Running Stories: I Have Discovered Trail Running

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.

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.

2020 Running and Triathlon Year in Review

What a year. Had it been a great year I would have stuck an exclamation point after that brief declaration. But it seems to me that a period is more fitting. Period – end of the story. 2020 is a year that we may want to forget but will be hardpressed to do so. It was a memorable year for everyone, and as I sit down to wrap up my year of running and triathlon accomplishments, the year of the pandemic certainly had an impact on my goals.    

I usually fill this space with great memories and stories of training experiences from the year, races I competed in, finish lines that I crossed, and medals I had earned. But this year is different. Although the pandemic year of 2020 allowed for a handful of events and races, there would be none for me. What wasn’t canceled on me were either postponed or I opted to sit them out.  

Covid-19 changed the running and racing landscape in 2020. Virtual races became a popular option, but they did not appeal to me for some reason. I “virtually” cheered for others who completed their virtual events, but it just wasn’t the same for me. It’s hard to get excited about a virtual race when it’s only me doing it. To me, there was no difference between a virtual run than an actual everyday run.  

But not all was lost. I set a goal of running a sub-6 mile, which I did achieve on my 57th birthday. I also pushed myself through a half-marathon in the fall to test my fitness and was very pleased with that run. And I was able to hop on my gravel bike and take advantage of some long-distance riding, thanks to having built up some endurance through training before my Ironman race was canceled.  

So I did accomplish a few things, and above all improved my health and fitness. I was allowed to run. That is a blessing. In all of this pandemic fear and worry about controlling the spread of this crummy virus, we were actually encouraged to get outside and exercise. People took up running. I saw many new faces out on the trails. People also took up cycling to the point where there were no new bikes to be purchased. Even tubes and tires were in short supply. I’ve seen a couple of big running booms in my thirty-plus years of running, but this year is by far the biggest.

This year reminded me that running is my life and that sometimes the journey will lack the things that make running fun for me. But when it comes down to why I run, it isn’t always about racing the local races or getting a personal best, or winning an age group award. 2020 reminded me that running is freedom. Running is living life when life is challenging. Running takes me places and lets me experience things that I don’t see in everyday life. Running makes me feel good about myself. All I need to do to have an amazing run is to simply go for a run.  

MONTHLY NOTES AND TOTALS

JANUARY – As January got underway, Covid-19 wasn’t really on my radar. I once again used this month to recover somewhat before starting to build for my last runner standing ultra event in April.

  • TOTAL RUNS: 14
  • AVERAGE WEEKLY MILES: 22.4
  • TOTAL HOURS: 12.15
  • TOTAL MILES: 90

FEBRUARY – I more than doubled the mileage for February in 2020 over 2019. That extra leap day this year made a difference!  

  • TOTAL RUNS: 18
  • AVERAGE WEEKLY MILES: 33.6
  • TOTAL HOURS: 19.26
  • TOTAL MILES: 134.5

MARCH – Covid-19 was now on everyone’s mind. The pandemic was declared and the stay-at-home order was issued. Running outside was approved, but you needed to stay at least 6 feet apart. People were crossing the street when walking towards us on the sidewalk. My friend Jodi and I went up to Big Hill Park in Beloit, Wisconsin to do a preview run of the Big Hill Bonk Last Runner Standing course, but everyone was starting to think that the race was on shaky ground.

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  • TOTAL RUNS: 20
  • AVERAGE WEEKLY MILES: 32.5
  • TOTAL HOURS: 20.6
  • TOTAL MILES: 130.2

APRIL – The Big Hill Bonk Last Runner Standing ultra race got shut down, but I still held out hope for my fall Ironman race in Louisville. The Big Hill Bonk would be moved to the end of October, putting it two weeks after IM Lou. My first thought was that it was going to be tough to do an ultra so close to doing an Ironman, but then I figured that I would be in pretty good shape for it. I just wasn’t convinced that I would be recovered enough to get as far as I was hoping to in this open-ended race.  

  • TOTAL RUNS: 18
  • AVERAGE WEEKLY MILES: 22.5
  • TOTAL HOURS: 13.3
  • TOTAL MILES: 90 

MAY – Well into Ironman training now, just waiting for the hammer to drop on the race, as many events had already been canceled. I got the pool opened and started putting in some laps. I also started riding with a local group of cyclists. We made several trips out to Abe Lincoln National Cemetery this summer.  

  • TOTAL RUNS: 17
  • AVERAGE WEEKLY MILES: 25
  • TOTAL HOURS: 14.35
  • TOTAL MILES: 100

JUNE – In June I started making odds as to whether IM Lou would take place and came up with a plan that if I make it through Week 15 of training (which is half-way) that I would continue training and do it on my own if it got canceled. Still no word, but training was going pretty well. I ran the Torch Run with some coworkers this month, putting in a couple of miles. Afterward, I wondered how fast I could run a mile, so I hit the gas and ran a 6:35. It got me wondering how fast I could run a mile. A new challenge was born: a sub-6 minute mile!

  • TOTAL RUNS: 20
  • AVERAGE WEEKLY MILES: 26.6
  • TOTAL HOURS: 15.35
  • TOTAL MILES: 106.3

JULY – Ironman Louisville gets canceled. Not only a cancellation for 2020, but Louisville gets the boot from the Ironman circuit. I’m given the option to defer to three other races that had yet to get canceled or to defer to Ironman Chattanooga 2021. I opt to race in 2021, even though that means returning to Choo, a race that was super hot in 2019, and we all swore we wouldn’t race it again. Looks like just me, Jeff, and Jan will return in 2021. I also opt to stop training for the race and not do the Ironman training or the virtual do-it-myself version in October. Just didn’t feel like doing it anymore. I kept up the running and biking, pretty much just alternating days.

