Dances with Dirt Devil’s Lake Trail Half Marathon Recap

Devil’s Lake is one of the crown jewels of the Wisconsin State Park system.  I had hiked there many times but the idea of running there seemed pretty crazy!  Dances with Dirt Devil’s Lake was a race that was definitely outside my comfort zone.  But I have the goal to run a 50K and pushing outside my comfort zone is something that I needed to do.

This was my 5th half marathon of the year and my 3rd trail half marathon of the year. In that respect I felt fairly well prepared.  My goal was to run it at about easy pace and walk up the hills if I needed to.  My end goal is a full marathon in September and I didn’t want to impact my training for that.  The main goal was to stay upright and enjoy the run!

I reserved a campsite at the Northern Lights campground in the park.  Sites do fill early at the park regardless of whether there is a race.  There are also several private campgrounds close by.  The closest campground at Devil’s Lake to the race start/finish is the Ice Age Campground.  From there it is about a mile walk on a trail directly to the start/finish line.  Northern Lights is a little over a mile walk to the Ice Age campground.

Besides the half marathon there is a 10K, full marathon, 50K and 50 miler.  Packet pickup was the day before and also the morning of the race.  Things seemed very hectic the morning of the race, with people picking up bibs right before race start.  I picked up my bib the evening prior to the race and had no issues.  Participants also had to sign a waiver that was turned in while picking up the bib.  Race starts were staggered for the different distances.  Parking at the site did not appear to be an issue.  There was no gear check, though drop bags are available for runners doing the longer distances.

The start of the race was divided into a few waves based on pace.  Passing was not an issue for the most part, as little of the course is single track.  I thought the course was well-marked and was confusing at only one point.  But I am also a trail newbie!  Water stops provided water, Gatorade, and a variety of GU packets.  The first water stop is 4.5 miles into the race, right before the big hill up the bluff.  The day of the race the humidity actually dropped and temps were decent.  Otherwise I may have opted to carry water.

The course is a nice mix of grassy wide trail (mostly unshaded), shaded dirt trail, paved road through the Ice Age campground, and a concrete section on the bluff.  There are a lot of rocks and roots on the dirt trail.  Total elevation climb was about 1500 feet, the majority of it in the big hill at mile 5.  Views at the top of the bluff are spectacular and many runners stopped to snap photos.  There were professional photographers on the course at a few different locations, photos are available for purchase.  There are several road crossings but it was not a problem getting across the roads.

I finished the race in 2:23:45, 12/37 for AG and 288/564 overall.  I figured anything under 2.5 hours would be a win for me!  Besides not falling down.  🙂  Race swag included a finisher medal, tech tee, a beer, and food.  There was water, cookies, and fruit available immediately on finishing.  I took the opportunity to return to my camp site and wash up before getting food.  The food choices were a brat or hamburger.  There was also a post race party advertised that started at 2:15 but I did not return for that.

Overall I thought the event was well-organized.  Devil’s Lake is a challenging course, but doable.  I am considering returning to do one of the longer races.  We stayed another night at Devil’s Lake and there are a couple beaches there which is good for relaxing after the race.  It is one of the more crowded parks however.  There are a lot of activities at the park to keep family occupied as you run the race.  Always a bonus when you are dragging the family to races!  🙂



Terrain Racing 5K Obstacle Course Review (Slinger, Wisconsin)

I do not do obstacle courses.  At the age of 48, simply running is challenging enough for me!  My 9 year old daughter has been doing mud/obstacle course runs since she was 4.  My husband is a veteran of Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash and usually does those races with her.  They signed up for the Terrain Racing 5K early.  Then my husband blew out his knee.  So guess who had to step up and do this race?  🙂  Bib transfers were easy to do online with a small fee.  We signed up for the race for only $20 each but there is also a $9.95 fee added as an “insurance charge”.   There was also a $10 fee on race day for parking.

