I was giving some thought to how I was training for the race this time around and how I was approaching it. This being my fifth time using the Be Iron Fit training plan I follow, I have followed it a little differently each time. The first time around I followed it to a “T,” doing the prescribed workouts almost exactly as written. Same with the second time three years later, although I started doing less of the written swim workouts and more straight swimming instead. By the third time using the plan, I had it dialed in. I had learned what was working for me and what wasn’t. I was also now starting to tailor the plan for the course I was going to race. Since Ironman Louisville was an easy swim and run I chose to spend a little more effort on the bike. The last time I followed the plan I was now doing the bare minimum for the swim training that I felt would be sufficient and was pushing myself a little more on the “easy” running and biking days.
Since I had previously done Ironman Chattanooga in 2019 I felt pretty confident knowing what I needed to do to be successful at the race this time around – work on the run portion. The run is uphill both ways at Chattanooga.
This winter I had built up a pretty solid run base and when the plan kicked in I didn’t feel like dialing it back. So I figured I would just run whatever pace I felt like doing, sometimes going hard when I wasn’t supposed to, and sometimes just putting in the easy miles. I was doing just that this week, an easy paced 75-minute run on Friday when my right calf just decided to not like running anymore.
About 3 miles into the run I was hobbling. I stopped and stretched it out and that didn’t make it any better. This wasn’t cramp, but more like a muscle strain. I walked a little bit and although it wasn’t feeling great, I could keep moving forward. So I walked for about 10 minutes and decided that I needed to find the most direct route back home. That’s smart thinking, right there.
Not long after that, I began jogging again, and although I was favoring the leg, I was doing okay. I ran up a busy road and wound through a subdivision until I got back to the trail. It was then I decided to be really dumb and run a little more to not cut the workout short. Not so smart thinking, right there.
I made it home and showered up okay, but after that, my leg was really sore. I iced it and massaged it for a while, added some linament creme to it, and then sat and elevated it for the rest of the day.
I was concerned that my ride on Saturday might be difficult, but the ride didn’t bother the leg at all. On Sunday, I opted to walk the 75-minutes instead of running it, and then did another ride with the local group in the afternoon and felt fine. What seemed like an injury that came out of nowhere and would need some serious rest, it looks like I just had some weird pain that hopefully won’t manifest itself into something that would keep me from running for a while.
So I guess my weird leg pain might not be anything serious. But I will be following the plan a little bit closer from here on.
I am fortunate to have supportive family and friends who take an interest in my pursuit of my Ironman goals, but I have one friend in particular that I call my Number 1 Fan – Carl. Carl is the one friend that takes the passing interest to a much higher level. He not only wants to know what workout I did but needs to know the details as well. I’m glad to accommodate him as it allows me to brag about myself for a few minutes, except most of the time I can’t remember.
Carl: What did you do yesterday, Ironman?
Me: umm… a bike ride? Yeah, a bike ride.
Carl: How far did you go?
Me: umm… I rode for an hour.
Carl: How far is that?
Me: umm… let me look it up.
I don’t mind providing the details, but it’s interesting to me that once I get the workout done I kind of move on from it. It’s not that I don’t want to remember what I did as I train, but during a 30-week build to a race, it just all blends together somewhat. I certainly make an effort to document it. The workouts all get recorded by my Garmin watch and phone app. And I write a summary each week so that I can look back and spark my memory of the journey I am on. But sometimes it’s just a workout, nothing more and nothing less.
I am working on writing a post about all the races I have participated in since I started running in the 1980s. It’s taking me a while to go through my handwritten running log and find the entries. I am finding with that trip through the past that I can recall details about some of the long-ago races pretty clearly. It must be something about racing that makes you remember, something that creates a stored memory. I can also remember certain runs when something out of the ordinary happens, like a fall, or getting chased by a dog, getting caught in a storm, etc. But when the workout is spinning on a stationary bike for 60 minutes and thumbing through Facebook while doing it for the 200th time, it just simply becomes part of the day without creating anything special about it. Maybe that will have a cumulative effect in that I will remember doing those workouts as a whole rather than the details that went into them.
