Thursday, June 1, 2017

The 5Kx3 Challenge BONUS RACE: Mackinaw Memorial Bridge Run

5Kx3 Race Introduction




You thought I was done with spring races, huh?

After teasing in my Titan Trot post about possibly doing another race, I am here to give you a special bonus blog all about my spur of the moment trip up to Mackinaw City and its Memorial Bridge Run.

The race took place on Saturday, May 27, which was perfect for me. I was already going to be going Up North to see my friend and her family in the U.P. of Michigan, so stopping at the Straits of Mackinac wasn't going to be out of the way.

Note: I am not spelling "Mackinaw" incorrectly. The spelling with the "ac" is how the French would write the word, while when the British wrote it down, they spelled it how it sounded. The city uses the British spelling, while the Straits, the Island, and the Bridge all use the French spelling!

In the midst of my 5Kx3 challenge I was reminded again of the Labor Day event across the Mackinac Bridge. I was calculating how long I would need to train over the hot summer months to get my body ready to run. But when I looked online to get more information, the first race that was listed was a run across the Bridge on Memorial Day Weekend.

Well, that would work out perfectly! I would already be in shape because of the races earlier in the month, and it would only mean two extra weeks of training. Although it was a bit late, I signed up.

Two things arose as challenges in the weeks following. The first was training with hills. I had been committed to doing as few hills as possible in my training. Unfortunately, one of the first reminders of the Bridge run is that the uphill portion of the bridge climbs up five degrees for 2.5 miles. That is a lot of uphill running. I spent my two weeks following the Titan Trot doing a lot of hills, and it was exhausting.

The second challenge was a little more concerning. Aside from the race page on Mackinaw City's website and the Run Sign Up link, I couldn't find information about the race anywhere else. It was easy to find information about the Labor Day Walk, but it was almost like this race...didn't exist.

Did it? Did I just waste a few bucks signing up for a fake race across the Bridge? Weirder things could happen.

I had been watching a documentary about the construction of the Bridge with my students, and at the end they mentioned that the Labor Day Walk was the only time pedestrians were allowed across the Mackinac Bridge. That disturbed me for a hot second...until I realized that the documentary had been made in 2003. A lot of things could have changed in the last 14 years.

Turns out, that was the case. The Mackinaw Memorial Day Bridge Run was only in its 14th year, so by the time that documentary had aired, it was giving incorrect information. The race was still on!

I played for a wedding on Friday afternoon and got on the road as fast as I could. The packet pick-up for the race ended at 9pm, and it would take me about 5 1/2 hours to get up to Mackinaw City.

I would have made it in time, if I hadn't got caught in Memorial Day traffic in Grand Rapids. Because of that, I didn't get to the Mackinaw City Rec Center until registration had closed.

I had gotten a hotel reservation at the Super 8 in town for just $75. It didn't have much of anything, but I was okay with that. Since I was coming in so late, all I needed was a bed. (And that's pretty much all I got.)

I collapsed in bed within 20 minutes of getting to my room, in anticipation of an early wake-up time. You see, unlike my other races that started at 9, 9:30, and 10, this one started at 6:00. AM. Not kidding.

(Yet it's still not the earliest race I've ever done. The Disneyland races were 5:30!)

I had been waking up at 5:00 the previous two days to get my body clock ready, and it worked out just fine on race day. I got out of bed, put on my race clothes, and got out of the room, all in about 20 minutes. I drove over to the Rec Center just as the eastern sky was lighting up with gorgeous colors. Sunrise wouldn't be until the race began, but it was already looking to be a great day for a race.

As I arrived, I parked on the street, even though parking was readily available at the high school down the path. I was a little unsure of everything, as I usually am for a solo race, but I found my bag and returned it to the car. The only thing I needed was my bib.

The race was easy: start in St. Ignace and run the Bridge back to the Rec Center. School buses were at the Rec Center ready to transport people to the starting line, which was the little park that's perfect for Bridge photo-ops.

The start was very easy, too; once people were at the starting line, they would release us in waves of about 50 runners every 5 minutes. Because the buses would be running constantly, it meant that people didn't have to show up right away to run. Actually, the buses would keep taking runners to the start for an hour and a half.

So why did I decide to go so ridiculously early? For this race they also noted on the website that a 12-minute mile was required. I was definitely on the edge of that. To make sure I ran my race and didn't push myself to complete exhaustion, I decided to go right away. Even if I was slow, I would still finish without pressure to finish.

