Tuesday, October 18, 2016

3 Simple Reasons Why Runners Should Volunteer at Races

When my alarm went off at 4:30am I was half hoping it was a joke, but I knew people were counting on me so I crawled out of bed as quietly as possible so I wouldn't wake up Matt. An hour later I was with my Oiselle teammates setting up tables, filling water cups, and getting ready for thousands of runners to come through our water stop just past 5 miles on the Rock 'n Roll Denver Half Marathon and 10k course.

Early Morning Run - Why runners should volunteer at races
Photo Credit: Rebekah Leoni

It's been far too long since the last time I volunteered at a race, and I was glad to be back out there. Here are three super simple reasons why I think all runners should volunteer for races.

1) Without volunteers, it's likely there'd be fewer races to run.

This is a two-parter. First: economics. Race organizers - of all sizes, for-profit and non-profits - would have a difficult time making their balance sheets work if they had to pay all the people working water stops, start and finish lines, packet pick-ups, etc. Second: Experience. People are needed in all these positions so that the event is safe and people (runners, spectators, and community members) all have a great experience. If a race isn't safe or fun, it won't last long. Volunteers are as essential as participants for a successful race.

2) As members of the running community, and people who benefit from the support of race volunteers, it's important to give back.

For any community to be productive, positive, and long-lasting, we need to support one another, give as much as (or more than) we take, and encourage the best out of ourselves and our neighbors. That means volunteering our time, talent, and effort. Supporting others in our community.

Photo Credit: Kacey Kendrick

3) It's Fun!

Yes, you'll likely have to wake up really early, you might not get your own run in that day, and you might get wet and dirty, but it's worth it! All the 'thank you's' and smiles you receive, and knowing that you're helping runners - of all levels - tackle their goals, makes all that well worth it. There's something so wonderful about knowing that you're helping make someone else's day a little bit easier and a little bit better. I volunteered with several of my awesome Oiselle Colorado teammates (two of whom drove 1.5 hours to join us), but even if you volunteer on your own or with just a few friends or family members, it will be as fun as you want it to be! 

Early Morning Run - Why runners should volunteer at races

With all this said, a quick note to race directors and volunteer coordinators (having a tiny bit of experience in this role as well):

Please don't take your volunteers for granted. They are giving up their time to help you and your participants. Give them the information, tools, and support they need. Thank them and do all you can to make sure they feeling appreciated. Remember, without them, putting on your race would be a lot harder!

Do you volunteer at races? * If not, what's holding you back?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Three Northern Michigan Trails for Running

In August, we spent a relaxing and peaceful week at our family cottage in northern Michigan. I've had this post hanging around in my drafts folder since then. Inspired by my friend Grace's return to blogging (!!!!!) I thought it was about time I get this out in the world.

While I grew up spending weeks and weekends at the cottage every summer, these days Matt and I only get there every other summer, so we take full advantage of our time and don’t take one minute for granted. We do our fair share of touristing (let's just say that's a word) but we also make sure at least three days are cottage days. We fully embraced the internet-free time to read, play games, and just sit and enjoy the fresh air. It's refreshing to have an empty to-do list.

Early Morning Run - on the beach in Glen Arbor, Michigan

Northern Michigan boasts many great golf courses, so Matt always brings along his clubs. Typically, when he golfs, I run. My dad, who I should mention wrote several editions of a comprehensive non-motorized trail atlas for Michigan from the 1970’s into the early 2000’s, gave me a list of trails that would be worth our time. 

Platte Plains Trail (Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore)

Early Morning Run - Sleeping Bear National Dunes - Platte River Trail

The first course Matt played was Manitou Passage, just north of Maple City and south of Glen Arbor (a town we seem to visit on every trip). I selected the Platte Plains Trail system in Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore for several reasons - Sleeping Bear is simply a jewel, I thought it was fairly close to the golf course, and with nearly 15 miles of trails in this one system, and several lookouts onto Lake Michigan, it seemed like the perfect spot for a run.

