Although a bit overdue, I still would like to do a quick overview of my experience at Yankee Springs Trail Run Weekend. Switchback Endurance of west Michigan hold this 10k/13.1/26.2/52.4 series annually on the last weekend of May. Yankee Springs is just a stones throw away from my current residence in Grand Rapids, MI, so I took the opportunity to spend a weekend in the woods with the rest of the trail running community.
Yankee Springs is one of the larger state parks in the LP, located in Middleville, MI. It borders Gun Lake and a few smaller lakes and contains roughly 20 miles of trails… don’t quote me on that though. The trails offer a good change of scenery through the miles, passing through thick overgrown forest, linear pine trees, sandy areas, grasslands, swamps, and mature forests with little undergrowth. Relative to Michigan, there is a decent amount of gain/”climbing” on these trails. By that, I mean it will take you 13 miles to gain 1200 ft if you stay on the trails. (If you are training for Hardrock, don’t get too excited.)
I headed out around 3pm on the friday of race weekend to help Phil and Kim- the co directors- set up any last minute things for the race. With a handful of other volunteers, we got the final necessities set up for the weekend, and I joined a couple of other volunteers in the lodge to get medals/bottle openers sorted out. I met a guy who had an open bunk in his rental cabin, and wound up bumming that from him for the weekend, which later proved to be quite a benefit with the weather. Plus, I got to hang out with fellow runners and share in the shenanigans and jokes that are sure to ensue.
After picking up my bibs for the weekend, I went out for a few warm-up miles and got in some good stretching- something I am pretty adamant about before racing. My parents showed up to watch, which was really cool. They haven’t been able to see me do many trail races since I’m usually a good distance away from home. I toe’d the line at 8pm with about 100 others, some I’d raced with many times, others new people I hadn’t met before. The start was pretty nonchalant; just Kim pressing “start” on her watch and us racers crossing a volleyball sand pit, synonymous to the starting line.
Three of us grouped up at the front, and kept it pretty low-key for the first couple of miles. I played my usual strategy and went out in the back of the lead group to prevent myself from going out hard from the start, especially since I still had 70 miles left to race that weekend. I’d run out here many times, so had a good grasp of what was coming up, and figured the pace could stand to be picked up a bit. I broke ahead at the first (only) aid station, and dropped into the lead just before the trail forked hard right onto a very overgrown and thin singletrack. Knowing the final three miles pretty well, I dropped the pace down pretty far and pushed the rolling hills into the finish. I’d say it was a pretty relaxed 10k, which was fine since it saved my legs for the rest of the weekend. Not long after finishing, clouds started to roll in and the breeze picked up, leading to the inevitable rain that was forecasted to stretch across the whole weekend. I retreated to the cabin to stretch and stay dry, and clocked about 7 hours of sleep before the big race the next day.
The next morning I hauled my “ultra box” to the gear drop station near the start/lap line. It contained all the stuff I would want throughout the day- spare Ultimate Direction bottles pre filled with V8, dry Smartwool socks, spare Altra Lone Peaks should my pair get soggy, Clif bars, fruit cocktail, salt… basically all the good stuff. I strapped on my Ultimate Direction Access belt and made my way to the start. With about 2 minutes until the gun, I realized I hadn’t switched out my bib from last night to the one for today. Oops. I dashed back to my car and got that pinned on in record time, and made it back to the start with a minute to spare.
I took the front with one other guy, Robbie, a runner from the Chicago area and we stayed together for the first two laps (26 miles). I lost him at the lap/start line, and continued on. Not far into the second lap, the humidity started to get to me. I could tell my electrolytes were off, and for about five miles I was moving pretty slow and pitching an attitude to myself. I wasn’t salivating much, didn’t feel like eating, felt lethargic… generally in the “slump”. At the first aid station of the loop, I loaded up on bananas, PBJ, and had a whole pickle dipped in salt, and downed an energy shot. Almost immediately I went from feeling like the world was ending to being on top of the world. My electrolytes were back in the swing of things, I wanted to eat, I got my energy back… all that good stuff. Even better, I caught a high and picked up the pace. From there on out, I ran one of my best ultras. It started to rain just before I started the last lap. The temperature dropped to a comfortable 70-something. It seemed like my race was coming together, and I realized if I pushed hard on the last lap, I could stand a shot at the course record. I embraced the discomfort of dropping the pace down even further and went for it. I loaded up on salt and liquid at the aid stations as I passed, hoping to keep the mojo going. At the third aid station, I knew there was just a 5k left. I wasn’t exactly sure what the CR was, but nonetheless I ran burnout toward the finish.
The trail turned sharp left into a sandy downhill, and rises back out of the woods into the cabin area in view of the finish line. I pushed on in, crossing at 8:38. Not quite a record (my watch was autopausing at aid station and intermittently when no reception…so my watch time was off about 11 minutes) , but I was really happy with it and everything else about the race in general, from organization to volunteers, and admittedly the weather. There were vegan sloppy joes at the lodge. I ate a few. I went back to the timing tent to hand with Phil, Kim and the marathoners that had raced, and cheered in a few more of the double marathon racers.
I was in bed by 7:30 that night, and listened to the thunderstorms roar outside of the cabins. They were pretty intense, and I was glad I wasn’t in my tent as previously planned. 5:30am came way too soon (as if 10 hours of sleep wasn’t enough). I waddled my way back uphill to the starting line for the half marathon. I raced for the first few miles, and then the rest of the weekend caught up to me. My knees were shooting pain, and I decided it’d be best to take it easy for the remainder of the race. Boulder, CO was only a few weeks out, and I certainly didn’t want to be injured for that. Fast forward through an uneventful, painful 10 miles, and I was back at the finish line. Woo! I made it through about 75 miles of races in that 36ish hour stretch. I hung out at the finish to cheer in the rest of the runners, and share stories with a few of the other series finishers.
It was a great weekend. The races were well organized, the volunteers were encouraging and on top of their game, and it was inspiring and fun to be with the trail running community.
It’s been a couple weeks since the race now, and I’ve been on the bike a lot letting my knee heal up. Next up is the Ouray 100 in colorado on July 31st. I have no idea what to expect from that race other than a oxygen-less wonderland of suffering. I’ll be giving my all at the distance- i know i can do it on paper- but the environment is so foreign to me physiological. Adapting to the altitude for a couple months in Boulder will be interesting, but I plan to run some 14ers to get acclimatized. I’ll likely be heading out for a fall race in a more comfortable environment in Kentucky for the Cloudsplitter 100 in October though, and returning to Bad Apple 12 hour in Greenville, MI. I’m looking forward to a fun race year and getting some travel in.
I’m moving to Boulder in a week for the rest of summer. I’m looking forward to that! I definitely want to check out Leadville again, and spend some time in RMNP, Pikes, Aspen, and Steamboat. I already have some runs planned. For sure running to the top of Grey/Torrey from Loveland Pass. I love the exposure up there. It’d be incredible to run into Anton or Tim or Sage out there in Boulder. I’d love to meet those guys someday, as they inspire the heck out of me and rep the sport so well. Scott is out on the AT right now, and I’m cheering him on from abroad. People are amazing, and this sport is a testament to that. From the first 5ker to Scott gunning for the AT FKT, there are stories to be heard and friends that haven’t been met yet.
Cheers to you all, and see you on the trails.