I can remember many of the details of running on the Green Bay Trail in the 1990s: where I began and ended my runs, the street crossings, the portion through Ravinia. But if I looked at my log and saw that I ran 8 miles in 60 minutes that day, I will have to take my word for it. I don’t remember it.
I have logged many miles on the Old Plank Trail, so many in fact that I sometimes say that I know every little dip, bump, and distinctive trait of the trail. I know which houses have a dog that barks at me. I know when to move to the left to avoid the divot in the trail as I head north up the path and over the bridge. Those memories are solid, and I rely on them quite a bit. But I guess our brains can’t store every single detail about each workout. I mean, how much of the mundane can you remember? Do you remember what you had for lunch yesterday? Probably not. Do you remember your 21st birthday? More than likely, because turning 21 is a memorable milestone. But do you remember your 22nd birthday? I don’t.
Am I supposed to make each run, bike or swim a memorable one? I’m not sure if that is even possible. Frankly, I think trying to concentrate and remember every detail would most likely wear me out mentally. But I am glad to have pretty clear memories of those workouts that do have something memorable happen.
I guess that I am lucky to have my Number 1 Fan pry those little details from me. Maybe I will remember more of them thanks to Carl. But I can promise you this – although I may not remember every little detail a day, a week or a years later, I will always remember my Number 1 Fan asking me about my workouts. Thanks, Carl.
Last week I talked about needing some motivation to get through some biking and running workouts. This week I had the motivation, but when it came to doing the Saturday long ride what I lacked was the desire.
My family had planned a trip to Nashville for the Easter weekend to visit our freshman daughter Rebecca, who attends Vanderbilt University, and some family who lives in the area. I have always been of the mindset that if you are going to miss some workouts, it’s probably best to at least try to get the long weekend training stuff done. At this stage of training, a long ride isn’t all that long; the plan called for an hour and 45-minutes. So I moved the ride to Thursday and April Fool’s played an unappreciated trick on me – it was cold. When I got home midday my car was telling me it was 32°F. The wind wasn’t too bad, and I had the motivation to do the ride, now I lacked the desire!
After taking the dog for a quick walk, I decided to toughen up and act like an Ironman and just go do it. I put on some extra layers and wore a set of gloves under a pair of large mittens and got my bike ready to roll. While in the garage I decided to put on a couple of plastic newspaper bags over my socks before putting on my cycling shoes. I’m glad I did because my very cold ride last week ended with some very numb toes.
As I headed south I realized that this ride was not going to be fun. My rides always head south and return because where I live it is urban to the immediate north and rural to the immediate south. I count my blessings with that. The wind was pushing me along and I was easily riding in the upper teens and 20 mph speeds. I got to the point where I could choose to head either east or west and I chose east because I thought I would take advantage of the heavily wooded trail to head home on and keep the wind from being too much of a burden.
As soon as I turned to head back north I could feel that this ride was going to be a struggle. I stopped at a spot where I will sometimes take a nature break and ate a gel. I was sweating and starting to feel the cold, and knowing when I got back on the bike I would be suffering even more.
I started to ride again and my eyes were watering and I was getting a headache from the cold wind blowing on my wet head. I crossed Monee/Manhattan Road and started looking for something I could use to help me out, and there was an empty plastic shopping bag stuck to some brush just blowing in the wind. I got off my bike and looked it over to make sure it wasn’t dirty and then I took off my helmet and cap and put the bag on my head and covered it back up. I hopped on the bike and within a hundred feet or so I saw a popped mylar ballon laying in the ditch. I stopped and inspected that and then shoved that under my cycling jersey. As I started riding again it was almost like instant relief. My headache went away and I started getting comfortable riding in the wind again.
The ride took me almost two hours, but it could have been much longer and much more miserable. And in the end, I felt a sense of accomplishment, overcoming the lack of desire to ride on a cold day and being resourceful enough to not having to cash in my chips and call for my kid to come get me.
This past week was a kind of a week that lacked motivation for me. I’m not sure if the oft-changing rainy and windy spring weather had something to do with it, but I just wasn’t motivated to put in the effort.
