Tunnel Hill 50 Mile Run Race Report

Tunnel Hill 50 Mile Run Race Report

When:  November 13, 2021

Where:  Vienna, Illinois – Tunnel Hill State Trail

Results:  50.5 Miles, 11 hours 32 minutes 30 Seconds

Results Link:  My Results on Athlinks

I am truly humbled.

My last blog post was all about me asking myself if I was ready to run 100 miles. It turns out that I wasn’t. I found out that I definitely wasn’t prepared physically, and maybe I wasn’t quite prepared mentally as well. All 100-mile runs will challenge you in both ways, but I found out that I wasn’t quite up to the task. I was hoping that what training I had done would be enough, but there’s no substitute for running long miles. Running 100 miles demands respect, and I didn’t give it its due. I learned a valuable lesson. I was able to salvage something out of the race, and I am very proud of that. Here are the details.

Tunnel Hill 100 & 50 Mile Runs have been around since 2014, and the races have earned quite a reputation. The course is a world record course, and many runners have been setting personal bests there as well.

My ultra-running local friend Jodi has done the race before and provided the inspiration for me to give this race a try. A few other local friends also joined in on the challenge and came down to Vienna, Illinois to give it a go. I figured why not join in on the fun.

The pile of junk I packed for this dumb idea. Didn’t need half of it.

My wife Kari and I drove down on Friday and pulled into Vienna just in time for the start of packet pick-up. We didn’t waste much time there as the sun was starting to set and we wanted to take a drive to where the aid stations would be so that she could be familiar with the route.

Sun setting on the drive to Karnak, Illinois

After finding the southern aid station in Karnak, Illinois we headed back to eat the complimentary spaghetti dinner with the others.

Packet pickup completed!

After dinner, Kari and I drove to the northern aid station located near the Tunnel Hill tunnel and then headed to the hotel to check-in. It wasn’t long until my son Ben and his fiance Emily arrived, and we made some last-minute plans. I knew that Ben was going to pace me the last 25 miles of the race, but Emily also offered to run with me from Mile 50 to Mile 61 on the third leg, which I was very grateful for. Turns out neither would run at all!

Ben, Emily and Kari planning out their strategy to keep me alive.

After a peaceful sleep, we caravaned to Vienna to await the start. I was in a pretty good mood, with very little of the normal race day anxiety. I found the others and shared best wishes and then took a spot with the rest of the runners. The National Anthem was sung, the horn sounded, and we were off.

Trying to not freeze at the start.

LEG 1 – Vienna south to Karnak and the Southern Turnaround

After a loop around the parking lot, we made a right turn onto the Tunnel Hill State Trail for the first leg. One guy standing along the road shouted “YOU’RE ALMOST THERE!” which surprisingly gave me a chuckle. I was in a good mood. I was running with Jodi until my watch beeped and told me to walk. We were barely on the trail at this point! I felt a little silly slowing to a walk four minutes into a race, but I was dedicated to my pacing plan. It wasn’t long and others started to walk as well. Jodi was now long gone. And I would later find out all my other friends would leave me in the dust as well!

The trail was pretty crowded at this point and trying to find space on the trail was hard, as very few of us were running at the same pace. But we made the best of it and kept moving forward.

Prior to getting to Karnak, I found that I was sweaty, which surprised me somewhat. I stopped at the Heron Pond aid station and took off my windbreaker. Arriving in Karnak, I saw my crew and said I was crabby. We swapped my partially empty hydration vest for one they prepped for me and was fully loaded and I made way over to the food tables. I was expecting just a bunch of cookies and such, but there was bacon! And French toast pieces! I grabbed some bacon and was glad to have something that wasn’t sugary. The two pieces of French toast were some of the best French toast I have ever had. I walked and ate and then started running the remaining couple of miles to the turnaround.

Coming into the first aid station in Karnak.
My awesome crew! They did amazing for a first time crew!

The trip heading to the southern turnaround seemingly took forever. And it was into the wind, which made me regret taking the windbreaker off. But I think that was a little bit of a blessing, as it cooled me down and dried me off a little. As I was heading there I first saw my friend Leah, then I saw Jodi, then Jennifer, and finally Jim all coming back north! They were all kicking my butt! I was a little surprised to be bringing up the rear, as I was on my sub-20 hour pace and pretty consistent with it. It would turn out that they are much more awesome at this than my inexperienced ass.

LEG 2 – The Southern Turnaround back to Vienna

I hit the turnaround and was back to Karnak to talk with my crew again and I made the decision to swap hats, as my original ones were soaked with sweat. I was dragging on this part. I seemed to lack energy and was also a little off somehow. I found that when I was walking it seemed a little unbalanced. Running seemed okay, but I just wasn’t feeling right.

There were lots to keep my mind occupied. I was swapping places with groups of others as we took turns running and walking. There were three college-age guys running together who I nicknamed the “Bros” and they were fun to follow. They were enjoying themselves.

I finally got to Vienna and was relieved. 26+ miles done.  First up was a change of clothes. Kari expected that I would want to change clothes and I was happy to get out of the sweaty stuff. I sat down in a chair and was given a ham and cheese sandwich and a bottle of Lipton Brisk Lemon Tea by my family. It was nice to sit, eat and soak up a little sun after running a little more than 26 miles. The rest didn’t last long. Ben pulled me up out of the chair, we swapped a depleted hydration vest for a full one, and I started out on the northern leg of the route.

LEG 3 – Vienna north to Tunnel Hill and the Northern Turnaround

The funk I was in during the second leg seemed to wane now that I had a sandwich and some food in me. But I think the main reason I perked up was that I was now downing gels and hydration that had caffeine in them. It was the boost that I was needing. Mentally I was in a much better place, but physically my thighs/quads were getting very sore. After every walk break, I would gingerly start my jogging routine and try not to think about the soreness. After a while, I decided that the four-minute run portion of my pacing plan was not doing me any favors any longer. I pushed some buttons on my watch and lowered the run portion to two minutes. Two minutes running and two minutes walking was now the pace plan. There were a lot of other runners walking more as well, and for longer periods of time.

The northern part of the course was beautiful. The southern portion was mostly treelined with beautiful fall colors, but the northern section had that as well as awesome rock formations and numerous bridges spanning ravines and small creeks. Plus it had an awesome tunnel. The top of the concrete tunnel entrance was stamped “1929” and it really was a relic from another time. As you approached you could clearly see the exit on the other side, and the length of the tunnel is about 200 yards or so. But once inside it got dark, even if you could see the exit. It felt really weird, the exit was clearly visible, but you didn’t really know what your feet were stepping on. Ben had heard someone describe it as “trippy” and I think that is spot on. It was a strange sensation.

Ben greeting me as I came into Tunnel Hill and looking for a chair to sit on.

Not long on the other side was the Tunnel Hill aid station and Kari, Ben, and Emily were there waiting for me. I ducked into a toilet and then walked over to a chair and sat down. I told them I was feeling good from the waist up, but the waist down was in bad shape. Kari offered me some ibuprofen and I quickly turned it down. Then she offered some Tylenol and I turned that down too. I wasn’t sure how my stomach would feel if I took some, and it’s pretty well-known that taking ibuprofen is not the best idea for distance runners.

After leaving the aid station I continued north toward the northern turnaround, and I was giving taking some Tylenol some serious thought. By this point, I had adjusted my run time from two minutes down to one, and the quad soreness was not getting better. I was now walking more than I was running. I had some Tylenol with me, so I decided to take some.