I was on the second bus to go, and unfortunately it was a bus full of experienced runners. Not runners like me, mind you, but good runners. People with their FitBits and special cold-weather running gear. People that were discussing the next marathon that they were going to do. (Not just a marathon, but another marathon. People run more than one marathon in their lives?!) People discussing their sub-10 minute miles.

It was a bit intimidating, especially for someone who just hoped to run a nice race using her 2-minute run, 1-minute walk method.

The bus unloaded us before the toll booths, which at this time of the day were very quiet. (Later in the day it was much more crowded, speaking as someone who had to wait in line to get to the U.P.) We walked on the grass to the Visitor's Center, which wasn't opened, because there were bathrooms there. People who had run this race before said they would be open.

Well, we waited a long time before someone finally showed up to unlock the doors. It was about 5:55 and there were long lines in both the women's and men's rooms.

By the time I got out, it was after 6 and the first runners were already making their way across the Bridge. I figured I'd be in the second wave, so I walked over to the starting line.

But I realized something. They weren't stopping people from just starting their race. Because of the chip timers that were on our bibs, all we had to do to start and finish our race with our exact time was cross the rubber strip at each point.

I'm sure in the past it was vital to have all the runners start together because of timing purposes. But now that is completely unnecessary!

I didn't take note of it when I started, but because I was crossing the starting line by myself, with no one around me for 10 meters in either direction, I could start my race at exactly my planned pace. No jostling. No running past slow people. No feeling like a doofus when people already are passing me. I could just...start.

Some people might want fanfare and a gunshot to start a race. I do not.

That easy start set the pace for a very good run. I took it easy on the uphill climb. The sun had just risen over Mackinac Island, and the rays lit up the pillars of the Bridge in a beautiful manner. Then the sun hid behind some cloud cover, which meant we weren't dazzled by it.

The weather was also spectacular. Many people were dressed in layers, because previous races had been cold, windy, and wet. This year's race was probably as perfect as it could be. I don't think I needed my pants that I wore over my capris. Other than that, I was pretty comfortable.

I made sure to take the time to admire my surroundings. The elevation from the Bridge to the water at its peak is 552 feet. That is quite a ways down!

The Bridge itself did not close down. They only closed the right lane of the southbound side. Even on a busy Memorial Day Weekend, it wasn't full of cars! At some parts there weren't any cars going in either direction. It really felt like the Bridge was only for the runners.

While the two giant pillars look like stone or cement, they are very much metallic structures, as evidenced by all the rivets that cover them. I could definitely examine them up close since it took so long to run through them.

I ran past a few people, and a few people ran past me, but all in all I felt like I was running a good race. After the halfway point and the downhill portion began, I pushed my pace a little more.

After five miles, we made it to the exit for Mackinaw City and I was very excited. But then I was very disappointed. Even though I had completely crossed the Bridge, I had about 1/2 a mile to go because I needed to run back to the Rec Center for the finish line!

It was a bit anticlimactic. After those amazing views, the race simply ends on regular roads, and by the time I got there I didn't want to run anymore.

Fortunately, after a bit of zigzagging, I finally saw the finish and heard the announcer. I ran across after starting the race 1 hour and 2 minutes earlier!

There really was no need for me to worry about the "maximum 12-minute-mile pace" requirement. Because of the staggered start, I still finished over an hour before the last runners made it to the finish line! They put that on the website to freak people out - when the brave sign up, they've already accomplished the hardest part!

The race provided a hot, catered breakfast inside the Rec Center, and it was a great way to wind down the event. I also received a medal and a peach t-shirt (another color I don't have in my t-shirt repertoire!) with the logo on the back. I drove over to the Mackinac Bridge overlook on the Mackinaw City side and took a picture of me with the Bridge, holding my medal.

I signed up for this at the last minute, but I'm so glad I did it. It was my largest race of the spring season, and a great way to end it. I put in a lot of effort to run even during one of the busiest months of the school calendar, and crossing the finish line every time validated the hard work.

It's not like I lost a ton of weight or shattered my previous PR. (Well, I actually did beat my previous PR, but I didn't shatter it.) The fact of the matter is that I felt good doing it.

When I tell my students that I ran a race, they always ask, "Did you win?" Then it's a long talk about how when you're my age, it isn't about winning. It's about starting the race in the first place and crossing the finish line at your pace, proud of what you have done. (They still don't get that.)

After all that training, I am taking a nice week-long break as I finish up my school year. Then I can get back to other favorite exercise hobbies of mine: strolling the beach and hiking!

Get out and enjoy the summer everyone!

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