As I wrap up my year, I can say that it’s been one of my absolute best.

While I was recuperating from my fourth shoulder surgery just over a year before, I got several very-long runs and races in this calendar year, including my fourth 50K ultramarathon in September that had me PR by 37 minutes from my previous fastest 50K in 2017It's me, immediately after I finished the 50K. I'm smiling. Wearing my water vest and a pair of dorky glasses

Looking back, there were some key things that helped me get such a big personal best:

  • I set a SMART goal. That’s one that is specific, meaningful, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Not only did I decide that I would sign up for — and run — Woodstock again, but I decided that this was the year when I would get a personal record.
  • I cross-trained, even when I didn’t want to. I’m not a big biking fan, but I rode our Peloton stationary bike at least once a week, often for 45 minutes or an hour. I also did yoga at home once a week, took at least one rest day every week, and got between seven and eight hours of sleep most nights.
  • I followed Dr. Awesome’s orders. I see a manipulative-medicine doc about every other month. He’s awesome. And he’s given me excellent advice through the years. He fully supports my running, but he’s pushed me to really take care of myself, including the aforementioned cross training and resting. He also only cleared me to get back on the trails if I do my run/walk intervals. Just a good mix for my piriformis/butt/knee pain. It works for me.

As for the actual race, my friends and I arrived late afternoon on Friday, set up my motorhome at the nearby state campground and went to packet pickup for Run Woodstock at Hell Creek Campground.

the Hell Creek Campground map, showing the important spots for the race

Packet pickup was super easy and, thankfully, very close to the entrance. We could have just left, but we were hoping to see friends there, including two who had started their 100K race at 4 p.m. (We can’t math, so we were too early to see them.)

We still lingered for a while, checking out the pre-race festivities, and cheering the faster runners who were already coming through from their first loop.

The evening was uneventful (unlike the buckets of rain and the storms the night before my first ultra) and we made it to the race with enough time to take care of our drop bags and make a pit stop.

Picture of most of the members of our group, in the dark, but wearing headlamps. We're all smiling.

Because we’re the Mullet Crew (we’re the party in the back!), the going was very slow for the first half hour or so. The first bit is hilly, the trail is narrow, and there are literally dozens and dozens of people in front of you, plus you’re in the dark and not quite sure where you’re going.

The person in front of me; can only see them because I'm wearing a headlamp.

I was particularly grateful for my nice headlamp, which I wore for the first hour, until we got to a section that has fewer trees, the trail widens and the sun is starting to come up.

As with previous years, we brought fuel and hydration vests, but relied on the amazing aid stations, conveniently spaced about 4 miles apart. The food — and the volunteers — were as awesome as always. I followed my running coaches’ advice and made sure to eat and drink more than in previous years — especially after last year’s blood-in-the-urine fiasco.

Because I run with amazing people, my friends fully supported my goal of beating my best previous time. A couple of us stuck together for the first loop and, later, I ended up with my friend Walisa, who was running strong and made for great company — even during some miserable hills.

A selfie with Walisa in the background, with her hands up in the air, smiling.

About a quarter of the way into our second of two loops, Walisa was slowing down and I kept getting ahead of her. I went back a few times to make sure she was feeling well and she encouraged me to keep going, knowing of my year-long goal.

After a significant internal struggle, I trusted her judgment and ran ahead, alone.

The rest of the trail was particularly challenging because there are at least a gazillion (OK, more like five) very steep and looooong hills at a time when you’re just spent.

a photo of a particularly steep hill

Because I was by myself for quite a while, I dug deep and used self talk, including my mantra of “trust the plan,” to power through. As with other trail races, I encountered dozens of 100K and 100-mile runners who took the time to encourage *me.* It’s just an amazing feeling to know how far they’ve gone and that they’re thinking of others, despite what I’m sure is a ridiculously tough time.