In addition to what I felt was a worthless 30-minute bike ride that I barely broke a sweat with, I was dreading an easy-paced 30-minute run for some reason. I had been watching the weather and I was anticipating the rain to start right when I usually begin my workout. I am lucky to have access to a treadmill at work and also at home, but I loathe running on them so much that I only do it when I can’t run outside. But the rain hadn’t started yet, so I told myself to get out there. This run didn’t start out so well. First, I wasn’t in the mood to run, but I decided to run from my office to the local trail, which seemed like an uphill climb. My heart rate climbed to the point that I felt like it was reminding me how out of shape I am and how much work there is yet to do. But as I got to the flat trail I settled into a slow rhythm and found a suitable pace.
About a mile into the run I passed three walkers heading in the opposite direction from me, what appeared to be an older couple walking with their adult daughter having a lively conversation, but what she was wearing on her head instantly caught my eye – an Ironman finisher hat. Knowing what it takes to earn a hat like that was enough to make me forget about the self-loathing that had been in my head. I have four of those hats myself, and I am looking for a fifth. They aren’t easy to earn. But earn them I did. And earning them sometimes means doing a workout when you aren’t really wanting to.
I picked up my pace a little, ran with a little more strut, and added a short weightlifting workout after the run that I had no desire to do beforehand.
Sometimes something simple can be a great motivator.
Week 3 went by pretty quickly and was mostly unremarkable really. The few things I thought about maybe discussing here have long evaporated from my mind, and after a beautiful weekend, I was thinking more about having some great weather for a change, rather than some triathlon or running topic to opine about.
I swapped my Saturday ride with Sunday’s run so that I could join the local running group for an early morning group run. I’m glad that I did. Normally group outings for me usually mean that I will find myself running or riding by myself, but this time I fell in with Pat, who also did the 2018 Boston Marathon when I did it, and another guy named Bill, who is married to someone who also works for the same employer that I do. It was nice to have some conversations with others for a change, instead of me talking to myself. It was a nice 8-mile run.
Sunday’s bike was a bit of a challenge heading south due to the wind, but it was nice to have a great tailwind pushing me along back home. There was a group ride scheduled for later in the afternoon, but those guys have been doing some serious indoor riding all winter and there’s no way I would last with them. Plus, I chose to follow my planned hour and 45-minute ride. Stick with my plan, and forget what the others are doing.
My friend Susan commented about how I had started my training already, as she has not yet begun hers. Her plan is shorter in duration apparently, and I think that I could also get by with a 20 or 25-week plan, but the 30-week plan I follow has been reliable for me and has consistently proven itself to prepare me well. The thing about waiting to start the plan because you feel that you have a pretty good fitness base already doesn’t make much sense to me. It just tells me that you are training, just not following a specific workout. I have a pretty good base built up as well, but I’m following a plan instead of just winging it before starting. In the end, I guess it’s a wash. This is why I’m not a coach. There are so many ways to personalize training.
Occasionally at work, we will get treated to a lunch and on Wednesday we were told there would be pizza. Yay, pizza! I work until 11 am, so I did my bike spin/treadmill run brick workout (that’s a mouthful) in the weight room at work and then headed upstairs to enjoy some pizza. I barely had loaded my plate and sat down when I heard my genuinely shocked coworker say “YOU EAT JUNK?!?!”
I shook my head and chuckled at his comment because I have heard this question before, once from another coworker who I was currently sitting next to, and others too. For some reason, my coworker thinks that by virtue of doing stupid-long distance swim/bike/run events that I am somehow forced to eat like a rabbit. Well, this might come as a shock to everyone that thinks that being a triathlete also means that we are also nutritionally sound, unfortunately, that just isn’t the case for most of us. Look at the below picture – Ironman Chattanooga is literally sponsored by LITTLE DEBBIE!
I really didn’t know whether to feel ashamed or to feel proud of the fact that I do enough exercise to allow me to enjoy a plate full of pizza without guilt. As a triathlete you develop a thick skin pretty quickly and modesty kind of goes out the window. The first time you stuff yourself in a tri suit will definitely either make you quit the sport immediately or just accept the fact that you look like an overstuffed sausage in a bright-colored nylon uniform. And eating what you want is a nice perk. But for Pete’s sake, I’m not even eating as much as you non-exercising coworkers are! I’ve seen you guys eat, and I’m not even in your league!