While the trailhead on Trail’s End Road, a dirt road off M-22, turned out to be quite a bit farther from the course than I had anticipated, I’m still glad I made the trip. The small parking lot was fine on a Tuesday morning but probably fills up pretty quick on a busy summer weekend. Only looking to run about 4 miles, I decided to start out on the Bass Lake Trail then connect to Lasso Loop to get me out to the Lake Michigan overlook and then turn around. 

The trail system winds through a pretty standard dense northern Michigan forest of pine and oak trees. The first mile was fairly flat while the Lasso Loop trail immediately starts to climb at the split (take a hard right) and the next .8 miles consists of a series of short but steep climbs. Since this is a sand dune, these climbs are sandy rather than packed dirt which adds a little flavor to the workout. The forest was calm and relaxing (and humid) but when I hit the overlook I realized it wasn’t an overlook so much as just the beach, which was a nice surprise. (Note: about .2 miles before the overlook and where the Lasso Loop veers left, a trail branches off to the right to a backcountry campground - stay on the trail).

This section of beach is much different than others along the Lake Michigan shoreline in the area that tend to be very rocky. Instead, this is beautiful, soft sand and it was completely empty. Not a person in sight. I spent about 20 minutes here enjoying the view and the sound of the waves, and cooling off from the crazy humidity, before I headed back to the trail and finished my run. 

What to know, if you go:
  • This is part of the National Lakeshore so a permit is required; be sure to stop at the visitors center in Empire to purchase your pass (it’s worth it to support the national park service)
  • The trailhead is about a mile or so down a dirt road from M-22; there’s a self-launch boat ramp into Bass Lake right near the parking lot, if you want to kayak or SUP
  • A porta-potty is available
  • Bug spray - along with water - would be a good idea
  • With several loops and out-and-back options, this is a great trail system for pretty much any amount of miles you want to run
  • Plan on enjoying a few minutes on the lake shore mid-run and then dip your hot feet in Bass Lake to cool down back at the trailhead

TART (Traverse City)

Early Morning Run - TART Trail - Traverse City

The second course Matt played was The Crown, about 15 minutes southwest of downtown Traverse City, so I opted to stay closer and finally run along the bay - something I haven’t done before, even though its always been right there. 

Quite a different type of trail than the first one, the Traverse City Area Recreational Trails (TART), is a network of trails, bikeways and pedestrian pathways, that runs throughout the Traverse City area (hence the name). Portions run where rail lines used to exist, there’s a trail around Boardman Lake just south of downtown, another section runs from near the airport through downtown along the bay and connects with the Leelanau Trail heading to Suttons Bay. It’s a pretty fantastic network of paved trails that makes it easy for people in various parts of town to get out on a safe pathway free of motorized vehicles.

While I’ve run part of the Boardman Lake trail previously (which I really enjoyed), this time I ran the section of the trail downtown starting at the east end of Front Street and running along the bay. Rather than staying on the trail and heading inland towards the Leelanau Trail connection, I continued to run along the bay for a bit longer then turned around and headed back. The trail is exceptionally well marked with signage and the TART logo spray painted along the path at various points to make it clear where to go. Although it’s fine if you go off course a bit to check out the boats in the marina, it’s not difficult to find your way back. 

Two benefits of this trail: it goes through parts of town making it easily accessible for locals and visitors, and this section specifically provides an up close view of the beautiful bay. Unfortunately, however, for runners who like soft surfaces this is not going to do it for you as the trail is paved. Also, this section runs right along a busy highway so while the bay is on one side, fast-moving traffic is on the other. Still, the trail system is great for the area and expansion efforts are ongoing.

What to know, if you go:
  • If planning to run the downtown section, park in the neighborhood just east of downtown where there’s free 2 hour parking
  • Be prepared for a lot of sun and little shade
  • This section also gets very busy throughout the day with locals and tourists visiting the beaches and marina, so go early or plan for some dodging and weaving
  • Post-run take a dip in the lake to cool down and grab a coffee at Morsels along the Boardman River
  • There are well maintained restrooms in Clinch Park, along with drinking fountains
Find more info and a trails map here: http://traversetrails.org/

Sand Lakes Quiet Area

Early Morning Run - running the Sand Lakes Quiet Area Trail

My dad recommended the Sand Lakes Quiet Area as a quality trail to run on one of our “cottage days” as it’s a pretty short drive from our place, so Matt and I ran this one together. 