I did stop to check on a few 100 milers who looked pretty rough, just to make sure they had enough fuel and to share words of encouragement. One told me he planned to quit as soon as he got to the next aid station. He was leaning heavily to the side (a tell-tale sign of exhaustion), but kept shuffling because that’s just what you do. He declined any help, but I made sure I told the volunteers about him so they could send someone out.

Another time, I stopped a few men for a moment to give a 100-miler a few seconds of privacy as she finished peeing while leaning on a tree, right on the side of the trail. They were incredibly understanding and went along, taking advantage of the very short break to fuel and check their gear.

It was these experiences, coupled with a strong training season and my Hamilton soundtrack, that gave me the second wind I needed to keep up with my run/walk intervals.

In the end, I was pretty sure I had made good time, but didn’t realize just how much faster until later that evening, while I sat, eating yummy Spanish food while waiting for our friend Shannon to finish her first 100K race. Watching her run in was one of the most-satisfying memories in my seven years of running.

As always, I am forever grateful to running for bringing these — and many other — people into my life. Because runners make the best friends ever.

A bunch of our ultramarathon-running friends, sporting our medals

Have you PR’d a race before? What did you do to get that personal best? Have you run an ultra? Do you want to? What’s your favorite thing about running? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

[Disclaimer: I received a free entry to the Detroit Free Press/TCF Bank International Half Marathon as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out to find and write race reviews!]

In what may be a once-and-done race, my friends and I ran the Detroit Free Press/TCF International Half Marathon.

Packet pick-up was smooth and easy. My friend Janet and I parked right on the TCF Center (formerly known as Cobo) roof. We (OK, really, Janet) had looked up our bib numbers, so we walked right in to registration and got our bibs and swag bags right away.

The place was very well organized, with a couple of spots with the race logo set up for perfect photo taking. The booths had everything from race gear to running shoes to medal hangers.A selfie of the chica, wearing an orange sweatshirt in front of the expo with people milling in the background

A photo of people at the expo. Many wearing running gear and most everyone carrying the race swag bag.

Everything went so well that we were able to make it to an early dinner with our friend Michelle at Slows Bar B Q in Midtown before heading to our hotel, the DoubleTree by Hilton in Dearborn (wouldn’t recommend), for the night.

A selfie of this chica, wearing an orange head band, with my friend Janet next to me, at the start of the race. We're both smiling.

Unfortunately, the hotel didn’t have coffee available for us, but we were able to hunt some down at a Starbucks close to the start line (corral M). Crisis averted.

Another selfie of this chica, showing my orange BibRave headband, at the start line.

We joined the back of the pack and the race started right on time. It wasn’t long before we saw the Ambassador Bridge.

A photo of the Ambassador Bridge, about four miles into the race. It's early and overcast.

Thankfully, Janet let me know that it would be several miles *after* we saw the bridge before we would actually be on it. It still was cool to see it early in the race. The next few miles included a big loop right next to a highway. Meh.

We finally got on the bridge and headed to Canada.
A selfie of this chica, wearing the orange Bib Rave headband, in front of the Ambassador Bridge. The sky is a bit orange in the background.

Because we started in the back of the pack, we easily stopped for lots of pictures.

The top of the Ambassador Bridge with an overcast sky.

The weather was perfect for a race, with temperatures in the high 40s and low 50s, with no wind and, thankfully, completely dry.

The view of Windsor from the Ambassador Bridge. Lots of tall buildings. The sky is overcast. The river is seen a bit on the right side.

The view was amazing. Even the long line of portable toilets was a welcome sight. Unfortunately, we were parched, but the aid station had run out of cups. Boo.

A row of about a dozen blue portable toilets with only three people standing outside. Most of the Ambassador Bridge spanning Detroit and Windsor, from the Windsor side.

The Canadian side went straight into a neighborhood, with lots of trees, apartments and houses.

A view of the Detroit skyline from the Windsor side. There are a couple of runners in front of us. A better view of the Detroit skyline from the Windsor side, with the RenCen on the right and Cobo on the left of the frame. Three people are walking in front of us.