Me eating pizza shocks you, huh? Do you want to hear some more shocking things triathletes do? Well, I practically fuel my long rides and runs with – brace yourself – gels that are basically just sugar. 100 calories of sugar every 30 minutes! Some athletes will eat a sleeve of gummy-type gel blocks every hour. Imagine the cavities that are building after doing that for 30-weeks. I also bring along these little sugar-pressed waffle things called “stroopwafels” for an added sugar bonus. Yay, sugar!
Oh, and wait until the later weeks in this training program hits. I will be eating everything that isn’t nailed down, and I will still be losing weight.
I guess I need to step back from my surprise at the shock that others express when they see me scarfing down some pizza, cookies, or the other junk that comes into our office. They see the Ironman banners hanging in my office and must think it takes a monumental amount of self-discipline to do an Ironman. Well, I guess that is a little bit true, but the work generally results in a reward, whether it be getting across the finish line, or not feeling guilty about eating some pizza.
I have to wrap this post up for the week. I need fuel for training and I’m having sloppy joe’s for dinner! I earned it, I promise. Yay, sloppy joe’s!
2020 Ironman Louisville got killed by a lethal combination of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as social upheaval going on in Louisville and it was not only enough to postpone the race, but to kill it totally off. Ironman Louisville (aka Kentucky) is no more. I was offered a deferral to a handful of other 2020 races which I felt had no chance of occurring, so I opted for the deferral to 2021 Ironman Chattanooga. A year into a pandemic, and I’m still somewhat pessimistic about whether we will race or not. But 2021 is here, people (including myself) are getting vaccinated, and real in-person events are starting to take shape and look like a possibility of actually happening. The CEO of Ironman came out recently with a video regarding how they expect the racing season to play out, which made most of us scratch our heads. What I get out of the video is that they truly want to race, but if they can’t they will tell us at the last possible second and keep our money anyway. But no matter his message, I’m signed up and will have to train to be ready if it does happen.
After completing Choo in 2019, my buddies and I all kind of agreed that we didn’t care to come back to it. I guess maybe that was the ungodly heat that helped with that mindset, but yes, it seemed to wow us less than Wisconsin, Lake Placid, and Louisville had done in prior years. But when Choo became my only real option, heck I will take it. It’s really not that bad of a course – the swim is almost effortless and the bike is the easiest of the four I have done. The run is the devil at this race, and add the heat like we had in 2019, and well, it was enough for us to say we’d never want to do the race again.
Seeing that I got through about 16 weeks of training for Louisville when it got axed, I have somewhat just drifted through my usual training, knowing that racing in 2020 was a longshot. With the exception of enjoying some brief, mild winter trail running, my desire to sign up for races or even do any significant training has waned. I had lost my mojo. The time to start training is here, but I’m still looking for some motivation.
I was spinning on the stationary bike this week and listening to some shuffled songs on Spotify when I heard Elvis Costello’s Pump It Up. That’s what I kind of need right now, something to pump me up. The weather is getting better, the snow is starting to melt, and soon I will take my training outdoors. Time to pump myself up.
I’ll be following the Competitive Plan from the book Be Iron Fit by Don Fink once again. It has never let me down. I have made some alterations to it in order to make it more personal to my needs, but I stick to it pretty closely.
I swapped out my old saddle for a new ISM PR1.0 split-nose model. I’m hoping that the saddle is more comfortable than the old one. I will have to find another way to mount my bottle cages to it, but there is time for that.
Swimming won’t happen until I get my pool open in May sometime. I have added some light weightlifting workouts for now, but I tend to get bored with that real quickly.
Here’s to training with my Gunner teammates and some of the locals I know who are also doing the race. Ironman Chattanooga, here I come! PUMP IT UP!
I am very lucky to own a house on a lake with my wife and also very lucky to have four varied seasons to enjoy a variety of activities there. One that I had yet to try was ice fishing. Some buddies from work had shown an interest in going up there to give it a try, but something always seemed to get in the way – we waited too long and the ice got too thin, Covid happened, we just forgot about it, etc.
