In April I’m heading back to Beloit, Wisconsin to give the second running of the Big Hill Bonk another go. I’m so not ready. I already feel like I’m bonking. Winter running is not my friend, and as an older runner, I try to use winter as a recovery period of sorts from what I did throughout the previous year. That makes running spring marathons tough for me. My mileage is low and my knee kind of hurts lately, but there’s still some time to get my act together and give this race another try.
I find this race format intriguing. It’s pretty simple – run 4.16 miles in an hour and keep running that 4.16-mile loop every hour for as long as you can. People will drop out until there is only one runner left and that runner is the winner. For everyone else, well, thanks for playing.
I’m not fooling myself, I know I won’t win, but I had avoided ultra-distance running for so long that I thought that I should at least experience it in order to validate my running legacy somehow. Last year I made it through 8 loops (also called yards), a total of 33-miles. The goal was to pass the 50K mark, which I did – marking my first ultra-marathon distance – and to have some fun, which I also did. I learned some valuable lessons along the way, and I’ve been thinking about them a little bit.
There’s a little bit of strategy involved in this type of race. You have to budget your effort to not wear yourself out too early, yet you have to expend enough energy to finish the loop in an hour. I came to the race last year not knowing much about how to run a trail ultra, but I got a crash course quickly. I walked more than I was expecting. Some of the hills the others were walking I would have typically never walked. I was also carrying too much stuff and noticed most of the others just had a small water bottle. I made a change to just carrying a handheld bottle myself by yard number three.
This year the race will be in April and not August, so I have to plan for running in cooler weather rather than the warm weather of last year. There’s no crystal ball for the weather this far out from the race, so I just have to assume that it could be much cooler, and possibly rainy. I wouldn’t have minded getting a little cooling rain last year, but the thunderstorms of the area thankfully skirted around us. I’ll just have to hope for cool and dry temperatures for April.
It will be interesting to see how the course is in early spring compared to summer. I’m hoping the trail will be dry. Last summer the course had a section that was a little overgrown with the typical forest undergrowth in spots, but it wasn’t an issue. I’m guessing that we won’t have to deal with that this time.
One of the other changes this time around is that the start time will be in the morning rather than early evening. Last year we were able to get in about three yards of the course before it got dark. So we will have some daylight loops to start with this time.
So far the field is about the same size as last time, about thirty runners. This is a good number for the course. More than that could make for some clogged spots in the single-track areas of the course. I won’t need to worry about it too much. It’s not a speed contest, but you do have to finish the yard before the hour is up. I think most of us will average about 50-minutes to do a yard. Having ten minutes to replenish water and food, and maybe sit for a moment is plenty of time. I think I will try to take on a little bit more food this time as well.
I looked at the registered athletes for the 2022 event and was surprised to see that at this time there are only three runners returning from 2021 – myself, Zac Lungren, who ran 13 yards/54 miles, and Jon Noll – the eventual winner, who ran a mind-boggling 34 yards, and a total of 141 miles! Last year there was a very solid group of six runners that all surpassed 100 miles and kept pushing Jon to earn his title. The rest of the 2022 field are all newcomers as of this post. I’m guessing some of the runners from last year saw that Jon signed up and said, “Well, what’s the point?” and decided to find another race to do. Maybe some of them found the course in Beloit to be a pretty good challenge, I certainly did. And since the race got moved back to April instead of August, maybe some are also like me and feeling a little under-prepared.
Of the newcomers, there are some serious contenders there. Jon will have his work cut out for him for sure. Many of them will be like me, curious to experience this kind of event, maybe challenge themselves to experience trail running, or hit a distance milestone for the first time. Maybe some think that they can win. Only Jon stands in their way. You just have to run one more yard than everyone else. Good luck!