  • TOTAL RUNS: 16
  • AVERAGE WEEKLY MILES: 27.6
  • TOTAL HOURS: 16.5
  • TOTAL MILES: 110.5

AUGUST – I got interested in the Eco-Challenge, an orienteering type adventure race that seemed to make an impression on my coworkers and me. I even got Kari to tag along to a local orienteering course at Waterfall Glen and had a great time. I started doing some 400m repeats at the local track and a few attempts at getting under 6 minutes for a mile. I got the time down to 6:25, and it was looking like sub-6 would be quite a challenge.

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  • TOTAL RUNS: 15
  • AVERAGE WEEKLY MILES: 28
  • TOTAL HOURS: 16.4
  • TOTAL MILES: 112

SEPTEMBER – Nothing much going on in September – no races, nothing to train for, and not much enthusiasm for getting out there. But I shaved off one more second of the sub-6 mile attempt and was sure that I wasn’t going to get there.

  • TOTAL RUNS: 14
  • AVERAGE WEEKLY MILES: 24
  • TOTAL HOURS: 13.5
  • TOTAL MILES: 95.6

OCTOBER – On my 57th birthday I gave the sub-6 mile attempt one final try. The day was favorable – cool, with a strong wind at my back, and a well-chosen downhill route. With Ben riding along helping me keep on pace I went for it and turned a 5:44 mile. Mission accomplished.

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  • TOTAL RUNS: 18
  • AVERAGE WEEKLY MILES: 30.5
  • TOTAL HOURS: 17
  • TOTAL MILES: 122.1

NOVEMBER – I kept hitting the trail in November, racking up some pretty good mileage. On 11/28 I decided to push hard through a half-marathon and although it was tough trying to maintain a hard pace in a non-race type situation, I was able to post a 1:43:17. I always shoot for sub-1:40 in half-marathons, so being just a few minutes off of that pace was a pretty solid time for me.

  • TOTAL RUNS: 15
  • AVERAGE WEEKLY MILES: 30
  • TOTAL HOURS: 17.5
  • TOTAL MILES: 120.2

DECEMBER – As the last month hit I realized that I could probably go over 1300 miles for the year, so I made that my goal. And the weather was really nice. It hadn’t snowed and I was putting in some really good long runs. I realized that I was enjoying running in the late fall, almost winter, without any usual aches and pains that come with a season of abusing my legs.  

  • TOTAL RUNS: 19
  • AVERAGE WEEKLY MILES: 39
  • TOTAL HOURS: 23.4
  • TOTAL MILES: 159

2020 RUNNING TOTALS

TOTAL RUNS: 204

TOTAL HOURS: 200

TOTAL MILES: 1370

LIFETIME RUNNING TOTALS (32ND YEAR OF RUNNING)

TOTAL LIFETIME RUNS: 4981 – (155 RUNS PER YEAR AVERAGE)

TOTAL LIFETIME HOURS: 3709.5 – (116 HOURS PER YEAR AVERAGE)

TOTAL LIFETIME MILES:  27558 – (861 MILES PER YEAR AVERAGE)

2020 INTERESTING BLOGS

Normally I would share my race recaps here but there were no races for me this year. But I did have a couple of interesting blogs about training. Here are a few:

Today I Learned… Cross Country Skiing Is Fun!

Big Hill Bonk Course Preview Run

Ironman Louisville 2020 Is Canceled

Chasing a Sub-6 Mile – Final Chapter – I DID IT!

Orienteering Fun

 

CYCLING AND SWIMMING TOTALS

SWIMS:  

TOTAL SWIMS: 8

TOTAL DISTANCE: 14152 YARDS

CYCLING:

TOTAL RIDES: 96

TOTAL DISTANCE: 2517 MILES

GOALS FOR 2021

None! I’m not making any plans for 2021! Well, if the pandemic gets under control I will give the Big Hill Bonk another try in early April. I am signed up for it and lately have been reading a lot of race reports and watching a lot of last runner standing videos. And if the vaccine gets the herd immunized I’m thinking that Ironman Chattanooga will be a go in late September. So for right now, I’m going to play it by ear and sign up for things when they are available and I feel safe racing. If 2021 turns out to be a rerun of 2020, well, I will keep shuffling along, putting in some long-distance rides and runs, and keep putting that smile on my face.

Running Stories: Throwing Down The Gauntlet

As I approached the trail I was about to turn onto from the sidewalk I was running on, I could see a runner off to the right about 100-yards away, heading in the same direction that I was planning to run. As I hopped on the trail I kept my pace the same as it had been for the previous three miles and didn’t think much about the guy behind me. He ran behind me for about five minutes and then I started to hear footsteps. I was about to be overtaken. He was about to throw down the gauntlet.

In Medieval days, a gauntlet was a type of armored glove used to protect the hand, but if thrown down it was meant as a physical challenge to your opponent. I had a pretty good feeling that he was challenging me, as I have done this move before. Many times before. Too many times before. Enough times that I gave it that term – throwing down the gauntlet.

You can throw down the gauntlet in a race, but everybody is challenging each other throughout the race. You might have someone kick hard near the end and you either respond or don’t. But out on the trail during a simple training run, throwing down the gauntlet is a move to see what the other guy is made of.

Since he took his time coming up from behind and then sped past me fairly quickly, I figured he was making a tactical mistake. I know that mistake well. You run hard to catch the guy ahead of you and then struggle to keep up the increased pace once you pass him. I have often thrown down the gauntlet only to regret having to run much harder than I am capable of after the pass. You learn not to throw down the gauntlet if it means that you will run out of gas by doing so.