The minimum age for the adult course is 7 (with an adult).  My daughter had done 3 mile obstacle courses before, but nothing like this.  She is at the age where she is too young for most of the obstacle course/mud runs and the small kid’s version is too easy for her.  The race she grew up on, the Dirty Dog Mud Run, was retired last year.  So we were happy to find a race that she could do.

There are several waves throughout the day and only the first waves are timed and considered competitive.  Otherwise there is a party atmosphere with loud music and food/drinks available for purchase.  There is also a shorter course with smaller obstacles for younger kids.  We quickly picked up our bibs and signed waivers.  A cotton t-shirt, one beer, and a finisher medal were included as race swag.  Gear check was available, you put your bag into a tent yourself and retrieve it yourself, the gear check ticket was checked against your bib when leaving the tent.  This seemed to work well.  It is necessary in a race like this to bring a change of clothes, shoes such as flip flops, and a towel.  You will get wet and you will get dirty!

You start the race by climbing into a big container of water about chest high.  The first task it to climb out of the container.  The run to the first obstacle was the longest.  There were a couple initial obstacles where the line was quite long.  Only one or 2 people could do the obstacles at the same time.  Some people opted to skip those obstacles.  Lines got much shorter and were close to non-existent as the race progressed.

There was a nice mix of obstacles to test strength and balance.  There were several really high obstacles, which you climb over on ropes or cargo nets.  They even made me nervous!   There were a lot of nice people on the course that helped my daughter get over the taller obstacles.  The strength obstacles included flipping a big tire over 4 times and carrying sandbags or tires attached to a pipe with chains while making a small loop on the course.  There was nothing involving barbed wire or electricity.  😉  The 10K course included some different obstacles, so it was not just running the 5K course twice.

Not all the obstacles were manned by volunteers.  There were photographers at 2 of the obstacles as well as the finish line.  There was also a prop at the end of the race where photos could be taken.

The race is on the ski hill and we had to go up and down the hill about six times.  There were some very steep areas, my daughter was using her arms to get up the hill.  I thought the course was well-marked for the most part.  It would have been nice to have distance markers as it was difficult to determine how far we had gone.   There were several water stops on the course, nice since it was a warm and muggy day.  It seemed that a lot of people may have underestimated the difficulty of the course and the obstacles.  It was definitely a challenge!  At the finish there were hoses to clean off and two large changing tents.

When we finished my daughter said she would not do this event again.  She did have fun on some of the obstacles, particularly the ones where water was involved.  It is a difficult course for younger kids, though there is the option to skip obstacles and there is no time limit, you just need to finish before the course closes.  It took me out of my comfort zone, which is not a bad thing.  Overall, I thought the race was well-organized and it is a good option for those that are looking for a challenging obstacle course race.

Thiensville Turkey Trot Recap

This race was a first for me, my first Thanksgiving Turkey Trot.  There are several turkey trots in the Milwaukee area.  This was a good size race, with about 1,000 participants and many families participating in the race.

I registered in advance and paid extra for a long sleeve shirt (registration included a short sleeve shirt).  Thiensville is about a 50 minute drive for me, so I picked up my packet on race morning.  I arrived early and had no problem parking in the lot at the village park near the finish line.  However, there was a problem with the long sleeve shirt order and they did not have any in my size.  They offered me a short sleeve shirt and a beanie hat instead, which was fine with me.  The shirt is a cotton shirt.

The start line is around the corner from the finish and the race is not chip timed.  There was a sign for walkers to line up at the back.  The beginning of the race was a bit chaotic, with kids and runners with strollers lined up near the front.  I just waited for the race to thin out before speeding up.  The course was fairly flat and is on closed streets in a suburban neighborhood.

I didn’t have any real time goal for this race, I did want to run fairly even splits.  I have been following a McMillan “stamina module” so I had completed some tempo runs in the previous weeks.   My last 5K was in May, where I finished in 25:37, with very ugly positive splits.

I ran hard but honestly didn’t feel a great sense of urgency or desire to push myself to the point of pain.  My finish time was 25:12, which was 6th in the 40-49 age group (10 year age groups).  But my splits were good, 8:01, 8:15, 8:01.

