up, me with Chloe and Joel with Zak. The gun goes off and I'm fine with the gentle jog that we settle into over the first 1K - my legs are utterly fried now! We stop for a few drink breaks on the way back towards the park; the boys have shot off in front and are no longer in sight. As we round the tree I say casually, "We can see the finish line now, it's time to run fast, ok?" and am utterly taken by surprise when she takes off at 6:00 pace to cover the final 250 yards to the finish. My brain tells my legs to GO WITH HER!! but my legs are having no part of it, and so it happens that I am out-sprinted by an 8 year old in my 3rd race of the day. Hooray!

When I finally do get around to checking the results from 2014 it's very gratifying to realise that I have run both 20K and 5K faster than last year - maybe I'm not completely ancient and washed-up yet after all?

Joel has also placed in both races again so by the time the awards ceremony finishes we have enough steins that each family member gets one, filled with the beverage of their choice.

Steins all round!

Craft beer and root beer to go with the free bagels and pancakes - more reasons why I keep coming back for Volksläufe - oh and happy birthday, America!

1 comment:

  1. Good report as usual Rachel, and haul of steins. You're definitely not washed up! I'll be able to yell out "go Yankee Rachel!" when you wear that singlet down here. Safely ahead of the lady in pink in that photo - nice racing.