On Saturday August 10, 2013 I ran the 10 mile Run Thru Hell race in Hell, Michigan. Yep, that’s really the name of the town!
You have two options for this race: the “weenie” run which is 4.8 miles and then the full 10 miles. I’ve heard that this race used to be a half and full marathon but I’m not sure if that’s true or not. There are several popular races that happen in this town (it’s Hell after all) as well as nearby Pinckney so I may be getting it confused with another one…
As you may or may not know I’m currently training for my first full marathon this October in Detroit, Michigan. So needless to say I’m starting to get a wee bit more serious about my training schedule. Last month I chickened out and didn’t signup for the 10 mile Bastille Race in Fenton, MI (which is supposed to be the hilliest race in Michigan). I discovered the Run Thru Hell race near the end of July and said, “Well I should probably do that one…” and ended up signing up a little more than a week before race day. Buggers.
The only background info I knew about this race was from a friend who heard from another friend. He said, “Quite hilly on dirt roads.” Well, that’s good to know! If I had to describe my daily running environment here at home I would say, “Quite hilly on dirt roads” so maybe this won’t be SO bad. At least I know I’ll be prepared.
I didn’t do anything too crazy the week before the race, just my typical routine. My long run on Sunday consisted of 12 miles, and then shorter runs of 4 and 6 miles during the week along with a day of hill work. For dinner the night before I had spaghetti with millet balls. Yep, I said MILLET balls! Millet is super yummy if you haven’t tried it and super good for runners too. I got the recipe from the second Forks Over Knives cookbook.
For breakfast I had my usual English Muffin with peanut butter and half banana and water. Sometimes I have a little bit of Energy and Endurance formula with my morning water but I wasn’t feeling it that morning. I got my fuel belt all loaded up with water, diluted Gatorade and GU and was ready to head out the door at 6AM. The only minor snafu I experienced was that my Nike Dri-fit capris weren’t quite dry after hanging up overnight so I just threw them in the dryer for a few minutes. Hopefully that won’t mess with the wicking material TOO much.
The race started at 8am and I pulled into the Hell Creek Ranch campground at around 6:45am. You park in a field with really tall grass so of course all us runners are getting out of our cars and marching around like wooden soldiers because we don’t want to get our feet wet!! I picked up my bib and neon orange t-shirt which luckily I was allowed to exchange for a smaller size. I never really know what size shirt to get…some races the small is teeny-tiny and other races the small is gargantuan so I usually err on the side of caution and order a medium size. For this race the medium ended up being a HUGE cotton t-shirt so they were nice enough to let me exchange it…sometimes that doesn’t quite work out.
The first thing I noticed when I started walking around was the smell of bug spray. And then I noticed the mosquitoes. Eek! I made a quick trip to the porta-potties which was an adventure because they were placed on a not-so-level patch of ground. I stepped inside and immediately felt myself tipping backwards into the “hole”. It was a terrifying experience! But luckily I was awake enough to brace myself and avoided disaster. Knowing me I would totally end up doing something like that. “Sorry we had to remove Ms. Jones from the race because she decided she would rather throw herself down into a porta-potty rather than run 10 miles up hill both ways.”
The running club who sponsored the race had a little area setup with apparel on clearance and I was grateful that I had left my wallet in the car otherwise I would have loaded up with more clothes. I decided to head back to the car and drop off my t-shirt before it started to get more crowded. Besides, I was already starting to get itchy from all of the mosquitoes.
Apparently that was a popular thing to do because I saw A LOT of people sitting in their cars too! I pinned on my bib, ate the other half of my banana and drank some water. I sent some texts, checked in on Facebook and Instagram, and decided it was time to head back out about around 7:45.
I never take any chances so I decided to get in line for one last potty trip. The people in line in front of me were chatting it up about the race (makes sense right??) so I asked the gentleman in front of me, “Have you done this race before?” and for some reason he seemed a bit surprised when he learned this was my first time and I signed up for the 10 miles. From the sounds of it he had done the race many times before and when I asked him what the course was like he said, “Beautiful-beautiful course…mostly dirt roads and a lot of hills.” He described some roads that I had never heard of before and then went on to explain that once you reach a certain point it’s all downhill from there. He also mentioned that he would be doing the 5 mile course.
