Lansing runner Amanda Morehouse, 36, shares her 13.1 race experience at this weekend’s Mud Dogs, part of the Winter Warrior Series of road races that take place in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. Amanda works in finance and also is the co-director of The Blarney Stone 5K/10K/Half Marathon, a charity race that also took place this past weekend and raised more than $1,200 toward an animal rescue and the Potterville Parks and Recreation fund. Amanda had a fun, busy weekend!~ MRG

As I leave Lansing to travel 70 miles in the cold this past Saturday, I have the inevitable last-minute hesitation that I should just stay home. After all, race day weather is expected to be in the 20s. And then I remember all the spring and summer races I have committed to, and realize I need some tested training, and there is nothing like a pre-paid race to get you motivated and moving. Mud Dogs, here I come!

Hearty Michigan runners, ready to run in the cold.
Hardy (and hearty!) Michigan runners, ready to run in the cold.

Ryan Hackett’s Winter Warrior Series began in 2009—the three-race series consisting of The Snowman in January, the Ice Cube in February, and the crowning glory of the Mud Dogs in March. I was there for the first race, having been on vacation from California visiting family. It was an unusual gem to find a half marathon in the middle of winter in Michigan, so I excitedly brought my brother-in-law as a fellow racer, and our families for support. About 40 people in total ran the half, 5K, or 10K; many of the results were hand-written and blew away in the wind, and we were packed like sardines for the awards ceremony in the sports shoe store. Still, I loved the idea of racing in the Michigan winter, and continued to run it every year.

Admittedly I would plan my trips home around one of the races. Ryan Hackett was definitely on to something; this was a niche that was unfulfilled. This past year 500 people signed up for each of his races. It has been great to see him grow, and having officially relocated back to Michigan last year, I truly realize the importance of his series. It is not California where we can run a marathon every weekend, and many are antsy to get back out there on race day. His races are also value oriented—a three-pack of half-marathons was offered at just $70. Swag included a medal and a hoodie, plus free race photos posted to his website. The post-race snack is your option of a bagel at the coffee shop, or a beer at local watering hole O’Kelly’s next door. Many choose the beer.

Amanda, just before the start of the race.
Amanda, just before the start of the race.

A few minutes before the race, we all trudge along begrudgingly from the warmth of O’Kelly’s to the starting line, next to Central University’s stadium. We begin to warm up before listening to a few announcements from Ryan, who then plays the Lumineers to get the runners pumped. And we’re off!

The first three miles consist of everyone acclimating to the cold—your legs feel like lead, your lungs have a bit of a shock, and despite mittens, your fingers don’t have much feeling. I notice many runners this year are decked out in green for St. Patty’s Day.

Frozen roads, strong runners.
Frozen roads, strong runners.

We travel in a tight pack, several hundred of us, until the 5K turnaround point, where the elites start separating from the pack. I wore my half-inch Kahtoola Micro Spikes, and can’t decide if it was a mistake or not. Ryan had posted photos of the course the day before, where the dirt roads looked like mud pits. I wanted to be able to dig into the mud for footing with my spikes, but as we round the first turn for the half, I realize the Mud Dogs did not live up to its name this year. The ground is completely solid, and resembles a frozen tundra—my spikes are slowing down my stride.

The out-and-back course remains the same since 2009, which makes many of us repeat offenders so familiar with it that we do not bother looking at signs for the turns. Still, as we travel through farmland beneath deep blue country skies, I can’t help but appreciate the beauty of the race, despite the cold. I feel hopeful that I will maintain a 2:20 (gone are the sub 2:00 half-marathons for me, for now), but as I approach the hills, which had previously seemed so benign on the way in and now are menacing on the last couple of miles before heading back into Central territory, I realize that the notion was a pipe dream. This year’s severe weather was not an acceptable excuse for slacking so badly on my training. I chastise myself several times until I cross the finish line, but a medal and sweatshirt seem to soften the blow.

Post-race fun and awards.
O’Kelly’s keeps runners warm, before and after the race.

Having finished the race, I head into O’Kelly’s to pick up my beer and listen to the awards ceremony. O’Kelly’s is packed to the brim with runners and their families, ordering more beer and post-race food, and there’s lots of chatter. It’s always a fun atmosphere, where runners socialize and trade race stories. I talk with one woman who traveled from Cheboygan and hit a PR today—she is choosy about what races she does, but likes Ryan’s price point. A couple of gentlemen in a jolly mood later tell me that they also hit PRs today, which is an amazing accomplishment for a winter race. It gives me more reason to berate myself for being such a slacker when everyone else has made no excuses for themselves.

This is why I love Michigan runners—they are tough and driven. With the Winter Warriors Race series officially over for 2014, it’s time to turn to my spring races.  As for Ryan though, he is not done for the year. He offers spring and summer races as part of his Michigan Half Series, and many of us will be back to join him.

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