I started running in the late 1980s and like most, I was just dabbling with it. I was a recent college grad in a new job, living away from family and friends and pretty much bored. I was also gaining weight and couldn’t afford to buy new pants, so running became my interest. It was never easy at first. A few trips around the apartment complex were all I could do initially. But I stuck with it somehow.
One day I decided to attempt to go further than I had gone previously, and before I knew it I was at five miles before stopping. But when I got to that mark I had a feeling that I could keep going. It was at that moment that running seemed to click with me. I could and would keep going. Within a year or two of starting those laps around the apartment complex, I set a goal of running a marathon.
I started doing local races and marathons. I was just winging it. How complex could running be? You just run, right? There was no internet during this time for me. It may have existed, but it was in its infancy, and I didn’t have a computer to even do any sort of research into how to train for a marathon. The first couple of marathons went okay. I ran 3:50 in the first one and followed it up with another 3:50 a year later. I really thought that I would demolish that 3:50, but a lack of knowledge about fueling and hydration was my downfall.
It would be a couple of decades later that I would become a triathlete with the goal of completing an Ironman, and that is where my mindset changed. I followed a plan for the first time and learned a ton about how to fuel for the race. Successfully training for and completing that first Ironman was a big deal. It taught me loads about how to train and I applied that to my running goals as well. Although I feel that it took me three Ironman races before I finally dialed it in and set a personal best, it did finally click with me and I found personal success.
Not long after that, I applied what I had learned from the triathlon training to running and I found myself setting new personal bests in the marathon, and getting that once elusive Boston Marathon qualifier was now in reach. I set new personal bests in the marathon distance, all in my 50s. I have now achieved three BQs and run the race in 2018, CLICK!
For the past few years, I have set my sights on becoming an ultra-distance runner. Something that I hadn’t done in the previous thirty years of running, and I had to learn to apply what I knew from my triathlon and marathon running experiences to running stupid far. I basically had to learn to run slower and pace myself. It clicked for me when I started applying walk breaks into my runs. I had more energy to run farther. Even with four ultra-distance finishes completed, I still am adapting and learning about how I manage the run. Last weekend I ran my fourth last-runner standing format ultra and went farther than I have ever run – 54 miles. I was shooting for 50, but knowing one more 4.16-mile loop would benefit me mentally, I pushed on and it helped me understand that I could get past that 50-mile mark and keep going. CLICK!
Yesterday, I ended my recovery week with a run that I was planning to last about ten miles. But as I meandered my way around the community, I started thinking about doing more. I felt really good. I ended up playing it safe, finishing with twelve total miles. When you find yourself thinking that ten miles are just okay and want to do more, then I think that the work that I have been doing to get me to the finish line of Tunnel Hill 100 in November might just be clicking with me.
CLICK! CLICK! CLICK!
When did running click with you? What was your a-ha! moment?
I had to juggle my 100-mile training plan for the Tunnel Hill 100 due to a planned 30th anniversary trip to Italy, and it was looking like I would have to sacrifice either the 50-kilometer run or the 50-mile run. I decided that the 50-miler was probably more important to the training than the 50K, so I started looking around and found the Broken Anvil Backyard Ultra that would work perfectly for me. Running an organized 50-mile race would be a lot easier than having to do it solo and provide my own support for twelve hours. So I signed up, told the wife (hint – always tell the wife after you sign up), got a hotel for the weekend, and then started thinking about how to run the course.
After doing some research into the event, it looked like a perfect opportunity to get in 50 miles without having to walk up really long hills, shimmy down rocky terrain, or duck under or climb over fallen trees (I’m looking at you Big Hill Bonk and WausaUltra!). Seeing that there wouldn’t be any hills to force me to walk, I decided that a run/walk plan of 2 minutes of running followed by 2 minutes of walking would probably do it. Just to make sure, I did a 4.2-mile run at home on Wednesday following that pace plan and finished right around 50 minutes. Perfect.
Friday night my wife Kari and I jumped in the truck and headed west on I-80 for a little under four hour trip to our hotel in Fort Madison. After arriving, we decided to drive the route to the event location to make sure there were no surprises Saturday morning. Upon getting there we found the super-cool race director Nic still there and a few of the other participants milling around. He allowed us to set up our tent so we didn’t have to worry about it on race day, and I grabbed my bib and the event sweatshirt.
At 7am on Saturday, 30 of the 36 registrants (there were six no-shows) got into the corral and were sent off on our way. The first loop, or yard as they are also called, went really well. I quickly came to realize though, that I was the only one doing a dedicated run/walk thing, as the others just jogged until they came upon one of the few small hills or when they needed a break before doing any walking. Most of the runners were finishing about five minutes or so ahead of me, and I was consistently finishing the 4.16-miles in 50 minutes. I was really dialed in and super consistent with my pace plan. Ten minutes after each loop is plenty of time to sit, rehydrate, refuel, make clothes changes, etc. My super-sherpa race crew wife Kari was also dialed in. All of my next lap drinks, food, electrolytes, and a cold washcloth/towel were ready for me without ever having to ask. I would make some requests for certain things here and there, but she was anticipating my every need.