We didn’t see a lot of spectators by the time we came through, but the course continued to have good signage. We saw the sweeper bus a couple of times, but picked up the pace and left it behind.

I had heard about the “underwater mile” — the tunnel that connects Windsor and Detroit, but didn’t know what to expect. Well, it allowed us to run down a bit of an incline, so we liked that a lot, until we reached about halfway where we saw the U.S. and Canadian flags. Lots of people stopped to take pictures to commemorate the mid-way point.

Inside the tunnel, with about a dozen runners behind us. It's a bit dark, but there are lights near the ceiling. There's a yellow divider line on the road. A selfie of this chica with the U.S. and Canadian flags behind me on the wall at the spot where you cross from one country to the other.

Once we neared the end, we were greeted by customs officers who cheered us on and gave us high-fives.

The rest of the race was uneventful…until I tripped on a pothole and skinned my knee pretty badly. Kudos to the medical tent team at the finish line for hooking me up with some ice.

Janet (on the left) and this chica on the right, at the finish line, holding up our medals. We're both smiling. You can see the finish line in the background and sponsor logos on the bottom of the photo. My leg, propped up on a white, plastic chair and an ice pack on my knee.

While I certainly enjoyed the race and recommend the experience, the timing in October means doing a half or a full just a month after my favorite race of the year (Run Woodstock 50K) and I just don’t think my body can handle the extended training schedule.

But if you want to be able to say you ran in two countries, and did an underwater mile, keep your eyes peeled for next year’s registration.

Have you run Detroit? Would you do it again? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

We just spent more than a week camping in gorgeous Indian Lake State Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It’s in a tiny town called Manistique on the southern part of the UP and features all of our favorite things about camping: lake views, glorious sunsets, nearby attractions, trails and, in this case, great Internet/phone connections.

Our site, E-2, is not reserve-able online; you can only walk in and request it. It’s rather large, with some big trees for good shade, next to the bathroom (more on that later) and across from a couple of waterfront sites.

While not the best site we’ve ever camped on, it certainly met all of our basic needs and was a great spot overall. The two sites across from us saw a lot of turnover, so we had new neighbors almost every day or two. As for being next to the bathroom, it really wasn’t as bad as we expected and didn’t detract from our stay.

There are several public access areas (most have steps) that served as perfect spots to view each evening’s sunset.

Pro tip: The walk/drive/bike to the first set of bathrooms is totally worth it. The water was hot and adjustable, unlike the single shower in the other two sets of bathrooms.

As for running, I got a few short (3-5 mile) runs in, plus a 20 miler and a 16 miler.

For my longest run, I wanted to stay close so I could access our motorhome’s bathroom, plus cold water and Gatorade, and snacks. I knew it would take me five to six hours, so I didn’t want to be weighed down by tons of supplies.

After chatting with the friendly park ranger, I settled on running the campground’s trails, which were supposed to give me about a mile, plus a full circuit on the campground’s loop for another mile. Doing that would obviously force me to run 10 2-mile loops. Not ideal, but do-able, and convenient.

I tried to find another, nearby option, but everything I found was at least a 30- to 45-minute drive or farther.

I headed out at 6 a.m. for my first loop, heading to the trail head, my hydration vest and trail shoes on. I had sprayed myself with bug spray, grabbing a couple of the Deep Woods Off wipes, just in case.

The trail starts with about .2 miles paved, then turns into a typical mix of dirt and sand, with some pretty lake views, lots of shade and no people.

I was particularly pleased to see the tree coverage, knowing the temperatures would rise quickly and soon.

Until, that is, the state bird, I mean, mosquitoes started feasting on me. I figured that if I kept moving, I would be OK, so I ran more than walked.

Until, that is, the trail speed bumps, I mean, the logs on the trail. And by logs, I mean lots of rather large tree branches that someone probably thought would help with erosion or mud. But instead, they tripped me over and over. And over.