My friend finished 3rd in her age group and was told she would receive an award.  There were no finisher medals for the race.  We waited for the awards ceremony and she was given a packaged pumpkin roll cake.  There did appear to be medals for the 1st and 2nd place age group finishers.

This ranks as my 2nd fastest 5K, though my PR is a “fake” one, it is 24:53 on a very short course.  So I am treating this race as my official PR.  But now I’m wondering what I can do if I push myself.  So another 5K is forthcoming.

Overall, this was a fun race.  The volunteers are nice and it is for a good cause.  It was a nice start to the Thanksgiving festivities.

Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon Recap

The Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon was my 3rd marathon and it was the first time that I ran this race.  My goal for the race was to pace well and not experience a big slowdown in the second half of the race, particularly in the last 3-6 miles.  My previous marathon PR was 4:25.  After some deliberation, I set my target pace for 9:50, about a 4:18 time goal.  I had the feeling I could run faster (my goal pace runs were done at 9:40 pace) but decided that being conservative and making this a positive race was the way to go.

The marathon is the crown jewel of the Badgerland Striders, a local running group.  Until a few years ago it was Milwaukee’s only marathon.  October in Milwaukee is generally perfect marathon weather.  The course is fairly flat, the only significant hill being a downhill.  Total elevation was 405 ft on my Garmin with 603 ft of elevation loss.  Net loss, you can’t beat that!  The course is point-to-point.

Packet pick-up at the Italian Community Center was smooth, there was a small expo.  Race swag included a long sleeve tech tee.  Race morning starts early, with shuttle buses to the start of the race at Grafton High School.  The school is open so runners can wait in the cafeteria before the race.  Warm gear can be kept on and deposited into a UPS truck while headed to the start line.  The race increased the number of runners to 3,000 this year but the race was not full.  Porta-potty lines were pretty long at the race start.  One bathroom was open indoors.

The race start is fairly congested and the pacers were very close to each other.  My plan was to start and stay in front of the 4:20 pacer.  A few feet separated the 4:10 and 4:20 pace groups.  The first 2 miles are a net downhill so my plan was to run a bit faster than the goal 9:50, but a controlled pace.  I caught up to the 4:10 pace group so I moved to the side and slowed down.

Drizzle had started as we rode the buses to the start of the race and the first 20 miles of the race were in drizzle and light rain.  The starting temperature was close to 60 degrees, so the rain felt good.  I felt OK, but not particularly strong.  As the race went on I was surprised that I continued feeling good.  I was tracking at an average pace of 9:45 but my Garmin was slightly ahead at the mile markers.  The 4:20 pace group was close behind me and even passed me at a water stop.

The race starts in a suburban neighborhood then heads onto some country roads.  Most of the course is not closed, there are cones to separate the runners from traffic, most of the roads were just one lane in either direction.  Though it is called the Lakefront Marathon you don’t actually see the lake until the end of the race, when you head onto Lake Drive and also see the spectacular lakefront homes.  Spectators were plentiful despite the rain.  Our names were on our bibs, so cheering was done with our name.  Volunteers were also plentiful and were very friendly.  Water stops had the usual water and Gatorade with 2 stops also offering gels.

I walk through water stops since I cannot drink and run.  I stopped at every water stop except the final two.  I was able to easily speed up after the stops.  I was always passing people and kept the 9:45 average pace.  I knew I would have to speed up eventually, my Garmin was still tracking ahead, but I figured I would save it until the end.  There is a slight uphill at mile 22 and 23 and I knew that after that it was pretty flat, with the big downhill at mile 24.  I had run this part of the course often so it was great, familiar feeling.  I felt surprisingly strong and started to push the pace heading to the downhill.  I finally lost the pace group.  My final miles were 9:25, 9:35, and 9:37.  I ended with a time of 4:16:56 and an average pace of 9:48.  The most important thing was the race was fun!  I never thought I would say that about a marathon.  🙂

The finish line area was very muddy due to the rain.  Collecting checked bags was quick and easy.  A small changing tent was provided.  The post-race snacks were in a paper bag, which was handy.  Beer was free for runners and spectators.  Some hot food was also available for purchase.  Shuttle buses were provided for the short ride back to the parking at the Italian Community Center.