I also noticed a woman in front of me that was playing with a small camera on her visor and I exclaimed, “Oh, a helmet cam!” and she said, “Yeah…it’ll all be up on YouTube in about 2 hours!” But when I asked her what her YouTube username or channel was she didn’t know. But I think that would be something fun to do for future races! She mentioned that you can get a camera like that pretty cheap at Walmart so maybe I’ll check it out.
After my second potty trip I made my way to the starting line. I really have no idea how many people were there but it seemed like a decent size group. I made my way to the back of the group and made sure everything was set to go with my Garmin and Nike+ app. I normally only use my Garmin but I’m doing a Nike challenge this month so I have to make sure I log my miles there too. I had a nice chat with an older gentlemen who seemed impressed with my fuel belt. I did notice that not a lot of other people were wearing them which I thought was odd. Overall it seemed like a pretty serious crowd and not too many recreational or “amateur” runners but sometimes it can be hard to tell. I noticed quite a few groups of what appeared to be high-school kids warming up and doing stretches.
Somebody near the starting line made an announcement but I couldn’t hear anything. A few minutes after that everyone started moving. I reviewed the game plan in my head: start off SLOW…and pick up speed if it still feels good around mile 6. Got it! Like a lot of runners I have a bad habit of going out too hard too soon and then I burnout before the race is over. But I am learning!
It didn’t take us long at all to reach the first hill. I thought to myself, “Wow this is just like home!” My daily runs always start off with an uphill battle no matter which way I turn out of my driveway. We get to the top of that hill, start to descend a little and then I see the next hill coming. You can prety much repeat that scenario for the next 10 miles! Climb a hill, descend a hill, cruise for about 1/4 mile and then attack another one. It was like spending the day at Cedar Point. I kept glancing down at my watch to make sure I wasn’t going too fast. A couple times my pace was around 9:00 and I was like, “Whoa Amanda, you need to slow down!”
As soon as I said to myself, “OK that’s GOTTA be last one!” another hill would pop up in my view finder. I began to wonder if the guy I talked to was just trying to make me feel better when he said it would all be downhill after just a couple of hills…
Close to mile 3.5 or so the “weenies” branched off from the 10 milers. (a volunteer dressed up like the devil was nice enough to point us all in the right direction) We turned south onto Silver Hill Rd and the weenies continued east on Patterson Lake Rd back towards the campground. It wasn’t long before we came up on another hill. A lot of people were walking up this one. I thought maybe now would be a good time to take a break. I drank some water while I walked for about 15-30 seconds and then I started with a slow pace up the hill.
Once we got over that one, runners started coming back at us from the other direction. It seemed we had made it to one of the “out and back” portions of the course. Oh, and we started climbing another hill! The runners passing us would shout things like, “Keep going the way back down is MUCH better!” At this point I started leap frogging a very tall woman. She would walk a bit and then run by me a few minutes later.
I made the turn back and was relieved to be in the group of runners that was now going downhill. We turned east onto Tiplady road and were greeted with the longest and biggest hill yet. I could sense that a lot of people were starting to get frustrated and everyone I saw was walking up this one. I still felt pretty good. I decided to walk again for a few seconds and drank some Gatorade. The tall woman passed me again. I started motoring up the hill and wondered if maybe, just MAYBE…this hill would be the last one??
I saw a woman in front of me eating GU chomps and I thought that looked like a good idea. We were around mile 6 now and passed through a water station. I slowed down a little and slurped down my Tri-Berry GU and drank some water. Up until that point the course was almost completely shaded by trees and we came out into an open area on the road and the sun rising in the east blasted us in the face. For some reason this was the cue I needed to start running faster. I could also see a large stretch of road in the distance and it seemed pretty flat. So I decided to pick up the pace a bit. I passed the tall woman again and I never saw her again after that.
This went on for about 1/2 mile and then we turned south again onto Dexter Townhall Rd. This was the second “out and back” portion of the course only this time the runners we passed were going UP hill. This group was not nearly as cheerful as the last group we passed. I said to myself, “here we go again” and tried to mentally prepare myself for another hill. Surprisingly though, I wasn’t too worried about it. We went through another water station and as I was making the turn the woman in front of me asked the volunteer how far it was and he said, “You’re 7.5 miles into the race!”