Did I mention that the mosquitoes would swarm me when I slowed down?

Feeling like a mosquito buffet, I walked as fast as I could, trying to also avoid a digger face-first into the dirt.

When I had a moment, I re-applied the mosquito repellent, but it just served as a seasoning, because the suckers (see what I did there?) just kept biting.

I was glad to leave the trail, but dreaded just running loops on asphalt around the campground, so I went back through the trails a couple more times with similar results. I have to say that I just gave up; the whole ordeal was just unpleasant and even slower than normal, even for this back-of-the-packer.

Instead, I ran the 1-mile campground loop 14 more times after changing into my road shoes. And again a few days later for 16 miles. Weee!

Not a favorite, but it certainly beat running loops in my neighborhood.

Pro tip: be prepared to run 1-mile loops, or plan ahead and find a nice trail you can drive to…and bring bear spray.

Other than running, I went fishing with el husbando at nearby Dodge Lake, about a 20-minute drive northeast of Indian Lake. Together, we caught about 10 smaller bass. Most other days were too windy for us to fish, even with our new Minn Kota motor.

The Indian Lake campground is also close to a cool attraction called the Big Spring. We had been here about five or six years ago, and were happy to visit again. Basically, you get on a raft that allows you to see a beautiful natural spring with greenish-turquoise water and the biggest trout I have ever seen. We took some home video, but I think you’ll rather enjoy this Under the Radar piece instead.

Pro tip: This spot is extremely popular and there’s only one raft, so you may have to wait. The park ranger suggested we go early in the morning or at 6 p.m. We opted for 9 a.m. and didn’t have to wait long, but a bunch of people showed up as we were leaving.

We also did a ton of eating while on vacation, as one does, including a ride into town to experience Clyde’s Drive In, which several friends and TripAdvisor recommended. It’s apparently a sister restaurant to the original on U.S. 2, just west of the Mackinac Bridge once you cross over.

We all enjoyed the burgers and fries. I’m not typically a coleslaw lover, but theirs tasted fresh and was delicious. The shakes were just OK. The portions were rather generous and I was just glad that I didn’t have to cook.

Ironically, we were originally booked to camp at Lake Gogebic State Park, in the very western UP, but made a last-minute decision to swing by Indian Lake in the off-chance they had an open site. I called ahead when we were just 7 miles away, and were thrilled to learn that they had three open sites.

I should note that the park ranger, Pat Nelson, was awesome. He was friendly every single time we saw him, offered great suggestions and tips.

As I mentioned before, we parked here a few years ago and had fond memories, but had been choosing to camp at our favorite sites at Muskallonge Lake State Park. We’re glad we switched it up a bit, and are grateful for such an awesome vacation.

What’s your favorite Upper Peninsula state park for camping? What about for running? (You may have to click on the “Continue Reading” button to leave a comment.)

Seven Lakes State Park

by lachicaruns on

We were booked at this campground near Holly last year, but had to cancel unexpectedly. I’m so glad we gave it another try!

It was a great place both for camping and running.

First, the camping. The campground is smaller than most other Michigan state campgrounds with just one loop. We stayed on site 3, right by the entrance, so there was a lot of traffic coming and going. That said, we had a lake view and easy access to the trail head.

The sites are very close to each other with few trees, so there’s no privacy at all. Our site had plenty of room for our motorhome and we had plenty of cord to reach the power plug.

We had great weather, so we spent a lot of time outside, including a nice fire (the campground fire wood was still pretty green, so it took some work to get the fire started) and bird watching. There was a particular red-winged black bird that gave us hours of entertainment as it swooped down to chase away anything or anyone who came close to its next near the water.

One of the nights, we were fortunate to catch the light from the sunset, turning the lake and its surroundings a beautiful shade of orange.

