Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Race Report: Bayshore Half Marathon -- The Power of Teamwork

Most people do not think of running as a "team" activity. Unless you ran cross country or track in high school or college, running is pretty much considered an individual sport. The stereotype of the "loneliness of the long distance runner," became a stereotype because there is a large portion of truth there. Most runners, especially marathoners, do put in long and sometimes lonely miles in pursuit of their goals, but I have found runners to be some of the more sociable people I know -- hence the popularity of running clubs. Runners tend to like to get together to run, talk about running, eat, and sometimes race.

I do not consider myself much of a social person. In fact, I am actually quite a loner most of the time, but I do belong to my share of running clubs. Right now, I am an active member of three clubs, and though I do not keep a current membership, I actively follow the goings on of two more clubs back in California which I had belonged to for many years. You may think I am digressing from the point here, which is the Bayshore race report, but I just needed to lay a little groundwork before I get to the actual race report.

This past weekend was the Bayshore Marathon and HalfMarathon in Traverse City, Michigan. This is the goal race for the spring training series with my road running club, Team Playmakers. I ran the half again this year. Unlike last year, where this was a goal race for me, this year I was woefully  unprepared for 13 miles of fast road running. My ultra training has left me fit enough for the ups and downs of a 6 hour trail run, but it has not left me fit for the continuous fast running that a road race requires. However, my race performance is definitely not the interesting part of this weekend. What was interesting about the weekend for me was the power of teamwork.

I was an MIA team member this winter. Between the cold weather, my ultra training and traveling, and my desire to sleep in on cold winter mornings, I made exactly one of the team training sessions prior to Bayshore. I followed the team goings-on through the Facebook page, but I was not present for much of the training. Perhaps that is why the spirit of the team was so evident to me this weekend.

The week before the marathon and half were tense ones on the Playmaker's discussion group. It seemed everyone had some variety of ache, pain, or problem that was a signal of impending doom (or at least a sign that the goal would not be accomplished). The team spirit and support began to show itself then, and it continued right up to race day.

Jerry and I arrived at Traverse City on Friday afternoon and connected with my friend and teamie Kate,  who had brought along three other teamies, Tina, Mike, and Nicole, as well as her incredibly supportive husband, Mark, and three kids, for a pre-race pasta dinner at Fazzoli's. Spirits were high, as were the nerves. Tina and Mike were about to run their first marathons. Nicole and Kate were veterans, but Kate was attempting a Boston qualifier time which was 12 minutes faster than her previous (and first marathon).

We had a great time and then headed over to packet pick-up. There is not much of an expo for the Bayshore race. There is basically just the Running Fit booth, a few tables for various groups and races, but no real expo. However,  packet pick-up allowed us to run into more of our Playmakers teammates and coaches. Maybe because I had no pressure to perform the next day and maybe because I hadn't seen many of my teammates for a while, I was really enjoying the social atmosphere and excitement.

After packet pick-up, we all headed back to our respective lodgings. Tina popped over to our campsite for me to tape up her knee with some Rock Tape. She had been struggling with knee pain for several weeks and decided to give the taping a try.  We chose a very festive blue argyle pattern. No one would miss her as she passed.

The Bayshore course is set up so that the marathon is an out and back, while the half is point-to-point. The half starts at the marathon turn-around a half hour after the marathon start. The course is a two lane road that winds along the bay with beautiful views. The half marathoners meet the marathoners about 4 miles into the race, so those running the half get to cheer their marathon friends as they pass.

The drawback of that arrangement is that the half marathoners have to get up really early to get the buses to the start. I had to catch the shuttle at the campground at 5:00 for the trip to the high school to catch the bus to the start. I got on one of the early buses and got to the start line about 5:40 for a 7:30 start. It was a long wait, but the up side was that for about the first hour the lines for the port-a-johns were short. I had found a Playmaker's teamie, Theresa, at the high school and was really happy to have company for the long wait. Eventually other Playmaker's teamies-- recognizable by their red Team Playmakers gear-- came by to say hi. Unfortunately, except for Michelle, I did not know many of their names. Our fearless leader Ann, rode up on her bike and herded as many of us together as she could find for a team picture before the start.

The race start was uneventful and organized. I headed off down the course, and it was just as I had remembered. I slipped into my planned 8:00 pace and zoned out a bit waiting for the action to start with the approaching marathoners. At about 4.5 miles the bikes leading the first marathon man came into sight. For the next mile or so, I entertained myself by whooping and hollering for the leading marathoners as they passed by. Soon the marathoners started coming in packs, and I knew it was time to start watching for Playmakers.

I already had it in my head the order my teamies should be approaching. The group that I normally would train with (if I had actually been attending the training sessions) would be in the lead. I expected to see either Paul, Geoff, or Dr. Tom and Hannah first, but I was not sure what order they would be in. Sure enough, Paul came into view first. He looked to be doing great and on pace for a good PR. Geoff came next, and I almost missed Dr. Tom and Hannah in the crowd, but managed to get a quick shout out before they slipped past.