LEG 4 – The Northern Turnaround back to Vienna

The turnaround seemed like it would never come. When I finally got there it was such a relief. As the trip south now began, I noticed something interesting. This trip north was uphill, but the trip back was uphill too! Uphill both ways!

Within 20-minutes after taking the Tylenol I could feel my legs getting better. By the time I was back at the Tunnel Hill aid station I was a new man. My attitude was great, my quads felt much better, and I was kicking myself for not taking some pain pills earlier.

Kari could tell I was much better off. The food table had just put down some freshly made grilled ham & cheese sandwiches. I took one of the triangle cut portions and it literally became the greatest grilled ham & cheese sandwich I had ever eaten. I went back and grabbed another and the aid station lady was laughing that I was looking for seconds.

BEST DAMN GRILLED HAM & CHEESE SANDWICH EVER!

Another hydration vest switch, and I grabbed a headlamp, and off I went back south toward Vienna. The trip through the tunnel was much better now that I could see the ground. There wasn’t any weird sensation going through it. The ceiling of the tunnel was still soot-covered from the long-ago passing trains, but now there was some modern spray-painted graffiti added for no good reason.

I held off turning the headlamp on permanently until the last bit of fading sunlight was gone. With the artificial light making the trail visible, I made my way along the trail. There seemed to be fewer and fewer people heading north and most were now heading the same direction that I was. Occasionally I would pass a runner without a headlamp and wonder how they could see at all. It was pitch black out, even with a half-moon shining in the dark sky above.

As I pressed on I decided that maybe I could run a little more, so I bumped it up to a 2-minute run. That worked for a little while, but soon I found myself tiring. Knowing that if I was to continue on I might want to be more conservative with my energy, and I went back to the 1-minute run / 2-minute walk.

Somewhere in this stretch, I did some soul searching. I rationalized everything, taking into account how I have felt throughout the day and how I was feeling now. I had told Kari and others numerous times before the race that they should be prepared for me to drop at the halfway point. This is an option at the Tunnel Hill Runs. Those that had signed up for the 100-mile race could drop down to the 50-Mile race and become an official 50-Mile finisher if they choose to. This was looked at by some as a trap, somewhat of an enticement, or a consolation prize to those running the one hundred to drop instead of pressing on. I knew this. I also knew that after enduring the miles I had gone through already, I clearly would be struggling to continue on for another 50. I would be miserable. At one point I said I’m going to keep going. A minute later I was talking myself out of it. It was a difficult decision, but I finally said to myself that I need to attempt this another time, a time at which I’m better prepared, both physically and mentally.

The Shelby Road aid station is only about 3 miles out from Vienna, and a little puzzling as to why it’s so close to the start/finish. I arrived and took a look at the food table and decided that nothing appealed much to me. I took a small piece of banana, squeezed it into my mouth, and pushed toward the finish line.

The Finish

As the lights of the Vienna aid station came into view I experienced relief for the first time. I turned off my headlamp, jogged across the timing mat, and hit stop on my watch. I was done. Fifty miles. The longest I had ever run in my life in one day.

Finishing 50 miles of running.

Ben was the first to greet me and I’m sure that he could have predicted what I was about to say. “I’m done.” He offered some positive words and did what all good crew will do, he encouraged me to continue on. But I had made up my mind. Then a race official did the same. “Walk a little. Go get some food. Think it over.” I walked over to Kari and Emily and sat in a chair and was getting a little upset having to deal with those telling me to go on when I made it pretty clear that I didn’t want to. It’s their job to do that, to tell you not to quit. But I was starting to interpret their positive encouragement as “don’t be a quitter.” It was getting to me. At some point they conceded and it was over.

Kari encouraged me to go into the warming tent and have some soup. Inside I found Jennifer, who had just finished her 50 Miles, and Tony, a friend from the local running/riding group who was there helping crew others, and he offered some very kind words. I went from hearing what I was wrongly interpreting that I was quitting on myself to knowing that I just did something pretty spectacular.

I left the tent and Ben walked me over to the timing tent. Another female runner had just dropped from her 100-mile attempt to the 50, which made me feel better. I wasn’t alone. I’m not sure what her reasons were, but I’m guessing it wasn’t an easy decision for her, just like it wasn’t for me. The volunteer said, “Great job, here’s your belt buckle.” It was official, Bib #536 was now a 50-Mile finisher.

Ben and I walked back to join Kari and Emily and we started packing up. I wrapped a blanket around me and we started to head to the car. Except now my body was shutting down on me. All I could do as I was shivering was to stagger very slowly back toward the car. Each step was almost excruciatingly painful. I started to wonder what if this would have happened to me later on during the next leg. What if it had happened miles away from the aid station? As we got to the car and Ben had to help me get my legs into the car, I realized that I had made a smart move to drop.

I am very proud of what I accomplished. Finishing 50 miles is pretty awesome in its own right. The option to stop at the 50-mile mark was actually a blessing for me. In retrospect, I just wasn’t prepared to go 100-miles. I lacked the time on my feet that running that distance demands. Also, I think the main reason I stopped at 50 instead of pressing on was that I was just tired of running and the prospect of another 50 wasn’t appealing to me at all at the moment.  I’ll have to overcome that feeling next time, I’m sure.

I will revisit this race again in the future when I’m better prepared and eager to make it happen. Thanks, Tunnel Hill!

Thanks 

My wife Kari continues to wow me with her love for me and the support she gives me when I tackle these challenges. I couldn’t do it without her.

Thanks to Ben and Emily for giving up their weekend to crew me and help out mom. Although I felt like I cheated you out of pacing me through the second half of the run, I sense that you guys were okay with it. (lol)

To my local friends:

– Jodi finished her 5th 100-mile race, which is just absolutely amazing. Thanks for providing the inspiration and sharing your ultrarunning knowledge.

– Jim, you are impressive as always. You have the wisdom and experiences that I seek.

– Jennifer, congrats on your first 50-mile finish. You provided enough enthusiasm for all of us.

– Theresa, way to go on that 50-mile finish!

– Leah, WOW! Way to kill it! Not sure how you held that pace through 100 miles, but WELL DONE!

– Calvin, your love for running and your unselfishness is amazing. Keep it up!

– Tony, thanks for the kind words in the tent, letting me know that even though the original goal wasn’t achieved, the finish I got is pretty damn good, too.

– Dan, I look forward to learning more from you.  Thanks for spectating and the encouragement!

Best consolation award ever.

I Guess I’m Ready

Am I Ready?

I’m attempting to run my first 100-mile ultra marathon on Saturday (and Sunday, too!) and in the past few days, I have been asked if I was ready several times. I don’t think that I have given the same answer each time it was asked. I really don’t know if I’m ready. Maybe. I guess so. Nope. Yup. We’ll see – have been the typical responses based on how I felt that day.  

Hey Chris, are you ready?

Running one hundred miles is something I have never done before. I honestly have no idea how it’s going to go for me. I have set goals of just being able to finish, to finish under 24-hours and also 20-hours, and also to not die while doing it, as dying would upset my wife. I have recruited my wife to be my crew chief, and if I were to croak on top of making her suffer through this dumb idea I don’t think it would go over well.  

But am I really ready? To be honest, I never directly followed a 100-mile ultra training plan in preparation for this race. The Covid pandemic tossed around a couple of races that I had planned to do in 2020 and they got moved to 2021. The Big Hill Bonk race ended up being in August instead of April, and Ironman Louisville, originally scheduled for October 2020, became Ironman Chattanooga in September 2021. That meant that I was planning to run what would become my first ultra-distance event and Ironman in late summer/early fall of 2021. At that point, I figured “why not take advantage of the training I was doing and attempt my first 100-miler?” So I signed up for Tunnel Hill 100, a mid-November race in which a handful of local friends were also running. They are bad influences.  