Overall this was a very enjoyable race.  It’s very well organized, with a small city of volunteers.  I can’t count the number of times that spectators cheered for me by name.  It’s a great feeling!

Time: 4:16:56, 9:48 pace

AG: 44/120

Gender: 394/1001

Overall: 1031/2032



On Carrying Essentials while Running

Runners often wonder how to best carry items while running.  Common items that you may need while running are a phone, ID, cash, and gels or other fuel.  Water is an entirely different topic.  🙂

Over the years I have used a few different options that worked well for me.  One thing that did not work well for me is the SpiBelt, which bounced around on me.  I know that other people love it, so it can be a viable option.  To me, it looks too much like a fanny pack.  Which some people still love, so it’s a matter of personal preference.

First I will share the 2 belts that I have used, the FlipBelt and the hipS-sister belt.  I actually have 2 sizes of the FlipBelt.  It did have a tendency to slide up my waist, so I tried a smaller size.  It still slid up my waist.  It wasn’t horrible, it just needs to be readjusted.  Not an issue on shorter runs, but it did tend to become annoying on long runs.  I think it may depend on the type of clothing that you wear underneath the belt.  Some have suggested using safety pins to keep it in place, which would definitely work.  Runners always have extra safety pins.

I never had anything fall out of the FlipBelt, but I was somewhat afraid to put smaller objects into it.  Thus, the purchase of the hipS-sister belt.

The hipS-sister belt did tend to stay in place while running.  It is a wider belt, with two zippers and a slot to hold a phone.  It is much easier to get things out of the hipS-sister belt than the FlipBelt.  The FlipBelt has slots that are pretty well hidden in the construction of the belt.  It looks nice, but it does make it somewhat tricky to get things in and out, especially while running.

Pictured below are the belts.  The two belts on top are the FlipBelts.  Note that I have the “classic” FlipBelt, without any extras like the key hook.  They also now offer a slightly wider version of the belt with a zipper.  The hipS-sister belt is the Left Coast Sister.


When worn underneath t-shirts both belts are hard to detect.  But you can also get them in different colors and have them peek out from underneath tops as pictured on the websites.

FlipBelt now makes water bottles that fit into the belt, which is an interesting addition.

Now for a couple of “non-belt” options.

I have two running pouches, the RooSport 2.0 and the Buddy Pouch by Running Buddy.  The RooSport is on the top in the photo.


The RooSport is the smaller of the two and has two zippered compartments and a larger non-zippered compartment.  The small compartment works well for a key, while the larger zippered compartment will hold a phone and the non-zippered compartment can store gels.  When attached to your waistband only the top portion of the pouch will show, and the back will be tucked behind your waistband.  So if you have a phone inside, the phone will be in your pants.  🙂  There is one magnet on the pouch.

The Buddy Pouch is not as flexible and has 2 separate parts.  When inserted into your waistband, the pockets (and your phone) will be on the outside of your pants.  There are 2 velcro pockets and a zipper for a headphone cord.  There are 2 magnets on the pouch.

There is an advantage to having the phone outside your pants, especially if you sweat a lot.  The sweat will penetrate the RooSport.  So you may want to put your phone in a Ziploc baggie to protect it.  The Buddy Pouch is quite a bit heavier, weighing in at 3.2 oz vs 1.6 oz for the RooSport.  But it is also easier to get things out of the pouch while running, you don’t have to remove it from your pants, as you may need to do with the RooSport.

If you don’t need to carry much then the RooSport is a nice option, it’s very lightweight and small and you won’t feel it while running.  The Buddy Pouch is quite a big larger but it is still comfortable to use.  Both will not bounce.

The nice thing about all these products is that they can be used for hiking, travel, or any activity where you don’t want to carry a phone or money in a purse or wallet.