I knew my pace wasn’t gonna be so great on this hill but I decided to try to pick it up a little more. I ended up passing quite a few people. We turned east again and that was pretty much the end of the shade. Shortly after we turned onto another dirt road and I didn’t have anyone around me at that point. I saw a group in front of me and I thought maybe I could try catching up with them. At this point I felt like all the hills were behind us and with 2 miles left it was now or never.
Now I was really starting to feel like I was running at maximum capacity. I kept glancing down at my watch to see my average pace which was around 10:15 or so. I thought as long as I kept my pace below 10:00 for the rest of the race I could finish in less than 1 hour 40 minutes which was my goal. For the last mile we turned onto a paved road which was really nice! I knew I was really pushing it hard but figured I could keep it up for the last mile. I was sucking down a lot of air and if I had to guess I would say my heart rate was at maximum capacity! I looked down at my watch again and my average pace said 9:58. OK, don’t blow it Amanda!
Runners who had already finished the race were doing their cool-down jog on the other side of the street. I tried really hard to ignore them. I came up on an older gentleman who was really cruising along. I wondered to myself if he was also trying to finish the race with less than a 10 minute pace. I could hear his feet shuffling along and it inspired me to push a little harder. I don’t know why but whenever I do a race I love to listen to the sound of people’s feet. Sometimes I’ll pick one person and if I like their pace I’ll just listen to their feet for a while until I get distracted with something else. It helps me keep going. I think it reminds me that despite the fact we’re all running our own race we’re really all in this crazy-thing together. Does that make sense?
This was the first time I passed any spectators (who happened to be fellow runners so I’m not sure if that counts) and one guy said, “one more turn and it’s all downhill from there…really!” Oh sure, I’ve heard THAT before!
I kept thinking to myself I had this in the bag as long as I didn’t trip on something and fall on my face. So I made a conscious effort not to do that. But this guy was right…we made one last turn and went down into the finish line. As soon as I crossed the timing mats my Garmin went BLINK!! indicating that I had gone 10 miles.
I walked it off for a bit and went on a pursuit for water. I found it along with some bananas and a chocolate chip cookie that was rather stale and tasteless but I devoured it anyway. I also drank the rest of the Gatorade that I had in my fuel belt. I started thinking about the course and all those hills. I was amazed that I had finished with a less than 10 minute pace and I still felt pretty good. It was almost as if the hills had given me energy. Maybe because for every ascent there was also a descent that seemed to balance it out? I had no idea.
My official time was 1:38:59 and I finished 15 out of 26 in my age group. You can see the official results here: http://www.runmichigan.com/r_view.php?id=20113 I was hoping I would be a little bit above average, but there were some serious runners in this race! I found out later that the older gentleman I passed right before the finish line was 81 years old and was the oldest participant in the race! How crazy is that?
What excited me the most about this race was that I was able to conserve my energy and finish strong at the end with a negative split! I don’t think I’ve ever been able to do that during a major race before. You can view all the Garmin data here: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/356453519 What’s really fun is if you go to the map and change it to satellite and you can get an aerial view of all the fun terrain. You will also see that the majority of the course is wooded roads.
Overall I really enjoyed this race but it’s one of those where you’re kinda afraid to do it again because you think the experience might not be as good the second time around! I really don’t think I could have planned it out better, and now that I know the course I would probably end up over-thinking things. But I would definitely recommend this race if you’re up for the challenge of some rolling hills, but don’t expect much (if any) spectator support! The only cheering we got was from the nice volunteers at the water stations. The lack of spectator support didn’t affect me much but I know a lot of people rely on it to get them through a tough race.
I think it was well organized and their were plenty of water stations and porta-potties. No medals for finishing which is kind of a bummer…my bib and cheesy orange t-shirt will have to suffice. They do give out trophies for the top 7 in each age group so you either have to be a really good runner or over the age of 65 to receive any type of bling for this race.
Next up: Capital City River Run (Half-marathon) on September 15th, Goal: a PR, of course!