Latest reviews by Gisgie Gendreau

(2017)
"A race so tough, you'll want your mummy"
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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.

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(2017)
"A race you do for the scenery and unique medal"
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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.

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(2016)
"A race so nice, I'm doing it twice!"
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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!

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(2015)
"Nice, flat course with awesome pacers"
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I ran both my first full and half marathons at Capital City (they won't have the full as of this year 2017). Loved this local race for many reasons:
* It was very, very flat
* The course was very well marked
* The pacers wear costumes and are a hoot. My 13-minute/mile pacers called themselves the Mullet Crew (because we're the party in the back!). They wore mullet wigs and fake tattoos. We high-fived tons of people on the course and they kept us engaged and happy.
* There's a lot of course support for the half. We saw a lot of people, funny signs and lots of encouraging chalk messages.
* As a local race, I had an easy time finding parking downtown Lansing and didn't have far to drive.
* The race photographer does a great job of getting quality photos and they're worth buying.
* My local running store, Playmakers, has a tent/water station near the Potter Park Zoo; they hand out orange slices and cold cloths, plus other treats.
* The race swag was nice; I still wear my long-sleeve tech shirt for running, several years later. It's held up great.
I highly recommend this half!

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(2014)
"Meh"
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My favorite running teen-ager wanted to get plastered with colorful powder. The photos and videos on the Color Run‘s site made the self-described “Happiest 5k on the Planet” look like a blast. The reviews were positive; all runners looked like they were having a ball.
The reality was a bit subdued.
Yes, we had a nice time, but it was anything but a race. There were a lot of walkers and brand-new runners who didn’t quite know race day etiquette and kept walking five and six people across, creating a human roadblock. There was little to no running through large portions of the route.
That did mean that we could take the time to, for example, stop to chat with a spectator who happened to have the cutest Bernese Mountain dog.
The colorful powder? Race volunteers were scooping it up from buckets at spots throughout the race, forcing participants to walk in line to get anywhere near the stop’s color.
Was it fun? It would have been a whole lot more fun had we known the reality versus the hype. Would we do it again? Probably not, but we could both see the appeal of the Color Run as a goal 5K because it isn’t timed and it really does have a lot of energy and fun atmosphere, including a Zumba-style class afterward.
The race was held downtown Lansing, so parking was super easy and the route was well-marked, with lots of music. Participants seemed to be having a great time. We saw a lot of people laughing and even rolling on the ground to get more color on their white clothes.
The race swag was awesome. The T-shirts have held up really well through the years. There were fake tattoos and stickers. I still have one of the stickers on my office bulletin board!

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