I picked up my pace to match his from about 15 yards behind him. It was a pace I could handle. I made some noise just to let him know I was still there. A quick glance over his shoulder told me all I needed to know. He was trying to outrun me and now realized that I had responded to his challenge.

As I ran behind him for about a mile I had no plans to throw down the gauntlet myself, I was already pushing it pretty hard just to keep up with him, plus my route was about to take me on a different direction and I had about four more miles to run. As I made a left turn onto the trail that heads back home and he continued straight, I think he now knows that throwing down the gauntlet might get you the challenge that you weren’t expecting. I know this because I have learned that lesson myself many times before.

Running Stories: Reaping the Rewards

This year was going to be a special year of racing for me. In addition to the local road running races and sprint triathlons that I would normally sign up for, I was also set to return to Kentucky for Ironman Louisville with my Gunner teammates/friends, and also take my first stab at doing an ultramarathon in Wisconsin at the Big Hill Bonk in Beloit. But alas, it was not meant to be.

But that doesn’t mean I sat around and did nothing. Even though the races were taken away from me I would never have not ran or biked, or even done the occasional swim just to do it. Running has always been the thing I have done, to the point that it’s just life for me. So regardless of whether there’s a race to run or an event to do, I’m still going to do it. And even with the pandemic going on, I still went out there and put in the running and biking efforts.

Since there was no goal race to shoot for, I decided to just have fun doing my thing while maintaining my running and biking fitness. Mostly I would alternate run and bike days, with Monday being an off-day to recover. There would be low-key group rides on the weekends that usually end up being solo rides anyway. And my weekly midday runs were always there for me after getting off work. And the pool was always waiting for me post run to cool down and put in a few laps of technique focused swimming.

Even though I didn’t have any distance goals or time goals, I focused on putting in miles without going too hard. There were plenty of friends doing “virtual” races, and I gave doing that kind of thing a brief consideration, but then opted against it. Instead I used the year as kind of a recovery year, not burning out, but “keeping it real” as my neighbor likes to say. And as December rolled around I realized that I had just surpassed 12oo running miles, which was a nice accomplishment. Getting over 1000 miles in a year is a pretty good achievement for any runner.

But as the temps dropped and I was seeing my pace come down for my typical running routes, I was interested in seeing just how racing fit I was.

First up was a sub-6 minute mile challenge that I was able to get under with a 5:44 minute mile. That was surprising to me, as I struggled through the summer to be under 6:30.

Last weekend, I decided to run a half-marathon on my own. I usually shoot to be under an hour and forty minutes when racing a half, so I set that as a goal. The hills on my route though were humbling, and I came in at 1:43 and change. Even so, I think that is pretty respectable, seeing that my run lacked the race environment that pushes me to an uncomfortable and challenging pace – fellow competitors, adrenaline, and the desire to push harder when challenged were all absent. I will take that do-it-myself 1:43 half-marathon and be proud of it.

Today I ran my normal 8-mile running route, which is also hilly, but the day seemed pretty good for another push for a good time. I turned in a time of 1:01:20, which is the fastest of the 8-milers that I have run this year. There’s a local 8-mile race that I usually do every November called “The Hot Cider Hustle” in which I can generally come in under 60 minutes. But I will take that 61 minute 20 second 8-mile run and be proud of it.

I had done some good work this year, even without having a goal to shoot for. I’m glad that the work I did produced a handful of good results for me. This year has taught me that reaping the rewards of good work doesn’t have to come from racing.

Time to dial it back a little now and get ready for 2021. Hopefully I can reap the rewards in more of a fashion I am used to. But regardless as to whether we race in 2021 or not, I’m going to put in the work. It’s rewarding.

Running Stories: The Look

On Thanksgiving Day I had very little desire to go for a run.  It was drab and cold outside.  I had been outside early in the morning with my dog and could feel the dampness chilling me and knew that on a day in which people love to get together and race Turkey Trots, I would probably opt out.  Seeing that Covid-19 was killing off most of the official Turkey Trots, the decision to opt out would be an easy one.

But as the morning progressed guilt got the better of me, and I decided that if others were out there I should be too.  Plus sitting inside watching football games that I had zero interest in probably wouldn’t make me feel any better about myself.  And I planned to feast on the fabulous meal my wife would be presenting later in the afternoon.  I needed to run to make me feel better.

I chose to run eight miles, my typical distance which follows my normal looped running route.  I can change my route up – shorten it, lengthen it, run it clockwise one day, counter-clockwise the next.  But I generally run my loop, and adding a little quarter-mile extension, it makes it an even eight miles.

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My 8-mile looped route. I know it like the back of my hand.

As I got to the looped portion of the trail a mile from home I noticed that I wasn’t alone out there on Thanksgiving Day.  Plenty of walkers and runners enjoying a moderately mild, fall day.  Families walking together, a few running together and most just doing what comes natural on Thanksgiving Day – getting together outside and being thankful for that opportunity.  About a mile and a half into my run I got the first of handful of greetings that I call “The Look.”

The look can be different things with different meanings, but for runners it generally is an acknowledgement that the looker sees you as a serious runner.  I see it a lot at races, runners eyeing each other up, giving a nod as if to say “I validate you and recognize you as my competition.”  I also see it out on the local running trail as well.

Maybe it was the Boston Marathon jacket I was wearing, or maybe it was my pace.  I’m not sure, but the kid running toward me gave me the look and a greeting that seemed to say “Nice job, old guy.”  I can assume this because he wasn’t dressed like a hobby jogger, and he looked like a high school or college cross country runner.  I have to admit that it kind of made my day.

