Monday, January 7, 2013

First Race Report of 2013: Sgt Preston Yukon King 5k

I started 2013 off on the right foot by running a New Year’s day race. It was the Sgt Preston Yukon King 5k in Muskegon, MI. This is the second time I have run this race. The first time was in 2011.  It was the first race I ran when I moved to Michigan. That year is it was around 10 degrees at the time the race started. It was quite a shock for a California/Florida transplant. This year I was more prepared.

Before I start on the report, let me tell you a bit about the race. In an earlier post I talked about how I like small, kind of unique races and those that support a local cause . Well what attracted me to this race initially was the title. In case you are not old enough to remember Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, it was a television show in the late 1950s. Sgt Preston was a Canadian Mountie who, with his “wonder dog Yukon King” patrolled the northwest territories in “relentless pursuit of lawbreakers in the wild days of the Yukon”:

How could I watch that video and not be hooked? It also met the criteria of being a small town race benefitting a local cause, North Muskegon High School athletics. Plus, as if I needed any further encouragement, there was a long sleeved t-shirt with a cool Sgt Preston logo involved. It was also the 39th running of the race. If it had been around that long, they must be doing something right.

The race is held in a really nice location, Muskegon State Park, on the edge of Lake Michigan. Driving into the park, the lake was beautiful, despite the cold, although I must tell you that I did have a moment of cognitive dissonance trying to reconcile sand dunes with sub-freezing temperatures. Where I come from, those two definitely don’t normally go together. To be more specific, the race is held at the Winter Sports Complex at the park, which has an 850 ft. Luge course and three outdoor ice hockey rinks. Thankfully, it also had a brand new pavilion with several heaters which made waiting for the awards ceremony much more comfortable.

Race day was  a chilly one again this year, but this time with temperatures in the upper 20s instead of the teens. We arrived at the race a bit early, so I had time to check out the course. The race has the 5k that I was running, as well as a 6 mile race. The 5k course is very flat, and if run in the summer would be a very fast course. The 6 mile is hilly, going over the famous “blockhouse hill.” Well we all know my aversion to anything with “hill” in the title, so it was the 5k for me. Having run the race before, I knew the course, but wanted to drive it anyway to check out the footing.

What I saw did not thrill me. The course started on the main highway, which had two very clear wide strips with clean pavement. Unfortunately, after about a quarter mile it turned onto a road for the out and back that was in all manner of mess. There was an abundance of snow and ice. As I looked at it, I began to doubt my decision to leave the Yak Traks at home. It did look like there was a narrow patch down each side of the road where the pavement was showing through. I was hoping it would give some good footing. I had brought my screw shoes and hoped that if I stayed on those parts of the road, the screws would grab.

We went back to the start, and I got registered. It looked like a good crowd, and it was. They announced at the start that the race had the biggest turnout so far, 396 runners. I hate warming up, especially in sub 30 temperatures, but I forced myself out to do it because I really did want to run a good race. It turned out that the warm-up actually saved the race for me.

As I went onto the out and back part of the course on the warm-up, it turned out that the course did not have as much traction as I had hoped, even with the screw shoes. It was pretty slippery, but I soon discovered that the “back” side of the road was better than the “out” side and that running in the shallow snow on the side of the road was less slippery and provided more traction than trying to run on the slick section of the middle that looked like it was more clear. I filed that key information away for the race.

I got back from the warm-up just in time for the start. I found a good place to line up, not too far back. The quarter mile at the beginning and end of the route offered the best traction of the race, and I wanted to use it. I did not want to get caught behind slower runners and not be able to take advantage of the good footing. They made a few announcements at the start of the race, including that one of the founder’s of the race, Jack Kroeze had died this year at age 75. Although I did not know him, I said a silent “thank you” to him for starting such a fine race.

The race started, and I took off fast but controlled. My goal for the race was just to have improved pacing and to run fairly even mile splits. I had initially thought that I would try to run 7:40s, but doubted that would be possible with the footing. I decided just to concentrate on running a good steady effort and not over-reaching -- and staying on two feet. I turned the corner onto the icy road and moved to the left side to run on the section I had scoped out. The footing was fairly solid, and I was able to run a steady pace. I hit the first mile in 7:42. So far, so good. 

Just before the first mile marker, the footing started getting dicey. I crossed over to the right side of the road and slowed down some while I searched for the optimal footing. It ended up being the edge that I had mentioned earlier. Thankfully, as we approached the turnaround, the footing improved temporarily.

As I watched the runners coming toward us from the turnaround, I realized that there were not a lot of women ahead of me. In fact, besides the girls who looked like they were probably high school cross country runners, there were only a few women ahead of me. That gave me a bit of a boost. I made the turnaround and headed back. At the 2 mile mark, I checked my mile split. It was 7:55, but that was okay. I had slowed down because of the footing and the turnaround, not because I was dying. I still felt like I was running comfortably hard and in control.

Mile 2 to 3 was not as miserable as it usually is (obviously – I didn’t kill myself in the first mile this time). I did get passed by two men in this mile but no women. That was a good sign. This mile included the section of bad footing again, and again I struggled through the early part of the mile to find a spot that was not slippery. The latter part of the mile had better footing.  I was running on the same section I had run on the way out. As I turned the corner onto the main road, I did not have time to check for a split. It later turned out that I had done that mile in 8:04, I would have liked to have been under 8, but whatever. The final .1 I was able to pick it up to 7:23 to finish. I crossed the line in 24:13, which was slower than the previous year, but good considering the conditions.

I did not realize how good it was until they posted the results. I was first Master’s female, which was a huge surprise. The previous year I had been about 15 seconds faster and only third in my age group. I was very happy with the finish, especially when I saw the awards --  huge beer glasses, engraved with the Sgt. Preston logo. Who does not need one of those?

This was a fun race and a great way to start off 2013. It was just the morale boost I needed after those rather depressing performances in my previous two races. You can keep your sauerkraut and black-eyed peas. Nothing brings luck in the new year like a nice little race on New Year’s Day! 

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