My goal was to run 40-50 miles at the Big Hill Bonk, but I “bonked” at 33 miles. I hadn’t followed a specific ultra-running plan for that race either. I just used what run training I was doing while training for my Ironman. That got me over 50K and I officially became an ultra runner, but it also taught me that running 33 miles was hard and therefore, 100-miles might be super-duper hard.  

I quickly put that race behind me and focused on following my training plan for my Ironman. Ironman Chattanooga went off without a hitch and I notched the 2nd-quickest time of the five I have completed. That left me about 6-weeks to do just long, slow running. And guess what? I found that I liked long, slow running.

I’ve always been about speed. I’ve qualified for the Boston Marathon three times, and that required me to push myself pretty hard. But training for an ultra required something else – a slow pace, one that you can maintain for a day. Or at least a pace at which medical aid won’t likely be required when finished. Been there, done that. I found that when I slowed down, I actually enjoyed running. The miles went by quickly enough, and before I knew it I was four hours into a training run and still felt pretty good.  

I had found an online 100-mile ultra training plan on a website called Relentless Forward Commotion, which is an awesome ultra-running resource. I loosely based what little time I had left to train on what that plan had called for, but I didn’t follow it exactly. The plan had called for a 50K (which I did!) and a 50-mile run (which I didn’t do!) leading up to the race. But I had done an Ironman, so that has to count for something, right? I say it does.

After Ironman Chattanooga, which included 26.2 miles of some of the toughest hills I have ever run (okay, walked) for a marathon, I put together long runs of 21, 26, 16, 21, 22, and 16, leaving me with some time to taper down until race day. So when you take into account that I did run a 50K, an Ironman, and six weeks of some of the highest weekly mile totals that I have ever done, I think that I did do an adequate job of training for running 100 miles without actually directly training for running 100 miles. We shall see.

On Monday, I ran five miles and did the same on Tuesday. After that, I said that’s it. I’m as ready as I can be at this point. Another three or four-mile run isn’t going to make me any more prepared, and my legs and feet can use the rest as I focus on packing the junk that I will need for this dumb idea.  

Am I ready? I’m definitely ready to get this over with. The stress is killing me.

The Run/Walk Ratio Experiment

Training for an ultra is a complicated thing, not that training for other race distances isn’t, but training to run 100 miles is a whole new ball of wax for me. And to complicate it more I’m not following any specific plan to accomplish running 100 miles, as I’m relying on my 30-weeks of Ironman training to do the brunt of the work for me, leaving me only seven weeks to devote to some run only specific training. I still have some work to do. 

I was listening to a podcast called “The Tunnel Hill Chronicles,” in which this younger guy named Lorin is documenting his training for the race, and he mentioned that he would rather be a little undertrained for an ultra-marathon than be overtrained. I agree, so I got that going for me – which is nice. 

Lately, I have been experimenting with pace. To run 100 miles in under 20 hours is pretty simple – average 12 minutes per mile, or 5 mph, and you are golden. And running the Big Hill Bonk taught me that running 4.166 miles every hour will net you a 24-hour 100 miler. Not many spend the entirety of the distance actually running. Most follow some sort of run and walk ratio, either by design or by having it forced upon them. The majority of ultra marathons seem to take place in hilly or mountainous areas, and the golden rule is to run the flats and the downhills and walk the uphills. At Tunnel Hill, despite what the name might be suggesting, there aren’t any hills or mountains. From what I understand, the tunnel actually goes through the “hill.” I’ve read that there are a few gradual inclines on the old railroad bed turned trail, but they aren’t really hills. 

So if there are no hills you have to design some sort of plan to incorporate some walking into your strategy or you will likely find walking as your only strategy.

I have searched for common run/walk ratios for ultras and found that they can vary widely. Some recommend a 15-minute run with a 3-minute walk. That seems on the high side to me. That gives you 3.33 run/walk blocks in an hour, and my OCD would prefer that I make them divide out nicely over 60-minutes. I have decided that breaking it up into a 6-minute run/walk segment might be perfect, which would give me 10 total blocks per hour. So far I have tried the following:

5 minutes : 1 minute Ratio – Five minutes of running followed by one minute of walking was the obvious first choice. I have done that ratio several times and I found that five minutes of running was a little long, and the one-minute recovery walk went by quickly. 

5 minutes : 1 minute, 15 seconds Ratio – I tried to add some additional time to the walk, but I didn’t like that it screwed up the 6-minute block.

4 minutes, 45 seconds : 1 minute, 15 seconds Ratio – I realized that I didn’t have to focus on adding time to the walk and took off 15-seconds from the run. This 4:45 run / 1:15 walk ratio worked pretty well. However, it got me to the 5-mile split around 53-minutes, which could be used to walk some more until the hour is up, or I could come to my senses and see that I should probably slow my pace a little.

4.5 minutes : 1.5 minutes Ratio – This ratio wasn’t much different than the 4.75:1.25, but I am starting to think that a little more walk time would be beneficial to for me. 

4 minutes, 15 seconds : 1 minute, 45 seconds Ratio – Bingo!  Running 4:15 and then walking for 1:45 was a great combo by not having too much run time and enough walk time to recover a little and give me some time to drink some water and take on nutrition.  This was working great, but I was a little concerned about not walking enough.

4 minutes : 2 minutes Ratio – Now I am onto something.  This seems to be the best combination for me.  The minutes are even splits and the 2-minutes of walking gives me a much needed break without wasting too much time walking.  I’m still covering just about the same distance as the 4-minute 15-second ratio, so I’ll take the extra walk time break and use it in my favor.  This works out to be a pace somewhere around 11:15 minutes to 11:20 minutes average pace per mile, which will be optimal.   

So, that’s enough experimenting.  A four minute run followed by a two minute walk seems to be the best combo for me and will be what I use in the event.  Six minute intervals, 10 per hour – I just have to do 200 of these intervals and I’m golden.  I won’t be wasting energy keeping track of that in my mind.    

The overall goal for me is obviously to finish 100 miles before the 30-hour cutoff, but I think I might be able to shoot for a sub-20 hour finish based on how I have felt in training while doing that run/walk method.  This goal may be a little over-ambitious, but I think that I can hold the pace for at least half of the 100 miles.  It’s the unknown miles from 50 on that I have no idea what will happen.  I’m sure the journey to the finish line will tell me a lot about myself.  I’m looking forward to it.  

2021 Ironman Chattanooga Race Report

September 26, 2021

How did I end up back here?

After doing this race in 2019 and nearly melting from the heat, my buddy Dave and I were in agreement about not wanting to ever experience that again.  I definitely tried to avoid Chattanooga, but fate pushed me there.

I had signed up for the 2020 Ironman Louisville race but it got canceled due to some social unrest in the city and of course, a worldwide pandemic.  Ironman gave me four options to transfer to, three of which were also fall 2020 races and clearly not going to happen.  The only other option was to go back to Chatty in 2021 and hope that the world would settle down.  Thankfully, we had a better knowledge about the virus, and the vaccine helped keep the option for racing open in 2021.  Things still aren’t ideal, but it’s getting better.

So I opted for a return trip to Chattanooga and I was soon joined by my Gunner buddies Jeff, his sister Jan, and eventually Dave.  A few local friends also opted to give Choo a go – Susan, John, and Charlie, as well as first-timers Angela and Daniel.  At first I thought that this race was going to be a solo affair for me, but now it was a full-fledged party!