Another mile or two into it and I came upon another runner who looked very fast.  This time it was me that gave the look of approval.  He was lean, focused and running pretty fast.  He didn’t even really make eye contact with me that I could tell.  I gave him a quick thumbs up and “nice job” and we were soon running away from each other as fast as we had been running toward each other.  I don’t think he even realized that I gave him the look.

As I kept moving toward mile six, I saw a couple up ahead walking toward me.  This time the look came from a tall, jeans wearing guy who was also wearing running shoes.  He seemed to take me in and give me the look, one that lingered, like he was acknowledging the Boston celebration jacket and knew what it took to earn that jacket.  I gave him the look as well – he looked like a guy who was a longtime runner, with a pedigree to boot.  He reminded me of the guys who used to run in the early 70’s – Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, et. al.  He had that look of a tall and thin runner.  As I ran away from them I wondered what kind of running he may have done over the years.

As I was about to finish my loop and take the trail back home, who did I see coming at me but the kid who I thought hadn’t even noticed me 2.5 miles earlier.  This time he and I were chuckling at the fact that we were seeing each other again.  I now wondered if he had given me the look, seeing that he recognized me the second time around.

Two days later I went for another run.  I didn’t give anyone the look, nor did I receive any.  I did have someone say hello to me and call me by my name.  I have no idea who it was, as he was cycling and bundled up from head to toe.  Getting recognized by another runner or cyclist is almost as good as getting the look.

So the next time you are at a race, or just out running, keep an eye out for the look.  Another runner respects you.  You deserve it.

My Search For American Muscle – Part XV

VICTORY IS MINE!

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My awesome wife surprised me two years ago on my 55th birthday with a card that read “Let’s go pick up that classic hot rod!”  I think it was more of a “I can’t find a decent gift for him, so I’ll just tell him to go buy a muscle car” type decision, but maybe I’m wrong.  But she knew that I had been pining for an old car for quite some time, and she’s pretty awesome.  Have I mentioned that she’s awesome?

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I sold my 1971 Olds Cutlass 442 that I had bought in college when Kari and I got married in 1992 so I could finance a honeymoon cruise, and I have been wishing to own another muscle car ever since then.  At one point I had even started a savings plan at the bank to throw $25 into every month, but then kids happened and the money got spent on a new house or furniture or something.

Flash forward to my 55th birthday and the hunt was now on.  I began this search not really looking for any specific car, but I keyed on the year 1967 for some reason, and since I had a 442 back in the day, I started looking for that year/make/model.  I soon came upon a 1967 Olds 442 convertible for sale about an hour away from me.  A quick trip up to see it and take it for a spin made me realize that maybe this wasn’t the car that I was looking for and that maybe I better slow myself down a little.  The 442 wasn’t a bad car, it was pretty nice.  But I saw a couple little things that made me say I could find a better example.  The glove/map box door in the console wouldn’t stay shut and the clasp was bolted loosely on with a wood screw instead of a machine screw.  It was dirty inside of the area where the convertible top is stored.  And it didn’t have power steering or power brakes.  It drove like a tank.  This car was listed as having a recent restoration and that’s the effort they put into the restoration?  I was seeing obvious things and I started to wonder what I wasn’t seeing that could also be worrisome.  I decided to keep my check book in my pocket.

I think Kari was somewhat surprised that I passed on it, seeing that I was pretty excited about seeing it.  The car was soon shipped by the local guy to a dealer in Ohio and the last time I checked it was still for sale on their website.  Maybe others had the same gut feeling about that car that I did for it to be for sale for so long.

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1967 Olds 442 that I was sure was the one.  After a quick look and a spin, I decided it wasn’t.

Here’s a link to the blog post about that car:  My Search For American Muscle – Part I

The next car that caught my eye was a Turbine Bronze Metallic, 1967 Plymouth GTX convertible located in California.  This car was the bomb.  It looked showroom new, had the look that I wanted, and was in my price range.  My hesitation about buying it was due to it being in California and travel to see it would have cost me some money, and I would have to get it home to Illinois somehow, which also would have cost me some money.  We made a trip to California for the Tournament of Roses Parade that my daughter marched in and I was hoping to go see it, but we just didn’t have the time.  Upon getting back home I finally worked up the courage to contact a guy to go look at the car for me and inspect it, but when I contacted the dealer I was informed that it had been sold.  Now I realized that being too slow to act may also be detrimental to my finding a car.

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’67 GTX in Turbine Bronze Metallic!

After seeing that car though, the 1967 Plymouth GTX and it’s B-body sister the Dodge Coronet R/T had clearly made an impression on me and I mostly tailored my search to those two cars.

The blog post for the above car can be read here:  My Search For American Muscle – Part III

As I searched through the online listings nearly everyday, I was beginning to become pretty good at seeing which ones were worth looking into and which ones to pass on.  I had started to learn some history of the makes and models, learning how to decode the VIN and fender/cowl tags, and sorting out which cars were the real deal and which were not.

There would be fakes, and “tribute” cars, that just took a little Googling to discover.  There would be cars that were ideal, but way out of my price range.  Some cars had very interesting back stories, and some cars were a complete mystery.  There would be eBay bidding on cars that I would never reach the reserve price on.  And eventually, there would be a worldwide pandemic that threw a monkey wrench into my search.

Here are the cars that I almost bought during my two year search but somehow wasn’t able to pull the trigger on.

But as I kept searching I learned some patience.  I had seen several that I would have loved to own come and go, and I realized that sooner or later another one would become available.  I just needed to be patient.

I had mostly limited myself to Hemmings.com for searches, but also searched other websites and eBay for listings.  I had also searched Facebook Marketplace as well, but nothing was popping up that I liked.