The topic came up again though, and we decided on a date. Our group included my coworkers Micah, Tom, and Lou; however, Lou had something come up and opted out of the trip.
We left at 11 am on Friday from work. We didn’t even get a 1/4 mile away and Micah made us stop because he forgot to pee before leaving. About 30 minutes later we stopped at an old haunt of Tom’s to grab a sandwich, which we ate in the car. From then on it was another five-hours of driving before we were there. Lots of conversations were had and I think that they know more about me than they bargained for. Our shared stories of how we met our significant others were a highlight.
When we arrived I was beaming with pride about my house on the lake as they took it all in and gave me some great compliments. We unloaded our gear, and Micah and Tom picked out which bedroom they wanted, and then we made plans for dinner.
Since it was the first Friday of Lent, we opted for a fish fry somewhere and I played it safe and took them to the Boathouse in downtown Minocqua. Tom had some northern pike, Micah had the fried cod, and I opted for some fried walleye. Based on their comments, I think they really enjoyed the Boathouse.
On the way back we stopped at a local fishing/bait shop called “Dewey, Catchem & How” for some bait. The two guys inside must have thought we were real greenhorns and one of the guys helping us gave us a little attitude, but we got what we needed and then hopped back in the car with a bait bucket full of the biggest minnows I have ever seen.
Back home, we got busy getting the newly purchased rods and reels ready for fishing and made sure everything was ready to go. Micah had asked me how many fish I thought we would catch, and I kind of jokingly said “none. If we catch one, I’d be surprised,” I think my words were. They were having none of that negative talk. We were going to eat fish again tomorrow! Some more hanging around and talking then it was off to bed.
Micah had promised to make his award-winning biscuits and gravy and it was outstanding! We supplemented it with some scrambled eggs and fried potatoes, and we were eating like fishermen ready to fish for the day.
We had woken up to -12 degrees Fahrenheit and a forecasted high of 25. I don’t think it ever got that high, but the day itself was a clear blue sky with hardly any wind until the later afternoon when the breeze picked up a little. Thankfully, Tom brought a little propane-fueled heater which made our little pop-up shanty nice and toasty. It wasn’t long until I had my gloves off, and Micah and Tom had both removed their coats.
But the real excitement started right after we got the shanty set up, the ice holes drilled, and Tom had set up his tip-ups. I had a pretty good understanding of how they worked and as we were doing some other baiting and what-not, I asked Tom how the pole-type tip-up worked, because I could clearly see that it had sprung up. This prompted Tom to bolt for the pole and start reeling in the line. We were all excited by Tom’s excitement when he declared that he had a fish! When he pulled it out it was a nice-sized Northern Pike!
Turns out it was not only the only Northern Pike in the lake but seemingly the only fish in the lake. Fifteen minutes into our day and we caught the only fish we were going to catch all day! We thought we were going to be eating like kings on fried fish! I’m still laughing about it.
We soldiered on, baiting our hooks, dropping our lines into the murky depths of Minocqua Lake, and talking up the excitement of catching more fish. Other groups had joined in on the fishing nearby and we were starting to notice that they were congregating in another area. I’m not sure if they were successful there or not, but next time I think we’ll give that area a try. The only issue with it is that it was pretty close to the snowmobile thoroughfare on the lake and they roared by with regularity.
When it was time for lunch, we decided that maybe we should seek out another spot as ours had not produced any more nibbles. We dragged our stuff back across the lake and decided to set up shop out in front of the house. Tom drilled another hole in the lake and after sticking his depth/fish finder down into the hole it was declared that this would be a great spot. We went inside and filled our stomachs with sandwiches and chips and thawed out for a little bit before heading back outside. We had fish to catch, dang it!
After we ate, we rushed back down to get back at it and determined that we misread the depth on the display as 31 feet, but it was actually 3 feet 1 inch. Oops. Not quite deep enough. After Tom consulted a webpage that showed the depth of the lake we walked some of our stuff directly across the lake and left the shanty. After fishing for a while with our backs turned to a somewhat cold breeze, Tom added more steps to his watch and fetched the shanty. We then opted to move back closer to where we had caught the northern earlier in the day. It was not long after I hit the “wall.” I didn’t know that fishing could wipe me out as it did, but I was spent. I was doing everything I could to stay awake. My back was hurting, as well as my butt, and my brain was going numb as well. I was generally becoming a grumpy – make that a grumpier – old man. But we fished and held out hope that we would get lucky again.