The DNR-maintained trail system is reached via a dirt road off M-72 about 10 miles east of Traverse City. We took Supply Road, coming up from the south, and found it a bit tricky to find, which might play a part in making it a quiet and peaceful place to run, hike, mountain bike, or fish - as the name would imply. We were surprised to find the parking lot full of vehicles but it seemed they were all camping on the shore of the first lake within the park as we didn’t see anyone else as we were running.

With five small lakes and 11 miles of intersecting trails, plus the Shore to Shore trail which runs through the area, it could be pretty easy to get lost but the signage is fantastic. A can’t-miss marker at each intersection includes trail numbers, arrows, and a map, so it’s easy to figure out where you are and where you want to go. The trail goes through the Pere Marquette Forest, filled with pines, oak, and ferns. Some of the trail sections are really wide while others are quite narrow; packed dirt or loose sand for the most part; fairly flat to a series of steep rolling hills. 
We really enjoyed exploring this trail system and as it’s not that far from our cottage we’ll likely go back on another visit. 

What to know, if you go:
  • Look for the parking lot at the trailhead on Island Lake Rd east off Broomhead Rd.
  • Restroom facilities are not available
  • There are mosquitoes, so wear bug spray
  • The trail section that runs in a straight line north and south just east of three of the lakes provides an excellent hill workout

Have you run or hiked any of these trails? * Do you take your running shoes with you on vacation? * How do you find places to run when you travel?

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Running Colorado: Peaks Trail, Frisco to Breckenridge

With our first mountain race coming up this month, Matt and I are in need of logging some miles at altitude. Recently we decided to try out the Peaks Trail which runs between Frisco and Breckenridge. Many run this trail as an out and back, for a total of about 16 miles, but since we weren’t in need of (or in shape for) that many miles, we decided to try it one way and find our way back to our car.

With a decent amount of research but little detail to be found, I did learn that it is possible to take a free bus from Breckenridge to Frisco (and vice versa) but little information on how to get to the bus. So keep reading for more on that.

The Frisco trailhead is just through town, turn left down 2nd Ave and down the road about a mile or so you’ll find a parking lot on the right. If you curve towards the left, you’ve gone too far. Keep an eye out for cyclists as you’ll cross over the paved trail that runs between the two towns to get into the parking lot. Note that there is no ports-potty at this trailhead, so you might want to make a pit stop in town.

Rainbow Lake Frisco - Early Morning Run

If leaving from Frisco, as we did, you encounter Rainbow Lake a little less than a mile in, which was pretty busy when we were there as it’s a nice spot for dogs to play in the water and in itself, a nice turnaround spot for locals or families just wanting a short hike in the woods.

Not long into the run/hike (we ran at least 5 miles, but again, I wasn’t in shape for a 8 mile trail run) I knew I was going to like it. The terrain changes quite a few times and while there are some definitive climbs, it’s nothing too serious and easily tackled by a quick-paced hike. The vast majority of the trail winds through woods, which I like because it means you’re protected a bit from the hot Colorado sun. 

We saw a fair amount of other people out on the trail; most hiking or mountain biking, some running, but there were times when we had the trail to ourselves which is always nice. As per usual, it’s best to get started early.

Peaks Trail Frisco Breckenridge - Early Morning Run

Beyond Rainbow Lake, much of the trail winds through the woods along a fast-flowing creek that adds a bit of coolness to the air and a nice soundtrack to the run, towards the later part of the trail you’ll run along a viaduct of sorts that we think must be man-made and perhaps helps reduce erosion from water run-off as the snow melts. In a few spots along the way we were reminded of some trails we hiked in the pacific northwest because of the bright green moss and ferns and overall swampiness, complete with wooden bridges to get you through.