I had joined a couple of Facebook groups devoted to Olds 442’s and also to the Mopar B-bodies.  Recently, someone shared a Facebook Marketplace listing for a 1967 Plymouth GTX convertible for sale that I must have missed.  It looked very nice and the motorheads on that page were drooling.  I decided to look into it.

The listing had seven pictures total, not the usual 100 or so that I was used to seeing on Hemmings, so there wasn’t much to be learned there.  But in the description the seller had written the following:

She is up for sale.  1967 GTX Convertible.  440, automatic and approximately 60,000 miles.  Mopar National Winner and one of 680 produced.  Not sure how many are still left.  Serious inquires only.  

Since the poster’s name could be seen in the Facebook ad, I started in with my usual Googling and investigating.  I wanted to confirm that it was a Mopar Nats winner, and Google easily provided that information for me.  In 2007 the car won first place in the B-Body Modified division, 1967 and earlier.  Winning at the Mopar Nationals is a pretty big deal in the Mopar owners world.  One of the cars in the above photos had also won 2nd place at one of the events.  So, yes this was a big deal for this car.  Link to the Mopar Nats Results

The Mopar Nats info was great to discover, but it was easily outdone by what I found next.  The car had actually been featured in a couple of articles.  Both were “WOW” moments for me.  Now I was pretty excited about this car, especially now after it was written about in Hemmings Motor News, the classic car magazine bible.  In the articles, I read about how the owner came about the car and what it took for him to get it to the show quality ride that it had become.  Here are the links to those articles:

Mike Kelly’s Cruise News – 1967 GTX

Three-Letter Terror – Hemmings Muscle Machines, May 2009

And I found a couple more Hemmings articles that used the pictures of the car:

1967 Plymouth GTX – Hemmings Motor News, July 2011

1967 GTX Buyer’s Guide – Hemmings Muscle Machines, Feb. 2019

Some of the photos that were used in the Facebook Marketplace ad were the same as or similar to the one’s used in the “Three-Letter Terror” and the Cruise News articles.  This was the same car as far as I could tell.  

How often do you get a chance to buy a muscle car with that kind of pedigree?  A low-production number car, featured in several car magazine articles, and an award winner, all for a great price?  Not very often!  And now, the car that the owner referred to as “she,” was for sale.  I didn’t wait long on this one, and I messaged the owner.

THE RELUCTANT BUYER MEETS THE RELUCTANT SELLER

After seeing that the ad was about nine-weeks old, I messaged the owner and asked if it was still for sale. He replied that it was, so I asked if he could provide some more pictures and maybe a video of it running. That seemed to be something of an unusual request for him, as he indicated that he would have to find time to do that. He asked that I call him, so I did. He said that he wasn’t into technology and preferred conversation. I explained that I had been looking for a car like his for quite some time, and I wasn’t just kicking tires. I then asked if he would be cool with me hiring an inspector/appraiser to take more pictures and be my eyes for me. He said that would be okay. I got the feeling that he and his wife seemed pretty attached to the car and that he was somewhat reluctant to sell it.

I contacted a guy named Ronn who seemed highly regarded online, paid him the fee and told him about the car. Ronn contacted the owner and provided about 100 photos and some video of the engine running, the convertible top going up and down, and the car going down the street. And boy did it go down the street!

When Ronn finished the appraisal, he sent me the info in a timely manner but also took the time to call me. He could barely contain his excitement: “This car is one of the nicest cars I have ever appraised! This car is almost concours quality!” He recommended that it was one not to take a pass on. I admit, I was grinning ear to ear hearing all that, so it was pretty easy for me to decide to hop on a plane to go see it in person. Except, it wasn’t so easy. Meet the reluctant buyer.

Getting on a plane for Florida wasn’t something that I really wanted to do. Had it been within driving distance, all that I would be committing to was some time. Now I had to spend about $500 for a plane ride to Florida. And after two years of searching for a car to buy, I was nervous about actually pulling the trigger and doing it. Plus, I have had so much fun with the search part of it that I didn’t want it to end!

My wife Kari was the driving force behind giving me the push I needed. There’s a commercial playing on TV right now for an online/app based betting site called FanDuel, in which former NFL player Orlando Pace has to help a guy to commit by physically moving his finger on the phone and making the bet. That’s exactly what Kari had to do – make me message the guy that I was coming and book my flight for me. I’m pathetic.

I was really reluctant to part with my money without getting the title in return, and the seller and his wife were adamant that they weren’t giving up the title without making sure they had the money in their account.  We finally decided that it was best for us both to meet and do a bank wire from my account to theirs.  Fortunately, my bank had a branch about 10 minutes from their house, so that was our plan.  

I flew into Fort Myers, and my in-laws picked me up at the airport.  I felt like that was a good move, but didn’t realize that their home near Marco Island was about two hours from the sellers in Bradenton.  But they were used to going up toward Tampa to visit friends and didn’t think it was going to be a big deal.  Darla had something planned that day that I was going to meet them, but Gary didn’t and I offered to take him along.  

I must admit I had some sleepless nights leading up to the day to go give the car a quick look over and hand over my money.  But once I was actually down in Florida, I was ready to get it over with.

When we pulled up the car was already sitting outside, shining in the midday sun.  Seeing it in person made all the difference.  I knew that this was the one.  The seller Alex and his wife Wanda came outside and we greeted each other.  I spent maybe 5 minutes tops walking around the outside of the car and asked to take it for a spin.  He was reluctant to let me drive it and Wanda gave some “insurance reasons” excuse, but he said he would take me for a drive.  At that point I didn’t even care, I just wanted to make sure the car drove down the road okay.  I didn’t make the effort to come all the way down there to walk away just because he wasn’t comfortable letting me drive the car.  So I jumped in the passenger side and we went for a spin.  He barely got from his driveway to the road before he hammered it and put me firmly into the back of the seat.  This thing was flying!  I couldn’t keep from grinning.  