At one point, with Micah’s family “FaceTiming” him, he thought he could sense a nibble, and got really excited that he may have seen a fish on his line. But it either was playing with him or it didn’t want to join the northern lying frozen in our bucket, and Micah was left fishless.
As the sun went down we realized that our day of ice fishing was coming to an end. I was relieved to finally be getting off of the cold lake, even if it would take a few more hours of me being grumpy until I was not as grumpy as before.
Tom cleaned his northern and Micah helped him wash it and fry it up. Tom called it our appetizer and we each had a little bit of the one northern pike in Minocqua Lake. It was a minor victory, but a victory none-the-less. Even with having to deal with the little bones, each bite was very tasty, and I was glad to have had an opportunity to share our bounty with Tom and Micah.
We finished out our evening with a trip to Bad Bones BBQ in Arbor Vitae and then back home for some dominoes and a well-appreciated hot shower.
After another great breakfast of pancakes and sausages, we packed up and headed for home, happy to have had the chance to share a weekend of fun together even if the fish feast didn’t happen. I still believe that we caught the one and only fish in Minocqua Lake, and that is an impressive feat.
Adapting to life in a pandemic can lead to a little paranoia. Now that winter is here, any little sniffle or scratchy feeling in my throat or a need to cough makes me think that I’m coming down with a full-blown case of Covid-19 coronavirus. I’m sure most of us have gone through that and realized that you are probably overreacting. So far for me, I have not turned a need to cough into a need to quarantine myself.
As a runner, I have noticed that when it gets close to race day I can become very sensitive to some of the most minor issues that runners often deal with. A slight twinge can make you think that you are about to have a serious running injury that will derail your race. These little aches and pains can very easily become big issues, but I find that most of the time they are benign. You just have to know when they are serious and when they can be ignored. And I have learned to ignore most of them.
Case in point – take a look at this photo:
This is one of my favorite race photos. Notice anything about the shoes? Yep, they are brand new.
In 2009 I ran the Rockford Marathon in Rockford, Illinois. I was just getting back into running marathons after taking several years off from it thanks to enjoying my growing responsibilities as a new dad. Running was going well even though I was just winging marathon training as usual. Then race weekend approached and I developed a discomfort in the top area of my foot where it bends. I had not experienced this type of issue before and it only occurred when I was running. So naturally, I started freaking out. I couldn’t wear my shoes without it bugging me. I would attempt a jog around the block and think my foot might fall off. I was obsessing over it and I thought that I had really messed it up. So on the Saturday before the race, I went to the local sporting goods store and bought a new pair of shoes. And even though my foot felt weird in them still, I had no other option.
Trying something new on race day is generally thought of as a bad idea, and running in a new pair of shoes definitely fits in that category. But as I got to the race after a two-hour drive in the car fretting over the issue, I toed the line and told myself to just forget about it. And guess what? The pain never presented itself again. Maybe all of the circuses surrounding a marathon was distraction from it enough, but I think I was just obsessing over it. It seems that I was just hypersensitive to the way the shoes felt on my feet.
In another example, my teammates and I were all together in Louisville, Kentucky to participate in Ironman Louisville in 2017 when I heard Alex complaining to his dad Dave that his foot was killing him. He was convinced that he had developed a foot injury, probably plantar fasciitis, as it was bothering him just to walk around. I immediately thought of the marathon in Rockford and told him it was all in his head, that he was just hypersensitive to the sensation he was feeling in his foot. I’m not sure if that made him feel any better or not. Alex ran a 3:30 marathon on his way to a 10:14 Ironman and 5th in his age group finish. I didn’t hear him complain about his foot after that.
Me (bib 2400) on my on my first of two loops cheering Alex (bib 513) on toward the finish of his second loop/race as he passed me. My wife Kari just happened to be in the right place at the right time to grab this great shot. I don’t think his foot was bothering him here.