Training thirty weeks for an Ironman is an awfully long time.

Once again I broke out the old trusty Be Iron Fit training book and followed the plan.  30-weeks broken into base, build, and endurance phases that has prepared this self-coached triathlete well in four previous Ironman races.

I follow the plan pretty closely with a few changes that I have found over the previous training cycles to be beneficial to me.  First, I reduced the swim from the hour-plus swim, 2-3 times per week that the book dictates, to two 30-minute swims per week.  I’m not the greatest swimmer, but once I had the technique down, I found that the swim training that the book wants me to do is INSANE.  Plus, I get so bored swimming that I just can’t take much more than 30-minutes.  I did get in a longer open water swim in Minocqua at my lake home, and I did one 4200 yard swim in my pool in the closing weeks of training just to prove to myself that I could do the distance.

Biking was more of a group thing for me this time around, and I often joined the locals for the rides out to Elwood.  My coworker Tom, who had caught the triathlon bug and signed up for Ironman Muncie 70.3 was also a training ride partner.  A couple of weekends I was joined by Susan, which were much needed in order to help each other get over the mental struggle of training.  She won’t take any credit for turning me around mentally, but she deserves some none-the-less.  Overall, it was a pretty good year for cycling leading up to the race.

As for the running – oh boy.  I foolishly signed up for a “last runner standing” format ultra which also got postponed to August.  I just used my Ironman training and it got me through 8-loops and 33 miles, completing my first 50K distance ultramarathon.  After that, it was back to the plan and doing the work with one exception – I also foolishly signed up for the Tunnel Hill 100, an ultra-marathon in November.  I’m pretty dumb.  So I decided that even though I wasn’t going to increase my mileage, I did adapt to doing some run/walk long runs.  I learned that a ratio of about 4.5 minutes of running with a 1.5 minute walk break on my Sunday long runs was working pretty good for me.  Since I was doing Chattanooga, I figured that I was going to be walking most of the marathon anyway, so why not get used to that style of running.

How hot is it going to be this year?

Summer was hot here in the Chicago area again this year and I could sense that race day might be ugly once again.  Boy was I wrong.  I generally avoid looking at the weather forecast until it gets closer to race day, but it was shaping up to be beautiful.  How beautiful?  How about mid to upper 70s, no rain and no wind.  If you could pick the perfect day, this might have been an ideal race day forecast.  And if that wasn’t good enough, it rained for several days leading up to the race which cooled the water temp down below the wetsuit legal temperature of 76.1.  I think this was a first for Chattanooga – a wetsuit legal swim!

What can go wrong will go wrong.

Race week meant one final check of the bike and I decided to give the drive train one last going over.  That’s when my 8-year-old rear derailleur decided to die.

That spring thing isn’t supposed to be showing. 

I drove the bike up to Spokes in Wheaton, Illinois and begged a guy named Chris to fix it for me.  He said I was screwed.  Actually, he said that they don’t stock 10-speed parts as they aren’t being used anymore.  But he searched through an old box of spare parts and found a lesser level Sram 10-speed derailleur in workable condition.  He bolted it on, I took it for a test spin, happily forked over the $70 bucks, and then thanked my lucky stars.  The next day the bike was in the car and I was headed to Chattanooga.

When Carla wasn’t involved in picking out our lodging, things can get weird.

Since Dave was a last minute sign up, his wife Carla wasn’t doing all of the work finding us lodging.  I didn’t mind our last hotel that we stayed at in Chattanooga, but I was hoping for something closer.  I settled on the Marriott Residence Inn, which I totally picked because it was a block away and it had a little kitchenette thing.  When I checked in I got some attitude from the guy at the front desk about not canceling our second room soon enough, and then I made my way to the room.  It was a little dirty and smelled a little, but I was glad to have plenty room for my stuff.  It got a little weird when the toilet wouldn’t flush and they had to call a plumber in to remove the travel-sized deodorant that someone had flushed down it.  Fun times.

Kari flew in and soon the whole Gunner gang was in town. The next couple of days were spent checking in for the race, organizing our gear bags, and then dropping the bags and the bikes off.  Gunner Jeff, a four-time Ironman, for some reason could not remember the bike/bag drop-off procedure, which I found highly entertaining.  Race week anxiety does some weird stuff to your brain.

My friend Angela checking out her bags for her first Ironman.

We typically try to find a restaurant to eat a prerace meal at, but since we couldn’t find something at such a short notice for our big group, we opted for a family-style spaghetti dinner, courtesy of Jill and assisted by her daughter Emma and my wife Kari.  It might have been the best prerace dinner ever.  We had such good conversations and the meal was delicious.

Best prerace meal ever!

Why am I nervous?  Prerace anxiety sucks.

After setting a couple of alarms I was ready to hit the sack.  Except there was no way I was going to fall asleep.  At 10:30pm or so, I got back up and took a portion of an Ambien and tried again.  According to Kari, I was soon asleep.  According to me, my brain was active all night long.

Race day is finally here!

The alarms went off and I got up and showered.  Dave always showers before the race but it’s a sometimes for me.  I felt like the shower might wake me up more  and needed a shave, so I took one.  Next up was getting dressed and grabbing some food.  Then off to meet the gang to walk down to the village and into transition to check the bike and bags.

I think Dave needs another shower. He never was a morning person.

We hopped onto the school bus for the shuttle ride to the swim start and then settled into to await the start.  I heard that the kayak volunteers were late getting into the water for some reason, which delayed our start by about ten minutes, but we heard the pro racers start and we would be next.

I had made a Facebook friend, a guy named Marc the Shark, and had missed seeing him at Louisville in 2017 and so far for this race too, but as I was looking around there he was just a couple of people away.  I said hello and we wished each other well.

Next thing I knew I was walking down the ramp and jumping into the Tennessee River with hardly any performance expectation other than to finish without getting too worn out.

59 MINUTES!?!?  THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT!

The swim went swimmingly.  I drifted to the right, away from the shore and more toward the middle of the river in order to take advantage of any current that was pushing us along.  The kayakers will only let you get so far away from the buoys, so I found myself pretty much between them and the kayakers.  It seemed like I was swimming by myself, once again enjoying the almost 100% contactless swim.  I had a little hint of a foot cramp happening, but I was able to kick it out of my system.

As the buoys turned from yellow to orange at the halfway point, I found myself getting closer to them and eventually looked up to find them on my right side for the first time.  I got past the island in the middle of the river and the three bridges were dead ahead.  The next thing I knew I rounded the red turn buoy and swam to the ladder, and that’s when I glanced at my watch – 59 minutes.  That’s insane.  I know that this course could give me a quick swim, but never in my life did I think I could swim 2.4 miles in under an hour.  00:59:43 officially.  A swim PR for me.

Still wondering how the heck I swam a 59 minute Ironman swim.

Thankfully a volunteer yanked my wetsuit off for me or I would still be sitting there trying to remove it.

SWIM:  00:59:43 – 52nd in Male 55-59 Age Group / 529th Male / 679th Overall

Why do I suck at the swim to bike transition?

My plan going for getting through the first transition was to not waste time like I usually do.  So what did I do?  I found a way to waste time.