As we drove, we had a nice conversation about the car and what it meant to him and that he was glad that it was going to someone who would appreciate the car like he did.  When we got back, we found Gary and Wanda sitting in the garage where the car was normally parked having a nice conversation of their own.  Everyone was feeling pretty good.  No more reluctance from either side.

All that was left to do was to exchange the cash and get the title signed.  We headed to the bank and did the bank transfer and the banker said the money would be in their account by the end of the day.  I knew that would make them squirm a little as they were expecting the cash transfer to be immediate.  I was thinking, “C’mon, the bank wouldn’t have done the transaction if I didn’t have the money in my account. ”  I think they realized that and after getting a bank confirmation of the transaction in their hands, they were okay with signing over the title.

We headed next door to a UPS store and had the Bill of Sale notarized and then that was it.  I was now in possession of the ownership papers.  The car on the other hand…

I had debated with myself on what was the best way to get the car from Florida back to my home in Illinois.  I would have loved to drive it, but can you imagine driving a 54 year old car that far.  If something broke or got damaged I would be screwed.  Plus, I didn’t have it registered/licensed yet.  I gave some serious thought to driving down and trailering it home, but I thought better of it.  It would have been a solo trip doing that and I would have worried about it the whole way.

I decided to use a car shipping company and did some searching online.  Of the three quotes that I got, it seemed like I was Goldilocks dealing with the Three Bears.  The big name carrier was expensive but well regarded.  The cheap carrier was way below the other two in price and I realized that they just take the order and then put it up for bidding with other shippers.  I decided to go with Passport Transport from Missouri.  They were a little cheaper than the big name guy, and had great reviews.  They were the only one to follow up with me as well.  

I was advised that it could take 10-14 days to get it to me, but seeing that they were delivering cars to Florida for the “snow birds,” the chances are good that they would get it to me quicker.  It took about a week.

For my money I got the car shipped to me in an enclosed trailer and the driver, Beau, kept me updated from the day before he picked it up to about four hours out from delivering it to me.  The first time Beau called me, we had an awesome conversation about the car.  He loved it and I felt like he was going to take good care in getting it to me.  I’m glad I chose Passport Transport.

As Beau got to Mokena he said his rig was too big to go down my street, so he said he would drop it as close as he could.  He called and told me he was at the day care building about a 1/4 mile from my house.  I said “I’ll be right there!” and I sprinted out the door and met him within a couple of minutes.  He already had the car off the trailer and sitting on the turn lane of the day care, which made me a little nervous.  I signed some papers, thanked Beau, and hopped in to drive it home!

And now I’m finally the owner of a fine example of American Muscle – a 1967 Plymouth GTX convertible.  My patience paid off.  I got the make/model of the car I wanted, a rare 1 0f 680 convertible, a Hemmings Muscle Machines magazine featured car, and all for the price that I was looking to pay.  I can almost not believe my luck.

The search was long and fun, but I’m sure the miles to come in this beauty will be very enjoyable.  

Thanks to everyone who followed along on this fifteen post, two-year journey with me.  And a huge thank you to my loving wife Kari, who started me on this quest and will be riding along in this time machine.  Love and thanks.  

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Chasing a Sub-6 Mile – Final Chapter – I DID IT!

When Covid-19 took away my racing events for the year I decided I needed a goal to replace them.  Since I had been focused on endurance events like marathons and Ironman and the training that goes with them, I thought that maybe I would try something that focuses on speed.  After participating in the Torch Run at work and testing myself for a mile afterward and hitting 6:35, I came up with a plan to try to run a sub-6 minute mile.  

I trained through the summer and into fall and tried a few test runs to see if I improved.  The first attempt lowered my time to 6 minutes, 32 seconds.  The second attempt I hit 6:25.  Now I was seeing some improvement, but still pretty far away from sub-6.  The third attempt resulted in a DNF when I basically went out way too fast and pulled the plug on it at the half-mile mark.  The fourth attempt clocked in a 6:24, an improvement by 1 second, but still a long way from hitting my goal.  I figured a few things would need to happen.  

First, I needed a cool day.  I also needed the wind to either work for me, or not work against me, or both.  And lastly, I needed to move off the track and trail and find a course that was mostly downhill with limited interruptions.  So on my 57th birthday, I found that the conditions might be right to give it another go.  

So here’s the attempt at achieving my goal:

OCTOBER 17, 2020 – Attempt Number 5

  • TIME:  5:44.1
  • WHERE:  KENSINGTON ROAD, MOKENA, IL
  • WEATHER:  ~60 degrees, strong/gusty SSW winds
  • LEAD-UP:  9.25 mile run Thursday, rest day on Friday
  • COMMENTS:  I told my son Ben that I was thinking of giving the sub-6 mile another try, and since he was coming down for my birthday with his girlfriend Emily, he brought his special racing Nike ZOOM X shoes, which he claimed would make me faster.  I was skeptical, but I would at least be open to give them a try.

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So when he arrived, I tried them on and I had to admit that they felt pretty light and springy.  Ben had already ran 12 miles that morning, so he grabbed a bike from the garage and offered to pace me along.  As I did some warm-up through the neighborhood, I changed my mind on the route we had discussed a few minutes before.  I decided to run out of my neighborhood on Kensington because I felt like it was more downhill than the other route we thought of using.  Emily jumped in her car to follow us and watch as well.  I did a little less than a mile to warm-up the legs and to get used to the shoes and told Ben that I would pick up my tempo and hit start at the corner and we’d be off.

