By Ali Lopez
MRG Contributor

What a blast! On a recent Saturday this fall I got to run the awesome Bad Apple Ultra down in Greenville Michigan. This Oct. 27 event is a timed ultramarathon event held at Klackle Orchards. A timed ultra—what does that mean, you may be wondering. You have the choice of doing a 3-, 6- or 12-hour run on a 4-mile loop through an apple orchard, pumpkin patch, wooded trails and a carnival! When I tell most people that you run a 4-mile loop as many times as you can in the time you pick, the first question is always “doesn’t it get boring???” Absolutely not. And if you want to know why, read on. {Want to also hear this race recap in Ali’s own words? Tune in to the latest MRG Podcast, featuring Heather’s conversation with Ali about this race. Listen to the episode clicking on the player at the top of this post. Or, subscribe and download the show using your favorite podcast app.}

A little about this race: It is put on by Ben VanHoose, ultrarunner extraordinaire. This year marked the 8th year running of this event, and it is a real grass-roots race. It’s small and inexpensive and features a great community of runners. One of the things I LOVE about trail races is the community.

 

I did this race (the 6-hour option) in 2016, so this year I debated doing the 12-hour option. And when I say debated, I mean it. Prior to signing up, I texted back and forth with two of my favorite ultra runners – Erika, who has been on the MRG podcast, and David, my local running best friend – as to the pros and cons of each distance. (First world problems, as I like to say.) Ultimately, I decided on the 6-hour for a number of reasons:

  1. My eye injury. I wasn’t super confident about running in the woods, in the dark for a few hours.
  2. The 12-hour race started at 6 am and the 6-hour at noon—need I say more there.
  3. The weather called for a rainy, cold morning. Also, my buddy Erika was running the 6-hour, so that would mean I could hang out with her the night before the race and arrive leisurely in the light of day.

Race Weekend

I drove down to stay with Erika on Friday night and arrived just as her husband was walking in the door with pizza! Perfect. We proceeded to eat pizza, drink some beer, work on a 1,500 piece pasta-themed jigsaw puzzle, watch the end of Napoleon Dynamite (amazing dance sequence) with her husband and kids  and laugh A LOT!

I went to sleep, then woke up and looked at my phone at 6:48 am. That’s when I realized that I could have been running for 48 minutes already. I was so glad that I chose the 6-hour race and could roll over and go back to sleep for another hour.

I got up and joined Erika in the kitchen where she had awesome power-packed oatmeal ready for us (I am working on a recipe to come as an upcoming blog post!) We ate, packed, ate again (seriously) and headed off leisurely to the race. We picked up Sara (also running the 6-hour) along with her super supportive boyfriend who would actually spend the afternoon there watching, running with her for a bit and basically being an awesome cheerleader!

Race Day

Once at the race we picked up our bibs, said hello to every person there that Erika knows (which is pretty much everyone), watched the 12-hour runners coming through the start/finish area, and then had our pre-race meeting where Ben just gathers us together and explains the rules. Basically, we have six hours to run as many loops as we can. Erika told me her goal was nine loops (36 miles) and mine was at least eight loops (which is what I did two years ago.) Ben explained that if you get in before 6 p.m. (even 5:59 p.m.) you can head out for a bonus loop! #ultrarunnergoals.

At noon, we set off. It was still raining lightly and pretty chilly, so I wore my rain coat and snow pants that I had been wearing before the race to keep warmer and dry. I said goodbye to Erika as she is a lot faster than me; I knew my only chance of seeing her on the course was if she passed me.

I started at a pretty good pace, fast for me, and was just so happy to be running. About two miles into the loop is a small aid station with drinks and candy, manned by Ben’s dad (and it was his birthday!). At that point I started to get really warm and couldn’t wait to get my rain gear off. Needless to say, the first loop was not my favorite with all the extra clothing. I came back through the start/finish aid station and took off my pants and jacket and stuck with my shorts, compression socks, long sleeve zip and gloves, which ended up being perfect for the whole race. Score! I checked out the aid station goodies and settled on a GU for my second lap. For those of you not familiar with ultra/trail aid stations, I’ll just say it is one of the reasons I run… ha! Just kidding… sort of. This one had the usual GUs and oranges, but also potato chips, pickles, chicken broth, PB&J sammies, grilled cheese, Oreos… you get the point.