I still tell my self to ignore most little twinges of discomfort. I would be reluctant however, to tell someone that the pain they are experiencing is not real. But when it’s near race day, sometimes it’s just in your head.
It’s winter here in Illinois, and although mostly mild this go around, we’ve had a little bit of snow added to our area and it’s just enough to cover the trail and make it icy after people start packing it down. This forces me off of my usual running route and onto the local side roads where there is better running traction and little traffic, but not as much scenery.
Don’t get me wrong, I am glad I have the option to still run outside when the ice-covered trails make them difficult to run on. I have my favorite route too, it’s hilly and has enough variety that it’s a much better option than running inside on the treadmill. But after a few runs on this route, I started thinking about branching out from it and try some off-the-beaten-path trails. I am still signed up to do a “last runner standing” style trail ultramarathon and getting some practice and familiarity with running on trails would be a good idea for me.
One of these trails is located in the Van Horne Woods portion of the Hickory Creek Preserve located off of Route 30 in Frankfort, IL. The path starts just as you enter the preserve. There used to be a sign there where the unpaved portion of the trail began that said it was for use by the “Environmental Learning Center ONLY,” but that sign is now gone, and when I Googled it it said that it was permanently closed. A Facebook page for the site says it was closed in 2017. Seeing that the trail is still pretty heavily used, on Wednesday I decided to explore the icy path for the first time.
I ran from the lower part of the trail north and onto another natural surface trail just north of the creek.
Trail running, where have you been all my life?! I loved it! Although the trail was a mix of snow, ice, and a few clear portions, my trail running shoes handled them fairly easily. I slowed down where it was necessary, but otherwise it was runnable. There is a fairly steep ravine that had some great views and lots of twisty paths through the wooded area.
On Thursday, I decided to do it again, this time running it in reverse. Another awesome run, but there was a lot of rough running going on. I still had pretty good traction, but it wasn’t the best. Occasionally the tread of my shoes would nick my ankles and that is no fun. On Friday I stopped at the local hardware store and picked up some 1/2 inch sheet metal screws and screwed them into the bottom of my shoe. This is an old trick used by runners, but one I have never tried.
Saturday morning I woke up to a new coating of about an inch of snow and I was super excited to get out there and run through the woods again. The traction I now had with my modified shoes was unbelievable. I ran like there wasn’t any packed down icy snow at all. It was a game-changer. Even my pace picked up for the run from the previous days. This time I decided to explore some more of the off-trail segments and found myself following a set of fat bike tire tracks in the freshly fallen snow. I followed those tracks for almost three miles until I ran into those two bikers on the trail. I realized that these were the same two guys that always post pictures of their rides on the local biking Facebook page that I belong to. I got to get a fat bike someday. It looks like fun.
I ran until I realized that eight miles had passed and that I had three more to get to home, and without any water or gels to fuel me along, I decided to save some exploring for Sunday. I came home and told my wife that this was one of the best runs I have ever had.
A little bit of a warm-up occurred on Saturday afternoon, melting what had fallen that morning. But I woke up again to light snow on Sunday and decided that this was going to be another amazing run. This time, however, I drove to the forest preserve so not to waste energy running three miles to get there and have to save enough energy for the three miles to run back home. I’m glad I did, this run was an awesome repeat of Saturday, only more so! I explored further east along Hickory Creek until I got turned around and lost my bearings. I found the creek and knew what side I was supposed to be on, but I truly believed that I had crossed it somehow. It wasn’t until later when I reviewed the gps map that I realized how turned around I was. I ended up backtracking until I saw some familiar things that I thankfully took the time to study for just this reason. I had also drawn some arrows in the snow to make sure I knew where I should turn at a few of the adjoining trail spots.
I was getting a little tired and a little worried that I was overdoing it, so I decided to head back and save some more of the unexplored areas for another time.
In all, I ran 53.5 miles this week, which is very high for me, and all because this little off-the-beaten-path rekindled a passion for running that I hadn’t realized was missing. I certainly felt like a kid again. I will definitely be running more natural surface trails in the future.