As you can see in my swim photos I still have my swim goggles on.  That’s because they are prescription and I need them to see where I am going, find my bag, and go find a place to sit down and get ready for the bike.  All that went well enough but as soon as I put my eyeglasses on, they fogged up.  Nice.  Now I couldn’t see much at all.  I couldn’t find my socks at first, but then I remembered that I had put them into one of my shoes.  I found my towel and dried my feet and got some Skin Glide on them and then struggled to get my socks on.  Next were the arm sleeves that went on okay thanks to me rolling them on, but then I realized that I hadn’t put on any sunscreen yet and I was sure that I would take the arm sleeves off when I warmed up.  So I started looking for my spray can of sunscreen and couldn’t find it.  Since I knew that they had a sun screen table at the exit of the bike corral, I stopped looking for my own and got all of my swim crap into the bag.  The helmet got strapped, my nutrition, consisting of five Payday fun size candy bars, a Stroopwafel, and my gel flask, got thrown into my back pockets, and off I clopped to find my bike.

I walked the bike over to the table with the sunscreen and took off my gloves and started hitting the most vulnerable spots heavily.  The gloves went back on and off I clopped again to the mount line to begin my tour of a sliver of southern Tennessee and a big chunk of northern Georgia.

T1:  12:34

They say this is a beautiful and scenic bike course.  I’ll take their word for it.

Almost all of the Ironman bike courses are listed as “scenic” and I’m sure that they are.  But when you are riding along at 18 mph or so, with others jockeying around you on roads that sometimes aren’t in the best shape, you tend to spend more attention to not crashing than the beautiful scenery.  But this time I did actually take a few moments to gaze at the mountains and the local picturesque landscape.  I did notice some low lying fog in the early stages.

Apparently most of the sunscreen I put on went on my face.

I had a long sleeve shirt that I intended to put on when I started the bike but I opted not to use it and I was fine.  I rode with the arm sleeves and gloves for more than half of the race before tossing them.

First loop fun. At least the sunscreen had faded by now.

Earning my Pathetic Triathlete Badge. Had to do it.

Heading out of town was at a fast pace.  It was that way in 2019, too.  I didn’t feel like I was pushing hard or anything, but after about an hour of a pace faster than I normally train at, I knew that I would be pushing pace all through the bike.  The first 56 miles was under three hours by a lot, a time that I would have been really proud of if it was just a 70.3 race.

Less goofing around on the second loop.

Like usual, I was glad to be getting off the bike at the end.  I didn’t feel as miserable as I normally do, but 116 miles and a little over 6 hours is a long time to be riding a bike.  I handed my bike to a kid volunteer to put away and jokingly told her to change the oil and give it a wash and I would be back to pick it up in five hours.  She looked at me like I had two heads.  Tough crowd.  I guess comedy isn’t my thing.

My Garmin had me at 6:06 with the autopause turned on.  That’s a huge PR for me.  Garmin also has a 18.9 mph average and a top speed of 39.1 mph.

BIKE:  6:18:27 – 55th Male 55-59 Age Group / 544th Male / 662nd Overall

Time for the emotions to kick in.

As I walked from dropping the bike off with the kid, I got hit with the feels.  Usually this hits me around the last mile or so of the marathon, but I was pretty proud of what I just did on the bike, as well as the swim.  It didn’t last long.  I was handed my Run Gear bag and off to the changing tent to waste some time.

I sat down and pulled the cycling gear off and looked for the Dude Wipe (basically a big wet wipe) and wiped my face off, as well as the bugs that I had accumulated on my sweaty shoulders.  It always makes me feel a little fresher to clean up a little.

Amazingly enough, I had a sun screen can in my bag.  It’s less necessary at this part of the race, but I sprayed my bald head and arms anyway.  With the bib belt, shoes and visor on, I grabbed my nutrition and started out of transition.

T2 – 7:11

This marathon is no joke.  I’m not going to crush this.

On Friday, I approached a first timer as he was talking with his wife about the run course and I told him that the run starts on the sidewalk about 300 yards back there and the walk starts here, pointing to the hill not even a quarter mile into the course.  I was joking, but not really.  I saw a photographer and gave a half-hearted effort at running for the picture but it wasn’t going so well for me.

Just starting the “run” and trying to contain my blazing speed.

I felt hot, which is not uncommon for me.  Yes, it was still sunny and later into the day, but when you are riding you have that constant wind blowing on you to help cool you off.  I walked about a half-mile before I even started thinking about running.

After the first couple of aid stations, I started to get more hydration and sugar into me and started to come around.  By the time I got four miles into it I was feeling better.

It wasn’t long and Gunner Jeff caught me.  I knew he would.  We would leap frog back and forth sharing the run lead for the rest of the way, but seeing that he had made up the difference in what little lead I had with the swim and bike, I knew that he was ahead of me by chip time even if he was standing right next to me.  The same thing happened last time as well, it just happened sooner this year.  He’s good.

Jeff and I walking to the top of Battery Hill and seeing Kari, Jill, Emma, and Maxwell.

Feeling good here on the walking bridge finishing the first loop.

In 2019, I made it a goal at the start of the second loop to try to get through the wooded park along the river walk before it got dark but didn’t get it done.  This time it was no problem.

Second loop and second time up Battery. This isn’t even the hilliest part of this marathon. ~ Mile 18 here.

I caught Jeff again and we walked up the dreaded Barton Avenue hill together and for most of the rest of that north side of the river portion of the course.  I recognized my local friend Daniel just as we were turning off of Barton.  He seemed to be somewhat doubtful about finishing, but I tried my best to encourage him to keep moving forward.  He was in a rough place mentally, but he overcame it and finished in plenty of time.

Jeff and I also saw Dave heading up the hill as we were heading down and knew he was also going to finish not far behind us.

As we approached the walking bridge I told Jeff that I was going to walk the uphill portion of it and not to wait for me.  I could have jogged with him, but I wanted him to go get his glory and cross the line first.  He finished about a minute ahead of me according to the time of day, but he bested me by about 11 minutes.

As I got over the bridge I was forced to run through a gauntlet of fans that crowd the run course and one guy got an extended evil eye from me and got out of my way.  I ran down the hill and turned onto the road to finish.  As I approached the finish chute I kept checking in front and behind me to have a good finish for myself and things were looking good.  But all at once this dope comes screaming past me and spoils my finish.  And to add to that disappointment, the announcer didn’t even call me in!  WTF?  Oh well, it’s not my first Ironman finish, and it probably won’t be my last.  But the photos still prove that I had a great race.

5 TIME IRONMAN FINISHER

RUN:  5:04:47 – 50th Male in 55-59 Age Group / 476th Male / 612th Overall

FINAL TIME:  12:42:42 – 2nd fastest Ironman Finish / Swim & Bike Ironman PR’s / 5th Ironman Finish

But wait, there’s more!

Loads of thanks to go around.  To my wife Kari – you’re my Iron Rock.  Thanks for supporting me not only once or twice, but five times now.  I promise to take next year off!

To my Gunner teammates Dave, Jeff, and Jan – thanks for being on the journey with me once again.  Doing a race without you would never be as fun.

To my local friends Susan, John, Charlie, Angela, and Daniel – WELL DONE!  You are all IRONMEN!  And let’s not forget Casey, who magically appeared at the finish line as a volunteer and handed a much surprised me my finisher hat, medal and shirt!  That was unexpected and a great way to finish.

Until next time, thanks for reading.  – Chris

One Week To Go!

