Latest reviews by Gisgie Gendreau
In what may be a once-and-done race, my friends and I ran the Detroit Free Press/TCF International Half Marathon.
Packet pick-up was smooth and easy. My friend Janet and I parked right on the TCF Center (formerly known as Cobo) roof. We (OK, really, Janet) had looked up our bib numbers, so we walked right in to registration and got our bibs and swag bags right away.
The place was very well organized, with a couple of spots with the race logo set up for perfect photo taking. The booths had everything from race gear to running shoes to medal hangers.A selfie of the chica, wearing an orange sweatshirt in front of the expo with people milling in the background
Everything went so well that we were able to make it to an early dinner with our friend Michelle at Slows Bar B Q in Midtown before heading to our hotel, the DoubleTree by Hilton in Dearborn (wouldn’t recommend), for the night.
Unfortunately, the hotel didn’t have coffee available for us, but we were able to hunt some down at a Starbucks close to the start line (corral M). Crisis averted.
We joined the back of the pack and the race started right on time. It wasn’t long before we saw the Ambassador Bridge.
Thankfully, Janet let me know that it would be several miles *after* we saw the bridge before we would actually be on it. It still was cool to see it early in the race. The next few miles included a big loop right next to a highway. Meh.
We finally got on the bridge and headed to Canada.
Because we started in the back of the pack, we easily stopped for lots of pictures.
The weather was perfect for a race, with temperatures in the high 40s and low 50s, with no wind and, thankfully, completely dry.
The view was amazing. Even the long line of portable toilets was a welcome sight. Unfortunately, we were parched, but the aid station had run out of cups. Boo.
The Canadian side went straight into a neighborhood, with lots of trees, apartments and houses.
We didn’t see a lot of spectators by the time we came through, but the course continued to have good signage. We saw the sweeper bus a couple of times, but picked up the pace and left it behind.
I had heard about the “underwater mile” — the tunnel that connects Windsor and Detroit, but didn’t know what to expect. Well, it allowed us to run down a bit of an incline, so we liked that a lot, until we reached about halfway where we saw the U.S. and Canadian flags. Lots of people stopped to take pictures to commemorate the mid-way point.
Once we neared the end, we were greeted by customs officers who cheered us on and gave us high-fives.
The rest of the race was uneventful…until I tripped on a pothole and skinned my knee pretty badly. Kudos to the medical tent team at the finish line for hooking me up with some ice.
While I certainly enjoyed the race and recommend the experience, the timing in October means doing a half or a full just a month after my favorite race of the year (Run Woodstock 50K) and I just don’t think my body can handle the extended training schedule.
But if you want to be able to say you ran in two countries, and did an underwater mile, keep your eyes peeled for next year’s registration.
I made the last-minute decision to join my friends for this race after they, ahem, convinced me that we could get the marathon distance on our ultra-marathon training plan done *and* get a medal.
I was a little nervous about registering for the race just minutes before start, but registration was super organized and easy. The volunteer had me fill out a form, took my check and gave me a bib, bandanna and small towel. All in under 5 minutes.
We had plenty of time to go to the bathroom (they also had portable toilets), get our gear together, take a few pictures and line up at the start line. The race organizer made a few announcements (keep the pink flags on your right) and we were off.
We all started out together for the 8-hour clock at a 2-minute run, 1-minute walk pace. About halfway through the second loop, we broke up into a couple of groups, which is pretty typical for us.
Despite taking a digger face-first into the dirt during my second loop, this was definitely a great race. The course was relatively non-technical with some hills and lots of tree roots, but with plenty of shade. It was well-marked and the volunteers were all helpful and friendly.
The aid stations were generous with chips, watermelon, cheese sandwiches, Swedish fish, quesadillas, hot dogs, gummy bears, fuel and other treats. They had both Gatorade and water, too.
After my fall, we eventually reached an aid station where a volunteer got me cold water and paper towels to clean my knee, and some antibiotic ointment, just in case.
At one point during the third loop, we heard what sounded like ice-cream-truck music. I thought I was hallucinating. Once we reached the top of a hill, we were greeted by a volunteer handing out popsicles!
The race page describes it as having 6.3-mile loops. Had we returned from our last loop before eight hours, we could have run an extra 1-mile loop to get an official marathon distance.
As it was, our watches all said each loop was 6.6 miles, and several watches showed we covered our goal of 26.2 miles. This particular race gives out medals for the 4-, 8- and 12-hour time limits.
Race shirts were attractive, but the women’s sizes ran very, very small. Because I registered at the last minute, I didn’t get a shirt, but they also took $10 off my registration. Afterward, we were offered plastic sunglasses and 26.2-mile stickers with our medals.
As a bonus, we also got to eat some really good square pizza and cake, and sit for a few minutes before cleaning up and getting in the car to head home. We were all tired, but glad we had made the trip.
For a complete review with lots of pictures, visit my blog: http://lachicaruns.com/?p=3112
We had heard the stories beforehand: The time when my friend Shannon almost died. The steep hills. The shoe-sucking mud pit.
But nothing prepared us for just how hard it would be to get through one of two loops for the Old Farts Running Club's The Mummy Trail Marathon and Half in Lowell, Mich. It kicked our butts!
With a bum knee bugging me for the past couple of weeks, I signed up for the full marathon on race day, thinking that I would DNF (did not finish) halfway if I had to. I really wanted the gear, which was pretty awesome and included a zip-up jacket, neon-yellow running T-shirt and a towel. All items had either the mummy logo or the name of the race.