Next I started looking for my dear friend and sometimes training partner, Kate. She was the real reason I had decided to go through with the race at Bayshore that I obviously was not trained for. She was hoping for a Boston qualifying time of 3:40 or faster. I believed that she could do it, but it was going to take a really perfectly executed race on her part because it was going to be a huge PR for her. She had done some really great training, and I was more excited about her performance than anything else for the weekend. Sure enough she came next and looking good. I had lost the ability to do math by that time, but her smile made me think that she must be right on pace.

I must have sent Kate all my energy as she passed because it was about at that time that the wheels fell off for me. I was not used to 9 miles of continuous running at that speed and began to suffer. I had two really horrible miles in there, but was continuously uplifted by the red Playmakers shirts meeting me and the opportunity to cheer on the marathoners as they went by. Soon, I passed the Playmaker's tent on the course and Coach Mike gave me a little boost as I went by.  I was happy to see Tina not soon after and see that she was still running and smiling.

As I rounded the corner onto the track I heard my name and saw the smiling face of my friend Janet, the one who I had cheered to her first marathon finish just a while back, returning the favor and cheering me in. I finished the race a little off my goal of 1:45, in 1:47.07. It was 6 minutes slower than last year, which bummed me out just a little, but it was really about what I deserved based on the training I had been doing. The IT band problem really made me drop my mileage in the crucial 6 weeks leading up to the race, so all-in-all, I was satisfied with the performance. I picked up my drop bag and found Jer. The next order of business was to check the results. I was shocked and amazed to see that I had come in 5th in my age group! Medals in this race go down to 5th place, so I was pretty excited to be getting an award. With that bit of happy news, we headed up to the stands to cheer in my fellow Playmakers and wait to see how the marathoners had done. 

As I sat in the stands cheering in the red jerseys I was so proud of my team. I knew that each of the finishers had a story and had dealt with and overcome many obstacles to be there. The looks of determination and triumph on their faces as they rounded the corner and headed down the finishing straight was priceless. I cursed my phone camera which would not let me get close-ups of the finishers.

Soon the marathoners started to finish. I anxiously watched as the clock approached 3:25. I knew that my friends Geoff and Paul were both shooting for times under 3:30. I was particularly pulling for Geoff, as he had just missed his BQ time at Kalamazoo by a few seconds a few weeks before and was giving it another shot. Paul came around the corner first at a little over 3:26, an awesome time for him!! He totally deserved it because he is one of the hardest workers I know. Geoff came just a minute or so later in 3:28!! He got his time as well!

Next came Kate ...  I cannot tell you how anxious I was. She was trying for 3:38. By 3:37 on the finish clock, I was standing at the front of the bleachers gripping the rail. As 3:38 went by with no Kate, I started to get worried. 3:39 on the clock and still no Kate.  As 3:40 approached my heart was breaking. Just then Kate came around the corner. I could tell she was really tired but still pushing for the finish. She crossed at what I thought was around 3:40:15. Oh man. I felt so bad for her. She had obviously run a great race but had missed it by just a few seconds.

Jer and I shuffled off the bleachers and headed over to the finish area. When I finally found her, she said, "I made it! I made it!"  I had forgotten that the time on the clock was gun time. Her chip time was 3:39.31!!! I was so happy! Her parents were there (who are also runners), as well as her husband, kids, and many of her Playmaker's friends and training partners. It was an amazing moment, so full of joy.  Paul was there, as well, and there were congratulations all around.

We congregated over at the Playmaker's team area, as one by one we cheered in our fellow runners. Each one was a victory and a celebration. Soon we got news from the course. Tina's knee had given out and she was walking and in pain at about mile 21. Erica texted Tina to see if she needed Paul or me to run out to help. She said no -- another of our teammates, Jim, was there on his bike and helping her through it. I also found out later that Coach Lynn, after running his own marathon, was out on the course helping some of the other runners in to the finish. What a guy!!  Soon Tina came around the corner, running, and crossed the finish line triumphant. It was not the time she had hoped for, but she had done it. It was a huge moment for her, as she had faced and overcome many personal and physical challenges to get to that finish line and completing the marathon had symbolic value beyond just the accomplishment itself. 

After the race, a group of us met in Kate's hotel room, with Playmaker's teammates popping in and out all afternoon. What a great experience. I thought back to my first marathon. I was there without any team support. I finished (with a BQ time) and had no one to share it with (except a husband who was extremely grumpy and anxious to get on the road and head home). It really struck me then how great the team experience is, the camaraderie and support. Whether it is a good or bad day, with a group like this, there is always someone there with a smile and  words of support and congratulations. There is always someone there who can empathize because whether fast or slow, we all go through much the same experiences in running a marathon, experience the same highs and lows, trials and tribulations.

One of the things that writing this blog has done is help me to appreciate and reflect on the value of these experiences. I think that often we run the race and when it is over, we may focus on the result and forget to reflect on the value of the experience. What I learned about the spirit of teamwork here will linger long after I forget what time I ran. Thanks Playmaker's!

Here is a look at my Team Playmaker's Bayshore weekend:


  1. Awesome report Lori! What a great weekend!

  2. Congrats on your finish.......good for you!!! Yep, the support of others really helps....I have not joined Playmakers recently - but got my start from being in the walk to run group - i just flunked running!!! Wish they had more training and events on the west side.......


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