Some pictures of the course, a mixture of grass, crushed gravel, pavement, and a short pine needle-covered dirt trail.
The loops went by quickly as usual. A couple of women dropped after one lap, but I think they were just there to experience some fun and support other racers. One guy was using the race to get his tempo miles in for an upcoming marathon and would quickly blast through the loop. But for the most part, we would all start each loop together and I would bring up the end. Seven runners dropped before the marathon distance of loop 7, which is a little surprising. However, it was loop 7 when the Iowa skies decided to open up and pour on us.
I wasn’t really worried about running in the rain. I had an extra pair of shoes, plenty of extra running clothes, and also a rain jacket that I decided might be beneficial to help keep me warm in case the rain made me chilly. The jacket actually just made me sweat more, and I didn’t wear it for more than a loop or two. However, the rain caused a problem that I hadn’t quite planned for – chafing. I had lubed up my inner thighs in the morning as is typical for me before a long run, but the rain and the running must have caused it to wear off. When I noticed the chafing I started applying Vaseline like crazy, but I think it was too little too late. I have never had chafing as bad as that. I kept applying Vaseline every loop, hoping that I could continue on.
Races always provide some sort of distraction, and I was trying to remember all that I could. There was a guy who was talking to his group ahead of me and said “Prince Charles is a DICK!” Not sure what that conversation was about, but it gave me a chuckle. Another runner was in the starting corral when he realized he didn’t have his watch, and after the loop starts you are not allowed to leave the course except for bathrooms, nor are you to receive any outside assistance. Another guy spoke up and said “Spoiler alert! It’ll take you an hour.” That got a good laugh out of the group as the bell rang and we were off. I think he got his watch just in time.
The course took us through Pollmiller Park, which included a small lake and a campsite. I joked with one camper and asked how he was enjoying “the dumbest parade ever.” He chuckled and said “See you in an hour.” He must have gotten used to our routine. Another group of campers included some kids and one teenager asked me “What are you running from?” I wasn’t sure what she meant and I replied that I wasn’t running from anything. I asked the guy next to me how was I supposed to answer that? He said that it was just a “smart ass kid being a smart ass.” But it gave me something to mull over for the rest of the loop and the next. She asked again on the next loop, and I said “I’m not running from anything, I’m running to something.” A higher purpose, maybe? I don’t know, I’m still searching.
I really didn’t have a problem with the course other than there was a steady stream of cars in and out of the park. They were generally cognizant of us and gave us plenty of room, except for one car that came right in front of me and cut me off from the course and stopped. I wasn’t sure really what she was doing, and I don’t think she knew that she was blocking the race route, but it wasn’t a place to park, and she was miffed that I raised my hands as if to say “what the hell are you doing?” She backed up and I carried on to the finish.
When I hit loop 8/50K I knew I had 50 miles in the bag. Aside from the chafing, I felt really fresh. My legs weren’t tired, I had plenty of energy, and I was really enjoying each loop. When I was on the twelfth loop I was telling myself that I would do one more, possibly two after that. I finished the 13th loop and decided that the goal of 50 miles was reached, plus one extra for a total of 54 was enough for the day. It was the furthest I had ever run. I lined up in the corral for loop fourteen, and when the loop was started, I walked over and rang the bell. I was taping out. Everyone was extremely happy for me and they were applauding my effort. I told the race director “Let the record show that I started loop 14 but did not finish it.” It doesn’t really matter, but it sounds better than stopping at 13 loops.
It took a while for the results to get loaded up and when they were I was shocked to see what had happened. The results showed that there were two runners that finished with 66.7 miles, the top male and the top female. But in a backyard ultra, there can only be one finisher! What this means is that there was NO finisher! Everyone DNF’d this race! Kari and I were discussing this and we weren’t sure if they just didn’t know the rules, or if the weather turned worse and they decided to quit, or if they were both happy with being the top finisher in their gender. The other part of it for me was that I am sure that I could have run past 66.7 miles! That’s only three more loops!
In the end, I finished in 4th place, as there were two that did 66 miles, six that tied at 62 miles, and another runner did one more lap than me. But really I was the 10th out of 30 starters, which really pleased me.
The results of the race weren’t the only thing that surprised me. What really surprised me was how dialed in I was and how good I felt, minus the chafing of course. I could barely walk when we returned to the hotel, and the shower was extremely painful when it hit my sore groin. But overall, I had no tiredness or soreness in my legs or feet. I could have kept going. The hydration was spot on, as was the nutrition. It’s making me rethink my 4-minute run / 2-minute walk pace plan for the 100 miler in November. I might have to shorten that run time down to two minutes because it worked so well here at Broken Anvil.
Overall, I loved this event. It was super fun, and if I plan to do more backyarders in the future, this one will definitely remain on the list.