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!
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.
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.
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 lifeone last time before pulling the boat out of the water for the season.
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.
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.
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 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.
This week, Major League Baseball hosted a “Field of Dreams” game featuring the Chicago White Sox (Go-Go Sox!) vs. the dreaded New York Yankees (suck it, Yankees), and the game didn’t disappoint. Its inspiration came from the 1989 Field of Dreams movie, and the game did its best to recreate the feeling of the narrative. I heartily enjoyed the game, but my kids, having not seen the movie, lacked the same enthusiasm that I did. So that led to watching the movie, of course.
The movie’s purpose for me is about finding what your true purpose is in life, and often I find myself thinking what my purpose is, especially when it comes to training and racing for Ironman. The first time is obviously about seeing if you can do it, the second or third time around it might be about setting a personal best. Subsequent races may just be for a new venue or experience. This go around with training seems to be lacking a purpose. I’m on the struggle bus, as my friend Jan said this week, but sometimes I feel like I’m driving the bus, too. I have a friend who is also struggling with motivation right now and I totally get it. We’re tired of the six-hour workouts on hot and humid Saturdays and giving up our weekends for the training. I tried to offer some sage advice, and I hoped to provide a little incentive to keep going. Maybe encouraging others to be awesome is my purpose.
I often find purpose after the workout, when I’m done and the hay is in the barn, as they say. I like to pat myself on my back for a job well done, even if Saturday’s 5-hour ride/1-hour run brick did end in a bonk and a tough recovery. This last remaining six weeks will be tough, get tougher, then draw back on the intensity a little as we slide into race day. Then I believe the purpose of all the training will be clear. I’m going to be an Ironman. And even if it’s the fifth time for me proving that to myself, I will gladly look back on what I accomplished because no matter how many times I finish, it always feels special.
I was hoping that I wouldn’t be too beat up after running my first 50K last weekend, and the heat and humidity took a little bit of a toll again on Tuesday. We had some storms on Wednesday, which forced me inside and gave me a different perspective on my typical Wednesday workout. Thursday was back outside for a ride. But we got relief from the hot weather on Friday and I just clicked on a 1.5-hour run. That went real well and led into some even nicer weather for the weekend. I struggled a little on Saturday, as I mentioned above, but Sunday’s 14.5-mile long run was great. I seemed to bounce back pretty quickly.
I need to spend a little more attention to swimming, as I only got in one swim this week, but Chattanooga’s swim is very forgiving, and I’m not all that worried about it.
Here’s to some better fall weather on the horizon, and six more weeks of self-discovery until race day. Keep moving forward!
Distance: Endless 4.166 mile yards (loops) until there is only one runner left to complete a yard
Results: DNF officially (only the last runner standing is a finisher, everyone else is a non-finisher and basically SOL), but here’s what I accomplished: 8 yards (loops) / 33.33 miles / 22nd furthest distance covered out of 35 runners
BIG HILL BONK – WISCONSIN BACKYARD ULTRA – LAST RUNNER STANDING
Finally. After three postponements and nearly a year and a half after this event was to take place, the Big Hill Bonk actually happened! And after 32+ years of running, I finally attempted and achieved my first ultramarathon.
Last runner standing format ultramarathons have become very popular as of late. I’m not sure when the first one was held, but it took a guy called “Lazarus Lake” to make it a very big deal. Laz is responsible for the Barkley Marathons, and he decided to create an event called “Big’s Backyard Ultra,” named for his dog Big, and held it in his backyard. Big’s is now the World Championship in this event, and qualifying for it means winning a similar race and getting the golden coin. Good luck getting one.
When I first heard of it I found the format to be fascinating, and when the Big Hill Bonk was announced and it was somewhat local I made it my goal to be there and attempt my first ultra-distance run.