2021 IRONMAN CHATTANOOGA TRAINING

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WEEK 29 – September 19, 2021 

29 weeks down, 1 week to go!  I’ve gone from Week 1 back in March and doing my workouts inside, to seeing farm fields go from untilled dirt, to not being able to see around turns due to the corn being fully grown.  I’ve gone from being mentally burned out, to being very atuned to how great I feel.  I’ve been so far from being ready, to feeling like I’m ready to rock this race.  All it took was a day to day effort, following a great plan for the fifth time, and having the support of my Gunner teammates and the local friends that have been very instrumental in making this training block pleasurable.  Let’s roll!

Last “long” ride of the training before the race. I had to wait for a choo-choo while training for Choo.

 

I try to plan out a race day plan for myself and in 2019 it became very clear that the day would be about surviving the heat.  It was a scorcher and I won’t ever forget it.  I don’t really try to worry too much about the weather or water temperatures for race day, but after 2019 I’m not ignoring it either.  So when a couple of casual checks of the long-range forecast revealed that the temperature might be in the 70s and sunny, well that changes my mindset a little.  I may be going from planning to pace an Ironman to racing it instead.  It means instead of a 16.5 mph average on the bike to maybe an 18 mph average.  It means that I may be able to run a sub-4.5 hour marathon instead of something over 5 hours.  I’m definitely bringing the wetsuit, like always.  But last time I knew I wasn’t going to be using it.  This time?  There might be a wetsuit legal swim for the first time in Choo history.  We’ll see, I’m not holding my breath, but it would be awesome if it was.

So, let’s wrap up these 29 weeks and get ready for race week.  Here’s a summary and a link to all previous weeks.  I’ll give you a virtual medal for going back and reading all these blogs.  

Week 1 – Getting pumped for Ironman #5!  PUMP IT UP!

Week 2 – Yeah, I eat junk food.  Who doesn’t?  I’M SHOCKED!

Week 3 – A little optimistic that I was 1/10 done with training.  One Tenth Done

Week 4 – Ended March with some unexpected motivation.  Inspiring Motivation

Week 5 – A cold ride brought out the MacGuyver in me.  Three Plastic Bags and a Popped Balloon

Week 6 – Trying to recall some meaningless training info.  I Can’t Remember

Week 7 – A calf injury had me a little concerned.  Running Injury? A Minor Inconvenience

Week 8 – Feeling guilty about inspiring others to join in this dumb sport.  (not really)  Regretfully Inspiring Others

Week 9 – Roared into May with a light-hearted post.  I’m In The Cool Kids Club

Week 10 – Glad to hit the 1/3 done mark.  One-Third Into the Training

Week 11 – Back soreness had me worried.  I Was Spineless, But Now I’m Back

Week 12 – Wondering and thinking can lead to some crazy ideas.  I Wonder… About Week 12

Week 13 – I had to remind myself that you can’t have the reward without the journey.  Work First, Brag Later

Week 14 – Sort of an odds and ends week.  Week 14 Hitting Hard

Week 15 – Not a great finish to 15 weeks of training.  Limping It In At The Half-way Point

Week 16 – I gave myself a gold star for this week.  Grading Myself

Week 17 – Torch Run with the coworkers, and the start of vacation.  Ins and Outs of Week 17

Week 18 – Foot injury and vacation meant let the training slide a little.  Vacation Overrules Training

Week 19 – I had issues this week, some good, some bad, some ugly.  The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Week 20 – An off-road tri, and things we triathletes fear.  Fear, Part… III

Week 21 – My friend Tom takes a licking and keeps on ticking.  Rub Some Dirt On It

Week 22 – Couldn’t do this dumb sport without her.  My Coach Wife

Week 23 – Swapping the weeks around.  An Easy Week?

Week 24 – My first 50K ultra; thinking less about Ironman.  Field of Dreams

Week 25 – Trying to get something out of training instead of doing the opposite.  Yielding a Better Return

Week 26 – I know I don’t have to do this dumb sport, but I still do it.  By My Own Choosing

Week 27 – Had a pretty good training week to round out the endurance phase of training.  A Not So Dreadful Week 27

Week 28 – Some bike maintenance and the welcome of the taper.  Bring on the Taper!

And there you have it.  I’ll wrap up Week 30 in the Ironman Chattanooga race report.  Time to start packing and getting ready for Choo!

SWIMS: 3 – 3780 yards

BIKES: 3 – 67 miles

RUNS: 4 – 22 miles

 

Bring on the Taper!

2021 IRONMAN CHATTANOOGA TRAINING

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WEEK 28 – September 12, 2021 

The taper is here! I’m finally winding down the training and enjoying the feeling of accomplishing what I needed to do to get myself ready for my fifth Ironman. I’ve trained on cold days, hot days, windy days, rainy days, and beautiful days as well. I think that it’s okay to start celebrating the work that I have done even if I haven’t got to the starting line yet. So, after 27 weeks of building up to long bike rides and long runs, it’s time to start pulling back.

The band Boston certainly played a huge part in the soundtrack of my youth, and I still enjoy their music today. Of course, the first two albums were what made them, but their third album Third Stage was a big hit as well.

I’ve been hearing the song We’re Ready quite a bit lately on SiriusXM’s Classic Rewind and I find one verse of the lyrics very fitting for this third stage of Ironman training.  I certainly feel like I’m ready.

We’re ready now
Catchin’ a wave to ride on
Steady now
Headin’ where we decide on
And I know that there’s something that’s just out of sight
And I feel like we’re trying to do something right
Come on make it if we hold on tight
Hold on tight
We’re Ready! C’mon we’re ready
We’re ready

There’s another song on that album called Cool The Engines, which is also very appropriate for the taper. I took advantage of the cooler weather this week and the lighter training load to push my pace a little bit. Maybe I just wanted to rev the engine somewhat. But in the back of my mind, I could hear my brain reminding me to not overdo it.

Take me for a ride
Take me all the way
Take me where I’ve never been
Someplace I can stay
Don’t get yourself too hot
Don’t get yourself too high
If we don’t take it easy now
We can kiss it all goodbye

Cool the engines
Red line’s gettin’ near
Cool the engines
Better take it out of gear

I’m no fool
Gonna keep it cool
Take it day by day
We won’t know where we might go
‘Til we make it all the way