Despite the closeness, we didn’t have any issues with noise. And while the bathrooms were very old and dated, they were spotless. Pro tip: avoid the third shower from the road, as the shower head was barely a trickle.

We weren’t planning on fishing, so we didn’t bring our Jeep with the canoe. While we certainly could have fished from shore, the campsites are on a very small lake that was probably originally some sort of a sand pit and didn’t look fishy at all. As the name suggests, there were several other lakes nearby and we hope to check them out when we return.

We especially enjoyed the nearby trails, even taking our favorite Leonberger for a walk our first night. The following morning, we had heavy rain, so I got to sleep in and instead headed out for my 7-mile run at noon after consulting the trail map.

The trail is certainly beautiful, with some small hills, varying from dirt to sand to crushed gravel. I thoroughly enjoyed my surroundings, including lots of greenery, with a few flowers and lots of very active birds who didn’t seem too thrilled to have me come through.

I headed toward Dickinson Lake and made a mental note to return with the canoe and fishing poles. It definitely looked nice and weedy.

There were lots of people through the trails near the campground with lots of families out for a stroll, some with dogs on leashes. I saw a few runners, including a woman wearing a Run Woodstock race shirt.

There were mile markers where I expected them, except that the signage wasn’t always clear.

I even had to help an older couple find their way back to their car, a funny thought to anyone who knows just how bad I am with directions. We managed. For some inexplicable reason, there were also lots of stacked stones throughout the area, a practice that leaves me confused.

But back to the terribly marked trail.

Once I got away from the immediate campground area, the lack of clear directional help became quite frustrating and took a bit away from my enjoyment. I took to shoving odd-shaped sticks on the ground to help me find my way upon my return; a practice that saved me from getting lost several times.

Because I still got lost several times and started my run so late, I was pretty much overheating about halfway through my run, so I headed back right at 3.5 miles. By then, I had taken off my jacket and shirt, and was kicking myself for not bringing water or Gatorade with me.

I found a promising spot for water on the map, but couldn’t find it because of the aforementioned lack of proper signage. I had plenty of fuel and made a mental note not to leave without water ever again.

I did consider hiding out in this random shelter I found on the trail until the temperature dropped, but I thought better of it.

Overall, it was a great experience and I definitely plan to return, both to camp and run, to Seven Lakes. I am just hoping the next trip includes some water — for fishing and drinking on the run.

What’s your favorite Michigan state park for camping? What about for running? (You may have to click on the “Continue Reading” button to leave a comment.)

Disclaimer: I received a pair of Turtle Gloves to review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out to find and write race reviews!

They’re soft, convertible and made in Michigan. What’s not to love?

When I got the Turtle Gloves’ Turtle-Flip midweight winter soft mittens to try because I’m a BibRave Pro, I wasn’t sure if they’d be warm enough for the Michigan tundra. In the end, I added hand warmers and ended up needing the mittens’ convertible features during my runs.

When they’re in their “regular” mode, the mittens have a pocket where you can put the hand warmer, making sure it’s right by your fingers, but not touching skin. This meant that my hand stayed warm when the temperatures were in the 20s. I’m always cold, so I think I need to order the Turtle Gloves’ warmer cousin, the weather protect heavyweight warm mittens for those days when we run in the teens.

The mittens allow you to flip the top, revealing your fingers for some temperature control.

And if you’re really warm, you can even push the mittens up toward your wrist. A fellow BibRave Pro has used them as arm warmers.

I mentioned they’re soft and they are the softest gloves I own. That was especially handy for the constant nose wiping that comes with the lower temperatures. They stayed just as soft after washing in cold water and hanging out to dry.

Because they’re made in Michigan, the company also carries Spartan and Tigers versions. Another set has reflective features and another the U.S. flag.

If you want to get your own set, you can use discount code TurtleBibRave for 15 percent off your order. You might also consider their fingerless gloves and mitten hoodies.

Do you have a favorite pair of gloves or mittens? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)