Initially, I intended this race to be my “A” race – the focus for the year and not let anything else affect training for it and participating in it, but Covid-19 derailed those plans. The race got postponed from April 2020 to October 2020 to April 2021 and then finally to August 6, 2021. In between that span of time Ironman Louisville 2020 also got canceled and I was deferred to Ironman Chattanooga in September 2021. Since I spend 30 weeks training for Ironman and it is such an investment in time and money, I made the decision to primarily focus on that race and apply that training to the Big Hill Bonk. It resulted in me being somewhat ill-prepared running-wise to do this ultra, but it was the best that I could do under the circumstances. I think my longest run in preparation was a couple 2-hour runs.
My goal for this race was pretty simple: last at least to the 50K mark, which would be eight total yards. As the race approached I was somewhat hoping to hit ten yards, but mainly I just wanted to be an official ultramarathoner.
The race started at 5:30 pm, which is somewhat strange, but it worked out just fine. I worried about a 5:30 pm start in April when the sun would set much sooner than it did in August. I also worried about being able to stay awake through the night, but sleepiness wasn’t really an issue. Thanks, caffeine.
Kari committed to making sure that I wasn’t going to do this race without her being there to ensure I didn’t seriously injure myself or die or something. So we drove up Friday afternoon and arrived about 3:30 pm. I checked in and got my bib and t-shirt and then began unloading the car and setting up my campsite, for lack of a better description.
I made my way through some serious tents already set up by those runners who were serious enough to get a spot as close as they could to the start/finish area. I found the first open area I could and set up my little pop-up tent and laid out my junk.
My little pop-up tent worked just fine and I was glad I didn’t have to worry about a much bigger tent to deal with when I stopped running, as we had to clear out when we bonked out of the race.
I made some idle chitchat with a nearby runner and made myself eat some food and get some water in me. Kari helped me get my hydration running vest filled with fluids. At 5 pm we met with the race director Tyler and went over the rules. We found out that there would be 35 runners, with three no-shows. I can’t imagine had there been a full field of runners. The tent area would have been super crowded, and running the loop would have needed some start placement strategy to make sure I was able to pace my run at the pace I was hoping to go.
Tyler admitted that he didn’t have a whistle to blow at 3, 2, and 1 minute before the start of the race, so he advised that he would just shout out how many minutes until the start as a warning to us all. That worked just fine.
At “3 minutes!” I took notice and got up and made sure I had what I need to run with.
At “2 minutes!” I kissed Kari goodbye and made my way to the pavement where we had to assemble at the bottom of each hour.
“1 minute! 10 seconds, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… GO!” And away we went.
It’s not so much a race as it is an endurance event. Who can go the farthest is all that matters. One 4.166 mile lap or loop in this event is called a “yard” I’m guessing because Laz’s race consists of loops through his and his dog Big’s backyard. So being the first to come in every yard really means nothing other than you get to rest longer if that is a benefit to you. I was somewhat under the impression that resting may not be in your benefit, but Kari said that most of the others were coming in and sitting down and putting their feet up.
I planned to be conservative and finish each loop around 50 minutes. That would give me time to use the toilet, refill my water bottle, eat something and do any equipment changes that may be necessary.
I started out with my Nathan hydration vest filled with water and Gatorade. I also opted to wear my Hoka Challenger trail shoes. Both of these decisions would be changed by Yard 3.
The course was a combination of pavement, grass, dirt, rock, and a very bouncy wooden bridge thrown in just for fun. And speaking of fun, there were plenty of tree roots, fallen trees, weeds, stairs and big rocks to navigate around, through and over. I figured that I ran about 2.5 miles and walked about 1.5 miles. Everyone walked the hills, even the small ones, myself included. The namesake Big Hill was a 10-minute walk for me.
I had run three loops of the course back in March 2020 prior to Covid shutting everything down, and thankfully the course was still familiar to me. There weren’t any surprises and the first yard went pretty much as I planned. I spent some time monitoring my watch, checking the time when I would pass certain checkpoints so that I would know how I was doing each subsequent yard.
It was clear to me even before starting the yard that a fully loaded hydration vest was probably not in my best interest. I was carrying far more than I needed. Plus, it was making me hotter than I need to be. There were a few others also wearing one, but for the most part, everyone else was just carrying a small, hand-held bottle.