I arrived at 7 a.m. for an 8 a.m. start. Registration was super quick and organized.
There were stacks of jackets, T-shirts and sweatshirts to riffle through, but each runner got to pick exactly what they wanted. There were stacks of even more clothes after the race and each runner got to pick another item which now included stacks of sweat pants, track pants and shorts.
There are flush toilets in a building right by the start line and the race is small enough that the line was short.
Speaking of the start line, the race director gave clear instructions, we all lined up and we started right on time.
The trails were very clearly marked with small flags, spray-painted arrows and homemade signs that both encouraged and taunted us.
Water stations were tidy with plenty of cups and big trash cans. The station at around mile 8 had three of the Old Farts whose names grace some of the toughest spots along the course. They lulled us into a false sense of security by giving us sliced watermelon, cookies and Coke.
It quickly became apparent that if we were going to do two loops and finish with 26.2 miles, we were going to have to reserve some energy, so we did a lot of walking. Looking back, that was one of our biggest mistakes. One mile had hills so steep, it took us 45 minutes.
How steep, you ask?
We had to crawl on our hands and knees a few times before reaching ropes that helped us climb, but that also made us feel like we would fall backward and plunge to our deaths.
And the trees. Oh, the trees. Trees blocked the trail so many times that even when we were running, we quickly had to stop to go over -- or duck under -- downed trees. At least two of us banged up our knees and got nice cuts and bruises. Never say I didn't bleed for my running!
We survived the toughest trail race I've ever seen. Even the Two Hearted Trail Half, which I considered relatively technical, and the Run Woodstock 50K were easier than today's course.
Toward the end of the first look, the course gets a lot less technical, so my friends and I discussed going back out to do a second loop. My knee was holding up pretty well, but we were all plum tired. And we must have looked it because one of the race organizers (who happens to be a coach) basically told us we were done.
And we were perfectly OK with that. He even gave us half-marathon finisher medals and told us we did great. So we technically didn't DNF and it felt like we earned those darn medals.
There is no way I could do the full marathon at Old Farts. Well, maybe at some point. This was definitely not my year.
Would I sign up for the half? In a heartbeat. And I would run a lot more than I did today, knowing that we "only" had to do 13.1 miles (or more like 13.5 by my watch), making it a shorter trip.
In the end, it wasn't the race I had signed up for, but I wouldn't trade the experience -- or my crew -- for anything.
Two Hearted in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (specifically at Tahquamenon Falls) was the perfect first trail half for me. There are also full marathon and 50K options.
Packet pickup the day before the race was relatively easy. Pay attention to the location description on the website because we went to the wrong place and we didn't see any signage. The race shirt was just OK. It started falling apart after the first wash. But the medal is awesome. It's made out of wood and is very unique.
The race was well organized, had gorgeous scenery, a well-marked route and made my first experience memorable. I ran it with a couple of friends who are very experienced trail runners.
Parking was super easy, but you need a Michigan State Parks sticker (Recreation Passport). If you don't already have one on your license plate (it's just $11 for the year for access to state parks), you can get a pass at the park.
It's a small race with few bells and whistles. It was very technical for a newbie, but I still am glad that I took a chance on the race.
While there were aid stations, I was still glad I had bought a new Nathan hydration pack for the occasion and that I had sunglasses on a very sunny day.
The race organizers had very clear instructions both on the race website and in person just before the race about how the trail was marked (with blue flags to our right plus mile markers). There were a couple of spots where we didn’t see the blue flags for a while, but were relieved to see them clearly marking our directions. That said, we kept looking for those little flags because no one wants to get lost in the middle of nowhere, especially with no cell reception.
As I mentioned, the course was very technical. There were a lot of crossings where we had to walk/run over logs, lots of hills and quite a bit of poison ivy. We even saw some bear scat. I took tons of pictures!
Someday, I would like to run either the full marathon or even the 50K.
I cannot recommend this race enough. The course is beautiful, the volunteers were FANTASTIC and the aid stations were like heaven.
My experienced ultra runner friends pretty much dangled the promise of potato chips, soda and M&Ms as the incentive for us newbies to sign up for the race in the first place. The aid station spread (which also included cheese sandwiches, pretzels, fruit and other yummy food) did not disappoint. This particular race had aid stations every four miles, allowing us to break the 31 miles into more-manageable goals, which makes for a great head-game strategy.
Aid station volunteers are more akin to a NASCAR pit crew. They approached us, immediately helping us find just the perfect treat to give us a boost, talking about the course and in one instance, even giving their socks off their feet to a runner who was struggling with blisters.
To get the full 31 miles, this race had us run the same loop twice, meaning we could have a drop bag at the beginning and also halfway through the loop. When we found out we could have two bags, we included a fresh pair of trail shoes and socks in the bag halfway through the course, allowing us to switch out shoes for the last five or six miles. My feet and mood were both grateful.
A few things I wish I'd known:
* The race starts at 6 a.m., so be sure to bring a good headlamp.
* You can have two drop bags. Take advantage of that. They were in a covered area, so they were nice and dry, despite some heavy rain in the morning.
* You have to pay extra to use the on-site showers.
* Parking is a bit messy, but if you get there early enough for the race, you'll be fine.
* The course will be MUDDY if it rains. It felt like we were skating instead of running in a few spots.
* You can camp on-site, but I found it to be really, really loud. We camped at the nearby Pinckney Recreation Area. It's beautiful, in great shape and the showers were clean and HOT.
My friends and I loved the race so much that we are doing it again this year!