So, it’s time for me to cool the engines and bring on the taper!  We’re ready!

~~~

I took the time on Friday to fix my rear brakes and to put on new tires and throw on Conti 5000’s for the first time.  The brakes are working well again, and the new tires were like floating on air on Saturday’s ride.

I rode with a group on Saturday and by the time we spread out I found myself riding mostly with Julie, whom I had never met before at these rides, but her pace and mine got us through Elwood and I enjoyed getting to meet another local rider.  Julie is an Ironman, and said she was training for Ironman Waco in October.  Good luck, Julie!

I have to take a moment and brag on my son Ben a little.  He ran a local half-marathon called the Hidden Gem and nailed a PR for himself – 1:16:34, a 5:51 pace!  My kid is smoking fast!  Great job, Ben!

I’m also excited to hear that another Gunner fence-sitter may have committed to joining Jeff, Jan, and I on this dumb idea.  YESSSSSSSS!

On Sunday I wrapped up my week with a 2-hour long run on mine and my wife Kari’s 29th wedding annniversary.  I’m so lucky to have shared 29 wedded years with this woman, and I look forward to many more!  I’m also very lucky she tolerates these adventures I go on.

SWIMS: 1 – 1500 yards

BIKES: 3 – 105.5 miles

RUNS: 5 –  32.5miles

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A Not So Dreadful Week 27

2021 IRONMAN CHATTANOOGA TRAINING

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WEEK 27 – September 5, 2021 

I usually refer to Week 27 of the Be Iron Fit Ironman training plan as the “Dreaded Week 27.”  It’s the toughest week in the 30-weeks of training, ending in a 6-hour bike ride with a one hour run right after it on Saturday, and a 3-hour long run on Sunday.  But I took a little sting out of it by basically doing that workout at the end of Week 26.  I did that for a couple of reasons.  First, the opportunity presented itself last Saturday to ride an extra half-hour when I rode with Susan and we were managing our effort very well, staying hydrated and fueled on a very hot day.  So as we got closer to getting back I just committed to it and it worked out fine.  Same with Sunday, I was feeling good and figured I would just go an extra 15-minutes and make it a full 3-hour run.  On the Friday before those two days I was somewhat dreading the weekend, but after getting out there and doing the extended portions and feeling good afterwards, it was a huge confidence builder for me.

Secondly, my wife Kari and I planned to head north to our lake home to enjoy some lake life and take care of some fall house and yard needs, and I thought that if I did the workouts a week ahead of time, I might not be so pressed for time or be so wornout if I swapped the planned workouts.  I may even cut the long Saturday ride and long Sunday run down and start my tapering a little earlier this time around.

Here’s how the Dreaded Week 27 went for me.

Monday is usually a rest day, and I usually putter around the house and do the things that get neglected during the week; catch up on laundry, mow the grass, get groceries, etc.  But after a couple of walks I was bored and thought why not do a swim.  So I put on some tri shorts and jumped in.  30-minutes is my typical swim workout, but I was feeling good so I pushed it to 60-minutes.  When I got to sixty I was still feeling pretty good, so I pushed it another half-hour, and before I knew it I had swum 4300 yards – covering the distance of an Ironman swim.  There was no tiredness, no calf or foot cramps, and really no boredom, which surprised the heck out of me.  Knowing that I can easily swim the 2.4 miles in my own backyard pool in 1.5 hours was a good feeling.  Oh sure, I have done the Ironman swim four previous times, so I know that I can do it.  But I still needed to train for each one of those previous attempts, and prove that it can be accomplished with smart training.  Could I actually be enjoying swimming?  Let’s not get carried away.

Tuesday ushered in a little bit less heat for the day and I ran at a time when there was a coolish breeze and it was overcast.  I did the 10-minute warm-up and then started in on the five 6-minute repeats.  I was pacing them pretty well.  My legs were a little sore at the start, but when I picked up pace I did so easily.  My turnover felt smooth and comfortable.  I felt like I was rocking it!  I skipped the swim due to the previous day’s effort, and opted to vacuum the pool instead.

Wednesday was quite a different day weather-wise than what I had last weekend.  Much cooler, with a strong northeast wind.  I hopped on the bike and was flying along heading south on my usual route.  I saw my buddy Charlie attempting to run on his two injured toes and wished him a good run.  I must have been averaging over 20 mph heading south, but turning around and coming back north was not fun.  The ride ended with a 18 mph average, so I guess I was doing okay.  A quick change to running shoes and it was off on a 30-minute run.  I didn’t feel the wind as much, but the cooler temperature had me running with a good tempo.  I like to use the Wednesday bike/run brick as a hard effort instead of staying in a Zone 2 heart rate zone.  It’s the one day I like to hit the gas.

Thursday ushered in another cooler day and the winds were better for me as well, which caused me to push myself a little more than I should of.  I could feel my calves tightening, but the 1.5-hour ride went well.  I jumped in the pool afterwards and tried to swim, but I was getting some calf cramps and called it a day after 21 minutes.

Friday I got in my 1.5-hour run and then jumped into the car with Kari to head to Wisconsin.

Saturday was rainy of course, but it wasn’t too bad, and after a hearty breakfast with Kari at Tula’s in Minocqua the rain was turning to a misty drizzle on its way to ending. I planned to do a 5-hour ride and I stuck to it. I headed down Hwy J towards St. Germain to pick up the trails and head into the beautiful Northwoods. I hadn’t even gotten a few miles into it and the wet road and what little leftover sprinkles had me pretty wet. But it was bearable and I kept pushing on. I had never went further than Boulder Junction before so I continued onward and found the trail toward Manitowish Waters to be beautiful.

I took a couple of minutes on the way back to stop and enjoy some scenery just west of Boulder Junction. The trail here was beautiful.

I was thinking of how much fun I was having and four hours of the ride was just perfect. The last hour, not so much. Back onto Hwy J I was greeted with hills and headwind and an overall lack of energy. At one point my thigh muscles started to cramp, which had never happened to me before. I decided to slow down and fuel and hydrate more and limp it home. I got off my bike and sat down and took a minute to watch my calf muscles twitch uncontrollably. Good times.

I decided to not do the 60-minute run after the bike after watching the twitching going on.

Sunday was beautiful. I had recovered enough from yesterday’s bike ride that I talked myself back into doing a long run after talking myself out of it during the latter portion of yesterday’s bike.

I headed to the Bearskin Trail in downtown Minocqua and before I realized it, I was was crashing a marathon and half-marathon in progress. It was fun to see the runners coming back in with determination on their faces. I ran out seven miles and turned around and headed back. There were spectators cheering me on, as they didn’t realize that I wasn’t in the race. I said, “I’m not in the race, but I love your enthusiasm!”

It wasn’t long and the 3:45 marathon pacer caught up to me as I was walking and taking a gel. He was encouraging everyone to join in, and after telling him that I was on a training run he still wanted me to pace with him. I ran with him chatting about my Ironman and ultra coming up and I then took a detour to avoid the finish line, as I already felt awkward being on the trail with the others. I made it home with an extra mile added due to the detour, making it 15 total miles and some fun memories of running with those runners. Maybe I will join them for real next year.

Time to enjoy some lake life one last time before pulling the boat out of the water for the season.

SWIMS: 2 – 5312 yards

BIKES: 3 – 130 miles

RUNS: 4 – 36 miles

By My Own Choosing

2021 IRONMAN CHATTANOOGA TRAINING

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WEEK 26 – August 29, 2021 

My coworkers are kind people and take a passing interest in what I do outside of work. As I train for my fifth Ironman, it’s pretty obvious at this point that my weekend will be filled with a long bike ride and a long run. This weekend would be no different, but the kicker is that it was going to be hot outside, with temperatures in the 90s. So when my coworker Tracy asked what I was doing this weekend I replied that I was biking for 5.5 hours and running for an hour on Saturday, and running for 2.75 hours on Sunday, with somewhat of a “not too excited to do this” tone in my voice.

Then Tracy went full mom mode – YOU KNOW YOU ARE DOING THAT AT YOUR OWN CHOOSING. YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THAT!

I closed my eyes and shook my head. I almost felt like I was being scolded for doing the things I like to do. Yes, I know that I choose to train for an Ironman, and yes I know that it is hard sometimes, and yes I know that you mere mortals find it somewhat perplexing as to why any of us training for an Ironman would put ourselves through such miserable efforts and give away our weekends doing it. But I choose to do it because I like riding and running (swimming, not so much), and being an Ironman is a goal that I pursue because it empowers me. It changed my life.