Getting into a Groove

Lap 2: I felt so much lighter without all the gear on and I could settle into a comfortable pace and enjoy the scenery. I’ll try and describe the course, but really you need to experience it. You start by running through apple orchards between the trees, up and down a few rows, then you enter the first pumpkin patch, then a road crossing, up a little hill, through the woods, another orchard, another pumpkin patch, more woods, more orchards and then you enter the homestretch back to the start finish area passing through the carnival setting of the orchard, with a carousel, a stage with fake people playing fake instruments (with melted heads) but blaring music. Along the course there were tons of families out in the pumpkin patches and some were riding in the wagons being pulled by the tractor driven by a Santa lookalike. The other oddity was the pumpkin train that you only see in your nightmares.

I made a plan to make sure that I ate something each time I passed through the main aid station, and my goal was to get four loops by 3 p.m., then see how I felt and hopefully get eight loops by 6 p.m. I had a 1/4  of a PB&J on lap three and then a 1/4 of a grilled cheese on lap four. Wow! That grilled cheese tasted amazing. Kraft singles on white bread. FTW. (For the win!)

Grilled Cheese & Chicken Broth

I just made it through four laps a little after 3 p.m., so I felt like eight laps was doable. But I wasn’t sure I would do it in the six hours, or if I would need the bonus lap. I kept up with the grilled cheese quarters, and supplemented with some chicken broth (the warmth and saltiness was perfection.) Until around 4 p.m., I was just running and watching the sights, chatting with other runners. I decided at 4 p.m. that it was game time and the tunes came out. I usually try to hold off on music during a race until I need the push. The music was a great distraction from the voices in my head and the hurt that my body was starting to speak to me. I have a tendency to sing (out loud) and dance along to my music as I run, so some of the other runners got to experience the free entertainment.

I finished loop seven a little after 5 p.m. and started out on loop eight. I had been running pretty consistently fast-for-me 10ish- to 11ish-minute miles most of the race with a few 13s thrown in during the hilly, walking sections. I had been averaging between 45 and 55 minutes for each loop, but at this point I was running for five hours and wasn’t sure I could keep up the pace. But then I looked down at my watch and saw that if I picked up the pace a bit, I had a chance to get in before 6 p.m. and get the #9 bonus loop. I could have just been happy that I would get the 8 loops, but now I was determined to get that bonus loop! Well, let me just say that running 9-minute miles on trails after running for 5 hours is a lot harder than it sounds…ha! But I was determined. Oh, and this song came on my iPod and I played it on repeat 3 times.

Finishing Strong!

I rounded the corner by the carousel and could see the start/finish area and the clock said 5:55!!!!!! So I stopped, got another grilled cheese quarter and proceeded to try and catch my breath and head out for the bonus lap. A nice 4-mile cool down jog. (Just a note about my blazingly fast 8th loop… at the end of the race my watch told me my best time for the 36 miles was an 8:32 minute mile…holy moly!) That last loop it was getting dark in the woods and I was glad that I chose the 6-hour for my eyesight (although I think it was a lot harder than the 12-hour because I would have walked a lot more on the 12-hour!) I crossed the finish line around 6:45 p.m. and Erika was there at the finish and as soon as she hugged me I broke down crying. All the good tears, that I GOT to do this! We stood around the bonfire for a while to warm up before heading to the Perrin Brewing Company for some Lil Griz Barrel Aged Brown Ale, fried pickles and macaroni and cheese! Yes! Healthy Chef Ali eats fried food and cheesy food… occasionally ☺ Also, in case you were wondering, Erika got 10 loops (I knew she would) for the overall win and a new course record! #badassultrarunner

A few notes about the loop course: As I mentioned at the beginning, everyone always asks me: “Don’t you get bored running the same loop over and over?” Now you can see that it definitely is not boring. When it got tough out there, I just remembered “I get to do this” and a smile would cross my face. I found that during each loop, my head was in a new place (as happens with ultras), my body was in a new place, different people were around me, both running and picking pumpkins, and I can’t say enough about the amazing volunteers! It was in the 40s all day — and damp and chilly — and they were standing in one place making grilled cheese sandwiches, ladling out chicken broth, and recording our loops on a big piece of posterboard. That was a much harder job than running in circles. Thank you, Ben, for putting on such an awesome race. I hope I have convinced some of you to give it a try next year.

 

Ali
Ali

Ali Lopez is a northern Michigan runner, chef and health coach. You can learn more about her at her web site Healthy Chef Ali. She’s also on Facebook here »

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