Current Pricing (as of 5/11/16):

  • Classic FlipBelt: $28.99
  • Zipper FlipBelt: $34.99
  • hipS-sister Left Coast: $24.99
  • RooSport 2.0: $26.99
  • RooSport Plus (for larger phones): $32.99
  • Buddy Pouch XL: $23.98  (currently on sale)

As with most online stores, get on their mailing list and you will likely be sent discount codes for future purchases.

Best Running Websites

Over the years I have found some great internet resources for running.  Here is a list of ones that I use regularly or that I think may be useful for runners.  Unless specified, the site is free!

Hal Higdon Training – Beginning runners will often get to the point where they will want a training plan.  Higdon’s plans range from 5K run/walk plans to full marathon plans.  The plans are tried and true, and they range from beginner to advanced plans.  There are paid apps that can supplement the plans, but the plans are available online for free.

Athlinks – Once you start racing, Athlinks is a great place to keep track of all your race results and also keep a race calendar.  You can also see how you compare against others your age.  Your results are verified using the official results from the race, at least one week after the race.  If your race is not listed, you can add a race and a link to the results.  The race will usually be added to your profile within a week after the request.

McMillan Running – So you have run a 5K.  How fast can you run a half marathon?  What paces should you run in training?  Greg McMillan’s running calculator can give you these answers.  The race estimates should be taken with a grain of salt, they assume that you are training heavily.  But it will give you an idea of what you can do given ideal training.  There are also many informative training articles on the website.  For a monthly fee you can join McMillan’s RunClub, giving you access to hundreds of training plans and advice from McMillan coaches.  One time custom plans can also be purchased on the site.

Runner’s World Community Forums – Do you have a running related question?  Many answers await on these forums.  There are categories for beginners, different races by length, and even a forum for women runners.  For the most part, forum users are helpful and friendly, especially if you are truly interested in running, learning, and you are open to different opinions.  You may get a snarky response if you post something like, “I have never run before.  Can I run a marathon in 3 months?”  But these questions can also be entertaining.  🙂

Facebook running groups – There are many closed Facebook running groups, which you can join by simply asking.  Most of the groups are extremely supportive and composed of beginning as well as veteran runners.  You may see the same questions asked multiple times and your feed may be overloaded with posts.  This may or may not be motivating for you.  🙂  It is easy to turn off notifications for the group and read posts and participate at your leisure.  An example of one group is Favorite Run Community.

Race Raves – This is still a fledgling site but it can become an awesome resource for runners.  You can read and post reviews for races and set up your own “staging area” to keep track of your upcoming races and PR’s.

Active and Running in the USA – Looking for a race in your area or a race on a certain date?  These are 2 of the main resources for locating or registering for races.  There is also the “old fashioned” way of Googling the date, location, and the type of race you are seeking.  That is actually the way that I have found some smaller races.

Map My Run – Map My Run/Walk/Ride/Fitness, they are all the same site.  🙂  You have a 10 mile long run coming up and you want to plan a route in advance.  This site will let you easily map a route and also show you the elevation for your route.  It is helpful to know the area in advance so that you are not mapping a run onto a busy highway.  Basic membership is free, with some advanced features available at extra cost.  The corresponding phone app feeds the site and is a good basic GPS tracking app.  I have a Garmin watch but I feed my Garmin data into the site because it is an easy way to track all my fitness activities.  The site was recently acquired by Under Armour but it has not changed much.  There are also challenges that you can participate in that are sponsored by the site or through “friends” on the site.


On Greg McMillan Custom Running Plans

A bit of background, I started running at the end of 2011 (following Couch to 5K) at the age of 42 and my first year of running was somewhat of a struggle as I learned about running in general.  I ran my first half marathon in Fall of 2012, loosely following a Runner’s World plan using their iPhone app.  I was a bit lost, not sure what paces to run or if that really was the right plan for me.