My pace felt good as I hit the start button on my watch and I quickly locked into the tempo I felt I could comfortably hold.  Ben was monitoring my bike computer and advised that we were right at 10-11 mph, which was just what we needed.  A quick left and then right turn about 200 yards or so into the run and downhill we started.  The wind was really strong at my back, but I could not sense that it was aiding me.  At least it wasn’t hurting me either.  

The only thing I was worried about was a street that I had to cross about a half-mile into the run.  The intersection wasn’t a 4-way stop and the cross street didn’t have to stop for traffic.  But Ben pedaled ahead and gave me the all clear and I trucked through the intersection without even looking for any cars.  

The next section was somewhat flat but still descending.  I was really starting to feel the burn in my lungs, but my legs were still churning pretty well.  The legs weren’t tiring much.  

At about 2/3’s of a mile I realized I had a decision to make ahead – I could go straight and then turn left around the neighborhood I would finish in, or I could make a left and then turn right.  As I searched my memory for how the neighborhood was laid out, I figured that the second option would be better as I would finish with a downhill and not have to climb at the end.  

My breathing was now producing spittle, which was flying out of my mouth at every breath.  I gave a quick glance at my watch to see the distance I had left and I saw that I was at about 0.86 miles.  Time to dig deep!  I also saw the pace was showing 6:15, which gave me an “oh crap” moment.  I thought maybe I was going to miss it.  

After a few more hard pressed strides, I saw the watch turn from 0.99 to 1.0 miles and I hit stop.  I gave myself a few yards to come to a stop and then looked at the watch and saw 5:44.  

5:44!

My jaw dropped.  I couldn’t believe it.  All this time I had been thinking that taking nearly a half-minute off my previous best was going to be a very difficult thing to do, but not only did I do that, I really did it!  15 seconds under my goal of sub-6!  

I told Ben and we celebrated with some high-fives and some big smiles.  

A screenshot of my Garmin results, proof of the sub-6 minute finish.
The route I took. I like how Garmin added the color coding for pace on the route. You can see that I was speedy (red) when I was heading downhill. You can also tell when I started to run out of gas (blue) near the end.
I jogged back home and had the wife take my victory picture. I could definitely feel the wind in my face coming back, hence the backwards turned visor. I hardly ever turn it backwards.

I was kind of coughing at the end of the run while my heart rate was coming down.  Ben said that it was pretty common and even has a name – “track hack.” I guess I just irritated it with the volume of air I was pushing in and out.

As I recovered I started wondering why this attempt was successful when the others were not.  I definitely had a cooler day, and the wind was in my favor, but I have to really think the most important aspect was the mostly descending route that I took.  Not having to fight gravity is a big deal.  I’ll admit the shoes were lighter and more springy, but the psychological advantage may have been a bigger factor.  If you feel like they are giving you an edge, then maybe they will.  

But I got to think it might be due to the mustache that I grew back.  The spirit of Steve Prefontaine must have been with me.

My Search For American Muscle – Part XIV

ONE SIMPLE QUESTION

I follow a few muscle car pages on Facebook just to torture myself with seeing what everyone else out there is enjoying while I sit carless in front of my computer.  

One day someone in Arizona posted that they were selling a 1966 Plymouth Satellite convertible, powered by a 318 Poly for $28,500.  It looks awesome and I was really trying to talk myself into inquiring about it.  The big issue is Arizona is pretty far away and buying a car sight unseen makes me extremely nervous.  Plus it has a 318 Poly for an engine.  

The 318 was one of the general workhorse engines for Mopar and there were many, many cars equipped with the 318.  In the Mopar enthusiast circles, the 318 has a nickname – “boat anchor”.  Basically, it’s a dog of an engine as far as performance goes.  But there is one saving grace:  it’s a 318 “Poly”,  and there’s a lot of love for the poly version of the 318.  Poly means that the combustion chamber is polyspherical, kind of like the hemi.  Kinda.  So, it’s a unique little engine that some Mopar lovers like to play around with.  Me?  I’d pull the damn thing and put in a hemi, probably a Hellcat.  Or at least pay someone to do that for me.  

Here’s the 1966 Plymouth Satellite for sale in Arizona.

I finally worked up the interest thinking it would be a fun driver even if it was woefully underpowered.  I poured over the pictures and came upon a photo of the door jamb showing the VIN of the car.  In the picture, however, was an unusual green wire coming from the car into the door.  I found that to be weird since there is nothing powered in that door – no power windows, door locks, lights or stereo speakers.  So I clicked on the comment box for that photo and asked one simple question:

“What’s the green wire for?”

A day later I checked back in with the post fully expecting to have it explained to me.  Nope.  But not only was there no answer there was no photo.  The poster deleted it!  What the hell?  Instead of giving an explanation, or even a “I have no idea,” they just decided to delete the photo.  Now it looks like they are trying to hide something.  My best guess is that it was an old speaker wire for a speaker mounted in the door, but the door panel looks new was probably replaced sans speaker.  Just a hunch.  But this guy decided to hide the photo for whatever reason and now I’m more confused than interested.  

I put a link to a video of the car below.  It is a nice looking car.  I’ll keep an eye on it.

This isn’t the deleted photo, but if you zoom in you can kinda see the green wire in the jamb of the door.

Link to the owner’s YouTube video

Chasing a Sub-6 Mile – Update #2

Time for another update, so here’s how my attempt at getting under a 6-minute mile is going .  (See below for the links to the previous two posts.)