Later that evening my family and I met my son Ben and “kind-of daughter-in-law” Emily (just get married already!!!) for a birthday dinner for Ben and I mentioned once again that I was dreading doing my long bike and run this weekend. And although Emily didn’t chastise me as harshly as Tracy did, she said the same damn thing – You know, you choose to do it – or something to that effect.

This time I chuckled, hearing the same admonishment twice in a single day, but what was surprising was that it was coming from Emily, who as a runner herself knows full well what it takes to do amazing things. Maybe the empathy I was expecting and didn’t get was the amusing part for me.

Oh well, I guess nobody cares that I choose to do this dumb sport in an extreme way on a very hot two weekend days. And sometimes the only person to impress worth impressing is me.

Another good ride with Susan on Saturday, and it was pretty much a repeat of last weekend except we both decided to add a little extra, and instead of doing the planned 5.5-hour ride, I ended up doing 6.25 hours and reached 100 miles. I followed up the ride with 6-miles on the treadmill because, well, I’m not dumb. It was insanely warm and humid outside. Smart move and I felt great after that long day.

On Sunday, I parlayed the success of Saturday into Sunday, adding some extra time to the run, running an extra 15 minutes to hit 3-hours. I’m still playing around with a run\walk ratio, and I added 15-seconds to the walk interval. I think that is a pretty good option right now, and I will keep toying with it on my long runs.

On to the dreaded Week 27, which won’t be so dreadful because I pretty much did that week’s workout this weekend. Getting closer to race day and feeling more ready every day.

Swims: 2 – 3000 yards

Rides: 3 – 146 miles

Runs: 5 – 42.3 miles

Tunnel Hill 100 Training Update

I signed up for the Tunnel Hill 100 mile ultramarathon without much forethought. If I’m good for anything it’s not thinking things through. But seeing that I was training for Ironman Chattanooga in September 2021 and doing the Big Hill Bonk Last Runner Standing event in August, I figured that the training load for Ironman and running 50K at the Big Hill Bonk would prepare me well for Tunnel Hill in November. I may have figured wrong. But we’ll see. There’s still plenty of weeks of training to go, and I’m sure I may see some improvements in endurance running as I creep closer to the ultra.


I saw a post on Facebook recently that asked what was harder, an Ironman or a 100-mile ultra, and the answers were interesting. In terms of the race itself, most declared that running 100 miles in a day was much tougher than completing an Ironman. But many also agreed that the training for Ironman was much harder than what people do to train for an ultra. I was troubled and glad to hear both of those responses.


I’m a little concerned that the run training that I am doing for Ironman is not going to be sufficient to get me to that 100-mile finish. I only got through 50K at Big Hill Bonk before tapping out. Maybe if the finish 4.16 miles in one-hour time constraint wasn’t in play there, I might have walked more and gone a little further. That time/distance format is a good indicator or predictor for an ultra as 4.16 miles in one hour will net you 100 miles in 24 hours. I was able to get a third of it in.


On my 2.5-hour training run today, I played with using run/walk intervals for the first time. I had played with that Galloway method probably twenty years ago, but I found that I would essentially pace way too fast for the run portion and not walk leisurely enough in the walk portion. I gave up on it and just went with what I knew best, running by feel and keeping an even pace.


I tried running for five minutes and then walking for one minute. That 5:1 ratio was working pretty well for me and I was averaging 10 min/mile pace, which nets a 20-hour 100 miler. When I turned around at 75 minutes I was at 7.75 miles, and by the time I finished the 2.5 hours I only netted 15 miles and felt pretty worn out. Not enough nutrition? Was the day warming up too much? Were the hills at the end causing me to slow down? Maybe, sure, all of the above, I dunno.


To do 100 miles in 20 hours you need to hit five miles every hour, and I did that today. Maybe if I run the 5:1 ratio until I hit five miles, I could have more time to walk out the remaining minutes of the hour. I will give that a go next time. I’m also considering lowering the ratio to four minutes of running and one minute of walking and see how that goes. There is still time to play with the run:walk ratio.


Thoughts of dropping down to the 50-mile ultra have been entering my head, but I’m not giving up just yet. I just need to dial it in a little better and see where it takes me.

Yielding a Better Return

2021 IRONMAN CHATTANOOGA TRAINING

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WEEK 25 – August 22, 2021 

Every year or so the bank sends us a note about one of the CDs we have sitting in their bank making them money but hardly doing anything for us, and informs us that it’s maturing soon.  My wife will say “we should put this into something else and get a better return.”  I always reply that I’m good with that.  Then in a year, we get the same note telling us that our same CD is maturing again, because WE DIDN’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT LAST TIME!  Then the wife and I will have the same converstation again.  It’s pretty funny, actually.

This week my friend Susan, who is also doing IM Choo, was looking for someone to ride with on the Saturday long ride.  I didn’t hesitate to offer to ride with her for a couple of reasons.  First, I was tired of riding alone and welcomed the company, and secondly, every long ride that I have done recently has ended in me overdoing it and bonking pretty hard at the end.  I was getting tired of that, so I decided to ride with Susan, provide her some company, and use her to keep me from riding out of my comfort zone.  There was definitely some give and take in this arrangement.

Now Susan is no slouch, she’s an Ironman and a good rider.  Both of us have been struggling with the mental aspect of training lately, and the physical aspect of training is partly the cause of that.  So I thought why not ride along, enjoy having company and good conversation with someone other than myself for a change.  And I’m so glad I did.

We decided to head west toward Elwood, Illinois, and play it by ear as to which direction to go once we got there.  I had only been over Route 52 into Elwood once before, and I was glad to have her show me the route to Brandon Road that everyone seems to love doing.  It was a nice ride with new things to look at for a change, and I certainly was enjoying that.  We turned around at two hours and headed back to the BP to refill our water bottles, and saw some more friends there doing the same thing.

Leaving the gas station, we headed back to the usual route east and Susan wondered where the road we were leaving actually headed.  I said, “I KNOW!”  and I suggested that we can loop back around that way.  Now I had a chance to show her an alternative to always going down Hoff Road.  We rode that way back to Elwood, stopped at the BP to refill our bottles once again, and then I decided I needed a bathroom break.  The BP staff told me that the bathrooms were unavailable at the moment, so no worries, we hopped on our bikes and rode ten minutes or so back to the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery to use the facilities there.

Then the trip home started and I needed to add on a few more minutes so I did, and then worked hard to catch back up with Susan.  We rode back to where she parked her car, took a selfie, then I rode home and for the first time in quite a while, finished the ride feeling pretty good.  I quickly switched from biking to running gear and followed up the nearly 90-mile ride with a 6.25-mile run.  It was so nice not finishing a long Saturday workout and needing several hours of recovery.  It was a good day for me.

My friend Chalie was nice to praise me for “helping” Susan with her ride.  And even though I would do that for anybody, I was also doing it for myself, to be honest.  I realized that sometimes you might have to do something a little different than what you are used to in order to get something better.  Change it up and get a better yield.

Maybe I should do something about that CD this time around.

The creepy old guy and Susan. I’ll let Susan take the photos from now on.  All smiles after 5+hours of riding.  Thanks for letting me join you, Susan!

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The Sunday long run went pretty well for me, too.  I started early to beat the heat of the day, and it wasn’t too bad of a morning.  I decided to try using a 5-minute run/1-minute walk interval to see how it went.  I’m starting to do these last few long runs in training for IM Choo with a nod to the ultramarathon that I will be attempting in November.  It was nice to break-up just straight running with a one minute walk break every five minutes.  That produced an average pace just under 10 minutes per mile, and 6 miles per hour.  That would be a pretty good pace, but I was running out of gas at the end, mainly due to the heat and the hills as I got closer to home and finishing the 2.5-hour run.  I may drop it to a 4:1 ratio and see how that goes.  I’m not sure that I can handle the pace needed for a sub-20 hour hundred mile run.

Swims: 2 – 3030 yards

Rides: 3 – 135 miles

Runs: 5 – 41.5 miles