For my next half marathon I used a Hal Higdon plan.  I also read more about training plans and running in general.  I read Greg McMillan’s book “You (Only Faster)”.  His approach to training and his training philosophies made sense to me.  I also used his training calculator, which I believe is one of the best running resources out there.  I really enjoy training and I am the type that loves to have a plan to follow.  I was getting good results using the free Higdon plans, tailoring them slightly for my needs.

In 2014, somewhat on a whim, I entered the lottery for the Chicago Marathon.  I figured if I got in, it was fate telling me that I should run a marathon.  Well, I got in.  Then began the search for a training plan.  My main goal was to train smart, not just run a lot of miles.  I decided to splurge on a McMillan custom plan for the Chicago Marathon.  After purchasing a plan you will get a very detailed questionnaire to fill out. Obviously, the more information you can give the more tailored your plan will be.  It made me really think about my strengths and weaknesses as a runner. One of my biggest weaknesses is that I have a tendency to fade at the end of the race and have somewhat inconsistent pacing.

About a week later I received a spreadsheet with my running plan and some additional documents.  This was followed up with an email from Andrew Lemoncello.  He is a McMillan coach.  Oh, and also an Olympian!  So I was a bit psyched about that.  If you purchase a training plan you are allowed to ask questions through email about the plan.  I had a few questions and they were answered promptly.

The running plan had the expected components for a week: long run, easy runs, speedwork, and recovery run.  At the end of the plan it added a day of running which was a semi-speedwork or slightly longer runs for a total of six running days a week.  There were also a lot of fast finish long runs and “combo” speedwork days where there were some shorter sprint intervals thrown in at the end of the longer intervals.

I could see what the plan was trying to do, build the mental toughness to hang in at the end of a race and eliminate the fade.  The overall mileage of the plan was less than other marathon training plans.  But it taught me to push hard and how to run when tired.  It also taught me to pace myself so that I had the energy for the push at the end.  During my marathon training I raced a half marathon.  It was the best half marathon that I had run in terms of pacing and being strong throughout the race.  Any additional races that you have scheduled are included in the plan so there are no worries about adjusting a plan for races.

During the Chicago Marathon I felt strong throughout and I never hit the wall.  It was a great experience and I couldn’t ask for more for my first marathon.  I decided to go back to McMillan for a half marathon plan.  I set my goal, a sub 2 hour half marathon time (I would have to shave about 5 minutes off my PR) and I felt confident that McMillan could point me in the right direction.

My goal race was the Rock N Sole in June.  That race has some hills.  So my new plan had some hillwork (a nice bit of research by McMillan). I ended up taking some time off running due to a PF issue in my heel and I moved my goal race to September.  The new course didn’t have significant hills, but I followed the plan as it was, since running hills would only make me stronger. Again, there were a lot of fast finish runs and “combo” speedwork.

It was an ambitious plan for a half marathon plan because it built upon my marathon training.  I had mentioned my heel issues and the number of weekly running days was reduced by one and there was more of an emphasis on recovery.  I felt that the new plan hit the “sweet spot” in my training.  The point where I was improving but not going to the point of risking re-injury of my foot.

You can read more about my race in my recap, but I did get my sub 2 hour half marathon.  I never felt that I couldn’t achieve my goal.  I had to push hard but I felt prepared for it.  Not bad for a turtle like me!  🙂

One thing that I really liked about the McMillan plans is the variety.  The speedwork was always different.  The plans are challenging, but they are doable.  I really enjoyed my training.  The plans do what they are supposed to do.  I felt that I was progressively getting stronger and able to handle the next challenge.  The plans built confidence in myself. I really do believe that you need to trust in your plan.  For any race the mental challenge is half the battle.

I had a great experience with the McMillan custom plans, I actually went back to get a 5K plan.  I also believe I have the ability to go back and tweak the plans that I have for future races.  Greg McMillan’s book “You (Only Faster)” has plans for the standard distances and suggestions about tweaking the plans.  I would recommend reading the book if you are interested in the McMillan training plans.  Based on your level of knowledge, the book may be all you need. I would recommend trying the custom route if you want a more personalized experience, or if like me, you feel a bit lost trying to put together your own plan.