After finishing this yard, I went straight to the portable toilet and then back with Kari to my tent to refuel and discuss how I felt. I decided to just take on some gel and drink some Gatorade.
Yard 2 was just a few seconds faster than the first and I felt really good about that. I came in and committed to the peeing again, which I think was a good plan. I tried to urinate after every yard just to make sure that I was staying on top of hydration. Back at the tent, Kari handed me some pretzels and some more Gatorade and I took another hit of gel. I also decided to take a salt capsule at this time, as I was sweating a lot. I’m not sure the extra salt was needed because I was eating plenty of salty snacks and drinking Gatorade, but I was leaving nothing to chance.
I decided to take my iPhone with me and take some really crappy selfies and photos as I ran on Yard 3 because I figured it was the last lap with available sunlight. I was also now pretty familiar with the course so I wasn’t too worried about carrying the dumb phone around and snapping a few pictures. Here’s some of what the course looked like:
The yards were starting to become pretty routine – Start with running on the parking lot asphalt and transitioning to grass, down a paved bike trail, head up a steep dirt path, run across the grass to the road, down a technical path and over a bunch of roots and fallen trees, down the stairs, across a path and then head through the foliage portion of the trail always watching for tree roots and low hanging branches, across the trampoline bridge, up the gravel/crushed rock Big Hill, onto the dirt path then onto the road, back to a gravel road that changed to dirt, then back to a grassy path that leads to the finish. Into the toilet, back to the tent, down some gel, food, and Gatorade. Repeat, repeat, repeat…
It was on this yard that I decided that I was done with the hydration vest and opted to just use a handheld Nathan 8 0unce water bottle from now on. I drained the water bottle every loop. 8 ounces seemed to be about the right amount of water on this warm and humid evening.
I changed my shirt and visor and added a light to the bill of the visor. The little lights that I bought over a year ago got a good recharging and one little light provided enough light to see sufficiently. I also grabbed a Nathan hand-held flashlight that I carried with me strapped to my right hand and turned it on when I got to the technical stuff. At the start of this yard, Kari was telling me to turn my light on, but I was surprised at how well I could see just using everyone else’s headlamps and lights. But when we spread out, it was time to rely on my own lights.
I was glad to be done with the vest and felt refreshed after toweling off and getting a dry shirt. Simple things like this can certainly lift your mood.
In the dark, the course was now almost unfamiliar in a way. Oh sure, I knew the layout and such, but not being able to see specific landmarks that were visible in the daylight made for some new challenges. One time through the course in the dark was enough to build confidence in knowing the turns and course again.
Kari had left the park to go check into the local hotel and grab some dinner, so I was on my own for this yard. After getting back to the finish, I immediately walked over to the water cooler and filled up my bottle. After another bathroom break it was off to my tent to replenish my fuel and drink some Gatorade. In addition to taking a shot of GU Salted Caramel gels, I was snacking on salty potato chips, salty pretzels (Dot’s Pretzels are the best), fun-size Payday bars, and a turkey and swiss sandwich.
I also decided that I had had enough with the trail shoes and switched out to my normal Hoka Clifton running shoes. The bottom edge of the trail shoes would clip my ankle so often that I couldn’t take it anymore. The Cliftons were more than sufficient for this multi-surface trail.
I found a little speed this lap somehow, turning in the quickest time of the eight yards I ran.
As I ran through this loop I knew I was about to get to marathon distance and thought how strange it was to feel pretty good at this point. Normally in a marathon, I am holding on for dear life at Mile 25 trying to set a marathon personal best or get that elusive Boston qualifier. But today that was not in my game plan. Slow and steady was the motto. I didn’t have to remind myself to take my time on the hills and just kept that forward momentum going.
However, I was beginning to get a pain in my upper left thigh that would bother me when I ran. I started to think that I could definitely get in two more loops, but started thinking that eight might be my max. Besides having a goal of reaching 50K (~31 miles), I also had a goal of not wiping myself out to the point where Kari would have to deal with a dehydrated, shivering and cramping mess when I was done.