While most of the trail runs through the woods as I mentioned, there are a few spots with nice views of the mountains. Do yourself a favor and stop and take them in because you won’t get many chances to on this trail. According to the Trail Run Project, the trail starts at 9,088 feet, tops out at 10,165 and ends at just under 10,000. The first 3.5 miles are a steady climb with a few ups and downs, then a nice decent before another climb to the peak of the trail (not the peak of the mountain, your in the Breckenridge ski mountain area) and a few climbs and decants before one final, quality decent to the trailhead at the Breckenridge end, again in dense forest. A few trails split off from the Peaks Trail, but it’s fairly well marked and easy to stay on course.

Peaks Trail Frisco Breckenridge - Early Morning Run

Even without looking at our watches we knew we were getting close to the end because of the amount of people and families on the trail. It finishes at a dirt parking lot at the end of the paved section of Ski Hill Road and just past the Grand Lodge at Peak 7 with a restaurant and (public) restrooms and water fountains. In all the overviews I read about this trail, not one mentioned there is an actual trailhead. So know that, if you’d like to start from the Breck end, this trailhead with parking lot exists (porta-potties do not, but clean, indoor restrooms do).

It took us about two and a half hours to complete, which included a few picture breaks and a bit of hiking. We were pretty happy with this and felt like we could tackle a few more miles, but decided to head into town instead. 

Peaks Trail Frisco Breckenridge - Early Morning Run

Turns out the gondola, which can be accessed just past the Grand Lodge and its neighboring Crystal Peak Lodge, is free. So we hopped on and took a ride down the mountain. If you haven’t been to Breck before, it’s good to know that the gondola drops you off just a block away from the main street in town, which is awfully convenient. By the time we get off, we’re sufficiently hungry and ready for breakfast. 

I had done a little research the day before and found a spot called Amazing Grace which sounded perfect for two vegans after a run. I’ll warn you that this spot is off the main street and up a hill, but it’s worth it. And it’s not just for vegans and vegetarians. The cute little yellow house  has several tables inside with a back patio. The fresh menu is filled with sandwiches, breakfast burritos and other breakfast plates, and the staff was super helpful and accommodating. While we’ve been to Breck a few times this was our first visit to Amazing Grace and from now on it’ll be our go-to spot. 

Peaks Trail Frisco Breckenridge - Early Morning Run

After becoming sufficiently full, we headed back to the transportation center where the gondola lets off to pick up the Summit Stage bus back to Frisco. This was an easy process but the bus only comes every 30 minutes or so, which means we ended up waiting around for a bit. Be sure you get on the Frisco bus rather than one heading to another regional town like Keystone or Silverthorne. The bus drops off on Frisco’s main drag and it’s another mile or so walk back to the trailhead where we found our car, cleaned up and headed off to Broken Compass Brewery.

What to know, if you go:
  • There are trailheads with parking lots at both ends; neither have porta-potties or water
  • While this isn’t the highest trail in the area, you’re still in the mountains so take layers
  • If going one-way from Frisco to Breckenridge, pick up the gondola just down Ski Hill Rd for a free ride down into town; the free Summit Stage bus can be caught at the bus loop just outside the gondola drop for a ride back to Frisco
  • If you start from the Breck end, drive up Ski Hill Rd till you hit the trailhead; if you’re doing one-way to Frisco once you make it to the trailhead turn left at 2nd Ave, walk till you hit Main St then turn right and walk several blocks to the bus stop for your trip back to Breck and the gondola ride back up
  • Take a picture or two of the trail map with your phone so you can reference along the way if you feel the need
  • Don’t forget to wear sunblock (higher altitude, thinner air) and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Visit Amazing Grace in Breckenridge for your post-run brunch.
  • Have fun and enjoy the journey!
Here's a helpful link for a trail map and elevation chart: www.trailrunproject.com/trail/7002524/peaks-trail

When you go trail running, do you prefer big views or forest shade? * With so many trails, how do you choose which ones to run or hike?