2015 Groundhog Marathon Race Recap
Maybe the third year mother nature would ease up and we all would have an easy-going course? NOPE! The inaugural year brought single digits with a foot of fresh snow, last year we experienced what running in a foot of mashed potatoes for 26.2 miles would be like and this year the wind was added. Cold COLD wind that is. Sure the front half of the route you could find a mile section or so and jump onto a decent clear road pace. But the second half of the loop by the river quickly tested your endurance with cold temperatures.
So you maybe asking yourself what is he talking about? Don Kern has been successfully hosting a great race each year on Groundhogs Day called the Groundhog Marathon. The event offers a 4.4 mile race on Saturday night then you can tackle either a half or full marathon distance on Sunday morning. The course is a looped 4.4 mile course in Grand Rapids, MI. On a warm summer day you could probably find that the course is flat and paved. But during our Michigan winters this route can include ankle to waist deep snow drifts, black ice, mashed up snow (aka mashed potatoes) or if you’re lucky packed down trails for 200+ runners.
Going into the weekend I was honestly hoping for mother nature to live up to her name and ‘gift’ us with some adventure running. While I looked at last year’s incredibly insane time on the course (only 39, including myself, completed the marathon distance) I knew that I didn’t want anything easier as the tradition needed to stay alive. Earlier into the week we saw some clear days that started to melt off some of our wintry accumulation. But as all of us Michiganders know this could change in absolutely zero time.
We got our wish as on Saturday the local news AND Reed Timmer make social media blitzes with extreme blizzard warnings for the southwest corner of Michigan for Sunday morning. #SCORE
It’s on like donkey kong! With my blizzard gear packed I was ready to make another Groundhog Marathon adventure. I picked up Peter (another local ultra runner) stupid early that Sunday morning as we 1) wanted to get onto the roads before the storm was in full swing and 2) I wanted to get a good parking spot this year AT the event rather than taking a shuttle back to the car when we’re finished. Leaving early was painful but it paid off as the roads weren’t too bad plus we got a great spot at the start/finish line.
With packet pickup completed and gear all lined up, we still had 30 minutes or so to chill. So with the heat seats on full blast, a nice 25 minutes power nap was great.
This year I got up to the front of the starting line as I didn’t want to dodge traffic like I had last year for a lap. With a couple of fist bumps with some other fellow runners, the clock struck 8am and away we rolled. We were told that this year they ‘groomed’ the course with a pull behind cross-country device that they used typically on trails. Not sure if it truly helped or not as I found the course to be pretty soft for the first couple laps. I think if the temps were colder the ground would have been harder and possibly easier to run on.
My plan for the day was not to push myself over the redline as I wasn’t there to podium nor to get a PR. My thought on this event is survival. If you finish what you set out to do that day then that should be your goal. So an easy paced run was the goal and definitely hopeful to finish before the ugly 6 hr mark like last year’s crazy day.
As I finished the first lap around 38 minutes and feeling good about it I knew the day would turn out okay as long as the storm didn’t open up more on us.
As the day drifted on the times were staying on track and possibly a new PR for that course was in store. Then the wind picked up with some wicked sub-zero wind chill. I geared up that day with a dual layer glove setup that I typically have great success with but this time I added hand warmers. The warmers were great but I found that I was sweating on the front have of the course (wind to our back) and when I made the turn and ran along the river with the wind directly in our face my gloves literally froze up.
As I danced around the start/finish line one last time to head out on lap 6 my hands were frozen. I needed to swap gloves out but didn’t want to do it in the open so I targeted the first aid station on the course to swap out gloves. At this point I knew I would have to have a crazy lap to stick a 4hr completion time and honestly I just wanted to have warm hands. Weak I know but heck I wasn’t there to blaze the course nor target a top finish time. I just wanted warm hands. It took me a few minutes to change out my gloves but with the help of the awesome volunteers at the aid station they got back out onto the tundra trail.
Finished the day with a survival time of 4:18:13 and come to find out later that was good enough to give me 1st in my age group and 10th overall. The real adventure after running was changing into dry clothes. You ask why? The next time you’re outside shoveling or snow blowing for 4+ hours, let’s see you try to untie your shoes.
Well, will I be back next year? You betcha! This race has and will be a yearly event that I will participate in. Amazing volunteers, great race director and stupid unknown mother nature conditions and did I say tasty chili and beer at the finish tent?
To my fellow fans that are looking for a video recap, well let’s just say the extreme cold temps that day don’t play well with a GoPro and it’s battery thus I was only able to capture a few stills throughout the run.
Gear on the Run
- Shoes – Saucony Kinvara 5 Runshield (this shoes ROCK in regards to warmth)
- Socks – Wrightsock Double Layer
- Bottoms – Craft Ventair X Wind tights
- Gloves – Rotated two different pair
- Vest – Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Vest
- Buff – Merrell Buff
- Watch – Garmin 910xt
- Glasses – Rudy Project Rydon
- GoPro – HERO 4 Black