As I got back to my tent, Kari had brought me some chicken broth that she had warmed up at the hotel and placed into a soup thermos thing she purchased for this dumb event. I drank as much as I could and chased it down with some Gatorade and headed back to the start area for Yard 7.
As we started off this yard, I burped up some Gatorade/chicken broth mix and that acid reflux was not a good feeling. It was just a little too much in me for the jogging I was doing, but it settled quickly enough. The pain in my thigh was not happy however, and my overall sense of reaching my limit was becoming clear. I figured I had this yard and one more in me. At 52 minutes and 16 seconds, I didn’t really leave myself much time to get through my routine. My appetite was fading and I decided to tell Kari to start packing up the tent and junk as I made my way back to the start for the yard that would put me over 50K and make me an ultramarathon finisher.
YARD 8 – 53 minutes, 12 seconds / 33.33 miles / 12:30 am Saturday
When Tyler the race director yelled go for Yard 8, I could barely get myself going. I began walking and quickly everyone else was into a jog. I willed myself to join them. On the previous lap another runner was running through a rough spot and the lady from Canada reminded him that he may feel bad now but be much better later. I put that in the back of my mind and kept moving forward. I was determined to get through this lap in the allotted sixty-minutes.
As the steps passed I became pretty confident that I would hit my goal of eight total yards, and as I got to the bottom of the Big Hill I glanced at my watch and saw that it read 31.85 miles. There was no celebration, but just some relief. I’d never run this far before. I kept climbing the hill and caught up with Viktoria, the runner from Canada.
Viktoria looked tired as well, and she quickly corrected herself when she made a turn at the top of the Big Hill instead of going straight. She admitted that she had made a few wrong turns, but was able to get back on track again. She started off in the wrong direction again when we made it back to the road, and I made sure that she went the right way. As we ran through the fourth mile, I told her that I was pretty familiar with it from having run it before. She asked if I was the one who wrote the blog about the pre-event course run and I said Yes! She said that she chose to use trail shoes because of how I had described the course.
Seeing that she was from Canada, I asked her if it was mandatory that she liked the band Rush. She said she had never heard of them, which gave me a chuckle. So much for making small talk. She did say that she wasn’t born in Canada, so that explains it a little better. I advised her that I was done after this yard and she was surprised at that because I was running a pretty good pace with her. I said I was just finishing strong to make sure I didn’t miss the cut-off, but I was indeed done. I thought she would be done soon too, but boy was I wrong about that. Viktoria made it through the night and the next day, completing Yard 25 and 125 total miles, finishing third overall. So impressive. It’s so hard to judge these runners and how good they can be.
As I finished I found Kari and asked her if everything was packed up and in the car. She replied no! Coach Kari didn’t believe me when I told her that I was done! But I was in fact done. I had enough. We walked back to the tent and started picking up the tent and stuff, and I just let the warnings of 3 minutes, 2 minutes, and 1 minute just go in one ear and out the other. As I heard go, I wasn’t on the tarmac for the start, and officially out of the event.
As I walked up to Tyler sitting at his scoring table, I advised him that I was tapping out and that I had a terrific time. “You got your ultramarathon!” he said, and I was very glad to hear those words. I went over and picked out a loser’s rock and threw it into my bag.
NOTES FOR NEXT TIME
I’m very pleased with how I did and I will definitely put this race on my calendar. The race director posted post-race on Facebook that he plans to have it again in April 2022. But as with any race or event, I will want to improve on this year’s total miles. I made plenty of mental notes as I went around the park, so here are a few things that helped me and a few things that I can improve.
A hydration vest wasn’t necessary. Fully loaded with water was enough to cover a large portion of the yards I ran. I was much better off just using the hand-held water bottle and just refilling it after every yard.
I think that the salty snacks were doing a good job providing enough salt for the amount of sweating that I was doing, but regardless, I was still taking a salt capsule after every even yard.
I brought one long-sleeve shirt, four regular shirts, and two sleeveless shirts and only used three of the regular shirts. I should have changed the sweat-soaked shirts and visors more often than I did.
I planned on doing this thing solo, but that would have been dumb. I’m so glad my wife Kari came along to monitor what was going on, knowing full well that I probably wouldn’t be making smart decisions later in the run.