I had not given the sub-6 mile attempt much thought since the last time, as I was still hoping to increase my miles for the Big Hill Bonk Last Runner Standing ultra. Unfortunately, Covid-19 has killed that event and I will have to wait until April 2021 to give that one another go. I wasn’t that focused for some reason on keeping up with getting under sub-6 minutes until I was at a group ride and one of my Facebook friends (Hi, Angela!) who read my blog inquired about it. I mentioned the above and that I have also been dealing with the typical aches and pains that usual appear at this time of year after the work I have been doing, things like plantar fasciitis, piriformis butt pain, etc. All things that I typically just ignore and train through.

But I have done a couple of attempts, one of which was a total failure and the second one today that turned out to be consistent with what I think is going to be my best effort from here on. Here are the summaries:

SEPTEMBER 7, 2020 – Attempt Number 3

  • TIME:  DNF
  • WHERE:  BEARSKIN TRAIL, MINOCQUA, WISCONSIN
  • WEATHER:  Mid-50’s degrees, windy
  • LEAD-UP:  A bike ride with Kari the day before
  • COMMENTS:  This was just going to be a quick and easy 4-mile run before heading back out of town and a six hour ride home.  But seeing the day was pretty cool and I was feeling pretty good, I decided that I would warm up with two miles of light pace and then turn around and hammer it.  Well, I did that and totally threw out the pacing strategy that I had learned from previous efforts, mainly starting a little slower and pushing for negative splits.  No, I went out like a shot and burned out very quickly.  By the time I hit the half mile mark I was near hyperventilation and had to pull the plug on it.  My watch showed 3:22 for that effort, well off the pace I needed.  I blew it.  It was a little bit of a surprise, but I quickly realized my dumb mistake.  I jogged it back to the car and enjoyed the Northwoods scenery as I went.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2020 – Attempt Number 4

  • TIME:  6:24.8
  • WHERE:  MOKENA JR. HIGH SCHOOL TRACK
  • WEATHER:  72 degrees, light wind, low humidity – a perfect day
  • LEAD-UP:  A bike ride the day prior and an easy-paced 3-mile warm-up
  • COMMENTS:  As I started the 2.75-mile jog to get to the track I could tell this was probably going to be a wasted effort.  The upper leg soreness from the bike ride the day before was pretty evident, but once I got there I decided to see where I stand.  This time I made sure that I held back at the start and the first two laps were pretty good.  I felt smooth and wasn’t really feeling terribly taxed.  I pushed harder for the third and fourth laps and surprised myself when my watch showed 6:24 at the mile mark.  I think I need some more speed work training and a cooler day to get this time a little lower.  I think I might be capable of sub-6:20, but I’m thinking maybe my goal should have been to get under 6:30!  I’d have done it by now!

Stay tuned, I plan on doing my last effort or two in October.

 

Chasing a Sub-6 Mile – Update #1

Chasing a Sub-6 Minute Mile

 

My Search For American Muscle – Part XIII

CAR CURIOSITY

I’m still searching for a muscle car to own and along the way I have developed a sort of search methodology.  You would think it would be pretty simple – go to Google, enter in the year/make/model of the car you are looking for and then start looking for the one that catches your eye.  Once you find the “one” all that is left is to pay, pick it up, and then enjoy.  But I like to go into much more depth and look into the car’s past for some reason.  And I do that because it can be worth the effort.

This week a 1970 Pontiac GTO popped up on a website I follow and it caught my eye.  I’m not really “jonesing” for a ’70 Goat, but this one was nice – red on red, 4-speed, and purrs like a kitten on the video.  Most of the time I can find the VIN in the photos or in the description and then the journey of discovery begins.

 

This red 1970 GTO caught my eye. Listed at Bluelineclassics.com

The first step for me is to usually find the VIN and do some research on the car by going to a website that can decipher the VIN and fender/cowl tags and tell you something about the car. This car’s VIN begins with the following: “242370B”, which is Pontiac-speak for Pontiac (2), GTO (42), two-door coupe (37), 1970 model (0), built in Baltimore, MD (B). This one checks out as a true GTO.

1970 was a peak year for muscle cars and horsepower, and that usually means cars from that year would bring in substantial money on the market. It seems unusual to me that this car would be under $50,000, being a numbers-matching car (the engine and drive train are stamped with the sequence number of the VIN). This car does lack the Ram Air and hood mounted tach options, but it is a four-speed and is presented nicely. So naturally, I had to try to find out more about the car.

I Googled the VIN and was surprised to see this:

This is the same 1970 GTO located in Ohio, the same state where the current seller is located.

This is the same car sold by a Chevrolet dealer in Ohio that sells classics on the side. It was listed for sale at $27,900. What? Now my alarms are going off. How does the car get sold for such a low price and then flipped for $17,000 more? Interesting stuff.

I also found a forum called “The Supercar Registry”, and someone had recently made a post about it. The poster mentioned the red on red GTO and how it looked pretty good. Then the experts checked in.

  • “Beautiful car, but it needs the correct bucket seat releases.”
  • “and correct dash (72 dash) and that stupid Buick sticker on the air cleaner…”

So apparently the bucket seat releases are from a 1968 Pontiac, and not the 1970.  The dash comment I had to look into and confirm, it is consistent with a 1972 model GTO and not the 1970.  Weird.  And the “Buick” sticker comment was explained in a further comment that it is consistent with the stickers Buick used, even though it bore a Pontiac emblem.  Pontiac apparently never used that design on their air cleaners.  

I also learned from the description of the previous sale listing that the car was originally painted silver and had been changed.  It seems to me that the car would be worth more and attract more buyers being a silver/red combo and not red/red just for appearance and originality sake.

I’m not that familiar with the GTO but I learned a lot was wrong about this one!