By Gary Dudney
Hey, man, sock it to me. Have I got a fun, trippy experience for you. How about a groovy, far out hundred-mile race instead of the usual deep dive into the meat grinder of despair?
At the Run Woodstock festival at Hell Creek Ranch, near Pinckney, MI, you can get mellow, chill out, get your flower power on and thrill to Lemon James, “the female Jimi Hendrix,” doing a credible rendition of Hendrix’s national anthem from Woodstock, including playing the guitar with her teeth. But you can also run a legit 100 miles or opt for a 100k, 50-mile, 50k, marathon, half-marathon or three versions of a 5k, including one option where you run part of the course au naturel (yes, naked). Peace signs, flower power emblems, tie-dye clothes, hippie vehicles, Woodstock era music, guitars and people saying “groovy” and “far out” are everywhere. There was even a tent that looked like a VW bus.
But what is really notable about Run Woodstock and the Hallucination 100 is that all the hippie stuff overlays a well-organized series of trail races, including four ultra distances, that get the critical details right. The races unfold on a 17-mile figure-eight course with a plethora of shortcuts and alternate routes to accommodate all the different distances. Excellent marking and signage keep everyone on track even as several events stream up and down sections of shared trails.
Three cunningly located aid stations handle all the traffic. There is the start/finish, with a big, well sheltered drop bag and changing area and some great food, and then there was a station visited twice out on the loop, and another visited once, which kept you well supplied until you got back to the start/finish. Volunteer help and enthusiasm were high throughout the event, and the runners doing all the other distances constantly saying things like, “Good Job, Hundred,” or “You’re inspiring, Hundred,” was a wonderful feature of the race.
Mosquitos were quite a factor, and yet, characteristically, the race was ready. Every aid station had something like 15 cans of bug spray out for the taking. An excellent breakfast in the morning, great soup all day and some killer lasagna at the end of the race also put this race over the top in terms of memorable things provided for runners.
In the 100-mile race, which consists of six loops over the same course and not a lot of dramatic scenery, Hallucination is not your number one visual experience, but most of the course was well maintained single-track through a nice wooded area with a few sections of open jeep road to break up the forest. Some giant puffball mushrooms (Calvatia gigantean) big as loaves of bread were scattered around the forest floor to remind you that nature can be wonderful and bizarre, and a very stubborn raccoon, which blocked a narrow section of trail in the middle of the night, suggested that nature could also be easily pissed off.
Hallucination features an unusual Friday 4:00 p.m. start, so you tackle the night feeling much fresher than in most hundreds. Of course, you also get through the night and then have a full day of running ahead of you, which messes with your mind. If you’ve never done a hundred on that schedule, it’s worth a trip to this race just to give that a try.
Amazingly, the race organizers had arranged with the ultra gods to send a deluge of rain at night to better reenact conditions at the original Woodstock, where the rain unleashed chaos. The course deteriorated in places, and the heavy, long lasting cold and miserable rain took quite a few runners down, so only about one third of the starting field finished. Splashing and slip-sliding along the trail in the dark for hours with rain pouring down, your lights catching the liquid flashes in the air, soaked to the skin (since it was too warm to wear rain gear) and the constant roar of tons of water hitting the leaves and forest floor around you was, in fact, quite a hallucinatory experience, well suited to the theme of this race.
One organizer said that a total of 14,000 people passed through the park for the running, the music and the food over the three days of the Run Woodstock festival. I was a little too preoccupied on Saturday to notice if there were really that many people around, but I can tell you this: Run Woodstock is one of the craziest, most entertaining venues for running 100 miles that I have ever seen, and memorable right down to the big, far out, groovy peace symbol on the finisher’s belt buckle.