Book a hotel ahead of the event next time.
Having some extra shoes to change into would be beneficial. Mine were very dirty and somewhat sweat soaked as well.
I had a plan of running each yard in about 50 minutes and I executed that very well. I faded a little toward the end, but I don’t believe going faster or slower is a better option. 50 minutes gives you just enough time to refuel, rest, and prep for the next yard.
So there you have it, my first ultramarathon distance of 50K in the books! I can’t wait to give it another go.
The Extra Yard – There was a pro photographer at the event and captured these shots that I am glad to have found.
Last week I swapped Week 22 for Week 23 of the training plan so I could have an easy week leading up to Friday and my first attempt at an ultramarathon at the Big Hill Bonk – Wisconsin’s Backyard Ultra in Beloit, Wisconsin. Thank goodness for that because the ultra was certainly a challenge for me. The race recap follows this blog post. I’ll be back with my usual pontificating about training next week.
So the easy Ironman training week ended with somewhat of a hard effort of running through the hills of Beloit and Big Hill Park. Here are this weeks stats, which includes the long run on Friday/Saturday:
I saw a post the other day on one of the triathlon groups I follow on Facebook and he asked if anyone else had a “coach wife” and I knew immediately what he was alluding to. And I have the best coach wife in the business.
I’m not sure Kari intended to be a coach wife, she just kind of had the position forced upon her. After watching me train and do races she just kind of learned about running and triathlon from the sidelines. After I crashed and burned in the 2009 Rockford Marathon (3:43), which I ran alone without her or other family being there, it resulted in me taking a trip to the local hospital for an i.v. and a long walk of shame back to where I parked my car. She swore after that happened that I would not be doing these things on my own anymore.
As I train for my fifth Ironman she is inquisitive about what I’m doing, especially on the weekend. The other day she inquired about how long my Saturday bike would be and I said that I thought it was four hours. “Again? You’ve done the four-hour ride the past three weekends.” I admitted that I was using a spreadsheet of the plan that my buddy Jeff shared with me, so I thought it could be a typo, but after checking the plan in the book, sure enough, the plan has three, four-hour rides in a row. It is interesting how she picked up on that and I was just taking it for granted that it was correct.
Kari also began running and biking, and has learned even more about the sports and what they involve. The funny thing is, she never asks about my input.
Last night when I was turning in for the night, I looked at my watch as I laid it on the nightstand and wondered aloud if its 44% battery would be enough to get me through my planned five-hour ride. Coach Kari immediately spoke up and said “Why don’t you just charge it?” knowing full well that my charge cord for it is right there next to the nightstand. I didn’t debate with her or hesitate about it for even a second, I just grabbed the cord and plugged it in.
There are numerous other examples, but in reality, it’s just her way of showing that she cares about me and my dumb adventures. And I’m very glad to have a coach wife – make that the best coach wife ever.
I decided to swap Week 22 of the plan for Week 23 because I am doing the Big Hill Bonk – Last Runner Standing event next weekend and I wanted to take advantage of a taper week that Week 22 had in it.
I started the week off pretty good, doing an open water swim with my coworker buddy Tom in Lake Michigan at Ohio Street Beach, Chicago. It was a well-run event by Lifetime Fitness/Chicago Triathlon. Tom got some great experience in some big, open water and also some well-earned confidence in being able to swim in those kinds of conditions. I made him try my large Xterra wetsuit and I think that was a good experience as well. He may do better in an XL, as he has more muscle than I ever will.
On Thursday I got sick with some sort of stomach bug and it was bad. Kari thinks I am ignoring a bigger GI issue, but it was just a stomach bug. And the two things that come hand in hand with a stomach bug wiped me out. I was not doing well. But it ran its course in about a day, and I used Friday as a rest day to rehydrate and recover. I was concerned that the planned five-hour ride on Saturday would be too much, so I swapped it with Sunday and things worked out well. I’m still needed to stay on top of hydration, but I’m doing better.
On to the Big Hill Bonk and running infinite 4.166-mile loops for as long as I can!